After a decade of seeing games and other entertainment products being put together, I’ve noticed a trend that the development teams that don’t settle for the low-hanging fruit, and the game directors that influence people to come up with “better”, tend to be the ones to produce the great games that make a lasting impact. (while having a stern producer to prevent them from flying off the rails)
Chris DeLeon over at HobbyGameDev has put some good advice on getting to good ideas.
His advice on writing down ideas, not hording secrets, and trying out ideas is exactly what those teams and directors do to get past the first things that jump into their heads. Always assume that the first solution that pops into your head is the same solution that will pop into everyone’s head. There’s also another side to getting to the good ideas, and that’s being able to switch back and forth between a creative mind and a working mind.
If you’ve never seen John Cleese on the matter, his lecture is worth the view.
Creativity isn’t a talent; it’s a way of operating. And you need to find a way to separate your rational, worrying mind from your playful one that doesn’t care if the world is falling apart because it has spotted something neat. This is a point I’ve brushed on in the live game development show and in some past posts, but it’s absolutely critical to find a method to separate those two mindsets. As John Cleese puts it: the open mind, and the closed mind.
The method is going to vary from person to person and it’s going to depend on your environment. If you had all the money in the world to throw at it, the easiest way would be to have two offices: one, your working room, the one with your computer, the one with all of your to-do lists and tasks to be done; the other, your playroom, the one with all of the irrelevant pictures, books, toys, sheets of note and drawing paper, and a pen. However, if you’re like me, and most people, you don’ t have the luxury of setting up two rooms. So, if you can’t separate those two mindsets by space, you have to separate them by time.
You have to dedicate a certain day or days of the week, or a certain time period where you absolutely refuse to work or do anything productive. A chunk of about two hours. And at first, it’s going to be hard. Your mind remembers that giant list of things you still have to do! When you first see those sheets of blank paper, you won’t know what to put on them. But don’t worry. Even if you spend the chunk of scheduled time doing nothing but staring at the walls, it’s training. That block of time is training your mind to let go of the “important stuff” and eventually, once your mind feels safe letting go, it’ll open up, ideas will start to flow in, and the ideas you have will be less derivative, more creative.
This is one spot where that Agile-style to-do list comes in handy. If you decide ahead of time exactly how many hours you devote to your closed mind-the one that gets things done, then you can devote the rest of your time to “not getting things done”. If you have to, make a task for yourself “not to get things done” and play. Just play. See where your mind takes you, and protect that block of time no matter what. Make sure your phone is off, make sure your internet is disconnected, make sure your family or coworkers leave you alone, make sure there is nothing that will distract you. Your productive mind will fight you, because it knows that nothing is being done during that time, but creativity is what changes the world, so it should become your most important task.