How to Fight “Tired Mode” as a Game Dev

Posted on Posted in Dev Diary

Dev Diary posts are made to teach game development through specific examples from my latest project: Highways & Byways.

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This week in Start to Finish, I wrote Choose Your Own Adventure: Self-Publish or Not, an article dedicated to the benefits and pitfalls of self-publishing your game. This week, when trying to provide art directions to James, I remembered an additional pitfall that is an especially prescient and intense problem for self-publishers. I call it Tired Mode.

Photo by Aaron Jacobs. Posted to Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0 License. (Source)

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Tired Mode is my inelegant name for the mental state that occurs when both of the following conditions are met:

  1. You are unable to effectively perform mental work.
  2. You are unable to recognize your own inability to effectively perform mental work.

Lots of things can cause Tired Mode: physical exertion, distraction, poor diet, lack of exercise, lack of breaks, poor sleep, caffeine abuse, and so on.

The outcomes of falling into Tired Mode are myriad and range from annoying to devastating. You might sit at the computer for two hours Googling articles but not getting anything done. You might get into a loop of checking your social media over and over again. You might find yourself reading the same sentence over and over again. You might succumb to continuous and useless rework. You might find yourself typing confusing and contradictory art directions to James Masino via Discord on your iPhone while you’re on break at a day-long meeting outside of your normal work environment.

That last one happened to me on Wednesday. This episode perfectly symbolizes something in my mind which I knew for a long time already but had a hard time explaining. It is really, really hard to do a lot of mental work and keep your head on straight.

How to Fight Tired Mode

Part 1: Recognition

Part of what makes Tired Mode so devastating is condition 2: “you are unable to recognize your own inability to effectively perform mental work.” One of the best things you can do is log off the computer if you’re getting nowhere and go outside. If you’re talking to someone and you’re not making sense, be ready to say “I’m sorry, it’s been a long day and I’ll be able to give you a better answer tomorrow.”

This takes time. You’ll have to practice recognizing Tired Mode so you won’t succumb to it in the future. At first, you’ll probably only catch yourself after the fact, but that’s still good – it gives you an idea of what triggered Tired Mode and what you can avoid in the future.

Part 2: Prevention

Speaking of avoidance, the best way to fight Tired Mode is to never fight it at all. Prioritize sleep. Eat well. Exercise. Schedule time for all of these things. If you don’t take care of the basics of productivity and well-being, then the details don’t really matter.

Part 3: Smarter Scheduling

Once you get a sense for the conditions that cause you to get into Tired Mode, start scheduling your life to avoid them. If you’re a morning person, do your important stuff in the morning. If you’re a night owl, don’t do important stuff in the morning. Time management is not merely about reducing the amount of steps in a process to make it take less time, but also about making sure you time your tasks well.

Not a Part: Powering Through It

Sometimes you will have to power through Tired Mode. You shouldn’t plan on it, though. That’s reactive and not proactive – it doesn’t address the root issue and it will leave you even more depleted the next day. That’s no way to live a life.

Why Tired Mode is Worse for Self-Publishers

When you self-publish, your judgement is final. Every game mechanic, every piece of art, and every marketing endeavor ultimately comes down to your decisions. Nobody can overturn what you do. In fact, nobody else will even have a reason to dissuade you from making a bad decision. That is why it is extra important to recognize and prevent Tired Mode when you’re self-publishing.

Setting up mental boundaries is really important. Game development is a marathon process. Small problems can have a disproportionate impact on us when we are repeatedly exposed to them over and over again. Tired Mode often comes out of tiny little energy-sapping things repeated over and over again.

Tired Mode in Players

Developers are not the only ones affected by Tired Mode. Your players also experience Tired Mode. This is why I’ve spent several articles talking about accessibility in gaming. Oftentimes, you’re not just helping people with cognitive disabilities, you’re helping perfectly healthy people have fun even while they’re in Tired Mode.

While you definitely want players to mentally engage with your games, you want to remove unnecessary decisions and make your components and board communicate super clearly. The very same techniques you use to manage your time and organize your life can benefit your games, and thus, your players.

Long story short: don’t underestimate the power of fatigue. Recognize when you’re not performing. Take care of yourself. Organize your time and your life as clearly as possible. Remember that if you self-publish, there is a lot riding on it. Then take all your lessons and apply them to making better games.

Most Important Highways & Byways Updates

  • Again, I’ve been promoting the newsletter and the Discord while waiting on art.
  • The board art is nearly done.
  • Byway Card templates should be done by the time this article posts.
  • Once I have board art and Byway Card templates, I will spend an afternoon creating a pretty play-test version of Highways & Byways on Tabletop Simulator.
  • I plan on testing Highways & Byways through the Discord community.

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