Create Momentum and Experience by Making Recognizable Things

Dec 21, 2013

In this latest video entry I’m revisiting a few of the key ideas that consistently come up with developers that are past the programming language basics, but stalling a bit on figuring out what type of game to make. I’m collecting these thoughts and fitting them here in the context of a new central message: you’ve simply got to create and maintain momentum!

Since there’s so much interplay between the topics involved I’ve opted to address this material in video form:

Some bonus details, for those looking for sometthing extra, or maybe just getting to this entry in a setting where you’re not able to listen to the video portion of this post –

I often meet and hear from new videogame developers that use not yet having a great idea as an excuse for lack of action. What’s important to recognize is that not having a great idea yet is secretly an opportunity in disguise. This just means that you still have a window of time for concentrating on getting some real, quality practice in before getting distracted by taking on the great idea (and hopefully not pulled into it too early in your skill development to get the concept done right!).

The act of building also plays a critical role in the creative process in terms of coming up with and better developing our ideas. The notions that someone needs a great idea before they begin, and that a worthwhile game can only be started as a completely original concept, are both missing out on some critical concepts in game development.

Often what becomes a great game began by simply trying to model some other simple game (or aspects of games) that we enjoy. In the middle of that project’s implementation taking shape, only then are we in a position to recognize opportunities to diverge from the initial target in more personal or original ways. This approach also ensures a gameplay foundation that others can instantly recognize and understand. So often what prevents an beginner’s first original project from succeeding is that the game fails to take proper advantage of what players already know from having played other games before.

Related too is how we think about what it means to accumulate experience: it’s not the weeks, months, or years behind us, but rather the sheer number, size, and diversity of errors that we’ve run into and then successfully worked through. Part of why it’s so incredibly important to create and maintain momentum is to simply get more errors behind you, wrapped up nicely in past completed games, so that by the time you identify a target that truly moves you you’re then in a better position to not get tripped up on those same errors again with your latest project. You may even be able to build upon some past code and development processes, now though in their second draft instead of just being figured out for the first time.

Seek errors. Be excited by errors. Look forward to errors! Figuring out how to address (or next time avoid) them is what’s going to make you an ever more capable developer. Creating and maintaining momentum is the best way to train yourself to deal more rapidly and more intelligently with more kinds of errors, until they cease to even look like errors to you, and just become part of the process for bringing your ideas to life.

The best way to ensure that the errors you’re running into are at a level of complexity that won’t completely shut down your progress, but are instead incrementally harder in a way that you’re prepared to take on, and furthermore to guarantee that you’re able to tell what’s an error instead of being able to easily rationalize code misbehavior, is to start by tackling classic styles of games before moving on to increasingly modern genres.

(If that sounds conveniently like what’s covered in my recently released Code Packs, you’re right. My belief in this process is exactly why I designed the exercises and example code in the way that I did! I’ve been recommending this philosophy now for years, and well before then it was the very same approach that worked for me when I was getting started. Up until now I just never had a properly scaffolded and comprehensive way to help people follow this kind of path on their own time and pace.)

So don’t wait for a great idea to come out of nowhere, and certainly don’t wait up for a great idea to happen before beginning to get some real practice in videogame implementation. Start implementing now, today, in whatever development platform and classic gaming tradition speaks to your interests. When that learning project is done, go immediately into working on another. You won’t be doing this for more than a few games before you’ll no longer be worried about coming up with a great idea, you’ll find yourself with an abundance of great ideas for ways you can take the remaining 20-40% of the project you’ve already got the groundwork laid for, and coming up with original ways to stitch together the best of what you’re finding works among your growing pile of practice games.

Happy developing!

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