The start of a game development journal

I am starting a journal for my game development work because I spend a lot of development time thinking and staring into space, and those thoughts don’t always make it into the game. I need an outlet to direct those thoughts and hopefully make them more useful. The project I am working on is also personal and necessarily relates to my feelings about life and art and God, and I need a place to write those things down too. I may publish some of these entries on my blog.

I’ve been working on this project on and off for over a year, and here’s the theme I keep returning to: in general the way I think, the way humans think, the way society is built, is that if I try hard enough, then I will succeed. My effort directly determines how well things turn out. This mindset appeals to me, because when something turns out well, I can take satisfaction knowing that it was entirely due to my efforts.

Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t actually work this way. Sometimes you try really hard to make something happen, and it doesn’t. Sometimes you’re naturally gifted and can succeed without really trying. Sometimes you pour 110% of your mind and heart into creating the video game equivalent of literature for four years and end up with a failed project and no money.

In other words, your will and effort do correlate a bit with the outcome, but they don’t cause it. It’s not about you.

But when it comes to my work, my brain constantly drifts back to this prideful, controlling, obsessive, stressed-out place where I am the source of anything good that happens. I love the chance to exercise my skills and see it pay off. Every game developer is addicted to that incredible feeling of seeing something turn out awesome after hours of hard work. Gamedev is the ultimate slot machine. Most of the time, it’s a slog. Nothing works the way you want it too. Then finally, something magical pops up out of nowhere and you’re amazed by how cool it is.

The lie my brain believes is that if I could just try a little harder, be a little smarter, work a little faster, study a bit more, then I could get that magical feeling all the time. I end up working harder and harder for smaller and smaller payoffs.

Making games is a creative, artistic endeavor, which means it’s not a skill you can improve through hard work. You can certainly practice the technical execution of game development to create a higher quality product that makes more money, but solid programming and beautiful artwork does not guarantee that your game will be financially or artistically successful.

What does “artistically successful” mean? One simple definition I learned is that an artistically successful piece of work accomplishes the intention of the artist. If the artist intended to create something ugly and it indeed turned out ugly, that’s an artistic success.

The artistic success I’m aiming for is more like this: the work should honestly communicate something of the artist to the viewer. It should reflect the artist in some way. Not only should it accomplish the artist’s intention, it should also carry their imprint. God is the ultimate artist, because every one of his creations accomplishes his intention for it, and every one of them carries his imprint.

There are no steps you can take to become a successful artist under that definition. So this is the mantra I have to repeat to myself: the outcome does not depend on your effort. Don’t overthink it. Stop trying so hard. If it’s possible to dedicate years of full-time effort and fail, then it must also be possible to dedicate sporadic free time while raising a kid and working a full-time job and succeed. Because it’s not up to you.