Indie Game Dev Tip #9 – Embrace Constraints
Today, I want talk about something that is massively overlooked in the indie game development space. It’s really viewed as a negative thing when I think it should be a positive thing, and that’s the fact that a lot of us have constraints.
There are full time indies and part-time indies (those that have day jobs and work on their games at home).
So…what are the constraints?
- Financial – you can’t afford an engine or you can’t afford to buy assets, etc.
- Information/Skill – you don’t have the knowledge you need to push through the engine or learn the stuff or build the game that you want to build.
- Time – you’re too busy.
My constraint is I’m really good at programming but I suck at art—I was horrible at art. Everybody thinks they suck at art at some point but I definitely do. When I went back into game development after a couple years hiatus while working on my marketing company, I realized that I have this constraint—-I can’t make characters. I can’t even draw. But how can I make a game without art?
I tried a bunch of different things. I tried downloading art using other people’s assets. That worked but I didn’t like it. I wanted people to judge my game based on what I’d done as a programmer and not on the art because I didn’t do that part; since art is visual, that’s the only thing people tend to see. Then I started to do simpler, more mechanically driven games. When I realized that there are mobile games out there I was like: “Oh my god, this is perfect!”
That was right about the time when the super simple one-mechanic mobile games started to take place. It was perfect for me so I was like, “You know what? I’m going to try that. I’m going to try and make a game with no more than 5 basic colors and 5 basic shapes.” That was my limit. What I came up with at that time was a game currently titled Ascension, and it’s basically a game where you would tap and drag on the screen and it would shoot. The player object is just an upwards triangle—like a slingshot from Angry Birds except if you fell, you would die. So you had to keep dragging and shooting this thing up with something like a rubber band effect in the air while there were obstacles all over the screen.
I thought that that turned out really well. It was just basic shapes. It really changed the way that I thought about building games and building stuff in that. I had taken a constraint that was holding me back from actually doing this thing that I want to do (make games) and it turned it into an advantage. It turned into something like, “Oh, I can do this. I can make this and this is kick-ass, this is awesome, I am really proud of this.”
That really changed my perspective. Since then I remember thinking that there’s no such thing as a “constraint”, there’s no such thing as something that’s holding you back from game development. You see that a lot in game development. I can’t make games because I don’t have enough money, I don’t have enough time, I can’t make art, I don’t know how to use the engine. Whatever it is, embrace your constraints—embrace them.
You can use it to your advantage. If you don’t have enough time, join a game jam, make a super simple game in a weekend. If you don’t have enough money, use a free engine and say: “Hey, what can I do with the free version of Construct or whatever? Do you know what game I can make with this?” If you don’t know how to do art, say: “What can I make with basic shapes or stick figures?” When you embrace constraints, I think that’s where real creativity comes from. That’s where like the really creative stuff deep inside your subconscious mind comes out.
That stuff really gets us somewhere. When you’re trying to be creative and you can literally create anything on the planet, anything at all, that’s just too much—it’s too much for your brain to comprehend. But when you have a very specific set of constraints, it’s actually much more productive from a creative standpoint. There have been studies on this. Scientists have actually studied creativity and they found that people that introduced constraints into their creativity perform better on almost every data point when they’re being creative. It’s effective not just from a mental standpoint but also from an actually getting-shit-done standpoint. I call it GST: Get Shit Done
It can be hard sometimes when your brain is like, “Yeah, you want to make a game but you don’t know how to use a game engine”, or “You don’t have art skills.” You can’t get stuck with those barriers, you can’t let that stop you. You have to embrace the constraints. I remember that before I even knew how to make video games, one of the first things I did was make a card game.
I drew little pieces of paper out because I played “Yu-Gi-Oh” at the time and I loved it. I played with my brother, I made up rules, I wrote a whole rulebook out on paper, and we just played that. I didn’t know anything about video games or engines or any of that stuff.
I just did that without knowing that I should embrace constraints, I knew I wanted to make games and I didn’t let it stop me. If you’re in the same boat, if you’re sitting there saying, “I can’t make a game because….”—you need to take that same constraint,and force yourself to make a game with it.
Whatever is stopping you, turn that into an advantage for you to build a game. I guarantee that it will change your perspective on how to do things.
So that’s my thought for today. I hope you guys found it useful. Leave a comment if you have any on the topic.