Sunday, December 30, 2012

On Being a Crazy Cook

When I was a kid I wrote a lot. Usually I found a way to bend school projects to my will and make stories out of them. Often I wrote just for the hell of it. 

When I was at my parents' house recently, they had a high-school English short story I'd written (which owed a huge debt to Anne McCaffrey), and another from even earlier, the sixth grade I think, which had more than a hint of Douglas Adams and Robert Asprin in it. They were, of course, terrible. Not a week or two later, but a friend of mine handed me a binder with a hundred pages or so of a fantasy novel I'd tried to write as a junior in high-school or something. Yikes. Lots of unpronounceable made-up words. It had a glossary. Blech.

It's funny that those things showed up around the same time, and then NaNoWriMo popped up too. Shazam and Kapow, I wanted to write again. Partially it was curiosity - looking at the godawful prose I'd written in my younger days, could I do any better now? I'm not sure writing a jillion emails and editing game dialog really prepares you for a career in writing, but at the very least I have the benefit of more life experience, an older (maybe wiser) perspective on my life.

Your face always goes hot when you read ancient stuff you wrote (or drew, or sang, or whatever) as a kid. But what really struck me was the amount of energy I'd had to do it back then. 

I did a LOT of different stuff as a kid. You forget what a dynamo of energy you could be when you were younger. I remember hand-making a book and transcribing a story into it, doing illustrations, coding games on my PC, making abortive stabs at writing and illustrating comic books, doing that painstaking art where you make everything out of ink dots, attempting to animate a cartoon, drawing a comic strip, writing songs, playing the guitar and singing, learning to juggle (By juggling rocks. Ouch.), trying to make an RPG ruleset, and of course, writing stories. 

It feels like I was trying to place bets on every possible option. A lot of those things I still love (not animating any cartoons though, sorry).

I look at myself now and my focus has narrowed so much, and I feel like I should do something about that. Why do we have to do just one thing with our lives? Why do we have to be defined by an occupation or a single hobby? I miss the rush of possibility when trying to do anything and everything.

I want to be that crazy cook in the kitchen, running from bubbling pot to simmering pan, having all sorts of stuff on the burners, happy in the chaos of making a bunch of different stuff at once.

The sad truth is that becoming good at something and ultimately succeeding at it isn't really that fulfilling. At least, not for me. I got what I wanted - I run a game company, for God's sake! I make games! They even review well and are financially successful. I got nothing' to complain about!

And I'm not really trying to complain about it. It just seems to me that that singular focus isn't enough. Maybe other people aren't this way (of course I can't speak for them), but I find myself wishing I'd kept placing a few of those other bets.

Once upon a time when I made games, I did EVERYTHING - code, art, sound, music. I made a friggin' space sim and made clay figurines that I stop-motion animated for the comm videos. It was ridiculous, but god dammit it was FUN.

I don't have the same breadth anymore - I do engineering, maybe a LITTLE art when I can get away with it, some sound design, and of course game design. I don't get to touch everything anymore, which is good and right and proper, because we have experts in their fields working to cover those bases, and that's really their purview now.


Getting better at something is what I love.

So I think that's what I'm going to do now. Never too late, right?

On Writing and Shipping and Whatever

So, I'm going to try something new here.

I'm not sure if this happens to other people, but after I finish a big project I go into a kind of post-ship depression. I'm so exhausted and psychologically worn out that anything that even tangentially relates to work makes me feel a little ill. This has gotten worse with age, possibly because I'm just older, possibly because my life is more complicated, possibly because I have a lot more responsibility than I used to. I have a family and kids now, and work/life balance is tough, especially given my natural propensity to overcommit myself to a project.

For those of you who don't know (of the six people who may actually read this), I'm a game developer. I'm the president and lead engineer at Runic Games. We made a few games you may or may not have heard of - Torchlight and Torchlight 2.

Torchlight 2 shipped in late September after what, for me, was a grueling couple of years. I think it turned out pretty well, and am proud of what we accomplished, but it took more out of me than any project I've ever done, and left me feeling totally wrung-out, a state I haven't fully recovered from yet.

Over time, I've found that I HAVE to be doing something. I have to have a project. I have to be making, and am really pretty terrible at relaxation. Relaxation doesn't relax me. (This has unfortunate consequences for me as far as drinking is concerned, because one of the few ways I become easygoing and conversational is after a drink) Unfortunately, my hobby for a long time was also my work - and so in the months after I ship a 'real' thing, my hobby makes me a little ill to contemplate or otherwise touch. This is bad, because it cuts out my main outlet for fulfillment.

As a result, I find myself casting about for other stuff to do, other stuff to make or build or assemble. 

I have this nasty habit of focusing one one idea to the exclusion of all other things. Lately, it's been writing.

Obviously, this blog started when I was doing a ton of digital painting, and working to get back into drawing and art in general, and there was a good long run at that. (I haven't stopped drawing, but I'm doing less right now, because of the aforementioned nasty habit).

At any rate, NaNoWriMo rolled around this year, and I picked up writing again. I didn't complete a novel, but I DID complete a 35k word novella, which I went through several editing rounds on and finished up. I then wrote a short story. Maybe I'll post them here for nobody to read. I have a novel idea which is bubbling around right now - I can feel the bits starting to cling to each other to form larger ones, and in a little while I think they'll have grown sufficiently in size to be able to put on a page.

At any rate, I DID have a point with this blog post, which is that I'm going to try to write here regularly about…stuff. Ideally, a wide RANGE of stuff. As I've been writing (and consequently, reading more as well), I can feel the engine start to turn over - more ideas are percolating, I'm thinking more widely again, and the more I feed into the machine, the more the engine wants to go.

I want to push myself to read and write and THINK about the world, and people, and art, and just general junk - to feed the engine a little more than it is getting right now.  Plus, the only way to write better is to write MORE.

This seems like a reasonable enough way to do it. I'm going to start attempting to condense my thoughts on a variety of subjects, ideas, general events, whatever strikes my fancy and seems even remotely worth writing about.

I'm not sure anyone will read it, but I'm not sure that matters at this point. What matters is that I formulate ideas and try to assemble them in such a way that I find them interesting, or at least illuminating. 

Grist for the mill.

I may spend some time talking about game development because, well, that's my job, and something I know a lot about. But I'm not sure how much of that I'll do - too much like work. There's also the fact that I don't want to speak for the people I work with, and being the President of the place, it is sometimes implied that I DO, so I have to be careful about it.

That said, if you are one of the few (if any) people reading this and you DO have questions about game development, I'm happy to try to answer some of them. It'll give me something to write about, if nothing else!


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Back at it - and a new name

Holy crap, I'm finally able to work on this again, a year later!
Torchlight 2 is shipped, and I am nearly a real person again.

In the interim, somebody else hopped on the Monster Tower name, so I had to come up with one.

Behold, 'The Trouble With Monsters'

Sunday, March 25, 2012

How 'bout a big ol' post with a ton of images in it. Yay!