Not many updates of late. Sorry. It's been a bit hectic recently.

I've moved to Brixton to look after my sister's flat. Nice place, and I've got it all to myself. I'm managing to see a few friends, which is good for the soul.

A couple of weeks ago Tommy showed Goo to our MS Account Manager at PartnerDay. Our original worry was that he thought the gameplay was too slow (sorta confused us when he said this - we think it's pretty fast paced), but as it turns out, he was just referring to the fact that he was running it on a slow computer. Tommy's got this insanely fast laptop which runs the game faster than either of our desktops, so he managed to kill any notion that the gameplay itself was sluggish.

The other issue he had was that the game was too abstract for people to understand when they were coming to it for the first time - if you plonk someone in versus mode, and tell them to play, they won't know what the point of the game is. That point still stands, but I've just finished the voice over for our pitch video which explains in quite a lot of depth the goals, controls, and basic strategies of the game. We're heading off that issue, essentially, and I'm not too worried about it.

We're still not greenlit as a result of the face-to-face. Right now, we really need to put forward a convincing demo, video, and design document, but Tommy says that the reaction to the game from everyone he talked to/showed it to was really positive. Tommy met some other cool indie devs like Ninja Bee and Gastronaut, and said that their expression was always the same upon hearing about the game... wide eyes, and jaws dropping [Correction: these reactions were not from those two, but from people from Activision, Sierra Online, and MS]. We got comments from MS like "This is THE game for live arcade!" and "I've loved this concept since I first heard about it".

This is all lovely to hear (if a bit hyperbolic) since we've been working on this game for over a year now with no real breaks, and you can lose all sense of objectivity. I saw a good video of a talk from one of the fun-motion guys, where Matthew said something along the lines of "With physics based games, you have to change the physics to what you want before the physics changes what you want". In essence, he's talking about the transition between platonic ideal and practical reality. This game is such a simple concept, but the work which has gone on researching and developing an engine for a very different kind of game has been extraordinary. Trying to remember what I originally wanted from the game takes some effort when your nose is to the grind-stone, tweaking endless variables and attraction/repulsion models.

I digress. The problem is, all the positive energy Tommy got was a bit like water off a duck's back for me. We were getting a lot of stuff ready for PartnerDay (and actually didn't end up showing it), and so went into some rather mental crunch. There I was, coming right out of jetlag, and punctuating the crunch by knackering myself hobo-ing around London to find a decent place to work. I was completely exhausted, and incredibly low. I love the game, and love making it, but there's a point where your mind physically refuses to work.

Last weekend I went to my neice's christening. There was a big family party afterwards: around 30 people, family mainly. I was low... maybe not quite as low as when I left my last job, but certainly thoughts of suicide were becoming more frequent. I could barely talk to anyone without feeling like I'd snap, and insult them. I didn't want to do that, so I stayed in my room until the party was over. Social anxiety mixed with depression, and I went into meltdown.

I'm a pretty depressive person at the best of times, but the momentum of tiredness, and the knowledge that we had to go straight into another crunch took its toll. The next day, I went to see a Doctor, and now I'm on some anti depressants and looking for local therapists. I'm not looking to become dependant on pills - depression is a desease, and you have to cure it. I want to get on with life and enjoy my work, so I hope this is just a phase.

At the same time, we're in a pinch right now, and are working harder than is probably healthy. Feels like we don't have much choice but to suck it up and keep working, or the development will last forever - neither of us can afford that. We'd have to lean on our parents way too much.

I guess we can be thankful that it's our choice, rather than some boss or publisher forcing us to stick to impossible deadlines - the difference being that if we really don't feel like the game's up to snuff, we won't force it out of the door. I really just hope, in the long run, we have enough time to give the game the attention it deserves without killing ourselves doing it. Seems like there's no point in this endeavour if we can't do that.

On the brighter side, Jamie Parker, an old war-buddy, is helping us out with some of the art. Right now, our demo has no real cohesive artistic direction. This is because we've been all about getting systems and gameplay working - functionality first. Everything's been placeholder and proof of concept. Right now is a good time to have someone with artistic talent take the reigns. I'd love to do it myself, but... I sort of have enough to worry about.



I've touched down in London. Now that I have some "micro-funding", I'm able to hobo around various friends'/family's abodes for a small amount of rent money. Right now, I'm at Tim and Chrispy's, stealin' their internets. I couldn't be here without the money I'm getting - It's already solved the issues I had being in a broadband deadzone while working in the countryside, and also the problem of having no social life.

It feels as though for about 6 years I've been detatched from my friends: first there was university, and then there was my previous job abroad. After that there were the trips to America to work with Tommy in his secluded family house, as well as working from my parents' home in equally secluded Exmoor.

We had a small reunion the other night. It felt a bit as though I was coming out of hiding... all these faces I hadn't seen for years.

So much has happened: One friend got a PhD, another was part of a Think Tank, and another turned out to be working at SCEE (which only became apparant after I, erm, "commented" on some of Sony's recent PR problems. Oops). Another came back from his new home in Iceland for a visit. It was great to see them all again, as well as meeting new people, but after years of feeling like a hermit, it was a little overwhelming. I think I had a mild panic attack after someone said that I moved like a robot, and made fun of my clothes (this was at about 4am after my cousin and another friend sorta crashed a party which had already run its course. It felt like we walked into freezer, such was the welcome.)

I'm still pretty poor, here, and the overwhelming sense of capitalism driving London means that I have to make a concerted effort not to make lots of impulse buys as I travel from place to place. Food and cost of living are expensive enough as it is without the constant temptation of the game du jour. I'd love to shell out for some new clothes, but there's no way I can afford them, and also, I get a fantastic false sense of superiority telling people that I'm being ecologically friendly by wearing my clothes for as long as possible. These trainers are over two years old, and are the only casual footware I have.


We showed our Demo (see previous post) to our man at MS. Unfortunately, we think he may have been playing it on a single core machine (and our engine requires multiple cores to work). As a result, the game ran incredibly slowly, and he wasn't really able to see what was going on. Then again, he may be referring to the general pace of the game, and that he couldn't really percieve what he was supposed to do, or what the draw of the game really was. He still likes the concept, but as we already know, we've got a ways to go before we have the core mechanic properly framed by a proper user experience (the "beginning, middle, end" of games).

The feedback creates some confliciting feelings for me. On the one hand, he still loves the concept, but on the other hand, pushing 2 sets of 20 crunch wasn't enough to make a convincing demo - it's frustrating to know that hard work doesn't necessarily equal success. Never work hard at the exclusion of working smart, is the moral. We know where to go from here, though...

Tommy's going to an invite-only event on the west coast on the 16th which our guy at MS is also going to (I can't really afford the tickets). We're polishing up what we have so that we can show him the game as it's supposed to be presented.

We're working on this polish-up based on the feedback we've been getting from all over about the video. We've been finding that people who see the game for the first time fall into two categories: the first set of people immediately understand what to do "Oh, I see... you surround their goo with your goo!"; The second set simply get a mental block, and need help understanding what the game's all about.

I'm a bit annoyed with myself: I've seen people wander into development myopathy many times before - so concentrated on what they're doing that they can't have any empathy for the outsider. I promised myself that I wouldn't fall into that trap, and make sure I step back and look at the game with fresh eyes as often as possible. I feel like if people don't get what is a really pretty simple concept ("surround their goo with your goo") I failed my duty there.

We've been in it so deep for so long that when AdamAtomic from TIGsource forums told me "the only reason I really understand it is because I've read your blog", I was taken aback. I'm annoyed at myself for not explaining the game better, and for assuming that everyone should just understand it, and know what "Go" is, and know about Sun Tzu's art of war, and Bruce Lee's "Be water, my friend" quotes. I thought I knew better than to be so presumtuous, but apparantly I fell into a spot of denial about how obvious the game is.

Then again, it is a fairly different game, as buddy JP says "If people aren't lining up colors, or shooting baddies, you're immediately obligated to a lot of explanation."

So, perhaps I shouldn't be too mad at myself, for two reasons: it's par for the course to have a lot of effort put into a tutorial for a game with a non-typified mechanic, and also, tutorials are not the foundation to rest your game on... we needed to make the game before we could explain it. Illucidation will come in time.

Before the 16th, I hope to have a better in-game explanation of what the goal of the game is, how to use the controls fully, and how to maximize your points. I want to do this without putting players through example videos/replays, or by forcing them to jump through hoops. I want something more akin to BattleField 2's wonderful "Teach it as you use it" system... but with Goo rather than helicopters. It's certainly harder to do, but far more satisfying for the player when they aren't boxed into the classroom from the get-go.

It's funny how much of good design is just about thinking hard so that others don't have to.