The Experimental Games

It’s been nine months since I started doing Experimental Games and I think it’s time to evaluate and maybe go in a new direction.

At first I had been stuck for ages with my never-ending projects and I had literally nothing to show for all my coding. Well now things have changed a bit: I’ve successfully released seven experimental games, games that more or less are playable, working and sometimes even fun! These months have taught me that games aren’t impossible year long projects, they don’t have to be perfect to be enjoyable and above all they taught me to get things done!

Here are a few lessons I learned the hard way.

Iterate

Don’t try to make the game perfect from the start cause it won’t be perfect and it won’t be pretty. Instead create the ugliest, crappiest playable version of your game you can and then work from there. The best games where those who got playable the earliest: MenuCity, Bugger and Jonas IceCream Stand. The other crappier games such as A Geek Valentine and Black and White got playable just in a very late stage and indeed they also became the least fun.

Fun isn’t created on the spot - it’s created through iterations. It’s like carving a wood figure. You don’t create it with a big slash, you carefully chop the wood off little by little until the figure is complete. This is how I think good, fun games are made.

This quantum leap wasn’t achieved with a big chop, but with many smaller ones
This quantum leap wasn’t achieved with a big chop, but with many smaller ones

Get things done

This is the thing that changed with me the most. At first I thought games where all about the planning stage - the idea stage. It’s important to have a great idea and it’s good to write down things sure but you can’t just sit on your ass doing the big talk and not actually do anything. As said about iteration you can’t make the game perfect from the start and you can’t the whole game from the start either. The game will change and your idea about what’s good for the game will change too.

Take for example my latest game A Geek Valentine. I had envisioned the game as a game where you built trap combos from a top down point of view. But the game changed into a pac-man type (I’m not all too happy about it though). For better or worse games and ideas change, stop planning and start getting shit done.

Set Goals

In December I had the truly great theme New World Order and it spawned the best game idea I’ve had, a sort of SimCity game but instead of building stuff you plot to take over the city and taint it with your evil propaganda. Like in North Korea or in the old Soviet. But the game was not to be.

Why you ask? I think it’s because I never had a goal - I broke the one week rule and I could just push the deadline further and further and I never got anything done. With other games when I was at the 2-3 last days I always got a big energy boost and I always managed to get the game finished. But here I could just say “meh, I’ll do it later” and so it never got done. It’s Duke Nukem Forever all over again (maybe a bit smaller okay). Goals will help immensely to get things done.

Have fun

In retrospect I should have had an overall goal for my experimental games too. I never put an end date - it was just new month = new game and in the end it wasn’t very inspiring to just churn out a game. It was as if I just had to make a game, it wasn’t something I wanted to do and it was almost as if it had become a chore.

Mind you I’ve had lots and lots of fun making these games and the games who were the most fun to play were also the ones I had the most fun making. You could divide my games into three categories I think.

The beginning: Fun

The middle: Really Fun

The end: Not so Fun

The funny thing about this is that it works really really well both ways. Both how fun the games are and how fun I thought it was to make them. I think this is an indication for all you game developers out there: Have Fun, not only will you live a happier and longer life but the game will also be a lot more fun!

Conclusion

I’m not sure what the meaning of this post was. At first I wanted to state a new beginning for myself and then it turned out to a lessons-learned post… but whatever.

I won’t be doing monthly experimental games for a while now, I’m happy with the results but I’m not at all motivated right now and I need a little break. I will continue my game making but it just won’t be exactly the same - maybe I will try to release a game, any game, each month or I’ll focus on making “real” games - games which are everything I want them to be, not just a proof of a concept. I guess that’s something that’s been bothering me about my experimental games - it feels like something is missing.