ADHD and Game Dev

D.L. Yomegami

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This is one of those topics I wasn't sure where to put it, and ultimately decided on here since it's related to game developing without mechanics. If a mod feels it belongs better elsewhere, I won't object.

So I have ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), or at the very least am 99% sure that I do (I'm not diagnosed but pretty much everything I've read about ADHD matches up with me). ADHD's a lot of things, but it includes such things as difficulty prioritizing tasks and difficulty focusing on things the brain's not interested in. So it's difficult enough for me to handle simple things like daily chores or even things I find otherwise enjoyable like playing video games, let alone a task as complicated as making a game.

In the 2+ years I've been messing around with RPG Maker, I have accomplished basically nothing with it apart from a small test project I made when I first got MV. It's not for lack of trying; I have ideas out the wazoo, some I'm pretty passionate about, but every time I try to start on something it doesn't take me very long to run into some roadblock that discourages me from continuing. I've looked at "How to finish a project," "How to organize a project," etc. guides, but nothing in them ever seems to help me.

Since I doubt (or at least hope) I'm not the only person with ADHD or a similar condition around here, I want to ask: how do you go about handling game development? Have you had better luck than I had with finishing projects (or at least getting past the pre-pre alpha stage)? If so, what worked for you?
 

MushroomCake28

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Not to be unfair to you or doubt your self-diagnosis, but not completing a game or procrastinating do not equal ADHD. Ultimately you're the one that knows you the best and you might have ADHD, but self-diagnosis isn't the solution, especially in a society (Western societies) where ADHD is over-diagnosed and over-medicated (working with my mother in the pharmaceutical world showed me how many kids take Concerta/Ritalin and don't really need it).

Ultimately, even if you have ADHD, this isn't an issue about ADHD, it's an issue about motivation. You underestimate the number of people here on the forum that never ever finish and release a project. Those who actually finish and release a game is on the minority side here. So advice to complete a game are usually along those lines:
  • Plan a clear a roadmap of the development process and set periodic milestones.
  • Prioritize working daily on your project, even if small amount of time at the time. Better that than working a lot on your project at random time or when you feel motivated.
  • Take small breaks sometimes, but not too long.
  • Backup your project regularly (a lot of people quit because they lost their project to a system failure or something similar).
  • Have a realistic goal project. You won't make a huge 60 hours 100+ quests complex RPG on your first try.
  • Stay connected in communities like this one with like minded individuals that can help you and motivate you.
If you follow all of these it should be a huge help.
 

HexMozart88

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I mean, some might say I have the opposite issue, but depression can have a similar effect so that's one thing I can help with. Ultimately, what helps me is to take regular breaks, and have people who keep me in check. My family keeps me on the right track with Ascension Day, and I have my teammates to help me with Cultivation Voyage.

EDIT: Also, if you do believe you have ADHD, as with any mental illness/disability, you should probably see a professional to get it confirmed, as plenty of things have similar symptoms and you can never really tell with the internet.
 

D.L. Yomegami

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Not going too in-depth here, but most of my reasoning goes beyond just having problems with game dev. I'm not ruling out that it could be entirely autism (which shares many symptoms with ADHD, and for which I am officially diagnosed). I'm not in a good position to get officially checked for it right now, so I'm going with a self-diagnosis for the time being. I'll certainly get officially checked when/if that changes.

I'd prefer to not dwell on this too much, since it's a little off-topic.

....this isn't an issue about ADHD, it's an issue about motivation.
I don't think the two issues are mutually exclusive. While people without ADHD may struggle with motivation and not many people finish projects regardless, being completely unable to generate internal motivation probably isn't normal. That's part of what I struggle with when it comes to working on projects. The other part of it is being unable to start working regardless of how badly I want to; that feeling's akin to being asked to push a ten-ton boulder up to the summit of Mt. Everest instead of anything reasonable.

Plan a clear a roadmap of the development process and set periodic milestones.
Those roadblocks I mentioned in the OP? A lot of the time, it's because of planning, or rather not knowing how to plan. I just have no idea what should be top priority and what shouldn't. Should I start with a quick prototype? Templates for skills/enemies/items/etc.? Should I even be opening the editor without making a GDD first? And so on. It's kind of hard to make a development roadmap when you don't even know what should be on said roadmap.

Have a realistic goal project. You won't make a huge 60 hours 100+ quests complex RPG on your first try.
While I do make an effort to keep realistic goals, I tend to find it difficult to focus on smaller projects over larger ones. I'm not quite sure how to explain why, but I think it's because I just can't get excited about them. Why should I work on a 15 minute game about Harold making his bed when I could be working on something longer, with an actual story, characters, and gameplay worth caring about? Sure, the former would be a lot easier to make and provide useful experience, but it's boring and not particularly meaningful. The middle ground (a smaller project that still has meat) has potential, but when I tried stuff like that it either still felt like it was missing something or turned into a longer project anyway.

I'm pretty sure I'm missing something, but I think those are big reasons why the usual advice for motivating yourself and finishing projects just never worked for me. There's advice there that is sound and doesn't confuse my easily-confused brain, but then there's advice that sounds too broad or is too vague and that's what trips me up.
 

MushroomCake28

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Those roadblocks I mentioned in the OP? A lot of the time, it's because of planning, or rather not knowing how to plan. I just have no idea what should be top priority and what shouldn't. Should I start with a quick prototype? Templates for skills/enemies/items/etc.? Should I even be opening the editor without making a GDD first? And so on. It's kind of hard to make a development roadmap when you don't even know what should be on said roadmap.
Making skills and items in the database is a bit too precise to be on a roadmap. Depending on people, it can be more or less detailed. Personally, that's what I do:
  • I plan what the world would be like (fantasy? futuristic? Steampunk?).
  • I create the main heroes only (usually 4 characters) and the main antagonist. No planning of secondary characters and stuff. Also I don't go too much into details with the characters, usually only the general personality, basic background, and motivation.
  • With the two previous point, I come up with a general story. Again, don't go into details here, just planning the main events.
  • I plan the battle system, how it will work. I go into a bit more details here since I'm a coder and usually coding my battle system from scratch. This last part can be done before the story depending on the project.
After defining that, you divide those goals into sections. A section shouldn't be too long to complete (could be 1 week, 1 month, 2 months, but definitely not one year lol), and it should have a clear goal. Accomplishing it should add an element to the game. For example, I'm currently working on the menu of my new project. At the end of this section of my roadmap, I should have a functional menu.

Working for too long without motivation is hard for anyone, that's why by dividing the work by section with a clear goal, you get a boost of motivation because one of your goal has been achieved.

While I do make an effort to keep realistic goals, I tend to find it difficult to focus on smaller projects over larger ones. I'm not quite sure how to explain why, but I think it's because I just can't get excited about them. Why should I work on a 15 minute game about Harold making his bed when I could be working on something longer, with an actual story, characters, and gameplay worth caring about? Sure, the former would be a lot easier to make and provide useful experience, but it's boring and not particularly meaningful. The middle ground (a smaller project that still has meat) has potential, but when I tried stuff like that it either still felt like it was missing something or turned into a longer project anyway.

I'm pretty sure I'm missing something, but I think those are big reasons why the usual advice for motivating yourself and finishing projects just never worked for me. There's advice there that is sound and doesn't confuse my easily-confused brain, but then there's advice that sounds too broad or is too vague and that's what trips me up.
I would suggest you make a game with a short main story, and then release it. Afterward, you can add side quests periodically to your game. That way, it keeps the project "short" while also making for a "huge" project. Also, remember that not all part of game making is fun. In fact, for most people, most of the process isn't fun. Personally I enjoy coding and making music, but I hate UI design, eventing, and mapping. Game making is not just about having fun, but it's also a bit like working.

Finally, motivation is different for everyone. What might motivate someone might not motivate you. Ultimately, you'll need to know more about yourself and craft a work method/schedule that is specifically tailored toward you. That's probably my best advice I can give you.
 

Hudell

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I have ADHD as well. Usually I can keep on working because I really love making my game, but every now and then I'll have some task that I just can't handle. For example: It took me six months to implement the menus in my game while it was supposed to take only two or three weeks. The key is to never give up on it.

It's similar to working on a regular job. There are times that I have boring or unpleasant tasks that are hard to get to down to, but the pressure from a boss or a deadline eventually make me do it.
 

Archeia

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I have ADHD tendencies a long time ago and had to pretty much kick myself with better work ethic thanks to school and art life balancing. For me, the thing that helped the most is:
  • Warmup.
  • Put incredibly boring task here.
  • Put a fun task that I would love to put here.
  • If I didn't finish task 1, put it here.
  • Take a break.
  • Continue Task 1 or put a fun task again.
  • Give ample time to self to think of what stuff I need to work on the next day.
For me it's work hard, play hard. Work on something slowly than never.
 

Uzuki

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Hey there! As a fellow ADHD haver, I know how rough it is to try to sit down and just focus on something. It is difficult to even complete a game by neurotypical standards, but it'll be even harder with the lack of focus and hyper-focusing. A key thing to keep in mind, especially if you're a one-person team, is that it will be slow going whether that's with or without ADHD. Here's a couple of things I do that helps a bit with making progress on my game.

  1. Micro-Planning: For Neurotypical people, breaking down tasks can be easy and straight forward, but for us, it can be a bit much when there are 20 different things you need/want to do. Break down your tasks into even smaller tasks and make that your focus for your work periods. For example, if you need to create the town map then that should be your focus for that work period. Same for eventing, balancing, and writing.
  2. Frequent Breaks: This is one that I have trouble with. Unless I'm in hyperfocus mode, it's hard to sit still or stay on track for more than 10-15 minutes before I drift to another part of the project or get up to do something else. So what I do is when I feel like I need to drift off for a sec, I give myself 5 minutes to handle any house chores or goof off on social media/discord before getting back to work. There are apps that can allow you to set up multiple timers to go off at certain intervals within a certain time limit. This will also help with the time blindness aspect.
  3. Work Area: This is just general advice for anyone working at a desk job, but it'll help very well here too. Customize your work area for minimal distractions and to your liking. Stuff like visual reminders like posted notes for your current work period and earphones for music/ambient noises or earplugs to block out distractions.
For motivation, it can vary from person to person what they need to keep them going for those bigger projects. For some, it can just be the idea of finishing a project and having people play it. For others, there can be a financial incentive to finish like making money or having patrons and wanting to finish for them. Having a support group is also good. Plenty of game dev focused discords and such that you can show your game as your making progress. It's hard but half the work is finding what actually works for you. No need to pigeon hole yourself to one standard just because people say you have to do it like that or if it works best for neurotypical minds.
 

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Soryuju

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I haven’t been diagnosed with ADHD, but as someone who’s also been working in RPG Maker for a considerable amount of time without a release, and who also often has issues with staying on track, I can empathize with your frustration. It sounds like you’ve already read through a lot of the standard advice on how to overcome issues like these, so maybe let me suggest a couple of more tailored pieces of advice instead:

1) Use your small practice projects as a way to flesh out your dream game(s).

You mentioned above that you don’t really have passion for making projects which are just for the sake of practice - you need more of a story to get invested in, or gameplay which is genuinely engaging. I’m the same way, and I don’t think it’s productive to try to force yourself through that process. It makes you approach development as a chore, which is the last thing you want when you’re already struggling to focus.

Here’s what I decided to do instead: I’m treating my practice games like prequels/side stories to my dream game. They’re set in the same world, briefly recounting events from my game’s lore, or fleshing out the narratives of main/side characters beyond the scope of the original story I planned to tell. Each one I’ve got planned will also feature some subset of the mechanics which I plan to integrate into the main game, so that when each practice project is finally complete, I can release them to get preliminary feedback on my systems before I finalize them for the big one.

This way, each practice project has clear objectives beyond “learn the engine” or “learn how to finish a project,” and I’m genuinely invested in each one from both narrative and mechanical perspectives. These type of practice projects are a bit more involved than “Harold Makes His Bed,” sure, but in the long term, completing them is also directly helping me to make progress on my much larger eventual release. Maybe something similar would work for you.


2) Write patch notes for yourself.

In each of my project folders, I have a text document titled “Version Notes,” which I always have open while I’m working on my game. This document has a Version # at the top, and it’s organized into sections like Plugins, Classes, Skills, Enemies, Resources, Animations, Bugs, Goals, etc. In the “Goals,” section of the notes, I write down a number of tasks I want to accomplish in this version, breaking them down into smaller tasks whenever possible. And from there, I start working through the list, recording patch notes for every single thing I add or change to my project, no matter how minor. I’ll also add any small additional tasks I think of as I work to the list of goals, so I don’t forget them and have them keep coming back to frustrate me.

Once the current goals are completed to the best of my ability, I either add some more, or decide to wrap up development with this version. If I’m wrapping up, I back up my project folder with these Version Notes saved inside, and then replace the Version Notes in my working folder with a new, blank template. I bump up the Version # in the notes, and then I start the process again.

So what does this all accomplish in regards to focus and productivity?

A. It lets you lay out as many or few goals as you want at a time, and if you’re breaking them down small enough, it gives you rapid, regular satisfaction as you tick them off. To clarify further, your goals shouldn’t be things like “Finish battle system,” or “Write plot outline.” Instead go for things like “Implement skill X for the main character,” or “Give the first 5 enemies in the database placeholder stats,” or “Write the first 5 lines of dialogue in the game.”

Wherever possible, you want to pad your big goals with sub-goals which you can usually knock out within minutes of writing them down. This helps you build momentum to eventually take on the bigger tasks, and if you get stuck on something, you’ve got a ready list of easy victories which you can always fall back on.

The act of filling out the notes themselves also works as a quick natural break between activities, giving you a moment to savor the satisfaction of the task completed and refresh yourself to take on the next one. Watching the list gradually get larger and larger with each task completed makes it all the sweeter. If you’ve read about how devs build their games around core gameplay loops, this is a real-life example of one. Goal > Task > Rest > Visible Growth > Repeat.

B. It improves your organization. Moment-to-moment, you’ll be able to quickly look up exactly what you need to do, and to easily keep track of which tasks have already been addressed. This also cuts down on the time you’ll need to spend getting into a working mood for your project, since it will be easier to remember what you were doing previously and what your next step is for the current session.

C. When you’re feeling like you’ve been unproductive, you can look back at the walls of tiny changes you’ve recorded through your versions, and it will remind you just how far you’ve truly come. It’s hard to feel like you’ve done nothing on your project when a block of 50 organized bullet points is telling you otherwise. Being able to see exactly what your efforts have already yielded can be a great source of motivation to push forward and keep that list growing bigger.

D. Lastly, it naturally gets you in the habit of backing up your work, safeguarding you against the catastrophic data losses which end many projects. And if your current version gets corrupted somehow, your Version Notes will give you a step-by-step guide on how to get back to exactly where you were.


These are probably the best pieces of non-conventional advice I can give you. Since I implemented these approaches into my own work, I’ve noticed a considerable increase in my productivity and focus while working, and I definitely feel like I’m making much better progress than I was before (though there will always be bad days or weeks).

And just remember that even if you’re struggling, most people who say they want to make a game never even take the first step. For as frustrating as it can be day-to-day, you had the guts to go for it, and now you’re getting the chance to learn about yourself in all new ways. No matter where the road ends, you’ll walk away with a new understanding of your own passions, talents, and limitations. The effort is never wasted.
 

Zreine

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I don't have ADHD, but I struggle with the same problems. Starting a lot of different project and never finishing them, not only with rpg maker but also with my art, lol. So here's a few tricks I have develop over the years, maybe they can help you.

-Watching videos (DEVlogs) of people working on their project usually make me want to work on my own project.

-Making a list of things I want to get done today, it doesn't have to be a lot. Give yourself small goals in other words. This will help you feel like you are making progress.

-Set yourself a time to work on your game and stick to it even if you don't feel like it. Sometimes I don't feel like drawing, but when I force myself and actually get started that "bleh" feeling goes away after a few minutes.

-Turn off all other potential distractions. This is to avoid situations like: "Ok, let's work on that game...Oh! I have some notifications on Facebook, let's have a just quick look...Oh! A funny video, I'll watch this one and get back to work...Oh! This video looks pretty funny too...ok just one more..." Next thing you know you've spent 2 hours watching videos and have done nothing in your game. (I'm guilty of this a lot!)

-Talking to people who have the same interest as you or similar project. This always give me a boost in motivation. That's one of the reason I have become active on this forum only recently despite being a member for quite some time.
 
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empresskiova

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Not ADHD, but I generally try not to get down on myself for incomplete projects (of which I’ve many, across several hobbies!!). Don’t be hard on yourself and do things as you can. Watch out for burnout, too.
 

Jaiden

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I have undiagnosed ADHD as well, and it has resulted in my project going in all sorts of directions as I always have a desire to change and try new things and start projects before finishing others. Still, I've managed to remain focused on a single project and everything I've done has been part of the learning and growing process. So first, don't beat yourself up or get discouraged if you don't get an end product from your work--you are still building critical skills that will help you later on.

Everyone is different, but I agree with a lot of the suggestions made here (using Kanban boards, timing yourself, taking breaks, avoiding distractions). ADHD can take control of your brain and throw you into "rabbit holes" where it's hard to escape the little details, so trying to plan and stay attached to a "big picture" will help manage it. Personally, I think you can really utilize this energy in a positive way by giving yourself a few tasks and bouncing between them. This is what I do.

Interestingly enough, game development is the one thing that works for me and my ADHD. When I get "bored" with one task, like mapping, I can jump into something completely fresh and new like programming the next day. This constantly keeps my brain focused and working, but it's important to still have some overall plan and framework so you do not get "lost" in one particular task.

Here are some suggestions I have for making the process easier:
  • If you have access to OneNote, I highly recommend using it to create a master game development document. You can make quick notes and organize them well, so you can use this to jot down ideas anytime you have them and create a framework for your mechanics, story, etc. Otherwise, a free service like Google Drive will do. You want to have this master "blueprint" that keeps bringing you back to what exactly you want from your game.
  • Create a free account on https://trello.com/ and create a Kanban board. Here's mine as an example. Start by jotting down every task you need to do, then organize and prioritize them into these columns, called "swimlanes". You can have a couple of tasks in the swimlane you're working on, but try to narrow it down so you don't get overwhelmed.
  • When you get really stuck on something, break away from it then move onto something else. This will help you look with a fresh eye and overcome things you may have overlooked by being so hyperfocused on them.
ADHD can be a real monster, but instead of trying to make it go away, we have to find ways to use it to our advantage. I hope you can turn it into an effective tool, too. Good luck!
 

somenick

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Try making a prototype. A game that is between 3 to 5 maps long. One map for the introduction of the game, one map for the middle of the game, one map for the final dungeon. Yes these would be fairly short maps and result in a short game, but this way you can have a general 'skeleton' of a game. Then you can add additional maps and so on and so forth, but basically, once you complete the three maps, you are 'done'. OK not done, but its a way of saying.

Will try this technique myself. I havent released anything yet, but it is because I have been super busy elsewhere.


5 MAPS
=======
1 Map for beginning story / dungeon
1 Overworld map
1 Town map (Inns can be a guy standing in front of a tent, etc)
1 Middle dungeon map (a cave or whatever)
1 Map for final dungeon / final fight

After that you are starting to like things? Feel free to expand then, afterwards. :)
 
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