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Developing Self-Discipline

January 16, 2011
Several years ago, I was working for EA designing the lifestyle system for an urban fighting game. I had it FINISHED, and planned to send it off that day. Then, an idea occurred to me that would make it better – not massively, but maybe by 10%. It was certainly a better way to do it, the right way, I would argue. Now, I vividly remember thinking about how much time it would take me to make this change. It was going to affect EVERYTHING I’d already written. I was on contract for a fixed fee, so it didn’t matter whether my work took 200 or 300 hours. Done was done and $ = the same. It was the first time I had been in such a situation.

I vividly remember everything about that moment. Where I was sitting, what I was doing, what work the decision would affect. It wasn’t a pleasant thought. But then came an important moment of professional growth for me – my only responsibility was to do it right for the game. That is what I was hired to do. So, I took the massive amount of time, the stress on other things in my life (I was just starting at SCAD at the time, and that workload was nuts), and I did the job right. The critical thing is that had I not done it, NO ONE would have known. It was good enough, but I knew I could do better.

I return to this again and again. We must always do the right thing for design, allowing for the real constraints of THE GAME, not compromise the design because of our own mood, time or other non-game needs. I would have known that it could have been better and that I had cheated the game.


14 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2011 10:45 pm

    This is why I love the game industry. When was the last time you saw someone really go above and beyond, when it was totally “off the clock” and there was nothing in it for them, in any other space? Regularly?

    Of course, the flip side is when management (at SOME companies that know who they are, obviously not yours) recognizes and exploits this tendency, mandating unpaid overtime because “we know you can do better”… where to draw the line?

  2. Jason Pineo permalink
    January 16, 2011 10:46 pm

    Interesting, I was expecting the discipline to come in and prevent ‘creeping elegance’.

  3. January 17, 2011 5:43 am

    Glad I’m not the only crazy person. Super respect for that attitude.

    I have to say you do inspire me a lot of the time 🙂 All the people in the industry willing to put in the extra work to do the best job they can.

    • January 17, 2011 3:45 pm

      Wow, thanks Claire. That’s super kind of you to say so.

    • Jason Pineo permalink
      January 19, 2011 9:13 pm

      Ditto. Your passion and drive are inspiring alone, to say nothing of your Mechanic is the Message series.

  4. King Krak, I Rule the Game permalink
    January 17, 2011 12:15 pm

    Ha! I can’t design any other way; must do things the best possible way no matter the time cost. Everything must be right, not almost right. So my designs have always taken longer to complete, and I have no regrets about this. Too, I expect my games to be played for years not days or months, so this always really matters.

  5. January 18, 2011 12:19 pm

    On the other hand, as Mark Rosewater often pointed out (can’t find the exact article, sorry), you can *always* do better; however, since you don’t have infinite time, you must quit polishing sooner or later and ship the product.

  6. January 19, 2011 8:40 am

    With an attitude and work ethic like that its no wonder you are were you are in your career. To bad that can’t teach that in school.

  7. January 19, 2011 10:36 pm

    I find this kind of thinking dangerous. A quality product is absolutely a must but we need to each find the line where it is killing us to make these changes. If the only cost is time then by all means, make no comprimise and get that extra 10%. But if you have rent to pay and other jobs on the line, don’t feel bad about moving on.

    By putting in extra work you got the payoff in satisfaction but by putting in work for free like that it messes with predictions of how long a project should take, ideally your 10% idea would have been thought about in the project plan, I just hope you haven’t given your client a false sense of effort to cost.

    The project management exists so that a project can be done with no-one left in a negative position.

    Have some relevant reading:

    Good article, very thought provoking.

    • January 22, 2011 5:02 pm

      This would be a part of the constraints that govern everything, I think. If did what I could do within the constraints available. I would not have lost my job at SCAD or caused damage in other areas. It’s all about doing everything you can within the constraints.

      • Adrian Love permalink
        January 22, 2011 9:12 pm

        That’s fair and 100% awesome. Thanks for responding.

  8. January 27, 2011 3:25 pm

    I’ve been looking at your post everyday since it went up and I hadn’t really been sure why I’d been so fascinated with it until this morning. I’ve been working on my senior project feverishly for the past few months. The hours and stress, on top of already being sick, keep me up at night and don’t let me keep my food down. I can’t think straight and I can’t game design my way out of paper sack right now, because my brain is fried and my body is spent. So I decided to quit my class before it killed me. My team would survive without me. They would find a way, life always does. Its not my responsibility, I kept telling myself, its not my fault I’m sick, that I can’t keep going. I know I don’t have it in me to finish the class. Yesterday, I tell my professor and and my team, that I’m through, that I can’t go another day.

    But your post somehow always managed to be on one of my monitors, staring me in the face every time I sit down to do anything. So I decide to give it one last night of work so that my team could have a functioning game. A 16 hour marathon of code, design, tears, and vomit. Every time I felt like I just couldn’t go another minute, I re-read your words, and I found the strength to go just a little longer. I worked until every mechanic worked, until the code could be edited and worked with by my team, until we had a game. And now I know why your words refused to leave my monitor, because I needed them. Because I needed to do the right thing, for my team, for the game and as a person. I would have regretted it forever if I hadn’t finished the game, if I didn’t at least attempt those last 16 hours. I can walk away and take time off to regain my constitution with a clear conscience.

    Thank you so much for your story. You gave me the strength and inspiration to keep going, just when I needed it most.

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