13 Apr Game Design Lessons #11: What My Cat Taught Me About Game Design

I have a confession to make: I am a cat person.

However, I’m not a crazy cat person who lets them walk all over the table and sleep on my bed. There are definite boundaries, and the cats have learnt over the years that they are not allowed into my studio. Just like any rule, though, you have to be iron-clad when dealing with them…

Enter, the Squid – a little bundle of cuteness who knows how to work “El Charm.”

You know what they say, the youngest kid always has it easiest, and the Squid has quite literally wormed her way into my good graces. At first she was pushed out. Then taken out. Then hissed at.
Then I got mad. And still she came back again, each time with that same cute-as-a-button look (she probably moonlights as Puss in Boots).

The thing is, my resistance started to wane. First she was allowed in if she sat quietly. Then I let her sit on my bookshelf. Then sit on the chair beside me… until finally she made it onto the ultimate prize: The Lap.

What the heck does any of this have to do with game design?

Persistence.

The Squid didn’t get what she wanted the first, second, third or tenth time. But it didn’t deter her. She kept coming back… again and again… each time with the same enthusiasm. She ignored her critics, and powered right on. Eventually, the criticism transformed into admiration.

As a game designer, author, publisher, or dream-creator, you have to do exactly the same. Know what your dream is and keep going towards it no matter what obstacles get in your way. You will have times where you question what you do – is it worth it? Will it work? Is it just going to be a massive failure? When those moments come, be like the Squid. Just believe that it will all turn out right in the end.

Here’s a few ways you can also do that:

1) Use Your Product

If you’re making games, play them! If you’re writing books, read them! It will help you immensely to have it continually reinforced that your product is good, what you are doing is good, and to keep your attention on the field that you’re working in. For me, it’s important that I keep up a game night with my mates. We play Immersion RPG in its many guises, and from that I not only get a much-needed chill-out time, but also fresh insights into the game that we’re creating. There’s also nothing better than having an epic game and thinking, “Wow, this game is awesome! I’m so glad I’m finally publishing it.” 

2) Rest and Exercise

Working non-stop is really bad for you, mentally and physically. Sometimes I find that after sitting in front of a computer for 16 hours, my spirits are low, my energy is tapped out and my thoughts are all fuzzy. Doing it day after day leads to a build up of stress, physical issues like back pains, muscle tightness, eye strain, and just a plain bad mood. It’s tough enough trying to plan out a Kickstarter, create a game and market it…let alone doing so without proper rest, food and exercise. So take a break every now and then and go for a walk. Look around you. Get your lungs working. You may not think you have the time, but believe me, it will make you more efficient in the long run (this is a marathon, not a sprint). Here’s some good tips on how to undo the damage of sitting.

Related:  Game Design Lesson #7: Art. What Is It Good For?

3) Sounding Boards

Critics can get you down. So you really need to have a bunch of people who can give you sound advice when you need it best. Often that’s not your closest friends and family, because they tend to be emotionally invested in you and what you’re doing. They want you to succeed, so they’ll usually love everything you do. Friends and family are super important, and make a big difference in terms of support (or at least, they should do), but what happens when you need an objective opinion? Well, you can go to forums… though they are sometimes frequented by trolls. The other option is to start building up a fan base of people you can send your stuff to. People who know what you’re doing and will give you their feedback. Often these people are just gamers who are telling you what they like or don’t like. Use that. Make sure to get specifics on exactly what they did and didn’t like. It will help you a lot in designing and marketing your product.

4) Keep Upbeat

Whatever else happens, keep telling yourself it will turn out right in the end. There is a great quote by Theodore Roosevelt, which I found when perusing The Art of Manliness blog:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Ooh rah! In other words, be the Squid.

And now I’d better go – I can hear her at the door.

~Oliver R. Shead

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