POSTMORTEM – a game that never saw the light

Hello all,

As I have just announced, TAWBS has been cancelled permanently. This blog post is here to give a brief history of the development and to explain what lead to the decision of dropping it.

For context, TAWBS is a game I started tackling first when I was in middle school, 8th grade, when I was playing around in Game Maker 8. I was just fantasising about the idea of a shooter where the players and enemies were squares, because that was easy to draw. After experiencing some bugs I didn’t know how to fix, I gave up on the it – after all, I had absolutely no knowledge in programming (or anything else for that matter).

In high-school, towards the end of 10th grade in 2016, some internet friends on Discord convinced me it was worth giving Game Maker (now in its Studio 1.4 version) a go again. Naturally, I quickly remade the prototype of TAWBS with ease and kept trying to add features on top to test my limits and learn more about coding. It was very rudimentary at first, but I was quickly making progress, which was encouraging.

I didn’t have any specific design direction, so all the mechanics and the narrative was just added without much thought. However, what was being built started eventually making sense as a cohesive game, so I began fine-tuning and doing actual game design to build off of what was working and what was not.

Things kept escalating – the game had a very respectable amount of content, as I was learning more and more. I had found a composer, Predator, willing to work on an OST for it. The game was beginning to look “legit”. But its foundations, most of the systems in place, they had been made back when I had no idea what I was doing and barely duck-taped everything together to make it work.

When I started college (studying broad engineering) in 2018, the development took a hit. My workload increased significantly, and as I have always tried to be a diligent student and took my studies very seriously, priorities had to shift. I still tried making progress on TAWBS from time to time, but things undeniably took more time to make.

Summer 2019, I tried pushing through with the project to give it a little boost, as limited as it was since I also had my internship to worry about. September 2019, I decided to go showcase it to a local pop-anime-gaming convention, hoping it would keep the ball rolling. However, I did not anticipate my studies to harden even more the following year. During that second year of college, almost no progress was made on the game, aside from the level design of the final area.

At this point, it had been 4 years since development actually started. In terms of content, all that was left was to develop a mini boss and the final boss, plus some extra menus. I could take my time to slowly build that content and polish it over the 3 remaining years of my studies. “There’s no way I’m not going to release this game, after all this time!” I thought.

But, as I started specialising in IT Engineering and Computer Science over the past couple months, I came to several realisations.

For one, if I wanted to release this game seriously, I could absolutely not afford to keep those broken bits of code that I had written back when I was still learning the fundamentals. In fact, it was not just bits of code here and there. The entire architecture was an absolute mess, and it made adding more features and systems (quality of life ones, expected from any game in 2021) a hundred times more difficult and time consuming. Porting the game from GMS1 to GMS2 made that fact all the more apparent.

Design wise, the game had many, many issues. I personally had a blast playing it, but that’s because I was the developer and I knew how everything worked. Even story wise – I came up with the narrative when I was very young, and as I build all the levels around it, I had a very difficult time trying to fix it / make it compelling. Best idea was to remove it entirely, which involved changing many levels.

In short, I was far from being close to releasing it. At the rate of how things were going, I would have to keep pushing through for a long, long time. That realisation put things into perspective. Abandoning the project was something that did not even cross my mind, because of how long it had been around in my life. It had become part of my identity, I went through teenage-hood with it, I defined myself around it. But now, the question was legitimate because of those technical reasons.

That made me take a step back to see the bigger picture. This game had been occupying my mind so intensely, that it left no room for anything else. It was eating the little time and energy I had left, which was not a problem in itself – but there was just little purpose to it all besides trying to endlessly glue together something that was never whole to begin with.

It’s no surprise people keep giving preemptive advice about not falling into the sunken cost fallacy, and learning how to fail faster in order to quickly iterate in the creative process. But for some reason, I thought I was above any of that.

I also realised it had been preventing me from experiencing and working on other things that could’ve been more constructive for me. The project had become an excuse not to get out of my comfort zone. “I have to work on my game” was something I was repeating to myself quite often in order to shield myself from life and interesting but daring opportunities that would put more of my skills to work. It is important to note that I also don’t exactly plan on making game development my career choice.

Now, it is true that I could just readjust the way I approach development in order to have a healthier relationship with the project – but that would imply to keep working on it forever, making very slow progress, with no concrete end in sight. And that’s simply unacceptable to me.

One could also argue that I could just cut down on my ambitions, and release the game almost as is, without all the remaining content, polish, and code refactoring I was hoping to make. I personally don’t see the point in doing that – the market is already over-saturated with games, and I don’t want to contribute to it by puking out a barely put together one. Besides, releasing something that I’m not pleased with doesn’t sit right with me.

It was simply time I moved on in life. This project was like a fragment of my past self I was needlessly clinging to despite not really relating to it any longer.

With that out of the way, I took a quick but well needed break from anything that wasn’t an obligation. And then I started development on my next game!

I’d rather not elaborate too much on it, but it’s a smaller-scoped project that capitalises on what I’m already good at, while also forcing me to get out of my comfort zone with things I never dared going too far into (complex algorithms, more difficult technical art, etc…). It’s something that I am making for myself more than anything else. I will keep you posted – though, I’m still as busy as ever with life.

Well, I hope that this answered all the whats and whys you might be having. Thank you for all the support I’ve received along the way. I hope you will enjoy my future works even more!

See you soon,
-DT Mark

Check out the game’s portfolio page: here
Check out this other game I’ve released last year: here

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s