It’s so easy to get attached to a project when you work on it for a long time. I’ve already been looking at Duet for a year. Despite that, for the past six months or so I haven’t made much progress. This is partly due to laziness and working a full time job. Staring closely at what you are doing can make it seem so much bigger than it really is.
The fact is that Duet is a small game. If I’m being realistic, it probably won’t change the world; it probably won’t change much of anything. But I’ve become so intimately close with the project that it has grown an importance to me that isn’t really due. I’ve created an abstract idea of what Duet is, and it seems imperative that I must create that. I can feel the importance of what I’m doing, and I find that paralyzing.
Instead, I just need to relax and enjoy working on it as much as I can. Taking a more laid back attitude about the development allows me room to fail. This freedom is the only real path to success. The importance of achieving my artistic goals with the project has occluded to me the probability that I don’t even have any idea what Duet should be. I have become so terrified of making a misstep and pushing the project in the wrong direction that I’m no making any steps at all.
Alec Holowka has talked on his podcast and elsewhere about the depressing nature of deeply personal involvement in game projects. Although I want Duet to be deeply personal and compelling, the concept is so abstract that there really is no direct path to achieving that goal.
I am where I am in the project, and I cannot clearly see the end of the road ahead. It is truly a circuitous route to the final game. Earlier, this was not a problem, because I was the only one working on it, and the missteps required relatively little investment. So throwing out bad ideas was not a big deal. Now, for some reason, I have been unable to take this attitude with the production. In some sense, I must learn to trust my instincts a little more, but I must also not be afraid to change my mind.
ThatGameCompany has gone as far as to throw away fundamental mechanical systems in favor of achieving a specific “feel”. Although I hope to create an evocative experience, I am not really designing in that way. The game started with the mechanics and the feel I want to pursue has just arisen naturally from observation of those interactions.
The game development process is liquid and ideally requires both top-down and bottom-up design practices. It just requires the freedom to fail. It demands a certain mobility of design direction. It’s like trying to hit a moving target from a moving target, with a moving target. But I can’t let the fear of missing the mark keep me from trying.