Friday, 15 November 2019

Gamedev: A Tragedy - the story so far.

This post is sort of an apology to all the fellow games developers who've had to sit through my various ups and downs on Slack, Discord and other chat rooms and forums over the last  five years or so. Hopefully reading this will help understand what's going on.

As I've mentioned lots of times before, I wandered back into games development in 2014 when I stumbled across Game Maker Studio in a Steam sale. At this point I'd given up my job as an actor in 2009 to look after my mother, having moved back into the family home from my flat in central Manchester, and was starting to feel a bit stuck. My mother has difficulty with even basic things like getting to the bathroom unaided, so I need to be in the house 24/7. As you can imagine this makes things rather difficult.

I'd just recently watched Indie Game The Movie, and since I'd had some experience of programming games in the past with my ZX81 and C64, I figured I'd have another go. I started BritBitGames and got to work making Blokker, which was a Super Breakout clone. I had grand ideas of turning it into a proper business and becoming known as a games developer, but this didn't really work out the way I wanted. Basically, Blokker stalled before it really started, I only completed one demo game called UTS-187, and by 2016 I'd gotten pissed off with the whole thing and BritBitGames was history.

Six months later I was bored again and thought I'd have another go, so I created A Collection of Bits. This time it was going to be much simpler, with me keeping the games on as donationware, and it all being based around retro-styled arcade games, but ambition reared it's ugly head again. After about a year I got fed up again and decided to try my hand at music instead.

I created a album called Synthotronic, which was an 80's styled synthpop instrumental album. It did okay, and some of the tracks got air play on small internet radio stations. I even started to branch out into adding vocals to some of the tracks and writing my own songs. Things were going well... Then I lost my voice. Which in all honesty was probably more of a blessing than a curse, as I was pretty poor at writing my own songs, anyway.

So, I went back to games development and started working on Retr0ids, which has actually turned out to be my most successful game. It's a sort of Robotron and Asteroids mash-up with 38 levels of increasing difficulty, and it seemed to go down quite well. It didn't set the world on fire with donations or downloads, but everyone who played it seemed to enjoy it.

Buoyed from the small success of Retr0ids, I decided to go straight into making my next game, which was the Atari VCS inspired Hyper-Galactic Spiders from Mars. This was another game that did okay, and things were going well.

Then things took a serious downwards spiral... First of all my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, so I couldn't spend as much time making games as I wanted due to having to take her to and from hospitals for checks, treatment and ultimately an operation. She's had the operation now, but she still requires treatment and regular checks. At around the same time I started getting chest pains and dizzy spells, and was diagnosed with an irregular heart beat.

I carried on making games as much as I could, but the game that resulted from it was BlasterMax, which I'm not really happy with. The development was rushed, not many people played it, and those that did said it was a bit too easy.

Then I got to making UFO, which is a Defender style game where you have to fly a UFO and capture sheep while avoiding or destroying Earth's defences, but this game turned out to be the straw that broke the camels back. It was proving difficult to develop, I wasn't getting any feedback from people I asked to play it, and when they did it was mostly negative. Then I ran into a major problem with it that I couldn't solve... I'd had enough.

I had a minor meltdown... I deleted all the blog posts, I even took down all my games for a few hours, and decided to write about games rather than make them. Which was fun for the four or five weeks that I did it, but I'm not a great writer and gave up on it very quickly.

So, here we are, after five years of games development and various ups and downs, feeling quite disappointed with the whole thing. I never thought I was going to make it rich or become famous, but I also didn't think I'd still be messing about making freebie games on I first got into games in the 1980's, having been a huge fan of Jeff Minter's games, so I was hoping to follow in his footsteps... but it never happened. I think over the course of this year I've managed to alienate several fellow games developers by having a seriously horrible attitude, which has been brought on by the last 12 months health problems for my mother and myself and the lack on interest in my games. I'm also disappointed that I would like to be a bit of a name in games development but it never happened, but I think I'm just being silly with that one.

Anyway... I've ditched the writing about games idea, and I'm back working on UFO, having fixed the big problem it was having. My mother is on the mend, but she's not completely out of the woods yet, and my own health issue with the irregular heart beat seems to be stress related rather than an actual cardiovascular problem. The last time I went for a check everything game back normal.

I think I'm just going to stick with making 2d arcade games for fun and releasing them on I'm currently enjoying working on UFO and the Retr0ids remake. I might do a proper release for cash one day, and maybe try to put it on Steam, but there are lots of really complicated reasons why making money isn't an option at the moment, which are caused by my position as a carer. So maybe this will be something to explore later on.

I can't guarantee that I won't get pissed off and take my ball in when games development gets on my nerves again, and I don't think I'll ever shake the desire to be more than a small indie making simple games in Game Maker Studio 2, but at the moment I'm enjoying it and I'm okay!

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