NOTE: It is rather cheeky to do this, but Cliffski published our first game, and by now we’ve known each other well enough that would call him a friend (although this may put that to the test!)
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
Cliffski takes aim at “useless” activities disguised as work, like reading reddit, playing indie games, and watching youtube let’s plays. While I agree that hunkering down and actually working is the key component in any endeavor, not just gamedev, there is a lot of value to wasting time. I can say this as someone who tried to devote himself to making sure every single day of his life was planned perfectly so as not to waste a minute of time.
There is a supermarket near my home that charges me 30 Pesos (about 75 cents) if I park there for more than 15 minutes. I have planned my grocery shopping such that as soon as I enter the parking lot I have already pre-mapped my route through the grocery story to pcik up everything I need in order so that I am out by 15 minutes. When I miss this arbitrary deadline I get pissed off. I tried to spend the rest of my life this way and it drove me (and my wife) crazy.
There is huge value in making an efficient use of your time. But there is also value in giving yourself a little bit of slack to enjoy stuff, play some games, and read through things. It’s impossible to know ahead of time what will be “100% actual new, informative, well-reasoned and argued and productivity or sales-boosting information” so you need to give yourself time to explore. Sometimes this means time will be wasted, and we need to be okay with that.
Tip #2 Work somewhere quiet
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.
I mostly agree with Cliff here, although to a certain extent this is dependent on your personality. There is some value to be gained from having white noise around you. When I was still exclusively a freelance artist and would often spend hours painting or creating art, I would have a podcast in the background as it genuinely helped me concentrate. This is hard to do if you are writing either code or just plain old text, as the same brain functions are triggered by hearing people speak and actually writing things down. This is because we generally “talk” to ourselves in our head as we are writing, so hearing someone speak at the same time can be jarring.
Ultimately its the being interrupted part that is jarring. So what I’ve done is to try to have the best of both worlds. I work from home in a personal office (really it’s our second bedroom where I have been graced with the use of a corner). To simulate white noise I use a couple of websites:
http://rainycafe.com/ : does what it says on the tin. two toggles and a volume control for rain and cafe sounds.
Air traffic control + Ambient vangelis-like sounds : This is my personal super weird combo. It makes me feel like I’m in a sci-fi movie.
Any “lo-fi hip hop” playlist on Spotify
I have gone over the deep end before and wasted too much time trying to find the “right” white noise, so just pick a sound that you enjoy but can easily ignore, and start working.
Tip#3 Get a big monitor, get 2 big monitors. Don’t feel bad if you have 3.
Three is a bit excessive, but sure, why not. More screen real estate means more information. Too much information can lead to distraction though. For folks with laptops who want a portable solution, this AOC 16-inch usb powered monitor has been an absolute godsend for me.
Tip#4 Shortcut keys and batch files etc
Zero arguments here. I have made shortcut keys for Photoshop for this very same reason. Any time spent learning shortcut keys is repaid 100 fold in the long run.
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.
YES, YES, ONE HUNDRED TIMES YES! This makes more sense for older devs who have to deal with more joint and back pain as they age. But no matter what age you are, buy the most comfortable equipment you can afford.
This includes beds btw. I’d been dealing with some back pain for a very long time and going through a bunch of chairs to find the perfect one. Turns out my main problem was our old bed mattress that I had inherited from my parents. We bought a stiffer mattress and my back pain improved tremendously.
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.
It’s almost impossible to respond to this because it’s so rambling and I have an image of Cliffski in his bathrobe yelling at the gamedev kids to get the fuck off his lawn. But I’ll tackle the point about surrounding yourself with people that tell you want you want to hear with a story.
Someone who used to be a friend of mine asked me to take a look at his 3d animation because he really wanted to get into gamedev. I took a look, and the animation, such as it was, was an object moving from one end of the screen to the other. I told him good job, but tried to explain that animation was a lot more complex than than, and gave him tips and links to improve. He left in a digital huff (this was over chat) and never asked me about animation again. He never became an animator.
People need different things to be able to thrive in their careers. Some need more support than others, and that’s ok! We can’t all be workaholic maniacs like Cliffski. But a certain amount of grit and persistence is needed to see any endeavor through, and if you give up after one well meaning criticism? I don’t have much hope for you.
side note: I have been trying to learn Japanese on and off for about 7 years. I am still pretty fucking terrible at it. But I am committed to learning it.
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.
There is a lot of truth to this. Mastering your craft takes a long time. If you keep making the same kind of game you can reuse some code and learn to discard things that are unnecessary. But it’s also good to be good at other things. Cliffski is a good guitarist as well as businessman. I am primarily known as an artist, but recently my work has tended to be a little bit of design, business and marketing as well, and I’m a mentee at Weather Factory learning how to be a producer. I can never say that I am a master of any one thing, but I’m happy being a jack of (many) trades.
Tip#8 Seek out harsh but real criticism
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.
I 100% agree. This goes back to the idea of having the proper mindset. You cannot get better if you do not seek criticism. Eventually you will learn to filter useful criticism from trolls, and how to extract value from criticism without taking things personally.
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
This tip also rambles off into other stuff, but I’ll tackle distraction. I 100% agree with this. Remember that social media throws billions of dollars at engineers in order to trap you in their site, and MAKE YOU LIKE IT. I have taken the following steps to try to reduce distractions:
Added a website blocker to keep me from accessing social media during work hours
Also use rescuetime to preiodically track my usage
Turned off almost ALL notifications on my phone, with the exception of messenger (coz sometimes friends and fam contact me there).
This has improved my productivity and well being immensely, and I highly recommend it.
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
This is where I will take the most issue with Cliff. Essentially it’s an argument for just getting to work and not worrying about the planning. This is fine if you are a single developer and answer to and only coordinate with yourself and a freelancer. This is absolute suicide if you are a team of 3 or more people (unless you’re synced, Pacific Ri style). The Squeaky Wheel team is composed of hard working individuals. But often times we are not working efficiently and in sync because we’re each doing our own little thing very well. This creates a lot of wasted time and stress for me personally, because I always felt that something was wrong and we were not being efficient. It also creates stress for the individual worker because when work isn’t properly planned, you have the eternal feeling of “if I’m not working, I’m slacking off”. As I mentioned in the first tip, this can be absolutely terrible for your mental health (if you’re not a workaholic robot like Cliffski).
Endless planning and bad meetings can be a waste of time. But taking a team and just assuming that everyone working hard will be “good enough” is a recipe for disaster. I have spent the past few weeks working with Weather Factory’s Lottie Bevan to improve my producer skills, and I’m already feeling a lot better and experiencing a lot less stress. In fact, I just spent most of today planning out the next couple of months for the team, and I feel great!
There are a lot of good points in Cliffski’s blog, and a lot that I disagree with. It’s good to have a conversation about it, and at the very least it makes a good starting point for figuring out what works for you!
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