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How Do You Stay On One Game?

A topic by SolarLune created Dec 08, 2015 Views: 1,463 Replies: 22
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Hey, there. I've been making games for years, and years, and years, but I've never been good at actually following through and finishing games. It's similarly hard for me to finish a song, but I can do it when I buckle down and put my mind to it. I've postponed / abandoned some great games over the years. So, I'm wondering. How do you stay focused?

  • Do you have multiple projects?
  • Do you force yourself to finish what you start?
  • Do you try to keep interested by building fun, new ideas into your current game?
  • Do you lock the size of the game down to help give you a "canvas" to paint in?
  • Do you just work until you get bored, and then release what you have?
  • Do you eat a lot?
  • Do you have a pet, perhaps a hamster named Nibbles, create your game for you? (Note that the hamster could also have another name.)
I'm interested in hearing you guys' pro strats.

I've historically had a similar problem. I could never finish a game, not because I kept on having new game ideas, but because I always wanted to go back and redo something about the code. It boils down to the same thing, though. It got so bad that I gave up on making games for a couple years, and I've just come back to it this year. Finishing games is a skill, and you hone that skill by practice.

Something's that helped me a lot are external anchors. Make a game for a jam! Jams have deadlines, and when you have deadlines you have to finish things. Also, work with other people! When you work with other people you have to finish things. You can't just jump to another game and leave the other person hanging.

Alternatively, make a really small game. Make a game that's so small that there's no way you couldn't finish it. Then, once you've done that, make a slightly bigger one. It's all about practicing a skill.

My recommendation is to make a game for One Game a Month, and maybe even collab with someone! Having external motivators to hold you to finish a game is extremely helpful. Or at least, it was in my case. But I think it'll be helpful to you, too.


i have a very tough time coming up with ideas but generally once i snag on one, i stick with it. i can usually suss out the ideas that have something worthwhile (to me, anyways) at their core, so if i implement it and it doesnt work out i just iterate on it. and if i dont like that one i just iterate on it again, and so on and so on....

its not even a matter of prototyping, really (which might be a bad thing). generally i have an idea of the intersection between the kinds of games i want to make, and the kinds of games i know HOW to make, and if the idea is too far outside that intersection in either direction i abandon it midway through figuring out the design.

and then if i get thru the design phase, i start prototyping, which is where a lot of flaws reveal themselves. usually i dont even finish making the prototype before i realize whats wrong with the idea. but if im still working on it for 2-3 days without finding flaws or beginning to hate the design, i usually stick with that game.

haha, i probably wouldn't have posted if i saw this first, cause it pretty much matches my feelings about the process.

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i have hundreds of unfinished games, because i usually cut my losses early on, and i'm okay with that.

first stage, the idea, it's usually spontaneous. i work it out in my head til it sounds presentable, and if not i just give up on it.

second stage, i pitch it out the other people near me to see if there's a spark of hype, if not, then i stop there. however if i feel strongly enough about it, i try to prove the concept with a physical prototype.

third stage, if the prototype doesn't prove to be fun after a ton of iterations, i scrap it, and if it does, then i start brain storming for bigger development, getting an idea of how much work is required and if it's compatible with my current resources, such as time, patience, skills, tools, experience. i give up if it's just too ambitious.

fourth stage, i feel good about it, i begin the digital prototyping, flesh out some concepts. this stage usually lasts about a week or so before i can come to the conclusion if i really want to commit. i never force myself to commit to something i don't believe in anymore, it feels like wasting precious time. i pay my respects to that, the experience has made me better, then let it die.

fifth stage, currently at that with my current project which i've been working several months on, i can't sleep without thinking about it, i can't stop not wanting to work on it. i am obsessed with it. and i'm actually passionate about it. this is my goal and where i want to be.

so essentially, if my brain doesn't want to focus, i quit. because i trust my brain. i have no idea if that method is practical, seeing that i never finished game. but i'm okay with that.

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I had this problem all the time (at one point I was considering "never finishes anything" my trademark) until I finally finished something (this year). I'd left it abandonned for about 3 years but I still thought about it a lot, and realised I was making myself depressed by just leaving it there, since it seemed like something I should've finished ages ago, and felt like a game that described me really well. If I didn't finish it, all the work I'd done and all the words I'd written would go to waste and essentially it'd just be a series in-jokes that only I knew.

So I realised I was procrastinating, and I'd just come out of an unsuccessful college course and had lost all direction and was unemployed. I was spending days just staring into space. I decided to pick it up, not think about how much was left to do, and just work on it until I lost interest again. It took a lot of pushing myself, but once I was in full swing, it became a lot easier. (I also took way too few breaks for fear of losing momentum.) Two years later it was finished.

I think it was a combination of several things- my frustration at myself, and the fact I had nothing else going for me. I'd wake up and think "why isn't this game finished yet?" every morning, and worked on it because I couldn't focus on anything else.

...I wouldn't recommend this exact method to you. It was really stressful, and I barely socialised. I didn't take many breaks. I also exacerbated my OCD a lot. It's better to balance socialising, working on the game, and playing other games/relaxing. Towards the end of development I managed to do this, and was also working on a few side projects in case I felt like a change of scenery. The side projects AND the main project both benefitted from balancing what I worked on.

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Some things I do to keep making progress:

- Separate short- and long-term to-do lists: One is a short notepad txt with a list of small tasks I could do in a day or less, the second is a larger document with notes, goals and ideas for later. If I run out of tasks on the short list I add something from the long list. Less intimidating that way and easier to see the immediate next step.

- Make it scalable, so that you can easily build a base game that's shippable, then if you still have time and ideas you can add more to it... This way you can bail out and call it "complete" at any time, but you can keep going as long as you want.

- Pick a concept that's rich enough to keep you inspired for the duration of the project. If it's a tiny jam game this is not important but if you're trying to build something big, make sure there's enough there to keep you interested.

- Avoid getting lost in iteration on parts you've already built. Iterate, but also move forward.

- Try procedural generation. Testing linear highly scripted games gets reaaaally boring fast. If you make some parts randomly generated it keeps things interesting, both for you and the players, increasing replayability by a lot.

- Also: get some exercise, sleep well, eat healthy and talk to people.

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I do work on multiple projects, but I tend to focus on one at a time (not counting switch back and forth between day job and personal work), and try to avoid starting new things mid-project, instead writing ideas down for later. I'm definitely not fast, so the only reason I ultimately finish anything I think is just sheer persistence and being really really stubborn.


This is some really key advice for folks who like to compartmentalize things to stay organized (like myself!). The only problem I have with this type of objective-based progress tracking is where to place features and ideas that come up as development progresses. it's like all the sudden I have all these outliers and factors that weren't previously considered, so I have to kinda improvise to keep the flow and not get caught up in the feature creep.

I'm generally a fan of implementing spur of the moment ideas immediately while they're fresh (with the "iterate but move forward" caveat) as it keeps the energy and inspiration going, so I just implement them without even writing them down, or they go on the short list. If they're too big or I'm not at that stage yet I either break them down into smaller tasks or they go on the long list.

I don't believe in overly detailed prescribed design docs. I prefer to find the game as I'm building it and those lists are just there to give some direction, figure out the next step and to not forget any good ideas I have along the way. For my fish simulation game, Guppy, the long list was never more than a few pages of notes.

That said, for bigger projects my notes are somewhat longer, and I do design certain things, like levels, on paper first... and I tend to develop character movement in animation thumbnails.

It sounds like you have well-enforced balance :) I certainly agree with implementing fresh ideas, though personally the caveat you mentioned has been the trick of mastery for myself. How do decide when to move forward, or how do you decide when iteration is going too deep?


Well, above list is as much from things that have worked for me as from mistakes I've caught myself making. Getting lost in iteration, especially. My rule now is if I haven't made visible progress on new features (that were already on the list) in months, it's time to move on. I think keeping a video devlog helps, because if I can't make a new video of it it's probably just tweaking that can wait. Plus if you want to get a handle on the scope of your project, you need to have it all there before you can see how much work it will be to finish.


i work almost exclusively on multiple projects, honestly. it actually helps me keep focused and lets me improve my skills as a designer and creator at the same time.

for example, while working on Joylancer, my roommate and i will occasionally take a few days to work on other stuff instead. this keeps us really active and energetic, without us getting bored with the project. a big problem that i personally have is that if i focus too much on a singular project, i start to dislike it and even run into pretty major design humps. by allowing myself to take a break and experiment with other things, i learn more knowledge that i can then apply to another project, such as the "primary" project i'm working on at the time.

to me, it feels like both the most organic and beneficial way to make games... but i also have like, three other jobs outside game development, so maybe i'm just a worker by nature!

I finished my first game out of a personal mission to prove that I could actually achieve that goal. I learned a lot about myself in the process as a creator and as a person. For instance, I decided that I really don't like making games alone; I enjoy sharing the process of creation as much as I enjoy sharing the final project.

All that to say, I think what you desire to accomplish in game development might be something to consider for your approach to project management.

I've forgotten what it's like to jump from project to project :(

It's quite stressful to work on a single game for extended periods of time. I'm able to do it because my game is in Early Access and I have no choice but to update every 2-3 weeks otherwise it will affect the interest in my games and thus sales.

Small, small, small games. Once you've finished enough of those you'll have the motivation for a big, big, BIG game. Or at least a moderately sized one. You should never force yourself to finish something you're not enjoying. I have dozens of prototypes sitting in a big Dropbox folder, a few of which nearly became games. Sometimes though, you just lose interest and that's ok. I often work on multiple projects but rarely does more than one become something, sometimes none at all.

One thing that helps me a lot is to not plan and just work from your head as much as you can. Also try and do menus and background systems and all of the boring stuff ASAP because I'll often have a nearly finished game stuck without a main menu for weeks because I hate making menus so much.

Hey, I read each of your responses, and thanks for the info. Seeing the different approaches to this common problem is very helpful. Also hearing that it's OK to lose interest is good, too. I actually started something else and now also want to go back to working on the original game as well, which is great to see. I guess avoiding burnout is the primary thing, and is important to do, regardless of how you do it (if the game won't get done unless you take a week off every week, then do it if you want to finish it).

Anyway, thanks, again!

I use to have the habit of jumping from one project to another, which in turn had me have barely any work done. Don't get me wrong, I do envy those who manage to multitask and be able to get work done that way. I am currently working on two projects, but one is more of a secondary job since my graphic work on it won't be very animated (card game), but main one is more of a one-man job.

I found a method that helped me stay focused with my main project (visual novel SRPG), I'm not sure if it works mainly because of the nature of my game but it is working the way I want it to. My method involves my game being free of charge, that reduces the stress of having a commitment and be working at my own pace, but also being very transparent with where the game is going.

My game is unfinished but is available to download, I just update it in very small increments. I have roughly around 3-4 updates per week with irregular breaks in between, these updates would range from fixing a grammatical error, a typo to including a sprite in the game and having it appear where it needs to be. In all that procedure I keep it documented online for everyone to see, having it be out there gives me the illusion that people are invested into whatever I'm working, that gives me some incentive to keep me going. I'm not spammy about it, I post information on the update on my subreddit and devlog just to list the changes and keep track.

It's a basic work format but it seemed to work for me.

Most of the previous posts cover most of my personal strategies. I have a few unfinished games which I stopped working on because the concept wasn't as good as I thought once I got going. I usually mull over game concepts for a while before I start anything. Overall my strategy for finishing games is to keep in fun , take small breaks of a few days (play other games etc) so that you don't feel your game is like a job. Keep your game small at first and work specifically on each area until you feel you have a good foundation . I usually work on game mechanics before story (an example). I never bog myself down (since I do my own art) with one task so it never seems to get boring. I use a lot of randomness in my games as well. I also try to keep my game mechanics as simple as possible I don't try to build too much complexity as that is a project killer. And of course the last thought is once you have finished a game that game becomes a resource for your next project.

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The bottom line is to work on something as long as you're getting something out of it. Whether that is money, knowledge, 'cred', or *gasp* personal enjoyment that's all that matters. However you rank things like money, fun, and knowledge is how you should rank your projects.

I will say this though: Games are like children. They start as infants, so adorable and you have such high hopes for them. It's brain chemistry and instincts. Your first rigged character, the networking finally working correctly good enough... every day you're blown away by how much it's improved so fast. Then they get older... they start to become stubborn, they learn use the word 'no'. They become obnoxious and they no longer fit in your free bitbucket repo, they suck up your money and your time, and their code looks like ground zero of an explosion. You can't wait for them to move the fuck out and get their own job and start supporting you. Aaaaanyway, I'm sorry if that went a little too deep and off topic.

<edit: returning-to-topic>

I'm almost always working on at least two projects at once. One is usually to keep food on the table and one is because I genuinely want to see it made. (or I want to figure something out) Many times it's 3 and occasionally 4+. (not recommended)

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Well, I've pretty much burnt myself out on my current game project (I felt disillusioned by it I guess?) and I'm currently experimenting with ways to get around that. The method I'm trying to right now is to have two projects running at once which I'll be starting as of February and when I get bored of my other project, I'll return to my original game. I know it's not exactly staying on one game, but sometimes having a break from whatever you're developing and returning to it with a fresh mindset can do wonders.

I've only been in game dev for just under a year and a half and this isn't a situation I've encountered much but I understand it's important to be preprared when something this does happen and to have an "escape plan" so to speak.

a thing im starting to learn for keeping on projects you feel disillusioned by is just to take a step back and kinda figure out what you liked about it in the first place? and trying to redesign aspects of it until you actually feel excited about working on it again (this obviously doesnt work if you think your project is like, fundamentally flawed; at that point its better to move on)