After finishing and releasing The Witness I went straight into Twelve Minutes without taking a break. Everyone told me not to do so, to at least get a mental gap between projects, but I was too excited to get this going and had a massive backlog to go through.
Now that everything is slightly more manageable I feel less guilty about taking time off, and so, I’ve been on vacations for about ten days now, and naturally this blog post is about how stressed I’m feeling.
On previous projects, money was coming out of someone else’s pockets, so I felt entitled to time off, but now, each day that I’m not working means project money that is going to “waste”, so shouldn’t I just work non-stop?
I still keep an office mentality, and I make sure to work at least 8 hours per day, and when I have some free time, it’s hard to justify not using it to advance the development further. And on the back of my mind I keep thinking that if near the end of the project if I could have used an extra month to polish the game further and I can’t afford it, I’ll forever feel guilty about those days off.
But the truth is, there is still at least a year of work ahead, and this attitude isn’t healthy if I want to enjoy the journey.
Ten years ago, getting a job in the game’s industry was considered incredibly lucky, and most companies cultivated the feeling of “This is a privilege, and if you don’t kill yourself at this job, there is a line outside of people that will do so.”
So, being a junior, it’s what I did. Not only did I sign a contract that said I would work overtime with no extra pay, as well as not suing the company for any health issues that might cause, I also then, for 11 months worked every day including weekends until around 11ish pm so I could be a team player. In the end, I lost my girlfriend, most of my friends and the daily fast food messed with my health. But the worst of all, was the feeling of emptiness once the game was out and how I no longer knew how to relax.
Was the sacrifice worth it? Not really.
Would taking longer to make the game affect its success? Definitely not.
Did someone force me to do any of this? Nope.
Going back to Twelve Minutes, this feeling of guilt, that the project might fail if I’m not working on it all the time, will inevitably take the pleasure out of the whole process, and if I’m not enjoying working on this game, I doubt people will enjoy playing it.
I feel the first step is to understand that time-off is as productive as work-time and looking back at the prototype stage, some of the best ideas I had were from the fact that I was the most relaxed and further away from the computer. Also, I want to do quite a few more years of game development after this, does that mean I can never have time off again?
The logical conclusion, besides knowing how to take time off responsibly and do realistic project planning, is to relax and enjoy my free time.
I should also state that overtime in creative projects is inevitable. Whenever you have a significant milestone, like launching a trailer or submitting a build or the actual game release, there are too many unknowns that force you to work over your planned schedule, but that is quite different from the pre-planned overtime I’m talking about here.
As for the development, something that has become an issue, now that there are animations for most actions, is how jarring it is when items “disappear” once you pick them up (as usual, these are placeholder animations).
I’m striving for a believable world so that you care for the characters, and having someone that can carry two bowls filled with soup in their pockets feels very gamey.
I was about to implement the idea of having different object sizes, where you would be able to put small items in your pockets (e.g., keys) while bigger ones (e.g. soup bowl) stay in your hands until you decide to use/drop them. The problem with this kind of granularity is that it not only requires a more complex UI to clearly state what fits on the pockets or not, but it will also affect accessibility, making things unnecessarily more complicated. And does that extra realism bring anything to the experience?
The game establishes early on that it’s a “representation of reality” with quite simplified but logical ways of interacting with the world, and with that in mind, I don’t feel being able to carry an unbelievable amount of objects is that much of a stretch. Kind of the same way that you don’t feel it’s wrong that you can’t pick up a rock from the floor while playing a shooter.
And finally, I’ve just learned my GDC Talk “Art of The Witness” is now available on YouTube, so if you’ve missed it before, check it out here: