The Bane of All Artists - staying motivated
We've all been there. You've been working on a task, a game, a project, a level, whatever. You're working on something and finishing it is a long ways away. The end is nowhere in sight and you're just sick of it. You want it to be done, but you just don't want to work on it anymore.
Happens to everyone. Professionals, amateurs, hobbyists, everyone. And we all wish we didn't have to deal with it. It's akin to burnout, but burnout as a game developer is something completely different (trust me).
You remember when the project first started and you were excited about the possibilities. You started immediately on the fun stuff and made quick progress. You had a goal in sight, even if it was far off. Now you're deep into it, and the end is no closer.
So what do you do?
Losing motivation is something that happens on every project. It's happened to me on everything I've ever worked on. Once the initial stimulation dies down all that you're left with is the work, and what seemed fun even days ago is just a tremendous drag.
You're left with only a few options: Abandon it, or slog on. As a professional who is being payed for the work, abandoning it is not an option. As an an indie, amateur, or hobbyist, that is definitely an option, but if you do that, you'll never finish anything.
So all that's left is the slog. And it's rough. Fortunately there are some tools to help you get through it. And when you do, you'll be better for it:
This is an old one, and it still applies today. We all have stuff we don't want to do that needs to be done, and discipline is how you do it. You just have to force yourself to concentrate and pay attention to the task at hand instead of the cute shiny Facebook post that just popped up, or what's happening on Instagram. Make yourself shut that out. Turn off your internet access if you have to and buckle down to work!
Of course we're all human, and with the constant update of stimulating information on our social media, we're all starting to become a little ADHD. Discipline only goes so far before you say "you know what...fuck it!".
The antidote to that is to break your huge task up into smaller goals that are achievable sooner. When you've got a huge steak to eat, you're not going to just cram the whole thing in your mouth and hope for the best. No. You'll cut it up into smaller pieces. That's what smaller goals are. Tiny pieces of steak that you can eat a little at a time. (Sorry Vegans!)
As we love distraction, sometimes it helps to switch to a different task. This isn't always possible, but when it is, it's a godsend. You're sick of working on the level design? Maybe you can stop and do a little bit of design scripting. Maybe you can go back and work on another level for a time. Maybe start another level that has been assigned to you. Then, when the doldrums hit you on the next level, you have your original level to go back to.
Just make sure you finish them all!
Another thing that helps is mindless distraction. I don't mean like browsing Facebook or something like that. I mostly mean audio distractions. Something to listen to while you work to take your mind off the slogging you're trying to get through.
When I was a level designer I constantly had something playing in my ears. Sometimes it was music, but most often it was stories. During my time at New World Computing I got real into this NPR guy named Joe Frank who told really weird stories, and those were available online. Good ol' Joe got me through a lot of level design slog back then.
Do Something Every Day
This one is better suited to the indies and hobbyists rather than the professionals who have assigned tasks and an 8 hour job to do. This was some advice I picked up as a writer.
When you're struggling through a particularly difficult task and just don't want to devote a large chunk of your day to it, make sure you do a little bit every day. Without fail! If you keep that up, eventually you'll find that suddenly you're done! It will take a lot longer, but it's more manageable and can be better for your mental health.
Suck it up!
Whatever you do to get through it, do it. The doldrums don't last forever, and soon you'll find yourself motivated again. Sometimes I've found myself re-energized on a project after playing a particularly good game, or watching a good movie. You never know where inspiration will hit!
So keep at it!