Archive for category: Life

Worldcraft

04 Mar
March 4, 2015

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.

20150302_213238

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.

20150302_213321

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. 😉

Sense and Sensibility and Hippopotami

24 Feb
February 24, 2015

That’s my idea for one of those classical-novel-meets-pop-culture-monster books that seem so popular these days. Africa’s second deadliest animal (after the mosquito) deserves its time in the literary spotlight, methinks.

The action in the novel would have to take place mostly at night, though. Hippos, as we learned, are rather fond of spending their sunlit hours participating in group lie-ins, you see.

346

327

As I’ve told my girlfriend repeatedly, dating her comes with some good perks. This last weekend saw us trotting off up north to St. Lucia, as a client of hers had offered her and a partner (yours truly) a weekend at their holiday lodge. To take in the sights and experience the attractions on offer, the better to write about their establishment.

St. Lucia is a cute little town, all the attractions are along the main road and everywhere you see signs to watch out for the hippos that leave the river and wander around town at night.

229

We didn’t manage to spot any hippos on the lawn of our guest lodge, much to our disappointment, but the weekend was rather enjoyable. The estuary tour was a highlight, taking a leisurely barge ride down the river and having sundowners near a pod of sleepy hippopotami. They’re bloody huge animals, let me tell you.

245

260

409

421

324

390

The horse ride on the beach the next day was also fantastic, setting out in the morning along untouched coastline, making our way down to the the lagoon where crocodiles wallowed in the shallows just a couple of meters away. There’s something primeval about riding a horse along untouched beach while the sand undulates past you…

440

458

459

460

491

492

502

504

513

We ended the weekend at the skiboat club, eating our lunch while bachelor male hippos gnashed their teeth and fought in the waters nearby, the locals paying little attention to the common sight.

Overall, a great weekend.

HQ Relocated

10 Feb
February 10, 2015

terran-liftoff03

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.

20150210_084720

Looking back on 2014.

20 Jan
January 20, 2015

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)

MapCompare

StoryCompare

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.

Happy 2015!

12 Jan
January 12, 2015

Well, I’m back from holiday now and ready to tackle the new year, creative tanks refueled and energy levels restored!

That was a long, difficult year (I’ll write more on that in an upcoming post, but suffice to say, I was fairly burned out by the end of it), so I chose to put aside any thoughts of “being productive” over the break and get some proper R&R in. Once social duties were discharged, I played 2 video games start to finish (and got halfway through Shadowrun:Dragonfall), read through some of my backlog of books and gorged myself on TV series. And spent my evenings drinking and gazing at the stars in the jacuzzi with my beautiful girlfriend.

I’m really glad I did. It’s going to be a big, challenging year for me, and it’s important that I take my own advice here and don’t push myself to the breaking point. 😉

Anyway, let’s start off the year right with something cool and System Crash-related. I finally finished the proper website, and it’s looking stunning, thanks to some great art from my artists.

Check it out!

And if you’re interested in the game, don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter! I won’t spam you, I promise. 😉

The Juggling Act

11 Nov
November 11, 2014

best-jugglers-nj

I was asked a question by Daniel in the comments of my last post, about how I juggle my leisure time and work. Do I go full coder-hermit, or take regular breaks?

So I thought I’d turn my answer into a blog post, since the answer might help someone, somewhere.

First, let’s set the scene. I work full time as a programmer, putting in a standard 40 hours most weeks. I work remotely though, so that saves me burning time I would otherwise sit in traffic, which is nice. I don’t have any kids or other dependents. I do have a girlfriend, who I mostly see on weekends. For the first year and a half of System Crash’s development, I worked full time on it, burning my savings until they started running out. The start of this month, November, marks the third year that SC has been in development, though I would put the total man-years at approximately two, as my progress working after hours is about a third or a quarter or what it would be working full time.

The first thing I’m going to say is that game development is for the long haul. Except for extremely small, simple games (which you should be making if you’re a beginner), anything you build is going to take a few months to finish, minimum. You may be tempted to burn on all thrusters as hard as possible, to banish all social contact and code late into the night, chain-drinking caffeinated drinks in the hope that enthusiasm and a fierce work ethic will take you across the finish line. But that is almost certainly not going to be the case. You will burn out long before the game is done, that way.

You have to approach it as a marathon runner would. You must pace yourself for the long haul, carefully managing your internal resources. Your goal is to come up with a strategy which will set a moderate but sustainable pace, and which will see you across the finish line in a reasonable amount of time.

The human body is also not a machine. We are analogue beings, our bodies follow ancient rhythms and cycles. And those rhythms vary across people. What works for me, won’t necessarily work for anyone else. You have to start with self-analysis. When are you most productive during the day? How much sleep do you need? How much social contact? How much time for chores?

For me, I have found that I struggle to work in the early evening. My energy levels climb through the morning, peaking at midday, then falling again after lunch. By early evening, I’ve fully shifted into unwind mode, recuperating, relaxing, having some supper. And, once I’m in that mode, I find it hard to pull myself back into work focus again. It’ll usually be 9 or 10 before I get back into the swing of work, if I go that way. Which leaves me working past midnight.

These days, I tend not to work in the evening, though. At least, not much. What I’ve found works best for me is to get up a few hours earlier in the morning, instead. I’ll make sure I don’t open any email or check twitter, anything that could lead to procrastination, and I’ll get a few good productive hours in, first thing. Not only am I fresher in the morning, it’s motivating to feel like you’ve gotten the work you wanted to do out of the way first thing.

Then, when you’re relaxing in the evening after working all day, you don’t feel any guilt. It’s the pleasure of knowing the day is over, that you’ve done all you can, and that you can rest.

It requires careful discipline on my part, since I’m naturally a night owl. If I let myself, I’ll stay up past midnight. But if I do that, I wake up too late to get my early morning session of work in, requiring me to work in the evenings instead, which leads to me staying up late again and so on and so forth in a cascade. Or, I might still wake up early, but without my 8 hours I’m sluggish and prone to procrastinate instead of working efficiently. It requires careful discipline.

When I pull it off, it’s great! I get between 2 and 3 good hours work a day in during the week, and in the evenings I play games or read for a few hours before I hit the hay. On the weekend I’ll put in about 10-12 hours, distributed around the time I spend with my girlfriend and social events (she watches her shows while I code on my laptop). So somewhere north of 20 hours a week, on average, is what I put into SC.

Now, this is not to say that careful time management is all that’s required. I have had to give up many things. I go out less, and don’t see my friends as often. I don’t play games anywhere near as much as I used to, ironically, and I haven’t got the time to invest in any game that’s going to waste my time with filler or stuff I’ve seen a hundred times. I’m not getting enough exercise, really, and have gained a fair bit of weight in the last three years. My back and legs get sore from sitting at a desk too much, which was the main driver for me to move to a standing desk. I dropped taekwon-do lessons, which I enjoyed. And my relationship survives in part because my girlfriend is incredibly understanding and supportive of my goals.

It’s pretty demanding. I’m working 60 hour+ weeks, every week, month after month, with no guarantee or reward at the end. My body and mind suffer the effects of permanent, self-imposed crunch, and I still hit the occasional wall, physically and mentally. When that happens, it’s best just to take the weekend off and chill. Do the things you love that help to fill the well again, then come back to it and keep working. Just so long as you don’t take too long a break, or lose focus and drift onto something else. That falls under “knowing yourself” again, being able to take enough of a break when you need it to restore your batteries, without falling out of a regular routine.

It’s like gym, you can skip a day or even a week, but skip a month and you’ll find it hard to start up again. Beware that trap.

So the take-away is this:

1) Plan for the long-term. It’s consistent, sustained effort that gets you there, not a quick dash. Don’t try to outrace burnout.
2) Work around your own rhythms and constraints. No two people are quite the same. Know yourself.
3) Your body is not a machine. Schedule recharge/down time.
4) Manage your time effectively so that you get the most out of your hours. This requires discipline.
5) You’ll have to make sacrifices, regardless. Anything worth doing will require something in exchange. Work out what you can give up or cut back on, and what you can’t.
6) Recognize when you reach breaking point and give yourself time off to recuperate.
7) But know the difference between taking a break and losing focus. Make sure you you don’t lose your momentum.

I hope that helps. 🙂

Sustenance

23 Oct
October 23, 2014

2014-10-23_00002

2014-10-23_00004

2014-10-23_00009

Gosh, but Alien:Isolation is pretty.

Especially on my new gaming machine. Everything on ultra, runs smooth as butter. Delicious. Screenshots can’t really do it justice.

I stood in front of this window, staring in wonder at the scene in front of me, for about 5 minutes. And trying to find the right angle to take screenshots. At least, until an android came up behind me and strangled me. Bloody androids.

The only good android is a phone.

Funny thing, right. Game development is so intensive, so time consuming (especially with a day job), that I can go long periods without stopping and playing new games. At least, nothing more involving than lunch-break games. Things I can fit into half an hour. Which is not a good thing, I think. You can lose sight of why you’re doing it. Why you’re working so hard. What was it all for again?

It’s good to regularly reconnect with that sense of wonder. To remind yourself that this is why you push yourself to the edge of exhaustion. The body needs food, but so does the soul, the creative spirit. Don’t forget to eat. 😉

Mind The Straw, Sam

16 Sep
September 16, 2014

straw-bale-on-field

(Let me just apologize up front to the folk who visit this blog for the sporadic updates about game development. You’ll probably find this bewildering and/or irrelevant. Feel free to skip it, by all means. But I had a long-form thought I wanted to get down, twitter isn’t the best medium, and it seemed a bit much to hurl out randomly amoungst my friends and family on Facebook. So I thought to myself “you know, you do have a blog…”)

A couple of people in the skeptical community have been sharing this piece by well-known atheist writer Sam Harris, posted in response to…well, you should read the piece for the proper context, in his own words. I’m just going to critique it. He says some unfortunate things, in my opinion, and then falls prey to a common pitfall when discussing gender. It bugged me to the point where I felt like I needed to get down my thoughts.

(Let me say up front that I mostly like Harris and find him to be fairly clear-headed. Mostly.)

The first problem is that Sam reaches for an easy straw man counterargument in response to the charge of sexism. In fairness, misunderstandings arise, and these kinds of off-the-cuff remarks can be more poorly phrased than something carefully mulled over and written down. But still.

Here is where it starts. Harris relays their conversation to us.

She: Okay, let’s forget what you said about Sarah Palin. What you said about women in the atheist community was totally denigrating to women and irresponsible. Women can think just as critically as men. And men can be just as nurturing as women.

Me: Of course they can! But if you think there are no differences, in the aggregate, between people who have Y chromosomes and people who don’t; if you think testosterone has no psychological effects on human minds in general; if you think we can’t say anything about the differences between two bell curves that describe whole populations of men and women, whether these differences come from biology or from culture, we’re not going to get very far in this conversation.

She: I’m not saying that women and men are the same.

Me: Okay, great. So I think you misunderstood the intent of what I was saying. I was just acknowledging that some differences in the general tendencies of men and women might explain why 84 percent of my followers on Twitter are men. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to get into this, because there are 200 people standing behind you in line patiently waiting to have their books signed.

She: You should just know that what you said was incredibly sexist and very damaging, and you should apologize.

Me: You really are determined to be offended, aren’t you? It’s like you have installed a tripwire in your mind, and you’re just waiting for people to cross it.

If it’s not obvious, here, let me summarize the gist of the exchange :

Her: What you said is sexist.

Sam: Are you saying you think there aren’t any differences between men and women? If you think that, this conversation is over before it started!

You see it?

Sam’s response is an attack on a position that the other person didn’t state, a straw man argument. It is not the case that saying a particular generalization is harmful or biased means that you think the 2 genders are completely identical. It’s a huge reach to infer that from that comment, but it IS a great deal easier to knock down, as arguments go.

Sam then continues to build his pile of straw later, on his blog. Inviting us, his readers, to join him in laughing at the idea of someone denying that sex differences play even a small role in skewed gender representation in the management of powerful companies.

However, they are not the only factors that explain differences in social status between men and women. For instance, only 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women. How much of this is the result of sexism? How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices women make in their 20’s or 30’s to have families? How much is explained by normally distributed psychological differences between the sexes? I have no idea, but I am confident that each of these factors plays a role. Anyone who thinks disparities of this kind must be entirely a product of sexism hasn’t thought about these issues very deeply.

I’ve read the piece multiple times now, and I’m quite at a loss as to when either of the women claimed to hold that position. Again, it’s a straw man that Sam sets up, just to knock down. It’s very easy to seem intellectually superior when you make a show of knocking down exaggerated claims you’ve pinned on your opponent.

Anyway, Harris spends a lot of time talking about how he knows and respects women etc, and even points out that he recognizes the danger of skirting the “some of my best friends are black” style defense against accusations of sexism.

But simply pointing out that you’re aware of the pit looming in front of you isn’t enough. You have to actually change course to avoid it.

Personally, I would have hoped that if Sam had so much respect for and interaction with women, he might have picked up by now how many of them find comments about their “nurturing” natures to be patronizing as all hell, especially when reached for glibly as an explanation of why they are underrepresented in various fields or careers.

You see, and this really gets to the heart of what Harris missed here, these kinds of benevolent-seeming comments are often used to justify the differences created by deeply-entrenched structural sexism. You’ll hear things like women are too delicate for sports, too sensitive to go to war, they don’t like to get dirty, they’re more naturally inclined to soft skills like caring for children, they’re more supportive and less competitive than men, and so on and so forth.

These words, plotted out visually, would form a mental map around the core stereotypes of motherhood and femininity, the idealized archetype of woman (in the eyes of a lot of men). And these ideas have frequently been used to oppress women throughout history.

These kinds of things are examples of benevolent sexism, sexist concepts that, on surface examination, sound positive. Women are more caring, women are nicer, women aren’t as dirty. Isn’t that a nice thing to say about someone? How could anyone protest being called “the fairer sex”?!?!

But they straightjacket women and the ways they can express themselves in the world. They send signals to women about how they’re expected to behave and which careers they are expected to go into, and they have been used, over and over and over, to justify the inequality caused by deep-seated misogyny. No, we hear, it’s not sexism that keeps women out of certain careers, certain spaces, it’s because they’re just not inclined toward those kinds of things in the first place! It’s not that we’re keeping women out, it’s that they don’t even want to come in!

Which brings us back to Harris’s contentious comment.

There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” he said. “The atheist variable just has this—it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”

Well, obviously, if women don’t want to participate, the likely explanation is because they’re just not inclined to this kind of thing, this man-thing. This rough-and-tumble back-and-forth intellectual pugilism. Women are more gentle, you see. Softer. Nurturing.

Harris doesn’t want to acknowledge the (likely unintentional) sexism in this comment, but he doesn’t have real evidence that critical thought is more “intrinsically male”, more a part of our natures. And it’s unfortunate that Harris can’t see his quick, off-the-cuff reaching for that particular explanation first as part of a larger, problematic pattern experienced regularly by women in society.

And it’s doubly unfortunate that many of the prominent males in the community are, as we speak, closing ranks and working to discredit the sources and communities where the strongest feminist critique is coming from. It would be nice if they’d try to listen and understand instead of getting defensive. If I hadn’t already unfollowed Dawkins a long time ago, I would have had to, now. People you look up to, intellectually, making cringe-worthy comments is a fairly painful experience.

The ending paragraph slips from what could still be considered to be an honest mistake to an unfortunate bit of vindictiveness. I understand that he’s taking heavy flak and the urge to punch back is probably strong. Hell, I’m an argumentative guy, I get the urge to strike back.

Pretending to want to keep the harmony while taking the opportunity to throw some less-than-subtle kicks at whoever it was he was debating with is a shit move. It’s like firing a few tank shells across the border at a neighboring nation and waiting for a counter-attack, all while loudly proclaiming that you’re trying to keep the peace. That is not what the moral high ground looks like.

Start a fight or don’t, whatever, but just own it, Sam. And clear up all this the bloody straw.

Pricing Is Hard

15 Jul
July 15, 2014

System Crash is going to be priced at $15. Because I’m indecisive, mainly.

I mulled on it for ages and just couldn’t reach a decision. I basically hovered between 2 price points, $10 and $20. But for the life of me, I couldn’t settle on which was a better option. Some days I’d lean more toward $10, others I was almost certain that $20 was the better decision. Doesn’t help that I have no first-hand knowledge to go by, no past sales figures to compare. In the end, I just got tired of thinking about it. So I shrugged, said “ah, fuck it” and split the difference. $15 it will be!

Thinking about pricing is tricky. Especially since, as developers, I think we all have 2 viewpoints on the matter. Viewpoints that pull in two opposite directions. Our developer side and our gamer/consumer side. We’ve all had experience as gamers purchasing games, and we all know that offering a game cheaply can convince us to take a chance on a game.

So there’s the temptation to just set the price low and hope to cast the net wide. That’s where the lean toward pricing SC at $10 comes from.

But you’ve got to be careful with that. Humans have a tendency to only remember the hits and forget about the misses when trawling through our memories of the past for data to confirm impressions. That’s how John Edwards makes his living. You don’t remember the times a low price failed to persuade you to buy a game. So you don’t really, objectively know that price was the deciding factor, or even how much price weighs against other factors when you make decisions. It might just be that the price is easy to recall and compare objectively, so you it sticks in your memory. The more fuzzy parts of your decision-making might remaing hidden from you.

There’s also plenty of advice from people selling their games, that you shouldn’t price your title too low, that cutting your price in half won’t result in a more than double increase in units sold. And that the optimal price point is often higher than you imagine.

And I know that I, personally, am a pretty shit haggler. I tend to lowball myself. Based on advice I’ve read/heard about freelance work and so on, I suspect I’m not alone in that regard. So I know that I can’t really trust my instincts, that I should probably take whatever figure my gut thinks is reasonable and raise it by 30-50%. That’s where the urge to price SC at $20 comes from. Maybe even $25! Daring!

As an aside, it’s funny (and scary) to think about how the regular Steam sales have affected perception of $20-$25. There was a time when that was for the low end of (new) games. Now that’s like premium indie or slightly discounted mainstream. For the Natural Selection 2’s of the world.

It doesn’t help that there are many great games priced at $10. Some of which, if I’m honest, I think are better than System Crash. Which makes me feel presumptuous and nervous, pricing SC higher than those titles!

But maybe those games are priced too low, or are in later parts of the sales tail, or have alternate monetization, or some other factor. I don’t know! It’s one of those things where you just have to try not to panic and go with what you know is a good value proposition, if you’ll excuse the biz speak. I spend more than $20 just for a casual night out with friends for a few hours. System Crash is looking like it will have close to 80 missions at this stage! Overall, it’s good value!

I have to hold onto that, use it to steady my nerves. I’m not trying to gouge anyone here, but I also want to trade my output for what it’s worth, a fair price, traded honestly, for good value. And hopefully at least cover my expenses!

So fuck it. 15 bucks is what it will be.

On Anxiety And Measuring Success

03 Jul
July 3, 2014

Anxiety is paralyzing.

Or, at least, it is for me. I can only talk about my own experiences here. Other people might thrive under stress, I don’t know.

Tell me if you’ve ever experienced this. A giant deadline looms. Every time you think about it, your stomach clenches slightly. But, instead of doing the rational thing, instead of buckling down and focusing on making the best use of your time, you find yourself procrastinating. Flittering away your time on the most trivial distractions.

Which makes the anxiety even worse. Whenever you stop procrastinating, the anxiety rushes back, made all the more worse by the knowledge that you have even less time left, and compounded by the guilt you feel at having squandered time on procrastination.

Which, of course, makes the urge to go back to procrastinating, to distract yourself from your anxiety, even stronger. The proverbial vicious cycle. And even if you’re aware of it, it can be extremely hard to escape the cycle.

For myself, I’ve experienced this more and more frequently the closer I get to releasing System Crash. I’ve invested so much time, money and effort into the project that thinking about the outcome creates a churning mix of hope, fear and stress. And, unfortunately, I’m one of those people who hopes for the best but anticipates/plans for the worst. I would love for System Crash to do well, but mentally I’m braced for it to be a flop. Which is just realistic, very few people hit it out of the park on their first swing, and certainly I’ve made a range of mistakes that I cringe thinking about (though hopefully I’ll avoid them with the next project).

But that kind of “realistic pessimism” mindset means that, in my mind, the chance of failure far outweighs the probability of success. So the anxiety loop feeds on that. I think about the outcome, my mind imagines failure/disappointment, and I feel…well, I suspect it’s anxiety, but I’m not so consciously aware of that part. What I am aware of is a sort of draining away of my motivation and enthusiasm. I develop a creeping apathy toward my own project, and a strong desire to focus on something else.

So I’ll go off and paint, for example, even though I know it isn’t a priority, that I really should be getting my SC work done in my scant free time. But the painting is simple, relaxing and creative. And painting still feels like I’m achieving something, unlike goofing off playing video games for hours. The fact that it feels productive means that I don’t feel the guilt that I do when simply playing around, but it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, so there’s none of the anxiety either. My future, my self-identity, that isn’t caught up in whether I paint this fantasy monster well or not.

Another one is getting into pointless internet debates. I have strong opinions on things at the best of times. But I think that when I’m stressed, I give in to the temptation to argue far more. Again, I suspect it’s my mind distracting itself from one emotion with another. “But it’s important that this is said!” I think. But it isn’t important. The long-term work is what is important, my mind is just focusing on distractions to push away the stress, to alleviate the sense of looming identity-threat.

So that’s fairly sucky. I dunno, I hope I haven’t come off sounding neurotic here. I don’t want to exaggerate the problem. But it certainly is something I’ve noticed. Especially now, toward the end. The closer to the end I get, the stronger the resistance is. But what can you do about it?

Enough talking about the problem, what’s the solution?

Well, discipline helps. Being able to force yourself to soldier through, whatever you’re feeling. But I don’t find discipline alone does it. At least not for me, not long term. Maybe I’m just not disciplined enough, I don’t know. But it’s really hard to stand as stern taskmaster over your own mind when it’s that same mind experiencing the stress and wanting to escape it. I find that if you try to simply pit your will against your emotions, eventually your will crumbles. Willpower is a castle built on the rock of your emotions, your drive and desire. When the foundations start to crumble, the structure cannot stand for long.

So discipline alone hasn’t proven to be a great solution, for me. I can power through, but only for a while. A more permanent solution is required.

What else? Well, what’s really needed here is to address the source of the problem, that anxiety. The mind can’t carry that kind of burden for long, it will seek to put the burden down one way or the other. If you can’t find a more intelligent way to give your mind relief, the animal subconscious will do it for you, it will play its tricks with procrastination and so on.

So What I’ve found works best, for me, is to reframe the way you think about it. The anxiety comes from the sense of identity-threat and impending disappointment. From this line of thinking – “I’ve tried so hard, put in so much, what if it’s a failure?!? What if it’s a public failure?!?! Oh no!!! :(”

But what is it specifically? What is the “failure” I’m afraid of? Well, here, failure is the game being a financial flop. Not making enough money to cover its costs. Being disappointing, to me and others.

But surely that isn’t the only measure of success? Making money? I know it’s going to sound like hippy bullshit, but the only way I’ve found to truly relieve that anxiety long term, to achieve a measure of mental zen, is to redefine how I am choosing to measure success. Let the money be a nice, but not necessary condition for considering the project “successful.”

Instead, choose to measure success by :

– Whether you’re proud of what you’ve created. You’ll probably never be perfectly happy with anything you create, but you can be proud of it, nevertheless.

– The sense of pride and accomplishment you feel for actually having done it. You’ve done what you set out to do. You’ve taken the step most people can’t or won’t. You haven’t just talked the talk, you’ve walked the walk. You haven’t just dreamed about it, you’ve picked up your tools and turned it into a reality. That’s a powerful thing. Keep doing that and your life WILL change.

– What you’ve learned in the process. Education ain’t cheap, as a friend told me when I mentioned that I was stressed about the fact that I’d sunk so much of my savings into this project and I might see little in return. And that’s the plain truth. Education is expensive, but it’s the best investment you can make, investing in yourself .

– Whether the game finds an audience who enjoys it, no matter how small. Even if it’s just 3 people and one of them’s your mum. If it finds an audience who it resonates with, who enjoy playing it and are enthusiastic, you’ve built something that adds value to other people’s lives. That’s a great, rare thing. Treasure it.

– Fun. Plain old fun. Did you enjoy creating it? Do you still enjoy playing it? Look, it’s not going to be fun all the time. There will be long periods of hard or boring work. Lots of grinding. But in amoungst that, there should be plenty of moments where you felt that joy at creating something that excites you. Remember those moments, clutch them to your breast, let them feed your soul.

So that’s what works for me. Changing my own definition of what it means to be successful. When I do that, the anxiety melts away. I’m already successful. And I look forward to the future, I look forward to releasing System Crash and sharing what I’ve made with all of you. And then doing it again.

The doing must be an end in itself, not a means to an end. That’s the secret that I’ve found. The process is the reward. And when I keep that in mind, I can get back to creating from a place of joy and excitement. Instead of a cloud of fear.

Yoda had it right. Fear really is the path to the Dark Side.