2017, Going On 2018

The year has passed, and it is now 2018. What have I accomplished? My indie game development progress can be summed up with one word:

I. Spent. Way. Too. Much. Time. Making. Trees. Remaking trees. Optimizing trees. Redesigning trees. And ultimately, comparing screenshot to screenshot from today and 12 months ago, the trees look nearly identical.

This isn’t the first time I’ve gone perfectionist on something that I can’t do well to begin with. It really is a better process to make a complete and playable game with cubes and spheres first, and THEN to start making art assets and placing things one by one; had I done that, I’d feel a little better, knowing I could say the game was complete any time I wanted. But instead, I’m building the world before writing the first minutes of gameplay, making it feel like no progress has been made at all.

2017 in general was a powerful year. I won’t discuss world events and politics too much, this isn’t the place for that. I’ll just say this is the most important period of my lifetime to end up in future history books, and I’m scarred for what will happen in the next year or two. For video games, it was one of the best years ever, giving us multiple console games that could be called “best of the decade.” However, it’s scary knowing that as a grown man with a fulltime job and a fulltime hobby, I will never have the time to get to all of the great content of 2017, let alone the great work to come in future years. Such is the experience of being an adult.

2017 marks the first time my income of Steam became low enough that payouts ceased. Additionally, Steam updated their Greenlight process for indie game developers: one simply must pay $100 per game rather than once per developer, and essentially gets accepted without relying on user input. I won’t know until I release another game, but I agree with the general reaction that this was a poor decision. When I first released a game in 2014, it felt like I was competing with thousands of other developers, now it feels like I am competing with hundreds of thousands for press attention and user purchases. That $100 could be made by finding loose change in a New York subway (joking of course, but could still be made in 1-2 days at a minimum-wage job). It won’t stop games from fake publishers and hopeful students from getting released. Steam is essentially the Walmart of PC gaming: as a developer, what would I be willing to pay to get shelf space in Walmart? Based on my own limited income, I would gladly pay $1,000, even up to $10,000, and even if I didn’t make a single penny back, it would still be worth it for the prestige. Even that much isn’t out of the question for developers to pool together, be it from donations from friends or new crowdfunding solutions, or simply saving money for a few months. To give these indie games similar front-page space as AAA-games also seems inappropriate, Steam would do well to have 2 pages, a high-end commercial page for AAA games that costs tens of thousands to place a game on, and a “indie” space in a separate location. I am in no position to tell Steam what to do, but hopefully they or a separate company figures out a better solution soon in this ever-changing marketplace.

The ridiculous amount of games being released on Steam every day, plus Netflix beginning their takeover on physical DVDs… these are dangerous trends. I’m amazed how few people seem to recognize that Netflix is acquiring a ton of “Netflix original” content, most of which has now gone for years without any mention of release outside of Netflix’s own streaming service. While I like Netflix and its price, they do add and remove content each month, meaning its inevitable that content will become lost forever. And people seem ok with that. Also, as a passive anime-fan, that too provides over a hundred new anime shows streaming concurrently with Japan every year now, such that shows more than a few months old are forgotten in the minds of pop culture. And so, this trend with games, films, tv, and anime, seems to be that everyone will look for the new best thing, consume it, then instantly forget it while looking for the next thing. We used to talk about “classics” from decades prior, and no such content will come out of the coming years for future generations to find. If you didn’t release a indie game last week, then no one will care what you made. It troubles me, but again, only time will tell how the culture adapts and the place of creators in it.

I switched jobs mid-2017 to a much better atmosphere, which I hoped would allow me to get more game development time done. But this did not occur. I am thankful for the new position (although I’m still sour that its easier to get a tech job in Michigan than it is in the whole of Canada… if I hear another Toronto company claim there aren’t enough skilled tech workers to meet demand, I would like to see the list of graduating applicants they denied and shove it down their hipster messenger bag). While I still work long hours, its entirely on my own will, and I typically do get home hours earlier than I was used to a year ago. But I still feel exhausted, wanting to eat, watch an hour of television, then go straight to bed. I keep forcing myself to decide between television, playing games, watching movies, making games, or sleep, typically only being able to choose one each day. The result is only making games a couple times a month. Even this week, with several days off due to winter holidays, I barely made any progress. But this time, I can’t blame my job, aside from a professional game development position, there doesn’t exist a more appropriate job for me to get extracurricular work done at home. This is a serious problem I have do deal with for myself, to change my diet or something to build more energy, and to focus and better organize my schedule. Dust Scratch Games is a job, darn it, and I need to act like it is. With the amount of effort I put into it in 2017, I would have been fired as an indie developer months ago.

So yet another year passes where I lament on my own concerns. I am one cynical wreck.

On the other hand, “True King” development did progress a little bit. I did get a start on that turn-based battle map, which will be a big part of the gameplay, and the rest of the gameplay system is really just talking to NPC’s and keeping track of their “loyalty” to your character. With every step I redo something in the game’s look, I learn a little more about open-world systems and optimization. And this week, something happened as I painted textures onto my “Unity3D” terrain and placed new trees around: I smiled. The world still looks like something a student might make, but its a bit more colorful and inviting to be in. For the first time, I feel a bit more confident that I can make a game out of this that I’m proud of again. I didn’t come close to finishing it in 2017, and probably won’t finish in 2018. I don’t know when I’ll finish, but I’m finding enjoyment in the progress, and look forward to continuing one day at a time.

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