Year one of failnaut: ten things I’ve learned.

by failnaut

So, I’ve been a games developer for just over a year now, and it’s been a hell of a ride. I’ve been thanked for my work by a childhood hero (mister Tom Fulp), seen people hug each other after playing my stuff, and watched my games receive positive coverage in the press. It’s been a pretty successful year, all things considered. Things have slowed down the past several months, as my mood has fluctuated pretty wildly due to all sorts. BUT. I’ve learned things. Cool things, interesting things, unexpected things. I’m going to share ten of them with you.

  1. I can’t see the faults in my own work. Seriously. There’s a line in Indie Game: The Movie where Phil Fish talks about the fact that being so close to a project means you can’t see the trees or the forest because you’ve gone mad and you’re wearing a dress made of leaves. Or something like that. The point is that you can become blind to your own faults, and it takes someone else pointing them out for it to register. It’s hard not to disagree when you can’t see them, but remember: the player is almost always right. They’ve got the relative level of objectivity that you lack. Pay attention.
  2. I’ll see faults that aren’t there. Now, I did wonder if this was the OCD, but it’s not – it’s just general worry that the levels are boring, that the puzzles are too simple, and so on. But again, this simply isn’t something you can judge yourself. I’ve seen people smile and laugh as they’re surprised by the level layout of Hug Marine despite me seeing it as the most boring thing ever. Why do I see it that way? Because I made it. It holds no secrets for me. There is no wonder left for the omniscient, short of player-discovered exploits and so on. Your game isn’t always shit – sometimes it’s just too familiar and it’s also work, rather than just play, to you.
  3. I work longer and harder. When I took part in Fuck This Jam last November, resulting in Grindstar, I made the entire game in fourteen hours, working two seven-hour stints. No complaints, either – I barely left my seat and happily worked away until it was completely done bar post-release fixes. There’s just something about making games that keeps me glued to my seat. It’s so addictive watching it grow as you repeatedly compile and test.
  4. Short games saved me. I made a big mistake after making Hug Marine, and that was to start work on a 50/100-level co-op puzzle platformer. Completely doable, of course, but such a massive project that the scale soon slowed me down. It wasn’t until I made Grindstar and FailStone 2 that I realised that shorter games helped me in the same way abandoning novels for a while and focusing on flash/short fiction helped me – baby steps.
  5. Making games has become my primary form of self-expression. Quite frequently when I feel very depressed due to something specific, I’ll start making a game about it. I did that recently, and the result is actually being released this month. I just feel like it’s interesting to have someone explore and interact with your problems and thoughts rather than just look at or read them.
  6. I am my games. I once said that Hug Marine wasn’t really representative of me. One day, someone questioned that, and I thought about it and realised that in a lot of ways, it was a game I made about my love of hugging and physical intimacy during a period of my life where that was psychologically difficult. My games aren’t always about my personal thoughts and problems, but when I look at them they’re definitely my view of the world, and I like that.
  7. People love new approaches and topics. I thought Newgrounds might hate a game about hugging. Flipping hell, I was wrong. They loved it. Same with most people, and same with a lot of the games you’ve seen lately that aren’t cookie-cutter experiences. I like how excited people get at new ideas – it proves that making yet another army/zombie shooter is not the only way.
  8. I love new approaches and topics. Oh my god, do I. I’ve played so many amazing games. I loved Dys4ia – there’s so many great things about it. I learned about the topic (hormone replacement therapy), the sounds were all these wonderful samples, and the graphics were really colourful and full of low-res charm. The same goes for other works that felt very unique, to me – MainichiProteusMinecraft, even – it’s been wonderful to experience so many new approaches to what a game can be.
  9. The indie community are like a family. Not long ago, my living arrangements were externally compromised, and the indie (and games journalism) community took up the Twitter baton when the time came for me to find a new place to live – I found what ended up being my new home within an hour. We also play play each other’s games, cheer each other on, and fund each other. Sure, like any other community it does suffer from “the clique problem,” but I find you’re all good if you spend your time with those who are endlessly supportive and interested.
  10. Keep on rollin’. Not even bothering with the haters, the cliques, the elitist 60FPS-Crysis-or-nothing folks and just going off to make cool shit works. Then again, engaging with those people is also healthy – sometimes, it even leads to new friendships and people opening their minds a little. But whatever happens, don’t let anyone stop you. If you’re doing good, powerful work, you will always find yourself in good company. Just devdevdevdev and reach out however you can, and good things will happen.