After 5 years of obsessive development, my game about Hell is officially ready to be judged by the world.
As I write this, I'm looking at Pinstripe's Steam page, and I have knots in my stomach. My heart is racing and I can feel it skipping beats. My palms are sweaty, and I kind of want to go throw up. I keep telling myself, "no pain no gain". Failure is part of life, and it's especially part of game development, right?
It's funny, I'm learning that the constant tension I feel when I make games, the lowest depths of failure and insecurity, and the soaring heights of over-confidence, is inescapable. Even on launch, I feel the same way I felt when I first started the project. So, I want to share with you three emotional game development hurdles that will never go away, and how to use them to your advantage.
1. You Will Always Feel Insecure
So after Pinstripe raised over 100K on Kickstarter, I felt euphoric. I remember leaning against the kitchen counter with my arms folded, a celebratory glass of whiskey in my hands, looking at my wife with a proud sliver of a smile, and saying coyly "this is it, honey".
Literally the next day, the euphoria was gone. A giant pit was in my stomach. The same exact pit I felt three years prior, thinking I was wasting my time on a silly project about Hell, was back. Like some cancer, the insecurity of creative pursuits is something we all have to live with. Insecurity will always find you. It's a very human disease written in our DNA. The truth is, if you're doing creativity the right way, you're showing the deepest, darkest, most secretive parts of your soul, and you will always feel like the world will laugh at you. Creative expression is pretty much the equivalent of dropping your pants, and it's meant to be that way. Otherwise it's bland, impersonal, and not really expressive at all.
So learn to embrace insecurity and failure, because they're not going away any time soon. Take the insecurity you feel about your project, and use it as a tool. For me, my insecurity makes me work especially hard and polish the crap out of my games. For you, it could drive you to prove to yourself and those around you that you are as strong as you believe. Or, it could be as simple as conquering your fears, and finding more joy in your career and life. Like exercising, pushing through insecurity builds creative muscle, making you stronger for your next big career move. Do it!
2. You Will Never Make It Perfect
Perfectionism: the equivalent of mutating into someone completely different than your older self, and judging that self. It's like some sick, infinite joke. The truth is, you will likely never feel like you made something perfect, because your ability to grow creatively typically outruns your ability to produce creatively. I mean think about it: have you ever felt like you made something perfect? If you have, take a step back. You might be fooling yourself.
If I could have seen Pinstripe now when I was 5 years younger. I probably would have been impressed with myself, simply because all I have ever made are small little Flash games. But I'm completely different now, I have totally new standards. Sometimes I literally have to get up from my desk and go for a walk to force myself to not apply my new standards to work that very clearly needs to be over and done with. I realize now I have to finish things, even if they don't meet my new standards.
The one beautiful thing about perfectionism lies in the truth about creative work as a whole. The ultimate goal of creativity is not really for your personal pleasure. It feels nice to create, don't get me wrong, but why create if it's just some selfish desire? It's really about sharing something with someone and brightening their day, or saying something you believe in without actually saying it (which is pretty much the most convincing way to say something). In the end, perfectionism can hurt the creator, but benefits the consumer. Because of my constant critique of myself, I like to think players benefit from a polished project.
3. You Will Be Judged Harshly (And It Will Often Be True)
I could whine and complain about players judging Pinstripe incorrectly, but I won't, because it's inevitable and that's part of life. What will happen, however, is Pinstripe will be judged harshly by some, and very often judged correctly. What I mean is, players will certainly find real problems with Pinstripe, from plot holes, emotionally weak moments, glitches, all the way to the game's soundtrack not jiving in some areas. These are real problems, and what makes this especially hard is the simple fact that I'm not allowed to moan about them. I pretty much have to look myself in the mirror, force myself to accept these failures, and grow from them.
Although this is one of the hardest facets of game development to accept, it's also the most constructive.Think about your game. Surely it's got problems. It's impossible that the game is flawless. So ask for opinions, look intentionally at your game's reviews, and purposefully acknowledge that, yes, the complaints are often legitimate.
OK, So Making Games Seems Miserable. Why Do It?
Honestly, yes, making games has it's miserable moments, just like any job. But the high of making games is totally worth it. For me, the beauty of making a game is realizing it has potential to shape someone's day, week, year, or life. That's definitely something that helps push me past the anxiety of game development and really focus on pure creativity.
Want to check out Pinstripe?
If you have any questions or just want to say hello, follow me @atmosgames!