Homework


Every developer will tell you that ideas are the smallest current coin in the game industry. If you have a great idea for a game don’t bother sending it out to companies because nobody’s interested. More importantly most companies are filled with eager and experienced developers and I can guarantee you that each and every one of those has a game idea sloshing around in their brains. As a result hobby game development by actual developers isn’t uncommon. However, as it has been said that “everybody has at least one great novel in them, but for most people that’s where it stays”, with homebrew projects the rarity of completed products is extreme. There are many reasons for this of course.

Firstly most of us are under a contract that usually includes a “every breath you take, every move you make, we own it all” clause. The legality of these is a hotly debated subject on industry forums, and I’m sure with a good lawyer your personal copyrights can be protected but that takes time and money. As a result a lot of home hobby projects are just toys or experiments by developers that don’t end up going anywhere. If they did the boss would jump in and claim ownership.
I’m sure a similar mentality exists in Japan but my contracts have never included the clause specifically. I guess it is expected of you to spend your free time at work rather than creating your own projects, so I guess there isn’t a problem there.

Another problem is that game development is very much a team thing; no single person can code, create art, music and design a whole game to an adequate level all by himself. Then there is the test phase, for which extra people are required, and even during the design stages you’ll want an independent observer to give you feedback or to pinpoint where things aren’t working well, as you yourself will be too close to the project to see everything clearly. So, you rely on other people a lot.
But what with it being a hobby project, which suggests that no money is involved, you’ll have to rely on the goodwill and passion of others to work in their spare time on your idea. This is an extremely difficult task and even if you do get a small team together you have very little to keep it there. When other people get busy at work or have more pressing personal things to attend to they’ll drop out, maybe just briefly, but it stalls the project and eventually kills it. Without paying anybody there is little you can do to demand action.

I myself have worked on three homebrew projects that failed. One was a point and click adventure game I designed, created and scripted all by myself using he excellent Adventure Game Studio. It all went really well until the game was 90% complete; all the basics were in place and it just needed the blanks and red herrings filled in and some code cleaned up. But that never happened; partly because I got busy at work and partly because the design wasn’t good enough for me to think it worthwhile to go that last extra mile. Another project was a test case where a programmer I knew and I wanted to do a remake of an old classic arcade game, with updated graphics and some extra design slapped on. The design was finished, I made it art complete and the basic code was in place; however, the programmer, working hard on some high-profile title, just got swamped at work and couldn’t muster the energy to finish it. I can’t blame him for that, of course, but it was a bit of a waste.
As if I hadn’t learned my lesson I started another project with him which got about 70% art complete before the same thing happened again.
I doubt the world is a poorer place for the lack of these games, but it’s still a shame nonetheless.
You must remember that we do this kind of stuff for a living, so the moment a home projects becomes “not fun” or “too much like actual work” it’s all too easy to throw in the towel. Where these personal projects do pan out it usually leads to the team becoming independent (i.e. quitting their jobs and releasing themselves from the tyranny of the employment contract) to create a commercial title, their commercial title. Indie development is a topic all of itself and one I am not qualified to address. I refer you to the many indie developer blogs out there, a few are linked from the sidebar.

My Japanese colleagues don’t seem to be that bothered about home projects. They each have their hobbies of course, but none of them has expressed an interest in homebrew game development. I’m sure there must be some out there, but generally I think my colleagues are glad enough to even have spare time without pissing it away on doing what they do at work. The real geeks in the office are exactly the type that go home and finish playing their 100+ hour RPGs or build robots.

I personally still have the dream though. I have some games in me that need making; it’s just very difficult to make them. And I’m not talking about “dude, I have this idea, like, it’s great! It’s like Final Fantasy but better!” No 60 hour game-play extravaganzas in my mind, but short simple games, two of them fully documented. All they need is a team, which I’m unwilling to gather. So I have no choice but to learn how to code. I have purchased my “C# for dummies” books, downloaded XNA Studio, all I need now is a significant amount of spare time and energy to get stuck in. And who knows? Maybe this time next decade one of my games will finally be finished. Best not mention those CG animations I want to create, those comics I plan to draw or that novel I want to write. Or that arcade cabinet I want to build, or those paintings I want to paint, or that semi-regular webcast show I dreamt up.

5 comments:

  1. Welcome to the dilettante/slave/repressed creative club.

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. That last part is just like how I feel.

    I am trying to bring up a short graphic novel, write a story or two, create a game, I did some CG too... There just isn't enough time to do all that I'd like to do in my life.

    Which does not mean I am not trying anyways :]

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  4. I gave up on Home Projects a 'long' time ago. Sometimes it's still tempting to start one though (always wanted to create an RPG). Luckily I'm able to perform in multiple fields. I'm a programmer, composer and can do a bit of art as well (read: tiny animated 16x16 sprites).

    Thanks to the composing I can calm down the itch; I simply write an RPG tune - which takes about three days - and listen to it over and over again, imagining what my never-to-be-homebrew-RPG would play like.

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