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!!

The countdown to Her Jentle Hi-ness begins! – SBG Update #6

That’s right folks, I’m officially announcing a release date for Her Jentle Hi-ness, my next narrative-heavy life-simulation style game. The game will be released to the public on Steam and on March 25th! You can wishlist it and check out the demo here:

The next thirty-six days of my time (outside of my day job) will be spent on the final testing run and responding to the beta feedback from the backers. Exciting times!

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!

SBG Fortnightly Update #3

Woo! It was hard yakka but I got the Alpha test build of Her Jentle Hi-ness out to my higher-tier backers on Tuesday. Now I might finally be able to get some sleep, hopefully, for the rest of the week, before taking stock of where I am at. Before that stage, I can only be really vague about my plans, but I would really like to have the game fully released to the public by the end of March at the very latest.

Here is the rough roadmap of the versions/builds coming up:

  • Alpha V1 released on 4th January to high tier backers
  • Alpha V2 with missing backer content coming ASAP
  • Beta V1 coming after that, after a ‘Happy Path’ test run has been conducted (for this game, that means unlocking everything in the Achievements and/or Gallery) – I’m consdering opening the Beta up to all the tiers of backers, so that I can get a broader range of opinions before the release
  • Beta V2 possibly if needed
  • Release to backers one week before public
  • Public release

What else is there to say? It’s Christmas/New Year’s holidays right now in NZ, and James and I have been running around after our relentless toddler all day, every day. We’re exhausted! So no, we will not be recording a podcast this week. Next week we’ll record, so the next one should be out before the next update. He has actually written a Dragonlance review over the break, but I have yet to post it! Between child minding and the alpha build, there has been basically no time to spare!

Bring on the end of the holidays…

SBG Fortnightly Update #2 and End of Year thoughts

Well, here we are again at the end of another year! So how’s things? Honestly, my brain is bouncing off this topic a little. Classic resistance of hard work, right?

For Her Jentle Hi-ness:

  • I have barrelled through 110 out of 140 mandatory work items that I want to get done before I give my upper tier backers an alpha test build around the first week of January. Actually, I’d really like to get the extra 20 optional items in there too, if possible. Those 110 work items were since November 30, by the way. I’m going to be hauling to make my way through as much of that 30-50 items over the next couple of days before Christmas, so that I can take as much of a break over the next two weeks as possible. Still, going to have to do some testing before handing it over to the players, of course!
  • So on that note, let’s reflect on Her Jentle Hi-ness. What went wrong this year? Why did I not manage to release the game within the half-year since the campaign? For comparison, Nine Lives and Wonderland Nights both released less than three months after the close of their campaigns. Well, for starters, those two were much closer to finished when I started their campaigns. July-Claire was honestly pretty delusional to think she could have gotten all of this done by December and have it be a fun, non-stressful journey, especially given the greater degree of custom character work I promised in this game. But the nail in the coffin was the lockdown lasting for over 100 days, of course. I had to battle my way through major anxiety and mental health issues tied to my conception of who I am and my self-belief as a part of that.
  • So what are the steps forward I see from this, given what happened this year? Well, if I am going to do custom work again, I need to be much more generous with my scope for that. But I also think a really standard place I need to be is where I was with Nine Lives and Wonderland Nights, which is at like 90% done, and just plug in the custom elements. The UI and stuff like that should definitely be done before the campaign.
  • But! An extra factor to this… I don’t think I’ll be using Kickstarter again for the foreseeable future. They have decided to adopt blockchain as a core part of their business, and I do not want to be a part of that, until it’s actually a 100% promise that the technology used by the blockchain isn’t hurting the environment – or rather, isn’t hurting it any more than our existing technologies are already hurting it. Adding on more damage to the environment is just… how blind are these people? But anyway, that’s a gripe I don’t want to go to deep into right now.
  • What’s going right with Jentle Hi-ness, though? Got to take some time to reflect on the nice things. Well, I love Sean, Michaela, Lauren, James and Tom’s work on their parts of the game, and I am looking forward to getting my story out there for the world to see and be amused by. So… that’s nice? Don’t worry, I’m not feeling doom and gloom, I’m just finding it a little hard to see the forest for the trees right now. Which is not a great position to find myself in as the person who is supposed to be seeing both forest and trees at once.

For my game dev career in general, my next steps that I intend are as follows:

  1. Release Her Jentle Hi-ness in Q1 2022.
  2. Spend Q2 2022 getting my existing three major titles onto Android, and possibly iOS too.
  3. Q3 and Q4, look into trying out a new way of working, by doing free episodic releases, build engagement for the audience with the ongoing story and characters, and offer a subscription for people who want to support or want custom content – and do not over-promise on that last point!

The wisdom that will guide my path forward is considering prioritisation a lot more than I have been. As a video game maker, I am just one person. Yes, I have people who contribute work, but the bulk of the work is on me. What’s most important is getting my work in its best form to the audience who will appreciate it most. So I’ll be figuring out more about my audience going forward, and working on getting good quality work to them, and not mucking around with irrelevant distractions.

A brief reflection on our progress with Dragons of Tirenia: James has devoted as much time as he realistically can to this, given the unique circumstances we’ve been in this year. We haven’t managed to release our second adventure module yet, but we are at least closer to getting there than we were six, even three months ago. I think, again with the prioritisation, that it’s most important that we get good quality work out to the people who will appreciate it. So that’s what we’ll keep doing, but at a relaxed pace. No point creating horrible amounts of stress about it. Like James says, this is not something he cares to make a full-time career out of.

As for the podcast and other things, really, we just do the podcast for fun now. This does mean I’m a little less inclined to stress about making deadlines now. James feels a greater deal of connection to the podcast, as a lot of it is him conveying ludicrous amounts of information he’s been harbouring for years. But I’m happy to keep it going because it has a very small but dedicated following who talk to us about the episodes and really enjoy them. Same with my pokemon webcomic.

A side thing that I’ve been working on lately, as a bit of stress relief (hahaha… really?), actually came to something of an end yesterday. I’ve been working on a novel, and I finished the first draft (or like… first draft of the current iteration, since multiple earlier versions of this story exist already). The word count was just shy of 120,000 words, which is a record for me as I am usually a lot more terse. I guess I was enjoying myself more than usual, which actually, I was. I knew where the story was going, and more than ever, I was confident in my ability to tell it. Actually, I was surprised by how many times the characters did things I wasn’t expecting, given that I’ve been living with this story in my head for the last 15 years. Nearly every writing session was a joy. I think there was just one day where I didn’t know where I was headed, and every other day it was like I was simply channeling something I knew already, rather than forcing the ideas to arrive on the page. I have a few little scenes to add, so I guess it will be more like 125,000 words when I’ve done that, but then I want to put it aside and focus on Her Jentle Hi-ness again solely until I get the alpha test build out. Then I can go back and do some redrafting and see where this novel goes. Hopefully further than nowhere this time!

So here’s to 2021. It was the best of times (winning Excellence in Narrative at the Pavs) and the worst of times (realising how dark my internal world was getting due to stress and sleepless nights, seeing the deadline of the end of year looming up and Her Jentle Hi-ness nowhere near ready) and then, I guess, the best of times again (finding ways to manage that stress and finding new joy in life!).

May 2022 be… honestly, a calmer, more sustainable ride is all I’m looking for right now. Ciao!

SBG Fortnightly Update #1

Hey hey! Here’s the rebrand. Ooh, fancy. New regular update… pretty much same as the old regular update! Just not called a devblog anymore, so it’s more accurate, I guess.

  • Well, looks like I was right to turn down going to Armageddon Expo this year, as it has been cancelled. Feeling quite relieved that I haven’t wasted any time preparing for it. Phew! Sad for anyone who did though, and for any of the regular exhibitors who relied on it for annual promotion and sales.
  • Work on Her Jentle Hi-ness continues, with an alpha test build due on the 4th of January. It feels great to be getting closer to finishing it, after all this time and this very stressful year!
  • Yay, the podcast has restarted! And tonight we record another episode. Looking forward to that! We realised that some of our biggest supporters are actually hankering for a better understanding of what Dragons of Tirenia is, and where we intend to go with it, so we’re going to put it into an easily digestible form that you can pump directly into your earholes 😉
  • I’ve handed in my articles for the next issue of ChoiceBeat, and I’ll let you know when the second issue is out!

So, I suppose next fortnight’s update will be a great opportunity to reflect! Hoo boy… looking back at all the amazing plans we had for this year, and how it fell so short… it’s going to be kinda depressing. Still, it feels like an achievement to just survive this year.