January Planuary: 2017 Reflections, 2018 Plans

Hello, world.

I recently spent time looking back on 2017 and discovered my greatest failures in that year were:

1. Spending too much time reflecting and not enough planning (oh the irony) and

2. Lacking regularity in my work and schedules

This post is meant to rectify both of these issues.

First, I’ll be posting a blog every month. That isn’t a lot, but having that minimum requirement allows me the extra satisfaction when I do more. This once-a-month post will be a plan for the future month and a brief reflection on whether the past month went as I had planned, in the reverse order.

Since January is the first month of the year, I’m going to spend a little time looking forward to the next twelve months, and not just this one. I want to spend as little time as possible reflecting on 2017, but with the scope of these posts being one month and this particular one looking through the entire year, it makes sense to look back on the year past, if only for a moment.

Twenty Seventeen

The year started with my announcement that I’d be participating in 1GAM (one game a month). That didn’t happen.

However, I did make four game jam prototypes this year (LD39, LD40, XKCD Jam, Minimalistic Jam 2), and made music for several soundtracks in Ludum Dare 38. I also had my first professional interview, which was a great experience.

My focus this year was on music. I earned three separate paid jobs, making me a audio professional for the first time. One of these fell apart, another wasn’t a game, but the third is ongoing and is looking very promising. Independently, I created a 21-track Super NES style soundtrack (Shuriken OST) and launched my dance project Seciden with five singles and a ten-track double EP. Overall, it was a very productive year for my music.

However, that isn’t to say it was a successful year for my music. I did basically zero promotion other than shouting into the void on Twitter for these things, and that was a major mistake.

To survive, I’ve been writing stuff about programming for Shmoop. It’s been a bit entertaining, although I really don’t like Scratch. I wrote computer science for sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, and started working on a new course covering PyGame, which should be fun.

After almost two and a half years on this writing job, I’ve seen a rapid improvement in my writing, from regular practice and helpful feedback from my editor. This, of course, is another distraction I dealt with during the year: The desire to move toward creative writing. With several music projects and game development taking precedence, I didn’t have the time to write. This didn’t stop me from doing a lot of NaNoWriMo preparation in October, but choosing not to do it when November rolled around, for the first year since 2006, was a good idea.

I made several new friends in the latter half of the year as I realized the importance of reaching out and connecting with people. Dragon Slumber, ComputerFiguur, and GoPublix PR have been a huge inspiration to me, with each one providing their own unique perspective on the games industry and invaluable advice for someone just starting out.

I haven’t thought of myself as “just starting out” for years, since I’ve been to two GDC events, helped found a games company, and have been programming games and game-related tools since I was a teenager, but none of this has had focus, purpose, marketability, or a real commercial drive. This arrogance has held me back more than anything.

Along with this arrogance, I’ve spent far too much time in my own head and not interacting with others. The experience of getting involved with other developers during Ludum Dare 38 and streaming game feedback for Ludum Dares 39 and 40 helped me understand how much awesomeness there is out there in the world of game development. Exploring Twitch and interacting with other streamers was a similar experience, and I made new friends along the way.

Conversations with these friends and others on various game-dev Discord servers opened my eyes to how little I’ve done, and how far there is for me to go. On a more positive note, they’ve given me the drive and determination necessary to begin that climb.

Twenty Eighteen

Here are the things I want to accomplish this year, at a minimum:

1. One commercial song release per week (52 by the end of the year)

On the first point, I have an 12-song album about 50% done for Seciden. The trance song Nights on C# is finished–all I need for that is cover art and to post it for release. So, there’s only 40 more tracks to worry about. The main difficulty is staggering the release schedule, since DistroKid suggests posting music four weeks before the scheduled release to guarantee it’s in the stores on time. Due to this, these regular releases will probably start in mid-February.

However, I can put things up on Bandcamp whenever they’re ready. My Patreon supporters will have early access to this music for free. I’ll talk more about that below.

2. One commercial game release (whether Steam or mobile)

No idea what this is going to be. Could be Frozen Lava (with a much better name), could be one of my old projects resurrected, could be based on one of my super old text adventures, or could be something totally new. I’d like to get started on this in February and aim for a June/July release window. That means I don’t have an awful lot of time left to think about it.

3. SSL certificates on my website(s) because it’s the modern thing to do

This is a pain in the neck that “just works” once it’s all set up on the server. The financial cost is trivial, but the time cost could be significant. Also, I really hate webdev stuff.

4. One blog post per month with reflection and plan, as explored above

This is the first one. Looking good so far.

5. Better Patreon campaign

I’ve already recorded a draft of the video for my Patreon page. Now I need to spruce up the text, rework the rewards, then finalize and post the video.

The basic gist will be access to game builds as the game is being developed (whatever I end up making) and early access to music. There will be two branching tiers for those who just want one or the other, and an altogether tier for those who want both. And, of course, some extra incentives for higher values.

I’m a bit torn about the pricing for these tiers. On the one hand, I’m just starting out, so much lower values are reasonable. On the other hand, if I start them super low and raise them later, I could upset a lot of people. There won’t be much more for me to give than these already-planned tiers, so I can’t exactly keep giving more for higher tiers.

It’s another thing I need to figure out.

6. Consolidate

Right now, I have myself spread all over the place:

  • Joshua McLean website, Twitch, Twitter, Bandcamp, itch.io, Soundcloud, YouTube
  • Seciden website, Twitter, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, YouTube

This is a difficult problem. On the one hand, I want to help people access all of my content without visiting a ton of different websites. On the other hand, there’s a distinct difference between the Joshua McLean bandcamp/soundcloud (game music) and the Seciden bandcamp/soundcloud (dance music). At the very least, I should think long and hard about this problem.

7. More streams, more gaming, and a more consistent schedule

I’m already making progress on this point. My daily schedule has been rather consistent:

  • Alarm at 6:48am, up by 7am for morning activities and breakfast
  • Work by 9am (would like to push back to 8am before the end of the year)
  • Stream starts at 11am (except on Wednesday, where I keep working)
  • Lunch at 2pm (two-hour lunch because 3pm is a major slump time)
    • Except Wednesdays, where I game at 3pm.
  • Back to work at 4pm (except Wednesday)

Night time is a bit of an inconsistent mess, with events changing daily. One of my plans is to fix this with a night stream. I’d like to work up to three nights a week, but I’ll start with one or two.

This allots me regular gaming time, which is important for several reasons. First, it refreshes my mind to relax and play some games at night. Second, I can start going through my game library. And third, there’s always something to learn about game dev from playing a game, even if I’ve previously completed it.

In Summary

Overall, 2017 was a very productive, educational year. It’s hard to cover all of the personal, professional, emotional, and psychological growth I experienced in 2017 without writing a book on it, and that, of course, would be excessive, given my new intention of looking forward more than backward.

Despite my own growth, 2017 was not particularly fruitful in any concrete way. I hope to take what I’ve learned and experienced from this year and turn it into something tangible in 2018. Ever forward we go.