I think I normally make blogs with some sort of useful utility, but this one is a little more personal.
In about mid November, on a cold day, I was drawn again to the use of ⬛⬛⬛⬛, which has always been sort of unexplainable decision for rare Sunday mornings – a need for realignment and introspection. On a sunlit window, laid looking up at the European Ash on a warm ottoman, I gently came up watching the branches twist and sharpen, reaching up at the sky in content stability, waiting out the winter.
After that, I guess I had a pretty normal start, listening to prog and contemplating aesthetic decisions, until a dull hollow welled up in me, and I found myself scrawling sad looking eyes on a notepad by a window in my loft. It was heavy, weighing me down, and eventually the pencil stopped and I laid almost dead with depression, trying to understand it.
⬛⬛⬛⬛have their way of bringing different parts of yourself to light. While I know that I’m generally dissatisfied with my living, I just, felt it, like standing before the ocean with it all plain to see. They said pay attention: I don’t want to work 4 days a week for someone else. I don’t spend my free time as well as I would like. And this I know, and can’t change for now. But I also want to do more game art, and I feel kinda stuck. I feel swamped by this project, working on stuff I just have to get out of the way, and I don’t know what I have show for it.
I don’t feel like I’m even making a video game.
I mean, Wait. I’m actually, not… making a video game?
I’m not making a video game.
Let me first say that all experience is a matter of perspective. The fleeting sensations of animals to the world around them in their first-person perspective is *true*, but we (humans) often get distracted from our own perspectives, for the whirling gift of consciousness giving us a world in our heads. We hear about someone else’s experience and imagine for a second a bit of their perspective, and we cobble together details into a story that makes sense about the world. We may often mistake our stories about people and other countries for reality.
Obviously, art is about putting perspective to reality. You can do it with a fixed and rendered frame or via camera cuts in movies, showing different faces and objects in sequence to tell a story. And I realized a problem I had; I was making a game without the right perspective. Maybe without any perspective, save for the ones in my imagination.
I like having a large perspective on stuff, a holistic one, and I wanted to make a game that paid true attention to systemic workings, to emergent patterns and many autonomous agents. I guess I just spent three years trying to bring that world to life, but I did it from a bird’s-eye view. In my mind, I saw the world as it would be, and looking down from the sky in the editor, fashioned it to be so, creating a forest, little agents to cut down the trees, and their horrific behaviors of drilling pipelines and factories across newly-barren landscapes. It was gonna be stark, something worth killing, cathartic even, once It was duct-taped together enough, I could let a player loose in seeking out weak points and eventually snowball into tearing it all down.
The problem with this – it’s not that it’s a bad idea, or a bad way to go about it. I did have a perspective in mind, but I hadn’t built it yet. But that’s not quite it.
I don’t feel bad for having a dream, but there was stuff mixing around inside of me that I was ignoring. Under the winter sunlight, I looked at my hands, then got up and looked at my project. There was nothing to do (yet). Nothing was really working (yet). And most terribly, it had already been 3 years.
I guess it’s the 3 years.
Long-term pursuit is great. Berserk is great and I think frequently about the late Kentaro Miura putting his life into that work, how young he felt as an artist even at the chapter that he died on, reaching for something beyond a human lifespan.
But mangaka live chapter-by-chapter, panel-by-panel. When would I really start making the good stuff in this game, that I wasn’t sheepishly describing to colleagues as “foundation work”? When would I carve the meandering streams, give vitality to the sensations of ripping apart steel and flourishing it with metaphorical aesthetic touches? When would I be done with this game? Like, when I’m 28? 30?. And that scared me a lot.
I could really reduce this problem: I over-scoped. Haha. The game developer made more work than they could accomplish! Old story. But I guess the fulcrum of this trip was a bitter, epiphany-like dawning realization that I had really been fooling myself. I felt embarrassed. I told people I was making a video game and all I was really doing was… making, like, a big island with little guys moving across it? Making a big room with nothing to do. Something I actually wasn’t going to finish.
It was taking months of my very limited week-hours to produce ones sick-looking mech that could do stuff. Shouldn’t something that takes that long be the most important thing in the game?
I just can’t get it all straight in words. I like old forests. It’s a banger game idea. But I just, don’t want to make a game that big – and that’s the key. I want to make games about places that aren’t across the continent from me. I don’t want to put that much of my life into one thing, even if it’s great.
It’s a weird discovery to have about yourself, and it’s really specific. I don’t want to be the life’s work guy. Even if it’s just 6-10 years and not my life. But the summer I spent making tree assets and little plants and lighting on a test map was the most fun I had on the project in the entire 3 years. It made something tangible and beautiful, that literally brought me to tears looking at during the trip. Just walking around it and talking to a character would be a game I’d be so fucking proud of, and then I could make another place with another story.
So in that hour, Disharmony died.
Just the day before, I had been working on it like I was going to until I was 30, and the day after it was over. And it didn’t die like the code broke, it’s that Disharmony was an idea and not a thing and it died in me.
I mourned for it – I’m still mourning for it – and even though I did and still have an idea of what I want to make in its ashes, I’m still processing this, circular logic. This bitter pill that I could have done it but didn’t want to, that I didn’t know I didn’t want to.
What died was me. A function of me. The part that becomes blind to dazzling dreams and pursues them to unknowable ends. I don’t even think that’s a good thing, per se – and it’s beautiful and productive when I see other people do it. Social media is filled with people calling grey boxes and Quixel assets much grander things than they are, and some of those will turn into great stuff. But I can’t do it anymore.
It was making me sad.
So I guess what I’m saying is this: I had a perspective shift. Following a grand vision is tiresome, and frustrating. I like AI programming, but actually doing it for a long time doesn’t feel fulfilling. It doesn’t feel fulfilling to me. I like making little plants and little flourishes, but not too many, and not overly-detailed like popular Artstation models. I like making *just enough* and putting it there, then adding another element.
I want to live on the tips of my fingertips like this. I want to follow vague hunches, render a stand of trees with more hidden color than anyone else and less detail than a perfectionist, and then move on too soon and add something else. I want to make characters where I’ve been too intimidated and busy to try before. I want to take all my written ideas and characters and facial expressions and lonely lines and get them out without grand an innovative structures (unless I can buy a plugin or convince someone else to do them).
I want the perspective of the drawing line, always moving one moment at a time – leaving a trail behind a single momentary trajectory. Always working with what I can see with my human eyes, not projecting something else on top of it while I’m working.
I think that’s how I can make games as a solo developer. That’s how I can tinker and make vital and colorful stuff.
The trees? Keeping those. Gonna have a character betwixt them. Self-dialogue and pensive mechanics. I’ll make them all one moment at a time and see where it leads me. I doubt I’ll use any of the AI work I’ve done in the past 3 years, but that’s just kinda how it goes.
After two months of idle mourning and another good vacation to the old forests, I’ve picked myself up a little bit.
I can see clearly now, with my own eyes, and I follow what my hands and heart want to do. It’s positive, and refreshing. I feel like I’m making more, and I’m happy.
This is something I could do forever.