Progress?


I haven't posted anything about Ex Zodiac for almost a year, so I thought I'd write a bit about what's been going on. 

This post will probably be more like a stream of consciousness rather than something well-written, I'm not much of a writer :)


Progress on Ex Zodiac is slow. Much slower than I was hoping. Part of that might be unrealistic expectations on my part, but I think it's at least somewhat true.

I started what would became Ex Zodiac just under 2 years ago, although I can't say I've been working on it 100% of that time. There have been months where I've been directing my attention else where. Still, it's been in development for quite a while and I was really hoping it would be further on than it actually is. How much is actually done? Well, at the time of writing this I have a title screen, input customization, basic map screen, most of stage 1, the beginnings of stage 1's boss and the beginnings of a space stage. Oh, there's also some music composed for it too (not by me!)

That... doesn't feel like a lot for something I started almost 2 years ago. 

Now, I know games aren't as quick to make as I always assume them to be when I first get an idea in my head, I've been making them long enough now that I know to expect lots of things to slow down progress, bugs, technical hitches, design stumbles etc.  However, I still feel like this one is taking a lot longer than it needs to. Why? Well, my game is (obviously) quite heavily inspired by Star Fox on the SNES, and that game isn't overly complex, the models are simple, and so are most of the levels. I feel like building a game like that using today's engines & editors should be pretty straight forward. After all, there's a lot more tools at our disposal and many things have been taken care of for us, surely that should speed up development ten fold? Apparently that's not always the case.

I believe the problem is probably me. When I start a project, certain parts will be very clear to me, and I'll know exactly how I want it, these parts are easy to work on, and often get done pretty quickly. This is how the prototype started, and within a a couple of weeks I had something I wanted to continue with. But that's where the problems started. I knew a I wanted to make a Star Fox style game, but beyond the prototype I'd made, I didn't really know where to go with it. All I had was the rough/fuzzy/nebulous idea in my head of how I wanted the whole thing to be, but that's more like a very out-of-focus picture than anything tangible.

Getting that out-of-focus to become more focused is really difficult for me, like, really difficult, and so I end up playing around with ideas a lot more.  This isn't a bad thing in itself, but so much of the project ends up being dealt with this way, it takes ages to make any solid progress. Every step feels like another thing to figure out, things that I feel should be simple and straight forward. Something as simple as an enemy path or behavior for example, I'll find myself playing around with it for days, and even then I'm not necessarily happy with it. Why? Probably because I lack confidence in my design decisions. This then leads me to go and see how other games tackled similar things (again, not necessarily a bad thing) but this often means I don't come up with my own ideas, or I always feel the need to find the 'right' or 'correct' way (even if there isn't one, I'll just accept that those game's design decisions must be correct).

I guess the confidence that I need would come after making enough games, which is probably part of why so many people partake in game jams, so they can in turn make better games. It feels a bit late for that now though, I mean it's not too late to start doing game jams or something, but I don't want to have to put off working on the project until I'm 'confident enough', I need to figure out something now.

And that brings me on to the subject of public play testing. Maybe that will give me the confidence I need? If people play what I've made so far, and give me feedback on what's good and what's bad, then maybe I'll feel more confident in my decisions or at least have an idea of what I need to get better at? I'd like to think so, then maybe development will be able to speed up a bit.

Anyway, sorry for the long and probably incoherent vent. It's something that's been on my mind for a long time, and I'm kind of in my own bubble with this stuff. I don't speak to anyone else who does game dev stuff, bar the occasional conversation on twitter, so it feels quite nice to just put my feelings on the subject out there.

Feel free to comment if you have any thoughts!

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Hey, Ben. I wanted to talk to you about the shadows in your game. I'm wanting to do a checkerboard pattern for my game's shadows as well, and I just don't know how to go about it. Could you explain it here, or message me on Discord about it? social cues#6703 I would appreciate it.

Excellent work,
Luke

Sorry for the late reply, what engine are you using?

Oh, same to you. Godot Engine. I know you made your game with it as well. I think your shadows are awesome, but I just don't know how you'd go about it with Godot.

I tried adding you on discord, but it's saying it's invalid?

Sorry. That's because my username has changed since then, my new (and unchanging) is george ohwell#9231

Hey, the game looks great. Don't loose your head :D

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Thank you! I'll try not to ;D

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I completely understand the position you're in. In fact, I had recently started working on my own Star Fox clone in Godot (I almost didn't when I saw you were working on one, but I figured two people might not approach it the same way (we should trade notes about it at some point!)), and I know how easy it is to get stuck on one thing for so long that you don't know how to move on past it.

So: keep it up! Ex Zodiac looks like it'll be a lot of fun to play!

I'm glad you've decided to keep working on it, I'm certain they'll turn out quite differently, and it's not exactly a saturated genre :)

I'd love to play Ex Zodiac, it would be great if you wanted to count with my feedback.

Sure, I'll be happy to hear everyone's feedback once I put a public test out :)

I want to play your game ever since i saw one snapshot of it! Although i'm only getting into game development this year, i can relate somewhat to your frustration about your design decisions. I Design and develop sites, and sometimes i tackle the task of doing a web product of my own, and frequently an ambitious one xD

i'm not going to throw suggestions at you because I cannot think of anything smart that could make a difference, but rather, i'm just going to say that i believe in you vision, and i want to play it! I believe in whatever you make, even if I would have done it differently myself, hell, even if i don't like it! Whatever you feel like doing in this game is more than welcome to me, and as a player, what i want is to see your take in this mechanic, not to have an outstanding amount of entertainment, but to see what you have to say. Because to me, making the best game you can is the the reward in and of itself.

Hope to see it come alive one day! I'll be waiting :)

thanks, I hope you'll enjoy it once it's out (or even just the public test demo) :)

First of all, let me tell you that I'm so looking forward to play your game! I love the source material, and had been wondering for some time why nobody was doing a proper homage, getting rid of some of the limitations of the era. I also love the low poly aesthetic; I'm so looking forward for it to enjoy a new revival similar to that of the pixel art.

About your situation, and that the development of your game, perhaps knowing of other experiences will help you, so here's mine.

I've been working on a game for a couple of years, without much previous, direct, experience.

One important thing is, I'm not working on it alone. Though I'm the one doing the programming, and learning along the way how to make it possible.

Early on I realized that my vision was overly ambitious, so the scope of the game has been scaled down several times. We're on the third devolution, and it's a drastically different and way simpler game. But we choose to keep things in the design that will help when/if we tackle the more ambitious game.

I guess what I want to say is, both managing the "size" of the challenge, and having a team (in my case, a friend), can get a long way to keep you working and keep going on. 

Being realistic about what can be achieved, is a must. Otherwise what awaits is failure. 

And I don't, I wouldn't feel ashamed of copying or cloning already invented game mechanics. As they say, you can only break the rules you know. It's all part of a process, and we all start imitating before we're ready to innovate.

There's another issue which be will be fighting soon enough, when most of the mechanics are in place, which is content creation. I would say the two most critical and harder to nail are both story and level design.

But here's an idea: Maybe with original characters, and a free level design tool, people can make their own story, and play their own game. Sure, I'd prefer to make my own game, batteries included, but if I manage to get that done, and I can't manage to create all the content I'd like to, I would still consider it a success!

Keep that in mind, whenever you don't feel like working on the game. Personally, as a programmer, I think working on other, related stuff, such as game tools, helps a lot. I'm not strictly working on the game, but I'm working for the game, which is still progress :)

Thank you! Yep, managing the scope of the game is super important (still not sure if I've bitten off more than I can chew, but I guess we'll find out) and I think having at least one other person to work with must be super helpful too. Unfortunately I don't have that luxury at the moment, although that's mostly down to me wanting to do everything myself (bar the music, which is still out of my skill range currently, but one day...), but maybe that'll change if I find the right person to work with.

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You remind me of myself, some years ago. About 2 years ago, I finished my first "big" game (Fight'N Rage)... it tooks me 3.5 years to make it, and after the 2 first years, I was pretty confused, and frustrated too. My head was a mess... a combination of depression, anxiety and confusion... I litterally didn't know how to keep going... I was testing a lot of mechanics, and every thing I was doing just sucked. But I learned something from that... something that I resist to believe every single day: EVERYTHING you do, just will suck... at least at start. We live in a world where everything you see from others is a finished product, but you are seeying your own metamorphosis between an unfinished product into a finished one. In that situation, is easy to just "ask for permission" while examine other games, it's ok, and it's natural, just don't forget that other games were unfinished products too, and certainly they sucked (just play beta roms of good games... the streets of rage 2 beta for example, it really sucks!). Don't forget that us, as a rational human beigns, we are better on fixing things, than create things. So, the best you can do, if you really want to keep moving forward and finish your game, is just keep creating and fixing things. Create new things just forces you to fix those things... create bad things, and fix those bad things in order to make them good. Art and originality raises from mistakes, just forget about confidence... keep creating bad things, and then keep working hard in order to fix them into good things. Thinking in that way, helps me a lot to finish my first "big" game.
By the way... your game looks amazing. =)

Thanks man, you're absolutely right with everything you said! Sometimes it's hard to look past a finished product and realize the amount of time and effort it took to get it to that state. I'll keep working away at what I've got and hopefully it'll work out. I've gotten this far by doing that! 

Also, great work on Fight 'N Rage! I bought it a while back on Steam and it's very impressive and professional. Feels just like a real arcade game :)

Thank you for such comment! Glad you like my game! I hope I can buy your game soon! I loved first Star Fox and always wonders why there's no any spiritual sucessor in the same aesthetic line... discovering your game was great! Keep up the good work! =)

Hey dude, I hope my post on the Ex Zodiac page wasn't upsetting at all, I can be a bit blunt sometimes!

I totally understand where you're coming from now. As a programmer staying focused on a single project has always been a problem, and I think that a big part of the reason game jams have caught on is -- making something within a timeframe that can keep your attention.

A full sized project is a lot of work and even though a lot of problems as "solved" by engines for you (you don't have to blip polygons to the screen by hand,) they're replaced by new problems in the form of complexity. 

If you think releasing a public demo would help your motivation then I say you should go for it, but you really need to be introspective on what is holding your motivation back. Perhaps some feedback could be cathartic, but maybe you are just burned out on the project.

haha, not at all! It was a good reminder that I hadn't actually used the dev blog since opening it.. :)

I do enjoy the concept of game jams, but it usually takes me too long to think of something and I end up getting frustrated with myself!

I definitely think releasing some kind of public test/demo will help me, at least then I'll be able to get a general idea of what I'm doing right/wrong

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I completely empathize with you. Game dev can be really challenging when done solo, especially when something was perceived as simple and straight forward becomes a big ordeal. It feels like it should be easier than it is (especially when you take a step back and look at all you've made), and you might start blaming yourself instead of the unseen complexity that is the game that you are creating.

I just want to say that I've been there, and I am not the only one. There are many other game devs out there that are in a similar struggle and have overcome it or are in a similar bind currently. Reaching out to talk shop can be very cathartic, and I urge you to do so!

My discord tab is always open if you want someone to talk to about this :)

thanks! Yeah, just talking about it on here felt good. I definitely need to get out of my personal bubble with this stuff and stop being afraid to show others and get their feedback. I always want to do everything myself, but I think everyone needs a hand sometimes.

Of course!

I think it is very important to have a number of game devs you talk to closely in addition to 'followers' you post to. I would compare it to a work out circle of friends who motivate each other to work out and not start trailing off, sharing tips ect.