embrace silly

Making a game in 1 week can be a lot of fun. In fact, I’d recommend all game developers try it out at least once. Constraints have a way of streamlining the development process and eliminating unnecessary distractions. A time limit of only 7 days is especially demanding – so much so that whatever you end up with will almost certainly be horribly compromised in some way.

But that’s okay!

The endless pursuit of perfection that infests so much of the indie development community can have a real, negative effect on the health of creators. Some call it burn-out. Some call it fatigue. I’ve seen way too many indie developers wear their chronic stress and unending lack of sleep as badges of honor, when in reality they’re significant health problems that cannot be allowed to exist in perpetuity and certainly shouldn’t be celebrated.

Not all of this is avoidable, and not all of it is a result of developers pushing themselves too hard, but there is an undeniable acceptance of ridiculous work conditions in the game development industry. When you’re working 9-5 in a cubicle for a multinational corporation, some of that makes sense. You don’t necessarily get to choose your work environment. But when you’re an indie embarking on your own development journey, where you make the rules and set the hours – what’s your excuse?

Personally, I’ve found I can mitigate a good deal of this self-imposed stress by embracing silly. It means utilizing the natural goof inside me to contextualize the jank and/or bugs that will inevitably show up in any indie project. People like silly things, and people like positivity, and the two of those combined will often make an imperfect game feel much better than the sum of its parts.

Katamari Damacy, the epitome of jank + silliness, is an enduring classic.

1-week games are a great way to get used to this mindset. They’re quick (obviously) and you should already know from the beginning that whatever you spit out after 7 days isn’t going to be the next indie darling mega-hit.  It isn’t meant to be. Make something fun and silly and show it off, jank and all. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.

The first 1-week game I ever worked on was Filthy Bear.

Mr. Bear, lovable goof and perpetually filthy.

It’s a goofball iOS app developed by myself and my friends over at SLG about 2 years ago. We had a vision of cleaning off a bear to reveal silly undergarments, and that’s exactly what we made. It took a week of 3 of us working a few hours a day. And you better believe we embraced silly.

FILTHY BEAR is THE premiere bear-cleaning app! Use your finger to wipe away the mud from Mr. Bear’s body. Write messages, draw patterns, stamp shapes, or just bask in the satisfaction of repeatedly purging the filth from ‘ol Mr. Bear. Share your disgusting masterpieces with your friends and family for an even more unBEARlievably good time!

In the end, Filthy Bear netted us approximately zero exposure, zero fame, and zero dollars. What it did give us was an appreciation for our shared silliness, a published app with which to entertain our nieces and nephews, and a renewed confidence in the knowledge that game development is what we really want to be doing.

Be serious, make awesome games, and work hard. But if you ever feel like it’s getting to be too much, try making a 1-week game. And try embracing silly.

*I get it, stress isn’t always avoidable. It can actually be a very potent motivator. But don’t overdo it.

*If you’re convinced you have to work your eyeballs off on your indie game in order not to starve, you’re probably wrong. Get a part-time job flipping burgers and do what development you can in the time in-between. Your dream isn’t worth your health.

If you feel like cleaning some bears then get at it here.

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