Stalls, Inertia and Progress

I’ve followed a ridiculous amount of indie and small developer projects over the last couple years and watched them just peter out and vanish into the ether.  Hell, I’ve started quite a few that have gone the same way.. unfinished paintings, games, websites, etc.  So why does this keep happening?  What can we do about it?

Well.. It seems to be all about preventing Stalls and building Inertia to make manageable Progress.

Stalls

By ‘Stalls’ I mean it literally like a plane..  Sometimes projects get caught up on a glitch, bug or feature that is unexpectedly problematic or simply a massive chore to complete.  Then the motivation to work on it stops being fun and an awful lot like work.  That’s not a problem if it’s your day job, you can button down and just work through it, but for the indie developer who is doing this in their spare time, once development stalls everything else starts looking more and more interesting and exciting. The longer the project remains stalled the stronger the chance is that the project is going to crash and burn.

So here’s a couple thoughts on recovering from when your project seems to be stalling and the enthusiasm is waning that seem to be working for me.

  • in my task list, I keep several parallel development tracks.  So if UI development gets bogged down, I can simply just get it to a basically compiling state and hop over and work on something else in the project, like art assets , AI or path-finding.
  • but sometimes you just get sick of the whole project.   If you’re like me, you keep running across things/tech you want to try and work with, so keep a folder/binder/google doc around where you can jot down ideas for short exploratory exercises however it’s essential that they pertain to some shared functionality with your ongoing project.  So give yourself a day or two to work on it (like making a demo with a new api or skinning a UI library or something) Then force yourself the next day to IMPLEMENT it in your current project.
  • but some times you simply have to force yourself to sit down and bite the bullet.  Schedule some time, get away from distractions and simply sit down then work through it… yeah sounds stupid, but the ‘Schedule some time’ part is what makes this the hardest approach.  Which brings me to the next problem

Inertia

The fact that this isn’t a dayjob for many indies it means that life can sometimes turn the smallest molehil into a mountain, because Everything is a competition for your time, and the rolling rock of your project can’t go uphill very far on its own.  So we need to build up momentum in our project, make it feel like it has got a life of its own or decrease the amount of work it takes to get it rolling again once it comes to a complete stop.  Because, your time is precious and limited (even more so when you start having to work around a family life and maintaining a home) I tend to lean heavily toward the second approach, decrease the amount of effort needed for the next milestone.  I can imagine that the first approach would work well if you have a small team where everyone is all rushing forward together, so when one person stumbles the ball keeps rolling along and lets them catch up after their personal disaster has passed.  However I’m just me by myself so my tips lean toward:

  • Get your project compiling as early as possible.
  • Add basic core gameplay as soon as possible.
  • Build you milestones on that and make them each a standalone ‘functional’ improvement.

Because, sooner or later, something is going to come up and you’ll have to step away from your daily progress for a week or two, like children, broken computers, holidays, family vacations, household chores etc etc.  And when you come back to having time to work on your project you gotta hop back on the ball and be able to easily see where and what to do so you can get to that next ‘hey I’ve made something cool!’ moment and prevent yourself from stalling out.

Progress

Progress is king.  Progress also doesn’t like being kept in the corner. Getting your project to a point where you can shout out about your progress, via tweets to #screenshotsaturday, self serving blog posts like this, friends and family on Facebook, myspace, g+ or whatever is essential. Take pride in your progress. Get used to practicing saying in public that you’re working on something, have made progress and show it off.  Make it real to you and it will be that much harder to drop when the new toy sheen tarnishes and you have to spend a week debugging the text editor.  It seems almost impossible at times and the odds of actually finishing something really are stacked against you but it can be done.  And with great success.  MinMax did it over a period of two years,  CokeAndCode is doing it, RampantCoyote has done it,  all of them with keeping a dayjob, family and real-life’s responsibilities.

I hope to do it too.

[deleted a bunch of excuses for my lack of progress.. lets just chalk it down to life’s little mountains]

 

Old Wars and Putting the Sheep in Gear

Well summertime is here and that means it is time to kick things off and do stuff.

No Really..

I’ve been pretty stuck in idle for a while but a couple little things have started getting some traction.  Granted the freelance design work has been pleasantly steady which helps alleviate the guilt. 🙂   But really there’s been two projects that have gotten me going again. (ok, that and the baby finally deciding on a sleep schedule so there’s actually a couple hours that are useful on a regular basis doesn’t hurt either)

First http://www.beautifulbasics.com is up and running. It is still in its infancy but between me and GFW (whose site recently good a lovely makeover) we’re hoping that it will grow into a thriving community about family,tradition, and living a simple healthy lifestyle.

Second, I finally cracked open my tubes of winsor newton water soluble oil paints, they dry like oils but you can thin em with water instead of turp. It is a nice change from the usual acrylics and I absolutely love the drying time. The only downside so far is the color change while the water evaporates is going to take some getting used to. So the paint seems to dry in two stages, first the water evaporates leaving the darker pure oil color behind, which then takes the usual few days to dry.  Oh, and the cleanup with soap n water is a snap and the fumes are nowhere near as bad as old fashioned oils.

Distractions and Games? I’ve got plenty, but primarily playing Red Dead Revolver on the 360 and the indie strategy game ‘Hegemony, Phillip of Macedon‘ are tying up most of my mental breaks.  That and I’ve got to get a full day to get some people together and play a full game of Arkham Horror.  I will say that the Hegemony game is a wonderful new addiction.  It’s an absolutely massive undertaking for a small indie game company to make.  While it’s got some clunky features, it more than makes up for it in innovative new features that are sure to be copied by everyone else (Total War guys I’m looking at you) .  Unlike a lot of other Real-time Strategy games there is an emphasis on maintaining supply to you cities and units on the march that makes for a good time.

So, how does this lead me to getting my backside in gear and get cracking on the damn sheep you ask?

As luck would have it, GFW is taking the kids and heading west for a week come this Friday.  That’s going to leave me with a lot of downtime and I’ve got plans to make the best of it.

In theory, a bud will be coming by for some programmy consultanty help and if that happens that’s cool and that will probably take a couple hours every day but hey money talks 😉

Other than that I’m attending Akon (as a guest this year) Saturday; building an initial pass at a joomla website for a client; and designing a 1 page sheet, hopefully all this weekend.
So in theory, that leaves many hours are available every night next week for some serious sheepage! Oh, and I plan on blogging more (daily?) updates.

Let’s see how things work out, but hopefully there will be a ton of progress to report very very very soon.

Incubation And Spreadsheets

State of the Sheep

So after a couple days of taking a look at all the assets I feel like I’ve got a good grasp of where things stand in Mutant Sheep Eat the Planet!

In Short..

Cards Drawn 75 remaining 50 total cards: 125

Painted 62,remaining 63 ready to paint 13

Placed 60 remaining 65 ready to place into deck 2 (this is a short and easy step but it’s important which is why I track it)

So that’s not so bad.  Only 50 illustrations left and then 63 color jobs.   Granted the biggest hurdle is that I no longer have a scanner and the whole ‘transition to an all digital pipeline’ just doesn’t seem to be happening.   So I bought a scanner and it’ll be here in a couple days.

In the meanwhile I’ve started revising some basic rules, and updating the text on the cards so as to get mystelf start thinking about the rules etc and balance.  Hopefully I can make edits to the cards while watching baby Jude perform his nightly antics.. So a new round of playtesting will  be in the immediate/near future.

Then there’s a couple other steps for the cards, proofreading, final alignment, etc but those are what I’ll make friends n Family do 😉

Other Projects that Eat Time

Irismel.com

Ok so this is currently a formative tech demo.  But the thought of a multiplayer online web based rougelike with a live DM has been percolating around in the back of my mind forever.  So when I needed to figure out jQueryUI standards I whipped together the beginning’s of a web based map editor.  The downside..It more or less kills IE.. something about absolute positioning 5,000 32×32 divs makes it crawl.   But I’ve got some ideas to improve performance drastically.    Oh and what’s already up at Irismel.com is my first level editor for Blood Soaked Deadly Dungeons of Doom! But Irismel is a project that’s growing out of research projects not a driver for research, which is why I’m looking to use CakePHP for the foundation, because it’s something I want to learn.

Template Driven Microsites

The project that’s primarily eating away from SheepTime(tm) is an easy to edit microsite development tool.  That’s all I’m saying for now.. but it’s pretty cool and easy to use and has the potential to actually ‘Earn Real Money’.

Freelance Work

Yup just a trickle at the moment, but at least one item in the immediate future.

Misc Gaming News

So the Christmas Deluge has come and gone and it was good.

The highlight was clearly Dragon Age, easily the best game of last year.

Currently playing Mass Effect 2.. and it’s absolutely spectacular, also playing some Sins of a Solar Empire : Diplomacy for the strategy fix.. and it’s good and a handful of tiny Indie & Casual games that are just lots of fun (Trine, AI War, Soliumn Infernum, Boowork Adv 2 etc.)

The top 3 acquisitions that I’d like to make that just came out in the Spring Bonanza are: Bad Company 2.. Multiplayer shootem fun, Final Fantasy XIII for the jRPG fix and Settlers 7 for the build a world fix.. except it’s covered in UBI’s super evil DRM so it’s getting a pass until they come to their senses.  But really I’ll probably just go and play more Arma2 and Witcher and Empire: Total War.

Tales of puppets, babies, games etc

Latest News

So here we are, another year is already on the way and it’s time to get busy.

As of today baby Jude is ~45days out and counting, lots of house prep is being done and more still to do.  Excitement is high and nesting mode is in full swing.  The home office has been moved into the game room and the new space works well and the start of a dedicated baby room is in progress.  Super Awesome GFW has got her etsy store up and running, and a whole kitchen studio full of paint and canvas.  90% of all pictures on the walls in the house are now original art, and man is that nice.

Christmas came and went in a blur of cookies, candy, family and food.  When it was all said and done my very own muppet Whatnot was here to stay.  He’s pictured above, and it’s very very cool.  I have plans for him.  Big plans.  But first I’m gonna need a couple mutant sheep puppets.

Speaking of Mutant Sheep.. With the death of my POS Kodak all in one printer I no longer have a scanner.  So I’m having to switch to an all digital pipeline.. which may be faster once I get rolling on it.. but it does mean that I can’t doodle out the roughs at work and then take em home and ink em.  Other than that, it’s back to grindstone and get em finished asap!  Progress on it has been pretty abysmal lately and I’m not exactly thrilled with that, not sure what the mental block/holdup is but it’s time to work through it.

That is, just as soon as I wrap up a bit more paying design / web work.  The freelance developer & designer side of things is really picking up lately and I hope to keep it rolling throughout the year.  So naturally that stuff comes first, before Sheep.

Gaming

The holidays were full of super end of year sales, the most impressive was probably the insane Steam sale, lots of awesomeness was picked up at a pittance.  So here’s a list of the gaming highlights.

  • Dragon Age: Traditional fantasy RPG, polished like nothing else.
  • Kings Bounty: Insane Fantasy turn based combat with a happy disregard for tradition.
  • Mirrors Edge: First person runner.  Not sure why this wasn’t a bigger hit.
  • Garrys Mod:  A multiplayer physics based playgound, had a lot of fun building airships with kiddo an just doing strange stuff.
  • Left for Dead 2: Better than the first one, more zombies, more guns, for when you just want to shoot.
  • Machinarium: A beautiful hand drawn adventure game with so much character its hard to believe.
  • STALKER – Clear Sky: Post Chernobyl fps world to explore full of mutants and more.

And in board games:

We have played the first game of Pandemic.  A co-op board game where you have to work together to save the world from 4 diseases, HIGHLY recommended.  And I have a copy of Arkahm Horror sitting on my desk waiting to have a day dedicated to it.

Wandering

Ok so it’s been a bit hectic with a bunch of things that just had to get done, which turns out to have sapped my usual laser like (HAH!) focus.

But the creative itch is growing and I have a feeling I’ll be cracking open the acrylics soon.  (that and I owe lil sis some cute animal pix for superbaby’s room).

With the help of GuitarTricks.com I’ve been attempting to get a grasp on the whole playing guitar thing, and I’m getting better.  The best thing I did was to buy a decent guitar (Rouge acoustic/electric Dreadnought from musiciansfriend.com), not having to slice your fingers trying to jam down the strings makes a huuge difference, and it sounds better too) .

Other than that, a super co-operative project with GFW is underway and we’re having fun and getting some serious progress made.

Programming at work, however, is pretty much making sure it’s the last thing I want to go home and do as well.. so BSDDoD! may have to stay on the backburner for a while.

But first, vacation in 18 days.