A Midnight Catharsis

Original Author: Jorge Rodriguez

I can’t sleep.

In three hours I have to wake up, catch a 4 am bus to an airport to make a 5:30 am flight to Brussels to continue my extended European vacation, but I know that I’m only going to be able to sleep tonight after writing this. The cause of my insomnia is that I just read these words:

Subject: *fart*

Post by mranime ยป May 11th, 2014, 2:35 am

hear that? that’s the sound of yet another failed attempt by vino of making a mod. the only mods he has to his name that have ever seen a release or more than 15 players is one that he shoveled a 6 foot deep grave and made sure no one ever played it again. he even managed to fuck that up because it took him literally 4 years to dig the grave by ruining every single aspect of the game. i guess he was busy ruining his marriage too, then

sorry i just wanted to add some activity to this forum since no one has posted in like 2 weeks

[Some editorial context: Vino is me. The mod he’s talking about that got “shoveled into a 6 foot deep grave” was called The Specialists, a popular game I worked on ten years ago, and then put to bed after building a big final version. Or maybe he’s talking about Calamity Fuse, which I killed following some internal team friction, after working on it for years. Or maybe he’s talking about my current project, Double Action, which I’ve been working on for more than 3 years. I was married briefly and then divorced when I was very young, and I was dumb enough to talk about it on the internet. Nobody has posted in two weeks because the project is on temporary hiatus during my European vacation.]

Okay. It’s just an Internet troll, right? Ban him. Go to sleep. Catch your bus. Get on your plane. Have your vacation, then go release Double Action and move on with your life. Why should you let an Internet troll affect you?

But somehow its not quite that easy. I get this sort of thing fairly often, actually. I’m not sure if it’s the same few people repeating the same troll over and over (the messages do seem to have similarities) or different people every time, but every month or two I get something like this. Every single time it gets me down. I’ve had to ban people from the forums, block them on IRC and Twitter, and filter out their emails from my inbox. But I always try to stay available to anybody who wants to get in contact with me, and so it’s always easy for them to find a new way to send me a hateful message. I can try to avoid them but once contact is made, once my eyes meet even the subject of the message, I can’t draw myself away. I know what’s in the message, I know I shouldn’t look, by my morbid self-flagellating curiosity brings my eyes all the way to the end.

At first they were crushing and I had no idea how to handle them. It’s not that I’m thin skinned; I’ve certainly fielded much more qualitative and substantial criticism and not taken it personally. But this isn’t that. I’m a shitty game designer, they say. I ruined their favorite game, I’ll never design a game that they’ll like, I’m Hitler (I’m not exaggerating there, I have been compared to Hitler) and I ran my own career into the ground. As it turns out, when I’ve spent years making something (usually for free) for no other reason than that I want someone to be entertained, I can only take the volleys so many times before the arrows start to reach their mark. After a while I listened to some others in the industry who deal with the same thing, specifically Ben Kuchera, talk about how they deal with the trolls, and I learned to avoid comment sections. I normally crave any feedback about anything I make, if only because I need to know that someone somewhere liked it even just a little bit. But there is no quality feedback in comment sections, only people proving Godwin right.

I learned to recast these people in my mind. They’re not playing the same game as I am. They’re not trying to help me. They don’t have any design insights. They haven’t put any deep thinking into the game’s mechanics. They don’t hope for me to succeed or look forward to release day. Their input is less useful to me than the starry eyed play testers who earnestly suggest that I should add rocket launchers that shoot exploding watermelons. I live and breathe game development, he stands in the audience hurling tomatoes, not because the show is bad, but because he wants to see a smashed fruit on my face. Nothing he says matters. It can’t help me, it isn’t substantive, it isn’t even well intended, and I should ignore it wholesale.

But it still hurts. Why does it hurt so much? It’s not like this person even cares about me or my project. He even said so in his post, he’s only posting because things are quiet and he wants to stir the hornet’s nest. Like any good gamer, he wants to push the lever and be stimulated by a response. He’s using my emotions as his own personal Skinner box for his casual amusement. Why should it hurt at all when he doesn’t care a whistle about me or my game?

Or does he? Why would he be posting at all unless he does care, at least a little bit? Someone who truly doesn’t care would never post at all. He wants to hurt me. His jabs are aimed for the soft parts. He knows that every motion he makes twists a knife. He points at my failures, my divorce and my lackluster backlog, in hopes that it will strike a vein. He may even know how difficult it is to continue work on the game when words like his weigh on my mind. This person, whoever he is, thinks that if I hadn’t somehow fucked up then today he could be playing a game he likes instead of trolling a game he doesn’t like. Let me explain.

I mentioned before that I was involved in a game called The Specialists. This was before X Box Live, before the iPhone, before Half Life 2 was released, and before John Blow and 2D Boy made “indie games” a thing. I was one of two programmers on that game, or “mod” as it was called in those days. I was brought on after the original programmer lost interest. TS was many things to many people. To some people (like me) it was a sylish slowmo action shooter inspired by John Woo and The Matrix. To others it was an imaginative role playing framework. To still others it was a competitive test of skills and the boundaries of the game’s mechanics. To the original creator it was a hobby that got more popular than he ever imagined it would. It was a lot of different games that meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

Ten years later I’m now working on Double Action, which on the surface is the same sort of action shooter as TS was, but Double Action is only one type of game. It’s about style, and nothing else. It says it right on the tin, if you go to the website. It’s about jumping out of windows guns blazing, explosions exploding and paper money flying everywhere, just for fun. It’s actually a pretty shallow game, I admit, but it’s also earnest. It’s not about competition, or role playing, or twitch skills. I can’t make those other games because they’re not the side of TS that I appreciated. I’m making the game that’s in my head, and I’m fucking proud of it. I struggled for a long time with the vision of Double Action, with what kind of game it should be, but now the game has finally found a track and it’s doing a good job of being coherent, fun, and true to itself.

But it’s still not the game that the writer of that post wants it to be. He wants a different game, aesthetically similar, but mechanically fundamentally different. He doesn’t see the game I’m trying to create, which is fun and engaging and makes play testers scream in delight and yell “HOLY SHIT DID YOU SEE MY DOVES!” He only sees the game I didn’t make, the one he wanted but can’t have because I fucked up and went and made the game about something else. And so he says the meanest things he can to me in order to vent his frustration, or something.

That’s why it’s personal, and that’s why it hurts.

So I have a post of my own for mranime.

Dear mranime,

Double Action is a good game. When I get home from Europe, I am going to finish what little work remains and release it. Maybe it will be successful, and maybe it won’t, either way it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m proud of it. My metric for success isn’t whether you are pleased, but whether I was true to what the game wanted to be. I was.

So please, go away.

Love, Vino

(PS I know it’s you, demu.)

Now I can sleep.