The Point of No Return
May 29th, 2008 by Ice Cream Jonsey

I’ve reached the point of no return when it comes to writing a text game. I’m a complete mess.

I can’t remember the last time I got a good night’s sleep in some kind of string. I’m not just saying that: I’m trying. I’ve tried. Nothing comes back to me as a solid memory that I can point to. I was regularly going to bed at two thirty until I realized that the alarm would more nicely interrupt me outside of a sweet spot if I worked for an hour later. I still wake up completely fatigued. My muscles ache and complain, my knees creak and pop, and there are deep, purple bags under my eyes at all times. I avoid mirrors and all reflective surfaces when possible. I crawl into bed and think about the game, think about what I will be writing next, think about how poor the slop is that I made the night before and how to fix it. Once or twice a day I completely lose my breath and while doing nothing.  I need more exercise, I need more rest, I need to eat more fruits and vegetables and vitamins.

I have forgotten birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and celebrations – both made-up by greeting card companies and those I helped to create through the amazing and fortunate successes in my previous life. The only people I can connect to are on-line, in chat rooms, in e-mail, on forums, since they are the ones that make the least number of demands to my time. I judge every possible experience as to whether or not it is taking away from the time I have to write. I demand that movies be better than the quality of the game I have imagined I am making in my head, and silently curse them when it’s obvious that they aren’t. I come to a slow burn putting a DVD in the player, since that requires fighting with the Xbox, trying to immediately get to the menu screen, sitting through the insipid, unskippable bullshit the studio asked for, hoping the last Netflix customer didn’t take a safety razor to the disc, causing freeze-ups. Some worthless suit deigned that their terrible movie or season of TV shows should roll animation for twenty seconds before you can start the chapter or next episode and I wish them their death for having the arrogance to waste my time.

I worry about dying with the game unfinished. I fret over the fact that a glass of gin and Wal-Mart off-brand Kool-Aid gets me almost immediately in the mood to write, and that I don’t let myself do all the time because I’ll develop it into a problem due to my poor impulse control. I feel a deep despair when I play the acoustic versions of the pop punk songs that get my brain into the mode it needs to be to write. I find myself wishing I could exist in a featureless white void of a room for the days I’ve computed I could finish the game in, if I wrote an ever-changing number of lines of code a day.

I get back test scripts and feedback and decide, a dozen times over, to just give up. To be a consumer for the rest of my life. I read what I gave another person to test and find it shit, find it terrible, predictable, moronic, unfunny, uncreative, small-minded, incompetent. The dialogue doesn’t crackle. The scenery isn’t implemented. The puzzles aren’t rewarding. They tried things I need to implement, they found holes in my narrative I hoped nobody would notice. It all needs to be addressed.

I laugh at myself over the fact that the only subject I could get in front of a room of people and teach — the only thing I have ever mastered in my entire life in almost three and a half decades — is how to code in the 4th-most popular text game development environment.

I have become a terrible friend, a terrible confidant, a miserable person with which to live, an empty shell of once happy and functional human being. Nothing I can do will change this until the game is finished and complete and released and judged. I could promise to take a week off and “recover” and get maybe two days into it before the nagging, empty, spectre of text game making pulls me in again and demands that I continue. There’s literally nothing else I want to do in my life but this. Everything else is sighworthy. What is wrong with me. There’s at least an end in sight. There is at least that. This will be the creation I will be remembered by, if I am remembered at all, and every day I have spent on it hurts.

5 Responses  
  • Emily Short writes:
    May 29th, 20086:03 pmat

    This was a painful read for me, because you’re describing what the last… what, six? — months of writing City of Secrets was like. Not enough sleep, not enough rest, not enough interacting with other humans, the sense that I had long since passed every conceivable *sane* reason to be doing what I was doing. The creeping fear that what I was doing could not possibly be worth the time and energy I was putting into it. The sense of being reduced, as a person, to a single purpose, since normal hobbies and enjoyments and work had all been set aside. It was excruciating. I’ve been various kinds of unhappy at various times in my life, but I remember that as one of the most miserable periods ever.

    I also failed: I released the game when I did because I simply could not stand to work on it any longer. It wasn’t perfected; I just couldn’t go on.

    So, hm. My sympathies. I’m not going to suggest that you get some perspective and sleep more, because though that’s good advice, it didn’t work for me then and I don’t expect it to work for you now.

    And I’m not going to tell you it’ll feel better in retrospect, because if my experience is anything to go by, it won’t. I am not entirely satisfied with any of my IF work, but CoS is the game I have the biggest grudge against, because I put so much into it that every remaining flaw is a bigass neon sign pointing to my failings as a human being. The problem with doing your best at something — really your best, holding nothing back at all — is that then when you’re done you’re stuck with the results. You don’t get to say that you weren’t really trying or that it was just a side project or anything.

    Here’s what I have to say from the other side of that experience. One, most of my personal relationships did prove pretty resilient even though I wasn’t as attentive to them as I should have been. In fact, a lot of people came through for me during that time, and that was heartwarming and something I appreciate, and I tried to show later that I’d appreciated it, even if I wasn’t up for being very demonstrative while it was going on.

    Two, the really important thing, and my answer to “This will be the creation I will be remembered by, if I am remembered at all…”: the good news is, this may be the best you can do now, it may be the biggest thing you’ve written so far, but there will be a time after it, and there will be more opportunities to write your life’s masterpiece.

    Anyway. Hang in there. (Not that that’s very helpful.)

  • Paul Furio writes:
    May 29th, 20087:15 pmat

    Yeah, I know how it feels. I make games professionally, and every day I go home wishing I could work on my latest IF work, but I’m just burned out from making games at work all day. These aren’t even the games I WANT to be making, but they pay the bills.

    Not that this is any respite, but when it’s over, and you’ve started the next one, you’ll be in a bittersweet state: The challenges of the next title will make you long for the 20/20 hindsight you have on this one, and that will drown out the pain you’re feeling right now. Of course, you’ll also have to live with your creation, and for every 20 complaints, you’ll get back one compliment which makes it all worthwhile.

    I’ve made plenty of games, some great, some sysiphian shovelware. The Making Of is always a slog. The rough edges are always most visible to the Creator, and the hidden flaws are always invisible to him/her and readily apparant to the critical player. It’s the nature of the beast. All you can do is keep at it, and strive towards the moment of completion. At least in that, there is release.

  • Bruce writes:
    May 29th, 200811:09 pmat

    At least it’s not vodka, my friend. At least it’s not vodka.


  • Ice Cream Jonsey writes:
    May 30th, 20081:24 amat

    Thank you all for taking the time to read and respond. In fact, the comments showing up in nothing but italics was driving me crazy, as if replying entered you into the Comments World of Tycho from Penny Arcade (not a shot: it would be awesome to have one of the three common font mods associated with me. Perhaps it is not too late to bagsies underline!). I have switched to a black text on white background theme that will hopefully be easier to read, as well as not get me called out as elderly on my BBS. I hope to achieve but one of those.


    re: Emily

    It is helpful! To know that someone had gone through it before with IF does help. I am probably going to turn in no later than one for a month to at least see if it helps. I have read a few articles on sleep deprivation and they all seem to say that the target stayed up for 11 days straight, slept for 14 hours and then was able to get all their motor skills, mathematical skills, and not-seeing-demons-in-the-lawn skills back. But what happens if you get like four hours of sleep over several months? (Actually, there is probably a single mother of four working three jobs somewhere in the US right now who could tell me, so I should say that it’s all relative.) I may very well be making myself more dense.

    You’re right, of course, that there will always be another opportunity to write, and while it is tough to envision what that will be like, it’s good to keep that in perspective.

    re: Paul

    Thank you for sharing what it is like to do it for a living – I have this dream of one day quitting my job and getting to devote all this time to making games of some sort, but yeah, it does seem like the insanity doesn’t cease, it just takes up more time. I totally hear you on how exhausting it can be being in front of a computer screen and then coming home facing more of the same. And regarding what you said about the one compliment making it all worthwhile – haha, I feel the exact same way. I think that and time with my sweetie does the most to keep me sane, heh.

    re: One of the Bruces

    Well, it’s, ah, been gin lately because I drank all the vodka.

  • Paul O'Brian writes:
    June 4th, 20089:33 amat

    Good god. Now I understand why I progress so slowly on IF projects. Much sympathy, and man… I don’t know. Are you working to a deadline here? Is it a comp game or something? Because if not, please, take a day off! I promise you won’t die.

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