Readers often ask authors, “Where do you get your ideas?” Authors vie for original and clever responses to what is entirely the wrong question. Ask instead, “How do you go from an idea to a novel (or film or game)?” and you have a more interesting topic. An idea – or a hundred ideas – does not make a game. The development is what counts.
Steps in game development include:
- Write a Game Proposal (Conceptual Design)
- Define the Tasks for Developing the Game (Technical Design)
- Create Game Assets (Code, Text, Art, Music, Sound Effects)
- Integrate the Assets to Make a Playable, Fun Game
- Track Your Progress as You Go Along
- Test the Game Play and Quality
Game development is iterative, so the developers revisit each step many times during the process of creating the game. It’s usually a messy, uncertain process – more of an art than a science – so a good road map is important to keep it from descending into pure chaos. That road map is the technical design. An idea without a plan is just a dream; with a plan, you can turn it into reality.
A Man, A Plan, A Canal – Panama
The Panama Canal was not built in a day. The French spent 13 years trying to build a sea-level canal, but they had to abandon the project after more than 22,000 workers died from malaria and accidents. The French effort failed due to insufficient planning (among other factors).
You may be able to run your life without much of a plan. That will work fine as long as you stay on level terrain, you never become sick, and no black swans crash into your windshield.
There are just three little problems with this approach – Our lives are filled with ups and downs, illness and accidents happen, and the laws of statistics decree that black swans will affect everyone’s life. If you don’t allow for them, your life project may fail.
Know Your Goals
Start by listing your goals. What do you want to accomplish with your life? Which ones do you want to happen soon, and which ones might take longer? Write them down! Goals are a lot like negotiation. You need to clearly state what you want to do, when you need it done, and what you’re willing to pay to get it.
That’s right – Nothing worthwhile is free. You will have to pay for your goals in time, money, sweat, or blood. You may have to earn some of those costs by giving up other things you enjoy doing. By writing down your goals, and what you will pay to get them, you will become clearer about what you really want.
You might find it easier (and fun) to create a story around your goals. It could be in the form of the Wikipedia entry someone might write about you ten or twenty years from now. Most successful companies and product launches start with the story of what they want to create and how customers will relate to it. Your life is a new startup venture starting today. Telling the story of what you will become will help you reach the goals that most matter to you.
Now that you know your goals, you can begin the technical design of your life plan. Do it in writing so that you can refer back to it later, and because writing it down forces you to focus on the details. You may get stuck at times. That’s fine – Make a note and make sure you come back to it later. A good technical design is a living document that you will revisit many times as you learn more about your goals, failures, and successes.
What goes in a technical life plan? Start with your life goals and choose your highest-priority, most urgent desires. Write each one down and think about what you need to do to accomplish it:
- When do I want this to be done?
- What resources will I need (people, money, time) to accomplish it?
- What do I need to get done before I can complete this goal?
- What are some steps I could take to make this easier?
- What are the greatest risks and obstacles? What can I do to minimize them?
- How long do I expect this project to take? How much of my time will I need to devote to it while I’m working on it?
- Once I have completed this goal, what should I work on next?
After you go through this process with several goals, go back over them and add:
- Which of my other goals are related to this one?
- How can I benefit by working on two or more of them together?
Now you can draw a time-line showing when you plan to start and complete each life project. Make sure that you are always working on at least one of your life goals, but that you don’t over-schedule yourself by trying to do too much at the same time.
No Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy
You need a plan, but you will not have enough information to plan everything until you start working on it. Keep going back to the technical design and adding details and new ideas as you discover them.
I like to keep a notebook with immediate and long-term tasks. As I complete each task, I put a check mark next to it to show that I’ve finished it. I sometimes put an X next to tasks that I decide to drop and a circle next to ones I’ve started, but not yet completed. Eventually I put a check mark in the circle.
Lori keeps a log on her computer. She lists all the tasks she wants to complete that week and each one she finishes. This lets her focus on her priorities and reminds her of what she has done. Whatever approach you use, make sure you keep track of your progress and make changes to your plan as you learn more about how to accomplish your goals.
Life Is For Learning
“I don’t know who I am, but life is for learning.” – Joni Mitchell, Woodstock
Carpenters like to say, “Measure twice; cut once.” Each time you start on one of your goals, go back to your plan and remind yourself of what you think it will take to succeed in that goal. Think about how your life has changed since you first made the goal; it may be easier or harder now.
Now is the time for detailed research. Use books, magazines, the Web, your friends, and experts to get more information about how you can accomplish the current goal. Take the time to plan your approach and how to deal with problems that may come up. Write down what you learn. Measure what you need to do, then measure it a second time to make sure.
Then get it done! If you find yourself getting stuck along the way, get your friends and family to help keep you on track. And make sure you reward yourself for every step of progress you make towards your goal. Reaching a goal is its own reward, but you may need encouragement to help you through the difficult challenges you will meet along the way. Game companies bring in pizza for the developers or have Friday night parties. They know that the rewards are cheap compared to the improvements in morale and productivity they will encourage.
Life Should Be Rewarding
In the next article in this series I will write about using game concepts to help you focus on accomplishing your goals. You will learn to design one-time and repeatable quests, award yourself (and your friends) points for achieving goals, and how to tie these into other types of rewards. Until then, keep on playing! The stakes in the game of life are as high as you choose to make them.