I bet the quoted sentence in the heading of this article is something you’ve heard countless times. So have I. It is a self-explanatory sentence which requires little or no debate. Or is it? When put in the appropriate context within game design it sparks joy with one amateur game designer while at the same time awakens fear in another. I am afraid that when it was up to me, I was the latter of these two examples. Here’s why. A large chunk of my past time when I was in high-school was spent on creating complex card-game systems, fighting systems that can be used in various pen & paper RPGs and I remember Martin a.k.a. Helion doing a board game similar to chess involving mirrors and lasers.
So you see we were not the “start small” type of guys. This made things difficult for us to start with. Even our own point and click adventure game “Who I am” which we did on a game jam included three levels which was much more than needed if seen from today’s perspective. Instead of making it easy, we kept making it harder for us, because we loved working hard when working on games. We did not like simplicity in games. I remember the day when I got my first tablet and went deep into Android trying to discover a world of games previously untouched. I was devastated when I faced what gaming has come to. And what works. You know the answer, that same old – simplicity. At first it was a huge shock to me when I saw games like endless runners, match three games and “strategy” monetization machines covered with a layer of sweet design on top. Then, luckily I played games like Monument Valley and The Room which gave me hope and thought me a lot about today’s “small” games.
If need arises, give yourself a limit, make it a challenge!
My initial though was “Ok, make a stupid little game, earn some money, so you can make that big cool game you’ve always wanted.” But being exposed through The Internet to all those beautiful games developers are creating by themselves, in time crushed my boring idea I had one sentence ago. I realized I can enjoy the game development process with all of my games, no matter how small they are. Doesn’t mean they should be dumb. Actually being small makes them more challenging. A book can describe everything in detail since there is no page limit, but if you read short stories like I do, you can see that there is much that can be done with one page of text because there is a limit. Same goes for comic-book text 😉
And if you stop and think for a minute you will see that there is a natural limit to everything. You can overdo work, but eventually you will faint 😛 You can play games for 12 hours strait and you will probably end up with the same result. This is why it is really important to do as much as you can within the limits you can and will set for yourself. A wonderful small game that manages to do a lot with just one level is Backterria’s RockRocket. I have probably mentioned it before and I will in the future 🙂
In order to start small you need to change how you think.
“I was very sad when I realized I had to do small games before going to some of my bigger ideas. Yet to this day, all I have done are my small games.” – a quote…by me 😛
It all started when I took all of my activities that I do in a day and severed them in separate chunks. Looking at them separately and putting some more thought into them. This actually helped me to enjoy them more and to become aware of all little daily tasks like: working on my PC, cooking, training, going to the store, walking my dog, talking on the phone… since I am a game designer I saw games within all of those things (Read my older article here that explains how). Finding out that these were not some boring every-day actions, rather tasks I actually find fun to do, (and have limited time to do) made me do them quite well.
This feeling/tactic transferred afterwards to everything I do, because I now knew that something small does not have to be something horrible, boring or something that signifies an amateur’s beginning . Some beginnings can be great so there is nothing wrong with creating a perfectly well made game that only has one level like Backterria’s game and there is nothing wrong in making more and more small games if you have too many ideas dwelling in Your mind.
Therefore sit back and explore yourself as a game designer and see how you work best. Are you that organized guy that really spends that 2-3 hours per day working on a game? Are you a total mess and need pressure to work hard but cannot create that pressure by yourself? Are you a night-crawler working weekends only from 4AM to 9AM? No matter. All of these game designers are creative I know. And everyone will tell you to let your creative side flow. I say the same. But I also say, let if flow into a nice little stream. Then slowly turn it into a river. Only then will you reach the lake.
Now go and make some small games people 🙂