Life is always easier in sayings… “Follow your dreams and it will work out in the end.” “You can do anything, if you set your mind to it.” There are countless more sayings in the same vain, all portraying an image of victory, earned from perseverance. It’s a beautiful summation of what we all choose to believe as our own reality. As humans, we are cursed with big brains that are cluttered by these big dreams. We dream of becoming the best in our breed. We strive for greatness, though most of us land very short of that grand dream. Most of us are left with the hard, and often better, choice to just give up. A celebrated few of us reach the ranks of greatness, and remembrance. It is why we celebrate them. It is why the failures just might be the greatest fans of those who succeed. We know what it takes to be great, but most of us just turn back.
I’m coming to the realization that 2010 may likely be my last year as an indie developer. It pains me to say it, but I’ve been struggling to kick start this company for over six years now. Six years of talent searching, and failed designs, and members leaving, and internal disputes over the culture of an indie studio. Six years of ideas, game designs, cast aside because my visions were always grander than my budgets. I have exhausted my resources, looking under every rock for talent with a passion for game development. With everything that has happened to me, on and off the blog, I just don’t know if I have the drive to do this anymore. Six years is a long time to hold onto a dream, it’s a long time for anything. Six years is a career for most of us, in this business.
I never wanted to think small. It is very possible that this was the fall of the company from the beginning. I refused to consider the casual or social markets. I think that I secretly hated those games, the 30 second ADHD enabling micro apps that flooded the market. I suppose I still do. Looking at those games, even six years ago, I felt like I was better than that. There, I said it! I’m better than those games. I didn’t understand why people wanted to play them and they posed no technical challenge to create. I made dozens of little click-fest games, each taking no more than a couple days or so. None of those game mechanics met my bar of expectations and so I developed a kind of disgust for them. Casual games turned against my very belief in what made games great. I played the top 10 games on every portal I could find, most of them clones of each other. Ultimately, the games boiled down to 40 hours of engineering (after the engine was in place) and several man-months of art. Though a similar ratio is to be expected of the AAA blockbuster console games, something about it didn’t feel right in the ranks of smaller titles. Who knows; it is entirely possible that I am just upset that I have the exact opposite skill required to be successful in that market. I suppose if I was an artist I might have been writing differently right now. I absolutely value what artists bring to the equation, and I’m always the first to say I’m jealous of their talents.
I never wanted to think big. It felt like my game designs were always trapped in a financial purgatory between these pocket sized games and the grandiose blockbusters. I never wanted a game to be so small that it lacked the ability to evoke some kind of emotion, but I maintained a constant fear of creating a game too big to ever finish. I always managed my features and those of the people around me to ensure that the work could be done with the smallest of teams. There was no glory in “thinking average” and it was obvious after a collection of projects that failed to take shape. Only when we dream big, and go big, do we land on varying degrees of average. No one should ever aim for average, and I didn’t see that for some time. Zombpocalypse was an example of dreaming big as a solo developer; after the team had fallen apart. The dream was much larger than the outcome, but cuts were made when the time felt right. Though the game lacked a series of modern staples (story/campaign, multi-player, etc) it was still a mild success, and a technical marvel for one person, even if it was a financial failure. I don’t regret making the game. It still sparks a smile when I get a random celebratory email, or am contacted by a graduate student who is doing studies on the comical levels of violence in the game.
I built the wrong team, then the right team came too late. The initial thought of creating a game company all spawned from conversations with fellow developers. Disgruntled and overworked by my employer of that time, I left that job in favor of a stable 40 hour work week. After working endless 80+ hour weeks, the move to 40 hours actually caused me much anxiety. I felt almost guilty to be home before the street lights turned to blinking intersections. Serendipitously, a friend reminded me of my disgruntled dream and I asked him if he would like to be involved. My nervous energy had once again found an outlet in the form of Inland Studios, LLC. My friend was and still is an extremely talented technical artist, but this possessed many challenges when working together. I know now that it would have been a much smoother experience if one of the initial members was a concept artist, someone who could have visualized the design and given some color and style to the brainstorm of ideas. I would argue that an artistically aware programmer, bundled with a strong concept artist is the ideal beginnings of a success story. Anything else is a gamble and two of a kind is certain doom. A concept artist was added late in the life cycle, almost a year later. It was the beginning of the end by that point, and the addition of that artist was a last ditch attempt to save the team. Too little, too late.
Big dreams can often lead to big disappointments. Even though my indie career is coming to a sad close, I can’t say if it will be forever. I never know what the future holds and I don’t pretend to know. Forever is a long time, and some dreams never die. Until then however, letting go means putting your faith in something that is bigger than yourself. Right now, that is my family. I had hoped to turn this company into a legacy for them someday, but now I realize that my time with them today is worth more than my promise of tomorrow. I will always take comfort in knowing that game development is a wondrous and challenging field, and I could never see myself doing anything else, but my greatest creation will always be my children.