The Art of Compromise

Sometimes, you’ve got to make sacrifices. Like most creative pursuits, both writing and game development are built around the art of compromise. As a creator who doesn’t really follow a strict plan for my projects, I’ve found that the vast majority of my work turns out rather different from how I originally intended it to be. One thing I’ve learned after doing this writing thing for so long is that the creative brain is complex and dynamic, and rarely ever static. If you’re serious about getting any kind of long term project finished, you need to accommodate your changing creative energy, and that means that you have to learn to make your work ethic flexible. That’s the point of this week’s blog post: the importance of allowing yourself room to play with changing ideas, and learning that it’s okay to compromise and deviate from your plan. It makes the act of working on your project more fun, and it’s when you’re enjoying your craft that you turn out your best work, don’t you think?

For me, it seems that an artist’s original vision is not the same as the finished work. I know of a lot of writer and game developer friends who lose motivation to continue working on their projects because they don’t seem to realise this. Some creators have tightly structured, complex plans for what they want their work to be, and many times, I’ve seen them get burnt out because their  quest to have their work realised exactly as they originally envisioned it doesn’t leave them any room to play around. My closest writer friend has a 20,000 word plan for his novel that he follows as closely as he can, right down to the paragraph level. As a result of this, he finds that he’s only able to work on it when he’s in the right “mood” for the style he’s trying to follow in that particular piece. Obviously, he doesn’t get to work on it regularly. It isn’t an isolated case, either. I’ve got another friend who’s working on a fantasy RPG in RPG Maker VX. He’s been working on it for years, perpetually re-balancing game mechanics and tweaking systems to make sure they perfectly reflect his original vision. This game still isn’t in a playable form. My friend’s so trapped within the confines of his original plan that he can’t progress forward. In the end, he doesn’t enjoy working on his game anymore, and eventually, he’ll drop it so that he can finally address that other niggling idea that won’t leave him alone.

Sometimes you just have to follow that urge to add zombies to everything.

It’s a situation that I try to not let happen to me. I hate writer’s block, and I hate being stuck knowing what I have to do but not knowing how to do it. That’s why I try to keep my writing style flexible – if I don’t feel like my piece is working the way it is, or if working on it is starting to grow stale, I just go back a little bit and take it in a different direction. I’m not haunted by the need to work on something different, because I’m willing to change my original plan, sacrifice something that isn’t working at the moment, and incorporate my feelings and ideas of the moment into it. I don’t like feeling as if my time has been wasted. In this sense, it’s not important that the finished product exactly matches the original vision I had for it – what’s important is that the final product is something that I’m happy I spent my time working on and that I’m satisfied was a worthwhile effort.

I’ve done it many times before and it works for me: Legionwood was originally meant to be on a much larger scale, and I cut out a whole continent (that’s still visible in the game files) because it was bogging me down. The original One Night had boss battles and more characters – I cut those out because I felt that the game was becoming too focused on action. Meanwhile, One Night 2: The Beyond originally began as a direct sequel to the first game, though I felt that the story was a stale ripoff of the first game and redid everything halfway through to feel more fresh. My novel, Sun Bleached Winter was originally meant to be the first part of a trilogy. I planned for it to be a lot longer and to introduce characters and plotlines that would be expanded on in two further books. At some point or another, for all of these works, I started to feel that my original plan wasn’t working for me. It didn’t reflect what I felt like doing at the time, or I was struggling to find the right way to go about doing it. For me, it was neccesary to make these changes to these projects and take them in a new direction that worked better. If I didn’t, I probably would still be working on all of them. I did what I felt like I needed to do and made myself flexible, and I’m satisfied with the results.

While it’s not something that will work for everyone, being flexible and giving up the pursuit of the original vision does wonders for me to help fight off writer’s block. I understand that for some people, the original plan is everything, and that if they even think of diverging from it, they’ll feel like they’re going against their intentions as an artist and lose focus even more, but consider this: Virginia Wolf’s Mrs Delaway was supposed to be a collection of short stories, James Joyces’  The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was scrapped once and subsequently rewritten with a completely different tone, and one of my favourite video games of all time, Resident Evil 2, once started off as something completely different. Compromise isn’t for everyone, but it worked for the creators of these works. Nobody denies that the final products are pretty awesome. Maybe it will work for you, too?


About dgrixti

Indie game developer and writer. Founder of Dark Gaia Studios and creator of Legionwood, One Night and Mythos: The Beginning.
This entry was posted in Games, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Art of Compromise

  1. Moose says:

    I have to completely agree with you on your points here. George Lucas had to make a lot of compromises on the original trilogy, and look what we all got. On the other hand, for the prequels he wrote the entire script by himself and…. yeah. And look at the masterpiece after masterpiece we got from all of the expanded universe, most of which was with Lucas’s guidance but was always a collective effort.

    Similarly, your “final edition” (as shown by my comments on your Facebook page) is not necessarily the absolute last time you will modify that game. *hint*hint*

    I actually have some personal experience on the matter. A few years ago, I was involved in a Pokemon fangame. Before it was basically one guy working on it, who made a poor quality Fire Red clone of just the Kanto region. I joined and started cleaning up a lot of stuff, and also recruited a decent sized staff to help with everything. The biggest problem I had with it was that the original creator was too inflexible. He wanted an “every region, every Pokemon” game that would grow exponentially every year and… you know that’s just not possible. I was constantly exploring different ideas, adding content, taking out things that weren’t needed (I didn’t get half the things I wanted, which I was okay with), and that was all at a standstill. That turned into a political issue and I ended up leaving the project because of the drama that it caused.

    I left more than 3 years ago, and guess what? No new release since I left. Also, the staff is gone and I think that guy is still overly focused on flirting with every girl he meets online and whining about how I ruined his game, blah blah blah. It’s really sickening.

    If I ever get involved in something like that again, hopefully I’m working with a visionary like you who understands what it takes to make an artistic masterpiece. Either that or I’ll create a small scale sequel, bonus sidequest, or something like that for an existing game.

    I also love your open source policy with games. I never understood why people use an unoriginal game engine (like RPG Maker), an unoriginal music format usually remixed or made in the same style of their favorite game (MIDI or MP3 form), either a Pokemon or unoriginal run of the mill JRPG (don’t get me started), and tweak a few features using the Ruby programming language (which they didn’t create) all with graphics either copied from some game or made in that same style using Photoshop (which they probably pirated because it’s so bloody expensive, and Paint is just not good enough) and claim it as their own. I mean seriously, like no one else can make the same thing? If you copy so much stuff directly from the likes of Nintendo and Square Enix, why do you whine on forums if someone screenshot-copies something from your game and modifies it slightly for their own use?


  2. dgrixti says:

    I completely agree with you, Moose. You’ve pretty much said everything. As for my open source policy to my games, I mainly do it because 1.) there are decrypters available that void the encryption of the game and 2.) not encrypting the game decreases the file size. It’s also nice to allow people to look through and learn how I did everything. Due to the fact that I’m using default assets in an unoriginal engine, I don’t feel the need to lock up the game; I claim the intellectual property as my own, but I don’t consider the assets as mine.

    My writing is a different story, though. I wouldn’t let anyone alter that.


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