The Courage To Let Go

In which Stew ruminates on the art of letting go.

What is your biggest ambition in life? To own a large house? To be a millionaire? Perhaps you’re like me, and want to be the lead singer in the world’s greatest metal band? Whatever it is, chances are you are taking certain steps every day towards achieving that goal.

But… imagine you’re walking through town one day and a distraught, ragged and exhausted looking clone of yourself emerges from a nearby manhole and staggers towards you gasping for breath. They clutch your arm tightly and whisper with urgency in your ear, revealing that they are another version of you from the future. They’ve come back in time to warn you that you never achieve your dreams of stardom, and you should give them up right now or you’ll waste the next twenty years of your life on a pipe dream. They then run off screaming something about a riot at a music festival. And you’re left thinking to yourself:

“Is that going to stop me trying?”

Well, in light of this new knowledge, it should! Or at the very least you would realign your sights on something more realistic, perhaps a roadie or a bassist.

Now, that might seem like quite a negative attitude, but it’s the only logical choice. And exactly the same logic can be applied to anything, such as writing video games. If something isn’t working, you have to be prepared to look at alternatives, or ditch it entirely. This may be hard, especially if you’ve already poured a lot of time and effort into it, but you’ll ultimately save yourself more time, and sanity, in the long run. You could fill an encyclopedia with the features which have been altered or removed from Quarrel during its development. Getting an idea lodged in your head which you aren’t prepared to budge from is the quickest path to madness.

Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as time travel, so you’ll have to train yourself to be disciplined and to make these calls yourself. There are certain tell tale signs that something isn’t right…

It keeps breaking!

Are you becoming tired of having to write exceptions and sub-rules? If you find yourself constantly having to add extra rules or features in order to patch up the holes in the underlying concept, then chances are the underlying concept needs to be amended or abandoned.

Everyone hates it!

Listen to feedback from people who play the game, or the other team members working on it. If you become too precious about something, you’ll be more inclined to find ways of dismissing other people’s opinions as irrelevant. After all, they don’t know your ‘baby’ as well as you do! Being too defensive can be very damaging.

I’m sick of it!

If you’re becoming bored when writing a game, this may be your first clue that the game is… well… boring. There’s no point in writing something that you don’t enjoy yourself. “I don’t like it” is a perfectly valid excuse to stop work and start something else. There’s nothing better than working on a concept when you’re convinced that it’s a winner, and this is where you should try and put yourself.

I’m still convinced there’s life in it!

The end doesn’t have to be the end. If you leave things tied off in a state where you or somebody else could pick it up again in the future, then the idea may yet be salvaged. Perhaps somebody else will spot something you missed, and come up with the missing piece of the puzzle that makes the concept work. Or maybe there’s a place for this particular feature in an entirely different game.

Knowing when something isn’t working, and having the courage to let go, is a very important skill to master. And just think of what you could be achieving in the time you would otherwise be wasting on flogging a dead horse.

– Stew (@chicknstu)