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Why You Should Start Simple

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@HobbyGameDev’s long-read “Reasons for Modest First Projects and Incremental Learning” tells the tragic tale of overambitious novice developers.

In a response to a doubting tweeter, HGD advocates starting modestly to slowly build skills, so that you can tackle more complicated projects later on. Avoiding overambitious projects that are way outside of your comfort zone is one of the stumbling points for novice and hobby game developers, like myself.

In the previous post about Hammock Driven Creativity, I highlighted Rich Hickey’s suggestion to keep multiple projects going in order to avoid stagnation. While I agree with this, it’s important to judge the scope of those projects with a critical eye.

Far too often, my ideas start, at least in my mind, with ambitious artwork, animation, and multiple complex combinations of mechanics. I am neither talented nor skilled enough to pull these projects off. So it’s easy to get stuck.

I often find myself implementing some ad-hoc animation system, spending time reinventing the frame-based or skeletal wheel, as it were. Animation shouldn’t take priority, especially considering that my best artwork is derivative and possibly one step above programmer art. I should focus on creating compelling prototypes, and worry about polish later.

To build your skillset, HGD suggests starting out by remaking historical games. By implementing tried-and-true mechanics that are necessarily simple in scope given their ancient hardware, you can confront the problems involved in creating a full game rather than a half-finished proof-of-concept.

By half-finished, I’m thinking of a time where I completely abandoned a concept because I was hung-up on optimizing a tile-based room system. Rather than making the actual gameplay fun and complete, I was focusing all of my time figuring out how to make walls. Walls are nice in a finished game, and you could make the case that they are required constraints to achieve good gameplay, but they are not where the fun is. As HGD and my previous post point out, you can keep trying to work on these overly ambitious projects, but your productivity will suffer.

Best to reap the rewards that come from continued productivity and, as HGD says, pick a fight you can win.