The Viridian Isles : Getting It Done
This year has been a bit of a rollercoaster. Well... I'm not sure that is the best analogy. Perhaps more accurately, a flume ride.
In March, just prior to the serious onset of coronavirus, I quit my job - pulling the ripcord on the VFX industry for the moment to pursue greener pastures. Game development has always been at the door, and I figured this is as good a time as any to get started, but... I've found it hard to produce anything worthwhile - I've made a few half baked gamejam games this year, which I've kept all to myself. I generally feel as though my development skills are far ahead of where they were years ago, but I found it hard to put together a worthwhile entry. In the end, the stars of Procjam and 7dfps aligned and got me out of bed, and I finally created a finished product : The Viridian Isles.
This time, I did a few things differently that I think are worth noting:
Game jams are fickle things, with various mercurial standards for entry. Thankfully, I've noticed more and more denounce crunch by extending their timeframes and encouraging participants to pace themselves. If you want to burn the midnight oil to make jam games, then go off, but I'm rather glad for the extended timeframes, personally. The reality is that Rome is not built in a day, and every game relies to some extent on code, art and engines written before the game begins development. I think there should be no shame getting your ducks in a row beforehand.
In years past I would've been rather adamant that I do it all myself, and bake the cake from scratch. Older and wiser, I have thrown my pride in the bin, and learned the value in lessening the load.
For example, all the foliage and architecture in the game comes from various assets. To merge it with the style of the game, I made custom shaders in Amplify; putting my own spin on it helped unify it all, and helped push to a pleasing final result.
Similarly the first person controller was something off the asset store, and while a lot more of that remained in the final product - I did rewire a lot of it. Recognizing, and feeling comfortable, digging around inside someone else's code was a big step; one that hugely fueled the speed at which the game could come together.
Designing Down To Scope
My inital idea was a first person shooter rpg with crafting and procedurally animated enemies, and a tense and serious tone. Rather than instantly stopping myself at the obvious red flags, I just ran at it. However, whenever I completed a component of the game, my re-evaluated the shape of the design around it. The first point where this happened was that I made procedural robots, and they were totally goofy. I came to realise, I would need to rethink.
At one point, I had cut as far back as a pure walking simulator - you just explore the island, and that's it. However, I thought it would be fun to encourage players to engage a little more with everything, if they had some more solid goals. Collecting stuff was something I knew I could implement in time, so I did.
I'm really happy with this approach. While there are several coats of polish that I could apply to the finished product - overall, I'd be happy to keep pushing ahead with things like this. While in some ways, its been a frustrating year of failed attempts, I'm pretty happy to close out the year with a piece of work that I am happy with.