Deliver the Difference

Several years ago, I began work on a project called Space Havoc 4, but never completed it.* During SH4‘s development, I had a relevatory experience.

You see, around that time, Bungie had just released Halo Reach. Being (somewhat of) a Halo fan, I checked out the reviews and screenshots to see whether the game was worth my time. It looked good, but my heart sank when I saw screenshots of Reach‘s space-based missions.

It took a little bit of introspection to figure out why. It was a silly thing: what I felt was a bit of jealousy combined with the disheartening feeling that whatever SH4 would turn out to be, it would not compare to what a major game company could produce.

In any case, I got a copy of the game. When I finally got to the space combat missions, I was pretty excited to see if they would live up to my expectations. To be perfectly honest, they didn’t. While the graphics and mechanics of play were polished (as always), it wasn’t terribly fun for me. This is probably because I was expecting epic space battles with tons of battle cruisers and hundreds of ships — while I have no doubt that Bungie could have delivered on that front if they had wanted, they chose not to.

So, in a way, hope still remained. I felt that I could produce something more fun, mostly only because the gameplay of Reach‘s space combat didn’t blow me away. In other words, there was room for improvement, and I didn’t feel “threatened” the way I had before. To be honest, I suspect that this will always be the case: the unique visions I’ve had for any of my games (either completed or not) have never been duplicated in any commercial games I’ve ever played. Is this just dumb luck, or is it because no two games, even with the same genre and similar appearance, are ever the same?

While I can’t speak to how many hobbyist game developers might have given up on a project because they feel they’ve been “scooped”, I’m sure many have experienced the same feelings I have regarding this issue.** I’ve since realized that these emotions are entirely uncalled-for, if only for the simple reason that no one — big-time company or not — can make the exact vision of what you want to see come true except for yourself.

Don’t put existing games up on a pedestal. Don’t be intimidated like I was. Challenge existing games and find ways to make them better. This should be a constant exercise. Nothing is above criticism. Everything can be improved. Your vision is unique, and the world needs to see it come to life.


*  Fun fact: little did I know that this failed project would become the precursor to Gateway.

** For the record, Space Havoc 4 was never completed not because of the Halo Reach incident, but simply because I couldn’t figure out the mechanics of various aspects of gameplay, namely the space gates, how they work, and how to destroy them — a problem I’ve resolved in Gateway.

Feb. 16 — Where I’m At

If it seems like it’s been a while since my last post…it’s probably because it has. Mostly, this has been because I’ve been busy actually working on Gateway instead of writing about it. There’s been tons of progress, but it can all be summed up in a single phrase:

The first mission is now complete.

Okay, it’s only the training mission, but that’s hardly important, since getting to this point required pretty much everything to be complete enough to support a mission with dialogue, basic enemies, props, etc. Scripting out the mission has uncovered a lot of bugs and “features” that have appeared since I last tested various aspects of gameplay. Thus, the list of things I’ve completed has mostly consisted of: “fixed a bug here, corrected a segfault there, etc.”

A few non-technical items have been addressed, as well. Several models and textures have been improved, for a better look and feel. While I recognize that I’m not an artist, I’m always open to improving something if I think that I can.

Right now, I’m at a very important stage in Gateway’s development: developing the story. I’ve always had a rough outline in my head at any given time, but the real work now involves scripting out every mission and piece of dialogue, in order to figure out how many voice actors are required. Several family and friends who I think would fit some parts well have already volunteered their time, which is going to be immensely helpful. I also have a few play testers lined up. (Not to mention that a couple of folks have already tested the tutorial mission and have given some very useful advice.) Thanks, everyone!

I’m incredibly excited about what’s going to come next. Seeing my game finally come to life in this way is rewarding and, at the same time, very nerve-wracking. What if some vital features are missing that could make the game more fun? What if it’s just no fun at all? I suppose these are normal fears. Whenever they happen to pop up, I usually just think something like, “Shut up. It’s either a half-complete game with loads of features, or something more minimal that’s actually finished. You can’t do it all.” Sound advice, if I do say so myself.

The other issue to consider is that of play-testers. If my game sucks in any way, I’ll just have to trust them to be honest. Then it falls on me to find a way to improve things. The only thing I can do now is just carry on forward.

Before we part ways, here is a screenshot from the tutorial mission. It shows some space stations, colossal gates, cruisers, fighters, and a little dialogue from the (later ill-fated) Col. Matthews.

The player is greeted by Col. Matthews as they enter the training sector.

The player is greeted by Col. Matthews as they enter the training sector.