Last weekend was a big step forward in the development of Rain of Arrows. For the first time, I had the opportunity to demo Rain of Arrows to the public, at the PixelPop Festival in St. Louis. It was informative, it was exhausting, and it was a whole lot of fun! After taking a week off to recover from the experience, here’s a write-up of how things went!
First off, this was my first time exhibiting not just Rain of Arrows, but anything at all, and even though I’d heard plenty of other people say it, I really had no idea just how much time and energy it takes to run even a small booth. I thought I had plenty of time to pack in lots of new features prior to PixelPop, but as things usually go, a parade of bugs came and went and I spent the entire month leading up to the expo in perpetual crunch mode, in a mad race just to get a small gameplay demo into a playable and stable state. I was still fixing bugs until 4am the night before, then got two hours of sleep, packed up all my gear, setup in the expo hall, and went right back to work fixing bugs; I got the last one knocked out just five minutes before the doors opened (and missed a couple more that appeared during the day – oops!). After that, I was on my feet showing off the game nonstop for the next seven hours (big crowds can be a mixed blessing!), and then it was time to pack up, get some sleep, and do it all over again on Sunday. I think I slept for about fourteen hours straight the night after everything was over. Was it worth it?
Heck yeah it was!
If I were to learn only one thing from this whole experience, it would be the value of outside feedback. Watching a motley crew of random strangers play my game, seeing how they interacted with it, how they expected it to behave, what they enjoyed, and what they struggled with, gave me an incredible amount of insight into things I never would have even thought of. It’s easy, as a developer, to get tunnel vision with your own project; for example, a lot of game mechanics may seem easy and intuitive to you because you’re the one who designed them, but to an outsider, they may be difficult and confusing. Watching players try my game was also a great way to see what they enjoyed doing the most while they played – that’s the core of the gameplay I want to emphasize and expand on as the game grows. At the end of the weekend, I walked away with a laundry list of things to fix, polish, and expand upon – plus a couple of entirely new ideas that I think could tremendously improve Rain of Arrows and bring it to the next level!
There’s also something to be said for the psychological value of positive feedback. I’ve never attempted a project of this magnitude before, and I’m not going to lie – it’s hard. There have been a lot of times when I’ve struggled to find the energy to push through and make progress, times where I felt like my work wasn’t at the level of quality I wanted it to be, and times where I’ve doubted whether or not I can finish this game at all. The things players said to me, though, felt like a shot in the arm of pure energy: “How large is your team?”, “Are you doing this professionally?” – One person even looked at my screen and asked “Is that Skyrim?” – these are all incredibly motivating things to hear as an amateur solo developer working nights and weekends on a project. The two things I heard the most were “That was a lot of fun!” and “When is it going to be released?”, so I now have more confidence than ever that I must be doing something right. When you’re sitting in front of your computer late at night banging out code, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by the task ahead of you and start to think that completing it is just an impossible dream, but when you see other people actually *playing* your game, and having fun doing it, you can start to see the proverbial light at the end of tunnel. For the first time since I started development, I think I’m really starting to believe that I can actually pull this off, and that’s an exciting thing.
My only regret from PixelPop is that I was planted at my own table the entire time and didn’t get much of an opportunity to see all the cool things that other developers in the area were doing (though I got to make a few quick laps around the floor thanks to my friends volunteering to man my booth for a few minutes – thanks Katie, Dan, and other Dan!) From the little bit I saw, we’ve got some amazingly talented developers, designers, and artists in St. Louis, and I would encourage anyone in the area to take the time to get more familiar with their work as well. I’ve had the chance to get to know some of them through the St. Louis game developers coop (http://www.stlgamedev.com), and if you’re interested in getting into game development yourself, I would encourage you to check them out!
All-in-all, it was an incredibly fun and memorable experience, and one that provided me with a fantastic amount of feedback, ideas, and motivation, and I’m glad I took the plunge and gave it a shot! That’s all for now, it’s time to get back to coding – thanks for reading!