Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Game Dev: Hitting the Brick Wall

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 22, 2013

I have met a few people in my career who seem to have the magical ability to “do it all.” They can code. They can design. They can draw. They can write. They can do sound design. They are the jacks of all trades, and IMO ideally suited to the indie scene.

They didn’t get there by waiting for somebody else to do the work for them, or by letting themselves be blocked by limitations to their own skills.

I also doubt it was the quickest way for them to get their game done.

One of the most frustrating things as a game developer is to be cruisin’ along, making something that resembles a game, and BAM! You hit a brick wall of your own limitations. Maybe you are getting to the point where you have to go from using default behaviors and very simple scripting to some honest-to-goodness coding. Maybe your old content pipeline can’t be used anymore for one reason or another, and you are confronted with a brand new tool (or a highly modified upgrade). Or maybe – as we programmers often find – no matter what we do, we can’t make it pretty enough to demo.

When confronted with a wall, you have a number of choices: Go around it, go over it, go through it, or… possibly being stopped by it. We may be able to skip it for now and come back to it later, but it will still be there.

Sometimes it may be best to admit defeat. If you are a new indie game developer, this may be nature’s way of telling you that you are in over your head, and really need to scope things down.  Maybe put the game on the back-burner for a while until you are better able to tackle its demands.

I liken “going around the wall” to simply coming up with a plan B that doesn’t require quite as much of a push outside of your comfort zone. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and maybe this is an opportunity to re-evaluate a feature or aspect of the game and do something else that is less demanding but provides equal or nearly equal benefit.

The next two are a little bit more of a stretch. Going over the wall may be analogous to getting help.  I’m sure even my excessively-talented acquaintances are completely without out gaps in their own skillsets. Sooner or later, we all need help. Sadly, there’s a whole ‘nother set of skills and knowledge necessary to find said help. It may not be all that easy, either.

Finally, there’s going through the wall – arming oneself with the tools and skills necessary to completely remove not only this wall, but all others similar to it that might appear in the future. As one might expect, this might be a costly and expensive option.  This would involve obtaining those skills necessary so that it isn’t an obstacle anymore.

That last one can be combined with another approach. Maybe you get help or find a work-around this time, but you use it as an opportunity to start learning for next time.

What it comes down to is this: I’ve been making games for a long time, and I am still faced with challenges all the time where I simply don’t have the necessary skills. Maybe it’s something small but highly technical, like understanding the formula for calculating the trajectory of a projectile.  Or larger, like knowing how to program in PHP. Or it could be something relatively huge, like doing halfway decent 2D art.

The important thing is not to let it stop you. As an indie (and as a human being, really), you should always be learning and growing. If you aren’t pushing yourself in some way with every project, what are you doing it for, anyway?

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  • Cuthalion said,

    I’ve plowed through a few walls already in the game I’m working on. And I’m realizing there are a couple more ahead. How best to handle them…?