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Thoughts On Overcoming Game Development Analysis Paralysis

I am not really any good at this, either.  But I have developed two-part theory on how to get over it.

Part 1: Keep the game development habit going.

My #1 problem with game development is that I get derailed constantly.  It's partly because my immediate family is apparently addicted to drama and can't seem to avoid making messes to needlessly complicate my life nearly every week.  But I'll take some of the blame as well: even left to my own devices, I am often prone to distraction, perhaps an inevitable consequence of being a lifelong computer gamer.

The obvious consequence here is you get rusty at game development and completely forget everything about your project, leaving them half-completed messes.  How did this happen?
Lately, I have learned of the power of habit, probably thanks to motivational speakers who literally name their book that.  But the simple point is basically this: human beings are creatures of habit, and if you slip out of the habit of doing something, it becomes much harder to keep doing it.  On the positive end, if you are in the habit of doing game development, it's much easier to do.

So what I am learning is that I basically need to avoid getting derailed and keep that ball rolling, especially when life interferes.   These skills typically fall under the umbrella of "time management," and (just like The Power Of Habit) a lot of it is hocus pocus motivational garbage.  But there is some common sense advice buried in that garbage, and I would go so far as to say that you should try to find that out for yourself because what works for me might not work the same for you.

Part 2: Get a skeletal, boring, but working prototype up ASAP.

Sounds like you're right there with me when you say, "Sometimes it was because the idea didn't look as fun as I thought. Other times it was because I got excited and expanded to much the ideas and got stuck on a technical deadlock."

First off, no need to beat yourself up about this.  I have heard quotes from famous game developers saying what they thought would be fun wasn't, and that they are not capable of imagining a game down to its most intricate details.  Game development is a journey, you're not going to get it right the first step you take, possibly not even the first thousand.

A large part of that is because computer game development is as much art as science.  The science bit is typical software iteration: you start out with an intent to develop a certain functionality and iterate towards doing that functionality well.  For a software developer, this looks easy!  Then the art part rears its ugly head: it's not good enough for a game to be functional, it needs to be fun too!
How do we get to that fun?  Imagine if you were the writer of a story: your process is to write something down, then read it back and decide if what you wrote was good.  When it's finally good enough to be an entertaining read, then we've made it fun.  (Of course, this is a bit of an abstract analogy: all we have when it comes to producing "fun" in games is lots of theories.)

My point is that writer's medium (pencil and paper, typewriter, word processor, whatever) is completely functional and allows them to iterate creatively right away.  A game developer's medium is a playable game and, if the game is not playable (even in rudimentary, boring form) then you can't really creatively iterate.  Without that, how can you expect to develop a solid sense of translating your vision into a reality?   (I'll point out that many game developers recommend getting good at creating playable mockups in other formats, such as on pencil and paper, since that's quicker and easier than trying to program the computer to do it.  Your mileage may vary; If that works for you, go for it.)

So I finally brought it back around to what what we're supposed to be talking about here: how can you get your ideas to be fun?  Get a skeletal, boring, but working prototype up ASAP so you can artistically iterate on it, working your abstract-but-not-yet-fun vision into a fun reality.  This can also help getting mired down in feature creep because, if you have a working game to start with, you have defined a constraint that you'll need to exceed in order to render it non-working... but you certainly can if you lose sight of that "it needs to work" constraint for long enough.
Honestly, my analysis paralysis is such that even this most rudimentary version is hard for me to focus on doing.  I want to re-think EVERYTHING, even the concept of what maps and tiles are all about.  This week, I am thinking I might be able to work into a strength.  Why DO I use tiles, are they truly containers of items and actors, or am I better off storing that elsewhere?  What's the purpose and essential parts of a map of tiles?  If I build a complete understanding of that, then I can feel fairly confident what I've designed and implemented has been adequately sussed out, and should be able to get to that a workable, if skeletal and boring, prototype stage.

These are two necessary part of a whole, but game development has many wholes.

The first point is to make sure you're in the habit of doing game development.  The second point is about solidifying your vision into a reality so you're not just wasting your time.  In theory, put those two together, you should have a working game, there's no wiggle room for a game to escape.

But is this complete advice as to how to get over the beginner's dev block?  Nah.  Just keep practicing.  Over time, doing so will develop the necessary cerebral software to get it done right.  That's what learning is.  As such, don't look at all these half-completed games you've made as proof that you're not cut out for making games.  Instead, look at them as necessary learning experiences on the path to making the game you wanted to make all along.

[Note: This is a reddit reply I wrote but I wager it's good enough for a blog entry.]


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