Jonathan Moss (Crab)
What takes so long? - Some thoughts on game development
Something I think about a lot during development is how long games take to make, especially how long it takes when you're just a team of two like Kyle and myself are, so I thought maybe it'd be interesting to put those feelings down into a blog post now that GGG is on its way to Steam and is close to being in people's hands to play and judge.
To be honest, a post like this is just going to turn into personal rambling, a retrospective on how things have gone for myself in the last few years and likely not interesting to read except for those curious about what makes a small time indie developer slowly go insane. Even if it comes off as somewhat negative, I'm not really looking for sympathy here or anything, so if it seems that way just assume I'm a whiny little baby man complaining into the ether.
I'm also just going to be talking about my perspective on all this. I can't really speak for Kyle's perspective on development speed, though it is also somewhat more straightforward to say that him working a full time job and also doing 99% of all the programming in this project actually shows just how efficiently he does work in the small amount of time he gets every week to be productive on these projects. I will always be happy with his performance.
But if the full time guy is working efficiently, that begs the question of what about me? It isn't like I have some kind of stable employment to keep me busy, so why does it take me so many years to finish what is honestly a small scale game?
The short answer? I think I'm just really slow at this... Sometimes the pace at which I work, even while trying to use as efficient methods as I know of, just seems slow. A whole day of work can go by and one texture can be finished when I still need to do dozens more, or I'll get caught on certain tasks I don't quite enjoy so much or have little to no skill at and get stuck on that for weeks until I slug through it.
That's kinda a big part of it, all the tasks that need done and the number of skills I needed to learn. Programming might be the core of what makes the game run, but it isn't everything that makes a game a game, and even though Kyle does the heavy lifting there I still need to be on the up and up about how the logic and systems work so I can instruct him with exactly the features I need for whatever I'm working on. While he does programming and business stuff and is the gears that keep the company and games alive, I take on every other task we need and you really don't think about just how dense the requirements of a project like this is until you are knee deep into working on it.
The combination of having no money for tools to make it easier/faster and very little education on software development when I first started getting into this is one major aspect of what slows it down, I had no idea how to make 3D models or use engines like Unity or basically anything.
At this point I do the 3D modeling, the texturing, utilize a visual scripting system to create shaders/visual effects, do the animating, do the sound design, to my dismay still do the music (I need to be replaced ASAP), I put together all the in-engine assets and scenes that put all those previously listed assets together, do the majority of the game design itself, do the majority of the testing, create all the marketing materials, designed this very website (thank goodness for modern website building tools), handle all the social media... the list of tasks you need to do as a game developer is wild and that's without getting into very specific sub-tasks for each thing.
All that previous stuff alone probably makes it clear why all this takes so long, part of writing all of this is just to help give myself perspective as to why its so hard to get it all done, I do think its a lot easier to be productive and fast as your work when you specialize in only a handful of these rather than the whole basket of tasks to take on. Honestly though the worst part for me is that the real thing that feels like it delays completion is just motivation, or lack there of.
This first game coming out might have been in development for years, but the active time focused on this project has had months long gaps of barely even touching it as my ability to concentrate/motivate becomes totally shot. Apparently I'm incredibly temperamental and easily get hit with creative block when conditions aren't ideal; notably when taking on any kind of temporary work for extra cash, that alone seems enough to break my creative motivation for a while (probably at least slightly due to the work usually being physically demanding and tiring).
I'm really hoping some of this is something I can get over over time, distractions are a huge annoyance and I don't look forward to still being this way while thousands of people are waiting on me...
Honestly, as another secondary note on all this, that whole aspect of seeing other small teams or lone developers make quality experiences in the fraction of the time I can is one of those things I need to keep out of my head or else I get discouraged. I constantly need to remind myself that people like that are either fresh out of college with all the skills they learned and with that faster pace lifestyle still keeping them in gear, or they're just wildly faster pace than I am by default and I just don't work at that efficiency. Working fast can be a learned skill, perhaps I just never learned how to do it.
Maybe it is just denial that I'm not cut out for the workload game development requires, but I just keep it out of my head as much as possible that I can't compete with the pace others can work at. Maybe its bad advice or maybe its good advice but I do recommend trying not to dwell on "the competition". Just make what you want at your pace, I guess.
A downside may be that this leads me to avoid a lot of content related to "I just released my first game, check it out!" or other posts developers make that interacting with might have been great for making friendly connections with other developers. Connections can be extremely important in just about any industry, but for my sanity's sake it seems I lean more towards being a hermit developer...
In the end I'll take what keeps me sane, considering this whole ordeal is me knowingly putting my eggs into a basket of a job that has no guarantee more than 5 people will end up buying my first game I've gotta do some stuff to make sure the idea that this could all be a waste of time doesn't destroy my motivation further. Like whose actually to say I'm any good at this? Could turn out my entire game design philosophy I've proudly refined for most of my life is horribly misguided and I've somehow misunderstood what makes games fun this whole time. Can't really know for sure how bad being slow at this is until the first game is out on Steam and receives an average score of "Mostly Negative" to finally give me my wake up call on all this.
Or maybe it'll all turn out great, maybe the gamble will pay off and being slow at game development is fine so long as the resulting product knocks people's socks off to a surprising extent. Despite the tone of this whole... whatever this was... Rant? Retrospective? Ramblings of a madman? I actually do pride my work even in my own heart, to me it looks like quality work and at a core level all I care about is knowing the legacy of games I release look like something I can be proud of even if they are financial failures.
Maybe that's the ultimate reason why this takes so long, I'm picky about what I release, but producing that level of quality with my level of skill takes ages no matter what.
Whatever the case may be, I'll leave this odd post here for now. There's probably a dozen other things I could talk about in terms of why it takes so long, but maybe those can be saved for later ramblings. I probably didn't even cover half of what people would actually be interested in for a topic like this, like going more in-depth about how much time social media presence takes or the issue of getting stuck on tasks you're bad at. There's a lot, but maybe no one wants to read 10 more minutes of this. Even now I'm adding more to it, wasting more time I could be spending writing dev logs, confusing the reader increasingly and making them wonder if they've stumbled onto some bizarre manifesto that's about to take a turn into even crazier territory.
Okay okay, I'm done now. Also happy new year I guess? I wrote this back in October haha.