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13 Sep 2013

Know When to Salvage Your Ideas, Know When to Kill Them

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was during a writing workshop in which the instructor told us to, “never be afraid to kill our children;” our children being a character, plot point – anything in our writing. I’m fairly certain he stole the saying from another writer, but it’s great advice not only for writing a compelling story or novel, but for game development as well. It’s a hard discipline to master, and for good reason. When you spend days developing a certain part of a game, you want to see it through to the end, yet realization sometimes sets in: this isn’t working.

Immediately, doubt begins to creep into your mind, you begin to wander if you have been wasting your time focusing on this certain aspect of your game, to which you then begin to wander if this is going to hinder the overall project. The moment you begin to doubt a certain idea, take a step back, a few deep breaths, and do a few exercises to determine if the idea in your game is worth salvaging and tweaking, or if they deserve to be tossed into the proverbial dumpster.


Can You Easily Test the Idea In-Game?

If so, test it out as quickly as possible. Many times, you will find that a ‘good’ idea is actually a terrible idea once it is implemented into your game, to which that is all the evidence you need to go back to the drawing board and try something else. Unfortunately, not all ‘good’ ideas can be tested so easily, and if this is the case, you need to do a little homework.


Talk to Others

You know that feeling when something sounds like a good idea, but the moment you do it or say it, you quickly discover that the idea wasn’t so hot? You may achieve the same feeling when you discuss your idea with others. Discuss the idea in question with an individual whose opinion you value: a co-worker or fellow gaming partner, for instance. Ensure that you discuss these idea in detail, explain to them the problems you are having with them, and ask them exactly what they think about it.

Don’t let them be polite and nice about it, either: tell them you want to know if it sounds like it sucks or not and to be brutally, viciously honest. If they tell you it sucks, tell them to explain to you ‘why’ it sucks, and from there the two of you can dialogue and discover a way to make the idea great. If the two of you cannot conclude as to how to salvage the idea, you may want to scrap it altogether or continue trying to make the idea workable.

Of course, you need to talk to more than one person. Find out what multiple people think about the idea in question, and from there you will likely see a pattern. It should also be worth noting that when you discuss your idea with others, document the discussion or even record it for later playback. And from there….


Read/Listen to the Responses, Write Down Your New Idea

So the idea in doubt may be able to be salvaged after all, or maybe you are not completely sure if it can be, but you do not want to give up on scrapping the idea just yet. That is perfectly fine – after all, you need to know with 100% certainty if an idea needs to be killed or saved. Walk to a place you can become creative– maybe your home office, a library, a park, or heck, on a subway if that’s where your creative juices flow at their best. Whatever your ‘happy place’ may be, get there and make your magic happen!

Read and/or listen to the responses from those in your discussions, and do this several times if you need to. Let it all soak in, and eventually, new ideas will start forming. You will (hopefully) find new answers to the idea you are hoping to incorporate, and if this happens – congratulations!

Yet do not stop there. Keep brainstorming, keep drawing out steps, keep writing down ideas, and generally, keep being creative. You may find better answers to your idea, or you may even come up with great, new ideas altogether that are worth pursuing. Creativity works in a mysterious way: you can attempt to ‘work through’ a certain idea, only to find a dozen new ideas that may be worth your attention. Whatever happens while you are in your ‘happy place,’ go with it. Keep being creative, keep jotting down ideas, yet most importantly, find out if your original idea is worth salvaging.

If you think it’s a great idea, repeat the first two steps and see if you can conclude with 100% certainty that, “yes, this idea is gold.” If you cannot, work through your idea once again. The creative process is tiring, it’s difficult, it’s stressful, and it’s enough to make you want to give up and scrap the idea altogether. Don’t do that: instead, keep pushing forward, keep fighting the good fight, and your hard work will pay off via a strong, focused idea.


Create a Rough Draft of Your New Idea in Playable Form

If you can, spend a few days creating a rough version of the idea you desire to implement, and develop a playable form of the idea. As stated in the first step, sometimes we can quickly find out that an idea was not very good by simply exercising the idea by playing it. If you can do this, it is highly suggested that you do, as you will be able to tell whether your new idea needs to be rehashed or thrown away for good.

If you find that time and again the idea is not working out, this is probably a good sign that the idea isn’t worth saving. Sure, you are going to feel as if it may be able to be salvaged, or you are going to feel as if you are not ready to toss it away forever, but keep this in mind:

The longer you continue to salvage your idea, the longer your game sits unfinished.

It’s a catch-22 of game development: you want to spend enough time brainstorming so you can ensure that your ideas are perfect, and you want to discover the best way to implement new ideas and tweak them so your game is at its very best. Yet, by spending too much time contemplating and thinking about how to properly use one or even several ideas, you are failing to develop your game further.

There comes a time in which you need to either drop an idea or move on to developing another area of your game. And if an idea is taking too long to develop? Chances are this may be for a reason: because the idea simply isn’t going to work.

Every situation is different during the development of a game. On one hand, an idea may be worth tweaking and salvaging despite the seemingly countless revisions you have to go through, or an idea may seem like a great idea in your mind and even on paper, but the more you try to ‘fix’ it the more you keep running into obstacles that keep the idea from properly working. Whatever your case may be, know when to ‘kill your children.’ It’s going to hurt when you do it and it never gets easier, but in the end your game is going to be better because of your decision.

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