Sunday, November 18, 2012

Rise From Your Grave, Little Blog

So ... A lot has happened.

I spent 2011 and most of 2012 as the lead game and level designer at a small studio. I shipped two titles for iOS and Android, both of which garnered downloads in the five figures internationally, and brought in non-trivial in-app purchase revenue. The team was me, two or three game programmers, three or four graphic artists, a couple of producers, and a handful of management, web techs, core programmers, marketing and HR staff, pretty much the bare bones of a game studio. It was a heady atmosphere, relentlessly creative and detrmined, and I had a fantastic time.

All good things must come to an end, and this one's end was abrupt, as the company simply no longer had the funds to operate at the capacity they had previously. Many jobs were eliminated, and the company refocused on support and maintenance for titles already in the marketplace. The remaining staff soldiers on, and they have my good hopes that their fortunes will improve and the company will start to grow again.

In a sense, it could be argued that my inexperience as a game designer cost me my job. If I had been able to develop a hit game idea, champion it to the rest of the company, and guide its implementation, we would have become successful and there would have been no need to downsize. At the same time, I recognize that this kind of guilty equation is monstrously unfair; consider the devs at Rovio who cranked out dozens of also-ran titles before stumbling across Angry Birds. Sometimes you get lucky right away, but even the well-known stories of "first-time" success like Braid or Super Meat Boy gloss over the fact that these were most certainly not the first games those folks made, they were just the first to attract enough attention to be viable in the market at large. I can't beat myself up about not single-handedly lifting my former employers to the top of a devilishly competitive marketplace.

Since then, things have ... not been great. A blizzard of applications constantly flies from me, recruiters clog my phone line, occasionally I get to go talk to someone in their office ... the last go-round was a full on Interview Loop at a Major Studio, which consumed my life for weeks, and ended in nothing. For all the painful second-guessing, the only knowable truth is that I was not a strong enough candidate.

Which brings us back here. A college dropout, with games industry resume that contains some good stuff but appears to have been written with a shotgun, about a decade older than your industry standard caffeine crunch monkey, adrift in a recessed job market awash with CS grads who probably coded something akin to my current solo project when they were about 10. It's a pretty grim looking situation.

When I was younger I wanted to be a professional musician. Strike that, I still do want to be a professional musician, but I no longer really believe that I will be. I learned that as hard as I try, ultimately I will only be as successful as the audience decides, and if not enough people like the music, well, I'll have to figure out some other way to live. Many years ago I took an entry level job in the video games industry and had a series of mild epiphanies, in which I discovered that a day job could be fun and interesting sometimes, that spending your day with a group of passionate, like-minded people making cool things wasn't always "work", that delivering cool ideas and experiences to people in the form of games can scratch some of that same itch that delivering music can scratch, that there might be a place for me in this world, that games are fascinating on every level, that games might, in some small way, be able to change the world.

Now here I am years on confronting those same thoughts and feelings that have plagued me about music for years, things I thought I had put to rest, like a conviction that I'm not good enough, not talented enough, a fraud and a charlatan. I guess we all have those feelings from time to time. It just feels too familiar, turning my back on a music career in the name of sanity and reasonableness, embracing my second choice career as a lifeline that allows me to funnel time and money into the music that sustains me, while giving me challenges and triumphs every day, creating cutting edge awesomeness with the smartest people I've ever known. It was great. Now it feels like my second choice career is pushing me away too. A little voice in the back of my head says "if you take a job doing some dumb thing like commercial database zombie or internal sales guy, then you can play your little songs and make your little video games on the weekend..."

Well, fuck that. If there's a point to all this ranting, it's here: at some point you have to look at your life and say "this is exactly how many compromises I intend to make in the name of getting along in society, and I'm not making any more." At some point you decide that you've bent far enough, that you've reached far enough across the aisle, you've been prudent and sensible and realistic enough. At some point life tells you to lower your expectations just one more notch and you say "You know what? No." At some point you fight.

OK, that's more that a little overdramatic, but the point is I believe in myself. I don't have to take a job at a call center or some other hellhole because I refuse to wash out of my career. I have a lot of great experience,      I provide a lot of value to employers, and I'm going to get back on track to my dream gig - senior content designer / creative director at a significant studio by age 50.

So, between here and there is the undeniable fact that my code stinks to high heaven. That, at least, is something I can do something about.

I'm working on a solo game project that coincidentally involves my band. More about that soon, when this blog steps down from this heavy stuff and returns to its original purpose: chronicling the technical hurdles and solutions that stand between me and a finished game.

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