Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

New Year Plans: How To Become a Better Indie

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 2, 2013

I have been making games for a while, now – both as a full-time mainstream professional and as a part-time indie. Some day, I hope I’ll be pretty good at it.  But in the spirit of New Years’ Resolutions, I figured I’d set some goals and some concrete plans to meet those goals this year to get better at making games.  I’m sharing for three reasons:

#1 – Hopefully some other struggling game devs might be inspired by some ideas here,

#2 – So that newbie / aspiring indies will recognize that years of experience doesn’t convey any kind of automatic superiority.

#3 – It gives me something to write about on the blog. 🙂

I feel relatively comfortable with my programming skills, though I am painfully aware of how quickly much of the specifics grow out-of-date and some huge regions of knowledge that I could do well to improve in. In 2012, by necessity I came to learn Unity, and improved my C# skills.

In 2013, I want to focus on other weaknesses as an indie game developer. Being indie means you must wear many hats, even if you aren’t a “lone wolf.” There are simply too many jobs to be done. I don’t harbor any illusions about turning those into strengths, but I want these to be less of a drag on my performance. I feel I can improve my overall abilities, which should reflect in the games I make for you – in terms of quality and speed of development.

So here are my “personal progress” plans for becoming a better indie in 2013:

#1 – Development “Quality Time”

Work on Frayed Knights 1 tended to be in fits and starts. This was directly correlated much of the time to the Day Job (working from 9 AM until 2 AM – or later – at Sensory Sweep really slowed development pretty bad). During bad weeks (of which I’ve had way too many in 2012), I’d be lucky to get 5 hours of game development work done in a week. But then as I was pushing towards the finish line, it wasn’t uncommon for me to fit nearly 40 hours of dev time in a week – another full-time job. A lot of that time wasn’t “quality” development time, either; it was frequently riddled with distractions.  This year, with a few exceptions, my goal is to make sure I get in at least one hour per day of serious, quality, distraction-free game development each day – even if it means waking up at a more ungodly hour, unplugging the Internet. As I said on Monday, getting into “the zone” doesn’t magically come when it’s convenient – it comes as a matter of habit, effort, and focus. So I need to foster that kind of behavior.

#2 – Sketch or Model Every Day

My art skills have always been lacking – but have vastly improved since I started making indie games. I’m still going to be very dependent upon contracting artists and using off-the-shelf models / art / textures / etc., but I’m going to make a concrete effort to improve upon that. Inspired by what Gareth Fouche did last year making a sketch each day, I’m going to attempt the same – except I can also substitute Blender modeling for traditional sketches.  If nothing else, they can provide a source of blog-fodder as I put some of ’em up for critique. If the key to proficiency is practice (and feedback), that should help.

#3 – Public Progress Reports

One thing which (often) worked pretty well with Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon was blogging progress. The sequel has reached a point in development now where I think I can feel pretty comfortable doing that again. My goal is to report via the blog at least twice a month.  Sort of a bi-weekly report, though it might be more frequent than that. This is actually a pretty fun stage of development where a lot is happening quickly. Towards the end, it gets more challenging, as it’s all polishing, refining, and fixing bugs — not a lot new to report on. But now there’s a lot of fun stuff to share, and there’s a lot I can use feedback on.

I’ve actually been planning this one for a while. I’m – by my guesses – about two months behind where I’d expected to be at the start of the new year, but I can blame 60+ hour work-weeks through far too much of 2012 for that one.

#4 – Game a Month – Well, Sometimes.

I went ahead and signed up as a participant in One Game a Month.  I don’t expect to get a game released every month. If I get one out every quarter, I’ll be pleased with that. But considering how the last “0 hour game jam” recharged my batteries as a developer, I’m beginning to think taking a weekend once every couple of months to do something different is a good thing. While it has the potential to reduce productivity on my main project, I think the benefits can outweigh the dangers. And since I have about a dozen game ideas I want to explore which have been put on hold because of Frayed Knights, this might be a great opportunity to fiddle around with those ideas a little bit rather than letting them collect dust.

There’s one more area I really need to improve in, and that is in outsourcing game content. I suck at it.  I’ve been lucky enough to have a few friends help me out for far below market rate (sometimes for free), which I really appreciate. And I am still running on a shoestring budget — Frayed Knights 1 hasn’t sold enough that it has made financing challenges for the sequel go away.  It just gives me a few extra shoestrings of slightly higher quality.  This is simply something I may need to dive into a little more, be willing to risk losing money on, and get more experience the hard way.

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  • Ruber Eaglenest said,

    And we all we be here to see it… Happy new year!