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Random pre-Indiegogo thoughts

One autumn night 20 years ago I was playing UnReal World. In my game I was almost starving when I found a point of a cape. I hastily built a shelter next to the waters. I was lucky with active fishing and caught some food to sustain myself. I built a raft to set fishing nets farther away from the coastline. When I had a few nets set I settled down to a routine of "check the nets, cook the catch, eat, do some active fishing, eat, sleep, repeat". As I went through that cycle for several in-game days, I started to think "I wish I could tell the game to repeat this daily pattern and then just watch my character slowly recover from starvation". And that thought quickly led to another idea: "What if we had another game, which would focus on managing your daily / weekly / monthly routines? Like, UnReal World is about every decision you make, every step you take, going deep into the details of the simulation. But this another game could be something where you plan routine work and one-time projects for your character and then just watch the weeks fly by. A "Sustain Your Family"-game compared to the mostly hermit simulation of UrW. A simple casual game compared to the depth of details in UrW. That game idea felt crisp and clear, something worth trying to make. But, as we all know - having an idea doesn't automatically mean that the idea grows into a fully finished product.

During these 20 years I've encountered and explored many different obstacles, many different ways of not making the idea happen. At first I was too busy with all the other projects of my life, so instead of starting another game project I chose to allocate my limited coding time to help Sami with UnReal World. And for several years I felt myself too depressed to pursue my own ideas. Those were heavy times, sometimes feeling that my ideas are not worth pursuing, but more often feeling that I simply lack the energy to get bigger projects done. During the 12 years of living at my current home I have mostly recovered from the chronic depression. I found that practical projects like renovating the house have been good for my mental health, slowly re-connecting myself with the sense of 'my ideas are worth pursuing, and I also have the will and the capability to make the ideas happen'. Therapy has also been beneficial. And dancing! Dancing around wildly has been good medicine, shaking of the numbness of depression, restoring the sense of being alive, re-finding the momentum and motivation to pursue bigger projects.

Some of the long-term followers of Enormous Elk might remember that a few times I have announced that I'm starting a small side-project for a small game. But then the project has quietly withered away before I get the game finished. In those cases the reason has been simply the funding. As I anyway need a certain level of income to pay my monthly bills, I can't spend that many months working on a project which possibly maybe could provide some money once the finished project goes to distribution. To solve this problem I've been experimenting with different ways of finding balance between my main work, a side-project, and the rest of my life. Sometimes I've tried to keep on working a lot with my main work, hoping to accumulate little savings so that I could spend a few months being a full-time indie developer. But I found that not so good for my mental well being; after working a lot for an extended period of time I realized the symptoms of depression get worse and I again lack the energy to do anything I'd love to do. (To be honest, I must also say that a few times I've also failed to build savings because I've invested the extra money in house renovation project, thinking that any future project is easier once my living conditions reach a desired level. Now I think I have that level, everything works and I have enough dry firewood for the coming winter.)

Depression and trouble with funding - these seem like pretty obvious obstacles hindering any project. For the past few years I've been paying attention to another aspect which isn't maybe as obvious. The abundance of ideas. Now, when I'm not so depressed any more I'm not troubled with the feeling of 'maybe all of my ideas are bad', but instead I've felt bogged with too many ideas swarming my mind. Too many possibilities. So many pros and cons. To get a project done necessarily means that one chooses to focus on that project idea only, postponing the other ideas. And I've had trouble with choosing exactly which idea to focus on. For the ideas are numerous: Seek funding via Patreon, or maybe Indiegogo, or maybe just keep on reducing my main work and slowly work on an indie-coding project on the side? But wouldn't it be best to fully focus on helping Sami by writing quests and additional pieces of simulation for UnReal World? But then, another small game would be good for UnReal World development as well, for sure we could use a sand-box where different algorithms can be tested without messing with the bulk of code running UnReal World - and for that small game I have this idea, and that idea, and seven other ideas and more keep on popping into my mind on monthly basis. Feeling lost in the multitude of ideas I've then just maintained the old routine - doing my main work, taking up various odd jobs as opportunities arise, hoping to accumulate little savings and helping Sami whenever I can. I realize that during this year 2020 I haven't written a single line of code for UnReal World, nor have I written a single line of text for quest dialogue. Apparently, the turbulence caused by covid outbreak has resulted in me living hand-to-mouth, yet failing to find consistent time to contribute to UnReal World project. So, I have felt that something needs to change. To better understand my own problems I have been diving deeper into the theme of difficulty of choosing one project to focus on.

I remember that this difficulty of choosing one project to focus on, it has been there for years. And, actually, I think that deep down it is connected with the same root causes which caused my chronic depression. For me one essential element of depression has been the sense of disconnection, being alienated from ones own life. I'd guess that has been a natural reaction to all the traumatic events of my past, when it constantly felt that to be fully present in my own life is both painful and dangerous, so the deeper part of my soul chose to avoid that. To turn away from the life, to become numb not to feel the pain. And this numbness comes with a sense that no project appears as 'The Thing' - it is all just dull grey mass of plans, none of which appear actually inspiring. Well, and as the numbness of depression has slowly given way to a more lively way of being, it then feels that all of the ideas are equally inspiring but none of them appears as 'The Thing'. And also, to choose just one project would mean to say 'no' to the rest. To make an idea happen I need to become better at saying 'no', strictly and clearly saying 'no' to a whole lot of inspiring ideas. And, ultimately, to focus on one project would mean to 'be present at this one place' on some hard-to-describe energetic level.

For a year I've been again seeing my local therapist on regular basis. And we have been working on exactly those themes - how saying "yes" to being-present-at-this-parcticular-spot-in-life also means saying 'no' to many other possible ideas, and also saying 'no' to a lot of external forces which are there to ask you to spread your energies, to distract you, to shatter your confidence or what not. Also, I've been blessed with support from Clementine. In her guided meditations I observed that whenever she suggest me imagine any kind of a place, or any kind of a creature to meet, the subconscious of my mind instantly produces a rapid succession of different images which change to another so fast that I can't choose one image to focus on. Instead of coming up with a symbol the deeper part of my mind readily offered me a slightly chaotic stream of symbols, all alternative to each other. Like saying: "Yeah, Erkka, we could describe your question in this way, or that way, or also this ..." Whenever I tried to focus on one single symbol or image, I always saw them from high above, from distance. And so many times Clementine has found ways to gently direct me into having solid vivid images, to be present in just one metaphor, and to use them to actually discharge a lot of the unresolved traumatic energy I've been carrying around.

So, there has been a lot of inner work with my mind. At the same time, on the level of daily reality there have been unanticipated extra costs. And some of the sub-projects in my main work have provided less income I was hoping for, while some other projects have been postponed or cancelled. I find myself in a situation where my monthly income has fallen well below my monthly bills. Something needs to be done. At some point I noticed that a nearby company is hiring a programmer, and they required the exact skills I have. For a while I was thinking about that - oh what luxury it would be to have a regular monthly salary! Coding and getting paid for it! For so many years I've been surviving on a meagre budget, so a proper salary would feel almost like the riches of winning a lottery. One more alternative to consider, one more idea to choose from? Well, I found the decision rather easy. I realized that I have an inner calling to become a full-time indie game developer. Instead of seeking 'a normal job' so that I could pursue my inner dreams 'sometime later on, in the future when I have accumulated some savings', I felt that I've been doing that 'maybe later' for all too long. The time to act is now. My life is here, now and not 'sometime later'. UnReal World is such an unique and great project that I'd like to steadily contribute more to UrW development. But to get there, to become a full-time indie coder the idea is crisp and clear. Let's try an Indiegogo campaign. If people are willing to support the project I would have a little funding to keep on coding until the game is ready for distribution. Naturally, Sami would keep on developing UnReal World just the way he has been doing all these years, so an additional little game by Enormous Elk is not going to take resources away from UrW development.

Back to the game idea I had already 20 years ago! It would be 1200 AD in Sawo, Eastern Finland. Uninhabited woodlands not ruled by any king. Back in the times, when Sawo people lived mainly on slash-and-burn agriculture; choosing a nice spot in the pristine woodlands, using slash-and-burn to turn forest into arable land. Building a log cabin. And eventually, the next generation would pack up the essential tools and move deeper into the woodlands to have a fresh start. A game where you don't need to fight other people. Actually, you'd probably see other people only once a year, if you decide to visit a market. A game where your only goal is to keep your family fed and warm. Basically, it would be resource management - with a limited amount of workforce, are you going to spend weeks on preparing a new area for slash-and-burn (which could yield a good harvest, maybe later on), or do you focus on fishing (which is likely to yield some food right away, so that you could also store dried fish for the future?). Point-and-click gameplay (with an option to use keyboard shortcuts if one prefers that).

During the past few weeks I've been going through on my earlier notes, and breathing life to some pieces of code which I've already written. I have had two ideas to guide me. The first is something I found useful back in the teenage years when we were coding for hobby together with Sami. At those years I realized that my projects fail if I start building 'a whole thing at once' . All of my completed game projects had started with first focusing on the absolute minimal playable kernel. First making that kernel, having a fully functional mini-game. And then adding functionality to that, extending the core until it has all the planned features. Personally, I have had a tendency to see this from the point of view of data-structures and algorithms, starting with the basic logic to handle data which is going to represent the game world, and then having a minimal text-based UI on top of that. Which brings us to the other idea I have now used a guideline. I think it was Richard Garriott, aka. Lord British, who once said that when starting to develop a new game in the Ultima series, he started by creating a game world where he can walk around. Then he just kept on strolling around the game world, seeking ideas of what kind of adventures there could be in this world. I mean; instead of my typical 'data and text-based UI', I have now started with the basics of a visual UI. Having a game world, where I can scroll around and zoom in and out. The basic logic of clicking a tile and choosing what action to take. So this is the minimal kernel. From this on I can design both the data logic and the UI side by side.

Well, but these are my personal thoughts before launching the first Indiegogo campaign of my life. Naturally, it is possible that the campaign wouldn't provide enough funds to make me a full-time indie developer. But in that case I just need to go back to any of the other ideas. And I must admit that I enjoy this feeling of having one inspiring idea which I like, which I love to focus on so that I've found it rather easy to say 'no' to all the other distracting possibilities. Ah, and in case you wonder - the game will be called Ancient Sawo : Slash and Burn. More details once the Indiegogo campaign gets launched.

Scrolling around the game world
Scrolling around the game world
tags: 
depression
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Comments

Hi Erkka!

Why Sawo and not Savo or Savonia? Hmm, maybe there's a conflict with some a Finnish cutlery brand, but that probably isn't the reason. :) But that's just a yet another decision, I don't think it really matters that much. The "slash and burn" part is almost poetic.

Well, however you're going to name it, here's one probable funder for your project! I like the idea a lot.

Cheers,
Jussi

Ah, I have to think about it a bit more! Initially I chose "Sawo" simply because it appears more old-fashioned. But at that point I was considering name "Sawo Settlers", but I steered away from that because of the popular game series named Settlers. But I'd guess "Ancient Savo" would be pretty good, for the term ancient anyway delivers the old-fashioned feel I'd like to have =)

Yeah, I get the "old" feeling in Sawo, it's just that like that it looks maybe a bit out-of-place to me. Here's a random idea that just popped in my mind: "Wanha Sawo: Slash and Burn" — the doubled 'W' pleases my aesthetic sense, but I guess maybe this would not be good idea because it might be off-putting for non-Finnish speakers.

Hehe, the name is a good example of a situation where there isn't the definite "right decision", but a multitude of different options each with pros and cons. At some point I was also considering something like "Savo 1200 AD : Slash and Burn", but felt that "1200 AD" is somewhat off, since the savo people at those times had absolutely no idea of Julian calendar. Also, actually I'd like the name to refer more to the people, instead of just the geographical area. But then "Ancient Savonians : Slash and Burn" sounds somehow clumsy to my ears. And I don't know if "Kaskikansa" could be easily translated, "The Swidden People" doesn't sound quite right =)

Yep. :) "Kaskikansa" (in its Finnish form) would be an amazing name if only one could use it like that and still hope for an international audience. If I saw a novel with that name somewhere, I think I would buy it instantly without thinking any further.

I wish you good luck with your project. Being alone and finding a project to focus on for many months or years have always been a very difficult task to accomplish for me. I've tried many times and I failed almost always. If you find a way to make it to the end please share it, it would be very helpful (I think it should have to do with the ability to isolate oneself and keep working on a project even if you have lost interest in it, something like a routine perhaps). Thank you

Sure, I'll be posting my thoughts as the process goes on. I suspect there is not a general solution to this kind of questions, but hopefully my thoughts and observations could serve as inspiration to others!

In my own life I have often felt that having too many people around is a distraction. So I have been longing for the peace of solitude, when I can concentrate on a project without having to spread my energies to take in conflicting input from other people =) But then, also - when collaboration works, the group spirit can provide a lot of extra energy and motivation, helping one to get past the uninspiring phases. For the crowdfunding project I aim to have a discord server for the backers, planning to post weekly development updates there. It will be interesting to see if that feels like extra support, helping me to keep my solitary work more structured - or if it will again be more like a social distraction consuming a part of my energy when I'd actually like to be coding alone. I don't know yet, so once again this is learning-by-doing and doing-by-experimenting =)

So good to have a post from you. I was missing it!
PS: I just found out about substack.com and thought it could potentially work for you in terms of finance. You can have the option of being paid for sending newsletters! It seems pretty easy to set up, and your website can continue the same... ;)

Oh, thanks for your feedback!

For the past days I've been busy setting up stuff and things for the crowdfunding campaign, so I haven't had time to take a loot at substack.com - oh well, so we will see how this adventure goes =)

I'm looking forward to playing this new game.

Erkka, I love your blog, and I would definitely support your game too! But it is going to be hard work, so make sure you have all the production power either in you or from someone helping you, as I think you should apply to all the possible funding. Starting with Avek's Digidemo (https://www.kopiosto.fi/AVEK/tukipaatokset/digidemo/) - as you can see from the list there, similar projects have already gotten funding for creating a demo, such as "Kylänrakennuspeli suomalaisesta kivikaudesta" (A village building game abouth the Finnish stone age). 5k€ is kind of a nice amount of money and with your low cost lifestyle should buy you a good amount of working hours!

Don't underestimate the producer mindset to keep things rolling! I am worried that you will get lost in the coding and design details and you will forget about the big picture :)

Hello!

Thanks for your comment! Hehe, in the blog I loosely mentioned my trouble with "having too many options parallel in my mind, and then I fail to choose one, and just continue my old routine". And, regarding the project funding, those other options have been sources like Avek or Suomen Kulttuurirahasto. And, related to this there have been the options like "starting another big project, seeking enough funding to have a handful of people to work on the project - or, starting with a smaller project I can realistically code mostly alone in a matter of 3 or 4 months".

And during this autumn my mind has settled for the line "Starting with that smaller project, and if (or once) it is a success then we will have even more credibility to apply for more funding for bigger projects", and "Turn directly to the audience, that might be easier for a project like this".

But - don't worry - I'll take a proper look at the link you posted, running a last-minute "let's think through the options once more"-round in my head =)

Also, I am really worried that you are talking about getting some expensive alternative therapy and in the next paragraph you are saying your income is less than your monthly bills. Very alarming!! Make sure you don't spend money that you don't have on that.

Ah, but the therapists mentioned are my personal friends, so no worries - my therapy costs have been near zero, and I'm deeply thankful for the generous support of my therapist friends =)

Last month I spent less than 100 € on food, also cutting down on all the costs I can. I have absolutely no problem with that, it is an integral part of the chosen way of life. But this summer there have been unavoidable and unplanned stuff like a need to replace a water pump (1000 €), and this month I just need to buy winter tyres for the car. All that kind of extra costs, which are hard to avoid if I want to have running water from the kitchen tap, or drive a car.

There were two coding projects, and both of them yielded less money I was hoping for. And now as those projects are finished, I'm having some free time at my hands, facing the question: should I seek more local coding projects (webpages and custom-tailored office solutions), or should I pursue an indie game project.

This seems like a perfect time to switch to being full-time indie game developer =)

In case someone is interested: One of the mentioned coding projects was an Android app for Enduro, Motocross and such events. Basically, multiple stop-watches on touch-screen, and the event timing types tailored for the needs of those racing types. Personally I have no experience with such motor sports, and this app idea was suggested to me by members of the local motor sports club. I liked the idea, and the plan was to first release a Finnish-only version. And once there would be a bit more user feedback from the Finnish market, then I could translate the UI to English and see if we get more customers form the international market.

The app comes in two versions: A free one with ads, and a paid one without the ads. Since at the moment the UI is Finnish only, the app is available only in Finland, here.

And as one might guess, what happened then? Covid-19. Seems like people are not getting together for their hobbies that much. So they haven't been downloading an app for their hobbies. My app got featured in a Finnish magazine for motor sports, with a nice review. That yielded a handful of downloads, which is nice but doesn't quite yield additional income.

So, the situation with that app is: it would take me only a few full working days to launch it for the international market. But I have a feeling that in the current situation it won't be worth that. I can try that some time in the future. As now I feel like devoting all of my coding time to the Ancient Savo project.

Wow, that sounds actually really great!

You should know that there are also people who are envious of your chosen lifestyle. Even though I am sure you are not always finding the balance either. I think that's the main challenge of life.

I am working in the game industry as we speak, but it's hard work and I do it every day, every week, all the time. Previously I used to be an artist. While I am extremely happy in my job, I am sometimes missing those moments of being alone with my thoughts and focusing on my creativity.

If I was you, I would start my projects as hobby projects and create those prototypes that you were talking about and start thinking about potential revenue streams. Once there is definite resonance in the form of interest from people and perhaps even publishers, and you figure out a way to generate income, you could switch to being full time indie dev.

This pdf is pretty ruthless, but it's a good starting point to check if you've thought about everything: http://www.neogames.fi/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Fantastic_Game_Idea1.png

Looking forward to supporting your ideas when you get forward from this initial period :)

Thanks again for a valuable link, I'll take a look!

Yeah I have no illusions about the life of a full-time indie developer. (Also, I have been personal friends with Sami since our teenage years. Being part of the UnReal World development for almost 30 years has given me some perspective into this kind of projects, and the associate way of life and work).

Thinking of it, maybe my next blog post could be more about my projects plans, and my development philosophy.

Hehe, well - this week I've been coding for a custom office solution for the local milling company. And also had some customers for massage. Today it will be two more hours of business software coding to finish that project for now. And two more customers for the massage. This week should earn me the money for the winter tyres. And then there will be the luxury of having full free days for indie projects. So I aim to have more news after the weekend.

(Also, if someone out there happens to have resources to help with spreading the word for a Enduro timer Android app, sure it would be nice to make the English translation to have an international audience. It is just that personally I don't find time nor ideas to promote a new app to international market. I'd gladly accept any help with this - it could be just someone involved in motor sports who could do some testing and then recommend the app in their discussion groups or forums or something.)

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