Nick Joebgen

Development decisions

Posted by admin on September 11, 2015

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Man, what a week it's been for Space Scavengers. For those of you that are unaware, I've been keeping myself busy while I search for a job by working on this project called Space Scavengers. We've been working pretty heavily on it for the past few weeks, and I've posted pictures to various social media pages about our progress, showing off the level I constructed. Well, we just made some hard decisions this week, which is prompting me to write this blog post. Unfortunately, there were casualties with this decision and it kind of feels like we're taking a step back, but at the same time I know it's still a step in the right direction. 

What happened?

The decision is question was about a core mechanic of our game, the random generation process. Space Scavengers is a sci-fi co-op game, built very much to be a rogue like, and one of our defining features is that no two playthrough sessions should be the same. As a team, we've gone back and forth as to how this should be accomplished. We thought we settled on a method where we build layouts, have hallways be static, and define points where rooms spawn in. The engine gets to pick from a few different rooms for each spawn point, and then picks what spawns in. Now, this seemed nice because from a level design perspective, I still get to craft full levels and control the flow. In fact, I constructed one level for our programmer to test the RNG stuff, and the level looked good. It felt good. However, we quickly came to the conclusion that this method would not offer the amount of randomization we wanted, and have since moved to a new algorithm based process. We're excited about it, with me leading the charge to convince the team members that this is necessary. While not crafting full levels, the other designer and I will be in charge of the rooms and hallways, making them feel good, and then working with the overall game feel. With a rogue like that will have a lot of RPG elements, we really are going to have our work cut out for us still. 

Decisions sometimes lead to casualties

Change is good. We're taught to believe that. Without change, there can't be growth. Well, the same thing is true for video games. If we were to keep designing video games the way we did thirty years ago, we'd get nowhere and this industry wouldn't be as successful as it is now. But, like everything, decisions were made, changes happened, and the industry grew. My team is still learning that, we have been for the past four years in college and we're still learning it. However, sometimes this means that there will be casualties with what has currently be created. The level I spent time crafting is a great example. Sure, it's only a level, it could have been worse, but I put a lot of time into it, making it feel good. But, it's a necessary casualty because it means something better is coming along. Sure, it's going to sting, having to look at your work and understand it's getting scrapped, but in a long(ish) project you need to go with choices that are going to give you the best chance for success, while you're still early in the project. If this means a prototype level or some code is getting scrapped, but the benefits are going to be much better, then maybe you should consider scrapping or adapting what you currently have. In the case of where we stand? I  learned that if I wanted to craft each level with the same amount of detail, and we need roughly fifty unique levels? I'll be an old man before it's actually done. 

Making these decisions are hard.. but necessary

It's never easy letting go of something. Trust me, I've let go of a lot of things, especially when it comes to video game development. But you have to look yourself in the mirror and accept that these are necessary. Yes, you put in an all-nighter getting something to work, and now your team is asking you to scrap it. No, you can't get that night back, but don't let that sabotage your overall project, because you're simple annoyed. Go take a day to sleep, get some energy back. Grab a beer, drink some coffee, take a walk, do SOMETHING that will clear your mind and get you in a better state. Then put your scrapped work to rest, or somewhere that maybe it can be used in the future. I've had to do this many times, with many projects. In fact, I was working on a ten week project and pulling an all nighter at least once a week, just to keep our team in track. However, half of the time I'd end up doing work that we would decide to change. Yeah, it sucked. I was made and initially I tried to force my team to accept that it was right. But, it wasn't, and I very nearly (kinda sorta did) contribute to the project being a complete failure. So do yourself a favor and get over it, even if it means you're mad and you might end up yelling. Do what you need to do, make the tough decision.

Make the decisions early, a.k.a fail fast and fail often

Fail fast and fail often, these are things I've heard a dear professor of mine say over and over again. What this means is figure out whats not going to work quickly, so you can make these decisions. And please, make the decisions to change early. Don't wait until you're halfway through the project to scrap everything. You've wasted time, effort, and can quite possibly kill all momentum. Find out what's not going to work early, so you can get on the right path. In the case of our project, we were right at the cusp of being in too deep (que Sum 41) and in fact we did kill some team motivation. Luckily, we got it back because everyone is looking towards the bigger picture. We aren't losing all the much time and we're going to come out with a better product. But, at this point, we can't make this type of choice again. We made it, we came to terms with what we're laying to rest, and now the true journey is beginning. 

Good luck and happy devving

I guess this blog post kind of geared itself to people that are starting out on working with team projects, but I really just wanted to initially share the choice my team made and why I'm so proud that they could make the decision they did. We're going to have a much better outcome now, I can feel it. Apologies again for rambling, but hopefully you've found something you can take away from this. If you want to keep up to date on Space Scavengers, feel free to visit www.spacescavs.com. Find us on Facebook and Twitter by searching for Bearfoot Games. And keep on being amazing, everyone. 

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