I almost never talk online about what I’m working on (even if it is a publicly announced project). Actually, I barely post online about anything, and I’ve never been one of those artists that makes a piece to show every single day, so I thought it would be good to explain what I’m actually doing with myself at the moment and why. Let’s start with story time about my last big project.
From April 2021 to March of this year I had a full-time role as the principle artist on an ambitious game being made by a brand new indie studio. I had the opportunity to be in control of this game’s visuals, crafting the look of a game from the ground up which was a first for me. I liked the game concept, the team were good people and it sounded like the direction aligned with what I would want, from the outside it seemed like a great gig.
I’m not gonna get into specifics, but after a while it wasn’t such smooth sailing. Throughout development there was a recurring pattern of me creating a bunch of work for a half-baked idea which would eventually all get thrown out when that idea ultimately gets scrapped. Now, this is pretty common in game dev, especially when a game is still being thought out, but this would just happen over and over again. Only exacerbated by me voicing concerns and opinions to the team that seemed to be consistently ignored. There was a moment where it became very clear to me that this wasn’t democracy and the game didn’t belong to the entire team. I don’t necessarily have a problem with games being made that way, I’m sure it’s been effective for making many great games… it’s just not what I signed up for. I was close to jumping ship at this point, and looking back I’m not sure why I didn’t. Probably a pride thing, I wanted to finish what I started and not let anyone down.
As I mentioned, the game was ambitious already and only getting more so for such a small team. Proposed deadlines were unachievable, and the goalposts seemed to move on a weekly basis. There were nine months left until the end of my contract that I signed back in 2021, so I said “fuck it” and made a plan of attack to make the remaining entire games worth of assets and environments in that nine months. I knew it would never be as good as I wanted it to be, but this seemed like the way to be as helpful as possible and actually get this thing out the door.
Those months were not good for me. I just put my nose to the grindstone and did as much as I could do in such a short amount of time, but I stuck to my plan and that in itself was an achievement (not that I could feel good about it). With a couple months left to go, it became apparent the rest of the team were not on the same page as me, and were already talking about the launch deadlines being delayed 6+ months. I’d been killing myself all that time for potentially no reason.
The game was going to continue development after my departure, so my last month was spent making documentation, creating concept art and leaving as much visual context as I could for the next lead artist who would replace me.
My contract ended, I said my farewells and still after everything felt like I was abandoning the project. I worked with some great people. I made some cool stuff. I learnt a lot being in that role, but it put me in the worst mental state I have been in and I really regret not parting ways earlier when the writing was on the wall. After everything I don’t have any ill will towards anyone, but I don’t even want to look at anything about that game and doubt I’ll want to play it when/if it releases.
As you can imagine, this whole experience left me extremely burnt out. I had no desire to even sit at the computer. I went on a tropical island holiday with my partner and drank $1.50 beers by a pool for a week. I should’ve stayed for a month. My break gave me much-needed time to recover and reflect. I’m 28 now and must be in my ninth year working professionally as an artist, and it’s only now I’m realising I can’t keep joining these huge projects only to burn myself out making someone else’s dream game a reality. Life is short and how many games do I have in me? I read somewhere that the majority of game devs quit the industry by something like age 35. I totally get why, it can be a soul-sucking, unrewarding endeavour.
I’ve had this itch at the back of my brain for a long time, a creative restlessness of some kind, and it only gets stronger when I’m unhappy at work. I decided this could be a window of opportunity for me – to put my contract work in the background and use my energy on creating something of my own. Something I can be proud of and say “I made this”, even if I’m the only person on the planet who cares about it. Wasn’t the whole point of getting into game dev in the first place because I wanted to make my own games?
Anyway, back to the original topic: What am I actually doing now? It’s been a good six months since my burn-out. As much as I’d love to retire to a cabin deep in the forest and take up vintage lawnmower restoration, I’m reminded daily that the cost of living here is proper fucked and you now are expected to be a millionaire to fund your existence. So I still need a bit of income. I’m in a great situation really, I work a couple days a week mostly doing concept art for a very fun project with a team I’ve known for quite a while. There’s no stress here. And I’m left with the rest of the week to pursue my own endeavours which has mostly been taking coding courses and learning how to make stuff in the Godot engine. I’ve tried many times in the past to learn how to program but really struggled to wrap my head around it, but this is the first time things have actually stuck for me. After getting through a big comprehensive course it’s taught me enough to be able to start making things from scratch with no tutorials, which is a pretty good milestone for progress.
It will impress no one, but here’s the crappy prototype of a 2D point-n-click I made a while back. This was helpful because the game I want to make is going to be point-n-click adventure of some kind, so even this was enough to think about how to implement different systems. Also helpful finding out what is a bad way of doing something.
That’s not the only thing I’m doing in my time though, I’ve also dipped my toes into the world of game asset marketplaces. I can see how it could potentially be really profitable passive income if you invested enough time into it and made smart decisions about the content. I don’t want to invest much time into it though, so I’m just seeing a trickle of action from it.
I’m also currently trying to finish up a portfolio piece. Since I’m not actively looking for work there’s not much point in me making new folio pieces, but this is something I got to 90% completion years ago and then was put on hold, so it seems stupid to not finish it and get it out there. Whenever I finish it I might write up a blog post with some details how I made it.
I’ve also got years worth of games to catch up on and a PS5 gathering dust, so I’ve now got time to play stuff I’ve been missing out on. Instead I’m playing games from 20 years ago because I’m a nostalgic man-child.
This wasn’t a good summary at all because I rattled on far too long, but there you have it. I goddamn love barely working, it’s the happiest I’ve been in years. I can really see the appeal in being a dole-bludger now. But it can’t last forever, I need to get stuck into making a game soon, at the moment it only exists on paper.
And for anyone reading who might be in a similar situation slaving away on something that they don’t love: There will only be so many games/projects/lawnmowers you can make in your lifetime. Ask yourself, is it really worth putting your time and passion into this one? You can only keep this up for so long. If you get that gut feeling that this project is going nowhere, get off that sinking ship before you get dragged down with it.