Back In Hack

I kicked this blog off with a post about intending to do a better job of self-promotion, before promptly proceeding to not post anything at all for half a year. This is largely because I received an offer of some contract work very soon afterwards which I spent the following few months on. Gotta pay the bills somehow! I’ve been back working on my own project since July though, meaning I’m well overdue for writing a new post.

Right now I’m working on a first-person stealth game set in the near-future, with the working title of Control Shift. Of all games I’ve played, Deus Ex is almost certainly the one which has most strongly influenced my opinions on game design, and one of the goals of this project is to capture some of the elements of it that I was so drawn in by. As a lone developer I can’t hope to cover the same breadth of simulation that Deus Ex did, but my aim is to distill its overall feel into something simpler. David Pittman’s Neon Struct is perhaps a good reference point in terms of mechanical complexity for how I see this ending up.

Of course, no Deus Ex-inspired game can be complete without some sort of hacking mechanic, so recently I’ve been working on implementing a hacking minigame and I’m fairly happy with how it’s looking:

I went through a range of ideas before settling on this, dismissing each for becoming too complicated as a result of my attempts to subvert various tropes typically encountered in hacking minigames. Ultimately though I feel that the final design serves its two main purposes: to generate tension by occupying the player’s attention and making them feel vulnerable, and to add a touch of world-building texture.

Interestingly, my original plan for the game involved a general-purpose hacking mechanic where you could ‘scan’ various objects and then use those scans to alter how other characters recognise objects, with the aim being to trick them into performing different behaviours than they normally would. However, I decided that the idea was too complex to put into a 3D game given the resources available to me, so I shelved it. I may yet revisit it in a future project though, most likely something in 2D and with a design more tightly focused around the mechanic.

A time-limited self-promotion

Around the start of this year I was laid off from my studio job, and by the start of February I had decided – possibly in a fit of madness – to become a full-time independent game developer. So far it’s been going well, but recently I’ve begun to think more about self-promotion. It’s no secret that the market for games is incredibly crowded and it’s difficult to get an individual game noticed, so a sensible approach would be to start putting myself and my work out there from an early point and begin building a proper online presence.

Unfortunately, I find this quite difficult.

Although some former colleagues of mine may be surprised to hear it, I’m naturally a very introverted person; the idea of publicly discussing my life and my work fills me with a sense of anxiety which is tough to overcome. I figure that millions of people blog all the time so it shouldn’t be a big deal, but the fear of criticism or ridicule can be overwhelming for me. I often worry that I’m not as knowledgeable as I should be, that I lack original ideas, or that I’m just plain wrong about things, so my instinct is to avoid saying anything that will confirm it to others. As is the case with many fears, the best way for me to deal with these ones is probably to simply confront them directly, so I’d better get on with putting myself out there.

With this blog being the obvious place to begin with that, I’ll try to get into the habit of posting on here with some frequency. Writing has a low barrier-to-entry, and blog posts are generally my preferred way of learning about other games and their developers so it seems like a natural starting point. Maintaining a thread on a game development community like TIGSource might also be a good idea eventually, but I think I’d like to hold off on that until my project reaches a point where I feel more comfortable with showing it off.

Keeping a video devlog on YouTube is another avenue I’ve given thought to but until I’m ready to show my game the videos would probably just consist of me talking directly to the camera. Although that format may work well for the likes of Tom Francis, without an existing audience I doubt I’ll find many people interested in watching me talk for that long without providing any additional content. To add to that, speaking off-the-cuff doesn’t quite come naturally to me, meaning that producing videos will undoubtedly involve some writing and editing, and probably become more time-consuming than just writing a blog post.

Streaming development live on Twitch is a concept which I’ve only encountered in recent years, with some great examples available from the likes of William Chyr and Brendon Chung. My expectation is that it shouldn’t cost too much time to switch on the webcam and microphone for a couple of hours each day, and by discussing the work I would stand to gain the benefits of ‘rubber duck debugging’ – the process by which explaining a problem or teaching a concept to somebody else helps you to improve your own understanding of it – without having to feel silly about talking to an inanimate object. There is an obvious downside however: the prospect of letting people watch me as I code is incredibly intimidating! Many programmers I know completely lose the ability to type once somebody is watching over their shoulder and I’m no different, but I would still love to give this a try someday if I can build up the confidence for it.

If there’s a method of self-promotion you think I’ve forgotten, why not leave a comment on my webzone below? What’s that? You say I’ve still not added support for comments to my blog? Sorry, I can’t hear you over the sound of a lack of comments support. Also I’m entering a tunnel and you’re breaking up—chhhchhffffzzzz