I’ve spent the last few weeks feeling extremely exhausted. Not physically exhausted – just unable to think or motivate myself. My brain is simply tired.
When I first started this challenge almost a full year ago, I assumed that I had approximately 1 billion million zillion ideas floating around my head. It turns out that I had about five, and they were all crap. I have been able to spend most of this year being inspired by something eventually, but the last few weeks have just taken a toll on me. I spent most of the first half of this week debating on whether or not I would skip Game a Week twice in a row (which felt horrible). Every time I would try to think of an idea, I just felt like there was nothing left in the little creative cavern in my brain. I would think of a word in an attempt to spark an idea, however, the word would simply bounce off the walls of the empty cave of my brain – creating echoes off in the distance.
Eventually, I decided to do the only thing I could think of to address these feelings: make a game about them.
I settled on the idea of making a game that would serve as one long metaphor for how Game a Week has felt for me over the last year. The idea was to place the player in a cave and allow for them to choose to fight the monsters in each cave, walk past them, or rest. As the player, you would have experience points, health, and (most importantly) an exhaustion meter. The exhaustion meter would deplete every time the player took a step or attacked with the sword, and could only be regenerated by standing still (while not engaging with the enemies in the room). Experience would only be gained when the player struck an enemy and health would deplete when the player is struck.
I wanted to make sure that I got across the constant pull I feel between gaining the experience of making a game/exploring an idea and giving my brain a break. I decided that the best way to do this was to make the player choose between fighting an enemy in a room (thus gaining the experience you need for subsequent rooms), and simply resting.
What went right
I think I did a pretty good job at getting my feelings across. The game (to me) feels as though you’re constantly under a time pressure to either kill the enemies in the room or take a breather – which is exactly what I wanted.
I had a really nice moment late one night into the development where I had one of the hugest most sudden epiphanies in the history of my game design history. I had been struggling with how to truly force the player to choose between fighting or resting in a way that felt thematically relevant to the story. I tried a few things – gating the player off until they chose one or the other, having the player step on one of two switches in each room (one would open the door and one would spawn the enemy) when all of a sudden (thanks to some gentle guiding), it finally hit me: A per-room timer. By adding a short timer to each room, the player was now forced to quickly decide each room whether they would rest or fight. Once the timer expired, all enemies would disappear (so you could no longer gain any experience from them), and the player would have to move on (see, look at that metaphor!). Additionally, once the player start fighting the room’s enemies, the player CANNOT rest. Once you fight the enemies, you are committed to finishing that fight to the best of your ability without resting.
I also spent a lot of time this week teaching myself parts of Unity that I had been neglecting for way too long. I must admit that I had basically no idea of how Unity’s “new” animation system worked (I put this is quotes solely because it’s not even that new anymore – I’ve just been putting it off), and all of the 2D stuff that I’ve been doing was using a free tool called Orthello. So, I took it upon myself to finally suss out how all of this worked. Additionally, I spent a lot of time adding little game feel effects to create more life to the game. Though spending so much time on the aforementioned stuff took a lot of time away the design, it was nice to just learn something new and make something “look nice”. Because a week is so short, I rarely get to add bells and whistles to my games – and it felt nice and refreshing to allow myself to do so.
What went wrong
Oh, you know – same thing as always. Put it off for too long. Blah blah blah.
What I learned
One thing’s for sure, I’ve definitely solidly proven to myself that my greatest detriment is my own inability to properly budget my time. I tend to take on a lot of different projects thinking that I can handle them all – then they all tend to come to a head at the same time. This makes for big bursts of being overwhelmingly busy – which definitely isn’t conducive to pleasant game development.