It’s been a long time since I’ve finished a game.
I’ve been working on English Warrior for a few months now. The decision to make it a smaller, more manageable project was a good one. I’ve gotten slightly burned out from making games that teach English to Japanese students, even though I think the task is a good one. The fact is, it was starting to feel like a business—like I was making these to make money, even if no money was coming from them.
Business. Busy ness. Just a way to stay busy.
Because although I think they’re valuable, and a good use of my time, they didn’t personally satisfy me like my writing does. Or, in a strange way, like my gaming does. Even though I was producing, they didn’t feel like they were what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life.
Now, that’s a weird thing to say, because I think I would much rather be making games to help people learn while they’re having fun, and compared with my day job of teaching English, I think there’s a lot of potential to effect some really interesting change.
Yet the act of making video games awakens something primal in me: the urge to express. This is something I’ve wanted to do since I was young. And while I think I’ve made some decent products, they’ve been made for others. My students. Japanese English learners. I’ve poured myself into them, and they each contain a part of myself, but they haven’t been made for me.
The Reason We Move
I had recently been working on English Warrior in my school office largely because I couldn’t do it at home anymore. It had stopped being fun to make. Not having much better to do, I could work on it at school, but once I got home, things stopped. It’s true of New Horizons too. The projects don’t speak to me like they had in the past.
A lucky, strange thing happened. One day, in the middle of work, I added something to English Warrior. It was something mundane, like a few trees, or some battle detail, or a treasure chest location. Suddenly, I felt like the project was done. Not actually, as there was testing and other small details to iron out. But practically, in that the end finally came into sight. Out of nowhere, my will changed. I was moving.
I got home, and I kept working. I tested the game. Time flew by.
I’d like to say that I work on these games at home because they mean something to me. Certainly, it’s why I write. It’s why my schedule isn’t always consistent, even if I do it often enough. It’s why I consume media. I got the same feeling when I started working with RPG Maker, and sporadically while I do it. These moments pop up, and I think it’s because they dip into something that’s… Fulfilling? Fun? I’m not sure. Like when I’m making the rough outline of an area. Designing the world map. Writing a meaningful scene.
But they also come out when I’m finishing something up; when something is close to being presentable. It was especially true with English Warrior. For a long time, the game was very prototype-y. By RPG Maker standards, it means I’m using the default assets, not focusing on what music to add or how well the game feels. The game was “playable” from day 1, but it wasn’t until day 50 that I felt like it was “presentable”.
Why do I spend this effort? To create things meaningful to me, and to present something to others. And that desire to present has made this recent game very doable. These final moments have been some of the easiest time to work on the game.
That is to say, I’ve finished it. Well, close enough. I still need to proofread some of the Japanese, add voiceovers for the challenges, and there’s a weird bug I’m not sure how to fix, but it’s all basically there. It’ll be on the website soon. It’s much smaller than the small project I intended it to be, and yet I think it’s actually a better product because it’s scaled back. It doesn’t hide a lot of its content behind walls. Players can access some interesting English challenges from the get-go, even if they don’t have to do them.
One of the biggest—and perhaps most obvious—things I learned from the still in-progress New Horizons game is that a creator gets better as they go along. As a result, sometimes the better content is hidden behind the earlier, worse content. That is definitely the case with New Horizons. Not that the beginning is bad, but the later bits of the game are much better than the earlier bits. Thankfully, the newness of the experience lets players survive the beginning, but as I saw my kids play, I saw that the second bit was much better built than the first bit. That’s a shame. It’s also a reality of the craft.
In writing, writers often rewrite the first chapter(s), not because they were bad, but because they weren’t nearly as good as the end, and the first chapters matter. Another weakness New Horizons had from the start was my difficulty cutting things. Make no mistake: I cut things. But English Warrior’s relative smallness let me completely scrap the original beginning for the better.
Is English Warrior the perfect study tool? Is any tool perfect? It’s a good supplement. I think anyone learning English who likes RPGs can find something to enjoy in it. It’s a short game that doesn’t ask for much, but it could be very useful to someone willing to delve into it.
I won’t say publicly what my next project is yet, but it’s very close to home. No English-learning-game. This is one from the heart. For me, myself, and I.
But I hope ya’ll enjoy it too.