The Danger Of Falling In Love With Ideas
I want to talk about something that I’ve experienced a couple times in my life and I’ve seen a lot of developers struggle with the same thing. I’d like to go over it with you guys, share my thoughts on it, and how I’ve managed to avoid it over the years. It’s the concept of people getting attached to ideas. In my case, there was one specific idea that I fell in love with.
I got inspired by the game, Halo, to get into game development and create my own game. I had an idea for a cross between Riddick and Halo. A sort of space FPS shooter game mixed with this darker world of Chronicles of Riddick. And both of those things really inspired me a lot in my life and in my creativity. I got attached to this idea for a game called Project Exodus and I wanted so much to make it. And it was the biggest triple-A concept game you could imagine. The idea was so massive that it would take a major studio to build it; it wasn’t something that I could build on my own.
But I was attached to the idea and wanted so badly to build it that I just couldn’t let go of it for a long time. I rebuilt that same idea and searched around for different engines. I looked for an FPS creator because I wanted to make that FPS game. And what I realized was, after going through that as well as a series of other times in my life that I felt the same kind of passion, is that when you get attached to an idea it can be dangerous for a couple of reasons.
One: Sometimes the scope is so massive that no matter what you do, you really can’t get there. And when you’re attached to the idea and the scope, it’s really hard to break it down into something that you can actually build. When I was attached to the concept of a triple-A, I put in a lot of effort , even though it was impossible for me to build on my own; it was a project of such a ridiculous scale.
Two: I think getting attached to an idea has disadvantages to the game as well. In the case of my FPS dream game, specifically (though it happens in lots of other cases since), one of the things I’ve discovered is that when I’m really attached to an idea, I’m less open to changing it, modifying the concept, figuring out new ways to do things, or just iterating a little more openly. And every time I would show my game to people, trying to get their feedback, I get defensive when they don’t like the thing that I fell in love with.
As an artist, you have to strike a balance, because on one side, you absolutely should create the thing that you want to create, no matter what people tell you, and try and put something together that maybe other people don’t really see the value in. But on the flip side, if you’re trying to make a good game and you want it to resonate with people, and you want them to buy it and play it, you HAVE to be open to criticism. But it’s a balancing act right? And it’s more of an art than a science. There’s no right person to listen to, there’s no right piece of feedback to listen to, but you have to learn how to balance those two things and figure out which is the appropriate criticism to take and which to discard.
It’s one of those things that you only really learn with experience. From my experience, getting attached to an idea has been detrimental to that process. It has really damaged a lot of things that I think could have been great had I just let go of my reins of what I thought the game should be, or this concept that I love, this story element, or this idea. Because sometimes, especially in games, your brain has a way of thinking up these things that just seems so logical. They seem like they would actually work!
Then, when you actually sit down and build it:
- It may be more complicated than you thought it was. OR
- When it’s built, it’s not as fun as you thought it was. OR
- It just doesn’t work the way you wanted it to.
I remember when I first started programming, there are so many things that my brain would create and it broke the laws of how things worked. For example, when I had an idea for a web page, it didn’t take into account all the different resolutions of different devices and all that stuff. If I had this idea for a mechanic, it was perfect in my head. But in actuality, in application, in when I actually built the thing, it wasn’t nearly the same.
You need to be careful about how attached you are to different ideas and different concepts. Even though I think there is merit to creating something straight out of your soul and putting it out into the world, and getting this piece of artwork out there, I think there’s also merit to the idea that something truly great is usually made by a multitude of people. This is usually made by putting aside ego, getting people together, and working together to make the best product no matter what. Make the best game that you can.
When you’re attached to something and get it in your head that this is how it has to be, no matter what, you close your mind off to other possibilities that really could have made the game great. These alternate possibilities would have taken the game in a different direction that you didn’t really see as useful or beneficial. And I think it’s important to keep that in mind, because the more attached to an idea you are, the more closed off you are in other areas. When it comes to game design especially, there are so many things, all the way from the mechanics, to the story, to whatever that can just be beautifully changed if only you would shift from your original concept.
Personally, out of all of the games that I have worked on or created, very few of them—I would say less than 5-10% of them—have ended up with the same idea or concept that I started with. And I find this happens a lot in my single mechanic mobile games. Many times, I’ll have an idea for a prototype or a mechanic or whatever, mess around with it, build it, and try it out. It either works or it doesn’t. If it works, I try and fit it in with a theme I’m trying, experiment with shapes and basic colors, maybe add a spaceship and asteroid, and see what works better, basically trying to fit it together with the mechanic that I have. Other times it starts the other way around. Sometimes I start with a theme, then fit in the mechanic, and then the story.
Sometime, I’m so caught up in what I want to do that I won’t change it no matter what. It has really killed a lot of my projects. I have game folders that contain so many graveyard games that just never saw the light of day, and that was a huge problem for me. Getting attached to concepts is dangerous.
I hope this helps you out. If you have any comments on this topic, I’d love to hear from you. Just leave a comment below.