It’s that time again.
I’m stuck in limbo between two game design projects: one that’s just closed a chapter of itself, and another that’s only beginning to sort out its ingredients. As I’m slipping into yet another undetermined space between significant points in my life, mixed feelings emerge. Feelings of reprieve — from escaping another crunch period, while retaining some of my sanity. Feelings of liberation — to play with ideas I haven’t had the time to think about. Feelings of fear — that I don’t know when the next good idea will make an appearance, and when or how it might manifest.
There’s a lot of things to be concerned with even in the lull’s of productivity. After talking with a number of people, I found that not only do few people talk about this creative hibernation between projects, but also from personal research have I rarely come across much in the field of game design journalism.
Here’s where my head happens to be at:
My last project was underpinned by omitting staple familiarities of game designs we’ve come to know and love. As a result, I had to accept and discern a number of failed experiments. One sacrifice I had to make was in not being 100% certain about the results a new build would immediately produce, as I eventually had to commit to a consistent build of my game to iterate on until time ran out this past Spring semester. Cutting my losses and focusing on getting the big-picture into the hands of people took precedence, though unfortunately at the cost of optimization and hardware performance dips among other things.
For as satisfied as I was with the growing educational value of the project and the number of media it synthesized, I eventually started to consider that many of my design hurdles were a result of me only interpreting my own idea. As a result, there was some collateral damage on how the concept surfaced to players. I lost sight of a number of key components due to meaningful playtesting not existing earlier on in development, and for as much as I compensated I still have a strong desire to address those issues, both conceptual and technical. In an ideal world, I would’ve been fine taking my time on each feature and iteration, play testing when the time was appropriate. Though in some ideal worlds, I also probably wouldn’t have been removed from my comfort zone and challenged as constructively as I was all semester.
To give some much-needed context, this project I’ve been referencing was my recent Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) thesis, and it’s called Bloomed. Bloomed is an experimental game design project that examines how concepts of perma-death and emergent play can act as metaphors for loss/entropy. The way I designed it was to provide a completely different sort of invitation for non-gamers to the medium, while supplying more traditional gamers with less strategies and win/lose states to worry about, but instead more contextual issues to ponder as the trade-off.
What matters most here, however, is how Bloomed was rooted in academia and game theory. As such, the sort of expectations it had in contrast to those on the horizon fail to share much, if anything, in common. Let’s tally the differences going into each project, which might be helpful in illustrating how divergent their creative and productive processes are:
- Independent project (individually did the art, design, and programming).
- Not intended for ease in mass-distribution.
- Utilizes custom hardware configuration (Blue Tooth + Infrared pen).
- Does not afford a designed reset button (intentional for the thesis).
- Developed for PC + Mac computers.
- Flash based application.
- Collaborative team/studio project (several people, artists and programmers).
- Intended for distribution on a digital platform for profit (commercial game).
- Utilizes existing technology that doesn’t offer exclusive hardware cases or custom modification.
- Offers more traditional base-line game features & expectations (User Interface/Menu structure).
- Based within coding languages native to Apple SDK’s.
One of the most demanding questions I attempt to ask myself between projects is what will carry over from one to the next? What useful tactics should become a mantra, and which uninformed decisions shouldn’t be made again, if not more carefully? As you can see from above, almost every initial criteria is perpendicular regarding what sort of audience and outlet each project is propelled towards.
Picking up the Pieces
Fortunately there are some universal lessons worth extracting from Bloomed towards subsequent projects with varying destinations.
- Try not to always work alone. A consult or mentor at the very least will help keep a close objective eye on things.
- Get builds out early, and often.
- Make sure you’re making effective platforms for the people giving you outside feedback. Try to enable them with more realized builds so the whole picture is in place more consistently.
That’s only the tip of the iceberg at best, but what I’m getting at here is just how complex this sort of mentality starts to become for a designer, and potentially problematic to their process. Still, should I necessarily be complaining? Is it possible to disregard the foreseeable future, to find some grace within this rare down-time, and finally flush the design-woes out of my system?
Absolutely, but there’s always good healthy reasons to move on.
Mine stems from the invigoration of begetting a new project — or more accurately, knowing that after the emotional baggage of one project has been dropped, a new one can be happily picked up, again. There’s something fulfilling about observing where the dust settles over time, only to rediscover one of the many untapped wells in our heads, again. Time and time again I find myself in bewilderment of how I’ll ever regain the stamina that seemed to so quietly run dry in the midst of a chaotic work-load. I eventually find myself in disbelief that I was at once relaxed, that I was well-equipped with time to prepare and exercise my skills without exhausting every muscle simultaneously. Every brain needs sleep — every battery needs a recharge.
Being in limbo is an inevitable necessity.