Archive for April, 2011

It’s good to Write

Posted by pcollier under Creativity, Work

Contortionist lady at typewriter

Next month it will be a year since I began writing my blog. This hasn’t been easy as I find the process of writing very taxing, as do many, so I’m proud of the accomplishment. Over the course of the year I’m reliably informed by friends that my writing has improved a great deal. This is good to hear because, as we all know, when change happens gradually it can be hard to notice.  In reflection I think the catalyst for improvement was the realisation that I was trying too hard to be something when writing. Finding a truer voice has been my greatest discovery throughout the past year. I know it was a significant realisation because the truer and closer to my heart I have written the more my articles have resonated with people. The purpose of this article is therefore a bit of a sales pitch if you haven’t dabbled into writing for a while. Even to those whom I’m preaching to that are already converted (AltDevBlogADay contributors I’m talking to you) hopefully it may give you some insight as to why you may be feeling good about yourself!

Creative people often suffer from very chaotic minds. The benefit to this wild storm of synaptic activity is its capacity to deliver unique and innovative thought. The problem however can come in marshalling these thoughts in a coherent way that is meaningful to others. The struggle comes from the fact that ideas are often born from many random sources that are hard to thread together into an explanation. Writing is one of the most effective remedies for this problem as it is forces you to structure your thoughts. In fact for this reason the process can be extremely therapeutic because it brings order to chaos. So somewhat paradoxically, as creative but simultaneously logical beings, this pleases us, aren’t humans messed up! So without further ado here is a list as to why writing can benefit us all:

  • Writing requires focus on a particular topic – to the mind that is used to sporadically and wildly swirling around, providing a focal point can help redirect this energy akin to a whirlwind touching down on the ground. I liken this process to laying down markers which you can return to when lost. If at intervals you’ve concluded and laid down structure to your thoughts on a topic they are easier to return to and muster when required.
  • You’re communicating to others – life has a lot to do with connection. It’s very special to do something which reinforces an existing relationship or establishes a new one. Writing allows you to do this by saying something which resonates with another person. That shared realisation and unity of thought for that brief moment creates a bond that never leaves us. There is nothing more pleasurable than the expansion of the human experience through another, writing is a fantastic conduit to achieve this.
  • Writing requires you to compose your thoughts so that they’re meaningful to others – this act of composition brings you closer to your reader because you’ve had to consider them. What’s created is a mutual appreciation of each other’s existence. This is a tremendously potent force when properly realised. Any great expression of art is beautiful for this reason.
  • In a world full of sound bites, headlines, status updates and 140 character limits sometimes it’s good to say a little more – there is a lot to be said for conclusive thought but done exclusively there comes the danger of a loss of depth. Expanding upon your thoughts through writing can add richness to your message and with it less chance of misinterpretation. Context is important to deliver meaning behind what you want to say, otherwise it’s just noise.
  • It keeps you honest – having a record of what you’ve said prevents contradiction and hypocrisy. Thankfully just the very act of writing helps to solidify your thoughts anyway. This means you’re less likely to confuse others with mixed opinions and more able to give a purer, truer account of yourself. Being held accountable to your words is very healthy because it ensures more careful consideration of what you say in the first place.

So that is my pitch as to why you should put pen to paper and/or finger to keyboard. The fulfilment from connecting with others through writing is something I’ve found not many things can compete with. Any time you write something meaningful to others a positive ripple is sent speeding through our collective consciousness. The energy you expel tends to return to you in multiples creating a positive compound effect that makes the whole exercise very worthwhile. I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole

Game development can become an increasingly tricky proposition as it progresses and losing objectivity is often the culprit. It is a hazard of the job that dogs us all. As with any labour of love we get tangled up in detail and can lose sight of the bigger picture. Retaining objectivity is important because it helps keep your game steered in the right direction.

One of the functions of a game director, or whoever is in overall creative control of the project, is to retain objectivity. The best achieve this by avoiding getting bogged down in detail and effectively delegating. The very best, in addition, have a handle of every detail but only with a view to how it contributes to the bigger picture. They have an ability to zoom in and out without getting stuck.

Whatever your breadth of influence on the project having a handle on how the details of your specific contribution add up is crucial to keeping objectivity. This is why being given a clear brief is effective because it help you ask the right questions in the context of the overall project. Part of remaining objective is the ability to ask questions of what you’re doing.

So what other things can you do to help prevent losing your objectivity? Here is my guide:

  • Talk to others about your work – explaining what you’re doing to another person forces you to approach it from an outside perspective and with a more conclusive eye. Another person is objectivity, so use it.
  • Leave your work and then come back to it – the further down the rabbit hole you’ve tumbled the longer you should leave it before returning.  It’s a simple and classic strategy but one of the most effective. However it takes self-awareness to recognise that you’ve lapsed and fallen into crazy-land. Taking action can sometimes just mean having a cup of tea or in more serious cases a longer break, like a vacation. The amount of times I’ve come back to my work and muttered “What was I thinking?!” is plenty. Artists; how many times have you overly tweaked detail that no one will ever notice but you? Coders; overly engineered a piece of code for its intended purpose? You get the picture.
  • Know your goals – It’s hard to look at things with an objective eye without an objective! Pretty simple, but I’m sure, like me, you’ve seen your fair share of developers, or even entire teams, getting caught up in needless details and tangents because their objectives weren’t clear.
  • How is your contribution relevant? Without a sense of purpose we can all stray. Refuse to take on work until you’re absolutely clear why what you’re doing is important and how it fits into the bigger picture. You can’t be expected to remain objective without knowing this. This ties a lot into effectively motivating your team.

  • Be passionate about your work, but leave your emotions at the door – emotional attachment prevents objectification. Any Pimp will tell you that one for free. We all need to be able to cut our losses and get rid if something isn’t fulfilling its purpose. Being sentimental, emotional and overly attached can be your biggest enemy here. So grab a flamboyant hat and a lovely big fur coat and your fellow developers will know you mean business.

  • Present your work to the team – A more extreme version of talking to just one person; this can be a really useful exercise. Fear of talking to a large group of people forces you to consider your audience and demonstrate a very clear grasp of your work. Succinctly summarising your work is impossible to do without looking at things objectively. Just simply out of respect for your audience you’re perspective has to be a wider one.

On the flip side to all of this, it shouldn’t be condemned as a wholly negative thing to lose objectivity and get lost in your work. It is the natural tendency of a curious mind to go off and explore. It should just always be tempered with an awareness of your end goal. It’s a skill to recognise when you’re straying too far and to redirect yourself. It’s a matter of self-awareness and discipline to maintain a firm grasp of the bigger picture. Good luck keeping that grip!

What other methods do you employ in keeping your objectivity? Have you any examples of how badly things have gone when objectivity was lost? I’d love to hear them.

Light filtering through trees

Teaching the player how to play your game is incredibly important. Under no circumstances should this area of game design be overlooked because getting it wrong means players may never see all the hard work you’ve put into the rest of the game. So the following is a list of what I’ve learnt about how to get it right…mostly from getting it wrong myself…but hey…that’s the best way right! So without further ado here it is:

  • Don’t teach too much too soon: No one likes to feel overwhelmed, even less so when they are playing your game to have fun. People have saturation points, throw too much at them and the information overflow will go unheard. Keep things bite-sized.
  • Don’t be remorseless: Once you have taught something new allow time for the information to set in. Remorselessly moving on from one tutorial to another will makes players feel uncomfortable and not able to cope. Learning something new is a challenge and mentally taxing, so allow players time to feel good about doing it.
  • Reinforce: Demonstrate to the player the benefits of what you’ve taught. People are fairly efficient at marginalising seemingly redundant information. Reinforcing the benefits of a new piece of knowledge or skill will raise its relevance making it much more likely to be retained.
  • Nothing is worse than teaching something when the lesson has already been learnt: So for quick learners or inquisitive players who’ve already figured out what you’re about to teach them, allow them to opt out or at the very least shut you up.
  • Self-discovery and self-realisation are worth so much more to a player than anything you have to say: Make it as easy as possible for this to happen, that’s part of the skill of being a good teacher. Designing your tutorial in a restrictive way that only allows for the game to play according to your lesson plan is dumb, don’t do it.

  • Don’t try to be a teacher: People don’t like having that psychological inferiority of having to be taught something. So the less you rub it in their faces the better. Aim to be more of companion helping to guide them and no I don’t mean a ^@#!*#% Microsoft paperclip.

  • Don’t give the answers before the questions: Sounds simple doesn’t it, but if people haven’t asked the questions then they won’t see the relevance of your answers. In other words present them with the problem before giving them the solution.

  • Finally here is my number one tip, if you go away with anything from this then let it be this, and it’ll sound obvious, but here goes…Don’t be a bastard: There you go I said it. Any hint of you revelling in the players’ lack of understanding by mocking or teasing etc is incredibly naughty and a bit silly because this more than anything else will make the player hate you and your stupid game. They are doing YOU the favour by wanting to learn how to play YOUR game, so show them some respect.

So there it is, it’s a pretty simple list but comprises everything I’ve learnt and stands me in good stead. Do you have any more tips that you can add? Have I missed something? Please do add them on the comments below. Finally good luck with tackling this part of your game, it’s a fascinating and challenging area of design, let me know how you get on.