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Dealing with Creative Jealousy

I came across this honest art video about jealousy and I wanted to write about my own thoughts on this. I haven’t experienced jealousy much myself, but this could be due to my mindset or my unusual mix of interests – art and computing. There have been moments where I’ve felt intimidated by the skills of others, but then I remind myself that I have my own unique angle to see things from. I have abilities that perhaps the other person doesn’t have. With creative pursuits it’s not just about the skills we have, but also our own unique approach to it and the experiences that have inspired us. Those that thrive at what they do are not necessarily the most skilled at it, but the ones that bring a new attitude to the table.

I enjoy browsing through what others have produced. When I first started programming I read through game development diaries to see what process others followed. They were way better than me, but they did have years of experience on me too. I found it inspiring as it showed me the potential for what I could become if I stuck with it. If it wasn’t for seeing other creations I’d have never considered venturing into it myself as I wouldn’t have known what was possible. I’m also thankful to those that pass down their knowledge to newcomers, allowing them to skip some hurdles along the way. Some people allow others to put them off because they can’t imagine ever being able to reach such a skill level. If we allow a goal to feel insurmountable it can prevent us from even trying; Why invest our time and energy into something that isn’t going to work out? When we view the work of others it helps to do it with the belief that we can one day get to the same point. We’re all on different journeys and we don’t have to travel at the same pace or in the same direction.

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Do You Need To Be Good At Maths To Build A Game?

It seems to be a common notion that maths is something to be dreaded. Maths use to be something that I had very little confidence with, but I don’t think I had particularly good teachers in this area. Some of them were very strict and would ask you really hard questions on the spot; Just the thought of attending class would fill me with apprehension. Others covered material that was too basic so that I wasn’t learning anything new by attending. I got placed in the 2nd to highest maths group, which resulted in me missing out on the opportunity to learn a lot of additional material and capped the grade I could achieve; My parents didn’t agree with this and believed that I was capable of doing better in the subject. Nonetheless, when I realized that my lifelong dream of wanting to build games required maths skills I was a little distraught.

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The Creative Mind

There are a few creative people in my family with an interest in subjects such as art and photography. As such, I always felt like I was encouraged to be creative too, even though I later realized I had a strong interest in computers. When I studied game programming I found that it was actually quite rare to come from such a background and most of the people I talked to were better at subjects like Maths and Science. When they noticed that I was able to create decent looking sprites to put in my games they would comment on how creative I was. One of my closest friends would always put himself down, claiming that he just wasn’t capable of being creative. I always remember one of the things I learnt as a kid from a book about drawing animals, that you should never say you can’t, but that you’re learning. I believe that we restrict ourselves by forming such strong beliefs of what we’re not capable of. As such I would try to encourage my friend whenever it was required of us to do something more creative.

A lot of people seem to link creativity to skills such as painting or writing, but it’s actually beneficial in other areas too. To be creative is to be able to generate lots of ideas and then eventually hone in on a solution to a problem. Creativity isn’t a talent, but something that all people can posses. People that are considered to be creative however, tend to be more curious and inquisitive in nature. According to The Bedside Book Of Psychology by Christian Jarrett and Joannah Ginsburg (Cognition, creativity, p 64-65) people that rank high on intelligence test are usually less creative because it requires a different mindset.

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It’s Not Just About The Tools

sunset_low_qualitySometimes I worry that my work won’t be taken seriously because of the tools I’ve used to produce it. There are a few reasons for why I may not be able to use the latest or best tools, such as not being able to afford it or not having the skills to use it yet. There are times that I prefer to keep quiet about what tools or process I’ve used to develop a piece of work because I don’t feel like it makes a difference to the final piece. If I love a game or a piece of art, will knowing how it came to be change that? While I’d find it interesting, I don’t think it’d change my opinion about it.

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My Own Gaming Experiences Through The Bartle Types

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The Bartle Types have been around for a while, published in 1996 by co-creator Richard Bartle with the aim of identifying and describing different types of MUD (multi-user dungeon) players (See ‘Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDS.’) It is specifically focussed on people that play for fun. Games have changed a lot since its creation, but it can still relate to multi-user games and there have also been attempts to utilize it outside of this scope (to varying degrees of success.)

The types define players by whether their focus is on the world or others and if they have a preference for interacting or acting upon. There are four main types: Achievers, Socialisers, Explorers and Killers. Achievers enjoy a challenge and will act upon the world to reach certain goals. Explorers like to interact with the world and make discoveries about the lore or systems. Socialisers like to spend their time interacting with other players and forming fellowship. Killers like to act on other players and cause them grief. While these descriptions seem pretty clear, it’s easy to form misconceptions about each type. We could for instance, easily mistake explorers for being socialisers as they may spend a lot of time in the chat system sharing their knowledge. Killers are often associated with PVP, but other types may still enjoy this feature too. Killers may also prefer to take up roles such as guild leaders and can be mistaken for socialisers. In fact, all types can enjoy the same activity for different reasons; What’s more important is why a person does something as opposed to what they’re doing.

Achievers are Diamonds (they’re always seeking treasure); explorers are Spades (they dig around for information); socialisers are Hearts (they empathise with other players); killers are Clubs (they hit people with them). – Richard A. Bartle

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Competitive Games – Keep Them Close And Short

My friends and I have been playing some Sid Meier’s Civilization V recently. It’s a great game, but I do have a couple of qualms with it. For starters, even on a short game I feel that it’s a bit too long – 2 to 8 hours. Secondly, I find that once you get too far behind on a certain victory type it can be very difficult to catch up again (it may mean missing out on a lot of wonders too.) Mind, I’m still fairly inexperienced at the game so there might be ways around it that I’m not yet aware of.

When it comes to competitive games I prefer a faster turn order and shorter length. This allows me to learn quicker as I can make more choices and fit in more games. It’s also nice to get several chances at besting my opponent, or in turn to give them a chance at beating me. Usually by the end of a session everybody has had a chance at winning so there’s less hard feelings. With a longer game you tend to only be able to fit in one or sometimes you even have to arrange it over several days. If you end up in a situation where you’re behind and know you can’t catch up then it can start to feel tedious and the game becomes less engaging. I’m not the type to quit out early as this isn’t fair, but I may not be enjoying it either. On the other side of that, even if you are winning you may not get the chance to enjoy your victory because people could lose interest and quit out before the game concludes. I enjoy Civilization as a casual/social game more than something I want to be competitive at.

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2D:- Not Just Retro

Like many new technologies, as 3D started to emerge during the 90’s it was believed to be a replacement to what came before. All of a sudden it felt like everything was being made with the new dimension, Tetris, Space Invaders, Mario, Sonic and Rayman just to name a few. While I enjoyed a lot of new 3D titles such as Tomb Raider and Crash Bandicoot, for some reason I never took to all of my favourite games being changed away from 2D – I was actually overjoyed to hear about Rayman Origins and hadn’t played one since the original released in 1995. There was just something that felt too different from what I loved about the originals, but I couldn’t put my finger on why.

I grew up playing a lot of 2D platformers on the Commodore Amiga such as Chuck Rock, Superfrog and Fire and Ice. These were the games that inspired me to want to have a go at building my own one day, only by the time I finally learnt the skills required the times had changed and what use to be popular was now considered to be retro. Over the past few years however, 2D games seem to have made a bit of a comeback, possibly thanks to Indie game developers and maybe the arrival of mobile/tablet gaming. While some of these games rely on nostalgia to sell, I don’t consider them all to be retro, but rather a revisit to genres that had previously gone out of fashion. While they might be 2D in appearance, they can still make use of newer game design techniques and technology. 3D does not have to be a replacement to 2D, just another way of doing things – both have their strengths and their weaknesses.

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The Difficulties Of Developing For Touch Screens

If I’m being completely honest, I’m not the biggest fan of touch screens, but a while back I joined a Game Jam with a friend where we had to build a tablet game with the theme of ice. It was my first ever attempt at building such a game and as I don’t use that many apps I didn’t really have anything to draw inspiration from. My first thought was to google images of the theme to get my creative juices flowing and this helped me to settle on the idea of ice fishing, which seemed like it would be simple to do with some obvious choices in mechanics. The resulting game was called Reel It In!

When I first started working with touch screens it seemed like a really exciting – still to be explored – avenue. As they don’t have any rigid controls you have free reign to try and develop your own. I soon came to realize however, that creating a good, solid way for users to provide input was more challenging than I first thought. In Reel It In the user has to move their finger around in a circle to raise and lower the lure. While we were praised for implementing such an idea and came second place in the game jam, I realized afterwards that such a mechanic was awkward and could cause your finger to become sore. I’ve also found that different devices seem to have a different feel to their screen surface – like my finger doesn’t seem to slide across my tablet as easily as it does over my phone. Screen size can also vary drastically. I enjoy developing for my tablet, but I have a lot of trouble with my phone. Not only do I have limited space to display information, but the controls also have to be placed in that same space. You also have to take into account that some people have stubbier fingers or longer nails than others.

The other limiting factor that I have is my aversion to virtual controls; for example I could create an analog stick that appears under where the user places their thumb. The problem with these is the lack of tactile feedback. When I use a real analog stick the feel of it informs me as to its location and how far I can push it. I suppose I also feel like we should be playing to the strengths of the device, rather than trying to mimic what can be done elsewhere. There are certain games that I will always resort back to my PC or consoles to play and I just don’t see touch screens replacing them. I think there are certain genres that touch screens could work really well with though, like strategy, puzzles and interactive fiction (anything that requires a strong interface or simple mechanics.) I never really understood why people argued over devices – claiming that one would replace another – when they all have different strengths and weaknesses.

As I grew up on pc and console gaming I think I will always have a preference for them and this is where much of my inspiration comes from (which is probably part of the problem.) It’s always going to be challenging learning how to develop for new devices and I don’t think we’ve yet fully scratched the surface when it comes to what touch screens can bring to gaming. For a developer It can also be fun to take on such challenges, although I think that when I next build a PC game I will be relieved to have all those buttons back. 😛

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Be Willing To Make Changes

I enjoy game design, read a lot of books about it and am good at coming up with new ideas, yet I don’t think I’m very good at it. I think game design can be harder than many of us realize when first starting out. One of the things about creative activities is that the right answer isn’t always obvious, even if you have brushed up on all of the theories about it. Being creative is to explore and experiment with lots of different ideas until finally settling on the right one. If you trap yourself down one path at the very beginning of a project then you’re probably not doing yourself any favours. I saw this on a TV programme about creativity once, that it’s better to start with a more divergent mindset, but to later change to a convergent one.

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Enjoy The Journey

It really amazes me how often I come across people with the notion that there’s no point in trying something unless guaranteed quick success. When I tell people about my dreams they seem to enjoy pointing out all the reasons for why I shouldn’t try. I’ve known people who after not getting any success on a project for a month or two have grown despondent and totally given up.

Throughout history humans have always had a strong focus on inventing tools to make it faster to complete tasks. Sometimes I wonder if we’ve become so adjusted to getting things done quickly – using technologies such as the internet – that we’ve now come to expect it in many areas of our life. When we want to learn something many of us will try to information cram even though this is really ineffective. If we want to lose weight we have many get slim quick diets to choose from, but it’s probably better to take it slower and build healthier habits into your lifestyle for the long run. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making life easier through the creation of new tools, but it’s also important to realize that not all aspects of life have a short cut to success.

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