At the GDC this year, I gave a talk at the Independent Games Summit about indie prototyping, and how it differs from mainstream-industry prototyping. One of my main points was about scheduling: you can’t schedule insight. It comes when it comes; so if you tie your prototyping process to a specific schedule (“X weeks of prototyping and then we start the real game”, for example), you will probably not give the proper insight the chance to blossom. Sometimes you need to sit on an idea for months, or years, before it is ready.
[One of the main differences between indie prototyping and the mainstream, is that mainstream prototyping is almost always scheduled, with no way around it. So they don't have the luxury of letting an idea sit.]
In a different session of that conference, I demoed a project that I had been working on during breaks from Braid. At that time I felt it was a very promising project, with a lot of great aspects to it; but it wasn’t quite a great game. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to improve it. If it had been my main project at the time, and I were pressed to release it, I would have been disappointed, feeling that I had missed the boat.
It doesn’t feel good to be excited about a project but also know that it sort of sucks. For a little bit I got the idea that dynamic music generation was the thing needed to make the gameplay compelling, but this was a misguided notion; after some experimentation I saw that, and just let the game sit.
Yesterday I picked it up again after not looking at it for at least a month; suddenly, I just knew what to do. I only spent about 2 hours working on it, but the ideas just all came through. So now I have a big roadmap of things to do that will improve the game greatly. I don’t know if that will become the final iteration of the game, but wherever it ends up, it’ll be much better than it was back when I was distressing about it.
The new ideas all seemed to burst forth suddenly, but I know they happened because my mind had been subconsciously working at the problem all this time. The ideas aren’t forced or contrived, because I didn’t force myself to sit down and “come up with good ideas”. The ideas are natural and they fit.
Your subconscious is powerful. Let it work for you!
[Let it be noted that this screenshot is still in the Icky Prototype Graphics Phase. It is not intended to look good.]