Wait what?!

Yes.. I’ve gone and cancelled Bard Life. As a pretty inexperienced solo dev, I’m still struggling with the challenge of assessing projects. You may remember that Uffizi was put on hiatus because it just wasn’t very fun. 3 Months of semi-full time development and it took me that long to realize the game just didn’t have potential in its existing form. Bard Life has the same problem, although I learnt much quicker this time!


The final GSD
The final GSD


Why isn’t Bard Life fun?

I was a little upset at my need to cancel Bard Life, but since that dreaded day I’ve come to think of it as an obviously good decision and there are plenty of takeaways from the project as a whole so that I shouldn’t view it as a complete waste of time.

With Bard Life I wanted to take a genre I didn’t really like very much; the Idle Games genre, and make something more interesting. I liked the pacing and the slow drip feed of content and new mechanics.

I didn’t really like the whole numbers thing. You know… the 1.273trillion Cookies Per Second stuff. I thought that the numbers were just a symptom of the mechanics and that players just needed the aforementioned slow paced, long term drip of unlockables to sate their appetites.


Cookie Clicker
Cookie Clicker


Well it was true, but it was a symptom that I didn’t have an alternative for. I wanted to replace big numbers and infinite upgrades with new shiny things and story. The reason other Idle Games use numbers is because it’s absolutely free content. To add a new upgrade to your Cookie Factory, you just need drag your excel formula down one cell to generate a price and the buff amount. The whole thing is balanced around ever-increasing numbers.

My problem is that Bard Life content is expensiveMy numbers don’t scale well. Therefore there isn’t much to buy. There’s plenty to unlock at the early levels and you’re regularly unlocking cool new stuff for the first 2 hours of play… but then it stops, suddenly. There’s nothing to unlock anymore that doesn’t involve me creating new instrument sprites, new text, and carefully balanced numbers (as mine aren’t arbitrary numbers).

Idle games are meant to last months. Bard Life‘s content treadmill ended after 2 hours.

I failed at the system design. It hurt. A lot. System design is the thing I’m supposed to be good at, but I did not foresee the time and effort it takes to create masses of content.


Salvaging Benefits from Bard Life

Bard Life has still been a great project for me and has taught me the following stuff;

  • Process
    The nature of Bard Life‘s numerous but tiny and insular features has really given me a new lease of life for part-time gamedev. Waking up to do my hour of work every morning put the project into overdrive. Every game I ever make from now on will be designed to support this bite-size modular development.


  • Data Structures in Game Maker
    I’d never made a multi-room game before. A lot of Bard Life’s development was building all the systems handling tricky logic between room changes. I’ve never made a game with so many assets to load, variables, arrays, and interlocking UI systems.


  • Particle Effects
    Talked about this before, but I learnt them and they’re great. The best thing about them is that it’s easy for someone with no artistic skill (me) to make things pretty!


  • Overall Experience
    It’s hard to exactly put into words how much I’ve learnt in Game Maker over the course of Bard Life’s development. It’s just lots and lots of little things that all add up in the end. I feel like a much stronger developer now, and I’m a lot more practiced in tons of logic solutions that will help me with future projects.


  • Life Lesson Learned: Fuck Content!
    was put on hold because it wasn’t fun, after a few months of full time work on it. Bard Life has the same issue, its fun relies on a massive amount of content and I’m not actually great at writing content. Hell, I don’t even enjoy doing it!I like building systems and, while Bard Life has plenty of systems, it was always intended to be an idle/incremental game that needed to scale into hours and hours of play. Content was supposed to be the difference maker. Content is not my strength and for some reason I decided to go for a content heavy game yet again.


Game Prototype... thanks Activision
Game Prototype… thanks Activision


What Next?

The Plan is officially underway… 6 weeks early. This is one reason why I’m grinning at the moment. I’ve got loads of extra time to prototype candidates for The Game I’ll be submitting to IGF.

My goal now is to build two game candidates that have me most excited…

  • Candidate 1: A top-down survival multiplayer deathmatch game
  • Candidate 2: A post-apocalyptic 4X strategy game designed, from the ground up, for multiplayer

I’ll be spending 2 weeks with Candidate 1, making the most rough looking but feature-heavy prototype I can build. Then I will switch to Candidate 2, with the same mentality. When they’re both finished, I will get some feedback and then go over them again before a second round of testing.

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