Shelved Games

I have always had problems finishing things. Whether it is interest waning or life getting in the way just long enough for me to give up, I can’t seem to finish a game.

In hobbyist board gaming there’s a term called the “Shelf of Shame”, it refers to games that have been purchased with the dream of opening it and playing but some among the hobby purchase them faster than they can be reasonably played. Putting aside the slightly humourous comparison to devs referring to games as “shelved” (when they are more likely buried six feet under), this resonates with me because I certainly try to make games faster than they can be reasonably developed with the dream of what it could be fading over time.


So in a way this article is an obituary to my old projects. I want to celebrate the glimmer of potential and learn from the failures, to come to some new conclusion that’ll save the next game? Probably not. Let’s jump into the first, a very ambitious project I started before even having any real coding experience… and yet my most ambitious game. A running theme will be a reduction in scope, it’s obvious to anyone that’s been in games for any time that what you can make by yourself is limited, but the tantalising idea of scale is inviting. Note that there were various school/university projects and small game jams done between these games that I did finish.

Untitled Mech Game - 2013-2014#

create in universe

Who doesn’t like big robots? This would be a squad-based PvP game based on highly-customisable mechs! Sounds great, but for 15-16 year old that only just learnt C# to a serviceable level and has launched Unity once, it’s not ideal. I had so many big plans for this game but couldn’t execute a single one of them, I think this is more of a pipedream I enjoyed than an actual shelved game. To list a few ridiculous ideas repairing would require a circuit repairing mini-game, weapons and systems could be modified with a circuit building system, a melee system similar to Chivalry and a modular mech-building system a la Armoured Core. Even now this sounds like a game I really want, but it will never be made by me, let alone just me!

What potential was there?

  • My love for systemic design was born here, I loved the idea of skill being mastery over the systems and not just raw mechanical skill.
  • Themes that resonated with me, maybe that is what I could salvage from this, or focus on those systems in a management game rather than the triple-A game I seemed to want to make.

Why did it fail?

  • Huge Scope, like stupid big scope.
  • More time spent on dreaming than actual development.
  • No clear plan was made.
  • Kept adding to the game rather than removing the fat.

This game was abandoned in pre-production.

Rebecca - 2015#

Rebecca sprite

It must be a rite of passage to try and make an artsy platformer as a developer. This one was focused on the titular character Rebecca who is comatose after being involved in an accident. A suspicious doctor and Rebecca’s carer use a dream capture machine to try and rehabilitate her into consciousness. You play as her in her dreams, fighting nightmares and encountering strange memories, not knowing if they are reality or fantasy. It was supposed to be a branching narrative based off your choices, you could learn the truth about her accident and uncover conspiracies and such.

This sounds like a book more than a game, and I think that’s what it should have been. The little idea of gameplay I had was muddled and conflicting. I certainly didn’t have the skills to pull this off, but I did actually make some player controls and a few basic scenarios.

What potential was there?

  • It seems I started understanding that I should reduce scope, but I didn’t go far enough.
  • I started really learning about Unity engine from trying to make this game, it led me to use it for most of my future projects.
  • I feel it was a compelling setup for the narrative.

Why did it fail?

  • Too large scope.. again..
  • Wanted beautiful art, but didn’t want to make it and could not pay for it.
  • Felt like I had to wait for art before prototyping, a very silly idea in retrospect.

This game was abandoned during prototyping.

Infinite Reflections - 2016 revisited in 2019#


Some projects are born out of a good idea, others are made because of limitations. This was definitely the latter, I had recently created a Discord bot for university’s Game Society and the API made me wonder what could be done with it. I decided to go for the natural fit, a text-based adventure. However the idea of someone filling a chat with a single-player wasn’t appealing, but multiplayer was such a natural fit for Discord. I also liked the idea of play being sporadic, with players coming and going. All this lead to a selection of small worlds that could be randomly hopped between, telling overarching stories about the world while you and friends overcome problems in a truly co-operative experience.

There was just one problem, I had no idea how to make it fun. Sometimes this happens, from the limited presentation (I flirted with the idea of uploading generated images but it felt meh) to the strictly text input, it felt like decades old design that I couldn’t find a way to improve upon, I was making an activity or an experience rather than a game, and at some point it just got to me and I didn’t want to make it anymore. This is the closest I ever made it to finishing a game.

What potential was there?

  • Creative mechanics inspired by limitations.
  • Social aspect was something that really interested me.
  • Very unique, few games like it.

Why did it fail?

  • I just couldn’t make it fun.
  • Or maybe it just wasn’t fun to make. I’m a hobbyist after all.

This game was abandoned during content creation.

Containment - 2017-2018#

Containment Concept Art

Next is a game I definitely learnt some lessons from. Evocative of SCP, Containment’s core gameplay was being sent to capture an unknown supernatural threat. The plan was you would likely die gathering information and then be better prepared, with equipment deemed neccessary and experience, to deal with it subsequently. It was a sandbox of tools and weapons and focused on experimentation. I also started this project during university when I had the most free time I ever did in my life, and so did my peers. I thought that if we (CS and game dev undergrads) worked together we could make a really good portfolio piece to launchpad us into a game dev job.

Some managed to stick around for a few months, most didn’t manage a week. If you don’t pay people they aren’t going to work for you, even if it’s for mutual benefit it’s still work. Oh well, that’s an easy lesson.

Next I decided I wanted the monsters to be procedurally generated and have good AI! Problem is I really wasn’t very experienced in either, but the motivation was there.

I spent a good amount of time making an AI system, it barely worked and only a programmer could love it, but worked it did, I was very proud of it. The issue was for all the effort, it wasn’t much different from a behaviour tree but it did have the benefit of being compatible with a proc gen system. This AI system ended up being written about in my thesis for my 3rd year of university.

Next was the procedural generation, looking back there really wasn’t a good reason for it to be included. I thought it would make the game more replayable and streamers could stay on the game a long time, causing free publicity! It feels particularly naive and hopeful now, in reality it should have been a handful of handcrafted scenarios and MUCH simpler AI. Nobody will play your game for 100s of hours, adding content instead of quality is always a mistake from what I’ve seen. If I really needed the longevity I could have just added mod support.

What potential was there?

  • Evocative theme, fit the gameplay very well.
  • Interesting gameplay ideas.
  • Sandboxes are always a good bet for fitting systemic niche I was after.

Why did it fail?

  • Too much reliance (or percieved reliance) on others.
  • Being “too clever” and ultimately not making anything at all.
  • Coded myself into a corner with barely working systems.

This game was abandoned during prototyping.

Facility 13 - 2019#

Facility 13

Facility 13’s name will mean something to those who are a fan of the open-source game Space Station 13. That is intentional, it aimed to be Space Station 13 single-player. You would play a xeno-biologist on a facility on an alien planet, a mysterious accident has left you alone, and the shadowy corporation still expects results. You’d have to complete research tasks (on dangerous and unwilling subjects) while keeping a habitat going, including growing food, doing repairs and venturing out for resources. So a crafting-progression game, which we’ve seen many of, but with extreme detail. Each room would have wiring and atmospherics to maintain and you’d have to really understand problems as they were thrown at you. This game was also never intended to be a pretty one, art was to be basic and done by myself, the draw was purely in the mechanics.

Wow! This game was fun to work on. Complicated and interconnecting systems, but because a lot of design was lifted from its influence it was a breeze to make. But that extreme detail I mentioned? It was necessary to make the game a game, and it was just too much detail for a single person to make. This game would be one I’d love to make if I “made it big” as so many devs dream about, I feel a small team of 3-5 people could easily make this a reality, but it overwhelmed just me. To be honest I think I could pick this up again, it doesn’t feel like the huge mess some previous games were.

What potential was there?

  • Complex systems but nothing difficult to make! Yay! No procedural generation or other experimental systems.
  • A lot of fun to make, which helps motivation.
  • Didn’t require much art or animation fidelity.

Why did it fail?

  • Lack of discipline. This one hurts, I probably could have made this, but I was not able to.
  • A bit too big of a scope.

This game was abandoned during prototyping.

Untitled Fighting Game - 2019-2020?#

Ronin Girl

So finally, I had learnt my lesson about scope after the previous project, here would be a game that was tight in scope and only about a core mechanic, not complicated interconnecting systems. A fighting game with 4 buttons and no movement. A game of counter-play, like a fast rock-paper-scissors but with the fun of combos and specials. I love Soulcalibur VI, it’s really satisfying to play and when you are equally matched the moments are blood-pumping and feel amazing, but it’s hard to recommend to people because the barrier to entry for fighting games is very high, ironically it feels like learning an instrument or martial art. So this would be a simple accessible fighting game with a few characters with unique twists.

This game has been on hold for a few reasons, I’m not sure how to make it look decent and multiplayer is a thing. So first, it’s hard to make a game fluid and exciting if the aesthetic is awful, I need decent art and can’t do it myself (maybe, I have started learning character modeling in blender) and can’t afford to pay for others to do it at the moment. Secondly the online multiplayer component is uncharted territory for me, luckily for me there are fine people online working on making this more easy (shout out to the GGPO crowd).

This game has not been abandoned… yet. I really hope this one works, honestly I was starting to feel very demotivated about creating games. I’m busy with work and often just want to relax after, money is tight and game dev seems like a far-away dream for those with a more stable life than my own. But things are becoming more stable, money is becoming easier and after writing this article, and after reliving the hope and fun of these old ideas for mechanics, I think I’m ready to try not to fail again.