I find myself with a period of time when I do not have large-scale immersive projects for other people that are absorbing all of my time and energy. For the last two years I have perpetually been working on a book, or trying to finish a project for someone else. As soon as I am done with one project, another one pops up. Work is like oxygen, it will fill every space in a room.
I have been dealing with some anxiety the last few weeks because as of right now there are no projects popping up immediately after I finish this current one. I am realizing that this is actually an opportunity to do something I have not done before, which is actually spearhead and complete a project of my own.
I keep meaning to work on my own projects, but then something amazing will come up and I will feel I can’t say no. Then I work too hard and get burned out and have no time for projects of my own. I feel like I can’t say no to amazing (paid!) opportunities working with amazing people for a gamble on a personal project.
There has been a lot of doom and gloom about how you can’t make a living as an app developer anymore because the market is too crowded and people don’t buy apps anymore, but I am realizing there are a lot of long term benefits to taking a few months to do an app.
One of the biggest complaints I have about working for other people is that they seem to not really know what they want. I have had a number of projects come to a grinding halt because the product owner keeps changing their mind about what they want. There is no point in implementing something if you’re just going to change it tomorrow anyway.
This also leads to project bloat. Once you start changing things or don’t have a plan in place to begin with, it’s really easy to add just one more thing. That “just one more thing” eventually becomes an endless laundry list and nothing ever ships.
I wrote a blog post recently about how this mentality completely destroys my mental health. I like to break my projects up into manageable tasks and I like to have an end, success goal when the thing is done.
I understand that as an app developer your code is never done as there are changes in languages and frameworks, but to me maintenance is different than active development. Adding a feature is another separate project apart from initially shipping.
By running my own project, I can control the features and the development schedule. I can firmly decide what features I want to have and prevent the project bloat. I can also figure out which tasks need to be done first and how to build upon those.
I want to avoid this situation. I like the idea of Agile, but in practice it’s usually terrible. I am really bad at reading other people’s minds about what they want and most people are really bad at expressing what they want. It’s like truthiness. It’s a feeling more than a concrete set of goals.
I am hoping that by actually setting out goals for a project and completing it I can help clients in the future focus their goals into something that has a chance at success. If I fail then I hope to at least get a perspective about why most projects seem to degenerate into chaos.
Why a Game?
I am choose to write a game. No, I do not plan to earn a dime from my application.
I am choosing a game because it seems to be more immune to the issues I talked about earlier. It has a set of rules. It has limited stuff that can be tacked onto it without fundamentally changing the nature of how it works.
I also want to dive more deeply into the Apple game frameworks and some of the Apple frameworks in general.
When you’re looking for a small, self contained project, it’s really easy to pick something that only uses UIKit, like a todo app or a Twitter client. A lot of companies want you to have knowledge of Core Data, but most don’t really seem to use it.
I want to get more comfortable with diving into an unfamiliar set of frameworks and getting something working. I could probably do this faster in something like Unity, but I would like to stick to the Apple frameworks. I might port it to Unity in the future as another project, but it’s not the goal for this one.
I am not going to be designing a game from scratch. That alone would take a lot of time. So I am going to implement an already play tested game I am familiar with.
I never was into video games, but I did very much like turn based games. I liked board games and card games where you had to think through things.
I used to play chess as a kid, but I really got bored with it because there were no random elements. It was possible to play the same game over and over again. That got boring quickly and I got into games with some more random elements.
There was a shareware game I played a lot as a kid called “War of Flowers.” I did some research on it over the last few years and found it was an implementation of a Korean card game called Godori.
Godori is like Korean poker, to the best of my understanding. The rules are somewhat simple. It uses a flower deck rather than a traditional playing card deck. The flower deck has twelve suits with four cards in each suit. Each card has specific aspects associated with it that affect scoring.
You also have the option to continue playing if you think you can accrue more points before the end of the hand.
This affords a decent amount of complexity and strategy without getting overly bloated. It has set rules it must comply to in order to work as designed. I don’t need to play test the rules because the game has been around for a really long time.
I sat down and made a list (no specific order of importance) of all the parts I think I need to create to make a polished, nice application:
- Game Logic
- Artwork assets
- Card Objects (the list of attributes and values for each individual card)
- Playing Area
- Setting up Game Center for people to play one another
- Game AI if you want to play by yourself
- Animations, sounds, and various polish
- Cross Platform compatibility for at least iPhone and iPad
Some of these components build upon one another. It would be stupid to try and set up card animations before making sure the game logic works.
By trying to lay out concrete components that I expect the application to have I am hoping to avoid adding bloat to the project. I am also hoping to focus myself so that I don’t get overwhelmed worrying about how I will get the animations and stuff working before I even get the base programming logic in place.
Learning and Developing
I have a slightly tricky path I want to walk here. I have not really worked with SpriteKit or GameplayKit. My iOS experience is all over the board.
I know I tend to fall down rabbit holes and I am afraid I will get so absorbed in learning everything about SpriteKit that I will never get anything done.
I think I need to dedicate a certain amount of time to learning new stuff. I think that the entity-component system is probably the best way to implement the different values of each card, but I have not used it before. If I was just doing it in Swift I would probably have an enum or a protocol, which might work better, but I don’t know. I would like to have information about all of the tools I have available out of the box before I waste a bunch of time rolling an implementation that I didn’t have to.
I am planning, at this point, to alternate between working on tutorials/research and active development. I want to try to alternate days until I exhaust the tutorials and research. Then I might replace it with generating the art assets.
Long Term Strategies
One reason I want to alternate things is because I feel I have a crop rotation mentality for doing work. If I work on one type of thing too long my brain burns out. I need to have some variety in what I do in order to keep from exhausting the part of my brain that does code.
One issue I have had with contracting is that everyone only wants you to do the most labor intensive aspect of software development. There is no ability to stagger tasks with less demanding ones so you have a chance to recover. It’s like sitting there during a workout and doing only bicep curls. There are a limited number of bicep curls you can do. I would like to do my bicep curls, then go for a jog and then work on my legs. There should be a way of setting this up with programming jobs, but no one wants to do that. They want to force you to do the difficult stuff constantly until you burn out, then they replace you with someone else. Or even worse, you never get to work with anything because you’re too busy talking about what you would do if you did work with something.
I want to see if it’s possible for me to work in the way that is best for me and still earn enough money to support myself. That is the long term goal. I do not want to burn out after five years and then get promoted to management because I hate code and never want to do it again. I don’t think this game will earn me a dime, but I am hoping the professional things I learn from doing it will help me develop long term career strategies.
I hope to document every aspect of this on the blog. I want to explain how I solved various problems and implemented various parts of this application. This is probably overly optimistic, but I would like to to complete this in two months. I hope to not get derailed by mental health issues or just plain getting distracted by shiny objects.
If I work consistently for two months on this and it doesn’t get done, I am okay with that. I just want to develop a work ethic and strategy where I get things done every day without hurting myself.
My “official” start date on this project is September 19th. I am finishing my project tomorrow, but I am traveling to Tennessee for Indie DevStock. I also have a short contract after that and a tutorial to complete. So not completely free, but significantly less busy.
If you have been through this process and wish to share advice, I would welcome it. Get ‘er done.