When I first left my job and started traveling around, I had assumed that all my newfound freedom would allow me to work non-stop on all of the “awesome” ideas that I had floating around in my head.
Unfortunately, as someone once put it, “It’s hard to think outside of the box once you no longer have the box”. Without any constraints, I felt myself losing the ability to do anything. Total freedom was much more difficult to deal with than I ever thought it could be. I knew it would be hard to stay motivated with zero constraints, but all the foresight in the world couldn’t prepare me for the total paralyzation of my mind and abilities in this situation. I basically hit “game-developer’s block”.
My first few months were spent mentally recovering from a rough year. A lot changed for me in 2013, and once I really had time to process it all – man, it was hard to work. Every time I sat down to work on something, I would inevitably browse reddit and buzzfeed for a few hours before giving up in total frustration. Where did all my ideas go? I spent the last few years engrossed in thoughts of all of the amazing games I would work on once I had real time, and now that I was faced with the chance – nothing. I would start a prototype only to throw it away a few hours later. The number of mostly empty “New Unity Project” folders on my desktop was steadily growing, and my motivation/perceived self-worth was dwindling proportionally.
After months of watching me struggle, Rami suggested Game a Week. The rules of Game a Week were that I would take one new idea and explore it for one week. I would start Monday morning and put whatever it is that I have accomplished on my website Sunday night – even if it was an incomplete piece of junk.
Finally, I had some accountability. I had a goal to work towards, and deliverables that I had to achieve every week. The first few weeks were full of me trying to “cheat” the system in a way.
“Oh, well, I’ll give myself a few extra hours on Monday to finish this idea up”
“If I fail this week, I’ll just make two games next week”
“Maybe I’ll spend this week re-visiting an idea I had a little while ago and started prototyping”
I’d be lying if I said I could have done this as successfully without Rami’s motivation at the inception of this challenge – he consistently shot down every one of those cheats and stringently encouraged me to stick within the constraints. Pick one new idea, develop it, explore it, finish it, don’t touch it again. Over time it became easier to push the “cheating” out of my way of thinking and focus on the games.
Each week I learned something new and each week I accomplished something. Even though 80% of the games I created were absolutely terrible, I finally had the reassurance of seeing something that I created appear every week. The accountability of having to put the games on my website for all to see was incredibly daunting and one of the other major reasons that I stuck to it. I can actually feel myself improving every week on various aspects of my game design skills. I won’t say I’m amazing at any of it in any way, but now that I’m forcing myself to think about new ideas every week, and critically explore my mechanics and game creation approach, I can definitely see the improvement.
I sometimes feel like my brain has a secret second brain hidden inside of it. My “second brain” is where all of my half formed ideas get stuck – it feels like a place where my ideas swirl around and distract my real brain from all of the work it should be doing. Game a Week forced me to empty out all of “what if” ideas that were caught in there. Some were fun, some were not, but the most important part is that once I was able to empty out all of those ideas, I could finally see new and more exciting ones. Without all of the old ideas floating around, I could feel myself becoming more focused.
I can’t talk enough about how much Game a Week has affected my game development – I also don’t have enough data points yet to definitively make an assessment on this either. I’m only now on my 12th week, but personally, I can see the difference. For me, one week is long enough to be able to properly explore one idea/mechanic to an extent where I can see whether it works as well as I think it should, yet short enough that I don’t become completely invested to the idea. I’m curious as to where the next 40 weeks will bring me in this.
I’m going to start writing weekly post-mortems on my Game a Week games, but first I need to address the first 11 games. Click here for Part 2.