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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Something to Point To

I thought I'd do up a bit of a thought piece to do a sort of "bulk response" to a question that I get asked quote a lot:

"Where do you find the motivation/time to make such a large-scale game when you have a full-time day job?"

I get asked this question an unbelievably regular amount of times, so I thought it might be worth doing up a blog post about it so I can just point people at it rather than having to repeat myself. Plus, about 50% of the people I explain it to turn around and scoff at me afterwards, and having it in a blog means that I don't have to see them do that.

Anyway, it's true that I have a full-time day job. I work Monday to Friday, full-time hours and, as of the end of 2012, have been doing that for eight years (the same job, too. Woo!) yet for the last three of those years, I have also been doing 10 hour days, 7 days a week, working on Malevolence - an incredibly large-scale project. I've done this while managing two mortgages, finding time to spend with my wife and friends, and maintaining a number of hobbies.

To the people who ask how I do it, it comes down to four key things: pride, passion, desire and sacrifice. And what I do isn't something unique to me. It's not some bizarre, TARDIS-like device I keep in my garage. It's something that anyone can do, many people DO do, but not many people WANT to do.

Let me break it down into the categories and explain myself further:

PRIDE: Pride is a big one, if not the biggest. Pride is essential to success. Too many people, when contemplating something unique, will not even start on it because they aren't confident enough in themselves to do it. They start to fill their head with excuses before they've even begun, and then it doesn't happen. Others might START the project, but hit their first roadblock and shoot themselves down. They'll hit a bug they can't fix or get stuck trying to work out a method that they can't figure out and they'll tell themselves that the entire project will be like this and that they can't finish it. This comes down to a lack of pride. There are two types of people: those who seek to find out what they're capable of, and those who don't care, or are too frightened to find out. I haven't listed people who KNOW what they're capable of, because a true seeker of knowledge should always be surprised by new things that they are capable of. If you were to tell a younger version of myself the things that I would accomplish some day, I would have told you that you have the wrong guy. I've always been confident in a lot of areas, but terribly shy and unwilling in others. But the more I tried, the more I could do. When I failed, I tried again until I got it right. If you don't have self confidence, you'll never make it. So the first step is to believe you can do something, and believe that you have the skill, or can acquire the skill, to make it happen.

PASSION: This is a must. If the thing you are working on holds no passion for you, then it is the wrong thing. A big project is like a marriage. You must be dedicated solely to that thing, and see it through to the end. But before you can do that, you have to be WILLING to see it through. That takes some self analysis before you even get started, and that is where pride comes in. Find something that you have just got to do in life. Something that you can't help thinking about. Something that, when uninhibited, gives you tremendous joy unlike anything else. For me, that is making video games. Particularly seeing people PLAY the games that I make. I said earlier that it's like a marriage, and this may seem controversial to some, but a marriage that ends in divorce, most of the time, wasn't thought through well enough in the first place. The same can be said of a project. If you are willing to drop a project half-way through, that means you should never have started it in the first place, because the level of passion that the project needed and deserved was never there. When you start a project, it can be fun, but you need more than fun. You need that deep rooted love of the idea. The dreams of your future with that idea. You need to be so connected with the project, and so dedicated to it, that when times get hard, you stick with it. You work on it. You fight for it. When you hit a bug that is IMPOSSIBLE to fix, you step back from it. You take some time to think it over. You clear your head, and you go back to it. If you do this, you will see the problem from a fresh angle and it will get resolved. If you hit that wall and just quit, then you didn't have enough passion for it. If the passion isn't there - and I mean proper passion - then don't even bother with the project, because it may just end up as wasted time and resources.

DESIRE: The motivational speaker Eric Thomas tells a story of a man who visited a wealthy, successful guru, and told him "I want to be successful and make lots of money, like you. Please teach me how I can do this" and the guru told him to meet him tomorrow, at 4am, at the beach. The next morning, the man went to the beach in his best suit and met with the guru. The guru told him "if you want to be successful, then walk out into the ocean". The man thought it was an odd request, but he walked out until he was waist-deep in the water. The guru called out to him and told him to walk out further, so he walked until the water was around his shoulders. He called back to the guru, saying that he didn't understand how this could possibly make him successful. He already knew how to swim. So the guru waded out to him and forced his head under the water. No matter how hard the man struggled, the guru held him down under the water. Just before he passed out, the guru lifted him up again and immediately asked him "when you were under the water, what did you want to do?" to which the man said he wanted to breathe. More than anything he wante to breathe. The guru nodded and said "When you NEED to be successful as much as you NEED to breathe, then you will be successful."
And that's just it. When you're suffocating, all you can think of is to try and get some air into your lungs. You don't think about catching your favourite TV show, you don't think about the football final that's coming up, you don't think about work... Your entire existence becomes centered around getting some air. Everything you do - every thought, every action, goes towards getting air.
Until you think that way about success, it'll never properly happen. And that links strongly into the final topic...

SACRIFICE: This is the one people can never get past. When Friday night rolls around, everyone I know goes out for drinks, goes to parties, goes shopping, goes to the movies, goes to dinner... I go home and work on my game. When the football grand final is on, everyone's having mates over, doing beer runs and camping in front of the TV to watch it happen (or are at the game in person)... I stay at home and work on my game. When people finish work at their job they go home, grab a drink, put their feet up and watch TV, resting after a hard days work... I get home, turn on my computer and work on my game. When it gets to 10pm or so, people go to bed to get their healthy 8 hours sleep before work the next day. I stay up until 2am to work on my game. When other people have their project up on one screen, they'll keep checking their Facebook or getting distracted by Farmville or wanting to play games rather than work.... But I'm there, both screens taken up by my project, surrounded by notebooks full of equations, entirely focused.
And that's just it. You have to be willing to sacrifice things that don't mean as much as the project. You have to be willing to give up sleep. People will tell you it's not healthy but you can get by on small naps. You have to feel like you CAN'T sleep in case you miss a chance to do something awesome. You have to be totally engaged. There have been many, many times while working on my game that I have completely forgotten to eat and my wife has had to intervene and practically force-feed me. I am lucky enough to have an incredibly supportive, caring wife who thoroughly understands and respects my level of investment. Having that sort of backup is a HUGE plus in this sort of thing. It doesn't have to be a partner/spouse, however. Often simply being surrounded by like-minded people is enough, and you should stick with those people, and avoid people who distract you by trying to get you to go out and get smashed on your evenings. Many people will stop at this point and say "hold on, hold on. You can't expect me to give up enjoying myself!", but to that I say that if this project that you're supposedly passionate about isn't as important or more important than those other things, then you can't be that invested in it.

Now, don't get me wrong - and I know people are going to ignore this part of my rant in the comments, but I think it's fine to have a casual project, rather than a full-on life consuming project. It takes a very special level of dedication to have such a life-controlling thing like that hanging over you. But my main point is to the people who say that they just "can't find the time" or "can't find the motivation" to get anything done... I'm telling you. the time is there. The motivation is there. You just don't want it enough. Perhaps it's time to stop blaming other things and start taking a look inward.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Let's Play a Game...

So, after many many months of leaving them out in the cold, I've opened the door and let the test team back inside. But only some of them...... Now that we're finally in beta, we've narrowed the test team down even further. It used to be made of 10 members, but we've kept only the most hardcore and dedicated people to be beta testers. There are now four of them. Mark, Matt, Tim and Carl. Mark (otherwise known as HyFrydle32) has already inundated me with things to fix, and I fixed as many as I could, and as a reward he has uploaded the first two episodes of a series of new beta "Let's Play" videos. You can watch them here :D

As you can imagine, what you see in the video is all beta footage, so many things will still change before the end.
In addition to that, Carl (CamioTheFox) has done up a gameplay video (no narration, just gameplay) for you to watch as well:

I've also put together a little showcase video for all of the incredible art being made for the game by Rachel, Carrie and Mihaela. The backing track is one of the many amazing tracks that will be on the game's soundtrack. The music was composed and performed by our amazing Nicolas Lee, and the vocals were actually done by our lead programmer, Alex. The backing vocals are provided by none other than the incredibly talented Mr Steven Kelly, whose voice you will recognise from the trailer.

Aaaaanyhooo. We've been getting in the new voices for all of the extras for the game, as well as some very special new voices for certain new creatures, including the succubus, whose voice is being provided by the ever-so-beautiful Amber Lee Connors, who agreed to reach for her inner Marilyn and came up with an amazingly spectacular voice pack for her! So that'll all be coming in the next update :D

I hope you enjoy! And please remember to not only vote for us on Steam Greenlight, but share the link EVERYWHERE. Facebook, Twitter, Forums, neighbours... Shout it at people in shopping malls.... Everywhere you can!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Getting Real

So, everything just hit me tonight... The enormity of all of this... This whole "making a game" thing. I know it sounds silly, but it's caused me to have some revelations about it all.

Long-time fans may remember that this all started as me just playing around with a game idea based on a card game my wife and I was making and a technical concept that I invented years ago. Then it got popular... Well... Relatively popular. Malevolence is no Minecraft, that's for sure. But the results of the KickStarter and all of the media attention don't lie. We have a following. They like the game. They like the team, too, which is even more special to us.

It's humbling.

But when you start getting near the end of the game's development, like we are, you can't help but start thinking about numbers, and what they mean... More specifically, what they mean to us as people. After all, that's who makes games: people. What does it mean for us to make money off of a game? Especially when the game wasn't made in order to make money, but rather in order to make an awesome game?

One thousand and sixty people from all over the planet came to our KickStarter and - without any solid guarantee that they would get a game at the end - pledged money to the project, showing us that they had faith in us. I like to think that was because they could see the passion in my eyes when I spoke about this game that I have come to love so very much. And to have that reaction was amazing, but it was quite an experience watching the total amount pledged climb higher and higher. It made the entire team's collective jaw drop to see the total amount pledged bypass our requested amount so soon after the drive had started. It told us that people believed in our dream as much as we did. And that was cool.

But then the emails started. We got contacted by distribution companies who had seen the KickStarter. We already had an understanding with the people at Desura about distributing the game, and that was cool. We did some interviews that got onto Kotaku and Gamasutra which got the attention of bigger hitters like GamersGate who wanted to distribute, and that was cool, too. Then the KickStarter happened and even AMAZON wanted a piece of us, so that was even cooler. Now we're on Steam Greenlight pushing to get on there as well.

But what does all of that mean as developers? Well, as developers, any money that we make goes towards us being able to make more games. And that's great. I can tell you now that if Malevolence makes only $50, we will still keep making games. We can't help ourselves... But what if it made more than that? What would that mean?

Right now, I have a full-time job. I need to have one in order to pay my two mortgages, pay my bills, buy my groceries and take my wife to the movies. No job = no ability to live. But what if I didn't need to work for the man to do that?

My biggest expense is my house. It cost a lot of money and a certain bank is enjoying making me pay for that fact every fortnight for the foreseeable future... But what if I paid it off? The amount of money I need to live goes down (very) drastically, which means I can get away with working less. If I work less for the man, I can spend more time making cool games. As far as goals go, that's not a bad sort of goal: "pay off my house". It's a VERY ambitious goal, yes. No doubts there. No indie developer can ever really expect to make that kind of money. But it happens. Only rarely, yes, but it happens.

So that brings me to my earlier topic... I was doing some maths.

Taking into account distributor royalties, and income tax, etc, you know how many copies of Malevolence I need to sell to pay off my house completely and own it outright?

Thirty thousand copies.

Sounds like a lot, hey? I only know for sure that 1060 people are really interested in the game, and those people have already bought it in the KickStarter!

But here's a fact for you... The Steam community has fifty four million registered users. Do you know what percentage of them would need to purchase Malevolence in order for me to pay off my house?

Zero point five of a percent. 0.05%. One twentieth of a single percent.

Now, that's getting ahead of myself. Malevolence isn't on Steam. It's not even finished yet!

But if I was being optimistic - which I only allow myself to do once a year - I would think that Malevolence has a good chance of getting onto Steam, plus it's already definitely going to be on Desura, GamersGate, the Amazon Games Portal and being sold independently on the official website... That thins the herd even further, and presents it to a VERY large audience. Potentially over eighty million people (at most optimistic guess). So when you think about it like that, getting thirty thousand sales isn't that unrealistic. And that means me being a step closer to making video games as my full-time job. Not someone else's games. My games.

And that is cool.

Anyway, it's all quite a flight of fantasy and still incredibly spurious, I know. But I just wanted to write down my ramblings and let you know what buying an indie game means to the people who made it. Seeing all of the wonderful comments, the numbers of likes on Facebook, the retweets, the blog posts, seeing when you defend us and the game against the inevitable haters... I can't stress to you all what that does for us. It's incredible. It's worth its weight in gold, and you all mean so much to us for being that way.

You have all probably noticed, but I spend a considerable amount of time going through all of the various networks and answering as many people's questions as I can, and being involved in as many discussions about the game as I can, and I'm actually extremely terrified of the day that may come where there are too many fans, and too many questions, and I won't have time to answer everyone. I enjoy talking to you guys all so much that it makes me sad to think that I won't be able to do it forever. I'm toying with the notion of - when I get the forum set up - making a "Forum Friday" where I spend each Friday forum surfing and answering questions/talking to people rather than game programming, just so that everyone knows that's the day to watch for me... When it comes down to it, I'm just making a game, it's YOU guys that make it special.

I'll just finish off here by making a big apology to all of the fans who have tried to add me on Facebook. So far there has been about fifty or so. I actually reserve my Facebook page for very close friends and family, and I'm not one of those people that adds everyone they can. I use Facebook as a way of communicating with those closest to me since I hide myself away quite a bit in order to work undisturbed, so I like to keep it fairly clear of other people's posts and whatnot. So that way you know, I very much appreciate the friend requests, but I'm a bit of a hermit. I'll always try and answer you on the Malevolence fan page though :-)

Anyway, that's enough of my blathering for the night! I'm off to bed!