The 3 month project, 14 months on

In September 2013, I sat down at my desk, ready to immerse myself in the world of game development. I loaded up Unity, created a new scene, and hit Save. Pukka Golf was born. Fourteen months on, and I’m still working on my first game. So what happened? Why has it taken so long to create this little mobile game?

Inexperience

You’ve probably heard of the “nintety-ninety rule”. Once you have finished about 90% of a game, you only have the remaining 90% to do! Usually, this is meant of a bit of an exaggeration and a joke, but when it comes to your first project, it’s probably pretty accurate! I always tend to think I’m further ahead than I am. Everything takes longer than expected, and there’s always tasks you haven’t accounted for.

I naively thought that, once I’d implemented the core mechanics, it would be plain sailing from then on. Just chuck in a bunch of sound effects/art and jobs good, right? Wrong! The core mechanics is the easy part. Essential to get right, but easy. You know exactly what you’re aiming for, and you can concentrate on the mechanics without worrying about bugs and polish. But, after the fun bits over, you actually have to expand those mechanics into a playable game. You have to communicate the aims to the player, give the game life and character, a GUI, etc. In the process, you will find hundreds of bugs and design flaws, some of which will literally stop you in your tracks for days.

Eventually you’ll have a prototype and you’ll tentatively start preparing for a bit of play testing. But as you get nearer release, you find out there’s a whole load of other stuff you didn’t factor into your project plan (…what project plan?). Setting up a company, dealing with contracts, trademarks, bank accounts, app store stuff, this thing called “marketing”…

So, what can we do about it?

Well, knowing what to expect helps. Know that your game will take twice as long to make as you think it well. Know that the first half of development may be the most exciting. Know that, at times, you will be stressed, bored, tired, overworked… Mentally prepare yourself for the challenges ahead!

The other thing, is to actually do some project planning! I never did any for Pukka Golf, and it shows. I had the whole game design in my head, and just planned to work away until it was done. So, how did I know it would take me around 3 months? I didn’t, and was just kidding myself.

I don’t think any bedroom coder wants to spend their time project planning. I’m not saying bring out the Gantt charts (although, it wouldn’t hurt 😉 ), but any activity that gets you thinking about the project ahead is going to help. For example, just try making a list of the tasks in your game and estimate how long you need to complete them.

  • Anything in the list you’ve never done before? Double those time estimates.
  • Anything in the list you’ve never done before, and don’t know how you are going to do it? Triple those time estimates.
  • Is this your first game? Lets double all those estimates again! 😉
  • Great, your game will take 5 years… Flappy Bird clone anyone?

This is very basic, but whatever you choose to do, it will get you thinking and may expose any design elements that could cause you problems down the line. Most games end up cutting features, so it’s better if you get to decide ahead of time what you’ll cut if it comes to it. Of course, cutting features is not the only solution to getting the game out quicker. You don’t have to do everything yourself! When Daniel joined the development, he brought a wealth of level design experience with him, and has been able to complete many more levels, and to a higher standard, than I could alone.

But, 14 months for a little mobile game?!

Yup. Developing a game takes a long time. Developing your first game takes even longer.