Ring Fling – Developer Diary 8 – Launch Day
I’ve been postponing and postponing this post because I wanted to be out of the bubble when I wrote it, but it just seems impossible. I’ll cut to the chase. Launch day was absolutely amazing. Short of getting engaged to my girlfriend earlier this year, it was probably the most exciting day of my life.
I woke up in the morning mentally counting the hours until 1PM, when New Zealand would launch. Since I have a day job, I had pre-written all the forum posts and emails and such that I had to send and had them all locked and loaded in my gmail drafts folder. The clock struck one and 24 hours of insanity began.
I genuinely couldn’t believe how supportive the iOS community was. In particular, I launched alongside Duckers by Retro Dreamer and Little Things Forever by KlickTock. Both of them were ridiculously helpful both in promoting Ring Fling, but also setting a great example of how to handle a game on launch day. But it wasn’t just them or just my friends. It was all kinds of people. It was press. It was players. It was all over the place.
When the day started, I had very low expectations. The only coverage that I thought I had any chance of getting was to be listed in Touch Arcade’s Coming Tonight feature. I knew that posting in the forums got you into the running and it seemed like they posted most, if not all, of the new games from the forums. However, that first day, I think I got something like 8 or 9 mentions including some pretty huge outlets.
And this is where the actual blog post starts because in that 24 hours, I learned what it was to be indie. At least to me. I think back to the times that I had in console games. I’m extremely proud of LittleBigPlanet and Ratchet & Clank. But there’s something missing. I’m proud of them as titles. I’m proud of the hard work I put into them. But the thing that’s missing is that I’m not proud that my contribution made them the great games that they were. It’s strange. I can think along the lines of “I wrote the switches code in LBP and without switches, the creator community couldn’t have done all the amazing things it did.” However, that’s true of joins and CSG shapes and loads of artwork and the pop-it and a huge list of other stuff. And I didn’t design or make the art for switches. Would people have even understood them if I designed them? If I wasn’t there, would LBP still have had switches? Would they be different in any way at all? We don’t have a time machine to AB test all this stuff. I’ll never know. After I left Media Molecule, they hired another gameplay programmer to replace me and he seemed to do at least as good a job as I did on everything. I’ll always be proud that I was lucky enough to be part of that team, but I’ll never know if I made a difference. I think that’s one of the reasons going gold and launch are exciting in console games, but there’s something awkward about them even beyond the sleep deprivation induced zombism.
I don’t know if this is true with everyone, but to me, doubt is a horrifyingly powerful force, especially with credit. In the years since I’ve met my fiance, Carly, I’ve become a lot more human. In fact, she always comments on the way I use the word human as though it’s a concept completely removed from me. But before that, I was explicitly working very hard to live a life without emotion and of the purest theoretical ethics. If you were to ask me to describe my fundamental philosophy in life in one word, that word would have been desert. By desert, I don’t mean the place with lots of sand. It’s also not a misspelling of the category of fatty foods, although they were also a big part of my life. By desert, I refer to the state of being deserving of something. It’s such a critical concept to me. It’s the difference between confidence and arrogance. It’s the difference between a reward and greed. It’s the difference between achievement and theft. It is the concept that goes deepest into the core of my being. When I interview people, my most important attribute I’m looking for isn’t their ability to code. It’s the relationship between how good they are and how good they think they are. People who think they’re better than they are aren’t ready to listen or learn or grow. In a few years, they will be left behind. People who think dramatically less of themselves than they should are not prepared to spread their knowledge and teach and nurture others. People who have a pretty good sense of where they stand, though, are incredible. They know there are people better than them in certain things and will always try to develop in those areas. They know what they possess and they’ll be happy to share it onward with others.
So to me, taking credit for something I didn’t do is a horrific crime. Even through this whole Ring Fling experience, I have some direct contributors to Ring Fling, but they’ve requested that I not be too loud about their contributions. Not sufficiently crediting them makes me feel like a fraud at times. So on a big project like LBP, for me to claim I was instrumental or irreplaceable in any way is riddled with doubt, and rightly so. With that many people in the mix, you’ll never know what it would have been like without a particular individual. And even on LBP, if I look back and try to make the objective list of people that the game fundamentally couldn’t have been as great without, I don’t put myself on that list. I got stuff done. I had a great time doing it. I’m happy that I did. I’m proud I helped out, but I’m pretty sure if I didn’t take the job, LBP would have been just as good.
So that’s why Ring Fling was so different. I basically did everything except for sound effects, app icon, and in game text. The game design was mine. The “art” was mine. And I definitely did all of the programming (except of course for Box2D, FreeType, and iOS). While that’s not 100%, it was enough to alleviate the doubt. When people said all the lovely things that were said about Ring Fling, I could take it to heart. It’s kind of funny that they handed out shirts at the end of LBP the said “I MADE THAT!” on the back. On launch day, that was the feeling that I was overwhelmed with. I made that. But this time, I actually did make that. And obviously, with the good, I have to take the bad as well. So when criticisms come in, they’re on me as well.
It’s funny to think about because the idea of combining Crossfire with Hungry Hungry Hippos is such a trivial one. The prototype that I had after my first two days was pretty much what anyone else would have done. At that point, I felt like I needed to release it as fast as possible because if I could make it in two days, anyone could make it in two days. As development continued, though, it was clear that Ring Fling was something that only I would make the way it was. There’s so much of how I think about things built into how the game is written. In the process of planning our wedding, I’ve realized what my approach to creating is. I’m not focused on trying to cram in as many super awesome things as I can into a piece of work. I’m focused on two things: removing anything that’s bad and keeping it coherent. I realized that an attitude like that would never make a Ratchet and Clank where it’s all about requiring a certain number of levels and just knowing some aren’t nearly as good as the others, but the overall experience is good. For me, it’s all an exercise in developing my taste and getting more accurate about what does and doesn’t work.
To me, launch day was many things, but more than anything else, launch day was the first time in my entire career that I felt like I deserved to take credit for something.