Tag Archives: adhd

Why my ADHD means I end up making an ugly video game.

Hypnagonia has copied a lot of design paradigms from Slay the Spire, primarily because I needed a baseline to start working on content, instead of getting stuck in trying to figure out all the details of the design for every aspect. But you may be wondering why almost a year since I started it, it still looks like something to manage servers. To explain that, I need to give some background.

As someone with ADHD, it’s very easy for me to be overwhelmed by the frontloaded effort needed to be able to start something as large as developing a new game, and give up. Copying the design of something else is way more conductive to jump straight into doing something I already know how to do well (in this case, coding and card game design).

I am very lucky that my “autistic comfort zone” so-to-speak is programming (and general PC use), so that counteracts my executive dysfunction to a degree that allows me to start working on something, just for the joy of having a goal to program something. I kinda think of this “autistic drive” as a car battery ignition. It allows me to kickstart myself to do something which is one of the massive blocking points of ADHD.

However it’s not a trick that can always work, and it needs the right circumstances.

I got first interested in programming when I was 10 years old. I even pestered my mother enough to voluntarily go to 2 years of programming school back then – and sit through some of the worst lessons in programming one can have. Who the hell tries to teach 10-year olds Fortran by reading from the manual? Later on, I didn’t manage to get into university – due to just wanting to play computer games instead of studying for the exams. Instead, I went to a vocational school for programming for 2 more years.

When did I finally start programming for myself? When I was in my 30s. I literally learned programming and then didn’t do anything with it until I had the right circumstances. I tried multiple times to motivate myself to actually do something I knew I liked doing, but I couldn’t because I didn’t know what to do with it that was achievable for my skills. Things like making video games were out of the question as I had nowhere the skill needed to even begin. Yes, I know everyone starts like that, but try telling that to my stupid ADHD brain who does not get the concept of not getting the happiness chemical immediately.

What I truly needed was something I could start with very little programming needed and then built up my skills little by little, but having a clear but achievable improvement I could do.

In my case, my circumstances ended up being my interest in coding old card games in OCTGN, which requires very little code to start, but allows you to go bonkers with python if you want to (even if it doesn’t make it easy). The way it worked for me, is that I kept wanting to add more features, but each feature was just simple enough that I could see myself achieving it within a day or so. It kept me motivated enough to keep going.

All that worked pretty well until my eventual burnout after 7 years or so due to juggling too many projects at once.

The good news was that I had already picked up enough gamedev knowledge to give me some confidence. Once some of my burnout started to wear off 3 years later, I wanted to get back into card game design, but I didn’t want to touch OCTGN anymore. And then I discovered the Godot Engine (the way how is a post for another day) and after a few false starts, I got the idea to start on the Card Game Framework.

The reason why work on CGF is what worked, is because I had just enough knowledge of the things I needed to build (due to my experience with OCTGN), so that my autistic kickstart gave me enough momentum to overcome my ADHD executive dysfunction and head straight to Hyperfocus.

So, back to Hypnagonia, when I initially got the first concept for it, I knew it was way bigger than what I had done until now. Especially since I have no support network (I am not in a modding scene, and none of my contacts from my OCTGN, Android: Netrunner or Doomtown days seemed interested). So I knew I had to settle in the solodev role.

I also knew that if I tried to “reinvent the wheel” too much with my game, I will never get going as I will be stuck trying to think of how everything should work together until I give up due to complexity.

So early on, I decided to mostly copy Slay the Spire, as the granddaddy of the genre, while adding the few spins I wanted to use, which I knew were manageable for me. This means I settled to clone the UI look and core gameplay loop at least. The reason is, by now, I know how to program a GUI I can see in my head, and I know how to design card games, but I have no idea how to design good looking graphical interfaces, fancy animations, shader and effects or even any sort of art.

By using the StS layout, I could bypass my annoying brain trying to trick me out of doing something cool, by not having it get existential dread about trying to do something it doesn’t yet know how to do!

The main reason then why Hypnagonia still looks like so bad, is because I have no idea how to fix it, and any time I consider that I should do it, my brain goes: “Nope, you don’t know how to do it! Procrastinate a little instead. Reddit is just a button away!”

If I were to nevertheless stubbornly pressure myself to not do anything else except trying to improve the look of the game, I would procrastinate so much, I risk loosing my motivation for developing Hypnagonia completely. I had more than one close call with this.

For example, early on, I decided not to copy StS overworld mechanic (a map with encounters) because I wanted a more storyline-based experience. However I had no idea whatsoever what to replace it with. I got so demotivated that I couldn’t think what to do about it, I started distracting myself with other things. I was stuck and losing interest worryingly fast.

Fortunately, an experienced board game designer friend of mine agreed to brainstorm a little with me, and managed to throw an idea out that broke my “designer’s block” which eventually became the dream journal I have now.

So experience has taught me to know my limits. And at the current point, my limits are game UI/UX. Staying within the StS guidelines allows me to have a usable game. My plan is to make something playable end-to-end, even if not it’s not good looking and is full of placeholders. To salvage the rest, I just hope that I can attract specialist in the areas I cannot handle.

Every day I think about working on Hypnagonia, I need to kickstart my motivation and push through my urge to procrastinate “a bit” first. The way to do this, is to stay within my comfort zone, which is programming and game design.

My autism helps me overcome my ADHD, but it has its limits. And as such, the game look suffers 😀