34: Blocked

34: Blocked

What do you do when you hit a problem with a design, and don’t know how to move forward? Do you have a regular fix that you try, or a strategy to find a solution?

 

 

The fact is, if you’re stuck on something specific, rather than just a generic creative block, it’s very hard to force an answer. Reading around the idea helps, trying to find a different perspective of approach. Or I remove components, try and add constraints. Or I force myself to change a specific aspect: how would I make this work with 100 players? But my favourite technique is simply to think upon the game idea as I fall asleep. It’s a bit humiliating but it turns out that my unconscious self is much better at problem solving than my waking self.

Andrew Sheerin

When I find myself spinning my wheels on one project, I shift my focus to another one. I often find a solution for Game A while working on Game B. I will also take a shower to help move clear my mind. There’s just something about running water that allows me to wash away all of the noise and confusion. Also, my family can’t bug me in there. If all else fails, Jesse Schall’s “The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses” contains some great oblique thinking strategies that can provide clarity where there was once only fog. #TheresAnAppForThat

Sen-Foong Lim

Put it down, shove it in a box, hide it in the back of a cupboard. By working on something else, even something not game related, my brain will still devote some processing power to whatever problem I’m trying to solve. Normally the breakthrough will come several days or weeks later, usually in the shower or while making dinner. Never underestimate the power of your subconscious ability to solve problems, especially when doing something utterly unrelated!

Michael Fox

I browse my list of possible co-designers to find one who might be interested in working with me on this design. Having a fresh view at something is often the best way to get past blockades. That’s how half of my co-designs have started – for the other half, I’ve been contacted, but I bet often for the same reason.

Bruno Faidutti

My favourite technique is simply to think upon the game idea as I fall asleep. It’s a bit humiliating but it turns out that my unconscious self is much better at problem solving than my waking self. — Andrew Sheerin

At the highest level there are 2 ways through. You can either brute force it by just playtesting until the way forward becomes clear, but sometimes that seems like you’re just torturing your playtesters with a clearly broken game. The other option is to set the design aside and do other things. Brains have a funny way of continuing to work on something in the background and then presenting answers later, unexpected. The trope of coming up with things in the shower has some truth to it, because your mind is at rest and free to wander. Sometimes you need more downtime, not more work.

Elizabeth Hargrave

When I am stuck on a problem I try to actively target the incubation period by writing a poem about it! This helps me to look at the problem from a new angle and recent research has shown that this is an effective way of helping to make breakthroughs in creativity, so I recommend giving it a go.

Sam Illingworth

While it’s not the best solution, often times I set the design aside and work on something else. Coming back to a design with fresh can often get you past a roadblock that had held you up before. My other go-to move is to talk the problem out with other designers, if you can find any that are interested in your design problem. I generally do this online, and TBH, even if nobody responds, sometimes just articulating the problem helps me get past it.

Seth Jaffee

The trope of coming up with things in the shower has some truth to it, because your mind is at rest and free to wander. Sometimes you need more downtime, not more work. — Elizabeth Hargrave

I always try to name the problem, to get it down to a sentence. Usually, that leads me to clarifying what’s really stuck about the design, and often suggests some things to try.

Isaac Shalev

I usually playtest until I’ve gone about 5 playtests without seeing a way to fix the issue. Then, I play other games, prototypes and published, until I either figure out the solution to the problem or get inspired to work on another design. Just taking time off from playtesting a particular design can help give insight into it and what needs to be fixed or tweaked. If I want to fix the issue now, I go for a walk and let my brain work, as giving time to think can help out a lot.

Carla Kopp

I put it on the shelf and let it stew in the back of my mind. While it’s stewing, I try to play similar games to see how they dealt with the same issue.

Peter C. Hayward

If I hit a problem then I put the design away for a while and go on to something else; I’m in no particular hurry and there’s plenty of non-game jobs that need to be done so I just let it meander along. The contrast is when a design is coming along really well and everything just pours out without any effort; it’s remembering the fecund times that helps navigate the barren times.

Tony Boydell

I always try to name the problem, to get it down to a sentence. Usually, that leads me to clarifying what’s really stuck about the design, and often suggests some things to try. — Isaac Shalev

I either seek a collaborator to help me over the hurdles, or shelve the design. I have a cupboard full of half-developed prototypes which I occasionally revisit, but I have rarely managed to fix a game once I hit a significant problem. When I am stuck, I generally try to figure out what the key hook of the game is – and re-focus on that core facet of the game. If I can’t identify that hook, then the game is probably a non-starter.

Adam Porter

When I truly hit a wall on a design I force myself to step away for a week or two. I’ll work on other projects or play a bunch of other people’s games. More often than not the act of getting distance from the problem will eventually allow a solution to find me in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to find it on my own.

Alex Cutler

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