Thursday, February 13, 2014

Creativity Deadlock

After two weeks of pre-semester brainstorming and four weeks on discussion into the semester, we're having a bit of a problem: We have no idea what the game should look like.

At the moment, our project team is having trouble with artistic vision. It's one of those things that we didn't think would be a problem. Here is the basic premise: The art needs to be inspired by the narrative. The narrative needs to fit around the entire game. And we can't make the game without art. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a creativity deadlock.

The opposite of this

How do we break out of a creativity deadlock? The easiest to just come up with everything at once! Just have everyone sit down and nail down the art, narrative, and entire game at the same time. But if you've done any team game development at all, you know that it usually doesn't work that way. Nothing comes together all at once. Even if you suddenly have a cohesive vision (which we struggled with from the beginning), that vision will indubitably change throughout the building process.

Another way to approach a creativity deadlock is to work from different angles. Experiment with art and narrative on their own and let them cross-pollinate each other. We also tried this approach for a few weeks, but it seemed that the pieces we came up with did not quite come as coherently together as we hoped. For example, our concept artist (who bases all his art  To be honest, I think this process could work if we had a lot of time to iterate, but we're feeling pressure to create things for GDC.

IGF Pavillion at GDC (photo credit to IndieGames)

Then are there any solid decisions for the game that won't change? Yes. One is the puzzles we have, and the other is having a jazzy soundtrack. But herein lies the problem.

The puzzles we have are based on a large variety of object, often not connected at all. Our game is supposed to give the feeling of unexpectedness and humor through the puzzles, and part of those feelings come through the context of the puzzles. However, at the moment, the context between the puzzles are not related, and this makes finding a common theme between the puzzles very difficult.

Also, "jazzy" turns out to be a very confusing term. Some team members immediately understand my interpretation of the word down to a T. Other members have different ideas about jazz or . However, this isn't really surprising - there's a huge variety of jazz.

zhengyi has things in his brain that just kind of fall out like loose pebbles.
Some concept art

Other things that we tried:

Making a ranked word association list. The idea is, as a group, create a list of words related to your game and rank them based on how important they are. This helped us inform each other what we were all thinking of and discuss which direction our game should head in. However, it still wasn't concrete enough to build things from.

Some other things I could have tried:

Instead of having one song or one picture to act as inspiration for the game vision, create a gigantic folder of stuff that give the atmosphere or feel of the game. Therefore, you only need a glance to get a comprehensive feel of the game. Include things like pictures, colors, and music. Of course, a danger with this approach at this point is that it might be too "blue-sky" and pull progress back again.

word hart
Word association graph

So what do we do?

Another possibility is that getting stuck all the time is part of the process. After all, we ARE asking a lot from our art: it has to be recognizable and stylish and unique that can be easily produced. Also, it can't be too similar to Portal, Scale, Antichamber, and Unfinished Swan. (In my opinion, Portal really nailed it in terms of design, theme, and narrative. Unfinished Swan was smart in picking a )

Maybe the key is to just try something - and not be afraid to fail and redo it until it feels right. Narbacular Drop took 1 year to produce and Portal required an additional 2 years and 8 months.The Unfinished Swan took about 4 years to make from prototype to full game...and let's not even talk about Fez.

I guess...we'll see what happens.


  1. I'm not a ETC student and don't have much experience on game development. By this article I can tell that creativity deadlock is indeed some kind of unsolvable problem. Actually I remember I kind of met similar problem during an iOS app development.
    I think there's no universal way to deal with such creativity deadlock, rather, different solutions are probably always related to different projects - based on the specific features and expectations of each project. If, say, the narrative is the most important part, then maybe it's not a bad idea to come up with an initial story skeleton with the correct core value, then try to design some initial puzzles and artworks surrounding that narrative, next go back to polish the story itself based on the implications and effects of those auxiliary elements, etc. It's kind of like agile software development, which I think works for this scenario.
    But for a project in which every single aspect is equally important - which means it's gonna be a "perfect" project, I don' really know where a solution exists or this kind of project can always reach the initial expectation or not. It's a question for genius.

  2. Game development is a long process. "Failing early" is always easy to talk about but difficult to do. Because failures always come with frustration. As human beings we are always afraid of failures and trying to find a method to avoid failures. What we can do is keep trying and polishing the game.

    Edison's greatest strength was that he was not afraid of to be wrong. He tried 1000 materials for the invention of bulbs. We have to admit we are not that great, but what if we iterate 1000 times for the game?

  3. I completely understand where you are coming from Albert. Although the deadlock in my project is definitely different from yours, we have been experiencing very similar problems with not being able to move forward and being stuck in the like "pre-production brainstorm" phase. We are only this week finally making some forward progress.

    Without going into too many details here, our client is looking for a product that in many ways contradicts itself. And on top of that, our client, our advisers, the faculty, and our own instincts are all telling us different ways to go about solving this core problem with our project. and similar to you guys, we have an abbreviated timeline, since it is supposed to be played at the Games for Change festival in April.

    Like Wei said, (and I am taking this to my project too) it is better to fail early and often. and that is frustrating. But keep at it. You guys will find the way soon enough. And it's gonna be awesome. just don't let yourselves get down from the frustration.

  4. One thing I learnt from BVW is that time is very easy to waste and sometimes there just isn't enough time to sit down and brainstorm all the way to a cohesive final idea as everyone would have different vision on the game and most of the time, a cohesive idea in our mind would eventually turn out to be not cohesive when we actually do it. Besides, generating from blank state, to my opinion, would be the worst way of branstorming, since that is not what our brain is designed for. We need inspirations and we need the random association to perform the sudden click of new ideas. What I thought very useful during our project this semester is to explain your vision to your artist and have your artist generate concept arts until you can tell that your vision in full expressed in the concept arts, and then talk through your teammates with the concept arts. To some degree, I think visual communication is way more easier and inspirational than using words. Good luck and hope you can get out of the deadlock very soon!

  5. A deadlock is a situation in which two computer programs sharing the same resource are effectively preventing each other from accessing the resource, resulting in both programs ceasing to function. The earliest computer operating systems ran only one program at a time.
    Go to the reference here.

  6. I just want to say that all the information you have given here is awesome...great and nice blog thanks sharing...Thank you very much for this one. And I hope this will be useful for many people.. And I am waiting for your next post keep on updating these kinds of knowledgeable things... Custom Essay Writing Service

  7. I wondered upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon. college essay writing tips

  8. These ways are very simple and very much useful, as a beginner level these helped me a lot thanks for sharing these kinds of useful and knowledgeable information. Academic Writing Style

  9. I read this article. I think You put a lot of effort to create this article. I appreciate your work.
    thesis Writing Service