looking back

Have you ever looked back on something you made a long time ago and felt a sense of shame or disgust?

This just happened to me. But first—backstory.

The computer game Thief: The Dark Project came out back in 1998. Twas a good year. Though it’s aged a lot, Thief still remains my favorite video game of all time.

Besides the game itself (a sneaky medieval steampunk-ish game), one of the excellent things about it was the strong fan community. I learned a lot about proper (and improper) digital etiquette through the company’s online forums. 

 Even cooler, the developers released the level editor for the game, allowing fans to create and share their own missions. Many did, myself included.

Though I expect it had happened before, this is the first game I’m aware of to release a level editor to the public. And this wasn’t the polished user-friendly sort of fare you see today. It was clunky, technical and difficult with more commands you had to type in a prompt window than buttons—something clearly made more for the developers than the fans.

Anyhow, I made and finished two missions, as well as a handful of incomplete ones and some contributions to other’s missions. The experience was a valuable one, and partly the reason I have the full-time job I do today.

My mind has returned often to those old missions I’d designed so long ago, especially the half-done ones I wish I’d completed. But interests change and life requires one to move on.

When relating these experiences to a coworker, I got the idea of searching for images of my old creations. I found something even better: a play-through of my first mission on YouTube. I began viewing with a sense of trepidation and it didn’t get better as the video played.

Turns out the person playing it didn’t enjoy the mission very much at all. And I couldn’t blame them—it was bad, much worse than I’d remembered. It’s a wonder they bothered to play it at all, and even finish it. Truthfully, I could only watch in little five-minute spurts.

Looking back, I think of all the things I could have done differently, how I could have made it so much more awesome, wondering why I’d made some of the decisions I had back then. But that was then and this is now. I’ve come a long way, baby.

That was my first ever foray into game design and I’ve learned so much since then. That particular mission had quite a few challenges and barriers to completion, and yet, imperfect as it was, I still finished it and got it out to the public.

All this to say: when you look back on your old stuff, don’t judge it too harshly. It isn’t who you are now, but it was an important step to getting to this place. Even if you think it’s ugly, embarrassing, and amateur—you should consider it a trophy of accomplishment; it’s a  piece of the story, a necessary part of who you are today.

A.P. Lambert

A.P. Lambert is a creative professional who helps others live with creativity and purpose.