Monday, 16 March 2015

A raxter retrospective (Part 1)


So there are a lot of people I need to thank, too many that I'm scared I'll forget someone. So for now I'm not going to mention names. Please know you are all special to me and I only omit names to omit it looking like favoritism. There is no favoritism. Guaranteed is that if you are part of my stories (whether written explicitly here or otherwise) please know you are special to me and they you've had a positive effect on my life. When I make games I make them in your honour.


I'm going on a journey! It's kinda surreal that it's actually happening. I'm heading to Germany, hopefully for a long time, but visa issues might see me back in 3 months (but only because I'll be organising a longer term visa).

So I wanted to write down some thoughts, some reflections. I don't really know how to start. I don't really know how to end or make the middle bits even. So I'll just go in order of appearance for now.

Tasty Poison Games: 2013

Man now really where do I begin with this. I'm not going into details. It was a good and not so good time for me. The company went through some rough times and I happened to be there at one of the roughest it seems. It didn't end particularly well and I don't think I handled the aftermath particularly well either.

I think the particulars are uninteresting. I would just like to say that for any ill feeling I might have expressed in the past - and I have - I am sorry for doing so. I suppose it would have taken a better person to not get down and out and irritable and mean in that situation and I wasn't quite that person. But I'd like to try be that better person, retrospectively at least. So thanks to all who were a part of my time there. Regardless of what happened, no one acted out of malice or unforced ill-will. I struggle to fault good intention no matter the outcome. It just didn't work out like we all wanted it to and that's sad. I'm just glad we are all past it now. I hope that everyone who was there when I was is finding their way ever onward and upward. I learned so much, and after all that's what you want from a first job in industry.

--- interlude ---

The year following was a mixed year of hard work, too much hard work, burnout, inspiration, imposter syndrome, validation, jealousy, more hard work (but without burnout), balance, and some pretty good games.

-- end of interlude ---

--- something I forgot ---

University of Cape Town: 2006 - 2012 (wow 7 years, fuck me)

I would just like to mention my time at UCT. Choosing to study there was more a life choice than a game dev choice. I studied because I wanted to learn, not because I wanted to do game dev. And if it weren't for UCT creating their games course I might not have actually tried making games at all (I'd like to think I would have run into it anyway, but it's scary to think I might not have). So I am eternally thankful that the course is there and there to stay. I've had my recent gripes about the course lately, please take this with a pinch of salt. It has its problems but it's more an issue that it could just be so much better. But the varying pressures that the course and course coordinators are under make change slow and difficult. And to palpable relief there have been people coming in, with experience behind their back, who are shaking things up and moving it forward. The bottom line is that the course was created by people passionate about games. They may be primarily academic and not so much indie dev, and we might not do things the same way but they love games. And through much strife and hard work of theirs they created their course. It's because of that course that I am now making games.

--- end of something I forgot ---

Renderheads! 2014

Where was I? Oh, right so I left Tasty Poison Games and needed a job, I should have wanted any job I could find but I was too stubborn to get something I wouldn't enjoy doing. Renderheads was hiring. To be honest, it wasn't the ideal job I wanted, but the ideal job I wanted didn't really exist. To be honest, it's the job I really needed. Because the ideal job I wanted required more experience than I actually had. And it was great! I was mostly making mini-games! When I wasn't making mini-games I was making interesting and challenging stuff! So what if they were client games and so what it wasn't hotshot innovative mechanics, it was game dev tech and game dev experience. I skilled up through the hellfire of tight deadlines and shifting (and very narrow) goalposts. It wasn't what I wanted, it was what I needed.

On a side note I've never worked with people who deal with pressure better than the people at Renderheads. Left to my own devices I would have panicked myself into more work than I could handle. Brutally honest whilst remaining supportive and compassionate. A true show of what is often described as 'good character'.

6x Mass Production: 2013 - 2015

Oh boy…

So sometime between the beginning of TPG and the end of Renderheads a puzzle game emerged… it was not very effective.

I'm being a bit harsh, it was kinda effective. It started as a personal tool for learning and turned into a nearly game that I could nearly release. I developed it on and off over a period of two years mostly in my spare time.

I like it, I actually love it to bits. But I think no one else will really like it as I do. It's good but not great, not from a game design perspective. Though from my personal perspective, subjective, biased and completely without logic, it'll always be a great game for me. It is, in a sense, the diary of my game dev career so far and turned into more of a companion than a game. The biggest mistake I made was thinking I should try sell it for money. I say mistake, it was actually a great decision. It really isn't something I should have tried to make saleable. But I tried and failed nonetheless and that was the biggest lesson I learned from it.

I learned about testing, getting feedback, implementing feedback, many many programming lessons, many art lessons, many design lessons, taking criticism, when maybe not to take criticism, responding to criticism anyway, level design, ui design, and general "oh damn that feels good" design (mainly screen-shake tbh). And I might very well learn a bit more from it. But I used to be worried about it, will it do well, will people like it, can I release this and then be considered a 'real' game developer! I was worried about it like I was worried about my worth as a game developer. If it did badly then I was not a good game maker. Silly stuff, but it was real.

So after many 'one last trys' I decided to scrap the project near the beginning of 2015. It had represented so much of my growth it would really be difficult, but it was time and I was happy with that. But was lucky, a friend of mine said, "Don't see it as a project, see it as a learning tool, you don’t have to sell it or worry if it's good. If you are still learning from it then you don't need to get rid of it". That hit home, and in a really good way. It started as a learning tool and I suppose I would like to keep it that way.

It was strange, I finally decided that enough was enough and I needed to move on to making lots of prototypes rather than working on my one precious entity. It was something I knew well but I finally had realised and taken to heart. And at that very time, when scrapping my favorite project was something I felt comfortable doing, I was able to redefine what the project originally meant to me. It's technically scrapped, for sure, and I might not learn quite as much from it now as I have already. But I still want to tinker with it (but later, I have about a billion prototypes I want to try out first). But I'm glad it's there. It's not perfect, neither am I. It's an old friend who is happy with what they've done so far. And I'm happy with what I've done so far. So occasionally I'll head over, give a hug and a high five and see how it's doing. But otherwise, we are pretty happy with how things turned out. We'll be better for the future as a result.

--- end of part 1 ---

So I have more to say but this post has gone on for long enough already. Part 2 will be up soon and goes over events of more recent times: Super Friendship Arcade and AMAZE. Part 3 is not yet written but I hope for it to be less history and more of a condensation of the lessons I've learned so far.