Ramblings about my gamedev beginnings

I think it is important to write about my current gamedev path, while the memories haven't faded.

Once upon a time I decided to waste time no more and turn to gamedev - after all it has always been my life goal. My first idea was a Hearthstone style card battle game. The theme of the game would not be some fantasy world but Latvian War of Independence, and the cards would be the units of different armies.

In March 2017 I realised that nothing will come out of this project. A typical beginners mistake was to pick a huge multiplayer project as the first game. Thinking about what to do with the spent time, I found a solution – the game had to become a historical card solitaire. That solved all the problems: the multiplayer mode or AI would not be needed, the gamedesign could be copied from existing solitaire games. That is how I started to make Comrades and Barons: Solitaire of Bloody 1919.

All right, I got already tired to write in this format, I will rather write what I have learned from all this.

Lesson: you don't need a design document, if you are making a clone.

And the work is easy and fun. I picked Regency Solitaire as the main example, and I studied all solitaires that I could get my hands on cheaply. Some things that seemed to be turned into dogma I did my own way – for example, the point calculations and special abilities that were tied to military units.

Lesson: if you can program and draw, don't worry about anything else.

If you are a programmer and an artist at the same time, gamemaking is a wonderful challenge. Free tools are accessible to everyone – Gimp, Krita, Inkscape, Sunvox, Blender. Music, sounds and fonts can be found for free from kind people who share these resources, without forgetting to give them credit.

Lesson: editors and tools are easy and fun.

I made the card tables in a dedicated editor, also I was gradually improving it. Some time later Jake Birkett (maker of Regency Solitaire) showed the editor of his game in one of his videos. I turned out that mine was quite similar to his.

Lesson: it's a shame to make games only in English.

Every other webpage around here is in three languages. At the same time Latvian games in Steam are only in English. Aren't gamedevs supposed to be better than web programmers? I published the game in three languages, including Latvian, later added two more – even with word count of around 3000.

Lesson: the game has to be filled with content.

My work on the game broke down into two large parts – making of the game itself (ending with vertical slice), then filling it with content. The second part included making of levels, drawing images, writing and translating, music selection, sound effects. It turned out that working with content is hard and takes time, but the workload can be divided in short two hour steps, which allows to pack a lot into a day.

Lesson: topic matters.

The players can be attracted by a rare topic, even if the mechanics is little connected to the theme. Latvian Freedom fights, freikorps, begginings of the Red Army are not represented in games a lot. A solitaire doesn't fit the theme, but the game, in my opinion, was quite successful.

Lesson: I don't know how to market games.

Honestly, I hoped that Solitaire of Bloody 1919 would be more popular in Latvia. After all it is the first Latvian Steam game in Latvian, first game about Independence war... But no. Also, the solitaire is hard to market, because it is not the most popular genre.


Anyway, Solitaire of Bloody 1919 was published in Steam, and I felt new energy to walk this path. A new game had to be made. But what game? I was not ready for a big project, so instead I decided to make another game on GameMaker (squeeze more out of the licence). Several ideas glued together and created a vision of a Plaguepunk world, where doctors in plague masks heal zombies. I started the second game Plaguepunk Justice, in the first part of 2018 and published in April next year.

Lesson: making a game without a plan is not good.

For Plaguepunk Justice I had a theme, but no mechanics. I wasted time making some unclear strategy without a real vision. A valuable saying is: "Make game, not technology".

Lesson: aesthetics and mechanics.

When I discovered that the work is stuck, I had to choose: try to rescue what was already done or drop it. I found a way by switching to copying of other good games. I made game mechanics close to Invisible, Inc., lack of animations was masked in Darkest Dungeon style. In the situation that the mechanics felt raw, I emphasised the aesthetics side. Plot, animations, levels and interface was displayed with almost black and white comic book panels.

Lesson: making tools still is easy and fun.

I had one editor in Solitaire of Bloody 1919, now I had whole three. One for the levels, one for the characters, one for the comics.

Lesson: stick to your principles.

I was making a game about characters in a fictional world, even if I am usually indifferent to such things. Plaguepunk world interested me as the battleground against an eternal disease. Zombies here have a special place – they are the unfortunates who can be cured, not just walking targets. I liked the idea of being a healer and curing deadly plague. However this world didn't fully excite me.

Lesson: move on.

Plaguepunk Justice initially was selling good, but after the first Steam Summer sale both sales and wishlists are decreasing. That is fine, it happens. Now I have to switch to bigger goals, ones that Gamemaker won't be fit anymore.

After Plaguepunk I published a heraldry program Heraldry Studio. Now I have started to work on a wargame about Latvian Independence War. This finally has to happen.