A Different Kind of Game Dev Blog
It's often said that failure is the best teacher. Well, my first attempt at this blog (and this company) was a failure born out of a failure. I had been laid off from my first adult job just as I was starting married life. Deep down, I seriously wanted Slug Games to become a viable business and a replacement for my day job, but in retrospect, there was no way that was going to happen on my first try. Oh sure, there were the obvious reasons that sound like a broken record among game devs, such as scope creep, time spent reinventing the wheel, an emphasis on motion over action, overestimating my own ability and experience, etc. But there were also many personal reasons which I'm sure are all too common among self-professed game devs but are all too often swept under the rug, such as marital issues, the burden of self discovery, and the harsh realities of job seeking. I thought I was ready to get this venture off the ground, but the main lesson I ended up learning was just how unready I truly was, and how steep of a climb up the mountain I was really looking at.
One of my first posts on here, which has since been deleted (not because it was a bad post or anything, just that I'm starting fresh) was intended to be an inspirational post about the motivation I've had to work in game development from an early age. One of the hard lessons I have learned since writing that post is that inspiration and a buck won't buy you a cup of coffee anymore. Slug Games did not fail for lack of passion or effort. As obvious as that may sound to many of you, I think it's the kind of lesson that doesn't really sink in until you experience it yourself. It's very easy to fool yourself into believing you've accounted for that fact, when you really haven't. We as humans like to believe that we can do anything. In some sense, it speaks to our moral compass and values. We want to believe we have what it takes because, at some deep fundamental level in our core being, we want to believe that good things happen to good people and that we are good people deserving of success. But good and successful are ultimately two different concepts, often only loosely connected in practice. There are plenty of seriously flawed, less-than-stellar humans who achieve great success (sometimes through questionable means), and still many more wonderful, deserving people who don't. Out of failure, I learned to not only acknowledge my shortcomings, but also appreciate that the world of game dev doesn't revolve around me, and in so doing, respect that my failure was not necessarily a reflection on me or my character, just where I was in my life and game dev journey at that point in time.
I think a perfect analogy is a recent job interview I had. It was during the pandemic, so what normally would have been an on-site interview was being conducted over Zoom. I personally loathe tech interviews and tend to struggle quite a bit with them, so I prepared many hours over several weeks for this thing. My wife was wholly supportive of it, giving me the time and space I needed to study and practice coding and design questions. When the time finally came for the interview, she set aside a nice, clean desk space in the master bedroom on one side of our house, closed the door, and agreed to stay quiet and not come in until I was done. Everything was going pretty well, until about halfway through the several-hours-long interview process with multiple interviewers, when my wife let the dog out into the back patio area from the kitchen. The thing about our house is that the master bedroom and kitchen are on opposite ends, but both have glass sliding doors out to the back patio. So of course, the dog immediately ran over to the bedroom door right next to where I was sitting, and started scratching and barking for me to let her in. I guess my wife didn't notice because she was busy cooking and also having work meetings herself. I tried to ignore the dog, but she just kept getting more and more desperate for attention, so at one point, I had to ask the interviewer for a moment to let the dog in because I couldn't focus. I proceeded to bomb the rest of the interview. Now, I really don't know enough about what the interviewers felt or how I would have done if it were not for the interruption, so I can't say definitively that the dog is the reason I failed. At the end of the day, the interview was my responsibility alone, and I didn't make the cut, so there's no sense in blaming others. But the interesting thing as it relates to this post is that the dog interrupting me had nothing to do with whether I was prepared, deserving, or qualified for the role. It just happened. It was a seemingly random event. Sure, I was a little frustrated with my wife for not having the common sense to know that would happen when she let the dog out (let's just say the condition of our screen doors is evidence that our dog jumping and barking to get in isn't exactly a rare occurrence), but it's not like she made the conscious decision to sabotage me either. She actually went out of her way to help me prepare. After all, the interviews were only virtual because of a completely unrelated pandemic. It's not like our dog would have ran through the company's office barking for me had I been able to go on site.
In much the same way that incident was not a true reflection of me as a job candidate, I think it's important for me to recognize that starting a successful indie game dev business is kind of like hiking a long, difficult trail through the woods at night. Sure, you can be as skilled of a hiker as any, but it doesn't mean you won't twist your ankle on a tree stump or get bitten by a snake. Rather than ignore those risks by assuming that one's skill alone will carry them through, I think the smarter approach is to acknowledge the independent risks and prepare for them. Maybe don't go hiking at night without a flashlight, or perhaps carry a first aid kit. I think it's very common for beginner game devs, even after grasping the difficulty of development itself, to underestimate the impact of all the external risk factors, such as family pressure, job obligations, the dog needing a walk, and so on. We're often so fixated on the trail that we fail to plan for the snakes hidden in the bushes.
Slug Games was my feeble attempt at trying to start a game dev business at a time in my life when it really was not feasible. Or perhaps more precisely, Slug Games is something I should have been working on alongside my day job many years earlier, and I have thankfully continued working on it since, but it was absolutely never going to just materialize when I expected it to. It was silly of me to even consider that as a possibility. But I thought, "Oh, 12 months should be enough time to at least produce something of value, and if it fails, I can always put it on a resume, get another job, and come back to it later." Well, after 12 months, I essentially had nothing to show for it, despite all the passion and effort, and it took me another 6 months to actually get another job once I started looking. I look forward to going into more detail on some of the reasons why it played out that way, in the hopes of possibly helping out others who find themselves in similar situations and are looking for guidance. For now, I think the key takeaway is that our careers and game dev journeys are executing concurrently with this crazy process called life. This life process scrambles your registers, flushes your pipelines, and fragments your filesystem on a daily basis, so there's no point in designing and optimizing your game dev journey or other life goals in isolation.
We now interrupt this broadcast to inform you that we have a baby on the way. Yes, I'm going to be a father in a few months, and I'm super excited and happy. It's something I've been looking forward to for a long time. But as you can probably imagine, having a kid is not exactly a boon to one's professional game dev prospects. However, game dev (or more precisely engine dev in my case, as I will elaborate in a future post) is one of the few things that continues to compel me as I begin a new decade of my life. It's part of my identity. It's not just something I can throw away. I have several other hobbies that I love dearly but wouldn't hesitate to throw away first if it meant preserving the game dev dream. So how do I go about balancing fatherhood, husbandhood, developerhood, and my day job? Well, that brings me to the subject matter of this blog.
When I first started this blog, I intended it to be a mostly technical showcase of what I was working on for Slug Games. However, I quickly realized this was merely an unrealistic facade with which I was not very comfortable, as much of the challenge around working on my projects was simply around balancing the rest of life's obligations with game dev. As it turned out, the state of my marriage was every bit as relevant to what I was working on as the networking model I was prototyping or the stories I was writing. I suspect it'll be even more like that with a child. I've also often lamented the fact that I don't really have a personal web site or partake in social media, and so in some sense, I'm hoping this blog can be kind of a catch-all for my Internet presence. I foresee myself documenting anything and everything here, from parenting struggles and professional development to game dev projects and educational material. I don't know if it will stay like this forever. After all, this blog was supposed to be part of the public image of Slug Games as a company. But it has become blatantly obvious to me that Slug Games as a business entity is intrinsically linked to me as a human being with a life. I also know I'm far from the only person with dreams and challenges like mine, and so I hope that this little corner of the Internet can be of value to others out there who find themselves following in my footsteps.