Game developers are always on a different part of their journey towards completing their game at any moment in time. Maybe you’re just starting, maybe you’re finishing up, and maybe you’re stuck in the middle for the long haul. That “middle” is where I am in development, and sometimes there’s no end in sight. It’s especially apparent when life and the day job (if you’re not a full-time game dev) take priority. I’d like to share some of the “life hacks” that I use to get that precious time in to work on my game.
First, I have to set up the scene. I’ve been busy with work and life over the past 6 or so months, and I don’t see that stopping any time soon. That means I’ve had very minimal time to work on my game project. Let’s put it this way: I’ve used “5 hours per week” as my benchmark for getting work done on my game. If I can hit 5 hours, I’ll be pretty happy. That can come in different variations, like an hour a day after work at my Monday-Friday job, especially if I have plans during the weekend, or maybe a few minutes a day during the week with 2-4 hours on the weekend. It all depends on work and life. On rare occasions, I can manage 10 or more hours in a week if the opportunity is there. But I try my best to fit it in however I can.
But for the past 4-6 months or so, I’ve had far less time than 5 hours/week to do stuff. For several weeks, I’ve only had maybe an hour or two per week tops, which meant like 10-20 minute sessions.
Some weeks, I’ve just been way too tired to even work on the game. Sometimes I made it work. Forced it. Stayed up an extra 20 minutes, or even 5 or 10 minutes, after everything around me has shut down, just so I can put that little bit in to finishing my next small goal. And other times, I had to recognize that, instead of forcing myself to work on my game for 20 minutes, my body needs to just rest, because if I pushed it any further I most likely would get sick.
This has been my situation. And while I can anticipate this being the regular routine for the next several months, I remind myself that as long as I keep on moving forward, no matter how little, my creative spirit will stay alive, and give me hope that I will eventually finish this game. (Besides “hope”, having a development plan and source control are also necessary. You can find plenty of reading on those all over the web.)
Moving forward can also mean moving backward. Sometimes I have to fail to move forward. So if I only had 20 minutes to find out that the code that I wrote within the last 19 minutes is buggy, faulty, or just plain wrong, I accept that as forward movement, by noting in that final minute what did NOT work, so I can remind myself what NOT to do again. The more places I found myself repeating mistakes, the more time I spent into fixing those problems once and up front.
And when I’m away from my game, I do my best to “live in the moment”. I try to stay focused on that activity rather than wishing I was working on my game. It’s a distraction to think about the game all the time when I can’t do anything about it. That’s something I used to do a lot, and still have a tendency to do from time to time. And, I don’t mean “mobile planning” like jotting ideas, inspirations, and epiphanies into your smartphone. I mean those thoughts that have me constantly wishing I was in front of the computer instead. There’s no point in complaining, worrying, getting frustrated at something I can’t help. The added frustration just makes me ineffective at whatever I’m doing. It’s just not healthy.
I haven’t been the greatest at prioritizing things. Sometimes the laundry pile would get too high, the dishes would stack up, or the dog would go without a bath for too long. These are some things that end up falling by the wayside while there’s a game to be made! But one thing that I could de-prioritize is entertainment. I’ve given up plenty of games, movies and TV because I just didn’t think they were as important as my game. If I couldn’t get to my game in a day, let alone the chores around the house, why should I set aside time for movies or TV? Of course I make exceptions, and some entertainment sometimes can be good for the soul. Here’s my example. I’m a big fan of the DOOM franchise by Id Software. A new DOOM game was released in May 2016. I hadn’t had a chance to play it until May of this past year, 2017. I just put other things first, including my game. But once I hit a certain milestone and I was satisfied with where my game was, I set aside time to play DOOM. It still took me over a month to complete it, because I played the game in a piecemeal fashion due to life stuff, but eventually I finished it and I enjoyed every second of it, and it felt good for my soul.
I’m so excited for my game, and actually putting my work-in-progress out there for all to see, but I don’t feel that it’s at that stage yet. I want to make sure the work-in-progress that I post is more frequent, and meaningful, and I can’t exactly do that with short sessions to do things. So right now, I’m just building up.
And to all those game developers who are chugging away at their dreams and digging deeper, keep looking up, and as always…
Make it fun!