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Finishing my first game while working full-time (jasont.co)
467 points by ntide 83 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 195 comments



Good tips... but in reality if you're working full-time (especially in a software related role), you may find yourself depleted before you get to the keyboard.

It took us 5 years to finish our game (everyone started from 0 knowledge on how to make games, so it was a rocky road), and for the last 1.5-2 years my life was absolute hell.

I'd push hard at work for 9 hours a day, eat, then push hard on the side project for 8-9 hours a day, sleep, wake up, and just keep going. One day a week maybe I'd just sleep. Not having "pure energy" for the side project meant that everything suffered.

We had to learn-by-trial virtually _everything_, I don't recommend ever doing a big project that way.

If you want to finish a game, choose a small game. Start doing game jams. Practice _finishing_. You can do more and more later.

Or, go for it, do it our way, all in to win (win is subjective, the pride is real, the monetary result didn't really do anything meaningful for so much investment). I wouldn't do it this way again, but I understand people who do.

All that said, the joy of doing something for us by us is not something I've encountered in my 15 year career yet. So... if you've never built something (and truly finished!), but you want to try... go for it.


> I'd push hard at work for 9 hours a day, eat, then push hard on the side project for 8-9 hours a day, sleep, wake up, and just keep going. One day a week maybe I'd just sleep.

No wonder you feel like hell, where is time for people, leisure, exercising and all the other activities that will help you move faster by feeling better? The true optimization for becoming a more efficient person is to do less of the thing you're doing most of, and do more of the other stuff you do less of.


This has been my line of thought for a while. You spend a minimum of 8 hours working, and ideally you get 6-8 hours of sleep. Let’s say you have a couple more daily responsibilities that take 2-4 (could be commute, cleaning, some other maintenance).

There’s almost no time to do anything, and some of the hours you have left may be at non-prime times of the day.

> The true optimization for becoming a more efficient person is to do less of the thing you're doing most of, and do more of the other stuff you do less of.

The problem is this means sleep or work. I’ve opted for the former, and suffer for it. Sacrificing working, at least any notable amount, just means trading time-loss for money-loss which may or may not work depending on person.


I've heard this called before the "4 hour life", you have 4 hours every day for yourself: https://medium.com/@pskallas/4-hour-life-glossary-4740bca641...


I wouldn’t mind if it was my 4 best hours a day, but it’s the 4 hours after work and dinner when my energy levels allow for a half effort workout and a bit of reading or TV.


One of the best things I did for myself was moving all of that free time to the morning. Now I wake up at 5, have coffee, exercise, play or work on whatever hobby has my attention at the moment, then work all day. I have loads of focus and attention and energy for my fun things.

Evening is pretty much make dinner, eat, relax for a bit and be in bed reading by 8.


This can be a good strategy until you have young kids. After then, they often hear you get up and then seek you out to get help making breakfast or want to sit on your lap.

But otherwise, it prioritises your side project while you're fresh in the morning and puts relaxing (movie/TV/etc) for when you're fading at the end of the day.


A lot depends upon how much sleep your kids need too.

Our first would sleep 12 hours per night. Yay, lots of free time.

Our second sleeps 9 hours per night. Whoops.


That's a good point - I don't have kids and don't have any good advice on how to work around them. :)


I recently found myself in the same position by being in Asia while working for a European company. All my free time is in the morning without having to wake up early (in the dark). I go surfing or swimming/gym and then work 12pm-11pm with some breaks for lunch and dinner. I go to bed straight after working, which means I've stopped drinking. It's made a huge difference to my quality of life and I hope I can keep this up forever. Having to wake up and go straight to work seems like a depressing thought now.


Generally true. The next step of optimization would be automating parts of your job so you can reduce 8 hours of work to like 6 hours of work. Now you have more time for yourself.


Well, unless your job requires you to be present for 8 hours, in which case it's harder to use those 2 new hours.


If presence is all that is required during those 2 hours, there are some useful things you can do: Think. Make plans on paper. Study.


except in practice this never works. you cant automate all tasks, even as a programmer a lot of time is spent architecting or debugging, even requirements gathering in some cases. Those details aside, if you automated hours of your job away youd then be asked to do more work (or if you own the place youd probably want to improve your product more anyway) instead of just sitting around working on your own projects during business hours, which some businesses would fire you for or at least theyd claim your work as their intellectual property.


Even if you don’t go as far as working on side projects at work, automating even 30min-1hr worth of manual tasks can leave you less exhausted when you get home.


You don't have to tell your office every time you automate a task do you?


So you can do 2 more hours of work, you mean?


> you can reduce 8 hours of work to like 6 hours of work.

even if you assume this is possible, why would your boss pay you for the 8 hours when it clearly is possible to only pay 6? You end up back where you're started.

The issue here is that the income you generate from your job is not enough. I dont know what the solution is - but under a capitalist world-view, the only solution is to own more capital, get that capital to produce your income stream (dividends or capital gains or whatever), and thus, give yourself back time.

AKA, this is called retiring, and if you can do it early, you end up with a better life, able to spend your energies on activities you care about (such as making this game).


This doesn't acknowledge weekends, which if you have the same 8 hours sleep and 4 hours "not for yourself", add more than 50% to the time you supposedly have "for yourself". (4×5 + 12×2 vs 4×7.)

Which doesn't necessarily change the point, but I'm not sure what if anything the point is supposed to be, and it seems an important omission.


Don't usually have much extra time on the weekends. Weekends are for making up for a week of the house getting dirty, relatives and friends wanting to meet, extra long walks for the dogs that only got short walks during the week, errands that got put off, some catchup sleep, actually relaxing a bit since there wasn't much during the week, etc.

I might have 2-3 hours each day (of energy and motivation) to work on projects but not 8. Of course I never have 4 hours during the week either, I'm lucky to get 1 in usually.


> relatives and friends wanting to meet

which is why some people who have the discipline and self-control to do a big personal project often have to neglect friends and family - it's a sacrifice.


Sure. I'm not saying I haven't made sacrifices for personal projects before, especially when I was younger, but I'm also not willing to become a total hermit and slave for these projects that are not really going anywhere.

Hell, I'm still waiting on my first board game signed by a publisher four years ago to be manufactured and released, and it sounds like it's still on the backburner at their company (they had a rough two years from the pandemic, I get it). And I've had another game be a finalist in two game design competitions since then and still not find a publisher willing to take a chance on it (several other finalists in the same competitions have). And I've pitched at least a dozen of my other designs to quite a few publishers as well.

Still churning and pitching but after seven years of trying and not getting anywhere, it's rough. I know if I went full time I'd have a lot more success (especially seeing how much success a friend of mine is having in only about 3 years of being full-time at it), but I'm not willing to start working for 30% of my current salary or possibly a lot less just to throw a few more board games into the field that's already supersaturated from the past decade of constant new and quality releases, especially when most publishers are facing an existential threat from the current shipping crisis.

I'm also working on a couple of smaller video games, but there are weeks where it just seems like I'm too busy or tired to spend time on it. And it's hard to go "yes, let's make the sacrifice of not seeing friends and ignoring my family" when I'm really not seeing how I'm going to break through the flood of video games out there either. I'm not an artist, I'm not going to make the next Stardew Valley or Undertale by myself. I'm making games with hexes and arrows in them :) Fun games, and one of them was even a popular free flash game back in the day and also won awards, but most people have probably moved on now and the new generation won't have any nostalgia for it.

Still feel like I need to make it anyway though.


youre not alone. Unless i actively maintain my apartment itll deteriorate over the week (i even meal prep weekends to alleviate some) i do agree with others though. More time spent disengaging from the work your doing may actually net you a positive in the productivity dept


Weekends aren't necessarily free time.

Saturdays and Sundays are chore days, or family days, or simply resting, or ...

About 4h remaining for yourself is still fairly realistic.


I assume that for most people the "not for yourself" time is bigger on the weekends, it is for me and the people around me.


Indeed. In my case, ever since I became a parent, I consider weekends a total write-off.


One simple trick to exit the labor class; investment banking MDs hate him; "how can one man achieve so much?":

Work less, but keep clocking the same amount of hours.

A lot easier to do with WFH, but still achievable if you're in an office cubicle.

Impossible to do if you work a trade/labor-intensive job.


Or open office where everyone can see your triple monitor screen and it’s a company work station so you literally can’t do anything else, can’t even open a personal laptop. Any cellular data reception is very bad.


I worked in an open office for years and never understood how people did things besides work. I tried 100% remote but that got lonely.

Now that I have an office, it's like I'm living a completely different life where there's energy for meaningful activities after work. I get so much more done. The socialization is down from 2019 but there's a feeling to being in a building full of people that's different from being stuck in your house all day.

I can't imagine accepting an open plan office job again, the money would have to be life changing. I suspect cubicles would be fine.


Edit: when I said "did things besides work" I meant "did things outside of work" not "goof off at work"


Just wanted to mention that this is getting harder and harder - companies will just let you use their approved hardwared, full of monitoring software to keep you in line. And it will get much worse, as in Mana by Marshall Brain


That is literally illegal, at least at my job.


In my experience, sacrificing sleep is extremely counter productive. You could probably cut out 1 to 2 hours of work, get 8 hours of sleep a night and be just as effective at your job as you would have been getting 6 hours of sleep a night.


10 hours work 2 hours commute 8 hours sleep 2 hours food and maintenance leaves 2 hours to do all the rest.


> No wonder you feel like hell, where is time for people, leisure, exercising and all the other activities that will help you move faster by feeling better?

You can't do all of that and have a job and also make significant progress on a side project. There isn't enough time in the day.

https://blog.asmartbear.com/two-big-things.html


I work 1 hour a day on my personal projects. It’s slow going but I make steady progress. I read about someone doing it 10 plus years ago and I’ve stuck with it. Of course I miss someday, but I try and get at least my 1 hour a day.


This book Finish by Jon Acuff is a great book on practicing finishing. He also has Start for the very opposite.

https://www.amazon.com/Finish-Give-Yourself-Gift-Done/dp/052...


I've ironically only read about half of Finish


As long as it was the second half you should be good.


This sounds like something I'd do


Funniest comment I've read in a while :)


Just picked up the book and seems to be taking about me in specific!

Thanks for sharing it :)


What I learned from other people who have success in their side projects is to choose a workplace that allows you to do a sub 40 hour work week. Of course you would have to live a tad more simply than your standard upper-middle class software guy.


I specifically started doing photography so I could do game development in the off-season.

It turns out it’s hard to completely drop projects in the spring/summer and pick them up in the winter. I’d love to keep pecking at them over the photography season but I have a hell of a hard time getting anything done when I can only dedicate an hour or so an evening to it.


I feel like the value for you there is to incrementally add a little bit and keep your project fresh in your mind.


this is what i believe. even 10 minutes daily for me can work wonders. it puts me in that headspace even if i don't get any hobby work done.


> Of course you would have to live a tad more simply than your standard upper-middle class software guy.

Actually, many software jobs are like that. All it requires is for you to not be ambitious to create. You can have very good salary in many companies while slacking a lot. Sometimes you might have to be in office for a lot of hours, meaning doing leisure, socialization and side project in the office.


It's worth mentioning the common advice here though: do not use company time or equipment to work on a side project, since that may give them a legal claim to ownership of the work if they ever find out.

The specifics will vary greatly depending on your employment agreements and legal jurisdiction, so make your own decisions regarding your own situation (doing it on company time might be the lesser risk compared to not doing it at all), but do be wary.


If you’re salaried, there’s no such thing as company time, so that’s not a meaningful distinction.


If you are doing it in a company office, using company property, during hours the company expects you to be working, do not expect to use "well, I'm salaried, so it doesn't matter" as a legal defense and win.


Company property is a completely different issue. Whether you do it during business hours or not is irrelevant.

If you’re salaried, you’re always on company time, so whether the company owns it or not is up to the laws of the state and the agreements you signed when hired.


What if you did most of your project outside the company, but only very small parts of it on company property? Can they still claim complete ownership?


I totally can attest to it. Work for a subpar legacy medical device company where my input is constantly less than 40 hrs a week thereby allowing me to learn skills like React and solidity to consider opportunities in web3 which wouldn’t be remotely possible with FAANGMULATAD


Yeah, this is my issue. After a long day of (sometimes pointless) software dev, strapping in for more is draining. So as a contrast, I design board games (not digital) as my hobby. It is very analog and tactile and so energizing partially from just being a nice change of pace.

Your advice to start small is spot on though. I would even say one of the best first things to do is start by making a game mod. You don't have to invent so much, you just get to enhance. You get to something playable much quicker and learn about all your false assumptions.


Fair warning, game mods can take over your life too. Though I'd agree they can be easier and often can build on the community of the game your modding.

Another risk with mods is the game owner can shut you down at any moment, if public. I'll probably never do another mod or reuse someone else's IP for anything beyond very small prototypes. There are just so many tools now that you shouldn't have to.

(Star Wars Quake 1997-2002)


I've had good luck with using my best time/energy for hobby projects and what's left over goes to work. Of course, this assumes that your hobby project is more important to you than whatever might be achieved by putting your best energy/time toward your job, but I also think a lot of people over-index on "whatever might be achieved by putting their best energy/time toward their job".


Can you elaborate on how you design your board games? How do you approach it?


Sure, but let me first say there are tons of great podcasts about board game design if you are just getting started. Ludology, Building the Game, Fun Problems, etc.

I have played lots of board games so I have a good mental model of different types and the components needed. When I get an idea for a theme or mechanism, I build it up mentally first. When it feels like it might be fun or interesting, Then I'll start making some crappy cards or tokens. Some people will just write on note cards but I like something that feels more real. So I'll make some mostly text based images from a template. If they are cards, I'll print on paper and cut them out, then use CCG (MtG) sleeves and cheap playing cards to sleeve my paper. This lets them be shuffle-able. For other components or boards, I'll print on card stock. If I need something heavier, I'll print on adhesive label paper and then stick that to foam board or cardboard. The next and most important step is play test it with anyone and everyone you can.

Glad to provide more information if you're interested.


You guys realize there’s software engineering jobs where you might only do 4 hours of real work a day?

And now with remote work being a norm, sometimes it feels like you barely work at all, and yet still accomplish the same amount of work as before.

Get paid for the value you bring, not the time you spend.


Keeping the side project work different from day to day work is huge, too.

- Frameworks are great when you need to keep a team to a standard, and keep standardized answers available. There's no way I'm going to debug someone else's dependency errors on my own time though.

- Dev tools and automation are nice to have, but if I spend a whole night fixing tooling that's time I could have spent on the project. Some loose unit testing and tools that work without configuration is all that's I'm willing to use.

- A while ago I would have said that paid tooling is worth it if it saves you time. Open source and freemium products have gotten good enough now that that's no longer the case for a small enough dev team.


> Practice _finishing_. You can do more and more later.

This struck me. Thank you for the reminder.


I followed that exact same lifestyle for 2 years (and also 2 years prior of us not knowing what we were doing), I would consider it impossible to have any relationships, romantic or casual. Now that I am older and have more responsibilities, I don't think it's something I could pull off.

Learned a lot though, got pretty good at programming because of it (I am early in my career).

My thinking now is that if I want to make a somewhat complex/ambitious game, I will need to take the route of other successful artists, become independently wealthy first.


Just out of curiosity, when you spent 9 hours at work, was that in a software field?

If so, why would you choose to do the same thing 18 hours a day for 5 years?


> Just out of curiosity, when you spent 9 hours at work, was that in a software field?

Yes, however the day job and night project were _completely_ different disciplines. Someone wrote that gamedev isn't really software engineering... I'd agree with that (not putting it down, but its not like anything I've done).

> If so, why would you choose to do the same thing 18 hours a day for 5 years?

Those long days came in the last 1.5-2 years. Why? I don't think we would have finished otherwise, or at least not anytime soon.

We found that momentum for us was critical. If we took it easy, then it slow days would turn into slow weeks and it would turn into slow months. We wanted to finish at some point. Even when we had a slow week or day, or when we'd go do something that wasn't the game, there would be a shadow of guilt that we are not finishing. I think that is personal, everyone does this differently.

And the second why? The reward loop of doing something with a realtime 3D game is simply joyous. I would sometimes have _so much fun_ making the game that on the good days I dreamt of quitting the day job and starting up a studio full time.

When the dust settled though, it took me almost a year to think about using the computer at home for anything other than playing a game or reading news / experimenting with homelab stuff. The burnout was harsh.

I don't regret it... but I'll never do it like that again.


> Someone wrote that gamedev isn't really software engineering

Could you elaborate on that? I find this perspective very interesting.

I had a brief experience with gamedev, and I've actually found that even the smallest bit of game engineering is significantly more challenging than (I suppose) "x%" of web development.

However, on the other hand, the engine is only a part of game development (and can also be underengineered, and I think it generally is), so maybe this is actually the reason why you/other people don't consider game dev software engineering?


> Could you elaborate on that?

I can try, but I may not do the idea justice.

When I was working on the game, the only thing that mattered was the _game_. Was it fun? Intriguing (we are a story based walking simulator)? Original? In line with our story structure (we wrote the story side by side of making the game because sometimes the best words on paper just couldn't be translated by us to a player experience)?

You make changes non-stop to iterate and tweak and perfect. You learn quickly that someone's gut feeling can kill an entire chapter of the game, or change the ending completely.

At some point, my code was just a tool in making the game. I didn't see myself carrying this codebase further to other projects (we built the game on Unity so already writing an engine was "solved"), so it just turned into working prototype after working prototype.

Your code doesn't have to solve for all the corner cases you may miss in QA, because in our game the state was almost guaranteed at different parts of the play through. You need to remain extremely flexible with your design and code because its possible the game shifts drastically under your hands, more so than I've ever experienced at an already-chaotic "big" company.

So it just stops mattering that much. At least for us. We didn't have a team for code (just me), or a separate art team, or a separate story team, or even a single game designer throughout the project. Everyone wore almost every hat, and you lose the grace of planning and process.

It's more a feeling than something I could quantify exactly. An interesting reflection is that I became more rigorous and detail oriented at the day job after the wild west of my game code.


I think I know what you mean, but I'll counter and say that instead of just focusing on completing the game one should pay some attention to longevity and re-usability of your codebase.

For example I have things like a KD-Tree implementation/wrapper that will always be useful, a maths library, a HexGrid component I use a lot, wrappers for rendering a lot of things fast, an entity system for units/objects, a generic framework/layout for code/objects in Unity etc.

But having said that, it really depends on the type of game that you're making.


On top of what the others said, you basically answered it with "However, on the other hand, the engine is only a part of game development". Game dev is one of the most technically complex subfields of software dev, but it still pales in comparison to the total package of disciplines (and skill levels in those disciplines) to make a game.

Compare a basic CRUD webapp to a game. Most webapps won't need stellar art, it just needs to look okay and have some logos or default assets. Games often need to run their own assets for uniqueness, have way more freeform art, you name it. That includes pixel art, the often lowest barrier to entry. Animation? Webapps generally don't need animation beyond some default practice tweening, most games require animation to make things feel smooth and actually give the feeling things are happening, on a vastly higher level than simple tweening of color and position of some flat objects. Audio? Where the average person hates the embedded autoplay video/audio, games generally require at least sound effects, preferably a sound track too. Storytelling? Unless you count the average buzzword-filled marketing video as storytelling, webapps don't need that. Marketing, collaboration, etc. are all factors that come to play as well depending on corporate size, so depending on your goals, you will run against those too.

There is much more too. Psychology can play a huge part if you don't just blatantly copy existing things, and it is far more difficult to map a vague "I like this / I don't like that" than a business requirement. If you don't require animation, in all likelihood you're either creating a game in a genre where other demands are higher (visual novels with higher storytelling and individual art asset demands), or you'll be outcompeted if you don't have something to stand out, in which case one could argue the load is shifted to other disciplines anyway.

Maybe most of all, you generally don't need to develop content in most webapps: you are enabling users to create content themselves, whereas in gamedev, you are more often providing them with content. Of course this comes with exceptions (What about Sims? What about Rollercoaster Tycoon? What about mods?), but most games deliver at least some content developed by the makers of the game themselves. Or you spend days agonizing over algorithms to generate content in a way that makes it fun, making tons of art assets players can fiddle with, etc.


> Could you elaborate on that? I find this perspective very interesting.

In addition to what others have said, game development places a massive priority on optimization and performance.

You have to write code that updates game state and renders a scene in under 16 ms. CONSISTENTLY under 16 ms. Otherwise, you get stutters and choppiness as it fails to maintain 60 fps. If you want to please your top-end PC gamers with their 144 hz monitors, you need to render each frame in under 6.9 ms.

With a web app, you can make up for underperforming code by scaling horizontally. That's simply not an option for game development.


Normal software engineering is 95% glueing libraries together.

Gamedev is mostly about iteratively changing some equations to make the thing behave like you want it to behave.

Disclaimer: I never worked commercially in gamedev, but I wrote a lot of games as a hobby. Most of them unfinished of course.


> If you want to finish a game, choose a small game.

I know a few people who tried to make a big game first. None of them finished.

Even a small game will take much more time than you imagined, because there are so many details to consider. (Then it gets faster, because you can reuse the ideas, maybe even parts of code.) It is easier to try new concepts in a small project.


For games we don't have to start from scratch either. If you want a little multiplayer game people can have fun in, vrchat is a good platform for it. Gets the game into the hands of people and you can even just join them. A lot of stuff already handled for you.


Out of curiosity: which game are/were you working on, if you can share that? Thanks!


This is the game we made, The Shattering: https://store.steampowered.com/app/596000/The_Shattering/


Sounds like very intense five years! I understand you wouldn’t do it the same way again, but still, was the result in any meaningful way comparable to the effort?

Do you feel comfortable sharing game name?


Yes, the result was something I have never achieved. I've been a part of a lot of projects, successful and not, but always as a participant and not as a true stakeholder.

Going from start to finish on something, and then getting the opportunity to hear from fans (and critics alike), it is still making me smile a year and a half after launch.

When they say "money isn't everything" in this case its true, but I had I (and still have) a day job. If I had bet the monetary-farm on the project, I'd be singing a different tune.

The game name is "The Shattering", there's a link below somewhere to it on Steam :)


You worked 18 hours a day? Yes that is obviously hell.


Agreed. It's a LOT difficult to finish something, especially something to sell.


Not discussed in the article: You have to have the support of the people in your life this will impact. For example, the 7-9am timeslot for working, as listed in the article, will impact my family, as that is when I'm getting the kids up and off to school. OK, so I could move it to 5am to 7am, but that would mean I'd need to go to bed earlier, which eliminates important evening time with my wife. Similarly, I could do it from 8pm to 10pm, but that also affects my relationship with my wife, and my social life in general.

This isn't to say that people with a family can't do these things, but that you need to acknowledge the impact it will have on other people, and plan with them to make it work. For example, I often make the time for my wife to work on her novels between 7pm and 9pm. I get the kids to bed and do some cleaning, while she writes, and we still get to connect before sleep.


Totally agree with this. I am woken by my kid at 6am, then it is 100% go-go-go with work or family until about 7pm when the kid goes to bed, then it is starting to cook and prepare dinner and do housework etc. There might be 2 hours or so between dinner and bed to spend time with my wife before we collapse into bed at 10pm or so - talk, watch a movie, play scrabble or whatever. I don't want to ignore her and just do my own thing - it is important to nurture these sort of relationships.

If I do get some spare time that is entirely mine, the absolute last thing I want to do is more work - one needs to relax! Go for a run, watch a movie, do some coding for fun, play a game, or just waste time on youtube or whatever - I don't want to be "hustling" a side project.

I could stay up later after the wife has gone to bed, but that is going to harm me long-term by trading sleep for side-projects that in reality are not going to change my life as much as long-term sleep deprivation is going to change my life. That said I do occasionally from time-to-time stay up late to have a beer and mess around on the computer - I think that is healthy in the long run :)


Funny how much that sounds like my life :)

It took me some time to work out that with 2 kids now I just don't have the time for side projects anymore. It is impossible. My oldest is also a person that needs very little sleep. He stopped regular daily naps when he was about 6 months old. In the beginning of daycare (2 yo) he was the only kid in daycare that didn't sleep during the day. He also never goes to sleep before 9pm. In summer it often is 10pm or even later.

When he finally sleeps both my wife and me are just wasted. Not ever could I find energy or motivation to "work" after that.

However I still have hope for the future. When the kids grow older and do more for themselves there will be opportunities to write some fun code on the side :)


Our youngest was the same way! Things will get better! At least, in terms of sleep. She actually sleeps in now. Even better, on the weekends, when both kids wake up before us, they just play together for an hour, instead of waking us up. It was truly a strange feeling, when that started happening.


Good to hear! That is reassuring.

Most parents don't really understand what we are dealing with since their kids sleep much longer (2,3 hours more). This was even more extreme when he was little. When we told people that he wasn't sleeping at daytime they had this strange look as in "that is not possible".

However he learned walking and talking pretty early so he used his extra time it seems ;)

While it is a challenge I always remind myself how lucky I am to have two healthy kids. Sounds like a trope but it really is true.


> Most parents don't really understand what we are dealing with since their kids sleep much longer (2,3 hours more).

That is true. Our 2.5 y.o. had a period of a couple months in which she refused to sleep more than 8 hours a day. That took a huge toll on all of us. Even now, she sleeps less than she's "supposed to". And of course, when we tried to consult with other parents, nobody could offer any useful advice (and we even asked widely, i.e. in local Internet groups for parents), as apparently everyone's problem is worrying that their kids sleep too much.


Even after 'bedtime for the kids', it's still never ending. They need to get up for the bathroom, or for a drink of water, or want more stories, or want to turn on the light and play in the room... Neverending! My only alone time is when I !@#@#%! sleep.


That’s like a c/p of my life. Amazing.


The meta is that if you add something to your life, and you don't currently have a lot of time when you are just bored, something will have to suffer.

I was wondering why I was often stressed out even though my life was good and I mostly did the things I want to do. Years ago, I had 3 things in my life - work, rock climbing, and coding/reading/videogames ("geeking out"), and I was never stressed for time. Then I got married, so now spending time with my wife became another thing. For a few years, it just so happened by itself that I've been coding, reading or playing videogames very little - turns out I could only fit 3.2 things in my life, not 4, something had to give. That actually made me stressed out and I didn't understand why... When I did, becoming more organized and wasting less time upped it to maybe 3.5, so now I can read a book/code/geek out now and then. But, alas, not as much as I would want.

That's one of the main reasons I'll never have kids - there's just no way I can handle 5 things, and I don't think I'd want any of the remaining ones to suffer for the payoffs (well, maybe work, but not just yet). That is also why you cannot add game making to your life without sacrifice...

EDIT: fixed some grammar


I'm not going to tell you that you should have kids, but my experience is that I can still have time for "geeking out" if I do it with my kids. This is going to vary depending on their age, but currently they like to watch me play games, so I pick games based on what I think they will enjoy.

Similarly, it's fun to read a book around the same time as my wife, and then we can have a sort of "book club" discussion.

If I want to play something too scary for kids, I sacrifice sleep, so you win some you lose some lol.


Yeah, I forgot to mention that; sometimes that works, I do read with my wife, and we rock climb together a lot. However, sometimes you may have your own goals (climbing training like hangboarding is impossible to do together and not fun anyway), or things the other person doesn't do (like coding).

As far as kids go however, I feel like it's almost always a trap (it can sometimes happen with adults too, but with kids it's almost a given)... I know many people with hobbies from some tech stuff to extreme sports (like skiing), who "still play with Arduino" or "still ski" after having kids. Except before they used to do some hardcode backcountry stuff, and how with kids they go to a resort, fool around on an easy run, and then go have a beer while kids are taking a lesson. Technically, they are still skiing, but realistically they are not - they are just spending time with their kids. There are exceptions, but they are few and far between imho.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, but my point still stands - when you add something, you have to lose something; I feel like for kids, it's especially true.


Health is also a factor. Health issues can take up 1 of those 'thing' slots, another thing to spend time researching and working around. I've seen it happen unexpectedly to a friend, and it was a normal part of my life for a long time. Health can also include preventative things like exercise and diet, which require mental effort (research, willpower).


It can take all of them up for some people.


When you start valuing new things, then you automatically stop having time to value the things you valued before. So you stop valuing them. Because your values changed.

So let your values change. You'll be the richer in the end.


But do you want your values to change? An extreme example is drugs, if you start taking certain drugs your values will get replaced with wanting more of the drug. You-then might endorse that, you-now emphatically won't (I hope). In the GP, the key point is that you would have to sacrifice something... it's not surprising, it should be expected. The question is what, and whether you would want to.


I totally agree with your perspective. It reminds of an essay pg wrote (http://www.paulgraham.com/kids.html) about having kids, and I think the principles are similar to yours. You can be successful and "do it all", but you might have to modify "all" _a bit_ and you have to be very disciplined and honest about your trade-offs.


Yeah, something has to give, I have the exact problem you have. Currently my weekday sleep suffers. There is no right way to do it, but you have to acknowledge the trade offs and make your decision knowing the impacts. So many people want to have their cake abs eat it, and usually get the worst outcome.


Relevant article that covers this: https://blog.asmartbear.com/two-big-things.html


Here are my side project tips:

1) As the article states, work on your side project first in the morning before your work. You will be too tired after work. Yes, this means your not really giving 100% at work. Hopefully your good enough at your job that this is OK.

2) Create little task lists, with short little tasks... Then knock those tasks out one by one. If you find yourself procrastinating about some task do another little task first, then later make a quick spur of the moment decision to go do the procrastination task.

3) It's OK to dream about the best case scenario, but also have realistic side goals: "worst case scenario, I've built a cool engine for my next project."

4) DO create the right amount of tests (too little and your going to be creating buggy crap code, too many and you're bogged down updating your tests constantly)... get a feel for what your right amount is.

5) Don't type so much, think more... think through designs... use paper, be messy and redraw... all of this is faster than building the wrong thing.

6) I think its OK to be quirky. Make the thing YOU want to make. This is another way to monetize: your mental health is worth a lot and personally I find bringing shit that I want to exist into the world just the way I want them to be is a good trick for staying happy.


"Create little task lists, with short little tasks"

Yeah I tried that. The side coding projects I have are things I'm not good at yet and want to get better at, so they are this big pile of "I have no idea yet until I try", and that does not break down into neat short little tasks to knock off in an hour before work. They need deep concentration and focus in order for me to learn and figure out what the hell I should do.


Creating small task lists seem to be the way to go.

Does anyone know what app the author is using to create nested tasks for 'lightweight sprint'?



I did this for my first Steam game, which let me go full-time back in 2015 as an indie game developer and where I still am today. [1]

I'd get up early and get a few hours in before my more ordinary programming work as a Python backend developer at a fintech startup. And then on Saturdays I'd get something more like a normal days work done on the project.

It worked, and I'm glad I did it, but it definitely was a temporary situation, I don't think it's something you can do long-term without facing burnout or neglecting other important areas of life like family, friends, exercise, reading books, etc. So that last paragraph of the original post - making it sustainable - I'm glad to see it in there.

[1] The Cat Machine - https://store.steampowered.com/app/386900/The_Cat_Machine/


> my more ordinary programming work as a Python backend developer

Did you use Python for your game as well? This looks really cool - congratulations on making the leap to full time.


No, though I wrote the level/puzzle editor in Python, which would generate json that was read by the game, which was written with the Unity engine and lots of C#.


Your game looks absolutely ridiculous and I love that.


It is very silly.


I'll add to his advice not to quit your day job. Gamedev is unreasonably difficult. It's not software engineering (whatever that might mean). It's a different beast entirely.

I've advised several folks who said they want to quit their jobs to make games to do a compo, a game jam, something small and constrained. Ludum Dare has historically been good. Try but expect not to finish. You'll learn about your own weaknesses and limitations.

Even if you don't finish the first few times, you'll hopefully understand what it takes, or at least think you do.

A good next step is to timebox one or two months, in your free time, to make a game, publish it, _and earn $1_. That's it. Make a buck.

If you can pull that off, and make a buck, you've made it. You're a professional game developer.


I'll also add, it's not the planning that helps, but having goals. If you set out to "make a game" you will never finish. You need a goal in mind. A line that you can cross.


The most important message here is "take care of yourself" near the bottom. I want to share a story about how I did a moonlight effort the wrong way.

I treated it like a second job. When my day job was finished, I started my second job working on a game with a team of coworkers and friends. We were working crazy hours, but we were crushing it. Before long we got the attention of Amazon who wanted to acquire our game as part of their Fire phone launch. Our game focused heavily on motion controls which was perfect for the direction they were taking the phone (they were really pushing the envelope with motion + cameras + other sensor fusion things). We worked even harder. Before long we had a meeting with Jeff Blackburn. He showed it off to Bezos and got signoff to acquire us. We worked even harder. Contracts were signed and due diligence started.

Then our lead dev died.

Amazon backed out as we had no way of completing the game on time. We had poured everything into this game with the intention that the payoff would be worth it. We never prioritized enjoyment of what we were doing or our own health. Our mistake was we hadn't left room for failure.

Whatever you do, ensure you have gas left in the tank for when things go wrong. Things will always go wrong in ways you'll never be able to plan for. If you stretch yourself to the limit, when a bump in the road hits you you'll break and everything/everyone around you will suffer.

I now have a far, far healthier approach to moonlighting. I try and work a little bit every day on something. It doesn't need to be 5 hours of work - 20 minutes is enough. I've been working on something for the last 3 years or so and while it doesn't have the velocity that that game did, it makes me happy while I work on it. If it fails, it's OK because I find joy in doing it. Success isn't a requirement.


There must have been a clause in the contract that they can pull out for that reason. That sucks bad.


> Then our lead dev died.

That's terrible. Was the death a direct or indirect result of working on the project?


It was a question we all asked ourselves many times, but it's hard to say. He was diagnosed with an extremely aggresive stage 4 cancer and was given a couple weeks to live. Whether or not he would have seen a doctor earlier had we not been in crunch mode is uncertain.


I have done something similar - building a game while working full-time. But my approach was the complete opposite of this article.

No real process, no plan, no scrum method, not even a trello board to track progress and todos. Personally, I enjoyed the "fun" of it being very spontaneous, yet still passionate. I didn't write to-dos and tasks to be done, because there is always something to be done. And intuitively you feel what's important and what's not. I also didn't want it to "feel" like work.

For context - the game took me about 6 months to create: https://yare.io


Your game looks like a lot of fun, and the concept is really cool. Would you mind telling us more about your process and the technical aspects?


There is one last major piece to be done for the game (now I’m no longer working alone on it) after which I want to write something a bit more detailed about the journey.

But on the high-level — my full-time job is interaction design. Throughout my career I used JavaScript a lot for building interactive design prototypes and it’s the only language I know, so when I had the idea for Yare.io (heavily inspired by MIT’s Battle Code), vanilla JavaScript (and Node for server) was the only thing I could use (didn’t know any libraries or frameworks)

The project was really just a “problem” to be solved. Use JavaScript to move basic geometric shapes on a canvas in a 1 versus 1 battle. It needed to have a UI, rendering of a game state, authentication, event queue, basic ruleset, … None of this really required any tracker or rigorous process. I know what needs to be done, because I’m literally sitting in front it, seeing what needs to be done. It didn’t need a “plan”, because it didn’t matter when each piece of the puzzle was made. Just, whatever I was in the mood for that day.

I think the principle of simplicity (as cliche as it sounds) – trying to keep everything (especially the foundations) as basic as possible – was really the main thing that allowed me to finish the game.

I don't think I could enjoy it as much as I did with some scrum method, brainstorming bullshit, or anything reminding me of work.


Thanks for sharing!


Nice trailer video!


OP is basically saying: "Here's what I did in order to do what I did".

This reminds me of: Correlation does not mean causation.

And: Survivorship bias.


I should first disclose that I'm terrible at 'finishing' things (I don't make games, so generally not such finishable 'done and shipped' things, but by 'finishing' I mean a sort of 'version 1.0' I suppose, something I'm happy with, think others might want to use and now it's just maintenance and improvements) so maybe don't listen to me at all..!

But I think there's something key here that's left implicit - do your own project first in the day. Obviously everyone's different, but I reckon for the most part that means 'don't necessarily start everything at 7am' (or do so even earlier), rather than 'work first and moonlight on the side project'.

I have way too many days where I'm less productive on the paid work than I could be because I've got something else on my mind; then come the end of the day when I could finally put some thoughts into action, I'm just too drained and fed up of sitting at a computer to do anything about it.


I reckon "my project first" is a great habit, but it requires something else: the willpower to start. It's very easy to spend those extra couple of hours in the morning just sipping a coffee, reading HN, catching up with social media. Work is work and it starts because other people will ping you, you'll have to be online on a certain computer, etc etc; but if you are your own boss, it's very easy to let employee #1 (yourself) slack off.

Also, this works only if you are a remote worker. Most commuting will nuke those two hours away (yeah you can work on the bus/train, but probably not well - spotty connections, uncomfortable, no extra monitor, no mouse, etc; and if you have motion sickness like me, it's a non-starter), and in the evening you'll be even more shattered.


> It's very easy to spend those extra couple of hours in the morning just sipping a coffee, reading HN, catching up with social media. Work is work and it starts because other people will ping you, you'll have to be online on a certain computer, etc etc; but if you are your own boss, it's very easy to let employee #1 (yourself) slack off.

It's the same when you get back home after work though.

> Also, this works only if you are a remote worker. Most commuting will nuke those two hours away (yeah you can work on the bus/train, but probably not well - spotty connections, uncomfortable, no extra monitor, no mouse, etc; and if you have motion sickness like me, it's a non-starter), and in the evening you'll be even more shattered.

I personally have 5 "free" hours after work, which includes time to do shopping, eat, exercise, cleaning, all that sort of stuff. It's not a lot but it's not 0. That's with 1h30 of commute each day.


> It's the same when you get back home after work though.

I would argue it's even easier in the evening, for sure. The point of doing it in the morning is that your brain is fresher; I'm just saying that might still not be enough to start.

> I personally have 5 "free" hours after work

Yeah, but it's after work, when you're inevitably more tired. One could push it by going to bed earlier and waking up at 5am, but it risks becoming unsociable.

Also, I expect you (and OP, and a lot of folks in this thread) are 20-somethings with no attachments and no family. Those things tend to suck every bit of spare time you have, for years on end.


> I would argue it's even easier in the evening, for sure. The point of doing it in the morning is that your brain is fresher; I'm just saying that might still not be enough to start.

That's a fair point. I find it easier in the mornings but that may be because the rare times I do wake up early, I have an unusually high energy/willpower.

> I would argue it's even easier in the evening, for sure. The point of doing it in the morning is that your brain is fresher; I'm just saying that might still not be enough to start.

I'm not sure about the unsociable thing, I personally go out once a week usually.

> Also, I expect you (and OP, and a lot of folks in this thread) are 20-somethings with no attachments and no family. Those things tend to suck every bit of spare time you have, for years on end.

I don't really like the way you put it. I have my parents, brothers, grandparents, friends, coworkers, all of those things take time. Sure, probably less than having children, but they still take time. I know people my age that have almost no spare time for themselves, and some older people that seem to have all the time in the world.


> The point of doing it in the morning is that your brain is fresher

I think that depends on the type of person you are. I do my best to get a good 8 hours, but it usually takes me a good hour or 2 (and a coffee) before I'm really into the swing of things in the morning.

It's even tougher in the winter months when sun isn't really out until around 9am and the sun is already setting at 5pm. It feels like you work through the entire day, and mornings are like getting up at 2am.


Or it works better if you work in an office - you're at home working on your own project and can't be pinged until you go in to the office. Not everyone has an hour long commute, and even if so it's a sunk cost, still better to do your own project first IMO. (It just means being even earlier up, or being able to start work compatibly late in the morning.)


Working full time, married with three kids. I know this well. I've had a business acquired, write blog posts, writing a book series, have taught courses and more....by far the most common question is "How do you do that?"

For me, it really is as simple as....I just go to work hours early to work on those things, because I enjoy them. When I get home, I'm just a dad and a husband.


I’ll read and upvote your take on this rather than OPs, because your story is closer to the reality for most people. No offence to OP but when you’ve no kids, mortgage and household responsibilities, it’s not that hard to do a side hustle.


Were the parent's activities "side hustles" or were they his main hustle for various intervals? It's a little unclear. In either case, those side-hustles seem pretty lucrative--it's harder IMO when your side-hustle is just for fun.


I've recently realized that I haven't felt comfortable with doing anything for its own sake.

This revealed itself as I was working on a game engine reimplementation. For two years I was personally satisfied with myself by being able to return to a hobby and actively enjoy my time programming, and I thought I had managed to find something I was comfortable with doing just for myself.

It turned out that I was deceiving myself by saying that I was in it for the personal enjoyment. This was false. I was ultimately working towards a goal that I didn't properly define, which was releasing the engine. This is the goal that everyone talks about when discussing game development, and it is a goal that carries value only because it involves other people - people that learn about and play your game.

So in the future I will have to be more perceptive of the goals I'm hesitant to admit exist. From the beginning, I was only ever going to work on such a project with the eventual goal of making a release, as in making my project have an effect on people other than myself. That meant I was only working on my project for other people, and not for myself. The enjoyment I found in working on it was nothing more than a prerequisite to getting to work. It makes you feel virtuous to think otherwise, but it's nothing more than an elaborate lie.

I don't understand how one could possibly develop games just for their own sake if shipping the finished game to other people is the point of game development.

I guess I would say that if you aren't willing to permanently delete everything that you've worked on the moment you've finished a project, then you're not actually "doing it for yourself". That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but you have to be honest or perceptive enough to be able to admit the truth.


Well, you shouldn't deceive yourself about your goals. I don't think a goal that involves other people is inherently bad. Nothing wrong with wanting to impact the world IMHO.

Unless you create a game that has infinite replayability and you find playing it fun you're right that game development is ultimately FOR someone else. But there is nothing wrong with that.

Ultimately you have to find a project whose goal is worth the effort. Honestly part of why I got out of game development was because I wanted some more reasonable projects.


I tried to complete a simple 2D RPG that is a Ultima spinoff a few years ago. Nothing is technically impossible as it's just a simple 2D game but eventually I lost interest and broke away.

Now that I look back, there are two obstacles:

- I'm not really interested in such a game. I probably fancied about the genre as it's classic but I never finished any of the Ultima games.

- In the middle I tried to implement a full scale map editor. I managed to build a simple yet working one, but dropped the project once I realized that it needs a lot of work to write my own GUI (back then I'm using C++ and SDL2).

I also find out that once I know how to implement something on paper (e.g. if I can draw the process of an algorithm on paper), I usually lost the interest to implement it in code. It takes a huge amount of effort for me to complete assignments for the Data Structure class I'm taking, to the point that I'm thinking about dropping the class.


> - In the middle I tried to implement a full scale map editor. I managed to build a simple yet working one, but dropped the project once I realized that it needs a lot of work to write my own GUI (back then I'm using C++ and SDL2).

Sharing my slightly unrelated experience, but Tiled2D is a nice piece of software to achieve this.

I've used it for one of my personal project, where I wanted to make a digital adaptation of a board game, and I needed to "digitalize" the game board[1]. I don't use the tiles or the tile grid at all, but just the "polygon" feature that allows me to draw the borders of the different regions. It's not at all why the software has been written, as the polygon is supposed to be a small feature to define areas in a tiled game, but it gets the job done.

[1] https://github.com/Longwelwind/swords-and-ravens/blob/master...


Thanks, I knew about Tiled at the time. The project was kinda of a learning project so I didn't bother to use an external tool. Now that I look back, that's probably how I approach all projects (not work-related): I just want to learn how it works superficially, and once I do I'd lose motivation and drop the project eventually.

Very nasty mindset I have to admit...


It's not a bad mindset at all. "Finishing" can be a goal and so can "learn a new thing in an enjoyable way". Sometimes I write code just because I get the urge to create a nifty data structure. Who cares if no one will ever use it or look at it again? I enjoyed making it.


I mean, what finishing means is personally defined by you. If you define finishing as learning what you set out to learn, then you finished.


> I also find out that once I know how to implement something on paper (e.g. if I can draw the process of an algorithm on paper), I usually lost the interest to implement it in code.

This is a perpetual problem for me. I start out interested in a lot of things, but once it's clear how to proceed, I get no pleasure out of the rote work required to implement the solution. Whether it's writing code, building something physical, playing a game, putting together a puzzle, or any other activity that involves some degree of thought or problem solving, as soon as there's nothing left to think about, I lose all interest. If there's a chance of an alternate outcome, I remain engaged to the last second (so I can finish PVP games, win or lose, but almost never finish a game of Civilization). It plagues me at work, too, but at least with work, I've got external motivating factors (insofar as I won't get paid if I never finish things).


Yeah exactly. I have been going on like this for almost 40 years and recently I decided to take a different approach:

- Stop working on projects that I know for sure I can't finish, basically that means I'll work on zero CS projects.

- Start hobbies that are either 1) Not of same type of CS projects, or 2) Something that takes a long time to understand.

I have been collecting fossils and learning Geology for a few months and so far it goes well: - Collecting fossils is easy to start

- It's very difficult to find good places to collect and even more difficult to collect very well preserved fossils

- I don't get to collect fossils every day, not even every week if the whether is bad, so zero chance of burning out

- Geology is not something that one can "figure out". In general science is not something I can "figure out" and then apply. It's not engineering.

However I still want to work on CS projects because I need an in-door hobby for the winter, maybe some day I can figure out a way :)

Good luck on your side too!


Interesting that you chose geology, as I often think that I'd have been happier as a geologist. I imagine there's a risk of getting bored with that as well, if it's your day job and you're doing the same sort of rote work all the time. In my fantasy, the primary appeal is that it's almost the opposite of sitting at a desk, except I suspect most professional geologists spend most of their time sitting at a desk looking at data on a computer. Seems like a fun hobby though!


I browsed through some books and websites and figured that most of the work of a "general" geologist is still indoors. Some sub-variants such as palaeontologists are exceptions, but still I figured most of time is still spent in labs, not in fields.

So yeah I agree it's a good hobby.


Game jams are a great motivator. I need hard deadlines.

I recently did this [1] for a game jam, over one sleepless week. It's pretty unfinished but submitting something felt good. (Source: [2])

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BX6AZNWuI5Q

[2] https://github.com/mpersano/generic-rhythm-game/


Maybe instead of a "jam" format to motivate indies, do a "game race" instead? Points for timeliness. Bias toward micro-games. Organized around theme or asset for creativity constraint ;)


Agreed. I'm thinking about attending one of those jams. I like tight or even unreasonable deadlines. Ordinary jobs don't give people this kind of deadlines (or if it is the compensation might be shitty).

One thing I need to learn is to create pixel Sprites quickly. Maybe there is even a way to programmatically generate some template Sprites.


I also found that hard deadlines work. The closer they are, the better they are.

Yesterday I spent just one hour to review my computer architecture mid-term. I totally forgot about the date and thought I'm going to bomb it. Eventually I did a very quick efficient review and felt very good about it.

The thing is, as you said, and as my Physics teacher said 20 years ago, that I really need to be pushed HARD to be efficient. That's why I hate assignments with long deadlines.


I've found this leads to burnout if the deadline is too far out or if the deadline keeps getting pushed forward.

The antidote is to have no deadlines, and take the time to enjoy doing things right.


Bite sized tasks are great. Finding the motivation to start the next task is also important. If you want to read a chapter of a book, start by reading the first sentence. This naturally leads towards getting into flow, and the next thing you know, you've read three chapters. The brain tends to engage readily once you get over the initial hurdle of beginning the task.


I've done it with a full time job and two kids[0]. Here's my $0.02

For me I had to constantly reign in the scope to be a minimum viable game. I would let my imagination run wild and come up with all these grand ideas for an overarching plot, etc. But the project gets really hard to finish after you've done the fun bits like getting the main gameplay mechanics implemented and there's a big stretch of grunt work ahead ("the last 20% takes 80% of the work"). It's easy to let it languish and never ship/release. That's when you need to re-evaluate what it takes to achieve a minimum viable game and ruthlessly reign in the scope.

Tell yourself "I can implement all my other grand ideas if this minimum viable game proves successful" - and you can. And if it isn't very successful, then you can move onto the next project/idea.

[0] https://www.bryanpg.com/games/embergram


A lot of my side projects end up being:

“I want to learn how to do X, but I have no idea what that’s going to take.”

And I end up just coding a logical step and if I don’t know what to do go research it, realize I did something wrong 3 steps ago and then either revert or abandon depending on my current motivation.

I’ve tried before to create a “game plan” before but most of the time there’s so much that I don’t know that I don’t know that it’s either impossible to make that plan or once I do, that plan ends up being wrong anyways.

As such it always feels like I’m doing side projects wrong. But since they’re more learning endeavors more than actually trying to launch a product maybe that’s fine?


I think it's absolutely fine. You do something you enjoy and you learn new things.

I think if you actually _want_ to finish something you finish it.


I only really agree with #3. Planning things out actually hurt my productivity as I'd get side tracked or disappointed when things took longer than expected...then I'd look at the backlog and get equally frustrated. I really just went with the flow and it all came together.

You have to have passion for it though. It's the common trap I find a lot of people in that fall out of side projects quickly. They're doing it for the wrong reasons and inevitably get tired of it/uninvested and burn out. It's more about the journey than it is reaching the end.


Getting that 1 hour of work done every morning is what keeps the ball rolling.. momentum is critical..


Something surprising I've noticed while developing my own side project game is that I end up being a better marketer than developer. I can only work on the game while I'm at home and 'in the zone', but I can post screenshots on social media at any time of the day. The consequence is that I have a larger-than-anticipated fanbase who are starting to get confused about why the promotional material flows freely while development time appears to slog.


Ah, good memories. My tipping point was when I watched Krystian’s video “We Are All Game Beginners” [0]. It helped me embrace and acknowledge difficulties that one has to overcome to begin and finish a game, no matter how big or small it is. It took me about three months through a turbulence phase to finish my first game [1]. Also, taking this chance, any Pico-8 enthusiasts?

Before I wrote the first line of code, I had an honest conversation with myself about why I am starting a project and put it on paper as my true motivation and goal. Over the course, I had to remind myself multiple times to be sincere and forgiving. Working on a side means that even the simplest task could stretch over several days, and it is okay.

I particularly enjoyed sharing my work in progress on social media and with my friends. During the darkest moments, I found that a great “hack” is to record a milestone that I am proud of to boost my motivation and push a game a little further. If I may quote Rocky, it goes like:” One step at a time. One punch at a time. One round at a time.”

Another “hack” is to cut it out if something takes longer and drains your energy without any significant progress. Make something even just one person to enjoy. It is already a good milestone.

Ultimately, I took this journey as a self-exploration to get to know my true self better, slay a few dragons on the way in a reasonably safe environment.

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9wztsnmEIw

[1]: https://oneearedrabbit.itch.io/the-pixel-maze


How to finish your first game?

Do it in one weekend!

How to do it in one weekend?

Use simple game mechanics: a spaceshooter!

Aren't you a good artist?

No problem! Use processing and art from https://opengameart.org/ .

I've done it once just to have fun with my girlfriend. We built a very simple and fun space shooter in one weekend. I didn't keep the license or links of the resources, so I didn't publish it.


My inability to finish personal projects has nothing to with project management or planning etc.

I can't finish a side project because for me it is never 'finished'. I lack the ability to say that this is fine enough for my own projects. I always keep wanting to make things better and never can say it's finished.


For me, after I got one project properly done, it actually became harder to abandon a project partway through than to not finish it.

To my detriment even, I've been working on a game for the past 3 years which I'm fairly sure just "doesn't work" in a way I find difficult to explain. But as much as I try, I can't stop working on it.

The other thing that plagues me is decision fatigue. I'm working through a decision right now which is tangentially related to my personal projects but is absolutely weighing me down mentally.

Edit: Reading another reply, maybe I haven't conquered my problem, and that now my projects just never finish, rather than me abandonding them. Maybe thats the case, but right now its absolutely not finished by any means, so thats a problem for later


“Make it sustainable” was the part it took me a long time to realize - in my 20s I’d pull all nighters to finish things. When I got older, started a family, and worked on projects that take months or years, I’d still approach it like a sprint - I’m talking multiple times going a month of less than 2 hrs of sleep most nights, full nights sleep once a week, 5 years of working Saturday and Sunday.

Now I spend time with friends and family, treat weekends as sacred, and though I still don’t get as much sleep as I should, I get way more done than blindly putting in the hours.

People warned me of it and I didn’t listen, as I’m sure whoever needs to hear this won’t listen either, but 100%, treat it like a marathon and take care of your life holistically.


Thanks for the write up and congratulations on publishing the game. Looks great and can't wait to give it a try.

One of the keys to your success seemed to be that consistent, early morning routine. I've often find myself trying to hack on side projects in the evening, after much of my energy is already zapped. Even if I do have a highly productive session coding into the wee hours of the night, the next day will be ruined by lack of sleep, and as someone with a family it's too detrimental.

But when I am working in the mornings, once I'm awake and at my keyboard, I'm much more productive. Sometimes, it's hard to stop! But, leaving yourself a cliffhanger is also a great way to build excitement to jump back in the next day.


Good tips and different things work for different people.

I find that I need to find something that I think would take a week to build. Then accept the fact it's going to take 8 weeks to finish given i'm doing about one hour a day rather than 8.


Don’t forget the opportunity cost of taking on such a project. You could be hiking, exercising, working on relationships, family.


Personal agency requires a sober assessment of priorities. Everything has an opportunity cost. Certainly, a full-time job and a non-trivial side project takes from self-care and family. Certainly, self-care and family (and sleep!) can preclude side-hustles.

The important element is making the choice with clear eyes.


I dont care about finishing side projects.

They exist to keep my mind occupied or give it a break from other stuff. Thats it.


That's the right mentality. Thank you!


I have been working on a game as a side project for 10 years now. Why such a long time? It started when I was freelancing and carried on through full-time jobs, a marriage and now a small child. I am lucky if I can get one hour a day to work on it - but as others mentioned here, the best time to work on it is before your main job, otherwise I am too tired to code after a full day of software development, childcare, and home chores. I really wish I can finish it some day and show it here.


Kudos to launching. This is hard. To me the hardest part is context switching. Meetings, scheduling, resource planning in day job, child care after work, household core, reading, occasion workout, etc. The amount of energy, both intellectually and emotionally, left after all these is... miniscule

I'm trying with social contract - commit to somebody that you are showing some progress to them, and have them to help picking what's their desirable next step/topic. Hopefully I can get something started


In the past when I was at University during the summer breaks I somehow managed to create and publish two indie Xbox 360 games. However I have been working full time now for 8 years and I have never been able to come close to creating something similar to what I did back then. I will either get simply burned out by staying up late working on it (I don't recommend) or come to the conclusion that the it wont be a success and give up on it.

I have been working on something new though and what has been really working well for me is that I will try to spend at least 15-20 minutes a day working on my new game, this usually always results in more time being spent on it. When I finish working on it for the day at a reasonable time I will create a list of very minor and easy tasks and list them, then the next day when I work on the project I will pick that minor thing implement it and see something I'm happy with and then maybe complete another one. Usually If I feel like I will tackle something bigger, if not then I will enjoy the rest of my day.

The game has been coming together nicely so far me and it feels far more sustainable. I'm also doing this more now as a hobby rather than trying to make it a financial success (as there are much easier ways to make money).


Congratulations! It's always refreshing to see someone use simple, readily available tools to level-up.

I don't know how many people will relate to this, but while I've known that scheduling time will help me get things done, I keep avoiding actually getting around to it. It's as though I am afraid to face my own impending success.

You've motivated me to try and get things done though - thank you and congrats once again!.


I feel this also represents my situation quite well. Here's personal experience:

What worked the best for me to deal with a full-time job and a side project of gamedev (or programming in general) was to move the side project development time in the morning before my full time job, and just put a bit less effort into work overall (remote work helped here as well). Moreover, while I tried to have a consistent routine for my personal dev time, I tried not to force it when I was really not feeling like it, to avoid burnout.

I sometimes did additional gamedev in some evening (or moved the morning one), but otherwise, tried to do non-computer stuff in the afternoons/evenings.

Another key insight, is that this also helped me getting an earlier sleeping schedule. Previously I would procrastinate until late, even if tired, because whenever I went to sleep, I would then wake up and have go to work immediately. Instead, now I rather go to sleep early, because I know I'll have more energy to do the things I like in the morning, rather than full-time work.


I'm in this boat. I think it would be impossible to do with a proper family with kids, so I've got maybe 5 years to pull it off. I've spent several years working on game efforts in parallel and decided to dump them all. It's not the worst thing in the world to give up on a concept. It's a good hobby even if it doesn't pan out.

It's decidedly not a side hustle.


My trick is to spend 15 minutes per day minimum working on the side project.


Keeping a task board, written documents about the planned goal, and all of the other project ephemera can be a great way to keep up this kind of 15 minute momentum.


this is the way I think - a writer writes, always. its many authors recipe for success.


The hardest thing for me is art. Music too, but in theory you can go without that.

And it's not just "ok, then find free art online" because you also have to be able to do art in code to, e.g. let players customize their character, etc.

I'm sure there are ways to reduce this, but making a game is a lot of work.


I was spending anything from 12 to 16h per day (including weekends) for about 10 months working on my game engine after i quit my day job. Now that I'm working again i still try to throw at least 2-3h at it after work. Mostly i enjoy bit but sometimes there are moments when it begins to feel like a grind too. But unfortunately there's no choice but to grind through those boring tedious parts just go get it done. The key i find is to find the balance between doing the "fun stuff" abd the boilerplate "just has to be done" parts.

It's on GitHub here http://github.com/ensisoft/gamestudio


Small nitpick but I really don't like how scrum uses the name "sprint". You don't go far by making lots of sprints back to back. You go far by walking with a clear goal in my. "Sprint" carries no notion of direction.


havent shipped a side project, but i do keep track of my project so i can say with some certainty what things have helped me to accomplish the most. they are the following 1) the no zero days mantra - 15 minutes a day of progress is fine it helps to keep the momentum going and when you got that free sunday you just find yourself wroking more. 2) i do keep also a lot of trail of notes of ideas and concerns on how to further the project. if I have to keep a break and come back to it after some time it helps to remind my self where i was.


> All that said, the joy of doing something for us by us is not something I've encountered in my 15 year career yet

I like the "us" in your comment. I worked on many personal projects, the best was when someone else is working with me. By the time you finish your feature, the other person would have finished his, and you see everything being built fast and with less pain.

Actually as you know, startups are recommended to have at least 2 founders. So I would suggest that if you are working on a project alone, find help


I don't work on personal projects on my own time, but I do work a part time hourly job alongside my software engineering job. I've found for me this is an essential part of my mental health. My arrangement offers up a little more variety than I'd otherwise have and allows me to work with another group of people in a totally different domain.

Also, I've found the best opportunities come through word-of-mouth connections, and having 2 sets of colleagues essentially doubles the chances of that happening.


For many years, I worked at the Park Slope Food Cooperative (https://www.foodcoop.com/) several hours a month, which was a great orthogonal use of my mind. I started as a box-breaker, got promoted to an olive processor and finally became squad leader for Olives & Cheeses. The whole experience was like using a completely different part of my brain.

They tried to get me to join their technology group, which i rejected :-)


Interesting. What is the field of the part time job?


The way I did it was I was writing music and doing pixel art since the 90's and learning to write games on the side. One day I decided to take all the assets I'd built up over 30 years and condense them into the simplest game I could complete on the side and that's how I made Space Strafer. I think if I had to start from scratch with all the music, art, and concepts it would have been impossible, what with having kids and all.


https://developer.valvesoftware.com/wiki/Making_a_Mod

The "Making a Mod" Valve wiki page is actually fairly useful for devs totally bereft of mentorship. In general, it seems like there is very little opportunity for devs to find mentorship in making games. Rather, you either figure it out or you wash out.


Anyone juggling a ft job and finishing a side project on evenings/weekends deserves celebration. Congrats for finishing it. 1000x claps :)


Scope! You must define the scope of the game from the beginning, and it'll often be the case that your goals far exceed the practical limits of what you can code.

This is OK, as long as you know you're dreaming too big, but then you need MVGs, minimal pieces of the project that are playable games. If you need a giant world just to get started playing, you'll not get started playing.


> You need to focus, scope right, relentlessly break work down into bite-sized tasks, and create a rock-solid habit of getting things done.

This is my only takeaway from the article. I think it's well-written but I also found it vague. Finding implicit joy is such an abstract thing that has no set formulae to it. I am glad that the author was able to complete his game.


Treat it as a hobby, not a means to a payday. It's your free time. If you're not having fun, why do it?


Jason, if you're reading this: I loved your post but I can't find an RSS or Atom feed for your blog.


Yeah baby. I'm on my way also. I've been working full time and some days after work (when I have some energy left) and weekends I'm little by little taking a game out of paper.

To be honest I don't think of it as work, cause I do have fun implementing game mechanics, but I know it's hard work.

Congrats


It depends on your productivity after work as there will be a lot of factors that will come into play. It would help if you tried to maintain a work-life balance in which further delays your project. It's better to enjoy what we have right now and enjoy it at the same time.


Yeah, I started my game[0] in the summer of 2018. Wife and 3 kids. It is tough. Giving up would be the normal thing to do, but I guess I am not normal.

[0] https://thespacewar.com/


How do you spend more hours sitting at your desk after 8 hours of sitting at your desk?

I really would like to do more things at my PC, but whenever I finish with my work I'm drained


How did Chrome know that this article belonged to my gamedev bookmarks folder when I bookmarked the page?


The page you bookmarked before that also was in this folder?


Feel like I need a plan to make the plan to do the side project.


How did you create your App Icon and Screenshots?


Abaixar


bruh, i didn't finished the text, how could i finish my project?




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