The last few months have been the most consistently productive time of my life, but it wasn’t enough. With the (secret) release date rapidly approaching, I had to become even more efficient or the game would simply not be finished.
I think it’s really all about feedback cycles. Many, many years ago I took JW’s advice to heart and made a lot of small games. Now, ~60 games later, I am convinced that you can only really learn from things that exist outside of yourself. In the prototyping phase a game is malleable. It can be anything you want, it’s raw potential.
Finishing something is the slow and deliberate destruction of it’s potential. All the things that could have been fall away. What’s left is real and toucheable. It doesn’t allow you to dream and hope, it allows you to reflect and learn.
So in order to finish producer in time, I had to accelerate the speed at which I closed feedback cycles. I had to get faster at finishing small parts of the game and decided to test one of my recent hiking-observations by putting it into practice:
I subconsciously walk faster when I have to reach a specific place in a specific time.
Even if the location is very nearby and the time I have to arrive at is very far away, I just automatically move a little bit faster. So, how to put that into practice? What I came up with on monday morning is essentially a pomodoro-mod that I (with usual enjoyment of naming things that probably already exist) call a “small block”.
The most crucial thing here is to actually, really, genuinely write down what you want to achieve. After great success on monday, I got sloppy with formulating my goals and immediately noticed a dip in concentration. In the same way, being diligent about tracking the times and noting down the reflections is crucial. Without the physical act of writing, putting it out of your head and into reality, it all falls apart.
The second crucial thing here is that I don’t stop the time. There’s no ticking pressure and no bell to jumpscare you. I just look at the clock when I remember it. If I’m in overtime, I stop working, make a note of how much I’ve overshot and think about what went wrong.
The third most crucial thing here is that the times can vary. Sometimes it’S 15 minutes of work, mostly 30 and rarely 45. The breaks are whatever I want as well. I might walk in a circle for 5 minutes, do my laundry, nap on the couch, go hiking for 2 hours or cook a big lunch. Again, no time limits, no ticking timer. Just trying to relax, letting my mind wander for a bit. In the longer breaks I really enjoy turning the computer off completely, something I’ve rarely ever done during a workday before.
So what does all of this dilly-dallying lead to? Between four and five hours of work per day and a huge amount of progress. Where I managed to finish one area last week, this week I finished two and still had time left over to work on other parts of the game.
All of the other pomodoro-style things I’ve tried over the years have failed. Why did “the small block” one work out for me?
On the one hand I just have an easier time accepting things that I believe to have come up with myself. Producer isn’t being made in a custom framework for no reason.
On the other hand, I’m finishing a project instead of starting one. Previously I tried to use pomodoro-likes in much earlier phases of development, but the short bursts of concentrated work seem to lend themselves much better to this later stage.
That being said, the “small block”, like any tool that’s worth something, comes with hefty limitations. Whenever I tried to wrap a sequence up completely, whenever I tried to really finish something, the technique seemed to fail me. I’d go overtime by many, many minutes without noticing, chasing down that one specific bug that only appears in larger contexts.
So, in the middle of the week, I’ve tried coming up with a new tool. It doesn’t have a good name yet, but it’s essentially a “medium chunk”, sitting comfortably beside the “small task” and the “big cycle” of earlier weeks.
The medium chunk (wip)
This one is not a fully developed tool yet, I’m still tweaking it (as I’ve tweaked the “small task” on Monday and Tuesday), but it’s served me well enough. Like I said before, 2 whole areas done in less than a week. That’s pretty fantastic and frees up a lot of time for polishing and editing.
Despite how obsessive and tense all of this might read, I’ve rarely been happier with my work / life balance. My 4-5 hours of work are intercut with a lot of physical activity, cooking for others, walking the dogs and shopping for food. Now that the weekend’s here, I’m looking forward to some hiking and cooking and boardgames with friends. It’s pretty great.
The only thing I’m really worried about is how happy I am. The current world order is falling apart (godspeed, but what will come next?), everything is super expensive and the weather is worryingly warm for the middle of october.
Meanwhile, I’m happily chipping away at an indie-indulgence that will probably not make it’s money back. I’m genuinely afraid that I’m annoying my friends with my good mood.
Anyways. Producer is getting finished. I’ve been saying so for months and it’s always been true. But these days it’s a little bit more true.
P.S.: The ways to speed up writing that I talked about last week kiiinda work. The maing thing is to not use too much text, to save time on the endless editing.