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Don’t Be The Best
Don’t cause yourself needless, lifelong, heartbreaking pain by imagining you can be the best in the world, or even your country, or your town, or your favourite digital community, at anything, unless you’re prepared to be the best at putting in the quality time, day-in, day-out, year-in, year-out, or unless you’re prepared to be the best at a niche with little competition.
We are obsessed with being the best. We see YouTube videos of youngsters in faraway places performing quite ridiculous feats of skill, pick your field, it doesn’t matter, there’s a kid who can do it ten times better than us, and we just want to crawl into bed and forget we loved the thing we loved. YouTube kills love like a boot on a daffodil. I recently watched an 8-year-old kid doing things on a bicycle that I could never have even dreamt were possible when I was heavily into BMX, let alone attempted. There go my BMX dreams.
I routinely watch bass, acoustic and electric guitar players and now know that I will never have their ability, and that everything I learned was enough. I can’t play like them, but I can write songs. I can just about carry a tune, I can compose catchy short intra-level menu ditties for videogames, or podcast themes, and I can play better than some of the instrumentalists who don’t rack up many views (there’s a clue there as to my relative ability…)
The main thing is, it makes me happy, it brings me joy, and that’s enough. Just because I’m not a technically brilliant singer, doesn’t mean my voice isn’t good, and it certainly doesn’t mean I shouldn’t sing. Nothing is more desperate than a love crushed by fear of competition. It doesn’t have to be a competition. It wasn’t ever meant to be a competition. We were conned.
I obsessed for decades over the video game I’d make to impress the world, but it was a complete waste of time. I had chosen publishing and business development over programming in 1997, and that was that. In the 25 years that I was out of the game, the world passed me by, but I discovered this — I’m still a good programmer. In fact, I can still be a very good programmer. I will never be a Kieran D’Archambaud or an Erlend Grefsrud, but I can hold my own, I understand architecture, and I can still optimise, and surprise myself.
I should just stop pretending that I can make a game that captures the video games world’s attention. I can’t. And in any case, I did that in my late teens, what the hell am I trying to prove, and why now?
So the question I had to ask myself recently was, if I can’t be the best, is it over for me as a games developer?
I write code for games because I love it. That is enough.
I recently finished a commercial game with Kieran. I did the bulk of the work. I even surprised him on occasion. Of course, there were two particularly complicated bits that only Kieran could do in a reasonable time-frame, and I was comfortable with that. Maturity buys you the realisation that not only do you not have to be the best at anything, it’s not even important. Me not being the best didn’t take away from what I had accomplished on the project, or how much I had improved since I began it. In fact, it was Kieran who at the outset told me that I was better than I gave myself credit for and that I should do it. thank you Kieran, I guess you were right! And I loved every minute, even the hard bits.
So this is why I dumped the burden of remaking Chimera to be the most surprising reboot of all time. It was unrealistic and honestly, who was I doing it for? Who was I trying to prove anything to? Why?
I remembered that I loved programming. I remembered that nothing gave me quite the sense of accomplishment as the crafting of good code, it’s like a logic orchestra and you’ve just done a Stravinsky. OK, Erlend is Stravinsky, I’m more a Bach, but Bach is the assembler programmer’s composer anyway.
This is why I’m making Multiplicity. It’s not commercial, yet, but it might be. There is no demand for it, yet, but there might be. I’m doing it because it reminds me of the early 1980s, when I made stuff for love, not to be the best, not to make money, but because I loved it and wanted more, and more, and more, and in the pursuit of my love, I became excellent.