Failing Fast, Failing Furious

If you’re an aspiring indie dev like myself I’d highly recommend checking out this talk by Alan Hazelden. He does a great job of echoing a message expressed by many other successful indie devs: When you’re just starting out, make many many small games. You need to just try stuff, fail, learn from it, and move on. Don’t dwell on a single project for too long, because it probably isn’t very good to begin with.

Now, I’ve been working on Pupil on and off for almost a year now, so this really hit home. I indeed have been getting bogged down by technical issues (growth physics), and I’m pretty unsatisfied with the number of puzzles I’ve come up with so far. I think I’m just a little too married to the game, and I will admit when I first started working on it I thought it was gonna be a huge hit – how naive!

Given all that, I decided to make a game for the Pirate Kart, and the result was BoomBox. I did it in about 4 hours, and I think it was quite successful for what it is (a dumb and addictive mini-challenge). The development process was also pretty interesting. I started with the idea of the single-button rotating cannons (stolen from Yoshi’s Island) and nothing else. I had no idea what the rest of the design was gonna look like. I implemented the bubbles, since every platformer ever has something like that. And I placed some cannons and bubbles around and fixed some bugs…and it wasn’t really fun or anything. Then I just started messing with Unity’s “snap to grid” function and started putting the things into a grid – maybe something would come of that? So I just played around with that a bit more, added some sounds, and decided to remove gravity. Then I noticed it was actually pretty challenging to just aim the cannon…so OK, maybe I could slap a time limit on this and make the walls “lava.” And 30 minutes later…I was still trying to beat this monster I had made almost by accident. I zipped it up, submitted, and that was that.

This was such a nice change of pace from Pupil! I think I’ll stick to making these shorter games for a while, as I’ve got so many other ideas I’d like to implement. One interesting thing I noticed is that my code base for BoomBox is so much cleaner than Pupil’s. When you start fresh, you have an opportunity to take everything you’ve learned and actually apply it without the fear of breaking stuff.

So, I think I’m gonna wrap up Pupil soon. I’ll probably implement one more mechanic (magnetic fields), see if that yields any interesting puzzles, and then just consider it “design complete.” I’ll keep making it look nicer, integrating John’s art and experimenting with some real-time fractals, but as far as designing levels I feel like I’m stuck here and need to just move on and call it “done”. Sure, the end result will not exhibit the kind of elegance, completeness, and sheer length that my favorite puzzle games exhibit, but hey, this is my first one. I’m still a n00b at this. Some day later, I hope to come back to Pupil with better puzzle ideas and really build it out!

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