Dealing With Loss

Recently, a friend of mine passed away. Within that friend group, if you had asked any of us who would likely die first everyone would have said him (even him). But even so, it still came as a shock. Just out of nowhere, someone I saw almost weekly is just gone. Forever. The remainder of the group got together for our normal weekly gathering and had a remembrance for him. But I was struck by the difference in how I reacted to the news compared to everyone else. So I thought I would write about that.

Not The First Time

This is not the first time I have lost someone close to me. Over the years I have lost all of my grandparents, some of them rather suddenly. But… I didn’t feel the lose very strongly. Part of me knew, they were gone, I would never see them again, and I should be sad. But I didn’t cry, I wasn’t sad, I just carried on with life. I don’t know why that is how I reacted, but it is. Did I disassociate from the problem? Maybe. That is how I would describe how I felt at the time.

In addition to losing grandparents I have also lost several pets. The first was my dog. We got her when she was just a puppy and I was still in early grade school. I grew up with that dog. And then, one day, just before we were set to go on vacation for a weekend, something happened. We were in the garage and she yelped in pain. When we got to her seconds latter, her back legs no longer worked. As best we can tell our 13+ year old dog had a stroke or aneurism or something that lost her the ability to move her back legs. One stay at the Vet latter and a confirmation that she would not get better… and we had her put to sleep.

I do not remember much around this time, I remember choosing not to go back and watch her going to sleep for the last time. I am told I cried over the loss. Typing this out I can feel the tears threatening to come out, so I believe it. All this to say, I know I can be affected by loss, but for some reason I am not a lot of the time.

This Time

This time, it was just a normal day. Was in the middle of something when I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. But when I finished up and looked again I realized who the call was from and called them back. Upon getting the news of our friend’s death my immediate response was a short stunned silence, then a “Oh. FUCK.”

I was sent reeling for a little bit, but then my mind shifted a bit. Rather than the grief one might expect, my mind started going over how schedules might change. What to do with certain character interactions in our ongoing game. Just all these analytical angles of the situation. Honestly it got to the point where I was starting to wonder if something was wrong with me.

Then we had our remembrance gathering. Most of the other people were very emotional or had emotional stories of hearing the news. And I just… didn’t. Guess I was the rock. For a while I wondered if something was wrong with my response. But writing all this out has helped me get through some things. And how much I got choked up upon starting this… Nothing “wrong” with me. I just process my grief in an atypical way.

Attending a Playtest Event

There is a local event for developers to bring their games and get people to play test them. I have attended this event several times before, not as a developer but just to try and be part of the community. Just one problem, I am very introverted and not good at integrating into new groups.

As such when I went to these events I would do my best to try and play the games, socialize, and generally be present in the event. But I would often either stick to one place where I felt “safe” or just leave. I just felt awkward and out of place. After a few attempts I largely stopped attending these events. I wasn’t getting much out of them, and I don’t think the people who brought their games were getting much from me either.

Then COVID happened and the events understandably stopped. But just recently the events started back up again. And now I had something to show, something I needed playtested. So I resolved to attend, full of dread for my introverted self, 3 hours in a room full of strangers wanting to talk to me…

And then I was at the event. People were playing my game (and enjoying it more than I expected, even as they failed). I was taking some notes on things to change. And then I looked at the time. Two of the three hours had already passed… and I was having fun. A simple change in perspective/goal/role had turned something I dreaded into an enjoyable and useful experience.

This doesn’t mean I am suddenly an extrovert. Or that there is anything wrong about being an introvert. But it does mean I have discovered another part of my comfort zone. I may actually be looking forward to the next of these events.

Frustration with Conflicting Conversation Styles

I am an introvert. Most of the time this means I am content to keep my own company. But it does not mean I am “allergic” to large gatherings or the such. Just that I can find them draining, if still fun. Why do I bring this up? In conversations I have two “modes”. The first the conversation centers on something I am passionate about and I can talk near endlessly. In my more common mode I will quietly listen and try to speak up when I have something to say. Key word: try.

At a family gathering over the Thanksgiving holiday, I got into a conversation with a relative. They were asking me about a topic relating to my game. And they would ask me a question, before going into details about the question with their own assumptions. I would try to answer the underlying question they at first asked… but whenever I did they would just talk over me as if I hadn’t said anything. Eventually, it felt like they were trying to tell me what they assumed the answer was and/or why my answer was stupid rather than have a conversation. Around the 4th time it happened I just got up and left the room. “Because apparently I’m not allowed to be part of the conversation.”

To be fair to my relative, other people had joined the conversation and I had been quiet for a while. But to be frank, I don’t care about being fair to them after the 4th time in less than an hour. In my opinion the problem seemed to arise from a severe difference in conversation style. Because I am content to listen to a conversation until I have something relevant to contribute he seemed to think I had nothing to say. So when I did have something to say, he just ran over me.

People say not to get angry. But what they usually mean is “don’t lash out”. Because after I got angry, and let everyone know I was upset (and why), I got an apology and he stopped talking over me. So it is okay to be quiet, just don’t be a door mat that everyone walks over.

Setting up for More Playtests

Last time I talked about feedback from playtests. But that is actually putting the cart before the horse a bit. Because obviously before getting feedback you have to have a playtest. And before you have a playtest you need a test build. And… well let’s pop the stack and start at the beginning.

First step in getting my game ready for playtesting was to remove the development objects. In short I have an object that keeps track of a bunch of data between scenes. This object gets created when you start the game, never unloading. But when testing my game during development I don’t want to navigate all the way through my game just to test a minor fix. So during development I just put that data holder object in all the scenes. There are a few times I have to remove it in order to test some things, but they are few and far between.

The next step was shoring up the “in progress” items. This time it was the settings tab in the main menu. I ended up removing a part of settings that I had thought might be a good idea, but latter developments had rendered unneeded/clunky/over complicated. This left me with a slap dash UI design, but everything is functional so good enough for testing.

After a few more last minute fixes/finishes It was time to make a build. This part was easily the most straight forward. Just click the button labeled “Build Game”, give it a name, and wait for it to finish. Installing it on the target platform was a little more involved, but only marginally so.

The biggest hiccup I encountered was attempting to install the game on one of the target devices. It was an older phone no longer in active use (no sim card) and just getting it set up was a bit of an ordeal. But then the real problem showed up. It just refused to install the game. So, bad news: the main device I was going to let people test the game on won’t work. Good news: I could install it on my main phone, and might be able to find another device to use.

Feedback Feedback Feedback

There is something I have always “known” but only recently began to truly appreciate. That is: when making a game get feedback from an outside source whenever practical. The reason for this is simple: as the creator, you aren’t going to see things as clearly as someone outside of the project. And I had always “known” that, but only in my last project have I really lived it.

I have frequently been trying to get playtest feedback from people. But it was always in limited amounts. And the feedback I got didn’t have much in the way of substantive changes to make to the overall experience. But just recently I got my game in front of a slightly larger group than normal and got some feedback that made lots of sense. Things that I hadn’t been thinking about, but when I gave them 3 seconds of thought made perfect sense.

The feedback you get from people outside your project helps give you a new perspective. In my case I am applying the feedback I got pretty directly. But in many cases feedback can serve to force you to ask a critical question: Why did they have that response? By reflecting upon that question you can find issues that you have been blinded to by your familiarity with the project. These problems might not even have any direct relation to the thing the feedback was about. But changes elsewhere could have cascading effects that eventually change what was complained about.

Overall, feedback isn’t about “You need to change thing X because Y” but about seeing things from a new perspective. That way you can pull back and take in the whole thing, rather than getting lost in the weeds.

Fear of Complexity

For a long time now I have been afraid of learning new things. That might sound silly, but hear me out, I only recently really figured out the source of the fear. For a long time I blamed my reluctance to learn new things on my ADHD. Just a lack of ability to focus making it hard. And while that is partly true I recently figured out another part of the problem. As the title suggests what I am afraid of is being overwhelmed by complexity.

When learning a new thing I am afraid it is going to be too complex or involve things I just don’t understand. Just a nice fun mixture of “the fear of the unknown” and a large dose of “fear of failure”. So, what do I do? Delay, distract, and do anything else. I know this isn’t what I should do, and am trying to get better about it. But recently I have started to realize just how unfounded these fears are.

I think what really planted the seed of these fears is two fold. First is a longstanding fear of failure. Not too unusual, and something I have been at least somewhat aware of all my life. Gaming is both were I became aware of this fear, and a space I can fail safely to try and get over it. The second seed is a bit more unusual. That is when I tried looking up how to do various technical things in my programming education, it would seem that the articles I found would assume I new various things that I simply did not know. My most common response to these types of “help articles” was “If I knew that part I wouldn’t be here asking for help!”. And so I slowly associated looking for help with being made to feel stupid and incompetent.

But, throughout my time learning things I would occasionally run into a weird thing. I would be doing something and someone would take notice and praise my ability to do/understand that thing. But I would be confused. Because to me that thing wasn’t praiseworthy… it was easy. And it has taken me years to realize those praises weren’t empty platitudes, that I actually do have some talents. And nothing has underlined this more than when I pushed through to learn some new things recently. Rather than being overwhelmed or confused as I expected it was all so simple and easy to understand.

I am not completely over my fears yet. I still have a ways to go. But I can see the path forward. And who knows? Just as these new things may be simpler than I fear, the path forward may be shorter than I think.

Hardware Maintenance

Early this week My long used laptop charger developed a fault. It still functioned, but part of the wire was frayed revealing the layer under the rubber coating. Not like it was sparking, but not something I wanted to take risks with either. So until I could get a new charger my work laptop couldn’t really be used as normal. So what to do with the day? Clean my keyboard.


I have a pair of mechanical keyboards for my two computers, and I had never cleaned them. I new the idea of how to clean them: remove keys, clean underneath, clean individual keys, replace keys. Fairly simple. But… I had no idea how to remove the keys safely. Then I got a special tool specifically for the job and it was off to the races.

Spent most of the morning cleaning my “work keyboard”. First removing the keys (carefully keeping them in order), then scrubbing under where they were. So much dirt, oil, and other detritus had accumulated that it took some work to get most of it out. Next up was blasting it all with a can of compressed air. As a side note, I’m not sure if I will ever get used to how cold compressed air cans get when in use. With the board itself (mostly) clean I moved onto the keys themselves. Nothing fancy for these, wipe them down with a wet cloth, then dry them with a dry cloth. Got the dirt rings off them and made them shiny again. Only took a few seconds per key, but that adds up for a full keyboard. Just put on a podcast and let the Zen of repetitive action take over.

While I was dealing with the keyboards a thought kept popping up in the back of my head. Near the end of dealing with the second keyboard I decided to check on that thought. And sure enough I was right. Turns out I had a spare charger that had been sitting in a box for several years. So now I have two clean keyboards and a charger in good condition. What happened to the old charger you may ask? Toothpick as a splint to keep that part from bending and some electric tape to keep it secure and safe. Not a pretty solution, but it works as a “new” backup charger.

With everything done, I replaced the keys and had a clean keyboard for the first time in… too long. The difference is like night and day.

And I Thought Making the Game was Complicated

So my game is approaching the point of being done. That is to say, while there is always something that can be worked on, it is feature complete and working. I just have a few more features to iron out, mostly quality of life improvements for the player. So, what’s next? Getting it into the hands of players (and hopefully monetizing the thing).

The problem is that actually getting an app on to an app store is a long and annoying process. At first I thought it would be simple: make a profile, submit app, get approval (after inevitable edits), app in store. Simple and straightforward right? Wrong. Even just a cursory glance at the actual process showed me it would be much more complicated than that. Lots of steps to secure the project, steps to make the submission secure, steps to make sure the app isn’t malicious. Add onto that an almost $100 cost to have the honor of being able to submit apps for Apple’s consideration.

At first all of this was paralyzingly overwhelming. Where do I even begin? What does any of this mean? What is going on? But then I calmed down enough to remember the simple fix to being overwhelmed: take it one step at a time. In this case I am aiming for both IOS and Android distribution, so just focus on one for now. Make sure I understand each step before moving on to the next. And try not to get sidetracked and add more to my plate.

Of course, when looking up tutorials on how to do this I found a tutorial on adding ads to Unity games. Something I need in order to monetize the game… Will this ever end?

Trepidation and Momentum

Often with my work I feel a sense of oncoming dread. Not quite full on fear, but anticipation of hardship that leads to anxiety. Hence, trepidation. I know I should ignore this feeling… But you try ignoring gut instinct. Not so easy is it? Usually this comes about when I need to make something new in my project or need to learn a new technique or skill. I just have this expectation that things will go badly. And the “logic” of my fearful mind is that: as long as I don’t start the thing, the bad thing won’t happen. I know this is foolish, I know it is nonsense… and yet…

So where does Momentum come into play? Momentum is the other side of the coin. Once I work myself up enough to get past my trepidation the coin turns to its side. No longer shackled by trepidation I can get work done, but I am not yet fully productive. But if I maintain this long enough I fully flip the coin to momentum. That is when I have gotten so into the work, done thing after thing without stopping, that I don’t have time for trepidation to set in. In that state I simply don’t have the time to think about “What if this goes bad?” and just get on with the work.

Sometimes my work slows down and the coin flips back to its side or even fully back to trepidation. But that is why it is “trepidation and momentum”. Like a rolling stone gathers no moss, once I get moving I have no time for trepidation.

What Does A Game Need To Be?

Recently I saw a post online stating that a game does not need to be “anything”. And this argument has some merit, but I think games (and all art) actually have one requirement: they need to be “interesting”. But what does that mean? Because some people don’t seem to understand what I mean when I say that. So here we go.

Lets start with a simple definition of what interesting means. Interesting: Adjective, arousing curiosity or interest; holding or catching the attention. So in short it means to hold attention. But what I mean has a little more nuance to it so lets dive into that.

Lets start with the obvious, games that seek to be sold for profit need to be interesting in order to do that. This does not mean the game needs to be “fun”, “thoughtful”, “challenging”, or “complex” but it absolutely needs to be “interesting”. If it isn’t it gets rightfully left in the dust and forgotten. A game can be a bombastic action piece or a somber reflection on depression. Totally different games for which the only thing they likely have in common is that they are both games and therefore interactive but both can be just as “interesting” for totally different reasons.

In writing this I now see what the “Games don’t need anything to be called games” crowd is talking about. And it is fairly simple. The games that fail to capture attention… are still games, even if they aren’t commercial successes. But my counter argument is that those games were still at least trying to be interesting. However they lacked something, whether that be budget, vision, timing, graphics, playtesting, whatever, that prevented them from capturing the attention of their audience.

But you may have noticed I have made a point of talking about games “seeking to make a profit”, and that is because there is another type of game creation. That is when a creator makes a game for themselves. And I would argue that this game still needs to be “interesting”. Let me explain. When I say interesting that comes in many forms. Yes the primary form is that the final product finds the experience interesting. But when discussing a creation without an “end user” what needs to be “interesting” about it? The process itself. If neither the process of making the game nor the envisioned final product are interesting, I honestly cannot imagine someone creating that piece. (This of course ignores making the game as a job or commission)

And I would apply this to all forms of art. If an artist is making something for their own enjoyment/betterment I can only imagine them doing so if they find the process or goal to be interesting. That could be a painter wanting to use a new type of paint and playing with that. Or the same painter might just really want to paint that one composition just to have done it. Or a rapper might be experimenting with new rhymes just for the joy of the craft. And a game maker might challenge themselves to use a new tool or work in a new genre to get a new experience. But all of these endeavors are sustained by the artist’s interest in their craft. Therefore the craft itself or the final product of said craft must be interesting to, at minimum, the one creating it.

But this might all just be my ADHD brain not processing something that others find blindingly obvious. Perhaps I will try to defend the “games don’t need to be anything” angle next. Perhaps I should, after all it seems to be a shockingly niche opinion for something so demonstrably true.