Scope Creep and Not Knowing What To Do

23 May 2016

While I'm making my game, I often reach a point where I've completed something I'm working on and I'm ready to move on. I have to decide what I'm going to work on next. Do I start back up on something I put on the back burner? Or do I start something new? It is at this point that I have an existential crisis. I am torn between "I don't know what else to add" and "The thing I want to add is way too complicated for my skill set." With both situations, I end up thinking I should just give up on the whole project either because there's nothing else for me to do or because I don't know how to add it.

This week after I figured out how to get teleportation working, I found myself at this crossroad. I started thinking about big picture of the game. What is the game world going to be? It's going to be a city obviously. Then I thought about actually building an entire city and my brain nearly exploded. I started thinking about games like GTAV and Cities: Skylines. How can I expect myself to build an entire city from scratch? A city is very complicated and is the collected work of hundreds of people over the course of decades or even centuries. I'm just some guy making a game, how the hell do I even do that?

I let that stew in my brain for a while until I realized I don't have to make a whole city. I can just start off with a neighborhood and then build another neighborhood. I can just have some sort of story that hobos are only allowed in a certain part of the city. Sort of like Sanctuary Districts in Star Trek. That means I only have to build a small part of the city to start with and then just build a convincing barrier around it. I was able to calm down about it all after realizing this. It seems like my whole life is a series of major crises that start out huge until I figure out how to get them to a managable size.

It's important to take a look at other games being developed. Look at them in their current state and then look at them in early stages. If you only look at how finished games look, you'll only ever feel like whatever you're doing isn't stacking up. If you see how games looked and played while they were still in early development, you can get an idea of how they progressed and how your game can progress. Take Subnautica for instance. The game looks amazing, and it seems pretty complicated. A few months ago, I watched a video (which I can no longer find) someone made where he played through different early versions of the game that he was given access to for being a backer. Very early on in the game, it looks pretty ugly and there's not much to do. Through each version the guy plays through, it starts looking more and more polished. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will the city in Just Recycle Cans.

The other side of the fence is not knowing what to do. I'll spend a bunch of time figuring out how to do something and finish it. Now what? What else can I add? I start worrying about whether there's really even a game in what I'm building. What's the point? I don't know why I even get this way since I've got a bunch of ideas written down for what I want to add to the game. The problem is that I don't know how to do all of them yet. I suppose what I'm thinking when I don't know what to do next is "What can I do next that I already have the skills for?" It's frustrating when I'm really chugging along, making things work and then I hit a skill wall. I've done everything I know how to do, now I have to dive into youtube or the unreal forums or some other site and look for tutorials and information to figure out how to do the next thing. I enjoy learning, but it's annoying to make a lot of progress and then have to stop everything so I can spend time learning the next thing.

Overall, it's important to just keep working. Figure this thing out, create that thing, learn another thing. As long as I keep doing something productive with it, I'm hopefully not wasting my time.

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