A mission statement by way of personal history.
Friday marked a major turning point in my life. I announced that I was leaving my job.
Everyone's lives are full of turning points, of course, but for me this one was particularly unique. To begin to understand, you must know that this was a solid engineering job where I was surrounded by excellent co-workers and friends. There were no hard feelings. There was no headhunter with a big payoff. I will deeply miss the day-to-day comradery. After a hand-off period, I will cut the tether of the steady paycheck and step out into freefall.
The goal of my new venture will be to establish an independent video game studio and to begin the production of my first game. "And just what do you know about all that?" (You'd be justified in asking.) Perilously little, I have to admit. Aside from nights and weekends spent reading the fragmentary journals of the pioneers who've come before me and launching brief exploratory expeditions, I know nothing except that I must strike out into the wilderness and hope to find the trail before I run out of wagon wheels or die of dysentery.
This is what makes the choice so unusual for me. For once I will take the hard road, with no guarantee of success, with no mapped course, and no hired guide. My particular nature/nurture makeup yielded a shy, bookish kid for whom school and technology came easily. In one steady stream, high school became college became a job in software engineering. There was hard work along the way, sure, but the progression was marked with little in the way of true struggle; the next step followed obviously from the one before, as though my career were one neat inductive proof, punctuated Q.E.D.
This is neither to brag nor complain. I know that many people yearn for the kind of stability that I practically fell into. Nor do I regret my past. Rather, I'm sketching the flow of my life to point out the safety of it all.
I want to briefly rewind to my childhood. As mentioned, I was bookish and shy to a fault growing up, with a solitary, fiercely creative streak. I was prone to falling in love so completely with the fantasy worlds in books, movies, and games that I was compelled to imitate the genius of their creation. I was prone to spend tireless hours making: I built a submarine board game from paper and tape; sketched levels for a Get Smart computer game; and drew maps, wrote history, designed architecture, generated culture all for a fantasy land populated by snake people. Countless half-finished prototypes poured forth from an unrestrained and youthful mind.
As these things go, I grew up. I was faced with the very real challenge of making my own living. I looked to video games at first, but hearing tales of long hours, low pay, and little creative influence, I allowed myself to be turned aside. Without realizing it, I shut down the creative engine I had fostered for so many years. I made the safe choice. The one that would pay the bills.
(As an aside, I don't want to sound too dour here. "Paying the bills" also netted me some great friendships, a bevy of technical skills, and the professional maturity which should save me from bursting into flames on day one of self-employment. I don't think I would do it differently if I could do it again.)
Fast forward to the present day. Here I was, having made my first wild, unsafe, most-ill-advised decision to date. I was in the middle of the long drive to Tucson to discuss this decision with my boss and mentor. This ribbon of freeway stretched across the flat Sonoran desert is renowned for extreme boredom, which makes it as suited to 80's-hair-band-sing-a-long as it is to quiet reflection on life. I suddenly couldn't help but chuckle as I considered the geneologic legacy that had led me here. I imagined the Smiths. A pugnacious, rebellious line of Scottish Protestants, turned Irish farmers, turned East Texas farmers, who would eventually produce my grandfather — founder of a machine shop furnishing tools to a bustling mining town. I imagined the Coleses. Fired by righteous idealism, a well-to-do English merchantman would spurn the Crown to privateer for a fledgling nation of states in the midst of the War of 1812, later to raise quiet and pragmatic Illinois farmers. Such is my heritage. Perhaps this unlikely collision of bloodlines had at last boiled over and set my heart upon its present path.
I don't know if this little story is entirely accurate, but it doesn't need to be. Even unleashed from the burden of pure fact, stories play an important role: they help us make sense of the world around us. Of why we're here. Of what drives others. Of what it means to live a fulfilled life.
These are the kinds of stories I long to tell. I believe we are poised upon an inflection point in the history of video games. As accessibility and acceptability continue to improve, they become less-and-less mindless toys and more-and-more a unique medium in which to express stories in ways previously impossible. I have set myself a lofty goal, with no proof of my suitability to the task. Therein lies the hard work and uncertainty of my new future.
What I do know is that I will not succeed on my own. I will need your help, friend, to overcome the anonymity which is the independent developer's birthright. I will spill out my heart and soul as honestly as I know how. If you find the product worthy, I hope that you will support me with your time and your recommendation. The key metric of my success will be the stories shared with you. My journey will begin very soon, and I hope you will come with me.
Lastly I must thank my unwaveringly supportive wife and partner, without whom I would never have found the strength to start this journey, and without whom I could not hope to maintain my health and sanity.