The things I love have become untenable to hold on to
Oh, hi Medium.
It’s 2018 now, and I’m taking the opportunity to coalesce some thoughts and make some changes.
Why? Because the last 18 months have been a bit of a tire fire, and there’s no time like an arbitrary calendar date turnover to finally put it out.
In 2016, after three-and-a-half years of full-time indie game dev, I released Legacy of the Elder Star on Steam. I was super excited to finally have my own indie darling out there in the world!
Unfortunately, the world did not share my enthusiasm.
Sales-wise, Legacy of the Elder Star was about as close to DOA as you can get. I hadn’t harbored any illusions about making Minecraft money, but I had hoped to generate enough revenue to scrape my way to making a second indie game. It was clear within the first few weeks that that wasn’t anywhere even close to happening.
A lot of indie game developers publish postmortems of their games, and I thought about doing one for Legacy of the Elder Star, but the absolutely staggering degree of its commercial failure pretty much KO’d my motivation to do anything at all. How could I write a postmortem that didn’t just come off as some entitled dudebro bitching about how his perfect indie gem didn’t make him an overnight kazillionaire? I’ve seen so many postmortems of indie failures — games which still performed better than mine, incidentally — where the creator gets publicly shredded when they even hint at the idea that their failure was not justified, and I didn’t/don’t want to be one of those.
Even though indie devs desperately need to talk about failure to overcome our severe survivorship bias, the sad fact is that nobody actually wants to hear about it.
And so, what I’ve just written is all you’re going to hear about mine.
Because my indie game dev bet didn’t pay off — and because it had cost me most of my savings to produce — I had to go back to the 9–5 grind in order to keep paying the bills. After nearly four years working from home, going back to an open office, a long commute, early mornings, mandatory hours, and meetings (so many meetings) was a severe culture shock.
An opportunity to join an AR startup fell into my lap with an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I jumped. The first few months were rad, but then there were some changes at the top, and suddenly we were stumbling through a Kafkaesque nightmare of corporate dysfunction. Less than a year after I’d started, the entire company was shuttered, and by that point its ignominious end came as a surprise to nobody.
Because my life is weird, another job opportunity fell right into my lap just as that startup was imploding. Now I’m working on a completely wild VR project and things are going much better but even after a year-and-a-half I still haven’t re-acclimated to the rhythms of an office job, and I’m no longer sure I even can.
There’s also the inescapable fact that 2016–17 were the two most culturally toxic years I’ve ever lived through. The 2016 U.S. election was a slow-motion trainwreck of epic proportions, and it was quickly surpassed by the entire first year of Trump’s so-far-embarrassing excuse for a presidency.
Welcome, new readers! I am a bit political.
But you know, I lived through the Bush years and I remember being frustrated by the fake WMDs in Iraq and the disastrous Hurricane Katrina response and all that, and that stuff had nothing on 2016–17, because back then we were all angry at the President, and now we’re all angry at each other.
Words that must be stricken from the English lexicon immediately include: libtard, snowflake, cuck.
I’m a game developer, which means I had on-the-ground experience with the 2014 cultural bed-shitting that was Gamergate: organized harrassment, weaponized ignorance, and mass-scale hatred brought to bear on women and people of color in the games industry, particularly indie developers and the journalists who covered their work.
Electoral politics in 2016–17 was Gamergate writ large. The Trump-supporting alt-right brought organized harrassment, weaponized ignorance, and mass-scale hatred to bear on the entire country.
I love studying and discussing politics, but oh man has it ever been unpleasant these last couple of years.
The theme of the past 18 months has been: the things I love have become untenable to hold on to.
I loved doing indie game dev full-time. I was at my happiest and healthiest during those three-and-a-half years. But it’s completely non-viable in today’s oversaturated market: the chances of success are far too slim, and without that success, you’re nowhere even close to sustainable.
I loved working in AR, but that company imploded despite all my very best efforts to hold it together. The problems were just way too far above my pay grade for me to realistically move the needle on.
I loved following and discussing politics, but the alt-right has completely poisoned the discourse. We can’t explore issues and educate each other any more; now it’s just hot takes and snark, publicly putting down the other side as performative political purity.
Basically what I’m saying is that 2017 can eat a bag of dicks.
I’ve got two new things going on, and I’m going to be writing about them a lot on here, among other topics.
The first new thing is an open-source interactive fiction tool called Fractive.
Fractive is a tool for creating hypertext fiction, which is a type of interactive fiction that works like a web page: you read a bit of narrative, then click on links to make decisions and advance the story. There’s a bit more to it than that — persistent game state, randomization, multimedia and animations, and other features — but that’s the basic idea. You can learn more at fractive.io.
The second new thing is a novel called Covenant.
It probably won’t end up being called Covenant when it’s done, but that’s what it’s called for now, and I’m not going to fuss over it too much, because actually writing the thing is way more important.
Before I got into game dev I had serious designs on a professional writing career. I was this close to pursuing a degree in it. Now I’m kinda glad that didn’t happen — I avoided a mountain of student loan debt, anyway — but the itch is still there. The cool thing is that now I have a day job with a stable salary, which means I can afford to write a book and not have to worry about whether it’ll pay the bills all by itself.
The biggest challenge with Covenant right now is that I haven’t been in the habit of writing for 13 years, give-or-take. I got into professional game dev in 2004 and it just kind of… swallowed everything up. (I have sacrificed more to this industry than you will ever know; indeed, there are certain sacrifices I’m just not going to write about on here. Ever.)
This post you’re reading right now is step one of re-establishing that writing habit. I’m going to try to post here as close to daily as possible — and usually at much less length than this — until writing becomes habitual again, and a day gone by without putting words on the screen starts to feel weird and wrong. I have no doubt I’ll miss some days, both because “shit happens” and because Covenant comes first, but… well, we’ll see how it goes.
Onward into 2018…?