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Post news RSS The Ups and Downs- Dealing with the emotional Toll

Gamedev gets rough and I want to take a moment to talk about the emotional aspect of working on a single project for so long.

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I'll start by boldly declaring that I am currently experiencing an "Up." I'll follow that by not-so-boldly knocking on the wood-top of my desk.

I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in my perception of this process as being ahem emotionally turbulent. My sixth-month project is now entering is 18th month (that's one year and six months for all you baby-haters), and I want to take a minute to post what it's been like in case it helps any of you who might be currently experiencing a "Down".

And the lows get low. It starts with a problem. Something comes up that I can't solve. And I stare at it for hours wondering why this isn't right. It might be something technical (why isn't the enemy following over the obstacles?!) or it might be something intangible (why isn't this fun?).

An impressive moonwalk, sure, but not exactly what we're looking for from a scary enemy.

But whatever it was, it starts to eat and by the following day I've woken up with a feeling of dread. Some days I'm unable to even work up the courage to start up the project which causes me to feel even worse the following day, knowing I got nothing done. And then the thoughts like this come:

  • "I'm worthless, why would I even attempt something like this. Of course I can't do it."
  • "This game isn't working. There's nothing I can do to fix it because I'm not smart enough to fix a broken toilet flusher."
  • "Everyone will be disappointed. Why did I even tell anyone?"

But it's fleeting. Well, kind of. It's less 'fleeting' and more 'goes away slowly and after a little while things seem a lot better'.

And if anyone is like me and has had to deal with this, I'll say, keep on keepin on. Do that work even when it pains you. Write down on paper and see what's wrong. Talk about it to people you trust, especially if they don't want to give you advice. Sometimes you just need a sounding board. Try different ways of tackling the same problem.

In writing, they say "kill your darlings." I'd say that's good advice for game design. If something isn't working, or is slowing the game down, kill it. My game's gone through some pretty masssssive changes since its inception, mostly for this reason. I was attached to things that worked only in theory.
18 months later (I won't reformat that number a second time, you baby-haters) and I really have to say that I have fun even just testing the freaking thing. I don't think it's going to blow the world up or be Braid or Limbo or anything like that, but I can say I'm damn, damn proud of what it's shaping up to be. One way or another, when it gets into people hands, I can say, "This is the game I wanted it to be because I wouldn't accept it when it wasn't."

Finally getting the sense of bringing the world back to life.

Getting the grass to look even the way it does in the picture above has been a major task and we went through a lot of growing pains to get it there, but it's really starting to feel right.


Great post!

Reminds me of a song lyric by Townes van Zandt:

"To live's to fly
All low and high
So shake the dust off of your wings
And the tears out of your eye"

Keep on flying, Sprout! =)

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Wow! Great to see I'm not the only one going through these kind of emotions. I thought I was the odd one out.
I think - as you also pointed out - for me it's important how I feel about the game. I want something I can look at and be proud of.
And it can get bad. And when it's bad, it's really bad. But in the end, you pour a part of you into something in the hope that somewhere around the world, some random guy gets it. He gets what it's all about. And then it's worth it again.

By the way, you're doing a great job so far, keep it up!

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I'm no game developer, but as an artist one important thing I can say is this:
Creative energy is a finite resource that takes time to recharge once it is depleted. Solving problems related to game design most likely takes a lot of creative thought and it can be very draining. When you hit a wall, try and realize that you're probably just depleted and take a day or two to get it all back.
Work when you're inspired and stop when you hit that wall- you'll be more productive and less stressed in the long run. Best of luck and I look forward to playing this game! :)

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