Dark Acre Year One Report

by Jack


New year, new avatar courtesy of the lovely and talented Moonsia!

65 Days Solo, 300 Days of Collaboration: A Post-Mortem

Click here for the Year Zero report.

Major Events from Year One

Detailed chronicles of Year One can be found on the pages and posts of this website.


Facts and Figures

Financials

All values in Canadian dollars, year total/monthly average (previous year)

  • Administration (licensing): ↓$375.86/$34.17 ($2,074.06/$172.84)
  • Billings (@$20/hour): ↓$34,257.00/$3,114.27 ($40,380.00/$3,365.00)
  • Delivery (postage): ↑$51.22/$4.66 ($9.81/$0.82)
  • Donations (made to charities/NPOs): ↑$158.24/$14.39 ($49.23/$4.10)
  • Entertainment (business meals and events): ↓$61.03/$5.55 ($124.08/$10.34)
  • Hardware (dev machine upgrades/peripherals): ↑$3,244.27/$294.93 ($876.33/$73.03)
  • Marketing (press releases/advertisement): ↓$84.33/$7.67 ($182.50/$15.21)
  • Training (DVDs/seminars): ↑$582.94/$52.99 ($0)
  • Memberships (IGDA, DigiBC): ↑$110.88/$10.08 ($48.00/$4.00)
  • Research (“competitors” games): ↑$1,375.85/$125.08 ($893.04/$74.42)
  • Software (development applications): ↑$2,285.39/$207.76 ($2,153.01/$179.42)
  • Phone (business land-line): $360.00/$30.00 (no change)
  • Rent (percentage for home office): $1,200.00/$100.00 (no change)
  • Utilities (electric): $240.00/$20.00 (no change)
  • Food: $1,620.00/$135.00 (no change)
  • Rent (actual): $10,800/$900.00 (no change)
  • Total Cost Minus Billings: $22,400.00 ($20,630.00)

Year One, like Year Zero before it, comes in at roughly $10K overhead costs. This is still in line with the original projected costs from 2006. The biggest differences came with maintenance of business and corporate licenses vs. start-up cost, purchase of a new high-powered Windows PC, and more than $500 in training costs. The imaginary earnings were down, due to a series of slumps brought on by depression.

In case it wasn’t clear in Year Zero, the billings listed above are hypothetical and used for illustrative purposes only. As of September 24th, 2012 Dark Acre has yet to make any significant returns from publishing activities.

Results

Primary Game Projects:

  • Project Zero Zero: Development ongoing. Undisclosed systems prototyping.
  • Project Zero Three: 203 plays and 2.80 rating on Kongregate.
  • Project Zero Five: Development ongoing.
  • Project Zero Six: Shelved after 91 days of development.
  • Project Prevengeance: Withdrew from collaboration after 300 days of development.
  • Project Zero Seven: Prototype deployed after 14 days of development, main build shelved.

Ludum Dare 48 Entries:

  • LD48 #22, “Alone”: Completed. #118 Overall, #9 Mood.
  • LD48 #23, “Tiny World”: Completed. #287 Overall.
  • LD48 #24, “Evolution”: Completed. #512 Overall.

The Darkade:

  • 14 new games! (see below)

Writing

  • National Novel Writers Month 2011: Completed, unedited and unpublished.

Total Combined Earnings from Games & Writing: $3.84
Amount Paid: $1.69

Output was way down from Year Zero. No new e-books published, no new “earning” games published.

On the bright side, iTunes paid out because it had to by their rules.


The Tokyo Diaries

This is a playlist of edited interviews I did in Japan this time last year (September 2011). It’s funny looking at pre-depression Jack. I kinda wanna shake him and say “you have no idea what’s coming”.


What Went Right

1. Stepped Way Back

In Year Zero I worked 6-7 days a week, 12-14 hours a day. I’d pushed myself that hard because I’d thought that’s how you won at this thing, this “indie life”.

I’d forgotten the whole reason why I’d worked my ass off in Japan, and suffered through two years of expensive private education. Instead of setting myself free, I’d fallen even deeper into a self-imposed slavery.

Now, I’m not going to say that this was good or bad. It’s irrelevant, really, because that modus operandi works for certain people. In a different world and another time, it worked very well for me too.

The moment I became a solo independent game developer a lot of things changed. Subtle things that I couldn’t really perceive in the opening moments of the first year. Things like how hard the toll on my body and mind were going to be. I’d thought it would just be another job, only one where I was calling the shots and setting the timetables. One where all the results were on my shoulders. I had no real concept for how draining the labor would be. And because I was still filled with the vigor of living lean and so highly motivated to be doing my own thing, I hadn’t noticed what the workload was doing to me.

So I suffered, bore it, and I broke. Out of that failure I realized that I didn’t need to be pushing myself as hard as I had been. I didn’t need to work myself into the ground to produce great work. What I needed to do was manage my time, give myself room to breathe, and balance my lifestyle better between staring into the phosphor glow of the game-making machines and the light of the outside world.

I reorganized my schedule into a 4-day work week of no more than 12 hours a day, and having a proper siesta every day. It’s been the best decision I’ve made so far in my indie career.

2. Sought Professional Help

I denied the possibility of depression for a long time. And whether the results of treatment have been an artificial improvement or not is irrelevant. I submitted myself to diagnosis, jumped through the appropriate hoops, and got better. Am I now in some kind of altered state? Have the drugs and therapy sanitized me in some unnatural way?

No.

Your mileage may vary.

3. Learned.

Year Zero was all about application, using the skills I’d gained over the years of gaming and the short time in school. Year One became a year of self-education, first in the forced death-march of adapting to a two-dimensional workflow and second in countering the deviation from my personal goals of 3D mastery by using any free time away from Prevengeance to brush up on programs like 3D Studio Max and acquire new skills in Substance Designer, nDo2, and Photoshop.

I once felt that working in 2D in Unity was a waste of time, but after Year One I can say that it most certainly is not. In many ways, once I’d gotten the workflow down, I found developing a flat-plane game far easier than any of the 3D work I’d previously done.

4. Caught up on the Videogame Playing

I played a ton of videogames in Year One, and even completed a bunch of them. I really hadn’t been spending enough time playing games and staying abreast of the evolutions in game development. It’s an expensive thing to do, for sure, but the investment is worth it if the play is analyzed and treated as lessons in design.


What Went Wrong

1. Prevengeance

It happened. I trashed a project I’d spent almost a year on. It hurt, a lot, but it was hurting more to continue development. It’s very important to know when to cut your losses and step away from things that aren’t working. Some developers claim that there are 11th-hour miracles in projects, where something that’s been nothing but raw hell for months suddenly comes together in beautiful and engaging play. Game development is enough of a crap-shoot as it is without hanging on for such divine intervention, so I weighed the options and made a decision. Now I’ve got to live with it.

2. Self-Fulfilled a Prophecy?

By February I was buying into the idea that maybe my luck was being influenced by external forces. If I’d never heard those prophecies, would things have turned out differently? Who knows. I was already on a downward spiral, so they certainly didn’t make things better.

If I made those visions a reality by the simple act of belief, then this year is going to be great. The same set of prophecies predicts a resurgence of productivity and profit for 2013!

3. Ditched My Body

In Year Zero, when I had only my own projects to worry about, I somehow managed to balance the physical training with the game development. Yet in the second year it all went to hell. A lot of that has to do with the depression and subsequent medication, certainly, but there is some measure of blame levied on the pressure to support an external party over seeing to my own needs. More on all this below, detailed in the #GAMEPLAN.

4. Didn’t Ship a Damn Thing

No new books. No new “real” games. This was the biggest failing, coming off a year that saw tremendous output only to see it all drop to zero. This is something that’s going to be rectified in the coming year, that you can be sure of.


Year Two

The very first thing I’m doing is fully resurrecting the Child and going to work on a complete rebuild, bringing in all the skills I’ve been improving since I last focused on it. I hope to have a playable version ready by the end of November, and then plan to improve it based on feedback from a select group of testers. I think this is a reasonable focus for the primary project.

The Darkade should see a host of new entries, as I plan on sticking with the basic formula every Sunday.

I will write, edit, and release Solarus III. I’d also like to develop several short story fragments that I have kicking around.

There’ll be 3 more completed Ludum Dare 48 entries.

I’ll get down to 80 kilograms again.

It’s also likely that Dark Acre will be moving out of Vancouver. The city is expensive, and aside from having some decent scenery doesn’t really hold any interest for me. We’ll move over to Vancouver Island, where the living is easy.


THE #GAMEPLAN

History

In 1998 I weighed 98 kilos. Then I went to Japan, studied physiology, started running and weight training. I learned capoeira and ashtanga yoga. I lived the life of a Spartan.

When I came back to Canada 10 years later I was a lean, mean, marathon-running 79 kilograms.

Even in the following two years of brutal and intense schooling I’d still kept it tight. Year Zero of independent videogame development treated me right, too. Then something changed. I’m not sure exactly when, and I’m not exactly sure why, but something changed. I lost the ashtanga discipline that I’d fought so hard to gain. I stopped running. I stopped watching what I ate. I took a year-long physical vacation.

As of this post I’m 101 kilograms. 222 pounds. The heaviest I’ve ever been.

But there is hope. There is a plan.

The principles behind keeping trim and healthy are straightforward. Eat what the body needs to sustain itself, push the muscles to their limits every other day, and get the heart-rate pumping high enough to remind you that you’re alive at least once a day. And hope you’ve got the DNA that accommodates a high level of physicality. Not everyone does, but you don’t know if you do until you’ve spent the time trying to find out.

I spent years documenting a physical regimen, the results of trial, error, and countless hours of experimentation in a laboratory I’d build for myself in the basement of my atelier in Japan. I’d lifted thousands of kilograms of pig iron, run hundreds of kilometers through torrential rain and blistering cold. I knew how to be healthy. I know how to be healthy.

I’d started back on the road to health a few months ago, more at the insistence of my counselor than anything else. Overall it’s been okay, okay enough that I’m getting up at 5 in the morning and hitting the gym. Okay enough that I’m once again preparing a staple diet instead of eating random garbage from the convenience store.

There have been a few weeks of back-slide here and there. The weeks around the decision to give up on Prevengeance weren’t good to me. I’d also managed to seriously injure one of my calf muscles and couldn’t run at all for a month. But the momentum is there.

The Plan

The actual #GAMEPLAN is an infinite training program that’s broken up into 12-week cycles. It’s divided into 3 sections: weight training, cardiovascular (heart) health, and diet.

I’ve already outlined the cardiovascular program in its own website. Due to injury and back-sliding I’m only in the 3rd week of 12. It can take upwards of a year to reach a given leanness target, and that’s assuming a healthy diet.

The weight training is now in the 3rd week of the 2nd cycle, so I’ve been consistent with it for more than a season. I’m holding off on releasing the details of this part of the plan until I can confirm that it’s still safe. I worry now about the differences in my body from 14 years ago. I’ve got to be somewhat kinder and gentler lest I risk another serious injury. Same with the diet, I can’t be 100% certain that changes in my aging physiology haven’t kept in line with the algorithms I use to calculate ideal caloric intake. Only time will tell.

Once I’m confident that the old rules still apply, I’ll be publishing my results.


I’d like to personally thank each and every one of you for taking the time to read this, and if you’ve been following along via the other outlets thank you for that as well.

It hasn’t been easy going this year, but it’s been an important period of character growth and learning. And most importantly, I’ve survived.

Here’s to another 365 days of game development, authorship, and general madness on the Dark Acre.