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

Avoiding facebook

As an advertiser for my games, I like facebook. Its targeting is very easy to use, and very effective. That might sound sinister, in a ‘cambridge analytica‘ way, but I’m not harvesting anything dodgy or being cynical, just showing ads for my PC strategy games to… people who have tagged pc strategy games as interest, and who speak a language my games are translated into, and who live in a country where people tend to buy online games. That works quite well.

In theory, I like facebook. What a great way to stay in touch with people! and because I try not to fly much, staying in touch with friends I have in different countries is especially nice. Its cool to see people celebrating cool stuff they are doing, its great to get a different viewpoint on the things happening around the world. So easy to share holiday snaps, or opinions on the latest movie etc.

But facebook have fucked it up.

I’d happily pay $80 a year to be a ‘member’ or ‘subscriber’ to facebook, but this is not an option. If you can’t see the product, YOU are the product, and we all know that facebook is VERY into collecting data on us, and storing it, and monetizing it. This goes on to an incredibly invasive and sinister degree.

Image result for facebook memes

TBH I have the same feelings about youtube. Its like I find myself having to think ‘do I REALLY want to watch this video, and have similar videos spammed at me for the next six months?’ every time I click on a youtube thumbnail. I’m all for curating the experience to match my tastes but jeez… back off a little and don’t seem to obsessive and creepy ffs.

I’m not a full-on tinfoil hat wearing 9-11 was an inside job conspiracy theorist kind of dude, but I do find it really sinister how much information these tech companies have on me, and their casual approach to letting us know what they are up to. A recent example is avast. Who would have though you couldn’t trust an antivirus company eh?. /sarcasm Oh and the irony… that avast link is a new website with 21 (yes TWENTY ONE) tracking cookies on it…ffs.

So I decided recently I had enough of facebook, after being dragged into an argument with a swarm of likely fossil-fuel-company hired shills trying to argue that people were ‘demonizing carbon dioxide’ and that there was a CO2 shortage, and we would kill plants if we stopped emitting it from cars… FFS.

(another exciting facebook post everyone needed to see!)

I still use facebook for business, and have pages for each of my games, and a bunch of local friends contact me through it (basically people in my village my age or older), so I’m not deleting my profile, but I ditched half my friends, deleted every ‘like’ I could, left every group, and started systematically deleting all my posts. (Facebook makes that close to impossible BTW…and I’m not kidding myself they are really deleted either).

BTW one thing that I think is worth mentioning which isn’t conspiracy or liberty-related, but is another good reason to quit facebook, is that it essentially kills conversation. When you meet up, in real-life with your friends, you are drained of any real ‘news’ or opinions. Everybody knows what you have done, where you went, what you did, and how you feel. Why bother?

“Hey I went to Boston recently on holiday”

“Yes we know. we saw all the videos, and pictures, and check-ins, and status updates…”


Quitting facebook means I’m *more* keen to see my friends, not less, because we can ‘catch up’. Thats great. I’m as nerdy an introvert-programmer as the next sheldon cooper, but we are still apes, and underneath it all, we still want to physically meet up for our own mental health.

Social Media Re-think

I’ve been on the internet since 14,400 baud modems. I’ve had this blog for a stupid length of time. I was on facebook and twitter *fairly* early. I remember IRC, I remember ICQ, I remember AOL. I remember the sounds modems made. I remember usenet newsgroups, and excite, lycos and alta vista.

The internet has never been as inhospitable as it is now. Its never been this toxic, this abusive, this unusable. Yes, I include usenet and IRC in that.

Three of the people responsible are Jack Dorsey (twitter) Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Evan Speigel (Snapchat). There are others. They are mostly identical copies of each other, showing laughably little diversity. The people behind all this are white, straight, male billionaires. Why do I mention this?

Because ironically, the white, male, straight billionaires have weaponized ‘identity politics’ and similar topics to make more and more and more money. They are well aware that the way our brains work funnel anger and fear directly to us before our reasoning system even kicks in (an evolutionary advantage, now turned against us). The BEST way to get people to keep communicating and ‘engaging’ is to use hatred and fear. Nothing else works so well.

Social media’s business model is based on ads, marketed to people who are ‘engaged’ and always on the site. What drives more ad impressions? hatred and fear, hatred and fear, hatred and fear.

Constructive debate doesn’t sell newspapers and it doesn’t sell ads either. Every time you get dragged into a heated online argument or hate mob, or get talked into retweeting some angry aggressive hashtag deriding people as communist scum, or fascist bastards, or white-supremacist racists, or what ever other extreme hyperbole we can dream up… you are being whipped into doing this to make 3 white male billionaires more money.

Identity politics and ‘woke’ politics is PERFECT for this. What could possibly cause more hatred, anger and fear than making sure everyone is pigeon-holed into smaller and smaller and smaller and more rigidly defined groups. That way more and more people are OUTSIDE your group. The best thing would be for you to cram hashtags into every post, to ‘trigger’ as many people as possible, and stick as many identity politics terms on your Facebook or twitter profile as possible, to annoy as many people as you can. Make sure you update your Facebook profile to signal the latest opinion on topic X. You CANNOT possibly be a fan of David Bowie without changing your profile pic when he died, otherwise how would other people KNOW you liked David Bowie! the horror! Quick! fill out your profile even more, do you like THIS album? did you watch THIS movie…

People are being railroaded and goaded into sticking their politics and their sexuality and their innermost thoughts right into the faces of EVERYONE they meet, so we can all form instant judgments and hate each other even more to keep those white male billionaires in yachts and private jets. Keep arguing kids! keep being angry! you don’t know what people are angry about TODAY? oh my god…here is WHATS TRENDING NOW. (almost certainly not really whats ‘trending’, but what creates the most ‘engagement’, meaning anger, meaning ad revenue…).

Fuck it, I’m done playing this game. This year I left a mailing list for games dev I’ve been in for year. I closed my account at a forum I’ve been on for decades. I deleted 20 years of posts on one private forum. yesterday I nuked 75% of my facebook ‘friends’. I don’t fucking care if you are angry at Donald trump or Jeremy Corbyn, or you support the first amendment, or the second amendment, or you are white or black, or gay/str8/cis/nonbinary whatever.

Frankly unless I want to have sex with you what the fuck do I care about your sexual preference? Unless we are picking a restaurant together what the fuck do I care about your diet? Can’t we just get along without sticking ourselves in these stupid-as-fuck boxes? I don’t know if my next door neighbor is gay or straight or bi, or whether they support legalizing drugs, or if they voted conservative. We get along fine, it hasn’t come up, why WOULD it come up?

I’m keeping my blog. I may blog more and tweet less. I own this blog, its on my server, I can moderate and delete comments by abusive people, and only people who know me/my games read it, which is fine. I see little value in having arguments with random maniacs on the internet. I’m also keeping twitter because I find it occasionally quite funny, but I plan to tweet way less.

I’m less angry in person than online. SO many times I meet people and they tell me I’m not what ‘they expected’. Social media enrages us all, weaponizes us all to spread lies, fake news and the more extreme opinions as possible. Its bullshit and we should all do our best to stop dancing to the tune of three white male str8 billionaires who don’t care how much damage they do.

Updates for Production Line. DLC coming & more

This is a round-up blog post covering lots of things:

Firstly some meta-stuff. I haven’t been super-frequent in updating this blog recently, and I also have been tweeting a lot less (in fact the wonder of analytics allows me to say my tweets are down 36% in the last month). I also un-followed a lot of accounts, I removed a lot of facebook friends, and I’ve quit some other online stuff. I’m trying to avoid the harsher, more serious, depressing net.

Frankly social media, and much of the internet in general is making me unhappy, and I’m reducing how involved I am with it. I have never been one of the ‘hip’ indies that knows everyone else, and I’m moving more towards being an ‘offline’ kind of person, for my own happiness.

Obviously that doesn’t affect tech support, PR, or blogging/tweeting about what I’m working on, so here we go…

NEW DLC! is coming to Production Line. I have not settled on a final name for it, but its likely ‘Design Variety Pack’ or something like that. Basically every car design in the game gets a duplicate, purely for cosmetic reasons. This is so you can have more variety in the game, and also so that you can more immediately tell which cars are the ‘expensive’ SUVs etc, without having to always resort to selecting a color for each design (Which I tend to do, but it feels a bit of a hack…).

Here is a tiny tiny short video clip of the new sedan.

And here is another tiny one showing we toggling between two designs of the same type.

All the code for this is now DONE, and I am thus just awaiting final artwork before I add this as a new piece of DLC. It has to be DLC because actually the art costs are PRETTY HIGH for this sort of thing, because it basically involves redoing a*all* of the car art for the game, as every new design variant may need a different position for each wheel variant, each seat, and so-on, and thats a LOT of art layers, modeled in 3D and rendered in 2 different directions.

In unrelated news, I’ve been working on some tweaks to the UI for the game, and the latest thing I added is this ability to toggle the showroom view to a ‘summary’ view that shows you how many of each car you have, rather than an endless stream of them. This is togglable with a button, but it auto-guesses which view to show you based on how full the showroom is when you first open that window:

I need to have that toggle in there to support both views because there is some functionality ‘lost’ in the summary view, as you then cannot select an individual car to see its views from customers, its applicable discounts, any defects or missing (uninstalled) features etc. Hopefully its all pretty intuitive and I don’t need any extra tutorial stuff for that? (I do worry about needing an extra tutorial window for that new toggle button for the DLC designs…not sure if its obvious or not…).

Anyway…thats Production Line stuff. I am also starting to help out full-time Democracy 4 programmer Jeff, who is doing great stuff on making the crispest, sharpest GUI for a positech game so far. (Its vector based, so smooth scaling and pixel-perfect UI is here!) I know Democracy 4 seems to be taking a long time, but it will be worth it, and we will have screenshots to show the world pretty soon :D

How to 10x your indie game development process

Oh yes, I know all about search engine optimization. Can you tell?

I talk to a lot of indie devs, although TBH not as many as I would like to, and I find many of the discussions illuminating. Because I work mostly alone in a little room in a field in the shire, I get so used to my way of doing things that its easy to forget there even are other ways. However, one of the most illuminating things is discovering just how long it takes most developers to do things (whether its code, art, biz dev, production stuff, whatever), and I am constantly shocked at how my output seems to not be 20-30% higher than many devs, but seemingly 300-400%+ more than many developers.

This blog post will try and explain how.

Its harsh. This is not touchy-feely happy cliff. This may annoy you, and make me seem a harsh, competitive, aggressive workaholic. This is reality. Most people don’t want to know this reality, but they claim to want it. This will not motivate everyone, but here goes…

Tip #1 Stop fucking around with ‘fun’ disguised as work.

Reading reddit is not work, unless its 100% actual new, informative, well-reasoned and argued and productivity or sales-boosting information directly applicable to indie game development on the platform/genre combo you work in. Reading about how to make mobile games about ponies is not going to improve your bottom line when you are a PC strategy game developer, no matter how much you kid yourself it will.

This also includes playing a dozen new indie games a month, or watching youtube lets plays or twitch streams of a whole bunch of new games. Thats not ‘market research’, its just goofing around. If you are currently between titles, and thinking seriously, and doing market research into industry trends etc, then yes, MAYBE you can claim a few hours for doing this as ‘work’. If you current game design is pretty fixed, and you are > 6 months away from release, it really doesn’t matter a fuck what is #1 in the indie game charts and how it plays. Thats not work. It will NOT change your immediate plans, don’t pretend otherwise.

Tip#2 Work somewhere quiet.

No a coffee shop is not quiet. Nor is any room in your house/apartment where other people walk through regularly. You need to be an end-zone where people only enter your room if they need YOU. Unless the house is literally on fire, someone has been shot, or imminent death or suffering beckons, nobody should disturb you when you are working. Nobody. You are in isolation. Don’t kid yourself that ‘you work better in a gregarious group of chatty people’. Thats crap and deep down you know that.

Tip#3 Get a big monitor, get 2 big monitors. Don’t feel bad if you have 3.

You cannot get a lot of work done on a tiny laptop. Thats silly. its 2019. Get some big monitors, they are cheap. I have twin 27″ monitors at 2560×1440 res. I couldn’t work at my current rate with less. I spend less time alt-tabbing than you. I can glance at my inbox without a context switch from game dev. I can view loads of my code and my game at high resolution at the same time. Monitors are cheap. its a business investment. Trust me. Buy 2, big, high quality ones. Buy them now.

literally the bare minimum

Tip#4 Shortcut keys and batch files etc

I feel physically pained when someone right clicks and selects ‘copy’ or ‘paste’. How many shortcut keys do you know? Copy & paste & cut and select word, select line, select page up + down? Windows + R Windows+F? Alt+tab? Shift+alt+tab? Windows+arrow keys? Know them all. You actually do not need a mouse for much. the mouse is SLOW. I use batch files to process files in photoshop quite a lot. I also know a lot of shortcut keys in textpad32 and paintshop pro. Also… if you use visual studio are you using visual assist? its amazing. use it. USE every productivity tool imaginable. leverage what computers are good at. Get a fast PC.

I know devs who use zipped up files and drag-dropping to back up their code. FFS. Use source control and cloud backup software that automates all this for you. If code and software exists to make you more productive USE it. Use email filters and rules. So much time-saving software exists, use it.

FFS I even have my living room lights come on automatically at sunset without me pressing buttons. Automate the fuck out of things.

Tip#5 Comfort

You will work longer and harder and happier in a nice work environment. When it comes to my office, no expense is spared. If you are an indie developer, your desk and office chair are probably more important to you than your car, TV, cooker and sofa combined. You will (hopefully) spend a lot of time in that chair at that desk. Get a really good one. try many, the really good ones will last a while. Mine is an aeron, 9 years old, still perfect. I actually had a desk made for me (surprisingly cheap actually), It will last forever. Do not make false economies here. Mine was about £800. Thats under £100 a year so far for the place I park my ass most of my life.

other chairs are shit

Tip#6 Mindset

If you are working on your first game, I hate to be that ‘one guy’ who breaks with the happy-clappy hugs and flowers online twitter group hug, but no, you are not an indie game dev, you are a wannabe. You are trying. you might one day release a game, in which case, well done, welcome to the club. the world is littered with people who try and fail, and those who give up. Someone who is ‘working on a novel’ is not a novelist, they are a hobbyist.

If you want the warm glowy feeling of being an indie dev who entertains people and ships games and makes a living from it, they you need to work hard as fuck, for a long time, and get your head down and get the product shipped. Do not surround yourself with well meaning people who tell you what you want to hear. Thats a route that spirals down and down into insular failure and disappointment. If your game is behind schedule then you are failing. Stop whining and work harder, and keep that attitude until you finish something.

Also… don’t kid yourself that you have worked ‘super hard’ because you put in a solid 6 hours work at your desk today. Thats great, but frankly someone flipping burgers has worked longer and harder than you today. You claim to want to make a secure living in one of the most competitive, sought-after, cut-throat industries in the world? Well so does everybody else. Most people fail. Most people lose. You will not make a success of this working less hours than someone doing an unskilled minimum wage job. Do not blame me for the harsh realities of competition, but more importantly do not pretend they don’t exist because that truth is inconvenient.

This job is not hard. You want hard? go work as a soldier, a police officer, as a trauma surgeon or an astronaut. game dev is fucking easy. Don’t kid yourself.

Tip#7 Focus on one thing well

If you are good at making 2D RPGs, make 2D RPGs. Unless you have three years salary in the bank, and a lot of confidence, and are absolutely MISERABLE making those games, do not change. Every 2D RPG you make improves your skills, your experience, your audience, your engine, your productivity and your tool-chain.

I’m a competent programmer. I could make a 3D physics game next. Maybe I have a cool idea for one, but for fucks sake that is a BIG leap away from 2D/iso strategy/management games. Why throw 90% of my audience, experience, skills and technologyonto a bonfire just to switch genres and styles.

You might decide to change genres/engines/languages etc because you are seeking artistic fulfillment. Thats great, but thats the luxury of a leisure activity. Again…3 years salary banked? go for it. Else…thats almost certainly a poor business decision. Get good at a thing, then do that thing until its a big success. There is HUGE opportunity cost when you learn a new genre/style/language/technology. Make sure you are fully aware of this. Few genres are so small they cannot support a single indie dev.

source:spiderweb software, experts in genre focus

Tip#8 Seek out harsh but real criticism

I get a fair few really good reviews and emails from people who really like my games. I love them. they make me feel happy, and warm, and appreciated and other nice things. its a good feeling. They don’t actually make my games better though. The emails you hate, the negative reviews, the dreaded steam refund reasons… these are the harsh angry truths that you do NOT want to hear, and yet you must. When someones tells you ‘i could make a better GUI with my ass whilst high‘, you may be angry, depressed, furious, insulted…but you need to hear it. maybe your GUI *is* bad. Maybe it could be improved.

to be fair, that slider was really crap. its better now.

Do not insulate yourself from the negative. negativity can lead to change, improvement and accomplishment. Data about what you are doing badly is absolutely essential in improving. If nobody ever tells you your games art direction is shit, or your game title is stupid, you will never improve it. If you *absolutely* cannot cope with harsh, hurtful criticism, then you probably should not try to make a living from indie game development.

Tip#9 avoid chances for distraction

I used to use rescuetime. I also used to use an hourglass to focus myself on work. I now find I need neither. I’ve worked so hard, so long, I’ve internalized what they used to do for me. Most people aren’t at that stage, and they get distracted. if your phone distracts you from work, switch it off. Nothing will explode. We survived thousands of years without mobile phones, you will be fine for entire eight hour stretches. You don’t need twitter during work hours, you don’t need to check the news sites or reddit during work hours.

If your code takes time to compile or art takes time to render, learn to multi-task with other WORK stuff. Set aside small tasks, like replying to forum threads, easy tech-support emails etc, so you can do them when you are waiting for your work to complete. Schedule other activities that you need to do anyway around times you know you are waiting for your PC. I mow the lawn/chop firewood while my PC renders out youtube videos for me. If my PC needs to reboot and update the O/S I will set it off before I have lunch, or last thing at night.

Avoid situations where your PC is sat there doing something (rendering / compiling / updating) and you have nothing to do but SIT THERE. You will get distracted, your mind-state will collapse, your productivity will plummet.

source: XKCD

Tip#10 Avoid bullshit productivity planning admin

Some peoples reaction to stuff like this is to immediately start planning to be more productive. they will start a productivity planning spreadsheet, with nice formatting, some color-coding and even a company logo, or they will google for inspirational quotes to print out and then stick up around the office. or they will start making an important list of the top ten things they have learned about productivity. They might hop onto discord to chat to fellow devs and share their new found enthusiasm for productivity with their buddies…

This is all bullshit.

The true response to this blog post, which is ending very shortly, is to close your browser. (yes CLOSE it), and do some work. Internalize the *attitude* not the specifics, and actually DO something. In other words, do not become like this classic, absolutely on-topic sketch from the life-of-brian which does a great job of showing exactly what I’m on about.

Get back to work and stop fucking around.

Creating a real working environment for game development

It drives me mad when I talk to some younger indie devs how little actual *work* they do. They are hardcore serious game devs, into game jams, and going to games conferences, and maintaining twitter, instagram and facebook pages about their game, and they often talk at shows, or attend talks, or tweet about talks, and watch tons of past talks, and play fellow indies games, and meet up at game dev meetups and try out the hot games and compare them to other games and…

…very rarely they sit in front of a keyboard and code a game.

This is a big problem if you actually want to make a living from games rather than just enjoy the ‘indie lifestyle’. FWIW, the indie lifestyle is easy. Dye your hair (or for extra points just part of your hair) bright blue, get an apple laptop, and cover it in stickers from games shows. Buy a GDC T-shirt (or for extra points, one from a smaller show), and spend at least three hours a day on social media. Bonus points for every 100 posts on gamedev subreddits talking about tech and marketing and design issues. Super bonus points for getting into heated twitter arguments about whether or not games are art or inclusive.

Oh obviously, you need to have a name and genre (maybe even a game jam concept?) for your game, so you have something to talk about.

This is all fine, and reminds me a LOT of the guy who persuaded me to take up learning the guitar when I was at college. He had been playing the guitar for about 3 years and was very cool. He showed me guitar tab one day and I bought a guitar the next month. Within 2 months I was a better guitarist than him. I ended up playing in 2 bands, and working briefly as a session guitarist, as well as teaching probably 100 people to play. AFAIK he never played a gig.

The difference between us was that I wanted to play the guitar and learn how to play well, whereas he wanted to be a guitar player. This was probably related to a desire to be cool, or get women to sleep with him, or both.

My advice is to know which you are. Are you an indie developer because you love the indie scene, and the people? Or are you an indie developer because you want to make games, ideally full-time? I also suggest that if its the latter, you need to lock down and optimize WHERE you do it.

Briefly, when I quit my job to go indie the first time, and my wife was at work full-time, I experimented with coding in coffee shops, because thats what they show people doing on TV and in magazines. It was crap. They are full of mothers with screaming kids, expensive (but average) coffee, no stability, no room, no peace, an environment 100% NOT conducive to C++.

this is not work

You MAY be one of the 1% of people who can program and design games and do real serious *deep work* while in a noisy environment you do not 100% control and surrounded by other people who often interrupt you. You really may be… but you probably are not. Almost everyone can concentrate better when things are quiet. Programming especially requires *deep* concentration, that is easily shattered and hard to rebuild.

In short, unless your environment is quiet, free from clutter, dedicated to one thing (work) and set up to convey that this is a WORK location, not a chill-out zone, then you are not going to get much done.

My tips?

Get a dedicated room in the house/flat if you can. If you cannot, then set dedicated work times, when you are not to be disturbed for any reason except a literal burning building…

Get an office chair, I recommend an aeron but cheaper alternatives are available. Set it up to be perfect for typing and reading, not slouching. You are *not* going to work all day on a beanbag or a sofa. You just are not.

Only people insecure about creativity think beanbags will save them

If its not quiet enough, get noise cancelling headphones and wear them.

Do not fill your desk and office with lots of fun toys and other distractions. Yes, you are making a fun game, but 95% of your time is work and implementation. Don’t confuse your subconscious. Are all those desk toys REALLY making you more creative or just distracting you from actual work.

Most of us are pretty shallow. We really care about what other people think of us, and when we are young, especially if we are single, we obsess about seeming cool. Work is not cool, work is for serious grown-ups who are boring. Thus we spend a lot of time trying to look cool, rather than be effective. If you saw me sat here right now, unless you noticed the framed prints of past games on my office walls, you would assume I’m working in fintech or IT. Its a very un-gamey environment, and it keeps me focused.

When you have shipped game #10 and sold game copy 1,000,000, feel free to fuck around. I *do* indeed have a child-size Tesla model S propped up in my office, and a toy car with toy robots on my desk, and am happy to be interrupted by cats and visitors all during the day. I can afford to be slack, but it was not always the case.

Set your environment up to be worklike, and you *will* get more done. We are simple animals and highly influenced by our surroundings. Stop trying to be cool.