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Creative Chemistry: Balancing limitations with great ideas.

The author

Epiphany Search

One key piece of information I’ve gathered is that limitations don’t stifle creativity – but knowing about them does

In the past two years, I've learned more about my own creative process than at any other point in my career. One key piece of information I’ve gathered is that limitations don’t stifle creativity – but knowing about them does.

There is an in-browser game called Little Alchemy, which allows you to combine basic elements (water, fire, earth and air) to create other components, including but not limited to steam, volcanoes, robots and love. You can keep combining and testing with what you've created, and from those four elements you can eventually make 450 separate creations.
If you take a quick look at the game, you can see how simple it is - there's no narrative and only the very simplest of game mechanics, just drag-and-drop and keep testing until your options run out. Sure, some combinations won't work, and sometimes you'll get stuck, but occasionally one guess, or one flash of inspiration, will open up a new world of opportunities. What can I combine with human? What if I apply energy to this rock?
The beauty of this game is that you have no idea what your limits are - so you're pushed to keep testing and trying. With a surge in crafting games like Minecraft and Don't Starve, this ignorance of limitations is becoming more and more popular as a game mechanic - and it's something that all of us can implement in our creative work as well.
When I first started at Epiphany, it was a constant frustration of mine that I didn't really know which creative concepts I could realistically pitch. Quite often, I'd come up with an idea and almost instantly think "Nah, we can't do that". Two years of experience later, and with some huge creative projects under my belt, I now know that in fact the opposite should be true. I don't want to know what we can and can't do, and in fact I believe that any creative team should have the same approach if they’re to produce award-winning work.
Last year we created a free-running platform game, complete with achievements and levels to beat. It was the first time we had really produced something like this before, and I hope the other people who worked on it won't mind me revealing that there were a number of concerned faces in the meeting room on the day it was pitched! That pitch, however, resulted in the content team researching video game narrative, the design team studying the art styles of games throughout the ages, and the developers hunting down examples of HTML/CSS/JavaScript browser games to tinker with.
If we had had that idea and thought "nah, we can't do that", we would have missed out on an opportunity to really engage with that form of interactive media. Instead, we created one of the most exciting projects I personally have ever worked on, and each creative department gained skills that can be developed and used across Epiphany's client base - a true example of the value of thinking outside our limitations.

Epiphany's greatest strength is in its ability to push boundaries, and we can only do that by continuing to work outside them and find ways to work around and develop what we can do to achieve the concept we've created.