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January 5, 2012 / marvinhawkins

Postmortem: Hero The Journey Home

Happy New Year Everyone! I thought that it would be a great idea to kick off the new year, by looking back at old projects. I have always enjoyed reading Postmortems in Game Developer. It is always interesting learning what developers saw as key problems and wins in games that I have played. With that in mind, here is my crack at a postmortem for my first game attempt: Hero: A Journey Home. Hero was a First Person Shooter set during World War II. Although I never finished the game, I was able to create a prototype. Despite not finishing I learned many valuable lessons. Here are a few of them below.

What Went Right:

Drawing that was originally intended to be a menu screen

Actually Put Something On Screen:

Hero was one of the first games that I actually took off of the design document and put content on screen. As a wide eyed teenager, this was vital to my development (no pun intended) as a game developer. For the first time, I understood the impact of design decisions.  Previously, I thought that ‘game design’ was writing huge documents. The danger of this is you don’t know what’s fun. In my case, I also had no clue on what I could actually create with my skills. I could not code, yet I had a plan to create 50 levels, with different game play styles. I never got to the vehicle content, but at the very least I was able to create a First Person Shooter Prototype.

Learned How To Script:

Before I first started creating Hero, I didn’t know how to program. I had a classic case of “Idea Guy” syndrome. I thought that if I wrote a large enough design document, someone else would program it for me. With Hero, I was forced to myself to learn, and I’m  glad that I did. By being able to code, I feel that I could quickly test out concepts without having to to wait for someone else. As a designer, I can quickly see what is feasible and I have a better idea of how long tasks take to complete. I can’t recommend learning how to code enough. I would say that it is an essential skill for any new/wannabe designer.


What Went Wrong:

Feature Creep: 

Despite my success of rapidly prototyping, feature creep kept impacting my design approach. As an inexperienced developer, I thought that more was more.  I first came up with the idea for Hero in 2002. Back then the only World War II shooter was Medal of Honor. The whole concept of  Hero was born from the idea that no one had attempted to create a game set on the Eastern Front of combat. I thought that the new theme could create interesting gameplay scenarios. By the time I started building the prototype, I first heard of the Independent Game Festival. I thought that It would be a great idea to enter my game, but it needed something more. To add to the experience, I decided that the game needed multiple characters, vehicles, and more levels. I lacked the skill to realize that I did not have the ability to create this content. Later, I realized my mistake and severely cut back on the design. In my current projects, I always challenge the necessity of new content. If I get a new idea after I have started a game, I ask myself, “do I need this”? This simple tool has helped me save time and headaches.


Total Lack of Experience:

Hero was my first project that made it past the tinkering stage. Despite having worked on a few levels for Warcraft and Starcraft, I had no experience making games. This lack of experience is ultimately what killed this project. I didn’t know the level of effort that game development took. Using 3D Gamestudio did help make game development a bit easier as I did not have to create a game engine. I never would have attempted a first person shooter out of the gates had I known how difficult it would be. The one saving grace was that I got a lot of experience writing game design documents. This time probably would have been better spent researching how to create gameplay mechanics. These are procedures that only come from experience.


I did end up with some cool portfolio material, and a ton of experience, but no game.  Luckily, these lumps helped shape future projects. My new mantra is: “prototype first, then design”. I will always remember Hero for the hard lessons that it taught me.

Other Things Learned:

  • Know when to kill projects
  • Know when to say “No” to certain features
  • Start SMALL, then divide that effort in half, and cut it again
  • Everything will take twice as long (3 times as long if you are as new as me)



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