Why I'm back and what I've learned

So you might have noticed that after a long quiet period I’ve started posting again. That’s because back in September I decided that the blog was a procrastination outlet. Meaning I was using the blog to procrastinate instead of working on games. So I stopped. Here is a little on what has happened since September and two important things I’ve figured out which has reduced my procrastination and allowed me to start posting again!
In September I started work on a Fantasy Football website. The beginning of the football season made me realize that I could build a website and at least create some revenue that might make quitting my job possible, or at least go part time. The work slowly ground to a halt and I lost interested.

In October I found a post on the Indie Gamer Forums from someone selling their online game. I spent several days checking out the game, and brainstorming ways I could improve the game. I traded several emails with the creator, and made many spreadsheets trying to value the game. I also explored the language it was written in to make sure it wasn’t something I hated. But eventually I just could not see trading my hard earned money in for all the risks the game represented.

In November I purchased the Torque engine thinking that moving away from programming and more towards the game making would help speed things up and rid me of the procrastination bug. This did not happen and after spending a lot of time doing tutorials etc. I started feeling like it was more work than it was worth. I had a feeling of wanting to just pound out the code to do something instead of fighting with Torque to make it do what I wanted. Torque seemed to be overkill for the game I want to make.

So then in December I got pretty depressed because I felt like my rate of progress was too slow to ever complete anything. So I started seriously toying with the idea of quitting my job. I liked the idea of having way more time to work, but I feared turning into a lazy, unproductive blob, and losing my house. So after playing with a spreadsheet and some soul searching I was convinced that for now the day job had to stay. It offers a lot of advantages like I can afford to hire a maid, which saves me some time each week. Pays the bills, and will probably help pay for some artwork, etc down the road. The other factor is that without hitting the lottery the amount of cash I can tap is limited and the logistics of it all doesn’t really buy me that much time. And there is a lot of risk in expecting a modest income from a game very quickly. It seemed the real problem is motivation, procrastination, planning and management of time and energy.

Over Christmas and New Years I spent a lot of energy thinking about all this and what my next move should be. I did a lot of reading, books and online. Eventually enough different ideas mixed in with my problem that I discovered two important things.

Going back to my experience with Torque I realized I didn’t like it because it didn’t appeal to my innate skills and motivation. I got frustrated with Torque because it did not fit with my programmer skills or mentality. My motivation to work quickly diminished because instead of whipping out code to make something happen I was fighting to make Torque do what I wanted. What was missing with Torque was the fun factor. Torque was not fun for me (at least not yet.)

Quickly I realized this theme showed up in a lot of my decisions. Until now I’ve constantly discounted the fun factor in my choices. Fun is more important to me than I ever realized. Procrastination was becoming a huge problem for me because my projects lacked any element of fun, they where all part of a fast, smart plan to success. I finally realized success was highly unlikely if I procrastinate my years away trying to force myself to work on the ‘smart’ project in the ‘great’ language I didn’t like. Put another way, I was treating myself like an employee, but I already used up my employee energy (i.e. the energy for unpleasant tasks, I’m not interested in, assigned by a boss) at work!

So I went back to C#. C# is a crazy choice, but it is the one that keeps me motivated and I don’t have to fight with myself to put the hours in. I’ve also chosen to work on my dream project because it will be the most fun.

The second important thing I discovered was this quote from Voltaire, “The Best is the enemy of The Good.” I like it because it speaks to so many of my challenges as an indie. Several times I have thrown way code because I discovered some new ‘better’ technology or thought of a faster or more profitable project. I even dumped code because I thought I had discovered a better design. Churn, churn, churn, was destroying any semblance of progress. The lesson is, usually The Good is perfectly acceptable and will cost less resources and time than The Best.

So my new approach is to stick with what I like or think will be fun and don’t try to make all the best choices, just good ones.

-Mr. Phil

(Editing note, some of this material started as posts on the Indie Gamer Forums)

When I am not writing about making games, procrastinating or watching movies I'm working on a science fiction strategy game (sometimes called 4X or empire builder.) Email me questions, ideas and jokes at mrphil (at) mrphilgames . com