Making games as a recreational hobby while making games for a living? How would it work?
It can work as long as you keep doing it solely for fun of game development without the pressure of releasing. Think of gamejam without time limit.
Game development is a creative job by nature - But once you get the game project going, set the feature list, release dates and so on the creativity level tends to go down hard. Being a developer that works from one client job to another brings in stuff like very tight schedules and uncertainty if you'll be able to pay the bills or eat - not to mention working on Rusto's own projects. There's no time to experiment with cool stuff nor to get creative - to get the game out is to stay alive.
To maintain our sanity, some of us spend their free hours playing grand strategies, go jogging or something, I don't really know. My way of keeping my head together is to try and build a simple but somewhat playable game prototype every week or so.
Most of my side projects tend to stay alive up to the proof-of-concept prototype stage - but in the process I get to experiment with weird gameplay mechanics and more often than not manage to learn new stuff about game development.
My side projects usually start with the question 'Why has nobody made a game with this kind of gameplay mechanic?', and often after prototyping the obvious flaws are easily seen. But making mistakes like this doesn't really matter, since in such projects the journey is way more important than the destination.
Drunk-Fu, formerly Kuja, was originally started as such a project. What make Kuja different was that I kept coming back to it, iterating it heavily and testing out stuff inside the project instead of just throwing the concept away and starting something new. Within the timespan of 18 months, I have rewritten Drunk-Fu some 5 or 6 times from scratch. It's extremely relaxing to be able to build just the game you want it to be without outside pressure - with freedom to experiment with weird ideas, freedom to ditch everything & start over, and no set time limits or release dates.
The first playable version of Kuja did really not have a name, nor it did feature wobbly gorilla shaped dudes with awesome Kung Fu skills. At that point it was supposed to be a turn based wrestling game. The gameplay was something like 'set the wrestler's attack pose and throw him against the enemy seeing what collides with what' The goal was to hurt the enemy wrestler as much as possible while setting the pose defensive enough to live through the next enemy attack.
Not so surprisingly, it turned out not to be that fun. The gameplay was slow, and building the UI to easily tweak the character pose was a pain. So, as it was the Holidays anyway, I decided to forget about the concept and go get some delicious ham & chocolate instead.
Later that day I was reading the website of a local newspaper and noticed there had been drunken fights all around Kajaani basically every night during the Holiday season. So how about making a game about the people not willing to have peaceful Holiday? Like, making a game that is actually a statement! Wow! Almost like making an art game! I instantly reopened the wrestling game project and modified it so that it could be played with AI controlled enemies.
The problem was that the gameplay was still not fun. Maybe animating the characters so that when they are waiting for their turn, they'll wobble around and look drunk? But I had no experience or skills in animating them, so to get around the animation problem, I started experimenting with the physics engine.
Since the characters were ragdolls anyway I thought I'd just apply some forces to their feet & head, and that'd do the trick! Yeah, I was skeptical. Sounded too easy and straightforward. Will never work. No way.
Still, I decided to test if it worked somewhat, so there would be something to build on. Turns out it worked awesomely well - for a feature that had been built in a hour or so whilst laying in bed, eating chocolate & using a iPad as a mouse pad. Suddenly there were bunch of drunkards reeling around, waiting to be thrown with another drunkard.
While testing the new more wobbly wrestling game I happened to throw a character against another in just the right way - the physics engine did what physics engines do best & for a brief moment it looked like the character actually took some unsure steps before falling down. At that point I saw clearly how the game was supposed to turn out.
A few hours later I had the first version up and running featuring characters capable of walking around and throwing punches at each other. The rest of the night I was unable to develop further since I couldn't stop playing it - Kuja was born.
By the way, the name Kuja comes from our bar street here in Kajaani. Kuja is famous (or infamous, really) for the high numbers of drunk fights every weekend.
After a few days filled with ham, chocolate, beer & gamedev the first build was ready at the new year's eve 2013. I submitted it to Kongregate.com with little expectations. The game I spent only a few days on - where almost every graphical asset was just cubes, there was barely a menu & sound effects were minimal - was fun! It had already served its purpose for me anyway!
A few weeks later I started receiving loads of feedback from Kuja players. It seemed like the players were enjoying the game, and kept asking for more characters, more levels & whatnot. Well, if they liked it, maybe I should put a little bit more effort into it & make it a full game instead of just the prototype it currently was. I estimated it would take a few weeks to put it together with better graphics and sound effects, improved gameplay and a few different levels.
Well, I might have miscalculated something there..
Not going too much into details about the process here, for the sake of TL;DR and repeating myself: Briefly put the first 'Actual Kuja Game' was made in a week or two. I was not happy with it at all, so I rebooted the project & rebuilt the physics system. Then something more important showed up, so I forgot about Kuja for several weeks.
But it kept on bugging my mind and this one Friday I opened the project again after several weeks. I was shocked. What was I thinking while making this? Shift+Del.
Rinse and repeat. Several times. The latest version is no more than 7 months old while writing this. It's the record, and I have been actively developing it for all this time. At some point during those 7 months it became obvious that my recreational hobby project had become more than a recreational prototyping loop..
Even though it took a few more weeks than expected, I'm happy to announce the game is finally ready to be published on mobile platforms, and there may even be more platforms to come. But as Drunk-Fu was born as a recreational project I'd like to keep it that way from now on as well - I suggest you do not hold your breath..
Stay creative, and make something awesome!
Ps. We are still hard at work with Spareware. Cool news coming later this year!