Phase Prototyping

I'm sure this is not unique, but this is a prototyping model that I've developed, and very much works for me.

The key is that all ideas live in a Phase continuum all the time. Every single one of my (hundreds of) ideas moves around between these phases, and sometimes an idea gets stuck in a phase. That's ok. Disinterest and apathy about a particular idea is normal. If it passes, the idea might change phases and progress. Or it might stay stuck in a phase. Let it go, and move on to other concepts. When/if you return to it, the disinterest might have moved on, and so can the idea.

With that said, let's talk about the phases. An idea visits each phase in turn, but may jump back to a previous phase. Note that, in the following, I use idea/prototype/product pretty much interchangeably. They're simply terms for the same thing at different phases.

Phase 1: Conception - each idea begins as just that, an idea. A single sentence is enough. All ideas are written down, good or bad. To some degree, if I thought of it enough to consider it, there's some value in there. It gets written down in a big list. I just use a flat markdown-formatted text file, because I like simple tools.

Phase 2: Elaboration - after some time, I go back to an idea and add content, explanation, additional subconcepts, etc, etc. This is the first value checkpoint. If I can't think of more to add to an idea, it stays in Phase 1. This is, again, just a simple text file.

Phase 3: Actualization - this is the point that I make a draft, proof-of-concept, physical prototype or mockup. It rapidly becomes apparent whether something is going to work or not. I use various rapid prototyping tools for this, depending on what I'm building.

Phase 4: Consideration - this phase is typically when I sit back and actually attempt to use the product. This may involve playtesting, printing, listening, watching, demoing, or just posting on the net somewhere. The goal is to gather additional information about the prototype to see if an introduction of information changes it for good or bad.

Phase 5: Production - I take the prototype to a full production product at this point. It's generally in a usable state (though may not be complete), and it's had enough 'grab' that I feel like the product has some viability, though it may well be niche.

Phase 6: Introduction - a viable product is made into a release that is put out for consumption. As I mostly make digital products, this means posting it on the internet somewhere -- App Store, Play Store, web store, streaming site, etc. Occasionally, I do make physical products, but my inclination is to use on-demand manufacturing to essentially transform physical products into conceptually digital ones from my point of view. At the point of release, the market takes over and it becomes, to some degree, a marketing problem. That's a post for another day.

And there you have it. From idea to market. It's a little rambling. I've only had half a coffee so far this morning.

Meat Cookies

When growing up, we used to get factory seconds from a cookie factory. It was great! Slightly misshapen, but usually tasted just fine. They came in a big box, within a sealed bag. The box was so large, us kids would just leave it in the freezer, half-opened, and take out a cold cookie or two or eight (don't tell Mom) when we wanted some.

The trouble started when my mom bought a few roasts from the butcher, wrapped in butcher paper, and crammed them into the freezer, not knowing that us kids had unsealed the box of cookies. The unsealed cookies quickly took on the flavour of pork roast. You HAVEN'T LIVED until you've had sugar cookies that tasted like soggy cardboard and raw pork.

We used to dare each other to eat the Meat Cookies. In hindsight, not the smartest thing.

Nobody got sick. I think. Pretty sure.

Pungeons & Flagons: The Story

This weekend, I published my first tabletop game, Pungeons & Flagons. It's a classic indie RPG, in the same genre as various story-heavy games, like The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen and A Penny for My Thoughts. Like Munchausen and it's sibling game, Once Upon a TimeP&F is a competitive storytelling game: the various players compete for control of the story... by interrupting each other with puns.

But every good storytelling game needs a good story.

It was a dark and stormy night. The rum and ginger beer had run out, so I had to explore other alternatives. The keg was dry, and so were the other steakhouses, so I went up the lane to my favourite tavern, The Banned Bandit's Band Band. While The Band wasn't playing (they were banned), the Band was packed. There was a new contest at the Band. I had hopes that the new contest was not a no contest like the old contest contested. I was pleasantly surprised. By the contest; the overly hopped beer at the Band was a bitter disappointment. From that day forward, I told the story of Pungeons & Flagons. But sometimes backwards.

The Procrastination Engine

I have this need to create. Unfortunately, I also have a lot of things that consume my time, leaving 'spare time' immensely valuable to me. I've devised a system that allows me to get things done while also balancing the things that are important to me. One of these days, I'll code something up that does all this (Timeful was close, but alas, Google bought it and wrecked it), but I thought I'd write it down here - it's a useful technique on paper too.

  1. Create a TODO list with everything you might want to do, INCLUDING entertainment time. Open-ended things should have time limits. Large things should be broken down into single-task chunks (or treated as open-ended tasks)
    • Watch Netflix with my wife for an hour
    • Play Overwatch with my son for an hour
    • Update calendar
    • Edit podcast episode for an hour
    • Plan #gmparty episodes (requires an updated calendar?)
    • Start Too Quiet proof of concept
    • Write blog post about productivity system
  2. Assign each task an expected utility value of 1-10. In economics terms, utility is the expected satisfaction or value that one gets out of a thing. Important things have more. So do really fun things.
    • [3] Watch Netflix with my wife for an hour
    • [3] Play Overwatch with my son for an hour
    • [8] Update calendar
    • [2] Edit podcast episode for an hour
    • [5] Plan #gmparty episodes (requires an updated calendar?)
    • [5] Start Too Quiet proof of concept
    • [9] Write blog post about productivity system
  3. When you have time to do a thing, always do the highest value thing on the list.
    • [9] Write blog post about productivity system
  4. Every time that you work on something on the list, adjust its value:
    1. If you complete the task, remove it from the list
    2. If you don't complete the task, reduce its value in the list. I typically reset entertainment tasks down to 1, but halve the value of ongoing 'productive' tasks.
    • [3] Watch Netflix with my wife for an hour
    • [3] Play Overwatch for an hour
    • [8] Update calendar
    • [2] Edit podcast episode for an hour
    • [5] Plan #gmparty episodes (requires an updated calendar?)
    • [5] Start Too Quiet proof of concept
    • [DELETE] [9] Write blog post about productivity system
  5. Every day that something is on the list, increase its value. I typically double values because that makes important tasks increase faster than non-important. However, that means that the lowest value tasks hit the top value in about a week (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128), as I usually max out at 100. But do what you want.
    • [6] Watch Netflix with my wife for an hour
    • [6] Play Overwatch with my son for an hour
    • [16] Update calendar
    • [4] Edit podcast episode for an hour
    • [10] Plan #gmparty episodes (requires an updated calendar?)
    • [10] Start Too Quiet proof of concept

      Edit: doubling values falls apart in long-term usage, as tasks quickly get to the max and just stay there. Something needs to be figured out for a long-term time scale. Go logarithmic instead of exponential, perhaps?
  6. Repeat, adding new tasks as needed. If something new is really important, feel free to add it to the list with a value higher than 10, so that it can work alongside things that you've already ignored for a few days... but I'd argue that such tasks shouldn't really go into the Procrastination Engine if they're that important.

This system allows you to simply add stuff to a list, and forget about it until it's time to do it. The more things get ignored, the more pressure is added to do those particular things.

Note: a todo list that allows priority sorting is useful, but most only give you a low/medium/high priority. That's not really good enough.