Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Doing your best

I hate the x-factor and american idol and similar programs for many, many reasons. One of them, is that you constantly hear people who are awful at singing or dancing saying they have ‘done their best’. This is clearly bullshit 99% of the time.

We seem to have developed an entire culture based around low expectations and under-achievement. Mediocrity is the new celebrity. Putting effort in is so last year. The reason we all love ‘reality tv stars’ is that they perpetuate this bullshit that you can have the trappings of success and fame without doing any work. No need to do your best any more…

There is a great scene in an episode of Star Trek: DS9, where worf fails to help his brother die in a ritualistic suicide because they are interrupted by some humans. Worfs brother confronts him over his failure to help him, and worf protests that they were interrupted by two (weaker) humans. His brothers response:

“Did you fight them? Did you threaten to kill them both if they interfered? And are you here now with a mevak dagger to slit my throat and bring me the death I deserve?”

In other words, this is the klingon way of saying “So? is that the best you could have done?”
I like that. I see it so often, in others, and also in myself. I don’t think I’ve “given it 100%” or “done my very best” very often in my life. I rowed like a maniac once in a thames river race, but despite being knackered at the race end, I didn’t actually collapse and need to be taken to hospital. I didn’t burst a blood vessel with effort. If the life of myself and the people closest to me had been at stake, I could have rowed much much harder.
Gratuitous Space Battles is a game I worked very very hard on, But I didn’t work 100 hours a week on it. I didn’t skip TV entirely for a year to do it, or sell everything I owned to invest it in the artwork. I didn’t scrap the entire game and re-do it and the slightest hint of dissastisfaction. I didn’t do my best.

One of the best things about knowing, accepting and really understanding what it means to do your best, and to know you have not done so, is it means you can definitely, 100% no doubt about it, do better next time. People who go through life saying “I gave it my best shot” are just scared of admitting that in all likelihood, they didn’t, and have themselves to blame.
Of course, it might not be worth it to you to go to the extreme, insane lengths of actually doing your very best in everything you do, but I think its a good policy to know the tradeofs you make, as you make them.

Yup, I’m in motivational speaking mood :D

11 thoughts on Doing your best

  1. “Doing his best” is hard. It’s not something you do every day. You’ve got to admit it: Whenever you’re doing a job, it’s 90% of “already done that”. It’s nothing you love doing, it’s nothing you like doing, but it has to be done. So, since you already know how to achieve that part of your work, you don’t feel that you have to give your best.

    On the other side, sometimes, not very often, you encounter a situation which is unknown to you, but which you have to surpass to complete a task or do the work that has to be done. For some it’s learning some new math, for others it might be learning how to create half decent art.

    I think, for people who have been working for more than a decade in creating computer games, doing your best isn’t about creating someone others game. Doing your best is about realizing what you have dreamed of. Doing your best becomes more “realizing yourself”, achieving your own goals, hitting your targets.

    For me, for a long period this consisted of creating games for others, digging into problems, creating my own technology, and finally understand what’s behind all those problems I encounter in my day to day work. I realized that I have reached a new level when I was able to switch from one task to another within game development without encountering too much problems. Companies used me to fight their fire, to solve the underlying problems, and finally to switch to the higher task of planning what others have to create…

    At this point, programming doesn’t mean hard work, but understanding the philosophy behind problems, seeing “the big picture” and succumb to a certain “enlightenment”. You “feel” the right solution to a problem, you don’t have to think very long to “see” the right direction, you come up with new ideas during discussions with others which solve problems which would have taken much longer to solve without all the experience you have gained, without the “realization” you have done on and with yourself.

    And at this point you start to see which games or projects will bring you further on your path. You start to select those which are interesting for you, and drop or decline those which would be a step backwards. And this leads you to your statement, Cliff, that with every project you handle, you actually do it better than the previous one…

  2. Well, for sure GSB could be better. As I wrote many times already there is a great potential, but I am not sure that it has been reached yet.

    However, on the not doing 100%… Is working to exhaustion really so most efficient ? I really don’t think so. I remember when I was still studying, we had some very stressful years. With a group of friends, we all were working a lot. Then we split in two different ways of working: those wo worked all the time. And those who worked a lot but decided that when it was to much, well, it was time to stop whatever disastrous grade would follow. I was in that second group.

    What happened, is that those who decided to stop working at times made much quicker and better progress than the others.

    In work as in sport, it is really possible to break when giving inconsiderate efforts.

    So with the problem of poor standart that you raise, the question is not whether people spent their life working or not. It is whether they are satisfied with the result and deciding to keep improvong or not.

  3. It’s not about doing your best, It’s rather about doing the best you can.
    Would you be even able to put this game up without rest?
    Would it be better really, or maybe more polished and less playable?
    We can go to our limits, but that means to sacrifice more than just freedom. It also means losing touch to ourselves and certain surroundings, setting and losing priority’s (as people do in extreme situations like War in worst case.)
    And that may mean giving all for nothing.
    Giving a bit for a bit is certainly the better option there.

  4. I find it interesting how often we conflate “doing your best” with “extreme effort”. Two men are given $500 to move a truckload of dirt. One grabs a wheelbarrow, and gets to work. The other gets three wheelbarrows and hires two people to help him. At the end of the day the first is exhausted, the second is not. Who did their best?

    Hard work is of little merit when it was needlessly done. It is far too easy (and too common) to run flat out on *a* solution rather than step back to think about the best course of action.

    I think your examples are, in many ways, red herrings. Some of the atrocious acts on reality tv *have* done their best, and made a splendid achievement of their goal. The difference is that their goal was “to be on tv”, not necessarily to *win* the contest they entered.

    Would GSB have been a better game if you had cloistered yourself to work on it until finished? Disconnected from the outside world, from friends and colleagues, *could* you have even finished it? What inspirations from your personal life and other games might you have missed out on?

    I tend to, tortured analogy or no, compare effort vs. creativity to micro-optimizations vs. algorithm changes. In either case the former is an absolute requirement for anything of note, but without the latter all the effort/optimization in the world will not lead you to success.

    Don’t allow our romanticization of hard work and sacrifice to starve your creativity. It is easy to do so, and produces such catastrophic results that I’m sure little thought yields no end of examples.

  5. Wow.
    I found me agreeing with everybody here.

    I see two problems when attempting to make absolute statements in these fields:
    1. How does one measure “what inspirations from your personal life and other games might you have missed out” – thats a VERY big problem today. Compare technology-driven nations and the “process” of selling those tech to China, then China will just copy and make it cheaper.
    I worked in a factory, one day some guys came – they should learn how to do the work cause another factory should go online in some months overseas. Two american, one Chinese worker. The Americans used the nights to go out and enjoy the nice (culture-rich) places around the factory – the Chinese was studying everything again which he busily wrote down through the day.
    To be honest: If I would be the boss I would make him the new foreman in my new factory. I know he would get the job done. On the other hand I would have a non-teamplayer, non-people-person, less-creative guy as management. That would suck when an emergency would occur. But I guess the most time he would be the choice for more efficiency.

    2. Hugely, vast and big amount of parameters which help ‘being creative’.
    How is anybody supposed to work that out?
    I mean: ‘So you saw all episodes of Star Trek? This gives you +20 in creativity.’ Every person is different, Star Trek (or any seminar or test) cannot guarantee the same ‘upgrade’ in creativity.
    So the only thing which helps is: being open, a people-person, connected to many inputs, as different as possible. Having totally crazy friends, but also some totally boring ones. Reading blogs. Watching Fantasy/Sci-Fi. Hearing different music…
    Also forming a team and communicate more within will help.

    But all of this stuff is doomed when it comes to just push the buttons.
    Then you are likely to be replaced with some cheap oversea labor or robot soon.

    I find it slightly frightening that I will need to stay top creative to keep being a ‘valuable resource’. But that just hinders me a little I have to admint.
    Does anybody knows a way to get out of there?

  6. As I’ve heard consistently during my childhood, and even now when I have to speak to my parents and they get preachy: Its ok to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them and don’t make them again.

    Kind of like the “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” quote.

  7. Just as security is the selection of an acceptable level of risk, “doing your best” frequently means selecting an appropriate effort to achievement ratio and sticking to that selection.

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