Author Topic: Module Design: Staying With It: 10 Tips to Finishing a Design (by Ben Sanderfer)  (Read 1818 times)

Offline ProphetSword

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STAYING WITH IT:  10 Rules to Finishing That Module Once You Start It
By Ben Sanderfer

(Reprinted From UANL #26)

We've all seen it happen. Someone in the community is working on the "epic-module-to-end-all-modules," and we're all buzzing about what a great boon it will be to the UA world. And then, it happens. The authors back out of the project and we watch our dreams turn into vapor.

One particularly promising module/worldhack, called Drow UA, was being worked on by a *large* group of individuals, and folded somewhere near completion. (As someone who was fortunate enough to see the project, I can honestly say it was quite a loss for the community). This proves that even large-scale efforts can fail. If that's true, what hope does a single designer have of finishing something wondrous to be enjoyed and shared by the followers of this antique engine?

And how many would-be designers have a ton of unfinished modules sitting on their hard drives...putting them easily within striking distance of a great release if they could only find the time to finish up their masterpieces?

It's truly sad. It's a condition brought on by the rigors of daily life, the horrifying aspects of employment, the diversions produced by other games, and the lack of enthusiasm one can develop for his/her own work. And it has to stop.

As someone who has stood on both sides, I can tell you that neither path is easy. While it wasn't easy designing an epic module like "AT1: Dark Alliances," it was also not an easy thing to shuffle off an unfinished demo of "Buck Rogers: Ghost in the Machine" simply because I had neither the time nor the willingness to finish it. It can be as frustrating to continue working as it can be to simply give up.

But, after a while and a few releases, it gets a little easier to see what steps you can take to ensure that you can get from the beginning to the end. And, while it's easy to start a module, it is quite a journey to finish one. But, believe it or not, there are certain rules you can follow that will help you reach your destination. And, aren't you glad that I'm going to share them with you?

RULE 1: DO IT FOR YOURSELF
 The first thing you must purge from your mind is that designing for UA is not a job. No one is putting a gun to your head. It isn't a life or death situation. Even if sixty people write you everyday and want to know when the module will be released, you don't owe anyone a thing. If you design something, do it for yourself...for your own enjoyment and entertainment.

RULE 2: IMPOSE NO DEADLINES
This is one of the biggest module killers in history. Whatever you do, never put a deadline on yourself. The module will be done when it is done. Telling people you will have it done in a week will only put a ton of pressure on you and make you feel guilty. Also, it makes it a "job," and once you classify it that way, your mind will naturally begin to resist it and find other entertaining ways to divert your attention. Never set a date...don't even set a year.

RULE 3: TAKE FREQUENT BREAKS
It's easy to get burned out. It's easy to get bored. And, when that happens, it's easy to find something else to do. This will happen to everyone at one point, but it isn't an excuse to stop working on your module altogether. Don't dump your work completely just because you get tired of it. Many epic modules would never have been completed if the authors had done this (witness the recent release by Darius Whiteheart called "Curse of the Fire Dragon," which took an astounding *seven* years to finish)! If you feel burned out, take a break. Promise yourself you won't look at the module for a month. Most of the time, the desire will return on it's own and you will resume working on it after a period of time.

RULE 4: DON'T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHER DESIGNERS
Big mistake. We are all different. Our styles are varied. Some people will be better writers...some will be better artists...some will write modules that will knock your socks off. Just because you don't feel like you can compete is no reason to give up. You truly have no idea what you can accomplish until you've actually done it. You will never be the best. None of us ever will be. It may seem like someone is the "best" at something...but even they will admit someone is better than they are.

RULE 5: BEWARE OF SIDE-QUESTS
In the scheme of things, both side-quests and sub-plots are wonderful devices. They open a game up and allow a player to discover more about the surroundings and the characters that make up the storyline. But, it's easy to get caught up in them and end up with nothing to show. Finish your main plotline first...and then go back and add them later. It will save you a lot of headaches.

RULE 6: FIND THE TIME
The excuse that "real life" has interfered with the production of your module has been so overused that it has pretty much lost its sting. We've come to the point where we shrug our shoulders and move on. But, designing for UA is just like anything else in life...if you really want to do it, you will find the time to do it. End of story. If you cannot find the time, you must not really want it as bad as you think. Even if you can only devote ten minutes a night...it's better than nothing...

RULE 7: DON'T GIVE AWAY YOUR STORY
This is a rule given out in writing seminars, and it's an important rule. When we feel the desire to write something, it's because we have a story to tell. We are motivated to tell it. We want to share it. But, I've seen far too many "previews" that spoil the story. Once the story is out, our motivation slows down and we no longer have the desire to share it. If you want to share a story in a UA design, don't blab about it, lest you risk burning off your steam. Tell your story in the design, not in a UANL blurb or message to the mailing list. Your motivation will be greater if that "twist" at the end is a real secret.

RULE 8: DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT
Another way to stay motivated is to do something that no one else has done. While the old saying that there's nothing new under the sun usually holds true, there must certainly be times when you must reinvent the wheel. It'll still be a wheel, but it'll be one with your own touch. Try to think of something new and original.

RULE 9: ASK FOR HELP
There's no shame in asking for help. If you don't feel you can finish your module because of time restraints, bad acne, or whatever, ask someone you trust to help you.

RULE 10: RESIST THE TEMPTATION AND PERSIST WITH ELATION
Finally, if you want to see a module finished, resist all temptations. Resist the thought of starting a new module. Resist the idea that you should restart the one you're working on. Resist the notion that you should rewrite six of the dungeons. Rather, you should persist with the thought that you are on your way to completing a massive piece of work that has sapped much of your time and energy, but will turn out to be something enjoyable for both yourself and a group of other people.
    

It's not easy. Many fail. But, with this list close by your side, perhaps someday you'll finally finish that unfinished module that's been collecting dust in the recesses of your hard drive.
« Last Edit: February 13, 2009, 02:19:35 PM by ProphetSword »
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Offline Dinonykos

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Re: Staying With It: 10 Tips to Finishing a Design Once You Start It
« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2009, 12:45:58 PM »
Thanks for this motivation boost! Especially rules 5, 7, 8, 10 ripped into my heart  :) , because I did not follow rules 5 and 10 several times - otherwise my design would probably already be finished, and on the other hand, the fact that I followed rules 7 and 8 may be the main reason that I am still motivated to work on the design
I respectfully disagree with rule 2, though, in case that you also refer to deadlines for certain parts of the designing process. For example, it may be usefull to put a deadline on processes like designing new walls, icons and so on. I assume there are a lot of designers who get caught up with editing graphics, monsters, items and other stuff, and lose the focus on the design itself.
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Offline hans

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Re: Staying With It: 10 Tips to Finishing a Design Once You Start It
« Reply #2 on: January 27, 2009, 01:29:22 PM »
Heheh, yes, we might note the irony that the author of this article is currently working on his 4-day challenge mod.   :D

Offline ProphetSword

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Re: Staying With It: 10 Tips to Finishing a Design Once You Start It
« Reply #3 on: January 27, 2009, 02:33:07 PM »
There's a big difference here, though:

I have released modules in the past.  Some epic in size. 

This article was aimed at newcomers and people who are having problems finishing modules (usually their first one).  Placing a deadline on when it will be finished will put them in a situation where they will feel like it is a "job" they have to get done.  Once that happens, all the fun goes out of the project.  I've seen this happen enough times to know it's a pitfall.  Experienced module makers, like us, don't usually have this problem.

Another major difference is that I am forcing myself to adhere to a four-day deadline in order to see what I end up with at the end of four days (I started with no plot or anything in mind).  The only thing I did to save time was steal the hacks and artwork from "Dark Alliances," so I didn't have to waste time searching for a proper fit.

And, it's okay if you disagree with it.  These rules might not apply to everyone.  But, I'd say that a lot of people fall into the deadline trap and end up ditching their modules because they don't make it.  So, I say they should proceed with caution.
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Offline Olivier Leroux

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Re: Staying With It: 10 Tips to Finishing a Design Once You Start It
« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2009, 04:06:07 PM »
I guess rule #2 very much depends on your personality so each reader of Ben's article will know if it has any significance for them or not. Some will be motivated by deadlines because they like to challenge themselves, others will be demotivated because they feel it's like working then and not fun. And of course it makes a difference if your goal is to release a (French or pure) vanilla mini-mod in the next two months or do a epic mod with all 36 dungeons stuffed full of top notch hacks and new graphics in a fortnight.  ;)

If you know for sure you'll not meet the deadline but become frustrated and give up on a design instead, for heaven's sake, don't impose it on you!

Personally, and I've said this before, I think I never would have finished and uploaded a mod without the convenient excuse of participating in both Designer's Challenge and Serial Mod Project. Sometimes I need deadlines (and the notion that someone is waiting for what I do) to get something done.

Offline ProphetSword

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Re: Staying With It: 10 Tips to Finishing a Design Once You Start It
« Reply #5 on: January 27, 2009, 07:56:56 PM »
Just sharing my opinion on the subject.  You all make good points.  It isn't black or white.  I'm just explaining why I suggested it in the first place.
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