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9 Sep 2013

Development Tips Every Independent Developer Should Follow

Whether you have developed a handful of games, are developing your first game, or you have followed the industry for years, you begin to notice a few things about games in general: most notably, what ‘works’ and what ‘doesn’t work’ in games. Sure, creativity is king, but making ‘creative mistakes’ happens all the time. Thus, independent developers need to always keep in mind a few simple but helpful tips in an effort to not only create the best game possible, but have enough free time to create your next great games as well. Keep a few of these in mind, no matter where you are in the development process of your game, and reap the rewards later on.


Never Be Afraid to ‘Backtrack’

One of my favorite development stories comes from Gabe Newell. In an interview years ago, he stated that his team over at Valve were deep into the development of the original Half Life, and they noticed that the game simply was not coming together. Newell said that they were left with two choices:

  1. They could either continue creating the game and releasing it on time, yet have to life with the consequences of knowing Half Life isn’t at its best.
  2. Scrap the majority of the game, lose a substantial amount of money, delay the game, yet have the satisfaction of knowing that this version of Half Life will be at its best.

Of course, the team took the second approach, and the rest is history. Sure, Valve did delay the original Half Life, and many people began to doubt whether Valve would even survive long enough to release the game. Yet in the end, Newell and Co. made the right decision to scrap what was wrong with their first iteration of Half Life and improve it rather than releasing a lackluster game.

It’s great advice for any developer: never be afraid to scrap anything in your game. Sure, you are bound to get attached to certain aspects of a game, but in the end, if something does not fit and fails to bring out the best in your game, get rid of it. Backtrack as much as you feel is proper in order to develop that killer game that you can be proud of; in the end, you will be glad that you did.


Placing a Game on ‘Hold’ Isn’t Terrible

Similar to backtracking, many developers are afraid to place their game on ‘hold’ because they feel the need to release their game within a certain window. They feel that if they do not release their game within a certain amount of time, their audiences, the media – roughly everyone – will forget they were ever developing the game. Never allow a release window to guide your game, and if you need to backtrack (as stated above), do so. Yet, what if you cannot afford to backtrack at the moment? What if you have another game that you are focusing on as well? Then do not be afraid to place one of them on ‘hold.’

Revisions happen; that’s a given. Yet sometimes, major revisions are necessary yet are not affordable at the moment. When you find yourself in this situation, placing the development of said game on ‘pause’ isn’t the end of the world. Focus your energy and creativity on the areas of your overall development process appropriately. In the end, your games are going to be better for this decision, release date windows be damned.


Focus on Your Content

During the development process of your game, it can be easy to lose focus on what is most important: the actual content of your game. Sure, giving one of your level’s bosses eight legs that each have their own complex animation may sound awesome to you, but in the end, if a certain feature is taking too much time to complete, you need to take a step back and think about the following:

  1. “Will this improve the gameplay in any way?”
  2. “Will this improve sales?”
  3. Is this feature a necessity, or am I creating it for my own amusement?”

 If you answered, ‘no’ to any of the questions above, you likely answered ‘no’ to all of them. Thus, you need to take a step back, realign your creative energy, and focus on something that truly needs to be focused upon. Using the example of the complex eight-legged boss battle again, if spending a substantial amount of time making the boss operate in a complex manner serves no purpose of driving sales or improving the gameplay for the level, scrap that idea. Give the boss eight legs if it is simple enough, yet focus on making the boss battle a truly memorable experience.


Choose a Proper Art Style/Animate Properly

We discussed this near the end of our debut episode over at Game Academy Radio last Friday, yet it bears repeating: a proper art style and animation are key to players caring about your game. The wrong look and feel of a game can confuse players and take them out of the game entirely, meaning they will likely not return anytime soon. Moreover, the art style and animations in your game can mean the difference between adding new content on a regular basis or adding new content semi-regularly (or not even having time at all to add new content). In a sense, choosing the right art style and animations must also make it easy for you to create added content in a short amount of time in the future.

The complexity of your art and animations can add a substantial amount of time and money to adding new content. Thus, if you want to continue adding content to your game on a regular basis yet you have a small team working on your game, then it would be in your best interest to have art and animations that are pleasing to players, makes sense in the tone of your game, and is not too time consuming. Choosing the right art and animations is difficult, but by choosing the right one, you will save you and your team time and money in the long run.


The Golden Rule: Reduce Wasted Time

Every good development tip stems from the reduction of waste time, thus reducing the amount of wasted money. In short, if you can spend time working on something that will actually improve the overall quality of sales of your game, do that instead of focusing on areas of the game that will not improve the game considerably. For example, instead of building a game’s tools during the start of development, seek out tools that already exist for the tool you want to build. Find a proper tool, purchase it, and behold: you’ve saved a ton of time, and can focus on what’s most important: building a game that players want.

Again, reducing wasted time is key during development. It’s a skill that is easy to comprehend yet hard to master. Yet if you can become a semi-Padawan in the discipline of reducing wasted time, development on your future projects will be substantially smoother.

2 Responses

  1. Pingback : Development Tips Every Independent Developer Should Follow - - appgong

  2. Pierre

    I have an app in mind, for my own personal use, preferably for use with OS X. It isn’t a game. Do you write apps for clients?

    Kind regards,


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