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Dev Log #4: Motivation and Verification

Ever feel like you're lacking in motivation? I'll say that probably you have, followed by the fact that I definitely have. I think that everyone does at one point or the other come to that crossroad, and I think we all deal with it in different, all very terrible ways. Well, I'm here to solve all your problems. Or not, you know, some of these problems are very much personal and might not have anything to do with what can be remedied by the things that I am to suggest right now. But some might.

King Carl XVI Gustaf getting ready to hunt some submarines

At the end of last week he had to push up our internal deadline one week. It wasn't a huge deal, but something everyone sort of agreed needed to be done. As I said in last week's dev log, we had been sick and just wasn't up for the task that day. Instead, we put in a much higher gear this week. Well, most did, I've really been in a slump this week as well. Dang. I had the envious task this week to revise our game design document. For you who does not know, it is a very important document that gathers everything that the game is, including designs for gameplay and specifics in how they will work down to a very small level. And you are one lucky designer if any of the others actually reads it.

So I've been putting it of, because it is terribly boring to write. My thing has been procrastination. Pushing it forward, as I instead take on other not that important tasks. Organising, bathroom break, cleaning my desk, making tea for everyone, writing my book, taking long pauses, bathroom again, writing this very dev log, and of course creating other designs for the game, that will not be needed until later. That's fine, then I won't need to do it later, but there is still this thing, I'm still lacking in motivation to do the thing I'm supposed to do. Oh well.

I think a lot of solo developers do the thing I discussed in my second dev log. We suddenly find ourselves thinking of one of all the design ideas we have at the back of our heads. It becomes stronger and stronger, until we suddenly realize that we would much rather work with that instead. So we do, not realizing that we will one day come to the same place in this development as well. There is always a better idea, just as the grass is always greener somewhere.

We might as well start here then, with what you can do to counter this sort of behaviour. My book took almost 12 years to finish, sort of. I started in 2007, and finished early 2019. With that said, I wrote more than two thirds of it within the span of one year. So why is that? Well, I realized a lot of things, and most of them by reading On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. There are a few things that he highlights that I think is just as applicable then in comes to video game development. Firstly, consistency. He said write one hour every day. No off days, write. It is a way to hone your craft, but it also infers the notion that writing is part of your life. Same with gaming, develop for an hour every day, make it routine. Get up one hour earlier every day if you have other things to do. It is this consistency that makes development routine rather than something you do then you have the time. When I started game development at the University of Skövde in Sweden, one of the first things they told me, as a student of the design-class, is to identify yourself as a game designer. If you do, then keep designing games. Even if you've just gotten off a project, sit down with a deck of cards and design a game. Make a sick sound, create a cool model or concept art, program your version of an old school game like Sokoban, Pong or Tetris.

The second thing is very much in conjunction with this, and it is, whenever you are developing a project, just do. There is a reason my book is not done yet, even if it is done. I wrote it from start to finish, then I let it sit and read it, fixing everything that did not work, from plot points and characters, to sentence structures 12 years old. It is the same with your game. We often get stuck in creating that juicy gameplay, iterating on it to perfection before anything else is done. It works great if your name is Shigeru Miyamoto and can do that, but for us mortals, we first and foremost need to go through what is known in the gaming world as verification. This is the important question of, will this idea work? If you have put a lot of polish into your game you can waste months if not years on a game where the idea just does not work. Verification is getting the idea tangible, and making sure that the idea is a good idea and, if that is what you strive for, that there is an audience for the type of game you are developing, and if possible, where that audience is.

Right, so verifying your idea is what we are in the process of doing right now. Our way is to have a vertical slice that in every way can represent what we want to do in the final product. Nothing is polished, but it is there, textures, design, narrative, sound, music (sort of) and so on. We are doing this in two months. It can't take longer than that, for we do not have the time for that. After that, we scrap and begin anew, or we continue to build the rest of the game. That is the way you have to do it. Build the game, make sure that you can play it through, with all the bugs and other terrible things. You will hate your first iteration of the game. There is so much to do. That's what gives you motivation. It is done, you have a game and now you can start to make it into something you feel comfortable releasing. Of course there is a lot more to it than that, but a way to keep you from loosing motivation is to have this approach to development. Get it done, however boring it becomes. It does not have to be perfect, it just has to be good enough for anyone who plays it to get the general idea of what you are going for.

There are other things you can do to keep your focus, but which we often skip because we feel like we don't have the time, or that it's an inconvenience. If you are the sort of person who is working a lot, as in more than four hours a day, then you are probably going to want to do some small, boring things to keep you going. Things like, stand up and work for a bit, if you can. Take your eyes of the screen about 5-10 min every hour (meaning no phone as well). Take a walk at lunch. Exercise in you off-time. Have some good old Swedish fika-breaks (google it). Just sitting at a desk with a computer for hours and hours is going to get demoralizing, your body will react, however much we wish it didn't.

10 minutes every hour might seem much, but I am reminded of a story I was once told, that is more about spiritual time rather than time for you body's sake, but the sentiment is the same. A man named Lewi Pethrus prayed two hours every day. One day he had a lot to do and was very stressed out. He then decided to pray for four hours, to make sure he had the time for everything. The argument is that time spent with someone (or something) that can make the time you put into the actual work more effective is not wasted time. Time spent on resting is not time wasted, for it is time where you can sort your thoughts, get your body working, which focuses the mind as well, get some social interactions going if you work in an office, set up virtual offices (voice chat-channels on discord for instance) if everyone is working from home. There are also practical stuff you can do like having a good ergonomic space. There are so much you can and should do to keep yourself healthy and motivated.

Right, so that is at least what I've been doing to get my motivation back this week. It has been working, but nothing worth doing ever comes easy. Sometimes you just have to be a warrior and fight your way though the more boring parts of game development. I will still have to put a lot of effort into everything I'm doing. I hope that this might have helped in some way, or pushed you towards the way of motivation.

Here's a little diddy to keep you motivated.

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