Archive for category: Indie Life
I was out of town last week, flying up to Joburg for the day job.
I also gave a talk on System Crash to the Joburg Make Games community, discussing development, design decisions, challenges faced, etc.
Luckily it was recorded (thanks, Eugene!). So, for your enjoyment, dear blog reader, I present my talk. 🙂
(It picks up once we actually get the game running properly, past the text intro bits)
As I mentioned in a previous post, a week or so ago I started feeling the twang of repetitive strain in my mouse arm.
Pretty alarming. That’s your body ringing the alarm bell before you suffer long-term injury.
So, whether I wanted to or not, I’ve been taking a break.
Difficult, since so much of what I do, work or play, involves a computer. And I didn’t want to take leave from work just yet. But after hours I (mostly) avoided the computer. I even browsed twitter on my phone using my left hand, as I wanted to completely relax the right.
Not that bad, overall. I caught up on some TV, read, spent time with my girlfriend. And it seems to have helped, the arm is improving. Not quite 100% yet, so I’m still being cautious, but getting there. Whew.
With almost 2 weeks of unproductive-ness, though, I’m starting to feel the itch. The urge to do something. R&R is fun, for sure, but it’s not fulfilling in the same way that building things is. I desperately want to finish SC then move on to all the other ideas bubbling around in my head! Time’s a-wasting!
I gave in to the restlessness the other night and started doodling. Here, enjoy this work-in-progress picture of an evil ghost lady. A dress that is both gauzy/transparent AND made of glowing ectoplasm? Hahahaha IHaveNoIdeaWhatImDoingDog.jpg.
The hand held up pretty well, though. Painting is a different set of movements to mouse use but it’s still a good sign. Almost ready to get back to work.
Fortunately, there is a confluence of public holidays next week that mean that I can take 3 days off and get a full 9 day stretch of holiday time. Which is perfect, I can put in 8 hours a day on SC, feel productive AND relax the arm in the evening, avoiding immediately straining it again.
I’m looking forward to it!
But that’s next week. No work today. Today, I’m slightly hung over. And I think I’m going to get some quality time in with Pillars of Eternity. 😉
It’s been pretty difficult, given how much I was enjoying it, to not dive back in to Pillars every evening after work. I have been disciplined and patient. But now, now I play!
Enjoy your weekends, everyone.
Living the dream, living the dream. Now just gotta make it pay the rent. 😉
Man, I wish I was a robot.
Or at least a cyborg of some sort. Come on science, what’s the delay?
The last few days, I’ve developed a persistent aching in my mouse arm, along the forearm and near the elbow. Not the first time this has happened, but it’s always scary when it does. I need that arm, long term repetitive strain would be a huge problem in my life.
My only choice, in order to avoid a lasting injury, is to take a break for a few days. I still need to work at the day job, of course, but it’s the after hours PC activity that, I believe, pushes my muscles and tendons to breaking point.
It needs to be done, but I resent the loss of productivity.
My twitter feed right now is filled with awesome devs meeting and hanging out with other awesome devs over at GDC, having a whale of a time. I’m a bit jealous, I’ll admit. Maybe more than a bit.
I have the money to go to GDC, but I’ve never quite been able to justify it to myself. With the terrible exchange rate from SA rands to US dollars, it’s a rather expensive trip. And that’s just the trip, never mind actually renting a booth. Without a game with a bit of buzz behind it to show, I don’t know that the return on investment would make sense. Or rather, make cents.
At least, that’s what the “sensible” part of my mind tells me. But I’m still jealous.
And I’m remembering something I read about the phrase “fake it till you make it.” The word “fake” has unpleasant connotations attached to it, sleazy connotations. But, as someone pointed out once, the point isn’t to be a fake. Rather, it’s to act like the thing you want to be, even if you don’t feel you are that thing, yet. If you want to be a game developer, act like a game developer. Go to the conferences, introduce yourself as a game developer, go up and talk to other professionals in the industry etc. Even if doing so feels like wearing a suit that doesn’t fit. Eventually, so I’m told, it stop feeling like an act you’re putting on.
As a side note, I still hesitate to call myself a game developer. I haven’t finished and released a commercial game yet, so I still feel like a wannabe. Calling myself a game developer twangs away at my Imposter Syndrome, and I still often introduce myself as a programmer.
It’s something I need to fight against. I know that, logically, but it’s still a struggle, emotionally.
So I’m thinking next year I just need to make a plan and go to GDC. Just fucking do it. Walk the walk. Go as a developer, get a name tag that says Director of Rogue Moon Studios on it.
Oh, how pretentious I feel saying that. I struggle to refer to myself by that title with anything other than a self-mocking smirk. What a laugh, me, a director. Psshhtt.
Gotta work on this.
Well, that’s that, then. The last of my things moved out of my old flat, spare furniture sold off, keys handed over to the landlord.
It’s a bit strange to be out of there, finally. Seven years I’d stayed in that flat, I’d long since outgrown it. But I stayed because rent was low(ish) and the shops were within walking distance so I didn’t have to drive much. A good spot for keeping my expenses reasonable while I pursued my dream of indie game development.
That didn’t quite work out, of course. Despite my careful planning, I still ran out of money before finishing my game, and I’m now back to working a day job while I finish SC after hours. But it sheltered me along one leg of my journey, that little flat, and now I’ve seen the last of it.
Strange, like I said. But good. Good to move on.
The packing up was rewarding, too. I sorted out my crap, consigning the detritus to garbage bags and hauling them off to the bins. You feel lighter after such an exercise, unclogged. And it forced me to go through my old notepads and scrap books, looking for anything worth keeping. In the process, I found my old game design notes and the little concept sketches I did, some of them kind of cool, some of them scribbles incomprehensible to anyone but myself.
I sat there, on the floor in my now furniture-devoid apartment, paging through those old, dusty notes and smiling. Remembering.
Game development can be hard, and solo game development even more so. There’s no one to motivate you but yourself, no team mates to draw emotional strength from or to share the burdens with. There have been times, working alone in that little flat while my friends buy houses and start families, where I’ve wondered whether the sacrifice was worth it. Whether I even really want to continue. Whether it matters.
Looking through those notes reminded me. No, this is where I belong. This is where my heart is, where it’s always been.
Page after page of notes and sketches and diagrams. Skill and character descriptions, city and continent maps, spider diagrams of plot brainstorming. Snippets of world lore and quest ideas, monster and building and equipment concepts. Logos and emblems. Database designs and class descriptions(the code kind).
Some of the pages I took photos of:
Much of it shoddy, my nascent skills not quite up to the task of capturing the ideas in my head. And not yet disciplined or committed enough to sit and really flesh them out. But the spirit of the endeavor was there, shining through those pages. The urge to bring my daydreams of other worlds to life.
Like I said, I’ve asked myself whether it matters to me, which is part of the larger question of what I want my life to be about, really. The answer is there, in those notebooks. Indie game developers have a variety of reasons for doing what they’re doing. Some come to game design in order to explore interesting mechanics, others for the chance to bring their art to life. Me, I’m a world builder. World building, the exploration of imaginary places and characters, is what really fires me with excitement.
That’s why I love the fantasy and sci-fi genres. That’s why I can lose an entire Friday night on some Warhammer 40k lore wiki. That’s why I don’t skip the text. Strong world building is the common factor across my favourite games, more than mechanics or genre; compelling fictional worlds that I long to lose myself in, characters that I want to spend time getting to know.
I have spent my youth enjoying and absorbing the fantastical worlds that others have built. Now I want to craft worlds of my own design. And then hand them over to other people to enjoy.
Design is communication. The skills I’ve taught myself, coding, painting, writing, those are just different tools to communicate a design. Each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Game development weaves these disciplines together, binding story, art and mechanical interaction into a whole greater than its parts, conveying living, breathing worlds as no other medium can.
I’ve saved those old design notes, filed them away fondly for when I need a boost. To remind me of where my heart lies, if I forget again.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have worlds to build. 😉
It’s been about a week or so since I released the new SC beta and I’m getting some good feedback from folks trying out the build. So thanks, everyone who took the time!
Overall, the impression seems to be pretty positive, which is gratifying. I’m happy with how the game stands right now, myself, but it’s easy to lose perspective on these things. So it’s good to know that people are enjoying playing it and I’m not deluding myself. There are a few things that still need tweaking, but overall it’s onward toward final release!
I was hoping I’d manage to get the next build out this week. But that’s not looking like it’s going to be possible, as I’m in the middle of moving out of my old flat and in with my girlfriend. It’s a big step, one we’re both excited about, a new chapter in our lives and so on. Buuuutt it does leave me with a million and one things to get done in a fairly short space of time. Game dev, at least for a week or so, has to take a back seat.
A little frustrating, any delay, when the finish line is so very close now. But you have to make some allowances for life, don’t you? 😉
I’ll leave you with a shot of the view out the window, from my new desk location. It’s rather pretty, up here on the 7th floor.
I think you’re supposed to write these kinds of retrospective pieces at the end of the year they’re relevant to, at least by about New Years. Not halfway through January. But fuck your rules, man, I’m a free spirit.
Twenty fourteen. It sounds like some science fiction date. It almost is. To write about it in the past tense is somewhat surreal. And to think that it marks the third year of working on System Crash, even stranger. I quit my job and took the plunge into indie game development just yesterday, didn’t I?
No, no. that me was heavier in the wallet and lighter around the waist.
Making things is harder than dreaming about making things. An obvious truth, but that doesn’t mean you don’t learn it all over again when you actually get down to doing a thing. You learn it in the same way that Sisyphus learned that ruddy great boulders are heavy. A truth plucked from the realm of the abstract into painful, grinding reality. You learn it your bones, your sinews, down in your water. Shit be tough, yo.
And the worst part of it all is the gnawing uncertainty. Is this the right choice? Am I going in the right direction? Maybe I should have forked left instead of right. Is this finished, or does it need more time to bake? Others can light the way, those who’ve already made the trip, but you can never walk exactly the same path. At the end of the day, it’s really down to you and your gut. You just have to hope that your instincts are good.
Twenty fourteen. The days of future past. How I look back on two oh fourteen depends on my mood, really.
If I’m feeling tired and glum, 2014 feels like a bit of a failure. A difficult year of struggling to juggle a mentally-intensive day job and a mentally-intensive side project. Along with my personal relationships and physical health. A struggle that has turned into a gruelling slog. It’s a year where I repeatedly spent time and effort building UIs and game systems that I then chucked out. A year where I failed to really get my act together when it came to marketing System Crash effectively. Which creates the gnawing fear that I’m going to release SC to a resounding silence. Eek.
Of course, I have a tendency toward self-flagellation.
When I’m well rested and feeling positive, I see 2014 differently. I’m working for a great company that helped me get back on my feet, financially, one which encourages my game development efforts. And I have a wonderful girlfriend who is incredibly supportive of my dreams.
The decision to iterate and improve aspects of System Crash has resulted in a marked improvement to the game. The presentation of the story and world is far more engaging and interactive, and there’s a lot more content. I managed to write 21k words of story and dialogue in total, about the length of a short story. And my revitalized finances have allowed me to commission new, world-class background illustrations that flesh out some of the areas that I felt were lacking, bringing the world of System Crash to rich, vibrant life.
(Click for larger)
The game is almost done. It’ll be out shortly, for real this time, and by this time next year, I’ll be writing about my progress on Game 2! And I’m bursting with ideas for what comes next! Really, I have a document full of ideas for new game projects.
I’m right on the verge of achieving something I’ve dreamed about my entire life, releasing my own commercial game, one completely of my own design! I’m proud of what I built, and excited for what comes next!
And sucking at marketing is something you can improve, it’s not like people not having heard of your game is a terminal condition. You can fix that. It’s something I can work on and improve at, over time. This first game is about learning, more than anything, and the areas where I make the biggest mistakes are the areas where I can learn the most.
Most importantly, I’ve learned how to wrestle with the doubt, anxiety and weariness that beset anyone doing anything creative. Resilience, the ability to persevere in the face of hardship and doubt, the thing that psychologists call ‘grit’, is one of the most important traits to develop. I’m building that endurance! Again, it comes back to doing, rather than thinking about doing.
2014. The third year of my adventure. What a year it was. I can’t wait to see what 2015 brings.