Advice I’ve gotten from other game devs

I’m a bit shameless when it comes to reaching out to people over email or twitter and hoping for a reply. I often don’t get a response but when I do, it’s usually exactly the thing I needed to push past whatever I’m stuck on.

There is a big difference between generic advice read on the internet and advice that someone personally gives to you. Personalized advice takes into account your exact situation and struggles and provides guidance that is specific and tailored for you. The advice is felt more strongly too. When someone is speaking directly at you, their words are beamed into your brain as opposed to passively washed over you, as in a YouTube video or podcast.

So with all that said, here are 10 pieces of game dev advice I’ve gotten over the years and how that advice has affected my philosophy and approach. The advice won’t be as helpful to you as it was to me, but my hope is that more people will be compelled to seek help themselves when they need it.

(in alphabetical order)

1. Alphons6, prolific pixel artist and co-collaborator on several jam projects

Context: I’ve asked Alphons for art advice several times in the past, since he has such a diverse and stylized pixel approach. We’ve had several calls where he has critiqued my art.

Advice: Push it. Push your art. Make the characters weirder, make the colors whackier, etc.

Outcome: I used to do one or two passes on a piece of art and think it was enough. After getting this advice, I’ll really try and find the unique parts of my artwork and keep iterating and pushing that uniqueness until the piece feels like it can stand on its own.

2. AuntyGames, creator of the upcoming cozy isometric townbuilder, Gourdlets

Context: I met AuntyGames at GDC when she was showcasing her game, Gourdlets, at the Godot booth. I actually knew about her game from a PCGamer magazine I read the week prior so it was really exciting to meet her in real life (and she’s super chill!)

Advice: With regards to marketing, AuntyGames told me she was very proactive in her approach. She reached out quite a bit to promote her work, including to PCGamer, who ultimately featured her.

Outcome: I’ve always thought that if my work was good enough, it would spread on its own. While there might be some truth to this, I might be missing opportunities by not putting myself out there. It doesn’t take very long to send a few emails here and there so I have nothing to lose by being a bit more proactive with my work.

3. Benjamin Soule, game design guru and 1/2 of PUNKCAKE Délicieux

Context: I’ve been a huge fan of PUNKCAKE Délicieux since their inception and am consistently mind blown at the quality of each and every game that the duo puts out. Benjamin is a huge inspiration to me from a design perspective and one day I decided to reach out to him to ask about his design process.

Advice: When coming up with ideas, think of a situation in which the player struggles to make a decision. Then make the game around that.

Outcome: I knew about a mechanics-first approach to game design but I’ve never thought about ‘decisions’ as the root of a fun game. Since then, I think about this every time I brainstorm potential game ideas. It was a pivot point where I stopped thinking purely about mechanics and started considering interesting decisions as well.

4. Blobfish, creator of Brotato

Context: Blobfish was showing Brotato at GDC and was hanging around the Godot booth. I have been following his blog and knew he had a lot to say about the game development process, so I didn’t hesitate to ask him questions about what I was struggling with at the time: motivation and finishing projects.

Advice: Use deadlines. And break down your high-level tasks into low-level tasks. Treat the breaking down as work itself which can mean literally taking an hour or two to just define tasks.

Outcome: I’ve always heard that breaking down tasks is beneficial but I’ve never thought of the breaking down as part of the work itself. Every day I plan to work, I now spend the first 20 minutes or so breaking down my work for the day, answering dozens of tiny questions about what the work entails, and then dive into the work once I’m in “implementation” mode. Working this way has yielded great benefits so far (and will probably warrant its own blog post in the future).

5. Flanne, creator of 20 Minutes Till Dawn

Context: I met Flanne at a GDC party, where I was showing Thwack. He was super cool! We exchanged discords and I messaged him a week later.

Advice: Break down tasks. Polish early so you can playtest as soon as possible.

Outcome: This was the tipping point where I started to see a pattern between prolific and successful game developers and this idea of “breaking down tasks”. Since this advice came shortly after Blobfish’s, I knew there had to be something behind this concept.

6. Hempuli, creator of Baba Is You

Context: I frequented Hempuli’s stream quite a bit over the last few months, which is where I had the opportunity to poke his brain about various productivity related things. I highly recommend his stream. It’s very motivating to see his process as he crosses off so many tasks each session and can work on multiple projects at once (and makes it look easy).

Advice: Working on multiple projects at once can give your brain a break from one project and allow yourself to jump back into the project a few days later with “fresh eyes”. Choosing projects with clear milestones, like a puzzle game with X levels or metroidvania with X bosses, can make it easier to track your progress and know where you’re at (as opposed to a roguelike where it’s less clear how far along you are).

7. Miziziziz, Godot YouTuber and creator of Endoparisitic

Context: Met at GDC at the Godot booth while I was casually playing his game. He was clearly very tired but managed to say something really interesting when I was talking about my struggle to finish a larger project.

Advice: Make the game until it’s not fun to make the game anymore. Then, release.

Outcome: This ditches the idea that we shouldn’t release anything unless it’s finished. If you have a game that explores something interesting and you are no longer thrilled about working on it, put a bow on it and release it. Someone out there might still love it even if it isn’t perfect. It’s better than giving up on it, right?

8. Pierre Vandermaesen, creator of TinyFolks

Context: I am a huge fan of TinyFolks because of how well scoped it is. It’s a $4 game made in under a year, expresses a concise idea, has a bangin’ soundtrack, and a very consistent art style. Oh, and it sold decently well.

Advice: Scope your content well. For example, 30 levels, 10 bosses, 15 areas, etc. A lot of people have games with interesting systems but fail to add sufficient content that makes engaging with those systems interesting. When you’re thinking about a project, think about the amount of content you want to have up front and try to use those as goals.

Outcome: It’s true and it resonates with me. A lot of my games have an interesting mechanic but are short and lack depth. Hearing his advice was a bit of a gut punch because he’s right. After this, I started to think about content and depth a lot more when coming up with ideas and deciding what to work on.

9. Tom van den Boogaart, from Sokpop

Context: I met Tom and Tijmen from Sokpop at GDC while showing Thwack. I was scared as hell to see them play my game because Thwack is heavily inspired by their early works. Thankfully, they were really, really cool and didn’t mention anything about me jacking their art style.

Advice: small brain is better than Big brain.

Outcome: Tom pointed out that Thwack, my small but focused game, was ‘small brain’, and some other games that are longer and larger scoped are ‘Big brain’, but ‘small brain’ is the way to go. I was a little confused when he called my game ‘small brain’ but after he explained himself, I realized it was a compliment. Woohoo.

10. Will Blanton, prolific game creator

Context: Will has appeared countless times for me while researching various things. Whether it’s a tool he’s worked on, a talk he’s given, a soundtrack he wrote, or a cool game he’s made, he constantly appears in my searches. I consider him one of those super well rounded and down to earth guys that just makes the indie scene better. I asked him for advice on making money in game development.

Advice: Carve out your own career in games. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity to magically appear. Make it happen for yourself, even if a position doesn’t exist. Make it exist.

Outcome: Since hearing this advice, I’ve thought more laterally about how to make a living in games. While I’m still not making a living (or even close), Will’s advice always rings in the back of my head when I think about monetization. There isn’t just working at a studio or selling games. There are probably infinitely creative ways to make money in games and there is little competition in each of these ways, since you will have had come up with them yourself.

Okay! Well, that’s all I got. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice when you’re stuck. I’ll add a little addendum to this which is to be very specific in your request. Be clear, concise, and respect the other person’s time. Only ask if you have exhausted all other possibilities and you are certain that the person you’re asking is the right person to ask.

While my own achievements are far and few, I’ll put my money where my mouth is. Feel free to reach out to me for advice:

(Disclaimer: If I’ve misquoted anyone or anyone wants their id anonymized, feel free to DM me and I’ll change it with no hard feelings whatsoever)

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