Whew. What a year it was! As you can guess, we've been through a lot. We wanted to note down our recap and lessons learned for our future-selves and anyone who's interested.
What Went Well
First and foremost, we achieved our goal of "pressing the release button". Although there were times we very much wanted to, we managed to not skip a month and have made 12 games in 2021. We believe this is an achievement in and of itself, to keep this streak intact. A year is a long time, and being able to focus on a side project and meet 12 deadlines is difficult to pull off.
For both of us, this has been a quite a journey. We have tested ourselves with the real-world problems a developer would face: designing and coding games together in a remote setup, dealing with lack of motivation, communicating with players, how and when to spare the time for the project, and many more. These problems themselves aren't strangers to us, but compressed together in 12 different projects, they've become something new to deal with, which led us to discover where our mental lines are drawn. We got to explore ourselves.
The prime conclusion we've arrived is that we are actually capable of undertaking such a challenge. In our future endeavors, we'll take this as granted, and say "hey we pulled TOGAM off, we can do this as well". This mindset gives a confidence that will allow us to focus on "how" instead of "if".
The way we have obtained this was mostly through "project management 101". Throughout the year, we did a lot of re-scoping on the fly, on the way of finding the sweet-spot of the scope that would fit into the month nicely. We were constantly aware of which day of the month it was, and where we were in the project. This became a second nature, or let's say had to, since we were always at most 3-4 weeks away from the launch. By the end, we had learned how to decide which features/mechanics need to go in, and which are optional. Through these exercises, we now have a much better understanding of what we can accomplish in a given timeframe.
In some of the entries (like Purple Haiku, Astral Souls and King's Edict), the design could be paper prototyped first, before the implementation. After the design discussions, these entries allowed us to tackle deep-design and code architecture tasks separately, and make them go in parallel. In time it turned out that, Enes is more excited to work on the design side of things, while the technical part feels more appealing to Atil. Without even realizing we fell into this spontaneous rhythm, where each of us took the other's work as granted and only focused on the one's domain. In other words, we have treated each others as departments. We have found our workflow in a quite natural way.
These design and tech efforts constituted most of our focus. Now, as you can guess, game development involves a lot of work with a variety of characteristics, and it's easy to get your focus all over the place and obtain sub-par results, while your mental health degrading along the way, which becomes even more relevant for semi-serious side projects. This is the exact reason why we had set goals in the beginning of the journey. In alignment with these goals, we did almost no marketing, did not try to treat the games as products to sell, haven't gone about managing a Steam account. We even didn't think about what would we do with these games in 2022, and this was a very conscious decision. We wanted to channel every drop of available mental energy into the games, and nothing else. We were able to focus on what actually mattered for us, reducing the mental noise remarkably.
And you know what. We can say that we gave it our best shot, and proud of what we've achieved.
More on the social side of things
Although we didn't plan for such a thing, our efforts haven't gone unnoticed by some fellow developers around us. From them, we've heard ideas similar to what we did. The conversations we've had were quite uplifting.
TOGAM was the reason we opened a Discord server. This marked the beginning of our community-building efforts. In March, when we were about to wrap up Astral Souls, quite a few people from reddit jumped in and provided invaluable feedback. If we decide to move on with any serious project with a community around them in the future, this is how we took the first step.
(Personal note from Atil: I got to work on some games with my wife Damla! She's an incredible musician, and building experiences together with her was an incredible experience in an of itself. I love you!)
A bit on the games themselves
When we were playing our favorite games in the past, we sometimes thought "hey this mechanic can be a game itself". And this line of thinking is what we've chased after in some of TOGAM entries, Massacre and King's Edict being examples, as both of them are inspired by Civilization VI. We got to play those games together, and had good and engaging discussions why that particular side mechanic is worth exploring further.
Some other entries, on the other hand, were made in gamejams like GGJ, LD and GMTK. These ones have a slightly different feel to themselves, being developed in ~48 hours, in a rush. Whereas the other entries went through the days-long design-implementation-refinement processes. So the challenge in general had a bit of everything in it.
Few of the entries had leaderboards. These games were score-based ones, and we've experienced (first hand, we might add) why people sometimes get competitive when they see a leaderboard. It gave the pretty intense feeling of "how can they do that score? is that even possible? I must beat them!"
A small note: We got to build our own 'game jam starter kit' for Unity. This was the boilerplate code of all our entries, and we've been adding and fixing features throughout the year.
Well, as we said, this was a test on our willpower at times. Before the challenge, we were already experienced with developing and releasing side projects in spare time, so we had a rough idea of what we were getting ourselves into. The first few entries were a little tiring (Astral Souls taking 6 weeks instead of 4, for instance), but the spirit was good overall. Infight was the point where it started to go downhill. If you look at the entries, that is the one which doesn't have any text in the game page, we were that exhausted. That was May's entry and summer was around the corner, which meant vacations. From then on, for the rest of the year we couldn't find that motivation again. Especially in fall, sometimes our only reason to go on was to keep the streak intact (Atil: I have a 1000+ day streak on Duolingo, it's a soft spot for me I guess), we didn't care about the challenge or the games being engaging experiences. We just wanted to release something. This sort of jaded attitude increases the sanity expense even higher, since we're sacrificing our free time, where we should've been unwinding from the stress of the day's work. We had come to a point where we couldn't enjoy even that free time, with TOGAM in our minds constantly. It had become a part of our daily routines; our actions reminding us of the game we're supposed to work on (Atil: brushing teeth meant 'a couple of more bugfixes and going to bed'). It was subtle, yet at some point there was no escape from it. We had stopped playing games for fun. It became the activity of 'mental discharge' after the workday, not enjoying an experience we're looking for. (Atil: I almost exclusively played Planetside2 and Rocket League for a year, those I could play without my brain) (Enes: for all the games I played in 2021, I played them either before TOGAM or after TOGAM, almost nothing in between). We knew that the challenge had an end, so we pushed through. But in hindsight, it certainly was not a sustainable mental state.
A bit more about Infight. It was the entry where the "natural parallelism" we've described above didn't work. The idea had come from the backlog, not from one of our discussions, which meant there was already something fleshed out to a degree. There's a reason why a backlog entry is there: a vision. The realization of that entry would mean bringing that vision into life, not it's deviations. Since this vision lives in one person's head, it's only natural that this person assumes the role of the "main developer/vision keeper/owner", which is highly incompatible with how we assumed the work should get done. In our cases where we started from a vague idea, the resultant vision belonged to both of us, therefore we both could own the feeling we want to get across. Different visions require different working methods.
Outside of all of that, it's fair to say that we've missed some other things which we could do in 2021, a.k.a. opportunity cost. For instance, we could've invested in our developer skills, played other games which could inspire us and plant exciting ideas in our minds, or just Netflix and chill and spent more time with our loved ones. One year is enough of a timeframe to consider the opportunity cost sizeable.
One last note: We've learned the hard way that there are people on this planet with bad intentions, and they find you. When you allow user-generated content in any shape or form (example: leaderboards) make absolutely sure that the content cannot be anything that you wouldn't show your mother.
As you could figure out from the publishing date of this post, no we're not doing this for another year.
We're talking about some ideas, but we don't have anything remotely solid at this point in time, and it's going to stay that way for a while. We're in a phase of recollection and discussions about what we want from the future, not only as Torreng but also individually, but more importantly, relaxing and enjoying some games.