To celebrate (and commiserate) the fact that I’ve been working on Smith and Winston for three years I thought I’d answer the most commonly asked question: How do you stick at it for so long? Some of this applies to anything in life, but it’s mostly about making games as that’s all I do.
TL;DR: No one has a magic bullet, no one is especially driven, no one has an easy ride, it’s all about hard work and sacrifice.
The movies are only there to show how awesome Smith and Winston is, you can ignore them ;)
Firstly you’ve got to be little bit stubborn. Life is full of distractions and you need to be able to park new ideas, new experiences and sometimes friends to focus on your goal. Telling people you love that you need to sit on your own for hours on end doing something they don’t understand is hard. For me it’s easy because quite frankly I’m stubborn and maybe selfish but…
Something has to give and anything worth doing comes at a cost. Whether it’s money, time, relationships or health it’s all going to come under strain. Balancing these things is probably the biggest challenge. Never sacrifice health, money is easy to sacrifice to a point and sometimes you have to accept relationships are either not supportive of your goal or too expensive to maintain. Whatever you do, understand what you’re sacrificing and make sure you understand the cost/gain ratio. Sometimes it’s better to sacrifice the project totally and move on.
It doesn’t matter how driven you are: every day you don’t do something you are one step closer to never doing it again. It’s inspiration and excitement that starts a project but it’s discipline and hard work that finishes it. The initial excitement dissipates all too quickly and you are left with the long slog. No one is exempt from this.
Time is indeed a cruel mistress. You need to work effectively to make progress. Install Rescue Time and learn how you work. Balance this with the fact that you are not a machine. Rescue Time will tell you when you are not working effectively. Learn why, if you’re bored shift to something more interesting that needs doing but don’t forget to complete the boring thing. If you’re tired then take a nap and come back. If you’re totally lacking inspiration take time off, play some games, get inspired. Come back. Sometimes you just need for force yourself to work.
Nurture the initial spark
Smith and Winston was inspired by memories of playing Ikari Warriors on my Commodore 64. We’d just canned our previous game, I took a few weeks off and was seriously considering going to work for megacorp to make mucho-dinero. Replaying Ikari Warriors totally rejuvenated my energy for making games. I go back to it frequently to remind me why I started this marathon. Don’t expect every day to be fun. It won’t be. Famously the last 10% of any project takes 90% of the time and it’s mostly not fun. Remember the initial spark and be stubborn. Never forget to stop playing.
As soon as people close to you know you’re doing something off the beaten track they will offer support and criticism. Both are vital but both are double edged.
You need to see all unsolicitied comments through the prism of the person making it. Not everyone has your best interests at heart and some people (hello mum) can’t see anything bad in you. Everyone’s opinion is valid and should be considered but some are “more valid”.
Learning to take it professionally and NOT personally is something even the longest, greyest beards of the games industry are still learning to do.
Orders of magnitude
A player might get 100 hours of gameplay from your game (if it’s huge or repetative) but you will see your game for thousands of hours and it will look boring stale and repetitive. Resist the urge to change, revise and upgrade constantly. Always seek to cut and hone.
Seeking constant resssurance
If you rely on constant reassurance from your peers you’ll hit the rocks. People spend a lot of their time and energy blogging every little detail and live streaming. This offers instant reward for minimal effort. You need to reward true effort to sustain yourself. There is a lot to be said for building up the resillience of the lonely artist working through problems without the safety net of your peers holding your hands. They won’t always be there but you always will be.
This is my game Smith and Winston, it’s awesome
- 170723 - added link to Smith and Winston below gif.
- 170723 - changed title from “Three Year and Still Going Strong” to “How to Stick at it: Three Year and Still Going Strong” to make it more clear.