This is one of the rare articles in this blog that are specifically aimed at adventure games (the genre) and Adventure Game Studio (the toolkit). It's also a very subjective one, but that's just to be expected. So read on, I promise it'll be worth your time!
First of all, I think it's safe to assume that there are more AGS games being started than there are finished AGS games. Just check the Games In Production thread. That's because we're still to almost 100% an indie community. We're hobbyists. When I, for example, fail to release an announced game, the worst thing that might happen is some mild concern (or/and ridicule) from my fellow forum members. But my job isn't at stake, I lost no money, and I will surely have no reporters mail me for a statement.
Let's further say that maybe three out of ten started games are abandoned for a reason: Maybe the author realises that his skills are not up to it, that his idea sounded great but plays not quite as well, or something similar. Sometimes a game DOES tell you that it isn't worth it (in the case of Phantasmagoria 2, this took quite long). Sometimes you just realise that this thing you started isn't worth your time, and you stop working on it. No harm done.
But there are games that disappear from the world for quite different reasons, and this is what this article is about.
Commercial games usually see the light of day, but it's not that all of them are great games. Their quality ranges from outstandingly good to the exact opposite, yet they are finished. So obviously they are made by people just like you and me who still somehow are better at handling projects.
Several AGS games, so I believe, are scrapped because the designer can't handle a game project. It's as simple as that- even a relatively small game can be pretty overwhelming (depending on your experience), and all of a sudden your cute little adorable baby becomes something right out of a Fantasy Filmfest movie, and you don't dare to touch it with a long stick.
It stands to reason.
It would be really cool if I could write just here and now that I have analysed the situation and returned with a list of "What can go wrong during your game making, and how to solve that". I haven't, and think that no-one else has, yet.
At least I came up with a hands-on list of things that has gone wrong FOR ME, and a supporting list of solutions I HAVE COME UP WITH, which could be the next best thing. I do, by the way, qualify for writing this all by having not released several games myself. My last release has been almost three years ago, which is quite a long time, but I can redeem myself a bit by having failed to release something for quite interesting resaons. I have also beta-tested several games that were never released, and think I see some pattern in them. And finally, I just happen to write articles, so there.
Reason 1: My Comments Were Not Up To It
When writing something really complicated, be it a puzzle or a GUI, you can quickly create a lot of code in one function, or a twisty maze of code that stretches over several functions. At some point during your game's production, a bug WILL find its way into that code. And then it's up to you to dig through all the stuff, find the line where things go wrong, and correct it.
And sometimes you'll realise, in horror, that you can't even remember what your script does right now in the first place, because you never commented anything and didn't care too much about formatting either. So instead of some already hard bug-hunting through A LOT OF CODE you understand, you face bug hunting though a lot of stuff you can't make heads or tails of. And a beginner, faced with this choice, might consider to call it quits and just start fresh.
Writing comments is useful, but this game stopper actually never was a big issue for me. I think it gets less important as you get experience, so it will sooner or later eleminate itself.
Reason 2: It's messy, I'll just start it over fresh
I've fallen to that one a lot. Your project starts to look cluttered and messy because you shoved stuff in to test it out and then changed it and tried something else- so you decide that it would be clever to simply ctart from a fresh point Zero, now that you are wiser and have some clue about what you're doing.
I'm very sure this this can be a good thing. For me, however, it became a hindrance. It's easy to keep things a good deal more organized when you redo a project- you can keep your sprites in nice order, you lose a few extraneous functions and stuff. It will all look neater for quite a while, but this is countered by a considerable downside: You will repeat a lot of boring stuff, like importing a shitload of sprites, setting up lots of GUI elements, remembering how these frames were supposed to become a walk animation. I think I redid the DITA GUI five times, each time hoping to get things just right. It was just lots of boring stuff with a slightly niver paint job, really.
Workaround? For me, it was accepting that you don't need all your GUI sprites in numerical order, and that dialogs can be written in any order too. It's NICE to have things in order, but since you rarely create your assets in order of theme (most times I add them as they are needed), why force authistic behaviour on you?
Reason 3: My Global Script Just Exploded
AGS keeps a lot of its code in the global script- the core game functions, obviously, are there, and the functions of all GUI elements, characters, and inventory items go there too. They never get automagically sorted, too, and instead just plop in in order of creation. That means that YOU are the one who must keep things in order. This sounds pretty harmless, but I have read huge complaints about the fact, and for some people it really was enough to call it quits.
In truth there are several ways to keep your global script lean or at least human-readable. It's just that it's not build in. I find it quite easy now to keep a "chapter" structure by grouping the core functions, gui functions, characters and finally inventory functions in "chapters", and I use commented lines as separators. It took a while to get used to, but it works quite well. I simply add the extra half-hour of sorting the stuff I added in a day's work. It's worth it.
Reason 4: It's Scripting, So It Sucks!
I'm comfortable with AGS but also aware that it is a game toolkit. It is specifically made for one genre, no matter how creatively it has been abused. In short, it's not as generic and flexible as, say, learning C#.
So sometimes you meet people who see that AGS can't do one thing, and who decide that this incompetence alone is enough to drop the toolkit altogether. If this happens somewhere in the middle of a project, well, the game also is dropped. I personally have little sympathy for anyone who rates a toolkit on failures, but I admit that sometimes I've run into situations where I can't get something to work and hit a dead end finding a solution.
Reason 5: I can't draw Batman... shit, I can't draw a ALL!
AGS games lose all impact without graphics, and some of us, well, are not very good at it. Trying to draw something and FAILING can lead to a dead end- furious at your own incompetence you try to make things up and draw something else, but since you're already in a bad mood you fail again. If you don't stop RIGHT THERE, you'll find yourself drawing crap for the rest of the day. Heavily overlaps with Self-Induced Writing Block, discussed later.
For me, a simple remedy worked surprisingly well: When I can't get something done graphically, I listen to my current favourite song. That never makes me DRAW better, but it's a nice distraction. After that, I try again and usually I'm in a better mood now.
Reason 6: How Do I Make Door Puzzle? Oh, never mind...
It would be unfair to say that newcomers can't make games, but they seem often challenged to make it through the most basic scripting commands. When you are not able to figure out how you use an inventory item on a hotspot, you should not yet be making a game.
Can lead to:
Reason 7: I Can't Figure How X Is Done... I Need A Side Project!
I HAVE fallen for that, and I'm not ashamed to say it loud. Stuck in one project? Well, there are people who take a break and return to it a wiser man. There are people who take a long break and forget about it completely. And there are those who start a side project where they stumble over a new little problem, which makes them say: "Darn, I need a side project!"
I know a few people who need side projects and who can juggle them with ease. For me, side projects are the shiny tin foil that makes kittens so cute- as soon as they are there, they magically catch all my interest and energy until the next bit of shiny is waved. Sometimes it's better to focus on one thing. Sometimes, when you already are distracted, a new distraction is NOT something you want.
I'm working on a solution to this.
Reason 8: Self-Induced Writer's Block
Stuck. Some information you need to make the character believable, the puzzle sensible, the back story correct, is not part of your knowledge. So you hook up the internet and check it out.
And you find it.
You also find a lot of other interesting, related things, and start reading them, and the links from there soon have you a lot wiser. You want to use this new knowledge. You feel like having a new game idea already!
And this ends your project, because now you know so much more, it's no longer good enough.
This is a form of writer's block: You are stuck dead, and solve this, but instead of working with what you already have you just add something new, and this can create a ripple.
No remedy here, though. Sometimes the stuff you find really is awesome, and we all know the world needs more awesome.
Reason 9: Always Too Big
My personal second-biggest issue. I can't think small. I can't think small plots. I always want games to be long, and complex, and large. This is bad for any project, and especially bad when you're already having a hard time managing a small game.
My saviour was Stephen King. I grew up with the man's doorstoppers of books, and found his shorts stories very late in my reading career. And you know what, they are almost all better than the huge volumes! When I start thinking too big these days, I take a step back and concentrate on the one scene I really MUST have in the game, and then the relatively few steps needed to get there. This often eliminates a lot of clutter.
Reason 10: Never Good Enough
This is my personal favourite, and I think it's my greatest issue. Very often an idea sounds nice to me and then the game never seems to live up to it. I feel like William DeWorde in the Discworld novel (a man who wants his newspaper articles treated like great literature): Even a small line from a supporting character, I feel, must be so cool that Shakespeare cries.
I think deliberately reminding you that you are NOT working on the latest killer game helps. For me, refuge in audacity also sounds a good remidy- make something outstandingly simple and deliberately "bad" just to show yourself that this is also fun.
And that's my share so far. It obviously won't help many people making games, but by naming a problem there's now space for discussion. I'm all game for that!