Archive for August, 2003

It seems like years ago, but I’ve only been working on my adventure game for about seven or eight months now. Since August of 2002, when this whole thing started, it’s grown in scale and scope to encompass its own website, a series of (sometimes) monthly columns, and a design team working to make the idea of ‘Rattlesnake’ Jake Dawson and Rise of the Hidden Sun a reality.

And so, perhaps not surprisingly, we’re not even close to finishing it yet.

Considering how much time, effort, and caffeine has already gone into the project, though, I’ve heard from at least a few people who think we should be done by now. But amateur game design is a hobby for me, and I have a personal life—or something that occasionally resembles one—that needs my attention, too. It took me dozens of abandoned projects before I realized the guiding principle that makes this game different than anything else I’ve ever started: It pays to goof off every now and then.

Sure, I give myself deadlines and keep to a self-imposed production schedule, but there’s also something to be said for the magic of plopping down in front of the TV and leaving the world of concept sketches, walk cycles, and puzzle design behind for a few hours. It’s about balance. Game design, like any long creative process, has its ups and downs. It has bursts of creative energy when everything seems to come easy, and it has days when doing something else—doing anything else—is more appealing.

Sometimes it’s okay to give in. The best way to keep fresh is to make time for other hobbies as well. I set aside a few days every week when I won’t even think about my game. The reverse of that, obviously, is that I also make sure to plan for a few nights after work every week when I will dig into the project. By finding that balance, it’s easier to keep a schedule and avoid a creative burnout. And while the process is slower than if I spent every waking hour outside of my day job working on the adventures of Jake Dawson, it’s also more likely to get finished this way.

I’ve also found that my work environment affects my productivity. When I try to work at my apartment, even when I’m by myself, there are just too many distractions for my attention span-challenged brain to avoid. So instead I take my laptop to a local café a few nights a week and work on my game from there. I’m still amazed at how much more I can accomplish simply by getting out and making a night of it. It’s more fun, too, since I don’t feel like I’m working in complete isolation, either.

As the project coordinator, I’ve assigned myself responsibilities ranging from screen-by-screen conceptual layouts to managing the sound effects and music to writing every line of dialogue. The upside of becoming a game design jack-of-all-trades is that there’s never an end to the work that needs to be done. And since I’m running the project on my own schedule, I can usually switch between the different creative modes whenever I begin to get worn out by any particular part of the design process. If the dialogue for a particular conversation between Jake and another character just isn’t coming naturally to me, I can switch to concept art or puzzle design. Or, as the case may be every now and then, I can put aside a few hours and write this column.

The flexibility means that there’s always something fresh to work on. Since I find that the easiest work—in terms of my creative impulses—is the concept art, I usually start by sketching out whichever section of the game that I plan to work on that night, and seeing where my sketches take me. Often it paves the way for new puzzles or story elements that I hadn’t fully worked out beforehand.

And speaking of puzzle design, that leads me to the topic for next time: the process of integrating puzzles within a story. I’ve spent my last two columns discussing things that are external to the game itself, but starting next time I’ll be digging back into the actual design process and focusing on my strategy for creating puzzles that work within the story rather than in spite of it.

Next: The art of puzzle design

This blog entry originally appeared at Adventure Gamers.

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