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The Curious Pace of Devotion

February 11, 2010

Superman - from a 1940's postcard

How long will it take?

It is a question we have all asked, or perhaps it has been asked of us. Maybe the question and its answer have happened in your own mind in rapid succession as they have in mine a thousand times.

As long as it takes, and not a moment more.

The answer uttered, the struggle ensues, silently sometimes, as we wait for the design, the code, the art, the idea to rise or the game to finish, and it never seems to come soon enough. This is particularly true if it is something we are passionate about.

This struggle, this tension, is the price of our passion, I think. It reflects our devotion to something we know will come, the dynamics we designers can see and nearly feel even if they are not yet realized. We desperately want the end result, because we believe it will be amazing. We’ve passed through the prototype phase. The systems are all working in their own independent way. It’s just not all yet working together, and the gap is excruciating.

So, we let go and wait. It is a form of creative loneliness. The only way around it is to run it solo like Wonder Woman, doing it all yourself – code, art, design, sound and all. Not everyone is capable of that, and even if they were, it is more fun to make games with friends than alone. After all, Wonder Woman eventually joined the Justice Society of America.

Through it all, we remain devoted to the idea, and that devotion is curious in its demand for pacing.

I was considering this concept the other night as I worked simultaneously on two games, alternating between one and the other, and reminisced on still a third. One game is a commercial product that will likely enter prototype soon. The other one is One Falls for Each of Us, the 4th game in my series The Mechanic is the Message. As I worked on these two, I thought about Wizardry 8 and the world I both blew up and left behind, egged on by a couple articles that have recently appeared on the series.

My devotion to these various products was different:

  • The commercial game – it arrives when I tell it to: I push. I stare at it, trying to will to life the design I know is there. I let myself be distracted. I force myself to focus. I shut off all forms of external stimuli save some awesome jazz. This game has to come out tonight, because people are waiting for it tomorrow. My brain has been thinking about it for quite some time, so the game is already there, I’m just trying to tease out the exact functionalities. Ultimately, I finish the edits, and I am happy with the results. I had to chase it into the doc because there is a deadline to meet, but the result is good.
  • One Falls for Each of Us – it arrives when it feels like it: I have faith, and I trust. For my non-commerical non-digital games, the game shows up when it’s ready to. I never worry that it will show up. I know the mechanics are coming. I know they will be precisely what they are supposed to be. The lack of the design on my desk or in code or in writing doesn’t mean that there’s no design to be had. It is there, and it will find its way. I am under no pressure to publish these games, so there is no pressure to finish them. It allows me  a tremendous luxury as a designer. It allows me to consider the great range of potential in my decisions. Yet, it is not optimum, really. While I play with this game in my head, there is another in the wings, waiting, and ultimately, the complete game is better than the area of transition as the mechanics do their dance with one another, waiting for realization.
  • Wizardry 8 – it arrives eventually: I pushed. I loved. We deeply cared. For Wizardry 8, like the other Wizardrys and like the Sir-tech Jagged Alliance games, the completed project was a mix of passion, pushes to the schedule (in both directions) and a deep belief that we were working on something great (when the answer <> great, the schedule pushed out some to accommodate).

Somewhere between these extremes and their compromise, there is a single best path for each game, and that path is shaped by the constraints placed upon it by forces often beyond the designer’s control. In my examples above, I am dedicated to each of these games, and each owns a part of my brain. Ultimately, though, my dedication is borne by passion for an idea, for a design process, or some group of dynamics that I know will rise from all three. I will stand by an idea forever.

Tonight, I work on no games at all waiting for one to come.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 11, 2010 6:28 am

    Do you always wait for the design to have formed completely before you start to make it? Do you just know when it is finished? Or is there always room for changes later?

    I ask because we never wait ourselves: we start making the parts that we think we need and the actual design is born out of our interaction with and evaluation of these parts. I also always feel that the design we ultimately implement is only one of many and possibly not even the best.

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