The Last and Final Word is a series of interviews with independent videogame developers. Welcome. Hopefully some of the choices will surprise you. The aim is simple: extract some insight. I’d like to promise a weekly schedule for this but judging from previous experiences, I don’t think this will work, so I won’t. Nonetheless I hope you enjoy the reading.
I sent of a load of questions to Jayenkai at 8.39 p.m. November 25th. Not only did he have them answered and sent back to me by 10 p.m. that very same night but they were answered in surprising detail. Jayenkai runs AGameAWeek where he attempts (and mostly succeeds) in developing one game per week. What conclusion can I draw from the above information? He’s nuts.
James Gamble, but since any Google searches for James Gamble will bring you to the Proctor & Gamble guy, I’ve tended to use Jayenkai. It’s much more searchable.
30, which is probably a little too old to be sitting around making freeware games all day. Oh well..Carry on!
Where are you from?
Bolton, England. It’s really quite dull here.
What do you do?
My actual job is cashier / shelf stacker at a local convenience store, which is as unimpressive, and low paying as it sounds. But it does give me plenty of free time to do AGameAWeek. Which is nice.
Development tool(s) of choice?
I’m an avid Blitz devotee, and have been since I first bought the Amiga version. It’s a nice language that does everything I need it to, and allows me to get things up and running in a really quick manner. It also helps that all the compatibility checks have been done beforehand, so I don’t have to mess around getting X game to work on Y and Z systems. I just write it, hit compile, and be done with it. I don’t think I’d be able to do the games as quickly as I am if I constantly had to keep fixing things from the previous game.
For art I use an age old copy of Paintshop Pro 7, because that’s the one I’ve gotten comfortable with, so I’m really quite fast at doing neat things with it, and then for audio I use a combination of Fruityloops, CoolEdit and have recently been using DrPetter's SFXR, too, which is really handy for making quick blippy sounds.
What sparked your interest and how did you get into game development?
When you first switched on a classic 8-bit computer system, you weren’t presented with a lovely GUI, or a self-booting game. Instead, you got a flashing cursor, which sat and waited, urging you to type something to prod it into life. The cursor intrigued, and with a huge chunky manual filled to the brim with Keywords and Commands, I slowly but surely started to gain a firm grasp of the Ways of the Cursor. It probably took me a good year or so before I started writing anything vaguely playable, but I had a lot of fun learning all the odd things that I could do.
I miss cursors.. and I miss manuals, too..
You develop, on average, one game a week. How long have you been doing this now?
I’ve just started year three of AGameAWeek, but for about 3 or 4 years before that I used to hold a weekly “Make something in a week” challenge on my site. After a while I guess I just got into the swing of things, and each week, the quality I was achieving seemed to get better and better. AGameAWeek grew from that, and after a while the weekly challenge faded away, although that was mostly because nobody else wanted to join in, more than anything!
So I try to keep the spirit alive. A random game with no real purpose, each and every week. True, sometimes (more often than not) I can throw out a real stinker, but occasionally there’s a glimmer of an idea in there.
Since starting this regime, how many games have you created?
AGameAWeek’s is in its third year, but I didn’t entirely manage the entire 52 games in year one, so I’d say probably about 90-odd by now. In total, I’ve over 200 games in my archive, but with the 90 recent games taken out, and considering it goes right back to August 2002, it only averages to about 20 games a year. It’s a bit slow in comparison!
Having done this for quite sometime now, how hard is it to keep to this schedule? Do you now consider it to be ‘within your comfort zone’?
Practice makes perfect. What was extremely limited a the beginning has become the norm today. The more you do, the more used to the speed you become, and you tend to start thinking of things in the quickest achievable way, rather than considering all the aspects, and mulling over grander ideas. Randomly popping ideas into your games is probably not the best way to get a AAA title, but it tends to work here!
Surely you must get burnt out sometimes?
All the time! Towards the end of year two, things got a little too crazy, and I found myself slowing to a crawl. Knowing that the end of the year was within reach, I carried on regardless, and struggled through, but that probably wasn’t the best idea to be honest. A solid block of none-coding came very soon afterwards. This year I’ve added a secondary rule to AGameAWeek. If I feel like I need a rest, then I must! The tally isn’t that important!
What keeps you motivated enough to continue?
The insane random game ideas that constantly seem to swirl around my head! If that stops, I probably won’t carry on much longer. It probably helps, though, that each game is essentially a throwaway. Nothing takes too long to write, so if a game falls flat, and everybody hates it, then at least it wasn’t something that took me months / years writing. I can easily just move onto the next game, and say “OK.. Next!” I don’t think I could be anywhere near as motivated after such a large game dies.
Ever since the Experimental Gameplay Project started, rapid prototyping has become something of a big deal with many small indie developers realising that it wasn’t quite so hard to rapidly prototype a game concept within a short period of time. What was your inspiration for starting this?
I just like the idea of trying out ideas. Being able to fling a thought onto the screen, and play with it until it does (or doesn’t!) work. Sometimes a simple idea can really work well, and you’ll have the motivation to carry it on a little longer, and see what comes out of it. I’ve always loved to do this, even in my crazy Amstrad / Amiga days* where I threw bizarre ascii characters all over the screen, expecting something to happen eventually. These are the strange oddball games that I grew up with, and it seems somewhat fitting that I carry this on today.
*Amstrad and Amiga games are still sitting on floppies / cassettes, waiting to be converted at some point between AGameAWeek projects. Some day.. maybe!
Some developers that partake in rapid prototyping seem determined to come up with unconventional, experimental or never-before-seen gameplay mechanics. However, your approach is decidedly the opposite to this in that you take a mechanic from a well established game and add to it or give it a twist, right?
I’m 200 games in, and if I tried to do something brand-new each and every time, I’d probably have to have stopped at game number 10! Ideas are limited, even in the crazy swirly head of Jay. But if you take a simple start point, you can occasionally think of an addition that nobody else has tried. Since it’s super-fast development, you have the luxury of trying these out, and seeing what happens. Sometimes trying something really obscure can make things better, or at least different enough to be playable for a while!
Adding balls to Tetris, taking the ghosts out of Pacman, turning Centipede into a ball-bouncer, they’re all just little quirks that people hadn’t considered. Most people had thought they would be terrible, but it’s not until you bother to try these things that you realise that they might actually work out, after all.
Try it, you might like it.
Some take the rapid prototyping concept even further with the likes of Ludum Dare (a competition which lasts 48 hours), The Poppenkast (with 3 hour competitions) and Klik of the Month (2 hour competitions). Have you ever considered taking part in anything like this?
Absolutely, but unfortunately Ludum Dare tends to take place on the weekends, and being a guy who works in a convenience store, that’s generally when I’m at work the most. Still, over the years I have limited myself to tiny schedules, and have written a fair number of games within a matter of hours (usually when it’s a Monday morning, and I’m due to post a game the next morning). One day my schedule will fit!
Lack of feedback seems to be an issue with you from time to time. Is it still an issue and is it demotivating to get so little feedback?
If I go a week with one game, and get no feedback, then it’s a little bit disappointing, especially if I’ve found the gameplay to be quite fun. It’s especially disappointing if there’s a bug that nobody tells me about, and then makes its way into my framework without my knowledge. Worse than that, though, is the fact that I’m doing so many games, at such a fast pace. Sometimes I can go for a month at a time without any reactions to any of my games. One’s bad enough, but four or five games with no feedback at all just feels absolutely awful. Last years’ TIGSource topic got so bad that I just gave up posting new games after week 40. There was no point. Slumps can be hard!
But you keep going with what you can get, and with each new game comes a possibility of a little bit more feedback. For developers who are writing games for kicks, that’s the most important part, and even a simple thanks is enough to give you that little boost of energy to keep going.
Feedback is king.
Do you have any advice for any developers that are considering trying the whole ‘rapid prototyping’ idea?
Think simpler. Learning how classic arcade games were designed, with the extreme limitations at the time. This can really help you think of your code in an entirely different way. Once you start thinking about Space Invaders just being the brick wall from Breakout, you see the game in a totally different way. They’re not hundreds of Objects with X / Y co-ordinates, they’re just a simple array that moves back and forth. The simplest ways are the quickest to build, and wrapping your head around that is the key to making things quicker.