Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A note about workflow and idea "creation"

This is just a quick note about my present workflow, and how much time I spend here, and what I think this site is for...  well, it might not end up being short.  I can be a bit long-winded.

I'll say this much: this blog has already turned into a way for me to prove to myself that ideas are cheap and easy, and that the difficulty is putting the work in to turn things from ideas into realities.

I was working on some projects even before this site, and I was really excited about one of them especially.  I still am in a lot of ways.  But part of that excitement was just about the concept that "this idea seems really fun and it was my idea!"  I'm from a country (USA) that really idolizes idea people, inventors, and entrepreneurs.  There's a definite excitement to think that you might become like these famous people that the country seems to worship, even if they aren't worshiping Leacock, Vaccarino or Knizia as much as Gates or Jobs.

But the thing is, with all of those folks, that they didn't get there by having a great idea.  They got there by taking a great idea and making it real.  By working their butts off to get that idea out into the public and help people understand how good an idea it was, and why we should pay for it.

So that's a big reason to keep going on this blog.  To prove to myself with some finality that good ideas (even from my own head) aren't terribly hard for me to come up with.  A couple of the ideas from the site (Borderlords and Today's Hero) strike me as things that could be workable and successful games.  But they don't mean anything if they just stay on this blog and I don't do anything with them.

The other thing I wanted to talk about briefly was that I've gotten some feedback, both from the blog, from other sites, and from some of my friends/playtesters that they don't understand how I have time for this or how I'm doing it.  So I wanted to address that quickly.

Yes, I do have a day job.  I'm also married and I do spend time with my wife.  I also get out and hang out with my friends and even manage to travel, watch movies/Netflix and get some exercise (not enough, but some).  It's all a matter of balance.  Sometimes I get the balance right, sometimes I don't.

For this site, I spend typically an hour or so a day writing.  I don't do much revision, so if there is an idea that doesn't come out clearly it is probably because this is more or less a first draft of everything and I'm not going back over it to review it.

My workflow each day starts with the night before.  I typically finish a post, and then go immediately to boardgamizer.  I roll up a game for tomorrow and take a screencap of it.  Then I go back into blogger and make a post for the next day, embedding the picture in the post at the top.  I then write just the little 4 line note that says the constraints/setup for the day.

Then I shut down blogger and go on with whatever I'm doing.  Lately that means I get ready for bed.  Maybe I think about the game for a few minutes right before I go to sleep, but as my wife could tell you, I fall asleep in literally seconds after my head hits the pillow.  So there's not a lot of time for thinking then, usually.

But the next day I'll think about it in my transition periods.  On the way to work, on the way home, in spare moments when I'm just able to think and not do other things, I mull over the game.

I've tried to get myself away from my various electronic devices in the last few months.  In part that was because I realized I just wasn't giving myself space to think.  I was too used to firing up the iPad and doing a crossword or reading a book, or listening to some music, or doing anything except giving my mind some room to breathe.

The real revelation came to me one day before work.  In my job, a couple of days a week I walk from one site to another.  It's about a 30 minute walk each way in the open air along the ocean.  Not exactly a chore.  But I always used that time to listen to music or catch up on reading (literally going along with my kindle/iPad and reading while I walked).

Then one day I was walking and for some reason I didn't get my iPad out.  I just decided to be present with the walk and take in the surroundings.  I've walked past all of this stuff hundreds of times, so there's not a lot new to notice.  So what happened?  My brain actually started working.  It wanted to fill up the space that I usually fill up for it, and what it focused on was the game I'd been working on in my spare time.

In that half-hour walk I had two or three ideas that positively dwarfed the progress I'd made in several sessions of sitting down and trying to grind my way through solving the problems in the game.  I was elated with what had come out.

So I decided I would make sure I gave myself more time like that to let my mind wander a bit.  I might give it a nudge in a direction I want (how to make today's game work, for example), but I ultimately just give it some space.

Often, when I sit down in the evening to write up my post, I don't actually have a good idea for a game yet.  Maybe I've had some thoughts in the day.  Usually I've discarded most of them for one reason or another.

So I just sit down and start typing.  So far, in that process, something has always eventually come out.  Looking back at my post list, every game I've written so far was substantially different when I started writing than when I finished writing.  Even if I had an idea, it had always changed (sometimes completely) by the time I published the post.

When I write, I find myself laughing at the way the ideas come out and with just the weird situations I can imagine while people are playing them (Volcano of the Gods and Today's Hero especially).  When I get done writing I'm usually invigorated and excited, and I just want to literally dance around and let that excitement flow.  I think my wife thinks I'm crazy.

It's been a great project for me so far.  1 week down, 53 to go.  :)

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