On Mar 16 I stopped working on Archmage Rises. My wife was mad. Like really mad. The kind of mad where she doesn’t say anything, but it screams from every pore of her face.
I had to do something. It was at the point where every time I opened the project, I hated it. I hated how much of my life it consumed, I hated the pressure to finish, I hated all the problems with it, and I hated how unfinished it was.
At first, I thought the symptoms would go away. Like how we men don’t go to the doctor. Yet several days later, nothing had changed. This is when I knew I had a deeper issue, less head cold more organ failure. I needed to act.
I want to thank the people that posted their struggles and what they did to overcome them. Slayemin, in particular, shared some poignant thoughts.
Some people suggested if a certain part of the game was defeating me, to switch to working on another part or aspect until I had the strength to return to it. This is good advice. It was my reason for choosing to do the 3D dungeons this year instead of continuing to fix the simulator.
Unfortunately, I was in such a state that I didn’t feel like doing anything on Archmage Rises. The best illustration I can give is on a long road trip, after maybe 4, 6, or 8 hours, you just get sick and tired of driving. You want to just be a passenger and have someone else drive.
It’s not that I wanted to drive down different roads, I didn’t want to drive at all! The vigilance and responsibility of it all was too exhausting.
A Purpose Driven Break
In the book Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus Gray identifies a relationship phenomenon of men called “rubberbanding”. In any relationship, men withdraw for a while, creating distance, only to reach an apex and then spring back, arms open. I’ll talk more about this in a minute.
In the time spent away from the game, I actively focused on recovery. This is much different than what I first did which can most easily be described as running away from the problem. I’ll share a few of the things I did in case it will spark an idea should you be facing the same.
I get a lot out of Steven Pressfield’s War of Art. I have listened to the audio book 6 or more times in the last couple of years. In short, it’s a real ass-kicking to be a pro, sit down, and do your work. Steven spent 20+ years battling resistance and self-sabotaging as he attempted to write his first novel. I like his honest no-nonsense approach to the creative process and discovered he wrote additional books about it after War of Art. I read No one wants to read your Sh*t, Turning Pro, Artist’s Journey. I then remembered and reread Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Listening to authors overcome their struggle was motivating.
I Worked for Someone Else
As previously mentioned, Jonathan Blow left in the middle of working on the Witness to work on something else for 6 months. A core problem was I was sick of leading. Starting another game, or a board game, or something of my own design was simply driving down different roads. I remembered something weird that Jesus said, “It’s better to give than to receive.” I say it sounds weird, because if I have two cookies and you have no cookies, and I give you one, I’m down a whole cookie! How is that better for me?!
I know people who have gone on a mission trip to some third-world country, worked day and night in terrible conditions, only to return totally reenergized. More so than if they sat on a beach for the same time. That doesn’t make any logical sense to me.
While thinking through all this, I had a dream on a Saturday night where I was working as a developer on a friend’s game. I woke up and felt like that was the answer. I’ll admit, this doesn’t make any logical sense to me either, but hey, I was in a weird, vulnerable, squishy place.
I contacted the friend and asked if they needed some programming help for a week, maybe two, while I get my head straight. They were shocked but decided to give it a go. I joined their team for 2 weeks and worked on a point & click adventure game for kids 5-8 in Unity.
This was incredibly energizing. Somehow, I worked really hard for two weeks and received more in return: joy. Maybe this Jesus guy is onto something! And I’m glad I could stay in my first-world country!
I Spent 12 Days Travelling With the Wife and Kids
My wife is an extrovert who loves to travel, while I am an introvert who loves to stay home. How we ever got hitched is a mystery for another time. My wife is constantly booking trips and making me go on them. She usually books them 6-8 months out. It just so happened this trip she booked to England, Belgium, and Holland was occurring now. So we packed up the family and off we went.
James, our youngest, is three. I don’t know if you have ever traveled with a small child going through toilet training, but it is sort of like travelling with a bomb. One with the timer set to “random”. Thrilling, for sure, but a seemingly unnecessary risk.
This is should be the part where I say how wonderful the trip was, and being with the family brought so much joy, I found my motivation, and we all lived happily ever after.
The word “hell” is probably too strong a word, but it’s within the ballpark. 😊
Travelling with small kids, especially on a 6hr time difference, is less vacation and more Iron Man test of endurance; can I actually make it through this?!!!
Like a prisoner in a cell, I started to think about life on the outside. Sitting at my desk working on Archmage Rises is sooooo much better than this! I’d give anything just to be home, in the quiet, at my computer!
This is when the rubberband reached its apex, I turned around, arms open, and started moving towards Archmage.
The above summarizes what I did but more important is what I learned. Granted, these are quite personal, but I write them for your benefit if even one is helpful. I also write them for myself, so at some later date, should I ever find myself in the same dark place, I have a checklist to refer back to.
1. I’m a leader, not a worker. I’m more interested in running and leading the project, fulfilling the vision, than actually doing the work. This is different from being lazy. A work-oriented person finds the organizing, leading, meetings, and vision casting tiresome and interruptive. So, in short, I’d rather lead a team than code a game.
There is nothing I can do right now but persevere. But for Archmage Rises 2, and the secret project between Archmage 1 and 2, I will not make the mistake of relying on myself to build it. I will (somehow) put together a team and work according to my strengths.
2. While working on someone else’s project, I force myself to work. I want to get the tasks done, to get on to the next task. My tenacity kicks in. I put in extra hours on a Saturday just to have something ready for Monday. When working for myself, I am too easy on myself.
3. When working for someone else, they give immediate feedback. They are happy, or sad, with what happens in each workday. It’s a form of accountability. Like anyone, I’m eager to please, so I like the satisfaction of a job well done.
So why doesn’t the fanbase fulfill this for me? The update videos are supposed to be this exact thing. It does to an extent, but something about it isn’t the same. Perhaps it is how immediate or personal the feedback is when you are working directly with someone.
4. Working on someone else’s game isn’t as much fun as working on my own. At the end of the day I want to make what I want to make, not what someone else is making.
First, this is the “grass is greener” principle. Working on someone else’s game sounds great, until you actually do it, then working on my own seems better.
Second, and Pressfield talks about this in Artist’s Journey, I get to the point where I’m miserable not working on my thing. It’s inside of me and needs to come out. I work on it because I can’t do anything else.
5. Working on someone else’s game is carefree and easy. I don’t care if it succeeds, I don’t even care if the thing I’m working on makes sense. Someone says it needs to be done, I do it. I was able to work hard and knock out tasks because I wasn’t consumed (wasting cycles) with the bigger picture.
6. Keep tasks small and easy. The tasks on the other game were small and easy. Each task is a few hours to a few days.
When a goal is close it is very motivating. After all, the finish line is just around the next bend. When there are miles and miles to go, giving up is easier.
The tasks I assign to others are concrete, time boxed, and achievable. The tasks I assign to myself are nebulous and too large, some tasks taking up to a week or more.
I don’t have the feeling of progress, or success, because I’ve cheated myself from it by having tasks that are too large. Starting Monday, I will begin make small 2-4hr tasks so I can feel accomplishment and momentum.
7. Keep a professional schedule. On the other project, I got up early each day and went to bed earlier each night because I wanted to be ready for work. I was professionally minded. I got a ton done each day before noon (that’s a metric ton not a puny imperial one). 3hr burst, lunch, and then 3hr burst gets things done. And I did it because that is what it took.
But I’m very lax about my own project. I’ve known for a long time that I need to get up earlier when the kids wake up. They are so noisy after 8am, anyway, it’s not like I’m getting a lot of sleep.
Being jetlagged from the travel to Europe as helped already. I’m getting up each day at 7-8am and going to bed before midnight. I’ve never had this schedule before.
8. Purge defeat from the workspace. I could work in Portland, but not at home. Every time I sat down at my Microsoft natural keyboard, my SC2 mousepad, my LG screen, feelings of failure would rise up.
Yet for working on the other game, I was able to sit down in the exact same spot with the exact same keyboard and bang stuff out work successfully. I was kickin it for 2 weeks straight and it felt great! This
9. Protect working time. While working on the other game, I was more apt to deflect interruptions with “No, I’m working”. I protected my work space and time because I needed to get things done. Usually I let my 3-year-old play just outside my office door, but while working on the other game he wasn’t allowed to be downstairs at all. The basement was protected and quiet.
I practiced good work hygiene. I need to make this a permanent practice.
10. I is all in my head. It’s not environmental, like kids, office location, tools. It’s me. Like my favorite quote from Henry Ford:
This is a relief, because changing my environment is extremely hard. It’s not about finding another workspace, it’s about protecting and utilizing the one I have.
I return to work on Archmage Rises on Monday, Apr 15. Thanks for the advice and patience along this detour of the Artist’s Journey. I didn’t know what precisely was wrong with me nor what to do about it. After a month I have much greater perspective.
I now have something I ran out of… hope.