Hey guys, it’s Connor here to talk about my experience making a video game from start to finish while completing my undergraduate degree in computer science. This is much easier said than done. You struggle with time management, exhaustion, and maintaining relationships. That said, as I’ve proven, it is doable. I’m going tell you how I got through it.
1) Find Time
First and for most, you have to find the time. The first thing to go for me was gaming time. I used to play video games constantly and had to seriously cut back. I ended up pretty much missing most major titles after starting development unless I caught them late during my breaks, which I’ll get back to. One thing I tried not to do much was cut time with friends and family. I’d be lying to say I didn’t do it at all, but I tried to keep it at a minimum because sitting alone coding all day isn’t very healthy. The last thing to go, which didn’t happen until the end when I started to have deadlines, was to cut sleep. This wasn’t necessarily healthy either, but when you have a deadline approaching, two essays to write, and a database due you have to make sacrifices.
2) Take Breaks
One thing I made sure to do was take breaks. There were two sorts of breaks I took along Perspectrum’s development. One was when I got frustrated and gave up on the project, which happened a few times often lasting a month or so. The other is a break that I planned to take to recuperate, which is the better way to go. Sometimes life gets in the way and you have to let it. Game development isn’t my day job yet, so there has to be a breaking point. Let yourself rest and you will get a lot more done.
3) Learn as You Go
One major challenge of developing a game as a student is that you most likely don’t know how to do all the things you set out to do. I suspect this is true of almost all game development endeavors, but I can only speak of my own experience. I learned a whole lot programming Perspectrum. A lot of things I learned wound up being taught later in class, which gave me a leg up in those classes. This in turn gave me more time to work on Perspectrum since I didn’t have to focus on those classes as much, but I had to teach myself those things in the first place.
4) Set Realistic Goals
Another good tip is to set realistic goals. This is something pretty much anyone in game development will tell you, but I’m saying it anyway. Don’t set out to make something crazy like an MMORPG or whatever your dream game is right away. Figure out your skill set and go from there. Perspectrum started as a project just to learn some things but as I realized what I could do, I mapped out where the game could go with mine and my team’s skills and we worked from there. That’s not to say you shouldn’t reach, but you should be honest with yourself. Perspectrum seemed like something totally in my skillset, but I had to learn a lot of unexpected things along the way.
5) Stay Motivated
You should also have strong motivators. Early on it was motivation enough to sit and work on a game that I thought was cool, but that passion gives way to perseverance and determination soon enough. One thing I did to stay motivated was keep a Perspectrum poster that was made for a promotional event on my wall. This was something cool to look at, and it made me feel good about the project. It was also something to remind me what the end game was when I was feeling tired of programming or designing. My biggest motivator, however, was other people. Early on I brought other people on the project in part because of their skillsets but also largely because I needed to be held accountable. I needed people to talk to about the project and get excited with!
6) Build a Team
With this I will go into building a team. I know a lot of games have been made by a single developer and have been excellent, but I don’t think that is a good place to start. It definitely wasn’t for me. There are holes in anyone’s skillset, or at least areas they aren’t as strong. It is smart to reach out to other people and to try to build a team of complimentary skill sets. For me, it was just me and Gabby for a long time. I programmed and she did art; that was enough for awhile. We would both design and fill in other gaps in the process that didn’t fall under those umbrellas but it worked. However, eventually we realized we were taking forever to do things like design that fell outside our preferred disciplines, so Kati joined the team. She had expressed interest in what we were doing and wanted to do some design work, it was perfect!
Kati was an old friend from the West Virginia University Game Developers Club. That’s also where Gabby and I met, and how I’ve connected to almost every game developer I know. This has been an important networking channel for me and I doubt the game would have been made without it. It not only introduced me to my team, but it gave me the opportunity to share the game with like-minded people. The club hosted events and informed me about university events where I could show off the game. These opportunities were important. I may not have met a ton of lifetime fans there, but I learned to show my game off at the very least, and I was able to watch strangers play it, which is valuable in a design sense.
Overall, I have to say developing a game in college is a mixed bag. I had fun and would do it again, but it was not without sacrifice and it was not easy. If you would like to support me, check out Perspectrum on Steam, Itch.io, or Game Jolt! I would love for you guys to reach out to me @TheConnorHaynes on Twitter with any questions about my experience or games you’ve made in college you wish to share or how your experience was alike or different from mine.