The Every-Changing Anatomy of Creativity

It dawned on me as I sat down to try writing some more on my novel, just how much the place I began and the place I’ve arrived have differed. It’s certainly been a long journey for only 209 pages thus far. Longer than I care to think about to be honest.

From its original inception in junior high until approximately four or five years later, the story was set in a Dungeons and Dragons game world. My original aspirations were to polish the piece and submit it for the shared-world novel series published by Wizards of the Coast, Inc. But something happened that changed my plans considerably.

In 2004 or so my friends and I had tossed around ideas of making Neverwinter Nights modules. Our group was ragtag. We all had college, work, and personal lives so it never got anywhere. The website, however, drew the attention of another group who were looking for beta testers. Unlike ourselves, they were building their own standalone RPG.

Fast forward a few months and suddenly they were talking to us about writing for a different game. Contracts were signed. No money changed hands – neither of us had any income from our projects. It was just potential, future royalties should the game sell. Fast forward again, and I was suddenly a board member for this company. Geographically, we had members in Florida, Nevada, Oregon, Michigan… And we were talking about yet another game project. None had been finished yet.

The trouble we had could be summed up in two ways: A lack of experience, and the dreaded project creep. We had different talents. Some of us writers, some artists and some programmers; all of us wanted to be designers. We needed to make something to bring in money, get our voices heard. A lot of ideas were kicked around; they would quickly grow too complex. (The dreaded creep). A couple small games were built and released on the cheap, though. One of them even parodied me. I had no hand in their making, but there weren’t any pay checks any way. The money went to game engines and hosting costs.

A lot of board members separated due to falling outs. Others were weeded out due to not pulling their weight. I was one of them. In the two and a half years this took, my novel gathered dust. I took several things from my time in this start up, though: For one, I learned how and how not to mesh with other designers. I learned how passionate people could be about things and how similar (and yet very different) our visions of the same project could be. And, with the board’s permission, I took one piece of intellectual property I developed with me. A simple, action-rpg similar to Zelda or early the Final Fantasy games.

Now that game world has grown on my hard drive and my note books, and now my novel is situated complacently within it. It’s my world now. Other writing ideas I had entertained have also been absorbed into this, becoming antagonists or supporting cast members for my original novel.

I don’t regret anything about the way things went. For an entrepreneurial venture, it cost me very little. I purchased myself a copy of the Torque Game Engine from GarageGames for $100 when investigating engines for our game projects while a board member. Still one of the best investments I’ve made. I made acquaintance with a then-fledgling composer when he and some others had an ambitious Neverwinter Nights project I was going to possibly provide voice acting for. It’s astounding to see how far he’s come in the mainstream game industry since then.

And at the heart of all of this – Neverwinter. Even the start up itself had come together around the NWN community; it’s how I first met a school principal who was using the NWN Toolset to introduce students to game design, how I made friends in England, New Zeeland, Sweden, Romania, Brazil and Japan.

The start up has since vanished, its website absorbed by the internet save for the occasional reference on a game portal or PR site here or there, or perhaps the dusty pages of the Wayback Machine.