I’m very interested in the creative process and everything that surrounds it. Hugh McLeod’s fantastic How To Be Creative was a great starting point (highly recommended reading!) and most of the following “findings” are directly derived from his list. I’m not sure if this is of any value to anyone, some of it you might even find stupid (and I’m sure I will too in a few years). Having said that, these findings are of great importance to me and they have helped me when I’ve been in though spots. Just maybe there’s something here for you too?
1. Swinging wildly between loving and hating your own work is normal
For an introductory University class in game design we were required to buy the book ‘Ernst Adams and Andrew Rollings on Game Design’. I don’t regret buying it, though I can’t say I have returned to it more than a couple of times since I first read it a few years ago. This one passage about the importance of analytical competence from the very first chapter stuck in my mind though:
“It is very difficult to effectively criticize your own work. You can be excessively hard on yourself and become convinced that all your work is worthless, or you can be blinded by familiarity and unable to analyze your own work in an unbiased fashion. Inexperienced designers often err in both directions, swinging wildly from one to the other.”
[Andrew Rollings and Ernst Adams on Game Design (New Riders Publishing, 2003) ]
I have found myself doing this a lot. Just remembering this passage and knowing that it’s normal and that it will most likely get better with experience, helps. You have to understand your behavior to be able to change it, right?
2. Being good at anything is like figure skating – the definition of being good at it is being able to make it look easy. But in never is easy. Ever. That’s what the stupidly wrong people conveniently forget.‘ [Gaping Void: How To Be Creative, #3. Put the hours in]
I love this quote. It’s so easy to forget that we are surrounded by finished projects. The ads we see all over town or the music we listen to or the TV-series we follow are, of course, highly polished productions and the only things we experience â€˜work in progress’ are our own creations. It’s easy to subconsciously jump to the conclusion that things are created perfect. This is specially evident when I ask friends for feedback on my work in progress games and they get all hung up on the place holder graphics or they complain about this piece of text which is missing a font, when what I wanted was feedback on the core gameplay mechanic.
Many times I have made the mistake of comparing my WIP games and concepts with finished productions, of course this other two-years-in-the-making game will have more well-designed gameplay and of course this poster I saw on the subway will have prettier typography.
Another damaging thing about this kind of thinking is that if you are under the false belief that a masterpiece is a masterpiece from the moment it is created (or thought off) then you go and search for Big Ideas. “All I need to make the next Shadow of the Colossus is to come up with an equally unique and fantastic idea! Hm, let me think…”.
Now I know better. I no longer believe in big ideas, I believe in small ideas that grow big. We all understand that a beautiful drawing starts out as bunch of color blocks and that it is then repeatedly refined til it is nearly photorealistic, but for some reason it’s harder to realize that this applies to ideas and designs too.
3. Things are made slowly and in pain‘ [Gaping Void: How To Be Creative, #4]
This was mine and Henrik Nåmark’s mantra for when we made YHTBTR and several other projects together. None of the games I have made were fun to make the whole way through, there were always, at least at one point, a difficult struggle to even keep the project alive and many times I didn’t succeed (although I’m getting better and better at that). And it’s not just me, every game developer I know struggle with this, all the time. It might sound like I’m stating the obvious, but I’m saying it because it’s so easy to forget that the struggle is an unavoidable (?) part of the process that everyone deals with, there’s no need for you to doubt your love for game development (or whatever creative thing you do).
4. You can’t force creativity
At least I can’t. At SOFE, where I study game programming, we have this thing called Game Concept Challenge. For seven weeks we’re going to work in small teams to make a prototype of a game design we believe in. It’s a huge deal here and I really wanted to have a solid, inspiring idea for it, but I couldn’t come up with anything that fitted.
The weeks went by and even though I really thought about it, I just couldn’t come up with an idea that was exciting enough and that would fit the requirements. I tried standing on my head, I tried getting high on sugar, I tried sitting on the floor surrounded by papers and crayons but nothing worked. (I need better creativity exercises!) The day of the deadline came and I hadn’t come up with anything particular so I settled for a mediocre idea that was at least interesting from a programmer point of view to construct. A few days later I had a fantastic idea. (Watch this space! :) )