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I have one game idea that has stuck with me for a long time that I'm using as my inspiration for getting into game design, and I want to make sure I make it to the best of my ability. Aside from the tutorial projects and "Hello World"s of the engine I plan to use, I want this idea to be my first big project, but I'm worried I won't be able to do it justice without the experience of a few other games under my belt.

For context, I've been programming full-time for a while, so I'm not worried about making spaghetti code like Yandere Dev, my primary concern is falling deep into design shortfalls or making a subpar finished product.

Is it foolhardy to make my "big idea" my first major project, or should I do a few other projects first to work out any growing pains?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is more of a discussion-oriented question where opinions differ. Such questions don't work too well in the Q&A system of Stackexchange. You might want to ask this on a more discussion-oriented platform. Like Reddit, for example. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Sep 21, 2023 at 12:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ But if you want my opinion: Start every project with the smallest scope possible! Estimating the effort to complete a software development projects is always too low, so when your first estimation already makes you wonder if you might be biting more than you can chew, then you are probably far beyond your capabilities. And feature creep from new ideas during development will only blow up the scope even more. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Sep 21, 2023 at 12:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd agree that most questions of this form are opinion-based discussions, but I think "should I make a big ambitious game as my first project" is a special case where the community has strong consensus that the correct answer is an emphatic NO. 😉 I tried to explain the rationale below in more detail than a comment allows, but I'll of course defer to the will of the community if folks vote to close this question instead. \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Sep 21, 2023 at 12:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ My advice is: don't get too attached to your game ideas. If you want to start with this one, start with it. Maybe you'll fail, maybe not. You can always try the same idea again if you want to. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 22, 2023 at 5:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ You can do both. Pick a small part of your "big idea", and implement a full game around it. Plan for it to take no more than a month or two (it will probably take about a year that way :D ). It will give you both the experience you need in game development and a good insight into how well that part of the big idea works. The next three small parts of your "big idea" should be a lot more grounded and easier to plan and execute, and you'll end up with a few small finished games. Then you can see if it makes sense to make a bigger one :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Luaan
    Sep 22, 2023 at 6:51

3 Answers 3

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There's a saying among game developers, "your first ten games will be bad, so get them out of the way as fast as possible".

By this reasoning, you should not make your big idea first. In fact, you should make something very small first.

You will make many, many mistakes on your early projects, but that's not as bad as it sounds. These will be instructive mistakes, that give you first-hand experience in what can go wrong, how to spot it early, and how to fix it.

When these mistakes happen in a massive project you've sunk months or years into and you dearly want to succeed, it's heartbreaking, and bringing it back on track can add months more to the project, which can be completely demoralizing.

But when they crop up in small 1-4 week experiments that were just stepping stones to you anyway, it's not so bad. You can scrap the whole thing and start fresh with your new and improved understanding of the problem.

Games and game developers both get better through iteration, so give yourself a good few runs before you tackle something ambitious. Your first game will not be your dream game, but you can work up to it. And by the time you get there, your dream itself will have evolved, you'll have a better idea of what it needs to succeed, so you have a more accurate target to aim for from the start.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would like to add that a good opportunity to complete your first couple mistakes can be to participate in a couple short game jams, like those that are held regularly on itch.io. The short deadline prevents you from overscoping, and you are guaranteed to get an audience that is able to give friendly but knowledgeable feedback in form of the other participants. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Sep 21, 2023 at 12:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Solid advice, @Philipp, thank you. Think I should make this answer a Community Wiki so you can add it directly to the body? \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Sep 21, 2023 at 12:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not to mention that it's incredibly helpful to learn to actually finish the games, no matter how small - it's not particularly useful to start ten game projects without wrapping them up; that's not going to teach you how to make games, just how to keep starting over and over :D Even if the games don't work out quite as nicely as you hoped, wrap them up and do some polishing before moving on - it's much easier on a small project and it provides incredibly valuable experience and habit. It's really easy to fall into the trap of just starting over when things don't go the way you expected. \$\endgroup\$
    – Luaan
    Sep 22, 2023 at 6:49
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Are you doing this as a hobby or a business?

If it is a hobby, go ahead and do whatever you are enthused and motivated to do. If that's your big idea then do that. Realistically, you're unlikely to meet the vision you have in your head, but so long as you enjoy making it then you've reached every requirement of being a hobby.

If it is a business, then you need to consider whether the time invested in your big idea is going to be financially viable. The answer, most likely, is no. It's also no for most projects you can attempt but you can at least start creating a revenue stream and building a reputation before embarking on a grander project.

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Does the grand vision require a huge game (eg a MMO) and wouldn't work otherwise?

If yes, you are doomed in any case. It does not matter whether you start with the big game or the many small ones, you will not complete your grand vision. This needs a team, not just few friends that have their own ideas they would like to develop. So, the path you should probably take is the one of most near-term enjoyment. Will you be happier working on a grand game, thinking about it and making bits and pieces even knowing it will never go anywhere? Pick that. Or will you be happier that you completed several little games even if they don't resemble your grand idea? Pick that instead.

But maybe you can scale down your idea to minimum viable product (MVP) that would take you only a month to make in theory (and 6 in practice) even if the full grand game would take years? Then, both approaches will get you to your MVP eventually. Motivation to do/learn something is generally more important than better help available when going the simpler well-beaten path. So you are likely to actually learn more doing game you love (unless you are really motivated). But it also has traps a smaller well-contained existing game does not:

First, if you manage to find reasonable MVP route for your idea, make sure to keep to your MVP plan until it is completed, or those months will quickly become "never". Those other great ideas can wait on various notes until the core of it mostly works. On the other hand, starting with well-known stuff means that you probably don't want to implement some great ideas for say Tetris - no scope creep.

Second, make a plan and time it. If something you estimated for 10 hours took 40, no problem actually, simply multiply all your estimates by 4. Did not account for a module taking 1/3 of your total time so far? Add 50% to the whole project; it won't be the only thing you missed. Testing (= playing with it) took another 1/3 of total time? Another 50%. Worked 10 hours a week on average instead of 20 you planned to? No problem, twice the calendar time to complete. Etc. The point is to know how long it will really take and if you still want that. You might perhaps opt to ditch some bits for now - yeah you will remove the "Viable" from MVP (or you made mistake and didn't have "Minimal"), but at least something will be done. Well-beaten path? You should still make your own estimates from the start, but you will have good idea how much you will overshoot them right when you start.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the response that targets many different angles! Would it be beneficial information to include in the main question that the idea is for a Metroidvania that combines 2d platforming to move and dodge (a la Hollow Knight) with rhythm-game elements to attack (a la DDR)? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 22, 2023 at 13:26

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