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©2019 by To the Death! Games & Pastimes. 

  • Dakota Winslow

20/20 Hindsight: Why it's important to think about decisions you have already made.

The process of developing any product is long and arduous, and rarely linear. The road to success is never straight and narrow; it is a branching, twisting thing, decorated with switchbacks, dead ends, and figure 8 loops. While we are on that road, it is often impossible to tell if we are on the right path at all, or simply following a dead end trail (or worse, going backwards.)

It is in the very nature of a development cycle to have these requisite dead ends and setbacks, usually in the form of unexpected complications or a last minute change in project direction. However, despite the inevitable nature of trials and tribulations, many aspiring (and sometimes accomplished) developers get discouraged when they hit upon rough times.

"We are losing steam!", they may exclaim, or, "Since we changed our concept, all of these old ideas were a waste of time!". Some become so disappointed in themselves that they abandon the project entirely, not realizing that they had finally struck gold. Even worse, some deliberately continue down a dead end, reasoning that it is better to use what they have than "start from scratch again".

This week's lesson is a short one, but critically important: Never be afraid to recognize that you are going the wrong way. It doesn't take much - a comment from a bystander, an experience with a similar product, or even just an isolated epiphany can bring the truth to light - but once, revealed, it is impossible to ignore. A poorly designed asset, a broken or unfun mechanic; whatever it is, it will forever stick out like an Goku cosplayer on Wall Street, silently screaming that it simply does not belong.

The good news is, the hardest part is the recognition. Once a misstep is identified, it can often be reversed. It is a popular misconception that fixing or replacing a bad component in a game will require just as much effort, or more, as making it in the first place. This is, in reality, rarely true - by making a mistake the first time around, you have learned of some of the pitfalls that await you. You have also gained experience from the attempt, and possibly some skills related to the mistake as well. If you spent hours researching examples of simultaneous play, for example, and then created a mechanic that didn't work, you still have all of that research to draw on, plus intimate knowledge about one particular idea that doesn't work.

Thanks to the beauty of the development process, there is no such thing as "starting from scratch again". The only scratch start you ever get is on the first attempt of your first project; from then on, you will always carry the combined wisdom of your past work, successful or not.

In order to produce the best work we are capable of, we must always be evaluating the many facets of our projects. Things that worked well in the beginning may seem out of place now, and ideas that seemed downright moronic at first may be worth revisiting with a more experienced eye. No matter what happens, we must never be afraid to Kill our Darlings; no matter how good an idea may seem, if it isn't perfect, we can always come up with another one.

If you do realize you are going the wrong way, don't panic. Carefully analyse the path that led you here, and retrace your steps back to where you know the footing is solid. This may be further back than you expect, but remember, don't panic! Even if you end up rolling back months or years of work, you still have both the knowledge and experience to move forward faster, and the work itself that may be appropriate to reuse somewhere else. No matter what you do, Do not delete your work. Even if it never sees the light of day, it will continue to inspire future ideas, or at least serve as a reminder of which paths to avoid.

If we are constantly evaluating our position and heading, it frees us to be bolder in our exploration of ideas. When we lose the fear of turning around, we let go of our own fear of failure - what seemed like failure before is, in fact, just a slight delay, a dead end that gives us valuable information about where the true path lies. If we boldly venture into the unknown, testing new ideas and discarding old ones without fear of making errors, we can improve the quality of both the games we make and the experience of making them, which is why we set out to make games in the first place.

--Dakota W Winslow

Discussion Question: Looking back, what is the worst idea you have tried to integrate into your game? How hard was it to remove/replace?