It’s about the time of the submission deadline for the GMTK 2020 Game Jam and despite having sworn off of 48 hour computer game jams in the past, I decided to try and enter this one. From the fact I’m not leading this with a link to the game, or anything really about the game, you’ve probably gathered that I didn’t finish a game in time.
This blog post isn’t going to talk about the game I tried to make (that one is coming Soon™), but instead about what I’ve learned about my own creative process over the last few weeks and how the last two days crystallised that.
I am at times capable of a prestigious creative output. Like a man possessed, I’ll start working on something and be unable to put it down until it’s done. Too often, this isn’t actually complete and my life is littered with projects that are 90% finished and just need the final touches applied but never did.
But the bit no-one sees is the downtime that makes up an integral part of this process. I’ll build a model or start a sketch or outline some fiction and it’ll sit, seemingly undisturbed for days, weeks or months. All that time it’s slowly churning in my mind until there’s some spark and suddenly I’ll be compelled to finish it. I can rush the process if needed, for a deadline or similar, but this mostly applies to my own personal creative work rather than my professional work.
A key part of the process is doing other stuff. To be clear, very rarely do I have creative revelations watching TV or films or youtube recreationally (some stuff blurs the line, am I watching Adam Savage build a prop for fun or for the techniques? Are woodworking videos research?) and instead it’s more of a case of thinking about one project whilst doing another. I have, on occasion, been frustrated by a software problem at work and taken a quick break to paint a miniature, only to get half way through what I had planned to do in the break and realise the solution to the problem at hand.
The power and benefit of intersectional creative practice is something I can’t emphasise enough. Even ignoring all the benefits of having hobbies if you’re able to, the world is more connected than you realise and there are way more transferable skills and approaches in everything to everything else than anyone knows.
What’s this got to do with game jams though?
I’ve said before that computer games are some of the most complex software ever written, and they have to run in tiny time budgets with hacked together code and any mistakes can cascade out in wildly unpredictable ways due to the ever increasing complexity of the components jammed together to make them.
It is a testament to the decades of progress by thousands of people that the tools to produce some pretty amazingly high production value games are available to anyone for free on the internet. I do a fair amount of work with Unity, which powers thousands of commercial releases a year and as long as I don’t make $100,000 a year with it, it’s free! Blender, my 3D package of choice, is entirely free and whilst I’ve thrown some money here and there to the Blender Foundation it’s nothing compared with the cost of any of the commercial alternatives. Krita is open source and far superior in painting experience to the (now) ancient Photoshop CS5.5 I bought all those years ago with the educational discount.
But making a game requires bringing all these talents together and doing so in a 48 hour window whilst also doing all the things like eating, cleaning etc. to keep on being a regular human being is another feat entirely. And hats off to the roughly three thousand people who have submitted a game to the jam as of the time I started writing this.
It’s not enough time for me. Or at least it’s not enough time for me to make the kind of game I want to make. There’s no question I could probably go with something more guaranteed. In fact that’s probably the trick to it, make something you know and make it to the best of your ability. Instead I keep trying to challenge myself, and experimenting. No reward without risk, and I took the wrong risks.
The thing about the hard deadline of a game jam is there’s no time to step back and let an idea or a problem percolate around your head with everything else. The core issue I was facing with my game jam entry was one of recording a player’s inputs and playing them back at random intervals, but the problem was that I wasn’t getting predictable output from replaying the input. About an hour ago, whilst making a cup of tea, I figured a possible solution. Too late to do anything with it, but it came to me whilst putting a coat of sealant on another project.
Maybe what I want/need is some kind of month long jam, but also I don’t really need more projects. I’ve got more projects on the go than I can count. Although I really enjoyed the Needy Cat board game jam, but then that was also emphatically not fighting with computers and so leisurely that I had time to do a fucking watercolour painting.
Computers are bad. Maybe that’s the takeaway here.