SeeThrough Studios is about to take on a challenge. Over the next few weeks -- 96 hours in total -- they're going to make a game called Flatland, based on the novel by Edwin Abbott Abbott. They're hoping that this game will be interesting enough that someone will pay $1 for it. And they're going to share the entire process -- the doubts, the insecurities, the failures and the triumphs -- with Kotaku.
We’re making a game in three weeks. And you know something? I’m scared.
My concern isn’t that we won’t have Flatland done. That’s a minor worry, and one that’s mostly out of my hands, in any case. I’ve seen our creative director Paul Sztajer (and co.) crank out great games in half the time we’ve got. We already have a prototype that conveys an extraordinary amount of mood. I have faith that the others have got that side of it covered.
But I’m not coding. I’m not making art. I’m only involved in the “game” bit at a pure design level, and only from time to time. Most of the time, I’m the chronicler -- I’m the “see through” bit of SeeThrough Studios, and that’s what I’m struggling to get to grips with at the moment.
The thing is this, I’m a writer who wants to make games, and that puts me in a precarious position. This project is the next step on the stop-start, corkscrewing path that I’ve taken into game development. If I were to lose control and fly off the rail, then I’d be done. Jobs for writers of games are more scarce than jobs writing about games -- just ask any games journo about that. I’ve already left what I thought was going to be my career -- book editing. I’ve already thrown that over, dismissed it as untenable, even unbearable. Retail is now nothing but a recurring thorn in my side. I’ve got no fall-back to anything that isn’t going to make me brutally miserable, and I’m no stranger to deep depression.
In other words, I’m now committed to games – and commitment is scary. Commitment means you have something to lose.
Through my involvement with games writing I met the founder of the IGDA Sydney, Dan Graf and, eventually, Paul Sztajer.
Paul Sztajer is many things -- a fast and efficient programmer, a rally-er of talented people, and an endlessly energetic creator of science-y art and arty science. In other words, he was born to make games. He already had a team, Throw the Looking Glass, and a project, Particulars, and Dan and I slotted in and helped wherever our skills leant themselves.
We had great meetings. Boy, what great and productive meetings we had! It was the time in between that was the trouble – a broad-based, unpaid team with busy lives had trouble supporting any sense of focus. Things were happening, but slowly, and in a most disjointed fashion.
But Paul is never one to give up in the face of difficulty. He’s taken the mantra of programmers everywhere “prototype, iterate, prototype”, and applied it to his studio. SeeThrough Studios is the latest iteration of that ongoing process. SeeThrough is all about solving the problems we had last time around. The three-week turnaround time builds on Paul’s extensive Game Jam and Ludum Dare experience. This time, we’re only using contributors who have been able to pre-commit to work full days in the same space (a room at Paul’s house, which we’ve re-christened the Fishbowl). And importantly, we’ve set ourselves the goal of learning how to monetise our game – even if we only earn a single dollar, that will be an achievement.
And finally, there’s the whole “see through” thing. This is actually a re-commitment to something that Paul’s always wanted for Throw the Looking Glass, but which largely got lost among the more serious issues we were having.
The part where I commit
So now I get to justify my existence. A guy with no marketing experience -- and only a self-taught understanding of social media and the games industry -- has to try and get people interested in a game being made in three weeks by a bunch of people no-one has heard of, based on a fairly obscure work of fiction. Through this whole game dev adventure, I’ve felt on shaky ground -- at industry events, everyone always asks if you’re an artist or a programmer, and I’ve had to do a fair bit existential justification, to myself as much as anyone.
I guess that’s still what I’m doing. If I fail at this, it doesn’t mean there won’t be other chances. I haven’t used up all my lives just yet. But it will set me back mentally, make me wonder if I really deserve to be here, pursuing the only career I give a crap about. I’ve never been my most reliable supporter.
Okay, deep breath. Time to shake all that off. You should really come and see what we’re doing. We’re two days in, and the programmers have made a great deal of progress -- there’s movement, and even a level editor! Blog posts and pictures are going up more than daily, and there’s even a wiki where the more hardcore among you can delve into our “private” notes and communications. Soon there will even be video interviews!
But what I need most is feedback. Have a look at the site and tell us what’s interesting. What’s not. What you’d like to see more of. How bad we are at website design. Anything at all is useful! Comment on the site, or follow us on Twitter or Facebook. Or be old-school and email us.
I’ll be here in the corner, shaking.
You can follow the development blog here. Tune in next week for part two of SeeThrough's diary.