As I write this I am pushing some last minute changes to our build. If all goes well, we will be handing out Steam keys to press so they can get their hands on our game and stream or review them (if you are interested, please check out our press kit and request a review copy). If all doesn't go well...we rush to put out another fire. A few months ago I would be blaming myself for this predicament, wondering how we could have done better, and why we didn't see it coming. Eventually it would lead to another panic attack as I multiply all the fuckups we've made during the course of development and sink into a spiral of despair. I'm still stressed out, but I'm doing a little better today. Why is that? It's because I finally accepted that I just have to be “comfortable with being uncomfortable”. In other words, its okay that things didn't go as planned. It's okay that some bugs just seem to refuse to go away. It's okay that things seemed to finally come together only a few months before launch.
Now to be perfectly fair, a lot of people have been telling me that. Hell, even our publisher told me something similar at one point. I'd heard the same advice from friends of mine who, while not in game development, are entrepreneurs who have to deal with similar situations. But the human brain is a weird thing, and sometimes it takes a very specific time and place for you to hear something and to have everything click. And that moment for me came from this excellent interview of Amy Hennig on the designer notes podcast. She and Soren Johnson have an epic 2 episode podcast which spans how she got into the industry and how she ended up directing one of the most well known franchises in console gaming. At around 30 minutes they start talking about the intricacies of putting together a giant game like the Uncharted and what it takes to get all of those moving pieces running together in sync. Her broad answer is that despite their best efforts, it often doesn't work in sync:
“I always say, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, because if you try to make it feel more known and more nailed down and more sure, you're probably gonna make something that is kind of dead. But if you just go, this is crazy and it's gonna feel crazy, and it's a tightrope walk and we're doing backwards and blindfolded, let's go...”
Now before anyone jumps on me for defending delayed schedules and mistakes and whatnot, let me assure you that I know that all of these things are not okay. It's not okay to miss deadlines, it's not okay to have a scatterbrained development process, and yes, I know the value of a good producer that keeps an eye out for these things. That's all important, and they are all things I wish I had or I wish could do better. But there's also a line where being self-critical and wanting to do better starts to become emotionally harmful to yourself and the people around you.
I'm not a risk-taker. Which seems crazy coming from someone who cofounded a small PC studio in the middle of nowhere (in terms of PC-only game development we might as well be living in a desert) and is putting out an admittedly niche title, but there you go. It's the reason we wouldn't have moved forward without a publisher. There was no way I'd emotionally be able to handle all that risk.
I'm also a bit of a control freak. It's not that I'm a megalomaniac that needs to control everything mind you, it's just that being able to control certain aspects of my life makes me feel emotionally stable. When my wife and I go on trips to other countries I have our itinerary planned out. Where we're going, how we're getting there, where we're staying, etc. I make sure to leave a little room for serendipity, but generally speaking I don't like flying blind. I just don't. It freaks me the fuck out. Having some control just makes me feel a little better.
And yet both entrepreneurship and game development offer you no control. On the team, I'm probably the most flexible in terms of time, so the stuff that doesn't slip through the cracks usually falls on my plate. So I'm managing our finances including payroll and renting at the coworking space, dealing with our audio contractor, dealing with our publisher, handling any legal issues, all the way down to booking tickets and organizing itineraries for when we go to conventions (at this point a career shift to travel agency seems inevitable). Looking at all these moving parts constantly throughout the course of making the game made me feel physically ill at times. I always kept worrying that something would slip through the cracks, and they inevitably did. Then I would get super depressed and get into a funk that seeped into my personal life.
“You should delegate,” you might say. And trust me, it's advice that I've given out myself. I think that people who's first instinct is to do it themselves because other people wouldn't do it right probably wouldn't be good leaders. But delegating is harder than you think. And some of the soft skills I've learned aren't directly transferable to people. It's just stuff I've passively absorbed through almost 9 years of being a freelance artist and basically running a one-man business. Oftentimes the ball in in my court and I totally drop the ball (how's that for mixed metaphors?) And now I know that it's okay.
Why bring this up now? As I said in the beginning, we're moments away from sharing the game with press, hoping they'll review it in time for our launch next week(!) and desperately hoping they'll like our game. I'm scared they won't. I'm scared we fucked up somehow. I'm scared that 2 years of effort will go down the drain. I'm scared Positech's first experiment with a non-UK company will flop, and I'm carrying all that responsibility on my shoulders. But for better or worse I know that our little team did its best. And at the end of the day we put out a game. Whether or not we are financially successful, that's already an accomplishment. We'll move forward. We'll try to learn from our mistakes. We'll always be trying to get ahead and make sure that everything is locked down and running smoothly. But despite our best efforts we never will probably never lock it down till we're almost at the end. But we'll never stop trying to be better.
Thanks for reading. Political Animals is launching in one week! If you're a games journalist or streamer that wants a review copy, please check out our press kit and distribute() link. If you'd like to be updated on the latest Political Animals news, please sign up for our mailing list, join our Facebook group, or follow us on Twitter!