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Randy OConnor, Blogger

January 27, 2013

7 Min Read

"All you can do is decide what to do with the time that is given to you."-Mother-effin-Gandalf

Debates about prioritization are fascinating. Each person has different views on what's important. It is the struggle of our life's energy versus the slow entropy of the universe that we are a part of.  Should you make tons of things that are decent with an occasional gem, or spend years working on one thing that's incredible? Should I be writing about making games or just making them? Is work even really important?

We as creators have to decide how much to work on something, when to stop, when to quit, when to start, and perhaps most importantly in regard to making a career of it, when to present something to the public.

Maybe 50% of the art I've created (and that I like no less!) will never be publicly available because it was part of canned projects. Several former AAA-devs I know left the main industry because they spent years on stuff that will never be seen. YEARS. That stinks. So much is just tucked away and forgotten.

Distractions game screenshot: Collision minigame

So, how will I be remembered?

As a creator, I want to leave a footprint. But it's easy for people to forget I exist these days in this crowded industry. How do I combat that?

As indie developers, I think it's important to expose your energy. There are different ways to do so. Some people foster a tight-knit community, encouraging lots of social interaction amongst their players. Others put their creative tools into the hands of players and the industry.  And still others just produce lots of content. I share a small office with several indies, and each uses a different method. No one method is wrong, they can each be right.

Jon Blow, for example, remains in the public eye because, beyond his game, he is an outspoken commentator and critic of the industry. He appears, posts fiery thoughts, maintains a strong public image, and then goes back to a game that might otherwise be forgotten until release.  The Witness has a lot of publicity because of Blow's online and media presence.  He exudes energy that we, as consumers, are receiving.

I can't tell you which route to take, but I would say that doing nothing is the wrong route.

Here's me.

I am refining my public presence, building it up through content. I've been trying to post more images of works-in-progress, talk about what I'm doing, I don't hold things back as much.  I'm trying to project my personality, hoping that appeals to people. I enjoy hiking, watching the horizon change color, dancing in my apartment alone for half an hour to music, and the warmth of curling beside a lamp with a book and hot chocolate. And as important as those likes, I enjoy talking about those experiences, I want to relate those feelings. So I'm trying to get better at doing so.

This blog is a mix of emotion and lessons and design because that's who I am, and rather than fight to be unique, I'm working on that which feels good, trying to get better at offering what I want most to be skilled at. And hopefully that skill translates to something people want.

What do you think about when you set aside an afternoon to do nothing? If you just sit out at a park on some patch or field of grass, where does your mind go? Do you want to be traveling, playing an instrument, or building a new computer? Do you wish you had a pencil to draw? My mind goes to designing game mechanics or writing poetry. And so I'm trying to take that and run with it, to work on skills I'm always considering anyway.

Distractions game screenshot: Gradient minigame 


My newest  attempt at "exposing my energy" is an iOS app called Distractions(Note to self: start a youtube channel where I stand in crowded public places with sunglasses covering my bloodshot eyes as I explain in jittery, fast-paced speech the thrills and benefits of "exposing my energy".)

Distractions is purely about game design. 

-It is a series of prototypes that ignores aesthetics, story, and tutorials to focus only on gameplay interaction.  
-I am planning to update the app with a new prototype every 4-6 weeks, such that after a year I might have a solid 15 unique games.
-Each prototype (4 have been released as of shipping):
-Must have a single-scoring mechanic (for GameCenter leaderboards),
-Must be black and white, and
-Should take no more than a couple days of full-time work to complete.

The app is very much a success in my book. It took me a couple months of part-time work to get the system up and running. I have had over 4,000 downloads with zero marketing (sans a few tweets and posts on Facebook). I use the leaderboards to track interest, and as of now, people have beaten my scores on 3 of the 4 prototypes, a few have gotten incredibly high scores.

Distractions is not about making money. I do have a "Tip Jar" IAP that gives me a dollar and removes the banners for my other games, but it's there only because I wanted to accept any money that someone might possibly want to give me. I have made 3 dollars, 2 from people I know personally.

Sure, the games aren't very clear. Rather than spend hours figuring out how to teach mechanics, I write out the rules and let players deal with that if they want. I lose plenty of players, but I produce more content, which right now is what I prefer over clarity.

There are now 4,000+ people I might reach in the future with other games, 4,000+ people who know I exist, and most would never have seen my games otherwise. 

Distractions game screenshot: Triangles minigame 

The Point

I love interaction, I like rulesets and game systems and how they respond to player input. There are so many ideas I have floating in my head. (How many ideas are floating in yours?) Distractions is exposing my efforts to the public. It is about embracing my love of game design without regard to anything else and then showing that love to others.

Already the 4th prototype, called Heisenberg (based on Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle), has had strong player response as being both addictive and pretty original. I have a mechanic that has attracted the attention of people. That response is invaluable and rewarding.

Just like the response of artists learning from other artists, programmers working together, consumer/producer interaction, we need back and forth in our lives, we draw energy from communication. Getting your thoughts or work or anything out there can be scary, but as an indie I think it's particularly important to push what you can into the public space. It gives you feedback, it gets players thinking and responding, and it's what you're making games for in the first place, to be played. Right?

Randy is an indie developer who just released Distractions on iOS for free!

He helped make Waking Mars with Tiger Style Games which is totally available on basically everything.
Randy also made Dead End, an iOS game, which you should totally buy for two dollars!

You can also follow his ramblings on twitter, like him on Facebook, go to his deviantArt, or I dunno. Oh, yeah, he also has an "about.me", which means nothing, but he figured it's all publicity, right? Uh, what else? Maybe some poetry, too?

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