Today is the 10th anniversary of the development of my game LOVE, and I think it's time to tell the story behind it.
I was working in academia and as much as I love science, I was getting tired of not doing something real. When you do research about something like video games or video game production, you never really know if the solutions you create would work in the real world. I was considering doing something completely different, but then i realized that it would be a waste to not use my skills, and in the end i really love making games. One late night, after coming home from a conference, I started a new visual studio project called project love. I worked on it all night. The name stuck and so did the game.
I was way in over my head, but I liked it. I decided to do everything myself, engine, networking, graphics, sound, physics, gameplay and procedural generation. It may be the most ambitious game project anyone has ever attempted, but none of that was really a problem. 3 years later I released an alpha.
I was very excited, but there were some problems. I fixed them, and then there were more problems. I kept fixing problems, but the game just didn't work. No players came, the server costs started to outstrip the income. The press loved my game, until they played it. It wasn't without merit, it just didn't come together. It turned out that I had vastly underestimated the design challenges in the creation of the kind of game I wanted to make. I was essentially trying to invent an entirely new class of games.
At the same time someone else, with my resources, in my city, made a very similar game: Minecraft. The difference was that his was a game people wanted to play. When you work on a big game there are many people you can blame if things go wrong. I had no one. The fact that someone else did it proved that it wasn't an impossible task. I was just not good enough.
I thought I wanted to make a commercial game, but at every turn where I had the opportunity to make it commercial or design it the way I wanted, I chose the latter. Many people have told me I needed to market the game better or make it easier to learn, but to me this was always secondary. To me, the game simply wasn't good, and until that was fixed, why bother trying to attract players? I spent almost 4 years trying to fix the game, and while improvements were made, it never worked.
All of this was really hard on me, and I got fairly depressed. After 7 years, I finally gave up. Love was just associated with too much pain. I had wasted 7 years and so much money. I didn't want to be a game developer any more. When I told people what I did, people would inevitably say "Oh, like Minecraft? I love that game".
At my lowest point I was at GDCE and Robin Hunicke (who BTW is awesome) gave a talk about the hugely successful game Journey that had just come out. She told the story of the horrible development of that game, about the infighting and the pain that it caused. I thought to myself: would I rather have had that experience, having a terrible time making something successful, or do what I did: have fun making something no one else cared about. That's when i realized that I had done the right thing. I followed my dream and I enjoyed the process, more than the result. Minecraft fucked me up, but not as much as the guy who made it. I got passed it, and I came out a better person. He is no longer my nemesis, I feel for him.
The last few years I kept a note file with ideas of how I would change Love, but I was scared to go back. I worked on the pivot model to be able to finally understand how games work. Last year, I decided to take a few weeks off to fiddle with Love. Just to see if I could apply any of my ideas and how it would feel, I was kind of surprised by how good it felt. And I was even more surprised by the changes I made. For very brief moments, Love started to sing.
I don't know what it means yet, and I don't dare think I have cracked it, but for the first time in many years I'm excited about it. So yes, I guess this is my announcement that I'm occasionally working on Love again (for followers of my Twitch stream it hasn't really been a secret). I was planning to make a video showing off what I'm working on, but I don't feel ready, so I wont. Maybe I will some day. I don't have a timeline or a release in mind. This time I know I'm doing it for me.
My next project is Unravel, and I can't even imagine it being successful, but I know that it will challenge and intrigue me for years to come. In the end I am a scientist and an artist. I tried to not be but I am. I will always rather boldly go where no one has gone before, than be one of the popular kids. I'm not convinced I will ever make something that anyone will ever will like and use, I will probably never be rich or famous. But you know what? I'm going to live a really good life.