Indie Diary #3 - Working Alone
Many people find solitary work very fulfilling and productive. I've found that it is the most challenging way to go about development.
Whether it's an edit, a short fiction piece, or a game, production is a hard thing to keep straight. That's why crunch exists, as most of the early development stages exist in a protean limbo - as I'm relearning now - wherein the challenge is simply nailing down the correct feelings, mechanics, and styles at which the finished product is aimed. I think that's why I found Joel Burgess' level design talk so inspiring and helpful at GDC this year, as keeping track of iterations will save time and frustration down the road.
But having jumped into the indie world, I now understand the objection to such regulated systems of creation. When LOVE's creator, Quel Solaar (forgive me, I can't remember his actual name), and I were discussing his adamant disapproval of his colleague's iteration techniques, it was clear that it wasn't iterative processes that he disliked. It was the big, bad producer - the squelcher of an otherwise gaseous creative process.
Well, I understand that aversion now. As I'm rolling into week four... or is it three... I've absorbed a wealth of new knowledge already, but remain so far from any clear milestones that it's a bit disheartening. It isn't the hard skills of programming or learning new software that is so detrimental to this process - it's the process itself. 90% of these early weeks have been a constant churning of ideas and visions in my mind with nothing more than the character and art style being penned down and tested inside the engine. But even then, the results aren't anywhere near what the end result will inevitably look like.
Of all the difficulties of design and development on any creative project, it's solitary confinement that makes it feel intensely frustrating. I can see in my mind what this game will look like, but I have no means of facilitating that to a partner off of which new ideas can bounce around. Furthermore, there's no keeping check of myself that doesn't feel obsessive - there's nobody here to help, push, or inspire me to keep the steam engine rolling.
That alone makes independent media production such a challenge. But when it's something with hundreds of moving parts you need to keep straight all at once, well it's kind of daunting to look at it all from head on. Breaking it up and tackling it piece by piece is the only way to fend off insanity.
And that's actually where Joel's talk makes sense on such a small scale. A painter starts with only one blot of color which eventually grows into a beautiful, unimaginable scene through constant reiterations of new blot after new blot (most of art, as I've observed over the years as both a student and a sketch artist, is imperfect until all the imperfections blur together at once into one perfectly beautiful image). For me, reiteration means starting with design (the writer's aspect of development), character/world creation (sketching out bits of your world, essentially), and then putting up a blank canvas and putting the image together one blot at a time, which may or may not take up ~5gb of space on your hard drive as a HUGE photoshop file (as is the case for me).
My reflections on the past three or four weeks has made these otherwise banal aspects of artistic practices very, very evident. Much in the same way as drawing or painting, one must not fall into desperation to just get the damn vision out of your mind and onto the paper. It takes time. It takes patience. And it takes a breath or two to remind myself of that everyday.