Often times we get ourselves into situations that we regret. It can be a pretty big blow when you realize that you are in way over your head and you bit off more than you can chew.
I remember when I was a kid at dinnertime. My mom would sometimes allow us to prepare our own plates. I’d pile on the mash potatoes, meat, rice and a little bit of green peas so mom didn’t yell at me. After school and playing all day I had a pretty strong appetite.
I’d have so much on my plate that about halfway through, I was done. Of course the green peas are untouched and my mom would look at me and say “uh huh, your eyes are bigger than your stomach”. My mother being the kind of person who doesn’t believe in wasting, made me sit there and finish my plate.
Over the years of flirting around with making games in-between working on art and programming for others, I’ve learned that some aspects of game design are really no different than my experience at the dinner table when I was a kid.
When Ajari(boyfriend) and I first thought of making games, we both worked full time jobs so it was extremely difficult to get anything done. This alone kills motivation and ultimately we realized that if we were ever going to finish a game, one of us needed to a) quit our job and focus on game development full time, and b) we needed to scale down our ambitions. In addition to the small games we currently make, I’d love to make the 60 hour role playing game, the bad ass first person shooter and the super dramatic flight combat simulator with oil bleeding out of the burning wings of an F-35 fighter jet as it spirals to the ground, but it’s just not possible for us right now.
I often see small groups that work together over the internet trying to make a first person shooter with hopes to have the features and visual polish of Call of Duty 2 or 3 and massive multiplayer online role playing games with plans to have similar production values as World of Warcraft. I’ve worked with a few groups like this, over the years. Very few of them ever completed their titles. The teams realized that their project was much larger than what they were capable of and it fell apart. Communication breaks down, people get burned out from constantly looking up hill. They realize that the hill is actually a mountain. They become intimidated and they stop responding. Life gets in the way and priorities shift.
Even with just Ajari and I working together face to face in person everyday, similar things happened. As a result we have about three or four partial games that we eventually realized were too big for our limited time, even when we originally thought our ideas were small enough, they still needed to be smaller. You’d be amazed at how much time it takes to program the smallest feature, paint the simplest background and create the many sound effects a game needs. You’d also be amazed at how easy it is to underestimate how much time it takes to do these things.
One thing Ajari is working on, and I would advise fighting against is “feature creep”. This means thinking up ideas late in development that can stall and confuse a project. He constantly has a river flow of ideas for new games and features to add to our current projects. He had 3 game ideas just today. I don’t want this to ever stop, but he’s learning to allow himself to dream these ideas out, type notes down and put them in the vault, hopefully for later use someday. Creating a design document complete with art concepts before production begins and sticking with it is a good idea to help prevent feature creep. Make an Excel spreadsheet or a white board with tasks and a checklist. This is also great for motivation when you start seeing more and more checks and lines drawn through items on your to do list.
So the moral of my story is to know your limits. Pay attention to what you’re capable of, how long it takes you to do a certain task and really think about how much time you have to do it. It’s definitely not impossible for a company of a few people to make a huge adventure game or a deep strategy title, but if you’re a small team with limited time, it’s probably best to focus on small projects. This will help you keep your eyes at a more manageable size compared to your stomach and allow you to get your game finished.