128 Things: The Dreams and Mistakes

A winding journey into computer game development
Lee Higgins
Lee Higgins
May 13, 2024

Introduction to My Journey

Making games has always held a special place in my heart. It was games that sparked my interest in programming. From early on, I knew I wanted to be a game developer. Life, however, had other plans, and I soon found myself immersed in the world of app development—a field I loved and that paid the bills. I always promised myself I'd return to games once I’d established my career. Although I estimated a return in 2-3 years, it took 15.

Meeting Sam Gull: A Turning Point

In early 2022, I discovered the works of a talented artist, Sam Gull. His drawings captivated me, lighting a spark in my imagination about turning his art into a game. After arranging a meeting in a Camden pub, despite never having met him before, it felt like reconnecting with an old friend. Sharing a love for retro games, Sam was excited to collaborate on a game project.

The Initial Vision and Its Complications

I envisioned creating a simplified RPG focused on collecting loot for a personal "horde cave." Instead of leveling up a character, players would recruit others to join their team. This "simplified" concept turned out to be much more complex than our budget allowed. About six months in, realizing the need to sustain my income, I shifted to part-time, significantly slowing our progress.

Key Mistakes and Pivots

Hiring more affordable developers seemed promising initially, but soon, I found myself managing tasks I preferred to avoid, while paying someone else to do the work I loved. The full-time demands of my day job meant I could only give limited direction to our game’s development. This led to our first major pivot—we shifted from a complex sandbox RPG to a simpler hidden object game. This change was meant to preserve core technologies while reducing complexity. However, it didn’t address the underlying design challenges adequately.

As development continued, the game, now a 2D isometric RPG-styled hidden object game, seemed complex from afar but fell short upon closer interaction. This realization hit hard during beta testing. Feedback was mixed; while the art was praised, the gameplay wasn’t meeting expectations.

A Real Pivot and New Challenges

Inspired by Anatoliy Loginovskikh's games on Steam, I realized our game should focus on exploring art. We decided to let Sam's creativity lead, thinking of the game from the ground up as a hidden object adventure. This shift presented new technical challenges, particularly how to present Sam’s detailed line art without pixelation. We experimented with vectorization but eventually settled on using raster images to ensure performance on various devices, including lower-end models.

The Final Stretch and Beyond

Despite the technical hurdles, we finally polished the game for release. However, the journey doesn’t end here. Marketing, maintaining, and enhancing the game are next on our agenda, along with developing content for a second series.

Stay tuned, as I will continue documenting our progress and lessons learned along the way!

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