I’ve been watching Game Maker’s Toolkit since 2017, when a Polygon article turned me on to the channel’s Boss Keys series. Initially focused on analyzing the dungeon design of The Legend of Zelda series, Boss Keys evolved over time to include entries on Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Metroid Prime, Dark Souls, Hollow Knight, and Banjo–Kazooie. Investigating game design to see why it works (or doesn’t) has been key to channel creator Mark Brown’s ethos since GMTK began. So it wasn’t very surprising when, a few years ago, Brown began developing a game himself.
Brown has chronicled the process of making his magnetism-based puzzle game, Mind Over Magnet, in a series called Developing. In each one (released in irregular intervals because Brown has been balancing game dev with YouTube creation), he gives an update on the process. At the beginning, he was learning the basics of Unity. The most recent video is on polishing a completed game. In the ten videos between, Brown has gone through every step most first-time developers would go through.
There was the ideation phase when he was figuring out what kind of game he wanted to make. There were tough decisions, like when he was torn between making his game — then tentatively titled “Untitled Magnet Game” — a puzzler, a precision platformer, or a little bit of both. There was the part when he began to playtest and get feedback on the things that work and the things that don’t about his own game, with surprising results.
I watched most of these videos as they came out over the course of the past couple years and enjoyed them. But, last week I went back to watch the ones I’d missed the first time around and ended up burning through the whole series again. I don’t plan to try my hand at game development anytime soon, but I have been working on short films and other creative projects in addition to my work here at TheGamer and, regardless of what you’re creating, I think Developing is inspirational.
Brown learns the lesson early on that getting to grips with a new tool, even a daunting one like a game engine, is possible if you take it one step at a time. He talks about his time learning Adobe Premiere and how he slowly made progress from the basics — slapping clips and sound on a timeline and arranging it into a short video review when he worked at Pocket Gamer — by committing to learning one new thing with each video. Though he initially struggles remembering the information in Unity tutorials, he eventually learns how to use the engine by fiddling around and looking things up when he hits a roadblock. This is the same way I’ve been approaching video editing. I generally know how to use Davinci Resolve but, if I run into something new, I’ll look up a tutorial, and get back to work. To borrow a metaphor from the title of director Richard Linklater’s first film, it’s impossible to learn to plow by reading books. At some point you have to do the thing, not just watch videos or read articles about how to do the thing.
Brown also talks about the dangers of limiting your project too much at the beginning. In the videos, he gives himself plenty of time to prototype and find the mechanics that interest him. The game’s focus on magnetism emerged during those initial sessions when, from the outside, it might seem like nothing of importance was happening. It’s a helpful reminder that, even when you feel like you’re wasting time, you might just need the space to think your ideas through. Some writers do their best thinking in the shower. Gertrude Stein, a key figure in the Lost Generation that included Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, said, “It takes a heap of loafing to write a book.” Unproductivity can be productive.
Mind Over Magnet is set to release on Steam some time this year.
And, maybe most importantly, Brown learns the power of a plan. After finding that the project meandered quite a lot in the middle while he balanced making videos with working on the game, a suggestion from It Takes Two designer Oliver Granlund encouraged him to set a goal for getting the game done in 30 days, and then work hard to reach that goal. Brown didn’t end up finishing the game in that window, but it helped him to do 30 days of focused work on the project, and he covered much more ground than he would have otherwise.
In my experience, the habits you build around your creative work are just as important as the content of the work itself. Ideas are good, but actually building them into something is much better. Developing hits at the balance of making things. You need to be gentle with yourself so you don’t burn out. And you also need to be strict with yourself so you actually get stuff done. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk. But, if the many videos and soon-to-be-released game are anything to judge from, it seems to be working for Brown.
Absolutegamer è un gruppo di nerd vecchia scuola, progressisti, appassionati di gaming, meglio se indie, saltuariamente retro ma senza essere snob verso l’ultima versione di Unreal Engine, con un atteggiamento no bullshit e con una certa predisposizione all’attivismo. Hanno generalmente un umorismo discutibile ma se volevano piacere a tutti nascevano patate fritte.
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