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.
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 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.
Now hold on a minute. Don’t go away. I’m not insulting you. I’m just pointing you towards this excellent website. Why, you ask? Well, aside from being very interesting, I was first drawn to it when a friend linked the following video from a post titled The Moment:
If you’re wondering why I posted this (aside from it being excellent), I was going to justify my reasoning, but decided it would be better to just leave it as is.
Several times recently I’ve given people advice on how to get into the industry or how to stand out with what they’re doing. Not because I’m an employer who knows what game studios are after, but because it’s something I feel that I’ve been doing pretty well with so far. There are obviously a number of factors involved with this. You need a decent product, you need the right personality, you need the right skillset or talent, and you need motivation to actually get things done, but there’s one other thing that a number of people I’ve spoken to recently were all missing – opportunism.
There’s an old joke about a blonde who really needs to win the lottery because she’s out of money and her business is going under. She prays that she wins one day, and when the draw comes around, she doesn’t win. So she prays again the next day, and she doesn’t win it again. One day she’s praying again and is getting really desperate for the money, and hears the voice of God say “Work with me here. Buy a ticket”.
I’ve seen this exact same situation with a number of students. One of my friends didn’t have a job, despite being good at what he did, because he hadn’t really put together his portfolio. He hadn’t really put together his portfolio because he wasn’t applying for jobs. And he wasn’t applying for jobs because he hadn’t really put together his portfolio. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. After talking with him one day about his work situation, I told him to just start applying places, but he didn’t really want to do that. He didn’t feel like he’d get anywhere if he did. So I then invited him along to one of the local IGDA meetings in Melbourne. He wasn’t going to come, and hadn’t come to several others when I’d invited him to those either, but after having a serious discussion with him about how his attitude wasn’t helping him at all, he decided to come along.
He spent the night hanging out with me, and therefore ended up talking with a bunch of the people that I already knew. People in studios, people from the government, etc. The next day he was telling me about an internship opportunity he’d found out about on the night, so I told him to apply for it. Apparently the deadline was the next day, and he didn’t think he’d have enough time, so he thought it probably wasn’t worth it. I told him to take the day off to work on his submission and apply anyway. Closer to the deadline, he told me that other things were needed alongside his submission that he didn’t have. I said they probably didn’t matter, and that he should apply anyway. I said he should let them be the ones that could decide on whether or not he received the internship, and that there was a better chance that he’d have work if he submitted something than if he submitted nothing.
The deadline came around that Friday night, and he didn’t apply. He said he’d just wait until the internships were run again in September. After shaking my head again upon hearing this, I took it upon myself to contact people who were involved with the internship, who I’d spoken with several times before, and they said he should just apply ASAP the following Monday. I said he was missing his academic transcript and that I thought it didn’t matter, and they agreed. I then went back to my friend and told him all of this, and eventually convinced him to apply. After pushing him to really change his attitude, he’s now had an interview, has been accepted by the studio, and it’s all now waiting for approval by the government program that runs the internship.
The main point of that story is that it’s not enough to be really talented or skilled or motivated if you’re ultimately not doing what’s necessary to get yourself out there. During university I was the cause of much frustration to people, because things always seemed to work out well for me. I was offered an internship before it was offered to anyone else, my work was always on display or being promoted by the teachers as examples of what students should be aiming for, and I’d spoken at conferences and on TV to represent myself and the course. Some other students couldn’t understand it, and would go on about how their work was better, but no one seemed to notice. When I actually started explaining all of the reasons that things kept working out for me, people then started seeing the flaws in their argument.
I had to tell people many times that the only reason I was the one who always seemed to get things was because every time an opportunity came around, I was the first to put my hand up for it. If the teachers needed work to send overseas and it had to be done by the next day, I’d pull an all nighter and get it to them in the morning. If they had a TV crew coming around and needed interviews etc. for a story, I’d take time away from my day to do them. When a conference came around, no one else wanted to talk at it, so I did. The more that I did this, the more that I would stand out to people, and then later start standing out for standing out. Not because what I made was necessarily the best work, but because I was the one who kept saying yes to everything. When an internship then came around, I had already proven time and time again to people that I was reliable.
With development of my own game, this attitude has continued, and I strongly believe that it’s this attitude that helps me the most. When I entered Sense of Wonder Night, it was free entry into a competition that seemed interesting, and a potential trip to Japan. I didn’t have a passport, I had no idea how I was going to get there, but I ultimately didn’t care. Those were all problems that could be dealt with once the results of the competition were out. The easiest choice would have been not entering because it all seemed too hard, but I wanted to see how my game would go in it. After attending the Tokyo Game Show, the benefits of being accepted to present at SOWN were far more reaching than just the fact that I did a presentation in Japan.
With Make Something Unreal, the situation was exactly the same. I felt that my game wasn’t fit for the competition at all, I’d entered nothing else into the competition thus far, I hadn’t contributed to the community at all, my game didn’t really show off all of the fancy features that are in Unreal Engine 3, and no one knew who I was. But despite all of this, entry was free and I was eligible, so I figured I had nothing to lose. The worst that would come of it would be that no one noticed my game, but because I expected nothing in the first place, that was hardly a bad situation. I figured I would get nothing at all out of Make Something Unreal. As things stand today, this competition has given me the most benefit of everything I’ve done so far.
Attending the GDC was another situation like this. Before I was selected to speak at the GDC, I’d missed out on both the IGF Main and IGF Student competitions, and was waiting for the results from the Experimental Gameplay Workshop. But I was getting to the stage where I didn’t want to continue waiting. Waiting was painful, and I’d already been considering what I would do if I missed out on the EGW as well. I decided to make a list of the positives and negatives that were associated with going to the GDC. The positives were – networking, more chance to talk with people from Epic as I’d won Make Something Unreal by this stage, a new experience as I’d never been to the GDC before (or to America), more motivation to work on my game after coming back from it, and potentially more exposure for my game. The negatives were – cost. After making this list, it seemed pretty trivial, and I bought a ticket regardless of the EGW results. Having now attended the GDC, I don’t even think that cost is a negative factor. I spent several thousand dollars on flights to America and on accommodation, but not attending GDC would have been a bigger waste of money in my position, because I would have otherwise had to spend that money in some other way to find some other effective means of getting myself out there to more people.
After having discussions like this with people, I’ve seen two main counter arguments against this point. One was “Well what if you didn’t have a home to live in?”, “What if you had a wife and kids to support?”, “What if you don’t have the money to fly around to conferences?”, but that’s all part of my point. I don’t have any of those issues, so with the circumstances that I’m in, these are the best things that I can do to help my situation. If I was in another situation, I’d have different factors to work with, so I’d be doing other things to help my situation. But the idea of being opportunistic and always trying to get the best out of any situation would remain the same. The other counter argument people have is luck – that maybe I’ve just been really lucky, because things haven’t worked out so well for others – but that’s the same argument that other students used to throw at me. Not everything that I’ve done has worked out for me either, but that’s not a good reason to stop trying to succeed.
At the end of the day, it’s expected that you won’t get everything that you try to achieve in life, but that’s extremely different to not trying for things because you don’t think you’ll get them in the first place. The best you can do in life is try to achieve something, and the worst you can do is not try at all.
To coincide with the launch of his new website, I caught up with Alexander Bruce, creator of Hazard: The Journey of Life, to talk about his experiences. This interview is unedited, because during the interview he mentioned not wanting his words being represented differently to how he actually said them.
Demruth: Good Evening.
Alexander Bruce: It’s actually morning. It just ticked over midnight
Right. Good morning then. Sorry this interview had to be scheduled for such an odd time.
That’s ok. I couldn’t actually sleep tonight, so it makes sense to do it now anyway. I had too much caffeine during the day.
That sounds about right for a game developer. Getting work done by being amped up on caffeine and junk food.
Actually, I’ve tried cutting out all of that stuff. It’s just that with Easter there was chocolate around and it happened to be of the dark variety.
That’s unfortunate. Moving along though, shall we start this interview?
Sounds good. Perhaps it will help me relax a bit.
Okay. Well, I’ll start with what my readers will probably want to know most right now. Why did you want to do an interview with me?
I knew you’d ask that…
Well, it does seem a bit strange.
I guess. I’m just trying different approaches to talking about my game.
No, I mean, there are other media sites out there to do this sort of thing. It probably would have made more sense to do an interview with one of them.
Maybe. I’ve done some in the past and I’m sure I’ll do more later, but right now I’m not sure how worthwhile they’ve been. I really liked the one I did with Russell Fincher from Uncommon Assembly, but that seems to be one of the only interviews that I was really happy with.
In what way?
Well, Russell had actually played the game and loved the art style, so he had something he genuinely wanted to talk about. He contacted me over MSN and we had an hour long discussion back and forth, and when he posted the thing, he tried to preserve what I’d said when writing it up.
How was that different to other interviews that you’ve done?
Well, for a start, he’d actually played the game. When I did other interviews with a number of people, they weren’t quite sure of what the game was.
I don’t know that that’s a prerequisite for an interview though. I can think of many cases where interviews were done to get information out of the developer, without specific knowledge of what was being discussed.
I guess, but there doesn’t seem to be anything personal there when that happens in my eyes. I guess it has bothered me in the past because I don’t think it’s the kind of game that you can talk about without specifically knowing a whole lot about it first. I mean, what are you going to be talking about, when you only know about the information I’ve given you in a trailer? Everything I wanted you to know is right there in the trailer, and there’s nothing left to ask. I feel like it makes people ask the wrong questions.
Well, for a start, I keep getting asked why the game has philosophy in it and who my influences were.
I don’t see how that’s unreasonable though. You yourself keep marketing it as a philosophical game…
It’s not that though. I mean, have you played the game?
I developed it. I’m you.
Right, sorry. I guess it’s more that if you’ve played the game, you’ll understand the flow of the game and not even need to ask the question. Design wise, philosophy was an interesting way to communicate information to the player, and experience wise, it gave the game an overall purpose. But you can’t answer honestly like that in some interviews because that doesn’t sound interesting enough. They’ll just cut that information out and try to make it edgy. I tried that once and the interview didn’t get published at all.
I’m not going to edit this at all.
No I know that. It just made me change my thinking towards how to respond to interview questions. Responding with answers that are more likely to get published rather than answers which I feel accurately represent the situation. I guess it’s a case by case basis kind of thing.
Are you sure it’s that black and white though? I spoke with Leo Jaitley from Dejobaan Games about this at the GDC and he mentioned redirecting the question into something else and answering that instead.
Leo was their PR guy, right?
I remember having that conversation with him too. Tommy and Edmund from Super Meat Boy do this all the time, and I think Farbs has done it before as well. To me, I guess it comes down to whether the point of an interview is to inform or to entertain. When I’m reading an interview, I like to get a lot of information from the developer, or hear their thoughts on things, not just what was interesting enough to publish. To me, as an independent developer myself, other peoples experiences are really important. I’m newer to all of this than a lot of others, so I need to be acting like a sponge half the time. I know it shows a lot of personality in the interviews, and maybe it doesn’t matter to me as much anymore now that I’ve met those developers and can just ask them directly, but it didn’t help as much when I was trying to find information.
I’m still not convinced that it’s impossible to have both though. Perhaps you just need to find a style that works both ways.
Well, I guess that was part of the point of trying this out. I feel like I’ll be able to communicate the information that I wanted to get across without having to give ridiculous answers, but still have it in a format that’s fun to read.
I guess it does let you ensure that you’re asking yourself the questions you feel are most important.
Exactly. That’s actually another point. Sometimes, it wasn’t even that the questions were wrong or that I didn’t give the right answers, it’s that they didn’t even use them regardless! Several times, I’ve just had people send me questions, I’d give them some answers, and that was it. No follow up questions or anything. It just doesn’t feel natural to me. I know that’s an obtuse statement, because it’s still more natural than talking to yourself, but I like things to flow. I’m a pretty approachable person, and I’m always willing to talk about things, so if you’re interested enough to want to get information out of me, take another step forwards and be interested enough to engage in a discussion, you know?
Sure. So, knowing how you now feel about these matters, I’ll put it to you this way. If you could talk about the philosophy in the game, and didn’t have to worry about whether your answer was correct or not, what would you say? Sell me on the idea.
I guess what really matters about the philosophical side of things isn’t specifically why this game has philosophy in it or whether I think this is something games should do more of at all. That side isn’t interesting, because the reason for that could have been completely arbitrary. I get a lot of random ideas, and I just like trying things out. To me, the more important question is how it evolved as an idea. This kind of game is very personal, and it wouldn’t really work unless there was a lot of heart involved behind the idea. I love helping people, and at the start I thought that adding these little bits of philosophy were a way of helping people who played the game. You’re playing a game, and you’re getting positive reinforcement about life whilst you do so.
But it goes deeper than that. The more that I worked with the idea, the more I had to start questioning some of the messages that I’d written. I had to constantly evaluate whether they were actually true within my own life or not. Sometimes I’d write a message from a negative perspective, because that’s how I felt about the issue at the time, but this was conflicting with the overall positive nature of the game. So although I didn’t want to portray such negativity in the game, I also didn’t want to lie about things in the game either just to stay on message. So instead I did neither. I’d take a negative message, spin it more positively, and then change my life outside the game to suit that. The more I worked on the game, the more positive I became as a person, and I think that really started to show to people. Because of working on this game, I’ve developed such a positive attitude towards life that I feel even more inclined to keep going with it.
I think this is one of the reasons that I’m not phased by people calling the game pretentious, because I’m honestly not doing this because I believe I’m better than anyone else. I’m just doing something that is having really positive results for my own life, and want to share the finished result with others, because I’m not sure how people will be affected.
The game has philosophy in it because it’s ultimately about overcoming challenges in life. Life is difficult, it’s frustrating, you’re completely on your own sometimes, but you work your way through it all anyway.
That’s certainly much deeper than I’d have anticipated. And as you say, it’s not really all that clear cut either. On that point of pretension, what do you think motivates people to make comments like that?
That’s a discussion I’ll save for later, because I’m actually getting pretty tired now. But to wrap up this discussion about being interviewed by you, basically, the answer was that one day I was trying to sleep but was staying awake for some reason, much like tonight, and I got this crazy idea that I’d try talking with myself and seeing where the discussion lead. It seemed like a good idea at the time, though I won’t actually know whether it was until this is published.
Shall we continue this another time then? I have heaps of questions, and we really only covered two of them. Perhaps we could turn this into a series instead, if the discussions are going to flow like this every time.
Maybe. I don’t want to commit to anything though. It’s a bit creepy and schizophrenic now that we’ve actually done one of these interviews. See how this one goes first, and if it’s received well, we can schedule another one.
Alright. That sounds like a plan. Well, thanks for your time Alex. It’s been a pleasure.