Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Sanding the woodwork

For eight years I worked in a boatyard.

Thats not the start of a novel, or a poem, I really did, which might seem weird if you know me as a software developer or game designer. But its true! It was mostly part-time, but multiple days a week, and it was crushingly hard work in ways I wont even begin to list here. This is a post about motivation, creativity and getting stuff done. Like a lot of my blog posts it will seem on a tangent until I attempt to bring it all together at the end. So stay tuned :D.

Almost all of the boats we worked on were clinker-built Edwardian Thames Skiffs. Basically 20-30 foot wooden rowing boats. The details don’t matter, but one of the most common jobs was to sand the woodwork for the whole boat, and give it a nice new coat of varnish. This was the easiest job we did, but also at the same time it was the most boring. Apart from anything, it was also very incompatible with the job I had the other 50% of the time which was part musician/session guitarist/guitar teacher. If you have played electric guitar you will know you get very helpful toughened callouses on every left hand finger. They are essential. They are also very easy to totally rip to shreds with sandpaper. I was constantly tying my fingers up with masking tape to prevent this…


One day a fellow worker at the boatyard decided to give me his top tip on how to approach the task of sanding a skiff. This job would take maybe 2 days. I listened with interest as he said “You start off by doing all the really awkward bastard bits that are annoying, and then when you finish them, you realize that the job is done.” He paused. “Because they are all fucking awful bastard bits”. This was funny, but funnier still because I actually thought at the start he was giving me practical advice. Working in a boatyard is grim. We milked any humor there was.

Me sculling(not rowing!) one of the boats we worked on

The point of this anecdote is to try and convey how boring, and hard and more than anything unsatisfying this job was. A wooden boat that has had every surface properly and smoothly sanded in preparation for a coat of varnish is not a massively satisfying thing. Its not like stripping dirt away to reveal the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, its not something that passers-by stop to gawp at and exclaim ‘well thats some decent thorough sanding work my good man!”. Nope nobody gives a fuck. Why did I keep doing this for maybe 16 hours? Because I needed the money to buy food.

£2.50 an hour

Yes, I’m old, and its probably better paid now. But anyway, its a very very long boring day, and there is NO satisfaction from the actual work whatsoever. It did not require any brainpower whatsoever. I did it for eight years. Thats a long time. Also, if you think that you would mostly be on twitter or having a coffee break: no. No mobile phones then, and 2 allotted tea breaks at 10.30 and 3.30PM. Apart from that, you better be fucking working or you’d be yelled at and maybe have sharp things thrown at you with great force.

Ok, I get it, this sounds like a four yorkshireman sketch, and a typical boomer ‘in my day’ whine about how work was harder in my day etc. But actually its totally not that. Its about understanding that some parts of the best jobs in the world are also like sanding down the woodwork.

When your WHOLE JOB is doing tedious unexciting unfulfilling drudge work, you kind of just accept it and get to fucking work. In a way, this is EASIER than many creative and fulfilling/rewarding jobs. In a creative job (like game development), there is a ton of really cool shit. When I made Gratuitous Space Battles, I spent a lot of actual work time stepping through space battle clips from Star Wars, deciding on the colors of laser beams, and designing futuristic space weaponry. It was awesome. But in-between all that cool shit, there was also stuff like coding a UI to save/load ship deployments. Coding a system to adjust the UI to fit at different screen resolutions. There was code to handle different fonts for each language. There was code to handle online challenges and error handling from PHP and SQL. This was the woodwork-sanding stuff.

When you can choose to do the cool shit, or sand the woodwork, almost everyone does the cool shit, and just leaves a bit pile of sanding to do ‘at some point’. When you run out of cool shit you are then faced with a huge ton of tedious crap you have to do in order to finish the project.

Don’t do this

Take my sarcastic boatbuilder buddy’s advice. Sand the fucking woodwork. When you start work, when you are motivated, when you are excited, do some of the grunt work. Code the error handling, optimize the rendering. Check the game runs on min-spec. Do the multi-language support. Do the steam API implementation. Do the options menu. Do the level editor. Do the modding support. Do the stuff you know you wont want to do later. This is the way. Then when you feel your motivation flagging, go decide what color the laser beams should be.

A productivity boost for everything you are trying to do

A million years ago, my ambition was to be as good a guitarist as Richie Kotzen, in his pre-poison, shred days. I thought he was super cool. I then started guitar lessons with the teacher who, at the time, was considered the best heavy metal guitar teacher in the country. His name was shaun baxter. It was a 3 hours trip each way with a guitar, walking, getting a bus, then 2 trains, then walking, then the reverse. The lessons were expensive. I was very determined. I learned lots of things, and one of them is broadly applicable to everything you might ever want to learn, improve at, or get done. I will share it with you for FREE. How amazing.

Firstly Shaun exposed me to how amazing yngwie malmsteen was as a guitarist. He could play some malmsteen stuff at the full tempo. This blew me away, although nothing in the universe is as insane as the way Chris Impellitteri plays… but anyway the main thing is that yngwie played guitar very very very fast. I had reached my limit and couldn’t get any faster.

It doesn’t matter if you hate heavy metal, or know nothing of guitar playing. The thing I’m about to share IS relevant. There are a lot of things you need to do to play fast metal guitar, and its very hard, and involves a crazy crazy amount of practice. However, one thing I was taught, totally changed the way I approached practicing. Until learning this trick, I would practice guitar scales at the fastest speed I could manage and still hit all the notes cleanly and in time. Lets call this 120 bpm (beats per minute). I would go through all the scales, in every key, to a metronome, for hours at 120 bpm. I would then try to do the same at 122 bpm, and struggle, and so on…for hours. and days and months.

Lets say my target was 200 bpm. The thing is… 200 bpm is NOT a faster version of 120 bpm. Its a totally different fucking universe. This is crucial. There are lots of things you can ‘get away with’ at a slower speed, that will totally fuck you up at high speed. At 120bpm you can flail your 4th finger about a bit. You can not have your left hand positioned correctly, and you can move your right hand wrist too much. These are all flaws, but they are flaws that can be excused at 120bpm.

Hopefully you can see where I am going?

Because those flaws are structural, you will never get beyond 120 bpm. It feels like you maybe *could* if you just tried harder. But you are fundamentally fucked. You will never get to 200. Never, because playing at that speed has zero room for error. This is absolutely transformative. You need to work out all the things that are stopping you getting better, and the only way to do that is to leap forward in time.


In order to work out what is going to screw you up at the faster rate, you have to imagine life at the faster rate. The only way to leap forward to that rate (or level of skill or commitment) is to completely jettison quality, temporarily. So what I learned with shaun was that to learn to play at 200bpm, I had to EXPERIENCE the reality. In other words I had to set the metronome to 200 bpm and just play at that speed, and finish all the notes on time, even if it sounded like a complete train wreck, and was stressful as fuck.

After the initial speed-bump of going “wtf? this is impossible, I cannot do this”, you eventually get the hang of making 600 notes a minute (triplets) more-or-less in time. Its a cacophony of errors, but you manage it. Its a mess, and you are fumbling everything, and it feels pointless…. and yet…

Doing this massively highlights everything you are doing wrong. You simply cannot wave that finger around if it needs to be somewhere else in a tenth of a second. You cannot be making exaggerated wrist movements with the guitar pick because your right hand will shake itself to pieces at that speed. All of the bullshit you got away with at a lower rate is suddenly staggeringly, blindingly obvious.

And then when you set the metronome back to 130 bpm, it feels fucking easy. You are totally in control, to the extent that you are able to work on all that stuff you now know was holding you back. Oh and was that a typo? NO. 130 bpm now feels trivial, whereas previously 122 bpm felt impossible. It helps massively to stretch your ambition. You will NEVER achieve a goal, if you cannot ever picture yourself being able to do it, and have no *feel* for what its like to be at that goal.

So thats great, but how the hell does that help me ship an indie game / write a book / learn spanish or whatever?

This is a universal technique! It works for everything. If you are trying to force yourself to walk 6km a day, try walking 18km one day. The next day will feel hilariously easy. If you are trying to write 100 lines of code every day, write 1,000 one day. The important thing is to set the higher goal WAY WAY HIGHER than the progress you want to make. You will find this works for everything. Writing 1,000 lines of code a day requires dedication, no distractions, a comfortable office chair, possibly complete silence, maybe a coffee machine in your office… who knows! but the point is, you will not know what optimisations and efficiencies you need to make until you push the process to its limits. Maybe you CAN walk 5km a day in your normal footwear, but walking 18km is agony unless you get new trainers/sneakers? Ok, cool, you are now in agony, but you have learned one thing that was holding you back.

Sometimes, it means a completely new approach entirely. The ‘marginal’ improvement approach might be fundamentally flawed. Trying to put a man on the moon by building bigger and bigger trampolines will not work. It always seems like the trampoline could be just a bit bigger… but until you try to get 5 miles high, you wont realize you need a bloody rocket.

There are a TON of reasons why some people seem to struggle to ever make progress in what they do. Some people mistake ‘putting the hours in’ with the much more important ‘deliberate practice’. Some people are experts at inventing justifications and excuses for why they fail their goals. Some people psychologically do not have enough self belief to ‘allow’ themselves to achieve their goals, and my god there are a lot of books that you can read on these topics as a displacement activity from actually getting stuff done…

…but I do think that this technique is especially under-utilised. When you try it, you realize what a game changer it is. You have no idea what prevents you 10x-ing your achievements, because you never think beyond 1.1x-ing the way you do things now. Another way to think about it is to treat your goals as something done in a factory. It doesnt matter how quickly you run around and slave away making stuff in a workshop, if you never realize that the ONLY way to make 1,000 widgets an hour is going to be a conveyor-belt production line with division of labor, then you will waste a ton of effort (and shoe-leather) sprinting between different bits of equipment. Only by envisaging the final rate of production and TRYING it, will you ever really have a chance of achieving it.

Good Luck :D

Re-framing social media

I haven’t been on twitter for a few weeks, and its been good. Here is why.

I started doing a lot of thinking about the internet, and social media specifically, and I really do not like the current state of things. I read a truly excellent long blogpost about the bloat in web pages these days, that would be funny if it was not so tragic. It reminded me of a time when people in IT gave a flying fuck about performance, efficiency, and common sense, rather than ‘user engagement’ ‘metrics’ and ‘stock options’.

The moment you step aside from social media, you start really seeing it properly for the absolute dystopian hell that it is. Anybody with common sense would absolutely leave it immediately for their own health, and no doubt many do, but the rest of us who are still there do not even know that happens because… we only know about what happens on social media.

With thousands of ‘followers’ on social media, we are part of a rich ecosystem of always-on, always updating action. The fact that 10 people we knew just stopped posting entirely and disappeared will not even register to us because…oh look a kitten video.

Lets be perfectly clear. Twitter is a private company, not a service. Its sole reason to exist is to make as much money as possible. if that means destabilizing governments, wrecking democracies, driving people to suicide, and destroying the mental health of an entire generation or two, then nobody at twitter is going to care one bit. They have shown this to be true time and time again. Its still rife with abuse, hatred, misinformation and crypto-scam troll-farm bullshit.

If you are anything even vaguely like me, then you will know, deep down, that twitter, and similar sites like Facebook, are absolutely disastrous for your mental health. By participating in these sites you are putting up a big ‘open for business’ sign next to the emotional center of your brain, with an open invite to people with extreme, warped views and aggressively evangelical personalities to come unload their hatred and prejudices into your skull 24/7. Its the most destructive drug imaginable. Even with heroin or cocaine, you actually run out at some point, and need to call your dealer. With social medial, the dealer is right there, right next to you, with a constant fine-tuned supply being injected straight into your veins all the time, for free. Best of all, hardly any of you, statistically, will kill themselves, so the dealer can keep it up for longer.

The whole idea of craving more ‘followers’ on twitter is absolutely insane. Jesus had followers. I guess Gandhi did too. Maybe Martin Luther King. Certainly some horrible dictators also had many followers. But does someone who makes videos about knitting on the internet need ‘followers’? and do they need to know the exact number of them, all the time, updating hourly? This is objectively insane. Its a skinner box for faked charisma. Its pure evil. We cannot cope living like this.

I think I have 10-12,000 twitter followers the last time I looked. I don’t think its changed for years. Many are likely bots. Its depressing that I even know the number to that level of accuracy. We should not want to know. We should not want to play such a game. Many people I know DO play this game, because they are content creators (indie game developers) and they think this will raise their profile and sell more games. I think this is a mistake.

Here is a top tip: Take all the time, effort and energy you spend tweeting, replying, re-tweeting and scrolling on twitter and spend all that effort instead working in a coffee shop waiting tables. Then take the money from that 2nd job and spend it on advertising or improving your content (whether its indie games, art, books, whatever). Your ROI will be WAY better.

We all know people who ‘got famous through twitter’. Of course we do, because twitters algorithm will take any story along those lines and promote the fuck out of it. How many people do you actually really know personally who owe their fantastic success to their twitter account? Do you actually ever do any analysis on whether or not being viral on twitter sells more video games? Let me help you with that.

Here is one of the most famous people on the planet replying to a tweet at him by me:

WHOAH. I bet a TON of people checked out my twitter profile and then went and bought my games on apr 14th 2021 right? Lets see the spike:

Oh dear…nothing… ok Here is a tweet I did on a random whim after I saw a link about it. I didn’t even create the original content.

Ok… now we are talking. Thats pretty cool right. A tweet with 48,000 likes. Not bad cliffski, not bad at all, this is where we see the sales spike:

yeah…I’m kinda not seeing it. But maybe I’m a freak and my steam sales are never spiky. Lets looks at the current Christmas steam sale to check that theory:


And YES, I get it… MAYBE some small number of people who see you tweeting something viral are going to check your profile and MAYBE some of those people will then be 1% more likely to buy your game in the next year and YES maybe its hard to track but…

I’ve been on twitter forever, and I basically have had about half a dozen ‘viral’ moments, and none of them have led to any noticeable boost to my business. If I could go back in time, never join twitter, and never join reddit or facebook, and get back ALL that time and convert it into more direct work on marketing or developing my game would I do it? Of course.

For those who like the numbers. Lets say those 48k likes represented clicks on an ad. Thats 48,000 clicks at maybe $0.05 CPC because its poorly targeted. $2,400. Assuming I’m due another viral tweet every 10 years, thats $240 a year for my social media addiction. yay?

Apart from anything, I really resent putting any effort into these social media platforms in the past only to realize way later that I’m basically an unpaid content creator for a billion dollar US-owned social media company. At least twitter have not YET started charging people money to ensure all your followers see your tweet (thats coming though…), whereas facebook blatantly flipped that switch years ago.

Twitter is disastrous for your mental health, and sites like facebook and reddit are even worse. Actually RANKING peoples opinions with up and downvotes? Are we serious here? Imagine going round a friends house for a few beers and a chat, and every time anybody said something people all held up up and downvote paddles. Does that sound like fucked-up psychotic behavior to you?

Full disclaimer: I advertise on social media. It works reasonably well, I wont stop doing that. But I left facebook a few years ago with no regrets, and only maintain facebook and reddit accounts because my games have pages on both networks. I’m not on tiktok or snapchat or instagram.

I’m calmer, and happier since I stopped using twitter, and I have a very, very hard time seeing any way in which its affecting my business. Frankly I have more time now and less distractions to actually improve my game. If you follow me on twitter you may see the odd post for some big event that I want to ensure any press following me see (like the upcoming release of Democracy 4 from Early Access), but in terms of casual day-to-day tweeting and banter on twitter? I think I’m going to save that for real-life friends from now on.

In defense of ‘gatekeeping’.

One of my pet hates is the huge avalanche of really bad advice and ‘hot takes’ that spread rapidly over the interwebs that have zero experience or data behind them. The problem has been made infinitely worse by the shift over time from asynchronous communication to real time communication as the preferred system. This is really, really bad.

Go back 100+ years and the primary means of communication between geographically separate individuals was probably a letter. Letters have some downsides, mostly the delay in receiving a reply, but actually that delay can be a feature. Not only is it harder to send an embarrassing emotional drunken ‘hot take’ by letter, you also have a much slower expectation of reply times. You can almost certainly ‘sleep on it’, do some research, discuss the topic with friends and family, read the news, let the contents of the letter sink in… and then, once you have marshaled your thoughts, and mentally composed an intelligent, thoughtful, and reasoned reply, you can put pen to paper.

Email worsened the situation, because now you do not need to walk to a post box. You can email drunk, or angry, or without checking your facts. However, you do not HAVE to respond right now. The sender isn’t sure if you get the email in a minute or an hour. A next day reply is fine.

Social media makes everything worse in 4 different vectors:

  • Delivery is instant, so there is pressure to reply without thinking or researching
  • Replying is gamified, with notifications, so there is a push to respond, even if you have no insight
  • Replies are global. Anybody can reply, and everyone can see the reply.
  • Your replies (ie: your personal work/content) is now monetized by a 3rd party, and you are paid $0 for this.

One of the huge downsides of connecting everyone to everyone else over the entire planet is that we no longer have any idea who has experience, or data, and who is just a talkative idiot who wades into every conversation they can find. We also have no time, or incentive to give a damn who anybody is. On the internet, all opinions have become equally weighted, whether they are the considered conclusions from a multi-year phd research project, or a drunken reality tv-star’s vodka-fueled hot take. (FWIW I don’t care what actor Idris Elba said about climate change at COP26…)

Many thousands of years ago, I was one of many people who hung out on an internet forum for indie game developers. It basically WAS the indie game community, probably a decade before ‘indie game:the movie’, and long before steam. The entire indie community, globally, would chat there about programming, design, and business…

…and as the community grew, people who had been making games for a long time noticed a tendency for newcomers (without any shipped games) to get increasingly vocal about every topic, in terms of offering their advice to other newcomers. The advice was often bad, coming from neither experience or data. People started to complain that they had no idea who to listen to. The idea was mooted that forum posters with actual, shipped, commercial games would get a forum badge by their name, to give context to the replies and posts from people with experience and data.

Begun, the indie wars had…

By modern twitter standards it probably would not seem too bad, but oh my god, it was bad. People who were extremely frequent posters who had not shipped a game were FURIOUS to put it mildly. How DARE people say that their opinions were worthless? how dare the forum become so elitist? These days, on twitter, such a move is described as gatekeeping, and is apparently a really bad thing.

There is a difference between arbitrary gatekeeping (ie: not letting people join your club for no good reason), and giving context to information. I will even add to that to say that some times, a little gatekeeping makes a lot of sense. If you want a forum where long established game developers want to talk about running a studio, dealing with staff, negotiating contracts etc… then only allowing people in the forum who have some experience of such stuff makes a lot of sense. And there are quite a few private indie forums in 2021 full of such people. I’m a member of 3 of them, and used to be in a forth.

People seem to have a blindspot when it comes to the creative industries, where there is an oft-repeated mantra that ‘if you are working on a game, you are already a game developer’, and the same for acting, writing, music and so on. Perhaps controversially, I think this is total bollocks.

People used to mock Sarah Palin for saying she has foreign affairs expertise because she lived in Alaska and could see Russia. My favorite joke was to say if you can see the moon, you are an astronaut. When I worked in a boatyard, there was a VERY FIRM rule, that you could not describe yourself as a boatbuilder unless you had built a boat… from scratch. So you did the keel, the ribs, the planking, everything. I worked on boats for 8 years, banged in tens of thousands of nails, did a lot of ribs, and floor joints and a huge amount of planking, but never the keel. People were very firm: I was not a boatbuilder…

And thats fine. Because frankly, I wasn’t. I can tell you a few tricks about banging in nails accurately, and how to drill holes in thin wood without splitting the timber, but my experience is limited, and my hot takes on how to build a boat should not be public. Be aware that I have 8 years experience in that industry, but I still know I am not vaguely qualified to give general advice on it.

Back in Sarah Palin’s era, she was rightly mocked for pretending to have worthy experience when she had none, but these days, having absolutely fuck-all experience and data regarding a topic is becoming a badge of honor. In the US, President Trump literally claimed to ‘love the poorly educated’. He knew absolutely nothing about what covid was, or why climate change was a threat, and much, much more worryingly, he expressed zero interest in learning from experts on either topic. Despite this he expressed insane ideas on national TV about solutions, with actual experts stood to the side looking on in horror.

This should not be a political issue. Whether you are left wing or right wing, liberal or conservative, science is science, data is data, experience is experience. I have absolutely NO IDEA how the global climate works, but the overwhelming majority of people who have phds and nobel prizes in this stuff tell me about climate change, and I believe them. I have no idea how covid spreads, but medical experts tell me to wear a mask, so I do so. I do this because the alternative is a frightening one, which is trusting my own hunch and gut feeling on topics, instead of experts.

Here are some of the things my gut instinct tells me, if I ignored the opinions of ‘so-called-experts’. Planes cannot fly, because they are metal, and its heavy. The earth cannot be round because Australians would fall off. Quantum physics sounds confusing, so clearly its just made up. Advertising doesn’t affect me, because I am smart.

All the time, every day, we encounter stuff that our immediate ‘hot-take’ on is wrong, because we are not experts. The problem is, we are so encouraged to share our dumb hot takes on social media, that we are now all overloading each other with ignorance. When everyone is constantly offering their shallow analysis on everything, all the time, how on earth are people ever going to be sensibly informed? When our analysis is a popularity contest on twitter, the electorate become literally stupider every day, the chances of us electing decent politicians, or allowing them to make the right choices are slim to none. The best facts should be the correct ones, not the ones with most upvotes from people who have no idea. e=mc2 is not the result of a twitter poll

We need to fight back against the urge to offer up our opinions when we have zero experience and zero data. The urge is strong, and psychology experts working at social media companies are working hard to force us to vomit up hot-takes 24/7, but its highly destructive. I’m probably as guilty as the next person, so to help out anybody unlucky enough to know me, or follow me on twitter, or read this blog, here is a list of all of the topics I actually have a decent, serious amount of experience and data on, after 52 years on this planet. Anything else I offer an opinion on is likely bullshit:

  • The electric car market, and the plans and existing business of Tesla.
  • Marketing and selling a PC-focused indie strategy game, especially advertising.
  • Heavy metal guitar playing techniques, up to a certain level.
  • C++, with some stl, but excluding any modern additions in the last 15 years.
  • Solar panel economics, and challenges associated with solar farm construction in the UK.
  • Classical Economic theory, but only to degree level.

Everything else I offer an opinion on is basically garbage, and not worthy of you listening to. There are more experienced experts on all of those topics BTW (although I *might* make a play for being a decent expert for the second one).

So to conclude, having experience MATTERS. having data MATTERS. Lets stop being ashamed to admit that we disregard some peoples opinions on some topics. Expertise has real value. To make a point, I’ll close comments for this post :D.

Two orders of magnitude thinking

So… I just watched the neuralink video with the monkey playing pong, if you havent seen it already, watch this:

Now you picked your jaw up off the floor, lets think about how stuff like this can even happen, and what we can learn from how things have got to this point… The main takeaway here is not that neuralink have managed to vastly accelerate progress in the field of curing paralysis (or I guess…working around it), but the approach they are taking. They often talk about some seemingly minor things in their presentations:

  • There is no visible scar on the monkey.
  • The device is charged wirelessly using a baseball cap!
  • The surgical equipment that puts the implant in is very fast, and should be a very simple procedure (relatively).

This is a BIG deal, because its what we might call two orders of magnitude thinking. This seems to be something that Elon Musk does all the time, and I think its amazing and worth learning from, regardless what field you work in. When you look at spacex, neuralink and tesla, the thinking behind the company strategy is absolutely different to the strategy behind every other company I am aware of, because its this:

Don’t work out how to go from where we are to the next thing. Work out the ultimate impossible goal, even if its 100x harder, then make direct plans for that, regardless what it takes.

SpaceX is the clearest example. All other rocket companies had an idea that they would try to make a rocket as good as, or better than the current examples. maybe slightly cheaper, maybe slightly larger, maybe a slightly bigger payload. If they were really ambitious, maybe double the payload, or half the cost. The spacex solution was not along those lines. It was ‘given we need to establish a self-sustaining colony on mars, whats needed to achieve that?’ and the ridiculous answer that comes back is 100% reusable rockets, that land, refuel then take off within an hour.

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy successful in commercial debut – Spaceflight Now

Looked at from the POV of NASA, thats absolutely insane, yet they get closer every year. reusable rockets (at least 1st stage reusable) are now a reality, in fact the norm, and totally reusable rockets should be perfected within a year. Nobody would even begin to attempt this, if they took a standard “where do we go from here” approach.

Neuralink is another example. They are not trying to push forward current tech regarding solutions for the paralyzed. They are thinking ‘how do we make a neural lace from the Iain M Banks novels’, and then working on the tech, the infrastructure, and the processes required to make that a reality. Elon musk wants every human on earth to have the option to have a brain-computer interface. It has to be safe, invisible, affordable, routine. This seems impossible and yet…here we are…

Tesla is a third. They were not aiming to make a few electric sports cars for rich jerks. They were aiming to completely transform the entire car industry. Thats why they moved as fast as possible from the roadster to the model S, to the 3, to the Y and soon to an even cheaper model. This is the plan all along, not even secretly, its been posted online years and years ago. And now? not just building one insanely big factory but two, at the same time, Not aiming to boost sales by 5 or 10% but 50-100% each year, every year, because *thats what it takes* to achieve an impossible end goal.

Tesla Texas Gigafactory drone construction update - DroneDJ

So how does this mindset help anybody reading this?

Its a mental trick. And it works. I use a lot of mental tricks. I used to have a slide in talks I gave showing the troops in a landing craft at the D-Day landings. These are people I visualize when I’m stuck, or feeling slack, or demotivated. I put myself in their position and compare whatever relatively trivial challenge I have to theirs. This mental trick is different, and probably less harrowing, but its similarly effective.

This mental trick is in thinking backwards. You do NOT under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES frame your decision making, your motivation, or your plans based on where you are now. Thats irrelevant, whether it be money, location, knowledge, whatever. You totally ignore where you are now, and work backwards from where you absolutely HAVE to end up, in the timescale of your choice. You plot backwards, writing down the decisions that must have been taken, the action that must have taken place in order to explain how you ended up achieving your goal.

So for example, you want to make a comfortable career out of indie game development. Thats fine, but work out what that looks like and go backwards. Maybe in your country that means earning a reliable $200,000 a year before tax. Ok, fine, whats needed in terms of sales for you to do that reliably? how does that gross up to give a figure before steam/apple/googles cut? How much more is needed to account for hardware/software/subcontractors etc?

Do not compare where you are, to whats needed at the end goal, because if you do, you will give up. its natural. The trick is to assume its already happened, and that you have no say in it. Maybe when you progress back and back and back from the $200,000 a year in 5 years to today, you realize you need to ship a game that sells 5,000 copies THIS year. without fail. Maybe that will take you 2000 hours to make this year and you have a full time job. So thats maybe 8 hours a day you need to find every day this year. How is that even possible?

The point is, it doesn’t matter, you have to assume it is possible, and then everything else is irrelevant. Maybe you work on your game every lunch hour, and every morning before work, and late into the night every night for a year, and thats how you do it. Maybe you remortgage the house, sell the car, sell a bunch of other stuff and take a six month sabbatical instead? Your circumstances dictate the path.

The point I’m trying to get across, is that if you work backwards, taking extreme measures to achieve your goals starts to feel justified, understandable, and expected. If you work forwards, the same actions seem obsessive, extreme, even insane.

99% of people reading this will think I’m nuts, and that nobody should be that obsessed with work. Thats absolutely fine, its aimed at that 1% who keep failing to achieve big goals and need a trick to help them do it, and absolutely want that goal enough to do whats needed.