The Tempest

Let's discuss failure. Creative failure. You know, that common, constant back-pressure that seems to peek out from the shadows at every twist and turn. The creative process is an absolute tempest of failure, mistakes, improvement upon this failure, and from time to time, success. Then, more failure.

It can be overwhelming, at least for me. We work so hard creating things that should be amazing, but they aren't amazing, or they are, but they don't find a publisher. It can be as simple as wrong place, wrong time. Or just, you know, the thing you made isn't good enough. That thing you showed to others is just inferior.

There are many sources of frustration and anxiety for me. There is professional dissatisfaction from my day job, which puts unnecessary pressure on my hobby pursuits. I find myself pulling my hair out from 8-5, then I drive home and continue the process. Suddenly, a simple personal project becomes SO important. No, it HAS to work! The war of attrition takes its toll.

There's the frustration of not understanding the landscape. Finding a publisher isn't just about creating brilliance, but also presenting yourself and your games brilliantly. It's about sales, relationships, networking, and understanding the publishing game. It's difficult and it can be maddening to watch those who have it all figured out sail past you.

That guy's getting published? Again? Does he sleep?

It'd be great if publishers were calling and bugging me, but it doesn't work like that. I know that. I think. But there are times when I hope the rules change to fit my personality and way of doing things. (Hint: They won't)

The most intense frustration is a result from my creative failures. Sometimes you won't get published. It happens. Sometimes the world around you is chaotic. But when the things that are fully under your control don't work and in your own head you have to admit to yourself that it isn't good enough, it just burns. My recent game Genes/Helix was like this. I spent a lot of time designing it and working with peers. I quickly tested it about 5+ times and it was working. Then I took a step back and examined it. It worked, yes. But it wasn't fun. Worse, it was built upon a flawed foundation and just wasn't going to become fun. Bad idea, Grant. Throw it away. Start over. You failed.

Perhaps you know what I'm talking about? Perhaps you're just much better at this whole design thing? The goal of this post isn't pity, but a more a cathartic explanation. It feels good to write about things and share with people who I believe suffer similar woes.

It's key to look forward and continue moving. As soon as a design fails, go for a run, have a beer, then get back to it. Go read something from your favorite author. Visit the local art museum. Eat something delicious. Find your next inspiration and pursue it mightily. Also, don't forget the failed ideas because there may still be something to them. Trust me, one day you'll play a game about beavers, witch trials, a genetic strand, Germans invading America, and a dude named Yohan. All at once! That's the way to fix 'em!

Talk to your creative friends about this stuff. I do, constantly, and though I'm sure it drives them insane, deep down, they know they'll need me when it's their turn. That assumes your design friends are not robots. Talk about it. Vent. If you bottle it up you'll just implode and leave the hobby.

Play a better game that does work and think on it. Play a better game and remember why you're in the hobby in the first place. Ginkgopolis has done that for me lately. My mind first went to blatant rip-off ideas, but now I'm wandering through a forest of thought that is my own. It's neat. Without Ginkgopolis, I might not have been here. Take inspiration from those who have succeeded.

Set yourself new goals. If you find you can't quite satisfy a certain pursuit, change the rules of the game and move in a new direction. For example, I've been obsessed with creating really simple, Coloretto-like games lately and I just can't quite do it. I changed my direction to focus on toy-like games with silly components. Blockade is the result and I'm delighted.

Finally, remember that design is hard. All of this. It's just hard. People don't get into the NFL, typically, because they are lucky or because they are mediocre. Writers don't get published, typically, for writing boring or tedious works. Game designers won't get published by someone who needs to make money from thousands of customers. A 7/10 game just won't work. This stuff is hard, but if every 10 tries you create an A+ game, then perhaps all of this ridiculous frustration is worth it?


I would add one more note:

A project that didn't end in a publishable state isn't a failure unless you didn't learn anything from the experience.

It doesn't matter whether each of your creations is good enough; the greater project is you: If you keep growing and learning, eventually you will be good enough. And while failure will never leave you, success will become more familiar as you improve your own skills.

Or so I hope.

I can't quite agree with your note Jay, but then again, perhaps at some point I'll come to grips with that and I'll be better for it.