Friday, July 27, 2012

Linearly Explaining a Non-Linear Creative Process

I've been thinking for a while that I should document my work at Pieces Interactive with the Magicka game and put it together to nice and tidy blogposts giving the reader a good view into the thoughts behind what I do. The challenge maps, the items, the campaign maps, and so on.

So, I started documenting some of the process by writing in various documents - one for each map, for example, and it went fairly well... in the beginning. I've realized that what I do when my brain goes into creative mode is that it works in a very non-linear fashion. It's like, in the beginning, it's straight forward and tries to get a grasp of the entire picture. To do that, it's usually about going from point A to point B, a start and an end. At some point I see the whole picture. I must do this - I can't form a solution to a problem to which I don't know all the facts.

At this point, I usually get to some sort of slow-down. Well, it might feel like it anyway for the linear part that had just made sure to absorb all the facts.

However, behind the scenes, there's another part of me that starts working that's not really very linear. It starts by understanding the entire whole as an entire whole. It still needs help by my more logic side to turn and twist things. It does this by throwing vaguely formed questions about the whole in the form of feelings, and "I" respond by trying to see whether this fits as a concrete and corporeal part of the whole. In other words, I get vaguely shaped pieces of a puzzle thrown at me. They mostly have a color or pattern, representing a feeling, but their shape isn't very well defined. It's up for the logic me to make sure these parts get a suitable shape so that they fit in the whole, or send it back and ask for a different hue or color altogether. Sometimes I send back a question myself. And, while doing that, more facts are formed and fed to the non-linear part of me and the whole keeps growing, changing, shifting, moving.

It sometimes feels like we're two very different beings, working diligently on one complex task together. I can't use my logic side to hurry up and work on a problem that I know my... emotional or creative part does best. But I seldom need to. I can, however, work on other things while that other part takes it time. I know the pieces will fall into place given enough time and solving other problems and not forcing things is usually the way to go.

At my current job I feel that both parts of me work beautifully. I design the feel of all the challenges, items and versus maps and I implement them as precise as I can by scripting them. Even the scripting takes a bit of creativity as many of the "new" features used in some of the challenges are simply cleverly braided together using functionality that was already present.

I digress. I think...

What I was supposed to say is that once I reach a certain point in the process of a map or similar, my brain starts working non-linearly. Instead of one "thread" of thought I get some sort of... tangle of thoughts, all intertwining. One thread keeps the feeling of the whole in mind, while another tries to braid together with it to form details in the feeling, while another logic thread tries to braid itself with the technical and artistic limitations and possibilities of the game and our team, while another lasso thread keeps everything new in spirit and balance with the rest of the game, while another thread jumps in from time to time to blow at and whisper seemingly random things at the threads and make them shift and flutter in the wind for a bit and easier find their grooves.

Sometimes threads snap off and they go to the bin in favour of other threads and ideas and feelings. Sometimes the major underlying threads change drastically, either by myself or by new facts or ideas from the team, and the other threads either adapt, change or get replaced completely.

I love it.

Upcoming map... part... tease.
What I love less is that I can't easily put it down in writing. The design, yes, but the road there, no. It foils my plans. I can mention some of the more simple choices I've made and write a while about those. Why did I put Trolls in this wave where there were once Beholders? I could probably explain that, more or less. Those are logical, linear decisions. I can even go into some depth of the feel I was aiming for here and there, but for the most part...

Well, to explain much of it I'd have to make some sort of hypertext document, where parts refer to other parts both before and after themselves in the same text. I realized as I was filling in the files for the various, and seemingly isolated, challenge and versus maps that I started referring to the other maps and other things. Some thought here depended on some thought there. Some addition or cut here depended on some addition or cut in a completely different place, map or item.

The blogpost would be linear - it has a beginning and an end - but its contents would refer to each other and seemingly loop. And they probably do sometimes. What started the loop that gave birth to some of the important conclusions? Well uh... the thing is, the creative and non-linear part of me can't really speak in linear terms. Duh. I'd have to put a lot of effort in trying to bring that process into an explainable and measurable form.

I'd confuse the fudge out of both the reader and myself, because... I would ironically be trying to solve a problem to which I don't know all the parts.

This blogpost is probably the best I can do in that regard. I'll do my best, though, because it's fun to give the players an insight into the thought-processes that are behind the Magicka DLCs coming from us at Pieces Interactive.

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