For Dad

I don’t know, really, where I should begin talking about this. It seems trite and insensitive to start off with a cold “my father died last week”, even though emotionally that’s all I can come up with as an opening line. Everything that’s happened this past week has revolved around that event, for good or for ill, and ignoring it is not going to do anything but harm.

Well, I do want to thank everyone who was let in on the knowledge for their thoughts and support. Knowing that I had people to back me up if and when it got to be too much helped me out immensely, and prevented me from reaching a full collapse. So, once again, thank you. You know who you are.

To say merely that Dad loved us all would be an insulting understatement. My father lived every second of his life for his family, and he worked himself to exhaustion trying to provide for us. Even in times when the stress of his job got to him, he always had time to talk, to hear out our problems, and to help. I can say with unequivocal conviction that he was the model of what a father is and should be, and that if I live to be a thousand years I’ll never match up to such a high standard. He is the man whom I respect above all others, and will for all of time.

There’s often a tendency to whitewash the deceased; unpleasant details are overlooked or simply forgotten. I’m not going to do that here, but neither will you hear a bad word about my father come out of my mouth: this is because there was nothing. Perhaps I’m biased; perhaps I am unconsciously overlooking those slight flaws that make the masterpiece. Then again, when you look at the whole of the picture, even flaws which, up close, look bad just… fit. If he had any bad points, if he had a character trait that was less than flattering, then its unpleasantness faded when placed in perspective with the rest of what he was. Perhaps I don’t see the flaws simply because I have been looking at the big picture for so long. Maybe it turns out they’re unimportant in the long run anyway. Would that really be so bad?

Dad always said to me, whenever I would start thinking about what was going to happen, “just take things one day at a time.” He said it in the face of the bad and the good alike. I never understood why he said it when I was talking about something that I was looking to in the future; I have the tendency to think too far ahead, and he knew that. He knew that sometimes a string of bad luck can wipe out weeks, months, years of planning ahead. And sometimes, all it takes is one wrong moment.

Dad was not sick. It was with some amount of amusement that my mother explained this to our family; “I have high blood pressure,” she said, “and his boss had high blood pressure, but he didn’t. He was a carrier. He caused high blood pressure!” Okay, so maybe he had a way of being infuriatingly tight-lipped about what he was thinking, but I hardly think that’s a damning flaw. Anyway, Dad wasn’t sick. He had no illness, no disease, no condition– he had even lost a lot of weight (safely, over time). The rupture in his heart was completely random.

That’s what makes this so hard. This was not an act of will. This was not something that can be blamed on anything. The situation could be more cathartic if it had been: we would have a focus for our rage, a scapegoat for our grief. The lack of a whipping boy, something to take the punishment we seem so desperate to mete out, means we have little choice but to ascribe this to the whim of God, Fate, Time, The Universe, or Whatever. And though we scream, though we rend our clothes and tear our hair, though we cry ourselves dry and shout ourselves mute, the universe gives no reply. The only sounds returning to us are the cries of those who are not responsible for this tragic moment, and who mourn with us.

Many loved ones came to us, offering their shoulders and their sympathies. We needed them. We still need them; this is not a process that heals easily or cleanly. But it showed to me, in particular, what a home really is. My family moved around quite a bit when I was little; Dad’s siblings scattered throughout the Northeast, and some even headed to Alaska. All who could join us in the tiny village of Cuba, New York this past week did so. That was blessing enough; but the community in that village came out with all twenty-one guns blazing, with flowers and cards, and well-wishes, coming from every corner of town. People we thought had long since forgotten us came by to pay their respects. I had never paid much mind to Cuba before this, but I realize now that it is our home, just as much as Sharon ever was.

Thursday night, I wrote that “it hurts a bit less each day. The jury’s still out on whether that’s a good thing.” In some sense, that’s my biggest concern. Each day that passes, I’m more used to the idea of not being able to talk with Dad on my way home from work, of not seeing him when I come back home for weekends or longer visits, of not having him on the other side of the table when we go to the casino to play Texas Hold ‘Em (for the record, he was far better than I am). With each day that passes I get over my grief a little bit more; and while I know that I’ll need to move on fully one day, I don’t want to. Because, emotionally, moving on sounds too much like “leaving him behind”. I don’t want to forget him, for even a second… but life does not give me that luxury. This is a wound that must not be closed too quickly, but neither should it be left open too long.

It is important to realize that the world did not come to an end because of this; it won’t. If the world were so fragile as to hinge on the existence of one man, then I would have some stern words to say about the matter to the Engineer of the Universe when I inevitably meet him (most of which would condemn me to hell even if I didn’t say them to his face). Life goes on, as it must. With time the wound will close, and it will do so in a way that allows us to feel properly thankful for the good my father did in his time here. For the moment, it is enough to know that he is at peace, that the affairs of this world– its vagaries and victories, its horrors and holinesses, its bailouts and blessings– no longer matter to him.

But he still matters to us. He always will matter to us.

A Short Putt To Distraction

I’m still trying to gather my thoughts on what happened at the beginning of the week, which created the (completely excusable) three-day gap in posts. It’s a weighty subject and it’s going to produce a ton of essays, some sappy, some deep, all completely sincere.

However, the best way to handle grief is to be distracted through it. Microsoft is helping with that immensely; I received a prize today from one of the many “download and win” contests they run on Live–probably the “vote on the Super Bowl ads” one. The prize? $150 worth of MS points, and a free year of Live service. Plus a whole bunch of crap related to the Saw movies, but dood. Compound this with the fact that I picked up Puzzle Quest Galactrix with a gift card on my way home, and I think I’m well cared for.

Still not going to return to normal anytime soon. Normal no longer exists. But it hurts a bit less each day. The jury’s still out on whether or not that’s a good thing.

My Greatest Flaw

Confidence is believing that you’ll be able to shake off the beginnings of a cold overnight, so that you can take the trip you’ve been looking forward to all week.

Overconfidence is waking up in the morning, not having shaken off the cold, and saying “Well, I’m sure I can *hack sneeze scratch cough* make it anyway.”

Guess which one I’m “blessed” with.

My Usual Good Timing

I’m not entirely sure why I feel kind of wiped out today, but I do. I suppose that just means that this weekend couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

Not much else worth mentioning right now; if there is, I’ll be sure to let you folks know. Tomorrow’s post might be a little late… or it could be extremely early. It depends on how ambitious I get.

Retirement Of An Implement Of Retiring

I have this blanket, you see. I’ve had it for the better part of twenty years, I’d imagine; I’m fairly certain it was given to me around my ninth or tenth Christmas– it was a year or so after moving to Cuba, I remember that. Anyway, it’s been sort of a treasured thing for me; it was one of the first blankets that helped me realize I need a ton of covers in wither to fall asleep. And this winter, I found that it had started to fray and disintegrate at the edges. It has to go in the trash, I know, but…

Is it weird to get so attached to a blanket? I’m not exactly a toddler anymore, but this one… It probably sounds overly sentimental, but I just can’t seem to bring myself to put it in the bin. It’s been used in my living room for the past week or so while watching TV. Every night I pull it up to me, notice the edge, and say, out loud, “Okay, tomorrow it goes in the garbage.” And every night it’s still there. I wish I could explain it beyond laziness or just not having time, but in the end I know the truth– it would hurt too much to throw it away. It deserves better than to just be bagged up and tossed into the dumpster. I’d set it on fire, you know, a good old-fashioned funeral pyre, but I can’t even bring myself to that.

Maybe next week.

Spoils

Netflix is going to murder my productivity yet. First I find out that the majority of Quantum Leap is on the instant streaming service; then I find that the rest of the CSI family (the ones that count) are also there… and now I discover that all of Heroes is available as well. Not being able to see it all in one shot at my leisure is what kept me from getting into it in the first place, so I may now finally find out how saving the cheerleader can, in fact, save the world.

But maybe I should leave that as a carrot until after I’ve finished the tech demo, hm?

Why I’m Making A Video Game

There’s been a lot of discussion regarding the effect that illicit copying of video games has on independent game developers. Seeing how as I am about to become an independent developer, I figure it’s probably worth a look at what I expect out of the experience of working on my game.

I want, first, to take a look at the example of developer 2D Boy, whose World of Goo has been a critical darling– while its publisher, Brighter Minds, surrendered to bankruptcy amidst reports that the piracy rate of the game approached 90%. That means that, out of every ten copies of the game being played, only one was paid for. (It should be noted that before fact-checking, that sentence read 50%. What that says about my outlook on human behavior is left as an exercise for the reader.) This isn’t as bad as it sounds for 2D Boy; as the developers, they got paid already. In most software development, the developer bills the publisher upfront, and only rarely sees residuals based on massive sales or reception. Because 2D Boy managed to work with a publisher– who literally threw themselves in front of the metaphorical bus– they’re a bad example, I suppose. Still, the reaction of 2D Boy– “hey, they’re playing”– is an important lesson.

For my game, I’m both the developer and the publisher. I’m financing the whole thing myself, out of pocket, and the only real costs I’m expecting to incur are the Creator’s Club fee, and paying my artist(s) and composer(s)– everything else is either freely available (Visual Studio 2008 Express), something I already owned (the computer and Xbox), or taken care of for me (distribution– I’m getting to that). If the game bombs, the losses are on me and me alone, but since I’m not going to go into huge amounts of debt (or any debt, really) doing this, losses are limited to just what I pay out. If the game is a success, well– let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It needs to be finished first.

Distribution is the key role of a game publisher. In order to sell the game, it has to be made available to people, either physically or digitally. Physically is very expensive, but has the biggest impact; digitally is more economical but isn’t always given the respect it’s due by some outlets or gamers. That last point is changing very quickly, though; in 2008 alone, some very high-quality digitally-distributed games made major impacts on the gaming world, including Pixeljunk Eden, Mega Man 9, Bionic Commando ReArmed, and the Strong Bad episodic series, all of which received significant critical acclaim and blew away expectations in terms of sales and quality. Even this week, the first downloadable content for Grand Theft Auto IV, “The Lost And Damned”, is being treated as if it were a major retail release.

As a publisher, then, I have to play the precarious balance between getting the game out to the most people, while balancing the costs of getting it there. As you might have expected by now, I’ve decided that, as a first shot, the game will be released only on the Xbox 360’s Community Games platform. The reasoning behind this is that I already have the majority of the gear needed to develop for this platform, to say nothing of the fact that I lack the track record necessary to develop for the Live Arcade directly– or any other platform besides the PC, for that matter.

Around the beginning of the year, the gaming blogs were gorging themselves over the antics of one Bob Pelloni, whose… what should we call it? How about “Quixotic efforts”? Regardless of the nomenclature, Mr. Pelloni had spent five years developing, without official support, a DS game (which may have started as a GBA game). Named “Bob’s Game”, the program was in a more or less completed state. Pelloni contacted Nintendo to apply for a dev kit; when he did not receive a response one way or the other, well… For lack of any better phrasing, he went ballistic. Pelloni threw tantrums, ranted on his blog, directly and publicly insulted Nintendo and their approval processes, and started a one hundred-day campaign of publicity that ultimately served two purposes. First, it evoked a polite, calm, form letter from Nintendo saying that his application had been rejected, due to the fact that Pelloni was not part of a company. Secondly, and more significantly, it ensured that Pelloni had obliterated any possible trace of credibility or employability in any capacity in any sector of the gaming industry (or, more likely, employability in total).

Yeah, I’m not going to do that.

I’m designing for the Community Games platform specifically because I don’t have a track record. I’m an unknown. I have no games to my name, and no writing to my name published by people other than me. Community Games is friendly to this sort of development style; it’s a relatively uncrowded atmosphere, and a well-polished game stands out amid what’s been provided so far. Even if all that I get out of the deal is a bullet point on my resume that says I now have completed a professional-quality C# project, from scratch no less, then really I’ll be quite happy with that.

However, mitigating my losses is a significant concern, particularly because I do tend to like money. I’m still greatly worried about the price point for the game; I’m 99% sure it’s not going to be small enough in size to permit the $2.50 price point, so it’s split between the $5 and $10 points. This is the kind of decision a publisher has to face: do you price it high enough to guarantee a few bucks out of each rare sale, or low enough to promote sales which only get you a fraction of the profit? If it were up to me, really, I’d pay everything out of pocket and not charge a dime; for me, the project is about getting my name into the ring and getting some experience with both C# and game development. But it would be nice to come out a little bit on the plus side on the whole thing, after paying for the art and music. I’ve got a running expenses file going in order to see how much I sink into this.

I don’t have a ton of expectations about the game; I just want people to play it and enjoy it for what it is. It seems to me that when you start talking about expectations, you wind up getting into a situation where you’re forced to hype your game to the point where it will never be good enough; I think I’ve made my thoughts sufficiently clear on the example of “Braid”, so I’ll just leave it at that. My goal for the game is to get a polished, professional-level game out that people will enjoy, with a good story and high-quality art and music. Everything else is periphery: critical reception, impact on the industry, hell, even sales (though it’s hard to say that people like the game if nobody buys it). If I make even one person happy with the game, then so be it.

I do want to write up a few essays on the process of getting the game finished and out the door, though; it’s a learning process for me, and I think a lot of younger developers might benefit from knowing exactly what goes into the process, especially if you go it mostly alone, like I’m doing. This could be considered to be the first one, really. I’m taking this time, at this milestone, to reflect a bit on where I’ve come from, what my goals are for the project, and what my next few steps are. I don’t expect I’ll be writing another one until after the full, preliminary-artwork technical demo is ready and shown off to the Creator’s Club forums. (Read: oh hell no please don’t make me create more atrocious programmer art in photoshop i’ll be good please no.) At that point, I think I’ll be ready to start approaching some of the aesthetics folks for the art and music (plus I’ll have banked some money to put towards that effort as well).

I do want to continue this discussion, as well as get some input on some of the specifics of the game. I invite you all to take a look at the thread in the forums to see what progress has been made (literally more information than you require on that aspect, I’m afraid) and give feedback on the whole deal. I’ll be asking some questions sooner or later in a more public manner.