Not Everything Needs to be Finished

Finish What You StartI’ve started, and decided not to finish, a number of tabletop game systems in my time. Most of them are from long long ago, such as the Final Fantasy VII system, the Metal Gear Solid system, and the Starcraft system (the latter of which I was really only working on as a gift for my girlfriend at the time). Since I began writing Papers & Pencils, I’ve toyed with a few new system ideas, but for the most part I haven’t mentioned them here. I always feel embarrassed and a little guilty when I inevitably decide not to finish something. Doing that on display for the whole Internet to see is even worse. That’s how I felt when I stopped developing LOZAS, and it’s why I’ve never mentioned Rocksfall in the body of a post until now.

To a degree, these feelings are justified. The world is filled with failed writers and game designers who start a lot of projects and never finish any of them. When a person starts a creative project, ideas are flying around in their head at lightning speed. They can hardly put them down on paper fast enough! But large projects, by very nature, can’t be finished quickly, and inevitably, the project starts to run into snags. It’s discouraging, but the cold truth is that no significant work has ever been completed without its creator running into snags which needed to be overcome. Follow-through is one of the most important skills for any budding creator to master. It’s a skill I’m still working on in myself, and that knowledge contributes to my guilt and embarrassment whenever I decide to end a project.

But during my hiatus, I came to a little realization. My LOZAS game, despite being a failed project, did produce some interesting results. The experience mechanic I developed sparked a lot of interesting conversation. And even though it won’t get a chance to be used in LOZAS, it could very easily end up in other games later. Other mechanics I worked on were not as generally popular, but I like them and will likely re-use them in future projects. The way magic worked in that game remains highly interesting to me, and I would very much like to see it developed further.

LOZAS failed, but LOZAS gave me tools and ideas which I’m taking with me as I move forward to other projects. What other tools might I find if I explored other ideas I’ve had? Ideas I’ve specifically avoided developing because I knew I wouldn’t finish them? Yes, it’s important to follow through on the projects I’m taking seriously, but perhaps I shouldn’t expect every project I start to be serious. Perhaps I can start designing a Final Fantasy VI tabletop RPG as an exercise, with no intention of finishing it. Maybe I can get a few good posts out of it, learn a few interesting things, and then move on without embarrassment or guilt, because it’s not a failure of my ability to follow through, it’s merely the natural end of a project which was never intended to be worked to completion.

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6 thoughts on “Not Everything Needs to be Finished”

  1. Good post. I can definitely relate to this. I have several projects floating around in various states of completeness. I used to get really frustrated when the creative ideas would slow down to a trickle. What I started doing – and it helped tremendously – is follow any new ideas or game concepts that come along. I have found that following those new trails will make new ideas for old games pop up in contrast to the new ideas. Almost like the old idea is competing for time in my head. Eventually, I return to older ideas and get them that much closer to completion.

  2. Agreed. I have lots of half-finished systems too, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Even if none of them ever reach completion though, they will still have spawned useful subsystems. Really, this is another way of saying “don’t be paralyzed by perfectionism,” I think.

    1. I think there’s an important distinction between this and perfectionism. I don’t know if anyone else sits at the cross section between the hobbyist tabletop game community, and the aspiring professional
      writer community, but in the latter one of the most oft-repeated pieces of advice is “Finish things.”

      “Finish things” is an argument against perfectionism. It’s not important that a project be perfect, nothing will ever be perfect. Unfinished perfection is worthless. It is better to have one completed novel with flaws, than it is to have 100 “perfect” novels that stop in the middle.

      I think my problem is that I had taken that advice, and translated it into “Don’t start something you can’t finish,” which is perhaps just another form of perfectionism.

  3. I totally relate, but also disagree. You want to create finished projects. Like you said, the ability to follow through is a very important skill. However, you cannot develop that skill by purposely creating unfinished products. Managing scope is also important.

    When you speak of starting projects you intend to not finish, you’re actually talking about prototyping and experiments. Those are great things to do, but I wouldn’t call them “projects I intend to never finish.” Maybe instead, you could narrow the scope of these “to be never finished” projects. Instead of starting a project to make a FFVI RPG, design and implement a skill system that might come from such an RPG.

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