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Time Well-Spent

Timmmmmmmmmm.. T

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Last summer, I worked indoors at a small amusement park.  It got boring, but it wasn’t bad.  It started out around 20 hours per week.
It ramped up to 30 hours, and could have been 40+ hours.  In theory, the extra money sounds great when I’ve got nothing else going on.

At work, I had plenty of time to think about time.  They say that it takes 1000 hours to become an expert.  While there’s nothing magical about 60,000 minutes, there is something magical about consistent time dedicated to a craft or trade. 

When I first played the trombone, I wanted to win the school practice contest by practicing more than anyone else.  I sometimes practiced 300 minutes per week outside of school (between school, sports, and life) and became proficient at it faster than anyone else.  I stopped practicing so much, but the solid foundation never let me down, and I never regressed past a certain point, even if I neglected the instrument for years.

Years later, I started running.  Problem: my knees were shot, and it took 1-2 hours per day of physical therapy before I could go on a short run.  It was a huge time investment—think of all the things I’d have time for if I stopped!  Days made little difference.  Weeks made a slight difference.  After months of dedication, I only needed the PT once per week.  I could finally run in outdoor track
Fast forward five years of consistent running: I have no need for PT, became a cross country captain, and completed a marathon.  I never trained for speed, nor did I train for distance, it was all about time.

In both activities, the coach/instructor told me to record the number of minutes spent practicing.  At the end of the week, they would critique my habits and push me to raise those numbers. 

This applies perfectly to game development, specifically because it’s hard to benchmark quantity of game developed.  Counting lines of code or levels made is useless, since more of those often results in less efficiency.  

Instead, count minutes. 

If you consistently dedicate hours of your day to anything, it will stick in your mind.  Your new mindset will make it easier and easier.  If you can spend 1000 hours on a game for your own recreation, you can spend 10,000 hours on game development for other people’s recreation.  After a few years of “eating, sleeping, and breathing” game development, it becomes second nature.  You’ll make games as easily as you type on a QWERTY keyboard.

Well, that’s my theory.  Putting it to the test took hours… countable hours.

I made a practice sheet, and kept track of the minutes spent each day on game development.  Even when I was tired, I tried to spend at least an hour doing something at some pace.  The following day, while I had a little less sleep, I’d be more able to develop because I was in the habit of it.

When converted to hours, I got around ten on most weeks, but due to my inconsistent work schedule it was all over the place.  Over fifteen hours one week, five hours the next week…
I could have made a lot more money by working more, but my goal isn’t to work a low-wage job, it’s to develop games.  Hence, I’ll take the smaller cash heap in exchange for invaluable practice. 
 

That said, I’m glad I had work to get me out of the house—being alone most of the day is highly demotivating.  However, 6 hours of work + commute followed by three hours of game development results in great progress and a steady income.

And another thing,

There was one other time sponge: hanging out with friends.  While it can be easy to spend inordinate amounts of time messing around, we mostly had commutes between us.  That means I wasn’t at risk of spending all my time away from development, but we met up pretty often and it was always worthwhile.

In fact, the best game I developed all summer was a party for those friends.

(Warning: long description that doesn’t do it justice)

Spoiler

 

Eleven people came to the Ready Player One themed party.  “The first clue is on the computer.”  On my desktop was a book, open to a page about a Macintosh game (Through the Looking Glass).  On the other side of the room (set up as an arcade, with several 80’s games playing on a half-dozen TV’s) were several stacks of floppy disks.  Lift up the one mentioned in the above book, and you’ll find the next clue.  Go outside, use the longbow with foam-tipped arrows to hit the target, and it makes a loud electronic sound.  Trigger the sound three times, you’ll receive the next clue.  Go back inside, two people have to beat the high score in Joust.  Finally, you’ll piece together a URL that goes to the first gate.  After another set of challenges, the second gate. 

I had the joy of both antagonizing the players to make it challenging, and subtly guiding them in the right direction with indirect hints.  Sometimes, I dropped a hint in the form of a question to players who were less involved, which would both involve them (exciting for them and me) and the info would be exciting for everyone who wanted to progress.  I was more antagonistic at first, but found that it was so much more fun to help them. Not to mention, the challenges were hard enough that it took all day anyway.

Yet another set of clues and challenges lead everyone to the third gate, and the final challenge.  It was all co-op, until now.  A die is rolled, and you are assigned a challenge based on that, which you might pass or might fail.  Those players not eliminated (four remained) had to settle it.. IN SMASH.  One of the four got another person to play in his stead.  The other players started calling him a sixer, and ganged up on him, but his Smash skills were too much.  Despite one player using his extra life (a unique red quarter, which he won at the previous year’s summer party), the “sixer” won.  The winner got a shiny Bitcoin Coin, worth over fifty… cents.  They also got twenty bucks, just to make it more worthwhile.   We also watched the movie in two parts throughout the day, and the whole adventure lasted over eight hours from the first event to the end of the challenge.  It was a really epic build-up throughout the day. 

 

So ended the last of six epic summer parties (2013-2018), and it was the best one yet.  It may be the best experience I have ever crafted, but it’s not replayable.

RIP summer, it was a good one.  Now begins the hardest semester of my life.

 

Experience Points:

  • Money is helpful
  • Working on something you love is worth a financial hit (but not financial ruin)
  • In the end, it’s always about balance.  Too much development will kill you, too little development leaves you with nothing.
  • Humans are social, devote time to take care of that need.
  • More man-hours on a project is superior to more weeks on a project.
  • Life isn’t about money, but it’s not about work either.  There’s no game gods that reward you for doing good work.  If you’re a game developer, you are ultimately working for your players.  Treat them with love and respect.


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Sounds like a great party game/puzzle. I've often thought it would be an interesting experience to design one of those "escape room" experiences.

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