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Reboot – Part 2: To Reinvent or Not

I’ve wanted to “work for myself” for a very long time, possibly since the first job I’ve had. I’ve never functioned well in office environments. Around 2007 – 2008, I tried freelancing as a web developer (as I was formerly employed as exactly that) and ended up hating it so much, that I’ve more or less lost all interest in web development.

What do you do when roughly the only trained skill you have, becomes something you’re not interested in anymore? I harboured dreams of developing stand-alone management applications that I could then sell to clients – a complete software suite that, unlike CMS-based websites, would not necessarily need my continued interaction with the client (aside from support calls, etc.). I certainly had the skills to execute this and yet, it didn’t happen.

What I kept telling myself the problem was (and at least partly, it was), was the inability to make money from such an idea until I had a finished product. In other words, in the couple of months it would take me to develop something like this, I would have no income, but I would still have rather significant expenses. Part-time job? Working on the project in the evenings? I’ve tried that in the past and it just didn’t work for me. I tend to get so involved with the other work that I do, that I end up not having the energy or motivation to work on the project (also, part-time jobs in South Africa generally don’t pay enough to augment this kind of process – the other thing you’re doing would need to bring in money at the same time too, in order to keep up with rent, groceries, etc. So full-circle – the thing I’m doing isn’t currently bringing in money that I can survive on. The End… :/ ).

And this is precisely how the cycle has gone for me, probably since 2005. I get to the point where I realise the job I’m doing doesn’t fulfil me, I need to focus on my own projects, then I quit the job and focus on my projects, but before long, I panic, since there’s no “security” in my own projects…

Right before I quit my last job, before I was supposed to “start my own thing”, a lot of what I was considering, revolved around the idea(s) I mentioned above – creating software that I can sell as an end product. I had one big idea for a specific software package that I wanted to create – my ticket to freedom. But I think as the realisation slowly dawned on me that it was actually a pretty complex idea; that it would most likely take several months before I could even present a prototype, that I started panicking. I was in denial and just kept going as if everything was okay when the fact of the matter was – things were not okay. I had no income, no foreseeable income and even though I had a great plan (I think), at the rate I was going, there was no practical way of seeing it through. I’d be homeless or starving long before I’d be able to complete the project.

One good thing that came about as a result of this, was that I actively started thinking – the way I actually should have been before I left my job. What options did I have available to me? I ended up speaking to an architect (as I figured I have a keen interest in that general direction) and he actually gave me some of the best advice thus far – it shouldn’t be necessary to completely reinvent myself. Since I do have an interest in the skills that I already have, I should combine all these different skills and come up with something unique and fulfilling that way. Of course, I didn’t think really think it was such great advice at the time. I wanted to hear, “Yes! Quit your job! Become an architect! It’s the greatest thing you could ever do!”

Then, through some or other gaming news feed that I follow, I came across an article about Game Dev Tycoon. More specifically, it was about the very unique and interesting way the developers chose to address the issue of software piracy in their game. I thought it was brilliant, and it got me interested in the game itself. I downloaded the demo and started playing it. And – fell instantly in love with it.

I think great works of literature/art/film/drama/theatre/gaming not only give you a meaningful and entertaining way to while away some time, but should also affect the way you think. They should inspire you beyond the confines and limitations of their medium. Game Dev Tycoon did precisely that for me.

I started realising that my interest (and even skill, in some cases) in 3D graphics, programming, architecture, art, music, storytelling – all of these were an ideal combination for game development. Further inspired by Game Dev Tycoon, I started forming ideas for a game that I thought I’d like to develop. The more I thought of it, the more I liked the idea. I even started loving it!

But then, the unexpected stepped in and stuck a massive spanner in the spokes. I found myself back in the rural town where I grew up, living with my mother after my father’s passing. Weeks went by during which I spent most of my time dealing with banks, insurance companies and creditors of all kinds. Yet, beneath all this, there was still the excitement of my newly discovered potential niche – the thing that combined all my formerly acquired skills into something that I’d actually enjoy doing (Aha! It was good advice after all!).

Of course, nothing is ever this simple, and I started realising that my idea would take a very, very long time to execute, again because of its complexity. On top of that, despite the fact that I did actually study programming, I’ve never done anything remotely like game development. I’ve mostly been involved with data extraction, loading, transformation, databases, etc. It felt a little like I had only really learned the basics of balance – how to keep myself from falling over while standing up – and was now attempting a tightrope walk between two high-rise buildings.

Right at this point though, something seemed different than before. I didn’t just up and run in the opposite direction again. I kept tinkering with ideas. I kept myself occupied with activities that weren’t actively part of my idea, but were in some way related. I spent days on end working through old 3D modelling tutorials again. I started learning Python and playing around with the Python-based game engine Panda3D as well as taking my first steps with Unity. Also, in the time in between, I actually made an effort to entertain myself and relax by reading, watching movies and playing video games.

Then, out of nowhere, everything just suddenly gelled. The book I was reading, the game I was playing, even the casual game my mom was playing, all came together and formed a new, unique idea in my mind. And for two days I was so excited that I truly struggled to keep from grinning all the time. I had a new idea for a different game that was essentially quite simple, yet complex enough to be entertaining. At the same time, the nature of the idea meant that it was something that I would be able to execute by myself in a much shorter period than my original game idea. I started jotting down ideas, drawing out diagrams, finding reference materials – actually planning this project.

That’s roughly where I am now, but there was one last thing that was nagging at the back of my mind. Very much in line with the original idea of this blog, I want to share this entire experience with people: how I – a complete noob to game development – am developing my first ever computer game. There’s obviously going to be a lot of trial-and-error involved and I want people, especially other aspiring game developers, to see how someone else who has no previous experience goes through this. Obviously though, despite the fact that I’m an advocate for open source, I do intend to eventually make money from this project so that I can become independent again. Thus I’m still trying to figure out how to maximise utility using this blog by sharing as much about what I’m doing as possible, while at the same time not giving away too much of my work (if anybody has ideas on how to do this, please let me know!)

Through the unfortunate events of the past few months, I just happen to find myself in a situation now where I can actually take the time and work on this project until I have a saleable product. I’m very fortunate to not have to worry about a place to stay, having to pay rent or buy food at the moment. Obviously, nobody wants to be dependant on someone else for extended periods of time (or possibly ever), but as this is how things have worked out, I’m going to try my best to use this opportunity and make the best of it.

This blog will become my “development blog” for my first game, and will eventually be incorporated into the main website I’m planning (this is also becoming a solo blog – will tell you a little about all of that later). I hope you’ll stick around and interact with me over the course of this project (and the ones to follow). 😉

4 thoughts on “Reboot – Part 2: To Reinvent or Not

  1. Wow Henriel! That sounds really exciting! I can’t wait to hear more! 🙂 Here’s rooting for you from JHB!

    1. Thanks, Niki 🙂 Busy busy busy, but so far I’ve managed to stick to my commitment of posting one piece every Friday (actually posted TWO things this week!)

      I’m driving up to Gauteng tomorrow, so I’ll see you sometime in the next two weeks 😉

  2. This is just what I needed to read. Thank you!…Goodluck . The main reason why I went in programming was to develop games, or somehow get into developing games, but I’ve lost direction and steam, this is what I needed.

    1. That’s fantastic! I’m so glad if it meant something to someone!

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