Monday, May 6, 2013

Checkpoint III

It's checkpoint III and the stress has begun to roll in!

As per usual, I'm feeling a sense of general malaise concerning... well, conferring just how vague my game feels to me. That is to say that there is and always has been a lot of work to be done in defining the exact shape of my gameplay mechanics. Not only are there a significant number of technical hurtles to overcome, but those hurtles must be overcome in very programmatic and exceptionally creative ways.

My experience working with Augmented Reality allowed me to really familiarize myself in working with strange and difficult to define problem sets that have difficult to locate and difficult to implement answers. But, at the same time, the problem set still posed some very rigid constraints, and that greatly helped to get me up and going.

Constraints? Made it easier? Of course! Human beings don't work well when you give them too many choices. They get overwhelmed by all the potential options, particularly if they don't have any means of evaluating which ones are better, or if their initial assumptions have just been greatly questioned. Constraints give a person a foundation; an unmoving pillar on which they must base their design. Constraints concerning game mechanics, visual assets, multiplayer experiences, item usages, and monetization can all help inform the game design process.

I can give a few examples of this. For instance, assume two restaurants with menus that have only written titles, no pictures.  Is it easier to order an optimal or even acceptable choice from a restaurant menu that has five pages, or one with five hundred pages? What if neither are organized into categories?

The five hundred paged menu takes a lot longer and a lot more effort (research) in order to understand the range of options available to the customer and select one. In fact the easiest way for them to select an item may be for them to artificially restrict the menu to a smaller number of choices by only reading a few items on each page.

So it is that I am having difficulty designing my game. With the infinite range of all possibilities open to me, how am I to design a game that wants to do a thousand things, all of which have no definite constraints attached to them? I want to design a game for women, but saying so does not provide unconditional constraints for what I'm about to make. Saying "This game must be a platformer" helps definitively eliminate a huge range of options. But Saying "This game must be fore women" still leaves all options open, provided that they are executed properly. This is to say that the range of possibilities is not meaningfully narrowed down until at least five or six major choices have been made. And how can one know if any of those choices were the 'best' ones?

Part of answering this problem comes down to the simple fact that there often aren't any 'right' answers, just 'flavored' ones. For instance, the choice to make a first person shooter for women has a distinct flavor to it, and will result in one very unique outcome. And the choice to make a strategic knitting game for women also has a very distinct flavor. Neither is particularly optimal; though both feed different tastes.

One the problem at hand when speculating what women will want most is that everyone has a different idea than you; and truth be told you are all just speculating. When you specifically go out of your way to speculate that everyone else is wrong, (ie, you're not making a casual game for women and you're making a type of game that's never been successful with them before) you are not setting yourself up for an easy job to support your speculations. It doesn't really matter that everyone else 'going with the flow' is guessing just as much as you are.

In fact, their idea is the worse idea. If you were making a casual game that satisfied everyone's expectations and everyone already agreed your speculations were correct, you wouldn't be doing anything particularly interesting. Or opening new markets. Heck you probably wouldn't be making much money, either.

So one supposes that as long as one can quote everything I just said from an authoritative source in the realms of entrepreneurship and business, this argument/support is Thesis-worthy. But still.  That's a whole lot of research and quoting necessary when the argument boils down to: "The future of everything inevitably lies in the hands of Research and Development."

Alright let me backtrack because I do love to rant. I believe I was saying something about just how much the vagueness of my own project was torturing me. The thing is that I worked on Augmented Reality for a very long period of time, and while I understand that doing so was important, I don't always believe myself when I say it aloud. The truth is that I feel I have spent an utterly unacceptably small stretch of time working on the back end of my AI; and that I think my advisers take for granted just what sort of complex creation I'm interested in making. It even came out in my thesis proposal: Everything I've done has been related to AR when what I actually want to do is build an affective AI-driven adventure game that promotes gender equality.

I need/want/crave/lust-after more time to play with code and game mechanics, and now right after working with AR I've had no time to play and immediately have to work on my Thesis. But I don't feel like I have an accurate grasp on even what kind of game I'm proposing- not really- not how it works, not how it feels, not what it's capable of, not why people want to play it, not why they're going to have fun with it- so how can I possibly research how to improve it or write about how to build it?

I still don't get it. I want to play with it, and I don't have time. I need time to nurture it, not just think. I'm exhausted by thinking, by planning. I need to tinker. And for God's sake, I don't want to tinker with AR anymore!

There, I've gotten that out of my system now too. The truth is that this point is a constant weight on my mind, a great burden, a source of suffering.

But let's break down my suffering and look at the truth. The truth is that I'm paralyzed. The truth is I don't know where or how to start, and that everything I put forward as a starting point seems hollow an ineffectual at capturing what I want. The truth is: If I knew where to start, I would make time for my game. It isn't that no one's allowing me to play; its that I haven't come up with the very first toy I want to play with. And that scares the hell out of me, because I'm midway through writing a thesis paper and 2/3 of the way through my graduate program. Playing with Augmented Reality was easy by contrast; I knew what the end form had to look like. This? This  really don't get. And no amount of research or writing or drawing seems to be helping me get it.

Firstly, I'm paralyzed. Secondly, I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted by just how many times I've sat down and written out diagrams and explanations of my system. I'm exhausted by the sheer number of times I've done the same work over and over again in ever-different ways. I'm exhausted by the idea of sitting down again and working from the ground up all over in the newest draft- which I probably will get distracted from halfway through and never finish- and I'm terrified and exhausted by the possibility that the answer just might not come to me.

However I think that I know what to do now. I think I realize where I have to go next. The teacher feels like I need to be working on my thesis because I need to be able to think like a master's student. I get that. I understand it. I need to research. I need to grab sources. I need to organize my thinking process. I need to keep a journal. I need to track my progress. Okay. I do get that. And he's right that I need to work on the form of the research thinking, on the methodology, on the testing, on the citation.

At the same time, it is unacceptable that I go any further with my work without having something to implement, test, and iterate like Augmented Reality. It is unacceptable to continue onward without relieving some of the pent up stress, anxiety, uncertainty, fear, and paralysis surrounding the form of my game. It's impossible to go on without addressing these things; It simply can't happen. This paralysis and fear is giving me excruciatingly painful writer's block, it's stuffing up my thought process, and its making me second guess myself at every turn. As a result of this not-tinkering, I have been creatively handicapped and I can't think. I'm suffering.

What I need to do right now is make choices; even if they're guesses. And to make those choices, I need to narrow down the options.  I did a lot of research leading up to this point and a lot of thinking; I've absorbed a lot of information and even though I'm not going to use it all properly the first time, I need an initial base form off which I can iterate. I need to set the bounds for a work I can complete, test, and evaluate in a year's time. I need it feasible and on the ground instead of in the clouds. I need to be able to reach my hands around and inside its shape and feel it completely such that I know every part of it. I need an intimate knowledge of my own design that I don't yet have.

In sum, I need to take charge of my time and use not just to 'get work done,' but to work creatively at all times. I need to write, read, implement, test, tinker, and enjoy. I need to alleviate the stress; remove the bottlenecks, so as to let energy flow more smoothly. And part of that is in accepting that I need to be able to do multiple tasks at once and to manage my time for all of them; and if I can't or I think I'm bad at it, then I need to learn. Starting now.

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