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Jack Le Hamster
Jack Le Hamster

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Why it's getting harder for a solo gamedev to complete their project

It's dawned upon me that I'm finally finding it impossibly hard to drive my game project to completion.

It used to not be that way. I used to be very confident about my ability to make a game. Those were small web games, but they were good enough that I could call them a success. People played them, some left bad comments but others praised them. One of my biggest success was a small visual novel called "Killed Baby Hitler" which was completed in less than a week. I was also have a Global Game Jam collaboration with two artists which was completed in one weekend, and it reached daily #1 on Newgrounds (Home Bleep Home).

I remember being able to just decide to finish a game, spend the whole night without sleeping, and complete it the next day or just a couple days later.

I used to think it's easy. I consistently underestimated the project, so it took longer than expected, yet I still completed them and thought at the end: Well, it wasn't so bad.

Now, my scope has changed. I'm trying to make games that are sellable on Steam. But somehow along the way, I found that my optimism has dropped. When I'm not actively working on my project, my motivation is at its peak, but when I start touching my keyboard, suddenly I find myself making nearly zero progress, falling asleep, and repeating the cycle over and over again the next day.

Software engineers make it a joke that it takes an entire day to change the color of a button. But on my solo gamedev journey, I'm experiencing exactly just that! Each day I work on my game, and I look at the result, it amounts to spending one whole day making small UI tweaks that doesn't bring me anywhere close to the finish line.

So while I'm still stuck in this limbo, I'm trying to evaluate the reason for this and come up with some ideas:

Getting old

I'm getting to the point where I can't spend a whole night without sleeping. That's.... probably best for my health not to do that anyway. But I think getting old as in getting more experienced has other effects. I can't bring myself to make small games anymore. When I think about it, small games are still better than nothing, but it's hard to get that thought in my mind.

External distraction

Back then, I wasn't as "settled" as I used to be. For a while, I didn't have a phone or a TV. Now, I've got Netflix. I try to not to get more than one streaming service like Hulu or Disney+, otherwise it'd be a total disaster, but even when I don't watch TV, I have games on my phone I'm addicted to. Well... I guess it's only one game. Today, I just spent hours of my day on Polytopia. (I don't even know why I link it here, like I want to get readers addicted as well...). That said, if you play Polytopia, you'd realize that a game really doesn't take that long. But I'm sometimes getting so bored that I spin up more than 10 multiplayer games simultaneously.

Well, let's say I finally muster the willpower to hide my phone in a corner. I take out my laptop, fetch the repo for my game project, start jotting some code, and get frustrated when I'm stuck for a minute on one small problem. How do I solve that? Well, I get myself distracted on YouTube, Reddit, hell even! Did that solve my coding problem? NO! Did that solve my frustration? Hell yeah! Well it did in the short term, not the long term. Else I wouldn't be writing this post.

Now what's this game project I'm trying to work on. Perhaps some fun game that will bring joy to many players. Well it turns out, it's ANOTHER DISTRACTION!

Internal distraction

I call this internal distraction because it's somewhat related to my solo gamedev activity, but I'm not sure it's the most productive path.

These days, there has been a massive influx of distraction. There's this shiny new toy that came out, and every developer is turning towards it like mosquitos hovering around bright lights. I'm talking about the advancement in AI!

It's a toy for some, it's fun and interesting to play with. But for others, it's the fear of missing out. As a software developer, there's this impression that soon, AI knowledge might be a required knowledge. You don't want to be left in the dust writing code, while savvier developers just instruct the AI to do exactly what you're doing, but faster and effortlessly.

I guess I got caught up in that distraction as well. So I took a detour trying to build an AI assistant that can generate NPC dialog for an RPG. Granted it's quite fun and interesting, and it could lead to something groundbreaking, but in the back of my mind, I'm still wondering if I'm not better off just powering through and build my game, without taking any detour.

It comes down to the choice between having some fun "demo" that lets you put the keyword "AI" on your portfolio, or building a nice game people might enjoy. Yeah, a tough choice to make, isn't it?

The distraction never ends

These days, every hackathon or tech meetup is trying to insert AI into the mix, because it was the big thing of the moment. It used to be VR, which was not bad because it was still related to gamedev. AI is... I guess to a certain degree related. Before that there was blockchain, which thankfully I completely skipped. Soon, we're gonna see a new trend. Perhaps Quantum computing or some other thing. I've thinking that post-AI, there would be a big tech trend allowing humans to communicate with animals. What a chaotic time that would be...

But yeah, there's always a trend to follow. There's one big topic that turns some into billionaires, and others into wannabes.

Like Robert Smith kept repeating, everybody is busy jumping someone else's train.

Getting cut from the outside world

I lack the mental discipline to avoid the trend, but at least I do have the desire for it.

Sometimes, I have this wish that crosses my mind. It's just so dumb and pointless, yet it's a simple and not so unrealistic wish.

I just want to get myself stuck in a room for one month. Just one entire month with no access to the outside world. No TV, no internet, no phone. I just have food delivered so I can survive, and I just have a computer on which I can work to build a game.
When you think about it, it's really not that hard to do. But aside from willpower, and assuming you don't have a job to go to for one month, there are also people around you, loved ones, relatives, friends, who will never let you do something that stupid and pointless. And imagine if they did and you ended up producing nothing after this one month. After all, it's still possible creativity runs dry without distraction...

So yeah, it's not gonna happen unless somehow I end up all alone and isolated, and I really don't want that to happen!

But yeah, right now, the biggest obstacle for me to getting nice things done, is not a painful obstacle, it's not something that hinders me, it's just the pleasure and comfort of life that distracts me, and that's even harder to overcome!

Top comments (1)

kev1177 profile image

While reading your article I thought you were talking about me. So great to hear I'm not the only one struggling! Great read.