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When Push Comes to Shove (But There’s No Room Left)

May 12, 2008

It’s Monday morning, and it’s time for a new post. On my laptop, which has been on and working all weekend, there are seven open Word files, three Excel files and three browser windows (the latter a low record, I think). I have more to do than I can possibly finish in the amount of time I have left. Seriously.

In saying this, though, somehow it all will get done, because it just always turns out that way. All of us have been here at some point or another with work, personal lives or school (or, in my case, all three). There’s the feeling of impending doom followed by resignation followed by planning to somehow pull it off in the end.

I’m not a big fan of the middle part where my head delivers this message, “We’re dead,” followed by this message, “WTF are we going to do?” followed by this message, “I have an idea.”

In situations like this, I’m curious what you do, and what your strategy is.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 12, 2008 10:20 am

    Ooh, I hate that feeling. I’ve had anxiety dreams about it since middle school, and when it actually happens it meets every nasty expectation.

    I’ve been a bit of a perfectionist for years, so impending deadlines are always difficult for me. On the one hand, rushing something means it’ll be less than perfect. On the other, a completed project is always, ALWAYS better than an incomplete idea. So, when possible, I ask for small extensions on due dates when I know I can finish the work, but I want the extra time to polish it and make it something I feel confident about.

    In terms of building games under a deadline (and when extensions aren’t an option), the brilliant thing about game design is its scalability. If a concept is too ambitious for the time frame, scale back. Reduce the number of players, or eliminate one of the ancillary game mechanics. Do anything you can do to reduce the variables involved, and thus simplify and streamline testing and iteration. It’s not an ideal situation, but sometimes it’s an unavoidable one.

  2. May 12, 2008 10:16 pm

    I tend to view game design much like I heard fine art described, “A work isn’t so much finished as abandoned.” In other words, you could work infinitely on a game design and never finish it. As professionals, we’ve learned that we need to eventually prune the idea and continue down the road towards a finished product if we want to keep getting paid.

    The “middle part” is frustrating because you’ve done enough work on the project to start to see some of the potential, but the looming deadline limits how much you can play in the space defined by the game. Experienced designers can often go with a “gut feeling” on which possibilities are worth following up on and which are probably doomed from the start. Sometimes the solution lies in finding an option you didn’t fully recognize before, perhaps one that encompasses multiple other options you were thinking

    So, when I’m in the morass in the middle of a project, I just take the meta view of the project. I keep working at it knowing that I’ll end up finding some solution that will almost certainly allow me to get the project done by the deadline. If not, I just remember that classic Douglas Adams quote:

    “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

  3. May 13, 2008 12:35 am

    For me I don’t even usually give myself the time to think those things. It usually comes down to, “Okay, it’s work time. What do I have to do and do I have time to do more?” Yesterday I think I managed to have Photoshop, Illustrator, Maya, two Open Office spreadsheets, Firefox, and iTunes all open at the same time (with about 80% RAM usage, 4 gigs is a handy thing) and was pretty much working on my Lighting project and board game at the same time. My head didn’t have time for silly thoughts like, “We’re dead” and I left it just barely enough breathing space for “I have an idea.”

    Weeks for me, lately at least, very often come down to about 4 days of straight work, followed by a rest, followed immediately by more work or by a night of heavy drinking and then more work the next day. Depends on how much my brain can handle, and how long until it remembers just how far in debt I am right now.

    So really, the best thing I say to do at the middle part when you reach the “WTF are we going to do?” phase is to pull back from the monitor and just shout out, “LET’S ALL GO TO THE SIZZLER!” and have yourself a good meal to recharge and think things through, but bring a notebook with you because it is VERY likely that while you are eating you will have that idea that can fix everything. That’s usually how it happens for me.

  4. May 13, 2008 9:18 am

    For me, when I reach the “WTF am I going to do” point, I go into what I think of as Producer Mode (which I admit is ironic since I’ve never been a Producer and would probably suck at it).

    I first make a list of every task I need to do, breaking down big scary tasks into smaller, manageable ones when possible. Once it’s written down, it usually feels a lot less scary — the impending doom feeling comes more from “I know I have a lot to do and it just feels like I won’t have enough time” than anything else, and quantifying it removes that fear.

    Then I prioritize. What’s the deadline for each task? Maybe some things are due on Monday, others on Thursday. I re-order the list by due date. (Anything that’s strictly optional goes to the end of the list, obviously.)

    Then, I just start on the first task, and do my best to ignore all the other ones looming ahead of me. By focusing on one thing, I know that I’m at least getting stuff done, and when I complete it I feel like I’m making progress, which gives me the energy to do the next task, and the next.

    In short, when the going gets tough, I get totally anal. Which I’m sure is absolutely no shock at all to anyone who knows me 🙂

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