A man is in an unknown part of the world and has to rely on strangers for help. He takes them at face value. He doesn’t have the energy to be suspicious. He wants to deliver his package. They point him towards a world that is like our world but is not our world.
There’s a saying among game designers: “Your first ten games will suck—so get them out of the way fast.”
Over the New Year I read Jesse Schell’s outstanding Art of Game Design and it is a phenomenal work, full of immense insights about game design and, frankly, creativity in general that are presented in a friendly, approachable way. It doesn’t seek to provide a comprehensive solution to game design—in fact, it argues that there may never be such a thing.
So the 100 hours is up and here’s what I managed to achieve in that time:
Clearly, the game is unfinished (I would like the cartoon exuberance of the title screen to be reflected throughout the game) but I could still release it today and it certainly wouldn’t be the worst thing the App Store has ever seen. However, I would only be doing it to meet this arbitrary deadline I set myself. I can and should make this better.
So even though it won’t be released within the 100 hours, it could. I count that as a success.
But even if it wasn’t ready for the App Store, I would still count it as a success because I have thoroughly enjoyed working on it and I know in my bones that it is something that I am going to see through to the end, however long it takes.
Which is the much more important thing.
Deadlines and Goals
Personal deadlines and goals can often be a good motivational tool to get us started, but they can easily turn in to weapon against our own self esteem. We often underestimate how long things take and overestimate our own abilities, willpower, and motivation to get those things done.
This can lead to these deadlines being missed and the goals unmet, which turn the good work we have done into failure and disappointment. Instead of seeing what we’ve achieved, we only see what we haven’t.
For personal projects, deadlines and goals should be MacGuffins—Randy Pausch head fakes—designed to get the plot of our lives moving towards something bigger without having to pay attention to that bigger (and often paralysing) thing.
The deadlines themselves should serve as moments of reflection, in which we re-evaluate the work we’re doing. Is it everything we thought it would be (the daily grind of a creative life, for example, often doesn’t quite match the romantic expectations of it)? Are we still enjoying the process? What was the larger goal and is that still something we want?
Sometimes, in doing the work, an unexpected aspect of that work might grab our interest and make us re-evaluate what it is we actually want. In that case, do we really want to carry on working to these goals and deadlines that were set before we knew this stimulating new interest we’ve discovered even existed?
The enjoyment of meeting a goal or a deadline or completing a project is fleeting and momentary and hollow. It will never make up for all those spent hours if we hated each one of those hours (of course, we won’t love all of them—ask me about provisioning profiles and certificate signing—but on balance there should be many more good hours than bad).
Finally, we should never feel beholden to our past selves. As soon as we start doing the work they set for us, we gain knowledge about ourselves that they never had.
The game is functionally complete and I have begun to play and tweak and play and tweak. I look at what I’ve made and consider it in two minds: the first is that of the craftsman. I turn it this way and that, feel the weight of the objects beneath my fingers as I slide them around the scene. I watch as everything works as intended, and I’m pleased at what exists.
After the excitement of working on a text adventure game engine, I’ve gone back to Barista while I wait for me and Mike’s schedules to line up and today I have mostly been thinking about: data structures!
Last week a friend of mine, Mike Sowden, contacted me with an innocuous message about Lifeline, a new mobile game he had discovered. It was a cross between a text adventure and a choose your own adventure, but with a modern twist, taking advantage of push notifications to create a sense of real-time communication.
You’re texting with Taylor, an astronaut who has crash landed on another planet. He messages you, pausing to ask your advice and you get to direct his course of action as he attempts to survive and arrange rescue. The actions play out in real time so if he has to, say, hike for an hour, you won’t hear from him for an hour.
After playing around with Inverse Kinematics and struggling to get it to transfer the velocity of arm motion to the coin in a realistic way, I thought about how much time I wanted to spend getting this to work and came to the conclusion that I didn’t really like this idea enough. So I threw it out and started over, which is always a good idea when you have severe time limitations.
I considered the set of limited skills and experience I had with SpriteKit and figured out what I could do with them in a hundred hours and came up with: