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DARK ACRE INDEPENDENT GAME DEVELOPMENT

Month 53 Report

It’s the 53rd month. I’m still a (mostly) functional independent creative developer.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for following along on these “adventures in indie publishing”.

Remember that you can help support Dark Acre financially by making a purchase from the Gumroad-powered storefront. A “proper” store site is planned for the future; for now this will have to do. Also note that all products are “pay what you want“, so if you’re feeling extra-generous just let it ride. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that every penny counts at this point.

If you’ve wanted to get in touch with me directly for any reason, please connect on Facebook. I prefer it to other means as there’s some form of social accountability.

All of the Dark Acre/personal social networking links are available on the About page, just scroll down to the bottom for the official ones.

As I prepare to enter my 40th year on the planet, all of my focus is on preparing new books for publication and furthering development on myriad videogame projects. The past two months have been head down, getting work done, & I expect March and beyond to be more of the same. Apologies if this update is somewhat insubstantial; rest assured that there are many great things underway.

Thanks again for checking up on Dark Acre!

Yet Another 365 Days of Gaming

+Month 52 Report

In something of a tradition carried forward from ’13, the report comes late. My apologies!

A bullet-list update on DA-related business will have to suffice, as time is precious:

Now then, let’s get right to the meat of the matter.


Click here for 2013’s round-up.

PREAMBLE

Guided by the belief that a developer must play games in order to understand games, a lot of games come across the Dark Acre desktop in the course of a year. It’s important to log the experiences in some form or another; detailed analysis would be preferable, but in lieu of that here’s a shortlist of the objective “best”.

To qualify for this list, these games:

  • Were “beaten” in 2014, i.e. played to end credits roll and/or exhausting normal gameplay.
  • Were released at some point before January 1st, 2015.

Important statistics:

  • 134 videogames purchased in 2014.
  • 21 videogames beaten.
  • $1500 spent.

Classified in order of when they were beaten, from early to late 2014. Click any of the images to visit that game’s website.


MULTIPLAYER MAN-SHOOTER OF THE YEAR

Call of Duty: Ghosts – Multiplayer

Call of Duty Ghosts: Multiplayer

Went from complete noob to Diamond-level clan player over the course of a few months. Lived, breathed, & slept this game, & had a hell of a good time doing it. Love affairs with Call of Duty always end badly (see Disappointments below) & the game is now “dead” on PC, superceded by its successor. Still, this stands as one of the finest gaming experiences of my adult life, & will likely do so for a long time to come.

It’s worth noting that while this game on PC is infested with hackers & the players who remain are likely to be far beyond the skill level of newcomers, the AI-driven “Squad Mode” is an excellent introduction into the mechanics & feel of a live multiplayer Call of Duty match, & might be worth acquiring just for that training experience alone, if you’re interested in seeing how the online game actually feels.


EXPLODING LOOT GOBLIN OF THE YEAR

Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls

Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls

Hated Diablo 3 at launch: nevermind the fact that the servers barely worked, or that the overall game system was a disappointing departure from the previous iteration, but it simply didn’t engage in the ways that it should have. Enter the first expansion (making itself known through the brilliant Battle.net launcher, the perfect marketing tool) which overhauled the loot system, removed the real-money auction house, & streamlined the experience. It made the game a meditative exercise in clicking and maximizing skill use. Add to that a raft of achievements, a Seasonal reset system, & smooth-as-silk drop-in drop-out multiplayer & you have the perfect storm of mindless action gaming. Legendary.

If you play, feel free to add DarkAcreJack#1127.


TIME-SINK OF THE YEAR

World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria

The Siege of Orgrimmar

WoW came to the rescue during another lapse into professional depression. There’s little to say about the game that hasn’t already been written, & after skipping Cataclysm completely it was a relatively easy (though expansively time-consuming) act to go back and clear all the content up to the end of the Siege of Orgrimmar patch. Enjoyed every single second of it, & am looking forward to checking out the Warlords of Draenor… in a couple of years.


INDIE PAY-WHAT-YOU-WANT OF THE YEAR

Glitchhikers

Glitchhikers

A guided experience with player-driven choices & a ton of atmosphere. Played a lot of little experimental independent videogames as a 1st-round judge for the IGF this year, & for whatever reasons this one really stood out. It can be had in less than an hour, & is well worth checking out to see what sort of things are possible outside of the realm of accepted design norms.


MOBILE TRANSLATION OF FRANCHISE OF THE YEAR

Hitman GO

Hitman GO

One of the few that got 100% completion, this was a shockingly absorbing game that burned a lot of midnight oil staring at the glowing mobile screen under the futon. Just the right amount of difficulty, charming visuals, & a wicked-sharp abstraction of the Hitman experience. A must-own for iOS/Android puzzle-heads.


UBISOFT-REPRODUCED CITY OF THE YEAR

Watch_Dogs

Watch_Dogs

Another one that earned scorn at launch due to bugs & rendering issues, coming back to this several months later (& many dollars cheaper, thanks Steam sales!) it seemed that the developers had worked out most, if not all, of the kinks. Remember Origin’s old motto, “We Create Worlds”? That spirit is still very much alive & well in the halls of Ubisoft. The Chicago of Watch_Dogs lives & breathes, & provides a ton of fun distraction. While the core narrative might not be the greatest, the real meat of the game comes in the many side-missions to be had. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a solid open-world sandbox to hack around in.


ODD COMPULSION OF THE YEAR

Euro Truck Simulator 2

Euro Truck Simulator 2

Here’s a weird one. It showed up as a 5-dollar deal on Steam & didn’t seem like it would suck 60 hours of time away in the blink of an eye… yet that’s exactly what it did. Who’d’ve thought that driving a big rig on a set path for hundreds of kilometers over a simulated Europe would be so immersive & engaging? It was definitely a meditative experience made engaging by the various achievements & business simulator that ran in the background. The joy of successfully delivering a dangerous load & scoring an early bonus & parking bonus are hard to describe. Consider yourself warned if you’ve got any kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder: this game could be your downfall.


GAME OF THE YEAR I BEAT EVERY YEAR

Red Dead Redemption

John Marsden's Last Ride

This was John Marsden’s last ride. Suddenly, & likely due to the very rapid & industry-wide adoption of physically-based rendering (making materials reflect accurately, heavily showcased in Watch_Dogs & Assassin’s Creed Unity) in 2014-15, the game looks old & feels dusty. It’s still a masterpiece, no question, but it could do with an “HD remake” or a sequel. Gonna miss this yearly tradition, & was super-proud to have shared this final run with K-Wright. The ride into Mexico was as magical as it ever was. Now, to find a replacement… Grand Theft Auto V, perhaps?


UBISOFT-REPRODUCED COUNTRY OF THE YEAR

The Crew

THE CREW

Ubisoft abstracted the entire continental United States, added licensed cars & enabled multiplayer drop-in drop-out racing. If that doesn’t fire you up then skip ahead. If that does peak your interest & you enjoyed the now-classic Burnout Paradise, The Crew is well worth your time. It’s not the kind of game you can play constantly & expect the same amount of joy from (see Kingdoms of Amalur) but as a mainstay driving game that can be fired up & enjoyed in 10-minute or less increments, or marathon-worthy hours-long races, it’s got very little competition on the PC. While you’ll find some complaints about how simple some of the cities are, you can seamlessly drive coast-to-coast across a simulated United States of America. That’s huge. Literally.


DISAPPOINTMENTS OF THE YEAR

Managed to fall into the suck-hole 3 times in 2014, & each one strengthened the resolve about videogame consumption in one way or another. One of the biggest lessons coming out of ’14 has been “thou shall not pre-order from untested & unproven developers“. The second is “don’t hold thine server-based achievements too dear, for they might be erased without recourse“.

Call of Duty: Ghosts – Multiplayer

Wait, wasn’t this the 1st most-beloved game of 2014? Yes, & also the most reviled. After sinking more than 500 hours into the game, promoting it endlessly on social networking, rising through the ranks to prestige the maximum number times (10) & winning Gold in the clan wars, I logged in one morning to find all of my stats reset due to malicious reporting. Contacting Activision support was an exercise in futility, as there is no appeals process when it comes to online bans/punishments, nor can you even see why you were reported. To lose all of that time was a crushing demoraliser & led to eventually abandoning the game with 2 season-pass map packs still in the pipe. Disappointing, but a good reminder of who’s really in charge of these kinds of videogames (spoiler: it’s the publisher).

Titanfall

Here’s a good example of drinking so much of the pre-hype Kool-Aid that it blinded. The excitement surrounding this game’s launch was palpable, so much so that I pre-ordered it & even convinced a friend to do the same. Then launch day came. The servers didn’t work. Then they did & the lag was intolerable. Then the lag went away & the game was imbalanced to the point of not being fun. What had looked great on paper was a disaster on execution. I still played it through to first prestige, but the gunplay was so loose (very much unlike Ghosts) & the overall system so boring that I quickly abandoned it. Recently revisited it to check out the DLC that was paid for but never played, & found the servers all but dead, even worse than the Ghosts ones. Perhaps Titanfall II will be a huge improvement, but that’s one I won’t be buying until it’s on sale at a deep discount, if at all. Seriously. How do you screw up giant robots?

Wasteland 2

This is totally an unfair addition to this list, as I didn’t beat it, but it was certainly a huge let-down in 2014 & another reminder of the pitfalls of crowd-funded videogames. Sure, it was coming from a world-renowned developer. Sure, it was reviving a much-loved franchise. The Kickstarter campaign was a smashing success & jump-started a whole new development studio under Brian Fargo. A lot of good thing came out of all that, it’s just a shame that the actual game wasn’t one of them. After an extensive “early-access campaign” (in addition to the paid alpha/beta time from backers) the game launched with crippling bugs & imbalances. The very 1st critical player choice in the game kicked me to desktop. The game itself was an unoptimized mess. Perhaps it’s been fixed since: their Facebook page seemed to announce several gigabytes worth of patches every few weeks, but I got tired of making the same “is this the 1.0 patch?” joke so I unfollowed them. I’ll revisit the game if I ever had time, but I think I might be content with letting my memories of the original Wasteland stand as the “ultimate version” of that particular vision.

Now just don’t screw up with Torment, okay Brian?


The games above were worth my time & money, & might be worth yours too if you haven’t already checked them out.

Hey! Also! Let’s connect on Steam, UPlay, Facebook, Origin (DarkAcreJack), PSN (the_jack1975), XBL (Dark Acre Jack), & SnapChat (darkacrejack)! Especially that SnapChat one, I’m actually posting dev stuff to that from time to time.

Okay you, be safe in 2015 but take a few risks every now & then, & if you have to tear up the pavement & revolt then take the advice of Nike & “Just Do It”.

Thanks for reading.


You can always just turn the machines off.

Month 51 Report

Dark Acre Dreaming

Things Learned While Humping Boxes

Near the end of this year I took a job outside of the Acre for numerous reasons. In addition to those:

  • To prove that it was possible to go through the whole “getting hired” thing.
  • To be reminded of the value of independent creative freedom.

The psychological burden of having a job and obligations external to creative development is real. While the time spent in the UPS truck was enjoyable, the lack of total freedom that came with it was not so great. When the work got slow enough to think I found myself back in the classrooms of Berlitz, where I first dreamed of having my own full-time personal creative space. It was a very important wake-up call.

Also: mad respect to all the creative folks who’ve managed to produce great works while holding down other full- or part-time jobs. It really adds a significant difficulty factor to the equation.

The net result of working for “the man” for a month (aside from the drinking money) has been a renewed vigor for game development and writing. At this time it’s difficult to say how long the effect will last, but the first quarter of 2015 feels very promising from where I’m standing.

As always the basic goals remain the same: produce books and videogames of high quality that are worth your time and money.

Thank you very much for your continued support and interest, and happy holidays from the Dark Acre. May all your new year’s wishes come true!

Month 50 Report

Darkade Cabinet

No development snapshot this month. Good thing there’s no backers, eh?

For those Friends on Facebook who may have been confused, dismayed, amused, or otherwise confounded by the announcement of the UPS job, let’s clarify:

  • Working in isolation for 4+ years does interesting & potentially toxic things to the mind.
  • Living in a town for a year without really getting to know it starts to grate.
  • Sometimes it’s important to be reminded of why independence rules.

Was surfing Facebook one October afternoon, looking for inspiration or just distraction, & a job offer popped up. It sounded cushy: seasonal, part-time, low responsibility.

An application was made & forgotten about. Then the call came, & an interview & orientation later there was a foot in the door at the largest commercial package delivery service in the world.

A few observations after a week of structured shift work:

  • People are interesting. It’s not enough to read about them on the Internet, & direct interface in meatspace helps overall spiritual health, if that’s a thing that matters.
  • Policy-based organizations are fantastic. Protection from harassment is a privilege that exists almost everywhere except the Internet, & it’s good to be reminded of this.
  • The gift of a completely open schedule can only be fully appreciated when it’s impinged upon. Having to be anywhere at a specific time sucks.
  • Weekends are amazing.

There’s still plenty of funds in the Dark Acre warchest, no fear of dissolution any time soon, so put those fears to rest. This career in digital publishing is the result of almost a decade of careful planning & hard work, it’s not about to get abandoned any time soon.

One negative effect of the “official” job has been a marked reduction in overall productivity on the publishing & development work. Though the job is only 4 hours a day, 5 days a week it happens first thing in the morning & more or less destroys the remainder of the day. The weekend becomes a battle between using the free time for creating & resting, in order to remain functional for the coming work week.

It also seems that this year’s attempt at NaNoWriMo is failing. It’s unlikely that the burgeoning Solarus interlude novel will be drafted by the end of the month, certainly not within the purview of the event. Apologies to anyone who was following along, & much love & thanks to those who openly supported the effort. If you’re nearing the end of your own NaNoWriMo draft, best of luck & congratulations.

The UPS work will end on December 24th, so barring getting bitten by a rabid dog or rolled over by a package van the regular production on the Acre will resume after XMAS. Either way, see you in a month.


If you love survival horror videogames that challenge convention, you could do much worse than This War of Mine.

How to Win the Independent Games Festival (IGF)

IGF_Banner

The following is just, like, my opinion, okay? I’m not part of the IGF in any official capacity beyond acting as an unpaid judge, a position I volunteered for & you can too (maybe).

Listen, if you’re going to enter a contest it’s very important to first know what the rules are. Even more important than that is knowing how the contest is going to be judged, for in that knowledge lies the clues on how to win.

I’ve served as 1st-round judge in this and last year’s IGF. This means I’ve sifted through hundreds of potential McNally Grand Prize winners and made my recommendations based on my own personal biases when it comes to gaming and game design. After I and 100+ other sets of eyeballs have made their nomination a smaller panel of judges decides who wins what. This is how the IGF works. Check the IGF site for a full clarification on the judging process.

The IGF is far from perfect, like most everything in life. There are numerous alternatives and a free market for establishing new ones. But if you’ve got your heart set on winning one of the IGF prizes, then here’s a short list of tips to help in that endeavor:

  1. Your game must be basically comprehensible within 5 minutes.
  2. Not only is this a great rule of thumb for any creative effort, but it’s especially important for the IGF as the first round of judging is left to 100+ volunteers who may or may not have the time to gain a deep understanding of what you’re selling.

    Note that I said basically comprehensible. Your game could (and many would argue should) have deep mechanics, secrets, and Easter eggs that go beyond the first blush. But if you can’t hook the player in the opening gambit then all of that extra stuff is made in vain.

  3. Your game’s summary info must be attractive.
  4. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder! Yes, of course it is, but if your attraction materials, such as screenshots and synopsis text, are not immediately interesting there’s a very good chance your entry will be passed over for something that is.

    So how do you go about making your materials attractive? Beyond taking a beginner’s course in marketing you can look through the games on Steam using its various layers of interaction. Start with the front page and figure out what catches your eye. Go through the list of top sellers and see how the thumbnails are composed, then hover over the image and check how they sell the game concept in the pitch paragraph.

    Yes, it sucks that such a superficial quantifier can make or break your game’s chances of winning a prize, but this is the nature of the contest. On the plus side, the sooner you embrace the marketing side of game development the better of an overall producer you become.

  5. Your game must be accessible.
  6. No tutorial? No tooltips? Relying on the cleverer players to simply “get” your game? Congratulations, you’ve just eliminated a large number of the players out there from achieving engagement. These days the way you introduce your players to your game’s mechanisms is paramount. Once, a long time ago in another reality, players would actually sit down and read copious documentation to understand how their videogames worked. We still will for boardgames, so why not for videogames? Because a generation of developers got wise and realized they could make accessibility part of the game itself.

    Yes, making tutorials and preparing a game for less ludocentric minds is extra work, but it’s acknowledged as part of the overall polish. In addition to teaching the player the game’s systems the game itself should be playable by a wide range of setups. Is your game only available on some obscure hardware that a player needs to go on an actual quest for before playing? Good luck getting eyes on it.

    Other areas to consider: resolution, controllers, color blindness, and various socio-political norms.

  7. Your game must be (mostly) playable.

This should go without saying, but the IGF has become a place where unfinished concept entries are competing side-by-side with polished near AAA-level product. The less polish that’s apparent on your darling the more obvious it becomes as judges work their ways through the entries. I’m not saying don’t take a chance that someone will recognize your unbridled genius in what amounts to the sketch of a final videogame, just don’t be surprised when it gets passed over for more fleshed out examples.


Hopefully that gives a little insight into what’s needed to get attention in a contest like the IGF. What you may notice is that it’s a microcosm of what it takes to actually sell a videogame into the larger market. Always bear in mind that entry into the IGF is 100% voluntary on the side of the competitors, and they accept the rules and conditions of the contest by making an entry.

Institutions and organizations only ever have as much power as we’ve chosen to give them.

Month 49 Report

It’s time to start talking about development. Let’s keep it short, simple, & heavy on the pictures.

DEVELOPMENT SNAPSHOT

Click for full-sized image.

The white/greybox is part of the prototype stage of videogame development. It allows for collision and scripting tests, scaling of objects, and other visual tuning like shading and lighting. In artistic terms it’s known as “blocking out” and provides a foundation for future levels of detail. The overall game system should work at this level of fidelity before enhancing objects or adding sound design.

The image above represents 4 months of planning and 2 months of production (solo, full-time, all assets from scratch).


FROM MESH TO MAPPED

Click to see full-sized.

This image illustrates the steps & costs involved in the current art pipeline.

It’s a 1-time fixed cost ($6563 USD) to produce physically-based rendering assets for the current project. The Child uses Alloy for shading in Unity, as there are no plans to update to Unity v.5.

As a solo developer relying on self-instruction it’s taken roughly 36 months to put this pipeline together & get it to the point where it’s fast and produces assets of acceptable quality.

There’s still room for improvement in regards to animation output, but it will still be months or upwards of a year before that really matters.


HOW TO SURVIVE

Months of anonymous assault on certain high-profile individuals seem to be trying to teach us an important lesson: put the work before the ego.

Why do people feel it’s so critical to put their personal lives in front of their work? Particularly in a field like ours, that of digital authorship, where we can remain anonymous ourselves, shielded by pen names and aliases forever while still disseminating our work with the exact same reach of those who choose to reveal themselves?

I’m not innocent in this regard, after all I spent the first few years of my independent career feeling insecure and underloved as I tried to push my persona alongside my work. But now it looks like it’s in my best interests to fade back into the shadows and let the work speak for itself. And shouldn’t that be the way it is?

It’s a good practice to take a long look at the behavior of anyone victimized by a random internet hate mob. Take a good look at how much gasoline they pour on the fires at their own feet. I guarantee (providing the victims haven’t gone to great lengths to cleanse their contributions from their timelines) you’ll find that they’re the ones most antagonizing the mobs and whipping them into frenzies. No one is really innocent in these exchanges, yet it always seems to start with an artist putting their ego before the art, rather than allowing the work to speak for itself.

It’s unfortunate that people have had to get hurt for this realization to come about, but now that it’s clear it’s going to be very hard to feel sympathetic for anyone who comes forward with a “me first, my politics, my agendas, look at who I am” approach rather than a “here is the art, here is the message, make up your own mind”.

Game developers are not rock stars or stage performers. Who we are is irrelevant to the presentation of our work. Perhaps there’s a case made for motivating others by setting a good example, but doesn’t it follow that setting one untainted by racial, sexual, or other politics is purer?

An artist who chooses to pursue personal fame has to learn to avoid antagonizing any mobs that might form. It’s important to step back and think critically by looking at the lives of the celebrities who’ve come before, and how they’ve dealt with the masses. It’s more important to really question why it’s so important that a name, face, and political agendas are attached to the work. Inevitably the answer to that question is ego, hubris, and pride, and those qualities are far more toxic and self-destructive than any death threat.

Until the Internet is stripped of its anonymous functionality we will forever be outgunned when agitating the public. The only way to “win” a war of hateful attrition is to not participate. Make it about the art, not the artist. Artists come and go, we are only mortal after all, but our creations have the potential for immortality. The only people standing in the way of that are ourselves.


JUST WRITE

Unsurprisingly, 6 months of sustained and daily practice produces solid results. I’ll be participating in this year’s National Novel Writer’s Month. If you’re doing the same feel free to connect and best of luck.

See you in 30 days for the 50th monthly update! Thanks for following, your patience is appreciated.


You do it to yourself, you do. And that’s why it really hurts.

GAME DEVELOPMENT AS EXORCISM

It Compels You

“Do what you love” is a ridiculous epithet when it comes to solo game development. There will be many, many long months of doing things you absolutely hate in order to produce something you can love. Game development as a journey of self-discovery is a horrible nightmare that feels like it will never end. It is far better to treat it as a penance that must be paid in order to find redemption.

When I was a kid I took a lot of drugs. What I was really doing was self-medicating in search of certain realities of self that were slowly revealed to me through reckless experimentation and introspective observation. When I came out the other side, changed though I was, I believed I’d learned the lessons I’d needed to learn. For a good number of years it seemed I had, then I found myself possessed with a wild desire to produce videogames.

Now, 5 years deep in the actual art of game development I realize that I’m still self-medicating, only this time my drug is in the punishing form of self-inflicted software bugs and artistic concepts that refuse to realize themselves because I lack the skill or the technology. Whether this is karma, or I’m still digging a hole into my heart to find out what really lies beneath, I can say that it’s just as painful as waking up after a drug overdose used to be.

Don’t do what you love. Do whatever’s necessary to exorcise the unfathomable horror of being and get back into the business of living free.

Dark Acre Year Three Report

The Dead Year

THE DARK JACK

Check out the Year Zero, Year One, & Year Two reports.

Major Events from Year Three

  • October: Suffered a devastating emotional break-up.
  • August: Recovered.

Detailed chronicles of Year Three 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): $974.40/$74.95↓ ($1,454.00/$121.17)
  • Billings (@$20/hour): $25,839.59/$1,989.51↓ ($25,935/$2,030)
  • Delivery (postage): $0.00/$0.00↓ (291.21/$24.27)
  • Donations (made to charities/NPOs): $89.12/$6.86↓ ($228.58/$19.05)
  • Entertainment (business meals and events): $251.43/$19.34↓ ($317.09/$24.52)
  • Hardware: $2,102.19/$161.71↑ ($1475.53/$120.02)
  • Marketing (press releases/advertisement): $138.20/$10.63↓ ($219.44/$13.83)
  • Memberships: $138.20/$10.63↑ ($70.99/$5.92)
  • Phone (business land-line): $209.67/$16.13↓ ($242.20/$18.93)
  • Rent (percentage for home office): $618.52/$47.58↓ ($1,227.25/$98.58)
  • Research (“competitors” games): $1,579.65/$121.51↓ ($1,992.70/$161.35)
  • Software (development applications): $1,134.24/$87.25↑ ($733.57/$61.13)
  • Training (DVDs/seminars): $171.06/$13.16↓ ($195.29/$15.86)
  • Utilities (electric): $240.00/$20.00 ($240.00/$20.00)
  • Food: $1,550/$129.00↓ ($1,550/$129.00)
  • Rent (actual): $7,140/$595.00↓ ($10,656/$888.00)
  • Total Cost Minus Billings: -$22,157.53↓ ($19,426)

Year Three was a big earner (theoretical) despite lack of new output, and the move from a big city to a rural community cut overall costs in half. Sales of existing products were predictably low due to lack of any serious marketing efforts. This is all in line with the original ’06 business plan projections.

Considering that I did almost no work for the entire year, this was a pretty good paid vacation.

As with the end of Y2 I still find myself in dire need of publishing something worthy of a serious marketing push. This is a “pre-hit” condition for any independent creative, so it’s not a source of discouragement so much as a fact of life.

Results

Primary Game Projects:

  • Project Zero Zero: Development ongoing. Undisclosed systems prototyping.
  • Project Zero Five: Development ongoing.
  • Project Zero Eight: Research ongoing.
  • Project Zero Nine: ???

Year Three has been the worst year for new commercial output with zero completed projects.


What Went Right

1. Played All the Videogames

I couldn’t have possibly taken a better vacation from reality than I did, at least from the perspective of being a videogame developer. Immersed in both Call of Duty and World of Warcraft I dedicated thousands of hours to understanding the appeals of two of the biggest commercially successful videogames in history, and had a lot of relaxing fun doing it.

2. Continued to Not Read Twitter

Apparently there’s been some very serious problems with certain egos on Twitter. I only found out about it when it managed to gain some exposure in real (read: non-gaming/blog) news publications, so I went out and checked some of the social network timelines of the major players. After spending a few hours sifting through various threads and links, I realized that the only place the war was raging was in those tabs of my web browser, so I closed them. It’s horrible, certainly, if people were attacked in real life, but the whole thing seemed pretty ridiculous on all sides. From an objective viewpoint it looked just like a bunch of egos clashing and tossing gasoline on each other’s fires.

My takeaway was a deeper interrogation as to why self-promotion of any individual ego matters at all in game development. Isn’t the message or product more important than who made it? And if an individual opens themself up to the anonymous firehose of hatred that the Internet provides, shouldn’t they expect to get blasted? Why attach your sexuality, politics, or face to an endeavor? Who cares? It makes no sense to me.

I saw timelines of developers filled with hours and hours of engaging with anonymous burner accounts and wondered what drove them to do so. Isn’t it just like trying to stem the incoming tide with walls of sand? Ultimately futile and a massive waste of time? I’m just glad I had the wherewithal to disengage from that tarbaby ages ago.

As said last year, “taking Twitter seriously is a high road to hell”, and this still seems to ring true.


What Went Wrong

1. Didn’t Work

I’ve only recently recovered the vestiges of my work ethic that was blown to bits at the start of last year. It’s coming together nicely with several hundred words written per day, both fictional and game development-related. The amount of time spent with 3DS Max and other visual asset pipeline tools is paying huge dividends, and the overall quality of production on Child rises daily. Whether this level or productivity could’ve been reached without taking almost an entire year off will never be known. I don’t regret not working, but at some level it’s hard to completely ignore the time lost.


Year Four

HIDDEN AGENDA

This is the year of Child. It may not be released within the next 12 months, but there will be no production distractions whatsoever. A playable version will be available to first-run testers before the year is out. That’s all I’m willing to say on the matter, so if you’re interested in receiving production updates if and when they happen, watch the usual channels.


Once again you have my deepest gratitude for following along this journey of solo independent creative development. With so much positive happening in the first couple of years a down year was inevitable, and here’s hoping the momentum gained will carry the production to fantastic new heights.

Here’s to another year of tilling the hard soil of the Dark Acre.


Never give up. Never surrender. Unless of course you run out of food. Then maybe re-think the strategies.

Month 47 Report

FALLING

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.

The Happy Pill

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.

Today

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 Child: Episodes - "Mug Cup"

Tomorrow

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!

HARD SURFACES

After more than half a year in documents & spreadsheets I figured it was time to see if I still remembered how to use Autodesk 3DS Max. Using a primitive collection for visual reference I constructed, UV’d, & rendered these parts over the course of a too-hot afternoon.

Simple open nut, unthreaded.

Simple open nut, unthreaded.

Castle tower tops or tactical flashlight edges.

Castle tower tops or tactical flashlight edges.

Basic insets at angles.

Basic insets at angles.

Tileable.

Tileable.

For such a simple form this one was a pain in the ass to harden up.

For such a simple form this one was a pain in the ass to harden up.

Looks basic but requires a fair amount of fiddling to get it to smooth correctly.

Looks basic but requires a fair amount of fiddling to get it to smooth correctly.

Basic technique.

Basic technique.

Removal of parts of loops & extrusion make these forms a breeze.

Removal of parts of loops & extrusion make these forms a breeze.

The most straightforward of the practice forms, basic inset & negative extrude with hardening loops.

The most straightforward of the practice forms, basic inset & negative extrude with hardening loops.

Getting a singular welded form from was tricky, but the result is worth it.

Getting a singular welded form from was tricky, but the result is worth it.

Sort of a combination of the techniques from the other exercises, fitting the bottom cylinder to the nut form was the hardest part for me.

Sort of a combination of the techniques from the other exercises, fitting the bottom cylinder to the nut form was the hardest part for me.

Reasonably simple to construct, pain in the ass to UV.

Reasonably simple to construct, pain in the ass to UV.

I think going harder on the flat sides of the cylinder would produce a better look overall.

I think going harder on the flat sides of the cylinder would produce a better look overall.


Checking on the blog I see I managed to miss an update. Progress on the Child has been slow, but steady. There’s been little writing done, aside from daily entries into this thing. I’ve been spending a lot of time on the road & in the gym, & I feel the return to good physical form starting to nudge the creative energy back into gear. Whether or not it will be sustainable remains to be seen.

Thanks for checking in.


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