I still find it difficult to call SPUDZOOKA finished. There are still so many things that would make it better. More levels, more cannon parts and paint jobs, more things to shoot at, a new environment to play in (something other than a warehouse) — all would help. I even planned to build a level editor at one point.
But, as I’ve said before, SPUDZOOKA was never supposed to be more than a learning experience. What did I learn, you ask? Did any life lessons stick in my head? Here are a few:
Programming is the easy part
Yes, it’s essential. Interaction (gameplay) is what makes games tick, and programming makes gameplay possible. There’s no denying its importance. But I learned that it’s much more difficult to create compelling visuals than compelling gameplay. Gameplay either works or it doesn’t. There are levels of quality in there, certainly, but once you’ve got your central game mechanic humming along, you’re done with the bulk of the work. Everything else is details.
The visuals, though, can go on forever. You’ve got to model dozens of objects, texture them, and possibly animate them. The process is endless, and it’s made even more nerve-wracking by the fact that it’s always possible to make something look better. I could have spent weeks trying to create the perfect cardboard box, giving it so much character that you would gasp at seeing it for the first time. But I found that the “good enough” threshold for modeling and texturing comes fairly early in the process for me. Partly I was frustrated my lack of knowledge. I don’t know the right tricks to make things look perfect, and I found my patience was limited for experimentation. So I generally created something that was close enough and went with it.
Maybe this means I’m not a natural-born modeler/texturer. Or that I should have been a programmer.
Self-promotion is a tricky game
I loved building the web site for SPUDZOOKA. In my day job I work on a large, convoluted corporate web site. It was fun to create something very simple from scratch. But now that it’s there, how do I get people to see it? I can blog about it endlessly, be sure the site shows up on Google searches, submit it to game publishers like shockwave.com (we’ll see if they respond), post about it on the Unity forum, and post something about it on Facebook. I’ve done all of the above, and I even added an e-mail-a-friend feature to the page where you play the game. But there’s a critical mass to these things, and I haven’t hit it yet. It’s been an interesting test. I’ll keep plugging away, but I’ve learned that it’s a full-time job to promote something like this using the grass-roots tools of the Web.
If a target-shooting game takes four months…
How long will it take to create an RPG with memorable characters, a sweeping story, and a vast world to explore? This is the big one. It will take (more) years, and a lot of dedication to make it happen. I might be better off focusing on a series of smaller projects and putting the big project aside indefinitely. Or I could figure out a way to divide the big project into smaller ones. Maybe there’s another kind of story I can tell that won’t be so ridiculously large. Instead of aiming right an an epic, perhaps I should start with a short story.
Regardless of what I decide, I have to decide on something. I’ll probably spend the next week or two mulling the possibilities and see what develops. SPUDZOOKA is the first step. Now I have to take the next.