“Ideas are a dime a dozen”

Game development is a space rich in creativity and ingenuity – after all, you get to imagine and create entire virtual worlds, the limits really are the imagination… provided you’re willing to negotiate with your idea and certain realities. Yes a “metaverse” sounds amazing but perhaps jamming a bunch of people in a networked high-graphic-fidelity environment opens up some unique challenges. Things to negotiate may include: variable regional network quality, availability for high-end equipment to draw those fantastic high-quality graphics, and rulesets to help curb bad faith behavior that would create a disproportionately bad time for users not exhibiting crumby behavior.

In my personal experience it’s very rare for big ideas to take into account these certain realities up-front. In fact, I’ve witnessed the exact opposite where reality is willfully denied, where on-the-ground workers (in games usually software engineers) who try to raise warning flags are told to “stop being a roadblock” or that they need to “be a better team player”. There’s options in this particular scenario!

  • Drink the kool-aid and also deny reality
    • most positively reinforced choice, improved chances of promotions
    • increases chance of project failure
  • Malicious compliance
    • enthusiasm of this route may be perceived as being a “team player”, a higher chance of positive reinforcement
    • added risk of someone seeing through the snark/sass and thinking you’re a jerk
    • potentially dramatically increased chances of project failure, encouraging aspects of the project to jump down rabbit holes
  • Bare minimum compliance
    • least amount of effort to keep getting paid
    • project suffers from “missed opportunities” – basically have a robot instead of a human at this point, providing exactly the expected outputs yet in the unique position to understand implementation details to know how to bring out special attention to detail which players tend to enjoy (but don’t really fit in a pitch document)

I’m sure that’s not an exhaustive list of options – after all, I was there when a Lead Designer walked off the job in protest of demands handed down. The trend is that in each case the project will suffer, the project is much more than just the idea.

I’ve discussed my own approach when in a leadership position and it’s centered on empowering the developer rather than providing them a detailed task lists. This means I release my hierarchy-granted “idea power” to others and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. This also helps distribute problem solving agency when a big idea may have particularly large challenges, ensuring the people doin’ the work are talking about these challenges rather than pretending they don’t exist – dramatically raising the chances someone on the ground with the power to tackle a particular challenge will be inspired to provide a concrete solution.

So here’s an idea

I was originally inspired to write an online journal entry (writin’ these things doesn’t come easy for me! need motivation) by a little idea I had while in the shower, rather than let it sit in the back of my mind or jot something quick down in my on personal private document storage… why not just post it in my journal? Could someone “steal” the idea? Sure, why not. I’m in no position right now to make it a reality, why not give someone else a shot (feeding the idea that more than myself or close loved ones reads these, ha). Heck, I don’t know what one year will look like from now, at this point I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to find the space and energy to execute on any of my ideas.

More importantly, an idea by itself may possibly live pristine in imagination, but reality will always shape how it’s experienced by anyone else. Did endless Match-3, MMO, Fortnight, or any other endless clone-feeling games ever take away from your joy of your original experience? Sure, you may already be bored of the general experience so the latest-new-thing (which is a safe derivative of another popular thing), but to me that situation sounds like a great opportunity to expand the horizons and see what else is out there! Anyway, ideas are cheap, final outcomes are complex and varied even when trying to be a copy/paste experience, and I do believe variety is the spice of life.

Let’s start with the most surface-level aspect of an idea, a label! What kind of name do I think would set the stage for this idea…

Emotional Beings

There it is, that’s what jumped out at me. Alright, the idea is rooted in Emotional Beings, how can I best nourish these roots and articulate the overall idea? More importantly, what can I do to get my idea across before I’m interrupted enough times and lose my motivation? These words don’t bring me revenue, and there’s something I need to do that does bring in revenue, so where’s the path of least resistance… aha, flagrant screen-snips of content found on the internet!

visual guide to human emotion
the general concept is an “Emotional Wheel” – this was the most legible one I found in less than a minute of searching, I found it on this website! https://www.visualcapitalist.com/a-visual-guide-to-human-emotion/

Alright, I now have some context that I can refer to while laying out my idea, the emotional wheel, a tool to help visualize labels we can put on feelings and how those labels can relate to one another. I’m just going to jump in and see if I can bullet-point summarize the idea with a name and one referenceable piece of context:

  • The player is a disembodied entity that doesn’t exist in physical reality
    • Can interact with the physical world in limited ways, imagine haunted house movies
    • Ability to interact with the world improves over time
  • Player forms a bond with a living being
    • Their ability to interact with the world may be tied to proximity of those things to the living being they’ve chosen to bond with
    • Being a big fan of choice I think it’s important the player chooses whom they bond with
    • Living Being is now a proper noun that’ll be referenced with the expectation that it’s the particular one a player has chosen
  • The Living Being is completely automated, run by a dynamic AI that is constantly reacting to their Emotional State
    • One goal here is to emphasize how feelings can start to feel very big, and when that occurs other feelings kind of get… smaller feeling in comparison
    • Like the Emotional Wheel, I think a visualization will be very important to help convey these concepts
      • Must be able to show a number of different Emotional Contexts (ex: something may happen that causes the Living Being to feel Amazement and Confusion, but that still shares space with Lonely and Irritable which was already sittin’ in there)
      • Real-time feedback to perspective also important, an idea that the lens of view for Emotional Contexts can shift, some strong feelings may still exist but we’ve temporarily focused on something else, so our Living Beings attention has shifted away from it
      • Yet, as time continues and circumstances change something may occur that snaps attention back to the big emotion that’s been hiding outside of perspective, conversely shifting attention away from other emotions that may have surfaced
  • The Living Being starts with very simple basic needs it’s having a hard time meeting
    • The Player needs to be able to “nudge” the Living Being towards fulfilling those needs (simple ex: hunger is causing them to feel very Scared, the player could search nearby cupboards for them and make a noise on the one with some food in it)
      • Perhaps through observation the Player finds the Living Being has food preferences, Scared in the example can be reduced by providing any old food but Joy may also erupt if you point them to a favorite
  • That’s it, that’s the last bullet point, it’s 2pm and dinner starts at 5pm and I need to swiftly transition to paid work

To me this paints a pretty clear path in my brain to get started if I were to create a whole game experience around this idea. These details are just what I used to try to articulate it though, they’re not set in stone, the goal is to just try and get the idea across – if it makes even a little bit of sense I’d happily consider expressing it a mission accomplished.

Now I have no intention of manifesting this idea in any way right now, it was really just a shower thought. If I felt I had the resources to create something with this idea, well that has a wide array of how that looks. I could try investing energy into creating a visual pitch document to try and secure investor money to pay people… 🤢 no I won’t be doing that. Thanks to > 15 years of making games and a wide variety of experience there I’m also in a unique position to create the entire thing myself, and I have options. Unity could help me create an intimate single-player experience, or I could pivot to Roblox as a platform for wacky and weird multiplayer interactions. In either case, I just don’t have the time/energy to even think of pursuing it further, so I’m alright with letting this paragraph be the final tombstone of this resting idea.

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