Keywords: design, motivation
Though the thought disgusts my more proactive-minded old high school friend when I mention it to him, self-help gurus and psychologists alike suggest that tackling any massive endeavor is really a matter of breaking it down into smaller, achievable steps. It's such common advice, it's downright cliche:

This is not to say it's bad advice, however, and breaking down big things into smaller achievable steps isn't just about life change, it's also helpful in realizing an epic game design. To these ends, I approached my own net dream with a simple goal of building a basic framework somewhat like you would see in games like Star Control 2, Starflight, Master of Orion, or Space Empires V which is based highly on the common human understanding of the universe:
  • There's a universe with stars in it.
  • Stars are usually solar systems with planets orbiting them.
  • Planets have land (unless they are completely gaseous). All kinds of stuff can be on that land, ranging from rocks to space dragons.
Simply building an empty framework, knowing it leaves ample room to flesh out whatever I feel needs adding later, is both easy and liberating. Even building a framework creates a great feeling of flow.

However, there inevitably reaches an point where you run out of framework to build and have to make some decisions. How are you going to fill this space? What the hell is the player supposed to be doing here? This is where I've had the hardest time. Making a decision can be hard:

Examples of such decisions I'm encountering with my own design include:
  • The format of a solar system - how it's presented, how to travel from system to system, ect.
  • The format of a planet - how it's presented, how to get to and from a planet, ect.
  • Starship details - how it's presented, how starships are built, how players gain access to them, ect.
  • An economic model with multiplayer considerations - because, lets face it, one false step and you've got a broken persistent environment where the initiatives are all wrong.
  • Perhaps most importantly: the player's role/experience - Is the player a disembodied leader (Star Command) a captain of a ship (Star Control 2) or what? The choice will make a massive difference to the way the game is built, because this will govern what the player will be seeing and decisions they're allowed to make.
If there's anything in life that stumps me the most, it's a situation in which there is no best answer, no matter what method I use to try to break it down. Seriously, I could spend 5 minutes staring at the menu of a fast food restaurant weighing the pros and cons between a Angus Swiss and Mushroom versus a Chicken Club.

What's the best answer to something so meaningless as a fast food sandwich? Either way, you're fed and out money. What's the best answer to how to build a game? Either way, you'll have an ambiguous amount of fun. Maybe the difference is in the details, but it's ever a mortal limitation in that discerning the details may be an insurmountable trial in itself.

At the moment, to solve this stalemate, I think perhaps the best thing to do is to tell myself this: the decision doesn't matter because, whatever I pick, because it's me doing it, it will be awesome. Sort of arrogant, I know, maybe even blatantly incorrect, but this statement instills much needed impetus: it is better to move than to remain paralyzed. It's sort of the free write approach to overcoming a block.

While I can't advocate forging ahead blindly lest you paint yourself in the corner, one needs to recognize that when they've reached the end of what they can visualize, they are blocked, and it's time to employ a measure against it. Taking a leap of faith and being willing to face whatever horrible consequences await is certainly a quick solution. Anything's better than being stuck thinking about it forever, with nothing ever getting done, take it from me: that's what I've been doing for the past few months.