Showing posts with label depression. Show all posts
Showing posts with label depression. Show all posts

12.13.2007

The Butterfly is in Full Effect

They say that when a butterfly flaps its wings, it can cause a storm on the other side of the world. My father told me recently that although this is sometimes true, typically a butterfly's affect is dampened out into insignificance. The turbulence it generates meets a predominant flow in the ichor of the atmosphere, whose impetuous flow is barely interrupted. Any meaningful causality from that flap hits the equivalent of a brick wall.

For this reason, butterflies do not form a prominent place in the American Military Arsenal. There are no fields of cabbages placed strategically at the polar opposite location of Iran, attracting caterpillars who bloom into storm-generating Weapons of Mass Destruction causing lightening storms, flash flooding, and as an unintended positive effect, allow crop production in the previously arid deserts.


Tommy's asked me to clear up some confusion which probably could have been cleared up a while ago. This may be my last post here. (Edit: That sounds a bit like I'm going to kill myself, apparantly. Don't worry. I'm not going to. I simply meant that I'd be posting on this blog from now on).

For the past 5 or 6 months, I haven't really contributed to Goo. This is because of the depression I've been going though. I guess I won't go into detail about how this disease robbed me of the will to work on a game that I had been planning since I was about 19. Basically, my psychotherapist says I built an enormous castle of expectation on it, and was slain by the performance anxiety guarding the gates.

It's never quite as simple as this, of course. There are many other contributing factors to my decline, but there it is. I got depressed. I choked. I'm still dealing with the guilt of leaving Tommy in the lurch. Now I live, cocooned in my parents house, isolated, dormant, hoping to awaken, but not holding my breath.

During my slow and torturous departure, Tommy took on more and more of the weight of production. Not only has he revised the code almost completely (twice over) he's also had to take on board feedback and make design changes without me*.

I'm still proud to be a part of Goo, even though now it goes on without me. Though my coding contributions have been written into insignificance, I still feel I worked damn hard on the design - at least while I still could. I know it seems like a simple concept - one you wouldn't expect a lot of design for - but simple concepts don't necessarily make for simple solutions. I tried my best to focus on the intrinsic joy of handling the Goo physics, to have the shaders explain the interplay of thick and thin, and thus the unending depth of gameplay even with such a simple concept. I wanted to do it without using gimmicks as a kind of apology for weak core gameplay. I wanted it to be "pure", and enjoyable within that. I even tried to think of what the mechanic was trying to express**, and ways to amplify that. I put a lot of love into Goo. It breaks my heart that it no longer belongs to me. The fact that it took me several months before I finally came to favor my mental well-being over this game ought to be proof enough that my heart needs some glue (Note: not gay slang).

I said, a long time in this blog, that passion is like a fuel, and that when you make a game with no secure income, you need to stock up on passion for the long haul. There's obviously something wrong with that analogy, because I had passion... but somehow my petrol tank exploded. In slow motion. Across a 4 lane motorway. Causing five deaths. 15 injuries. Long tailbacks.

Tommy wanted me to point out - to anyone confused - about who was really behind earning Goo an IGF Technical Excellence nomination, since we both seem to have been credited equally in a few cases. I'm here to say that the IGF technical excellence nomination is all down to Tommy's hard work. My contribution to the technical side was certainly not in implementation - Tommy's coding ability humbled me completely any time I tried to do anything useful. I merely outlined the broad strokes of the technology at the beginning of the project - I'd had this idea (of blending blobs to create a height map, and interpret that through different shader visualizations to create a wealth of different effects) for many years, and had been waiting for hardware to catch up. When the hardware finally arrived to achieve it, I was no-where near expert enough to act upon it. Ideas are one thing, but without implementation, they're just ideas. Without Tommy we'd have nothing.

A butterfly's flaps won't always cascade into a major weather-front. Similarly, as the butterflies around us flap as hard as they can in the hopes of causing a storm, the causal persistence from our own meagre turbulence may be dampened and redirected into other streams of flow. In this life, some of us are destined to work hard and achieve little. I know this is true, because I flapped myself half-empty even before working on Goo, and still have nothing to show for it. Tommy, thankfully (and guilt inducingly) still has a lot of flap left in him. Take it home, buddy!

Oh, and speaking of flapping myself raw, I won't be able to fly to the IGS this year, but I do hope that everyone who goes has a nice time.

Goodbye, caterpillars.

*I don't doubt that the game will be different from what I originally intended, but then, that'd be true even if I were in tip top shape, beavering away along side him. It's typical for games to change as they are made.
**In the same sense as Jon Blow's recent talks mentioning "Meaningful Gameplay" which I always called "Logos ex Machina", because translating English into Latin
badly, and putting it in italics instantly raises your IQ by four points.

9.14.2007

A Path Through Recovery

It's been a while. I know, and I'm sorry. A few people have been in contact due to my lapse in blogging to ask if everything's okay, and if the game is still going.

I'm fine, thanks. The last couple of months have been fairly torturous, but I'm back home in Exmoor now, taking plenty of exercise, and leaning on the support of my family. I was pretty severely depressed in Brixton because of the day to day loneliness, and generally feeling kind of burned out, but I feel like I'm getting back to normal now. Prozac seems to help a bit, but even with it, you can feel stressed out an panicky, so it's by no means a total cure to my situation. Still, I'm recovering and getting back up to speed.

Goo is still going, thanks mainly to Tommy's incredible hard work and persistence. It can't be easy to keep going at this project when the only other person doing the work with you is having a nervous breakdown, but he's soldiered on regardless, and for that I'm eternally grateful.

Tommy's been reworking our engine, making it more efficient and stable. Previously, we had this rather nice feeling physics, but it was unfortunately not very efficient, and could be unstable - explosions of goo, a bit like in DarkMan. Tommy's taken that stuff, and completely re-worked it from the ground up to feel just as nice, but to also maintain stability. He told me that he left it on all night once, by mistake, and it was still stable when he got back. Result! We used to use some fairly devious corruptions of Lennard Jones spring potentials, but ultimately Tommy found that simpler is better, especially where bajillions of spring connections are concerned. We now use very basic dampened springs for our physics.

We're crunching for the IGF at the end of this month. Only two weeks to go. The same build we submit there (which won't be complete, but it's rare for primary IGF submissions to be the final product) will also be sent to Microsoft and hopefully championed internally.

Someone contacted me about World of Goo, and whether we're worried about the similarity in name to our own, "Goo".

I'm really looking forward to World of Goo as I've been watching the output of the Experimental Gameplay Project for a long time now. They've managed to popularize the idea of gameplay prototyping, and I want to kiss them for it. While I found all the experiments interesting in some way, Tower of Goo was the one which was clearly ready for a full production.

Am I worried about the similarity of names? Probably not as much as I should be. It seems like there's a whole micro-industry of games publishers who shovel lookeelikee games into their portfolio in a simple attempt to get mistakenly bought by Grandmas who happily purchase "Grand Thrift Aunt" amidst a confused hunt for similarly acronym'd hit games. It's the only service outside optometry dedicated to cataract suffers.

I wish I had the Machiavellian genius to think so hard about something so cynical, and admit to you, dear reader, that the name "Goo" was born of a desire to rob Kyle Gabler of some well deserved sales. I'm sorry to say that the truth is far more innocent.

The reason we call our game "Goo" is threefold:
  • Most obviously, you control a sticky, blobby fluid - like a dense oil or quick silver. The subject matter is Goo.
  • The main aim of Goo is to surround your opponent, much like the ancient eastern board game "Go". In a sacrilegious kind of way, Goo is like a spiritual successor to Go - the same premise but more organic and flowing. So, we added an "o" to represent that natural progression. Clearly, if we did a sequel, it'd have to be called "Gooo" (and have sniper rifles and exploding genitalia).
  • "Liquid War" was already taken. That's right. When I came up with the idea of Goo, I had never heard of Liquid War, and it was only after checking google to see if that name was taken that I found the game. Definitely worth a look, but if you're worried about the credulity of making a game so seemingly similar to it, I can assure you that Goo plays significantly differently, being based on very different physics and very different controls.
So, I don't know yet if we'll be changing name. I wonder how many sales "God of War" earned due to the proximity of its name to "Gears of War", and vice-versa? Perhaps "Tower of Goo" and "Goo" will be mutually beneficial in that way? Or maybe, the obvious answer is to call our game "Goos of War"?

Any suggestions for new names are welcome, of course! "Liquid War Copying Cunts" is the thing you would write if you enjoy trolling, for example!

In other news, I got into the Bioshock credits!

7.26.2007

Brixton

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.