What’s next? bis.

So, it’s been a couple of weeks since I released Dreams and Reality. I took a good break in between, and now it’s time to move on, but not without looking back first. This blog post will have two parts to it: first, a half rant/half post-mortem on Dreams and Reality, and then a second part where I actually talk about my future plans. If you don’t feel like reading me rant about stuff, skip on to the second part!

On Dreams and Reality

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Perhaps the best place to start is at the beginning: why did I even start Dreams and Reality? You can read the full story here, but it’s quite simple actually: I wanted to do a short artsy game, but do it well. I still think it was a reasonable goal. I had made many small games for game jams or contest, but the strict deadlines always left me feeling like I could do better, if only “I had more time”. Life’s Impetus, my ambitious but canceled game, was where I took all the time I wanted, but I was advancing too slowly for such a big project. And that’s why I started Dreams and Reality; to take all the time I wanted, but to be able to finish it.

I originally expected the game to take 3 months, but it actually took a year. It was ok though, I had given up on so much projects after I cancelled Life’s Impetus that I felt like I had to finish this one. And besides that, I was simply proud of it! Not everything was perfect, but I was satisfied with all the stuff I was putting into the game, something I can’t say about my other projects. I did make some stupid decisions on the way (“this game is going to be so simple I don’t have to worry about clean code!”, “it’s such a short and personal game I rather not do playtesting, you won’t get the proper experience anyways if it’s not done”), but ultimately, I finally felt like I made a game I could proudly share with no regrets, because it was a great game.

And so, the game came out… and opinions were all over the place. There were people who loved it and really appreciated the game’s message and that made me happy. There were people who liked it but couldn’t truly enjoy it because of issues like the speed. These cases were pretty lame because I could’ve fixed them without detracting from the experience. Finally, there were the people who simply didn’t like it. Some were constructive and some were extreme (“Good: the idea. Bad: Everything else.”), but what was interesting was how divisive certain aspects were when comparing positive and negative feedback. Some people found the soundtrack “bearable but eventually irritating” while others liked it so much they made an account just to ask me about the composer. Many felt the art was “pretty” and created an “relaxing ambience”, while others found it “polished but not cohesive” or simply that it “looked like poop”.

But in the end, even though I received a lot of positive feedback, I can’t help but stay stuck in the negative feedback. I guess this comic from The Oatmeal explains it the best:

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And it’s not a bad thing! I need to focus on what’s wrong if I want to get better, not what I got right. But ultimately, I realized that Dreams and Reality is just an ok game. Yes, some people liked it a lot, but that doesn’t mean it’s a masterpiece. It just means that it has something to it that people really liked.Gravity Rush is one of my favorite games ever, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s a great game, just a good one.

I’m not saying that I feel that Dreams and Reality is bad either (most of the negative feedback came from /r/gamedev, which can be just plain mean at times), but it isn’t as great as I thought it was. I mean, I still believe I was correct in thinking it was a really well-done and polished game, but if I learned anything from this is that a well-done game isn’t necessarily a good game. It’s quite an obvious lesson (just take a look at some AAA games), and I guess that is what disappoints me; I got so close to the game and put so much work into it that I thought it was the best thing ever, when in fact it was less than that.

(and that’s why you have to show your games to other people during development, kids! don’t be silly like me!)

Graphical representation of the Dunning Kruger Effect.

Have you heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? The idea is that, when learning something new, you initially get overconfident and believe you know more/are better at it than what you actually are. Looking at the graph, it’s that first hill, sometimes called “mount stupid”.

Well, it took me a few years, but I think I’ve finally gotten over mount stupid for gamedev. I’m only realizing it now, but I used to be pretty confident… too confident really… Confident enough to think that game I was making was great, that it would be a hit and that everyone would think is brilliant. I still believe that I have experience and talent, but I’ve humbled down a bit and realized that I have a long way to go, a tremendously long way to go, especially if I want to make something as “transcendental” as what I’ve dreamed of.

And so, I need to rethink what I’m doing and what I should do next. But what is this exactly?

What’s Next?

Keep it simple!

I feel like my first priority now is avoiding another case like Dreams and Reality, a game I endlessly spend polishing even though the base isn’t that great. For that, I want to return to the same thing I was complaining about earlier: contests and game jams. Yes, the time limits are frustrating for my perfectionist side, but in the long run, it’ll help me focus on making good games, not polishing games. The large quantity will hopefully be a good thing too. The saying “Your first 5/10/etc drawings/stories/songs will suck – so get them done quickly” is quite true for most disciplines, so I hope it works for games too.

Learn more!

There is so much I don’t know, and there are so many people who know so much more than me. Thankfully, there’s a lot of people who have been quite generous with sharing their knowledge, whether it be by tutorials, talks, books, or simply videos. It’s truly amazingly how much there is to learn! That’s not even including other games, which can be a treasure trove of ideas if you analyze them well.

While I still believe learning by doing is key, I’ve unbalanced myself and have been completely ignoring these sources of information. The idea now is to find a balance between making games and learning, something that’s easier when you aren’t obsessively working on one great project.

Socialize more with the community

One of the fun things about gamedev nowadays is that there’s tons of other people doing it, and tons of ways to talk with them and see what they’re doing. I’ve always kinda neglected this since I rather be “working on my game”, but I’ll try to make an extra effort now to meet people, make friends, and generate lasting connections.

Focus my skills

My long term goal still is to create an indie game studio that makes the kind of games I want to make. In that sense, I want to be a game director, directing a team to make a game according to my vision. That’s part of why I like making games solo: by working on all aspects of a game, I get a better understanding of them, and thus should be able to work with other disciplines better (hopefully).

But since it’ll be an indie studio and not an AAA one, the team won’t be big enough to justify someone who just “directs” and doesn’t work on the actual game. So if I want to actually contribute to the team, I can’t be a generalist; I need to specialize in something. I think that something for me will be design. It’s what I find most interesting about games because in the end, it’s what makes a game a game and not a jumble of art, code, and sound. Then again, indie devs tend to wear many hats… so my other important hat will be programming! It’s what I’m studying after all.

I feel that practicing design goes hand in hand with making more small games, but on the other hand, it means something else important: I will start to “slack” in other areas. I think the one where it’ll be noticed most is art. I’ve had fun drawing and coming up with interesting art styles for my games, but it might be a good time to start looking for free art assets and using them.

And… that’s it! To be honest now I’m mostly focusing on the non-gamedev ideas like reading, but as my batteries recharge I’ll start making stuff again. And when I do, be sure I’ll post them here!

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