Failing to Fail

“Fail Fast” and similar mantras have evolved from well-meaning advice, to start-up slogans, to hollow catch-phrases (I mean, you can get the quotes on throw pillows now). But the original spirit — that quick iterations and pivots are vital to eventual success — is still very true for games. Even veteran designers concede that no mechanic ever works exactly as they envision. Iteration is a prerequisite to excellence.

Between the many versions of user-interface in SimCity Deluxe, the variety of pathfinding solutions for Dragon Age: Inquisition, and the infinite man-hours poured into Battlefield Hardline‘s game modes — saying nothing of the failed ideas and projects that I’m not allowed to mention — I’ve seen the power of iteration professionally. Of course a game is made better by refinement! So, when it came to my own game, why am I only now iterating? What took so long?!

The honest answer: I had no gameplay. There was no mechanic. The core-loop started and stopped with one node: pick from a selection of narrative choices, then see what happens. Oh, I still liked what was there — don’t take this as a denouncement of everything I had done. The characters I had built, the world in which they were set, the themes I’d explored, the art-style I’d produced. Everything was great! Except, it wasn’t a game.

How did this game designer fail to create a game? Well, I was nervous that, having never written any public-facing fiction, I couldn’t pen a full story — I needed to prove to myself that I could do it. I’d also been on the road for three months, with barely anything to show for it — some people already have complete alphas in three months, where the hell was I?! I had to put my head down and get something done already.

Which again returns to self-doubt — had I been confident that I could write a game, and that yes, I would eventually release it, then maybe I wouldn’t have spent two months writing a story that I’ve since dumped. But the right amount of self-confidence is something I learned in the last post. What’s this week’s moral?

If I can’t iterate on an idea for a game, it means there’s probably no game there at all. Or, for the eventual throw pillows: if you can’t fail now, you will later.

This week we went to a Penang FA football match — a great reason to pick up a local jersey. Our team lost, but the fans beside us were singing and drumming the entire time. Considering the team that had only been promoted this season, the energy seemed to be spurring them on, as they dominated most of the match despite the late-goal loss. A great night out!


Background image by Jef Poskanzer