Can you be creative without constraints?
Adriel Wallick, better known in the game jam community under the moniker MsMinotaur, has been making one game a week, every week, for the past 38 weeks. Her answer to the question above, following a period of pure creative freedom which resulted in a lot of time browsing Reddit forums and not much in the way of finished projects, is no.
Speaking at this year's GDC Europe in Cologne, Wallick described the issue of re-educating herself about the creative process as an independent developer.
The result is a four-part set of guidelines for conquering the fear, apathy and "empty Unity projects" that often result when a hopeful indie developer has nothing but ideas and free time.
While independent developers may feel they stand in the shadow of indie powerhouses like The Stanley Parable or Minecraft, Wallick says nobody ever simply sat down and made a successful game — a fact she eventually came to terms with after a period of few creative successes. Creativity grows out of the imposition of constraints, she says.
Wallick's eventual decision to create a game a week came following a suggesting from Rami Ismail, the game developer behind Ridiculous Fishing. Under this system, she says, Wallick's ideas were defined entirely by their constraints. "Whatever you have by Sunday is what you have," she says. "This meant rules, deadlines and constraints."
In other words, it was a way to fight what she refers to as "freedom paralysis."
Here are Wallick's guidelines for battling this common problem among creative individuals who are paralyzed with too many ideas, too much free time and too few constraints:
1. Weekly Deadline
Wallick calls this the core mechanic of Game A Week. According to the indie dev, this serves as a way to enforce a solid attainable goal, while getting rid of the eternal question: "At what point is a game finished?" Is it finished when it's finally sold? Is it finished when it's a success with the public? This weekly deadline puts a concrete date on when the game is done.
2. Remember The Public
Wallick emphasizes the importance of reminding yourself that you are creating something for an audience, describing this as an added sense of accountability. While it's easy to make excuses for why you might not be able to begin a project this very minute, thinking about the public puts the project through the lens of an "outside entity" and you see how unreasonable excuses are. "These people don't care if you'd rather eat a croissant than make a game," she says.
3. A New Idea Every Week
According to Wallick, forcing yourself to work with a new idea each week will stop you from becoming overly precious regarding creative concepts you may have been obsessing over. Based on her own experience, she says "The nice thing is I cleared all these ideas out and had new space in my head to be constantly inspired. I'll spend first few days thinking I've used up all the ideas in the world. It's hard to be able to have idea freedom when you're clouded by ideas you've been thinking about all the time."
4. Reflect On Work For The Week
After releasing the game, Wallick will reflect on what has been created by writing a postmortem where she will focus on where the idea came from. This includes what went right, what went wrong and as a result, she says, you will eventually end up seeing trends of problematic behaviour, particularly problematic time management behaviour.