Face cut

Game development wrecks lives & player character progress

When we first started building our player character I couldn't have anticipated all the troubles - and numerous interations - we'd have to wade through. It's been a rocky and educational ordeal, which has taught me a lot of my own lack of experience and ignorance.

First character sketch
Our very first player character sketch didn't last long.

Game development is hard. Really hard. When we first started out I had years of modding experience with various games and I had dabbled a little bit with game development every now and then in the past. Nothing major and only 2D.

I already knew more or less what to expect, having observed the experiences of others. Game development drives people insane, ruins friendships, wrecks marriages, and just generally feels hard and painful. Starting a large project - especially a 3D game, especially a voxel game - was not something that we jumped right into lightly without any reflection, even though it all happened very quickly.

Early character

Never thought we'd have to go further than this.

We knew there was going to be trouble.

You need to have a certain kind of mentality - not to succeed - but simply to survive through big projects. There are a lot of days when you want to give up because it's not fun.

We've had a lot of people join the project during the two years we've been in development and quit shortly after because they didn't come in with realistic expectations of what game development is and what it requires. Games are fun, so game development is doubly fun, right?

It can be fun, and it is certainly rewarding, otherwise I can't imagine anyone going through with it. But game development is mainly just hard work, repetitive chores, countless of iterations, setbacks, and obstacles to overcome.

You have a spider on your shoulder
"You've got  a spider on your shoulder", said the friendly butcher with an eye infection. "Eek, take it off!"

If you're thinking about getting into game development and can't deal with on and off phases of stress and depression, then developing games is probably not a good match for you.

It is important to keep an eye on the goal, break down the work into smaller pieces, take it one step at a time, acknowledge your mental fatigue and keep pushing through firmly.

It is the long game that matters. Therefore you need to take care of yourself and make sure you get enough sleep and downtime.

When you're a pro athlete you have to overcome your fear of dying when you keep pushing your body to it's limits. When you're a game developer you have to overcome your natural response of quitting what you're doing when things get hard. You don't necessarily need to have a good ability to concentrate - it helps - you just need to be really stubbornly hard headed.

Older character

Even the longest journey is just one step after another. It doesn't really require amazing skill to become a game developer. Hardly anyone these days develops games by themselves. Teams are the new norm and have been for a while now. You need some basic skills and the ability and drive to learn more. And you need dedication, inability to quit - not to succeed (that's a whole another story) - but to survive, to keep going.

We've gone through probably over 50 iterations of the player character by now. Some of the early ones were intentional. We were still trying to find the style we'd be comfortable with. The later iterations were mostly dictated by necessity caused by bad design decisions somewhere along the way.

The thing is, you can't just make a character and be done with it. It needs to be designed with animations and a whole bunch of other things in mind.

We started with a simple design that was supposed to use texture based facial animations and cut-off limbs, which would have made any body animations simple and straightforward - no deforming.

Old character walk cycle

At some point we had huge technical issues with getting our rig imported to the game engine and needed to make changes. We saw this as an opportunity to make further adjustments to the mesh - and inevitably started to slip away from our initial goals.

We did a redesign - one of many to come - and didn't fully think it through how the new connected mesh + blocky character design would affect deforming animations until it was too late (corkscrew twisting limbs, ugh.) Because of this we had to do another redesign where we tried to preserve as much of the original style as possible (because we liked it) while making the limbs round enough to avoid problems with twisting.

We finally ended up with a character design which was partially dictated by our original style, partially by the required changes, and partially by trying to patch everything up in some kind of coherent manner.

Not an ideal situation to be in.


At this point we were so far with animations and other things that starting from scratch was really not an option.

And every time we had to change something meant we'd have to adjust the UVs, and sometimes so much that we had to redo the textures. The version we thought would definitely be the final version, well... it turned out it wasn't.

You don't always get what you initially want due to unforeseen consequences along the way. But you can't keep redesigning things endlessly either. At some point you have to call it, cut your losses and hope that it all works out in the end - if you ever want the game to be finished.

Failed UVs
Oopsie doopsie! You need to redo the UVs, again.

We're currently working on retexturing what should - hopefully - definitely be the final version of the character.

Face cut
Face cut for morph target animations

Any qualms we might have with the design at this point we'll just have to live with. We've tried to make the design modular in such a way that it allows having various (pre-made) face forms, noses, and ears.

The animated portions of the face are cut as separate planes so we don't have to redo the morph target animations for each face. This limits our further design options somewhat for the custom faces, but it is a good compromise.

After the UV and texture are done we'll still have to update all the existing animations before we can fully move forward.


This article was updated on 28/10/18 @ 17:14