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To make games you must play games

It is easy for newcomers to forget, but game development is a creative field and requires some inspiration to get the wheels in motion. I discovered this after being stuck during while building some simple games. This is a post about what I discovered.

This was originally posted on my personal blog.

This one is for the guys who believe that working on your game to the point of exhaustion is the best way to make them.

I see this a lot. I saw it on myself a couple of months back. Games are hard to make, they take lots of your time. Better to dive in and forget all around you then, right? I used to answer "yes" to this question and get a twisted feel of superiority over my peers who played hours per day. Then I started getting stuck with my ideas. I got stuck a lot and kept working just for the sake of it.

Even though I still believe that working through your blocks is the best way to overcome them, there are a couple of things you can do to diminish them. I realized this when I started relating some advice for writers to game development.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”  - Stephen King

No successful writer will tell you they don't read. Nor will a musician advise you to stop listening to music and spend your time solely working. And can you imagine a movie director who doesn't watch movies?

In a longer project I didn't have the block problem. I just needed to sit down and code. The idea was already there. In fact, new ideas that came up during the development process were the problem. But when I started working on smaller projects, like some little prototypes, I encountered these blocks frequently. I needed to have fresh ideas on a daily basis. And I was having trouble.

Then, the Humble Indie Bundle 9 came, bringing FEZ, FTL and Limbo for a few bucks. It was perfect for my low budget and I decided to give it a try, changing my daily routine to include some play time on my nights.

The result was wonderful. Certainly, there were lots of new neural connections being made every day. They were of a wide variety too. Colors and cubes, spaceships and aliens, grey tones and traps... so much niceness. How did I missed that? Oh, yeah... I was busy spending hours stuck and feeling good about working a lot. Truth is, after I started playing again, my workflow improved immensely.

The gain from playing everyday again was so meaningful that I changed my routine, including reading after lunch and clearing some hours on the weekends to movies and series. My week work hours got more productive. Work is even funnier. Trivial things like riding on an airplane are now capable of triggering the game developer inside me.

Finding a balance between input and output is the key. I am still learning how to do so. The essence is: I need to appreciate what other game developers are offering and fill my head with as much possibilities as I can to then be able to mix everything and come out with something fresh of my own.

In the end, all creative work is a journey inwards. Exploring the work from others and the world around you helps you discover more about yourself and makes you better at whatever you're doing. Even calling your mom is a pro tip.

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