If you've been following Spryke for any length of time, you know that I'm terrible at updates. This year I've been all but invisible. Partly by accident, partly by design.
As it does to all of us, life's been throwing more demands of my attention than I am equipped to properly handle. There was a health scare a while back, with endless scans and doctor's appointments (everything's fine now). There was the World Cup month (I'm a life-long World Cup addict). I also got sidetracked for a few months with a side project which, while ultimately valuable for my Spryke work, took far too long.
And then there's working in a home office with two young children, which is less a work/life balance than a work/life Magimix blend. It's a sacred blessing to see so much of my daughters in the most adorable and excitable stages of their lives. It's also a massive challenge to someone who relies on solitude and time spent in the zone to get his work done.
One thing has never changed though, and never will, and that's my commitment to Spryke's high quality. As I always say, there's no point releasing just another good indie game, because it'll immediately drown in the sea of all the other good indie games, and the whole thing will have been a waste of time, for both me and the players (the last thing you need is another merely good game - your Steam backlog is overflowing with them as it is!) Spryke needs to be one of those games that creates lifelong memories in its players.
As work on Spryke entered its fifth year this year, a few things came into focus for me. Firstly, that making a few levels for a cool demo is a world apart from making a complete game. It's not just that a full game contains so much more content. It's also that the very structure and logistics of the two are fundamentally different.
A 5-level demo can be made of 5 separate parts, stuck together with Blu-Tak and goodwill. A full game needs to be able to save, load, and reload dozens of levels in a row, without a hitch, without ever clogging up memory, yet without unnecessary load times. While elements of a 5-level demo can be hard-coded if need be, the sheer amount of work involved in designing, testing, and tweaking the dozens of levels in a full game mean that the entire workflow must be as streamlined and automated as possible, else you'll drown in a deluge of exponentially-multiplying mundane tasks.
I've been pretty careful with how I've developed Spryke, spending a lot of time on making modular, well-commented, code in a centralised engine, with a powerful bespoke debugger. And I've carefully moulded my graphics workflow for maximum reusability and non-destructibility, making judicious use of various Photoshop features like artboards, generator, custom shapes, custom textures, layer styles, actions, and more. Here's a sample:
I've done my best to streamline my physical workflow for maximum productivity too. I might actually be the most hotkey-laden computer user in the world. I've set up dozens of hotkeys and macros for almost every task I do with any regularity in Photoshop or Fusion, and the most important ones are all a split-second away, either on my 15-button mouse, my 10-button Wacom setup, my 22-key Ducky keypad, or the 18 macro keys on my keyboard. All this may seem like overkill or OCD, but it's not. I've learnt over the years that entering a state of flow is essential to my work; my rapid and near-frictionless workflow routinely gets me there quicker and more often.
So I've put effort into making my code and my workflows robust, but I've also taken various smoke-and-mirror shortcuts along the way, especially when it was time to make a PAX build or a trailer video. This came into sharp focus for me when I was thinking about making a build for this year's PAX.
I've been working on some major improvements to Spryke this year. Among other things, I've been addressing what I see as the last major weaknesses of the game: blocky foreground elements and weak narrative. Both of these are huge areas, and I've made considerable progress in each. But neither are game-ready yet, so making a PAX build would entail undoing or hiding much of what I've done this year, to cobble together a cohesive and workable build. This would be time-consuming, exhausting, risky, and kind of pointless.
So I've decided to skip PAX this year, as well as all other marketing-related activities. I've effectively removed myself from all social media (a productivity boon and happiness enhancer if ever there was one), stopped following the news, and have tried to filter out as much other noise from my day as I can. What I need to focus on is working on the game.
Really, this is all in keeping with the general philosophy I've taken since the beginning. It's very simple, even naive. But it's served me well so far, and I don't know of any approach that's as likely to succeed. It's illustrated perfectly in a scene from the beautiful film Gattaca.
Two brothers compete to see who can swim the furthest out to sea. Anton has a more athletic build and superior lab-enhanced genes, so he can't understand how his brother Vincent always beats him. Exasperated, he finally asks Vincent how he does it. Vincent's secret is dead simple: he never saves anything for the swim back.
When I dived into the deep end of game development almost 5 years ago, many people expressed admiration, and even sometimes good-natured envy, for the courage it took to follow my dream. Though as each year passes, they're probably more and more glad that it was me who took the plunge and not them!
There's an insanity to Vincent's approach, but also an incredible freedom. The reason Vincent succeeds despite the odds being stacked against him is not because of anything that he does, but because of all the things that he doesn't do. Unlike Anton, he doesn't look over his shoulder; he doesn't continually update a mental map of his distance traveled in the back of his mind; he doesn't keep freaking himself out by wondering whether he's going to make it or not. He's free to focus on just one thing - going forward - and doesn't have to waste resources on anything else. Vincent's approach is brave, and reckless, but it's also incredibly efficient.
Had I not dived in the deep end with this game, I would have quit ten times already: when the going got tough; when I got tired; when other opportunities caught my eye. Or, I would have seen the game through, but to a mediocre standard, chalking it up as a mere learning experience or relegating it to a weekend hobbyist project while I worked a day job. Thousands of other indie games have ended up exactly like that - unfinished, shelved, simplified or downgraded. At the very least, my advantage is that I'm still here, and still plugging away, albeit sometimes slower than I'd wish.
So yes, here I am. Spryke's still alive, and she's doing great. The game's going to be finished - eventually - and it's going to have an insane amount of love and care put into it, so that it can leave lifelong memories for as many players as possible. But you won't see it at PAX this year, and you probably won't hear from me much at all, until it's closer to completion, because until then I need to focus. Hopefully you'll thank me when you get to play the finished product. But know that Spryke and I are still here, still swimming....