Whitevale Defender - The Journey Part 2
A handcrafted, 2d, retro, tower defense game created with love by one person
Welcome to a series of articles that I will be writing that chronicles my adventure in creating this game over 18 months of my life. The game will launch on Friday May 25, 2018. Between then and now I will be writing about 18 articles that describe my 18 month journey and add plenty of details about the game itself.
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At the end of the last journey article I was very excited about taking this jam game I created in 20 hours over a weekend and turning it into a full fledged game. My motivation was very high, and I got right to work on it. Sadly I also had to go back to my job, back into the daily grind. Nothing changed about my job, I still had mountains of work to do and strict deadlines to finish it all. But at least my emotional state had improved a lot so I was able to better deal with the stress. I was ready to finish this game!
The Full Game Forms
Now that I had a foundation, I had to think about what I was going do add to make the game as best as it could be. So I opened up my design notebook and started jotting down ideas. I had been playing a lot of Kingdom Rush at the time and I liked its structure. If you don't know, Kingdom Rush is broken up into multiple levels which you can select from a central map screen. When you beat a level, one or two new levels open up.
So I decided to follow the same structure but I wanted to add more story. For my game, I wanted 4 levels in total, a new one opens up after you beat the previous. The story would progress, through dialogue conversations, at the beginning and end of each level. I also decided on 8 towers the player can build and 8 enemy types for them to defeat. I did a rough sketch and bullet points of their design for each. My initial plan was to have the entire game done in 3 months. I felt pretty good about the design and jumped in.
Hard Work Begins
Design can be time consuming, but ultimately it's the easy part. The hard part is actually programming it all into something real. I began waking up at 5am many mornings to progress on the game a few hours before work. I also worked on it after after I got home from my job about 3 times a week late into the night. I was spending roughly 15 hours a week on the game and 40-50 hours a week at my job.
Motivation is draining
I felt good about the progress I was making, but overall the progress was very slow. Fifteen hours per week or less really isn't that much. So slow in fact that I was starting to doubt whether this would be a "quick" project. The hours away from my family was starting to take its toll. This went on for about 3 months in total. But I was determined to finish the game. At this time my wife was starting to get worried. I really wasn't spending much time with her or our 1yo daughter. But in my mind I was almost finished so I reassured her it was only temporary, and once I started selling the game that it would all be worth it.
I Push Through
After 4 months I was tired of so much work, but I finally had finished programming the whole game - it was a lot of hard work, sleepless nights, and very little time with my family, but I had the entire game in a functional state. I felt like I hit a milestone. There was a light at the end of the tunnel.
Sadly it wasn't completely finished though. All the art was placeholder and there was zero audio. I was already 1 month late and I was just now getting the game functional. There was still a lot of work to do finishing the art/audio. But I still felt I could finish all that up in 2 more months.
Here's some screenshots of the game at that time
Description of how to play
Level select map
It was about April now, 4 months since I started. I was already behind schedule, but I had hit a significant milestone. So I started thinking seriously about the end goal (finish it and sell it). You know, how can I finish this game in 2 months? I, for the first time, saw what I had in front of me, and I panicked. In my head it didn't seem like much work. But 15 hours per week turned into 10 hours per week so I could have more time with my family. Taking my current speed into account, I realized it was going to take longer than I ever imagined.
Thinking about what I still had left to do to finish the game, I had to finish the audio, art/animation, effects, and bug fixing for an intro cutscene, 4 levels, 8 towers, 8, enemies, 10 dialogue moments, a map screen, and an ending cutscene. Each tower and enemy needed animations, each level needed a detailed background with plenty of variation, I would have to design 10 dialogue conversations between 4 characters, the map screen needed a detailed background and descriptions for each level, I would have to make the animation and program the 2 cutscenes..... Each individual thing isn't hard, but when combining all of them together and only being able to work on it 10 hours per week, it seemed like a mountain of work.
After doing some time estimates, I realized that what I thought would take me another 2 months to finish, would actually be closer to a year. My heart sank. I knew I couldn't sustain working 40-50 hours per week at my job, 10 hours per week on the game, taking care of my 1yo daughter, then attempting to keep a healthy relationship with my wife was just impossible for me. I thought there was no way that I could become a real game developer.
Making the Hard Decisions
I wallowed in depression for 2 weeks straight after that. I didn't touch the game, and I didn't go out and do anything fun. I just came home from work each night, sat in front of the TV, ate a lot of cookies, and drank a lot of beer. I couldn't stand it.
But that nagging desire to become a game developer was still there in my heart, calling out to me. After those 2 weeks I decided that my desire to finish this game was greater than the fear and hard work. So I kicked myself in the ass and got back to work on the game.
But I knew something had to change. The mountain of work was still there and I didn't have any additional time. So I made the really hard decision to start cutting down the game so the work was manageable in the time I did have. I tried to start cutting small, such as reducing the amount of dialogue, reducing the number of towers and enemies, making the animations simpler. But it still felt like a lot of work. So with much heart ache, I decided to cut the number of levels, which already felt like a small amount, from 4..... to 1. Ouch, that hurt me as a designer because that meant in the eyes of a player my game would seem tiny. This was so painful because I worked so hard creating those 4 levels and that map screen. I had to throw away about 80 hours (about 6 weeks) of work. So after a lot of painful feature cutting I ended up with 1 intro cutscene, 1 level, 4 enemies, 4 towers, 3 dialogue moments, and an ending cutscene.
I felt much better about being able to finish the game.
After that it was time to get back to work. I felt I was more capable to making a game I was proud of, even though it wasn't as big and complex as I had initially wanted. But the biggest change had yet to come. Stay tuned for the next article where I go back into detail about the game mechanics.