A Nice Change

All the cities I’ve seen in Asia, including Penang, are an absolute mess. Sidewalks that are sometimes broken but mostly non-existent. Fruit trucks that spew black smoke as they heave forward. Nonchalant motorbikes that squeal past the food lines at street stalls. Crowded, loud, and completely insane. I love it.

But even I need to escape the tumult sometimes, especially when feeling particularly self-destructive. Enter Penang Hill, the clustered peaks sprouting from the middle of the island. The locals aren’t desperate for more real estate, so the central mass has been left alone by developers — too far from the mainland bridges and too difficult to build on. Which means that, fifteen minutes from the city center, you can be in the middle of a jungle. And not in the cute, western, “you can barely hear the traffic” sort of way. This is a real jungle. An enveloping canopy of tropical trees and bamboo. Exotic flowers that attract international botanists. Monkeys that jump from trees and scurry down paths. It’s magnificent. Early Sunday, we took advantage of this local jungle, and hiked for three hours from the base of the hill to the top.

Deep breaths of the crisp morning air at the peak was a nice change to my usual rhythm. And last week, I needed that.

Good news for those who read last week’s post: the game isn’t completely ruined! But of course it isn’t — as I mentioned, these minor crises happen, and I don’t feel particularly great about the game for a few hours, but they lead to critical revisions. So, what’s changed?

Well, me and a white board got really intimate. I made giant lists and cut them down. I turned scattered thoughts into scattered essays. I outlined UX elements as flowcharts. In the end, I probably wasted more white board marker ink than a small country. The result: I realized my players don’t have enough consistent actions. Everything they do is controlled by contextual prompts, which means there isn’t any solving. Basically, I had made a choose-your-own-adventure novel, and a pretty terrible one, with no challenge whatsoever. I’m very happy with the solutions I found to that problem, and have already started implementing them. The other good news? They’ll probably only take a couple of weeks to fully test, which will lead to even more iteration and improvements. Exciting times ahead!

But another change happened last week. It’s more subtle, but far more important. My mentality shifted. Before working in game development, I knew I would do it. That last bit is important, so I’ll repeat it: I knew I would do it. Before making triple-A games, I knew I would do it. Before starting my indie adventure, I knew I would do it. You follow? But now, before launching my first game, I stopping knowing. I started thinking, or sometimes hoping, or even wishing. I don’t mean that I just prayed to Jesus instead of making my game — no, I’ve been working hard this whole time. But there’s an important distinction between knowing something and thinking that it could happen — or, my classic response of late: “Yeah, we’ll see what happens, I hope it’s good”.

Some late nights last week involved staring at my ceiling, psychoanalyzing the roots of that shift. But the roots aren’t nearly as important at what I do about it. So I hope you’ll excuse me if it sounds arrogant, but from now my responses will change:

I will make this game. And it will be fantastic.

Images courtesy of fellow hikers Julia, a German iPhone developer, and Alex, an Austrian finance blogger