You’ve just entered production with a prioritized list of audio assets that you need to design.

The ones at the top of the list are the important ones. Those are the ones where several disciplines are putting their efforts to culminate in something awesome. You know you’re going to need lots of time to get the audio just right. If the audio falls flat, then everyone’s efforts will be diminished.

And then there are the assets at the bottom of the list. The low priority sounds. You tell yourself, those just have to be good enough. Not only will the customer not care as much about those assets, but even you don’t care as much about those assets, and can acknowledge that they need only be serviceable so that there will be enough time to put real effort into the important sounds.

But then the time comes to design those serviceable sounds, and you end up putting just as much heart and soul into those as you would the others, and you end up having to spend way more time than you’d originally bargained for to finish everything. And even with the extra time spent, you still wish you’d had more time to spend on the important sounds.

We know when our work has reached a quality level that is to our satisfaction. And for most of us, that bar is exceptionally high, since creative people tend to be overly critical of their own work. There is a moment when our work has surpassed even that high bar of self-criticism, a moment where we feel a true sense of pride. For me personally, this moment also comes with a weird sense that I’m listening to someone else’s work than my own. I call this the Threshold of Pride.

There’s no telling how long it will take to cross that threshold. Could take hours. Could take months. And we’ll take that time, because when we pass that threshold and get that reward of being proud of our work, it is so glorious that it can carry us all the way to the next time we achieve it.

The problem is that until we get that feeling that we’re truly satisfied with what we’ve created, there is a lingering element of shame. Pretty much everything beneath the Threshold of Pride is shame and embarrassment and it’s filled with caveats and disclaimers and explanations about the work that remains to make it truly satisfactory. Here’s a visualization!

Theshold of Pride Illustration

I tried to make it to-scale.

And yet spending less effort on some assets is exactly what we sign up for when we decide to work on those sounds at the bottom of the prioritized list.

I know that not everyone has an issue with this, but for the people out there like me who do struggle with this, I want to say that making something that is merely good enough is a skill that can be learned with practice. It is possible to override our feelings and force ourselves to spend less time and effort on the less important sounds. But you have to actually practice it.

One approach that I found useful was to limit the amount of time available to work on any given asset. I would spend no more than an hour or two on any given sound design task before moving on to implementing it into the game, spotting it to the video, etc. I’d loosely plan my approach to get it out there in the wild within the time I’d allotted myself, and when it made its way into the wild, I would try to resist telling people that it was a work in progress and that there was more work that I already had in mind to make it better. It worked pretty well for me.

I know there are plenty of other people out there that struggle with this. I’m curious if anyone else has come up with other approaches. If you have, please leave a comment for the rest of us.