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Do I Regret Becoming an Indie Games Developer?
"Do you even know why you're ordering an Apple Watch?" Asked my former right-hand-man, Lorenzo Grimaldi, AKA Franco Baresi, without whom there is no team, no catenaccio, no impregnable defence built on a determination that nothing shall pass. I reeled off a b.s. reason list and he patiently nodded, then smiled and shook his head, because I had instructed him to always call me out on my b.s. and he did, unflinchingly and repeatedly, to his immense credit.
Still, since the day the Apple Watch came out, there have only been three occasions when I haven't worn one. Two of them were weddings and the third was when I was in hospital. To the weddings I wore my treasured Omega Seamaster, which is not a flex, by any stretch, as before that hefty metal hunk, I'd never spent more than £40 on a watch of any description. (The Seamaster was an outrageously generous gift from my siblings for a significant life event.)
An Apple Watch, no matter how marvellous it looks in the shiny black steel with the black steel link bracelet, just doesn't have the class to go with a tailored suit and shirt. That said, there have been times when I have dual-wielded, which is the closest I've ever got to openly inviting ridicule as an adult. Publicly failing to get Final Fantasy Type-0 for the PS Vita doesn't count as I was merely showered with ridicule, deservedly, without consciously seeking to invite it.
We talked about tracking last week, or rather, I talked and you listened. Despite the Apple Watch adorning my wrist year-in, year-out since its original release, it doesn't track my exercise very well, and I have grown to resent it for that. It's not that it makes mistakes per se, though it does, it's just that it's such a damned jobsworth about everything. While it's fine for telling me what my heart rate is, it can't do it accurately unless I'm wearing a Polar heart rate monitor strap, and while it's great for sometimes showing me my interstitial glucose level, it can't do that without the aid of an expensive Dexcom G6 transmitter.
I know that to some, my wearing an Omega Seamaster looked like ostentation, but truth be told, I really didn't give a damn what other people thought about my watch, or its origins. Just as I didn't care that Lorenzo, much as I love and respect him, didn't understand why I'd buy a piece of technology for which there seemed no pressing need.
I'm a technologist. I don't need a pressing need. I need new platforms on which pressing needs are discovered, and since I've had my watch, apart from telling the time, I've used it to:
Tell me the temperature, so I know how to dress
Tell me the date, because it's about the only place it's ever present
Tell me my current interstitial glucose reading, constantly (bear in mind, the technology available when I became a Type 1 diabetic in 1974 were sticks onto which one urinated and that gave a rough indication of what your blood glucose might have been 24 hours ago)
Tell me which way my blood glucose is trending
Tell me when the next prayer is due, wherever I am in the world
Tell me who is calling or otherwise trying to reach me that might require my immediate attention without my having to reach for my phone
Record audio snippets that are either captured as is, or automatically transcribed for later use in a document, a boon while driving when an idea comes up
Tell me how to get from A to B, with or without my iPhone
Most of these functions were not available, or even possible when I first got the Apple Watch. They hadn’t even been imagined. That's why I'm a technologist. That's why I got into computers in the first place. It was not the value proposition of the Atari 400, though Star Raiders was pretty damned compelling to a 16-year-old, but of the dreams that might be impressed upon its infinitely malleable form. It's the possibility that excites me.
“There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” ― George Bernard Shaw
Apple markets the device on its exercise benefits, but I think that misses the whole magic of exercise, the purpose of which is to get out of your head and to become embodied. How do you tell a watch what it means to feel embodied?
I just started Couch-to-5K, and my watch didn't have the decency to close my half-hour exercise ring, despite the fact that for all bar the first 5 minutes, my heart rate stayed above 150BPM. And this despite the fact that I was also using a Couch-to-5K app on my iPhone and followed the instructions to the letter. Sometimes, we miss the forest for the trees.
The current state of AI is a bit like 1970s Britain, mired in bureaucracy and unflinchingly by-the-book, even when the book flies in the face of common sense. Strong AI, I feel, is a long way off. All those Siri demonstrations look amazing, but when for the third time, my Apple Watch cannot understand me wanting to set a timer in the most perfectly enunciated English, you’ll forgive me if I’m somewhat cynical about the state of AI in consumer electronics today.
What matters though is that during my exercise, I could see what my glucose levels were, and that my heart rate stayed within a high band, without ever getting too high. What matters is that I did the exercise, that I didn't keel over, that I didn't make excuses and that I felt like an Adonis when I was done — a plump Adonis, mind, but I'll take that feeling over a virtual trinket from my wrist computer. Give me the information that I want, and let me assign value to it. Then we’re a team.
Which brings me back to the point about "failure" and Ultimatum Games. What are we measuring?
Did we make enough to sustain a business? Well, we'd done that for four years. We could have dragged it out. I'd managed to pull us through several impossible situations already.
Did we get to work with high profile partners or work on high profile games? Check.
Did we have tremendous team spirit and a working model that allowed us to punch above our weight and deliver to the satisfaction of our clients? Absolutely to the first, and more often than not to the second.
Did the way we work serve, unconsciously, as a model for how to do business in a post-COVID world? Yes, though it's hard to take much credit for that, it's not why we had such a flexible, trusting, distributed system, we did that because it was the right thing to do, but it turns out it's a surprisingly resilient approach.
Did we have to shutter the company because ultimately, the business model was never going to get off the ground floor? Also check.
But to focus on the last point and to call it "failure" is the mother of all ladders-against-wrong-buildings, as wrong as my Apple Watch not affirming my desire to get into shape, my commitment to running, an exercise I detest, or my determination to complete my first session on the day I said I would, to myself, to others. The price of everything and the value of nothing.
Not all things that can be measured matter, and not all things that matter can be measured. The labels of "success" and "failure" are useful in science and drama, but not so much in life or business. These are useful terms for events, but life and business are not events, they are processes.
And just as we pick arbitrary end points to stories, that can then serve as springboards for their continuation, I can tell you that I'm still making games and helping others make games. Right now, I'm porting a PC game to mobile, and enjoying the process. The game is in QA right now and will be out soon.
I've learned much more about my strengths and weaknesses and am more open about what I can and cannot do, or will and won't do. I'm still in charge of my calendar, and there is absolutely no price you can put on that.
I spoke with my wife about the idea of “mission” and she calmly told me that I was overcomplicating things and that it was obvious what my mission was: To allow all those who work with me to enjoy the fruits of freedom that I was enjoying myself. For a few years, we showed people who worked with us a better way.
I got to create a first-of-its-kind game that got covered by the BBC, Sky, and most importantly, Shuhei Yoshida. We’ve had decades of negative coverage of Muslims in every form of media, but I got to work on a game that was first and foremost fun, but also showed Muslims of every shade doing good.
I get to work with my friends in the PlayStation Talents team and have mentored and coached a long list of developers and continue to do so.
I get to podcast on the Relay FM network, and Remaster will soon be airing its 90th episode.
I got to say "yes" to things I might previously not have been able to say "yes" to, and "no" to things I might previously not have been able to say "no" to. That's freedom, and people throughout history have died for it. All I had to do was to suffer some financial stress.
Then I've seen five years of my son growing up. There are no riches in the world you could have given me that would have recompensed me adequately for losing this greatest of gifts. This alone was reason enough for me to leave what I described as the greatest gig in the world at PlayStation back in December 2015.
I'm also helping an old friend, David Eastman, and a fantastically talented team create Floor 13: Deep State, an original game, reimagined from his 1990s cult classic. The screenshot at the head of this post is taken straight from a beta build of the game on PC. You have the extraordinary talents of Rudi Kolenc and Luke Peek to thank for that evocative scene.
Then, at some point, I'm going to get back to Chimera, promise!
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