Develop your Discipline

For many years, my video game development experience has adhered to the following (infinitely recursive) formula:

  1. Begin working on project n
  2. After a while, realize project n is not as fun anymore
  3. Get an idea for project (n + 1)
  4. Go to step 1 with project (n + 1)

I’ve since managed to break out of this pattern, and it’s only become apparent to me recently how I did it. Before I explain, I’d like to share some insight from an author I enjoy.

Stephen King featured himself in his own Dark Tower series (this is a literary technique referred to as an author surrogate), in which he imparted to two other characters the difficulty of working on large literary endeavours:

It’s…I don’t know, one day you just start having less fun while you’re sitting there, tapping the keys. Seeing less clearly. Getting less of a buzz from telling yourself the story. And then, to make things worse, you get a new idea, one that’s all bright and shiny, fresh off the showroom floor, not a scratch on her. Completely unfucked-up by you, at least as of yet.

Stephen King, The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah

When I encountered this paragraph, I probably re-read it a dozen times. For the first time, I finally felt as if I wasn’t the only one with this problem. This helped me to feel better, but did little to actually solve my problem. Unfortunately, King never elaborated on how he came to a solution. (Although I suspect that the answer is implicit in the final pages of Song of Susannah.)

A few years passed, and I took up a new hobby: robotics and DIY electronics projects.

Those of you who enjoy building things like robots know that this is an expensive hobby. You’d better be damn sure that you know what you’re doing, otherwise you could be out a fair bit of cash. With the added risk of accidentally frying some essential component, I would also order more than one of whatever little trinket I needed to make my current project work. This further added to costs. As a result, I was careful about selecting projects, and strict about completing them. My diligence paid off and after a year or two, I had successfully built a number of things: a few robots, a couple coilguns, LED displays, and more.

The desire to work on video games eventually resurfaced with a fiery vengeance. Without realizing it, I began to take the same approach that I had taken towards my electronics projects: I carefully weighed my project ideas, and made a choice when I was certain that I had a design I could complete. I also stayed fully committed. Through my more expensive hobbies, I had trained myself how to stick with a project. I had learned self-discipline, somewhat by accident.

The thing is, ideas that are perfect in your head sometimes don’t quite live up to expectations when they are transferred to the game screen. Something gets lost in translation, and things don’t look as they should. Compromises are made, and code isn’t as clean as it should be, either. At this point, it can be tempting to drop your current project, because you’re convinced that the new one in your head won’t lose any luster once it turns into real code. This is doubtful. If this ever happens to you, remember that any project can suffer from this, and it doesn’t mean that you should quit. Have you ever heard the phrase, “the grass is always greener”? Do yourself a favour and continue onwards. Stay committed.



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