Failing, Simplicity, and Failing Again

As you might have noticed, Project Serpent has stalled. Between work, the errands of daily life, and other recreational pursuits, I’ve simply spent enough time choosing not to work on Serpent that it has fallen away from the top of my mind.

And that’s not the only thing that has fallen away. Without Serpent updates to post, I’ve had only a few scattered programming-related thoughts, each of which would have taken a lot of effort to turn into a blog post. Ideally I’d put in that effort, but lately I haven’t. And due to the title of this blog, I’ve been reluctant to write posts about the various non-programming things I’ve been thinking about. (I might change the title of the blog in light of this… but it can stay for now.)

So I haven’t been working on my projects, and I haven’t been writing blog posts. I’m not happy with this, and I’m trying to change my behavior.

The first, easiest, and most obvious thing is to write a blog post. That’s simple enough that with a little discipline I can just decide to do it, and it’s done. So here we are. Let’s hope I do this again next Sunday.

Getting back to work is harder. It’ll need discipline too, but pure discipline isn’t enough. I need a plan that compliments my willpower.

The best idea I have now for rekindling my motivation is to go back to something simple. In fact, since my goal is still to return to Project Serpent, I decided I’d go with something even simpler and quicker to build than Pong. I set myself the constraint of making a one-button game that I could feasibly finish in a single day.

Since thinking is a lot easier than programming, I even put some thought into what that game would be like on the train to work. The standard concept for a “one-button game that still manages to be enjoyable” is an obstacle course to jump around, like Canabalt. But I don’t find this model compelling, and I wanted to do something that I hadn’t seen before.

My first few ideas were impractical, either deriving their interestingness from monumental complexity or turning out not to make sense for a one-button game. Eventually I hit on the idea of a rhythm game as the primary mechanic; and that doesn’t fulfill the “something I haven’t seen before” criterion but at least it’s an example of something that isn’t a running game.

And in fact, a slight mutation of this gave me my major breakthrough. It occurred to me that I could throw multiple objects at the player at once by giving each one a kind of “resonant frequency”, and then the player can decide which object to react to at any given time by tapping in resonance with them. Then, the game is about (1) deciding which of a bunch of random enemies to deal with, (2) eyeballing the target frequency of those enemies, and (3) tapping out that frequency to get rid of them.

This felt perfect — it was still based on simple concepts in the spirit of a one-button game, but the idea seemed to open up deep and engaging gameplay, and most importantly I was finding myself motivated to make the game. I wanted to see how it would play. I wanted to play it myself.

So I mentally prepared myself, for the rest of last week, to spend a day on this project. I was excited to finish and see how the idea worked. I thought about showing it to my coworkers at Prismatic (and I’m still planning to be able to do that soon).

I even woke up early on Saturday, and booted up my laptop and text editor and started typing.

Except… I didn’t feel it pulling together. Everything felt so much more effortful than I was used to, code failed to typecheck, and I started to question my model and how it would be used to implement the game I was envisioning. And after a few hours I realized I’d made no progress and decided I couldn’t do it.

That was not this past weekend, but the 10th and 11th.

I have a few ideas for getting started again. My ideas don’t often seem to work… but I remember Pong, and I know I can do this somehow. What can I do but keep trying?


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