There’s no two ways about it, making your own game requires your entire soul, and every ghost that has ever haunted you gets included.
When I started making Gaspar’s Ghost Panic, the thought was: “Cherry in the Sky’s gotten kinda big, and I know a whole lot now. I’m a little burnt out, so maybe I should take a breather and make something small, finished. A one month side project.”
5 months later:
The ghosts that throw magic at our titular Gaspar couldn’t better reflect the game’s development journey: Horrifically enjoyable, and wonderfully grueling, independent design is stimulating, character building, and soul revealing.
You make every line of code, you construct every 3D model, and you make every design decision that requires every ounce of psychological reasoning in your body–and all that leaves you so drained that your insecurities can easily saunter in and haunt you to increasing extremes–sure you can always do something to make them go away, but break time’s only temporarily–you’re not free until you see that great, green End Game Button.
But then it’s wonderful when your impossible suddenly seems easy.
There’s this kind of release. From incubation to freedom–you can’t turn back, you’re a bit more than calling yourself a game designer on Twitter, you’ve now got something to live up to–not something to try to be. Something you want people to notice.
It felt like years, and probably would have been if I didn’t have my Game Design Sensei bumping me in the right direction with a little advice here and there:
Coffee With Cross GGP Episode 2:
After that, it all comes down to hard, hard work. And lots, and lots, and lots of teleporting.
But talk is just talk–gameplay is its own language, one that’s easiest to understand when you play.
We’ve all got ghosts that haunt us, but with a clear head, endeavoring passion (and maybe a rocking theme song), we can all get past our ghosts, and teleport into the future.
I’m a big fan of the MBTI, as self-understanding has always felt hard-fought for a weirdo like me.
After a lot of mistyping and thorough research, I finally realized that I was INFJ (a both harrowing and wonderful revelation). Arguably the rarest male type:
So abstract that most children on the playground used to just stare at my mouth when I was trying to make sense; horrendous and wonderful empathy so absorbent of other people’s emotions that I have trouble finding my own; still quite capable of abstract logic, but my own logic; and still in daft need to do something with this big head/heart-lifeworld my personality creates, thus the endless, endless creations.
Digging deeper into the theories, I liked when I saw the personalities broken even further down into introverted and extraverted versions of the different preferences (i.e., Introverted Feeling vs. Extraverted Feeling), and once I used the MBTI to help heal myself up from horrible times, I came to realize its potential for aiding my creativity.
So INFJs have:
I don’t see a lot of literature on how creativity manifests through function order, though. The general explanation of these more precise functions isn’t hard to find (here’s a nice general one and this one hits on them for INFJ), but I’ve never seen them in specific context of how I view creativity:
INFJ Functions and My Creativity
(least, you know, as I understand it)
I’m a reader, and I mean in the sense of life, and not even in the conscious sense. I don’t have to read between the lines, I just fall right through them with every step I take. Everything I absorb is weighted with meaning. It’s dense and symbolic, and creates a strong mind’s-eye. There isn’t a point in my day where there aren’t images floating around in my head that are symbolic composites of just stuff I’ve absorbed. I used to feel tortured by it at times, but this floating galaxy of stuff in my head is who I am. Taken ideally for art, I’m basically a reserve of potential creativity.
Wipe me across the floor of human emotion and I’ll just suck up everything. Sure, feeling the feelings of the person you’re talking to is great for relating, compassion, and understanding, but it can also be viewed as an info bank in a way, how the world of emotion works. Coupled with my intuition, I’ve naturally been picking up on emotional patterns my whole life, similarities–I’ll know when I’m seeing an emotion in someone that I’ve seen in another before. Over time this has given me the ability to have a strong idea of how people will react to something even if it doesn’t “exist yet” (the point where your umbrella is stolen in Cherry in the Sky, the death of a character in Ali So Far). It lets me create evocative prose and experiences that can pull on universal emotional heartstrings (least I hope I’m doing that), and as exhausting as it is sometimes, it’s imperative that I continue to collect the emotions of the world to ever improve my abilities.
This is where my internal logic lies, where I categorize the symbols and emotions, and organize the world to my understanding. I’m not so much a system builder like a thinking type, more of a world builder. My intuition just brings the symbols into my head haphazardly, but this function allows me to take active command of where abstract is placed and organized. It is where my sense of artistry lies. “This will go here and this will go here to reflect the meaning and produce the emotion my first two functions informed me of”. This is my eternal student function, and it is what will leave me an artist for life. Lately, I’m realizing my mathematical ability lies here as well, but I haven’t come into full understanding of it yet. Continuing to write code should bring that to light. There’s some link there that eludes me.
We’re getting down to point where I feel baffled and unclear on functions due to them being less developed, but I do have a child’s aesthetic sensibilities. To me, it’s just a feeling at the front of my head. I put down some colors in one of my games (colors symbolically selected of course), but then I have to play around with the appearance until this feeling in my head moves from “ew” to “ahhh”. This is also where my drive to move these head worlds into reality lies, often in an out of control manner–I overdo, exhaust, and sometimes hurt myself by just making too much and doing too much. I’ve got to grow to temper this blade like all my others. It will make me an even better creator in the end.
I’m sure all INFJ don’t experience this the exact same way, but I’m sure it’s closer to my experience than that of the other types. Hopefully this aids some other creative–my two cents in the MBTI pool. Maybe I’ll get into my enneagram someday (4w5), but it’s pretty basic at the end: at my greatest I make art, and at my worse, I seriously just want off this planet. But I’ve got too much to accomplish to do anything but make neat stuff until I can’t anymore, and I’m rather looking forward to seeing this intense INFJ art-guy thing out to the end, whatever may come.
I draw like a five-year-old with a decent grasp of color and composition. That grasp is led by unrefined feelings delight and disgust at whatever comes out on the paper. Though, that’s mostly because I haven’t picked up a pencil to do anything but write for last twenty years of my life.
Though, things are kind of nice in that way. I think that’s a large part of the appeal that has me so obsessed with working on Cherry in the Sky. Making your own game seems like the fullest expression I could possibly imagine, pooling all strengths and weakness into one place.
It’s brought me to think a lot about sensory appeal lately.
I exist in a very analytical, very symbolic, very meaning-rich head space that can be a task to put into words. Though, I’m beginning to realize that visual appeal can be difficult to verbalize as well. The “deep” can be shallow if you spend all your time at the bottom, never coming up for air; it’s a deprived position if you can’t rise up to appreciate simple beauty. Contrast is needed.
Above, a decent iPhone picture during my most recent day at the beach. Where, sure, I spent plenty of time in my head, plenty of time hashing out Cherry in the Sky on draft paper, plenty of time appreciating the yarn-like texture in the sullied water of the California coast, the confused off-white of the clouds escaping the smog out to sea, the sun that couldn’t quite burn an evening glow through the thick presence of Los Angeles–
The simple experience spurned a great deal of thought… but it also touched the senses very gently, leaving a sort of physical glow in my mind. A sensory massage that English doesn’t seem to have direct, sufficient nouns for, thus florid language. It feels so roundabout sometimes.
Games might be a better place to bridge that perceived gap between raw sensory appeal and deep, non-verbal experience.
Something visually stimulating but rich in feeling. The abstraction in the concrete; the concrete in the abstract.
That bridge might, very literally, be the gap where you can convert a non-player into a player.
The first page of your novel is supposed to be your hook, right? I mean, typically, you pick up a book and somebody dies on the first page, or the opening line of dialogue is a swear to try to imbue a sense of gravity into the initial experience–the masters are capable of opening up with something far more gentle and subtle than that–What’s the equivalent for a game?
The first level?
Maybe so for a player, but that’s once the controller is already in their hands.
At a glance, your game needs to spur curiosity, maybe–inviting curiosity that would bring someone to watch, that would intrigue them to discover more. To create questions that can only be answered by playing it. For a medium with such potential for raw sensory appeal, there’s plenty of room to “show” this without trying to “tell” people why your game’s awesome.
My art’s still rough, I’m still in a phase of heavy design, really neglecting the visuals, and I’ll probably get a little help with it later on, but when people do see it, I’m actually managing to get that curious response… it’s pretty fantastic.
The raw, sensory, second-hand experience, it brings out a question. Maybe that question is, “what does this feel like?” The only answer to that question, is to play–and hopefully, if everything is done just right, there’s a connection that’ll be made, and you can pull people into something deep.
Shoot for the senses to provoke curiosity? Is curiosity the way to the heart?
I can’t think of any medium that’s made me angrier than videogames. Board games come close, getting me quite excited, but even then, if a board game is too frustrating, I typically have no desire to play it again. It just sort of “falls off my palette”.
Controller throwing, friend punching, shedding tears as a last boss dances to celebrate his victory. The well-handled presence of upset seems to be an integral part of an affecting videogame–the sense that there is something I want to get, something I want to accomplish, something I need to do, but can’t, wasn’t able to, but still want to: I am frustrated.
Sure, it’s brushed off with silly little death jingles of dark humor as our character explodes or falls off-screen, or maybe the screen just turns red with a quick fade (to make sure it doesn’t so much “hurt” as it “unpleasantly stings”)–either way, this is negative emotion.
Unlike other mediums, the relationship these types of games form with a player is a little more push-and-pull, a little more volatile, a little more like those (manipulative?) how-to dating guides than other creative mediums. You’ve got to shape and play with a person’s desire.
When a novel takes too long to give you what you want, it either gets put down or you suffer through in hopes that something will pull through, right? Any song that frustrates our personal sensibilities just gets turned off. Movies don’t really seem to last long enough to toy with this–sans, perhaps, a frustrating ending, but such a turn is hardly prevalent enough for me call it an integral part of the medium.
A good game should upset you over, and over, and over again.
This is one of your main tools for generating empathy within the game space; it’s one of the ways you align the player with their protagonist, cursor, abilities, etc. You must ensure all good and bad emotions they experience are completely linked within the isolated game experience; no emotion should remain in reality. Your game can never be “real”, but it can evoke 100% percent real feelings.
Super Mario never starts you off dying immediately. It usually gives you a few coins, a mushroom, some sort of reward, and then a little easy progress as you advance towards your goal. “I’m getting stuff.” “I’m happy.” Then it starts to ramp up the difficulty, throwing obstacles in your way, more pits, more difficult enemies. It begins to challenge your desire to reach that goal with an opposing force. One that you’re meant to conquer, but one that’s not supposed to be easy. “I’ve done this before. I know I can do it. This is only slightly harder”; it basically wants you to grow to beat it. It is challenging you, and that upset that you are experiencing is you still caring for something you see as possible. (Like those dating guides, right? “Be a challenge”?) This is the distinct difference between something being “challenging” versus plain “too hard”. You’re supposed to win.
Did anyone ever really like random battles in old-school RPGs? You like a battle system, you like exploring dungeons, but I recall groans of upset and discontent when faced with a random battle when my parties’ supplies were running low. This turned every step towards that treasure hidden through a cavern at the corner of screen something worthy of considerable thought. So despite the spoils of dungeon roving, and the necessity of passing through to advance the story, I often felt them something undesirable as a child–I was actually connecting with the narrative quite deeply. A feeling that aligned me with my character, their mortality, and their goal. They didn’t want to be in those caves either; I can’t remember a single game where the characters unanimously craved roving those dangerous caverns. At least, I didn’t play any.
Given all of this, I guess I would say that Super Mario Bros. is that friend you fought with in grade school, but then went right back to play with the next day, learning, growing, and understanding together. Since the reason for the fight was something stupid you could easily overcome anyway, or at least, when given time to think about it, you realized how capable you were of getting past it to begin with.
The face of gaming has changed substantially since the days of the games I grew up on. It’s not always about enabling or training a player to enjoy your own game anymore… customization options, getting lost in a subscription-based world, getting players into your in-game shop that requires real money, etc.–but the style of games from the period I love are really about only this: training you to succeed, and frustrating you so can enjoy yourself. And apparently, if you balance this just right, you’ll still have people thinking about and playing your game well over two decades later.
1 :to bring into existence <God created the heaven and the earth — Genesis 1:1(Authorized Version)>
I wish I was never taught that creation is essentially pulling things out of ether. It was specifically a part of my religious upbringing, but I probably would’ve been organically trained into this mindset anyhow. I should think of this as more American culture’s fault, or maybe I can straight up blame Mr. Webster himself.
But, then again, maybe I should just stop looking for someone to blame. The religious don’t necessarily need to discard their Father, but I do think the artist should be looking to different channels for artistic parenting; human beings can’t conceive from nothing. We deconstruct, abstract, and make clay of what we understand and experience, then we mush stuff up, recompile, craft, and mold–we reconstruct.
It might be stronger and, perhaps, more farsighted to think of creativity as transformation.
Those “crazy noises” during Jimi Hendrix’s famous rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner are fighter jets buzzing overhead and planes dropping bombs. A little research and voilà: he spent a few years in the military–that solo, that interpretation of the song came from somewhere (That also might reveal what got people so riled up about it back in the day: “National Anthem or War Song?”). Absorbing something and then transforming its presentation, ordering, and perspective doesn’t just make music fantastic: it’s the core of what the idea of music is.
The pace of a beat–or the perceived pace of a beat–is relative to the human experience, human footsteps, the human concept of speed (Nobody can run as fast as DragonForce, right? And it’s rare we ever do anything as slow as Sigur Rós). This is metaphor.
Dostoyevsky wrote of Russian politics, Hemingway wrote of bullfighting and war, China Mièville writes with inspiration from his days of Dungeons and Dragons–it’s important to be honest and open to our sources of energy. To embrace, absorb, and understand them.
Given that, writer’s block could be considered a sort of false disease; it might have a great deal to do with a failing understanding of what it means to be creative. That classic image of a writer curled over his desk in isolation: “you toil and toil yet can not produce! Oh woe is me!”–you can’t put out if you don’t take in, and you can’t take in if you only put out. You need to go outside.
Hemingway was a journalist before becoming a novelist. Dostoyevsky ran in political circles and even went to prison for it. China Mièville is never shy about his sources of inspiration. His favorite pastimes come up in nearly every interview, and the man actually ran for parliament.
Video games aren’t exempt from this either. Super Mario is the classic knight in shining armor story: Mario’s the knight, and Yoshi is his steed; he goes to fight the dragon Bowser and save the Princess Peach. This is Super Mario’s foundation, but, I mean, look at it. When you open yourself up to soak in just a little bit more, when you hold yourself back just a little bit less, that core foundation becomes something more: you get a game about a guy who walks on clouds and travels through pipes because you like manga and pass sewage systems on the way to work.
It takes absorbent and free minds to make flying via a raccoon tail seem unquestionable. It takes adventurers, it takes listeners, it takes people who aren’t going to question how they got there until they get there, people who only look back in order to figure out how to go forward. It takes creatives.
And all of the above, at least as far as I understand at this point, is the source of the Voodoo. It’s what we need to do to watch the sunrise from the bottom of the sea. And as long as I think like this, I never seem to become stuck, more like:
“I’m not quite yet where I want to be, but getting there is fantastic, and hey, here’s everything I’ve found along the way. There’s more coming, and it’s only going to get better. I hope everyone’s having a good time.”