Games are easier played than done

On April 30, 2010, in Speaking From Experience, by Steffen Itterheim

This one should be obvious: making games is hard.

What’s not so obvious: making simple games is still hard.

Ever heard someone proclaim “Oh, i could make that in a day!” after having glanced at yet another simple game that’s all the rave on the App Store? I bet you did. Truth is: they’re almost always wrong. Even if it’s someone who has years of experience programming games.

You know Jamie from Mythbusters is saying in their disclaimer shots: “It may not look like it, but we’re professionals”. Well, the Mythbusters are professionals. Who is to say you can’t fool around like a child and still be professional? It’s much like your regular game development team. Anyway, did you ever notice how surprised they often are about their results? Or how much work it would be to get their myths tested? Same goes for game developers.

A game programmer who is sure he can do that game in a day just by looking at it is a lot like your typical Mythbuster, or Mythbuster viewer, who thinks they know the outcome before the test – and then they’re in for a surprise. Sure sometimes they’ll be largely correct. Yes you can shoot a ball at 60 mph in the opposite direction of a car going 60 mph and the ball will just drop down straight to the ground. That is just simple physics. Even i knew that. I also know how to make games. And i can vividly imagine how many more tests and excrutiating amounts of work went into confirming that myth. The same amount of excrutiating work and detailed adjustment go into making any game as well. But they don’t show that on your screen, do they?

Game programmers who can actually make a complete game in a day are a myth. Once you’ve done a couple games you know that. And once you hear someone proclaim they can do it in a day, please take them by their word and put them to the test!

Let’s take Doodle Jump as an example. It’s been a target for ridicule from quite some game programmers who just couldn’t stand that something as simple (and stupid as they say) can be so successful. Could you do it in a day? Could you even do it in a week? Let’s put it to the test!

How?

Simple, we’ll just make a feature list and you can answer the question yourself: how long will it take to complete this? Please post in a comment how long you think it would take to complete all this, assuming you had all the graphics and sounds.

  • Menu
    • Challenge by Email
    • Highscores Screen: Local, Facebook Friends and Global (Webserver connection)
    • Options Screen, various options
    • Connect & Submit Score to Facebook (Facebook API)
    • Connect & Submit Score to Twitter (Twitter API)
    • Change your name
    • Pause Screen
  • Game
    • Player jumping
    • Accelerometer controls
    • Wrap Player when leaving either screen side
    • Player shooting on tap
    • Scrolling Game Objects as Player goes up
    • Scroll in Menu on game over
    • 7 different Platform Types, one that can be moved by touching it
    • 6 Enemies and 1 or 2 Boss Monsters
    • UFOs and Black Holes
    • 6 Powerups: Springs, Jetpack, etc.
    • Display Friend Scores on the side
    • Score display
  • Stuff that people often forget to think of
    • randomly generate platforms in a meaningful way with progressing difficulty and no unfair situations
    • cheats and easter eggs (not mandatory but Doodle Jump has a lot!)
    • several themes with all new graphics

Did i forget anything? Probably. Usually when you make feature lists like this you get 80%, maybe 90% of all features of you’re really thorough. There’s always something you’ll forget when you look at a game’s features, and there’s even more you’ll forget when you plan the game. Unless you plan for “When it’s done.” – which more often than not means: never. Or Duke Nukem Forever. Same thing really.


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4 Responses to “Games are easier played than done”

  1. Ben says:

    It’s true, making software is hard work. Even trivial things can take hours (or days) to get right.

    That’s what makes it so fun and rewarding.

    I’ve spent weeks just on the graphics for my game, I haven’t even started the programming yet. Yikes!

    • steffenj says:

      At least you can do both, lucky you! The art i do rightfully deserves the label “programmer’s art”. I can’t even doodle right… :)

  2. James says:

    Learning everything it takes, takes more than a day. I didn’t even know Objective-C before jumping in.

    Nevermind finding out about all the APIs out there and deciding what you’re going to use. One day? That’s more like saying an athlete can do a 3 minute mile in a day. Yes, after training for years.

  3. Daniel says:

    It depends. Some can make game in 1 day or even 1 hour, some spend months to make a game.
    However good games certainly cannot be created in days.