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1 Year of Gamdev, and Making Games Should be Fun

Written by Craig Robinson, Buttery Games Lead Designer

Part 1: A Year in Review

This begins in summer 2017 after I had graduated University. I ended up moving back home for a summer as I had no plans for post-graduate studies or employment.

I struggled a lot over that summer attempting to come to terms with my life and my future. Before even entering the workforce I was filled with dread. I had no leads or connections to anything that interested me and was essentially left not knowing what to do or where to go.

So I set a goal - take the summer off to figure things out, look for job prospects while attempting to further a hobby I started months prior - streaming Hearthstone. I was already pretty good at the game, making it to the top 500 players in North America previously, but had no following or community to speak of.

This disaster of a room represented my state of mind at the time fairly well. I promise I'm not usually that gross - my childhood bedroom was turned into my parents storage closet almost immediately after I left for university

Streaming didn't turn out as well as I hoped for. As the summer went on my time at my parents soured due to my worsening mood and streaming habits. Streaming wasn't making much money and after 3 months I decided it wasn't the hobby for me despite being offered Twitch Affiliate.

Near the end of the summer I received a job interview after hundreds of failed applications and landed a job near me at a local engineering firm. I moved out of my parents shortly after.

Although this job may have not been exactly what I wanted it is able to support me well and for a time was interesting enough. My life normalized as the months went on, but something was missing. I didn't feel like I was doing things for myself, and I went on bored and unfulfilled. I started to contemplate ways I could break this rut, and thought of another hobby I had dabbled in prior - game development.

During my university days I had spent some time coming up with concepts and ideas for a large scale game. A metroidvania about an unnamed cloaked character who used the light of his lantern to guide souls to the Underworld. I played with the concept for no more than a couple months before putting it aside to finish my studies.

Lumen, the Soul Warden
Lumen, the Soul Warden

My only experience with actually making anything close to a game was my bout making and testing Mario Maker levels, where I would push the game to its limits by making Mariovanias - a genre that fit so poorly in Mario Maker's engine.

After spending a few months working my feelings had not changed. I wanted to enjoy my life, not spend it cooped up at a desk for someone else's benefit. I wanted to have fun.

Before deciding if it was even for me, I started gathering a team of my friends to work on an untitled metroidvania. Lumen's development unofficially began in October 2017.

First ever Lumen concept by Spencer
First ever Lumen concept by Spencer, November 2017

Recruiting for Lumen ended up being much easier than expected. I am very lucky to have a group of friends with many unique talents and skills. Our team along with myself includes Dylan Zdrobov, Spencer Donoghue, Andrew Beach, Dylan Butson, and Mike Maclean.

We all have ties to each other that make Buttery Games unique. I played house league soccer with Dylan Zdrobov for years, moshed with Spencer Donoghue at Andrew Beach’s punk shows, stayed up late gaming with Dylan Butson and Mike Maclean too many times.

Dylan Z, Craig, Spencer from left to right

All of our team members individually took on Lumen in a big way. We all have full time jobs, so making time can be challenging. Lumen started in a sensible way - we knew nothing about making games so we started by spending months learning everything we could.

Early Lumen concept scene of the cave by Spencer
Early concept scene of the cave by Spencer (not in game)

Lumen has come a long way from its beginnings. Developing games is not easy, especially when your team has no experience with it at all.

Very early Lumen in a pre-alpha build

Lumen quickly became each team members personal passion project. We all have the same goal – to make a game deserving of our lovable little Lumen. We are still a long way off, but we are very close to a polished demo that we are proud of. Here is what Lumen looks like today:

Lumen Pre-Demo build in an updated version of the cemetery
Lumen Pre-Demo build in an updated version of the cemetery

It took roughly a year for us to make sense of what we were doing and what we were capable of. Over this year I became semi-proficient with Unity and C#. I was never big into programming, but Lumen gave me the motivation to learn and develop my skills.

Along with programming my role includes project management, funding, marketing, game design and story creation. I contribute to most aspects of Lumen, filling in whatever the team needs. As such I've had the pleasure of learning many aspects of game design while working with the closest people to me.

Lumen Pre-Demo Build
Lumen Pre-Demo Build

As the game came to life, the team all started to believe this could be more than just a small demo project. We had learned and accomplished so much in a short time. Our team all worked incredibly well with each other and development became effortless. We realized our Buttery Games dream could potentially become a reality.

Lumen Pre-Demo Build
Lumen Pre-Demo Build

All of us are now equal partners in Buttery Games, and would like to remain independent as a studio. We want to remember one fact - making games should always be fun.


Part 2: Making Games Should be Fun

Early enemy designs by Dylan Z.
Early enemy designs by Dylan Z.

Working on Lumen with the Buttery Games team has given me one of the most challenging years of my life. But I would not trade Lumen for anything else.

Creating Buttery Games and developing Lumen has become a large part of all our lives. We are all incredibly good friends outside of working on Lumen and share an understanding of exactly what we want Buttery Games to be.

Lumen began as a way for me to escape the monotony of modern life by providing an outlet for creative expression.

Screaming Skull
Screaming Skull concept by Dylan Z. We all have our screaming skulls that haunt us

I’m sure many of you have experienced the monotony a boring job can bring as well.

For some work can be an exciting place to learn new things with people you enjoy. For others it can feel like a prison where needs go unmet and you are left feeling unfulfilled. It is important to find ways to strike balances, such that one does not compromise themselves too far for others.

I am incredibly fortunate to have a project that I can develop with a like minded team, willing to create without judgment or fear.

Demon Boss
Demon Boss by Dylan Z.

Buttery Games was built with one idea in mind. Making games should be fun. And it is. Incredibly so. It can also cause many frustration as well, and that’s alright.

Everyone involved, working on Lumen, has our own hopes and fears, wants and dreams.

As such we have agreed upon one critical work environment rule that we shall adhere to - Respect that fact.

Lumen meeting an NPC in the Hive Cave by Andrew
Lumen meeting an NPC in the Hive Cave by Andrew

Anyone who has been treated unfairly, been hurt by someone, or dealt with poor leadership at some point, will know that sometimes it seems very easy for others to forget the other people involved in their decisions. This isn't always malicious, and may have never even been meant to harm, but it happens all the same.

Lumen using an early spell
Lumen using an early spell

A big focus in Lumen is the narrative on Lumen’s existence. Lumen is a demigod and was conceived in the Underworld to fill out a specific purpose for all of eternity. One day he is forcibly removed by beings with malicious intentions, and lands in a realm very unlike the Underworld. The Interworld - better known as the mortal realm.

Lumen enters this world unwillingly and initially only has a sole goal of finding his way back home to the Underworld.

NPC concept

On his journey through the Interworld he will learn something unique - everyone in this world has a story, and there can be multiple sides to it. He will learn to grow and empathize as he comes across the plight of the various members of the mortal realm. He will come into the world indifferent but leave with a renewed vision in mind.

The members of Buttery Games try to remember that as well. All of you reading this, have a story. And there are many sides to it. And we wish you all the best with yours, while we may have a chance to share ours. All of us here have one goal – create quality games, while having fun doing it.

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed.

Me at my signature work desk with my furry friend

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1 commento

Membro sconosciuto
06 giu 2019

Great write-up, very inspiring to somebody who's in a similar position (albeit about 6 months in versus a year).

Keep up the good work and best of luck to you and the rest of your team!

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