In a shocking twist of events that may be a surprise to some and a relief to others…
Hazard is being renamed to Antichamber.
I know that this may be coming a little out of left-field this late in development, but it wasn’t a decision that I made lightly, and a whole lot of time and thought went into the new name. Changing the name of something at this stage is like having a kid, and then 2 years later going “actually I don’t like what I called you when you were born. It doesn’t fit. You’re now ‘Jerry’”. But, better to fix it now while the game is still in development than waiting until it’s too late.
As was covered in the Joystiq announcement, this game has been the process of constant iteration on a core set of ideas, from an arena combat game, to a single player puzzle game, to a game about exploration and discovery. I chose the name “Hazard” back in the arena combat phase, where the world was, quite literally, full of hazards. Later I added the subtitle to it, to fit more with where the game was heading at the time.
It stayed that way until now because I just got used to saying it, and never really thought any more about what it meant to people. It was just a name to me. I was more concerned with spending my time exploring the game ideas to their fullest potential.
So why change it now?
At DICE and GDC this year after the Indie Games Challenge and IGF nominations, I started getting feedback about the name from a significant enough number of people whom I respect greatly. They were concerned with the fact that I now had this incredibly interesting game that a lot of people would want to play, and they didn’t want people to be overlooking it because of what it was called, particularly because of the subtitle.
I knew exactly why it was an issue for them, as in the past I’ve seen people recommend the game to others, and then have to fight really hard to get people to ignore what it was called (“Journey of life? Sounds pretentious / artsy / etc.”), and experience how it actually played. This is not something that I’d want to happen. Not being interested in something is one thing, being turned off entirely for this reason is another.
Why not just Hazard then? Why change it entirely?
Without the subtitle, just “Hazard” is not only not descriptive of the game now, it’s anti-descriptive. Though it does mean uncertainty, people more immediately refer to it as danger. People were confused, because nothing in the game was dangerous, and the player could never die. I argued against this point with several people (including getting a rather awesome quote from JimMcGinley, who stated “No one plays Crysis and goes “IS THIS THE CRYSIS!?”), but ultimately conceded that just “Hazard” puts the game in the same light as things like “KillZone”, “BulletStorm”, “Total Annihilation”, etc. which is not where I want to be.
Pretty unanimously, everyone I spoke to when deciding to change the name was quick to say “yeah Hazard sounds like an FPS. Doesn’t make sense”, regardless of what they thought of any other suggestions. Not only that, but without the subtitle, it’s impossible to find information about the game due to the abundance of websites about safety games, hazards in games, etc.
Apart from both of these issues, there’s also the fact that the game was released in a very early state for Make Something Unreal as an Unreal Tournament 3 mod, and a slice of it on the UDK Showcase in early 2010. Believe it or not, but there are still people who’ve seen the game from competition nominations etc. and believe that the game is still a mod, or that I entered that early showcase version. Neither of these is true, and the game has come a VERY long way since anything was made publically available.
Won’t I lose the branding that I have associated with the old name!?
I’ve spoken with a number of developers about this, and the general consensus was that pre-release, it can seem like everyone knows about your game, when the reality is that most of the people who will end up buying it didn’t even know that it existed before it went on sale. Those who already liked the game will likely not care what the name is, and those who overlooked it for whatever reason can now look at it differently.
Throughout the entirety of its development, the name wasn’t what was drawing most people into the game anyway. In all festivals the game was entered into, judges had to go through and play every game, and weren’t making decisions based off first impressions when seeing the name by itself.
Up until release and after, I was going to continue taking the game to festivals etc. anyway and drumming up more noise about it, so realistically, I just have to work a little bit harder at building awareness post-name change as well.
Does this mean that the theme of the game has changed?
Yes and no. What was made available previously was clearly labelled as a work in progress, and was much more conceptual than the game is now. Ultimately, the final release will be an extension of the same core concepts, but everything has been refined and iterated upon. There’s still a philosophical bent in the game, but it’s the mechanics and the rest of the world that have really come to the forefront of the design these days. The new name offered new places to take the narrative, and everything fell into place nicely once it was changed.
If people liked anything they’ve seen of the game thus far, they will like the final version even more. If they had reservations, rest assured that the game is becoming something very special. The name change is just to get things more in line with what the game has become.
Does this mean the game is ready for release?
No. I still don’t have a release date for the game, and I’m not going to give another estimate until I have something completely solid to work on. Quality matters most, and I’m not a fan of fixing things after the fact that should have been right in the first place. I want this game done more than anyone, because it’s been taking up all of my mental energy for a few years now. But now more than ever is not the time to try to rush to release, when I’m getting very close to having it all just right.
I’m still showing the game off at events throughout the year, so it makes sense to change the name now so that all future information about the game is under the final title.
Is there a new demo or trailers to go with the new name?
There will be new trailers etc. when the time comes. A new demo, however, will not be released until the game is finished.
Do you know which platforms the game will be on?
No, though at this stage, I’m aiming to have it on Steam and at least one console. Finishing the game is difficult enough though, so that’s the main priority.
How can I keep updated about the game under the new name?
Back when I first wrote the linework shader in 2009, I was fairly pressed for time and didn’t really have the best knowledge of shaders with what I was doing. I knew logically what I wanted to achieve, but after many, many hours of bashing away at the edge detection shader, I got to what appeared to be the best result that I could get. The game has stuck with the same shader for 2 years, and I’ve been unhappy with it the entire time.
Ideally, I wanted edge detection that could pick up every polygon (and have a threshold lowered if that became too much), without highlighting anything in the scene that wasn’t an edge. This was easier said than done, especially given all I have to work with is pixel depth.
I had many people say “just go look at what X game did”, and unfortunately whenever I had a look at other games, in some cases copying their shaders directly, the shaders were bad for long flat surfaces, especially when the camera came too close to them, as it would highlight the entire surface. Unfortunately for me, that was essentially my entire game. Worse still, they would pick up less information than I already had, and miss the most important edges entirely, being the edges between faces on a single object, as opposed to the edges between objects.
That is, they would pick up all of this:
And miss out on all of this:
Looking at the difference between these two screenshots, you may think that they look kinda the same, but one just has thicker linework in it. However, looking towards the bottom of the image, you can see the corners of the elevated section of floor are entirely missing. In high detail scenes like this, these edges can be overlooked, but when we’re talking about a simple cube, this is the difference between being able to see every individual block, versus being able to see only the outlines of an amorphous mass.
This week I had some free time to go back and try to fix it again, and the results speak for themselves. Not only was I able to improve the shader dramatically, but I also realised that even the so called “every edge” picture I just showed was missing about 20% of its edges!
Unfortunately, I’m not actually going to show off new screenshots of the game, because I always hate looking back at previous images and only seeing unfinished work, but what I will post is the results from opening up the UDK Foliage test map, which to some may look even more impressive anyway. Click the screens for high res versions:
The shader is now at the level where it can detect individual polygons, as you can see on the rocks around the place. I could set the threshold lower to detect these more harshly, but this is at the level that I have it set at in my game. This now means that the linework doesn’t dance all around the place every frame and become distracting (which was especially a problem at 1920×1080). It took a long time to get around to improving this, but I’m very happy with the new results.
The video of my talk has now been posted online. Unfortunately, there was lighting on the screen that didn’t affect the presentation at the time, but did affect the angle at which the camera was sitting, so it blocks out a lot of what is happening on the screen for most of the talk.
Though it’s not ideal, I’ve posted the raw slides here so you can at least flip through them yourself to keep up with the talk if you wanted to see the imagery associated with it. Keep in mind that they’re mostly filled with images, and are 37mb in size. I didn’t expect to have to post them or care about file size when I was making the presentation.
A few more links that are relevant to what was spoken about, particularly later in the talk, are Chris Hecker’s “Achievements Considered Harmful?” talk, which also links to a post titled “Metrics Fetishism“. These are very interesting reads, and I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t seen them before to look over them.
The videos of other games played later in the talk (when speaking about art style and elegance) are of The Unfinished Swan and Fez.
I’m not going to link to the first video that was played to introduce the talk, because I’d rather not have it on the internet at the moment (it’s a few months old anyway).
Included as part of the talk was a brief analysis of Portal 2 and why it didn’t work for me at all. Those following me on Twitter would know that I had a fair few issues with some of the design choices that were made in it, and though I’d love to post a very detailed writeup about it, I don’t have the time at the moment. I took time to cover some of it in this talk because the discussion was fairly relevant to the aesthetic and design choices of my own game.
I’ll also post this video of Jonathan Blow giving a playthrough of Braid with commentary, filmed at Game City last year, as it covers a whole lot of stuff that has also been important to me whilst working on Hazard. The video is a bit shaky, but if you can get over that, it’s well worth the watch. It’s over an hour long in total, so bookmark it and watch the whole thing when you have the time.
Since returning from GDC and DICE, things stepped up for me quite a bit, so I now have a whole lot of other stressful stuff to deal with in addition to the work required to finish the game. At the end of the day, it will be worth it to everyone who is waiting for it, it’s just going to take a little bit longer than I’d have previously anticipated.
I’ve now made most of the refinements required for the flow of the game, and things are feeling really nice with how it’s all progressing, but with every bit that gets refined and polished, others stick out as needing more work. Fixing all of these is important, because these are the things that make a game feel “right”.
I know this place gets quiet sometimes due to me getting caught up in work surrounding the game itself, but smaller updates and links get added to the Facebook page as they come around. It’s much faster to post a link with a short synopsis than it is to write thoughtful blog posts.
Last week I was in Las Vegas for DICE as one of the finalists in the second Indie Game Challenge. It was the same deal as most other conferences. You go there, you demo your game, the response is great, you wear a pink suit on TV, and then you move on. Well… at least that’s how I usually go to conferences.
Anyway, DICE was way better than expected. That’s probably a strange comment, but from everything I’d heard about the conference, it was one for all of the big wigs and executives. When I arrived at registration, I felt rather out of place for this reason, as it was definitely a very different crowd to what I’ve seen at the GDC or E3. Everyone was at least 100 years older than me (ok, maybe that’s stretching things too far…), and they looked corporate. I spoke to a few people at the DICE Poker Tournament, and that didn’t really help me feel like I was fitting in there at all. At one stage, one person I was talking to asked me if I thought people in their position were elitist, and I thought it was a pretty stupid, yet hilarious question to ask. He was probably a nice guy, but I think alcohol may have been involved. Pretty much everyone else that I met at the conference, whether they were the CEO of Unity or one of the key members of Penny Arcade, were actually really nice people.
Once we got around to actually demoing our games, I both met some cool new people and played some cool new games. I already knew Andy Schatz of Monaco and Dino Patti of LIMBO (though I did go off and fire some guns with those guys afterwards, American styles), and the guys who made Q.U.B.E and Solace were some really nice people. But I also met the people behind some other really cool games that I had never played or heard about before. Nemesys Games was there with Fortix II and Niv Fisher was there with Confetti Carnival, which is one of the games that beat me to an IGF Nomination for Technical Achievement, and is nominated alongside me for the IGF Direct2Drive Vision Award. Speaking of which, I’m also nominated for the aforementioned IGF Direct2Drive Vision Award! Not much news to report there, other than it being another nomination, so back to DICE coverage.
At DICE I had a number of people from the press come through and play the game, and then subsequently try to describe it. G4TV covered it as part of their roundup of Indie Game Challenge finalists in the lead up to announcing the winners. Ars Technica quite enjoyed playing it on the floor, and I probably said too much whilst talking to them, but I’m a fairly open guy. Shack News also enjoyed what they were seeing, but had no idea where to even begin trying to explain the game, which is also fair, given I’ve struggled with that for quite a long time myself! You can hear them talk about it in their podcast between 40:30 and 48:20, before getting back to the discussion of more normal games.
I’m quite busy here in San Francisco, both working on the game and working on a bunch of other business stuff related to the game, hence the fairly long delay between these news items being posted and me actually getting a chance to write up about it on this blog. As I’ve said before, if you want more immediate updates, go follow Hazard on Facebook for news as it happens or follow me on Twitter for ramblings about what I’m currently actually working on. Not that I’m trying to spam people about following me, but you’ll honestly get more timely information from those sources.
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.
Lets face it. Whether people find value in arguing about it or not, I’m sure everyone who has ever been interested in anything relating to independent games has had at least 7.24 arguments (scientific average) about what it means to be indie. “Indie means independently financed”, you say. “Indie means creative and innovative!”, your friend responds.” Another friend cries “Who cares!” , and in the background, your mother calls “Come and help with the dishes!”. After rolling your eyes, you take off your headset, close the group video conversation on Skype, and help your mother clean the kitchen.
People could argue about what it means to be indie until the cows come home. If they were fans of Ian Bogost’s Cow Clicker, they could then proceed to click every single one of them, delighted in the knowledge that they don’t have to wait another 6 hours to do so. Though I had my fair share of arguments on the topic before eventually deciding, like many other people, that indie was a pretty useless label (it doesn’t actually describe anything at all about my game), I know that I didn’t always feel that way.
So what’s the point of this post? Hazard was featured on IGN again (the last time it was featured was for standing out at E3), and in the feature, there’s a bunch of discussion about the value, or lack of value, of putting things into boxes. You can see from the comments threads for the article that there’s a bunch of people who find value in the discussion, and a bunch of people who cry “Who cares!” (though, the article probably interrupted their session of Call of Duty!).
This is definitely something I’ve spent time trying to get around. Though Hazard started as a mod, I never considered myself a modder, and though I was working on it as a student, it wasn’t intended to be a student project. When people tried to fit the game into any particular box, I’d argue that they’d put it in the wrong box.
The first trailer I made back in August 2009 drew countless comparisons to Portal, simply because the player had a gun and was solving puzzles. The second trailer from March 2010 aimed to explain the game more to avoid people calling it out for being a Portal clone (given the game is hardly like Portal), but gave people other reasons to classify it as one thing or another, often incorrectly. After spending a lot of time thinking about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that my best bet with the next trailer is to explain nothing and let people make whatever judgements make it easy for them to understand, and simply not care one way or the other.
People will always find the game hard to understand, simply because it doesn’t fit within any of their boxes of what a game is. I’ve had many stories from people who’d played Hazard at a conference, went home to try to tell their friends about it, and totally failed at communicating the experience. Not because the game was bad, but because nothing they could really say to try to explain it was necessarily accurate or useful. I still remember TimW first describing it as being “like Portal meets Braid (minus the portals and time manipulation stuff)”, which is another way of saying “Hazard is like nothing”.
I’ve tried to avoid classifications, so that people could see the game on its own merits (hence my tongue in cheek description of it as an MAWPFPSPEPAG), and as I stated in the IGN article, I don’t think there’s any inherent problem in labeling things if it helps you understand them, but I always die a little inside when people ask “Is it like Portal?” and I ultimately just have to say yes, knowing that if I actually explained the game more accurately, I’d lose their interest for being too hard to comprehend. It’s just something that needs to be played.
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.
You know, it took me ages to get around to getting onto Facebook. I never really understood why people wanted it, before I went to GDC 2010. I then met hundreds of people, and needed an easy way to keep in touch with them all. That’s when I suddenly understood why people wanted this thing. It wasn’t about posting about what you were making for lunch, or getting stalked by random strangers… that’s just how the media had portrayed it to me. Of course people still do both of those, but it’s actually pretty useful for more normal things as well. For a long time, Twitter seemed even more useless to me, before I started using it to keep in contact with people who didn’t use Facebook, and to get the other half of updates from people who used both.
Anyway, that was a pretty pointless story. The main reason for this post was just to say that I’ve now finally made a page for Hazard on Facebook. You should probably go off and like it. I’m also on Twitter, if you wanted to keep in touch with me that way. It’s not an official Hazard stream or anything, but at least if you go off and follow that, you’ll know that I’m still alive, and there’s a good chance I’ll post random updates about things I’m currently working on in the game. Alternatively, if you’re someone I’ve met previously, or you just want to add me on Facebook… that’s cool too. I’m all about being easy to talk to. Perhaps you have some development stuff you’d like to talk about.
I’m thinking about making a new trailer soon and posting that at some stage. The current one is now pretty ancient, and has far exceeded its purpose. Oh… also… the game isn’t coming out in 2010, like that trailer says. Sorry!
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.