My year of course correction, part 2

6th October, Berlin, 19:24, continuing my story from yesterday;

At the end of 2018, I was back in my home town, living with my parents as a recovering workaholic. I quit a ridiculously well paying job in Dubai because I simply got scared to get used to earning high numbers and lose my ability to walk away anytime I wanted. My friends told me to my face how stupid I was. Maybe they were right, but I never regretted my decision. I was determined to stay hungry, stay foolish.

On top of leaving behind a glamorous life in a shiny desert city, I was planning to buy land to start a food forest and become a farmer. Everybody thought I was mad with sunstroke. 

After a month without work, without stress, spending happy time with family, catching up with old friends, a weight was lifted off of my shoulders and my movements lightened, I was breathing easy again.

As I got rested and my energy increased, I decided to try my hand on something I wanted for a long time; app development, specifically games. Hyper-casual games were making tons of money and I thought I could pull off a few, which would be a great addition to my food forest dreams. Who wouldn’t want passive income trickling in while you’re cleaning the chicken coop or refilling the worm farm with bio.

Besides, I knew that once I bought the farm and started building, I would be fully dedicated to nature and its continuous care, which would be a period of non-stop learning and observing that would leave no time or energy for anything else. In fact, after years of software development, I was looking forward to physical labour, dreaming of aching muscles after a good day’s work.

In the meantime, I was slowly remembering how challenging it was to live with parents as an introvert. I wasn’t getting enough alone time at home. In her book “The Cost of Living”, Deborah Levy mentions a writing shed in a garden protected by her landlady where she wouldn’t be interrupted or even have the possibility of being interrupted, except for squirrels. I needed my shed, an incubation space. So, I decided to rent a house for a year. 

There is a neighbourhood in Istanbul called Caddebostan, with its green streets, elegant houses, theatres, educated inhabitants, and its proximity to my friend’s houses, it was the perfect area where everything was within walking distance. 

I rented the first house I viewed. It was love at first sight. As you enter, you’d be welcomed by a magnificent wall of windows in the living room, looking at a lush garden, leaves gently swaying in the autumn wind. You’d feel the house was cocooned in a green canopy. As I entered the empty house, an image of a long table next to the windows flashed before my eyes. Warm lights hanging over the table, friends sitting around it, having dinner, playing games. A daydream that would come true.

After settling into my new home, I dived into the Unity game engine. Influenced by years of playing MMOs in my youth, and in my initial excitement, I made a 3D role-playing game with a huge map that has rivers, mountains, villages, enemy encampments, fancy combat mechanics, magic of all sorts, hundreds of lootable items, bosses hidden in cave systems, an arena for multiplayer fighting, etc. etc.

I toiled and toiled and it was not even close to finishing and still looked raw and basic. I decided to wrap it up, put it in the store, consider it a learning project, and start a smaller game instead. 

To package the game with a story, I made a deal with a writer I found in Fiverr. A few days later when I received the story, as if a magic dust was sprinkled over it, suddenly the game started to look much better. That’s when I realised I needed to start from the story, not the mechanics.

With this revelation, I started reading a game design book called “The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses”.

Here are a few wonderful highlights I saved during that first read: 

  • The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
  • Genres come and go, but the basic principles of game design are principles of human psychology that have been with us for ages.
  • There are certain feelings: feelings of choice, feelings of freedom, feelings of responsibility, feelings of accomplishment, feelings of friendship, and many others, which only game-based experiences seem to offer.
  • You can’t leave every decision to playtesting, especially early in the process, when there is no game yet to playtest. At this point someone has to exert a personal opinion about what is good and bad.
  • This principle, in reference to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle from quantum mechanics, points out that the motion of a particle cannot be observed without disturbing the motion of that particle. Similarly, the nature of an experience cannot be observed without disturbing the nature of that experience.
  • When problem solving is removed from a game, it ceases to be a game and becomes just an activity.
  • When something captures our complete attention and imagination for a long period, we enter an interesting mental state. The rest of the world seems to fall away, and we have no intrusive thoughts. All we are thinking about is what we are doing, and we completely lose track of time. This state of sustained focus, pleasure, and enjoyment is referred to as “Flow” and has been the subject of extensive study by psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi and many others. Flow is sometimes defined as “a feeling of complete and energized focus in an activity, with a high level of enjoyment and fulfillment. ”
  • When comparing games with books and films, one of the most striking differences is the number of verbs. Games usually limit players to a very narrow range of potential actions, while in stories the number of possible actions that characters can engage in seems nearly limitless. This is a natural side effect of the fact that in games, the actions and all their effects must be simulated on the fly, while in stories it is all worked out ahead of time. In Chapter 16 we will discuss how this “action gap” can be bridged in the mind of the player, so that you can give the feeling of limitless possibilities while keeping the number of operational actions at a manageable limit.
  • Prolonged play is desirable because it allows for a higher score and a measure of success, but it also taps into our natural human drive for survival.

To be continued…

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