I came downstairs, out of my cave of desperation and furious work, and held out my Macbook Pro in the direction of my girlfriend, who was seated contentedly on the couch. "It's finished," I said. "I'm done." She put her things to one side, settled herself into a comfortable gaming position, and went to work completing it. I sat next to her, taking in every movement, every reaction, whether in-game or on her face. She smiled, clearly enjoying herself, and I saw the tell-tale signs of a gamer deeply engaged.
It's difficult to express how much it meant to see that. You could show your game to any number of random people — I'm sure my parents would "ooh" and "ahh" until the cows come home, and my non-gamer co-workers have done so already. But to hand it to someone who plays games, who enjoys gaming, and have them enjoy themselves because of something I created, is magical.
If I've shown it to you in person, you know that I watch people when they play it. I used to think developers were irksome for doing the same, but I see the logic behind it now. I sit there, desperate for it all to go right, for them not to hesitate, not know what to do, become frustrated or bored. It's an emotionally intense process, and after the long, dark tunnel of development, I'm standing out in the bright pre-summer sunlight and actually relaxing, knowing that I achieved what I set out to do.
I made a game.
The most difficult part was the guilt. Every second I spent doing something outside my day job that wasn't working on Hug Marine was a second in which I felt under pressure to produce something. I'll be honest — a big part of that was writing these articles, knowing people really were watching me, waiting to see what I'd do next. I can recall one night, not too long ago, where I sat with my face in my hands, just utterly lost in despair and exhaustion, mental and physical. Another where I sat working on it till past midnight, trying to ensure there were two new levels to show off on a Friday, not one. Another where I woke up during the night, my sleep-addled mind filled with panicked mental images of bugs I had to fix.
It's often said that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Sure, this wasn't a project with any lethal consequences where failing to complete said project was concerned. But doing this has made me a stronger person, a more determined person. It's improved my focus, my planning, my ability to commit to a project and see it through. It reminds me of National Novel Writing Month, and the sensation of having written a book, albeit one shorter than the norm. The sensation of bursting through the tape at the end of the race, laughing and crying and feeling incredibly alive.
Now? Now, I sit and think about what I want to do next — if I want to write, or make more games. Do I want to make more games? Honestly, yes. Yes I do. But not for a while. Right now, I just want to be a Gamer with a Job, not a Gamer with a Job and a Game Project. I'm incredibly lucky to have both a career and the resulting funds to pay for the various games I play.
What makes me glad I've finished is that the sine wave of my self-esteem now has another curve toward the top. I can upload Hug Marine to Kongregate or Newgrounds or anywhere where Flash games are readily accepted and nod to myself and know that I can finally point to a game and say "This is mine. I did this." I'm proud of myself.
So until the next game project envelops my spare time you'll have to make do with the final version of Hug Marine (which will be updated this week with a small fix). I hope you enjoy it. I shouldn't tell you how to play, so I won't, but I do recommend wearing headphones or having your sound on, especially on the last level.
Oh, and let me know if you find the nod to Gamers with Jobs somewhere in the levels. If one Goodjer spots it, I'll be happy. Thank you for your support, guys. Now, I'm going to go and remember what actual free time feels like.