Indie Axioms

This is an indie life entry about focus, tenacity and the Will to Power. I’m a big lurker and occasional poster over at the indie gamer boards. Here are my personal observations on some kernels of wisdom that I have gleaned from the knowledge warehouse there and other places as well:

1. Start with something simple
Ok, I’ll admit I broke this one right off of the bat. In my defense I did know how to program a bit before I dove in. I’d also worked on some complex projects that while not actually games, were kissing cousins. I’d still probably do it the same way if I had to do it over because part of what was motivating me was the desire to make “my game.” If I had just made the tactical card battle module and called it “Armageddon Cards” it probably would have been a failure. Once again it’s all about risk versus reward. Who Dares Wins. I had some secret weapons though, which were a modest income from other consulting sources, a talented highly employable spouse and the ability to work from home and pick up the some of the child care. I’ve been called a Mr. Mom at more than one university faculty party that my wife has dragged me to.

2. Always focus on one project and work hard to finish it before you move on to the next shiny thing
If you are going to break the first axiom then you had better stick to this one. Grappling with this issue is actually what prompted this entry. I’ve been having heretical thoughts lately. The problem is that designing a game is the most stimulating and fun part of the entire process. Game design is hard. That’s an assertion you see a lot. I agree good game design is exceptionally difficult. However if you put me in a room and gave me a choice between designing something and implementing something, I’d choose the design. Of course in the real world a market often arbitrates this and finds an efficient solution. An architect earns the big bucks and the construction worker does the back breaking dangerous work up on the beams usually for much less pay. But the supply of good construction workers exceeds that of good architects. As somebody outside the mainstream industry it’s interesting to see a sort of inversion. The supply of aspiring game designers seems to be high and the demand is relatively modest. A large game project needs lots of programmers and acquiring the skill set for coding a 3D engine is not something you do overnight. For every 1 John Carmack there are 10 Jon Blows (no disparagement of Mr. Blow’s tremendous talent intended). So pay is generally less for the designer than the programmer. It depends of course on the specific type of job. But I digress.

Lately I’ve been in the situation where the “design” phase is pretty much over. The mold has been cast and what remains is the more mundane ditch digging phase (How’s that for a mixed metaphor!). For an indie this can be a problem. Motivating yourself to do the ditch digging can be tough. Other game design ideas echo in your head like a Siren’s song. Soon you start entertaining thoughts of just doing some “exploratory” work on the new idea. That my friends is the path to the dark side. If ever a slippery slope existed there it is. Go ahead and register the domain name. Go ahead and jot down some notes and diagrams in a special design book. But do not think that you can start working part time on it while you do your main project. I’m speaking of course as a one man indie team. If you have a clone or a small company then your resources might allow for more ambition. And in my mind ambition is one of the key things what makes life worth while.

3. You can have a false start and terminate a project but don’t let that become a habit
It’s called knowing when to fold and it can save you from catastrophe. If you have opted for the ambitious then cutting your losses at the appropriate point can be a good strategy. It happened to me. One big thing to keep in mind is a short word of caution: Don’t scrap it because you are the limiting factor. Scrap it because the project is the limiting factor. What I mean by that is don’t let emotions, laziness or fatigue force you to pull the ejection strap. If the concept is flawed or unworkable then punch out. If you are the problem….well as a famous rock star neuro-surgeon once said “No matter where you go, there your are.”

4. Never despair, but if you do despair, move forward in despair
Words to live by from the great Irish philosopher Edmund Burke. I chant it quietly like a mantra right alongside, “It is by will alone I set my mind in motion…” and “Never bring a knife to a gunfight.” Cliff Harris recently had a post up on his blog “Cliffski’s Mumblings” about NLP … Neuro Linguistic Programming. I’m not a true believer but “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Even if it works on a placebo type effect basis, itโ€™s still a very appealing type of idea. If you are a part time or full time indie you will despair, unless of course you have had a frontal lobotomy. This could be an entire blog entry of it’s own actually. If you work at home it’s especially important to develop strategies for being productive. Otherwise you’ll spend your entire day writing entries just like this. ๐Ÿ™‚

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