Making Good Games Means Making Bad Games

By Brian Moakley Oct 28, 2023

In the movie Batman Begins, a young Bruce Wayne finds himself in a prison camp. He gets into a fight with another prisoner. The prisoner declares, “I am the devil”. Wayne corrects him by saying, “You aren’t the devil. You’re practice.”

Wayne then proceeds to kick the crap out of him.

This was a successful fight, but we can assume that there have been lots of fights. Lots and lots of fights. In fact, Wayne shouldn’t look as he good as he does. His face should look like an upturned pizza with a mouth of broken teeth. The point is, in order to become the amazing Batman, Wayne spends a fair amount of time being a terrible Batman.

Soon after his time in prison, he is recruited by a mentor. He gets feedback. He learns how to use weapons and hide in the shadows. He acquires all the pieces to become the Dark Knight.

Becoming the Batman

When I chat with young game developers, they want to become this fully formed Batman. They don’t want to be the Bruce Wayne who gets the tar kicked out them in a prison camp. Unfortunately, in order to get good at something, you need to be bad at it. Then practice, improve. and practice again.

The curse and blessing of game development is anyone can do it. Years ago, you needed intimate knowledge of the target platform. You needed to think like the microprocessor and know how to squeeze every last bit of performance out of it. Early game developers were computer scientists and electrical engineers basically volun-told to make games by their employers.

These days anyone and everyone can make a game. All you need to do is download Unity or Unreal, read a few tutorials, and you are off to the races. These tools used to cost thousands of dollars but now anyone can publish games with them without paying a cent. Unfortunately, with anyone being able to create games and without any sort of enforced quality, there is a whole lot of crap out there.

These days, it’s a Sisyphean task just to find someone to try your game, never mind having a complete stranger buy it. If you can make it to the point when a stranger buys a copy of your game and leaves a good review, you’ve truly achieved a level of success that most aspiring game developers never experience.

You can get there! You just need to practice and feedback. And for feedback, all you need is a spoon.

Amuse-Bouche for Games

Some of you may be asking – what does a spoon have to do with game development? Great question. You use a spoon for a single amuse-bouche serving.

Amuse-Bouche from lanascooking.com

Amuse-Bouche is French that means to amuse the mouth. It’s like an appetizer, but served on a spoon. Yet, it’s meant to provide a complex flavor profile inside of a single bite. As the Masterclass website puts it, “it’s meant to awaken the palette”.

The goal is to create single serving filled with both complexity and flavor. You want to do the same with your own games.

Let’s face it, when you start out, your games will be bad. It’s going to take time in order to perfect your skills. You’re going to need lots of feedback and lots of practice.

No one is going to want to play your ten hour masterpiece. They’ll give you five minutes of their if you are related to them. Six minutes if you bribe them with pizza. And that’s your mother. For a complete stranger, you can expect thirty seconds if you are lucky. They’ll play your game just enough to make it past the opening level and then navigate to something else.

That’s it.

Instead of spending all your time creating a ten hour adventure, put all the energy in creating a five minute game. Put all the “flavor” and “complexity” into it. Hook people early, and end even sooner. If you are successful, you can even prompt them to leave some feedback.

By making a bite sized game, you can experiment with lots of different game types without spending a substantial amount of time. If the game is a dud, no worries. You simply make another one. If it’s great, well, you may have the seed of your future career.

The important thing is to keep at it. Rinse, wash, repeat. In time, you can increase your size and scope. And who knows, maybe you’ll find a Liam Neeson to mentor you along the way.

By Brian Moakley

Brian Moakley is a writer and technologist who lives amongst the quiet hills in New England. When not reading tales of high adventure, he is often telling such stories to all who will listen.

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