I’ve never been all that good at beginnings. Fact is I built this entire site in an effort to avoid starting. Now the comfortable work’s done and I’m left with nothing to do but start…and frankly it scares the hell out of me.
I’m a web, desktop and interactive developer. Building software has been one of the joys of my life: Attacking problems with creativity, passion and a sense of play makes me smile every time. I’m also one of the lucky ones: A developer who understands the psychology/social psychology of users and have just enough of an art background to design attractive, usable interfaces, art and animation.
But after more than twenty years, some of that shine has worn off. I still enjoy both design and development–likely always will. However the reality of what I work on and how I do that work has begun to drag me down. It’s not that the work is bad or the people wrong or any other negative. I think it’s just time for a change.
When I first saw Unity I was excited, but to be honest I was pretty hard on it. “A Flash competitor,” I remember saying, “and probably just as bloated and unstable.” More the fool, me, eh? I’ve watched it go from a underdog with a dream to a powerhouse for developing AAA games, all the while silently jealous of those blazing trails.
Which brings me back to beginnings.
I’m embarking on a journey to alter what I do; trade the web stack in for Unity. The end goal is a game that’s been in my head for two or so years now, the characters close enough to family that I see them when I close my eyes. I know how the game works, how it flows, the story it tells. Of course, I don’t have any of the skills to create even a single piece of it.
But I have a plan.
This site is a journal for me to record my progress on that plan. It’s astoundingly ambitious, probably impossible, but this is what I’m going to attempt:
This pieces is the least difficult, if you can believe it. I’ve been a developer for a long time, the last five of which I’ve been an software architect. I know how to write code, learn languages in days well enough to build entire platforms. I already know C# reasonably well and have toyed with the Unity software.
Having spent a number of years in learning design, I know the best way to retain the knowledge long term. But it means that each lesson will take hours, watching the video cold, trying the techniques without assistance, re-watching the video, again and again until I can perform the entire lesson cold. Then repeating the exercise a week later.
The cold trials should prime the neural pathways so that when I re-watch the video the knowledge is written more permanently. Revisiting the lesson a week later should provide the neural signal to my brain that the information must be retained long-term.
The goal is one video per week.
I haven’t drawn the human figure in well over 10 years, maybe longer. That ends today. I’ve set a goal of producing one sketch (no matter how bad) per week. I’d like to take the sketch from paper + pencil to line art at a minimum. If I have time, I’ll also work on coloring and shading.
Software here is a big concern. The Adobe Illustrator/Photoshop pipeline is effortless for me as I use it in my day job, but once I move from learning to production I’ll have to buy my own licenses. I’ll need to evaluate Clip Studio (which seems to be the choice for many manga/anime artists) & Affinity Designer (the new kid on the block, which I already have a license for).
Again, the goal here is one sketch per week.
Cinema 4D was my software of choice, but at this point even the educational version is far out of my price range. Audodesk’s academic pricing is extremely permissive and I’ve been playing with the software, though a bit stuck on the learning curve.
I’ll be using Lynda.com and Pluralsight courses to learn the software. I’ll probably start with Lynda as the courses there are normally less technical. Modeling is one of the weakest areas. Modeling human figures is intimidating as hell to me and I imagine as time goes on I’ll need to find other sources of learning to bridge that gap.
The plan is the same as with Unity: One video per week, using the same methodology to ensure I retain the knowledge.
I’m using a the guidance provided by Chuck Windig. I’ll be doing this in a weird way. I’ve always been more of a “pantser” than a “planner” but any time I embrace my free-flow I always stall out. Instead, I’m going to do something I heard hinted at by the Duffer brothers in an interview: I’ll write out and (perhaps illustrate in weekly sketches eventually) the scenes I see in my head without any order. Just record the moments as I initially envision them. Then I’ll organize those, outline and start stringing together a narrative. I’ll also need to write character bios, world notes and a ton of other odds and ends.
There’s also the nature of this story: It’s not linear. What I have in mind is nearly fractal in complexity, with pieces of stories changing each other based on the player’s decisions, which point of view they choose and how the gameplay progresses.
Despite Chuck’s sage advice, I’ll start off with only 350 words per week.
The last piece of this puzzle is probably the most fun and the most difficult: Just crack open some software (any of them) and just play. Every developer I’ve encountered that was largely successful made an investment in setting aside time to goof off with code. When I was at my most creative, I set aside 4 hours a week to recreate work from praystation.com or levitated.net or others. I failed as much as I succeeded but it taught me to take chances and made me a much better developer for it.
The goal here is to devote one hour per week and just get in over my head with something stupid. I plan on monkeying with cinemachine, building scenes, audio effects– really anything that catches my attention. The idea isn’t to actually produce anything, which is part of the beauty of it. It’s just about play.
I realize this sounds insane. This is a monumental amount of work and will take a very long time to gain even a toe-hold on the skills I’d need to build the game I want. What’s more, I want to build it. Me. Myself. I. Alone. It just doesn’t seem right for me to ask anyone else to buy my vision, and being the contrary cuss I am I don’t want to compromise. I’ve been living with these people in my head for too long to not bring them to others as they came to me.
I want what I want and I’ll make no apologies for it. I know it’s not realistic. I don’t care.
What frightens me is that I’ve been down this road before. This isn’t the first site I’ve built where I’ve promised to draw, write or whatever and let it drop after a week or a month. I’m a consistent procrastinator, easily distracted by nearly anything. I’m not sure anythings different this time in my favor: I’m older, have more responsibilities at work and to my family. There’s never enough time in any given day to keep up with everything I need to do before I start this.
I can only say that there’s a weight associated with this push. A need to do something, even if it’s wrong. There’s a part of me that says, “even if I fail, I’ll have learned something new, gained skills that help me on whatever path I take.”
But that feels like a lie. A cop-out.
More Than Software or Story
More than anything, I feel like the hardest part of this endeavor will be learning the skills it takes to just keep going. I’ve read too many articles from too many experts to think there’s some magic trick to accomplish any creative project. There is no secret to doing something like this.
I just have to show up, every day, and work.
I have to let myself suck — and I will, badly. I’ll have to find a way of dealing with the frustration of seeing my vision tethered to my inability to communicate it; and hopefully the knowledge that this is just how it will be for a long time.
That means I have to learn to take care of myself. Be kind, be forgiving. Understand that taking care of my dreams means taking care of my health, my mind and those around me.
Trick is, this isn’t just about making a game. It’s about making a better me.
So, uh, here goes.