Screenshot 2014-08-25 13.38.07

Let’s all go learn stuff

tl;dr – Coursera is pretty rad and you should consider taking a class online.

Like the photo suggests, I just finished my first online class. It was taught out of the University of London and focused on creative programming applications. It took about five hours per week for six weeks, but it was totally free. Most importantly, it had me actually writing a lot of code and participating in critique sessions with other students to get useful feedback about what I did well and what could’ve been better—something that’s a cornerstone of art classes but also super important when it comes to software development.

I’ve known for years that online learning is absolutely A Thing now, but I guess I never really understood that you can take courses with excellent lectures from accomplished professors for zero dollars. All I had to commit was my time; even the software we used was free (and a lot of it is open-source). Now I know a lot more about manipulating audio, images and video with code, which ought to be really helpful when I travel back in time and invent the first Winamp visualizer.

My experience with Coursera was very different from the game development learning I’ve done by watching amateur tutorials on YouTube and scanning through thousands of code examples on StackOverflow. Instead of quickly but haphazardly learning my way out of individual problems, the class I took was structured much more like a traditional class: it focused on the why, not just the how, and that’s essential for establishing context and developing a deep understanding of methodology. Both approaches are incredibly valuable to anyone who wants to learn something new, but I guess I underestimated just how valuable it is bringing a thorough and traditional approach to higher education into the digital space.

I’m feeling pretty eager to pick out my next class. If you see anything interesting out there, let me know! Studying is way more fun with friends, anyway.

Impasse

I didn’t know what to expect when I moved to Seattle in October, fresh out of a job that once held the promise of a satisfying and long-lasting career and confident that I’d find a new home sooner or later.

Nine months have passed and I never would’ve guessed things would’ve gone the way they have. I found a job — a job that paid well, even — but it wasn’t going to bring me any closer to the kind of work I was seeking.

So I figured: Ok, time to throw caution to the wind. I’m gonna give this crazy-ass notion of making games on my own and selling them an honest effort before throwing in the towel.

In a perfect world it’d be really straightforward:

1. Finish the game I’ve been working on, get feedback, send it out to ever
y festival/indie competition under the sun and try to figure out a way to sell it (Desura, maybe? But I’ve never used it and it rhymes with basura, so…)
2. Once that game’s shipped, talk to other game dev friends and see if anyone’s interested in starting a small game studio. (I’ve always preferred working with small teams over going it alone.)
3. Best-case, start a company and get cranking on a new game. Otherwise, see if I can land a gig at an indie studio or possibly focus on making another game solo.

However, I’m starting to worry that I’m not going to figure out a way to sell this game. My art skills are serviceable but not great, and it’s gonna take a ton of work just to implement all the events, conditions, etc. that this game requires. And then I have no idea if there’d even be an audience for an Oregon Trail-like game that lampoons Gen Y (even though, anecdotally, everyone I’ve pitched the game to loved the idea).

So I’m starting to wonder: Stay focused on game dev full-time until this thing is shippable in a few months? Or accept that maybe this won’t work, find a desk job, relegate game dev to an occasional weekend hobby and throw in the towel? I honestly don’t know which way to go.

Three months in, here’s what I’ve learned

This has been a dizzying, lopsided week — one of many in recent months. Some great things happened, like my latest game ranking pretty highly in the Space Cowboy Game Jam and my subsequent post-mortem writeup on my game jam experience earning “featured post” distinction and landing a spot on the front page of Gamasutra. Those were both unexpected and humbling and wonderful things, and for the first time in a long time, I allowed myself to spend a few moments feeling vindicated in the still-overwhelming decisions that led me to this point in life.

It’s not easy or natural for me to receive positive feedback. I spend a lot of my waking life contemplating what I could be doing better, smarter, more efficiently; it disrupts that flow when I ever stop to consider whether what I’m doing is good enough.

After a few incredibly uneven months marked by weeklong doldrums and a few brief, electrifying periods of twelve-hour, uninterrupted work days, I’m starting to realize just how important it is to have some balance and consistency in my life. I’m in this game-development thing for the long haul, or at least that’s the plan, and it’s going to seriously compromise my ability to get into a rhythm and execute week-in, week-out if I’m struggling to handle the bad times along with the good.

It’s weird talking about things as fundamental and personal as stress and anxiety and fear and frustration — things that are somewhat taboo but universal — but I think it’s essential to confront the good and the bad of our own human nature when you’re making an earnest attempt at doing your best work.

So I’m gonna be honest.

Some days I wake up thrilled at the opportunity to create and share my ideas in a medium I’ve always been driven to evangelize. On those days I savor the coffee I meticulously grind and pour just as I relish the challenges of learning the best techniques to make things perform just right, to make environments and objects and mechanics and loops look and feel exactly the way they need to — the way I want them to.

Then there are the days where getting out of bed feels so completely wrong and futile that I stare at the wall for an hour and wonder what the hell I was thinking yesterday, back when everything seemed so bright and ripe with opportunity. On those days I might poke at a system in a game or reflexively refresh my bookmarked list of several dozen job pages at area companies.

Everyone has up and down days, but I’ve found that mine tend to be more dramatic, unpredictable and prolonged when I’m introduced to an environment of chaos and uncertainty. I know it sounds glib, but I moved to Seattle to accomplish a goal I’ve had my entire life: to learn how to make meaningful games that resonate with people who play them and give them something valuable to think about. It always feels like such a silly dream to spell out on paper, especially when most people I talk to admire my motives but don’t understand how a game could possibly meet those ideals. Being in an environment with so much potential, even after carefully planning the move and assessing the risks, is nonetheless unstable. Fortunes could shift at the drop of a hat, for better or worse.

It follows, then, that the key to thriving in a less-stable environment is to focus on establishing my own personal and mental homeostasis. Find balance, establish routines, seek and provide feedback to myself, and build a system in which I can achieve my goals and become better over time.

In spite of all my uncertainty and doubt, I have to admit to myself at last that yeah, I am making progress. After a few months of this stuff, I think it’s fair to say I’m doing pretty well overall. And I decided long ago that I’d give myself a full year to realize this dream — to find a way to sustain myself so I can keep making games full-time and focusing intently on developing my skills and craftsmanship.

I wrote this post to draw a line in the sand between the dizzying pattern of ups and downs and the future of stability I’m working toward. Sometimes I really need to take inventory of where I’m at — this being one of those times — and I’m sure that I’m not the only one out there who goes through these periods of doubt and thrashing perspectives. Maybe it’ll help someone else to know there’s a person who genuinely cares about making meaningful things but doesn’t have a firm sense of whether they’re always on the right track or if they’ve, you know, doomed themselves to a future of languishing in obscurity and poverty.

I’m choosing to believe I’m making progress because it’s the only logical thing I can do based on the evidence and my own values and aspirations. I’m constantly making new and better things, and that means I’m constantly learning. Progress is progress, even if it doesn’t fit neatly on an established rubric.

It’s also a little silly, but positivity also goes a long way. It’s easy to forget when you’re hunched over a keyboard by yourself that there are other people out there who want to know you and meet you and talk about the stuff you want to talk about. Getting out into the world, meeting new people, or maintaining relationships with people you already know is a lot more important than you might think if you’re gonna try to go it alone and do your own thing. Put out positivity so you can bring it back in — like a sort of feedback loop. Otherwise, where are you going to get your energy from?

End-Transmission

Postmortem: End Transmission

The results are in on the Space Cowboy Game Jam, the third game jam I’ve contributed a finished game to. I wanted to take a little time to go over how my game, “End Transmission,” was received and what I can take away from this experience to help make my future games better.

Disclaimer

I’ll be up front and admit that I tend to worry too much about what other people think about me. It’s especially tough to be going down a road without a whole lot of other people in the same position, so I’m maybe a little more eager to find some sort of barometer for my ability than I would be otherwise.

In other words, all this analysis should be taken with a grain of salt — but I hope it’ll help shed some light on what these competitions are like and how I approached the design of my game with that in mind.

My Goals

When I entered this game jam, I had a few specific objectives in mind:

  1. Create an environment that tells a story. Rather than spoon-feeding a rote narrative to the player, I wanted to leave them free to explore a small, self-contained space and piece together how they got to where they were. I did include a few written segments when the player examines an important object, but those are scattershot memories that the player recalls — they’re intentionally incomplete.
  2. Capture an essential experience in the life  of a space cowboy. There are deals gone wrong and shootouts and high-velocity escapes. There are also home-cooked meals and weeks of downtime. There’s isolation and there’s companionship and there’s betrayal. There’s the beginning and the middle and — well, I decided to go with the end.
  3. Render a game in full 3D. I hadn’t done any 3D modeling prior to this game, but I felt a full-3D environment would be necessary to make this game properly immersive. I taught myself the basics of modeling, texturing and shading polygonal objects, and while it’s pretty rough, I’m very happy with how the objects in the cockpit turned out for my first attempt.
  4. Leave the player with something to think about after they’re done. If I’m gonna make a three-minute game, I want the experience to last longer than the game itself. I knew from the beginning I wanted to have the player’s actions subtly influence the outcome of the game, and I wanted to do my best to capture a sense of fear and uncertainty that comes from deciding how to spend your last few waking moments in this life — and to highlight the incongruous nature of the universe by placing the player in a strangely quiet and serene environment as their life support dwindles down to nothing.

Criteria

The categories that Space Cowboy Game Jam entrants were evaluated on are:

  • Audio
  • Visual
  • Lonesomeness
  • Psychedelia
  • Romance
  • Shootouts
  • The Void
  • Overall (user’s choice)

It’s important to keep in mind that the scoring criteria were a secret; nobody knew what they were until the submission deadline had passed. “Audio” and “visual” are almost a given, but the majority of these categories were theme-specific. We all knew we were making games within the theme of the “space cowboy,” though, so it’s not like we were walking in blind. But given how specific some of these categories are (in my case, “shootouts” stands out) there’s no doubt that a lot of great games saw their overall scores diminished because they took a nontraditional approach to the theme.

But I think that, given the choice, I’d rather not know the criteria beforehand. If I had known what each of the categories would be, I would’ve treated it like a checklist: “my game needs to have guns, it needs to be psychedelic,” etc. My game absolutely would’ve suffered as a result, and I wouldn’t have been able to put myself in a position of total creative freedom — and I think that’s where the real value of a game jam comes in.

Results

So how did I do? Overall, I did well. But there were a couple categories that I was laser-focused on executing as well as possible from the start, and in that regard I couldn’t be happier with how I did.

Out of 58 games submitted in this game jam, here’s how mine was ranked:

Criteria Rank Score* Raw score
Lonesomeness #3 4.000 4.000
The Void #3 3.667 3.667
Romance #11 2.500 2.500
Audio #16 3.000 3.000
Overall #18 2.729 2.729
Overall #25 2.917 2.917
Psychedelia #27 2.000 2.000
Visual #31 2.667 2.667
Shootouts #39 1.083 1.083

* Ranked from 12 ratings. Score is adjusted from raw score by the median number of ratings per game in the jam.

Note: I’m not sure why there are two “overall” ratings. I think one is user-derived and the other is a site-calculated average based on the criteria above. Either way, I’m honored to have placed in the 18th or 25th position overall.

Analysis

Okay. Let’s walk through these one at a time:

Shootouts: Working from the bottom up, I’m not surprised to see I wound up on the lower end of the “shootouts” category. I knew from the beginning I wanted to create a short, self-contained environment that looked highly interactive but was completely non-functional. I considered adding a gun to the cockpit, but I decided early on this wouldn’t be a game that offered suicide as an option; it didn’t fit the theme or the nature of the character I was creating.

Visual: When it comes to the visual category, I wasn’t sure how things would work out. This is my first published game in full 3D that I’ve ever made, and I decided when I entered the jam that I’d make every single object myself. I spent a good chunk of my first week learning about modeling, texturing, lighting and 3D animation, and a lot of the ideas and objects I had mind didn’t make the cut in the final game because they were just a whole lot uglier than the few necessary elements I decided to include — things like the throttle, the steering wheel, and so on. I think my biggest failing was rendering the cockpit itself within Unity using basic building blocks like cubes and planes instead of going back into my 3D modeling software and building something much more contoured and interesting, especially now that I know I can do it.

Also worth noting: I wrote the camera script from scratch. There are plenty of first-person camera controllers out there, including one that comes packaged with Unity, but none of them would allow me to do what I wanted to do exactly how I wanted. It was difficult getting the translation and rotation to correspond just right with the mouse’s position and movement, but I’m very pleased with how it turned out.

Psychedelia: Other than the music and the Hunter S. Thompson quote that appears in a certain ending, I don’t think there’s a whole lot here. I’m surprised I rated as highly as I did here.

Audio: I used to be a musician, once upon a time, and I had ambitions of recording some classic (and, importantly, public domain) jazz numbers for this game and mixing it all together with a radio DJ voice to keep the player company. Fun fact: the player’s orbiting smack in the middle of the Orion constellation, staring off at Rigel. That’s approximately 870 light-years from Earth, which means a radio broadcast from, oh, let’s say 1941 wouldn’t arrive until the year 2811. I thought it’d be a fun way to add to the conflicting feelings of isolation and connection to humanity by giving the player a fictional Earth radio broadcast from the middle of the 20th century, but time constraints meant I had to shelve the idea.

Romance: I considered making this game about the relationship between two people and the way one of them makes peace with saying goodbye to the other, but I decided against it. I don’t think your typical roguish bounty hunter would break down into Shakespearean lamentations in their last few minutes; instead, they’d smoke their last few cigarettes and spend a little time reflecting on the vastness of space, maybe. I also made an intentional decision not to give the player a concrete identity – no name, no gender, nothing identifiable. I wanted the player to be able to immerse themselves in the role as easily as possible. I’m pleased that the game’s romantic themes — not in the intimate sense but in the “romance of the frontier” sense — translated well.

Lonesomeness: I couldn’t have rendered a plausible human character even if I’d wanted to, so I knew this would be a solo affair. Fortunately, I had a story in mind that fit the theme of isolation very nicely. But I knew I didn’t just want an empty spaceship for a player to explore — I wanted to establish that this person had been betrayed, forgotten and double-crossed and was sitting in the sabotaged remnants of their long-trustworthy, now-failing ship. I wanted to have players confront the question of how they’d spend their last few minutes thinking, remembering, maybe even attempting to avoid the inevitable. Lonesomeness was a crucial aspect of this game’s design and placing third overall in this category is more than I could’ve hoped for.

The Void: This goes hand-in-hand with lonesomeness, but it’s something else entirely. Emptiness; the unknown; darkness and silence, but also light and color as far as the eye can see. Space is dark and cold but it’s also host to countless stars and galaxies and sights to see, and there’s a beauty to that dense emptiness. I wanted this vignette more than anything to make the player feel both defeated and fortunate. If you’re gonna go out before your time, it helps if you’ve got a hell of a view in front of you.

Conclusion

It’s got plenty of faults, but I’m just happy that the vision I had for this game — the concepts that drove its design and motivated me to make it feel just right — translated into the final experience for the people who played it. As a novice game developer who spends a lot of time worrying about whether I’ve got what it takes to make good games, this is an encouraging sign. I also know I’ve still got my work cut out for me if I ever want to see one of my games stand out as top-ten material, but compared to my previous game jam entries this one is a clear step forward.

Some of you may know that I decided a few months ago to pursue game development full-time. I knew ahead of time that it’d be tough, but honestly, this has been the most nerve-wracking experience of my life. The last few months have been some of the most challenging I’ve ever experienced, and as someone who’s always stuck to the safe route through life, I’ve had more than my fair share of days where I’ve been convinced that I’ve made a huge mistake, that I don’t have what it takes to succeed, that I threw away a career at a wonderful company to pursue a pipe dream.

I still have those fears, and I still have those doubts. But every time I start a new game and put in the work, one step at a time, to see it through to its conclusion, I gain a little more confidence in myself. I see a little progress. I know I’m not getting any worse, and that’s certainly better than the alternative. And yeah, it’s been a challenging time, but it’s also been incredibly liberating. I’ve learned more in the last three months than I had in the last two years.

After I finish this article I’m going to dig back into a game I’d been working on for six months but shelved recently to focus on this game jam. It’s a great idea, I think, and everyone I’ve talked to about it has gotten excited at the concept, but there are just so many components that go into making a full-length game that the scope was overwhelming. Today I’m reintroducing myself to the game without fear or anxiety. Instead, I’m just putting one foot in front of the other and making it happen, one way or another.

Environmental Storytelling for Dummies

When it comes to energizing your creative mind, there’s really something to be said for pretending you know how to make something and then telling a bunch of people you’re going to make that thing. Biting off more than you can chew can be really stressful, especially when you’ve got a reputation riding on it, but it’s true that necessity is the mother of invention.

I decided to pitch in to my third game jam for itch.io once I saw the theme – “Space Cowboy” – and the host – Venus Patrol. I have a soft spot in my heart for whatever the hell the space-cowboy genre is (if it’s even well-established enough to be considered a genre?) and Venus Patrol is the source of some wonderful game appreciation right out of my dear old home, Austin.

I hear that a lot of great games start with a single moment or experience in the creator’s mind. This was a first for me, but when I set out to make this game I had one specific vignette in mind: a bounty hunter in their ship, stranded on the far edge of space, set up and betrayed and left with nothing but a few cigarettes — and minutes of life support — left to burn. Do your choices matter at that point? What do you reflect on? What does the notion of a legacy mean to someone who’s about to die alone and outside of distress-signal broadcast range?

That moment wound up almost exactly resembling the finished version of End Transmission. I’m actually pretty happy about that — I think it might be the best job I’ve done of tailoring the final product to my initial vision, which means I was able to clear a lot of the hurdles I encountered along the way that would’ve forced me to change direction dramatically. And oh jeez, were there hurdles.

I’d never figured out how 3D object modeling worked before I made this game, but seeing as I was fixated on making a first-person experience in 3D, I figured I’d better get my act together and learn a thing or two about vertices and faces and tesselation and all that stuff. I started using Wings3D, a modeling and rendering program that looks ancient and ugly but is still being worked on and is pretty damn powerful — and best of all, it’s free. Within a few hours I had gone from some pretty messed-up-looking spheres and cones to objects that, against all odds, started to resemble their real-world counterparts: whiskey jugs, throttle levers, ashtrays and smoldering cigarettes, and so on. It wasn’t perfect, but I learned a whole hell of a lot from it, and what is a game jam for if not pushing yourself to explore some new territory?

I wasn’t sure how the game would be received. I’m still not. But a few friends have reached out to share their feedback and that’s just been the best feeling ever. I know it’s got some big flaws, but it seems that the core message — the concept — is surviving transit between creator and player. That’s the most important thing to me, that the vision survives and resonates.

It was exhausting crossing the finish line — I think I worked three twelve-hour days in a row getting it out the door — but once it was done I couldn’t wait to dig into a few other game ideas I’d been tossing around in my brain for a long time. I feel a whole lot more confident about my ability to tackle bigger challenges than I did before, and I have a feeling that’s what makes all the difference.

Want to start playing games? Consider starting here.

Once in a while, someone will ask me “Hey, I haven’t played video games in a long time but it sounds like there’s some really cool stuff coming out these days. What should I play?” My answer would be the three games we talked about in this week’s Backlog entry over on Silicon Sasquatch. Each one features brilliant writing, excellent design and very accessible controls and play concepts.

  1. If a modern southern gothic story with elements of magical realism sounds cool, you’re going to love Kentucky Route Zero.
  2. If you like stories with a sharp wit and inspired puzzles in the vein of Monkey Island or Grim Fandango, you’ll love Broken Age.
  3. If you enjoy light resource management and minimalist aesthetics, A Dark Room poses some interesting dilemmas and will give you a lot to think about.

You can’t go wrong with one of these games. Hope you find something that sparks your interest.

Review: Hyperbole and a Half – Allie Brosh

I just finished reading the Hyperbole and a Half book. It was pretty wonderful in a lot of ways. I wrote a slightly longer review on Goodreads, which is also very helpfully reproduced below. You should follow me on that site if you like books and like hearing about the ones I read.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That HappenedHyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Allie Brosh’s charmingly crude art and blunt, authentic writing translated well to a book format. I only wish there had been more of Brosh’s commentary and inner monologue throughout the book — background and commentary on early/popular blog posts that made it into the book, for example. The production was also disappointingly unadorned, although the simplistic style fits the source material well.

View all my reviews

Stuff I’ve learned from working independently

Abstract: I’ve been working independently on game development full-time for the last couple months. People often ask me how things are going, whether I’m enjoying myself and what my next steps are. Rather than respond to all of the above with a succinct and accurate “I don’t know,” I decided to write a bunch of other stuff about my experiences so far in the hopes of shedding some light on the mysterious creative process and to provide some context and advice for anyone who’s thinking about doing something similar. I think there’s a huge potential for personal and professional growth from taking your career into your own hands, but it’s one of the hardest paths to take, and the more you can prepare yourself for the challenges that come with it, the better your odds of success are.


I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned from making a career shift from the familiar into the unknown. I’ve talked to lots of friends who dream about starting their own companies or developing a skill or craft into a career, but very few people I know actually follow through on it.

Honestly, they’re probably the smart ones; going independent is a terrifying, uncertain and, on some level, somewhat foolish thing to do. Having a routine, steady income and benefits is nothing to scoff at, and freedom can be suffocating when it’s all you’ve got. But these challenges aren’t insurmountable, and knowing a bit more about what you’ve gotten yourself into can make a huge difference.

So I thought I’d share a few thoughts about how to struggle, fail and occasionally succeed with a bit of grace.

feelin' fine

A lot of you have been asking how work on my game is going, and I feel like I haven’t really responded with a good answer. I’ve been meaning to be more transparent and share more updates about the game I’m working on since it’s taking up so much of my time, but instead, I haven’t said much at all.

Why? Because I was afraid of admitting that it’s not all roses on the path to independent success. Truthfully, it’s kind of a mess: There’s no tried-and-true method for shipping a “real” game, and as a result I usually don’t know what I’m doing at any given time. Like so many great success stories, I’m mostly making things up as I go.

i have no idea

And that’s fine — that’s how we learn — but it’s not exactly giving me the confidence to stand up and proclaim the virtues of the path I’ve chosen. It’s certainly not the kind of path I’d recommend without reservation. If we’re being honest here, it’s actually kind of a shitty path; the kind with loose rocks strewn about to trip you up and that kind of tall, itchy grass that irritates the hell out of your ankles and camouflages wild Pokémon. If I sat down to write a Yelp review of this path, I wouldn’t be able to decide between a 1 or a 5 star rating and would just close the tab out of frustration. But I never wanted a rose garden; I wanted to work hard, to push myself, to walk away at the end more knowledgable and capable than ever. I made my bed, so I guess I’ll have to write my C# in it.

Of course, I wasn’t jumping in with blind faith that things would just work out on their own. I knew there’d be lots of hard work. I knew I’d have plenty of days when I didn’t know where to go next or how to solve the next set of problems. But I honestly didn’t anticipate what a toll those doubts and uncertainties can take on a person.

It sucks not knowing how to get from point A to point B. We spend so much of our lives in environments where there’s an established structure and way of doing things — in school, sports, careers, clubs, and so on — that it can be jarring to try to succeed in a vacuum where no mutually agreed-upon methodology exists. It doesn’t come naturally, which means you’re bound to struggle in finding a way to success, which means there’s gonna be some anxiety. Not just any kind of anxiety, either; this is some harsh, unyielding, end-of-Toy-Story-anxiety.

Or, in other words: Just because I know how to write code, design and manage projects, design interfaces, animate sprites, create music, generate sound effects, build websites, manage social media and promote a product (whew) doesn’t mean I can just sit down and crank through everything step-by-step for this project without having a few niggling doubts creep up and threaten to derail the whole thing. Fortunately, doubts can be defused before they totally ruin your day.

TL;DR 

If there’s one crucial thing I’ve learned from trying to make something out of nothing on my own, it’s that the greatest challenge doesn’t come from actually executing on the work — which runs contrary to what I’d expected. If you’ve got an idea you’re excited about, inspiration and execution will eventually follow.

Instead, the greatest challenge I’ve encountered is navigating those doubts, uncertainties and anxieties that crop up without warning or invitation and foul up all your best-laid plans for making a damn thing and getting it done before you go broke or crazy. It’s not easy to develop and internalize a support system for the times when I encounter a roadblock, am stumped by a problem or am just feeling like I got in way over my head. When you’re a member of an organization, you can always fall back on an implicit support system — your peers, the rules and regulations that come with your position, the precedent set by others, etc. — and there’s a sort of safety net that comes with that familiarity.

But when you’re doing something on your own, you’re in free-fall. There are no backups, no failsafes, no quick fixes. It’s liberating, but it’s also dangerous.

The best solution I’m aware of is to structure your own stability so you can be productive without reservation. Some ways to do that:

  • Meet people who care about the things you care about. I’ve had mixed results with the Seattle independent game development community, but I know there are a lot of inspired, creative, hard-working people in this area whom I could benefit from knowing. Going to meetups and grabbing coffee to catch up and chat can provide the sort of context-setting you need to take stock of where you’re at and how things are going.
  • Make it work first, then make it not suck: Nothing you do is ever going to be perfect on the first pass. (Sorry.) Even if it is, there’s no telling whether your insanely clever innovation will have any place in the scope of the final product. The most important thing to keep in mind is momentum- find a solution and move on before you wind up banging your head against a wall. Components can always be polished up in time, and worrying too much about perfect execution can wear you out before you get a chance to build up some creative momentum.
  • Don’t be afraid to dumb things down. It’s always easy to add complexity, but taking it away down the road is much harder. Think of your project like a Jenga tower.
  • Own your time. Build timetables; map out dependencies; make sure you’re always working to understand the full scope of your project and the work that’s required to make it happen.
  • Hold yourself accountable for your own success. Track your work. Examine how you spend your time if you’re having trouble focusing on what needs to get done.
  • Take the time you need to make sure your baseline is structurally sound. If you’re feeling disconnected or frustrated with what you’re working on, take the time to figure out why. What sucks? What could be better? Contrastingly, what’s going well? Taking inventory of the bad and the good gives you a better perspective and helps you fix stuff before it gets worse.
  • Ask for advice. This is one I’ve always struggled with. There’s no shame in asking for help. Doing everything yourself might seem admirable, but there’s no substitute for the experience and expertise that others can share.
  • Give yourself permission to have fun. Creativity and anxiety don’t mix. If you’re having fun in dreaming something up and making it come to life, it’ll often show through in the final product. That’s a good thing. Enjoy the ride and grant yourself the freedom to poke fun at whatever you’re doing.

I don’t know where I’ll be in six months or a year, but it’s a good feeling knowing that I’ve already learned a fair bit about how to stay focused and chart my own course even when the path forward isn’t obvious. Whether you wind up in the same place by choice or by happenstance, having the right perspective can mean all the difference between embracing chaos and succumbing to it.

Doubt

For the last few years, I’ve been writing pretty actively on this thing called 750Words. It’s based on a concept called “morning pages,” an idea that you can do your best work if you spend the first few minutes of your morning dumping everything you can out onto three blank pages (which adds up to approximately 750 words). This is a good concept, and it seems like a decent method for overcoming writer’s block.

The problem is that my own published output has dwindled quite a bit as a result. I’ve gone back and looked at the weeks and months where I’m most active on 750Words, and during those times I wind up not writing a whole lot for this blog, Silicon Sasquatch or anything else I contribute to.

Call it selfish or call it pragmatic, but I want to get my words out in public more frequently. So I’m gonna try something different: I’ll use this blog for the same purpose, more or less. It’ll be censored to some extent simply by virtue of the fact that it’s a public, visible website, but I wouldn’t ever compromise my values on my own blog.

I’m back from a long trip and am trying to refocus my energy around this ideal of…I guess I don’t know what you’d call it, exactly. This notion, or this belief, that I can make it as a game developer. It’s an untested idea. But I feel like, at this point, I need to really take stock of where I’m at, update my original gameplan, and redouble my efforts so I can kick this thing’s ass.

I’m a realist, and I’m pragmatic. I don’t do things if I don’t see the path to success, and while sometimes that causes me to be too risk-averse it also means I’m a pretty methodical and strategic person. So the strange thing is with game development I can see that path to success. I see all the components that add up to a successful shipped product, and I understand how to link all the steps together to get from here to there. And I think that, one way or another, I’m capable of creating all the elements of a game. I understand design; I’ve been creating visual art and music and sound for years; I’m not the worst programmer I’ve ever met; and I’m a pretty hardcore social media enthusiast. (Unsurprising, considering where I spent the last few years working.) But if those are all the elements, and I believe I can orchestrate this chaos into order, what’s stopping me?

As usual, it’s doubt.

Doubt is the shittiest mental construct I’m aware of. Of course it’s helpful if you’re considering doing something life-threatening or severely disruptive, but when it stems from something innocuous, that’s when it becomes a burden.

The doubts that have kept me from going all-in on game development are the harmless ones. As usual, my subconscious is my own worst enemy, feeding me with doubts about whether game development can actually empower me to help others and to have a meaningful impact on people’s lives. Shouldn’t I go get an advanced degree instead? Or maybe get back into the social media and technology world?

For years I’d hoped those voices of doubt would go away, but I’m starting to realize that’s not very likely. There will always be reason to second-guess the decisions I make, and ultimately, that’s probably for the best. What’s important is having the strength to trust your gut and follow through without worrying too much about the consequences. I’m driven to make meaningful games and to help contribute to a medium I see so much promise and potential for value in; it’d be crazy not to give it my all, at least for a few months.

I’ve invested a great deal over the past couple months in building out my toolbox and teaching myself the bizarre, arcane science of game-making. I’m in a much better place than I was before. I think at this point, there really isn’t much of a question: I should keep going.

And hey: even if I do wind up broke and destitute, at least I’ll have some great stories to share.

is a guy who writes stuff and makes stuff too