So last time I was talking about why I was starting a new game. But I didn't know what it would be exactly. It wasn't even called Grandpa Pip yet. All I knew is that it should be short, should use Fungus and would be set in the Super Sword Sword Shield world. Pragmatically, I was also interested in actually putting it directly into one of the levels I was using for the "ending runner" game, so I could get art re-use for both. I'm not always a fan of the "pragmatic" solution. Respecting the bespoke nature of each game is usually important and there's often a false economy to ignoring that but in this case reuse would make sense.
Step one for me, when getting back into a creative mode, is to re-watch John Cleese's half hour Video Arts lecture on creativity (I won't link it, it seems to move around, but it's easy enough to find). As a programmer I've often been uncomfortable if I'm not busy with something directly productive. Unfortunately this undermines any creative process or thinking (also very much required for programming). I knew this to be wrong but I couldn't defend exactly why before, particularly when doing it during work time. Previous attempts to "chill", "have fun" and "let it flow" had not brought about the results I was hoping. I had done brainstorming sessions as a large group. I had tried methodical analysis. I had tried using deadlines/necessity as the creative trigger. None of these exactly worked. The only process that seemed to working for me was random thinking in my own downtime, or worse, during holidays - which isn't exactly a process. But it's also a clue. So I instead stuck with my (cowardly) inclination to try be visibly productive at rather than risk failure spending seemingly unaccountable time searching for better, more creative solutions.
The good thing about making a new solo game, is that it all has to come from your own mind. There isn't much choice but to start respecting the creative process. The John Cleese lecture provides a decent framework for getting that going. Having a framework of some sort appeals to me, since it allows me to rationalise my time. "For the next two hours, I will be creative - the results of which may not be good, but I believe there to be no better way". It's a skill as well. Over time getting it to work to your satisfaction will improve. I won't repeat much - you should watch it - but one of the big messages is the need to be in a state of play. Everyone will have a slightly different way of getting there, but there are common conditions - free time, free space, no outside interference, no judgment, put your seriousness aside (knowing there will be plenty of that later) and learn how to be childlike again.
Another big message is not-thinking-about-it time. I'm a big believer that your subconscious will do a lot of work for you, but you need to rest and give that time to happen. While asleep, your brain does some sort of tidying up process that tries to compress and cross-pollinate your new ideas with all that have stored before. So for better work you need at least a few revisits that are a few days apart. If you run off with the first idea that seems good, don't be surprised when your project is back at square one fast. Ironically, having it happen that way, taking the first ideas but stalling mid-production with a restart - can lead to the best results if you can afford it - since everyone involved will effectively get the longest idea gestation period of them all (Half Life 1 famously restarted far into the project and this was considered key to the end result). But paupers like ourselves are better to be as honest as we can be, avoiding that final commitment to an idea or concept until we really must move on.
For Grandpa Pip's Birthday the creative process was the following. In Nov 2014, for three weeks, I would drive to the Hill of Tara for about 30 or 40 minutes. The drive there and back added another 20 mins of thinking time. I'd often preface it with 20 minutes of meditation too, which is awesome for helping you into a zone of clearer thought. Tara is a neolithic/iron-age archaeological site, with lots of ground works, a great view and a hillside forest. In the forest, over the summer, I had found a set of rope swings. They were still there in November, but with mostly no-one around. So that became my serious creative space where I'd sit sternly with my notebook and do important work. Ok, I'll be honest, I would swing and internally go "WEEEEEE!" while gawping at the expansive view out across Meath, Westmeath over to Kildare and up to Cavan. One time someone caught me doing this, so I offered them a go. They were very happy to join in.
Anyway the ideas would arrive while driving, walking or just playing on the swing. Actually most of them happened on the swing. I would write down any of the ideas that would make me grin or feel happy. Many were rubbish on reflection and got scratched out the next time I would visit the hill. But before long I had too many and was instead spending most of the time problem solving - mentally positioning and ordering game dialogue, events, jokes, ideas and visuals to fit in a small game space. In between times, at night, I'd also augment the characters in the story with the history of mythical Irish characters. Not many of those details would make it into the game, but they guided naming the characters and also provided me with personalities to consider when thinking about how they might interact. Basically they were false restrictions that would help me move faster while possibly still texturing the game with a mythology thousands of years in the making.
I know this sounds like a fairly rudimentary process, but it was one that worked for me, for now. Where is the gnashing of teeth? The self doubt? The recrimination, the humbleness? What will people think of you? Will anyone validate your work? I do feel those things but I think their counter is getting used to being vulnerable and ignoring doubts as best you can. Being vulnerable helps you to keep it simple and honest. Vulnerability is a shield in itself, allowing you to be yourself, since as a vulnerable person you don't have to put on a front, you don't have live up to the expectations of others. You're not competing with anyone and there will be another chance, another game. Vulnerability lets you decide that the most important stuff in there is the stuff you decide should be in there, and that's good enough.
Anyway, by the end of those three weeks I had 75% of the script done (in notes and in my head), and almost all the gameplay moments figured out. Getting this right was the most important part of the project. Getting it done would be the most difficult part of the project. So next time I'll talk a little about that with a focus on integrating with Fungus.