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How, as a game design student, can you keep it all together as you finish up your graduating year project (or any big game design project)? Let one almost-graduate in the middle of it all tell you.

Meagan Byrne, Blogger

March 30, 2017

8 Min Read

It's almost April and that means it's almost the end. End of school, for the year or forever, either way if you're in school this is about the time where you've got two maybe three weeks max until it's all over and you hand that baby in.

Being that you have a grade (or grades, plural) ridding on this you don't really need advice on How to Finish a Game (but that's an excellent article by Derek Yu, of Spelunky fame, btw). You are going to finish that game, because otherwise your options are: dropping out (in which case, maybe read that article anyways) or giving up and being okay with barely passing in which case you did finish a game, you just shipped it in an unplayable state. (It still counts!)

So if finishing the game isn't the issue what is? Well, you should have something pretty close to the final product by now...are you happy with it? Chances are: no, no you are not, and I'm going to help you through the part of finishing a game I actually find the hardest: managing yourself.

Managing yourself has a whole whack of stuff under it:

It could mean managing perfectionism: "This game isn't as good as it should be. We should just throw everything out. If it's not my/our vision than what's the point?"

It could mean managing feelings of low self-esteem: "Everything about this project is crap and it's all my fault. I'm worthless. I'm never going to get a job because everyone will know how bad a designer/artist/programmer I am."

It could even mean managing jealousy: "Omg, Group X only did some dumb candy crush clone. Why is everyone freaking out over their stuff? My game deserves way more attention! Oh, here comes Frank now with his stupid face, bet he's going to talk about how awesome he thinks he is. Fraaaannnnk. *shakes fist*"

So what can you do about it? A lot actually!

Dealing With Perfectionism

You have this idea and even when you had to scale back or drop ideas you still had this beautiful perfect version of that game in your head; only now you adjusted it to fit with the new reality. But it's three weeks till deadline and you're looking at a bubbling monstrosity that keeps calling you daddy and everyone around you is cooing about how lovely it is. Are you crazy? Are these people idiots? Will Raid stop it from latching on to your leg?

The answer is: no (even the Raid thing, it's yours now for life).

The truth is, the longer you work with something the easier it is to see it's flaws until that's all you can see. Worst of all, you can see in your head how it should be, but it. Just. Won't. Do. It! 

It's a huge problem that every artist has dealt with, what they produce just can't live up to the platonic ideal in their head and you are no different. And here's the hardest thing to hear: you're probably right about it not being that good, but you're also wrong about how much it sucks.

Right now I'm making a mobile game for kids as my capstone project, that will most likely never be played by anyone under the age of 17. It looks lovely, by all accounts, but I think it's awful.

It does have very real problems (interaction, the touch code, sign posting, obvious win scenarios) that I doubt we're going to be able to fix in two weeks.

So what do you do? Well, you do whatever you can and know that you might fail (but that's not a bad thing).

I listed four problems and though we can't fix them all we can do our damnedest to do what we can in the little time we have left because even if it ends up being the hot mess I'm sure it is; I can find the big things that interfere with player experience and fix some of that. But it's never going to live up to the ideal version in my mind and that is okay.

Because, everyone knows this is just a student project and no one expects AAA level stuff. Still feeling bad? Go check out ThatGameCompany's student project: Cloud.

Is it what you expected, knowing their current stuff?

You're probably even thinking to yourself: "My game is better than that."

But that's not the point; the point is: if that is an award winning student game, then you have just as much a chance.

Don't let perfect be the enemy of good enough.


Dealing With Low Self-Esteem

This usually also stems from Perfectionism, but it's that next step over. Things aren't the way you want them to be, everything feels out of control, so you try to take control by blaming yourself. Sound familiar? Or maybe you've been working on your skills so much you look back and realize that everything you've put into your game so far should be totally redone. Or it could be any myriad of self-directed words of failure you've got going on in your head.

There are lots of much better trained people than me who can help you with this, and my tips are not a substitute for counseling or therapy, but it can help with the little things.

Number one thing you can do is: don't talk to your team (or anyone else in your class/program) about how much (you think) you suck.

Talk to your parents, your non-classmate friends, your boyfriend/girlfriend, your cat/dog, the nice lady who always talks to everyone at the bus stop.

Why? Well, one: your team doesn't need to hear that shit. It stresses them out and it could sound like you're thinking of quitting (more stress!) and two: now they think they can start loading off on you and you are already at your breaking point.

Instead, seek outward for people you can talk with. The less they are involved with your project/schooling the better!

The next thing you can do is: know your limits

If you need a break, do it. If you can't work after 6pm, don't. This is school and you should not be killing yourself to get something done. However, along with that you need to be on top of things and let your team know when you need help. Getting work done can help with feelings of inadequacy, but if things are getting to be too much, turn to your team to help lighten the load.

Working alone? Tell your teacher and work with them to figure out what to do. There's still time, and I'll let you in on a secret (as a T.A. at an University) instructors/profs don't want to see you fail. But for the love of god, do NOT wait until the week before it's due to say something.

Dealing With Jealousy

I have a fancy English degree so when I say Jealousy what I mean is: the fear of losing something or losing out on something because of someone else. Most of this also comes from low-selfesteem or feelings of inadequacy, especially if you don't have confidence in your game. I think most students know this feeling, especially if there are awards or prizes up for grabs. Or even if there's just going to be some kind of judging (maybe with an industry guest) Sometimes not getting that award or attention can feel like so much more than just being denied one thing.

It can feel like without it, you'll never succeed or that you'll lose more chances in the future all because you didn't get that trophy, all thanks to Frank! some award that won't mean anything to you in a few years.

I joke, but getting awards aren't the land of milk and honey they are made out to be. If you have a good or interesting game prototype, then not getting that award isn't going to stop it from becoming the next big thing. Also, consider the kinds of competitions you're going to. Do you have a dreamy, quiet adventure game with an interesting aesthetic about cats who beat up people with baseball bats? Are you going to competitions where FPS's with "gritty" and "brown" "aesthetics" have won for the last three years running?

Maybe find a showcase or competition that's more in line with what you're doing. You might be surprised how it changes your feelings towards others.

But above all that here's what you should do when feelings of jealousy strike: be like Miss USA runner up. Which is to say: be gracious in defeat. How you behave when things don't go your way is something that will be noted by people, especially in the industry, but mostly your peers. 

Which would you rather be? The guy who storms off and refuses to talk to anyone when the winners are announced or the guy who goes out of their way to tell their wining classmates congratulations? I know which one I feel like, but I also know which one I'd rather be. It's all part of being professional and who knows? One day those classmates might just be the ones who get you a job.

But once you're home or out to drinks with your team (safely away from prying ears)? Bitch away to your hearts content. Just, don't record it. Please.


I hope these tips helped, even if it's only a little, and above all remember:


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