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2016: I Guess Part V

2016: I Guess Part V
I guess I've put this off long enough! Time to figure out my reflections on the year, and on life itself!! Yeah. This post actually turned out to be monstrous in size, so I'm going to ahead and hide almost all of it behind the good old "read more" link. So if you're interested in a whole bunch of my thoughts over the past year then go ahead and dive in!

Last year was my first full year living in Denver and I've come to find that I really like this city! I live in the actual city part of it and not way out in the suburbs. Back in Arizona I lived in Tempe which was a city but the thing about Phoenix and all of its surrounding neighborhoods is that it's massive. You can't get by without a car in any part of Arizona pretty much. Where I live now in Denver I pretty much only drive my car once every few months, and usually it's for big road trips and not just driving around town. As someone that gets anxious from driving this is a huge plus.

I feel like moving was a huge boost to my mental state at the end of 2015, but even with that I find myself falling back into the same mode that I'm usually in. It's not necessarily bad, but I guess once the rush of moving goes away it's all back to "normal."

Aside from moving I guess the biggest topic to talk about is my weird co-op game Super Sky Sisters. I think I've written enough about my feelings about this project so I'm not sure if there's anything else I can really add. I haven't released it yet because I feel weird about it still. I think that it's a decent game, but I'm not sure if I ever found its heart. It feels like in a certain way the game's design came up short but unless I want to redo the entire thing I'm going to just leave it the way it is.

One of my biggest struggles in 2016 is thinking about how to approach making games. The two big ideas are: Make one game that is totally polished to perfection as much as possible, or make a lot of medium size or small size games and ship them as they come to be without worrying about making them perfect. It seems that most success stories in the world of independent video games are from these big masterpiece games that take years to perfect. Even thinking back to the good ole days of Fez, Super Meat Boy, Braid, Aquaria, Spelunky, etc. These all feel like games that were polished to perfection over the course of many years. The developers focused down on one thing until it was amazing and released it to the best of outcomes, and yet so many developers seem to advocate for making smaller projects that can be released often.

Both ideals have different benefits and I guess it depends on what your target really is. I've now been on both sides of the fence when it comes to this and I'm still not sure what I enjoy more.

I've had two real big long term projects in my career so far but both have very different scopes. Bonesaw took me almost two years to complete and it's a huge game that found a lot of success at least in the free indie games world. I still have people talk to me about playing Bonesaw at various expos and events which is pretty dang awesome. Another one of my big projects was Snapshot and that was with a whole team of people, and luckily that one turned out to be successful enough and mostly because of the help of Humble Bundle.

Working on huge projects is incredibly exhausting and I have the upmost respect for any developer that is able to ship their game after working on it for years! There was a time where I almost abandoned Bonesaw. It was after I completed the first set of levels and the first boss, and I just had no idea where to take the game after that. I knew that I wanted to keep making levels, but I struggled with making any content after the first boss. Whenever I opened the game project file I just had this horrible sinking feeling and I wanted nothing to do with the project anymore. It's this feeling of not knowing what to do combined with feeling like everything I do is wrong or bad that can easily lead to abandoning a project. It's a feeling that I still get today and every time it comes up I have to find a way to push through it. It actually would take me weeks to overcome this feeling for Bonesaw, and for a long time the game just sat around with 5 levels and a boss fight until during a summer break in between college semesters that I finally forced myself to just start making things even if I thought they were bad.

Snapshot was also exhausting in a different, but still similar way. Snapshot was my first real experience working with a team of people so the thought of not having 100% control was a pretty big source of anxiety for me on that project. There are a lot of things in Snapshot that I wanted to come out differently, but that is the nature of a team project and the limitations of your time and resources. I think I came to find that in that project that it is very difficult to achieve a specific feel for a game if I'm not the one in the programmer chair. Granted I could have jumped into the code more, but it probably would have taken way too long for me to figure out the amount of C++ I needed to know to do anything useful.

Snapshot took three years to complete and I knew at the end of it I didn't want to work on any big projects for a while. I felt totally burned out and I didn't want to wake up every morning with some huge project waiting for me at my desk to slowly chip away at. Working on a huge project means you can go a long time without any sort of feeling of accomplishment since it just takes so dang long. I suppose that's why a lot of developers like to go to conferences and expos. It's a way to get your game in front of people without having it be actually finished and get that little ping of good feelings from a minor accomplishment. A big part of managing a large scale project seems to be finding ways to make sure developers do get those pings of good feels otherwise the pits of despair will quickly swallow them up.

On the other side of things I've worked on a bunch of smaller projects as well. After Bonesaw I worked on some smaller games for TIGSource competitions, and after Snapshot I went ahead and finished a bunch of my old tiny game jam games and released them. Somewhere in the mix I also released Offspring Fling which was a smaller game that I worked on during the last year of Snapshot development. Offspring Fling was sort of my release from the anxieties of working on Snapshot. I wanted a project that I had full control over, and Offspring Fling turned out to be the perfect project for that.

Making and releasing smaller games can be a lot of fun from the development side of things. You get to try out an idea and kick it out the door as fast as possible and you don't have to care about that much. You don't have to do things like spend months planning your marketing campaign, budget out all your contractors, and spend a bunch of time emailing a bunch of journalists and internet celebrities that don't really give a crap about you or your game. You get to totally cut out all of the things that make you feel like a giant piece of poop. At least that is my perspective.

It benefits the developer in the sense that the big burst of good feelings of releasing something comes faster, but I'm not sure if there's any benefit to it beyond that. Is it possible to even make a worthwhile impact from working on a bunch of small games? I guess I'm talking both financially and artistically. Maybe it is. One of my smaller games, depict1, actually had a pretty huge impact, but out of all of the small games I've made I think that's the only one. Is that just the nature of the beast though? Are a certain percentage of games or just projects in general doomed to failure, and making a bunch of small games just increases your odds of hitting the sweet spot? In that sense though I think back to the most successful games I know of from the indie community, and I don't really think any of them came from just working on a game for a month and kicking out the door. However a lot of them do come from a prototype that took a short period of time to produce… but taking that prototype to its ultimate completion is the difference.

Wow okay so what am I even talking about at this point? To put it in context I am thinking about this kind of thing when working on Super Sky Sisters. I have no idea if it's even worth it to keep working on this game since it feels so weird, but if I don't take it to its ultimate completion am I just squandering its potential success? I compare it a lot to Offspring Fling because I feel like the decision I made for that game made the difference between making just a little bit of money with it versus making enough money to fund myself for a while with it.

So then comes the argument of should I be balancing something like "potential money a game could make" with my overall happiness? I think the decision to keep going on Offspring Fling to have it become a "full game" was easy because I loved working on that game. My love for Sky Sisters has faded out and now working on it gives me a sense of dread. Probably from my lack of confidence. I worry about the tech driving the game which is my own built on top of SFML. I worry that people are going to have all kinds of issues with running it, and on top of that I worry that people just won't "get it." Some of that was relieved at PAX though at least. More people than I thought played the game and understood it, but of course there were also a handful of people that would play for about 30 seconds and then walk away. I wonder if all creative folks get severely bummed about negative feedback or if it's just me?

With all of this dread built up behind Sky Sisters I really don't think I truly enjoy working on it anymore which is probably a sign that I should wrap it up and kick it out the door as soon as possible. I'm still waiting on finding a solution to audio, and I might have to wait until I have some more money to spend on the game for that to come together. I don't want to rope somebody in to do audio based on rev share, because I don't really have the confidence that the game will do well enough to justify that, and I don't want to feel like I'm ripping anyone off.

I want to take Sky Sisters to its ultimate completion and see it through properly, but if it's at the cost of my mental wellbeing I really don’t think I should. That's mostly why all of these big huge games that take years to complete and a mystery to me. How do people work on these things for so long and not lose their minds? I guess it makes more sense when the game has a more clear vision. The vision for Sky Sisters has always been a little strange and unclear to me. I don't feel like I had any source material to reference when working on it, so I don't really have any idea how well it works. Seeing people enjoy it at PAX was a relief, but it doesn't feel anything close to what working on Offspring Fling felt like.

It's always a gamble. A game can come together in just a few days, but then it takes months, years of content and polish to make it into something worthwhile. Sure it's totally possible to just keep making a bunch of games and ship them, but I don't necessarily think people are going to be as receptive to games like that versus these big grandiose experiences that come after years and years of iteration, and the mental fortitude to survive those years and years I think is just beyond me. I'm not sure if I came around to my original point on this, but hey this is just about writing my thoughts out as I think of them.

I would say the theme of the last few years of my work, and my life was leaving my comfort zone. I stopped working on platformers for the most part. I left behind things like Multimedia Fusion, Game Maker, and even Flashpunk so that I could pursue my own engine to make games with. I felt like I have leveled up significantly as a programmer, but still nowhere close to where I want to be. Sure, I made Otter, but I feel like I totally was beyond my limit the entire time making it. I'm happy with it, and I made a lot of things with it (both released and unreleased) but it is downright exhausting to maintain it now. There's so many moving parts, and I still don’t think I know enough to do things like hardcore optimizations which would probably help it a lot.

I always seem to just get by with what I perceive to be extremely limited knowledge on things. I feel like I always know just enough to emulate an understanding of something. Now that I'm digging into more engine work using FNA now instead of SFML I feel like even more of an imposter than usual. Like one day a few weeks back I was posing some questions to Twitter about XNA and FNA, and someone was like "oh hey check out this framework that someone made that does all these things" and I thought okay I will check it out. I tried to look at any of the code that was presented to me, but holy crap I had no idea what was going on. There were hundreds of files and classes and concepts that were so foreign to me it was as if I had never programmed in my life. I feel like this experience isn't new for me either. So many times people try to help me with code they'll paste me some example that I cannot comprehend, or they'll start talking to me with words that I cannot parse and ideas that I cannot realize. I feel like I am in indie games because there's no way I could actually hold a real job programming.

I sometimes wonder if leaving my comfort zone was just a mistake? I know that right now all I want to do is be back in my comfort zone. I am realizing that I wouldn't mind just making platformers and action games until the end of my days. I wanted to get out and explore the possibility of exploring other genres, but at this point I think all of my game development enjoyment does revolve around platformers and related genres. I keep thinking about going back to premade engines, maybe actually give Unity another go, but it feels like I would spend just as much time trying to learn an engine as I would just building out a framework in FNA, and I have a pretty big distrust of large scale game building software at this point.

Another thing that weighs on me is I'm not sure how to deal with my continuing ignorance when it comes to my work. I feel like every passing day I realize how much more I have to learn about every single facet of my work, and it feels incredibly overbearing most of the time. I went from feeling like I know a lot about things, to feeling like I know absolutely nothing, and I think this is a pretty normal thing for people to through, but it pretty much means that I have no ability to manifest any confidence at all. It sort of infinite loops with the feeling that everything I do is going to suck, and knowing that ahead of time makes me not want to do something, so I get stuck in a loop of procrastination that I don't really know how to escape from.

Confidence is another strange thing to me most of the time. I feel like I have such an inability to manifest even the smallest scrap of confidence that I have this immense distrust of people that possess it. I hold onto memories of times where I exuded confidence only to be totally wrong or shut down, and this reinforces the fact that I should never ever be confidence because it only leads to negative feelings at some point. Like there are so many folks out there that I follow and admire that are glowing beacons of positivity and confidence and I have no idea how they can pull off that attitude without just lying to themselves all the time. Maybe this also compounds with the fact that in the games industry, and general tech industry, I've encountered so many people that used confidence as a business tactic and it grossed me out. They use their charisma to convince people to follow them even though they're totally ignorant themselves. Dang this is getting grim.

I think this is why I should be just making things even though they are not going to be the greatest, or even good. This feeds back into the idea of making a bunch of small games instead of going all in on a huge project that might not work out. But I don't want to just spend my time making a bunch of garbage that nobody is going to care about.

My problem is that since Offspring Fling I haven't found a project that I feel truly invested in. The entire development of Offspring Fling went so right, and was so easy, that anything that doesn't feel like that feels like a waste of time, but I try to tell myself to push forward because bringing things to completion will feel better in the long run instead of just making a bunch of abandoned projects (which I have numerous.)

I want to return to my comfort zone and find a project like Offspring Fling that feels good to work on instead of working on weird projects that just drive me insane every day. Making weird things with nothing to reference is just not for me. Some folks in the games industry are so obsessed with the idea of indies being the ones to bring new and unique experiences to the world of games, and I don't actually think that should be the prescription for everyone, but that sentiment is echoed and signal boosted so gosh dang much. I think down in my core I just want to make games that are like the games I like just with a pinch of myself added to them, and that should be fine. I don't need to make a game that will reshape the very core essence of thinking for all of mankind, but that's what I feel like is pushed on game developers so much, and is reinforced by things like award shows that award games that are unique, quirky, and experimental, but not necessarily what players want. We like to remember games that won big awards and went on to huge success financially, but how many games won awards only to vanish into obscurity forever?

Uhh wow okay I need to figure out where I'm going with this. I know that I have said "I think" way too much so far. Over the past few years it feels like I've made the assumption that my next step as a game developer should be leaving my comfort zone and exploring totally different ideas, but now I don't think that is the right move at all. I can stay in my comfort zone and just keep building upon the things I've learned instead of going off into new directions where I can't really apply the things I've learned from my previous projects because my new projects are so weird and different.

Not surprisingly I am still the same person I was the past year I wrote something like this, and the year before that, and before that. I still struggle daily with depression and intense anxiety that convinces me that the world is against me and that the worst case scenario is going to happen to me in every single scenario. I will continue to try to push through that feeling even though sometimes all I want to do is crawl back to my bed and sleep the day away. My brain convinces me that no matter what given enough time anything will end up leading to negative feelings, and my inability to handle those feelings makes me want to not want to do anything. I'm going to paraphrase that quote "to avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing." I understand what that's trying to say, but at the same time I'm like wow yeah sounds good I'll just be nothing! I can't even bring myself to look at my Steam forums for Offspring Fling now because I feel like I've been gone too long it's probably just filled with people saying the game is broken or bad or not fun and I really don't know how to deal with that stuff. I mean it's probably not that bad in reality, but I don't seem to operate based off of reality very often.

Whoops I've been rambling all this time and I haven't even touched on development streaming on Twitch! I started this up in February as a way to give myself some more hardcore focus time. The best way to motivate yourself is to use external forces. At least that's what works most effectively for me, and for some of the other independent developers that I know. Streaming my desktop to Twitch is the perfect external force to make sure I'm getting enough butt in chair time on my projects.

Before I was streaming on Twitch I was actually working on my procedural rpg prototype, but when I decided to start streaming I realized that this idea wasn't even close to far enough along to stream. With Sky Sisters lingering around I decided to pick that back up for the development stream. It had a gameplay loop already going, and I just needed to change, add, and polish stuff. I think that'd better suited for streaming than the super early stages of a project. Streaming content creation seems to go a lot better than streaming framework and engine stuff at least for me. I have seen some people streaming some pretty hardcore programming stuff, but I think that is out of my league for now.

I would say overall I had a pretty positive experience with streaming. I'm currently taking a break from it until I know what I'm doing with Sky Sisters and my other projects. My only issue is that in these last few months I've started to kind of dread streaming. I had a set schedule of three days a week that I would stream at least for a couple of hours. While this was good for putting in hours on my projects I came to realize that when my time to stream was approaching I would feel anxious or just like I didn't want to do it. While I enjoy interacting with people and talking and just jamming on my projects I'm still an introvert at heart. Building up the energy to turn my webcam on and press the start streaming button became more and more exhausting, and sometimes the days I didn’t have to stream felt like sweet, sweet freedom.

I think eventually I will get back to streaming again, but not until I have a new project to show. No idea how long this will take at this point though. Things might be different if I'm working on a new project that I'm really into instead of just grinding on Super Sky Sisters like I'm trying to squeeze water out of a rock. If I get into a new project that I'm really feeling the groove for then it should be no problem for me to start streaming again.

So moving forward I have a lot of work to do, and I always will pretty much. I'm starting up on a contract gig that should be a lot of fun. I'm going to be working with a team again and I'm pretty relieved to be honest. There are a lot of things that I don't like doing when it comes to game development, and with a team all of those things I don’t like will be handled by people that actually like them. I am going to finish Super Sky Sisters at some point, but I think I am actually going to hold off for a while still. I need to figure out an audio solution, and I think that might not be until after I work on this contract thing for a while. I also have a new idea for a project that I am going to try and start using FNA instead of SFML, but who knows how long this will take, and it also means I'm shelving other prototypes that I had on the table as well. I guess this is just par for the course at this point. Growing up I learned that pretty much every developer has potentially hundreds of scrapped ideas for each of their completed games, and I shouldn't get so attached to things that go unfinished.

One of my core struggles is still trying to remove myself from my work, but not entirely. At a certain point a game will begin to have its own direction and it should be my job just to listen to it and bring it where it wants to go, but unfortunately this doesn't happen with every project. I think Super Sky Sisters never really found its true direction, so it was tough. A project like Offspring Fling made its direction incredibly clear to me right away and all I had to do was be the vessel that brings to completion. I know that sounds really weird but I've always thought of creative endeavors in this way. The beginning of a project is trying to find its direction, and once it's found it feels like you're just shooting into space with it, and if a project doesn't feel this way I find it to be a very bad sign. I used to think that maybe working on games just has an amount of unfun grunt work no matter what, but thinking back the projects that I've had the most fun developing have been my most successful, so if a project isn't fun to work on then maybe from this point on I shouldn't be spending my time on them. I should be always searching for a project that has that clear direction, and has that feeling of fun to work on throughout.

Alright I think this has probably gone on long enough. Thanks for making it this far, and thanks for sticking around. I am reminded constantly that I am surrounded by the kindest, most good hearted people imaginable that are always helping me in one way or another, and I will always be eternally grateful for that. I will continue to push forward in a way that allows me to hopefully help others in the same way that so many have helped me. As the great Jerry Springer says, "take care of yourselves, and each other," and let's have a good 2017!


Thank you for sharing Kyle. A lot of this feels like reading my own journal. Especially the parts about Offspring Fling / making games in your comfort zone where things just flow resonated a lot.
Posted January 28th 2017 12:31 AM
Thanks for reading!! It means a lot :)
Posted January 30th 2017 10:11 PM
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