The indie roadmap
Last week I had lunch with some friends who enjoy their new-indie game developer status. We discussed game ideas, concepts, some mechanics… And right after the first beer, they told me: “We don’t have anything playable yet but I’m working on the decal system.” This brought me back to my own troubles working on .the rush//. I tried to make them understand that if when you don’t have something playable within the first week of development, even if you spend the next 10 years in production, you won’t have a good game….or even just a game. With my humble experience I’ve made an Indie GameDev Roadmap.
It doesn’t guaranty you will make a good game but not following those simple rules will decrease your chances to release something worthy.
Step 1 : The first hour/the first night.
The universe, Minecraft or your game, all started with a big ambition.
Take the best ideas, concepts, mechanics, games you like. Blend it. You should have what you would like to play. If you are a software developer, working on the technical aspects, you will want to code the same feature as in X or Y. It’s a major mistake. The technique is a way to get there and certainly not the way to make a good game. Take the game and the mechanics you like. If you like a game because its camera management is great or its fluid physic is top notch, then it’s not a good choice. The history, universe and theme are ashiny wrapping paper. Not focusing on this part will not prevent you from making a good game. Think of Mario. Its whole world only exists for the gameplay. If you have no inspiration, have a trip in Thailand. I know it helped a lot of indies :)
Step 2 : The first weekend/the first week.
Not everyone has the same vision of a great weekend.
As a newborn, it might be ugly but fun to play with for at least 5 minutes. This step and the 3rd one are the top most important ones to make a good game. It needs the 4th (production) to make an excellent game. Use those primary 2 to 5 days for the CCC (Control/Camera/Character), the main basic features (shoot, time management, NPC AI). Don’t give a shit about the software used. Use the one you are the most experienced with….or not. It can be refreshing to use something new. Numerous indie games find their root in Game Jams. It’s a good school. If your prototype is not that great, it’s ok. You might have learned a new framework and improved your skills. By the way, you are not the only judge. Look how your testers play through.
Step 3 : The first month.
You are the proud owner of a rough prototype. You also have a lot of ideas. This step is über important. Without it, no game! Now, juice your mechanics. Try any of them. Test small levels. Iterate on CCC and make some FX and emphasis effects. Some examples of important FX/Emphasis :
- screen shaking for explosions
- small sounds that explain the player what’s happening
Those effects will make the game more engaging. They don’t have to be perfect but they have to be clear. Think of Mario’s jump sound. Show your prototype! Once a week, go to the pub and show your progression. You’ll get a motivation boost and if you show them your prototype to your friends before they get drunk, their feedback will be valuable. That’s why the San Francisco indie scene is famous. In this microcosm, developers meet and share their ideas, prototypes,…
You will not have all the mechanics nor the complete game progression. But you should have enough material for 60 to 80%. Prototyping is learning. You learn how your game work. The more you learn, the more you’ll master it. The less troubles in production you’ll have. You are faster at making something when you already did it right? It’s the same for game design. Make your rough in a month. Then do it a second time during the production.
Find a pleasant home to make your game.
If you bypassed step 2, forget about a release date. You won’t make it and you won’t learn anything. Why only 12 to 18 months? First, you will lose your motivation. Making a game is exhausting. Enduring a burnout won’t help. Moreover, there is the last step (marketing your game). 12 months is a good duration IMHO. If it won’t fit, then remove features. Humans always want more than they can eat. It was useful in our primitive days.but now, it’s different. As we can have as much as we want, it’s time to reduce. Don’t be scared, you’ll end with enough features, believe me! Plan your features for the allocated time. Not the other way around. During the whole production, productivity must be your moto. If you do twice the same thing, the second time must take half the time. Buy a library/engine for $500 or make it? Buy it! Make or patch your tools to be more productive. Use open source data (free sound effects, …). Spend time improving your game value. You believe you can’t make a game without coding most parts? Then making games might not be the hobby you need. Try the demo scene. You must have a working build at any time. Use something like Hudson or Cruise Control if you’re experienced with. Use a .bat or do it manually if not, but you must have a game build every day. Don’t spend more than 2 days without a working one. Don’t lose your focus!