The dreaded ‘60%’

In this now series of articles, designed to help the humble indie games developer, I would like to draw to your attention something we have all experienced (myself probably more than anyone).

There are so many things that can draw creative (and not so creative) types to developing interactive media. Myself, being a Digital Designer, I have much love for both graphics and interaction. I’m also big on storyline, cinematography and music (I can’t help being an omnipotent creative force now can I?). The various programmers I’ve come across in the wild have all said it’s the technical challenge that draws them to it. Outside (and on occasion inside) Psync I very rarely agree with any opinion a programmer in the workplace attempts to give me. We do however, always agree on one thing, ‘The Dreaded 60%’.

So you’ve had an idea, it’s an outstanding idea! You can picture the levels, gorgeous visuals and the ingenious game mechanics that will make your creation stand out from the crowd! People all over the world will not be able to put this puppy down, well not until the sequel! I already have an epic plot the likes of which Spielberg couldn’t begin to realize. Next, hundreds of hours dedicated to producing rich, glorious graphics and finally a bit of code to make the whole thing tick. Brilliant! I’ve got my first level, with a character and menus galore. It’s taken months, but has been so worth it! We’re over half way, some would say about “60%”. Now just to tidy up the mess that is the code, iron out a swarm of bugs, complete 254 animations and build a few dozen levels.

It’s at this point a strange yet not surprising thing happens, you lose all interest in the project. Faced with the sheer uncompromising slog of churning out level after level, animation after animation and line after never ending line of code, it’s just too much for anyone isn’t it? Besides, people would only make comparisons between it and several other finished games, so there really is no point continuing down this plagiarism paved road to disappointment.

I’m tying this to games development but it’s true of all creative endeavours, whether they be comics, animations, films, stories or anything that requires a dose of imagination. The 60% stage of any project is the moment the challenge has ended. Foundations for the grand plan have been laid and now the grand plan is too grand for such a creative chap to complete. Now the creative chap has another idea, a much more manageable plan. More manageable that is, until the foundations have been put in place and it’s once again, just too damned big. So, the cycle continues. I raise my hands and both legs to admit that I have fallen foul of this on more occasions than I can genuinely remember.

I feel I should try to offer some sort of advice to avoiding this dreaded thing. So far I have only two proven techniques, one is to not to try this stuff solo (but that’s another article) or base your final year university project around it (although this will lead to 42 hour marathons when the deadline is near). Next time I try such a thing, instead of starting the foundations of the project and being creative as I go along, I’m going to lay the foundations first. There will inevitably be tweaks and new ideas, BUT if I can plan the project out from start to finish, design basic blueprints for everything in the game and still not have given up, the boring stuff will have been done. I will know how much work is required and can concentrate on the visuals. This is very untested however and won’t work for everyone, but I’d like to think it will work for me, I’ll let you know when I find out.

Please leave any comments, ideas or tips below, we need to solve this problem!

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