Going long on short games

Let's take a look at my game dev history:

2008 - 2010: Whomps. A village sim driven by my then-obsession with genetic programming. Learned the difference between a game that's fun to play and a game that's fun to program. Never finished.

2010 - 2011: Dwarven Depths. A couch multiplayer game that's a cross between Bomberman and Dig Dug. Finished after 10 months of development.

2013 - 2018: Collision Bend. A conversation-er. Meant to be my Big Game, my dream project. Got bogged down, never finished.

2019 - 2020: Caravana. Platformer with trade route mechanics. Started as an LD jam, then spent a year on it and realized that the game wasn't fun enough to continue development. Never finished.

2020 - 2023: Moondrop. Roguelike farm sim. Scope expanded until it was worthwhile to release commercially. Released into Early Access in 2022, nearly finished.

2023 - 2023: Within a Dead City. A tiny 4X game inspired by Majesty. Developed in two months, finished.

2023 - 2023: sleep.Walker. A tiny narrative game and framework. Developed in two months with three other people, finished.

What stands out to me? The longer I spend on a game, the less likely it is to come out. Big ambitious projects linger around. I don't do enough prototyping, or rather I don't give up on prototypes early enough. (Thinking "This prototype will be fun if only I add X, Y, and Z" is a cardinal sin of the indie game dev. Recognizing the difference between A Vision and the dreaded scope creep is a key skill to hone.)

For 2023, I'm committing myself to making more short-form games on short dev cycles. To that end, I've joined forces with a group of like-minded devs in a project called Tiny Mass Games. We'll all be creating games on a two-month clock this year - sometimes collaborating, but most often working solo. We're attempting to each create four games in 2023.

The different participants in Tiny Mass have joined for different reasons, but here's what I'm personally looking to get out of a year of short-form games.

1) Fight scope creep. As I mentioned before, I'm always seeing the potential in the games I'm working on. I see where the game could go, if I only spend another (week / month / year) on it. With a short deadline for making a game, you have a natural counterbalance to the idea of trying to add more systems or additional complications. It forces you to focus on the core loop of the game, since you don't have much time for much else.

2) Earlier validation of game ideas. By getting a game out there after only two months of development time, the public (the lovely and completely merciless game-playing public) can pass judgment on your game idea early on. If they don't like it, you'll find out early. And because you had to focus on your core loop, you know right away whether or not your game idea works.

3) Get those game dev reps in. There's a lot of skills that aren't practiced enough as an indie game dev. Marketing and positioning, rapid prototyping, the underrated skill of actually finishing a game, and polish and juice. All of these are things you have to focus on with a short dev cycle. Counterintuitively, having less time to make the game means that you spend more time on polish. Polish is no longer something you can put off until some nebulous future date. Instead, you gotta consider it and start implementing it from the very beginning. You need to make sure your game looks and feels sharp from the get go.

We've finished our first two cyclex with TMG, and I'm very pleased with the project so far. I've released two games, Within a Dead City and sleep.Walker, and solved some fun game design challenges. I've worked with other people (always fun) and learned about new architecture patterns (Scriptable Object Architecture). The games are out there on itch, and people are enjoying them. Within a Dead City has gotten enough positive feedback that I'm taking development farther in preparation for a commercial Steam launch. It'll be in the Steam Next Fest next week! It's a rapid pace of development, but one that suits me just great. I get to work on all the game ideas I've been dreaming up. I can't imagine returning to the two-year development cycle.


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This is really inspiring! I really like Sokpop and Tiny Mass' style of short, self-contained games done within clear time limit. I think it's helping me combat my own tendency to let scope creep go on and on until the entire project becomes too overwhelming. 

On the other hand, I have also found that as I grow up and within what spare time can be squirreled away as working adults...short games are the coolest thing ever! Committing to a 200 hours game is difficult, but I can always find time to play a full run of Within a Dead City...or two. 

I feel you. I do a book club-style video game podcast with a couple of buddies, and we've all become parents over the last three years. We have to limit ourselves to a couple of longer games each year, and we always enjoy games that will quote-unquote "only" take 5 or 10 hours to get through. We definitely appreciate a game that only takes an hour to say what it wants to say.


Wow, it's really interesting to hear about your game development journey! Your diverse range of projects and experiences shows your dedication to learning and improving as a game developer.

I'm impressed by how you're taking this opportunity to enhance various skills, including marketing, rapid prototyping, and focusing on polish. It's true that these aspects are often overlooked or delayed in longer development cycles, so dedicating more time to them from the beginning can greatly enhance the overall experience

It's great to see that you're focusing on shorter development cycles to fight scope creep and get early validation for your game ideas. It's also nice to know that you're actively working on different skills and polishing your games from the beginning. Congratulations on the releases of Within a Dead City and sleep.Walker! Looking forward to seeing you more from Tiny Mass Games and good luck with your future projects !