I've Learned I Am Bad at Making Games

2/28/2015 - C.J. Kimberlin

I am a programmer by profession. If I can conceive an idea then I am able to see that idea come to life. This is a powerful skill to have at my disposal for working on games. The problem I ran into was not a technical problem but a conceptual problem. I do not know how to design. I fell into the same trap that I heard about time and time again. I figured since I play games and I’m a programmer then surely I could create a fun experience. Despite hearing over and over that design is a skill that you work on I thought I could be the exception.

My last day at Microsoft was September 30th, 2013. Prior to that date I had participated in a few Ludum Dare game jams with moderate success. I wasn’t happy with what I was working on at Microsoft and I found immense joy seeing my friends play and enjoy the games I had helped create. I had not been that motivated to pursue a non recreational activity in years and I knew that this was what I wanted to do.

Once I was unemployed I teamed up with @htimswi to start prototyping projects with the goal to eventually build up a game for commercial success. We were both interested in exploring ideas for the Oculus Rift. This seemed like an exciting area because it is new technology and the market appeared to be open. Over the course of a few months we created prototype after prototype for our friends to play each of which resulting in what we considered failures. The prototypes weren’t all that fun and generally lacked focus on what they were trying to accomplish. After our fourth prototype attempt we decided to stop working together to pursue our own interests.

I decided to move away from prototypes with the Oculus Rift and instead focus on 2D games. This felt far more approachable working by myself. The first 2D prototype that I seriously set out to work on was Galacid. The driving idea behind Galacid was that it was a local co-op game where instead of self optimizing but playing together, the players would optimize for the team to accomplish the goal. This blog post is not a postmortem for Galacid, though that is an interesting topic and possibly a future post. While I believe there’s a solid idea behind the game concept, the Galacid prototype tried too much, answered too few questions, and ultimately was a failure.

After I decided to shelve Galacid I hit a bit of a slump. It was now clear to me that I had a long ways to go to learn how to design. It was a good lesson to learn but unfortunate that it took me 10 months to learn it. I knew that this was what I wanted to do but wasn’t sure how I could accomplish my goal with the time I had left. Ultimately I decided I couldn’t. I simply did not have the skills to make a serious effort to see my dream come true. However, while I may not have time to create a successful indie game, I did have time to completely focus on building the skills that I would need for a future attempt. What I decided to do after Galacid doesn’t look much different at first glance but the goal has changed.

I wasn’t going to go back to school to pursue a new degree in order to learn how to game design but I needed to figure out how I could most efficiently work on this skill on my own. I needed to learn how to be a designer.

Instead of blindly attempting to create experiences for players, I’ve now started dedicating time to learning. I’ve signed up for a game design class which forces me to practice certain game design elements. I spend time consuming education material. I read textbooks, read posts from established designer, and watch lectures. This gives me a lot to think about when designing for my own projects and, in some instances, can give me concrete workflows to try to apply.

Though what good is simply learning new techniques and ideas if they aren’t put into practice? I have began a new prototype that serves as a project to apply what I’ve learned to. The goal of this project isn’t to necessarily create a financially successful project. I’ve already learned that I’m not ready to create one of those. The goal is to have a project that I can learn with and so far it’s been my best project yet.

So I won’t quite accomplish my dreams in the time I set aside after leaving Microsoft. I’ve started freelancing to help accomplish financial sustainability. While I have not seen my dream come true, I don’t feel too bad about the mistakes and failings that I have encountered so far. It just feels part of the journey.

Have something to say? Tweet to me at @cjkimberlin.

C.J. Kimberlin is a Seattleite professional programmer, aspiring game designer, amateur artist, and the most awesome guy ever, just saying.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email