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#5 The Runemaster's Diary Postmortem

First of all this is gonna be super long. I want to talk about everything I put into this game so that maybe someone reads this and finds it useful. This includes: how were the 5 years of development, design decisions, learning skills, organizing a project, marketing, improving and maybe other stuff.

I grew a lot as a person in this time, and I'll also talk a little bit about that. Lack of motivation, personal events, changes, stages of my life and stuff. I'm going to start from the beginning first.

The First Idea

The first thing I found about The Runemaster's Diary is the following picture from June 13, 2018. I've always liked to daydream stories about me going to different worlds where fictional characters live before bed. I've been doing it since I was like 7 and it has always felt like telling myself a story before sleeping.

As I grew up (teenage years and early adulthood) I started borrowing elements from stories and making up my own characters instead of only using existing fictional characters. My characters would always have some element from a show I liked or things like that. For example they would have transformations from DBZ, or the Tessaiga from Inuyasha, or spirits from Shaman King.

On June 2018 I decided to make something different: "What if I made up something completely original this time?". I daydreamed of a young swordsman apprentice who had the special ability that he could see a couple of seconds into the future. But everyone else in the world had strong magical powers, so the young swordsman was constantly discriminated and picked on and felt powerless.

I was watching My Hero Academia at the moment and fell inspired to make a main character that could win by wits and experience more than raw power. Flashforward 6 months and I daydreamed a lot of the world building, abilities were changed, characters were made and the magic system was crafted. I won't go into a lot of detail because if I get to tell the story in the future I don't want to spoil it.

But at this point Mac was born, and his brother Ken too! I also started talking to my friends about this idea I had, and they thought it sounded cool. So I decided to make a game about it.

5 Years of Development

I had only made a single game before for a gamejam, it was called _escape_. I made it in Unity, but at the moment I decided I didn't like the engine and wanted to try something different. So I started searching for the perfect engine to make my game.


So I spent like a month deciding on which engine was "The Best" but I always found something I didn't like:

A month passed and I realized I haven't done anything. It got to a point where I said "You know what? The next thing I try is the thing I'll use, doesn't matter what it is!". And that's when I tried Love2D, a framework which had more disadvantages than pygame, but if I didn't started I was never going to make a game.

The first months of development were a little slow, I started by implementing the mechanics of a basic RPG. I knew I wanted to make an RPG for this story, but I had no plan, I was just winging it. I started dating the month before and took an internship for the summer, so I didn't had a lot of time.

By March 2019 I managed to make a debug room with top down movement and a dialog system. I had to implement my own classes to use object oriented programming and also made base of the software architecture. So not a lot of visible progress but a lot of effort was made.

During those months I had two days a week where I would work in the game at night. I would spend most of the time with my girlfriend or at work.

After this classes at the University started again (I was in 5th year in computer science by this point). Studying pretty much killed most of the time I could spend working on the game. Relationships take time and I prioritized spending time studying and hanging out with my girlfriend.

Without going into too much details I broke up with her on May 2019. The desicion was super hard, but I realized I was not happy with our relationship and also felt I was always out of time. She didn't took it so good and the breakup was rough.

The next couple of months felt like hell. My ex used every chance she got to tell me I sucked and it got to a point where I had to avoid her completely. My grades at uni dropped, I had my first panic attack ever and I felt anxious 24/7. I don't want to talk about exactly what she said to me.

Before I continue, I want to say that I don't resent her for it. We both had a lot of growing up to do, and stuff to figure out. I hope she is happy now and has a fulfilling life.

But anyways, you may have guessed that my motivation for working on the game was completely on the floor. For the next months I focused on my mental health and passing my classes. I started working on the game again on August 2019.

In the following months I implemented a simple cutscene system that emulated that cutscene at the start of Undertale. I also worked on an event system for the part of the game I dubbed "The Overworld", basically the top-down part of the game. I started designing the battle system and started implementing the battle application.

In October 2019 my motivation had another big drop as the "Estallido Social" happened in Chile. Basically after they increased the fee for the subway system (which had been increasing pretty drastically in the last couple of years) school students all over santiago started entering to the subway without paying. Everyday more students stopped paying the fee and started to disturb the function of the subway. Finally hundreds of cops were dispatched to deal with them and that basically was the straw that broke the camel's back.

The discontent of Santiago's population has been growing over the last couple of years because of privatized medical insurance and the obligatory privatized pension system. Apart from this the cost of living has been going up consistently and rapidly in the last years and wages were not increasing accordingly. So a lot of protests and chaos ensued that night, people robbed supermarkets and commercial outlets and stuff, most of people were peacefully protesting in parks and outside the subway entrances.

And so the president didn't have any better idea than to pin this on "incredibly smart terrorists" and declared an emergency state. Curfews and discontent, police violence, a goverment that felt completely disconnected from the people it represents. It felt like a bad dream, I just couldn't believe the response of the authorities.

Welp, that meant that there was no energy for game development. I spent most of the time during that time reflecting on what was happening and keeping myself sane. My family is right wing and I'm on the left side, so I felt aisolated and pretty depressed during that time.

Progress on the game started to pick back up in January 2020. I managed to start working on actual game rooms! Also the battle system worked kinda! I started working on the story I wanted to tell, deciding the structure of the game, how long would it be, etc.

Things started to look better, the rest of the world started to catch up that what the government was doing was fucked up. I started going out again, felt better. But if you were alive on 2020 you know what happens next.

March 2020, the start of the pandemic, Covid-19 was running rampant and spreading quickly. This gave the government an excuse to extend the curfews and the emergency state, what a joke. If people have to stay inside their homes they can't protest, its genius!

So yeah, felt pretty depressed again and progress on the game started to go at snail pace. I also had to power through those feelings because I was working on my thesis. My teacher didn't helped me a lot, he was good at asking for more stuff, I ended up releasing a paper based on my thesis because my teacher wanted. "The research is already done so it should be easy." HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH (the paper alone took me 2 months of work).

Lets fastforward a bit to December 2020, I defended my thesis a month prior and got my diploma, I was an Engineer in Computer Science. So I decided to take 3 months to make the first area of the game. My idea was to make a 3 hour long game in this time, before I started looking for work in March.

During this time I started learning the basics of 2D animation for the battle system. I quickly realized that it was harder than I thought, I had to maintain a schedule where I was my boss. I worked overtime, I didn't had a plan, I didn't know how to organize myself.

I managed to have a demo of the game working by March 2021. The demo was 1-hour long, had a lot of bugs but it was made with a lot of passion and effort. I made all the music, art and code. I bought some sound effects from itch.io and made something with a start and an end.

On March 2021 I started working on the next area of the game as I started looking for work. I wanted to start earning money so I could leave my parents house. Being independent was something I wanted since I was 14, so it was pretty important to me.

By the end of March I understood that I was never going to finish this game at the pace I was going. I needed tools to make game development faster. I needed to make a level editor.

Love2D doesn't have an integrated level editor like Unity or Unreal Engine. You only have code, which is cool for implementing features and optimizing stuff. But it sucks when you have to just make a lot of content for the game.

During April 2021 I started working on a level editor for my game, and by the end of the month I had a prototype in Qt5. During that same month I managed to get a job in a place I was an intern in my university years (non gamedev related). So my plan was that the level editor would make room creation a lot faster, to the point I could go back to working on my free time and still be able to release the game on December of that year.

That was wishfull thinking though. I spent my free time on may and June making the trailer for the game, making basically no progress on the game itself. Turns out making a trailer takes a lot of time, research and thought.

During the next months I managed to make a lot of new rooms, but struggled to fill them with things to do. I was not giving myself the time to design, I would implement an interaction and discard it, then try again and again and again. If you've played the game, the room with a lot of pebs, I remade that room like 6 times during this period.

I couldn't do much progress during 2022, I prioritized other stuff. My mental health was in a very sorry state from the pandemic at the end of 2021, it started manifestating as physical health problems. By that point I saved enough money to start renting a place, I got in touch with a friend from school and we coordinated to rent a place together. I also started therapy because of a recomendation from my brother and some events where I lost control of my emotions.

2022 was a good year for my I think, sure I didn't made much progress on the game, but my mental health improved greatly. Vaccination was rolling out and I slowly started to go outside again. I didn't like my job, but my roomate was amazing and I grew so much during that year.

My health problems went away a couple of weeks after leaving my parent's house. I focused on relearning social skills and growing as a person. It felt crazy, I always joke that I spent 2019 to 2021 as a 23 year old and in 2022 I grew up 3 years.

By the end of 2022 more change happened that shook my life again. My roomate was going to leave and I couldn't find someone in time to share the apartment we lived in. We had some problems because I had to look for a new place to live pretty quickly, she also had to figure out a lot of logistics of her plan.

As a result we both started to leave beside our responsibilities with each other. Started to leave the common spaces more dirty, it was a mess. I have some regrets there, I should have talked to her about this and how I felt. But I let it all pile up and stuff.

Anyways, work was also pretty bad at the time. I was being preassured to do stuff with pretty short notice and one of my coworkers in particular was being super difficult. I felt stuck at work, I was not learning, I was not improving, I felt small and useless, imposter syndrome was at its peak.

So I decided to quit by the end of February 2023. The decision was not that hard, I needed some time to figure myself out and relfect on what I wanted from a job. Without 3 things happening on the side that is. I saved enough money to live for like a year by myself, plenty of time.

After two weeks of vacation I quickly grew bored, and I decided that I wanted to finish The Runemaster's Diary. And so it starts, the best months of my life.

I started making a routine, with time to organize stuff, increase productivity, marketing and gamedev time. I also made a roadmap with weekly progress goals. At the start of each week I would check out how last week went and adjust the roadmap, adjusting the scope and cutting content when necessary. It was important I didn't work overtime, I have learned by experience that doing so slowly decreases productivity and its super hard to recover from it.

The next months I would follow my routine, learning about marketing, and making content for the game. My mindset for working on the game here is that I didn't wanted to leave anything incomplete. I forced myself to finish every level and room to the fullest before progressing to the next thing. I think that was a good call, if not I would have had a really bad time at the end.

The game was playable from start to finish on the month of July. Some things needed to be adjusted and improved, and also I had a lot of things in the backlog. But nevertheless it was a huge milestone, and it allowed me to start alpha testing. (Also my main social media platform: Twitter sucked so here I figured out my marketing campaign was a failure).

6 of my friends were interested in testing my game, I payed them for their time of course. The testing sessions lasted around two hours, as they played the game from start to finish. Here is where I realized 2 things: The game was fun, and also the usability of the game needs to be worked on.

With the feedback from testing the usability and user experience improved a lot. I also managed to implement one optional boss fight I wanted to make in the time I had. August and September were mainly fixing bugs and improving usability though.

At the start of October I finally released the game on Steam! I did not had time to rest though, there were three things I still had to do.

First of all, the fabled "First week patch", my game had some bugs at launch that crashed the game under very weird and specific circumnstances. Second was the spanish translation I promised to my friends who don't speak english. And finally I got into an event in my city called ExpoGame 2023 and I had to prepare to be there.

The patch thing went smoothly, like two people got the bug from the 20ish people who played the game in that time. The translation was a lot harder than I thought, the game had like 10000 texts that needed to be translated (some of these were paragraphs). And the Expogame was an experience in which I learned a lot and met so much cool people but also it was incredibly taxing on my introvert body and mind.

And that's the whole story, I'm now (15/12/2023) just getting back into gamedev after a break I took. I'm also currently looking for work as a Software Engineer, and plan to do gamedev on the side at least for a year. There's almost no gamedev jobs in my country so that's that. Anyways, I'll go into what I learned on each category/discipline and share some tips and things that helped me.

Organizing a Project

I wanted to start with this because I think it is what most people ignore. Organizing a project includes: deciding what are you going to make, steps to finish, how much time it will take you and constantly check to see if you are in a good spot and make adjustments to the plan.

A good place to start is to take a piece of paper and write the core of the game. The mechanics, the story, what part of this is fun, the length of the game, the approximate amount of content. This is what called a GDD in the industry, there are a lot of templates, but if you are not looking for a publisher I recommend just making something you understand.

Tip: If you are just starting I recommend making a 10 minute game, Looping Larceny is a pretty fun example of what you can do in 10 minutes.

Now you have what you are going to make, you have to make a roadmap. Basically a list of milestones you need to accomplish in order to finish the game. Try to make it so that each milestone takes you more or less the same effort and time.

Add the times you expect to accomplish each milestone to the roadmap.

What kind of game you should make

When working alone you have to consider yourself as the soul of the project. Don't make a project you can't make or you wouldn't make. A game is a reflection of what you are capable to do in this very moment. Don't make a game that needs beautiful 2D animation if you are not a 2D animator, play to your strengths.

The same goes when working on a team, you have to consider their strengths in your plan. And you need to change the plan constantly considering their physical and mental health too, I can't stress this enough, your team is the reflection of how the game will be. You need to have periodic meetings and adjust things, don't be afraid to cut content or features.

It's ok to make a game you want to make that requires a skill you don't have, but developing that skill is something you'll have to consider on the roadmap. Most of the time its best to take time to develop said skill first and then start making the game.


Tool Development

How to Steam

Motivation and Mental Health

Live Events Tips

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