Free Time and Overwhelmingness (is that a word?) and Talking to NPC’s

Ok well it’s been just over a month since my last update because 1) I haven’t had a ton of time with the tutoring job and finals coming up for everyone, 2) I’ve had holiday stuff going on for Thanksgiving and all that, 3) I’ve been trying to prepare some more job applications for game design, as well as working on another job in education, and 4) I’ve felt pretty overwhelmed by the sheer size of the game. All this kind of boiled down to me making very little progress on my game. My free time was already limited in a lot of ways, but even when I had free time I wasn’t spending the majority of it working on building my game. Why? I felt overwhelmed. Basically I would sit down to try to knock some stuff out for a couple hours and I would open my code and then just stare. It didn’t exactly bode well.

At first I thought I had just run into some writer’s block. I wasn’t feeling especially creative, I guess, and I just couldn’t get myself motivated to go to work on it because as soon as I looked at the 4200 lines of code I had programmed (which is enormous for me, as the largest thing I’ve programmed previous to this was probably around 1500 lines aka this is 3 times bigger and still probably only 70% done as far as coding goes) I would kind of freak out. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. There was just way too much for me to work with and I was scared of changing things for fear of making mistakes or completely blowing up my code. So, instead of working on it, I just left it there and didn’t really do much of anything.

Over time, though, as I tried to figure out what my problem was, I realized I was just extremely overwhelmed by the entire prospect. This is far and away the biggest game I’ve ever created and I want to make it absolutely amazing. It means I’m going to pour everything I can into it whenever I get the chance, but it also means I’m going to try to take hundreds (or thousands) of different ideas and techniques and try to process all of them at one time. No one can do that (or at least I think most people can’t). It’s actually the same issue my thesis advisor warned me to avoid when I began working on my thesis – if I tried to do everything in one shot, tried to handle all 70 pages and the research and the design all at once, my brain would melt. It literally would not be able to handle everything I was trying to throw at it and I’d be trapped, unable to actually do anything because I was too focused on everything.

Once I realized this was the problem, I started trying to figure out how to fix it. I settled on simply going back to what I had done before – focus on small pieces at a time and try to focus mostly on those small pieces. This worked initially because I hadn’t done a whole lot, so jumping from one piece to the next was perfect. Once I got more in front of me, though, I started trying to work on the maps and deal with bugs in the battle system and designing bosses and writing up a lore, etc. It was just a mess. So I think the best way to keep myself from feeling too overwhelmed is to take it a little more slowly, one step at a time. If I look at everything as one big picture nothing will ever happen, although the big picture isn’t bad because you do need a little bit of that to put everything together. Anyway I hope that should work out and allow me to stay pretty focused over the next month or two (which should let me finish up most of the programming).

Right now I’ve been designing the equipment, treasure drops, bosses and the NPC’s (all this stuff is pretty inter-related). I’ve also been programming the NPC chat system, and I finally got it to work today (which is why I wrote this post up). The character can now run around the map, find an NPC, and talk to them using the action button. Basically it spawns a small box at the top of the screen and displays some text. After the player is done reading it, they just need to press the action button again to either read the next line or finish the conversation (if they’ve gone through all the lines). There are 3-4 NPC’s plus a shopkeeper in each village (or which there are 3), 3-4 bosses per level, as well as a few extra random NPC’s in some of the later levels (in particular the guy who pretty much explains the lore of the game in the dungeon level and Cez’s girlfriend, Emelia). Once I’ve got this all figured out, I’m going to start putting together the programming for the bosses. I might have to go back to the battle system and bug fix for a little while to make sure it’s all functioning correctly still (which I kind of doubt because I know it wasn’t completely perfect when I finished the general programming for it).

Anyway I think having this whole experience was really good for me. It means when I get a job in design and the games are even bigger and better I’ll be able to handle it a lot better now. Everything I read says everyone not in game design thinks making games is easy – it’s just ideas and such. That just couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s takes a lot of passion and dedication to stick with the product and you have to keep yourself from putting too much on your plate. If you let yourself get overwhelmed things just fall apart. How you approach the design is so important.

Thanks for reading!