Sunday, March 30, 2014

What's My Deal Lately?

The past couple of weeks have been strange for me.  I've been in a funk that I just can't seem to shake.  Usually, GDC offers some relief from this, but this year it feels like it made said funk worst.  I'm just trying to analyze what my issues are right now and see if I can remedy them by analyzing them publicly, because, you know, that always works, right?

 

Fear and Loathing in VR

I've recently started a project working with the almighty, recently acquired by FaceBook, Oculus Rift.  Quite frankly, I hate it.  Shocking that I hate something, right?  I feel I always need to clarify that when I say I hate something, I don't have powerful disdain to the point of harm.  I don't want the guy in charge of Oculus VR or its employees to die -- they are getting enough death threats already.  Just when I play VR games, when I see VR games, I don't understand what the big deal is.  I just get frustrated, asking myself, "Why is this gimmick suddenly so important?"  Admittedly, VR does add an extra layer of immersion when playing, but it feels so minute that half -- if not more -- of the games that utilize it would be just as fun without it.  Turn the lights off while playing a horror game and you can have pretty much the same scare.  This frustration just makes me feel old, like I already don't belong in this industry anymore.
The idea of complete immersion in games is confusing to me as well.  Doing the real-life activities often displayed in games -- parkour, playing guitar, fencing, shooting someone, mixed martial arts -- are skills that take a long time to master, and quite frankly, the real thing just isn't that fun -- to me anyway.  So when I hear about this desire to make me feel like I'm doing the real thing in a new game, I lose interest.  Maybe my goals when playing games are different from others'.  I don't want to be a part of a war, a fistfight, or zombie apocalypse.  I want to experience narratives that take place in those scenario.  I want to control elements that are happening in those, but I don't want to be in those situations.  I don't want to be a puppet; I want to be the puppeteer.  Again, maybe this is archaic thinking that the industry just doesn't want to continue with.

Did I also mention I think it just looks lame when you're using it and the setup time doesn't feel worth it?

 

If you can't think of a game you love...

One of the GDC rants went over a long list of situations followed by "You're doing it wrong."  Not sure what "it" was.  Maybe living?  Working in the game industry?  I'm not sure, but one that felt profound to me was -- which I'm paraphrasing -- "If you can't think of a game you love, you're doing it wrong." 
I was temporarily saddened because I couldn't think of a game that I loved.  I could think of games that I liked, but what does it mean to actually love a game?  The closest game I could think of was Super Mario World, as it's a game that, even a decade from now, I could probably pick up and enjoy.  I'm not an expert or speedrun champion, but I get a certain joy out of playing it each time.
Regardless, when it comes to finding inspiration for my personal work, I've been having a hard time.  I'm working on Battle High -- again -- and I have ideas for a 3D fighting game, but even these feel like a waste of time because they won't be well-received for any number of reasons: 
  • The art isn't great
  • The idea isn't original
  • The gameplay is only okay
  • The netcode is awful (or nonexistent)
When I think of trying to make games that are more original and not just an homage of an existing genre though, I just feel disinterested or immediately think of what the game is based off of.  I know everything is a remix, but I'd like if I could think of something where the remix is less obvious.

I still believe (or blame) that this is the game that got me interested in games

 

Faith

I'm not talking religious faith, but faith in myself.  Lately it feels that every idea I have is just bad, that immediately someone I either work with or a friend just knocks it down.  "Oh, that's not an important or novel idea" or "You can't do that alone" or "That's a bad direction for us to take."  I just feel like I'm slowly losing hope in doing what feels right to me, that if I just eliminated all creative desire from myself that I'd be happier, if I just shut up and put my head down and stopped caring.  But that feels like such a cowardly way out, to just stop caring and settle.
It's even worst when I do get compliments, it always feels like I receive compliments on things from either sources that someone immediately disregards "Oh, that's your friend, they are just being nice."  or "Of course your mom thinks it's good."  Sometimes this is true, but it'd be nice if it didn't feel like this were the case all the time.
Overall, at some point I would love to go indie and try and run my own business -- even if it is a one-man operation.  I'm never encountered with confidence when I talk about this though.  No one ever seems to support the idea and just tells me about how near impossible it is and that doing so would be so stupid, and yes, jumping into it right now without any financial planning would be stupid, but I'd like to have the confidence that maybe some day -- sooner rather than later -- I'd be able to do it.  I'm not shooting for Pluto either; I just want to be able to live, creating games -- or heck, other sources of media -- that don't make me feel like another useless gear in someone's glorious machine.  I just wish I -- or others -- could cultivate some faith in myself when it comes to this, but all I seem to encounter is doubt.


This feels like a constant struggle I'm dealing with right now and doubt is currently winning.

 

Dentistry

This is a stupid one, but I've always had bad teeth.  I like to think I practice good oral hygiene, but genetically I think I was just dealt a bad card.  Recently I had to have two cavities filled.  I had dental and paying for them wasn't a huge deal.  It's silly to complain about, but I guess medical situations like this fill me with doubt and dread with what-ifs like "What if I go indie but then get super sick and don't have good insurance?"  At the same time, my current job and trying to work on my own projects, sometimes create these problematic cycles.  I go to work, I come home and work, but I don't work on me.  I don't exercise or take the time to learn how to cook healthy meals well.  I can probably figure out quinoa but it takes time.  I don't sleep properly, staying up working on things till all hours of the night.  Again, I'm filling myself with my doubt and fear, but as my fillings heal, it's an issue that still is always in the back of my mind.

My teeth are immaculate when compared to this, but I'm always afraid that this is inevitable for me and will be more painful if I don't have a job at the time.

 

Collaboration

Another issue I've been struggling with is collaboration.  I just have this conundrum that I either can't get people excited to work with me or get excited to work with others unless money is involved.  Or if I somehow do motivate someone to help with a project, I can't keep that interest unless I compromise my original vision so much, that I don't like it anymore.  Again, if I just gave up caring, it'd probably be a lot easier.
Maybe my original vision wasn't so great, and I'm too married to my original idea.  Maybe collaboration is just a fancy form of prostitution when one person is in charge.  Maybe I shouldn't have vision at all or a weak vision and let the other people help form it even if the result begins to sway in a direction I'll hate.  I'm not sure, but lately it's just made me so isolated and unable to enjoy working with others, even when I know that I probably need it or at least that the work would be greatly improved if I were to.

Funny they don't have a lot of words like "arguments, disagreements, backstabbing, and unenthusiastic" in this..  Political is there though...

 

You should be happy

I'm depressed -- if you haven't picked up on that already -- but I'm constantly admonished how I should be happy.  Be happy you have a job in this economy.  People would kill to be where you are, so be happy.  You have dental insurance, be happy.
If so many people seem to feel that I should be happy, then why do I feel so unhappy?  What's wrong with me internally that I still just feel so suffocated and fatigued and full of angst?  Maybe I'm just going through a phase.  Maybe this winter has given me a case of seasonal affective disorder.  Maybe being unable to express myself creatively is reaching a boiling point.  Either way, being told that I should be happy makes me feel guilty because a part of me knows they are right, but another part is angry because they -- and myself-- don't understand the part of me that is preventing me from being even slightly content.

(Internally Screaming)

What Do I Like?

This seems to be a question I ask myself a lot.  With VR and the new emerging business models in games, I'm beginning to not even like games anymore.  I look at my other hobbies -- baking, vodka infusion, intricate jello shots, costume-making.  Strangely, most of them relate to food, but there are other aspects that differentiate them from making games.
All of them are isolated.  I know bakeries have more than one employee, but for me, I can bake and do all these things alone.  It's fun working with people on them, but I don't need them.
All of them are cheap.  Baking a cake or making jello shots are cheap both financially but also time-wise.  They are quick.  Baking and decorating a cake takes maybe a day, two if I'm getting super fancy.  Costume takes maybe a week or two of actual work.
I don't need (or feel that I need) to be good at any of them.  If I bake a shitty cake, who cares?  If I infuse a vodka that taste more like rancid salsa, who cares?  I'm not making money from these so they don't need to be good.  Each time I feel like I make progress because I'm not comparing myself to others.  I don't want to be like Ron Ben-Israel so I don't care if my cakes look awful.  It's nice getting compliments -- sometimes awkward when told I missed my calling -- on these things, but I do them because I find some sort of enjoyment out of them.
How can I relate these to my side, game-related projects?  I guess my prior points need to be converted over to games.  My ideas have to be small.  Not only so I don't need to work with others -- though it would be nice -- but also so they don't take a long time, so I don't get bored with the ideas too quickly.  I guess the other one, which is the most difficult, is to make games that I feel don't need to succeed.  Screw app stores and $99 fees, screw server services with similar monthly fees.  Just make stuff and put it on my site and share it with friends and coworkers.  Know early that nothing I make will be the next Minecraft or Street Fighter or anything remotely close.  My only issue with this, I guess, is that as a game developer, I want recognition outside of my coworkers and friends, and I can't do this if I'm too private about it.  If I don't care about making something great, then it probably won't be worthy of my resume or contests.  I don't want to be a baker, so not caring about making great cakes is fine, but I want to (and am to a degree) be a better game developer, so to not care about making great games seems contradictory.

A cake I made for work.  Yea, it's hideous, but I enjoyed making it and my coworkers enjoyed eating it.  That was more important to me.


Overall, these are just some of the issues I've been dealing with lately.  The overall issue is I'm just frustrated, and I could try to stop being great or even good and settle with my mediocrity and succumb to my doubts, but that just feels so cowardly and sad, but trying to fight them is starting to feel like a losing battle.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Not a Great Track Record: GDC 2014

Another year, another Game Developer's Conference, or GDC.  This was my fifth GDC, and for the four previous conferences, I've written long summaries of each day, night, and session I attended, but this year, I'm going to forgo this tradition.  This GDC was, simply put, a letdown.



 

No Goal

Part of the reason this GDC was such a letdown is that I went in without a goal.  My first, which also left me with a bittersweet feeling, GDC was similar.  I should have had a better goal in mind whether it was to learn a platform, meet a specific person, etc., but I didn't really act on any of this.  On my flights to San Francisco, I said, "Oh, I'll try and be inspired," since my job and the book were starting to wane on me creatively.  Was I inspired at the end?  Probably a little but not in the way I was desiring.

 

Day 2 Depression

Day 1 of GDC was actually pretty good.  It wasn't great, for example, the Casual Design Roundtable, which I enjoyed a previous year, felt like a mess this time around.  Also, I went to an ID@Xbox programming talk that I actually left early -- which I believe was a first for me -- for being so dull.  The audio talk about Killer Instinct was awesome though.  Overall, I was feeling inspired and excited, but day two was a mess for me.
The rants did a number on my self confidence and outlook on the industry's future.  Then a talk about the negative personalities encountered on the internet when creating things -- games, videos, etc. -- and though it did discuss how to handle them very well, the fact that such ugly things exists, bummed me out.
Finally, I went to a talk about preventing depression and it, instead, depressed me.  I was already depressed the way it was, and this was the last talk that helped.
I think the two things that had made me so depressed were my drunken antics the prior nights.  I was embarrassed, but I didn't even really do anything that bad.  I wasn't the guy who was kicked out of the Sony party.  I went to the Unity party (and was not kicked out).  I guess I felt a bit like I was piggybacking off of the parties and had nothing to offer them.  In fact this was posted in a Facebook group about parties at GDC:


Also, I didn't use those networking events to do any networking or very little.  I guess as a whole, if I were just going to go to take advantages of parties, why did I even waste my time at the sessions and expo?  This thought made me upset; it should have been the other way around.
The other thing that upset me though is that a talk on day one that did inspire me made me feel like the only way I'm going to accomplish things that I want, I have to quit my current job.  Now I'm NOT going to do this, at least not now.  The thought of doing so really depressed me.  I'd be leaving a lot of great people, but I can't continue to work on projects that make me feel so creatively unfulfilled.  Also, the thought of going indie is frightening to me.  I've been in a rather comfortable situation for awhile now, and suddenly I'd be in one where my personal projects like Battle High HAVE to make money, and so far, my track record hasn't been to great.
Overall, by day 3, the damage was done.  The Experimental Gameplay Workshop had some interesting projects and games.  These helped inspire me a little but really only balanced my feelings.  I felt the same way I did when I left Pittsburgh to when I came back.

 

Last GDC?

Will this be my last GDC?  Probably not.  Will I go to GDC next year?  That's the better question.  I would have gotten more enjoyment out of just visiting San Francisco during this week than attending the conference. When compared to Unite 2013, this conference felt like a waste of money.  I got so much more out of a conference that was more specialized to one particular aspect of games than this entire conference.  Also, as an introverted person (at times), the number of people at GDC can be rather overwhelming and networking always feels like an uncomfortable act of feigning interest.
 Overall, I think choosing a better goal and choosing different sessions -- which I always have a knack for picking a lot of terrible ones -- would have improved my experience as a whole.  As I return to work, finish the book I am writing, and continue Battle High work, I'll have to see how my future develops.