Tag Archives: mastery

Overcomplexity in Nom Nom Galaxy

Heart from the tutorial to Nom Nom GalaxyPixelJunk‘s Nom Nom Galaxy is a hard game. It’s a well-crafted resource-gathering and automation game in the vein of Terraria or Minecraft, but with a focus on factory production and automation. It’s hard because it’s far too complicated.

One of the classic problems of game design is the dominant strategy. A dominant strategy occurs when one way to play the game is so much better that it becomes the only option a player should pursue. The simple solution to a dominant strategy is to add a complicating factor that acts as a tradeoff, weakening the strategy and leading to interesting player decisions.

Nom Nom Galaxy, however, goes through this cycle a few too many times. Dominant strategies are complicated by challenges that can be overcome with strategies that are further complicated by new challenges. The end result is a frantic, frustrating time that keeps me from experiencing the joy of mastery.
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Conscious Incompetence

I like thinking and talking about stuff, but when try to I do so I often suspect that I don’t know enough to say something genuinely interesting. It’s not impostor syndrome (though I totally suffer from that). It’s a fear that if I talk about a complex subject that I don’t fully understand then I will come across as foolish (and therefore provide no benefit) to someone who knows it better. I’ve experienced this from the other side: seeing people write naïve things that aren’t even wrong about how software development works.

There are a few topics that I’m comfortable discussing because I know my limits in them:

  • Computer science and software development
  • Game design and development
  • Creative writing
  • Social justice, maybe?
  • Cooking

While there are plenty of topics that I’m sure I don’t know much about (beekeeping), there are a few that I consistently hesitate to write about for fear of creating a naïve argument. Some examples are Discordianism (due to my uncertainty with postmodernism and theology), economics, and narrative. I’m not even sure where to start to learn more; I don’t have much time for learning outside my focus fields, and I don’t even know enough to optimize that time. I don’t want to waste time reading a bunch of poorly-written texts before I gain enough understanding to tell what the good sources are.

I’m part of a mailing list that deals with art in games, and I often feel like one of the least-informed members. There are academics with years of theoretical underpinnings talking about complex things and I hesitate to spend an hour crafting what I think is insight only to discover that I’ve wasted the time and attention of an expert who recognizes my thoughts as that of an underinformed beginner.

Short of learning more (which I’m trying to do, despite the time it takes), I’m not sure how to deal with this dilemma. Any advice? How do you know when you’re well-informed enough to discuss something outside of your comfort zone?