Midlife Crisis or Cunning Plan?

We all end up as worm food eventually. That’s unavoidable.

I was looking through some of my old notes when I started thinking about this truism, partly (you will not be surprised to hear) as the driver behind a game idea, but partly not. You see, I have a very large stack of unpublished games and stories in my notebooks. Every day I add to the pile, sometimes just a little tweak to an existing notion, other times several whole games. It varies.

What doesn’t vary is the fact that it’s way easier to add to this pile than it is to get a project all the way through development and into print. Anything finished has taken a great deal of effort to get there. Way more than getting the core ideas down in the first place.

Ziggurat of notebooks.JPG

Some of my old notebooks. I generally work digitally these days.

What I was thinking about was simple: the list gets bigger as my ability to get it done shrinks. It’s hard to put exact numbers on this, but a very quick headcount looks like single figures % complete is to be expected. Half a dozen finished out of every hundred. Something like that. A sobering thought. YMMV, of course, and exact numbers aside I know that the majority of these notes will end up in the Soylent Green along with me, simply because of time constraints. What to do?

My answer was to plan better and be more focussed about what I spent my time on. This is partly why I’m back on Quirkworthy talking about Gesamtkunstwerk and the like. Fancy German words are not enough though. I need to fine down this enormous list of options into something more workable.

I’ve applied two main approaches to picking my projects for Quirkworthy.


Quality & Enthusiasm

My first thinning tactic started with quality. I thought, “not all ideas are equal – just do the best ones”. Now I’ve been doing this a long time, so my internal spam filters aren’t bad, and the dumbest ideas I come up with never even make it to the notes stage. Regardless of that, there is still a spectrum of quality in what’s been written down. All I needed to do was order them from worst to best and start at the top. Right? Not so fast.

What is best? And yes, I know: “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.” Obviously. But apart from that. How do I know that this project is better than that one? Sure, I can make some broad assumptions, and that’s a start, but really? Best? Definitively? I wasn’t sure. I kept changing my mind. Turns out that “Best” was not the droid I was looking for.

After a few false starts I ended up applying a much more important criterion as my first step: enthusiasm. Which ones enthused me most?

In the end, it’s me that’s doing the work, and I’m a firm believer that enjoying what you’re doing comes through in the end result. That, in itself, should move me in the vague direction of “best”, if that still matters. Plus, if I only get to make, say, 30 things from my list of several hundred, they really ought to be ones I enjoyed most. This is still a bit of a slippery concept, but it felt easier to apply than best, so I went with it.


Killer Combo FTW

With the idea of enthusiasm in mind, I started going through my notes and applying a second notion: combining things. I’ve come up with a lot of different fictional worlds over the years. Many have been developed over a long time, and have evolved and sprawled as they did so. Far too many to do them all justice. So, I challenged myself to see how few I could boil it down to. If things were similar, could they be combined rather than thrown out? What’s unique and interesting about this idea? Can that squeeze in somewhere else or does it need to stand alone? Could these stories fit in that world? How about that character? Item? Dialogue? Magic system? Hairstyle? It’s an interesting exercise, and I think it has made the survivors of this cull more interesting places, with the combinations adding depth. The real world is, after all, a complicated place.

In the end I reduced this list of fictional worlds to a single digit total, which was a big drop from the original number. Not counting one-offs, obviously. They get a pass as they are so much less work.

I’ve also started enforcing the principle that all my new ideas have to fit into one of the shortlisted worlds. This helps avoid the whole thing sprawling out of control again, and so far it’s been working. Admittedly, there are corners of my notes that I haven’t yet corralled, so it’s ongoing, and I’m sure that I’ll come up with the odd one-off idea which simply won’t fit. However, the main boundaries are set now. Just got to make it happen.

This is where Quirkworthy comes in, and this shortlist is the constellation of worlds that I will be exploring here.


So where am I? My last post was about Gesamtkunstwerk and the idea of pulling together different creative strands to focus on a unified vision as a way to get the highest quality work. This post has described how I got to my shortlist of what to focus on. Next time, I’ll look at the thread that runs through all of these projects, and the one that has really been my focus all along.

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6 Responses to Midlife Crisis or Cunning Plan?

  1. D'Ingineer says:

    When I saw YMMV I thought your were using code for one of the names of the almighty. 🙂 collect the runes to invoke a god anyone?

  2. Sam Dale says:

    “the dumbest ideas I come up with never even make it to the notes stage.”


    You need a book specifically labelled ‘Dumb Ideas That Should Never See The Light Of Day’.

    Do it do it do it.

  3. Pingback: A Beginning, a Middle, and an End |

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