Saturday, 21 July 2012

Focus on “Fun” and “Finished”…

Last week I installed the Java JDK, Eclipse, Andoid SDK, and the ADT Eclipse Plugin. I then followed the LibGDX starter project walkthrough.

That single class project weighing in at just 150 lines of code (including whitespace and proper formatting) does a lot. It uses an OpenGL camera, loads image files, draws them to screen, responds to user input, plays soundfx and music, and has a simple game mechanic that makes it a basic game. Not only that, the game could be played on my dev laptop, and on my Xperia Play with no code changes. I was impressed.

Instead of going on to create LibGDX pong and slowly working up from there (as was my original intention) I decided to play around with the example project a little. The bucket became a spaceship and the raindrops enemy UFOs (each had their own class), nobody had any weapons, the UFOs were kamikaze maniacs and moved at varying speeds, aim of the game – avoid being hit. I added the concept of score and health, for each successful evasion you earned 10 points, for each impact you lost 25 hp. Four hits and it’s game over. Still very simple, and kinda fun.

Next steps would have been to introduce weapons, after that more enemy types, then a highscore table, then animated sprites, then maybe an end of level boss, then lots of levels to work your way through. Before you know it I’d have my very own r-type clone on the marketplace! But that’s not what happened. I started worrying that I was doing it wrong, not following the ‘correct’ path, not making the right design decisions. I read a couple of great tutorials ( and and immediately tried to implement those best practices in my simple app. At this stage, as a beginner, it was overkill. I ended up with a confused mess of files, and when extending I was often unsure if I was putting code in the right place. It was so much more fun when I was freestyling, making it up as I went along. Sure it could end up biting me on the ass later, but maybe I should just deal with it later and focus on making a fun little app for now. That’s when I stumbled across this excellent blog post. Here are a couple of choice excerpts that resounded with me:

  1. Don’t Obsess – your code is your code and I know you love it but how beautifully shaped and how wonderful the architecture is doesn’t matter one bit to the end player, especially if the game doesn’t ever get to be playable. Do not obsess about your code. Make it work. Make it quick enough. Make it pretty. In that order.
  2. More than one way to skin a cat – there are many ways of approaching any problem in software. There are normally a set of “right” ways that are well explained in long tutorials on the web. You go off and read the tutorials and you start implementing… You’re not entirely sure you understand what you’re doing, but you just keep going. WAIT! STOP! How about you just code it the “wrong” way for now, just make it work and if it doesn’t feel right later replace it.

Wise words indeed.

Grand arcade games can wait. I’m going to follow my original plan – I’ll write a LibGDX pong game. Then I could take what I’ve learned and write a breakout game. Baby steps that result in regular releases of small working games. I’ll likely end up using really bad practices, but I’m doing this primarily for fun and the joy of creating a working game others can play, learning is a secondary concern. If and when bad design leaves me in a fix I will learn a first hand lesson and better understand the benefits of a rigid design pattern, but to start with I’m just gonna be jammin – I’m going to let myself make my own mistakes!

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