The SeeThrough Diaries: "I'm Scared"

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.

SeeThrough Studios

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.


Comments

    Love the open-ness of the article, nice work Saul. Enjoying what See-Through are doing, I'm an advocate of open development though it's a scary thing for many many reasons.

    You have my interest Saul.
    Keen to see what you guys come up with :)

    Oh, and relax man! Remember to enjoy yourself since this is something you care about, otherwise it will eat away at you and no longer be something you enjoy.

    Looks interesting, I've bookmarked the blog, and I've flicked over the articles, I'm certainly looking forward to what will be produced.

    A game... based on flatland? Really..?

      Yes indeed! If anyone's interested, you can play the original prototype that Paul built as part of Ludum Dare a while back: http://www.pdyxs.org/throwthelookingglass/flatland/

      The new game should also be playable in some form within the week.

    Saul, you are the coolest guy that ever lived.

      Are they paying you to say that? :P

        I hope not - it's totally not within budget!

    It's awesome that your documenting Saul as we get to join you guys for the ride. I actually met Paul because I played and loved his Ludum Dare Flatland entry which did have this understated but really defined atmosphere.

    Anyway good luck with the rest of the hrs of dev. Love the death clock too btw :D.

    Very interesting. Cheers Mark and Saul for making this happen.

    What, so Flatland gets a free pass but Dante's Inferno is blasphemy?

      That reads a lot less sarcastically than I'd intended. Good luck!!

    You guys are awesome & I am sure what you come up with will be equally as brilliant.

    You can already count my dollar.

    I love the idea of an 'open blog/diary' approach for a smaller-sized team like this. I tried out the 'prototype' version of Flatland, and did not stop until I finally hit "the wilds" and then had a good time trying to see how long I could survive amongst my fellow wild-triangle-escapees :)

    I'll definitely be throwing a dollar in their direction.

    Paul

    This blog is a great piece of inspiration. Not only for game development, but for many other creative projects and even life in general. Will definitely read through the rest of the blog and await new posts. Can't wait to play the game either ^_^

    Best of luck!!!

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