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On the brink of a nervous breakdown
by Nikolas De Noel on 08/25/14 05:09:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

I think I postponed writing this article long enough. It’s not easy talking about the bottom low moments of developing your game while still down there, wallowing in self pity and trying to climb out. In a way it’s therapeutic, I guess.

I’m currently finalizing the fourth version of ClockwiZZZe. The previous versions I consider prototypes. ClockwiZZZe is a casual puzzle game about a sleepwalking dwarf. The dwarf simply walks around bumping into objects and walls and turning clockwise as a result. You, the player, needs to guide him to his bed by opening and closing doors, altering his path.
In the first three versions of the game the dwarf was a simple rotating smiley trying to reach the exit. The theme wasn’t clear yet. I was just playing around with the mechanic of clockwise movement, the technical stuff regarding level design and the part where you can alter the track by clicking or touching doors. The first and second versions were meant for pc, the third was made for Android, and the one I’m building now can be played on multiple platforms.

This last iteration will be the final product, the game I’m actually going to finish. I made a website, finished the demo which you can download for PC, Linux and Android devices. I’m planning to put the game on Steam greenlight, the Google play store, the Windows store, etcetera. The only thing keeping me is finishing the video/trailer to show some gameplay. I’m not very good at marketing and the intricacies of video editing seem to elude me. But I’m trying nonetheless. This is my very first selfmade indie game and I’m going to promote and support the hell out of it.
In this state of anxiety and anticipation, I wasn’t prepared for what comes next.

Then it hit me
Two weeks ago I was roaming around indiegames.com to check out the latest releases. One of those games is called Back to Bed, featuring the exact same clockwise movement as my game. On top of that, the protagonist is a sleepwalking guy trying to reach his bed. The only difference is that you walk around as a dog trying to alter the sleepwalker’s path. The design seems very similar.
I took a deep breath. Nasty thoughts started crawling into my head. That game is made by a dutch team, I live in Antwerp, Belgium which is just around the corner. So someone very near to me must have stolen my idea. Probably that good-for-nothing artist I tried to hire. It just can’t be a coincidence, impossible.
I scrolled down to the comments and someone thought the whole sleepwalking thing wasn’t very original. Ocean software already made a platformer in 1993 about a sleepwalker whose dog must try to save him and get him back in bed. Back to Bed had very similar gameplay, you also walked around with a dog…
My anger faded away. Sadness filled its space. Why did this happen to me? Every comment I will get will be about that other, similar game with Dali-esque art. I guess it’s better to just post about it and get some more opinions. But the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced this is nobody’s fault. The theme I chose only a year ago just fits the simple AI of the protagonist. The only thing missing is the dog… I’m lucky I only use doors to manipulate his behavior instead of some faithful pet.

I talked about it with my wife. She was equally disappointed because she also believed I had something unique going here. The easy way out, by simply not releasing the game became very tempting for a minute. But realising what an incredible amount of work I would flush down the toilet brought me back to my senses. I remembered all the great advice about actually finishing a game, the relief and satisfaction it brings. After some deliberation I decided to go for it and release it into obscurity. Just put it in online stores and see what happens. Maybe someone would buy it out of pity?

At this time I can honestly say I’m over it. When you take a look at the new indie games coming out on Steam, or the games waiting on greenlight, almost every game has a predecessor with more than coincidal resemblance. For my peace of mind I’m glad I found out the way I did, before release and not afterwards. And I’m relieved that the similarities are pure coincidence.


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Comments


Ippokratis Bournellis
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Selling your game is not about being unique.
It is about how you positioning your product vs the other products.
If you manage to answer convincingly the question "why should anyone buy my game" - you have something.
Have a look at http://unity3d.com/learn/tutorials/modules/beginner/marketing-and
-pr/indie-marketing-principles I found the principles explained very interesting.

Christiaan Moleman
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That's a tough situation to be in. Independent invention happens all the time, but that doesn't make it suck any less when you experience it first hand. No matter how unique a mechanic you think you have, especially if it's a simple one, chances are someone somewhere has attempted something similar. I think the key is to make sure that a unique concept is never your game's only selling point. Since you already released it I guess it's a little late for helpful advice but I would say take comfort in the fact that even if the idea is not a 100% unique, whatever you make is always going to be uniquely your own take on that concept. Give two teams the same brief and they will make very different games. Just make the best damn game you know how.

And if someone compares your game to another, acknowledge any similarities, but calmly explain you arrived at your design on your own and maybe elaborate on what makes your game different. You might convince them to give your game a chance.

Christiaan Moleman
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I would add you shouldn't let that deter you from trying to do something original... Just try not to hang your game's entire success on whether or not it's the only game ever to do X, because that road leads to grave (and near-inevitable) disappointment. Unless you're a psychic, you can't know that someone else isn't having the exact same idea at this very moment, or isn't already developing it.

Try new things and if you come up with an original fun concept, great! Just make sure that if it turns out there ARE others - or worst case, someone does actually clone your idea - your game stands on its own merits. The more personal the game, the more likely it will be unique in all the details that matter.

Phil Maxey
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I'll echo what was said above, basically never base anything you do on a "unique concept" but do base it on being "good", and even if it was a totally original idea (which frankly don't exist anymore) if it was any good, 5 seconds after you released it there would be a 100 clones, so your moment in the sun wouldn't last very long.

Kevin Fishburne
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I felt a bit like that when I began researching Ultima Online, although it was more "wow not only did they do it but they did it times ten". On the other hand, I also discovered there were some gameplay features I'd planned that had either never been done, or done poorly. The way I look at it, on a planet with seven billion people all scratching and fighting to be successful and make their mark on their respective fields, all connected by media and the Internet, these things happen and their occurrence is increasing in frequency. Before long we'll be the Borg and individual creativity will be read about in history books. :)

Brandon Kidwell
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Nothing is inherently original anymore. It's about telling the story from a different perspective or adding in something that wasn't there before. It's all about perception.

Juliette Dupre
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Words to live by, "We/I didn't invent the ___, we/I made it better."

In a world with an estimated 108 billion people that have lived on it, it's extremely rare to come up with an idea that no one else has ever had, or maybe is having the same time as you. Make it yours, make it better, make it the best you think it can and should be. Those are the products, games, whatever, that are usually successful. Not necessarily the first.

Soren Nowak
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Back to Bed isn't dutch - it's made in Denmark and was started in 2011 as a student game. Just for the record.

Bernie M
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Also it's a Monument Valley clone. So everything is a clone of something...

Todd Boyd
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Monument Valley came out well after.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monument_Valley_(video_game)

Bart Stewart
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A game designer has two options. You can keep your core game idea to yourself and expose it only when the game is released. You'll then have to explain that you came up with it independently from previous similar games. (Note that the smaller the game, the harder it will be to persuade the skeptics.)

Or you can publicly describe your core gameplay idea, along with an equally public declaration that you're certain no one, in the history of humanity, has ever come up with that idea before. Depending on where you post that, it's a good bet that you will quickly learn about prior examples of similar art. ;)

Nikolas De Noel
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Thanks for the advice everyone! I didn’t realise I was going to be so protective of my game. This emotional outburst tricked me into writing about it :)
Also, for the record: Marketing and publishing a game is new to me. I’m a programmer by trade. I write code for a living. All the other aspects of releasing a game are very engaging and I must admit I underestimated the work/stress that comes with it.

Kevin Fishburne
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Writing a game (from the perspective of doing most everything yourself) is one of the most intimate things you can do. It's not just your baby, it's your baby whose entire genome you carefully created, tested and revised. While this may sound a bit crazy, I think it's about as close to being God as we'll ever get, and God loves his children, right? So no worries. These sorts of personal revelations are more insightful and revealing than a lot of the posts here. If it's what you love, keep doing it. Creation's always been a hard road.


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