I published my first video game.

Late September 2021. I’m not feeling super happy.

There are really only three things that can help me — exercise, creation, and human connection. The relief of the foremost is short-lived. Valuable still, but not something I can sustain for hours. And it’s limited by pesky things like time of day and the weather.

The lattermost is gold. But hard to make happen when you’re feeling low, and the effect of which becomes diluted anyway.

The middle is what I look to. I’ve created bits and pieces here and there. Mostly in the written medium. Mostly fiction. But I’ve spent vastly more time thinking about creating than creating. And good ideas that I latch onto gestate for days, weeks, months before I give up for one reason or another. Sometimes the idea no longer excites me. Other times I feel I can’t do it justice.

So I start the #LifeSprintProject. Create a new “thing” every two weeks. It’s a great idea for me, because it addresses my biggest historic creative flaws:

I will actually complete stuff now — First, I have a deadline, which I have never given myself before. And it’s short-term. So I don’t run out of steam, nor do I get worried about underserving the idea in the execution (because how could I expect myself to create some kind of brilliant masterpiece in only two weeks?).

When I was younger, I wanted to be in the video game industry super badly

Because I loved playing video games. My earliest gaming memories start with the SNES, running through PS1, PS2, GameCube, Xbox 360, PC, PS4, then Switch. (Although I’m now questioning if I had a PS3 in there somewhere, too… But I know for sure I also had a GameBoy Pocket, GameBoy Advance, Nintendo DS and 3DS.)

The habit peaked and troughed for me, but the notable transition happened during the Xbox 360 era. Towards the end of that, I just stopped getting the same joy out of games. It’d come and go in bursts. And those little bursts are, to this day, fewer and further between. And the intensity of joy that I get from playing games during those bursts is getting smaller. I can’t remember the last time I picked up the Switch to play something.

Playing habit aside, I’ve always maintained an interest in video games as a medium. One genre that’s always been close to my heart is RPG. Skewing a little towards JRPG specifically. One big reason is the turned-based combat — I’m horrendous at fast-reaction stuff like first-person shooters, so this is a kind of game that lets me play at a pace that better suits me.

The other big reason is story and world-building. I guess it’s the same reason you get people who are really into fantasy and sci-fi novels. It’s fun to be thrust into an entirely new world with entirely new things. And as a creative person, the desire to create one of these worlds of my own has always been bubbling along in the background.

So I decided the #LifeSprintProject was the perfect time to create a game of my own

Creating a video game seems like such a daunting task. But given the constraint of two weeks, I would be forced to make it in the least-effort way possible. There’d be:

❌ No learning of programming languages (which I have little interest in)
❌ No unique gameplay mechanics (the time that could take!)
❌ No making of any game art

Instead, I would:

✅ Use a no-code platform
✅ Make a simple, old-school JRPG (i.e. you can move up/down/left/right on an isometric map and interact with stuff — I’d even cut out combat)
✅ Use pre-made assets for all the game art

Here’s how it went

On Monday October 25th, I woke up to sprint 3 of the #LifeSprintProject without a clear idea of exactly what I was going to be working on. I had a list of possible ideas, but wasn’t leaning one way or the other. Before the work day began at 9am, I wanted to decide what I’d be creating over the following two weeks. So, on a whim, I chose video game.

First, I needed to shop around. Find out what tools were out there for me to use. Reddit and YouTube felt like my best bets, and after some random searching, this great video convinced me to go with Construct.

£14 a month. No minimum commitment. Felt very reasonable. But then the pricing page confused me.

There’s a free edition.

But no obvious button on the page to access it. After a brief, frustrated search I thought the £14 license wasn’t really that big of a deal, and I just wanted to crack on. But I should probably do some quick YouTubing to see how easy it is to create a basic JRPG setup, no combat.

That’s when I decided to change direction entirely

Watching a tutorial video of a guy make a super, super basic world where a character can move up/down/left/right looked like a way heavier lift than I wanted. This is just a one-off, two-week project for me. I’m not trying to become a regular game developer. I needed to go even simpler.

I can’t recall what magic combination of Google search terms it took, but by the night of Tuesday October 26th I’d found the answer — GB Studio.

The legend that GB Studio’s creator — Chris Maltby — is, there’s a pre-made template game that comes with software that basically already did everything I wanted. Watch the first few seconds of this video and you’ll see what I mean.

Thanks to that enormous foundation that was already in place, by Wednesday October 27th, I’d already made baby steps towards building my own game.

Now I just had to fill in the missing pieces

👉 Map/level design
👉 Quests/events
👉 Dialogue

The game I wanted to make was very simple. A zero-stakes, exploration/mystery game. There’s a very, very subtle story in place. Well, subtle to the player. I have the backstory in my head, but it’s only very lightly hinted at throughout the objects you can interact with and the characters you can speak with.

There are also really only two “quests” in the game. And two endings. One of which you can achieve without completing either quest. The “better” ending is only achieved by completing the two quests.

You can’t die. You can’t get hurt. You can’t lose anything. You can’t miss out on anything. The game is the minimum viable version of telling the story I wanted to tell. If I had more time and interest in doing it, I’d love to realise the story’s full potential and create a 10x bigger game. Maybe I’ll do that one day. (Or, at least, try a v2 of the game which is maybe 1.5x bigger.)

But I digress. Quests/events/dialogue — all that came from messing around in a Word doc. I needed to create the map/level art. And again the brilliant chap that Chris Maltby is, he recommends a map making tool in the GB Studio documentation. A fantastic tool called Tiled.

Still, you need the art to feed the tool. And the itch.io community (itch.io being the site that hosts both GB Studio and Tiled, as well as where I uploaded my completed game) has that in droves. I downloaded a few packs:

I don’t recall if I ended up using sprites from all of them, but I’m going to credit them all just the same. Big thank you to those creators too.

Anyway, I shove all this stuff into Tiled and mess around to build some maps. Those images get exported and thrown into GB Studio, where they become my levels. I stitch everything together, add the characters to facilitate the dialogue and quests, and then do surprisingly little testing. I very fortunately only end up catching a few game-breaking bugs, that are quick and easy to fix.

It’s now Wednesday November 3rd and I think I am done.

So then I just… published it

All that positive experience with itch.io convinced me I didn’t need to search elsewhere to find a way to host my game. I signed up for a free account without a second thought, exported the files from GB Studio, and had the game live online in a matter of minutes.

I then basically tried speed running my game to achieve the “better” ending, upon which I discovered it was broken. I went back into GB Studio yesterday to hunt the bug down, fixed it, then uploaded Town v1.1. Very lazily, I haven’t tested if my fix worked. I might try after I publish this article.

But irrespective of that, it’s done. I wanted to create and publish a video game in two weeks. And I did.

I had enormous help from some really, really brilliant creators. I can’t thank everyone enough for making so much great stuff and just chucking it out on the internet for free. (Well, to be fair, optional donations are asked for. And now that I’m happy with where I got to, I’m going back to donate to each of those creators now.)

Want to play my game in your browser right now?

Check out Town over on my itch.io page.

And if you want to see what I do with the #LifeSprintProject next, follow me on Twitter @BradWritesWords.

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Brad Ewin

Brad Ewin

Hi! 👋 I’m a Content Lead at a London-based fintech company, as well as a creator of miscellaneous things.