Week 66

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator.

Last week was a bit disappointing. I did get the BlaFF storyline plotted out fully in Twine, which was great because it gave me an instant visual overview of which parts were too linear and which had too much going on at once. I added one location and everything feels better balanced now. The added bonus is that I now have an accurate count of all the clues you can collect during the game and where they are referenced. I was afraid I had planned for too many, but the total number came up short of the space I had reserved for it, so that’s good, I can pad some things out and add more info to find.

twine

But then, bad news. Indie Fund reviewed my submission and decided that it didn’t quite fit with what they were looking for in their portfolio. I hadn’t expected much but it was still disappointing. The next day I heard back from Double Fine too – they really liked the game, but with two guys manning their publishing department part-time and three projects on their hands already they didn’t have space on their docket, but it was still nice to hear. I’ve got a few more emails out, so we’ll see how that goes in the coming weeks.

Mostly it shook me awake to the fact that the core game needs work. I’ve been caught up in polishing what I essentially made in one month, but it needs new features. I’ve just been afraid to break the whole thing open again. But it has to be done. I got some good tips from people that played the demo, some of which I had already thought of myself, so it’s time to put stuff like that in and make the game match up with the promise.

The only problem is I don’t have much leeway to spend time on it right now. I’d love to, but life costs money, and making games is not exactly a quick return-of-investment. So I decided to pivot back to illustration for a while. I could do a Kickstarter for BlaFF, but setting that up would take me another month, and there’s no guarantee that it will work out, especially in the current sour climate in the games industry. I needed to step away from all that anxiety and get back to what I know I can do well: drawing. (I have more thoughts on this that I’ll put in a seperate blogpost.)

But for now I’m good doing illustration. I got two emails recently for interesting and substantial projects. They’re both international, so it’s also a new challenge in figuring out how to process that in my administration. And if you’re reading this and have a nice assignment for me: I’m available for hire!

next week: drawing drawing drawing.

Week one

Week one has been a quiet one, as I expect some weeks to follow will be too. Although the first gig is a fact: I’m working on a series of cartoons to accompany the thesis of a friend of a friend. They’re fun to draw and don’t take a lot of time, so it’s a good way to start.

After watching Star Trek First Contact again an idea for a scifi story popped into my head, tentatively named ‘Deck 5. I’m not sure yet whether it should be a game or a comic, but I like where it is headed. I will continue to explore it further with my bro Ralph who has a penchant for these kinds of stories.

On tuesday I met with Niels ‘t Hooft (ka-pow, pingback) to chat about narrative games and the craft of being a freelancer. After that we visited Digital Dreams to take a look at Metrico, a very intruiging game that uses inforgraphics as platforming puzzles, really smart and cool. It also gave me a chance to wonder what the hell Sony was thinking with that PS Vita UI…

After that I drew some things here and there which you can see below this post. On Friday I visited the Human Adventure expo by NASA with my family and witnessed all facets of the museum experience at once, as my dad and his friend are super knowledgeable about this stuff and the rest is not really, right down to my cousin who just wanted to press some buttons. Had a good conversation with my uncle about the absence of an engaging narrative in most museums.

Other than that I’ve mostly been surrounding myself with media to extract inspiration from. I’ve watched more movies this week than the past 3 months I think, a lot of them scifi, and I dove into Fallout New Vegas, which I was initially not too excited to look at or play with, but some great mods helped me get past that so I could get to the masterful Bethesda/Obsidian storytelling which has engrossed me once again.
Funny enough the best quest so far was one that was unmarked, so it had no tell-tale markers to tell me exactly what’s what. It was the story of Vault 11, a shining example of environmental storytelling without any real reward other than knowing what had happened in the depths of that Vault, which turned out more satisfying than any old XP boost or weapon upgrade. Something to remember.

As the week wraps up I’m staring at my Trello board with the page scripts for Off-stage. I want to get back into the swing of releasing at least one new page a week again.

Week Zero

Last week I decided to return to being a freelancer.
Or rather, to try and become an auteur. In dutch that makes it sound like I want to write books, but what it means is getting to make the games and the comics that I want to make. And in a sense that does involve writing, or narrative design as they call it, since that is something that I am very interested in.

I like stories and what they can do to/for people. Interactive stories make that experience even stronger for me. But I realize now that maybe that means that I don’t want to make what is traditionally considered a ‘videogame’. I like those just fine (my Steam library has 230 of ’em) but I don’t think I want to make something that has scores or in-app purchases etc. I want to tell stories. And games like Kentucky Route Zero, Papo & Yo and Gone Home prove this is as good a time as any to try.

So to track my progress I’ve decided to steal copy a blogging idea from colleague Niels ‘t Hooft, who has been doing weekly recaps of his independent adventures for 757 weeks. Woof.

Week zero has mostly been about slowing down to a pace where I can think at again. I was in an office for the last 1,5 years and had to travel quite a distance to get there, so everything was very… timeboxed. Things had to get done. I certainly had a great time there and learned a lot while doing some really cool stuff like work on the LFG game with the Blind Ferret guys, but it left little room to wander and contemplate. I noticed my well of story ideas evaporated. So I’ve been nurturing it back to health by spending time outside, catching up with friends and family and absorbing media. There are about 6 uncompleted games on my desktop and double that amount in my movies to watch folder, so finally working through that has been nice. I’m starting to feel some ideas well up again. And I also completely lost track of time, holy shit. I think it’s monday today, right?

Anyway, tune in again next week to follow me along on this adventure and see if I’ve lost my mind yet!

~Tim