Plans For 2023
I realize it has been a long time since my last post. The only explanation is that it was necessary. I wouldn't have been able to put out quality work without taking a hiatus to reflect on what I want to do with my life and my plans going forward.
I was creatively burnt out and had a bit of an existential crisis, questioning whether I should even make video games at all. It seemed like the answer would overwhelmingly be "no", but I didn't want to make a post or video saying such a negative thing. I'm always an optimist, and I truly believe that when you have confidence in yourself and the faith to give things a try, good things will happen. I don't want to become a "crab in a bucket" pulling others down; I want to be the person who achieves his goals and helps others succeed in theirs.
I've stopped listening to negative people online who say "you can't do this or that." That kind of attitude gets you nowhere. In fact, the worst mistakes of my life have always been because I listened to that negative voice that said "don't do it!" So instead I say: take the risk, go for it, and see how far you can go. You can do it!
Now I've resolved those mindset issues, and I'm ready to move forward.
Running a Video Game Business
I've spent a lot of time researching how to run a viable game development business. A lot of people say it can't be done, or that it depends too much on luck. Again, these are the same people who have not successfully run a game development business. They are trying to justify their own failures to themselves. I have done my own independent research, and have found many examples of recent indie games (that I could have made!) which easily turned a profit, all made by solo developers and without the backing of any publisher at all.
Video games are hard to make, especially as a solo developer with a minimal budget. Many will argue that it is like playing the lottery. You invest a lot of time upfront, "buying a ticket", and then you wait to see if it paid off. Usually it does not.
From a business point of view, that's a horrible way to sustain yourself. I realized there are healthier ways to go about this "game development" thing. I learned that reward is not correlated to hard work. A developer can spend 3 months making a game that performs better than a game that was developed over 3 years. Success in this industry has everything to do with the final product, not the process of making it.
Most success I believe also comes from choosing to make the right type of game. I define success as both "financially profitable" as well as "popular and fun among players." I've looked back at my past projects and identified where I went right and where I went wrong. In doing so, I've come up with my own set of principles that will guide me in making games moving forward.
Isolation And Introspection
You might have noticed that I stopped streaming on Twitch. Part of that was because of the burnout, and I didn't know what game I wanted to work on. But part of that was also because I didn't feel like I could be myself. For so many years, it felt like I was just constantly rushing, being put under intense pressure to keep running forward without knowing where I was headed. And I didn't like where I saw myself going. I just wanted to take a moment and think about it -- though I guess it took more like 18 months to finally figure it out.
I was afraid to say what I wanted to do. In a way, I still am. But I know I have to pursue my own interests, because I need to be happy with myself.
I stopped talking on social media, kind of doing a "social detox" where I could just be alone, going outside on nature walks and figuring out what I really wanted out of life. I barely looked at a computer screen in 2021, and the last thing I wanted to think about was video games. I thought maybe my problems would be solved by moving to a log cabin in the woods and leaving society's problems behind.
But after all of that, I realized that what I valued most was connection to other people. My favorite memories always involved meeting new people and going on adventures with them. Sitting around in my room being a code-monkey was not my idea of "living life." But writing is what connects us to people. I decided to just start writing and trying to communicate my ideas with people. Now I've rekindled that desire to write, not simply to express myself, but to form connections with other people.
Art is not simply an expression of oneself, but also a mode of communication with someone else. For example, if you choose to make a detective game, you will attract players who enjoy an intellectual challenge. You can intentionally engineer your games to create the community you want to build. And building a community is probably one of the most meaningful aspects of game development, as it is social proof that you've had a positive impact on the world.
I've had to think pretty deeply about the type of work I enjoy most. Do I feel more fulfilled after building a page of a website, or writing a few pages of a novel? Definitely the novel. I've always liked telling stories, even when I was a kid. I would play pretend with my toys, making up adventures for them. I grew up playing several computer games that were essentially "visual novel makers" where I could create a story alongside pictures, animations, and sounds. Looking back, it's no surprise I leaned toward making my own visual novels (and even creating my own visual novel maker).
But I'm disappointed with the state of the Western visual novel market. Imagine walking into a bookstore and you only see 18+ romance novels lining the shelves. Imagine opening up Netflix and only seeing 18+ romance movies to choose from. There is nothing wrong with those who enjoy it, but offering just that and nothing else is a disservice to the medium. Where is the "Breaking Bad" of Western visual novels?
I had these same thoughts 10+ years ago when I started working on Detective Butler. The landscape has not changed much -- or from what I can tell it has only gotten worse. I wanted to add to the incredibly small list of mystery stories, and apparently from what I can tell I have made my mark. I still get new fans checking out the game, loving it, and recommending it to their friends. For some people, playing it brings back nostalgia. It's surreal to think that I might just be someone's favorite game developer.
I only had to stop development on the sequel because of factors outside my control. My personal situation had me in a lot of debt, and I had no choice but to spend time working a job that could pay everything down. To make a long story short, I made a lot of money from investing in crypto, which allowed me to pay off those debts and keep some money in savings, which I am living off right now.
I was also creatively burnt out. I did not know how to proceed with writing the story. The one that I had drafted in 2018 didn't meet my standards, nor the standards of my team. But looking at it now, with a fresh perspective and new ideas, I've realized I now know how to make it work. And in all honesty, I wouldn't have been able to solve that problem had I not delayed the game and gone through those life experiences.
Life is an adventure. It's a struggle where you are forced to learn and grow. That was the missing ingredient in the old drafts.
Detective Butler - Between Truth and Happiness
Here's a quick elevator pitch of the new story:
Three years have passed since the Maiden Voyage Murder. Butler works for Gilligan, solving cases of life insurance fraud. It's boring work, but it pays the bills. Gilligan is in his third year of college, and he meets a group of friends at the school's Detection Club. Butler takes interest in the club, wanting to prove himself as the best detective.
As Butler and Gilligan solve mysteries on campus, a serial killer lurks in the shadows. Tragedy strikes, and the members of the Detection Club become the prime suspects. Will Butler be able to catch the culprit before another person is killed?
These elements were all in the drafts I had written years ago. It's just the details and execution of the story that have changed.
At the time, I might have subtitled it The Serial Murders as a pun (it was going to feature serial murders while also being a serialized story, published in installments). I would rather rename it to Detective Butler: Between Truth & Happiness as that is the central theme of the story.
What does it mean to pursue the truth at the cost of happiness? What are the consequences of lying in order to make others happy?
It's a lot to handle, because I always wanted Butler and Gilligan solving several cases in the game, all connected together by an overarching plot. I've not seen something like that done in a mystery visual novel outside of Ace Attorney, certainly not by an indie developer. But I know I can do it now.
Recently I've done some practice writing, and I know I can write 4,000 words on a good day. So 2,000 or even 3,000 words of daily progress isn't impossible. Even at 1,000 words per day, it would only take 90 days (3 months) to write a full novel. I don't really measure the quality of a novel by its wordcount, but my point is that I can predict how long it might take me to write the story. It's unrealistic to expect 4,000 words every single day, but I can safely do 2,000. So a 100,000 word story would take 50 days of writing. I'd give it a 3 months estimate to account for other work, just to be safe.
Then comes editing, and converting it into a game. I'd give it another 2 months for that.
So then there's the question of art and music. I will likely commission these, so then the question is where do I get the money. I think running a crowdfunding campaign is the smart move here. The campaign would include a playable demo of the first few chapters. If all goes well, we would get the money to commission the assets needed to finish the game. These campaigns are also usually good for a marketing boost to draw attention to the game and further build an audience, regardless of the financial outcome.
Worst case scenario, I take on more jobs to earn the money to finish it -- but if that happens, I can't guarantee any kind of release date.
I've decided that, as far as money goes, it's best to do lucrative work to get money, and then do creative game development on the side. It's tempting to want to create small games or short stories and sell them, but there's very little economic demand for those things -- the work does not pay well. Then all I've accomplished is just pushing back the release date of a game people actually want (Detective Butler) in favor of a game they never wanted.
Plus, there's no point trying to struggle to make money doing something like that, when (with my specific skillset) I can make far more money doing literally any kind of software development. Games are just a lot of work and are really hard to sell. You can't sell them if they are rushed and poor quality -- you're better off making one big game than a bunch of small ones.
That said -- I do think that I get my best work done when I am motivated to do it. Once I get my writing quota finished for the day, I won't hesitate to work on other games if I feel like I have the motivation for them. The goal is to start each day with a few thousand words of writing, then I am free to do whatever else I want once I finish. That's the plan.
I have 30+ ideas for games and stories that I want to make. I tried calculating the plan for Witch Doctor Kaneko, but that game would take even longer, it would be more difficult to pull off, and there's even less of an audience for it. Like I said, I think Detective Butler is the one that has always had the most potential. I just couldnt finish it until now.
I'll start posting more frequent updates again, too. I just didn't want to get started until I knew for sure this is what I would be doing.
I also hope to put out YouTube videos more regularly and get back to doing streams on Twitch. Not so much for story-writing but for implementation of the game and modifications to the game engine. I had been waiting to get my streaming studio set up properly, and we're finally getting to that point.
Thank you all for your patience and support.
And finally -- I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
-- Kinjo Goldbar