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Month 42 Report

I’ve lost a true love. More accurately: I let a true love slip away through gross negligence.

It’s remarkable how much of an adverse effect this can have on productivity.

Though I doubt she will ever read this: I’m sorry. It’s all I have left to say.

Let’s see if we can’t turn this grief into some killer creative output now, shall we?


I hold it true, whate’er befall; I feel it when I sorrow most; ‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

Another 365 Days of Gaming

+ Month 40 Report

Sorry I’m late, I was busy getting head-shots (& getting head-shotted) in Call of Duty: Ghosts.

Here’s some of what I have to say about the past month(s) in easier to digest audio format (hit the little arrow to listen):

 

Also downloadable from the Dark Acre Radio page, along with the other 11 episodes to date. Check ‘em out if you’re really that bored.

In short: not much game development or writing going on in the last little while, but I’ve sure gotten good at online 1st-person competitive shooters. Good, bad, or ugly is irrelevant: I’ve been having a great time making new friends & learning the ins & outs of one of the biggest videogame franchises in history. Mostly because I finally realized it was something I could do without all the silly guilt I’d been self-attaching to it.

There’s a personal Twitch.tv channel that’s been documenting the Ghosts exploits, feel free to sub/like/follow whatever they call it. I might not notice the chat channel in there, though, as it’s rather hard to watch while playing. I also don’t do that silly picture-in-picture of my head, I find it distracts too much from the action in the game being streamed.

Okay, without further ado here’s my best-of list for ’13. Enjoy.


Click here for 2012′s round-up.

Spent a bit of time in '13 playing vidya

PREAMBLE

2013 carried on the “new” tradition of allocating large swaths of time to gaming alongside game development. I’m firmly in the camp of “one must play games to understand games”. It’s entirely possible to produce real paradigm-shifting content without playing games, but so long as I’m still capable of enjoying gaming as a hobby I’ll continue to devote my free time to it, & hopefully learn a thing or two along the way.

To qualify for this list, these games:

  • Were “beaten” in 2013, i.e. played to end credits roll and/or exhausting normal gameplay.
  • Were released at some point before January 1st, 2014.

Also some stats for you stats-mongers out there:

  • 210 video & boardgames purchased in 2013.
  • 20 videogames beaten.
  • $2500 spent.

Okay here we go, & in no particular order other than how I remembered them so there’s probably some scale of favoritism here. Click any of the images to visit that game’s website.


RPG OF THE YEAR

Grand Theft Auto V

Call it misogynistic, racist, a horrible example for today’s young people. That’s cool. You’d be right, but that’s only if you took it as a serious document by which to live your life. Fortunately, it’s a fantasy videogame that’s fun as all get out & has one of the best-written anti-heroes in recent memory in the form of the brutal & abrasive Trevor Philips.

Very nearly 100%’d the campaign but for some of the more tedious gold-medal qualifiers. All in all a spectacular outing by Rockstar that combined the open-world sensibilities of Red Dead Redemption with the acidic satire we’ve come to expect from the Houser Brothers. Also a massive technical achievement that runs flawlessly on 1st-generation Playstation 3 units, something the much-lauded “Last of Us” struggled to manage.


ADVENTURES OF THE YEAR

Tomb Raider (2013)

What made this videogame so addictive? Was it the perfect storm of collection, exploration, & action-adventure? Possibly.

The reduction of the actual “tomb raiding” to a mini-game left a sour taste in many long-term fan’s mouths, but I found the incorporation of it into a much larger narrative with well-rounded characters an excellent design choice. This was a Lara Croft I really cared about.

The only real negative takeaway was the many brutal death scenarios that the development team felt important to illustrate in the goriest of manners. Quick-time events that more often than not ended in Lara getting impaled, crushed, or otherwise horribly murdered could have been handled differently, perhaps with less punishing fail-states. Despite this gruesome aspect Tomb Raider still shines as a fine example of cinematic linear adventure gaming that incorporates the very best of modern game design & technical advancements.

Assassin’s Creed 3

There’s a lot of personal bias attached to adding AC3 to this list: I’m half Mohawk Native, & I’ve had a long-term love affair with Assassin’s Creed from the very beginning. I put in the time to 100% the main campaign & not a moment felt like it was wasted. The development team nailed the feeling of nature, so much so that I often thought I smelled fresh pine while parkouring my way through the treetops.

The narrative was very well written, with an exceptional surprise twist. If you’ve heard nothing about it, as I hadn’t before starting, you’re in for a pretty cool surprise. This also marks the introduction of the sailing mechanisms that play a prominent role in the also good Black Flag.


TOUCHTRONIC EXPERIENCES OF THE YEAR

Steamworld Dig

Short, sweet, & very much to the point. Steamworld Dig is a deep (pun intended) exploration of the “mine & upgrade” school of game design. It does what it needs to do in a very precise, workpersonlike manner that’s made charming by the colorful art & characters.

This was also the 1st videogame I bought & beat on my shiny “new for ’13″ Nintendo 3DS. Highly recommend experiencing it on that platform if you can, but it’s also available for personal computers via Steam.

Hotline: Miami

A late ’12 release, I bought it at launch back when I was blindly supporting any & all indies who achieved major release status. Nowadays there’s one every other day & not all of the content is super-compelling, but back then HM was a pretty big deal in the indie-sphere. I played a few levels, recognized its greatness, then left it alone. It wasn’t until it was made available on the Playstation Vita that I really managed to get sucked in.

It seems the Vita is the perfect platform for a lot of games that are otherwise somewhat tedious on console or personal computer. The ability to carry the game with you wherever you want to go (usually the bathroom or the bedroom) make continuing through to completion somewhat easier.

Hotline Miami is excellent. Yes, it’s an ultra-violence simulator but one that’s so satisfying it’s very hard to put down once you get a handle on the presentation. The background music alone makes it worth the purchase price.


BOARDGAME OF THE YEAR

Netrunner

In a year where I spent 3 months immersing myself in all things cyberpunk, Netrunner stood out as a perfect execution of that genre. It’s fast-paced play, asymmetrical design, & unlimited room for personal play make it one of the most enjoyable deck-building card-battle games I’ve played since Upper Deck’s version of the World of Warcraft.


EVERGREEN OF THE YEAR

Minecraft

The videogame that keeps on giving. I hadn’t played Minecraft in ages, & coming back to it felt brand new. What really made it an amazing experience this time around was the attempt at playing “hardcore” mode, wherein you’re only given one life. It made the game so much more intense & interesting.

Further to that I established a hardcore server & started playing with other friends & folks I’ve met through the social networks. While not “true” hardcore, you could still die & lose all of your stuff but you wouldn’t be able to come back until the server restarted, which could be any where from a few hours to weeks. This made for some very compelling play.

As always I point to Mojang/Persson’s creation a real case study & model to emulate for videogame development. Create something & continue to add value to it over time, increasing the purchase price to reflect those developments, & you’ll win. The steps are deceptively simple, though, & still require attention to detail & many hours of hard labor, but I believe that Minecraft has tread the noble path in caring for their player base – past, present & future.


GAME I PLAY EVERY YEAR OF THE YEAR

Red Dead Redemption

Rockstar Games's "Red Dead Redemption"
Along with watching “There Will Be Blood” & reading George Lois’s “Damn Good Advice (for people with talent!) on Dark Acre Day, I play RDR every fall.

Did playing GTAV to completion in any way alter my appreciation for Rockstar’s vision of the Old West? Not one iota.

& though another year has passed since I last moaned about it, there’s still no PC version. I’m starting to think Rockstar doesn’t even read my blog.


PARADIGM SHIFTS OF THE YEAR

Gone Home

Is Gone Home a videogame? Yeah. Yeah it is. I guess that ends that debate.

Gone Home’s success is important because, along with other notable indie trailblazers like Proteus & Dear Esther marks experiences that people will pay for that don’t involve killing monsters, upgrading characters, platform hopping, coin collecting, or any of the other myriad tropes we’ve come to expect from our digital divergences.

It’s an interactive story that’s really quite good, & provides a really high-quality visual presentation as well. As developers we should be celebrating the Fullbright Company for opening doors to new markets & viable designs. As players it’s a pretty good time to be standing on the bridge between “core” videogame experiences & more narrative/exploration driven ones.

The Stanley Parable

As above, really. A bit more of an extension on the burgeoning genre, & well worth playing through just to see how the development team handled the credits.

Also wow, is that Source Engine getting some mileage or what?


LUDUM DARE 48 ENTRY OF THE YEAR

I used this space last year to pimp what I’d felt had been my best entry into the 48-hour solo game-making competition known as the Ludum Dare. This year I had a heavy change of heart about the LD & game jams in general, so instead I’ll just point you to all the videogame work I’ve done so far & you can decide for yourself which of them is the “best”.


DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR

The Last of Us

I went on media blackout for Naughty Dog’s non-Uncharted venture early in development. I knew nothing of the fungal zombies, so you might be able to imagine my surprise when I found out that what I’d previously thought was a human-vs-human post apocalyptic vision of the future had become a zombie survival horror… thing.

The game has received universal praise from popular media, but in the critical circles I listen to (other gamers, many from Japan) there was a resounding tone of disappointment. Poor artificial intelligence, a rigid & linear plot filled with strictly scripted events, & very unevenly designed set-pieces sullied the overall experience. The art direction (aside from a few minor gaffes like the re-named landmarks & “borrowing” of an outside artist’s rail map) was fantastic, however the horrible anti-aliasing that seems to be a trademark of Sony Playstation games did its ready best to muddy the already ruined landscapes. Furthermore whatever technology Naughty Dog uses for rendering caused my Japanese launch PS3 to kick on its over-loud internal turbofan, destroying the last vestiges of game immersion that had already been torn to tatters by AI partners running circles around zombies & standing in lines of fire.

I will say this, though: Gustavo Santaolalla’s score for the game is phenomenal, & now enjoys a top spot in my permanent game development BGM playlist.

Now despite being a junk videogame, The Last of Us does tell a pretty darn fantastic & emotional story. It would be far better suited to television than the medium it was executed in, but what can you do? Oh look, you can watch it on YouTube:


As always there’s a ton of stuff that gets swept under the rug by recency bias & plain forgetfulness, but the opinions expressed above are as genuine as I can make them, & for the positive ones I can guarantee you won’t be wasting your time or money on those games.

Thanks for reading, & here’s hoping 2014 yields even more treasure from the nigh-limitless amount of videogame content that’s out there & continues to pour forth from the creative minds of published game developers everywhere!

Month 39 Report

It’s been a dark month. Perhaps I’ll talk about it next month, perhaps not.

New episodes of Dark Acre Radio & my comprehensive “Games of the Year” coming up in January, as well as a treatise on Infinity Ward/Beachhead Studios’s “Call of Duty: Ghost”.

Happy holidays from myself & Dark Acre to you & yours!

P.S. Dark Acre e-books can be “gifted”, if you’re scrambling for a last-minute digital present.

Month 38 Report

FRAGS

Holy crap, for the 1st time in ages—maybe ever, too lazy to do a lookup—I very nearly forgot to post a monthly update.

Maybe it’s the weekly Dark Acre Radios, they’re sapping all the news out of me.

Whatever. A videogame is being made, a novel is being written. 3 weeks until the next Ludum Dare 48.

Need some inspiration? Check out DARK ACRE ON.

Thanks for Following.

Month 37 Report

Project Zero Nine

INTO THE WIND (EDIT)

As the current main project builds toward what could be called a “playable alpha”, similar to the level of interactivity & demonstrable gameplay of say an Overgrowth or early Minecraft, so rises the temptation to begin pre-selling.

Patience is so important at this stage of development. While it becomes increasingly commonplace in this post-crowdfunding world to attemp to wring dollars out of unfinished promises, it’s not a light decision.

The only motivators for pre-selling are either the need for development capital or a desire to receive early cash compensation for work already done. The first is a genuine concern if the project absolutely cannot go forward without funding. If not, then it can be lumped in with the former as either shortsightedness or plain greed.

Project Zero Nine has a very clear roadmap, one that is revised & iterated upon just as often as the game design itself. There won’t be any money asked for until there’s a product worth paying for, & that’s a promise. It will also be “pay once, play forever”, though how much is paid will depend a lot on when & your generosity.


Radio Ga-Ga

One month ago I recorded 49 meandering minutes of talk, unscripted & unedited, & uploaded it to the Internet.

DARK ACRE RADIO

Rewinding further back in time to October, 2010, at the start of the “salad days“, it had seemed a good idea to offer regular (read: weekly) updates to keep the growing fanbase appraised of developments on the Dark Acre. That seemed to work for a shocking 17 weeks before deciding to pull the plug, deeming the scrambling to show work each week more detrimental than positive. There are certainly arenas where regular WIP (work-in-progress) reports are valued & even interesting, especially in visual art production, but for overall game development it can cause more harm than good as artificial progress is produced to make it seem like something’s happening. Rather than fall victim to that trap the decision was made to focus on the work & offer monthly/yearly blurbs instead.

It’s worked out pretty OK so far.

So we arrive at today, with 5 full episodes of Dark Acre Radio in the can & on the ‘net, & a growing list of questions both dev-related & non- to address. It’s a relaxing break from the weekly toil in the pixel & byte mines, & if it happens to offer some entertainment value for you, the listener, then all the better.


Dark Acre Year Two Report

Year of the #KINGINDIE

Hail to the King, baby.

Check out the Year Zero & Year One reports.

Major Events from Year Two

  • October: Returned to 8-week development cycle with The Child.
  • November: Failed to complete NaNoWriMo ’12, delayed The Child.
  • December: Completed Ludum Dare 48 no.25, started P08.
  • January: Completed #1GAM no.01, “The Apartment”, to modest commercial success.
  • February: Completed #1GAM no.02, “CONCRETE”.
  • March: Failed to complete #1GAM no.03, abandoned #1GAM as an exercise.
  • April: Completed Ludum Dare 48 no.26. Removed ebooks from Amazon.
  • June: Re-released “Tale of the Madeus”. Stopped reading Twitter.
  • July: Re-released “Ambia”.
  • August: Relocated the Dark Acre to Nanaimo, Canada.
  • September: Completed Ludum Dare 48 no.27, started P09.

Detailed chronicles of Year Two can be found on the pages & posts of this website.


Facts & Figures

Financials

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

  • Administration (licensing): $1,454.00/$121.17↑ ($375.86/$34.17)
  • Billings (@$20/hour): $25,935/$2,030↓ ($34,257.00/$3,114.27)
  • Delivery (postage): $291.21/$24.27↑ ($51.22/$4.66)
  • Donations (made to charities/NPOs): $228.58/$19.05↑ ($158.24/$14.39)
  • Entertainment (business meals and events): $317.09/$24.52↑ ($61.03/$5.55)
  • Hardware : $1475.53/$120.02↓ ($3,244.27/$294.93)
  • Marketing (press releases/advertisement): $219.44/$13.83↑ ($84.33/$7.67)
  • Training (DVDs/seminars): $195.29/$15.86↓ ($582.94/$52.99)
  • Memberships (IGDA, DigiBC): $70.99/$5.92↓ ($110.88/$10.08)
  • Research (“competitors” games): $1,992.70/$161.35↑ ($1,375.85/$125.08)
  • Software (development applications): $733.57/$61.13↓ ($2,285.39/$207.76)
  • Phone (business land-line): $242.20/$18.93↓ ($360.00/$30.00)
  • Rent (percentage for home office): $1,227.25/$98.58↑ ($1,200.00/$100.00)
  • Utilities (electric): $240.00/$20.00 ($240.00/$20.00)
  • Food: $1,550/$129.00↓ ($1,620.00/$135.00)
  • Rent (actual): $10,656/$888.00↓ ($10,800/$900.00)
  • Total Cost Minus Billings: $19,426↓ ($22,400.00)

Year Two saved a bit of money on operating costs, mostly because there wasn’t much new hardware/software to acquire. Like the previous years this is very much on target with the original ’06 projections.

The billings above are, as before, hypothetical. But something changed in Y2, something rather important. I launched two pay-for videogame experiences & moved the e-book business over to 100% self-published. Dark Acre now has an owner-operated storefront. While there’s been almost zero marketing done on the products available, there were strong sales throughout the latter half of the year.

I’ve always found it gauche to discuss earnings. I have no problem sharing the costs: after all, I think it’s important for folks getting into this business to know. What I can say is that Dark Acre only cost roughly 200 bux to run in its third year of operation. It’s also worth noting that I worked way less in Y2 than in previous years.

Another way of putting that is I was 200 bux away from breaking even in 2012-2013. Now, the nature of the videogame/ebook business being how they are this is no guarantee that the coming year will be better. Considering the current marketing efforts are a snarky Twitter account & hyperactive Pinterest, it’s unlikely that there’s going to be as much movement on the existing inventory.

So what does that mean? It means, as it always has, that I need to publish something I feel is worthy of a real marketing push.

Results

Primary Game Projects:

  • #1GAM 01 – The Apartment: Self-published & top-earner for Y2.
  • #1GAM 02 – CONCRETE: Self-published.
  • Project Zero Zero: Development ongoing. Undisclosed systems prototyping.
  • Project Zero Five: Development ongoing.
  • Project Zero Eight: Research ongoing.
  • Project Zero Nine: ???

Ludum Dare 48 Entries:

  • LD48 #25, “The Condemned”: Completed. #99 Overall, #13 Mood.
  • LD48 #26, “PRISMA”: Completed. #260 Overall, #16 Audio.
  • LD48 #27, “10 SECONDS”: Completed. #610 Overall.

The Darkade:

  • 4 new games (see below)

Writing

  • Parlow’s Choice: Revised & self-published.
  • Tale of the Madeus: Revised & self-published.
  • Ambia: Revised & self-published.

Year Two has been the best year so far with 5 pay-for products on the shelves.


What Went Right

1. Switched to Self-Published

While technically “self-published” prior to the move to Gumroad, it wasn’t until launching The Apartment that I realized there was a serious need for total ownership of product. We could argue back-and-forth about the merits of being on this or that pre-established storefront, such as Amazon or Steam, but I’m sticking firm with the belief that the largest dividends get paid when you own the store.

2. Quit Reading Twitter

I believe the use of Twitter as a two-way communication medium is toxic. I could write a paper on it & I’m not going to, but I can speak about how much better my life got when I finally stopped Following other’s minutia & restricted my own output to a handful of daily, pre-scheduled, cathartic one-liners. Again, folks may have all kinds of anecdotes about how much Twitter is helping them be better game developers or people, but for me it’s been good to be away from it.

I’ll say this though: I’m happy to come away from Twitter with the #KINGINDIE hashtag. It’s hilarious how many people Unfollowed because they found it “pretentious”. Mission accomplished, that’s one Follow closer to independence for those folks.

Taking Twitter seriously is a high road to hell.

3. Switched to Skype/Facebook for Conversation

So that’s not to say I abandoned social networking altogether, no. I think it’s still important to maintain a certain level of human contact, especially if you’re an isolated shut-in, but it’s far better done in a real-time space with room for fucking up & being human. Status updates are “curated reality”, while VOIP chat is the raw deal. I’ve had more rewarding conversations in the past year in chat channels than I ever did on Twitter.


What Went Wrong

1. Not A God-Damned Thing

I’ve been thinking about this for a month, & I can’t find a single thing really “wrong” with Year Two. The businessperson in me is a little angry that I didn’t market the #1GAM output more, especially The Apartment, but I know that it’s still too early for a major push. The shelves need to be well-stocked before opening the doors. So, yeah. A really exceptional year for the Dark Acre.


Year Three

Work continues on Projects Zero Zero, Zero Five, Zero Eight, & Zero Nine. I’m committed to the long haul & invested in the bigger picture, so it may be more than a year before there’s any significant visible output on videogame-related projects.

This seems to be the final psychological hurdle to leap in the quest for creative independence, losing the need to constantly show results for outside approval. It’s a far better discipline to trust in the work & believe that the finished product will be far more valuable when delivered to a waiting public whole & intact.

In last year’s report I promised to release Solarus III. That didn’t happen. I could re-promise that same thing but I’d rather keep my integrity intact. There’ll be words put to paper, no doubt, but whether they’ll see the light of day is something that will happen when the time is right & the work is done.

I also pledged to drop my weight back down to 80 kilograms. That didn’t happen either. I’m still on the #GAMEPLAN, though it has yet to re-manifest itself as a proper habit.

At least one of Year Two’s promises was kept: the Dark Acre was transplanted to Vancouver Island, & the living is indeed easier here. I’m wary of making any predictions on how the change of scenery & lifestyle will affect my creative output.

I guess we’ll know in 12 months.


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

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

Here’s to another 365 days of game development, authorship, & creative independence on the Dark Acre.


Just sitting here most days trying to figure out if the stuff I’m consuming is any good.

Month 35 Report

I’ve been full indie for 35 months.

When this goes live the 9th consecutive Ludum Dare 48 compo that I’ve participated in will be well underway.

As for the past month it’s been all about settling in to the new Dark Acre digs here in gorgeous Nanaimo, Canada. I recorded a little video tour of the place:

It’s been nothing but writing into various notebooks & thinking, thinking, thinking. These are things I neglected to do in the first almost 3 years of indie life. Now that I’m doing it all I can think about it production. Hopefully this LD48 alleviates some of that desire.

Okay, will post the usual post-mortem & site-related stuff once the compo is done. See you then.


If you give up, chances are you never wanted to try in the first place.

Refn on “The Pitch”

Refn

Nicolas Winding Refn’s answer to the question “When pitching your movies, what have you learned that you should & shouldn’t say?” from Summer Talks: Nicolas Winding Refn, “Only God Forgives” adapted for videogames:


What you say is “I’m gonna make a lot of money” because that is what it comes down to in the end.

There’s a list… that’s a great way to think about survival in the entertainment industry:

  • You make great videogames that make a lot of money.

We all aspire to that, most of the time it doesn’t happen.

  • You make good videogames that don’t lose money.

You can survive on that for the rest of your life.

  • You make good videogames that lose money.

That’s like Russian Roulette but with 5 bullets in the revolver, because very quickly you’re gonna run out of options.

  • You make bad videogames that make a lot of money.

But it’s just a commodity then, and nobody cares. There’s no pleasure in the industry of that behavior.

  • You make bad videogames that lose money.

That’s not even a consideration.

Those are the places you can be, and no one likes to lose money, so you can go on forever as long as you stay on the right side of the line.

So you tell them what they want to hear.

And the less money they have to give you, the greater the chance that they’ll make their money back sooner.

So figure out the least you need to make your videogame.

It’s all about money, in the end.

Meaning: if you don’t lose money, you can sustain yourself.


Here’s the video that was extracted from. Lots of gold, & insight into Refn’s process which could be helpful to all the poor folks who go into his films unprepared & leave disappointed.


Creation & consumption are two wholly different acts, with the second relying not a whit on the first.

Month 34 Report

Tapping this into an iPad & feeling like an asshole cuz I’m on a beach next to a sweating rum & coke & surrounded by beautiful glistening young bodies.

Misery, it appears, loves company.

This report’s gonna be a short one, so here’re the bullet points:

  • Taken a month off partly cuz I can afford to—shocking as we near 5 years without a paycheck, but still wholly true—& mostly cuz I can’t focus for shit with my life packed into cardboard boxes & turned upside-down in preparation for the exodus from Vancouver.
  • Revised edition of Ambia waiting on final approval of new cover art, will publish very soon.
  • Built & discarded a dozen half-baked Twine experiments.

I was gonna expand on those points but I’m being dragged into the ocean for some “frolicking”, whatever that is.

See you in a month.


I’m more of the “teach the baby to swim by throwing it into the river” school of game development.

Month 33 Report

Abandoned Children

tl;dr version – the current Dark Acre project is working from an establish design document, & has a time allowance of 2 to 3 years.

The age of the game jam is over.

Three years of postgraduate education have proven enough. Participating in game jams, making a metric ton of little experiments & even a couple of longer-form commercial projects under the guise of jams have taught me something important: crafting a good videogame takes time.

The definition of “good” varies wildly depending on who you talk to, be they game developer or game player or casual observer to this whole mess we on the inside refer to as “the industry”. There’s no question, however, that a very clear bar exists that’s defined by the nebulous value of “quality”, & it’s a bar that a given product has to pass before certain levels of cash flow are achieved.

Now, if you’re a game developer & cash flow is not an issue to you I envy you & please feel free to disregard the rest of this section.

The quality bar can be adjusted based on a whole slew of factors:

  • Excellence in audio design.
  • Outstanding exploration of a concept.
  • Solid execution of a project.
  • Far-reaching, deep-penetrating marketing.
  • A massive fan-base waiting for your “next big thing”.
  • And so on.

All of the above take considerable amounts of time. Time burns money, & both are finite resources. In order to be efficient with these things a plan is usually required.

For 33 months it’s been my own modus operandi to take a half-formed idea directly into the toolset & make it happen. This has worked out wonderfully 30-odd times. In all cases the complexity of the end result has been a direct reflection of the overall amount of time spent on the projects. Typically this has been no longer than 48 hours, with a few exceptions being the published Primes at 8 weeks and 16 weeks respectively, CHASSIS at 2 weeks, and the failed Prevengeance at nearly a year. Prevengeance, the longest project in Dark Acre history, is also the only project that worked from an established design document.

It’s important to note that of those projects only 1, The Apartment, has ever returned cash-money.

I used to scoff at design documents. For reasons I’m sure are irrational, I figured planning was a restriction on creativity, & therefore outside the purview of true independent development.

That attitude, I realize now, is kind of stupid.

The Developer's Notebook

I’ve spent the past month writing. I’ve been rebuilding Project Zero Five, also known as “The Child”, from scratch & on paper. I’ve noticed no significant loss of creative energy or agency, if anything it’s been far better than trying to keep track of all the project elements in my head as I scramble to build. As a game development process it just feels better, & I can see how it’s already allowing for far more exploration of complex ideas than my previous methods. The only apparent drawback is the feeling that nothing is actually happening.

When you sit down & just build things, you have a constant flow of tangible progress. Things move around on the screen, menus & buttons activate, sound effects added, & mechanisms can be constantly tested & iterated upon. There’s a steady supply of feedback.

I still think that’s one of the the ideal ways for beginning developers to work. It’s fast & satisfying in the short term. It’s like an extended practical education, especially if you’re making sure to publish your results & get other people to play with your creations.

But once you reach the point where you’re confident enough with your abilities that you have a workflow that produces results, it may be time to sit back & actually plan something worthwhile out.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Do some research & see how many of those top-selling & critically acclaimed indie videogames were made in under a year.

There’s this quote from Stephen King, something he wrote into the afterword of “The Gunslinger“:

“It was time to stop goofing around with a pick and shovel and get behind the controls of one big great God a’mighty steam shovel, a sense that it was time to try and dig something big out of the sand.”

This is where the Dark Acre sits.


Madeus & Ambia

If you missed the “big news” last month, the 3rd definitive edition of “Tale of the Madeus” has been self-published here on the site. Part of an ongoing experiment into total ownership & distribution, this book represents several years of hard work & trials overcome. If you’re at all interested in science fiction I recommend that you check it out.

Currently hard at work on the as-yet-untitled 3rd book in series, making decent daily headway on the 1st draft.

Where does that leave the 2nd book, then? Jiří Horáček, the artist responsible for the stunning cover of the Madeus re-release is cooking up something amazing for Ambia, which will get its own self-published re-release at the end of July.


The Last

tl;dr version – The Last of Us makes a better movie than a videogame, based solely on how I like my videogames.

Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us wasn’t for me. It was a failed relationship. It wasn’t the game, it wasn’t me, it was the chemistry between the two of us.

Part of my vast personal philosophy toward videogames that I’ve been cultivating since way back in 1981 is the belief that the pillars of quality in a given videogame are communication & user experience.

The communication in The Last of Us is stunning. Astounding. Stellar. Well, aside from the fact that whoever wrote the exchange between Joel & Ellie after one of her key development moments straight ripped off lines traded between Will Munny & the Schofield Kid.

The user experience of The Last of Us wasn’t for me. I always strive to do the best by my players in every game I craft; my key mantra is “thou shalt not waste thine player’s time!” The Last of Us seemed to go to great lengths to waste my time. A strange thing to criticize a videogame for, granted, but you want the time to be wasted in a way that brings you some form of either interest or enjoyment, & I was getting neither.

I recommend watching any complete cutscene recordings you can find on YouTube, even if you’re not into playing videogames. There’s a really, really great story in The Last of Us, one that loses absolutely nothing by simply watching the cinematics. That’s another issue with the experience: nothing the player does in the gameplay affects the narrative. There are minor asides & vignettes during the traversal & exploration bits that contribute to character-building, sure, but you don’t miss a thing if you don’t see them.

As with any good critique I have a laundry list of “how I’d make this film a better videogame” but since I’m not on Naughty Dog’s payroll & the game’s already shipped it’s best to file it away & use it as reference, saving me from making the same mistakes in my own projects. This is critical analysis done right, documented & then hopefully synthesized at some point in the future.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

Another note that may help you see where I’m coming from & also raises some talking points about videogames in general. The Last of Us has been the only console videogame I’ve pre-ordered since Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption. Now, if you know me, you know how highly I regard Red Dead. It’s in the unspoken pantheon of favorites that I’m not supposed to have. It’s one of my “desert island” videogames. When I finally got Red Dead into my X360 back in May of ’10, it was nothing but joy-puke for 30-odd hours.

I’d set myself up for something similar with The Last of Us. I’d convinced myself that the folks who made Uncharted 3 were going to crush it with a post-pandemic adventure of grit & grime. I’d failed to manage my expectations & paid the price: 67 bux, to be exact.

Maybe the money had a lot to do with it. Maybe videogames really aren’t worth that much at launch, & alpha customers just get taken for a ride. I don’t know. I can say that I felt John Marsten’s adventure was worth the money, while Joel & Ellie’s wasn’t. I do know that this whole experience has soured me for launch-day gaming, & I won’t be pre-ordering again.

Unless, of course, there’s another entry in the Red Dead series done to the same quality levels as Redemption…


If you Follow me on Twitter there’s been a slight policy change: I’m no longer replying to @’s. I might read them while I’m on the toilet—Twitter makes an excellent laxative—but don’t expect a response. Try more discussion-friendly channels, like Skype (darkacrejack) or e-mail (jack at dark-acre dot com).

All part of the new “if you find yourself infinitely scrolling through garbage, something’s probably gone wrong” approach to Internet research. That & I’m really starting to think that this new communication paradigm, zeitgeist, whatever you want to call it is rapidly transforming us into a society that values speed over clarity, teaches us to accept misquotes taken out of context as life-defining proclamations, & trains us into thinking that people aren’t really people: that we’ve become a collection of avatars & status updates, entertainment to be consumed or blocked or ignored. Still not certain if this is by design or just one massive fuck-up on our part, but if you’ve read down to here perhaps there’s hope for you yet. Then again, you might have started here & that’s the problem.

That’s it for this month. Back to turning pencils into nubs & abstracting grand plans into manageable chunks. See you in 30 days.


“My god, this videogame is amazing!” said the people as they passively watched a cutscene.


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