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Developing a Game for Under $200

posted Jul 25, 2016, 9:41 PM by oneclipleft
It can be done! And I have done it. Here's how:

First, I bought nothing. Sounds dumb, but it helped a lot at first. I scoured the internet for resources and stumbled across Python and, more importantly for me, Pygame. Both are free and easily installed given a quick Google search, and Python/Pygame is healthily easy to learn. I started from extreme scratch here in terms of programming. In short, I knew nothing at all aside from a CS1010 class I'd taken years ago which focused mainly on a Java based pseudo script which frankly didn't help me at all. I'm an English major, after all, and these computer things are largely dark magic from that standpoint. Ok.

So, after poking around with Pygame for 7 months I finally felt familiar enough to start a serious small-scale project. Thus, Abby's Song was born. It's a short 2D horror adventure game designed to deliver a linear narrative (can you feel the limitations? Well, get used to it if you can't spend that sweet, sweet dough, man). I began development by investing in a $60 scanner/printer combo from Walmart. It's suitable enough and oddly I didn't use it as much as I imagined I would. Anyway, that was my portal between my comp and my terrible drawings. I already had Paint.net, an old (and I mean OLD) version of Cool Edit Pro for my audio tasks, so I was set to go!

Abby's Song development was 100% a learning experience. Everything I wanted to do I learned while on task. I learned the limits of Pygame and worked within those constraints (don't try to layer too much, it'll bog down in a hurry). I relearned the basics of programming logic (if/then/else, while, for, and all that jazz). But before long, I had a playable prototype all to the tune of $60. It wasn't pretty, but that came later without any extra cost. I just had to learn my free tools better. And that's the main thing. Learn your tools. Make the absolute best use of them as you can without adding extra cost. In a world of expensive 3rd party software and whatnot, I couldn't imagine risking my day-job earnings on Abby's Song too much. It's my first game after all, and I had no idea how it would turn out or how long the whole thing would take.

I still haven't spend that last $100 on Steam Greenlight, but I'm about to in less than a week. Cross your fingers, folks, 'cause here comes the last crafty ways I cut down on dev costs. I did actually speak with an art contractor for the art. It was far too expensive (think over $5,000 and you get an idea of it), so I decided to reach out into the gamedev community instead. Luckily for me, two people came to my rescue. One, a certain David Szymanski (who developed Finger Bones, The Moon Sliver, The Music Machine, and A Wolf in Autumn) gave me sage advice and helped with the art direction. Another contact of mine, Dulvlu Spa, offered to create the character animations. This was the hopeful help I was looking for, since art is my weakest skill. So, lesson here: find competent help in any field where your skill is not enough. Try to find this help as free as you can. Good people are out there, and they just might believe in your project as those two fine individuals believed in Abby's Song.

Now, the home stretch! Writing is HARD, MAN. But do it anyway. Write your heart out, kill your darlings, cut all unnecessary words from your game. Even if it's a text adventure or MUD. Cut 'em. Strip it down to its bare essentials. This is standard writing advice and it doesn't stop being useful in gamedev. Next? Get your sound in order, man. Do NOT settle for less. Sound is one of those things that gamers don't think about...because they shouldn't have to. If anything sounds out of place, then your world is literally falling apart. Especially in a low-action game like Abby's Song. So, get it right once, preferably before launch day, eh?

This may sound like a lot of pomp and circumstance from a dude who has shipped zero, count 'em , ZERO games, right? I grant you that, 'cause I have to. Can't argue with a fact. I'll grant you that one all day long. But! These are simply the lessons I have learned developing a no-name, near-no-budget, linear, narrative horror game like Abby's Song. Use my experience how you like, man. Peace!