You Are What You Build: The Dangers of Developing in Isolation

Fat, useless, and unloved. And that was just my game.

[This article by Ryan Henson Creighton is re-posted from the Untold Entertainment blog, which is awesome.]

November through January, in both 2012 and 2013, were rough times for me. Those same three months, a year apart, had me crunching harder than the breakfast cereal Cap'n. A typical day went like this:

  • Wake up (barely) at 10 or 11am. Open the laptop next to the bed.
  • Work from bed. No shower, no breakfast ... just work.
  • Loving wife feeds me and the family lunch.
  • Work. Possibly relocate to the living room.
  • Loving wife feeds me and the family dinner.
  • Work. Possibly relocate back to bed.
  • Asleep by 4am.
  • Repeat for three months.

... excellent?

i wouldn't leave the house for days on end. i think my record was ten days inside the house. i put on a lot of weight. i pictured it all ending like that Geraldo episode where they remove the side of the house to transport Hambone to the hospital via crane and flatbed truck.

This was all in service of a government deadline for my game Spellirium, a project which had gone terribly terribly wrong by its fourth month of production, and had stayed wrong for the ensuing three years.

No Man is (the Size of) an Island

Needless to say, developing in isolation like that is not a Good Thing™. One of the biggest benefits of agile development is getting your creation out in front of playtesters early and often. But when you're stuck at home Hamboning yourself with an impossibly-scoped game and no team or budget to speak of, important things like Finding the Fun fall by the wayside.

i warsh mahself with a rag on a stick.

That's why the spellcasting system in Spellirium ended up like it did: bloated, ineffective, and tough to love ... much like its developer. This week's Spellirium Minute developer diary outlines the problems in the system that became obvious once it saw the light of day (which was approximately the same time i - quite literally - saw the light of day).

Watch Spellirium Minute Episode #20: Spell in a Handbasket

The good news in all of this is that, thanks to the kickender, the problems with Spellirium have been exposed. When i launched the campaign with the alpha version, i joked that it was like letting a bunch of people into your bedroom without first being able to tidy it up or hide the embarrassing bits. But i've had a really positive, helpful response from the community. Every Spellirium backer is automatically signed up for an account on our bug-tracking system, and i'm happy to give people an extra "Playtester" credit if they log a bug or two. The players' feedback has been extremely valuable to me, and i've spent the last few weeks fixing design issues, addressing their bug reports, and preparing Spellirium for a solid 0.37 release.

Lately, i've taken up running. i've also given up drinking soda pop, which once sounded a death knell for an already-overweight guy like me with such a sedentary lifestyle. My "You Get Fat" campaign sees me donating any and all sugary beverages to friends, family and office mates, passing the calories on to them so that i don't ingest them. In this way, i'm slowly relying on other people, making changes little by little, and am now on the right track to professional and personal improvement. In this way, i hold out great hope that both my game and my life will get better and better.

Become a Spellirium Backer

Spellirium recently achieved its first crowdfunding goal - Pretty Decent Voiceover. You can contribute to goal #2, Act III Adequately Animated, at the Spellirium kickender site.


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