Game Designers Block

Into the pit of private-flagged messages goes my weekend insanity.  I should probably keep my political beliefs to myself, lest it run off potential blog readers of differing opinion.  [Revised to be less caustic:] This single comic caused me to write it off the whole artistic endeavor, even as I respected the quality of the work, and this lead me to wonder: to what level does my own political rants damage potential readership?

Yesterday and the day before were quite a coding frenzy, as I shelved my old project and begun anew.  I’m butting heads directly against the one thing that’s stopping a game from coming to be.  That one thing: Game Designer’s Block.

The nature of the beast is becoming clearer.

Game Designer’s Block: I Have It

I’m currently referring to what I’m working on as Project SpaceRogue as it is, in some ways, a roguelike in space.   I’m trying to focus more on the weirdness of Sci-Fi, and if you’ve ever played Nethack you’ll notice it sort of captures this alien feeling to it.  However, there’s certainly more than that, as I’m trying to establish a certain level of meaningful dynamic content.

The funny thing is, when I’ve a pretty good idea about what I’m trying to create, the coding actually goes quite quickly.  This is the essence of programming: you know what you want done, so you put it in a language the computer can understand.  Once you know the language and understand the nature of the environment, there is little difficulty to it: after awhile, bugs just stop happening.  (Well, never completely, I’m sure — but if you’re learning then they should occur at an increasingly reduced frequency relative to the amount of progress you’re making.)

The fundamental problem is that I’m trying to develop a truly innovative game (no other has a chance of entertaining me) and trying to explain it to the computer is hard when I myself am approaching it from an experimental pattern.  You cannot put intangible desires into tangible computer code.

It’s a catch22.  I don’t know everything I want to do in the game, so I can’t code it.  Until I code it, I may not be actually able to visualize it well enough to know everything I want to do in the game.

Game Designer’s Block: Making Me Feel Run Down

On top of this, I’m suddenly hit with a wave of physical fatigue while I’m working.   I’m beginning to wonder if maybe there’s something to that fatigue.  It may, in fact, reflect a subconscious knowledge that what I’m doing is wrong, much in the way that Jesse Schnell describes motivation in the back of The Art of Game Design.

Lens 99: The Lens of the Raven.

To remember to only work on what is important, ask yourself this question:

  • Is making this game worth my time?

(Jesse Schell, “The Art Of Game Design,” pg. 460)

Lens 100: The Lens of Your Secret Purpose

To make sure you are working toward your one true purpose, ask yourself the only question that matters:

  • Why am I doing this?

(Jesse Schell, “The Art Of Game Design,” pg. 461)

The thing is, whether or not I ask myself these questions, I suspect a certain subconscious aspect of my mind is asking these questions continually.  The same drive largely in charge of energy conservation, likely.  When the answer to these questions are satisfactory, motivation comes a lot easier.  Right now, the answer to those questions are ambigious.

Is making this game worth my time?  I don’t know – it’s experimental. While what I produced, even in its infancy, seems to have more potential to entertain than any other game on my computer, I don’t know for certain.  This ties into the next question.

Why am I doing this?  In the long run, perhaps for self-employment doing something I love, but that’s uncertain.  Software piracy has reached such levels that it’s unlikely I could make a living producing PC software (unless, perhaps, it’s safe such as requiring a subscription-based service).   Piracy aside, simply finding recognition amongst a fickle audience is not something one can rely on.

Basically, I’ve been negative self-talking the snot out of myself.  It doesn’t help that a large bit of these accusations are hardly unfounded.  I’m a truth seeker by nature, I won’t bring myself to self-delusion, even in the name of making progress.

Game Designer’s Block: Is Apparently Quite Common

Almost reassuringly so.

The vast majority of games out there, as well we know by now, are thwarted by the demands of the almighty dollar: forced to market before they can go through enough iterations of refinement to be truly good.

However, there’s more to it than that.  It seems to that I’m in good company in that a number of developers really don’t know what they’re doing in some way or another.  For example:

  • Jack Emmert, who produced the truly brilliant MMORPG City of Heroes, appears to be completely foundering in the latest IGN entry, completely disowning his decisions in the earlier game in favor of accommodating the demands of players.  “The longer I’ve been around, the less likely I am to think I’ve got the answers!”  This is not something I want to hear from the main guy to get MMORPGs right, it seems the more I hear about Champions Online, the more it seems it will pander to fools.
  • Playing a bit of Derek Smart’s All Aspect Warfare beta reveals that Mr. Smart has yet to pick up that bigger might be better from a simulation perspective, but not from a stimulation aspect.  Games accommodate being played, working to ease the players into their mechanics while throwing just the right challenges their way.  All Aspect Warfare and the Battlecruiser series operate from the opposite tangent, possessing a brickwall interface while throwing challenges at the player at an inconsistent (perhaps life-like) curve.
  • I was rather impressed to find StarSonata heavily resembled the space MMORPG I’ve dabbled with on paper, it’s brilliant in many ways, but I’m floored at some of the strange decisions made in its design.  Immature lower-case equipment descriptions, a heavy grind focus, strung together geography with no real reason to them.   If I was in charge of a game like this, it’d be significantly improved… but then,  but maybe if I were less picky, I’d have a game to show for my efforts.

And so on.  Again, perhaps I shouldn’t feel so bad about running into Game Designer’s block, it’s everywhere to be seen if you look for it.  The individual who is truly free of their blocks could move on to produce perfection as best realized on today’s hardware, but no one’s perfect, and so we each have our flaws.

I suspect that my writing up this Blog entry is very much me attempting to listen to my subconscious, to understand where my hangups really are and be rid of them, so I can overcome this Game Designer’s Block and get down to designing a game for all the right reasons.

In many ways, life is but a game of the ultimate complexity and consequences. It’s good that I’m focusing so hard on getting better at it.

4 Responses

  1. Hi, I’m the guy whose comic evidently caused you to “write off the whole artistic endeavor as one of an idiot”, whatever that means. Were you saying that my comic strip is an idiotic artistic endeavor, or were you saying that comic strips in general are idiotic artistic endeavors? Or were you just pissed off about the content of that particular strip? Help me out here. Your criticism doesn’t do me any good when it’s posted on a blog that I don’t even know about. I have an email address. Next time, send your artistic aggressions directly to me.

    • That really wasn’t directed at you, I even said that the reasons why I was rejecting your work isn’t fair, I was actually criticizing myself when I wrote that.

      What I was saying is that when an artist expresses a political view in the body of their work, it can cause people of conflicting view to write them off regardless of the quality of that work.

      I had expressed some political views of my own on my blog the weekend before. I regretted them (you no longer see them posted) because I realized this. That was the whole purpose of that paragraph I wrote, and I used your comic as an example to support this point.

      To explain how your comic is applicable, I’m deeply pro-democrat, and in your comic you took the tactic of using an emotional issue as a means for a corrupted candidate to gain power, and italicized it’s a tactic of Democrats. This bothers me to a great degree, because this is a conservative tactic, and the conservatives have largely infiltrated the Republicans.

      I ended up judging your entire body of work harshly because of that one comic. I knew this wasn’t fair. That’s why I wrote, “Which, to be fair, it’s not necessarily.” There’s a lot of work that goes into any artistic endeavor, and your product reflects talent.

      Is my body of work, this Blog, a product of talent as well? Maybe, maybe not. (I can certainly see room for improvement.) However, observing my reaction of your work awoke an important perspective:

      Regardless of the worth of what I create, if I’m going to express something as deeply provocative as a political belief, I’m going to end up having people write off my work as a product of a fool just as I did yours.

      I hope that clarifies why this was not a personal critique directed at you in particular. I’m sure thousands of artists may alienate their audiences as you and I did.

      • Just for the record, I’m a registered Democrat who voted for Obama.

        But I’m curious as to why you judged my comic based on that particular strip … because for several days prior, I had posted a number of strips in which I mocked conservative radio as a bastion of trashy innuendo and intellectual vacuousness (wow, that’s a lot of $2.00 words).

        Also, to be fair, Republicans are second-to-none at crassly manipulating emotion for political gain. But it would be foolish to suggest that it is not within the power of a Democrat to employ such means in order to win an election. I have seen it happen locally, and I’m sure it has happened (and will continue to happen) elsewhere as well.

  2. Well, the embarrassing answer as to why I ended up judging the comic based on that particular strip, without taking into consideration the balance of the earlier stripes, was simply that I had been reading the comic in reverse.

    It turns out we’re of like mind in that we agree the Republican conservative influence has been largely manipulating emotions for political gain, and that some Democratic candidates may pick up the same tool.

    I revised this blog entry. While I do not have many readers, and you’ve little to worry about my ranting in this little corner of the Internet, it was not my intention to demonize your work.

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