Breaking the Cycle

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Crazy! Impossible! Blasphemous!

My last blog update was in December 2012. A lot of stuff has happened since then- we got a new puppy, I worked on games, we formed a company... The usual stuff.

Let me get to the point, though. We're doing exciting stuff, but I'm still working on Star Reaction. Over the roughly 2-year development time, SR has turned into a really decent game. We made terrible decisions at first, and it took a long time to undo them and get the game on the right track. I mean, it was our first project. Our first time working together. Our first time designing a game. Of course we're going to make mistakes- who wouldn't, their first time? We were so damn naive that we seriously thought we were going to do a Kickstarter for Star Reaction. Looking back, this is laughably ridiculous. Who's going to pledge money towards a matching game? At least now we can be proud enough of the game to be able to look back on it and laugh like that. It's been a learning experience like no other, and I'm proud to be a part of it. I don't even care if it isn't a financial success- it's going to be our first completed project, and that's enough for me.

But hang on. What am I doing? The game's been "almost done" for almost a year! I made deadlines only to miss them.

Summer 2012. Two of our members didn't pan out. We missed it.

Christmas 2013. The game wasn't fun. We missed it in favor of redesigning the game to make it fun.

May 2014. The game was fun, but wasn't done. We missed it and I'm currently working on finishing it.

The current deadline is "Summer 2014." We're making this one. The game is almost done, and I'm proud of it. I'm proud of me. But I'm not proud of how damn slow I'm going.

This is because of the "Cycle."

I'm not blaming my slowness on some external factor- rather, the Cycle is merely a phenomenon I exhibit. I'm not alone. The Cycle gets every indie game developer. Just search for "indie cycle", or "indie spiral", or even "indie shame spiral", and you'll find tons of people online searching for answers to the same problem. The Cycle.

What is the Cycle?
The worst thing that can ever happen to an indie game developer. Or any developer. Or anybody! It could happen in any discipline- it just seems that we indie developers exhibit it more often, because we work on so many projects. And that's really the problem- too many projects. I'm going to be honest with you:

I've never completed a game.

Amazing, isn't it? I have 30+ half-started, half-baked, half-finished games that I've amassed over the years, ever since I started tinkering with Flash in high school. Some are fun little games, others are buggy prototypes that I'd be ashamed to call my own. A couple show promise, and are fun to play. But I never finished them. I worked on them until a better idea came along, and then I started working on that. Rinse and repeat. And here we are today. I'm not alone in this- to complete a game, you put it online. You submit this thing you made to the world. It has to be good. It has to be perfect. It never is, and so it's never done.

When people ask me what I do, I say "Oh, I make games."
They say "Cool, what games have you made?"
What do you say? Pardon my French, but it's depressing as fuck. This conversation occurs all the time.

So back to Star Reaction. I HAVE to finish this game. I'm FORCING myself to finish this game. It's a new experience, and it's working- Star Reaction is almost done! Summer 2014! But why isn't it out now?
Blame the Cycle. Blame ME.

So picture this: I'm working on Star Reaction, right? Everything's going great. Game's progressing. Awesome! But then another idea comes along, for a new, interesting game. In the past, I'd have dropped Star Reaction to go work on it, the new fresh idea bringing fun and challenge, kicking the old game out the door and into a forgotten folder on my hard drive. But I can't. I have an obligation to my company, to my teammates, to my friends. I HAVE to finish this game. So I try. I push myself to work on this game, knowing that I COULD be working on this other, cooler, better game. Eventually, I burn out, and have to do something else. I mean, I can't work on SR 24/7! So I work on one of these other ideas.

What's the problem?

You feel GUILTY.

That's right. You feel guilty for taking a "break" and working on something new and exciting. Something that, by all rights, should be fun and awesome and amazing. Who knows- maybe this new game will be the one that gets on Steam and sells a million copies! Right?
But it makes you feel guilty. You can't give your all, knowing that you're skirting that obligation to Star Reaction. It's maddening. You can't give your all on Star Reaction because you're bored with it, and you can't give your all on other games because they're not Star Reaction. See what I mean?

How do you escape?

Let's break the cycle.

Use tricks. Use progress reports. Use goals. Use straight-up willpower. Know when you're procrastinating, and stop it.

I deliver weekly progress reports to my team, and it really helps a lot. Now I feel like if I don't get enough work on Star Reaction done every week, then I'm letting my team down! Gotta get enough done for a real big progress report!

I set goals. I tell my team "This week, all the Classic Mode levels will be done." And then I force myself to do it, because if I don't, I'm going back on my word. And I did it- Classic Mode is done!

This week, I told my team "Deluxe Mode will be done in the next update." And I intend to make good on it. The update is today. I intend to break the cycle... AND I'm going to work on other games, too.

Working on something new and exciting is nothing to be ashamed of.

It's a great and wonderful thing, and that's the second half of this lesson. You don't have to feel guilty. Everyone needs breaks, especially when the project is this long. But giving your main project, your obligations, and your team 100% is just as important. Finding a way to do that is what I learned during Star Reaction, and it's probably the most important lesson I've learned. I'm not alone in this- I hope other game devs can find a similar path that works for them. It's a mindset thing. It's a willpower thing.

I'm finishing a game.

I'm breaking the Cycle.


And yes, this means there

And yes, this means there will be more frequent blog updates. I'm looking forward to writing a sequel to "Toolin' around", and I plan to write more about the release process of Star Reaction... as well as future projects!