Thanks for sharing - this kind of story of the realities of development and what gets in the way really interests me deeply.
Successful game but still failed as a project
I apologize in advance if this post will somewhat feel emotional. While I don’t really feel emotional in the deeper sense, I feel like I should. I’ll start at the beginning, on where it starts it all.
Where it Started
You see, I’m not really a gamer. I only played a handful of games before I graduated college. With “played” as the word, I meant playing games I can confidently say I spent my curiosity and fascination with. Most, if not all, are actually online games. Perfect World, Battle of the Immortals, and Dekaron are among the games that really made my childhood interesting. As 2008 to 2012 marked the rise of Internet Cafes in my country, I also found myself enjoying the likes of various World of Warcraft III mod games like Defense of the Ancients and Element TD, which both are so successful, they influenced entire genres years in the future. I also have nostalgic memories of GTA Vice City and San Andreas, but there’s not much to say about them anyway.
During my four years of college, I only played two games: Minecraft and Impossible Creatures. I really love Minecraft, the core game design of it is so immersing. While the combat and crafting aspects are nice, what I really loved is the idea of building unique things. Designing your base, creating farms, and building your personal mining layouts really gave me that level of immersion that I often even forget to sleep and eat while playing.
For Impossible Creatures though, I found myself getting fascinated by a similar but also a different thing. As a Real-Time-Strategy game, Impossible Creatures is a really awesome game. Its RTS aspects are really polished and well-designed that there’s hardly anything bad you can say about it, other than the “Your building is under attack” sound effect the Henchmen will bug you often.
While I really like RTS games in general, it’s not the RTS aspect of Impossible Creatures that I liked the most, but rather the part of the game called “Creature Combiner”. As the name implies, the Creature Combiner is a part of the game in the menu where you can literally combine two real-world animals into one and add them to your personal army, which you can then use on the RTS part of the game. The Creature Combiner and Army Builder part of the game is so well designed that you might as well call it a separate meta-game akin to MOBAs and Deck Builders.
As you can probably tell by now, Apeirozoic is the result of my fascination with Impossible Creatures's Creature Combiner
Rise and Fall
I wasn’t really planning to make a game when I made Apeirozoic. I just simply liked the idea of the Creature Combiner and figured it would be a cool experiment to try to remake it as I learn the Godot Game Engine. Here’s my very first post about Creature Combiner on the r/godot subreddit:
Back then, the Godot subreddit only has 29,100+ members so getting 150+ upvotes really felt amazing. Around 9 days later, I finished the first version of Apeirozoic. Here's a Newgrounds link for this first version: https://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/744225
As quickly as I started this project, it’s as fast as it ended. I only worked on it for around a month, since I found myself occupied to another game project: Uncontained. After completing a crude version of local multiplayer and publishing it on the Google Playstore, it give me of a sense of accomplishment at also immediately faded, along with the momentum I got for continuing the project. I think I felt satisfied on where I managed to end the initial development, and despite clearly thinking there’s still plenty of work to be done, I deemed it unnecessary at that point.
The 2nd Phase
I spent the rest of 2020 working on Uncontained. I learned a lot about game design, tabletop games, and community management which I realized to be as essential as programming and artwork in game development. As I worked on Uncontained, I didn’t realize that Apeirozoic was doing decently on the Google Playstore. When I found out, I made this post:
Aside from the 50k downloads, the Reddit response to my game was very astounding as well. While the game itself is not being directly phrased, it felt amazing that people thought I’m amazing, despite in actuality I basically just put this project on the back burner and capitalized on its success in the background. I felt both guilty and good.
Even my post on the Godot Engine Facebook group was well-received:
So, after all these, I realized it was worth continuing the development of Apeirozoic and made a series of improvements to pretty much all aspects of the game. I made a major visual overhaul and creature redesign, updated the deck building and creature combining aspects, made some back-end improvements to file saving, screen transitions, polished combat, and the ability system, and even added Ads at some point. I also managed to make a crude built-in analytics system which helped quite a bit to design the various levels of the game.
Here's another Newgrounds link for this version for the game: https://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/776698
How it Began to Fall
After a few weeks, I decided to stop working again. However, this time, for no apparent reason. I was not working on anything at all, and in fact, I just recently filed my resignation form with the company I was working for, so I actually have no reason to stop working at all. But in reality, there’s a myriad of reasons why I slowly just stopped working despite making good development and getting well received. At the time of this writing, here’s a summary of the game’s overall performance on Google Play:
Personally, these are the reasons I eventually lost the motivation to work on this project:
Poor Project Management
I know there’s a popular saying in the coding community that “nobody likes their own code” or something. However, this aspect really falls heavy on me. It makes occasional development pauses harder to resume and the eventual addition of new features difficult to manage. Not only that the source code is a huge mess, the project itself feels disorganized and I often get to I point I don’t remember adding this and that and wonder why something is designed the way it is.
One of the major factors that really allowed me to focus on Uncontained for almost a year is art, which I didn’t actually have to do myself unlike in Apeirozoic. I was working with a Chinese artist from Tumblr so he handles the art of the game that I can’t produce myself, while I work on pretty much everything else like community management, game design, playtesting, and marketing.
When I was working on Apeirozoic, although it didn’t really bother me much that I was making creature artworks, in fact, I really enjoyed them, but it still affected how I do the rest of the development work. After finishing a creature art, I would feel lost on what I was going to do next or lose the hype I was having that inspired me to work on this new one. Aside from creature design, there’s also UI design, which my game really falls flat. It really bothered me to continue working on something that didn’t look good in my eyes.
Decline of Engagement
While the game is performing really well on Google Play, everywhere else it’s not. Unlike PC game communities, the mobile community is a lot more passive. The reason why I worked really hard on Uncontained was the constant pressure of engagement, where it even reached the point that I felt obligated to continue working and make results on the teases and promises that I made. This “engagement pressure” eventually pushed the game into completion despite the myriad of things I didn’t like about how I’m handling the project. I personally think engagement is crucial for solo indie game developers like me.
Consequences of Initial Game Design Choices
Although I said that engagement is crucial, this part, on the other hand, resulted in a major roadblock for me. You see, as I said earlier, I love the Creature Combiner part of Impossible Creatures and that’s how Apeirozoic was born. The consequence of that is I didn’t really think much about the core gameplay i.e. the RTS aspect of Impossible Creatures. I only thought it was fun, but didn’t actually “feel” like it’s fun to play. I only realized it until it was too late and I’m already deep in the development.
I thought about changing the “real-time auto card battler” part of the game a few times into a “turn-based” approach, but every time I tried to make an attempt, I’m immediately overwhelmed by the amount of complexity I would have to unravel to make it work on the current version of the game. There’s the save system, the scene system, the ability system, and even the creature management system, which are all tied to the actual battle system. I would even have to pretty much update all of the creatures since their stats are designed to work for real-time battles, not turn-based (like attack speed, stuns, etc.)
Too Many Breaks
For the two years I’ve developed Apeirozoic, I pretty much only worked on it for 3 months. I started the first month of working in November 2019, stopped for a full year in 2020, started working again in January 2021 then stopped working on it ever since. Now that it’s more than a year later since I last worked, I hardly recognize the source code of the game anymore. These “full-year gaps” of development really took the toll of killing my motivation to move forward.
Feedbacks and Failed Remake
Since Apeirozoic is still undeniably successful at least in Google Play, I can’t help but feel I should still be resilient and continue working on it. I mean, take a look at this feedback:
Of course, I now know it clearly that the real-time auto battler combat really kills the game:
So I planned to do a remake from scratch and made a Reddit post for the first combiner prototype and my plans for it.
Of course, despite the engagement I received, I still can’t continue to really start working. It just felt overwhelming to start from scratch knowing how much work I need to do again to reach the level the current version of Apeirozoic has.
I’ve been wanting to continue on game development for some time now. I already had a few interesting ideas recently, like a game about eldritch rock paper scissors and a Slay the Spire-like game set in an infested forest. I tried to get back on Apeirozoic to see if I can work on it, but sadly, every time I open the project on Godot, I just stare at the screen not knowing what to do.
So, I’ve now decided to really mark the end of my work to Apeirozoic and just move on. I made this post as a lesson for me and also hope it will help new indie game developers not make the mistakes I’ve made. Here are some takeaways:
- While having messy code is normal, still do your best to make your source code organized and clean, it’s for your own sake.
- It’s absolutely essential to take some breaks, but don’t take too long. You need to keep the moment going, or else you’ll lose it and eventually fade motivation and interest.
- Lastly, be mindful of your early game design choices, like I didn’t think hard about choosing between making the combat part real-time or turn-based. Crucial aspects like that need to be thoroughly thought about, since they will influence how the game will be made.
There are probably even more reasons why I failed this project myself, like me not being a gamer at all (I’m more interested in understanding games themselves than playing them) although I often take it as an advantage to see in the eyes of new players, despite the outright disadvantage of now knowing how these games should actually be made.
If you’re interested to help or even take over on this project, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or add me on discord Kenoma#2916 and maybe we can discuss it. This project indeed has the potential to be something successful, but unfortunately, it’s currently beyond my interest and capacity to do it alone.
Thanks for reading my story, until next time!
Read the Reddit post about this devlog herel https://www.reddit.com/r/gamedev/comments/ug1v9n/my_first_game_got_over_200000_d...
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Also want to thank you for sharing this. I will be sharing this within my own community also as I think what you have said is probably how a lot of solo creators feel at some point. I also like what you said about community engagement and I think I will make more of an effort to show my appreciation or an opinion on games from now on so hopefully, it will give solo devs a little more encouragement in their projects.
Hello there, thank you for sharing this. Working almost alone on projects like this is really hard, and realizing that you don't want to continue on it is also a great step ! It may seem unfinished, but if as you said you go on and continue with other projets, so it will not be unfinished, as bits of aperozoic may be in your other projects !
What you said about "be mindful of your early game design choices" is also really interesting.
So thank you for sharing this !
Thanks for the response, I'm glad you liked it! It's actually especially harder if you prefer to work alone but you don't have the best capacity to do so. It'll be like you're resisting your own desires, which can be at times counter-productive.
But yeah, as you said, Apeirozoic will live on my future projects. People seem to really like the "Combiner" concept integrated into deckbuilding. Inscryption actually already did it!