Breaking The Wheel

Tips for Indies

A picture of interconnected gears because critical mechanics are interrelated and stuff.

What Makes This Game Tick?: Prioritizing Development Using Critical Mechanics

One of the hardest aspects of managing game development is prioritization. And nowhere is prioritization more difficult than in the earliest days of a project. If you don’t know what your game is, how the hell are you supposed to prioritize the work? I’ve struggled with this problem in the past and eventually ended up stealing a solution from the start-up world in the form of something I like to call “critical mechanics.”

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A photo of John Boyd, author of Destruction and Creation

Destruction and Creation: John Boyd’s Analysis and Synthesis Loop

Here’s a question for you: is dog-fighting (the airplane variety, not the literal kind) an art or a science? It’s obviously an art, right? Two pilots, and a wide-open sky – the possibilities for maneuvers and counters are positively endless. Endless, that is, except for this funny thing called “physics”. Far from being limitless, a pilot’s options are severely restricted by his altitude, speed, weapon load, and aerodynamic characteristics. The man the world has to thank for codifying this realization is one of history’s great iconoclasts: United States Air Force pilot John Boyd. But Boyd’s gifts to the universe were not limited to the military, and one of his last major labors before he died was a paper and presentation he called “Analysis and Synthesis” or, alternatively, “Destruction and Creation.”

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A picture of a yin-yang, the embodiment of trade-offs

Guest Post: On The Subject of Trade-Offs

My friends at Black Shell Media were kinda enough to host another of my scribblings, this time on the ever-present and ever-important notion of trade-offs: how to think about them, traps to avoid when dealing with them, and why it’s so important to know yourself when faced with them. Click here to read on: On The Subject of Trade-Offs

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A picture of a factory, which are parts of institutions, which sometimes create conflict of interest. Also, scrum.

Conflict of Interest: The Fancy Mess of Scrum, Part 3

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I talked about the functional issues of scrum. In this post, I want to talk about the larger, economic problem with scrum. Namely, what was once an idea designed to support other industries has become an industry unto itself. And with that comes what economists would call a “conflict of interest.”

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A rocket ship lifting off

A Comprehensive Guide to Indie Game Pre-Launch Campaigns

In a day and age where new titles hit the market on a daily basis, being able to stand out from the crowd is super important. In 2016, 4,207 games launched on Steam. Steam doesn’t let you launch games on weekends, so that’s approximately 16 games per day. How do you differentiate yourself from the 15 other games launching at the same time as yours?

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A picture of a bottleneck, because auteurs bottleneck stuff

Bottlenecks and Hindsight: Why Auteurs Make Horrible Economists

This post is about an empirical issue: the economic cost of being an auteur. When I originally posted this entry on Gamasutra back in 2014 it was not without its detractors. David Jaffe even dropped a line on it, saying he thought it was neat, while simultaneously implying that I was full of shit. Nonetheless, in retrospect, I still feel this idea is worth considering in an industry like ours, one that consists of both public personas and massive-team-based endeavors.

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Informal Power featured image of a rusty gate

Informal Power, Or: Why It Always Pays To Be Polite

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines power as (among other definitions) “possession of control, authority, or influence over others”. Nothing terribly shocking there. But it’s worth digging into how power induces that influence. There’s the obvious, overt “Do this thing because I said to do the thing.” We’re all familiar with that one. But there’s also a different form of influence that comes not from influencing people, but circumstance. And on any given day, this informal power is far more likely to cause you grief.

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Game Planning With Science Preface Featured Image

Discovery Versus Process – A Preface to Game Planning With Science!

How can we wrap our heads around the chaos of game development? By understanding that the famous phrase “find the fun” implies something important: discovery. How do you manage the creative process? By acknowledging the latter word of the phrase: process. If you can understand how those terms related – and where they differ – you can appreciate something vital to effective production. That nothing we do in game development is completely devoid of process. And, if you can learn to separate the process from the discovery, then science becomes a weapon against the dark forces of development hell.

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