Game development is a lot like a magic show in the sense where you take a bunch of Houdinis, some reluctant participants, stuff them all in a box, and then… A monkey comes out. Or a pigeon. Well, it’s not like a magic show per se, but you end up working with talented people on sparkly magical stuff. And it takes a lot of preparation, work and dedication. It’s not easy work, despite what everyone would like you to believe. It takes time, money, persistence and knowledge.
It amazes me every time I see a beautiful or action packed trailer for some game. It’s the true “WOW factor” that almost always leaves you amazed and inspired. As a developer, you’ll never experience those trailers or the games themselves in the same way anymore. Also, you’re still amazed by visuals, story and game mechanics but with some insight into the “tricks of the trade”. Well, you feel more in awe with what a group of people has managed to accomplish and produce in limited time. You can see true creativity at work here and the best possible utilization or “marriage” of art and technology imaginable where a group of talented individuals, united by their unique skill sets, use their knowledge and talent to produce something amazing. Something fun!
Let the magic happen!
For a lot of us here at Exordium Games, Bear With Me was our first venture into the world of game development. We kind of had an idea – as most aspiring developers do – and we were looking for a way to make it happen. We wanted to tell the old, classic story but we also wanted to tell it a bit differently. Also, we wanted to make the kind of game we use to love playing as kids but we wanted to do it today because some of the modern games minimum system requirements could be used to launch a satellite into orbit. We wanted to make a new game but with that same feel of familiarity that you get every time you replay some of the best examples of the point and click genre.
We knew what point and click games are like, we’ve had two decades to soak up all the little things that made the genre special. So we knew what we had to do, at least we thought we did. We had a story and we had our characters. It was all done on paper, and some concept art was floating around.
Don’t let yourself get caught up in doubt!
Soon after we started with development. We had our doubts, sure. Every time we would hit a snag, the world would collapse around us. How, on earth, are we going to get this to work? Is everyone up to the task? Can we even make it work or is it all a waste of time? The constant sense of dread and the lingering feeling of “we bite off more than we could chew” was hanging over us at all stages of development. The key to overcoming this is to just go and do it. Don’t overthink it, unless it’s constructive. Don’t get caught up in doubt, as that can very easily sink the whole thing.
Over time, slowly, we realized that impossible is just a word. The team behind Bear With Me are extremely creative and talented and they are good at what they do, but most of all they love doing what they do. Never, during the whole process, have we come across something we didn’t manage and we’ve come to rely on that. “We did it before, we’ll do it again, and we’ll do it better this time” sort of becomes an unspoken creed. Especially in smaller indie studios where you’re restricted by either time or finance or both.
Something isn’t working as intended? Let’s tweak it some more. This animation is way too complicated for such a small scene? Let’s re-write the scene. This character feels out of place? Let’s re-imagine him. This plug-in is limited? Let’s write custom code. We all work together and we’re working towards the same goal. We know what to expect from each other, and we’re very aware of each other’s capabilities.
Cool features vs time
When writing a scene or thinking of a cool feature to add you should always keep in mind what that scene or feature means to other people in your team. And always take the deadline into account as well. If something just isn’t working we can always adapt. If a strong and competent team has enough time and incentive to work their magic, it’ll end up being one hell of a magic show.
Sure, there are times when you’ll lose sleep, and you’ll experience mini breakdowns on a daily basis, but it’s all part of the process. When it’s all done and polished and when that game hits Steam and some of the first reviews start to come in, good or bad, it’s a great feeling. You feel like you made something special, something that wasn’t there before. You created something out of thin air, and that feeling alone makes it all worthwhile. As we were working on the game we managed to avoid some of the pitfalls by sheer luck alone. But we recognized them and took notice for the future.
It was all a huge learning experience for us. All of us were constantly learning, adapting and changing with the project. Soon enough, Bear With Me became something real, something we could play through. It wasn’t just an idea anymore. We made the idea work.