Doing it alone

Doing it alone

One of the questions I regularly get e-mails about is my general work ethic. The one man army approach to game development is seen as I guess the holy grail of “indie”. No boss, no rules, only working to self imposed deadlines, ability to work naked. So, the question usually takes the form “How do you do that?”, “Where do you find the time?” or as smart ass Prime_31 (responsible for the best selection of Unity plugins for mobile devices) elequently put it here.

So instead of answering the e-mails individually (which I’ve done to this point) I thought I’d copy/paste out some of the bits I’ve said to others and hope this resonates true to some or helps you out:

Multi disciplinarian

My University studies and first couple of jobs were in graphic design so I learnt a lot from there, but not actually having much skill in real drawing left me wanting to do more technical jobs, so I went into development. Musics always been a hobby of mine since birth, playing the piano from age 4 along with guitar and drums at certain points in life, and I’ve been producing ambient Electronica under the name Freshcut for a few years now.

However! Doing art, music, programming, game design all take time, a lot of time, but I think the point I’m making by seemingly bragging about my talents is that although in every project I don’t necessarily focus my energy on everything equally (For example, in Surrender, I bought the music track royalty free and bought some stock 3d models aswell) the important thing is that I have an understanding in all the disciplines which helps me make educated decisions, i.e. I knew exactly the track I wanted when I was buying it. I have a good idea of the style I want the art to be like if I don’t have the time to make it all myself , I will buy things as long as my designer eye is in when I’m shopping I know I’ll make a decent choice when selecting assets that will ‘fit’.

So if you’re not a great artist, it doesn’t matter, as long as you have an understanding of style and continuity then you can make good choices when sourcing art, same for music, if you have an appreciation for soundtracks and the mood they set you can find a piece of music that will seem like it was made for your game. But it can sometimes take just as long a time to find the piece of music/artwork that you are exactly looking for, and it becomes a bit of a skill in itself in finding stuff that you know you can use or finding something that is close enough that you feel confident you’ll be able to manipulate yourself into what you want. But with practise and always thinking about the immersion factor of your game you will hopefully make decent choices in terms of where to spend your time vs. where to shortcut and purchase assets.


Play A LOT of games. Even ones you don’t think your going to like but they are getting great reviews, play them objectively, look at what makes these games ace. Just because I’m making a 2d puzzle game doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from the production values of a halo or half life. You might find FIFA has an awesome transition between menu to game or Fallout has some real nice way of illustrating you’ve started a new mission, doesn’t matter that your making “Generic match 3 game : The lost levels” you can still learn a lot from games of all genres.

Little things such as the way the music fades out when someone gives you an important piece of information, or an important visual clue activates only when your actually facing the correct way may seem really obvious and actually totally transparent to someone just playing a game (that’s a good thing) but you need to see these things, learn from them and you’ll be all the better equipped for making good games yourself. I’m not saying if you see a really great idea done by someone else you should just copy it, I’m just saying you need to be aware of what makes games “good” and the only way to do that, is, play more games :)

Limit yourself

Knowing your limitations and working within them can often lead you to being more creative than treating everything with a no holds barred approach. For example my latest release Drop. Features very little in the way of graphics. A pretty rudimentary understanding of graphic design is all that you really need to create the graphics for that game, simple font selection and a few transparency and blur effects is all the skill that was required for the art. But because there is nothing jarringly out of place, it still works as a consistent and (hopefully!) visually appealing piece. It’s very easy to slip up and create something that doesn’t fit if you’re not thinking about it, if some element of the game had an outline on it, or the droplets had realistic shading, it would of looked weird but a pure programmer might not notice whereas a designer would never let such things happen.

So you need training in each discipline just so you know you’re going to make appropriate choices.

But I want to make a fantasy mmo

Yeah, I’m guessing your new to this? Despite what people may say to you, knocking you down and saying you have no idea, no realism, it is my belief that this is okay! Fuck what the nay-sayers say hey! we all have to dream.

When I was 15 I wanted to make a quake mod which would turn this medieval fps into a skateboarding game. How utterly stupid I think now, but that didn’t matter at the time. All I could actually do was make a skate park in a map editor. I was convinced I would make an awesome skateboarding game. (A little while later Tony Hawks Pro Skater was released and I gave up) but, I honestly believe this is a process we all go through, the C.U-N.T. phase (Completely Unrealistic – No Thought). So go for it, get it out of your system!

As I said in the previous paragraph, working within your limits is liberating and often very creative, but firstly you need to learn your limits, so go on! Attempt that MMO, get shot down, ridiculed, whatever… What seperates the men from the boys is that you’ll fail, pick yourself up and go right I didn’t want to make a shitty mmo anyway, I’m gonna make a horror FPS. Rinse and repeat each time lowering your goals, and eventually you’ll finish a game. Then you’re a game developer! Woo well done you. Remember you can’t actually FAIL at this gig, because every project will teach you something, and there is a hell of a lot to learn. So all projects are experience, even the ones that don’t make it, and all experience is neccesary.

I believe this stereotypical process is a staple of any creative industry. I bet all the budding James Camerons out there are dying to make the next Aliens or Avatar. But they’ll get shot down until there expectations are in line with their abilities, and once they line up, they’ll build up from there.

To me it seems that it’s a sign of great motivation to do amazing things. Someone saying I want to create an MMO! (knowing nothing of development) is a much more heart warming message than seeing new people saying “I know I’m rubbish so I’ll make a naughts and crosses game”. Yes its more realistic and they’ll probably finish, but hey where’s the completely outrageous self belief :)

Photo by D’arcy Norman