After a very busy week and weekend, I feel like the bulk of my work on this project is now done. It’s just a case of adding as many cherries on top as I can. Overall, I’d say that from a technical, artistic and personal point of view, I’ve learned a huge amount about game development while working on Denizen. There’s no doubt that my development skills have improved while working on this project and I’m very proud of all that I’ve been able to achieve working by myself. However, this has come at a price, my state of mind. I don’t think I was really prepared for the challenges that working on a project like this would entail.
I think the hardest part for me was just how inconsistent development could be, sometimes things would go great and everything seemed easy. Other times, every task felt like the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. All throughout development, but especially towards the latter phases, I felt like I was never quite where I needed to be. During some weeks, I felt like I was on top of everything and that I was allocating my time effectively, other weeks, my workload felt like the tallest mountain, impossible to climb. No matter how hard I worked, I felt like I just wasn’t working hard enough. I wasn’t working non-stop either, I made sure to take care of myself and I learned a lot about how to while writing my essay on solo game development. Even though I was taking care of myself and taking breaks to recharge my batteries, I couldn’t help but feel that any time I took a break from development, nothing was getting done, the game was just sitting there and I was wasting time. I couldn’t rely on anyone else to pick up the slack either. When I returned to it, the game would be in the exact same state as I left it in. I chose to write about solo game development because I just couldn’t understand how people could ever make games on their own, especially games which can take at least three years to make. I find it amazing.
Initially, I felt confident with my decision to work on my own. I knew that I had the technical skills to pull it off, but I felt like my art skills were lacking. My own wellbeing was something I didn’t even take into consideration. I’ve learned that working on my own tends to bring out my worst perfectionist qualities. For the most part, I think I managed to curb them quite well, but I probably wasted a lot of time trying to make things perfect. I would love to have that time back now. I’m glad that I started to time myself during the week to see how much effort I was putting in, especially when I was putting a lot pressure on myself to work even harder. This allowed me to get concrete numbers for how much time I was putting into development, so I didn’t have to rely on my own senses. Early on, I wasn’t convinced that creating a Trello board or prioritizing development would work for me and I’m even more convinced now. I think if I could visualize just how much stuff I needed to do, I don’t think I would have bothered doing any of it. I think for group projects, this kind of organization is essential, but for me, I think it would have been detrimental.
At this point you might think that working on Denizen was a complete and utter nightmare, but that is far from the truth, in fact, I’ve probably had some of the most rewarding experiences while working on this game. My playtest sessions were perhaps the highlight of Denizen’s development. Watching people interacting with my puzzles and solving them in unforeseen and unique ways was hugely rewarding for me. Puzzle design itself was completely new to me, I wasn’t even sure if I could come up with interesting puzzle designs having never created a puzzle game before. However, I’m hugely proud of Denizen’s design and overall puzzle structure. I’m also very proud with how well Denizen’s art style has turned out and I think that is due in large part to the quality of the game’s lighting and the research I put into implementing this kind of art style. I think working on my own allowed me to make Denizen feel much more cohesive than it otherwise might have been. What I lost in productivity by working on my own, I think I made up for with being able to do exactly what I wanted. That really is the biggest upside to working by yourself, there is no one else to convince. The flip side to that of course, is that there’s no one to rein you back should you go off on a tangent. No one in the same position as you.
Working on Denizen was for the most part a fantastic and rewarding experience, but it was also sometimes a lonely and difficult one. I am hugely proud of the work I have put into this project and I’m looking forward to seeing people play it at our various exhibitions. Now I need to go lie down in a field somewhere.