Ever since I was a young child I have had ideas. Some of my ideas are novel, others impractical, while most of them are hardly noteworthy. The problem is, not much has ever been produced from my ideas, other than the ideas themselves. In the end, all I am left with are more ideas.
Take, for instance, an idea I had as a Freshman in High School in 1997, the same year the Nintendo 64 gaming system was released. The idea began brewing long before then, but I know for sure that I began imagining the particulars during that first year of High School.
My idea really took off that year because we got our first glimpses of what some of our favorite games could be like in a fully three dimensional world. Playing Mario 64 I was impressed with the level of freedom the extra dimension offered, but I still felt limited. So I began imagining my own version of the perfect game.
It began with my version of the perfect Mario 64 game. In stead of levels limited at the edges by invisible walls or impossibly steep hills, why not connect all of the levels? There could be extra terrain blending the different environments that each level contains, and the whole thing could be one massive world.
On that note, my logic continued, why not make the whole thing into a giant planet? It could be the Mario 64 world. A whole planet filled with Mario levels.
Then we got a new game, Mario Kart 64. This, being another Mario game, instantly began crowding its way into my already busy imaginary Mario world. In the Mario Kart game, one track takes place in the same setting as the beginning of Super Mario 64 – outside the Princess’s Castle. I thought it would be cool if you could get out of your race kart and enter the castle. Of course, in my imaginary 3D Mario world, this would be possible.
The next game I remember getting and loving completely changed my imaginary game forever, and that was Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. This game allowed me a visual companion that took my 3D game into new galaxies. Of course, it didn’t happen so fast. At first, I saw the opportunity to have other planets and space ships that could fly around in space, allowing you to land on other planets. Then, another game (this one for the PC) got me thinking even more.
I just spent the last half hour researching and trying to find the name of this game I used to love playing, but found nothing. I have no idea where I got it, but it was a shareware game where you controlled a small ship and tried to conquer a galaxy. There were two or three star systems, each with planets in orbit. It was a simple, 2D game but I loved playing. You used the up arrow key to fire a single thruster, left and right to rotate and orient the craft (like Asteroids) and the down arrow key to fire your weapon. The physics reminded you that there is no friction in space, and gravity can pull you off your course. The planets weren’t all that much bigger than the orbiting landing platform you began on. You moved out from your planet and found unclaimed planets to make your own. All of your planets worked on upgrades for your ship such as new weapons, shields, etc. There was a complicated system for colonizing and developing your planets, but it seemed to take care of itself in the background as long as you kept flying around claiming more planets.
The trouble was with your opponent, who was constantly trying to attack and conquer your planets. Anyhow, there was a little more to it that that, but I think you get the point. I decided my game had to have aspects like that. You could either play around on the surface, or you could go from planet to planet and try to gain control over as many of them as you could. Then I got to thinking about other jobs, tasks, and so forth that could keep a person busy in a universe like this. People could play the game to race, to run around on missions like in Golden Eye 007 or Perfect Dark, try to save people like the Star Wars game, fly people from planet to planet, compete for money, use the money to buy ships, cars, and other things… The list kept growing.
Eventually, I realized this sort of thing would be more fun with other real people if they could be connected over the Internet. In a recent letter to a loved one, I wrote the following (this person is still using a dial-up connection to the Internet):
Too bad you’re on dial up still. I was just remembering dial up this week when I was recalling my first experiences with the Internet. My dad’s place of work had supplied him with a notebook computer and he had some responsibilities online. He subscribed to AOL for Internet service at home, and I remember hearing about websites and pages from friends, on television and at school, and wanting to check them out online. So, I would occasionally ask my dad if we could go on the Internet to look at one thing or another.
Every time we went online it was an adventure. Not from the discoveries, learning or witnessing of new technology as one would hope. The experience was an adventure because our connection would get refused a couple of times, then we’d get on with a painfully slow connection speed, and lose the connection five minutes later, only to repeat the whole process again and again. I remember my “last straw” was when we decided to try filing our taxes online for the first time. It took many, MANY hours. Again, not because it was confusing or difficult, but because our connection was unreliable and slow.
A few of these “adventures” and I was convinced that the Internet was a useless, frustrating fad that would pass before I graduated high school. That was one of my last wrong predictions. As soon as I heard about “T-One Lines,” “Cable Modems” and “DSL,” I realized that the Internet didn’t have to be a slow, unreliable pain in the rump and a whole flood of possibilities became apparent.
Among that “flood of possibilities” was the idea that the Internet could connect gamers so they could interact in the same virtual world or universe. Little did I know, but online games were already in existence, and at around the same time as I was developing my ideas for an online multiplayer game, MMOG‘s were also developing into the 3D worlds they are today. Now, games very similar to the final version of my idea exist (and they are making their creators a lot of money), but they lack the personality and flavor of my imaginary universe.
Spore and Second Life are two examples of ideas like mine that were capitalized on rather than sat on. In Spore you get something more complicated than what I imagined but more centralized and less ambigous. However you get the same level of scale and interactivity. In Second Life you get the social networking, interactivity, creativity, ambiguity and freedom, but you still don’t have the video game style play. I just think the themed worlds would be fun (imagine a Link and Zelda world). I also think playing as your favorite video game character should be an option, as well as the traditional creation of an avatar.
In the end, though, my idea is still an idea. I’m writing about this because I am once again faced with an idea that keeps escalating. If I don’t squelch the proliferation of ideas soon, my idea will once again become too impractical to create.
Once again, my idea is for a game. It is a simple game this time though, one for children or adults. At first, while designing the code on paper, I realized that a modular approach would be easier to work with and make the whole project more flexible. Then I decided I would like the program to help create the code for the game, making the game easier to edit and change. I thought it would be good to make the game files separate from the code so it wouldn’t be hardwired into the actual program. Then I decided to integrate the editing function into the final product so users could create their own games like mine, telling their own story. Then it just got more complicated and more intricate until I realized I was going to have to back some of the features out if I’m ever really going to program this thing.
Only once did this tendency of mine to escalate ever pay off. I was in High School, designing a program to help decode some encrypted messages for a contest I was working on in the evenings (instead of doing homework at home). It worked out because I started getting the extra ideas while I was actually executing the project. I started with a simple program that helped count characters and plot a graph to help me decode substitution ciphers by character analysis. Then I got involved in a harder, multi-alphabet substitution cipher that required yet another function in the program to facilitate its decryption. Eventually I got it to work, and it did its job beautifully. I was very proud of this program, and to this day I regret the harddrive crash that wiped away every last line of its code.
The dilemma I am faced with is one of practicality. Is it better to cut off an idea before it gets out of control to keep it feasible, or is it better to dream big, aim high and resign myself to a life full of ideas that I will never bring to life? I like dreaming big, I love my ideas, but they are too big to execute. This world we live in moves so quick that if I don’t do something about an idea fast enough, someone else will think of it and do it before me. I have had numerous ideas that became big a few years after I dreamed them up.
Am I an overambitious, lazy and unrealistic dreamer or am I an under-ambitious genius who lacks the necessary gumption to do something about his ideas? What do you think?