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  • Postmortem: SORS

    - Rich Chatwin
  • Years ago as part of my Science Communication MSc I made a card game, and had the time of my life doing so. Several years into a normal job I realized that I really wanted to give game-making a go, so quit my job to spend more time doing it.

    I made a couple of web games but being a PC gamer wanted to make one of those. S.O.R.S was that game, and now it's done, I wanted to write about my experience in case it's useful to anyone else out there.

    A couple of points to note first though:

    1. Everyone's situation is different. What worked or didn't work for me may be different for you.

    2. A lot of these points are echoed across countless other game dev articles and retrospectives, some of which I even read whilst developing S.O.R.S! Alas, sometimes the best way to learn is to make the mistakes for yourself.

    What went well

    1. I made some sensible decisions at the start of the project

    No-one ever made friends by saying things should be more complicated, but people love it when you try and make things simple.

    Some of the most important decisions you make will be when you're just starting out, because they will affect the shape of your game to come and lots of other factors. There were 2 that I made early on that I think were good ones:

    • I made a 2D game rather than a 3D game
    • I used Unity and coded in C#

    In other words, I made things simpler for me, and my brain liked that, so he stuck around for the project.

    The first decision meant I didn't have to worry about things such as 3D modelling, 3D worlds or even the Z-axis (well, much). As a beginner programmer I needed to make things as simple as possible if I was ever going to finish the game, and this decision really helped.

    Using Unity and C# helped because they are both widely used and have great online communities, meaning it was easier to get help, especially useful given I was coding this project solo with no tutors or guidance except the internet (and some books).

    It almost goes without saying that the other benefit of using Unity is that it takes care of a lot of stuff for you - it's a ready-made game engine. Now I know more about game development I'm truly thankful to have something like Unity that can deal with fundamentals and let you focus on scripting your specific game behaviours.

    2. Building a game and learning to code worked well together

    The great thing about building a game is you come up against very specific problems, and solving these is a great way to learn about coding. Just reading about coding without using it practically is like thinking about what you need from the grocery store without actually going there.

    I gradually settled into a cycle during the game which roughly was learn -> code -> learn -> re-factor. Although I didn't re-visit my old code as much as I should have (see below), I did a bit and that helped broaden my C# skills.

    Comparing my past attempts to learn programming, having a personal project I was passionate about really helped me learn.

    3. Releasing early demos helped highlight some key issues

    I could have done more to build a community and market the game earlier on (see below), but just having a few early demos released really helped identify some key issues.

    For example, initially players had to type full condition and treatment names in order to select them. Imagine that! At the time I thought it added to the atmosphere and feeling of being a doctor in control of a new futuristic technology, but it quickly became apparent that this was just annoying. I implemented the shortcut of using numbers, and people stopped complaining!

    No honestly, it's really fun having to type that all out every time!

    The place I used most for demo feedback was the Indie game reddit thread ‘Feedback Friday'. Check it out, there are some great games there and it's a really good, positive space for getting feedback.

    And in case you're worried, no-one ever wrote ‘your game is shit'. So now you don't have that fear as an excuse ;)


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