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First Look into Game Development

My Game Dev Story

Game development from the outside looks straight forward. Come up with some game mechanics (How the game should be played and features players would like) add some story to it and fill it in with artwork.

Simple, yes? No!

Branding

Before even beginning to create a game, a solid foundation should be put into place to ensure a fan base can be built up. A game without players creates a sad tale indeed. A studio name, logo, goal and mission are generally a great place to start. Having all of this bundled up into a great looking website means there is a place for people to find out who you are and what you are doing.

There are other aspects which are questionable to making a game. Funding is one of them. You don’t need massive amounts of funding. In fact, you don’t need any funding at all. It all comes down to how good your lead project manager is. I will talk about my own game development story which will share some insight into this.

Team

Very few games can be put together by one person, not impossible but very taxing on a sole developer.

Take games like Stardew Valley for example. A sole developer began this game, taking on coding, artwork, marketing, story and everything else alone. Had there been people to take on other roles development time would have been much shorter and the creator could focus on the overall vision of the game, managing staff to ensure everything fits that vision.

Building up a good team is crucial to a game’s success. The team needs to be motivated, skilled and most importantly, have a clear understanding of the overall vision. To make this work good leadership and project management needs to be in place. Someone to oversee everything. This individual needs to be organised, have great attention to detail and be able to work well with others.

Time

Game development very rarely works out the way you planned it to. Bugs in the code make setbacks, extra art assets are required because of a change made somewhere in the story or the story is altered to become more streamlined, whatever the case, time becomes a very vague concept which can be almost impossible to predict.

???

There are other aspects which are questionable to making a game. Funding is one of them. You don’t need massive amounts of funding. In fact, you don’t need any funding at all. It all comes down to how good your lead project manager is. I will talk about my own game development story which will share some insight into this.

My Story - Making a Game with No Budget

In 2014 I came up with the foundation to a story which I would like to create into a Visual Novel. I spent the year writing and rewriting it while also working full time. The entire project was to be a free Visual Novel and done while continuing to work. I have no skills with art or music while my writing ability isn’t exactly the best overall. I knew that I would have to build a team of volunteers. Asking them to work on my vision with no promise of payment. I would have to make many compromises along the way if I wanted this project.

I had already seen many projects start up and fail after reddit posts ask for people to help with a game with very little thought or effort put into the initial start up so I wanted to make sure I had content for people to work with.

First I looked for a writer. Luckily this turned out to be one of the easiest roles to find volunteer for. There are so many people who want to get involved with story writing and bring their own unique ideas forward which was fantastic! Not only would I have someone to proofread my content, but also suggest changes and add in new ideas to help the story along.

Since I already had a script, outlining the key areas, the writer had something to work with and could begin to make edits.

Once we had solid character sheets and key locations worked out, I saved up a little money to commission artists for sketches while finding volunteers to draw their own visions of the characters and locations. This gave me a small repository of artwork to show.

With a story and artwork it became much easier task to share my vision to others and to show them that a lot of time and effort had gone into the project already, in fact at this stage only art and music was required as I had already begun coding the script into an engine.

Concept Art

Motivating The Team

Excited by the idea that this project was already in motion, and a LOT of looking up artists, messaging and having back and forth conversations, I finally had a small group of artists to help me.

(I can not express enough how having content already in place is what aspiring developers should be doing. No matter how long it takes and if you have to pay from your own pocket, if you Really want to make this project happen, you will find a way!)

I could now focus on project management and marketing. Using sketches from the artists to show the development progress to potential fans.

The real challenge, however was to keep everyone motivated. Asking people to do work for you, with no pay and having full time jobs or college, means that they will likely lose that motivation pretty fast. I ensured I spoke with each regularly to update them on my own and each other's progress. Any finished work would be posted in a group chat to show the others just how great they are for completing some of the work and that allows the artist to get great feedback from the rest of the team. This, in turn, motivated other team members to finish their own work for feedback.

There are very important things to remember as a Project manager, however;

Don’t be pushy—People should feel comfortable and not be pressured or they are not going to have the right mindset to work for you. Ask how they are doing, if they are having any issues and make sure they know it’s fine to take a break, just to let you know so you know when to expect work and are then able to fit it into the project.

Be Friendly—If they want to chat, oblige them, they are doing you a favor by doing free work. You are literally offering them nothing in return. Therefore cater to their needs however you can and simply be there for them (Though if they don’t want you bothering them, respect their wish for distance).

Be Active—You should always be working on something and letting your team know what that is. If they are working hard then so should you. Screenshot parts of the game coming together as you add in the content. Show them if their work got several likes on social media and make sure they are aware of any feedback fans have given.

Make them feel valued—Ask for your team's thoughts/opinions. Show them any changes you’ve made as a result of their input and take any and all of their ideas into consideration, sometimes you might want to sacrifice your original idea of a character's clothing in favor of your character artist’s idea. (Sometimes you might need to explain why you can’t make that change as it is crucial to the plot line).

My Struggles

I think the most difficult part of the whole process was music. I simply could not get a composer to stick around. This lead to the one asset which was not made specifically for my game. Luckily many royalty free tracks are available on the internet and since the game was being released for free, this option was fine. It did mean days of searching for just the right music and narrowing down to the ones which fit the best. It made me glad when game reviews came in complementing the soundtrack, I feel that I made the right choice with which tracks I used in the end.

Making Compromises

With a Volunteer team, sometimes it’s necessary to cut content originally planned, often due to time restrictions or the overall skill of the team. In my case, the team had already been working for over a year and it was obvious progress was slowing down. We had already achieved so much however, as with so many teams of this sort, an inevitable end was beginning to become apparent. I had to make a choice to ensure we could release the content we have which lead to the idea of splitting the story into two parts.

My hopes were that seeing their hard work finally pay off with a release would strike more motivation within the team. We got the game to steam and received some really positive reviews. Everyone was overjoyed and we each took a few weeks to cool down. It is unfortunate to say that at this point people were beginning to take exams at college or had to take on extra time at work. While we had every intention to proceed on to part 2, we had to place it on an indefinite hiatus. I didn’t feel it was right to continue development with a new team, with new art styles as everyone had worked so hard, the game had become a part of all of us.

I am currently reworking the original script for part 2 and turning it into a short story which will hopefully bring some closure to fans of part 1. While it may not be in the format they were expecting, at least they still find out how the story had been planned to progress.

Overall Process

The entire game took 3 years to develop.

2014 was my initial scribbles of the story and creating it into a script/

2015 I worked with a writer to refine and finalize the story, characters and locations.

2016 The artists worked on our art assets.

2017 (Very early in the year) We released the game.

Game development is a very very slow process which takes a lot of work and effort for everyone involved. It is very easy to lose motivation and give up but there is no better feeling than seeing all of that hard work come together and to finally have it released.

If you are really serious about developing your own game, don’t even think about looking for a team until you have a clear vision, have as much content as you can possibly get to present to people and have worked on a solid recruitment post outlining your vision, showing examples of story and assets and detailing exactly who you need and what they will need to do.

And don’t stop at a recruitment post on one website. Post it to every website you can find, and look on places such as DeviantArt and Weasyl for Artists or Writers, FMA for Composers, BTVA for Voice Actors—And any other website to find the individuals you need. Trust me, you won’t build a team in a day or even a week and the original team members may even leave. I actually build up 3 different teams before I ended up with the team which stuck with it until the end.

Always keep in mind that there are thousands of people with game ideas who look for teams with very little planning or preparation and almost every single one of them fail with very very few exceptions.

Think about how you can stand out from the crowd. Offering the potential of future income isn’t as important as many might think as almost everyone promises a cut of “Any profits we might make in the future.” The thing that people really want is the security in knowing all their efforts will come to a conclusion.

Runeous is Available for Free on Steam

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