Game Design Tips #15 – [General] Staying Sane While Making Games

You have a great idea. This is the one. The one that’s gonna thrust you into the limelight; the one that promises to turn you from a nobody to an auteur overnight. You’ve jotted all your ideas down on paper, got a plan together and you’re ready to get rolling on this massive project. Great! However, the most important thing here is to be realistic. This project probably isn’t going to bring around world peace, and you’re not going to be able to work on it all day and all night. I’ve put together this list of ways you can keep the motivation strong by pacing yourself, in the hope it’ll prevent people from burning themselves out halfway through the project.

Be open to changing your original plan

So you have this 400-page whopper of a plan. Not everything in it is going to be pure gold; odds are, you’ll show it to a friend and they’ll poke out a few holes in your story. I’ve been there (not with 400 pages of stuff though!), and it sure sucks to be told you were wrong, but don’t fret. Your friends are also your customers. More often than not, asking your friends, family or colleagues for feedback will give you valuable insight into what they’re looking for, and it’s crucial to make sure your game idea is viable at an early stage. After all, if your friends are iffy about playing it, then what would the average random person think? Either that, or your plan is perfect, everyone else is wrong, and you should get new friends that appreciate you.

Don’t stay up ridiculous hours to get your game done

I’ve broken this rule at pretty much every game jam I’ve ever gone to, but I’m allowed to be a hypocrite. Really, I mean don’t stay up if you don’t want to. There may come a point where you’re falling behind your schedule and you feel as if just a few more hours would let you get back on track, but that’s not always the case. It’s a trap! Staying up those few hours will likely make you feel tired the next day, which is only going to subtract from your productivity later.

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When you get frustrated, leave it for a while

When you have a bug in your code that just doesn’t want to go away, or there’s a graphical glitch that makes everyone turn purple for no good reason, it’s not a bad idea to leave your desk for an hour or two and come back with a fresh mind. In that time, why not go for a walk? Go get a glass of water, and a snack too. Keeping yourself hydrated and cutting off the cycle of frustration will make development much more pleasant. In any case, if you’re really stuck with your problem, there’s every chance someone else has run into the same problems; the solution can probably be found on a game design forum somewhere.

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If it stops being fun, stop working on it

This point is of the utmost importance. Many times, there will come a point where game development stops being fun; if you have no obligation to continue the project (say, if it’s a personal project and you don’t have legions of fans expecting something of you), then there’s no shame in shelving your progress so far. That said, planning your game in the first place to be a good length is important to avoid this – if you know you’re prone to quitting when development hits the end stages, perhaps your next game should be much shorter. You should always try to avoid circumstances where development isn’t fun, but if it happens, you always have the choice to move on. You can always come back later, but the worst thing that can happen is getting creator’s block – you want to avoid that at all costs.

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