An Odyssey Of Unfinished Projects – How To Never Release A Game And Still Be Happy

While the quest continues, here are the lessons I've learned (and continue to remind myself of) each time I start a new project.

Greetings, fellow gamers, aspiring developers, dreamers, and anyone else struggling to be a “completer finisher.”

Since founding the studio five years ago, I’ve worked on over a dozen projects, but if you haven’t heard of me, that’s no surprise, as I have yet to release a game. You may be wondering why. Trust me, it’s a question I often ask myself, too.

To that end, I’d like to take you on a creative meander into indie game development, at least my world of indie game development. I hope to share some of the lessons learned, the challenges embraced, and the joy of creating, even if your creations never see the light of day.

Like many of you, my journey began with an unyielding passion for crafting games that transport players to captivating new worlds, stimulate their intellects, and touch their hearts. I was, and still very much am, brimming with energy and creative ideas. I was like a knight setting out on a heroic quest, eager to embark on the exhilarating game development adventure.

Whilst the quest continues, here are the lessons I’ve learned (and continue to remind myself of) each time I’ve started a new project-

  1. Embrace unfinished masterpieces:
    Whether or not each project reaches a conclusive end, it carries its unique value.

    Games like “Hollow Knight” by Team Cherry and ConcernedApe’s “Stardew Valley” exemplify this. “Hollow Knight” took years to complete and evolved over time, while “Stardew Valley” was a labour of love that became a beloved masterpiece. These games show that the creative process is a marathon, not a sprint and that each step of the journey has value.

    Akin to collecting treasures and insights along the winding path of a grand quest, the experiences, skills acquired, and knowledge gained from each endeavour enrich my journey as a developer.
  2. The power of resilience:
    In indie game development, the ability to adapt and persevere is paramount.

    A shining example of resilience is “Cuphead” by Studio MDHR. The game faced numerous challenges and delays but became a critically acclaimed masterpiece that took the gaming world by storm. “Hollow Knight” is also a testament to the power of resilience, with its creators overcoming obstacles to deliver a beloved experience.

    Like navigating treacherous terrain, creating a game involves unexpected challenges and ambushes and requires perseverance and unwavering determination.
  3. Learn to Listen:
    The allure of fresh new ideas often leads to detours in the creative process.

    “Fez”, as infamously highlighted in “Indie Game: The Movie”, is a key example of this, with its developer Phil Fish endlessly iterating and following his creative instincts to create the now distinctive and memorable game.

    This magpie mindset, as I call it, draws me toward new, sparkling concepts, much like discovering hidden, mythical creatures amid a quest; it acknowledges the evolving nature of our creative spirit and the need to honour it.
  4. Foster a sense of fulfilment:
    The process of crafting, designing, and building a world serves as a therapeutic sanctuary amidst the daily hustle and bustle.

    “Stardew Valley” exemplifies this as ConcernedApe’s dedication and passion for creating a farming simulation game resulted in a title that fulfilled him and brought joy to millions of players.

    The act of creation can become the ultimate reward. It provides a sense of purpose and fulfilment, much like the inner peace and contentment that wash over a questing hero when they completes a noble mission.
  5. Embrace the creative process:
    The journey of conceiving new narratives, characters, and worlds is a source of profound joy, much like the excitement of exploring uncharted territories during a grand quest.

    “Celeste” by Maddy Makes Games embodies the joy of the creative process. This platformer game evolved, with the developer continually refining and expanding upon their initial ideas. The result is a testament to the beauty of an iterative creative journey, where each stage contributes to a richer final product.

    It’s the delight of discovering the unexpected intricacies that contribute to forming a unique narrative tapestry. The thrill of Imagining new stories, characters, and worlds has remained a steadfast companion throughout my journey, much like the faithful companions of a questing hero. Even in moments when a magpie has led me astray, it’s the joy of creation, coupled with the intrinsic benefits of a creative pursuit, which have served as a sanctuary during the solitary path of indie game development.

So, in closing, I offer this reflection: every creative endeavour holds profound meaning-
Embrace the creation process, whether or not a project reaches its conclusion. It’s not a reflection of failure but a testament to your creative exploration. The journey is an epic quest worth celebrating, filled with challenges, discoveries, and treasures.

Take time to indulge in the nuances and intricacies of creative pursuits, the lasting fulfilment they bring, and the enchantment of exploring the unfinished masterpieces and unicorn fantasies. Continue dreaming, continue creating, and celebrate the joy of your unique creative odyssey, whether or not anyone ever gets to see what you have made.

And on to the next project!