5 Ways to Avoid Vaporware
December 11, 2011
Vaporware; software or hardware that is announced and never released, nor officially cancelled. Or as I see it, the fate of most GM projects.
It is a sad truth. Many Game Maker users will announce tonnes of new games, applications, and concepts in their time at the GMC, but so many of those projects will never see it to the end of their development.
Rest assured, many of us are guilty of abandoning projects. Even I have trashed a lot of promising ideas because I got lazy.
Sometimes its as simple as apathy or disinterest in our games when we hit nasty bugs or technical flaws. Fortunately there are ways of commiting to your Game Maker projects. So to avoid joining the (overcrowded) graveyard of games that were never to be, here are some tips that helped keep me on track for some of my past and present game developments.
Know What You Are Doing
It is tempting to open Game Maker straight away after coming up with a new game idea. This is a pointless practice.
Game Maker should be viewed as your workshop; craftsmen don’t often whip out a blank piece of wood and create a perfect artform out of nothing. You need to have an idea of what needs to be done, or better yet, a plan of some sort (even if it is loose, just know what you are doing). If you don’t have a goal or aim for this session of programming, you are going to waste time getting nothing practical done.
Some of us have success when we randomly chip away at our games. It is healthy to let our ideas naturally flow as we work. But games are a technical business that needs to be as perfect as possible from start to finish. Practical efforts come first, if you have any ideas while working you can write them down and revisit them later.
Remember, you are creating a game for an audience of end users. Good luck trying to accurately create a good interface, a solid story, and great levels (or maps for the sandbox folks) if you don’t have any focus on what needs to be done. It doesn’t work like that.
Take Your Time
What is with the rush? In the excitement of coming up with a new game, we can sometimes work ourselves into the ground by spending too much time on our projects.
Pace yourself. It is very easy to lose interest on a game project if you spend too much time on it. Break your work clusters into blocks of time, such as twenty minutes every couple of hours. If that doesn’t appeal to you, seperate development time by individual features on a to-do list (for example, stopping for an hour after you complete the debugging of the main character).
If you work on your game for too long at once, you will get bored. By breaking your programming sessions up, not only does it give you a chance to reconsider your priorities on what work needs to be done, but it lets you refresh your mind and get excited about returning to the project.
Work on Something Else
Every so often you may hit a wall. Perhaps you can’t solve a bug, or maybe you are getting tired of working on an AI script?
Never forget that programming is just one aspect of your game. Spend some time working on sprites, new level designs, or background music. If multimedia work isn’t up your alley, why not try coming up with new ideas using a pen and paper (this can be really refreshing if you spend all day at the computer, trust me).
If you don’t feel like working on something new in the game, you can always revisit what you have already worked on and refine it further. Or you can look at other games or opensource examples at the GMC for inspiration on your own game.
Beta testing is okay too, but I’m sure we can all agree there is a fine line between testing your game and procrastinating. If you find yourself bouncing the main character around the screen mindlessly, it might be time to take a break.
WIP is Suicide
Releasing a ‘work in progress’ version or your game is the worst thing you can ever do. It is the kiss of death. Nobody wants to see a half baked version of your game.
As some wise programmer once told me, “… most of our drive is from releasing our work; once you do that, your motivation dies”.
This is all too true. We are pushed to work on our projects by the prospect of releasing them and getting response. ‘Work in progress’ games are always from people who are too impatient to wait for that time to come.
Ever played a WIP where there are no features beyond a moving main character, and there is only a single room? You don’t want to be that guy. And if you were that guy, we forgive you, just never do it again. Ever.
While on the subject of releasing game details too early, let me also warn you away from uploading banners for your signature that prematurely advertise your game. Unless you are nearing a release, there is no practical reason to do this, and it can contribute to a fall in motivation too. There is something about releasing bits of work to the public that can really cut people’s desire to see the job through, ironically.
Now or Never? Nonsense.
If you still don’t feel a love for your game, and feel like you want to delete it and have a clean slate to work with, stop right this instant!
Just because you don’t want to work on the game now doesn’t mean you never can. Put it in a safe place (but not out of sight, or it’ll get buried) and take a few weeks off. If you are anything like me, you will see it one morning and get excited about working on it again. Hell, sometimes I’ve even revisited games after months of waiting and burned through development with them.
One last nuggest of advice is to make a bi-weekly backup of your game. I take a copy of my game every three weeks or so and stick it in a folder in my documents (or before and after I do major changes to my game). This lets me rollback my work if I ever screw something up and can’t recall what I did. Also, it helps avoid accidental deletion of a game project; now that is a real way to kill motivation permanently.
Apathy with programming projects isn’t discriminative of Game Maker either. Whether you are programming a game, making a website, or developing an iOS app with Cocoa, such intensive and sometimes complex work grinds on us sometimes. That is just how it is.
In the end, it comes down to you. Ride out the temptation of laziness and see your work through.