Development is like bacteria growth (that is, very very slow at first)

Case in point, this little game a close friend and I made for a development challenge: produce a real-time-strategy (RTS) game in a week. Being eternally time-starved, I decided that I might as well learn GIT, Maven, and the IntelliJ IDE while I’m at it, instead of using something I’m used to like SVN and Eclipse. We also had nearly zero idea of how to make a real time strategy game. Recipe for disaster right?

  1. Day 1 to 3: fumbling with GIT, IntelliJ, and Maven. Argued with each other about what the game would even be about. We finally decided that it would have something to do with defending a wall, and that you will control just one character, a human veteran, who runs around shouting orders to a bunch of orcs who are so peaceful that they would not stop tiling the field even when an army of monsters bear down on them. Great concept! I think. But we had absolutely nothing to show for implementation, after half of the allowed time! Our moods were certainly not great then, but we decided to have some faith.
  2. Day 4 to 5: fumbling with the actual graphics / audio engine that we use to build the game (you think we actually know this deep stuff beforehand when I didn’t even know how to build a java project with Maven before we started?). At the end of day 5, we got the first demo to build: a guy standing on an empty grass field, in complete silence. He walks left, right, up, down, but there is nothing and no one… Unless we manually code in some scenery tiles like mountains that he cannot walk through.
  3. Mid of day 6: got some enemy sprites to randomly appear on screen, got a multi-layer map tiler data structure in place so that we can put a few trees and mountain sprites. The enemies still don’t move, but touching them and you will die after a few seconds, mysteriously, in complete silence and with a complete lack of visual feedbacks.
  4. End of day 6: got enemies to move, got allies to spawn, the map system now read up a text file for each layer, so I can make a bunch of text files with “t” for tree sprite, “w” for wall sprite, “m” for mountain sprite, etc. Got a single sound file to play for the first time.
  5. Start of day 7: within 2 hours I had the idea of making a new “map tile” layer and fill them with semi-transparent sprites, creating a limited range-of-vision effect. In 2 more hours, I put together a system for switching music tracks smoothly based on how many enemies are on the map, and how much damage the wall has taken, and adjust the mood of the music accordingly, from suspenseful to frantic to despair. During the same period, my friend put together a rudimentary game AI. Enemies now slowly come down the map in a threatening, mock-intelligent manner. This is all smoke and mirrors in the back, of course, but unless I tell you, you would swear blind that the monster army know how to flank and ambush.
  6. Mid of day 7: I franticly scoured the web for creative common graphics, sound effects, and music to put into the game, and my friend drew what I couldn’t find quickly enough. The thing now looks like an actual game! I added minor effects like when an attack action happens, it’s not just stats being subtracted in the back-end, but there is a sword slash animation, a claw slash, and a sound of metal hitting metal. My friend coded win / lose conditions, key targets to destroy and what to protect, and put together a very basic UI, a screen for the start menu, one for winning, and one for losing. All of those screens reuse the code from the very first demo, just a single background image, in this case, with text baked on them. I start to play test the game and tune the parameters of enemies so that the game is challenging but you won’t lose too quickly.
  7. End of day 7: I recorded and mastered voice acting for the game. My friend spent the time optimizing the code, because the game, by this point, throws out enemies and allies by the hundreds, whose movements and health must be tracked. I continued to play test the game endlessly to the very last seconds. We are utterly exhausted by this point, because, I forgot to mention from the beginning, we have been working on this game demo after going to our full time jobs. So when I said “start of day”, I meant 5pm; “mid-day” meant 9pm; and “end-of-day” meant 1am. We did this for fun and love, mind you.

But at the end, we had something that looks like an RTS, and may even be called “fun” (your mileage may vary, unless you grew up considering things like Battle Toads fun), from the beginning of having almost none of the skills to make such a game.

Looking at the timeline, you may notice that the amount of productivity seemed to grow like a bacteria colony: negligibly tiny, then excruciatingly slow, then somewhat fast, then really fast. I believe that all projects are like this. After enough ramp up time, and trust your dev team to tell you how long is not long enough yet to give up, eventually that magical exponential growth will kick in.

Anyway, enough ranting, times to lead some peaceful orcs to defend their homes, yes?

Defend the wall! Lead your charges into the unknown to break the tide of evil!

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