You might want to read this – The Final Sky Bear Games Update (for now)

Even if you’ve never read my blog posts before, you might want to read this one. Trigger warning: Suicidal /self-harm ideation, anxiety disorder. (Also like, super middle class privilege, good god…)

This has been a long time coming, and I have been wrestling with how to say these things for close to three months now. I even considered going to an indie games festival and giving this as a talk, but ultimately I have backed out of doing that because I want to just put a fullstop on things right now and not have to think about them, at least for a bit, while I recover.

We live in a society that is structured by layers upon layers of assumptions about how we should live and relate to each other. I know many of you struggle with this too in so many different ways, but the way I’m going to talk about today is the act of creativity, the state of being a creative person. It’s my personal belief that everyone has some creativity in them, even when people say to me that they don’t know how I create things, and that they don’t have a creative bone in their body. But what only a few people feel, and I am one, is an all-consuming drive to create things and put them out in the world, to the point of actually engaging in some pretty unhealthy behaviours to get there.

This comes from a few places. All my childhood years, I was built up to expect that I could just step into a creative career immediately out of school. My teachers, as wonderful as they all were to a bullied gifted child who struggled to make friends with her peers, perhaps didn’t realise how ill prepared I was going to be out in the world. When I did step into that world, I found that no one cared. My work, which had always been immediately praised as a child, was rejected – and this might sound funny to people who haven’t had harder lives, especially around education, but I had no idea what to do with that. My work wasn’t good enough? Then I wasn’t good enough. I might as well stop trying. So I settled into careers that were ‘good enough’, that paid the bills and were stable. For a while, this was enough (and I know how damn privileged this sounds, believe me. Boo frikking hoo.).

But things started to get bad. I realise now that most of my life I have suffered with a cognitive dissonance between where I am in my life, and the person I thought I was supposed to be. The longer I don’t live up to that image, the more it hurts every day. (Again, I get how frikking priviliged this is all sounding, but I’m just trying to paint a picture of my mental state for you, ‘kay?)

How did this present itself in behaviours? Before my child was born, it presented as filling up as much of my non-job hours as possible with my creative pursuits. Writing, acting, directing, producing theatrical productions, and then making a transition to video game production and doing practically everything myself there except for the areas I didn’t feel like I had the skill to pull off (art, music). Then after my child was born, I had a blissful balance of creativity and motherhood for a little while. But once maternity leave was over, that was when my life took the massive nosedive I didn’t see coming.

I had work, and I had being a parent. Where was creativity supposed to fit now? The answer was in all the gaps. Leaning on grandparents to babysit while I sat there on my computer, all the while completely aware that I was doing the whole workaholic thing that I recognised in my Father when I was a child. Staying up stupidly late every single night to cram in what I could, writing, programming, recording, bug fixing, whatever was needed.

Then finally, this all caught up with me, as it inevitably had to. I started experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety that seemed to completely bypass my conscious brain, which would try and logic its way out of the problem, or to control it with breathing exercises. I had gone too far, and my body was fighting back. My subconscious even gifted me an image, of me slamming the passenger side of my vehicle into a tree, so that I might be able to go to the hospital and sleep with no interruptions. That was the point where I realised I had really, royally screwed up, and reached out for help.

When you hear about people getting to that point and reaching out for help, you might imagine, as I usually do, that that’s the point where things start to turn around, and problems start to get solved. But it’s a much harder, longer journey than that sentence. It might surprise you to learn that this breakthrough was occuring in March last year, months before I launched my KickStarter campaign for Her Jentle Hi-ness. Why, why, why would I do that, if I had acknowledged that I was breaking down? Honestly, I wish I could go back in time and shake some sense into myself. But I believed that I could finish the game, that it was mostly finished away, and that I had to have some form of creative outlet, didn’t I?

I’ll speed the timeline up a little bit here. I got some therapy, and slowly things started to penetrate my stubborn head. Lockdown hit in August, therapy continued online, and my ability to do anything productive, be it my day job or my game production, froze right up. I would sit in front of my screen with my shoulders and back aching, and not be able to lift a finger. I started to break things down into tiny, tiny goals, and treat every one like a big achievement – after all, anything was better than nothing. I also started to cut corners aggressively. The biggest one was marketing myself and my games. I dropped off in my online presence, and stopped running ads on social media. They weren’t making a difference anyway. Nothing was penetrating the saturation of the market, and I didn’t have the energy to go all in, so I gave up, and focussed on what I could do, instead of worrying about what I couldn’t.

Slowly, things started to get better. The game took shape and the to do list started to shrink. But the real revelations were still awaiting me. It might seem odd to you (or frankly, bloody typical of me) that I added more work to my plate, but I joined NaNoWriMo in November with a novel idea that has been haunting me in various forms for fifteen years. Why on earth would I do this? Well, surprisingly, I would write for hours every day and feel – almost unbelieveably – nothing but joy. This continued until I had a 125,000 word manuscript in my hands by Christmas, and I started to think about how I could continue this feeling.

There were two weeks I had to take off at the end of 2021/start of 2022 because my child’s daycare was on break, and I decided that those would be days where I did nothing for game dev or even novel writing, even though I enjoyed it so much. I realised two things then. First, I didn’t miss game dev at all. In fact, I was so, so grateful to myself for giving permission to not look at it for two weeks. Second, I really, really missed novel writing. I couldn’t wait to get back and start on the draft of the sequel.

Since then, there has still be some struggle, because I pretty much never go back on my word, so I was going to get Her Jentle Hi-ness out no matter what. And thankfully, towards the end, I stopped hating the process as much as I had come to. I was finally able, in the end, to say that I had done a good enough job. I haven’t done anything but a few social media posts to market the game, and while some of you marketing gurus out there in the world will be shaking your head at me, mouths agape, calling me a fool, I know. I know, that with just a little effort and some dollar spend, I could be marketing this game. But I just don’t care to do it. I’m still raw, burnt out.

And that is why I am parking all of Sky Bear Games for now. Maybe I will come back to it one day. Certainly, I will still post occasionally on here, especially to continue updating the saga of my D&D character Dirwin. But this is the last fortnightly update for the foreseeable future. There hasn’t been a new podcast episode since last year, and it will stay that way for now. And I will not be working on another video game in my precious spare time unless the creative spirit drives me with true joy and purpose to do so. Producing, writing, programming, testing, marketing, distrubuting, and all the other bits and pieces I did before now, all of that was basically like having another full time job, and I just cannot sustain it any longer. I deserve to be able to go tools down and enjoy my family and my leisure time, as does every other worker in this crazy world where the powers that be value money over lives. It’s time I stopped acting like my own capitalist nightmare boss and treated myself like a human being.

I feel the need to stress this: I haven’t recovered yet. I am still suffering from anxiety, I still have moments where I freeze up, unable to act, I still have times where I slip into my obsessive modes and need to slap myself out of it and appreciate the beauty around me. I am a work in progress. I am, we are, and we always will be.

So what’s next for me? Well, the novels, if that wasn’t obvious. I work on those every day for around twenty minutes to an hour, depending on how much time I can truly spare without encroaching on family time. I am lucky that I am a fast writer, and those twenty minutes can net me upwards of seven hundred words. I am enjoying living in this world with these characters, and I am setting off on the scary new adventure (for me) of redrafting and getting the manuscript to where I can say good enough (not perfect, never that).

What’s my rubric for success now? Weirdly, it’ll be the day when my husband reads it and goes, there, that’s it. Since we got together, he has been my most incisive and challenging critic of my creative works (also he’s a librarian, so he knows his stuff). I hated it at first (my high school friend reminded me the other day I would react reeeeeeally badly to criticism back in the day) but after years of absorbing his creative criticism, I have come to understand, and actually enjoy now, how it improves the quality of my work. So he’s the Sultan to my Scheherazade, and even if I never get officially published (though god, I would love most in the world to be surprised one day by people drawing fan art of my characters, or – god forbid – writing fan fiction!), if I can please his discerning tastes then that’ll be a major tick in the box.

To all of you who have followed this blog, thank you for your attention over the years. It’s a precious commodity in this over-saturated market. To those of you who popped in to see just this one update, thank you for taking the time, and I hope that either you don’t recognise yourself in this post and you’re living a healthy life, or if you do recognise your own self-destructive tendencies here, that this might inspire you to make some changes so that the world can enjoy your creativity without you suffering for your art. I used to feel very strongly that the only worth I had was to give the world my art, but I have realised over the last eighteen months that if I’m not careful, I could drive myself to an early grave, and thus deprive the world of what an older, wiser me might have to say one day.

This is a promise: that in whatever way it’s going to happen, see you on the other side of whatever this current mess is!

Just a quick one – SBG Update #8

Another quick update this week as I am deep in the pre-release workload. I’ve completed all my testing. This one took about twice as long as my other games to test all the way through the code (to be clear, code written by me, not all the codebase of Ren’py!) but my run is done now, and I’m just waiting on the feedback from my tester to see if there are any more bugs to fix, and my editor to see if there are any sentences that need improving or any Gs I missed! So in the meantime, my time outside of work and family is spent doing all the admin for getting the game out next Friday (NZT) and all the other things I owe the Kickstarter backers.

There’s more news and more thoughts on the future but I’m going to leave that until two weeks time with the next update, when the game will have been out for just under a week. Look forward to talking to you then, when things are a bit more calm!

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

Three weeks and one day to go! – SBG Update #7

That’s right, what it says above!! All aboard the hype train!

There’s not a heck of a lot to update on here, except that testing is carrying on apace. I’ve got the help of the wonderful Johanna as a tester, she’s a twitter friend of mine and is finding OMG so many bugs….. Seriously, this game is the biggest one I have done yet – about 75K words as opposed to 45K for Nine Lives, 25K for Wonderland Nights, and that’s just the words you read, not even including the code! So I am so grateful to her coming on board and absolutely thrashing the thing. Sean’s work is mostly over, same for the voice actors James, Tom, and voice editor + actor Lauren, Michaela is tinkering here and there with things to get them just right, and Dave is editing as always – shout out to him because jod damn, I would not want to be editing this thing. It was hard enough writing it and missing all the Gs. So I owe big thanks to the team who have my back.

Well, gotta get back to the testing! Seriously, it takes up all my free time these days. I am really looking forward to it being done!!

SBG Fortnightly Update #5

Hello! I come to you in the middle of testing, testing, testing. Every spare moment in my life is currently taken up with testing the pre-beta build of Her Jentle Hi-ness and fixing any bugs I find therein. When will it be done? I don’t know. I was aiming for next Friday at the very latest, but I am hopefully of finishing a little bit before then. But my dudes, this game is huge. I blew out the scope massively. No wonder this is coming out three months late.

I’m really looking forward to the beta process where my backers will get to give me feedback, because I feel like a major thing lacking is clarity about what you have to do to get anywhere. Part of the problem is that my major influences like Princess Maker expect you to either to trial and error, or go online and find a guide. That doesn’t seem to be the rubric that my own backers are judging me on though. So… I guess all I can do is really engage with this feedback process to try and improve my game design! Though I’ve already peppered a lot of clues in the dialogue, and I don’t want to go overboard and make the game too simple. Oh well, we’ll see! There will definitely be a game guide for it when I release it.

Back to testing!!!

SBG Fortnightly Update #4

Hunting with the Queen in Her Jentle Hi-ness

Well hello there! So since I wrote last, there have been a few blog posts here and there, mostly James’s content. We have another one of his coming up, and then a little look back over Dragonlance so far after that. As for myself, I managed to get the Alpha V2 of Her Jentle Hi-ness out to backers last week, a couple of days sooner than planned, which signals to me that I have finally got my scheduling down after months of struggling to get it right. There are lots of little bugs to fix, and I need to run through many tests to get it right. This game might actually be a whole lot bigger than either of my preceeding games. No wonder I have been feeling overwhelmed!

You might have noticed other bits of content have slowed right down. While trying to finish of Her Jentle Hi-ness, we’ve decided not to do the podcast, and I haven’t been updating the pokemon blog either. We’ll see how quickly, if at all, those things start again once the game is released. This whole mad hustle to do and be everything is a little soul destroying. Sorry if you were a loyal follower of either of these and want them back. Maybe in time, we’ll have the energy again.

Not a lot else to say! I’m just going to keep my head down and keep on working on making this game the best I can make it. See you in a fortnight!

Dev blog #76 – What’s up?

Hey, so after a while of these dev blogs just being sort of lame short updates, I am rethinking my approach. I don’t know if you really need a weekly update, right? Especially when the news is the same each time, and I don’t actually write about dev most of the time anyway, but the sort of general organisation side of things.

Well, to continue in that tradition once more, my updates for this week are:

  • Yay, the pokémon blog is back! Over here:
  • The podcast is totally coming back. Unless something goes terribly wrong, James and I are recording tonight, and I’ll be editing over the weekend for a Monday/Tuesday release. It’s part one of two/three? about Planescape. It’s going to be EPIC.
  • James has been working away slowly at refining his first draft
  • I’ve been chipping away at the huge to-do list for Her Jentle Hi-ness, and have changed a lot of my publicity type stuff to say Early 2022 release.
  • I’ve decided I will not be showcasing my game at Armageddon Expo, despite the kind offer from the NZGDA for me to do so. This is for two reasons: first, the health of my toddler in case of me catching and passing on covid to him despite my double vaccination, the risk is always there; and second, the amount of time I would have to spend preparing the physical presence of the stall, being at the expo, and preparing the demo version for the public is just not worth it. It would set my delivery timeline back by at least a week. I would far rather have this game out in February that delay it any further than I already have. Also, I’ve displayed my games at showcases before and because of the static, non-action oriented nature of them, they do not draw attention as much as other games. This doesn’t mean there is no benefit at all to going (it’s actually meeting other devs and related people which makes the showcases worth it to me!), but with the factors I have just outlined, I think this is the best move for my family’s physical and mental health.

I’m not saying that these dev blogs haven’t been useful, as a little reflection aid as well. But I think there might be better ways of doing it. I think I’ll do another one in a fortnight instead of next week, so that there is more to say. Also I might try and actually write about some dev for once? Or if I don’t maybe I’ll just rebrand this dev blog to be an update post instead. That would be more technically correct 😉

So I guess, see you in a fortnight for an update instead!

Dev blog #75 – Quick update

I’ll just keep this one brief as I’m a little run off my feet today. Adjusting to the new way of life while my toddler goes back to daycare and my husband is off at work. I’m still working remotely, and my real job is busy with an upcoming release.

Every day I manage to get a little done on Her Jentle Hi-ness, as I explain in my update here:

We are getting closer to returning to normal with the podcast and even the Pokemon blog sometime soon too! Yay! And we continue, as always, to have way too many ideas than there is possibly time in the world to execute. Like just now James singing “Three Cows Shot Me Down, Bang Bang”, I would love to do a Marvel parody music video of that but we’ll probably never have time! Oh well, such is our burden in this life. We’ll just have to continue as is bringing what gifts we can to the world with what time we have.

See you next week!

Dev blog #74 – Accessibility? Who’s she?

This week, over on my update to Her Jentle Hi-ness, I’ve been wondering about accessibility. I’m looking for some good resources on making the game more accessible. Obviously, I have some unique challenges with Her Jentle Hi-ness, as the very premise of the game is based around reading really quickly and hoping you comprehended your choice accurately. For example, I was wondering do I need to just have an option where it turns off the menu countdown completely? Is this the way forward to help people with physical or mental reading difficulties? Or is this too patronisingly easy? I have no idea, but would love to read well-sourced best practices if you know of any. I’ve been struggling so far to find anything that applies directly to my situation, but it could be that I’m searching with the wrong keywords. So if you know of any sources, please comment on this post!

I have been managing to get a little bit of work done on Her Jentle Hi-ness every single day for the last two weeks, which has been a great help towards feeling more accomplished in this almost three-month lockdown. But I am probably going to need to push out the release til January or possibly February, realistically, so I am going to adjust all my marketing stuff to reflect that from now on. I lost a good 6+ weeks of buffer time at the start of the lockdown. In my original plan earlier this year, I thought I might even be able to release this month! Oh well, these things happen. I’m much more interested in getting the game as polished as I can manage and releasing it a few months late.

That’s sort of all I can say for now. My son is returning to daycare soon, which means I may have the time to edit the podcast again. Soon though, not immediately. I also want to get back to my pokemon blog one of these days too. It’s going to take James a while to get back to his current Tirenia project, as he has gone back to work already, and he was unhappy with the state of the last draft and wants to potentially double the length of the next zine. We’ll see how that goes.

Anyway! That’s enough for now. I feel much more encouraged this week than the week before, and even more so than two weeks ago, so things are on an upward trend. Hope you’re doing well too!

Dev blog #73 – Zooming along

Wow, what a week! Rewriting my to-do list and setting new goals, I have been able to knock a decent chunk off my Her Jentle Hi-ness to-dos every day. It’s still a huge undertaking, and I’m not totally confident in getting it out by the end of the year, and yes, I am shaking my fist at fate for throwing a major lockdown-shaped spanner in the works for me this year, but the end is growing ever more rapidly in sight! Here is the kickstarter update for this week:

The Knites riding out to confront the dragon who loaned the kingdom money and has come to collect

James has finished his first draft of the next Dragons of Tirenia zine, so I’ll be proofread that in time and together we’ll get that out for all you Tirenia heads out there. It’s got a very exciting cover which I will drop closer to the time. James has also come up with a fun little TTRPG which we’ll probably just drop as a free PDF or a charity-linked one if we can make the right connections.

We still haven’t gotten back to the podcast, and I’m sorry but we’re unlikely to while we’re still in lockdown. But things are changing, and James may be heading back to work next week. I will either have a huge weight lifted off my shoulder, or things will get 100% worse for me depending on whether daycare takes our child into their bubble, or if I am supposed to somehow work full-time 5 days a week at home and mind my child alone at the same time. Ah, the joys of this present time… But if it comes to that, I will have to shift my expectations for myself away from productivity and onto sanity and coping and just giving my child what he needs, so I don’t stress overmuch about not meeting my targets. What a year this has been, huh?

All righty, that’s it for this week. Thanks for reading!

Dev blog #72 – Two things make up the essence

It’s been a bit of a tough week, trying to squeeze in everything that life is throwing at me during this lockdown with a toddler. But hey, I don’t always want to be whinging. I feel like I do that a lot! And really life isn’t so bad! I have an adorable child, an amazing spouse, and a safe house to sit out this lockdown.

This week I learnt more about marketing my games through the help of a creative mentorship through Wayfind Creative. I highly recommend reaching out to them if you’re an emerging creative in Auckland, New Zealand. Here is their link, and they come with my personal seal of approval!

I’ve been learning a lot through them, and many other sources too. I think I may have managed to distill the essence of what I need to be doing over the next little while down to these two things, while I am still working full time. The two most important things are:

  1. Obviously, working on the creative projects I have out there so people have something to enjoy, but almost more importantly…
  2. Working on my marketing presence on social media so people can get a better idea what I am about

The more I look into that last one, the more it seems that I ought to be more personal about what I post, rather than trying to be faceless, as I originally sort of wanted to be online. I actually need to be pushing the solo dev angle and my personality, rather than running away from that. It’s hard, because I am pretty introverted in that regard. But if I want to have more reach for my creative works, that’s what the marketing wisdom seems to be!

In other news, here is my update for Her Jentle Hi-ness this week:

All right, I’m going to get some rest and attack the big to do list with fresh eyes tomorrow!