Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Learning to Make Games: Putting in the Time

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 21, 2014

guitarchordsMy dad used to joke about how he’d bought all this exercise equipment but it hadn’t helped him one bit. Then he’d say something like, “I’m going to try using some of it now, and see if that makes a difference.”

Yeah, it was a lame joke. But I sometimes get into that mentality, too. Even as a game developer. Ever get a bunch of cool new tools and books, imagining that they’ll magically improve your productivity just by virtue of sitting on your hard drive or bookshelf? I’ve done that. Okay, no, I didn’t really consciously think they’d do anything to help me if I didn’t use ’em… but I kept getting them.

I was thinking about this last night when I was considering the songs I’d really like to see in Rocksmith 2014. I’ve got a lot of favorites … mostly some 80s songs by groups like Journey. Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing remains my all-time favorite song. And we need some ZZ Top. And Van Halen. And… and… and…

Nevermind the fact that between the old game and the new edition, and the DLC I have picked up, I have a good 200 songs or so already in my digital library for RS 2014. I haven’t tried all of them yet – not even my favorites (although at this point, the ones I haven’t gotten to are mainly the ones with different guitar tunings. I tend to do those in batches). Seriously – if I could master half of those songs, there’d really be nothing stopping me from playing anything. Ever. But if I really wanted more “digitally assisted songbooks,” I still have something like 150 songs or so in Rock Band 3 Pro, and the real guitar with the midi output for that one still works just fine. And then the ol’ songbooks I’ve accumulated over the years for music I was not capable of playing at the time.

I guess something is working, with all the practicing I’ve been putting in lately, ‘cuz they don’t seem so out of my league now. Okay, the Yngwie Malmsteen sheet music I picked up when I was seventeen years old in a fit of ambition is still quite a ways out. But man, I do miss the shred.

I have a few books lying around from various hobbies I’ve attempted over the years, some of which I’ve only barely scanned.

The thing is – while accumulation of “book knowledge” and having some good tools can certainly assist you, they are at best a multiplier to your own ability. I could have automobile tools that rival that of a commercial mechanic, but if I don’t know much about auto maintenance, they won’t do me much good. There is simply no substitute for putting in the time. The “ten thousand hour rule” – as oversimplified as it is – still holds true.

Okay, all this sounds like super-obvious stuff. And it is. But it’s funny how easy it is to forget when you are looking for shortcuts.

It can be deceptive. When you are first starting out, those tools and books and online advice and tutorials and starter projects and stuff can be really, really helpful in getting you jump-started. They give you a boost up that steep learning curve, and it feels awesome. But at some point, the curve levels out, and you just have to put in a lot of work to improve. Since all those doodads were helpful early in the process, it’s easy to think that you can accumulate more of those items to help you resume the kind of gains you were making in the beginning. That’s why you tend find a lot more books geared for beginners in any field or hobby or skill than for intermediate and advanced students – and the latter tend to be very specific and targeted for sub-skills. They can still be helpful, but not nearly as helpful as they were in the early days.

PongAll this comes back around to game development in one way:

If you be a great game developer, there’s only one true path: Make games.

To that end, I’d like to remind everyone that there is a Global Game Jam this weekend, January 24th through the 26th. See if it’s happening anywhere near you.

Also – in addition or instead of this, there’s also One Game a Month. I’m struggling with a new (to me) engine right now for educational purposes to get a little game out for January. These kinds of games don’t need to be huge. Look at Cactus’s page for some ideas of what can be done in a few hours or a few days. (I think Chris Hecker once joked that Cactus falls asleep at his desk, and when he wakes up he discovers he’s created a new game.)

But seriously, ya gotta start somewhere, if you haven’t already. Start as small as you need to. Make a Pong or something if you have to. Release it via the One Game a Month website or something. It’s part of the practice, putting in the time. Make a game out of making the game. How quickly can you build Pong? Or can you do something really cool with it inside the allotted time that nobody has done before?

The journey of ten thousand hours begins with the first hour. But even if you are nine thousand hours in, you still gotta put in the time.

Filed Under: Game Development, Geek Life, Music, Production - Comments: Read the First Comment

  • Maklak said,

    This remids me of two thing people said to me.

    The first was: “I’ve figured out, who an expert is. It is a person who has the right tools for the job and more or less knows how to use them.”

    The second was: “Do it now.”