What I learned by creating 100 games in 5 years
My marathon is over! From June 2012 to June 2017, I created 100 games.
Before we dive into the details, I need to tell a little about my project “100 games in five years” and briefly state the numbers and facts about the games themselves.
In 2012, I decided to create a long-term verification strategy for myself. I thought it was the end of those five years, I'll be sure to know whether the development of games interesting for me busy and I good enough in it.
In addition, I knew that even by themselves my games would be bad (and many of them are really bad ), at least the task set deserves attention. Although I can not say that I learned how to create 100 games more than if I had chosen a different path, but one of the main qualities of James from 2012 was ambition. Thanks to the project, I was on the Forbes list 30 Under 30 2017, developed and strengthened his own design style, as well as met with the most amazing, inspiring and intelligent game creators. I proudly call my goal "the smartest idea that came to my mind to the younger one."
It is also important to mention that throughout this marathon I was supported. First of all, I studied all this time: first I was a graduate student at the University of Miami , and then a graduate student at the University of Southern California . My teachers helped me a lot. The task was my idea and my willful decision, but it was not funded by me, and I never wanted it to be so perceived. My goal opened doors for me and provided financial support, but in addition, my parents and relatives helped me. In addition, I was supported throughout the entire journey, which I probably could not fully compensate.
Why am I writing about this now?
The last game appeared in June 2017, and exactly one year later I write this article. Why has so much time passed? I will answer honestly: I needed a break - it took me some time to gather my thoughts and adjust to life without striving for my goal. Five years is a long time. I started when I was 21 years old and finished at 26 years old, that is, the marathon took almost a fifth of my life. I spent this large amount of time on fast iterations!
I don’t want to say that I didn’t do anything afterwards, it was just another kind of employment, the pace became slower, and deadlines became more close to reality. After completing my task, I created a few more games, namely four small projects. I'm still working on the eCheese Zone . It has been in development for six months and is associated withYou Must be 18 or Older to Enter and with The World the Children Made by the fact that this is the longest development period spent on one project. But now, on the anniversary of the completion of 100 games in 5 years, I have had enough time to write about it.
Briefly about the results
- GameMaker Studio
In general, I got 12 analog games ( non-digital ) and 88 digital games . More than 60 digital games were created in GameMaker and GameMaker Studio. All of them are free, but some allow you to donate to the developer.
Speaking of donations - my goal in this marathon was by no means income. I did not think about monetization of my 100 games almost until the end of the marathon, that is, until 2017. Now the total amount of donations (from several games that allowed giving donations) was less than 400 dollars. During the whole marathon I was a full-time student, so game development remained a hobby. But even so, I am happy to say that the University of Miami and the University of Southern California often provided me with travel allowance and scholarships for my work, but this was not a real income. Therefore, I do not recommend anyone to set such a task for themselves unless there is adequate support, both social and financial.
Here it is worth telling how I defined success:
Success of the game = audience perception / (development time + personal affection)
I want to clarify that this is how I determined the success of games for myself ; it is not an expectation projected on other people. When you evaluate game development as a possible way to develop your career, it is important to have a flexible (albeit subjective) metric of success. Usually my expectations exceeded one game out of eight.
Overall, all 100 games were small. It takes about 30 minutes to go through the two longest, The World the Children Made and the Innovative Food Company . Most games have no menu or save system screens. None of them has a multiplayer online mode. Finally, none of them was actually created alone. Whether it is direct cooperation , the use of someone else's music , orInspiration, taken from someone else's work , was influenced in all my games by the community.
An important person in the development of 100 games was my brother Joe Cox , who worked on over 40 games, creating graphics , design , and often music with sound effects (because I do not have the ability to music). Now we have our own Seemingly Pointless studio and we are completing the development of the eCheese Zone !
In addition, my marathon brought an unexpected result - an interactive portfolio. Now I have a strong collection of working examples: experiments that I want to expand, and experiments that I learned to avoid. It became easier for me to evaluate new projects on the basis of this library of previous works.
Last notes before listing lessons
I learned these lessons from my goal. Perhaps they could learn in another way, but they were given to me in the process of creating 100 games. I hope they will be useful to you in one way or another.
Do not forget that I created short free games - very quickly developed and published projects. I took this workflow from my own internal game release rule: I release a game only when I feel that it is ready. I had to be able to explain to myself why the game can be considered ready for the audience. Therefore, usually the process of creating games was divided into fast separate stages. I wanted to create a polished base gameplay, and only then added new features. Thus, if I had to stop developing any project, I could just release it. Because of this, I have cut out additional features in many of my games.
This development technique can very much contradict the processes used to create longer games. For example, it is poorly suited for systems with deep complexity. Since I was focused on enabling the game to be released after adding each additional feature, I put effort into polishing every additional detail, which is not possible in larger projects.
The applicability of each lesson is very dependent on the specific situation. Each lesson is accompanied by two examples of games from my hundreds. The number of games played is indicated in June 2018.
Go to the lessons!
1: Additional development time will not save the game
Polishing and improving the game, which does not delight in the early stages, will not allow you to achieve greater excitement. It is impossible to extrude anything new from the gameplay, which is initially weak.
Horrible example : RUNNER
- 27th game of 100
- 2 months in development
- A total of 158 launches
This game was an experiment of intersection of genres of idle-games and endless runners. The player holds the "right" key and the character runs. After passing each level, the route is extended, the speed of the runner decreases, and the wind resistance increases. Nevertheless, the extra months of additions, adding “juiciness” and balance settings were not worth it. Almost from the very beginning it was obvious that the game would be poorly received, but I was so strongly attached to the idea that I still promoted it.
Good example : Temporality
- 61st game of 100
- 4 days to create
- Jury Selection at Japan Media Arts Festival
- Bronze in Serious Play
- The official pick on A Maze. / Johannesburg
- Over 34 thousand launches
In Temporality, the player can only control the keys A and D. D moves the time forward, A rewinds it back; if you do not press anything, the game is paused. This game, created in just 4 days, was much more confident than RUNNER , and did not require any extra work to convey its message. Temporality was much more emotionally strong than RUNNER could become .
Hint: limit the duration of the game - limiting the time of the game allows you to reduce the growth of functionality and scale. Temporalitywas designed for the duration of one 10-minute composition. Although it was possible to spend more time on the development of Temporality, this is how much you can fit into a short gameplay, avoiding its growth in breadth and depth.
2: You will learn that the game takes its form, after two days of playing the prototype
After creating a prototype kernel, it will be interesting for you and other people to play. Feedback received from different people should let you know that they are aware of your goal. If this is not the case, then the gameplay should be rethought.
Terrible example : Par-T Babe-E
- 97th game of 100
- 7 days to create
- A total of 31 launches
In the process of developing the Par-T Babe-E , it was obvious that it was not interesting to anyone, including me. Although people said that I can do to improve it, in general, their reviews were terrible and made it clear that the game lacked focus and an interesting core. In order not to lose more, I stopped creating new content. However, instead of canceling the project, I changed the goal. I got rid of the gameplay and the game became an experiment in testing a new graphic style.
Good example : Don't Kill the Cow
- 3rd game of 100
- One month to create
- Over 61 thousand launches
After two days of development of Don't Kill the Cow, people liked it very much and at the same time they gave me constructive advice. They knew what the message and the goals of the game were, and they had ideas for improving and emphasizing the basic gameplay. In Don't Kill the Cow, the player must choose between killing a cow to save his partner from hunger, or saving her life in order to win. The first players advised me to add new items — alternative sources of food that the player must desperately offer to his starving partner instead of killing a cow. This idea was built into the game in the form of collected items: water, corn, and cow manure.
3: Better experimenting
I learned this lesson from my own experience as a freeware and indie developer. For indie authors, this concept is not new - for example, Nik Popovich from Monomi Park presents similar thoughts in his report with GDC Slime Rancher: A Preemptive Postmortem . The general idea is that it is easier to explore your own territory, rather than compete with large studios. Invent your own genre, and you will have the best game on the market in this genre. (We'll talk about the idea of genres later).
A terrible example : Snake Pit
- 95th game of 100
- 1 week to create
- 36 launches
Snake Pit is a small fighting game with endless waves. My goal was to reduce endurance games to the bare minimum. Unfortunately, the micro-innovations of Snake Pit did not save her from competing with all the other games occupying this territory. The Snake Pit is nothing new. Without unique traits or experimentation, she had no chance. It's very easy to write a game like Snake Pit , without worrying about something going wrong. Moreover, how can something go wrong in a game created in just a week? We must remember that Temporality(an example of the game from the first lesson) was created in even less time, there was less code in it, and yet it gained more popularity. The key difference is that Temporality has an experimental nature.
A good example : The World the Children Made
- 43rd game of 100
- 6 months to create
- Silver Award at Serious Play Conference
- Financed by bachelor's grant
- More than 25 thousand launches
This is an adaptation of the Ray Bradbury Veld story . The task of The World the Children Made was to adapt Veld to an interactive format - this idea very well approached the story. At the time of creation, there were no (as far as I know) games opposing the usual everyday tasks of vivid virtual reality. During the game, the in-game virtual reality room gradually removes the mask of the proposed false freedom from itself, replacing it with hostility. Therefore, The World the Children Made keeps the traditional familiar game elements as a hostage, supporting the narrative underlying the game.
Tip: even experimenting, do not rely on "weirdness"Even in experiments, the “oddity” is not constant and difficult to predict. For example, in my 42nd game, Murder Clown was played over 10 thousand times. However, many have learned about it from the old Markplier letspleya . On the other hand, Moist Curds (92nd game) gathered as a result of a total of 33 launches.
4: Rapid development is a useful skill.
Based on the discoveries made during the Experimental Gameplay Project , I can say that rapid development is not just a way of life. Rapid development is a skill that you need to pump and practice. When you understand your rhythm and deal with your weak and strong points, you will be able to develop much greater speed.
My ninth game was An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge , released in 2013. It took 3 months to develop it (approximately 13 weeks), it lasts 5 minutes, and this is a linear story with a single level - this is a walking simulator. With all this in mind, she performed well for such a small and early game: she received a silver at the Serious Play Conference and was shown at the opening of the Pop-up arcade of the Smithsonian Institution.
My 46th game was Bottle Rockets , released in 2014. The development of this game took 4 days, and the gameplay lasts 6 minutes. It has 9 different rooms with puzzles. Compared to An Occurrence at Owl Creek, the Bridge Bottle Rockets took only about 5% of its development time, and the gameplay still turned out to be longer.
My 87th game was the Innovative Food Company , released in 2017. Development time - 2 weeks. However, for these 14 days (an increase in development time relative to Bottle Rockets by 250%), she still received 500% of the gameplay time, having accumulated a solid 30 minutes compared to six minutes of Bottle Rockets . Compared with 9 levels of Bottle Rockets in it 60 levels with puzzles.
Hint: try something new in each game - I managed to increase the pace of development in parallel with learning new skills by changing one central element in each new game. A new element can be almost anything:
- New theme
- New graphic style
- Unusual code
Due to this, each game became a comfortable learning environment, while at the same time providing the possibility of rapid development.
5: Getting rid of features is just as important as basic content
Do not let time constraints cut off the features of the game for you. Cut them off right from the start and do it often. Each additional feature blurs the promise of your game. Cut them off to reveal the message in all its glory.
Example : Nivearum
- 75th game of 100
- 1 month to create
Once in the icy desert, the player must use a physical map to determine his location in the game. Initially, I planned that the player would fight with mammoths and confront other vagrants. However, battles only distracted from the aspect of using a physical card. By forcing players to react on the fly to battles, I interfered with my own goal - to give players time to mark up their cards. Refusal to fight reinforced the base gameplay and saved me a week, if not more, development time.
6: Each game has a promise
If you understand what your message is, it will affect all other aspects of the game. Even if you do not plan to send the game some message, the players will still find value in it.
Example : Fins of the Father
- 63rd game of 100
- 1 week of development
The messages of several games mentioned in previous lessons are written on their foreheads. As an example of the fact that “every game has a promise,” I will show a game whose promise is hidden deep inside. Fins of the Father is dedicated to managing attention in stressful situations. It contains a complex ENT of racers and it tells the story of redemption, BUT forcibly dumps all this information on the player during races. This is a double-edged sword - do you find out why you are racing, or are you just driving?
In the end, no matter how well you try and know the plot, it will not change the result. The message of the game is: “You can never control everything and know everything. Enjoy the ride until it's over. ”
Hint: think from the position of "maybe" and not "should be." - Instead of assuming that the message should be conveyed in a specific way, look at how different graphic styles and mechanics affect your message. Genres are a good start, but do not let them interfere with the message just because there must be certain elements in the genre "must be". What traps of the genre can be discarded to emphasize the promise?
7: What you like to play does not always coincide with what you can do well; what you do well does not necessarily coincide with what you like to do (or what to play)
There is a general belief that if we like to play a game, we will like to make games of this type, but this is not always the case. It is not always true that you will like to create those games in the creation of which you are good.
A terrible example : War on X-Mass
- 81st game of 100
- 2 weeks to create
- 33 launches
When I started to create games, I didn’t represent a specific genre that I want to do. I like Real Time Strategy (RTS), but I learned that I create them terribly. War on X-Mass was supposed to be the realization of the idea of war for Christmas, except that it was a war on the planet called X-Mass - it was fun to interpret War on X-Mass as a Star Troop-style campaign on an alien planet. Admittedly, I liked working on the game and graphics, but I just could not offer anything as interesting as in other genres.
Good example : EnviroGolf
- 28th game of 100
- 2 weeks to create
- 15 thousand launches
I never liked playing sports, but EnviroGolf turned out to be great, and I really enjoyed creating it! This game, shown on the EGX Leftfield Collection in 2014, was the first to be reviewed by Kotaku .
Note: study genre - Try to create games in genres that you do not like to play, and make them a project that you like to play.
8: Any child can be splashed out with water.
Anyone who wants to create games should be ready to create drafts of many concepts suitable for development. All game ideas get old, and some even become obsolete. The desire to create a single game at any cost is an unsafe plan. We need to learn to abandon their favorite projects, despite all the reasons. We are able to create concepts of millions of favorite ideas, but none of them is inviolable.
Example : Minianda Janes
- 12th game of 100
- 3 months to create
This is a student project from my time in Miami. The idea was as follows: a combination of Lemmings and Indiana Jones . No matter how much Miniand Jane gets to the goal, the main thing is to get at least one. Studying the GameSalad engine, I wrote the game code and led a team of students. It made this experience very valuable. However, classrooms due to many obstacles can negatively affect projects. And although I liked the premise of Minianda Janes , outside the classroom, it was not viable.
9: Fun is Bad
Fun is terrible. This is a trash word, fu. Some people think that sleeping is fun. Others think that training is fun. Someone thinks that food with spices is fun. Fun is a word for everyone. Different people may seem interesting (fun) completely opposite things. This is a damn indefinite word, it is more often used as a signal of personal pleasure than of the quality of the game itself.
The word that conveys the very essence of “fun” without too much baggage is “engaged”. It means that we have captured the attention of the player, regardless of whether the game is sad, scary, funny or annoying. For some, this may seem pointless from the point of view of semantics, but it helps a lot when experimenting with evoking different feelings with the help of games. For a game to be good, players do not have to experience fun: we just have to engage the player.
Example : You Must be 18 or Older to Enter
- 86th game of 100
- 6 months to create
- Won IndieCade Media Choice 2016
- IGF Honorable Mention
- Shown at the Slamdance Film Festival
Probably my most famous game, ( still banned on Steam ), You Must be 18 or Older to Enter is a horror game about a child from the 90s who first watched porn. Despite the fact that this is a horror, I abandoned the usual attributes of the genre, removing the violence, monsters and death. I would not call You Must be 18 or Older to Enter a fun (fun) game. She was not meant to be fun. I'm not even in a hurry to call her nostalgic. Who clearly remembers himself in childhood, exploring adult themes, fearing that you might be caught? Probably, You Must be 18 or Older to Enter is not fun (fun), but it is engaging.
10: Release and accept your failures
Failure is normal; moreover, it is good to release your unsuccessful projects. Without learning from mistakes, both ours and those of others, we are doomed to repeat them.
Example : X
- The 33rd, 34th, 35th, 36th, 37th, 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st games out of 100
- 3 months to create
- Less than 18 launches on average
Most of these 10 lessons were learned from failures, but one of the most important lessons I learned from X. This project, consisting of 9 games, was supposed to be a horror story involving a social media story, as well as a series of digital games.
It took a month to create all the components: 68 posts on Tumblr, which my fictional protagonist had to publish throughout June and July, and 9 sinister games, which he had to download in August. However, without focusing on horror and without limiting the time frame, the prompts were too inconspicuous and distant from each other. Moreover, in order to make the project more realistic, I never connected it with my name, and released it under a pseudonym. Posts did not receive popularity, and without this foundation the project failed. Although these nine games were a failure in terms of my formula for success, I am glad that I completed and released X.
Although I know what I could do to rework the project, the most important lesson was that it was checked by real life itself, especially when you are too attached to your project. In addition, I realized that it was important to learn from my failed experiments. Three months of mastering this lesson are quite tolerant with respect to the overall extent of my task. Fortunately, I learned this in the process of creating 100 games, and not in a project with high stakes!
Last tip: enjoy life
Creating games can bring incredibly great satisfaction. Or become a stressful hell. But suffering can be avoided. Despite the ups and downs, the creation of 100 games in 5 years was not something terrible for me. I am not a perfectionist and more prone to "stamping" new products. For example, a year before the start of the marathon, I created 11 games, wrote several essays that could theoretically be considered novels (they are really interesting), and took part in creating several bad films . This marathon corresponds to my nature, and even if I had not set myself a goal of 100 games, I would have created a lot anyway.
In the end, do what brings pleasure to YOU, and not what others consider pleasurable. If these are games, then I hope my advice will be useful to you!