Mary Knize

My first mobile game, six years later

4 min read

Programming

I've been working through some books on Unity lately. I have some basic experience with Unity, and I've created a few abandoned, unpublished games on the platform. However, I have a very specific mobile game that I'd love to create, based on games that I love to play. So I'm working on design documents while working through Unity books so I can learn to properly create the game I'm dreaming of.

Going back to indie game development makes me think about the first game that I ever published, back in 2015. It was made with Construct 2, which I chose because I was too intimidated by Unity at the time. I didn't know C# and barely knew any JavaScript. I called my game "To The Stars", because you play as a little panda jumping on clouds to catch stars (I assume those were the best art assets I could create at the time). It's also a little homage to my favorite game at the time (and still a great game), To The Moon.

Screenshot from the Google Play store

I think I did some basic JavaScript programming in this game, to implement the gyroscope system used in the mobile game. I made two versions of this game. If it was the mobile app version, it used the phone's gyroscope to move the player. If it was the HTML5 version, the arrow keys were used.

I created the sprites in Inkscape, and the particle effects are actually an animated particle "firework" that I made in Blender. I don't remember if Construct 2 didn't offer a particle system or if I was too intimidated, but I found my way around it by making an animated sprite instead. The thing that I thought I was so cool was the parallax background with the blurred clouds. I worked on it a lot, and it was a neat effect. Parallax website backgrounds were so trendy at that time. You'll notice that I neglected to put in any music, and only basic sound effects. It was a constraint of time, ability, and the fact that I usually play games muted.

When I started looking for a JavaScript developer job, I hurried up to get the game finished and published. I probably wouldn't have actually published it on the Play store otherwise, so I'm glad I had that extra incentive to do so. I wrapped the HTML5 game with Cordova (little did I know that Cordova experience would serve me well later), and published a game that technically works. It's not a good game, by any stretch of the imagination. It's not polished. But it was a fun experience.

I think this game ended up getting me the job, not because it was a good game, but because I created and shipped something. I never went to a coding bootcamp, and I only took a basic "creating websites" college course in the early 2000s. Everything else I'd learned had come from working on my own projects. If there's any advice I'd give junior devs, it's to find yourself a project, or even better, multiple projects, and ship them. Bootcamp projects are good, but they're all very similar. Find yourself something that you're really passionate about. Mine was (is?) indie gaming, even though I was not looking to work for a game company.

On a tangent, bootcamp group projects are great to show that you can work on a team. All I had were solo projects, so I was a little underqualified in that aspect, but I also had years of other work experience I could lean on to demonstrate teamwork skills.

So that brings me to today. I recently dug up the old publisher account because I may use it next year if I do create the mobile game I've been thinking about. It turns out my old game was deactivated in Google Play in 2018 because I neglected to check a few boxes. At the time, I kind of wanted my cringeworthy game to disappear, so I ignored the emails.

I logged into the publisher account, checked the various boxes that I needed to check, and the game went back into review. In the meantime, I downloaded the APK to my phone, sure that it wouldn't work on a 2021 Pixel 5a. Surprisingly, the game works, and I actually had some fun playing my old, embarassing game.

This morning I woke up and saw that the game was approved and available in the Play store once again. I'm honestly surprised. So if anybody's interested in playing a 6+ year old mobile game that is not at all good, but kinda fun, you can find To The Stars here.

My current self is now in awe of my past self for actually finishing and shipping this. I suffer from a lack of shipping now, with projects sitting around, almost done, waiting for that final polish. I finally pushed myself to finish the FCKed Editor a month ago, after it sat unfinished for a year. I guess this old game proves that it doesn't have to be perfect, or receive any attention, to still be worthy of my respect years later.

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