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Making Mistakes in Artwork.

I came up with a quick idea for a game this week. I wanted to mock it up quickly and I gave myself a mandate. Finish it by end of week, or kill it by end, one way or another. I have one day left, and although overall the game is close, I always feel this need to perfect it, improve my assets, etc. I start to spiral out quickly.

I know I talk about this a lot. I have this idea that creating a game, shouldn’t always be like making a tent-pole production film that involves hundreds of people and a budge of 200 million dollars. I have no problem with companies who do that, I think that’s awesome for artists and the gamers, and pushing the state of the art.

I’m more interested in the smaller, personal projects though. When I sit down to write a short story, I’m not thinking, “This will take me about a year to create!” I’m hoping I can finish a first draft of a story in one sitting, because when I’m in a flow that’s how it comes out for me often. When I have to force things, the story or artwork shrivels up and dies.

I saw this all the time when teaching, both in myself and my students. If there was a great expectation that a zbrush sculpt, or a drawing was going to be “it” then there is this stiffening that happens, and often procrastination. It drags out, and goes no where. I saw in my students this timid dabbling, instead of broad re-working of their drawings and sculpts. The reason is often because of risk. If you push too far, you may destroy the artwork, but by being too timid, it can fail to come to life. Another reason is that some art ideas become precious to us, and we can’t part with the initial concept and see what else “it” wants to be.

To me part of the creative process involves being loose when I sit down to work. This is difficult business in creating games, because it is in fact highly technical with lots of road blocks to get in the way.

My philosophy about the games for an indie person though is to create a sort of backlog of ideas and assets and get ready for the lightning to strike. You have to be sketching in the game world with those assets you have already, and not always be “experimenting” with some killer game play idea that would actually require six months to a year for one person to execute well.

When teaching, my students would pitch games in class. The goal was to choose one as their “pre-thesis”, each semester there was at least one person who pitched this idea;

“This is an MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) game idea, and you can customize your character from one of several races..” The idea would go on, and often involve dragons, amazing powers and weaponry, and scores of animated cut scenes. I would try to steer them back to the ground. It’s not that those things are impossible at the student level, but starting simpler (single player for instance) is still a lot to accomplish when you’re talking about actually producing that product as your thesis.

In this vein I still try to counsel ex-students of mine, who are staying on the Indie path. “Don’t get too complex” I caution. “No, don’t think of your game as a triple-A title, please.” I beg. “Be nimble. Be fast – if you build an asset, test it in game same day.”

The reason is simply this. We need to make mistakes, whether that’s in a drawing pad, or writing short stories that we later realize suck big time, or a game that is oddly reminiscent of Kong. Doing those things, even if they aren’t a masterpiece, means cutting your chops and building a repertoire of skills so that there is improvement. It means you are doing, what you want to do, even if it isn’t triple-A caliber (yet).

It also means having some closure on something. The big things, the big games, the novels that are 300 pages, the massive oil painting, those things are sweet.

I’m just advocating for the sketches in between too.

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