Like ocean tides that recede yet inevitably return, Drift, our overly ambitious multiplayer space adventure, has once more drifted back into our weekend dev sessions. Poor poetics aside, it has been an interesting and often frustrating experience watching this phenomenon play out. Derek aptly described this as being attracted to “whatever is the brightest light.” We seemed to be in an oblong orbit around the star called Drift. We get pulled in by our passion so closely we get burned out. Then we are slingshotted away to explore another, smaller planetary body (read: game project) for which our passion burns a bit less brightly. The gravitational attraction of our super ambitious multiplayer space adventure game is the same force that repels us. The question is, how do we orbit around one project long enough to finish it?
If you flex a rubber band enough times, eventually it becomes brittle and breaks. Jumping from project to project is like that. We have both felt that friction, the increasing discouragement, and it has often made us rethink our decision to make games for a living, rather than as just a hobby. Have you ever tried jumping back into old code? Sucks. Now imagine doing that every few months and you can imagine our demoralization and frustration. A malaise had hung over us for a few months and we were getting impatient. We faced a choice: A) shift to a purely hobbyist approach to game development, or B) figure out how to shift our trajectory to a far more sustainable orbit. While neither of us wanted to ditch Send More People, it was hard to see it as the reasonable next step towards an actual future in the gaming industry.
Coincidentally, it was about that time that I randomly decided it was time to finally figure out what the hell ‘Agile’ and ‘Scrum’ were all about. Turns out, they both combine to form a pretty damn good cure to our indie game dev woes. By breaking up our game dreams into small, strongly prioritized chunks, and then tackling the development of those chunks in two-week ‘sprints,’ we are able to hold back the overwhelming wave of “How the hell are we going to implement all that?”
Instead, starting with the absolute-most-boiled-down core of our game idea, we focus on small, short term projects, each one building a layer upon the layer that came before it. It’s like building an onion from the inside out. At the end of every sprint, we have, for all intents and purposes, a finished onion. How big that onion gets in the end is always ‘to be determined’ and at any point in the game’s…err, onion’s development it is ready for consumption.
Todd Howard says, “Great games are played, not made.” By having a ‘finished’ game every two weeks, it’s always playable. This is great when it comes to play-testing, as it allows us to design as we go, finding out what works, what doesn’t, and what needs to be next. Because it is prioritized, we can change course if we need to without nullifying all the months of work that came before it.
In addition, the satisfaction of completion, which is what draws us away from Drift toward smaller projects, is felt on a bi-weekly basis, as each new layer of functionality is implemented. That itch is scratched. That release serves to keep us confident and encouraged. It keeps the ball rolling.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly for indies deving on separate coasts in their rare spare hours, we can always just hang out and have fun in the Drift universe without feeling guilty about it. There’s always an outlet, a place to kick it, without feeling like you’re not doing ‘work.’ As Notch says, if you find that you’re losing yourself in your game for an hour or more then the game is fun. So you should probably check that is…frequently. In the end, entire development process is far more enjoyable and effective, and thus our passion for the project is more easily sustained.
We’re only in our second sprint right now, and we’re already seeing the benefits of this new methodology. Our orbit is starting to equalize. While we’ll still flirt with smaller satellites, like Summit, it is finally looking like Drift is going to get the attention and execution it deserves. Wish us luck!
Now to go work on my poetry skills…