Gotta know when to fold em’

It’s time to be real with yall and explain the lack of updates, as well as the progress of my current project.

I’ve been making games for quite some time now, but I’m still very new at the aspect of commercial games. The normal process is to get a good solid game engine together, get some good art/music assets on board, and polish it up to a nice shine. I work a bit in reverse: I draw out the aspect on paper, decide whether or not it’ll work and get a very rudimentary engine going, and then get all the music and art assets done first. This is mainly to inspire me as I mold the gameplay; the Oil Blue was a very hard concept to wrap my head around until I got some crazy great art from Sara Gross and some fantastic music by Jonathan Geer. The rest just kind of fell into place.

Of course, there is a significant danger of this plan just completely backfiring on you. Had the Oil Blue’s gameplay mechanics not worked out, I would have been stuck with a lot of great assets with no game to put them in. And unfortunately, that’s what’s going on with Neptune Gasoline.

Stupidly, somewhat arrogantly I wrote out NG’s gameplay mechanics on paper and decided it would work. No gameplay engine, no nothing, just the concept itself. I got Sara to draw up some great art and commissioned some music from Jonathan once again as I had done with the Oil Blue. I crafted the menus and game engine. It looked really good, sounded really good, bought the sound effects library and had a really awesome engine going. And then, THEN I got around to craft the gameplay. I designed a dozen levels. I would play them to make sure they functioned well. Everything was working great.

It was later that night (a few months into the project) that I was testing out one of the later levels, in my “developer mode”: is there any bugs? Can I fix things to make them look pretty? I wasn’t playing to have fun as much as I was seeing what else needed tuning.

As I was going through my mental checklist (is it polished? Are the sound effects working right? Should I add more flare effects?) I came across one simple question: is it fun? I stopped playing. Well of course it’s fun, otherwise I wouldn’t have made it. Right? I’ve obviously played a few hours into the game, so it would have to be somewhat compelling at this point.

And that’s when it dawned on me that the game was possibly not fun. That it was simple mechanics that didn’t necessarily compel the gamer into going on into the later levels. That is was all flare and no substance. Uh oh.

I started up a new level, cleared my head, and made a challenge for myself: stop playing the game when you feel it gets boring. I lasted about six minutes.

There are certain games I can’t play in that way. The Sandbox of God is one of them, as I already know the puzzle solutions so it’s impossible for me to know if the game is any good…I had to go on faith, in a sense. Others, like Ore no Ryomi and greenTech, have enough random gameplay elements that rely on skill that it’s very easy to me to play those games like any other player would and have fun with them. Neptune Gasoline, which also relies on skill, should be that way too. And I was not having a fun time.

That happened back in November, and since then I’ve spent the last four months trying desperately to shape a game out of the $2,000+ assets I’ve already paid for. I tried it as a turned based game, a puzzle game, a strategy game, an arcade game, everything. I would sit and stare of a picture of Neptune Gasoline for more than an hour each day, trying to form a new gameplay concept. Nothing was working. Finally, in February, I got so depressed I essentially stopped working on games altogether. I feel like I let Jonathan Geer (composer) and Sara Gross (artist) down, and the people that follow us down. I also let myself down. I was too cocky, too foolish not to get a gameplay demo up and running. It was a horrible month.

At the beginning of March, I privately made the decision to step back from Neptune Gasoline. Not outright cancel it, but just not be focused on it anymore. Let it go. I feel like I can come back to it maybe later this year, but if I don’t work on something else right now, I feel like I’m just wasting time. So that’s what I’m doing.

I don’t want to announce what the project is, as I’m still getting a gameplay demo together, but it’s something I’ve been putting off for way too long and is a real blast to work on. I’m finally happy again, working on something really exciting. Sure, I’m using rectangles and blocks to form the demo instead of finished assets, but I should have been doing that in the first place! Game first, polish later. Gotta keep reminding myself of that.

Anyways, once I do have a game up and running I’ll tell you more about it and how it’s going. But I want to apologize once again for the awful direction I took with Neptune Gasoline, and know that I’ve learned a ton of valuable lessons from that experience. I think you’ll enjoy what’s next, and I look forward to actually making games again.


12 Commentsto Gotta know when to fold em’

  1. Amidos2006 says:

    Any way its nice that you blogged once more 🙂

  2. Matt says:

    It’s great to see you posting again, but I’m sorry it hasn’t worked out as well as you hoped, and I’m glad you’ve thought about this now rather than further down the line. While I was anticipating Neptune, I’m really looking forward to this new exciting project.
    We have faith in you! 😀

  3. That sucks, the worst part of any project is when you’ve been looking at it for so long you have no idea if what you’ve got is any good. It’s thoroughly uninspiring.

    With that being said though, I think we all trust your discretion and I look forward to seeing what you cook up in the future.

  4. blueflare says:

    hey man, you didn’t let us down! it’s not like every single thing someone does will work out! as long as you keep trying, you haven’t let anybody down!

    with that said, i look forward to the new game! i’m glad you’re excited to be making it – i bet that means it’ll turn out great!

  5. Pete says:

    I was sorry to read NG didn’t go well, but it’s great that you’ve found your spark again! Putting NG to rest might be a good idea – it’s usually impossible to squeeze out ideas when you most need them. Perhaps a solution will occur to you when you least expect it! In any case, I wish you good luck with your next game. Looking forward to it already! 🙂

  6. TymaxBeta says:

    Regardless of your loss, your games are some of the most innovative and fresh as far as art and game play goes, and I have no doubt that you’re making the right choice and that this next project will return on both investments.

  7. TymaxBeta says:

    Oh, one other thing, don’t be afraid to looking into web and casual mobile game industries, even(god forbid) the social gaming industry, your innovative, casual game play styles could probably apply, and profit, well in those areas with one or two banner ads.

  8. chubigans says:

    Wow, thanks everyone for all the comments! I’m so thankful to have all that awesome support.

  9. Joe says:

    It must have been difficult to make the decision to step back like that. I respect you for that – and I’m sure whatever you’re working on now will be excellent.

  10. minmay says:

    Depressing to read, but I’m glad I read it nonetheless. Good luck.

  11. J.K. Riki says:

    It seems like you learn a lot as you go, so that’s a good thing. I hope this lesson inspires you further into the process. I know being on the art end like Sara it was super depressing to work so hard on the assets and then have the game fade away, like when we worked on that other project.

    Much luck going forward. I’m sure you’ll learn a lot more as this new project progresses!

  12. Ben Tibbetts says:

    Wow, I wish I had read this post before I commented on your later topic announcing the NG soundtrack. It sounds like stepping back might be the right decision for you in this case. Good luck with whatever it is you’re working on now!