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On Desert Golfing and naming my company

Randy enjoys an evocatively open-ended golf game while struggling with whether he should place his games under a moniker.

Randy OConnor, Blogger

September 1, 2014

8 Min Read

Spoiler: I don't yet have a name for my company.


I think we let other people make decisions because we assume that, in the long term, those people must have more knowledge than us in regard to the decision. We become vocal, or angry or introspective, when we decide that our knowledge, our passion, or our perspective entitles us to a voice.




I have played multiple hours of Desert Golfing. I think I have. I have no specific knowledge of my time with the game. Not sure how to track it besides looking at a clock and jotting down the minutes on a notepad. The game, as Frank Lantz noted on Twitter a week back, is Kafkaesque in its ability to transform. The transformation is because the game gives you so little.


In Desert Golfing (for mobile devices), you hold down your finger to line up and determine the strength of golf shots as you hit a ball toward and into a hole. The entirety of the game consists of terrain, a hole with a numbered flag, a ball, and two numbers at the top of the screen: your total shots since starting the game, and the number of shots on the current hole. Oh, and as you line up your shot, an arrow indicates the strength and angle. 


Justin Smith tries to provoke controversy by claiming sameness as his motivation for making a golf game, but design is the sum of its parts, not a single theme or mechanic. By reduction, by leaving out menus and stars and powerups and leaderboards, he has left much open for thought and intent on the part of the player. The second-to-second goal of aiming shots and the minute-to-minute goal of completing a hole is straightforward and tight. And then you are left with, not the naive lack of an hour-to-hour goal, but that you don't know what it is. Your total shots keep climbing as screen by screen you move forward. There is direction to the game. Around hole 300 you spot a cactus. I think it was after hole 500 that I encountered a rock I could push around. And then it was gone and I was once again left with only my thoughts and the shuffling shifting sand particles as my ball hit the sides of hills.


Desert Golfing

Image from @raiganburns


I saw Bennett Foddy post a screen from around hole 300 with a score, and I set myself up that I would reach that same hole with a lower score. (Note: I beat it easily.) I wanted to know if there was an end, then I wanted to beat someone else's singular total number, then I wanted to know how much more there was. Now I open Desert Golfing as mindless meditation.


When I first read about The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall [Morrowind being one of the first games I loved and obsessed over], I was amazed how little I wanted to play it. Something like 15,000 towns. Games with large numbered statistics don't mean anything. Morrowind was beautiful for its ten towns. 


Desert Golfing doesn't have a large or small number. It has a number unknown to me, on one axis. An axis that I am making inexorable progress along. The importance of the mechanics are tied into knowledge and lack thereof. The mystery. Desert Golfing will only give me as much satisfaction as I allow it to give.




About a month ago I decided that I should name my company. I've said before that Rich Vreeland's adoption of the moniker Disasterpeace has been a powerful branding tool. I recently saw him write that he wishes he could get rid of it. But that name is powerful as an abstraction placed between the simple idea of a composer and the complicated reality of Rich Vreeland. It defines his music more than it defines him.


I want that abstraction, partly because I want people to know me as an idea as much as an individual. It's egotistical, but it's also commercial. It feels professional. I'm supposed to be a pro now, right? I think I'd be wise to name my games under a company banner.


But I haven't gone through with it. The names I jot down feel foolish, they feel too commercial. They feel like who gives a shit. Randy O'Connor makes games. He is conflicted, he is joyous, he is all the feelings. But who the hell wants their company to be called "All The Feelings, Inc"?


The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall



I like making decisions in game development. I can't always come up with the ideas, but I often have strong feelings about what's working and what's not in the systems I engineer. I'm happy when I find people who can make better decisions for me. Every statistic and number in a game matters. Every time I neglect a number, then its presence is just noise unless I find the signal.


The universe is all signal. We've been adding noise, though, to our games, numbers we no longer understand or truly care about. The way I keep adding sentences to the end of this piece. I don't know where the signal is. I guess, to pin it down, I'd say that the signal for me is spelling out the board.


I make noise when I draw conclusions. But maybe you don't. I make noise when I make music. But maybe you don't. Do you know what signals you're creating and what noise? I guarantee there's a signal right next to that noise. Or perhaps it's a little farther zoomed in, perhaps a little zoomed out. There is always signal.


The goal is searching, and then accepting when the signal resolves.




Randy O'Connor is an indie who helped make Escape Goat 2, Waking Mars, Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor, and many other games both on his own and with others.


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You can find him on the web, the twitter, and the facebook.

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