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The Frustration of "Just Playing"

An exploration of the urges and desires driving independent projects.

Andrew Grapsas, Blogger

October 10, 2010

4 Min Read

When I was twenty-two I had the distinct opportunity of spending a summer in California working for Electronic Arts. WIthout a doubt, I learned a great deal during those few warm months of development. I spent my days under the tutelage of the amazingly experienced and professional programmers on Medal of Honor, their scrutinizing eyes analyzing every line of code I wrote and providing feedback. I can't express how much I learned from them and how thankful I am for their wonderful guidance.

EALA: Safe

EALA: A Zombie Safe Studio

For most, that would have been more than enough learning. But, I've always had a bad habit of piling more and more on my plate until I reach a point where there's no way I can finish it all... and then somehow finishing every last bit. So, I started cooking.

My entire family is in the restaurant business in New Jersey (read: Greek diners); but, I had never prepared anything beyond scrambled eggs. I did, however, spend my after school hours sitting in a kitchen watching my father cook, or reading books at home while my mother prepared a mixture of French Canadian dishes (her side of the family) and traditional Greek foods (learned from her mother-in-law, my grandmother).


Greek Orzo with Seared Scallops

So, that summer, I jumped into cooking, feet first. What was the first thing I cooked? Pan seared salmon in a butter-white wine sauce over a bed of fresh asparagus. But, I didn't just make a single portion. No, I had a group of friends come over for dinner and fed them all. I then spent the rest of my time in California cooking every night, calling my mother immediately after work to steal inspiration from my childhood and heritage.

What does this have to do with game development?

The same desire that made me throw myself into cooking fuels my passion for side projects. There's some magical force that pulls projects to me. I'm not sure what it is, an energy, a mystical curse as a software developer, or possibly a sensation of kindred souls; but, I constantly find individuals come to me and begin discussing projects, ideas, and how we can get them started.

While at EA, I built a small game engine in XNA aimed at the Zune media player.

While at THQ, I wrote a novel (currently in editing), had a play I'd written performed at a theater, began consulting for an indie Unreal project, and started teaching game engine architecture at my alma mater.

Now that I'm at Arkadium? Well, that really leads into the meat of this subject.

What we play drives what we build.

Throughout this, you'll note a desire "to do", not to "experience." There are those that are content to go out to a nice restaurant, select a bottle of wine based on price alone, and then go home and read a book. Many individuals find themselves completely satisfied with working a 9-5 job and go no further.

That's not the indie spirit.

That's not the struggling artist's spirit.

Rather, when I play a video game, I gain a level of anxiety. The better the game, the more frustrated I get. My thoughts are pretty simple:

"Why didn't I build this?"

"Wouldn't this be so much better with _____?!"

"I wish this had ____!"

When I step foot in a restaurant, I hear my father's voice in my head. I see the place through his eyes. I dissect every element of the presentation, the menu, and the dishes. I can't help but think about the wines and recall the flavors I've experienced in wine tasting classes and how they'll pair with my food.

Worse: when I eat an amazing meal, I want to cook that meal.

I can't help it.

When I play a game, I break it apart, pull at the individual experiences and components and let each flavor settle uniquely. They're compared to an internal library of games I've played and, well, conceived of.

Games are the same as food, with me. Playing an amazing game makes me want to build it. Playing a horrible game makes me want to improve it.


That's why I will never be able to only work on just one project. That's why I'll never truly be content just playing games.

What about you? What're your experiences and motivations? Why do you create?

About the Author

Andrew Andreas Grapsas is a game programmer at Arkadium, Inc. developing facebook games. Previously, he was a gameplay and animations programmer at Kaos Studios|THQ, and intern systems programmer on Medal of Honor.

Andrew is actively writing and programming for various projects. You can read more at his blog aagrapsas.com.

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