This article originally appeared on dashjump.com.
Making games can be emotionally complicated. The joyous rush of creation, the ego-shattering freefall of disappointment when something doesn’t work out, the creeping sense of frustrated horror when searching for an elusive solution to some arcane design problem – game development has it all, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
Fortunately, your emotions are hiding a secret from you: Like a cipher, hidden inside are instructions on what to do next.
Despite what you may believe, your emotions are not irrational or strange impulses to be squashed down. Emotions are felt for a reason – they’re the wishes of your physiological self trying to communicate with your sentient mind. Learn how to decode them, and you can harness their significant power to understand your process – and yourself – much better, improving the quality of your projects.
Here are a few ways that taking note of your emotions can result in better outcomes, seen through the lens of independent development:
You’re setting out on your own project, and you have no shortage of ideas. But how do you properly set the scope so the game is something you’ll actually be able to finish? In general, the smaller and more manageable the scope is, the better. If you’re early on in making games, it’ll seem natural to shoot for an ambitious game – even if you think you’re scaling things down.
Instead, if you find that you still feel confident you can complete the game with the current scope, try reducing it even more. Do this until you feel embarrassed to set such a seemingly low target for yourself. Once you start to feel embarrassment, stop reducing – this is the scope you want.
Because game development always expands in complexity, starting with something that seems far too easy for you ensures that, when complications arise, they won’t reveal themselves to be so far beyond your abilities they stymie development entirely.
You’re deep in the design phase, and there seems to be no shortage of ideas for features. Stray thoughts turn into entire characters, levels, interactions and mechanics – an enormous amount of pure design fuel that you’ll most likely prototype and decide not to use, never get around to addressing, or pursue for a lengthy period of time before abandoning. Of course, some of these ideas will radically change your game for the better, but the odds of success for most of these ideas are low.
Instead of getting carried away with the vast array of potential directions you could take the project, becoming aware of this exuberance-driven design high helps guard against potential wasted time or feelings of having wasted energy thinking of so many ideas that don't end up getting used.
“Emotions are data. They are just input from your biological system. You do not have to let them rule you. Observe them and then re-observe the situation before acting.” –Phoenix Perry
You’ve brought your game to a playable state, and it’s starting to actually feel like something. Now it’s time to put it in front of other people. As you work through your first batch of playtests, what do you feel? Excited? Nervous? Hopeful? If it’s the latter, then you may have things to work on that you’re already aware of. Feeling reliant on faith when going into a playtest could mean that you know, deep down, that the game isn’t straightforward enough to be accessible by external players yet.
Curiosity would be a better emotion to be feeling, since that would imply that you feel the game is solid enough to be interacted with in multiple, perhaps unintended ways.
Paying attention to when you feel hope can also be useful during development itself. If, when trying to explain a concept or idea to a team member who just doesn’t get it, the reliance on faith could indicate that you need to either simplify the message to communicate it better or reduce the mechanic, feature or whatever it is you’re trying to explain at the core.
The game is finally done, and you’ve been talking to a few potential business partners. Publishers, portals, co-developers… there are a few options you could pursue, but the right path isn’t clear. One proposed deal seems standard, another seems too good to be true, one seems unreasonably strict, but comes with the remote possibility of huge success. Who do you go with?
When picking a business partner, trust is paramount. When talking with your business contacts, what kind of impression do they give? Do they seem genuine? Are they overselling their capabilities? Do they drop out of contact for inexplicable lengths of time, only to return like nothing happened?
If you’re going to do business with an external party, it’s key that you trust them. Building trust and comfort is a primal way to make sure you don’t get eaten in the wild.
The Indie Fund specifically mentions the importance of trusting your partners:
"If you feel uneasy about sharing your ideas with a potential investor/colleague/acquaintance/whoever, that should serve as a warning to you. Stay away from people you mistrust. Millions of years of evolution have trained your brain to recognize what’s good and bad for your survival, so trust your instincts.” –Indie Fund
These are just a few ways to tap into the power of your emotions. Once you realize that every emotion you feel has a reason for being there, as minor or irrational as they may seem, you unlock an incredibly powerful way to take control of your decisions in a completely new way.