10 things I learned in my first year of full time game development

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Later this month will be the first anniversary of me being a full time game dev. Although I realised I wanted to go full time game dev around Christmas 2014, I didn’t actually start until May 2015 when I left my full time job and found myself knee deep in a world I knew nothing about.

Back then I felt that I entered full time game development knowing everything I needed to know to get started, what to do and when to do it, who to approach, how to make money. I had plenty of ideas. I started with and still have so much support. Unfortunately no matter how prepared I thought I was, over the last year I have learned so many valuable lessons.

So to celebrate my first year of being a game dev and to perhaps open the eyes of those considering going up this route, here is a list of the most important things I learned. Of course this list is only my opinion and I can only assume that every game dev journey is different.

 

1| Lower your expectations

Why not start with putting a mega dampener on things! I entered game dev with quite high expectations. I figured with my huge increase in time I could devote towards game development and with the help of the other devs, we would have games out in no time. That would then turn into cash and before you know it we would have a studio. The reality is so much different.

I feel like I have spent most of the last year filling in applications and attending meetings which in most cases don’t actually help towards the games, but more towards the business aspect of things. On top of all the extra time you now have, you also have a ton of extra responsibilities, both to yourself and anyone who is working with you.

Lower your expectations

 

2| Game Development is a marathon, not a sprint

This ties very much in with my first point about my expectations. I honestly thought that within the first 6 months we would be well on the way to releasing our first game. Although in the first 6 months we did get so much done, the truth is I was very naive to how much time it would actually take.

I think maybe if I didn’t sleep, eat, shower or take any sort of breaks in the first 6 months, Castaways may have been finished in that time, but I am really unsure of what the finished product would look like.

So in reflection, pace yourself. I 100% agree with setting targets but do not expect everything to be smooth sailing within your first 12 months, never within 6 months like I did.

 

3| Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket

We started with one idea – Castaways. As much as I am still 110% behind this idea, it is far too big a project for us to get out in the time frame that I wanted / anticipated. So a hard lesson I had to learn from one of the more experienced developers was to put your dream game somewhat on hold and constantly chase up alternate projects and ideas. Work on these in tandem with your big project and see what takes off.

It does sound like you’re making more work for yourself but it’s an eye opener when you finally start having ideas that seem way better than your original. Also on top of all this, if you are able to take on some paid work, take it. This could be your source of income for the next few years. This brings me onto…

 

4| Get something finished!

One thing where we somewhat failed for a long time was getting something finished and out into the world. We spent the first maybe six months working on nothing but Castaways. I don’t regret any of it, but as a result we still don’t have ‘that much’ to show for our first year. The only games we have finished to date are contracted, and although designed and developed by us, they are  not actually ‘ours’.

So my recommendation is, the first project you should be working on should be simple. Aim to get it out as soon as possible. Doesn’t matter if you make any money off it at all, as long as it is out as a portfolio piece and you can produce it at a moment’s notice to show it off. This will aid when it comes to potential clients who will see that you’re already producing work that is out on the market.

 

5| Ask for help

There are so many services available to people in our position. Personally I have found the Prince’s Trust and Business Gateway has been extremely helpful for me, but it obviously depends on a ton of variables such as your age, position and even location.

Your old universities or colleges will also be a font of information, ranging from the marketing departments, your IT / Game Design departments and even the careers advisers.

Help me!

 

6| 30 Minutes a day

At first, your motivation will be through the roof. But as times go on you will without fail go through times when you really can’t be bothered with developing. This is perfectly normal and expected.

I personally combat this trough by ensuring that each day I spend at least 30 minutes trying to do work. Actual work. Not staring at a screen or talking on Facebook. I find that if I spend 30 minutes proactively trying to do work, that 30 minutes will turn into an hour or even two.

If after 30 minutes you really can’t get anything done or your mind is elsewhere, then go have a break. It’s unlikely you will get any work done through forcing yourself and any that you do won’t be your best. You can try this two or three times a day, and it will definitely help you work through times of low motivation.

 

7| Set your own deadlines

One way in which I am personally able to push myself, is to set myself deadlines. It doesn’t matter so much if you meet the deadline, but it is important to at least try. You’ll find yourself getting more work done over a shorter course of time.

If you work with a team, it is also good to keep your team on the same deadlines. For instance, aiming to get a certain part of a game done before the end of the week. If everyone is working to that deadline, whether you meet it or not, you’re still making more progress than if you didn’t have the deadline in place.

Challenge yourself - set yourself deadlines.

 

8| Track your progress

At the end of each week or month, there will be times that you will think “I’ve done nothing this week, what a waste”. I found this to be extremely demotivating.  To counter this I began keeping a list of everything that I have completed, regardless of how small or big. Whether it is changes to a part of a game, a whole new feature implemented, a blog post written or even meeting attended.

You can do this any way you like but I personally keep it as Sticky Notes on my desktop. It allows me to update it easily and it is always in my face as a reminder of what I have done. It’s a real good motivational boost to look back at the month and see what you’ve done so far. It also acts a reminder that you are getting things done, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

 

9| Hope for the best – plan for the worst

One of the last bits of advice I can give is to hope for the best but always plan for the worst. Regardless of how big or small the decision, ensure that you always have a backup plan for that decision going wrong.

Of course at times it is necessary to take risks, but hope that these risks pay off, plan for if they don’t. By doing this you ensure that even if you don’t get the gigs you want or need, you’ll still be able to continue doing what you love until another opportunity comes along.

 

10| Decide what success means to you and chase it

A year into full time game dev and I am not filthy rich. I don’t have an office so I work from home. Most people in the game developer communities don’t know my name or what I do. Even less gamers know who I am.

I am a successful game developer.

I am doing what I love. I have the support of my girlfriend, family and friends. My bills are paid and I have enough work to get me through the rest of the year. We are on the verge of releasing multiple games and we’re in a position to be developing and releasing even more later in the year. I am in a really good position and I couldn’t be happier.

So what do you class as successful? Aim for that, work towards it and enjoy every minute. You might only have one chance in your life to do this, so make it worth every minute and don’t let anything hold you back.

I eat success for breakfast - with skimmed milk!

 

I hope this has been some sort of benefit to you. If you have enjoyed reading or found it beneficial, please share this post as there will most certainly be others who will enjoy the read or benefit from it too.

I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have so free to post them below or find me on twitter.

– Rhys

 

We are back!

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As you may have seen on twitter, over the past few months we have been extremely busy wrapping up projects and getting new projects off the ground. We’re now finally in a position to talk about such projects and let you know what we are currently working on and what the next few months hold for us.

 

Mirrors – Competitive Puzzle game for all platforms

Although we have made games for others under a contract basis, we are really excited to get some smaller games out of our own to show that we have the capabilities not only to develop games, but to come up with the ideas too!

Mirrors is a puzzle game which puts the player in a tomb with a number of mirrors, each mirror potentially having different behaviours. The player must rotate these mirrors to bounce a beam of light around the tomb until it hits an orb. Once the orb is hit by light, assuming all the mirrors have been used to reflect the light to the orb, the door to the next tomb will open.

We are implementing a variety of different modes to mirrors including a standard level by level mode, a time attack and even online competitive play. We are also in the process of developing a level creator so you can design your own tombs and share them with your friends!

We should have a free playable version of Mirrors available within the month, but of course we will announce this as it happens.

Current Title Screen for Mirrors

 

University of Aberdeen – Games for the Royal Society of Science

Since November 2015 we have been working with Game Dr. Limited and developing educational science games for the University of Aberdeen. We have completed the first and the second is currently in development. The second game is due to be finished for the end of June ready for the Royal Society of Science exhibition in London.

These games have been a great challenge as the main concern of both University of Aberdeen and Game Dr is to ensure these games are as scientifically accurate as possible. So while we focus on making the best game possible, we are also wary of how scientifically accurate it is – much different to what we are used to.

Both games will be available to play on July 5th. We will again announce this as it happens and can’t wait to get feedback.

Dexters Lab - as about as scientific as I get!

 

Two brand new unnamed projects

We have began planning what our next steps are over the coming months. We have 2 very great ideas which I don’t want to talk too much about currently, but the team and I are very excited about them both. You may have already seen some of the concept art and screenshots floating around on facebook and twitter, but we have so much to show and tell in the coming months. Once Mirrors is finally finished and released we will begin working on these, but we are holding off on starting as one of them has been put forward to the Tranzfuser developer programme…

Screenshot of Upcoming Game

 

Big opportunities with Tranzfuser

In April I put a team from Monocool forward to the Tranzfuser development programme, which in short is a good chance for a group of developers to potentially gain money to develop a game. With a bit of luck and hard work, we can take that game to the final and win even more money and support to fully market that game.

We will find out later this month whether we got through to the first round. Wish us luck!

Good Luck!

 

Asset Design and Development.

While we are developing games, it has become clear to us that we are also in a position to design and develop assets under a contract basis or with the intent to sell / give away through Unity Asset Store. We already have a few little projects underway which we aim to release these over the coming months.

 

On a final note, Game Dr has produced this awesome video titled ‘Antibiotic Apocalypse’. It would be amazing if you could check it out and leave some feedback. I have no doubt there will be more cool videos coming in the future!

As ever, thank you so much if you made it this far. Come follow me on twitter if you’d like to keep ‘more up to date’ with what’s going on and if you have any ideas or questions i’d love to hear them.

Oh and if you enjoyed this read, why not share this blog as others might too!

– Rhys

Castaways has been Greenlit!

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After just over a month of being live on Steam Greenlight, Castaways has been Greenlit!

Waynes World Waynes World Party Time Excellent!

First things first, thank you everyone for all your support. Obviously this would have been 100% impossible without the help of the public as that is what Steam Greenlight is all about! We have learned so much from the whole process, not only about Castaways but the process itself. Do’s and Don’ts. When and if a game is ready for Steam Greenlight and more importantly Steam Greenlight isn’t everything.

Before Castaways went live on Steam Greenlight we were steaming away with the development of Castaways. Upon going live things almost came to a standstill. We have been extremely busy developing games for other companies, so that is half of the reason. But in a sense Greenlight can be somewhat demotivating. So I think in future, and for anyone who is considering it, it’s important to have a game plan for when you go live, and ensure that you stick to it! Although we had / have a game plan we got side-tracked by negative comments and complacent with the positive comments. Either way, everything that is happening is amazing and we have no real negatives to talk about.

Waynes World Waynes World Party Time Excellent!

So what are the plans for the future? In the interest of keeping this short and being as honest as possible, things are a bit hectic at the moment. We are in the process of wrapping up a game for a client which we can’t talk too much about currently. This will be done within the week. We are also in the process of developing a nice little mobile game which we plan to release at the end of the month. In addition, at the end of March we will be starting another game for a client, which will last until around June.

Amongst all this we will of course be continuing to work on Castaways and get it to a standard not only are we happy to release, but it’s in a position where it’s worth the money. This of course will take time, but in the interest of time we are in discussions about hiring an additional 3d modeller / artist to help with the work load. Our models and textures was the biggest negatives we received from Steam Greenlight and is something we were already well aware of.

We have no delusions that there is still so much work ahead of us for Castaways but we’re going to take a few days to enjoy the moment and discuss what our goals are and what is realistic in terms of release.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter where we’ll be letting you know about whats going on and answering any questions you might have. Finally, share this post if you have enjoyed reading as its likely someone else will too!

Thanks again for all your support over the last few months!

– Rhys

Feel free to follow me on twitter!

 

 

7 Reasons To Vote For Castaways

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If you’ve been following Monocool Interactive you will know all about our debut game Castaways, and more importantly you will know that it is now on Steam Greenlight! We are one step closer to making our dream a reality, and we would love your help to get there. Head over to our Steam Greenlight page and vote Yes for us to be Greenlit!

What, need convincing? Our months of Developer Diaries and epic #ScreenshotSaturdays not enough for you? Well, here’s 7 reasons why you should be excited for Castaways, and why you should give it a Yes vote on Steam Greenlight!

1 – What is Castaways?
Castaways is an environmental survival game that gives you – the player – the power to create and fine tune your adventures exactly how you want them, every time you play. Want a shorter or a longer lasting game? No problem! Want to try a different game mode with different objectives? Go ahead! Bored of your current enemy set? Pick another! We want to make Castaways a one stop shop for the survival genre and we can only do that with your support.

2 – Game Modes
Every time you play Castaways you will be able to set what type of game mode you want to play which defines the method of winning or losing that game. For instance, if you choose to play the Rescue mode, you and your team must work together to survive until rescue arrives, while also completing tasks to ensure that rescue will come such as lighting signal fires. Or perhaps you might pick the Onslaught mode where you and your team must build defenses to fend off waves of enemies until you defeat their leader. Then again, you can just pick objective mode and let the game guide you on an adventure that Is different every single time. The choice is yours!
We strive to continually add new Game Modes to Castaways to ensure that you will never be bored and always have a new adventure waiting to be played.

3 – Enemy Sets
Enemy Sets are one of the finer points of Castaways that sets it apart from all other games that fall under the same or similar genres. For every game of Castaways that you play, you get to choose which enemy set you will be playing against.
Each Enemy Set will come with its own strengths, weaknesses and their own little quirks. Multiple Enemy Sets are already in development and include a cannibal tribe and dinosaurs, but we already have plenty of ideas planned out and intend the variety of enemies to be constantly expanding.

4 – Environments
With the Environments in Castaways we wanted to take a step back from ever expanding locations and go back to smaller but more detailed landscapes. In Castaways you will be able to choose from a selection of Environments of different complexity and scale. Each Environment is also dynamic, so even if you choose a specific map, certain details will change to ensure that you have a different experience each time. These differences are subtle and will not affect the game play in anyway and example would be a cave system that may exist, may exist but need excavating or just might not exist at all!

5 – Background System
The background system is more commonly known in other games as a class system, except with Castaways you play as what you were, not what you are. Before you join a game, you will need to pick one of the several Backgrounds that are available. Currently there are 5 selectable backgrounds including Lumberjack, Soldier, Doctor, Engineer and Project Manager.
Each background has its different strengths and weaknesses and will benefit a team in a variety of different ways. The more you play with a character with a specific Background, you will earn experience to let you improve on the skills that you already know making you a Castaways every team will want!

6 – Survival System
When you’re not busy building a raft or hunting down a vicious T-Rex you will be busy taking care of yourself. We believe that the Survival System in Castaways is truly original and ticks all the boxes between fun and realism. Your health, hunger, hydration and energy all need to be monitored to ensure your efficiency is at its highest. If your efficiency drops for any particular reason, you won’t perform tasks as well as someone who has a higher efficiency.
We honestly have so much to talk about for Survival System and we are certain that you will not be disappointed. Once we have finalized a few details we will definitely be releasing a video to fully explain it and show you it in action.

7 – Build Mode
The last of the 7 reasons to vote for Castaways is our Build Mode which sets Castaways apart from any other survival game you may have played. Castaways has gone through multiple versions of its Build Mode to ensure that it’s easy to use and more importantly, enjoyable. When entering Build Mode your player temporarily leaves their first person view and gains an aerial view of the surrounding area where you can now begin placing buildings and defenses.
When you are done planning out your camp, simply leave build mode and return back to your characters first person view. Now you your team can begin building your camp using the tools you have collected or crafted.
So there you have it! Now you’re convinced why our game deserves to be Greenlit, so head on over to Steam and give us your vote! Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for all the updates on Monocool, Castaways and our other projects.

Thank you for your support,
Monocool Interactive

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2015 – A Year In Review

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First off, if you are taking the time to read this then thank you so much. As you may already know, it’s at this time of the month when we usually do a summary of last month’s work but being as it’s the new year I figured we should jump on the band wagon and do a somewhat ‘year in review’ style post. This is especially relevant as it is approaching Monocools first unofficial birthday! So this month we are going to skip or at least delay the usual developer update and I am going to give my thoughts on the entire year, highlight some of the better points and give a little talk about my hopes and plans for 2016.


 

Going Live

It was in January 2015 when I realized that Monocool Interactive and Castaways was what I wanted to do with my career. I was in a really good position career wise but my heart wasn’t in it and I couldn’t go an hour without thinking about going full time game dev. Obviously there aren’t any guarantees when you’re starting out so it was a pretty big and risky decision, but I had already been working on Castaways for over 2 years and now it was just a matter of taking it to the next level. This was a huge turning point for me, Castaways and Monocool. It was at this point I began taking steps to getting to where we are now and this is also when the Monocool Facebook page and the Monocool website went live for the first time.


 

Becoming A Full Time Game Developer

Although I began taking steps to going full time, it wasn’t until the May when I was in a position to leave my job and make Monocool not only my full time job, but my life. In hindsight, I could’ve done it sooner or later, each with their benefits but what’s done is done and this was the best thing I could have ever done.

It isn’t just the developing of the game that is time consuming. There is so much more to it, writing blogs, contacting people, managing social media, managing those who may be working with you, chasing up funding and jumping through the seemly unlimited number of hurdles they throw your way. A lot of people don’t understand this and I’ve had more eyes rolled at me than I can count when I tell people I quit my job to make games for a living. A lot of people really don’t understand that I didn’t quit my job to take on a more glamorous one with a better pay. I worker harder than I ever have, longer hours and for less than half minimum wage.

Negatives aside, this was a huge turning point for everything I wanted to do. I became so much happier and the progress on Castaways increased tenfold. I was able to start doing simple things that I couldn’t do while under full time employment such as attend business gateway meetings.


 

Steam Concepts

In July we finally got around to putting Castaways on the Steam Concepts section of steam. It is still live and you can see it here. This was great as we could finally start seeing what people thought about our ideas regardless of how developed they were. We received great feedback back from this. The numbers speak for themselves with 96% of the people who saw the page voted that they would play Castaways when completed.


 

Monocool Interactive Limited

As of October 2015 Monocool Interactive is a fully registered limited company. It’s not exactly the most extravagant thing in the world but it was a nice upgrade going from ‘this is my company’ to ‘this is my 100% legal and registered company’. Again, its not the most amazing or difficult thing to achieve, but its a nice feeling when you are in a position to be taken seriously.


 

Funding From The Princes’ Trust

In October I also went in front of a panel to pitch Monocool Interactive as a startup company with the hope of receiving funding. This was a pretty long process and an extremely steep learning curve but it all paid off and in November we were awarded with a nice sum of money to keep us going.
It was nice to finally be considered as a real company as opposed to just someone with an idea or hobby, especially with it including games. Not that we needed it, but it was also a real nice confidence boost!


 

Castaways

Words will never explain how far Castaways has come in a year. I told Alex way back at the start of the year that I think we could get Castaways finished in a year. Safe to say I was wrong, but I wasn’t that far off.

Throughout the year Castaways has changed dramatically in two ways. Firstly, the ideas that I started the year with have evolved, improved and in every aspect became so much better. As more people have gotten involved, the game has taken a life of its own. As time has gone on and we have read or watched different things, we’ve adjusted our idea of wha Castaways is and honestly I cannot wait to get a finished product out for people to play.

Secondly and more obviously, the game has come such a long way. In January we didn’t really have much to be honest but now it’s blossoming and changing monthly. We have single player, multiplayer, Ai, an almost perfect building system, really cool personal and team inventories and the list goes on. And on top of that we still have a gigantic list of things that we want to add that is going to make things even better. This is all just a matter of time, but fortunately this is something we have plenty of.


 

The Monocool Team

I can confidently say without these people I wouldn’t be writing this post. They have been unbelievably hard working, patient, reliable, supportive – just amazing. Like most startups there is very little in it for them in the short term, potentially long term too. They are well aware of it but they still put in an extra shift on top of their normal jobs to keep things going and picking up the pieces where I need them to. So if you guys happen to read this, thank you again for all your hard work.

On a less soppy note, it’s also been great to see these guys from my role as manager too. I have no reservations about any of their abilities. They are all great at what they do and they are all hard working, but being fully honest, over the year every single one of them has surprised me in more than one way. Each has impressed me with their skills and abilities where I had no clue that they were as good as they were. Everyone, including myself, has learned a lot over the year and we should all be proud of how far we’ve come. We are all better for what we have done over the past year.
2015 has flown by. I think 2016 is going to go by even faster and more frantic and I really can’t wait. We have a trailer coming, starting our Steam Greenlight campaign, launching a new website, additional contract work and as mentioned a ton of things we want to do for Castaways and Monocool Interactive.

If you have made it this far, thank you again for reading this and being a part of it. I and everyone from Monocool appreciate your support. I honestly believe that 2016 is going to be a big year for us and I hope that you’ll be there every step of the way and to see and celebrate any success that we may have.

– Rhys Willis, an extremely happy self employed game developer.