What I know after 2+ years of solo developing the same damn game (+ Jan-Feb Recap)

Recap first:

The first couple months of 2020 have been both extremely rewarding and extremely frustrating. With the vast majority of my game systems now built, I finally got to start putting them all together to form something that looks and feels kinda like a video game.

After working on the same project for over 2 years, getting to see it come together is one of the greatest feelings imaginable. On the other hand, after working on the same thing for over 2 years, when something doesn’t work, it can be devastating. However (and this is where you eventually net positive), when something didn’t work, it typically cost me about a week of pure frustration to get it working and when I finally did? Oh man, the sheer joy!

So it’s been a fun couple of months. There are still plenty more systems to integrate and therefore plenty more weeks of frustration crescendoing into joy, but I’m well on my way to having a playable game now.

What I know after 2+ years of solo developing the same damn game

I was going to write what would have essentially been a pros/cons of solo development, but then I checked google and you can find 293873 of those articles and they all say the same thing. So go read those if that’s what you want cause I’m not in to redundancy. What I will try to do instead, is give some advice to those interested in solo development, particularly for larger projects.

First of all, it IS possible. I mean, I’ve never done it, but you know, some other people have. But I’m about halfway there, and from what I can tell, it’s possible in the same way it’s possible for a skilled carpenter to solo build an entire subdivision. It’s obviously not recommended. You’re going to need to hone every last (even remotely-related) skill and then employ a shit-ton of dedication and even more time- SO much time. Like, ALL OF THE TIMES.

All of these systems were built by one person – me. Each system is carefully built from the ground up to be able to stand on it’s own (modularity) and to allow for easy implementation of exactly the features I want for my games. It’s not a bad feeling to have what is essentially a game studio in your back pocket, however, in a typical studio, several people would be dedicated to each system, so what has taken me over 2 years solo would only have taken a few months for a team.

As you can imagine, no small percentage of the time I’ve spent has been dedicated to learning and practicing a large variety of skills – some of which I absolutely love and some of which I absolutely loathe. And this is neverending. I’m constantly running into problems I can’t solve without increasing my skillset. So that’s what I do. I follow tutorials, I read papers, etc.. It’s empowering, but it’s also extremely time-consuming. Every minute spent learning is, of course, another minute not spent developing your game.

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a theme here. It’s time. And there’s a twist that comes with this slow-and-steady, tortoise-like (maybe I am in to redundancy?) process. One of the main causes of my frustrations has been integrating the older systems with the newer ones. Some of these systems have sat untouched for a year or more, so inevitably some of the ways I do things have changed, but not only that- How many Unity updates has there been in that time? And then how many updates from 3rd-party assets? And on, and on… So there ends up being quite a bit of re-tuning that needs done as systems get older. Point is, lots can happen while you’re taking forever to build your game, so choose some programming/design paradigms early on, and stick with ’em!

Okay, so this basically turned out to be a pros/cons of solo development. My bad. Hopefully, I said something those other articles didn’t.

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