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Time is an Illusion, Timeboxing Doubly So

I started to take my work on side projects pretty seriously recently. I was frustrated with how little I’d accomplished in a six month period. I was looking for something that would help me be more effective with my effort and let me get through more projects. My thought was that I would learn more about game development by releasing whole games rather than starting half a dozen projects.

Six Sentences An Inspiration

This is where Yahtzee Croshaw comes into things. I’ve been enjoying his work since his adventure game days, though that’s not what he’s famous for these days. Recently, he started a game development diary series, where he’s trying to roll out twelve games in a twelve month period. He talks about his motivations for doing so in the first episode. To summarize, he wants to iterate quickly on novel game play concepts, he finds marathons burn him out more than sprints, and if you’re going to call yourself a creative, you’d damn well better create and release things.

What is timeboxing and why would you do it?

I have similar feelings and took a bit of inspiration from his series; I too am going to try to release small standalone games or programs in a regular cadence to sharpen my own chops and prove to myself it can be done. We’re both using a technique called timeboxing. To paraphrase wikipedia, timeboxing is a project management technique where you divide work up into fixed intervals of time on a calendar. You’ll be working on some related group of features or functionality for a week, or a month, or a quarter.

There are a couple of things that constrain a project: time, budget, scope, desired quality. For my side projects, I’m essentially working for myself. There’s no budget or quality constraints outside of “whatever Seabass will tolerate.” Scope is pretty much defined by the project itself, at least for me; I like to know what I’m trying to build before I set out to build it.

The time constraints of the project are, for a given project, the only knob I can fiddle with, and it appears that I really need to fiddle with that knob to accomplish things. I’ve been working on an RPG in the vein of Mystic Quest for about six months now, and I don’t really see the path to completion. Or rather, I know what it’ll look like when it’s done, but I don’t know when that’s going to be. Having that amorphous deadline, at least for me, really lets me lean in to my tendency to procrastinate.

Timeboxing is how I Made “Drunk Tank”

“Drunk Tank” is a very simple game I made over the course of May, with most of my effort coming over the long holiday weekend. As I said earlier, Yahtzee’s video diary inspired me to try a similar thing — make a set of games in a time bounded way to prove that it could be done and to improve my craft. Drunk Tank was born out of that desire to release something complete and playable on a tight cadence. Having the time bound encouraged me to scope the game reasonably, to work on it regularly, and now that I can see the finish line both on the calendar and in the issue management system, I’m extremely excited to finish.

I plan on posting Drunk Tank for public consumption over the weekend. There are a few outstanding issues that need resolved before drunk tank comes out:

  • Character Select Portraits to Distinguish Between Player Characters
  • Different Stats for Different Characters
  • Fiddling with sprite depth so wipes work as intended
  • Changing timing on wipe events so that wipes work as intended

Fixing those issues, posting the game, and writing up a retrospective is what I plan on doing with my project time over the weekend. Look for those posts coming soon. I’ll try to be a little more talkative about my June project, so you aren’t just seeing some thoughts on process and a retrospective at the end.

Published inGame DevelopmentSoftware Development