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Productive Procrastination

Originally published March 8, 2014 - idle-chatter.com

I am two weeks away from showing off a game at a showcase in a house at the Game Developer’s Conference. The preview build will have seven areas. There will be over fifty descriptive and interactive lines of text, over two hundred lines of dialogue, five unique music tracks, and it will be playable on the Ouya.


Just as soon as I get around to it.

A strange thing happens when you put things off. You come up with a deadline and promise yourself to hit it. You may even put in a bit of earnest effort towards your goal, and feel accomplished for a day or two. Then you slip a bit, and suddenly the thing that was already ambitious becomes terrifying. To face it would be to come to terms with the size of it, and so you instinctively avoid it. Eventually it grows massive and looms over every moment of your day. The stress is unbearable, so unbearable that you surely can’t work on it.

I stare at the Unity editor, blankly. I hit play, for the third or fourth time in a row. It would be nice if a certain menu was dynamic. I spend a half hour busily coding so that the text and size of the menu reflect the state of your save games. It would be great if we supported smooth object fading via scripting, if our music could crossfade when we enter a new area, and if we could run setup operations through our scripting system. When I next look up it has been dark for a long time. My team has gone to sleep, as has my house, and my only company is my cat. I smile to myself. Add the files, commit them with the message Awesome Stuff, push them to the server. I reward myself with another cigarette, maybe a cider. I tell twitter about this stuff.

My dreams are strange. I play a scenario about reconstituting people into organic machinery. Reformatting the brain. The first time it doesn’t go well. The lead character willingly forgets their whole life in order to relive their first experiences. I play it again. By the third time it’s fallen to cliches; the constructs are super heroes. They are exploited. My brain is cribbing ideas from Ultimate Avengers.

The next morning the game still doesn’t run on Ouya. I should get around to that. It seems pretty important to have our Ouya release game running on the Ouya, but I spend a few hours building an audio system instead. Everything in the game can now beep or clang, and sounds can be set to randomly rattle in the background. I play around with it for a while, making impromptu crowd rabble noises in an apartment scene. I save it, play it, tweak it some more. Again the hours pass me by. Add. Commit. Push. I sleep til noon. We have a meeting in five hours, to talk about story. I forget to fire up Unity, vacuum the house a bit, and stream a PC game to 12 people, who all think my commentary is pretty great. I feel slow, and I feel the workload looming. The meeting goes well, we laugh and talk about non-work things most of the time.

I dream about a world where people at some sort of space port know who’s going to die that day at work. It’s very deterministic. Everyone has to stay and work and do their duty, and people die like flies. The first loop goes nowhere. The second time, probability reasserts itself. The gate manager relents and avoids her own death. The system collapses.

New scripting variables. New animation updates. New movement system. Bells. Whistles. Chrome and silver and gold plating. Add. Commit. Push. Sleep.

This pattern is familiar. Dozens of projects have fallen to the wayside because I put them off, wasted time working on nonessential pieces, and slowly lost interest. I’m working on a game about physics. I’m working on a simple system to make weekly games like diary entries. I’m working on a game about triangles. I’m working on a game about words. Sometimes I’m working on a game about bomb defusal, and a six-month project turns into a year long shouting match with a producer who’s being chased by a client. Other people make the pattern more destructive. I’ve learned to try and finish things before I sabotage myself.

I’ll wake up tomorrow morning and launch Unity. I’ll open a few browser tabs: Unity for Ouya, Android SDK, a file server. I’ll hook the microsystem up to a monitor on the dining room table I use as a desk. The code will fight with me. Things won’t work, things won’t compile, things won’t deploy properly. I’ll read more articles. It will work, even if it takes me the better part of the day. Later I’ll tinker with the controller settings, whittle down the dead zone, make sure the audio is playing properly. We’ll have our team meeting, which will be brisk and concerned with the remaining three areas, three music tracks, hundred lines of dialogue, the state of my beard, and who wants to write what. I’ll flatten out the remaining bugs, breathe deeply, and smile to myself. Add. Commit. Push. I’ll tell the team to install it when they wake up. Another cigarette, another cider. I’ll sleep soundly for a night.

I need to get back to work. I’ll get back to work.


Editor's Note: This piece was published while I was midway through the development of Read Only Memories. In 2019, I was diagnosed with ADHD. As I read through it again all these years later, I can't help but see it through a new lens. I can't help but want to go back in time and give myself a pat on the back, tell him how well he was doing, tell him his brain just works a little bit different than other people's. 2064: Read Only Memories launched successfully on PC and Ouya in late 2015, and went on to every other major traditional platform. - Ted, Oct 11, 2022