Thursday, 16 January 2014

Creativity Catharsis

Hey internet.  How've you been?

Last time we spoke I spent most of the post whining on about how depressing it can be to be creative when making games. It’s a contains a lot of whining so don’t bother to go and look it up but the main gist is that you’ll never have a chance to realize all the ideas you have for games because they take too bloody long to make.  I.e. you think up games far quicker than you can make them.

At the time this was getting me down, knowing that most of the kick ass concepts I have floating round in my head will have to stay there because I’ll never find the time to turn them in to ones and zeroes.

Well a few months have passed and things are different, I've got the spring back in my step and I’m full of programming.  So what’s changed?

No.  It wasn't drugs.

We've made a few changes around here and right now they’re all working out for the best… here’s what happened.

1. Mess about

Basically I was burned out on most of the stuff I was working on back then.  We had a couple of long running projects and, to be honest, I was sick of the sight of both of them.  Development had slowed to a crawl and it was hard to find the motivation to even load them up to work on….

So put simply I kicked them in to touch. I dropped everything I was working on and started a new project, one that I could do quickly, be creative with and have a little fun.

The core concept is very simple, and based on a classic game you’ll all know, it’s a template that I could rapidly build on. Instead of hand crafting a complicated engine for it I built something very straightforward – the idea being that I could bang out a new level or piece of content in a day or two rather than months…

From there I went nuts: Every level has a different central mechanic and requires a different play style, thematically they’re also all over the place.  It’s not a particularly polished or deep experience but its great fun in a tongue in cheek sort of way and is an absolute blast to work on!

In about a month of on-and-off weekend and evening coding I’ve gone from nothing to a fully working and 90% complete game. You lot will have to wait a while before you can get your grubby hands on it but it’s already succeeded in its main goal… getting me engaged with making games again!

2. Democracy

We also started looking at a new project as a team.  It’s at a very early stage at the moment so I don’t want to talk about it… instead I want to wax lyrical about the process we’re following.

We’re trying a new collaborative approach for it.  We picked a genre that we’re all interested in and from there on out we've discussed everything as a group and evolved the design together.

It’s actually really difficult to stop yourself going off and working on it individually but we've put in a couple of rules: all design decisions are group decisions.

Now none of the above is rocket science but previously we’ve tended to have one person take the lead in terms of the design.  This means that you can get a very good picture on how the game’s supposed to work… but on the downside it’s harder for the rest of the guys to keep motivated on the project.  Because they haven’t been involved in coming up with the idea, they’re not as invested in it… which can be a real drag if it involves several months of their time and effort.

So the new approach then:  downside is that it’s a lot slower.  Obviously it relies on us being able to regularly meet up (which is not always possible) and sometimes you can spend ages debating a point which you would have decided in 5 seconds if it was just up to you.

The benefits, though, far out way all of that:

  • Everyone is fully engaged from the start.
  • We’re all fully up to speed on the development and direction of the game.
  • We’re having to articulate, defend and justify our ideas…
  • ….which we have plenty of, because we’re all thinking about it separately then bringing what we’ve come up with to the table at meetings.
  • Also, the discussion is making us want to research a hell of a lot more.  Example:  right now we’re hoovering up episodes of Horizon and Stargazing Live to pin down the fundamentals of interstellar travel (yes, the game’s based in space)
  • Finally, there’s a snowball effect: As the design develops we are all getting more and more enthused with the whole project.  When the time comes to actually crack on with production then we’ll be chomping at the bit to get going.

Now: I'm not saying that we won’t be using the autocratic approach for some games going forward (my experimental muck about game being a prime example), but: I do think that we’re starting to come up with a trademark Caper approach for collaboration.

I'm beginning to get an idea of what working on Caper games is going to be like in the long term.

And it feels great!