What Went Right:
1) Small and Simple: Simplicity and a small scope is absolutely vital for a small, two-person indie team like ours. Shaped was created for a Ludum Dare game jam, which meant we had to take the game from concept to publishing in 48 hours (it is normally 72 hours, but we could not work on Monday). This small timeframe forced us to keep the game super tiny, meaning one environment, and über simple, meaning just a few mechanics. When the creative juices are flowing, its easy to get swept away in the tide and end up with a game concept far too ambitious to finish yet too beloved to compromise. This has happened to me with more game ideas than I would like to admit. Luckily, our short deadline forced us to reject ideas, no matter how great, if they would add more than 30 minutes to our production time. While Shaped is a short game, it is a complete one. Completion, we’ve found, is crucial for morale. If you are a small team like ours, I cannot recommend simplicity and limited scope highly enough.
2) Good Team Dynamic: Derek’s already said much the same in his post mortem, but it remains true nevertheless. Having people with whom you can be productive and simultaneously have a good time with is key. Not only does it keep the energy and optimism up, but it creates an comfortable atmosphere where all ideas and feelings can be expressed and considered. Most of my ideas are utterly bad, but Derek will always genuinely consider them as if they were great ones. Perhaps more importantly, he will give me honest criticisms which I can take without clamming up and getting defensive. What it boils down to is respect and the right attitude. With Shaped, we kept the environment fun and supportive and that really contributed to swift decision-making, quality work, and a fun development process.
3) Unity3D: Having never taken a computer science course in my life, I find it somewhat strange that I ended up as the programmer. What I have taught myself over the past few years, I largely credit to Unity3D and its superb community. The visual nature of the engine allows for non-code-savvy teammates to understand and contribute to the process without having to look at a line of code. This also helps self-taught programmers like myself to understand what, in general, my code is doing. The way in which variables are displayed and the ability to adjust them during gameplay helped us both hone and test player and NPC behaviors until they felt just right. Lastly, the ease with which we could import assets from one another and get them up and running was incredibly valuable given our brief timeline. Other than a brief moment of glitch-induced panic due to hosting our Unity project files on Dropbox, the entire process of building with Unity was streamlined and fast. It is for these reasons and many others that we will be sticking with Unity for the foreseeable future.
4) Give Yourself Audience: This one may sound weird but filming our process really helped us to not only feel like “real” game developers but it also made the process more fun in general. Even if it is a Youtube video that nobody but you will ever watch, positioning yourself as ifthere was an audience really helps you to stay on task. Instead of treating the game development process as something that maybe comes after a few episodes of your favorite TV show, filming it gave us an audience (however imaginary) that we had to answer to and work for. I guess it’s where the adage, “Fake it till you make it” comes in. You and your team may not be Valve yet but if you treat the game development process as if you were that awesome, you probably stand a greater chance of finishing your game than if you think you and your game idea is unimportant and unnoticed. For Shaped, Derek and I did a Justin.tv/Twitch.tv live stream as well as a time-lapse using Gawker and it kept us honest. It also made the process more far enjoyable. Why? I will not speak for Derek, but for me it was vanity. There is something rewarding about being on screen and feeling like you are important and, hell, if you can harness some of that vanity to make your game development process more enjoyable, do it. Whatever keeps the ball rolling. If you do not like being on camera, write blog posts and tweets. You may find more people are following the development process than you think.
What Went Wrong:
Derek and I had such a positive experience with Shaped that it is a little hard to find things we did wrong. Perhaps we just didn’t have enough time to make significant blunders, or maybe I am still just riding the high. The few I could think of are below.
1) The Cold: Stay warm, your code-per-minute rate and immune system will thank you.
2) Not understanding 3D programs very well: I think if Derek and I had more of a grasp of 3D programs like Blender, 3DSMax, or Maya, we would have had accurate colliders for the more difficult shapes instead of primitive colliders that come with Unity. Getting knocked down a level in Shaped by an invisible sphere collider far outside the edge of an NPC’s visible edge is frustrating and, in the end, inexcusable.
3) Space-Heaters Don’t Burn Down Villages…Actually, they could so please follow the directions: Did I mention that weekend was as cold as the windswept plains of northern Skyrim? Well it was, and you know how the Frost spell slows you down as well as causes damage? Well, the cold room was like that on my hands and joints as I tried to code. I felt like Tin-man without his oil-can.
All in all, our experience creating Shaped for Ludum Dare 22 was a superb experience and has really inspired us both to pursue game development as a living. Stay tuned for more games from Send More People! Good luck with your games!!!