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A massive mobile online strategy adventure
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The End of Nightlands

Sat, 18 May 2024

This is the end for Nightlands. After working on and off on this game for 4.5 years, I am ready to let it go and move on.

Ever since I created a (silly) multiplayer text-based browser game called ‘The Cocktail Bar’ back in 2005 when I was only 15 years old, I have had the dream of one day creating a real game that would be played by thousands of people. Not because I was very much into gaming, but because I liked building something people used and seemed to have a great time with.

At the end of 2019, I finally started working on that dream. I decided to create a mobile text-based game that was mainly inspired by Kings of Chaos, a browser game my brother and I used to play a lot when we were teenagers. I dedicated a full day per week to design the game and reached out to a back-end developer to build the back-end.

In the autumn of 2020, it was time to release the first beta. A couple of dozen friends, relatives, and Twitter followers signed up, and it felt amazing. People seemed to enjoy playing it, although I felt a bit embarrassed by the lack of gameplay. There just wasn’t much to do in the game.

A lot of feedback came in, and I started working on improving the game. I still dedicated one day a week to Nightlands but soon realized this was way too little. I had another back-end developer helping me, but as he was only working after hours, it took a long time to ship new features. This is absolutely no blame to him, as he basically worked for free and I respected that. To try and fix this, I hired another back-end developer to assist and dedicated 2-3 days a week myself to Nightlands.

Things started to get productive, and we shipped new features on a regular basis. But then, suddenly out of nowhere—it was mid-2021 and mid-COVID pandemic—I couldn’t get myself to sit behind my desk and open my computer anymore. I ‘fired’ everyone on the team and decided to let it be, taking some personal time, and took Nightlands offline.

Fast forward to mid-2022. With renewed energy and motivation, I decided to restart work on the game, but this time I would do it all on my own. I was heavily inspired by Eric Barone and how he built his game Stardew Valley and tried adopting the same mindset. Doing everything myself meant I had to rewrite the back-end since I wasn’t familiar with PHP, which was used in the betas as the back-end language.

For months, I delved into learning Node.js and writing the new back-end from scratch. It was an exciting yet exhausting journey. By the summer of 2023, the new back-end was ready, and the game relaunched with another round of beta testing. Players from the previous beta, along with new ones, joined in. For a while, it seemed like Nightlands was on the path to becoming the dream I had envisioned.

However, as the months went by, I started to feel the weight of the project once again. I poured a lot of my energy into it while also trying to deliver my best work in my day job and maintain a social life. The passion I had rediscovered was slowly fading again. I knew deep down the game still needed lots of changes to finally have solid gameplay. The ideas for that were inside my head, but it was just so much work.

Somewhere during the development of new features for the fourth game round, I completely lost interest and stopped. Again. That’s when I subconsciously made the decision to quit Nightlands; I just didn’t realize it yet. I kept telling myself not to give up on this dream, that I was only taking a break and that my focus would come back one day.

Except that it didn’t. Four months in, and I still didn’t feel like restarting. Once in a while, I would dream up improved additions to the gameplay, but nothing more than that. My day job and social life took all my time, and I didn’t really feel guilty about not working on Nightlands. I felt that it was finally time to get real and decide (which I had already subconsciously decided) to quit Nightlands.

When you are honest with yourself, it is a huge relief. A burden is lifted. Although at first I felt like I gave up on my dream, did I really? When talking to a friend about this, he said I should be proud of what I built and what I achieved. I didn’t give up on my dream; I realized the dream. Though the game was far from ideal—it didn’t have the best gameplay as I envisioned it in my head, and it didn’t have thousands of players—it was actually downloadable, and there were people playing it. I created, designed, developed, and managed a game. I once again built something people used and had a great time with, just like I did back in 2005.

Now, as I look back on this journey, I realize the lessons I learned and the experiences I had are invaluable. Seeing a community form around my game gave me real joy and satisfaction.

Nightlands may be ending, but the passion for building and creating something lives on. Who knows what the future holds? Maybe another project, another dream, awaits me just around the corner. For now, I’m content with the knowledge that I pursued my dream, brought it to life, and shared it with others. And that’s something to be proud of.

Kind regards,

Special thanks to: Robbe, Karlien, Simon, Dries, Oliver, Jorge, Abel, Siebe, Mich and everyone who played the game. You made it all worth it.