My game Dev Journey Part 3 – Why I Don’t Make Games Any More [Podcast E09]

So if you haven’t listened to parts one and two, I’ll briefly give you an overview as to what they were like, and then we’ll move on. In part one, I spoke about some of my earliest ideas with games and what I did during college, I think in that part as well. So it was me talking about the games I’d made in school and college, and then part two was what I actually did in my university course for gameplay design and production.

If you’re interested in hearing about any of that, definitely go back and listen to the first two podcasts!

And now in this one, I’m going to tell you what I did game-related after I finished university, and there’s a lot to get into. There’s a lot of weird trial and error things that I did, and nothing really worked out, but hopefully it’ll be an interesting episode anyway!

Life After University

So after uni, I’d moved back in with my parents and I didn’t really think that much about making games for a while. I actually focused more on just trying to get a job and figure out where I wanted to go next in life.

Going into a game company was kind of off the cards for me, because all of the jobs I was looking at were either too far away, or they needed too much experience that I didn’t have, or they were entry-level game testing roles which I really didn’t like the sound of.

I either wanted to go into production or design or programming, but none of those roles really could apply to me at the time. So instead, I ended up taking on a graduate course at a local office which I’m kind of still working at today. So it kind of did work out, but the first few months were quite rough once I’d actually started the job.

They didn’t really know what to do with me, they didn’t really know what the plan was for the graduates. So I had a lot of downtime, and during that downtime I really started thinking about wanting to make games again.

So I had a little notebook with me while I was supposed to be working. Don’t tell anyone, but while I was supposed to be working, I would always come up with ideas for games.

And one thing that I kept noticing at work was the amount of donuts that there were in the office. Every time there was a birthday, every time there was a celebration of some kind, people would always bring in a bag of donuts from Krispy Kreme. And I was thinking, what kind of game could you make about donuts?

Super Donuts

So about a year into my job, I came up with an idea for a game called Super Donuts. And I was looking around online to see what programming language or what game engine I should try and make this in.

My programming skills were still a little bit rusty after university, because I only really did programming in first year, and then I went into design and production afterwards. So I wanted a game engine that wasn’t really that focused on programming, and would allow me to express myself in a more visual manner.

The game engine that I ended up going with was one called Stencil, which at the time I think it was right for me, but looking back now, I probably should have just picked Unity and just stuck with it from the beginning, and got over that hurdle of not really understanding to program very well.

So I whipped up a quick little prototype in Stencil in just a few days, and I was really pleased with the results actually. It felt like a really fun game, and that was the main thing.

For the next few months at work, I would be coming up with loads of ideas. I made myself a Trello board – if you don’t know what Trello is, it’s basically a task system website thing where you can have different columns with different things that you want to try and get done, and then you can drag things from one column to the other.

By the end of the project, I’d been using this Trello board throughout the entire process, and it’s just full of so many ideas, some that I didn’t even get around to doing. So if I do ever make a sequel, there’s tons of things on there that I could use as ideas for getting started with the next game.

Anyway, I spent the first few months just coming up with ideas, and then I asked my girlfriend to make some sprite work for me and some backgrounds, and she did an incredible job with them.

And then I thought the game would maybe take a few months to finish, and then I could just release it. But I worked on it on and off for the next year pretty much, and it turned out that it was going to be a much bigger undertaking than I originally thought.

So I actually launched a Kickstarter in early 2017 for the game, and it actually did really well. And before the Kickstarter as well, I actually took it to Comic Con to let people play a demo, and they could actually fill out their email addresses and win a copy of the game if they got the high score.

I really enjoyed the whole process of creating it. It did take a lot longer than I thought – I think the development in the end actually came to something ridiculous like three years, which is just crazy to think about!

And during that time, I actually went back and replayed the game a lot to try and make it more streamlined, and cut out all of the awkward bits. There was a lot of back and forth with testing the game and making small changes.

I still had quite a bit of downtime at work, so this is probably something else I shouldn’t admit, but I actually used to sneak off and play a level or two of the game, and then write on the Trello board all the things that I would need to do to update it.

And during all this as well, I was actually keeping a dev diary, which I’m really glad that I did, because I went back and looked at it before making this podcast, and there’s so many things I’d forgotten about.

Like after the first year, this is another reason why it took a lot longer than I thought to finish. So after the first year, I moved over to using a Mac, because the game was actually going to be an iPhone and iPad game – that was my intention.

It ended up coming out on Android as well, and I kind of started working on a PC version, but never really saw the light of day. But anyway, I moved everything over to the Mac, and it was working okay for a while, and then one day I must have made a change in the code or something, and it completely broken – because I’d saved it, it wouldn’t actually let me revert to a previous version either.

So I basically had to start over from scratch. I could see the code, but I couldn’t actually change anything. So I ended up taking loads of screenshots, and basically restarting the project from the beginning, which was a huge undertaking because like I said, I was already about a year into development at that point.

And it actually took me a long time after that to actually build up the courage to start working on it again. But I’m glad that I did, and I’m glad that I did get it finished in the end.

If you want to see what Super Donuts ended up like, here’s a developers commentary playthrough I recorded –

Side Projects

Before I finished the game though, I actually did start working on another project, which actually did only take a few weeks to complete. And I kind of made this as a test to understand how to upload things to the Apple Store and how to upload things to Android as well.

So I’m glad I did make that, and that was a game called Blast Area, which was another game that I came up with during some down time at work.

It’s a really simple game – you’re basically in like a rectangular environment, and you basically have to – I can’t remember which way around it is – but you either have to pop the yellow ones, pop the yellow shapes, and let the red ones go through the barrier, or the other way around.

And you would basically keep going until your barrier got destroyed, or you let too many of a certain color through, or you pressed the wrong color too many times.

It was a really fun game, and unfortunately this is really sad to say, but that game actually got more people playing it than the Super Donuts game that took me three years in the end to finish!

So it goes to show that maybe you shouldn’t put too much effort into a project, and you should probably make a few smaller ones, and they probably will do better in the long run.

Because Blast Area, I think it was a lot easier for people to get to grips with to begin with, because it was such a short game. It was kind of an arcade-style high score chasing game, and it was really fun for me as well to actually check the leaderboards and see if anyone had actually updated the scores on there. So I really enjoyed making and releasing that.

Then a few months after that, Super Donuts finally got released onto iOS and Android, and I gave out all the codes for the Kickstarter backers. And I was so excited! I priced the game at $2.99, which I thought was a really good price because the game actually takes about 5 or 6 hours to complete. So I thought for $2.99 people are getting a lot of value.

But maybe I underestimated the fact that people on mobile don’t actually want to pay for games. So unfortunately outside of friends and family it really only got a few sales, and I lost a lot of money on it. And eventually I had to actually pull it off the store because it wasn’t making any money, and to keep things on the store actually cost me about £130 a year, and I just was not recouping that.

And it wasn’t worth paying for the developer’s license for Android and Apple as well. So that was like an extra $100 and something quid a year on top of that. So I pulled the game off the stores, and it was really really disheartening for me.

I’d put so much hard work into that over the three years that I was developing it, and for basically no one to play it, it was really sad. And it really put me off making games for a while. But I was still quite proud of the final product, and the people that did play it actually said they really enjoyed it.

And although the game’s not actually available to play anymore, you can watch a 100% complete walkthrough of it on my channel. I actually did a commentary video where I played through the entire game and spoke about my ideas behind the levels, and behind all of the how to find all of the secrets in the stages as well. So it’s definitely worth a watch, even though you can’t play the game anymore.

Hopes to Revive Super Donuts

But that brings me on to one of the projects that I’m hoping to pick back up this year. And that is the fact that I want to try and polish the game a little bit more, and actually release it on PC for free. So that people who didn’t get a chance to play it back when my channel was a lot smaller, and I didn’t really have an audience to advertise to as much as I do now.

So I would love for more people to be able to play the game, and I’m going to make it free to play for everyone, because pricing the game and not having adverts was probably the wrong way to go. But I don’t really want adverts either, because that’s going to ruin the experience, and the game is a few years old now. So I think I’m just going to release it for free, put it out there, and just let people enjoy it.

And maybe I’ll get some feedback. But that actually put me off making games for a long time. And then when Super Donuts was released, that was just after I’d moved into my own place in the flat as well. And that is when I decided to start making weekly videos instead.

But the idea in my head of wanting to make games never really went away. I didn’t want to use Stencil again, because I wanted to try and get better at programming, which is something that I was actually doing at work.

So after the release of Super Donuts, I feel like my skills had improved quite a bit. And I could probably handle a game engine like Unity or Unreal. This is kind of a weird stage in my game dev journey where I tested out a lot of different game engines, but unfortunately none of them really stuck on like Stencil, which I really got a good grip with after the few years I’d been using it.

I could literally do anything I wanted, I knew exactly how to do it. And going from that, from such a comfortable environment, to something completely foreign to me like Unity or Game Maker, Construct, Unreal, MonoGame, Stencil – I even went back to Stencil, but I just scrapped that because I did not want to use Stencil.

There was one engine that really caught my attention, and I’d been watching a lot of videos about it online, and that was called Godot. So I started trying to use that, but it was very complicated. There is a lot to learn, and there’s a lot of tutorials out there.

So I did whip up a few sort of prototypes in there. I’ve got a list of some of the things I started making. So I actually started making a spiritual sequel to Kirby’s Block Ball. If you don’t know what that game is, it’s basically a Kirby breakout style game. And I thought that would be something really nice and simple to try and get to grips with the new game engine.

So I made a quick little demo of that in Godot a few years ago, and it kind of worked okay. Like I understood how to move Kirby and the paddle, and make the ball bounce, but I never really did anything with it.

And that is true for a lot of the other projects that I did around that time as well. So another game that I made in Godot around that time, for just working out how the engine worked, was my own take on a Touhou game.

I ripped the sprites from one of the Touhou games, and I tried to make my own sort of vertical scroll and shoot ’em up. It didn’t really get much further than just flying the main character around and being able to shoot at enemies. I didn’t have any bullet patterns or anything, but it was just a little learning experience thing that I did for fun. So I was quite happy to do that.

And I also tried doing a few things in Unity. I tried doing a sequel to Super Donuts which was more like a puzzle game called Donut Drop. And I actually found some notes – so if you’re watching this on YouTube you can see the picture here – but basically what it was, you would have different shapes and they would award you different points.

And you would click on the shapes and they would disappear. And there was a donut on the top of this block that was made out of the shapes. And you would click on them and you’d have to try and make it fall in a certain way so that the donut would land in a bucket at the bottom of the screen.

And I thought it was a really nice idea, but I could not get my head around Unity very well at the time. And I was too busy making videos as well, I think that was the other reason that I kind of stopped making games around then as well.

Learning From Other Game Devs

But I still had a lot of ideas. There was another one that I started making in Stencil again called One Two Jump, which was kind of a play on 1-2 Switch. But it was every two or three seconds you would jump automatically, and you would have to navigate these obstacle courses.

I didn’t really get much further than just making one little level, and it wasn’t really that fun to play. So I kind of scrapped that because by the time the timer had counted down and you got in the air, it actually started again before he landed. So it didn’t really feel like the kind of rhythmic platformer that I wanted it be.

Basically I wanted it so you’d be walking along and the numbers would flash on the screen like one two three jump, and you’d be going along don’t don’t and then it would jump, and then you’d land on the floor again. And then it would start the countdown again for another three seconds.

So you’d have to kind of time jumping over the obstacles or dodging the enemies and stuff. But I couldn’t really get the timing down very well, so I scrapped that idea as well.

There was another one, what else have I got here… There was one called Thunder and Lightning which was going to be another iPhone game, where you would – I think there was clouds at the top of the screen, and there was a little aliens running around. And you would have to white swipe your finger across the clouds to build up static electricity, and there would be a meter on the side.

And that would build up, and then when that meter had got to the top, a lightning bolt would flash. And then you could click on one of the aliens, and lightning would come out the coyotes and zap them. But I tried making that, but it wasn’t really that fun to play. I think it was just an idea in my head.

There was a few other little ideas. I wanted to do a cart racing game in Unity and Unity 3D, that didn’t really get anywhere. There was another game called Vortex Burst, which was kind of a 2D platformer with a black hole mechanic, where you could sort of summon a black hole and then swing yourself around it. But I never really got that one off the ground.

There was one game that I did make with a friend though, for a game jam over on my friend Laura Shigihara’s forums, which unfortunately are no longer available. But she did a regular game jam every year, and I joined it that year with my friend Leon from uni.

And we came up with a game called Love Hate and Spiders – I think it was something to do with the theme, but I can’t quite remember. So that was my first proper attempt at doing anything in Unity, but I left most of the programming into him while I came up with all the ideas and drew the sprites and made the level designs and came up with the mechanics and stuff like that.

I had a lot of fun working on it, but I feel like I kind of wish I understood how the code worked a bit more, and we were a little bit pushed for time as well. So the finished product isn’t that great, but if you do want to check it out, I do have a link to download it over on my HIO page. So check in the description and you can go and check out Love Hate and Spiders, which was a game jam game. And I was kind of proud of it to be honest, it is quite fun even though it’s a little bit clunky.

And there was these drops of acid that come out of the sewers, and they just keep getting faster and faster and faster until the point that you can’t actually progress in the game because I couldn’t figure out how to slow them back down after they’d landed on the floor. So it just gets faster and faster and faster. But I had fun doing it, and that was the main thing.

So as you can tell, I did a lot of failed experiments, and none of them really took off. And I was getting quite frustrated because I didn’t want to go back to Stencil, even though I knew I could easily make a game in Stencil.

Basically from 2018 or 19 up until today, I’ve actually been trying to get back into game design, but I never quite get there. I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos and GDC talks and Netflix documentaries about game devs and indie game stories and things like that.

There’s so many really, really cool and really interesting people in the game dev space that I really look up to. I’ve got a list of some of them here.

Noclip documentaries on YouTube, they are really fascinating insights into game companies and how they run and how they came up with their ideas. So I definitely recommend you go and check them out.

Of course, there’s also all of the GDC talks which are really, really fascinating. There’s some incredibly talented people that do talks every single year, and they upload them all onto YouTube. I would actually love to go to the event in person one day and see some of the talks live. That would be really cool.

There were some great specials on Netflix and on Amazon Prime as well, but they seem to come and go on the service. So just type in “game dev” in the search bar, and see what pops up. There were some really good ones though.

And there’s a lot of really good game dev YouTubers as well. So I’ve got a list of some of my favorites here. I’ll go through those quickly:

  • Lost Relic Games – he talks a lot about marketing for games which is really interesting
  • Game Maker’s Toolkit – deconstructs games and tries to figure out what makes them good. There was a really great series that he did on Zelda dungeons I really loved that. It’s called Boss Keys – definitely recommend going and checking that one out after this
  • Game Design Zen podcast – unfortunately he doesn’t make the podcast anymore, but it really meant a lot to me
  • Thomas Brush – really down-to-earth, good documentary-style talks
  • Jonas Tyroller – great video editing style, his game Will You Snail was just released on Steam
  • Goodgis – really fast-paced and fun editing style

That brings me up to the end of this podcast episode. I really hope you enjoyed it! It’s really good to be able to sit here again in my studio and actually be able to record new episodes of the podcast. Hopefully they’ll come out more frequently again now. I’m not deserting the podcast, I hope you stuck around during my month-long absence, and I really hope you look forward to more episodes coming very soon!

Thanks for listening!

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