On Process and Goals

Hi Jay,

For a while I’ve been focusing on making Time Bandit more presentable for various submissions to festivals and funding opportunities, and while the extrinsic motivation and deadlines certainly helped me in being productive, I’ve realized this hasn’t been a good thing in other ways. It never really seemed to affect my process on a conscious level—I would never let it impinge on the grand design of the game, and I still found myself spending a lot of time designing larger systems that no one would encounter without playing the game for a while, as well as mechanics and areas that wouldn’t be encountered until much later. But still, when designing for an audience that you don’t expect to play your game for more than a few minutes, you can’t help but try to stuff everything into those few minutes, which is entirely contrary to the slow pace at which everything is supposed to unfold in the real, final experience of the game.

This is particularly a problem for Time Bandit since many changes that are made to make the game more what it needs to be in the end make it proportionately *less* playable for submitting it or showing it. Of course, computer programming is versatile enough that I can set up a switch that gets toggled for demo presentations, but honestly there are so many things that would need this switch as to make such a thing eventually untenable (or, at least, still a huge time investment that I’m not sure I want to make).

So forget it. It’s time I focused on balancing the fundamental things like time and money (uhh…in the game). This has already led me to making some big changes, like extending the amount of time you need to sleep to fully regain your energy from 2 hours to 8 hours, and changing shift times from being a daily constant 4-hour period of time chosen by the player to a random weekly work schedule assigning an 8-hour period of time to each day at the start of each week. You’ll note that these are not only more realistic and hence more comprehensible to the player but also occur over much longer time scales.

Both these changes occurred to me suddenly, not having previously existed on any of my numerous and quite unbelievably large to-do lists. If I can tie them back to anything, I think it was the feeling, after beginning to really think again about real-time pacing, that players should be pushed to play only once per day, or if more than once per day, then at widely separated periods of time, like once in the morning and once at night. I realized I had always been imagining it being played this way, but the idea was buried under more immediate, less important concerns.

So this speaks to the importance of those shifts in process that don’t ever materialize in your to-do lists, no matter how myriad. Everything that you put into a work of art in the order that you put it there has a cascading effect on how the whole thing will turn out in the end, and lists seem like a way of staving off the aspects of that process that you don’t have full control over. It can be maddening to think too much about it rather than just allow it to happen. And maybe allowing it to happen is precisely the thing that you do have control over.

Having been rejected from all the submissions anyway (the game is just too weird), it was a waste of time and, in some cases (*cough* BostonFIG *cough*), money (*coughing fit continues* despite accepting the game last year when it was in a deplorable state, somehow this year they just took my $60 without even playing the game or giving me feedback as promised). So I’m ready to be a pure artist on this project, not just in the way that I thought I already was, but fully at the level of process – giving the ideas the freedom to breathe and assert themselves whenever they will. I’m not against seeking feedback, and in fact the best time I’ve had with any indie game community has been since I recently started attending Playtest Thursdays at the NYU Game Center consistently. That’s because I actually allow myself to feel like it’s just a local community sharing their art. All the rest puts too many pressures on you that orient you toward iteration and superficial presentation, which is the territory of products, not art. It’d be nice for game development to be financially sustainable, but it’s not going to happen with this project. Or, at least, I don’t want to put any more effort into trying to make it happen until, like, launch.

Joel

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