Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Why Am I Still Working at 3 AM on a Game?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 27, 2011

I used to stay up all hours of the night playing games.

Now I stay up all hours of the night making them.

Okay, I guess that’s not entirely true. I’ve been making games for almost as long as I’ve been playing them.  Even back to the point where I was trying to squeak something that vaguely resembled gameplay out of BASIC code that had to fit inside of less than 1K of RAM.  There were many nights I’d be up late on a school night programming an adventure game or Missile Command – ish game on my Commodore 64. I rarely finished these projects, but sometimes I enjoyed making games more than playing games.

I’m down to the wire on Frayed Knights, my time spent on the game has increased (again). Likewise, the “day job” has heated up a bit, demanding a few extra hours. So I find myself still coding or making lousy programmer art or writing the next day’s blog post at 3 in the morning, knowing that my alarm clock is set to go off at just after 7 AM. That’s only four hours. Ouch. That’s math.

And then I made a horrible mistake. I decided to estimate the amount of time I’ve put into this game so far. Yeah. 50 weeks per year, and it’s been about 3.5 years, times the average amount of time I put into the game per week. Granted, I’m intending three games out of this effort, so it’s not all in one game, but the realization hit me of just how much I’d need to personally profit from this for it to even be worth minimum wage to me. Let alone replenishing the money I’ve put into it already (and owe some guys for helping out).

Math sucks sometimes.

When I put my “businessman” hat on, this is pretty frustrating. But then, I’m also looking at ways I can improve my own process, vastly increase my productivity, make it so that future games – even starting from square one like I did on Frayed Knights – take much less time and effort to create something of quality. And in spite of being an indie for as long as I have been, and a pro game developer for much longer than that, so much of this remains a learning process. Constantly. I do this so I can justify the time I put into things, to convince myself (and my very supportive wife) that this is being “productive” and stuff.

But when I take that hat off, there’s a much bigger reason I’m putting hundreds and hundreds of hours into this thing every year (and more hundreds writing about games here on the blog). It’s the same reason I was up late at night on the Commodore 64 writing a Space Invaders clone where I’d made the aliens into my least favorite teachers at my Junior High.

The bottom line is that I love this stuff. I love making games as much as I love playing them. Yeah, much of the time it’s boring, completely un-sexy stuff. But I get an immense satisfaction over seeing my imagination take a form of reality on the monitor.

At that point, the only math that matters is matrix transforms and damage calculations.

Oh, yeah, and the number of hours left when I subtract the alarm-clock setting from the current time. Yikes.

Filed Under: Geek Life, Indie Evangelism, Production - Comments: Read the First Comment

  • PsySal said,

    Hey, I know exactly what you mean. It sounds like we have the same life. That second calculation, about how many hours total you’ve put in and how much you need to profit, that is the one that always leaves out the important “what makes life meaningful” factor.

    Of course, too much game dev affects this negatively, too! But to go through life and not do the thing you are passionate about, but instead try to maximize your dollars-per-working-hour, that would be the really sad equation.

    We’re lucky to be able to do what we do! Though I think working too hard even on something you’re passionate about will make you depressed and sick, at the same time to not take time for what you really love is not the answer… so I guess for me there is a balance (which is often hard to strike…)

    There is no escaping the alarm clock math, not on a night’s sleep and not with our life.

    Sorry to get all Memento Mori on yo’ =) Take Care, and keep going!