How we Made Project GR

I’ve made a new videogame.

This one has an interesting story about it.

I taught videogame development at Lorain County Community College for five years, and I kept in touch with some of my brightest students since then. In January, I built a strategy game “skeleton”, but wasn’t interested in continuing work on it, so I emailed it to these old students, asking if they would be interested. They were, but life quickly got in the way, and nothing ever came of it. This was frustrating to me, because I knew these young men. They were all underemployed (like millennials are), working at fast food or assembly jobs. They have so much potential, and it hurt to see such potential unfulfilled.

So I realized; I had set them up to fail. If I wanted them to learn and achieve, I’d need to flip this script. Instead of throwing code at them and walking away, I’d need to be there for them, working together intensely, shoulder-to-shoulder. We could use my C++ engine, and I’d be there to teach them how to use it. Perhaps a month of intense effort was called for.

I discussed it with my wife, and she was supportive. She even told me to clear out the basement, and use it as the common workplace. Since I’m a big fan of small game companies starting in humble places, I liked the idea too.

Then I discussed the idea with my former students. John, Hunter, and Donald told me they wanted to be part of the project. We had several lunch meetings in June, where we decided on making a hex-grid, turn-based strategy sci-fi game. We needed a team name, so someone found a heavy-metal band name generator webpage, and it gave us the silly name Gore Slayer.

So on July 20, the four of us started work on what we called Project GR-5LYR. We got Visual Studio, Discord, and Perforce set up on all our Windows machines. We made a run to OfficeMax for cheap task chairs and a whiteboard. We mounted my big monitor on the wall, so we could share our screens. Donald dragged in his Wacom tablet. We laid in snacks, and they cluttered my upstairs fridge with sodas.

We made a facebook page,
We live-streamed our dev pit;

Then these guys worked their tails off, giving me every hour of every weekend, plus every week-night (after their day jobs). Hunter slept in my basement four times. Every bad possibility was avoided. Nobody got sick, or ghosted. Nobody had family emergencies. As the leader, and the experienced indie game developer, I was there every day too.

Donald produced all the art. He was especially good at cranking out buildings and units. We joked that he was sending us unit images faster than we could put them into the data files. I don’t have a video player in my engine, so he used code and art assets to produce the opening, win, and lose cinematics.

Hunter took responsibility for the tactical battle mode. He quickly got units moving and attacking, but continued to hammer out the unit behavior and GUI throughout the project. He also had a hand in coding almost everything else.

John worked on the strategic map; the buildings, caravans, events, and missions. He designed and coded the mission objective system. He had a strong vision for how it would work, and doggedly implemented it.

And I mostly just helped and guided. Throughout the month I happily got out of the way; they never left something to me because “it was too hard” or they “didn’t have time”.

One month later, on August 20 (at 12:20am), we submitted our 1.0 build to Steam for approval. We’d created strategic and tactical map generators, 11 buildings, 22 units, dozens of attack effects, dozens of scripted and generated “missions”, over 200 art bitmaps, and thousands of lines of C++ code. I couldn’t be prouder of what they accomplished.

Donald, Hunter, and John all have ambitions going forward. I want to continue to try to nurture that. But now they have something they didn’t have a month ago; a complete, published videogame. They can proudly say, “I made this.”