Summary 2020

While almost completely ignored jams this year (with the exception of QUBOR for Ludum Dare 46), from the very beginning of the year I set myself the goal of making a complete vertical slice of some new, but easy-to-develop project. Then it seemed that a shooter about a tank would be the simple idea.

The first prototypes did not show the amount of work
that awaited me in the future
And now the project, originally planned for 3-4 months of development, has to barely keep pace until the end of this year (and still leave something for later).

MARK-I: Mission Pilot

Inspired mainly by classic NES games (eg, Contra or Jackal), I wanted to make an arcade shoot 'em up. Since personally I am not a big fan of bullet hell games, I wanted to make a game with a fairly low entry threshold. But trying to find fun in a "not like everyone else" format without explicit borrowing or cloning turned out to be a daunting task. I am still not sure that I coped with it, despite the subjective satisfaction with the result.

The idea of a story in the world of the near future quickly came to my mind, where the player takes on the role of a pilot of a combat vehicle called MARK-I (much later I learned that the project with such existed in reality). A very banal evil bad corporation, a mission to destroy some kind of Core, and at the end the boss-helicopter must certainly awaits. Initially, I wanted to put more emphasis on narrative, but as a result, of course, it is difficult to fit in with the dynamics of the game.

The scene in the cabin of the MARK-I turned out
to be not very readable, but I still wanted to leave it
As a vertical slice demo I set myself the task of making about 15 minutes of intense gameplay. But there is reason why the genre of action games is one of the most expensive in the gaming industry: the player has a set of expectations that require the game to be worked out in very different areas and very densely filled with content. It turned out to be very difficult to deal with this alone.

Development difficulties

Level design and content filling took significantly longer than expected. Whithout great experience in this area, collecting levels even from ready-made objects was complex and time-consuming for me, required full immersion. And in general, the process of filling with content was not as fun as creating new systems in the game.

Due to the chosen scope of the game, I had to redo and fix all ~15 minutes of gameplay several times. Almost all game locations were rebuilt from scratch 3-4 times. In general, the constant alterations, the need for which notifies after the next playtest, is morally and physically exhausting the most. One of the hardest things to do is cope with your anxiety about repetitive development.

Perhaps many will understand the feeling of some disgust for own project,
when throughout the year you open it and see the exact same thing
Needless to say, many added features had to be thrown out. This often has a positive effect on the final result, but the time spent initially cannot be returned. So, for example, the collected data with knowledge about the world, or battle chips obtained from enemies, which initially serve as currency for upgrades, were cut. Many features had to be postponed as they only make sense in the context of a full-size game for a few hours.

At a certain stage, I decided to add a local coop for 2 players, which should become one of the main selling points. Despite the fact that from the very beginning I had in my head the ability to control from a gamepad (now the game can be played entirely with an Xbox controller), this control option turned out to be more difficult to play than a mouse with keyboard. But nevertheless, I'm glad that now the controls can be easily adapted even for two independent Joy-Cons from Nintendo Switch.

Experience gained

Despite the fact that it is difficult for me to give any subjective assessment of the final result, I am very happy with the process and the knowledge gained. One of the most important questions for me - could I work on one hobby project for a year, or maybe even more? - received a positive answer. I learned a lot in areas that I had to deal with a little less before: working with 3D in Unity, physics, rendering, navigation and ai, sound producing and much more.

Regularly posting screenshots to Twitter allows you to periodically look from the outside at the visual component of the game. Only a few subscribers were not enough to overcome the milestone of 100 followers by the end of the year :D Maybe by the 10th anniversary of the account next year it will be possible to do this.

The scene that started it all, but in pre-final form
Regular playtests are one of the most effective tools. In order not to blur the eyes of the players, since every time the feedback is very useful, I tried not to build demos frequintly, making breaks between internal releases of 1-2 months. Once I even managed to make a public playtest within of one local meetup, where I managed to look at very different players trying the game for the first time. Yes, you can't please absolutely everyone, very often the feedback turns out to be very cruel, but this is what makes you reflect on the project.

I was convinced once again how planning works in the industry. Especially now that this issue of overworking and crunches has resurfaced in publicity. The deadlines that business management lays down in the project almost never coincides with the internal reality, especially at the seemingly final stages of development. Planning is great for short iterations between playtests, but it's very hard to rely on in the long run. Quality assurance of the project takes more time, relative to the first stages of development. The devil is in the details.

* * *

About plans: at the beginning of the year to release the received vertical slice as an independent game in Steam. And finally, let go of the project and not return to it (unless, of course, I can find a publisher before release).

I really want to take another look at my indie approach, reduce the amount of stress and the semblance of "work", leaving the indie gamedev hobby in a freer and more fun style. It’s hard to watch after iteration “2021”. I wish you all creative success and strength to create!

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