Swamp Trek took me around two months to make. Well, actually I should say it took me a year to make Swamp Trek. Why? While the work on the game itself took two months, the rest of the year I was planning other games, games that were so complex and grand that I would never be able to finish them.
Like many beginning game designers, I had a grand idea for a game. I got to work planning the multitude of game mechanics, systems, and other features I thought the game needed. After planning this game for months, I thought I’d scale back some and make a different game, one focused on only a few of the ideas I had. But as it turned out, this new game wasn’t going to be much simpler as more features began to creep in.
Then I discovered Pico-8, and that changed everything. Pico-8 is a platform for making simple, retro-style games, and it looked like fun to work with. So I shelved my previous game and began work on an unnamed game, a game that would become Swamp Trek. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the original plan for this unnamed game was also overly complex; I still haven’t learned my lesson. This time, however, I was doing actual work on the game instead of just planning it, and actually doing the programming and logistics made me appreciate what it takes to create a game. This made me realize I still have a lot to learn.
This unnamed game was a mess. It would have been easy to scrap it, and it truly wouldn’t have been a terrible idea. But I had the game working to a degree, so I thought, “I learned quite a bit from failing up until now. Let’s see what I can learn from failing more.” With what the experience taught me, I could now better tell what wasn’t completely necessary. So I cut everything the game didn’t need and worked on reaching a near minimum level of completeness.
And that’s how I ended up with Swamp Trek. The game’s a mess, but it’s a mess that I completed. And thanks to it, I know what I have to do to learn game design.