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.


As I mentioned in my previous post, my first deadline for sharing Bard Life is today; March 19th. It’s obviously not ready yet, which was what I expected as I’d set a second deadline of March 29th just in case!

However it’s still not good that the game is un-finished (well, un-alpha’d) so I’ve started the GSD… the Get Shit Done list. This was a tried and true technique at EA Playfish created by my old producer (@MikePagano). Below is the list of Shit that I have to Get Done.




As you can see, it’s a large list. Not all of it actually needs to get done, and the ‘Dev Planning’ section is more of a desired feature list than a list of concrete obligations… but still, there it is. I’d like to get almost all of it done before the 29th and I will be posting my progress here as the days go by.

See you after the weekend, when I hope to have the big things here checked off!

The Plan – IGF 2016

Don’t worry, I’m still alive. I haven’t blogged anything in a while because I’ve been hard at work.

My Idle/Incremental Game Bard Life is coming along nicely. It’s taking longer than I thought (game development eh?) but progress is still fast and I hope to have something to show friends (and you guys) by the 19th March.

After that point, I will assess the feedback and decide whether to continue with Bard Life or not. If I decide not to continue, I will polish it up as much as I can and just dump it on the internet somewhere for free. I want to release a game and release a game I shall! If I decide to continue with it, then I’ll spend more time polishing it as much as I can and then do the aforementioned internet dump. In this latter case, I will spend time promoting the game and thinking about updates.

Regardless of what I do, I want to get Eternal Struggle to alpha state. I committed to it last year, I still think it’s a good concept (especially after seeing The Darkest Dungeon‘s reception), and I honestly want to see if it works. I believe that I’ll spend around a month on that, so April > May will be Eternal Struggle Alpha month. If Bard Life really takes off, I may drop Eternal Struggle.

Why all these deadlines? Well, The Plan has started.



I’ve wanted to commit to a real game project and see it through, alone, for years now. The GDC 2016 Independent Game Festival call for submissions begins in October. This is something I feel I have to do. I’ve got to get something submitted to IGF, even if it has no hopes of being nominated. It’s a great experience, it pushes me hard, and it will still result in an end product I can share with the world. I also need to start going to GDC professionally and I just don’t have the spare money to pay my way… I need a game to showcase there and I need the financial help that the IGF provides if you get nominated.

Perhaps Eternal Struggle will be good enough to submit. That would be amazing, although I have doubts that it’s innovative or arty enough to really warrant heated discussion. Bard Life is an Idle Game so there’s no way I’m entering that into IGF! Therefore, if Eternal Struggle does not show enough promise before the 1st of May, I have to put it on hiatus… or cancel it.

If that’s the case, The Plan is in full swing and The Game needs to be concepted and built.

I’ll have 6 months to get a completely new game submitted. My free time, which will completely turn into dev time, is the following…

  • Every weekday morning for 1 hour* – 5 Hours Total
  • Two weekday evenings for around 4 hours – 8 Hours Total
  • One weekend day – 8 Hours total, realistically

So that’s 21 Hours a week, 84 hours a month, or 504 Hours total between May 1st and the end of October.

For the first month I want to do a ‘One Game a Week’ prototyping period where I build and playtest 4 candidates for The Game. Ideally I’ll be blogging along the way, and perhaps even creating some video content. Marketing and personal branding is just so important these days, so I need to start creating more non-product stuff as I move towards submission.

The next blog post will be around March 19th-29th when I have Bard Life ready to share.


– Sam


*PS: You should totally try doing this if you can. Wake up an hour earlier than usual and work on your game. It’s changed my development life!

End of Year Update! Ember Conflict, Ludum Dare & Virtu

Hey all!

It’s been ages since my last post because I’ve been on holiday… and very busy.

The Ember Conflict is going well and we’re due to release soon, so we’re in super polish mode. If you want some regular updates to the game, click the image below to go to our Twitter.



I also took part in Ludum Dare 31, my 3rd Ludum Dare entry. Overall it’s by far my best entry into the competition, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. My final score was…

#53 Humor 3.72
#99 Mood 3.61
#121 Fun 3.67
#133 Innovation 3.85
#141 Audio 3.46
#169 Overall 3.65

Here it is if you want to give it a spin (click the image)




I absolutely adore taking part in Ludum Dare and I’m very happy with having a better score than last time (Outdoor was flawed to say the least!). However there’s a lot of room for improvement next time. I have three goals with the next Ludum Dare…

  • Break the top 100 Overall
  • Get a 4 rating in a category
  • Create a narrative experience

I’ve entered 3 of these things now and have yet to break into the top 100. Even though Silian Rail is my most complete and fun game, it has a lot of issues I should have ironed out and could have if I’d learnt the code before. Collision logic was my downfall this time.

A 4 rating is tough to achieve but it’s a sign that I’ve excelled in something. As you can see from the results, I was at #53 with only a 3.72 rating for Humor. Breaking the 4 rating in a category will make me feel that I did a superb job, even if I don’t break the overall top 100.

Finally the narrative experience. Narrative in games is a touchy subject for me. I’m not a great writer and I’ve not been a fan of many game stories in recent times, preferring the user generated narratives of games like Crusader Kings II and Civilization. However I still feel that it’s something that could teach me a lot about what is truly engaging for players. I personally tackle game development as pure systems design but, as I saw with Lullaby, the best reaction I’ve had to a game has been from an immersive hand-crafted linear system. Systemic complexity and flexibility isn’t the only way to create a worthwhile experience.

Eternal Struggle has been on hiatus since around October time and I’ll be getting back to it probably by the end of February at the latest. Despite going for a smaller scope, it has got a ton of systems work for me to build and real life is a serious impediment to development at the moment. Don’t worry though, it’s still in the works

Bard Life is a new project I’ve started that has been partly inspired by an eye opening experience into Idle Games.


One of my fellow Beijing based developers, Tobias Baumann, entered Ludum Dare with Cube Clicker. Cube Clicker is an idle game, where you click a cube and see the numbers go up… investing in various upgrades to unlock higher rates of numbery goodness. It’s definitely not my cup of tea, but after watching the following Extra Credits episode and seeing the reaction to Cube Clicker… I’ve decided to do a quick side project to see if I can make an Idle Game. Systemically it’s extremely simple and should be a breeze to build, so I’ll be working on that for the next few dev days I get before heading back to Eternal Struggle.

Bard Life is a game about being a fantasy bard. You travel the world discovering new towns and songs while gaining fame and fortune. Over time you will unlock new features and mechanics that explain more of the world and increase the complexity. It definitely won’t be pretty, I just want it feature complete with programmer art, but I’ll have it up here as soon as I can.

The next update from me will probably be about the Global Game Jam which I’m taking part in at the Beijing site. It’s my first GGJ and will be an interesting experience compared to the solo jamming of Ludum Dare.

Happy 2015 everyone!