(Note: if you’re only interested in this week’s news, then scroll down to the bottom, but I think this entire timeline is all relevant to explain how things have come full circle as well.)
This appears to be the the last date when I was still updating my old dream RPG design documents. Two of them have minor updates in August and October, but from what I can tell this is around when my indie game developer dream died.
While I can’t be sure, it makes sense to me. The original main heroine of my RPG was based on one of my friends, but in April that year she severed all ties with me due to a colossally selfish and screwed-up act on my part—an event that would scar me for years—and I assume that I couldn’t look at my files the same way anymore. (I’m being vague on purpose, but I assure you that someone probably wouldn’t figure out what happened even in twenty guesses.)
At any rate, this was the end of my junior year of high school. 2003 would be my graduation and then it would be off to college, where I had to be “serious” about considering my talents and abilities and deciding my future path. The idea of becoming an indie developer was just a silly thought to be thrown away…
Over the next few years, characters who were once fantasy RPG heroes transformed into real-world incarnations during creative writing classes that I took in college and for a little while afterward—up to 2008 when I was still dabbling in hobby writing.
Maybe it could be said that my characters had settled for the mundane, just like me—but the light can only be hidden for so long. One girl told me that when she read one of my stories she kept visualizing it as an anime because of Celty and her green hair. A more middle-aged lady told me the same thing, surprisingly enough, and added that if the narrator said my characters were angels living secretly among humans then she’d totally buy into it.
The anime version of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya had released in April 2006. I loved it and yet I shook my head at it; Haruhi was a better version of who I had made my real-world incarnation of Celty to be when I’d written her in 2005. Bold, blunt, fearless, unapologetic, and most importantly always seeking something bigger and more interesting than the world had to offer—those were the characteristics I appreciated. Haruhi wanted aliens and time travelers. My Celty wanted superheroes. Even in her fantasy incarnation, when she can use magic and fight at light speed, she still does.
And so do I.
(Don’t misunderstand; I’m speaking metaphorically. I don’t want superheroes specifically, like a transhumanist would; I mean that I want things even more absurd, if I can call them that. I want love, beauty, truth, meaning, individuality, and philosophy. Whether I was an agnostic in times past or a follower of Christ now, I’ve always chased after these strange realities—strange because they’re immaterial and yet are more tangible than anything we can touch and feel.)
I got my first serious job offer, a stable job that would be available for years if I wanted it. I accepted it with a smile at the office, but during my drive home I started crying without fully understanding why. I only had in mind the vague sense that I should have been able to come up with something “better,” something more than what the average person does for a living.
But I had largely forgotten about my game design documents; I hadn’t touched them in years nor thought about them aside from a couple instances when my grandma had asked if I still wanted to make a game. I had dismissed the idea each time—too expensive and unworkable.
One of my online friends shared her initial demo of an RPG Maker game with me. The wheels started spinning… As I’d later write on this site, she shook me back into hope.
Inspired by her, I went through my old design documents and started converting them into something greater than my high school self had imagined. I actually have a November chat log with her saved as I went through my dozens and dozens of characters, filtering out the junk and getting laughter and joy as I rediscovered some of my old ideas. (I might post bits of that conversation on here one day with her name removed.)
For the next couple of years I’d continue updating those documents as a fun diversion that took my mind off work, but I didn’t take it fully seriously. After all, where would I ever afford a programmer and how? To say nothing of a composer and artists…
I was at a very low point in my life—maybe the lowest. Even while going through the process of closing on a house, I was disgusted with myself and my low-paying dead end job. On many days I could barely look at myself in the mirror. This was not my place. This was the wrong direction for my life. I had known it for months, so my depression was palpable. I had cut off friends. My family could see I wasn’t myself.
But that didn’t mean I was able to figure out a plan to change my circumstances.
RPG Maker VX Ace released worldwide in March. I bought it, but then ran into its limitations again and again while trying to make something worthwhile. Was there truly no way forward? Was my dream impossible? Maybe I’d just write about games. I could do it satirically or I could do it seriously—so I started a blog. I needed a name… Something silly and lighthearted to communicate who I am and, more importantly, who I’m not. I riffed on a famous Final Fantasy IV line:
Spoony bards and jelly paladins: they’re all part of the wacky world of RPGs.
July, August, and September 2012
I backed a Kickstarter project for the first time in July. How had I never heard of it before, I asked myself—what an amazing idea! Maybe there was a path to creating games, or in other words funding them. I continued checking out Kickstarters and learned about Unity, a well-known game development engine that supposedly made game development accessible to the masses. I downloaded it straight away; I had gained minimal programming skills from my job, at the very least, but not enough to understand what I was doing even with this “easy” software.
…and then in August I discovered the Okashi RPG Kit, an asset (tool) that works with Unity—the version 1 predecessor of the current-day ORK Framework. I bought it and found that here was everything I had wanted RPG Maker to be: flexible, powerful, and able to adapt even to the craziest ideas that I’d had when I was seventeen. Like comparing Excel to Notepad, the learning curve was much steeper, but finally I began to see how everything would come together.
“I’m making my game and nothing is going to stop me.” I said that to my friend in September (the one who had pushed me back into hope), but the truth is that I still didn’t know what it would take—not how much money, not how much time, not how I’d find a composer, or anything else. But I knew it was possible, somehow, no matter how long it took me. I decided that the best first step would be to get an artist. If I could see my characters come to life, they’d inspire me to keep going through all the struggles of learning Unity. I picked Flora out from the masses of artists who were drawing for Kickstarter games and, naturally, Jelly the Paladin was my first priority!
The timeline of my past ends here. The job I was in went under, but I rebounded and had a new one by January 2013. I then plugged away at Unity off and on until February 2014, when I finally decided that I’d had enough of working and committed to go full indie—and that’s where the devlogs begin, so for that history you can simply go back through them! But that takes us to today…
May 11, 2015
It’s been over fifteen months since I had a job. Yes, I’ve been going that long purely on savings—just me on my own with no second income and not even so much as a part-time job, but only a house rented out. Between software and assets, I’ve spent over $13,000 on Dreamblazers and my savings overall have dwindled by $23,000 in that time frame, living as frugally as possible.
I mentioned three months ago that I could hope for $32,985.99 on average based on the types of Kickstarters I back—but an average isn’t a guarantee, of course, and I’ve actually been concerned about this ever since.
Mathematically, dropping under $30K is no cause for concern for 2+ years. Psychologically, it's staggering how much I've put into #gamedev.
— Jelly Paladin (@JellyPaladin) April 24, 2015
There ain't no gettin' offa this train we're on, to quote the only line I remember from FFVII, but yikes. o_o Reassessing my plan for sure..
— Jelly Paladin (@JellyPaladin) April 24, 2015
With that in mind, this past week an opportunity came up out of nowhere for part-time work at a significant hourly rate. Looking back at my timeline, the obvious gut reaction answer should be “no, of course I’m never getting on that hamster wheel again.” At the same time, from a more objective standpoint, it’s a testament to the value of having an income that I have been able to go along for fifteen months on savings.
I also see that a big contributing factor in my darkest hours was the uncertainty: the fact that I had money but didn’t know what I could do with it because a programmer was out of range and I didn’t know about Unity yet (nor did it have the many features back then that it does today). I was making money for money’s own sake, which is a terrible existence, but if I were to take on part-time work today then I’d have my ultimate goal in mind.
At the same time, taking this on even in a part-time capacity would certainly slow down my development. I don’t believe it would be right to sign up for a job and then leave it behind three months later for my still-intended goal of a July campaign, nor do I believe that I could run a campaign as well as I’d like to while having a part-time job.
I backed multiple failed Kickstarters in 2012 whose owners said that they’d eventually return—and in fact I do still follow their Twitters and see them plugging away slowly, struggling to balance their resources of time and money. I certainly don’t want to get stuck in endless development that way and I feel sorry for them when I see their challenges. Not that it’s unique to them, of course—we were supposed to have flying cars and hoverboards by now here in the futuristic world of 2015—but I still don’t like the idea of delaying my own potential.
But money is a legitimate concern. And, besides that, I wouldn’t have even considered this option except that I’m at a point where a decently large portion of the work is dependent on pixel artists instead of me.
Am I communicating how I’ve wavered back and forth on this? I can make a very strong case either way.
Whatever I decide, though, one thing remains true: Dreamblazers is my first priority and anything I do will be in service of that. The exact details of my schedule may change, but my overall plan won’t. It hasn’t truly changed since 1997, after all—I just got into a state of denial from 2002 to 2009.
On a Positive Note
Got a character artist! Still deciding on what style Alex and I will go with, but otherwise I seriously look forward to sharing those in coming weeks. : D
Still some stuff coming up to show off Becca’s tilesets, which I’m fully aware I haven’t shared yet aside from her Seaside Slime Cove preview…
Other than that, just the usual balancing and story tweaking this past week!