The recently subscribed to the “I should be writing” podcast and downloaded a few of the previous weeks epsiodes to get more of a feel for the show.

Show #13 in particular struck a chord with me. This show featured an interview with Scott Sigler, author of the first PodCast novel EarthCore. Scott is now embarking upon his second PodCasted novel, Ancestor.

Enough of plugging Scott’s podcasts (did I mention how good they are?) how does this writing podcast possibly relate to gamedev?

Unfinished Business

Mur quotes a figure that 95% of Americans think they can write a novel yet only 3% of those ever finish one, let alone sell it. I’m not sure where the figures came from but they certainly sound likely. Many people think they have what it takes to write a novel but in reality very few will ever finish a novel let alone sell it. Sound familiar? How many game players think they have the next best game idea or that they’re going to develop the next hit RTS/FPS/MMORPG. Of those, how many actually manage to finish a game? Very few! How many of those finished actually sell? Even fewer.

There are many reasons for why a project will fail, a key one is the expectations of the project team. I’ve lost count of the number of projects that have created web sites to tout their grand idea, seeing a flurry of activity in the early days as new design features are added, prototypes built, concept art and model screenshots uploaded, only to have the project grind to a halt and be abandoned. I have to admit, many of my hobby projects in the past have followed this exact trend.

What happened? It could be one of several problems, but in my experience one seems to be the cause more often than any other. To draw a parallel with writing, they lost the muse. That creative inspiration that drives you to work. In the early days of the project it’s at its strongest. You find it easier to work on the project than not. Then the muse leaves and slowly work on the project grinds to a halt as interest wanes. Development becomes sporadic with occasional bouts of activity as and when the muse returns, but for all intents and purposes the project is dead.

3% Success

Of the 95% who think they have what it takes, what separates that 3% from the rest, those who finished their games from those who haven’t. I think it mostly comes down to one factor, Self Discipline. Those who finish will most likely be the same people who day in day out work on their game, whether they’re feeling the creative flow or not. Some days work will fly by, whilst others will be a grind. Yet they keep at it. Those are the people who have a chance to succeed.

To quote directly from the show,

“I think too many people have the romantic view of writers and artists as just people who lay around and think great thoughts and wait for the muse to strike and when the muse strikes we create these wonderful works and when the muse doesn’t strike, we go back to laying around.”

It’s only when you really try to develop a game that you realise just how hard it can be. Not from a technical point of view, that’s easily overcome by research and work. It’s more the difficulty of working through those days when you can think of a million other things to do instead. It all comes down to pushing yourself, having a strong self discipline to work regularly and finishing the projects you start.

Game Development

I made up my mind earlier in the year that game programming is what I want to do, even if it takes years of work before I’ve accumulated enough relevant experience to have any level of success. I don’t know if game programming will be for me long term, you can’t really tell until you’ve done it. What I do know is programming is incredibly enjoyable and even the more tedious parts of game programming work I’ve done to date have still been more enjoyable than much of the IS programming I did in the years before. Perhaps that is because games are a more challenging area of programming than standard information systems. Challenging work is always more enjoyable than easy work, at least in my opinion.

Either way, there is one problem I’ve encountered more than any other this year. It’s just too tempting to check your email every two minutes, read through the development forums to find better ways to code something, or read up on new development techniques. On going research and keeping up with technology is certainly a valid part of development, but doing too much can do more harm than good, especially when it eats into the time you’ve set aside for programming. (see show #13).

I’m sure many people are struggling or have struggled with this problem but with enough will power it is possible to force yourself through the days that feel like a grind. I find now that most days (excluding the first 10-20minutes work) I can easily slip into the coding mind set whilst managing to avoid over procrastinating, I’m more productive than I’ve ever been. I hadn’t realised it at the time, but as Scott says in his interview, it’s all a matter of scheduling. It may not be anything new, nor is it a silver bullet for success, but it has made a difference to me.

Listen to the interview and substitute writing for coding, novel for game and the parallels between novel writing and developing a game are striking.