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Self Flagellation
by Ryan Sumo on 01/15/14 11:38:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I've just written a blog post about my favorite Prison Architect mods so far.  You can find it over here if you're interested.  I wanted to steer clear of putting all that stuff here though for fear that it would look like I'm promoting PA too much in a single blogpost.  I did however want to share my thoughts about one of the mods, which made me question my own work.  The following is verbatim what was written in my blog entry.

This mod gave me the most pause, because it's very obviously critiquing my own work.  Specifically it takes issue with the iconography I used to describe the prisoners' needs.  If the mod were badly done I could laugh it off, but the thing is I sort of agree with this modder that the icons I made are unclear, especially at smaller sizes.  I got caught up with the idea of the body language of my prisoner icons helping to inform the icon and neglected the fact that at smaller sizes a lot of the detail would be lost.


I'm no stranger to critique and indeed I'm happy that someone took the time to think over the same design problem that I did.  However my built-in insecurity about the worth of my work reared its ugly head.  I had been paid to create those icons, and the guy that made this mod did arguably a better job than I did. So he should get my job, right?!?!?


But looking at the other mods I realized that essentially every modder thinks that he can do a better job than the original designers.  It's the very nature of modding!  So people will tweak the code, the settings and the art and make it something they think is "better".  It might be, but better is usually a matter of personal taste, in the same way that I'm using a launcher that completely changes the way Android works because I thought it was cool.


The moral of the story?  Just work as hard and as smart as you can and stop worrying so much about other people.  Looking forward to some more amazing mods!


As you might notice I am a very strong practitioner of the self-flagellating artist school of thought.  I am constantly plagued by doubts about the quality of my work as an artist.  There is some value to this I think.  It helps keep me from ever being too comfortable, and continuosly make me want to be better at my craft.  It can be a double edged sword however, and I think that's why you see so many depressed artists out there.  Even if I ultimately came to the conclusion that wallowing in self pity is never efficient, I do dip my toes in the pond of self pity every now and again.  I try to manage it, and in this case I think I came to terms with my issues rather quickly, so that's good.


In the future I think I'd like to revisit these icons, since I'm now dissatisfied with them.  I cannot tackle them too soon though, because this new mod will be on my mind and invariably will affect any changes I make to the icons.  I'll give it a couple of months, and with enough distance, I'll have some space and give it another go round.

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Chris Eastvedt
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If it's any consolation, all artists, irrespective of field, focus more on imperfections than anyone else. Basically, we're all our own worst enemies. If I didn't force myself to let go and just trust that what I've created has real value, I'd never get a book published. All you can really do is present a sincere effort, accept criticism objectively and use what you've learned to make something even better the next time. Constantly tweaking or looking back at past mistakes isn't productive. To be the best artist you can be you have to keep looking forward.

Ryan Sumo
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Thanks Chris. That's definitely my motto!

Alfa Etizado
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Why not incorporate the modder's work? Honest question. Is it their willingness to give it up for free, or your willingness to use their work, or some other reason?

Kenneth Blaney
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That would probably be illegal (without express consent from the modder). That said, selling high quality 3rd party mods is about 90% of Team Fortress 2's income at this point, so there is something to be said for this.

Ryan Sumo
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Good question. Partly I have to agree that if I merely incorporated their work into my own I'd feel like I was cheating. I'd feel differently if the modder was a coworker on the game, since we're both working on the game. But from a modder I have to admit that there are some personal ownership issues (hey, don't touch my art!) that are at play.

David Paris
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I actually like your original icons better. They have more style.

Arseniy Shved
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I agree.
I do think some modder's icons are a bit more clear, but the original has more style. And once I've seen the icons couple of times, they are easily destincted one from another.

Anton Temba
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I agree too.

The original icons, while not as simplistic as the modder's, convey the meaning in the context of the game more clearly.

If I'd play prison architect the first time, I'd understand the original set of icons faster and clearer than the modder's alternatives.

Jeanne Burch
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Style isn't as important as utility in a game.

I'd have to give the nod to the mod. You can quickly glance at the icon and see what it means. The originals require a legend (and really good eyes to see things like that tiny knife in for the "Murder" icon).

evan c
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It's easier working and improving on an existing idea.

Ariel Gross
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I can relate to the second-guessing in response to seeing someone else's take. Always nice to feel less lonely in those artistic issues. Thanks for sharing your story.

Ryan Sumo
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That's basically why I wrote the post. :)

Second guessing sucks, but managed second guessing is how we improve!