Indie Vanity and Motivation

There are a lot of thing you have to bear as an indie developer. Not least of them is the loneliness you may take on. At first it's quite the luxury to get on with whatever you want, undisturbed and ungoverned. Then you start to miss the human contact. Then you start to wonder what the point of it all is. And then find it hard to get out of bed, because the dried tears make you stick to the sheets.

Tommy and I work separate from one another, purely because we can't currently afford a place of our own. As a result, our only communication is through instant messenger and the occasional phone call. Technically, this hasn't been an issue - text is condusive to code-talk because you can be copy-pasting bits of code across to each other, linking website sources, and generally disambiguating your sentances more. IMing is second nature to us because we've grown up with the IM culture.

We have close to no social lives (probably why we're so good at Instant Messages), and a real lack of human contact outside our families (who we live with and leech off). It can get us down quite often.

Mainly, I think it's a sense of appreciation that we lack most. We don't tell anyone about our game publically because we're really not ready to show anything, so we have very little feedback on how others think the game is going. Ofcourse, this emptiness is caused completely by vanity, but vanity is a human need none the less.

My parents aren't exactly versed in videogames (especially my Mum, who yesterday recoiled at the absolutely jaw dropping new* Bioshock walkthrough), and can only give me moral support while asking when I'm going to get a "proper job". They can't tell us "This game will be great", because they simply don't know enough about games to give me an honest opinion.

Tommy's parents are much nicer about what we do, so Tommy often finds himself having to boost my confidence by showing me pictures of electric supercars which can fly and how we'll be driving them around in outer space, this time next year (Rodney).

When vanity gets the better of us we'll make videos of our progress and send them to trusted friends if only for some short term appreciation. But we're showing them real work-in-progress stuff (which, incedentally, you should never, ever show to publishers - hit them with something polished). Thus, the people who are enthusiastic about it are the ones who see past the placeholder graphics, unfinished features and questionable stability, and appreciate the promise of the game. And God bless 'em, because they put the proverbial wind in our sails.

I mention all this because if there's one thing never lacking in a bigger studio, it's someone with an opinion. Even if it's a really negative opinion, at least you're surrounded with people who are interested enough to comment. When you don't have that, there's a real struggle to keep yourself motivated, despite even the most creatively stimulating concepts. You have to find a way to knuckle down and plough through these dark patches. Maybe just take a little break? Go visit a friend. Play some other games. Try rather too hard to make people on internet forums like you.

One excercise I've been doing to help my motivation is keeping a secret diary (complete with secret thoughts) where I write out what I'm going to do today, or the next day, and also what I've achieved since the last post. It's accessible to a tiny number of incredibly trusted individuals. In writing it, I'm forced to focus on what my goals are, and how to achieve them - a sort of mini design session which sets me up for the day. By letting others see it, I feel my vanity bar is filled (even though it's now so boring that I doubt any of them bother reading it).

Maybe you have your own ways to pep yourself up? I'd love to hear them. God knows I need them.

*I say "new" - this version of the game was from a behind closed doors demo at X06 last year, so it's what... 4-5 months old? Check out how easy to use the Telekenisis is, and how much of a step up the particle effects have taken since the previous demo.


fartron said...

The independent gaming scene needs, I think, the equivalent of the punk rock collective house.

The young, creative class has a history of sharing space and cross-pollinating. Someone smart once said that film will not be a true art form until camera and film are as cheap as paper and pencil. While not nearly so cheap, the price of production of creative video works has dropped drastically, and video artists live among the audio artists who pioneered the underground.
Small, local film fests draw similar crowds as go to basement rock shows.

Video game production has a few obstacles in its way, not the least of which is the isolation enforced by the internet. While the costs of a production machine may be viewed as prohibitive, the fact is that most young creative people have access to a computer capable of the task. The other major obstacle, I believe, is the level of education, notably math education, currently required to create video games.

The indie gaming scene may eventually reach the critical mass required to self-congeal in local scenes, but it may need to be helped along. The internet is a marvel of mass distribution, but it is, so far, largely shit at building local community and support.

Your parents are not your peers, and they can hardly be expected to provide the peer review, support, and contribution that a creative individual needs a community to provide. While developers of other sorts may be your technical peers, they largely wouldn't understand the drive to live at home unemployed to pursue a creative urge. Your spiritual peers are playing music in bars and basements and projecting videos onto walls. They are the people who would be most interested in the fruits of your labor and would most be willing to give constructive review and critique. Steadily, more of them care about video games, too.

Bez said...

Well, as I say, I've grown up with the internet. While it's not a replacement for real human contact, it has managed to fill some of the hole. The developers I've talked to tend to be entirely sympathetic. I really couldn't ask for more in an online circle of like-minded game development friends.
Everyone really has been encouraging... but naturally the attention whore wants more!

As far as pocket communities of indies go, TIGsource has been a lovely (if distracting) one. I'm really glad you suggested I go over there. Thanks!

One way or another*, we will show the game publically, especially to the people who count.

I'm also a bit of a selfish bastard on this particular project: I've really wanted to have totalitarian control over the design, because I've already experienced design by committee, and learned that I'm not very good at saying "no" to suggestions. Maybe culling other people's input is the wrong way to react but doing this on our owns is an intentional tradeoff for our creative control against our security. A punk rock voice needs to cut through the seemingly inherent homogeny created when every mainstream game gets slapped fifteen shaders of beige by going through innumerable offense-filters. Less fitlers, I hope, will provide a clearer voice, and a greater sense of personality and soul in a game.

Sorry, I'm pretty drunk again. Kids, don't drink. You end up writing poncey stuff like this^, and UKR and consolvania start making fun of you.

*Whether greenlit or canned after the demo.