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The Flipside of Ideas

An illustration of a glowing light bulb surrounded and almost obscured  by a whole bunch of inactive light bulbs.I’ve been thinking a lot about how important it is to have diverse influences in your life when you’re attempting to do anything creative. Probably the biggest hindrance to living in such a remote little place as I am now, is that there’s not a lot of external stimuli. Online interaction today appears to herd all of us into our predefined groups as much as possible – suggestions of who to follow based on similarities to who you already follow, music recommendations based on the music you already own…

Still, there’s also the risk of over-saturation. Do you remember the weird plasticine modelling clay you used to play with as a kid? Beautiful, bright colours. But after a while, after smooshing them together and picking them apart tonnes of times, all the different colours started blending. And then, you got to the point where it was simply not possible to pick them apart again and you just mashed them all together. All those pretty colours mixed to become a blob of gross-looking, pasty, off-green sick.

And that’s what will happen if we all try to blend all the awesome things we can think of into one thing all the time. We’ll all simply come up with the same bowl of off-green sick.

A book, game, movie doesn’t need to be everything for everyone all the time. It never can be, and anything that tries to be that, is destined to become bloated and clumsy, and ultimately, a flop.

I actually don’t think I’ve really mentioned this yet, but the game I’m working on combines (predominantly) puzzle game ideas, with RPG elements and has the working title of “Alchemy Hex”. Thus I’m obviously targeting two main demographics: people who like puzzle games and people who like RPGs, with the hope that there’d be a crossover happening, getting mainly-RPG players interested in puzzle games, and vice-versa. In other words – this game will most likely not appeal to RTS players. It will most likely not appeal to FPS players. And that’s okay.

I think the trick is just to never lose sight of your idea in its purest form. That’s why I’m so keen on keeping notebooks and diagrams within easy reach. In the past few weeks, I’ve become so focused on the mechanics of the game and how it influences the level of difficulty, that I started becoming a little obsessed with difficulty levels. If you look at the little notebook icons I made, there’s even a sticker specifically for difficulty level (and in fact, I think it was probably that very aspect that inspired the idea for the notebook stickies in the first place). Then, last week, I looked at my original diagram, and gained a little perspective again: the RPG elements. That’s precisely why I wanted them in there, but I’d kinda lost sight of them. The game’s difficulty will be and should be determined by the skill and ability choices you make. There’s really almost no need for a difficulty level setting at all. It’s basically a moot point. And I’d been spending so much time on trying to figure it out (I think there’s some metaphorical life lesson hidden in there somewhere…).

Fortunately, I had the notes and diagrams to help me regain some focus again and point me back towards my original plan.

A photo of a cork pin-board with two mindmap diagrams as well as plastic bags containing alchemical symbols on hexagonal grids.
My pin-board with the original diagram(s) for my idea, as well as some material that’s been added since then. Of course, a lot of what’s on the diagram isn’t even relevant any longer, but it’s still a crucial document in my process.

Another problem with idea generation though, is when you get a whole bunch of ideas that you think are all really good, all at once. It can be difficult to filter them and keep the really useful ones. At the moment, since I’ve been working primarily with my hands, paper, scissors and glue, the idea of turning this game (which was from its inception intended to be a computer/mobile game) into a board game as well, has been milling around in my mind a lot. I never latched onto it though, since it was never the primary concern.

Besides, I couldn’t imagine how I would make a game intended for one player, into an enjoyable board game.

And then that single little thought triggered a whole avalanche of ideas… “Just make it a board game for two players then.” Which became, “Why don’t I add two-player support to the digital game?” That progressed into a whole brainstorming session of what would constitute a two-player version of the game. Then, multiplayer… It got to a point where I now actually have what I believe to be a legitimate idea for expanding the game into a multiplayer game. I was almost as excited by this as I was when I had the original idea for my game.

But. I’m already in way over my head as it is. Adding multiplayer support at this time will delay the project by months. It’s not so much that the game mechanics or anything would differ drastically, it’s just that on top of everything else, I’d then have to start worrying about network communications, synchronisation of game elements across devices… Will there be a lobby, will it be peer-to-peer or direct connection? Will it be real-time, turn-based, e-mail driven…? That’s all way too much for me to be worrying about now. So… looking back to my original diagrams and the work I’ve already done, I decided that I really want to do the multiplayer thing. But not now. Once the game as originally envisioned is released, and if it is successful enough to warrant expansion, I’ll look into the multiplayer aspect. And then, who knows, possibly the board game idea too.

What I’ve learned from all of this then, is to always stay open to new ideas, but not to lose focus of what it is that I actually set out to do. 😉

PS – Some other interesting things that have happened during the past two weeks, is that I’m now helping out at the local high school. It’s going to be kind of off-topic, but I’ll probably write about that next time.

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Reboot – Part 2: To Reinvent or Not

I’ve wanted to “work for myself” for a very long time, possibly since the first job I’ve had. I’ve never functioned well in office environments. Around 2007 – 2008, I tried freelancing as a web developer (as I was formerly employed as exactly that) and ended up hating it so much, that I’ve more or less lost all interest in web development.

What do you do when roughly the only trained skill you have, becomes something you’re not interested in anymore? I harboured dreams of developing stand-alone management applications that I could then sell to clients – a complete software suite that, unlike CMS-based websites, would not necessarily need my continued interaction with the client (aside from support calls, etc.). I certainly had the skills to execute this and yet, it didn’t happen.

What I kept telling myself the problem was (and at least partly, it was), was the inability to make money from such an idea until I had a finished product. In other words, in the couple of months it would take me to develop something like this, I would have no income, but I would still have rather significant expenses. Part-time job? Working on the project in the evenings? I’ve tried that in the past and it just didn’t work for me. I tend to get so involved with the other work that I do, that I end up not having the energy or motivation to work on the project (also, part-time jobs in South Africa generally don’t pay enough to augment this kind of process – the other thing you’re doing would need to bring in money at the same time too, in order to keep up with rent, groceries, etc. So full-circle – the thing I’m doing isn’t currently bringing in money that I can survive on. The End… :/ ).

And this is precisely how the cycle has gone for me, probably since 2005. I get to the point where I realise the job I’m doing doesn’t fulfil me, I need to focus on my own projects, then I quit the job and focus on my projects, but before long, I panic, since there’s no “security” in my own projects… Continue reading Reboot – Part 2: To Reinvent or Not