So, I’m a high school band director.
It’s my day job, and has been for 20 years now. The meme above is one of those “band director jokes that we use to laugh about how insanely busy our jobs are. One thing we were told often in our training is that we would “learn to wear many hats” as part of the job. If you’ve never heard that saying, a “hat” is just a metaphor for a job or task you’re responsible for. If you’ve been in indie game development long, you’re already nodding your head. Truer words have never been spoken.
What kinds of hats are we talking about here?
The Producer Hat
You’re the one who came up with the idea for your game, and you’ll likely be the driving force behind getting it done. You’ll be shaping the overall vision of the project and making big decisions concerning features, content, artwork, marketing, and budgeting. This is the “big picture” hat. If you’re an indie dev, you’re ALWAYS wearing this one.
The Designer Hat
This hat usually goes right on top of the Producer. This hat worries more about look, feel, and function. “Is that bed prop large enough for our character sprite to fit?” “Can the player MAKE that jump?” “Does that building fit into the game world?” You’ll be the one asking the overarching questions about how everything fits together in your game.
The Programmer Hat
This one is pretty obvious. Whether you’re typing by hand, using off-the-shelf code, or even using a visual scripting tool…your game needs to work. If you picked up a coin and the coin counter didn’t change, you’ll be putting on your programmer hat and debugging the problem! Even if your forte is art, music, or ideas…you’ll still need a basic grasp of how to read and adjust code – using whatever system you prefer! Systems like Bolt, Unreal’s Blueprint, and PlayMaker are making this hat fit better for everyone. Me? I LOVE to write code…it’s my most comfortable hat!
The Artist Hat
Crap. We’ve gone from my favorite hat to my least favorite one. If I had tons of money, I’d hire a couple of artists and have all of the props, scenery, and characters handed to me – then put my game together like a glorified lego set. In the real world, most of us are starting this journey as a hobby or while we’re students. Without those limitless funds, you’ll be learning the basics of art, color theory, and animation. You ‘ll need to edit or customize a purchased asset, or jump into Aseprite, Blender, Photoshop, or Clip Studio and create your own.
Believe it or not, most indie game developers start with this hat as their “main.” I’m jealous!!
The Musician Hat
You would think that THIS hat would be my comfy hat…I have 2 music degrees and 20 years’ teaching experience. I had to write a wind symphony for my Master’s thesis. Music is unique – it blends the complexity and interrelated nature of coding with beauty and artistry. Each scene, moment, character, and event in your game needs just the right score behind it. If you’re an RPG fan like I am, think of any “big” cinematic moment. For me, I remember playing Final Fantasy VI (We called it 3) on the SNES as a kid. There was a suicide scene (heavy, right?) with Celes, who was trapped all alone on a deserted island. Despite all of her strength and power, she was all alone. The score plays, and the character edges closer and closer to the cliff’s edge. It’s INTENSE!!
I have to lighten up a little after that memory. How about “Delightful Spekkio” from Chrono Trigger?? PERFECT for that character!! Music matters, and you’ll need to at least develop a taste for it so you can evaluate the best score for each moment in your game. Even if you’re no composer, you’ve been listening to music your whole life!
If you’re looking to make a career out of this, you’ll need to wear this hat, along with Marketing, Advertising, Researcher, and a few other hats. Making a game is hard; getting people to love it as much as you do is even HARDER. You’ll need to understand your target audience, make connections in the industry, and find channels to promote your work and gather a following.
I had to learn WordPress, buy web hosting, verify my business with Facebook, get a business license, and learn to do business taxes. And I haven’t even had a big release yet!! The more you know about organizing your resources, the better off you’ll be.