Archive for the ‘Indie Life’ Category

Bill Harris Levels Up

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

Bill Harris of Dubious Quality has launched his guest blogging slot at Newsweek’s Level Up gaming blog where N’Gai Croal holds court. Bill’s first two entries are an interview he did with me about how Armageddon Empires was almost an overrun landing zone. The interview is nice but in my opinion what really makes it interesting is the cogent analysis Bill provides on this new Long Tail indie scene.

Indie Axioms

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

This is an indie life entry about focus, tenacity and the Will to Power. I’m a big lurker and occasional poster over at the indie gamer boards. Here are my personal observations on some kernels of wisdom that I have gleaned from the knowledge warehouse there and other places as well:

1. Start with something simple
Ok, I’ll admit I broke this one right off of the bat. In my defense I did know how to program a bit before I dove in. I’d also worked on some complex projects that while not actually games, were kissing cousins. I’d still probably do it the same way if I had to do it over because part of what was motivating me was the desire to make “my game.” If I had just made the tactical card battle module and called it “Armageddon Cards” it probably would have been a failure. Once again it’s all about risk versus reward. Who Dares Wins. I had some secret weapons though, which were a modest income from other consulting sources, a talented highly employable spouse and the ability to work from home and pick up the some of the child care. I’ve been called a Mr. Mom at more than one university faculty party that my wife has dragged me to.

2. Always focus on one project and work hard to finish it before you move on to the next shiny thing
If you are going to break the first axiom then you had better stick to this one. Grappling with this issue is actually what prompted this entry. I’ve been having heretical thoughts lately. The problem is that designing a game is the most stimulating and fun part of the entire process. Game design is hard. That’s an assertion you see a lot. I agree good game design is exceptionally difficult. However if you put me in a room and gave me a choice between designing something and implementing something, I’d choose the design. Of course in the real world a market often arbitrates this and finds an efficient solution. An architect earns the big bucks and the construction worker does the back breaking dangerous work up on the beams usually for much less pay. But the supply of good construction workers exceeds that of good architects. As somebody outside the mainstream industry it’s interesting to see a sort of inversion. The supply of aspiring game designers seems to be high and the demand is relatively modest. A large game project needs lots of programmers and acquiring the skill set for coding a 3D engine is not something you do overnight. For every 1 John Carmack there are 10 Jon Blows (no disparagement of Mr. Blow’s tremendous talent intended). So pay is generally less for the designer than the programmer. It depends of course on the specific type of job. But I digress.

Lately I’ve been in the situation where the “design” phase is pretty much over. The mold has been cast and what remains is the more mundane ditch digging phase (How’s that for a mixed metaphor!). For an indie this can be a problem. Motivating yourself to do the ditch digging can be tough. Other game design ideas echo in your head like a Siren’s song. Soon you start entertaining thoughts of just doing some “exploratory” work on the new idea. That my friends is the path to the dark side. If ever a slippery slope existed there it is. Go ahead and register the domain name. Go ahead and jot down some notes and diagrams in a special design book. But do not think that you can start working part time on it while you do your main project. I’m speaking of course as a one man indie team. If you have a clone or a small company then your resources might allow for more ambition. And in my mind ambition is one of the key things what makes life worth while.

3. You can have a false start and terminate a project but don’t let that become a habit
It’s called knowing when to fold and it can save you from catastrophe. If you have opted for the ambitious then cutting your losses at the appropriate point can be a good strategy. It happened to me. One big thing to keep in mind is a short word of caution: Don’t scrap it because you are the limiting factor. Scrap it because the project is the limiting factor. What I mean by that is don’t let emotions, laziness or fatigue force you to pull the ejection strap. If the concept is flawed or unworkable then punch out. If you are the problem….well as a famous rock star neuro-surgeon once said “No matter where you go, there your are.”

4. Never despair, but if you do despair, move forward in despair
Words to live by from the great Irish philosopher Edmund Burke. I chant it quietly like a mantra right alongside, “It is by will alone I set my mind in motion…” and “Never bring a knife to a gunfight.” Cliff Harris recently had a post up on his blog “Cliffski’s Mumblings” about NLP … Neuro Linguistic Programming. I’m not a true believer but “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Even if it works on a placebo type effect basis, itโ€™s still a very appealing type of idea. If you are a part time or full time indie you will despair, unless of course you have had a frontal lobotomy. This could be an entire blog entry of it’s own actually. If you work at home it’s especially important to develop strategies for being productive. Otherwise you’ll spend your entire day writing entries just like this. ๐Ÿ™‚

Unproductive Workaholics

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

I’ve known some. I struggle enough that I could probably attend some meetings. I’m not talking about “Crunch Time” which is a real disgrace for any organization, manager or leader to use as a tool. In my book it’s admission that you didn’t follow the law of the five P’s. I’m not saying that going into over drive to finish an important goal isn’t something a team or organization should never have to do, but it should be the exception and not the rule that “Crunch Time” seems to be. But I digress.

Unproductive workaholics are the worst sort in my opinion. You know the type…Red bull guzzling and all-nighter pulling. Management by objective is a completely foreign concept. Well that’s not true exactly because the single objective is to spend the most time doing “work.” It’s also a very socially driven phenomenon. The unproductive workaholic is often a worker aspiring for promotion and the strategy he is pursuing is to impress the boss by demonstrating a solid commitment to killing time while pantomiming productivity. The worker often convinces himself that he is superior to his co-workers because of the power of his commitment to do less with more time. Of course often it’s also very openly cynical. I’ve experienced work situations where as soon as the boss was out the door the entire place emptied like a stopper had been pulled out of the bathtub.

The boss as unproductive workaholic is even worse. Sure the boss is probably somewhere on the chain looking to climb up a few links but often the strategy behind the boss’s behavior is “look how much time I spend doing nothing…you should be motivated to spend that much time too.” I’ve known some people who were so convinced that more time spent on a task meant at least a linear increase in productivity that to this day my blood pressure sky rockets when I think about it. The concept of diminishing marginal returns was but a fable. But I digress.

One of the biggest challenges of being an indie which I alluded to in my last entry was the home work environment in which many indies find themselves. It’s been a struggle for me. I think I have come to some type of productive rhythm that works reasonably well but it is far from perfect. I found this list via the Indie Gamer forums and it precipitated this rant, errr I mean blog entry. There are a bunch of good tips here.

Tips to be more effective at a Home Office

I’d also like to point out a tool that I use that has helped me greatly over the last couple of years. It’s an electronic journal/calendar by DavidRM Software called The Journal

Here is my other tool!

Red Bull For the Night