Recently I embarked upon a quest: a quest to produce a platform game, the likes of which the world had never known. However, I got bored of that, but not before exercising my Python chops. Although I failed, I discovered the wonderful pygame library. Pygame is a Python wrapper for the ever-popular C++ SDL library, which I had used before when working on a small game project with a group of university friends. Much like the project preceding this one, the university project died an untimely death, this time due to heavy college workloads.
Still, both experiences provided a great number of learning opportunities, and during university a six month placement at a video game company let me take a peek under the hood of some pretty heavy AAA title stuff. I took what I learned then and tried to apply it to the platform game, but a general lack of interest on my part meant the project had no chance of survival.
Thinking back, there’s only been two genres I’ve really ever fallen in love with: Platforming and shmups. Sure, I’ve had my flirts with RPGs, particularly JRPGs. As I’ve grown however, I just don’t find them nearly as charming as I used to. Recently, I went back to Final Fantasy 7 to give it a proper playthrough, this time around older and wiser. I figured I might be able to appreciate the combat and magic systems a bit more, because now I’m a more patient, understanding guy. Sadly, I also have a lot less time than I used to, and it turns out those systems never had any depth after all: It was all just grinding in the end, like pretty much every other RPG I’ve ever played.
So I’ve come to appreciate the platformers and shmups. With less time to spend on leisure than ever before, it’s important to me that I maximise the enjoyment I get from the limited time I spend on games. Don’t misunderstand, I do branch out occasionally with new releases outside my comfort zone! But when I need to relax, being able to pick up a platformer and speed through it means a lot. The average shmup won’t take more than an hour per playthrough, so you already know in advance how long you’re likely to spend on it (Side note: There are some insane examples of shmups with multiple ‘loops’, meaning you start back and play through again on an increased difficulty level. These can take several hours to fully beat, and must generally be done in one sitting!).
Why did my platforming game die? I’m not sure myself. I think there was a deadly combination of boredom and laziness. While I’d love to get in to the Procrastination Formula, that might be a topic for another time. The short of it is; I didn’t block time to get my teeth in to it, and when I did have time I wouldn’t develop the right features to bring it towards a minimum viable game. Rather, I spent time developing fluff features like ladders or tweaking values that could wait until later.
This time around, there is a system. I intend to spend at least 25 minutes a day focused on this shmup engine, more if I’m on a roll. I have also mapped out some of the key requirements for what will constitute a complete shmup. In a somewhat mock-Agile approach, these requirements take the form of one-line user stories grouped by screen (title screen, game screen, options screen, etc.).
Having once taken a half-day Agile course, I’m something of an expert on the topic. I can do away with that separation of product owner, scrum master and development team garbage because I am in fact all three! Indeed, this is why I call this shaky approach ‘mock-Agile’, because I’m making a mockery of it. That said, taking parts of Scrum seems to work even for a one-man dev team. Here’s an example of the embarrassing list of requirements I came up with:
- I want to be able to navigate a menu at the start of the game
- I want to be able to start the game via the menu
- I want to be able to quit the game via the menu
It might look silly and insignificant, but this sort of thing keeps me on task and aware of what needs to be done. At this point, you may be wondering if I’ve even done any development yet, what with all the mocking and pondering. Well, take a look at this!
Prior to finally buckling down and properly organising myself, I did a bit of development on and off, tearing bits out of the platform engine and transplanting them in to the shmup. In all, I estimate that about four to five hours of actual work went in to the shmup over the course of a month. It’s time to buckle down and make something. Next post I will give you a sneak peak behind the scenes of how I’ve structured the game.