Minimalism and Getting Things Done

Posted by admin on October 14th, 2018 filed in Development, Games

If you have more ideas than you can implement, you are suffering from DaVinci Syndrome. It’s the opposite of Getting Things Done Syndrome.

I just jot down the ideas “for future reference”, which helps if I had the idea in the middle of the night and would rather go back to sleep. ;-) When I wake up, I find scribbled sheets of paper next to my bed with RPG stat balancing tables, illegibly labeled graphs, nonsensical character skill trees, halfbaked game mechanics, drawings of funny quests and background stories, all written in an arbitrary mix of English and my native language.

Despite the fact that I have a folder of ideas, I never finished developing a game.

Nothing against brainstorming to get a feeling for the big picture. But “having lots of ideas” is not a good skill by itself. If the ideas don’t fit together, nothing ever gets done. A good game dev skill is the ability to find the minimal set of ideas that make up one (simple) game. And expand from there. Trust me, the “simple game” will grow complicated by itself. Agile Developers call that completing the minimum viable product (MVP), I like that term.

“Adding ideas” is the death blow when starting a new project. It’s super easy to do, and it’ll pull you right down into a never-ending feature creep. When my todo lists start sounding like I’m breeding an egg-laying wool-milk-pig, I need to kick myself in the butt and stop that. I added an extra chapter to the bottom of my notes to collect “future/nice to have” ideas. This is where I cut and pasted everything that is not vital to the MVP. And then, I had a second and third round, and set aside some more. The goal is to trick my brain into thinking these todo items are not lost, we’ll just do them… “later”. :p

A good method is to join a 24h dev jam or a hackathon. It forces you to think in terms off “what do I have to show to the others after 24h?” Here are great examples of minimalist games that the developers can be proud of — and expand on.

  • A minimalistic low-fi No Man’s Sky :-) — Supports generating a star system with random planets, one player with one starship, landing on and lifting off from a planet, walking on the planet, and picking up an item on the planet.
  • Procedurally generated vehicles — Watch the random vehicle succeed or fail to travel across the bumpy landscape to the goal. Click “up” on good cars and “down” on bad cars to improve the overall outcome, and teach your session to produce good cars. (My best car design had three wheels, the third one on top, when it tipped over, it simply used the third wheel and kept going.)

My current attempt at getting things (i.e. 3D games) done involves a new cunning plan: I’ll make a text-only interactive console game first. It’ll procedurally generate the game world and print log files with which I can confirm it does what I want. And then I worry about the 3D rendering (the part where I always get stuck) later. Brilliant, eh? Now, how do I verify that the game data in the log has been generated correctly, hmmm… Let me just quickly write a 3D viewer for it! … … O_O Oh no! Not again!

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