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22.07.23 - Magazine Dreams
Every Saturday I get the urge to start a magazine. It would be so cool. I’d call it The Fake Times and it would be about, for and by small game developers.
Essays, interviews, reviews, selfmade ads for our weird games. The Fake Times would have it all.
The Fake Times would be a tight little magazine. No endlessly self-indulgent rants, no wishy-washy writing without teeth. No needless verbosity, no expository vomiting.
There would be a rigorous editorial process, whittling each contribution down into it’s most direct version. The Fake Times would be exciting to read. Even inflammatory maybe.
There’d be one issue per month. I’d make the first one (#000) myself, putting down hard rules, creating a template on which we could then build collectively.
The Fake Times would be beautiful.
So why don’t I make it?
the very bad day
CW: mental health stuff EDIT: forgot the exact date of publication, early june 23 probably
Yesterday was a very bad day. Most days of my early twenties were like this. I’m putting the specifics down in writing to make it all graspable for myself, hopefully stopping days like yesterday from becoming more common again.
It all starts with me not doing things I have to for a long time. Currently I have to do my [REDACTED] and find a [REDACTED] and also finish NEW GAME and also go to [REDACTED] and also, probably, I should start trying to [REDACTED].
But I am not REALLY doing any of it and I know that this is not sustainable and will lead to big problems down the line.
I can handle it now, slowly chipping away at the large tasks, getting it done bit by tiny bit, even if I can’t muster the power for the decisive sweep I long for.
But back then, 6 years ago, I felt like a complete idiot. It was all I could think about. Idiot. To shut off my brain, I ate and consumed media.
Yesterday it was like that again.
Lack of activity causes a lot of excess energy to be stored up. It releases in short bursts of nerveousness. I deeply analyse the media I consume. I form strong opinions. I find connections.
Specific turns of words (“breaking plastic”) and ideas (“I should write horror stories”) rain down on me. I am unable to act on any of them. When the nerveous burst is over, I immediatly return to the stimulation, sinking into self-loathing lethargy.
The only way to temporarily escape this loop is to focus the occasional flare-up of nerveous energy into doing creative work (like writing yesterdays blogpost). This is where a lot of my gifs came from: Short bursts of productivity, impossible to keep up over longer periods of time.
I spent years of my life like this and it seemed like there was no way out.
But being able to look at the slowly accumulating creative output and seeing how it developed over time forced me to aknowledge that things actually do change. I had to realise that my state was not permanent, but even then, without my family pushing me to get help, I’d probably still be stuck in that destructive loop.
It’s a testiment to the inherent strenght of the human body that I survived such consistent self-abuse with only a little bit of long-term damage.
I’ve been very, very well these last few years. But now, yesterday, I was back there again.
Amazing, how silently my safe-guards had crumbled. Strange, how impossible it is to escape from such a feeling in the moment. Scary, how familiar and safe and comfortable it feels.
Luckily, it was only a single day. I feel collected today and in control. A warning shot, I hope.
How do I stop this from becoming more common again?
Reading back what I wrote here (this is why I do this, it helps me to really think) I have to finally finish doing my [REDACTED]. And take care of [REDACTED]. I should probably not use NEW GAME to avoid going to [REDACTED]. And then, when all of these other things are taken care of, maybe… maybe I can finally start trying to [REDACTED].
Basically, I’ve let things slide for too long. The constant pressure from not doing my shit has resulted in a very bad day. But the stability reserves of years of being happier and healthier have kept the very bad day contained and stopped it from turning into a very bad week/month/year/early adulthood.
It’s kind of crazy how simple it all is in the end.
Just gotta do my shit.
It’s that very simplicity that makes it dangerous. If it’s so easy but I still can’t do it… what does that say about me?
It probably means that it’s not easy at all. And that I should be nicer to myself.
22.06.23 - Fear Of Finishing
Time to stop kidding myself: I’ll not be able to wrap up NEW GAME in June.
There’s just too much going on at the moment. I’m being pulled in 6 directions at once. This amount of pressure would have ripped me apart a few years ago. I’m a lot more stable now, but also have to be careful to not overestimate my newfound resiliance.
Instead of pushing myself to the brink of exhaustion to finish NEW GAME in time, I’ll only announce the game next week and then slowly wrap it up over the summer.
While sensible, this feels like shit.
To make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again, let’s take a step back and examine how I fucked up NEW GAME’s schedule. Not that fucking up schedules is a new thing for me.
For much of qomp’s 4 years of on/off development, I was frozen with fear. What if it isn’t a perfect game made by a very smart genius? Paralysed by high expectations, I did nothing.
During the first year of PRODUCER 2021, I was afraid of the act of writing. What if I accidentally reveal that I’m a complete idiot? Unwilling to be honest, I just developed tools and structures without ever using them.
Now, during the last three months (*actually, it’s been four! I lost track of time!) of working on NEW GAME, I was…
Initially afraid of alienating people with unconventional design, I managed to (again and again) stay strong. It’s going to be a pretty uncompromising game.
So if it isn’t fear, then what has caused the delays?
How about the lack of a systematic reflective process?
Sounds about right.
This was what allowed me to finish PRODUCER: Weekly blogposts, summing up the efforts and failings of the previous days. A kind of project diary and archive, storing all my fuck-ups and successes, allowing me to read up on them and remember which processes actually worked and which ones were just idle distractions meant to obscure the fear of finishing.
The fear of finishing is ever present. It can be easily overcome in short bursts, during jams and sketching hours, but in the long run, when the project is large and self-inflicted it can slowly sneak up on you, strangling you incrementally, so you don’t even notice you’re running short on oxygen until it’s too late.
I’m afraid of finishing NEW GAME, but I only realise that now. I couldn’t even try to admit it before, so I just kept noodling around these last few weeks, not cutting what I had to cut, not thinking about what I was actually doing, being a horrible collaborateur and an inefficient developer.
How can this happen, again and again, project after project? How can the fear of finishing still grab hold of me, after all these published games? Could it be an inevitable part of the creative process?
At least I seem to be getting faster at noticing it. It took me four years to finally start to finish qomp. But I only wasted 9 months on cowering in fear during PRODUCER. And now, with NEW GAME, it only robbed me of four weeks.
28.04.2023 - Level Design Block
For the last weeks, I’ve been struggling with making levels for NEW GAME. Today I finally resolved the issue and want to take some time to reflect on what happened.
When it comes to level design, I’m a firm believer in making a looooot of levels very quickly and then deleting them. The idea is that the most interesting and concrete aspects will remain imprinted in your brain, while you forget all the bland stuff. It’s like making 100 sketches and then not needing to look at them while doing the final drawing.
And so I made ~100 levels, deleted them and then… had intense problems remaking them. I could remember the most interesting shapes, but I couldn’t make them real. Something inside me was against it. I just couldn’t do it. Writers block.
As usual in those moments, I resorted to a trusted creative exercise: Instead of coming up with concrete levels, I started drawing random arrows on the screen. By placing tiles in the areas where there was no arrow, these lines would turn into intended player paths, giving me specific shapes to work with. Usually this technique is super useful to understand what kind of motion across the screen makes sense for your game, but now it didn’t help me at all. It was just some arrows. I couldn’t fill them with life.
Writer’s block intact.
So then I stepped away from the problem. Making fun & easy stuff boosts morale, so I came up with some wonky machines, obstacles and items. This type of distraction is nice, but what really helped much more was to step away from the game (and all screens) as a whole.
Like, what really IS a level and what do I require of it for this specific game?
A level is a single screen with some tiles, some coins, maybe some obstacles or NPCs, and a portal where the player spawns.
and also, much more crucially:
A level belongs to an area, which has a unique set of tiles and animations, a distinct theme and a specific difficulty level.
Of course! I had boxed myself in! There were too many specific expectations towards any single level, stifling my ability to create. Each level had to do things based on it’s position in the whole game, but the whole game didn’t exist yet because I was so frozen on making levels! It was an ouroboros!
Cutting back on all of these requirements required a complete rework of the tiles and their animation system, but it was worth the extremely strange bugs I encountered along the way.
The game is now a lot less visually diverse, because all areas use the same tiles, but I am infinitely more free to create. I can make 10 iterations on an idea without having to worry about where they show up. I can focus on immediate gameplay without having to worry about larger structure and suddenly the juices are flowing.
Actually, they’re flowing too much! I’m coming up with new level ideas again, new types of enemies and new types of systems! It’s great, but it’s also too late.
If I want to maintain my ability to make levels I need to put a systems lock on the game: No more new things, no more new toys, no emergent surprises in the testing room.
Because now that it’s behind me, I can say that the level designer’s block was twofold:
On the one hand, I wasn’t committed to the current amount of tools and toys in the game. I was always thinking about trying out just one more feature, which makes any level subject to potential obsolescence down the line.
On the other hand, I had put myself into too tight of a box. Each level had both it’s unique tiles and specific expectations towards type of gameplay and difficulty.
Instead of trying to comply with all of these heavy rules, I am now just happily coming up with new weird stuff, deleting it and remaking it, completely uncaring about where exactly those levels will end up.
I’m confident that I’ll be able to find a good place for them.
Once they’re actually done.
23.04.2023 - Process
I’m in that happy place again, where I was last summer. Routine, effective work and constant reflection, broken up by proper weekends, meetings with friends and lots of walks.
It feels very similar to how I felt during PRODUCER 2021, so I wanted to quickly write down the larger pattern that seems to lead to this state of extended bliss.
There are some strange game design concepts that I just enjoy thinking about. New ideas flake off from these ruminations.
Once I’ve had an Idea in my head for a couple of months it usually asserts itself as a concrete idea. Something that, if scoped down sufficiently, could actually be done!
An intense phase of prototyping usually results in dissatisfaction. The idea is dropped and replaced with the next interesting thing.
If things go especially well (or I feel particularily sluggish and want to shake that off) there is a small solo jam. Maybe a weird game makes it onto itch.io.
But usually I just show gifs of my experiments to friends, gauging their reactions and discussing ramifications, before my interest in the idea peters out and is replaced with something new.
To stop this deathloop, I am trying my best to return to old ideas as often as possible. Now, with more experience, looking at it with new eyes, maybe, if I just change this thing and then…
… nope, still doesn’t work. Time for the next idea.
Then, after a few of these switches, I’ll try to make it real, but things will feel off from the start. I’m unsure of the direction and don’t want to make decisions, so instead I get lost in polish and superficial changes. This part feels pretty shit so I get the desire to make some other prototypes and then one of them is kind of nice and then….
I would, probably, remain in this state forever, were it not for lucky circumstances that allow me to travel for some time, that pull me out of my usual surroundings.
Basically, I get put into a situation where I can’t work as focused as I would normally. New people, new places, new cultures and experiences. A kind of sudden shock, an avalanche of things outside of my experience.
These travels always give me perspective, showing me how lucky I am to be able to spend all my time on this weird stuff. With that understanding, I start to feel the responsability. I’m living the dream, I can’t just fuck around. I have to take this seriously.
When I come back home, I am hungry for work.
This is where shit becomes real.
It’s not just an attempt anymore, but an internal committement. A deadline is set. A promise is made: I will finish this.
And then the actual work can begin.
Having been around the block a few times, I am very careful to not overextend myself in the beginnig of development and just slowly rev up the old engine.
Having done a lot of prototypes of the idea before getting serious with it, I simply start the project from scratch once more. I know where the previous attempts stalled, so I can tackle those areas early and deliberately.
It takes around a week until I have recreated the most important parts of all the old prototypes, but now they are set up in a much more stable and editeable way.
Years of prototyping and making small games have made me very quick and proficient with my engine. The main problem is never the code itself, but the struggle of deciding what to work on next.
While it doesn’t look like work at all, taking a step back to find bottlenecks and weak spots in the game takes a lot of energy. Like, a LOT of energy, but the result is worth it.
The feeling of tackling a problem, considering it in the larger context of the whole game and then deciding how to handle it brings with it an intense sense of competency. Knowing that, without that crucial bit of reflection, without that step back, the whole game would have taken weeks longer to develop, is extremely satisfying.
Instead of filling sheets of paper with endless ideas and visions I fill pages with concrete problems and, eventually, solutions.
It doesn’t look lime I’m working hard, the code itself is trivial, but the whole process is so exhausting and intense that I’ll switch to a 4 day work week.
Because it’s all about consistency now. Small steps, everyday. Cutting, adjusting, iterating, rewriting. Whittling away at the game, slowly, deliberatly working towards your larger goals.
To do this, I require relative material safety, but I also require truckloads of trust:
The musician will deliver amazing work, I don’t need to worry.
I will polish those mechanics later, there’s more important stuff to do.
I will be able to make amazing levels later, they can suck for now.
The game will be finished, no matter how bad this day was.
It’s a kind of faith in the process that allows you to look up one day and be amazed: There’s not a lot of uncertainty left. The questionmarks have dissapeared from the papers. The remaining tasks are extremely concrete. It’s true:
I will finish this.
These are the times where I can strongly feel that I never want to do anything else. This is it, this is what I am good at, this is where I can contribute.
To maintain my ability to do that, I’ll need to take selling games more seriously. This is why NEW GAME will not be released for quite some time. I’ll finish it up and then spend the summer doing marketing, steam festivals and whishlist begging. I’m even willing to talk with a publisher.
I’ve known for years that I’m in this for the long run. Time to start acting like it.
15.04.2023 - no nomand
Nomads follow the ressources they need. When I left home ~3 months ago, I was following cheap rent.
Traveling through Argentina and the Rabbit Residency in Germany was amazing, but then the third thing I had planned fell through. After being well taken care of before, I now realised that cheap rent needs consistent organisation.
After a few days in a gray & miserable berlin hostel, I stopped pretending to be a nomad.
It was LOT of fun, but extending that fun is not for me. I’d much rather explore new places as a tourist than as a perpetual stranger.
Already, I have returned to my old ways, but, as always after travel appereantly, invigorated & highly motivated to lead the most boring life possible.
I wake up early, work, cook, read on the couch until I drift away into a nap after lunch, then work some more. At random intervals I go for little walks.
It’s kind of horrifiyng to me. I love it.
No crazy art happenings, no drug excesses, no intense socialisation, just a quiet, reliable routine where I can slowly chip away at my work. There is a lot of tea. There are daily calisthenics.
I’m looking for a new place to stay, something more permanent, something that I can interior decorate and call my own.
Large amounts of files have appeared on my computer in anticipation . Movies, PS2 games, ebooks. Files, not streams. I put them in their little folders and organise them a little. Que lindo!
But already, after just one week, the danger of routine rears its round & wooly head:
Every day it’s a bit harder to plan my tasks for the next one, every day I find myself watching a bit more useless drivel on youtube, every day I grow more comfy.
It seems like escape from the need for constant organisation is impossible, but at least I’m now organising in favor of extreme boredom, manufacturing the peace and stability I need to carefully craft some weird fucking games.
11.02.23 - system and content
Understanding how games work doesn’t really help you to make your own. The creative process always overpowers abstract dichotomies and boiled-down observations. Actual action washes endless reflection away without effort.
However, I can’t stop myself from thinking and theorising, coming up with neat little dividers, happily pretending to compartmentalise the medium. Filling the idle time in between actual work.
The most inhabitable of these personal sandcastles deals with the sharp divide between systems and content.
It’s simple, really.
Systems repeat. Content disappears.
A system will spit out endless game states. They’re all unique.
System-driven games embrace these small differences. Incremental changes to limited variables. Infinite replayability. Technically.
The difference between gamestate 1.51725 and gamestate 1.51728 is negligible. It has very little impact on your actual experience, because the differences always boil down into binaries:
Sure, systems allow you to ask a large amount of questions at the same time, but the total amount of them is finite. Because, while the exact specifics of WHAT YOU DO are always slightly different, the things YOU ARE ALLOWED TO DO never fundamentally change.
This is because, no matter how dynamic, everything in videogames was handmade. Sure, you can remove and place blocks anywhere in the world, but you can only remove and place.
The game only has a specific number of sprites and only a specific number of positions and configurations to spawn them in. Technically infinite, yes, but practically similar, even functionally identical over a long enough period of time.
Knowing how a system works doesn’t make it less appealing to interact with, it just marks a switch in how you engage with it. Instead of exploring and learning, you are now executing, strategising and looking for larger-scale goals and challenges.
While systems remains the same over the course of the game, content constantly disappears.
Since content doesn’t have to show up again, it can be carefully handcrafted to fit its unique position in the game.
Since the parts of the game are allowed to disappear, since they don’t have to show up again in a slightly different combination, they can be much more precise. There is a higher level of control, allowing for more traditional narrative, pacing and development.
It’s the promise of finality, of conclusion, that is at the heart of content-driven games. They will not only end, they will conclude spectacularly. Whether that happens mechanically or emotionally doesn’t matter as much as the fact that it really does end.
Your relationship with the game doesn’t stop at the credits, of course. After experiencing the content, you think about it. You look back, reflecting on larger themes and implications only made tangible by the finite nature of the whole experience, by the fact that you lean back and let go.
Systems repeat. Content disappears.
In theory, at least. In practice, everything is chaos and tension and connection, a boiling soup where push and pull are indistinguishable.
Every content-driven game contains systems. You always interact with the game through a limited set of verbs. You always run and jump and pull or select options from a menu or press dozens of contextual button prompts. You are interfacing with the content through a system, just like how you use the system of reading to suck the story out of a book.
Every system-driven game is made up of content. It’s just small, jumbled and randomised, hidden behind seemingly infinite combinations of game states. Over a long enough period of time, however, the larger motifs emerge. You will find recurring moments of high and low tension, a consistent emergence of resolution, an emergent order of play. There is a pacing and rhythm inherent in each round of endless repetition, driven by abstract rules that, in the end, always converge back into the binary.
And I didn’t even mention the culture that happens around the games!
Speedrunning takes any content driven game and turns it into a systemic competition. It’s now the inherent variable of time that produces success or failure, forever.
Let’s-players take any system driven game and turn it into a linear narrative. It’s now the dramatic tension and release of the video that engages the audience, for a while.
The harder you pull two things apart, the more clearly you can see their connective tissue. So, like all dichotomies, my artificial divide between system and content only helps to shore up their symbiosis, their inevitable coexistence.
Nevertheless, it’s interesting. I want to pretend that it will help me to make games.
Systems are hard to create. They need to work in any possible situation, so you need to know which situations you allow to happen in your game before you start writing code. This kind of precognition is easier if you work from existing formulas and genres. You keep the hard rules and only tweak the numbers.
This is why the largest companies only keep iterating over their previous work. Switching style radically would be too expensive.
But this is also why small developers tend to work with platformers a lot. The tools and knowledge for creating systems of running and jumping are easy to access and understand. Creating a complex economy that doesn’t spiral out of control after 5 hours of playing is a completely different matter.
Content is fairly cheap to create in comparison. Sure, you can spend millions of dollars on your cinematics, but a simple black screen that says “you have to reach the end of the level” fulfills the same function. Content disappears behind you, it can be janky and weird. You can just hardcode your way around it, you can be imprecise and poetic. Initially, it’s easier to make.
This is why most small developers make short, linear games, but content doesn’t scale. The recent wave of slot-machine-idle games shows the true power of raw systems. They pull you in. They don’t let you go. And people love it. They want systems.
In the same way, you might believe that a single youtube video has had a big impact on you, but youtube itself, the system that distributes the content, served it up to you. Owning the road is more profitable than owning the vegetables inside of a truck.
Economically, repetition rules. Code is made of loops, computers run in circles.
And so, for all the connections between system and content, for all the symbiosis and dependency, it are the systems that come out on top. Content driven games are brushing the medium against the grain.
Maybe that’s why I like them so much.
thanks to David T. Marchard and HerpDerpity Purple for fixing my atrocious spelling
06.2.23 - changes on the blogroll
Originally conceived to help with development of PRODUCER, the weekly blogposts have been somewhat pointless since release.
People enjoyed the posts. They asked for more and so I kept going, evem though I had nothing concrete to write about. Lacking a specific project to iterate on, the blog quickly turned into a lesser version of my personal diary.
The tango I danced with an argentinian stomach bug is important to me, but, frankly, nobody else gives a shit.
Last friday I just straight up didn’t feel like writing something about my week and just skipped it, completely free from shame or guilt.
Today, I’m changing the purpose of the blogroll.
Instead of weekly updates on my life, I’ll post infrequent but interesting reflections on games and their development.
These thoughts are raw, specific and weird. They never survive the doubts thrown up by rigorous research. And so, instead of dying as half-finished articles or videos, they’ll live on the blogroll from now on.
Hope you enjoy.
27.1.23 - the week of unmentionable liquids
Going on a workation is pretty nice. Especially if you don’t actually work. Especially if you eat a lot of food and drink a lot of drinks that you’re not used to. Oh oh. What’s this?
The inability to keep anything down?
A stomach bug?
20.1.23 - the week of envy and sweat
The backpain is gone, mostly. Certain movements hurt, but, compared to last week, the pain is laughable. Just in time as well, because I just spent 13 hours on a plane to argentinia, sitting and sweating and watching adam sandler movies.
I’ll spend the next month on a workaction, alternating between sightseeing, getting used to new locations and working on various projects.
Finally, the digital nomad life-style has manifested itself.
The digital nomad life-style seems to consist mainly of sweating a lot. It’s fucking summer in argentinia. I’ve perspirated my way through like 5 shirts already and it’s only been 2 days.
Showering is only a brief window of time between high tides of salty water. There are fruit salads with cold, sweet water in little plastic cups for 25 cents though. Worth it.
But other than the sweat, my ability to just do something like this, pack up my stuff and leave for another country, has produced a lot of directly expressed envy in the people I hang out with.
Understandably so. This is pretty cool.
Is this the reward for living below the poverty line for half a decade, of buying no nice things and never going on vacations and now splurging on this one? The result of me working really hard, being supported by family and patrons to then get lucky? Or is it more a function of me never having really set down roots anywhere, not owning any furniture, not knowing how to decorate a living room and just embracing that and running away from it?
As always, it’s a bit of everything.
I limply respond to expressions of envy by saying that I, in return, envy other people’s ability to have a home, to really make a space their own. On the one hand this is extremely sincere and on the same hand I’m an extreme cliché.
A sweating cliché. So be it.
The other things I’d hoped to come together down the line seem to all work out as well, enabeling me to avoid facing the domestic, collected and responsible version of myself for the next six months.
13.01.23 - the week of pain
As a dear friend would say:
“It’s a shit.”
Stop moving for mere 7 years and you get backpain. Pretty fucked up. The only way to get rid of that backpain? Start hiking and stretching and moving. Okay, so let’s say that you really enjoy that and start doing it way too much. Without the proper buildup. Now let’s assume that the weather is suspiciously nice for january and you often don’t even need a jacket, even if it then ends up being kinda cold, which causes the muscles in your lower back to pull together. Now let’s also assume that last sunday, you’re running late for lunch and your train has just pulled into the station but you’re all the way down at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the platform. Now, finally, let’s assume one last time: You start to run up the stairs to catch the train but the something in your lower back kind of clamps shut and starts to hurt.
Not so much at first, but, like, this really isn’t pleseant.
Now let’s assume that the pain doesn’t stop.
It gets more and more intense and 4 hours later you’re lying on the floor of a friend’s appartement and you want to cry because you can’t stand up. But let’s say that your parents gave you a chinese heating plaster with tiger balsam and (after getting the highest score ever in Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, hell yeah) another friend slaps that plaster onto your back and you manage to stumble home.
Then, on monday, you roll around on the floor with tears in your eyes, unable to get up, but for real this time. It will take you one hour to finally claw your way to a standing position and then you can’t bend back down and you go to the doctor in untied shoes and without socks.
The injections really help. The painkillers do to.
You can’t sit down for the whole week. It hurts too much. You wait for as long as possible and then drink a lot of coffee, so that you only have to go to the toilet once.
You walk and walk and walk. Slowly, indoors, in tight circles, reading children’s literature and with a thermophor tied to your back. At some point the covering slips and you get blisters from the heat, but fuck, it’s worth it.
Anything is better than to be back there, on the floor, teeth clenched and unable to see, only checking if the latest movement made the pain increase or if it made it increase a lot. Like a punished neural network, wriggling and falling and clenching your way to a position that is the least unbearable.
Then, slowly, you start to feel human again. You start to eat again and enjoy the clouds from the safety of the inside. It wasn’t that bad, you think. Sure, it still hurts like hell if I sit wrong, but I mean, come on, don’t exaggerate. The memory of the pain fades quickly, but the fear of pain remains in your muscles and sometimes you freeze, unable to continue the motion because it might bring you back down to the floor.
But then you push through and it doesn’t kill you and come on, it wasn’t that bad, there’s probably no need to ACTUALLY start doing yoga, oh I dropped my pen let’s just bend down real quic
06.01.23 - the week of 3D
I’d made two new years resolutions:
The idea was to not attempt something specific, but to create as many opportunities for reflection as possible. Then, if I want to do something specific, I can spend all the videogame-less weekends and late night writing sessions to think about it. That worked pretty well for Producer and so far it also seems to work for real life.
Not that I actually got anything done. I now just have a detailed record of a week full of semi-failure.
Two projects I’d planned on starting this week got pushed back, leaving me antsy and weird. Unable to focus and confused, I caught up on all the screen time I’d missed on the weekend, playing through SIGNALIS twice.
Luckily, the deadline for a submission was also pushed back, so while my lackluster effort on it wasn’t rewarded, it also wasn’t punished. Yay?
Thanks to the steam sale, PRODUCER has sold more than 1000 units! Yay!
The main event of the week, however, was intense and sudden backpain. Not inexplicable, but unexpected. Why now? I’d been going… oh, yeah. I’d stopped going on walks.
Back to that, then.
And wow. Why did I ever stop? I guess it was a slow process, a gradual erosion, like always when habits die. But how could this happen? I love going on walks. It’s weirdly warm right now and sometimes I don’t even need a jacket.
I climb up through a path of tight trees and emerge into a wide panorama, tall blue clouds parralaxing like distant mountains above rolling hills of orange reeds.
The sunsets are glorious red and blue and purple and sometimes yellow, bright and surreal in the afternoon.
There is thick fog at night and I can’t even see 3 meters ahead of me. The trees are black silhouettes and hikers rotate their phones like lighthouses. A car cuts through the white soup only to dissolve in it a short time later.
I hike and wander and think of 3D level design. How rich and dense. How many possibilities for amazing vistas and winding passages. If only I could work with that.
I can’t, so I close off this wildly unproductive week with a little private game jam. The result is quite nice. Maybe I’ll get some shit done next week. I really have to. There’s not much time left.
30.12.22 - the year of productivity
Last friday of the year. Time to look back.
In 20222 I learned how to work. Like, really work. Not the fitful start and stop, nor the desperate sprinting of previous projects but real, hard, continous work.
The naked power of routine. Get up, work, walk, cook, sleep. Meet friends on the weekends. Don’t get too drunk. Don’t stay up too late. Focus. Externally boring, internally explosive.
Going over PRODUCER again and again, always cutting, always boiling it down into the thickest possible stew of itself.
The goal now is to get back there. Back into the longterm flow, which, of course, requires a certain amount of headless chicken time to accumulate fresh ideas and theories.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The year actually started with a certain disrespect toward work and it’s processes. I’d already thaught a class that was very well received, so surely I’d be able to do it again without preparing too much!
Wrong. The first 6 months of 2022 were a slow trainwreck. Unable to get my course back on track completely and equally unable to work on PRODUCER, I instead fled forward into a new project.
GEBALLER is a pretty nice game, considering how much I fucked up the development cycle. We developed amazing tools early on and then, scared and unable to make decisions, I never really used them. At least the few people that bought the game seemed to enjoy it.
We had some updates planned, but the programmer has dissapeared from the face of the earth. Felix, for fucks sake, call me.
With both the course and GEBALLER wrapped up I was able to escape from all of my problems for 2 weeks to spain. It was that break, that first vacation in many years, that kept me from folding in on myself after all of these failures. Mucho Gracias.
Then, bed-bound with corona for a week, deliriously dreaming I was a 3D tetris piece. Then, a whole summer of extensive physical activity in a desperate attempt to to balance out the long term dmg. Swimming is the best.
This is when the work really started. I realised how much there was to do and started cutting. One month later I started to summarise my work in blogposts. I needed to become more effective to finish the game. The weekly reflections helped me to come up with procecesses and identify bottle-necks like never before. I worked consistently, but rarely more than 5 hours per day. It grew more stressful with autuum. The swimming stopped. The game got done.
Then, of course, the inevitable breakdown after release. The hat hurts, no matter how old.
A kind of loose phase of playing a whole bunch of games. Preparing the next steps by exploring in 400 directions at once. Finding a few really interesting things. Getting within reach of recouping the cost of making PRODUCER with to heavy discounts. Deciding to return to the road and being surprised with a whole boat-load of opportunities. Hoping to be able to get back to work soon. To that beautiful place of purpose and progress.
23.12.22 - the week of starting to leave
This last week has been marked by a committed avoidance of working on Producer yet again. At least I didn’t work on anything else either, so it balances out.
I did do a lot of thinking and deciding though!
The explosive prototyping energy has ebbed, leaving me with four pretty well defined ideas. Each of them would be worth pursuing in their own right, but only two have commercial potential. Both of those contain writing, but approach it from two completely different perspectives.
One uses variables from game-y gameplay to determine branching, while the other requires you to take real-life notes to solve a detective case. Deciding between them would’ve been impossible if not for some outside influence:
I got a small & very part-time freelance job! Again! This time I won’t fuck it up though! I hope? Yay! It’s about developing complicated level design patterns. Funnily enough, that’s also what I’ll be doing for an as-of-yet secret collaboration with another game developer that I’ve been wanting to work with for years!
My pensum for traditional game-y game design being thusly filled quite to the brim, I can safely discard the former prototype in favour of the latter. Decisionmaking! Hurray!
The other big decision that was made was to move out of my current, extremely low-rent, habitat. I’ve spent the pandemic (which is not over but you know what I mean) in a former air-bnb, out in the semi-country side. While it’s been quite nice and beautiful and full of trees, I feel like I need to return to urban society. Or at least move closer to other people my age.
Falling perfectly in line with this desire, a couple of opportunities for low/free rent have presented themselves to me on the international stage. If everything goes well I’ll spend the next 6 months on the road, scurrying from couch to couch like a belaptopped roach.
And so this week has been spent on getting ready to leave. Tying up loose ends, sorting through unkept books and generally preparing to bananabox the majority of my belongings.
As part of these preparations, I’ve also gotten a fully functioning smartphone for the first time in forever. There’s now a very strict “no screens in bed” policy to protect me from this pocket demon.
It’s been a stressful & expensive week, but it’s extremely nice to be moving again.
I’ve spent the last years mainly in this one room, alone in front of the computer, working on qomp, Geballer, Producer and all the essays. I learned to cook and went on a lot of hikes and met up with friends on the weekends for some more hikes and boardgames. It’s been extremely nice. A kind of very comfortable halfway house between the nerveous breakdown of three years ago and the hopefully normal-human-shaped future.
Let’s see what happens.
17.12.22 - the week of various meadows
Work work, time for some more work! But it’s all pretty relaxed, really. It’s more of a tentative exploring of various avenues. There’s that flowery kind of spring in the step as one frolicks across beautiful meadows.
This is not the time of hunched shoulders. No bunkering down, no incresingly creased furrows. The deadlines aren’t even written into the sand yet. All is easy. Mostly.
I’m having trouble writing words, so I’ll just create some systems and setups to display words instead. It’s technically productive. The gifs get likes on twitter.
There are a couple of situations floating around in my head, but I can’t commit to just putting one of them down onto the interactive paper. It’s going to be horrible garbage in the beginning and I don’t have the strenght to sift through that right now, so off we go, to some other project. Only for now, I hope.
There’s producer, sitting there and waiting for an update and an itch.io page and a steamdeck compatability check and a soundtrack and probably some other stuff. It’s been patient so far, why not let it simmer just a bit longer?
Because, look, there’s this cool little game I made some months ago, but it’s being held back by it’s obscure control scheme! So, I’m going to rework the controls and add a difficulty curve and also make all of these fun tools and oh my, two days have passed!
Well, better get back on track by recreating Disco Elysium’s dialogue system in my own weird framework! Once I got the tech down, I’ll be able to create, like, a couple of cool short stories using passive skillchecks and stats and all of that cool stuff. Like, once the tech is done, it’s going to be amazing and I will finally start to actually write. I’m sure of it. For real. Trust me.
But then again, do I really need to start writing? Isn’t it a bit soon? Shouldn’t I relax a bit more? Shouldn’t I read some nice and easy books? Shouldn’t I be buying christmas presents for my family?
Oh shit gtg