In Which I Become Overwhelmed

Edit: to make the role of working on low hanging fruit clearer. Also to mention the affect of isolation.

For tl;dr scroll down.

Over the past few weeks I’ve had a struggle with making any progress on ToD. This is about why and how that ended, in the hope of helping others avoid and/or get out of it when it happens to them.

To begin with I started losing momentum on progress – a couple of large issues came up that were hard to fix (including a bug that wouldn’t occur if the debugger was attached). It all slowed down. The lack of progress became disheartening, which in turn made everything seem that much harder. I knew I had to get these things fixed or there would be no game. Somehow, where I thought I was fairly close to having most of the main features of the game complete only a week or two before there were uncountable major issues that were going to take an incalculable amount of time to fix before I could even begin to make real progress rather than just make broken things work.

In the middle of this I was turned down for the EGX Leftfield collection which was disappointing – though being a bit down from the previous it was more of a knock than it should have been, especially when I was fully aware that competition for a place was fierce and ToD wasn’t even in alpha at that point, so it was hardly surprising.

Eventually I decided to temporarily ignore the big issues and move on to some of the ‘easy’ stuff so I could make progress – stuff that I would need to do further down the line but really wasn’t a priority. I spent a few days making some simple models, putting together the “picking things up” animation and the like – the low hanging fruit that’s easily dealt with. This allowed me to make obvious progress, which meant I felt like I was making progress, which improved my state of mind so I could think more clearly.

Two days later I came to realise that the ‘big’ problems of the past few weeks weren’t big, most of them were trivial and the largest was fairly simple – and I’d already mostly fixed it anyway.

I’m now back on track and progress is being made.

I hot desk in an office with a number of other developers – this allows me to get out of the house and see people a few days a week. It also lets me discuss ideas and get feedback. I can work on my own but after a lot of time in isolation it can become hard to keep going – socialising helps recharge me mentally and the moral support from others is invaluable. Part of the problem I had above was that I’d decided I was going to fix this major bug before I went back into the office. Obviously it took a long time and I deprived myself of my own support network at a time I needed it most, which made it even harder to get out of it.

In my head I’d felt that I couldn’t go in until I’d fixed it, I didn’t want to see the other developers in the office until I was making progress again. It was the same day I went into the office for the first time that I decided to do the easy work and started to actually make progress again.

Conclusion

If you start feeling overwhelmed by things, progress will slow and it’ll all seem worse which can spiral out of control. Backing off and chilling can help but won’t make you feel like you’re getting anywhere, the big problems will still be there when you come back – pick something easy to work on, make some quick wins and get back to a good place where everything seems that much more manageable.

I appreciate this won’t work for everyone and all circumstances, but thought it was worth putting it out there in case it helps anyone.

tl;dr

(really tl;dr below)

A large, particularly difficult problem arose that set me back and couldn’t be fixed by anything other than calculated guess work and a problem-solving equivalent of flailing around.

  • It got me into a place where somehow every single problem seemed like a major issue that I would be unable to fix.
  • This spiralled and became overwhelming, making everything seem even more intractable.
  • I was turned down for Leftfield, which was more than the disappointing it should have been.
  • Eventually I side-stepped it, moved onto easy stuff, made progress and within 2 days had a more positive view of everything, then managed to fix the largest remaining issue in an hour.

really tl;dr

A couple of hard problems blew up out of proportion, I became overwhelmed, I temporarily moved on to easy stuff to make progress and suddenly everything was back into proportion and progress was made. Yay.

Debugging woes!

A quick update, I’m working towards getting the last major bugs sorted and then I can get to the real work of level design.

I spent a few days last week tracking down a crash bug that wouldn’t occur if the debugger was attached. It’s painful but the only way to deal with those is work systematically through everything that could be wrong and fix it (there was no way to get output around the bug so even printing info to the screen didn’t help much). Bright side – I probably fixed a few things that would’ve blown up later anyway, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

The voice acting is mostly done now, I’ve been wanting to show that off in a short video clip but for some reason nothing seems to be able to record the audio on my machine – I’m guessing something’s got exclusive use of the output so nothing else can grab it, though it used to work, I don’t think I changed anything and I can’t get it to work after hours of trying. I’ll try again later.

lith