Thursday, October 25, 2012

7 day project postmortem

I promised to write up a summary about my 7 day game project last month, and managed to procrastinate on it for this long.  However I'm planning to do another 7 day game project here very soon, so I figured I should probably tie up the loose ends on the last one before moving forward.

For anyone here for the first time, in September (2012) I challenged myself to create a game in 7 days.  I blogged about each day of the process, and in the end I had a game I eventually released for Android on the Google Play Store as Match'n Flip.  A big reason I decided to do this 7 day game challenge was to help kick start my creative juices and get back into the rapid game prototyping mindset.  As a postmortem for that experience, I'll share a few pearls of wisdom for anyone considering doing a similar mental exercise.

What Went Right

  1. Keeping eyes on the prize - 7 days isn't a whole lot of time to get a game kicked out; so it's very important to stay focused on what's important to the game play.  I'm frequently guilty of adding complexity to a game to try to add fun, and while this can sometimes work, many times extra complexity isn't needed.  One of my goals for this project was to create a game around a simple game mechanic, and let the game mechanic stand on its own.  This mindset worked very well for me and help me focus on the core game mechanic and resist the temptation to add unnecessary extra features.
  2. Rapid prototyping and iteration - One of my goals for the project was making better use of my time during development and implementing functionality with more friendly tweaking ability.  Unity3D is super convenient because any publicly declared variables will automatically show up in the editor and are available to tweak/change at run time   In the past I haven't used this as much as I should have, preferring instead to hard code variable values and changing them in code on the fly.  While it's debatable as a more 'programmer friendly' approach, it artificially adds extra time for testing small value tweaks for no real reason because you need to wait for the editor to recompile the scripts.  It seems stupid now, but fighting one of the best features of the engine you're using is not a good idea; and embracing it will help you get things done much faster.
  3. Sought input from friends - I made it a point to get as much input as possible from friends and family as the game progressed.  This let me get fairly unbiased impressions of the game and specific features before I'd invested too much time in them; and then make appropriate course corrections and changes.  In one of the best examples of this, I told a friend about an idea I had for some game rules I wanted to try out.  After explaining them he looked at me and said, 'Jay that's confusing as hell, no one will understand that in 15 seconds'.  Talking to friends, asking their opinion about the game you have so far, or ideas you want to try, is super helpful.

What Went Wrong

  1. Started 7 day challenge at a bad time - I started the 7 day challenge almost as soon as I thought of the idea because I was excited to get momentum for myself to start working.  Unfortunately I didn't think to look at my schedule ahead of time; so the last 2 days happened when I was on vacation to visit my family.  Because of this and the next point I'll talk about, my 7 day challenge ended up spanning almost 2 weeks.
  2. Got sick for the last 2 days (while on vacation) - While I was visiting my family I also got sick, which meant any time I could have eke'ed out to work was lost because I was in bed sleeping.  It's amazing how much energy it can take to be creative; while I lay in bed resting I would try to think of game ideas for the challenge.  However usually I was too exhausted to think of anything and would usually fall right asleep thereafter.  Just bad luck there.
  3. Had to learn a new GUI system - For this project I decided to switch to a new GUI system (NGUI) for Unity3D (the game engine I primarily use for my games).  While I'm glad I switched to NGUI there was definitely a learning curve to overcome, which ended up chipping away at the time I could have used to work on the game.  Next time I'll get ramped up on any new tools beforehand, so there will be less impact on the actual game dev time.


Overall this was a very fun and exciting experience for me.  After completion our previous project, Access Point, I was feeling very burnt out and mentally exhausted.  Giving myself a 7 day challenge was a breath of fresh air, and a great way to get myself back into the mindset of making new games.

Thanks for reading!  I plan to do another 7 day game challenge for myself in the next week or so.  Once again I'll be writing out it everyday, so check back soon!

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