The Cognitive Marathon

Most projects that I work on can be measured in weeks. Some can be measured in months. But every so often, over the course of my career, I’ve worked on a project that stretches out beyond the norm. Such was the case for my soon to be released iPhone game Pocket Rooble (going live on the App store May 15th). The germ of the idea arrived as a small sketch on a piece of graph paper. Just a grid of squares. But that was enough for my head to wrap around the design of a word game that was equal parts Scrabble and Rubic’s cube.

The image above shows just a few of the hundreds of mock-ups and proofs of concept that I worked on and then discarded for something simpler, something cleaner, something better. In the three years since I began noodling on Pocket Rooble it had 3 names, untold graphic design looks, and was built nearly to completion 3 times. The first time I built it using a framework called Cocos2d in Objective C only to find that key chunks of my code were not supported when Apple moved from iOS7 to iOS8. The next was after the debut of Swift which, in the early days, felt like building in an earthquake zone. This final time I built again in Swift but after the rubble had stopped bouncing.

The result of starting, essentially from scratch, three times over three years was that it forced me to reconsider everything about the game. It made me come back to it with new eyes and leave behind bits of the concept and the code that were annoying or clunky or weird. You’ll note in that picture above I was stuck on the idea of tilting the grid at a 45° angle for nearly halfway through the project. Less easy to see was that I was stuck on the idea of shifting the rows and columns around using buttons instead of the more natural use of gestures. I was also dedicated to making Rooble a tablet-only game when the world was showing me, every day, that phones were more plentiful, more popular, and more handy. It took a long time to listen to the advice a few wise friends. But that’s the nature of bad ideas. Sometimes they can insinuate themselves into the DNA of a good idea. Sometimes it takes starting over three times to separate out the wheat from the chaff.

I look at the 3+ years now as a feature not a bug. It’s a long time to keep an idea in your head and in your sketch book. A bad idea will give up on you, or you’ll give up on it. But a good idea will stay with you while you figure out how to get out of your own way. Sometimes projects can be measured in sprints. But sometimes the real reward is in the longer run. Sometimes you need to commit yourself to the mindset of a marathon runner. Find your pace. Clear your mind. Just go until the finish line is behind you.

Pocket Rooble arrives at the iTunes App Store on May 15th.