At 5:30 AM on 11-15 I called it. The game was done. I had to cut the second level of the Demo and the Skeleton type enemy. But at the end of the day (morning) there was too much left to do with too little sleep I had to make the decision to put up the keyboard and lay down the mouse. I had done all that I could do.
At first, I thought about all the things that I didn’t have that I was supposed to have. The game was supposed to have 12 chapters, then 5, then 4, but it was submitted with only 2. It was supposed have more sounds, more voices, more music, more story, more…game.
But then I took a step back for a moment and considered what I had done. What I had actually, truly, been able to accomplish. I had built a Game Engine. Most people can’t even set the timer on their VCR, and I built a Game Engine with animations, and animated scenes, and gameplay that works and sound effects and a way to fight and things to find and… Well, I did a lot.
I built a game from scratch, from a blank page in my IDE to a built thing that plays. I have literally created something from nothing, and I feel for the first time that I own and deserve the title of Game Developer. Lots of people claim that it isn’t hard, that it isn’t work, or that they can do it if they wanted to and whine that they don’t get the chance. I may have been that once, and played at being a developer. But until you’re up to the wee hours in the front lines fighting a losing battle to sleep and deadlines, you don’t know what being a Developer means. When what you have done is filled with equal parts obsessive love and hateful loathing then you’ll understand.
At the end of the day, it wasn’t as much as I wanted. But I think even the Designers for Halo 3 think to themselves, “I could’ve had more.” To paraphrase George “Big G” Lucas, A game is never really finished, it is abandoned. Of course as far as I am concerned, I’m not there yet. I still have 10 more chapters to finish, and make available. Now I have the time to finish at my pace, with a nebulous, Blizzard-esqe deadline of “When it’s finished.”
Then again, maybe a deadline is a good thing. I’ll look to see what other competitions I can enter and those can be my milestones. Maybe for Slamdance Guerrilla Games I can have chapters 1-6 ready to go and next year, the whole thing for IGF again. Hmm…But right now I want a break. I want to step back and come back with fresh eyes and new ideas. Maybe put something small and easy together that I can share with people that I know, or the internet. Right now, The Thief’s Tale is like an ex-girlfriend who wants to get back together with you – you adore them, but you’ve been too close and too many hurtful things have been said to want to jump right back in that boat so quickly. So I’ll install some art and get some stuff put together and keep it going. But no all nighters for a while. Okay?
-So, to sum up what I learned from this in some kind of easily digestible and impersonal list.
1) Having good people to work with makes all the difference. If the people that I worked with didn’t care as much as they do, then I probably would not have been able to do it. I would have realized the deadline was impossible and I would have quit. Even better, they all seem to want to finish the game. Like the whole thing. I’m consistently impressed at every turn by the whole team.
2) A game is never like you envisioned it. I mean, it’s never what you want, it’s only even what you have time to finish. With enough time, yeah, I could see it being exactly like I want. But I do not believe that is the rule, but the exception (damn Valve, making us all look bad). So, games have to be, what do I want? What makes this great? What Features do I need and can’t live without? Then build to that. In other words, get the part of that makes the project special (let’s call them “The Requirements”) first before a ton of time is spent doing other things. The rest as I say, is just glass and candy.
3)Deadlines hurt. My biggest mistake is not having a deadline sooner. 3 months or so ago, I decided to do this for IGF. Granted I had built an engine and everything, but then saying, “No problem, I can make 3 hours worth of content in 3 months that doesn’t suck. No problem.” Make no mistake – content is hard. Damn hard. Giving myself so little time was stupid. If I had planned at the beginning of the year for IGF, maybe I could have done something and made milestones for myself and focused the development when it needed to be (see #2). Getting it done at all was a Heroic Struggle and I’m proud beyond measure that we did it, but with better planning maybe it could have just been a regular (lowercase) struggle.
-Right then. Now the short term goals are like this:
-Update the art colors – I made a mistake with the attack colors, so they aren’t correct. Of course, regular people wouldn’t notice, but I do. (The low attack is supposed to be RED! Not GREEN!)
-Try to see if I can write a Post-Mortem for Gamasutra. That would be awesome.
-Get the skeletons in there. If not to play yet, at least get them in the right folsers.
-Learn to spell “Folders” correctly.
-Then after I go on vacation, I’ll open up ThiefEd and get cracking. Utah is calling.