07 Sep 19

Peeling back the layers

I read this tweet + replies by Andy Schatz and immediately identified with almost everything it said.

Having to deal with a team splitting up and going their own way?
Yup: The Desktop Dungeons team stopped being a thing in 2015. We tried to be “QCF” and make more games together, but we couldn’t find a project we all wanted to work on, or even a creative rhythm. Some are still friends, some I haven’t spoken to in years. Most still work in games and a few have gone on to be really successful. It’s a hard thing to realise you probably won’t make anything more with a group of people you saw every day.

Having a child and finding out just how fragile your concentration actually is?
Yeah: Not only is it this hugely sobering, bone-deep knowledge that this tiny person is going to depend on your for everything so you’d better get your shit together, it’s also just a straight up fuck you to the idea of how you used to work. Or sleep. I still don’t feel like I can work anywhere near as well or as focused as I used to, and my child is 2 now.

Needing to re-focus to afford renovations and kids and life?
Yes. I mean, I know I’m lucky to have something like Desktop Dungeons and I’m grateful for how lucky we got with the game, but it wasn’t paying the bills anymore, I had to stop living in a decaying hovel and I honestly wasn’t sure what the hell I was going to do after the baby arrived. So I hustled, sold a prototype to Humble (thanks John!), did a lot of soul searching and joined Spry Fox. Which wasn’t really a hard decision, I didn’t want to manage a team again at that point and I knew quite a few Foxes already, so becoming one myself and not having to worry about salaries and just dive into code every day and have time to figure out how to be a dad? Very worth it, but also very not what QCF and my career had been so far.

Edit: This isn’t an announcement of me leaving QCF or ending support for Desktop Dungeons – I’ve been at Spry Fox for over a year and a half now and it’s been great! (We just launched Steambirds, which you should play) I’m still maintaining things in my spare time and slowly working on my own projects on the side, apologies if I didn’t communicate that very well.

Still having to support what got you this far?
I’m the only person who maintains Desktop Dungeons. The long tail sales are pretty flat, I suspect a smarter studio would have stopped paying revenue shares a while back and just sort of put everything aside. I can’t, I love the game too much and the idea of it still finding players is still rewarding. I’m not sure how to deal with the MacOS 64bit thing though, I’ve already handled numerous iOS and Android headaches and this one might be impossible without a huge update to a new Unity version (at the very least). I check 2 forums, a discord, google alerts and our various email addresses every week, still. Support takes it out of you.

And finally, that feeling of scratching away at a game idea that you know has something cool, but you just can’t find it…
Oh how I relate. The thing I sold to Humble, my current side project, Drawkanoid, has existed since 2006 when it was the game that was supposed to let me go indie after a stint working on a PSP game at South Africa’s only console studio. It didn’t, obviously, and I kept working on it between client jobs and it just… Always sucked? But sucked in ways that I felt I could fix!

Drawkanoid was sort of this white whale of a game concept that I’d iterated on in my head a million times. I couldn’t communicate it to anyone else because my thinking about it was so convoluted, we tried to work on it as QCF after Desktop Dungeons shipped, but that proved impossible. Eventually I was at an 8hr game jam with no good ideas and I figured why not try the biggest impact things I’d last written down for Drawkanoid. The first two were the special kind of bad that Drawkanoid is very good at producing, which I was used to, but this time-slowing super-fast ball idea felt good. Okay, it worked at the jam but Drawkanoid ideas never really work out with players, so I was floored when I showed it to John from Humble in a corridor at GDC and he liked it? Enough to offer to pay for it to become more than a prototype?

Drawkanoid is it’s own game now, it’s nearly finished, but I still don’t really trust it because of how it always felt like it wasn’t good enough. It’s won awards and been the second game that’s taken me all over the world, but it still feels like it could be better? I’m very glad it’s a side project, if it had to sustain me and QCF, I would have abandoned it again. But now that the pressure is off of it, I get to sort of play with the thing a little, even though I don’t trust that it’ll do well. I would never, ever have worked on Drawkanoid with my own future on the line.

So I don’t really know how to handle a game idea that won’t leave you alone but won’t surrender its own fun easily. I do know that the pressure to produce and succeed and EARN made everything ten times as hard, being able to put it away until someone else REALLY wanted it was the best thing by far. I’m starting to feel like projects drag you through them despite what you want to do, that you need to find things with that sort of inexorable momentum, that keep coming back even when you stop working on them. Desktop Dungeons was a non-stop version of that, even though it didn’t feel like it at the time, Drawkanoid is a slow pull. I wonder how many other different ways that kind of momentum can exist, but it’s unmistakable once it takes hold.

P.S. You should play Spry Fox’s Steambirds! Join other birds to dogfight cats in the sky!

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