It took me 3 years of trying, but I finally won an IGF trophy! I took home the award for Technical Excellence, but if you haven’t seen them yet, go check out the full list of winners. You can also watch the entire ceremony online and see my absolute disbelief at the fact that this actually happened.
If you really want to be up to date with information on the game, follow either @Antichamber on Twitter for game only news, @demruth on Twitter for day by day updates etc. or go Like the Antichamber Facebook page. I really use those things far more regularly, and tend to only write long blog posts when I actually have something to say.
The game will next be exhibited at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco at the IGF Pavilion. I will also be speaking at the Independent Games Summit there as well. The game will also be playable at PAX East, though there’s not much news about that yet.
PAX was pretty amazing for me, not just because it was an event I hadn’t been to before or because I was there showing off Antichamber as one of the PAX10, but because it was slowly solidifying that after several years of work, this thing works. Compared to other conferences, where I would walk away going “oh god, there’s so much that I have to change”, I had to say relatively little as people ran around and solved things themselves, some for quite extended periods of time. There’s still a few refinements necessary here and there, and a number of pieces of missing content that remains to be filled in, but I’m slowly working my way towards the end of it now.
As a quick aside, before going to PAX I went to Freeplay in Melbourne, Australia and won these:
More awards are always nice, and these trophies are amazing (and heavy… they’re solid glass).
The results are in… I’m going to Seattle for PAX Prime! The PAX10 site has now been officially updated, and I’m one of the winners in this years showcase. Of the other selections, I’m personally really happy that Fez, Jamestown, Snapshot and Splatters (formerly Confetti Carnival) are there. Those are all really great games, made by great people, and anyone who is also going to the show should definitely check them out!
It’s fitting that the PAX10 is the 10th competition I’ve been successful in. I have now entered 10 competitions around the world and have been a finalist or winner in every single one of them. More than anything, this is an amazing accomplishment for me personally.
Back in 2009, I was just some dude who made a game, looking at other successful independent developers and wondering how they were any different to me. Some were older, some had long industry backgrounds, some had more resources than me, but I couldn’t really work out how any of that stuff actually mattered, based on what they had created. All I could realistically see was people who had worked really hard at creating something amazing, who didn’t stop putting themselves out there and trying to aim higher. If I was realistic with myself, and created something that used the experience and resources that I had, I felt like I should have been able to accomplish similar things.
In 2008, I saw The Unfinished Swan for the first time, as a finalist in Sense of Wonder Night, an event held at the Tokyo Game Show to showcase new and interesting games (sidenote: submissions close tomorrow! Go enter!). It was similar to other concepts I was exploring at the time (I was also doing 3D silhouette work, though for vastly different reasons). So in 2009 when the submissions were opened again, I wrote a note on a little piece of paper that said “SENSE OF WONDER NIGHT” and stuck it to my monitor, so that I was looking at it every single day for 3 months.
I worked non-stop during those 3 months, because I had never traveled before and always wanted to go to Japan. I really felt like I had a chance, and worked to the point of making myself physically sick, but ended up being contacted as a finalist. This notification came 5 days before the submissions for Make Something Unreal closed – another competition that I had seen several years earlier when Round 2 was being run. So I entered that as well, expecting nothing. I ended up being one of the Grand Prize Winners. I also entered another competition in Australia, and ended up winning Best Game.
From there, I set out on a mission to enter every single competition that I could, because the price of entry seemed so low compared to the potential value that you would get if you were selected for any of them. My logic was that even if you were selected for just one competition, it instantly made the submissions to any of them worthwhile. As a result of that logic, I would have spent around $600 on entries to competitions so far, and would have received somewhere in the order of $30,000 – $50,000 worth of value out of being selected as finalist / winner in them, all of which was poured straight back into making the game better for the next submission.
I was entering all of these competitions because I treat everything like a game, and I want to win. Sales is the final competition, and everything else is testing the waters for that, telling me where I had to adjust and correct things. For people who play my game upon its eventual release, this all means that they’ll be getting something of very high quality, with the stamp of approval from a wide audience of judges, players, designers and friends.
With regards to yesterdays rename announcement, being selected for the PAX10 also solidified my confidence in renaming the game. Renaming is a pretty huge thing to do, it was very stressful trying to find the “right” name, and you could never be too sure about whether you were making the right choice. But ultimately, I believe that it was the right thing to do, and I’m determined to make it work. This just helps enormously!
And yes… you will find me in my pink suit once again. See you there!
Actually, scratch that. That title is wrong, as I’m not Ash Ketchum, and this isn’t Pokemon.
Anyway, my Road To The IGF interview was posted on Gamasutra recently, and I didn’t write about it at the time because I was pretty busy. I did post it to the Hazard Facebook Page and to my Twitter (which you should totally go off and Like / Follow if you want random progress updates), but not to the blog. Blog posts take more time and thought, though you probably wouldn’t notice that due to some of the ridiculous stuff I write.
The reason I’m posting it now is because I am actually now on the road to the IGF. I’ve just arrived in Las Vegas for DICE (as a finalist for the Indie Game Challenge… go vote for the game), and so begins another month overseas while I kill time between DICE and GDC. Unlike the last time I was overseas for an extended period of time back in October, this one is actually for work, not a holiday. I have my development laptop with me and will be working on the game the entire time, business as usual. I’ll just happen to be overseas.
Results for the IGC are announced on like, Friday or something, so we’ll see how Hazard goes in that. At the very least, I should have more random photos of me in a pink suit, provided it fits within their request for “business attire”. It is, after all, still a suit.
A few months ago, I entered the Indie Games Challenge. A few weeks ago, I received news that I was a semi-finalist. A few days ago, I found out I was a confirmed finalist. A few minutes ago, I started writing a blog post about it, and few seconds ago, I became disappointed with the stupid title I gave the post, and how I started writing it.
Anyway, the 2011 Indie Game Challenge finalists have now been announced publically, and Hazard is nominated in the non-professional category. I had someone ask me why I was in the non-professional category (as they believed I was a professional, as this is my full time job), but I did it because I fit the criteria (I don’t have over 2 years industry experience) and to get the hell out of the way of Limbo, Monaco, etc. I’m glad I did, because the competition in both categories looks rough!
This now makes 9 out of 10 competitions that I’ve entered that I’ve been a finalist in. I missed out on the PAX10 earlier in the year, and I’ll try for that again this year. May still miss out on it, but there’s no harm in trying! This also means I’ll have another month overseas, given that DICE and GDC are within a month of each other, and it would be more expensive flying in and out of Australia several times. But don’t worry, I now have my laptop, and can be working on the game the entire time! It’s coming along really really nicely.
So, as I’m sure that you’re aware now, following the EXPLOSION of IGF news that happened on the internet at about 2am my time, the remaining finalists for the 2011 IGF have now been announced. I highly recommend everyone go off and check them out and read the jury statements about them all too.
As you’d know from my previous post, getting into the IGF is pretty big news to some of us. Though everyone has had their own ups and downs throughout the year, when it comes to getting into the IGF, no one can ever be too sure about whether or not they’ve made it in (ok maybe a lot of people expected Minecraft to get in, but those guys were still pretty happy following the announcement). I’m really happy to see Chris Hecker’s Spy Party, SuperGiant’s Bastion and the Copenhagen Games Collective’s B.U.T.T.O.N amongst the finalists.
For anyone looking through the list and not paying attention to the honourable mentions, I’d urge you to think again. Last year, the Nuovo award was the only one to announce honourable mentions, but looking at the list of them again now, 6 games were honourable mentions for the category, one of them (Trauma) was a finalist in other categories, and 4 of them came back as finalists this year.
Zach Gage’s honourable mention for Lose / Lose was upgraded this year to a finalist for Best Mobile Game nomination with Halcyon. Mike’N'Greg’s honourable mention for Fig. 8 was upgraded to finalist for Best Mobile Game nomination with Solipskier. Mark Essen’s honourable mention for Flywrench was upgraded to 3 nominations for Nidhogg, one of which is for the Grand Prize! And I upgraded my honourable mention with Hazard to a finalist for Nuovo (and honourable for Technical Excellence!), by spending the year turning it into a far more complete and polished experience.
Other people were also successful at trying again a second time. Erik Zaring and Anders Gustafsson successfully re-entered and achieved a nomination for Visual Art with The Dream Machine. Jan Willem Nijman is now a Design finalist with Super Crate Box, after standing at the pavilion at GDC 2010 and declaring “I will be here next year!”. Marc Ten Bosch also successfully turned a nomination for Design last year into another nomination for Technical Excellence this year, with Miegakure.
For anyone who tried entering this year and didn’t make it, try again next year. You may just be successful! For anyone who got honourable mentions this time, you now know how close you are for next time!
A few days ago, the finalists for the 2011 IGF Nuovo award were announced, and my game, Hazard: The Journey Of Life, was one of them. The jury statement describes it as “a textbook example of a ‘Nuovo’ game for using all the “storming through corridors” conventions of the first person shooter to create a deeper examination of personal philosophy.” Some people may be hearing about the game for the first time as a result of the nomination (after all, the game isn’t done yet), and some people may believe that the nominations were easy to get (as though being “artsy” / unconventional was enough), but for myself and others, it’s been a long road to get there. In my case, this is the second time that Hazard was entered into the IGF, and the results the first time weren’t so pretty.
This post is a very long account of everything that took place leading up to this nomination, and I’m posting it for the benefit of those who are looking in from the outside, wondering what goes on behind the scenes for some of the games that make it into these competitions. After all, I was in exactly that position last year, when I was just starting to put myself out there. Unlike some other developers, I didn’t come into this with years of industry experience and decent connections. I worked my way up from nothing, through sheer determination and effort. Needless to say, I wouldn’t be where I am, were it not for gathering the advice of many people who had done it before, and finding out what it really takes.
It's come a long way from this
I first took notice of the IGF in late 2009. I’d seen it mentioned previously, but wasn’t entirely sure what was so special about it. For most of 2009, I was actually more interested in Sense of Wonder Night and Make Something Unreal. I’d heard about Make Something Unreal back in 2004 when they were running the second competition, and I’d heard about Sense of Wonder Night in 2008, as a result of a friend showing me The Unfinished Swan. In both cases, I made passing comments to people about how “it would be cool to be in one of those some day”, and as their deadlines kept getting closer, I began seriously toying with the idea of entering my game into them both. I figured that it wouldn’t hurt (entry was free in both cases), and I was curious as to what made me any different to any of the other people who were selected for them. From March through to August last year, I ramped up from working on Hazard in my spare time to eventually working on it day in and day out for several months solid to get the game “completed”. Before even entering Make Something Unreal at the end of August, I’d already received news that my SOWN entry was successful. Further on in the year, I also became finalist and grand finalist for Make Something Unreal, and I outright won another competition at Game Connect Asia Pacific.
After this chain of successes with my game, I set my sights on the IGF, and was feeling pretty over confident about it. Unlike for previous competitions, where my mindset was “it would be cool to be selected for this”, my expectations for the 2010 IGF were more along the lines of “I wonder what I’ll get nominated for”. This attitude ended up leading to a pretty unhealthy obsession of wanting the results. I watched several years worth of IGF awards shows, went through a plethora of entries from 2010 to see what I was up against, and couldn’t imagine what it would mean if I wasn’t selected. I got to the stage where I couldn’t really have a conversation with someone without mentioning it, because although I’d won other things, they weren’t the IGF. At one stage my brother told me that he would have to move out of home, because things weren’t working out for him at all, and my response was “I hope I get selected for the IGF”. I didn’t even acknowledge what he’d just said.
The first lighting test for Hazard
The closer the deadline came, the more restless I became. On the day of the announcement, the episode of TIGRadio being aired was all about the IGF, with the first hour of the show being one big lead up to who had made it in. By the time the announcement finally came, my heart was racing. I eagerly scrolled through the results to see where my game was, and sure enough it was mentioned. It was an honourable mention for the 2010 Nuovo award, but it was not a finalist in any category. I had failed. The next 20 minutes were spent staring blankly out the window, listening to people on TIGRadio go crazy over the results. This is when I realized two things, that set the tone for the rest of the year. You can’t take anything for granted, and setting unreasonable expectations hurts.
What followed was a roller coaster year of highs and lows. After having some more time to think about the announcement, I decided that there were other competitions to enter, and that I could always try again next time. To clear my mind a bit, I submitted an audio essay to the next episode of TIGRadio entitled “IGF 2010 – What Missing Out Means”. The basic theme of my talk was that everything was okay, because maybe I’d still get selected for the student IGF or the Experimental Gameplay Workshop, and that maybe I’d win something in Make Something Unreal. When the Student IGF results were announced, I wasn’t selected for that either, and the Experimental Gameplay Workshop was cancelled soon after. I then found out that I was one of the Grand Prize winners in Make Something Unreal, and also got invited to speak at the GDC as a result of the honourable mention. All of this was giving me some pretty mixed signals about the game, so I took the opportunity whilst at the GDC to talk to as many people as I could, and to try and work out where I’d gone wrong in the IGF.
Experimenting with the aesthetic. Going overboard is part of the process.
The feedback I’d received from the judges ranged from “a really enjoyable experience – clever concepts, well-done art, and a longform experimental title I can really get behind. Congratulations.” to “I felt neither intrigue, enjoyment, nor satisfaction as a result of playing. There was just nothing compelling here to me.” Anonymous feedback like this wasn’t enough to really work out how far I had to go with the game before it was ready. I needed to meet as many other people as I could, and get their opinions about it all. One of the discussions that really stuck with me throughout the year was with Mare Sheppard (N / N+), who was on the Nuovo jury that year. She said “unfortunately at the end of the day, only one game could win, but your game received a lot of support from the judges, and I encourage you to not get discouraged and keep in mind the jury changes every year”. She also said “it probably didn’t make the finals only because of the sheer quantity of quality games entered this time around.”
I left GDC feeling refreshed, and with a good idea of what kinds of things I had to fix with the game. My feelings were summed up nicely by another piece of judge feedback that said “a brave attempt to do something a bit different. While it doesn’t really work as a “game”, it’s an interesting approach to an “art game”". Basically, I had a bunch of interesting concepts, but they didn’t all gel together as nicely as they should have. Though I had done really well in Make Something Unreal, speaking with Epic later I realised that that was more because of how much I had bent the Unreal Engine away from what they’d expected than how much it worked completely as its own thing. People at Epic still enjoyed the game, but were more impressed with what I’d done to their technology.
That's a bit better. Still way too busy.
I later decided to try my chances again with IndieCade. I submitted early to ensure that I was eligible for the IndieCade @ E3 showcase, and was feeling really good about all of the changes that I had made. Unfortunately, I made the same mistake of building up expectations that my game would be selected, having looked through the selections from the previous year. When the day came for the finalist notifications, I heard nothing back. I knew they’d been sent out, because I could see other people talking about being selected on the internet. I felt pretty down about it all for a few days, but eventually decided to pick myself up again and shift focus to the next competitions. Just when I’d completely removed IndieCade from my mind, I got a very late notification that I was in fact selected, and had to be in Los Angeles the following week. As much as this was supposed to be news worth getting excited about, it left me feeling flustered and stressed at how little time I had been given to organise making my way there, and left me feeling very confused about the game again.
Though reactions to the game at E3 were very positive, I ended up returning home feeling more exhausted than when I’d left, and knew that there was still more to be done before the game was ready. Having spent months improving it significantly, this wasn’t exactly the feeling I wanted to walk away with. Whilst trying to get myself back into a positive mindset about it all, I received a rejection notice stating that the game wasn’t selected for the PAX10. To get over the disappointment from this, I convinced myself that I would surely be selected for IndieCade in October, given that I was part of the E3 showcase. But that didn’t happen either.
By this stage, I was physically getting sick from working on the game constantly. Any time spent while awake was spent at my computer working on the game, and any time spent away from my computer was spent being unable to sleep. My life was lacking balance, and at each monthly IGDA meeting I went to, I’d have more people comment on how tired I looked, until people started actually getting worried for me. Missing out on IndieCade put me at an all time low, and people at the next meeting would no longer let me brush off their concerns. They kept asking what was wrong, and eventually got me started on a passionate rant. I find ranting very therapeutic, as a way to take negative energy and throw it out into the aether.
I wasn’t ranting about anything in particular. I just spoke about how tired I was getting, how there was always more work to be done, how much I was getting over being stuck in a room all day by myself working on something, wondering if it was all worth it. I couldn’t stop, because that would be a waste of everything I’d done, but continuing seemed so hard. Needless to say, two hours of very passionate ranting got me back to having a smile on my face, feeling refreshed, and this marked a real turning point for me. During this rant, I made throw away comments like “I should just go to Japan again, because that was the most fun I’ve ever had”. Thinking about it afterwards, I realised that this wasn’t something that I should do, but something that I needed to do.
Getting carried away after implementing freehand 3D drawing
I had to step away from the game, and decided that it would still be worthwhile going to IndieCade despite not being selected for the festival, because I was still part of the E3 showcase previously. Going to IndieCade would also give me a chance to catch up with people I’d met at the GDC again and talk about how things were going. I’d also go for a holiday in Japan afterwards, to completely unwind and recover. After finalizing all of my plans and paying for the trip, I was feeling ready to settle down for a bit and get back into a healthy mindset. I then received news that I would have to change my plans, because I also had to be in Texas for GDC Online for another competition, and that it overlapped with IndieCade.
In the very exhausted state I was in, this news left me feeling very mixed. It was definitely positive news, but I was still feeling rather sick from overworking myself, and this meant more work that had to be done to prepare for another conference. I really needed a break, but whenever I tried to step back and get myself into the right mental state, something would come up and I’d have to shift my focus again. This time it was for a competition with a grand prize worth $100,000. As nice as that sounds, that’s also a very big unknown to have in your mind for several weeks. I tried not building any expectations, but when the overall winner was announced, I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t have been disappointed for not winning. I brushed that off as fast as I could, because this trip was supposed to be about relaxing, not stressing. Despite not winning, the game was playtesting really well at GDC Online, and a lot of people were loving what they were seeing.
Puzzles are always way too hard when you first create them
I felt like I was far closer to having the game finished than I did after E3, and I spent the following days at IndieCade talking to as many people as I could again, just as I had done at the GDC. This time, however, some of the advice I was getting was very different. Daniel Benmergui (Today I Die) and Andy Nealen (Osmos) both told me that I was doing really well, but that I really needed to slow down, and find other things to worry about. That going to Japan for 2 weeks was not going to fix the real problem of being so mentally wound up within this game that I didn’t have balance. Though I agreed with them, my time in Japan was still a catalyst for that change.
I got back from my trip feeling completely refreshed and ready to settle down. Though I’d entered other competitions, I wasn’t going to wait for the results for them. I decided that at this point, the most important thing to me was to heed the advice of others and try and get balance back into my life. I needed to get myself back into a healthy routine – running every day, sleeping properly, maintaining a positive attitude, etc. After all, if I burned myself out entirely, I’d never finish the game. When I was notified that I had been selected for IGF China, I was genuinely happy about it. Though it was something I’d been interested in since speaking with Farbs soon after he won in 2009 with Captain Forever, I didn’t allow myself to build any expectations about it. At GDC China, the game was playtesting even better than at GDC Online (having made more changes), and though I ultimately didn’t win anything in the competition (and was naturally a little disappointed), the response towards the game from people at the pavilion was more important to me.
Refinement. Less is more.
Which brings us roughly back to now. Having read all of that, I realise that you could say “but at least your game got selected for things!” This is very true, but only because I entered absolutely everything. There were were also things that I missed, same as everyone else. The main point behind it all was that I never gave up believing in what I was doing, and kept finding ways to persevere and improve. Every nomination I received proved to me that what I was making was worthwhile to someone, and every nomination I missed was a way to say “it’s not quite there yet.” Even when you’re working in a bedroom by yourself for months on end, and you get rejected from things several times, you just need to do whatever it takes to accept it, get back into a positive mindset, and move on. But ultimately, you also need balance. I’d worked myself sick, and needed others to teach me some perspective. Not getting selected for something is not the end of the world. Had I not received this nomination either, I’m now well beyond feeling like it was a make or break situation.
It’s all too easy to look at other people that have been successful at what they were doing, and assume that they found it easy. That they didn’t go through the same difficulties, disappointments or mental anguish. Even if you hear Jonathan Blow or Valve or whoever else you look up to say that it’s a hard process, it’s easy to believe that they were just better prepared for it, and that maybe you really are finding it harder than it should be. But success is never easy. Having been fired from a company that he started, only to later be rehired and become even more successful, Steve Jobs has wonderful advice about this:
Making something successful is really, really difficult. It’s hard to stay motivated when you’ve worked on something for a long time, but the answer isn’t to give up. The answer is to find out what you need to do to see it through. To remember why you started it in the first place, and to make sure that you achieve what you set out to do. I believe very strongly in what I’m doing. It’s not even about how the game will sell when it’s done, or how critics will review it. They’re important, sure, but it’s more about how I feel about what I’m doing, having invested years into it. Though I’ve now received the nomination I wanted last time, missing out on it last year was probably the best thing that could have happened, because it made me realise how much it was worth.
If you’ve read the previous posts (the ones right underneath this one!), you’d know that I was in Texas last month exhibiting Hazard at GDC Online. I won Technical Excellence in the IndiePub 3rd Developer Competition, but they also recorded an interview with me. Their second interview in fact, as IndiePub were the guys who also interviewed me at E3.
Anyway, they asked a bunch of questions, and I answered them! Some of my answers could have been shorter… but I was tired from showing the game off. Anyway, click the above image to read about / see the interview (or click here for the same effect!). I’ve linked the full page, because they also wrote up a bunch of other details which weren’t shown in the interview clip itself.
Short post today, as I’m currently pretty busy working on the game to display at IGF China.
This place has been quiet for a while. That’s because no one was home. I was overseas throughout October, both for business and to regain my sanity. On the business side of things, I exhibited Hazard at GDC Online and won Technical Excellence in the 3rd IndiePub Developer Contest, and then went to IndieCade for more networking madness. On the sanity side of things, I went to Japan. Of all of the places that I could have gone to keep my sanity, Japan probably seems like a pretty random choice, but I think that having a crazy culture around me constantly made my life look somewhat normal.
Anyway, I came back and was all set to get into a nice routine and work on the game until it is done, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen quite that easily. Hazard is a finalist in IGF China 2010, so I now need to make my way off to GDC China next month as well. Now, you may be reading that thinking “all of this travel just eats away at development time! Just finish the game!”, which is true, but only to an extent. When you spend all day working alone, keeping your motivation up gets pretty difficult at times! I want this game to be of high quality, and I’m sure you do too, so really, I need to do whatever the hell keeps me feeling creative. The game is taking longer than I anticipated, but it’s also turning out a whole lot better than I had anticipated as well. It’s all worth it.