#6: Setting Goals

For just a little while, let’s talk about goals.
I never did like them. In high school and college there was always at least one teacher each year who wanted to cover the subject. I’d do the classwork but never implement the information. Until board games came along and taught me the value of planning ahead.

A project fell into my lap a few weeks ago. Like usual, I mentally ran through the different pieces which needed to fall into place for completion. At the end of the day, I was surprised by my excitement for the coming week. It turns out I had accidentally set course, medium, and fine goals for myself, and was genuinely enthusiastic about plodding through it. The tiered goals were encouraging because they involved different amounts of time, different levels of “busy” work, and varying degrees of detail. Thus, I could pick which goals to address based on how much time and interest I had.

By now you are probably wondering what I meant by course, medium, and fine goals. Course items may require significant blocks of time (because they often include building blocks for the rest of the project) but little detail. Fine, on the other hand, requires significant attention to detail and, often, a lot of time because this is where you are fine tuning and putting the finishing touches on your project. Medium items are usually more fun for me, and typically involve the least time but are great in quantity since they allow you to transition from Course to Fine.

    If you were painting: sketching the general composition and blocking in the colors would be working in the course realm. Refining colors, shapes, and values would be medium work. Adding details and adjusting color highlights would be the fine work.
For graphic design: course goals would involve determining how much information needs to be presented and the dimensions of the end result (poker card, jumbo card, game board, etc.). Medium would entail finding the optimal arrangement so it is easy to read or ensuring the image is clearly the focal point. Fine work is adding textures and shading to pretty it up.
When writing a quick project, like a timed essay: course would be the brainstorm. Medium would be laying out the outline. Fine corresponds to writing out the complete essay. Or, for those of you used to long term projects, like research papers, the course work would be brainstorming and researching your topic. Then, of course you write the outline. Then, the medium work would involve writing the rough draft and having it edited and reviewed. Finally, crafting and writing that perfect final draft is your fine work.
For game development, course would be building the general concept – what the game is about and/or primary mechanics. Medium is where you build prototypes, write basic rules, and play test. Then, you blind play test. Then you play test some more. At last, you’ll reach the fine work of final game balance adjustments and cleaning up the rules to improve clarity.


Now, why on Earth does all of that matter?
Setting goals obviously makes your process more efficient by designating a road map to the finished product. Setting tiered goals keeps you interested in the process and allows you to make better use of your limited time.


I completely understand the desire to jump on top of your project and just work through it as fast as you can. It feels great cranking through that raw excitement, but it WILL eventually wane. Working on pure excitement is tiring (as you probably have found). People who jump from project to project, idea to idea, without ever finishing them typically do so because they have no plan. They work until they run out of energy and then move on to the next thing that excites them.


With set goals guiding you to the end, you can stay on track and rate your progress. Having that road map on hand allows you to see exactly what’s left – instead of running along loving how much fun this one painting is, skidding to the finish line exhausted but satisfied, and then being discouraged because you just did the math and found you have to do it 5 more times. If your steps are written down, you can also easily see how far you’ve come. As I mentioned in this post, reminding yourself of just how much you have already accomplished is vital in maintaining excitement and interest in your project.


After the beginning stages of your project, you’ll develop a good feel for how long certain steps are taking you. So, you’ll begin to be able to somewhat accurately look at your goals and gauge how long different sections will take. When working, you usually know how much time you have for that day (like a 30 minute lunch break or 4 hours after church). Therefore, you can pick and work on pieces of your project based on how long you expect it to take, how much uninterrupted work you expect to have to put in to finish that piece, how much interest you have in that section, or even how many other goals require this one to be finished first. Finally, that road map will keep you from missing or forgetting steps along the way. Remember that painting from earlier? Imagine if you sweated your way through 3 days of perfection. Along the way, you got lost in the process, went with what “felt right” and “looked good” and now your finished painting’s composition does not meet your project’s requirements. For graphic designers, it can be quite easy to put in hours of work building a gorgeous layout. What if it’s extreme detail, texturing, and vivid colors render text unreadable, or draws attention away from the art you spent all that time trying to frame?


Hopefully, by now, I’ve made a better case for goals than, “You should, because it is best.” I wrote this specifically for others trying to, like me, do the ridiculous task of designing games from concept, to art, to design, and off to publishing. Therefore, this was written with the idea of a long-term, multistage project. I pray that even if you aren’t running game company all by your lonesome these ideas and explanations will help you.


How has goal planning helped you through big projects? What’s your take on tiered goals?


Let me know what you think