“So, Tracey, what’s it like working on a video game?” asked nobody in particular (or, more accurately, nobody at all). I umm’d and aah’d, trying to think of a description to accurately describe game making. And then I came up with one, and it was a little bit gross.
“It’s like making a baby,” I replied to thin air. “It’s like making a baby and carrying it and then raising it.”
I was well aware that I knew nothing about parenthood. The closest I’d ever come to being a parent was when an infant I was minding mushed its chubby fist into a bowl of oatmeal and punched me in the face. I was ready to get into a fight. Clearly, I do not understand The Little People. But while I may have the maternal instincts of a peanut, I do have an imagination, and my imagination tells me that what we in team Tasty Tasty Grandpa are going through is called “child rearing”. Allow me to break it down into finer, more delicious details.
When the idea for our iOS game, Tasty Tasty Grandpa burst forth from the mind of Craig Duturbure, it arrived in the fashion that I imagine most couples planning to lay eggs get the idea that they should, you know, write a letter to the stork, or visit the cabbage patch, or pick one up from the nursery, if you know what I mean (*sizzle*sizzle*). We thought it would be so easy. It would be fun and the game would have so much potential and it would grow up to be a machine that basically printed Bison dollar bills... because that’s what babies do.
Then we entered the phase where our baby vessel got fat. We calculated the time and the resources we’d need: where real parents have to find doctors and hospitals and buy sippy cups and prams, we had to find a coder, an artist and a musician who could give up their time to help us make this game.
A very early prototype showing how characters will run across the screen.
Perhaps, like many naive new parents, we thought that the easy part would come once the baby arrived. Everyone’s maternal and paternal instincts would miraculously kick in and we’d be gosh durn Sherry Bobbins. Once our baby prototype was ready, I thought we’d basically be done. We’d just iterate a couple of times, throw in some art, add music, and this sweet little baby of ours would tap dance its way into the App Store. Days later, Mr Apple would come knocking on our figurative (and maybe literal) doors. Wearing a suit made of dollar bills, he would shout “ONE MILLION DOLLARS!” in our faces, throw a suitcase of money at us, and run off into the distance, laughing.
Well... things don’t always go to plan. We’re five weeks into development, and Tasty Tasty Grandpa is not ready to tap dance into the App Store. We’re not sure it’s even ready to crawl. The beautiful, little tap-dancing baby we expected to appear when our team assembled is currently a tubby toddler with fat hands. It cries a lot and we’re working on fixing it without breaking the law. We’re encountering a lot of logistical problems — problems I would have never thought about or known of had I not stuck my own fat hand into game development.
Like a parent learning about what it means to have a squishy poop-machine thrust upon them, these past five weeks have been incredibly educational. I’ve learnt, for example, that game development takes time. In many ways I believe 48-hour game jams have distorted my perception of what is required to make a shippable game. In hindsight, I am now certain that any developer who has ever participated in a game jam would not have said no to more time. It takes time to paint, it takes time to design, it takes time to compose, and it takes time to code. More importantly, it takes time to get things wrong — to really make big dumb mistakes — and to figure out the best solution.
A rejected background for the game.
I’ve learned that there’s a lot more to a video game than what we see on the screen. This past week Team Grandpa has been talking about user interfaces and enemy spawn points and the timing of sound effects. If done right, hopefully the player will enjoy these things without hardly noticing them, but until they’re done, these are the things we have to think about.
I’ve learnt that it’s important to communicate effectively. Our development team is spread out along the east coast of Australia — we’re all working in isolation and while we send emails back and forth, nothing is as rejuvenating as our weekly video conference calls. We tell each other what we’re doing, what we’re having trouble with, we ask each other what we should do next and whether the baby is still fat. When we leave the call, we all feel a bit better, like this whole baby business isn’t so bad after all.
Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is that it was never bad to begin with. Yes, Tasty Tasty Grandpa is taking longer than expected to finish; yes, I have a pile of ugly background paintings that I don’t really know what to do with, and yes we’re more than likely to encounter more problems along the way that will take even more time to solve. But hey — this is our baby. It might be round, slightly uncoordinated and drool more than any baby ever should, but with enough love and attention, our chubster’s gonna dance, and when it does we’re going to be pretty god darn proud.
The Tasty Diaries is a series of developer diary entries by former Kotaku Associate Editor, Tracey Lien. As of next week, the diary will have a new home! Follow Tasty Tasty Grandpa’s progress over at Grapple Gun Games.