The Story So Far:
from the Private Journals of Dark Acre Jack
May 20th, 2011
The results are in. A videogame I didn’t think I’d be able to finish in the 48 hours I’d been given places 13th overall out of a field of 288 entries in the 19th Ludum Dare. I’ve been a full-time solo independent game developer, author, and publisher of digital content for a little under 8 months. It’s my second Ludum Dare entry. I decide that I should focus on building this game, The Child, into something bigger.
May 20th, 2012
It’s been a year since I made up my mind that The Child was going to be my “big indie game”. Since then I’ve competed in the Ludum Dare a few more times to lesser degrees of perceived success. I’ve attempted collaboration a few times but each project ended up fizzling out due to creative differences (or indifferences, depending on which side you ask). I’ve built and burned an equal number of bridges over social networks. People are starting to wonder if I’m ever going to make something of value. I haven’t actively worked on The Child for 10 months.
October 8th, 2012
After dabbling here and there with other smaller projects and completing a novel, I realize that I only have the capacity to either write books or make games. It’s a crucial issue, because I want to do both at the same time. Once more I make a conscious, focused effort to build The Child into a salable form.
November 28th, 2012
After failing to complete this year’s NaNoWriMo I decide to abandon all active projects. This is the lowest point of motivation that I’ve had for being an independent creative developer since I first had the dream some 10 years prior.
December 18th, 2012
I complete the 25th Ludum Dare challenge, my 8th consecutive entry. It provides a much-needed, if short-lived, lift in spirits. I start on Project Zero Eight, an unnamed project that I’ll learn much later is a subconscious effort to return to work on The Child. In the meantime it provides a framework for which I can complete two-and-a-quarter new videogames, two of which I’ll actually sell.
January 31st, 2013
I sell my first-ever commercial videogame, The Apartment. Using a donationware model I earn a small amount of cash that comes mainly from long-time followers, and a minor influx from niche YouTubers like RockLeeSmile who graciously cover the game.
February 15th, 2013
I give up trying to produce a third 1GAM. The relentless march of development has taken its toll, and my apathy toward marketing CONCRETE has produced exactly the results you’d expect. Motivation takes a dive and I retreat into a self-education hiatus, choosing to focus on developing my skills in 3D modeling, basic 2D art, and music composition.
March 31st, 2013
I’m 38 years old and being professionally treated for depression. If you’d told me that this was going to be an integral part of the “solo indie experience” I might never have chosen to come this way. But I’m getting help, and getting better.
April 30th, 2013
I manage to complete another Ludum Dare. It’s become routine, and I’m starting to hate it. I decide to remove my ebooks from Amazon, bouyed by the success of self-selling The Apartment through Gumroad. I reconfigure everything so that I have a proper Gumroad storefront. It might not be the best business decision I’ve ever made, but it’s one that makes for more independence and that’s all that matters.
July 15th, 2013
I relocate the Dark Acre away from Vancouver and onto the Island, to the port city of Nanaimo. It’s going to add years of survivability to the company, and hopefully provide a much-needed boost to the creative engine. I weigh 110 kilograms (242 pounds), the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life. It’s time for a fresh start.
August 1st, 2013
I re-release Ambia. I haven’t written anything new for ages, and the change of scenery hasn’t seemed to help much.
August 26th, 2013
I finish my 9th, and what is to become my last, Ludum Dare challenge. My interest level in rapid development has waned to almost nothing, and every morning my creative instincts tell me to think bigger. To build bigger. To stop messing around and get some real work done. I initiate Project Zero Nine.
September 7th, 2013
Fed up and disgusted with how much I’ve let my physical self go, I start walking. Every day, 40 minutes, up and down a paved trail next to the highway. I make a conscious decision to repair my diet which, alongside the sedentary nightmare my working life has become, has beaten my body so far out of shape it’s become almost unrecognizable in the mirror.
October 28th, 2013
It’s been 19 years since I died of a drug overdose and was almost committed to a mental asylum. I take stock, as I do around this time of year. It’s always a bad time for my personal relationships, and this year is no different. I suffer a bad breakup and start spiraling into depression again, but I keep walking.
November 11th, 2013
The walking becomes jogging.
November 30th, 20130
I start playing multiplayer Call of Duty: Ghosts. It’s to become a full-time obsession, distracting me from my unproductive state and giving me a weird form of purpose.
February 10th, 2014
I reach maximum prestige in Ghosts after a total of 290 hours played. I’m a decent player, again proving the “if I put my mind to it, I can do it” axiom. I play regularly with a decent group of folks from around the world. I haven’t done any form of game development or writing in months.
February 19th, 2014
The jogging has become full-fledged runs, of the pace I kept when I was 27.
April 27th, 2014
Our Ghosts clan wins its first platinum-level clan war. It’s a tough points-based trial where our team was pitted against other high-ranking teams from around the world. It’s a great accomplishment, and I feel like I’ve learned a ton about online shooters and clan-based videogame play.
March 14th, 2014
I re-subscribe to the World of Warcraft, something I swore I’d never do.
March 31st, 2014
I’m 39. The running has helped, but I still look and feel far from prime physical condition. I vow to get into the best shape of my life before 40, coming up with the hashtag #FUCK40 for social networking. A stupid thing, but every little bit will help.
April 2nd, 2014
I’ve been reported in Ghosts and had my statistics reset. After a discussion with Activision’s customer service I learn that there’s no appeal process, and no way for me to find out the reason for the reset. It’s a crushing blow to my esteem, and one that pushes me away from the clan and the game. World of Warcraft moves into the forefront.
April 15th, 2014
I start a “one-a-day” writing journal. It’s been almost two years since I’ve written any serious fiction, and this feels like the last gasps of a dying writer. Somehow, I start writing again.
May 25th, 2014
I join a local university gym, the first proper gym I’ve attended in over two years.
June 18th, 2014
For the first time in my life I make a serious effort to write in public, at a new local cafe called Buzz. It’s a hip place full of young people and noise and I wonder what the hell I’m doing here. In the past I’ve never been able to do any serious work in an environment like this, always preferring a silent solitude for any creative efforts. But here in the Buzz the words come, and they come fast and easy.
August 1st, 2014
A revised and updated design document for The Child, representing several years of frustration and thought, is feature-complete at 20,000 words. I’ve never written this kind of volume for any of my past game development work, and this only represents the framework. I have a decent shell of a videogame in paper form. I feel really good for the first time in forever.
I’m down to 85 kilograms (187 pounds) and I can run over 5 kilometers (3 miles) in 30 minutes. I haven’t missed a gym day since starting. I haven’t missed a writing day since starting the one-a-day. I’m in love. Things are looking good, but I’m not taking anything for granted.
The fifth year of Dark Acre is coming up. Most businesses fail in the first 5 years of operation, and I’m finally starting to see the planks under the gold at the bottom of the war chest. I don’t want to be fatalistic about my situation; when taken as a whole the last 6 years have been amazing. I haven’t had to draw a paycheck since October 2008, I’ve graduated from two intensive art and design programs, and I’ve produced a ton of creative content. I’ve learned the ins and outs of a wide array of game development software and had hands-on experience with digital publishing. In almost all regards it’s been “mission accomplished”, the only thing that’s missing is that commercial success. And, for better or worse, the only thing standing in the way of that is me.
I suppose that’s the real beauty, and the curse, of the solo route. In the end it all comes down to your own capacity and willingness to exercise it. I’ve never recommended it, and I never will. It takes a lot more than I believe most people are willing to give to keep going, but even for all the hard times I’ve had I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
So, with a little hard work and determination we should see the release of The Child at some point between the end of 2015 and early 2016. Yes, that’s potentially 18+ months from now. Good things take time and it’s critical to acknowledge this.
I’d like to personally thank you for joining me on this journey. I hope the words above have filled in many of the blanks that I’ve intentionally left over the last couple of years, and provide much-needed insight into the solo indie process. I invite you to add me on Facebook, as these days I’m most active there and always willing to chat. In that same vein, feel free to request an add on Skype (darkacrejack) as well. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!