This past weekend I released a new game, Brendan Keogh’s Putting Challenge. The title is both a reference to that Simpson’s episode, and also following the excellent 2018 tradition of Australian gamemakers putting their name on their games (Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy, Grace Bruxner Presents The Haunted Island, A Frog Detective Game).
This project started with me wanting to return to Unity to make a large map that you could explore and just find a whole bunch of stuff in. Like an enchanted forest where you just walk forever in one direction and then just find some kids smoking at a skate park or something. After a little while I realised I really wasn’t in a position to return to Unity, that any Unity project was just going to be too intensive for me at the moment, and also that such a project, even if I was to use ‘bad art’, would still need art way better than I could produce.
So then I decided I’d just make a big world to explore in Pico-8 because at least that’s doable for me. I can figure out 8×8 pixel art. But then I decided to take a small golf prototype I already had sitting on my computer and combine the two together into a ‘golf game with the boring bits left in’. So essentially the world is a golf course, you can play a full round of golf, but you have to walk everywhere yourself rather than getting teleported to where the ball landed on your last swing, and if you wanted you could just wander off and see what else is out there.
Some early tweets of the game when I first started working on it got some traction, and I got really into the project, and I decided to really commit to it. The end product is probably the most polished game I’ve released to date.
Most of my previous projects, especially when I was doing my game-a-week project last year, were mostly just the bare minimum required to express the idea. Trash games through and through. No time wasted on polish. They did the thing. For this game, long past the moment where I could’ve gone ‘this’ll do’ and chucked it on itch, I kept working on it, adding little polish details and improving readability and isolating bugs.
It was a really fascinating experience! And a whole different side of game development than the one I dipped my toes into last year. The cliche is that the last 10% takes 90% of the time, and this is completely true in game development, as I’d seen my students encounter time and time again. There is so much work between something that functionally does the thing, and something that is polished and stable and which actually just feels good. The problem, from an actually doing-the-work point of view, is that this end of the process can be far less rewarding in the moment-to-moment. In the early moments you’re building entire systems, adding entire core functions. For that final 10%, you’re putting in massive amounts of work that are largely invisible to the player. They’ll know if it isn’t there, to be sure, but you don’t get the same tangible feeling that you’ve achieved a massive amount. It can really become a slog.
But it was great to get some experience of this! To dedicate to a project rather than abandon a project. And also, since it was Pico-8, which has strict restrictions on code length and memory, I was constantly having to think of different, more efficient ways to do things, which was a whole new experience, too.
As such, I’ve put a $1 paywall on this game. I’m very happy to release trash games for free, but I think it is unethical to release a game for free that could be sold for money. It contributes to the overall devaluation of gamework, regardless of whether you need the money or not. So far fewer people are going to play this game I spent so much time on, but I feel content limiting it to those who are willing to pay $1 for the amount of work I put into it.
Brendan Keogh’s Putting Challenge is available on my itch.io page, here.