fredag 9 oktober 2015

The danger of placeholders

Here is a problem that might not apply to every indie game developer out there, but it certainly rings true for me. When programming early versions of enemies, items or even stages themselves and testing them out, it's very convenient to use placeholder graphics. This way you can work out kinks and see if your stage layout does its job etc, without having to go through the process of drawing finalized sprites. I do all my graphics myself and I'm aware not every developer works this way, if you have a hired artist who creates your graphics then placeholders naturally are more or less necessary in order for the development of your game not to be completely held back by the visual representations of the assets.

There is a real danger in using placeholder graphics however. A wise person once said "kill your darlings", meaning you should never be too attached to your favorite creations when it comes to anything creative, including game development. Your blind love for that Goomba-clone might easily make you unable to realize it's not a good enemy for your particular game. In my experience the same thing definitely applies to placeholder graphics. Once you go beyond just geometrical figures, I myself very easily find myself starting to like placeholder graphics as small ugly puppies or something. They're not that nice but you created them after all. First you accept them, then you start to kinda like them, then you actually start to appreciate them and before you know it you've pretty much forgotten completely that they were once placeholders, and any thought about replacing them later on has been erased from your memory. Especially when it comes to pixel graphics-games the sprites are kinda crude to begin with (NES-imitation games in particular) no matter how you look at it, so the line between a placeholder and an OK sprite is very fine.

This problem can snowball out of control very easily since there is so much that needs to be done when developing a game, and fixing those "OK-looking" placeholder graphics can easily start to go further and further down in priority on the to do-list. And before you know it you've released a game with a lot of placeholder graphics. As the developer you are blinded to their supbar quality, but the potential consumers certainly are not. My current solution for this might be extreme, but it works for me. I am done with graphical placeholders. Anything outside of geometrical figures such as squares with text on them, is not OK in a game I'm developing. I understand that if you are not creating the graphics yourself things are different, but for me I now always create the graphics with them being in the final game in mind. Truth is they need to be done at some point anyway. This doesn't mean you can't still improve them later on of course.

I've made a trailer for M:A and once I get enough feedback on it I will use it to create a Greenlight page for the game. The intended release date has been pushed back to November 30th since I've been sick for three weeks and unable to work on the game at all. The release date might change depending on how the Greenlight works out though. The best for me would be if I could release M:A exclusively on Steam.

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