Powering Through Problems

Game dev isn’t easy. No one can deny that it’s incredibly rewarding, but there are also moments where sheer frustration will make you want to throw your PC down a flight of stairs, or out a window because the stair violence doesn’t convey how you really feel. Taking breaks is not a bad idea, but the game will never be finished if you continually set it aside or refuse to pick up your project again out of frustration from a temporary lack of progress.

The real issue is that problems like these can be very demotivating. It’s hard to see past a problem until you’ve fixed it. In my experience, the majority of game dev problems can be placed in one of the following categories.

  1. Technical problems: “I don’t know how to implement X.”

    This is the most common category of problems that a beginner will face. It’s also the most challenging, both from a technical perspective (because you’ll often have to learn something new that is non-trivial), and from a personal perspective (because it’s frustrating to see a lack of progress on something so important to you). These kinds of problems always have a solution — there’s always a way to implement something, and knowledge can always be acquired. This is a fundamental truth, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you lack the knowledge, get it. Take that extra linear algebra class or buy that GPU programming book. If you possess this level of commitment to your projects, nothing can stop you from finishing them.

    The other alternative is to find resources online. Need a collision system that supports concave geometry, but don’t know how to make one? Someone else probably does, and it’s most likely online for others to use. (I’m a firm believer that you should do everything yourself at least once, so try to aim to understand code that you download, if possible.)

  2. Design problems: “I don’t know what approach to take/feature to develop.”

    I’ve had entire projects come to a halt because of my inability to make design decisions, or because they got out of hand. There are two strategies I’ve generally embraced when I can’t make up my mind:

    Stay away until I’ve made up my mind. This is a pretty good approach. I certainly don’t want to end up in a situation where I continually change my mind and keep re-implementing things as a result. If I’m not sure about something, I just let it sit for a while. The better choice will eventually become clear.

    Just run with one of them. If it’s not a very important decision, I’ll often just choose arbitrarily. The key here, though, is to make sure you stick with your decision so you don’t end up wasting time flip-flopping in the middle of your coding session. Make a decision, even if it pains you. And that’s final.

    I should point out that you could spend forever designing a game or making decisions about features. The point of “just running with one of them” is to avoid wasting time philosophizing about what might actually be a really trivial thing. When deciding which of these two approaches to use, try asking yourself: “Would my players really care?” If you think they would, then maybe sit on it for a while.

  3. Debugging problems: “I don’t know why my game does/doesn’t do X.”

    “Debugging is twice as hard as writing the code in the first place. Therefore, if you write the code as cleverly as possible, you are, by definition, not smart enough to debug it.”

    Brian Kernighan

    This is another bad one. Debugging is often a very painful experience, but the single best piece of advice I ever received regarding debugging was this: “Know your data”.

    If something doesn’t work properly, don’t just stare at your code and think about it. If thinking was enough, you wouldn’t have run into the problem in the first place. Print out some useful information. Get your debugger going and watch those variables. You’re only going to get so far without these tools, and by using them, you’ll find that you’ll solve your problems a whole lot quicker.

So clearly, there is no shortage of issues one can face. But, successful individuals power through these problems because they’re committed to seeing their vision come to life, and they know how to meet a challenge head-on. I encourage you to do the same.


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