Maybe it’s due to the insistence of one of my old college professors on starting off every one of his courses (I was forced to endure three of them) with a run-through of Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, or maybe it’s that I can’t really support any book that merely describes what should be almost entirely self-evident to anybody who gives even the remotest thought to the question of “How can I be less disappointing as a person?”, but I absolutely cannot stand self-help books. Today’s post, however, is not about how amusing I find it that a Mormon wrote a book 20 years ago that proposes to instruct me on how to live my life. Quite the contrary, apart from my personal feelings on the matter, these books — particularly the one I mentioned — do make a few valid points that may not be immediately apparent. Today’s post combines an examination of what it means to “sharpen the saw” with an explanation of why there haven’t been any posts for the past week.
It seems rather counter-intuitive that an essential component of being productive would be to not work quite so often. After all, if the amount of time you spend working on something is directly correlated with the amount of work completed, it should stand to reason that spending all of your time working (with allotments for the daily necessities of living, of course) will result in the maximum amount of completed work possible. Unfortunately, the formula is a bit more complicated than “work = (work/time) * time”, and this is where the idea of “sharpening the saw” comes in. By spending a substantial portion of your time away from your work, you can refresh and relax yourself, allowing yourself to gather your thoughts, put your affairs in order, and focus even more while working.
Few occupations suffer more from burnout than a career in the gaming industry. All creative endeavors are prone to it to an extent, but the hurdles that must be jumped, and obstacles that must be barreled through in order to realize a complete interactive creative vision are unparalleled in any other industry; video games as a medium combines elements of all other art forms, and thus a single game generally takes much more work to produce than a novel or painting — for comparison’s sake, Metal Gear Solid 4 has at least two movies’ worth of what is essentially cinematic content, film being the other noteworthy multimedia titan. No, not every game is as ambitious as MGS4. The point stands, however, that games in general have many more moving parts than other media, and each of these parts requires some form of creative decision-making.
This is where it becomes important to spend a fair amount of time not working or even thinking about your work. It’s expected, and even desirable, that a designer lose themselves to an extent in their designs. Only by exploring your ideas in-depth can you hope to bring those ideas alive for other people, after all. Burnout, at least of the self-induced variety — I can’t speak for the exhaustion that comes from being externally forced to do work –, kicks in when we become so attached to what we’ve created that we forget the initial purpose of their creation. This goes back to an earlier discussion on over-planning, but I personally became so in love with the idea of Atma’s world that I started spending ridiculous amounts of time planning out how everything would and should function in the final stages before release. You know, disregarding all of the nice things I’ve said about an iterative development process, and all. It got to the point where I felt happier just thinking about the game than I did making it, and couldn’t motivate myself to actually write any code.
This is one of those “do as I say, not as I do” instances, and hopefully I only need to learn this lesson once. This past week, I was at a wedding party for two close friends of mine, and I — reluctantly, if you ask any of my friends — pushed aside my laptop, simply stopped thinking about making Atma, and allowed myself to socialize and generally enjoy life. When I got back from the wedding, I found that my will to work had not only returned completely, but was in fact much stronger than it had been at any point since I’d begun working on the game. So while this past week is entirely devoid of blog posts, any unwritten ideas are matched tenfold by the new enthusiasm for Atma’s development that’s resulted from my realization of exactly what it is in life that makes sharing experiences with other people a worthwhile process.
And it seems the silliest thing, but who could have guessed that spending time around other people would make it easier to think about character interactions in a game world? I loved being gone, but it’s good to be back.