Frontiers - The Faces Behind the Text
Lars Simkins and Ryan Span graciously agreed to answer questions in an interview at the beginning of the month. I compiled a lot of questions, stacked the ones that seemed similar enough to only ask once, held my breath and started asking. Some of the questions I chose not to ask have been covered extensively in Lars' personal Kickstarter VS IGG Blog.
Lars appears to be a real person under the beard. (See last update for explanation).
Thank you both for making the time before your last BIG update to answer these.
RPGWatch: What is the best advice you could give a small indie developer?
Lars: Start small and keep it small. Don’t be a bonehead like me and try to create a big open world. My game has an incredibly narrow focus and its selling point is simplicity, and I’m still overwhelmed by the amount of work.
Ryan: I always give out the same advice Alex Norton gives whenever anyone gets him started about the topic: Be your game.
Every project needs a public face, which should be the person who is in charge, not a PR rep. Some Kickstarter campaigns and such go into really detailed stuff about each member of the team, which is nice, but you should always put _someone_ front and centre. For example, watching a KS video where six nervously smiling devs talk about their respective fields is not as effective as one person, the person who keeps it all together and is ultimately responsible for the project's success or failure, using all six slots of time talking about why he or she is excited about/dedicated to making this game. It's _you_ who needs to seen, and the amount of screen time is what makes all the difference, since by the end of a properly fronted trailer, people end up feeling like they've gotten to know you. If you can establish that kind of personal connection with people, your chances of convincing them to invest time or money in the project goes up exponentially.
RPGWatch: Are you aware of the issues that open world games face that makes the story feel completely secondary and not immersive? Do you consider this a problem?
Lars: Yes, but I see those issues as strengths in this game, not problems. That sounds like a ‘my biggest weakness is my perfectionism’ answer. But most of the problems I’ve seen with open-world stories (at least in my experience) stem from the developers trying to tightly control the player’s experience. That ends up feeling flat - there’s no such thing as urgency in a sandbox game unless the player is supplying it. So in FRONTIERS we’ve tried to tell a story that lets the player drive the action. It expects you to travel large distances and to take pit stops along the way. It allows for you to talk to people out of order and to get lost between destinations. If you build a story around exploration and it starts being an either/or thing, where you’re either playing the game or playing the story, that’s when the story becomes secondary.
Ryan: It's only a problem if you make it one. When the goals of the story don't align with those of the player, of course it's going to feel secondary. We've deliberately made the goals in Frontiers stuff that the player will want: More areas to explore and cool new ways to get around where you've already been. We put as few barriers as possible between you and the lovely world you came to see, and give you even more reasons to go out into it.
RPGWatch: What are they doing to make the story thrilling and interesting?
Ryan: 'Thrilling' might be the wrong word, although there are definitely exciting bits. By design, the game operates on the player's timetable, so you can take your time and there's no artificial urgency where everything is going to be destroyed 'soon.' On top of that, you are the story's driving force. You're getting NPCs to do stuff you want done, rather than the other way around. After the end of Act 1, nothing happens that is not directly in response to your actions. Hopefully that ticks the 'interesting' box!
RPGWatch:And how do they tackle the balance between storytelling and exploration/sandbox?
Ryan: The two can go hand in hand as long as you tailor the story to the gameplay. Really, in almost any game, the story should give the player fun things to do in interesting locations. Doing it in an open-world game just takes the extra effort of making the player _want_ to quest them rather than assuming you've got a captive audience -- which you should technically be doing anyway.
RPGWatch: Seriously life defining question incoming.... Do you drink Tea or Coffee?
Lars: Neither! I drink mass quantities of Pepsi One.
Ryan: Tea! With milk. And sugar.
RPGWatch: Given Ryan's propensity for science fiction, would Lars consider a Frontiers style game set in a sci-fi setting?
Lars: Not really, it’s a classic action adventure. I’m guessing Ryan could tackle pretty much any genre.
RPGWatch: What’s your opinion on released crowd funded games so far. Has crowdfunding lived up to your expectations? Any advice for people who don't feel the same way you do?
Lars: I haven’t backed many games, and I’ve only played a tiny sampling of released crowdfunded games, but overall they hit the mark for me. I had realistic expectations and those expectations were all met.
As for crowdfunding in general, it has also lived up to my expectations - and sadly my expectations were that the Kickstarter bubble would pop within 6-12 months of running my campaign. That’s partly why I ran my Kickstarter when I did. If I thought I had more time I would have taken another 6 months to build up the project.
I knew there were a lot of games in the pipeline that couldn’t possibly satisfy backers, and once that disappointment started to roll in backers would become resentful and suspicious. And that seems to be happening now. If I ran an identical campaign today I doubt I could get funded because the Kickstarter fatigue is too strong.
RPGWatch: What’s your favorite crowdfunded game so far?
Lars: Full disclosure: the only games I’ve actually played in the past year are a few hours of The Forest and a few minutes of Windborne. But I really, really like FTL. I played that a few times when it was first released and I’ve watched Lets Plays of some really intense sessions. To me that embodies what Kickstarter games ought to be - weird, simple, confident in its identity.
Ryan: FTL. By a mile. That game has stolen an entire week of my life so far and I’m scared of going back.
RPGWatch: Do you ever wish you had written Minecraft?
Lars: The money would be great, and I think I would enjoy seeing people being so creative with a tool I had provided. (I can only hope people are as creative with FRONTIERS modding.) But I don’t know if I could handle the stress. So many people treat Mojang like some sort of taxpayer-funded public utility now. Just endless demands without empathy or thought. It’s weird.
Ryan: There wouldn’t be much for me to do on a Minecraft-like game! But less flippantly, I’m never jealous of other people’s success or creativity. I don’t want to make their games. I want to make my own games, and rise or fall based on my own ideas, combined with those of good friends like Lars or Alex Norton of Malevolence. That’s what I’m excited about.
RPGWatch: What is your most anticipated crowd funded game? Most anticipated published game.
Lars: I’m really looking forward to Octopus City Blues. It falls into the same weird/simple/confident sweet spot as FTL. I have a feeling it’ll be delayed to hell and back but whatever, I’ll wait.
RPGWatch: You've said you are inspired by Daggerfall. What features does Daggerfall have that are missed or under-represented in today’s games?
Lars: The main thing I loved about the game was the way it dropped you into a world and said absolutely nothing about your place or role in that world. You had to figure that out for yourself. If a dungeon was important it gave you no external sign. There was no beacon on your map - you had to roll up your sleeves and kick in some doors. That total indifference to the player’s actions made the world feel very real to me. I think some of it was accident rather than design, but I enjoyed it whatever the cause.
Most large game worlds tend to revolve around the player, who is usually some messiah - you get the sense that behind every closed door characters are just checking their watch waiting for you to show up and advance the plot. In Daggerfall I felt like they were going about business that had nothing to do with me. Planning murders or writing poetry or whatever. I loved that feeling.
RPGWatch: What real world locations did you use to inspire the exploration of Frontiers? Did you do any travelling as part of your design research?
Lars: I haven’t done any traveling for the game - I’ve done less traveling in the past two years than ever before, actually - but I live in Washington and I constantly go on walks in the greenbelt near where I live to refresh my memory of places I’ve been. Washington’s climate has a little bit of everything - it can feel like the rainforest or the desert or the arctic from month to month.
Given did a lot of research when rebuilding the terrain and I know he was influenced by a lot of specific locations. I gave him general climates and regions to mimic but he went above and beyond and adapted a lot of real-world places. I tried to ignore those specific influences, though. I knew that I would have to re-work areas as I balanced the gameplay and I didn’t want to think of them as ‘wrong’ once they were changed.
RPGWatch: Can you compare the design and gameplay of Frontiers to other open worlds like Skyrim? What are main differences, advantages and disadvantages?
Lars: In a word, FRONTIERS is simpler. There are fewer stats, fewer weapons, fewer upgrades, fewer skills, spells, etc. etc. The gameplay is more relaxing and more focused on wandering around than on armor and combat and skills. There are dangerous creatures and dangerous areas, but they’re easy to avoid. The advantage of simplicity is that for a lot of people the world is easier to enjoy when those kinds of details aren’t on your mind.
The disadvantage is that complexity is a great way to make a world feel alive. By taking that away I’ve already lost half of that ‘Daggerfall’ feeling that I was so anxious to recreate. It’s also easier for the player to get bored and I had to spend a lot of time finding ways to prevent that from happening.
Ryan: I feel like open-world games made by AAA studios come with a lot of expectations. An Elder Scrolls title, for example, is expected to have a big expansive plot full of chosen ones and ancient evils and all of that stuff. People would almost consider it a disappointment if it were smaller-scale. It would be fun to see if I could pull off one of those big-budget stories without the usual pitfalls. On the other hand, working on an indie game like Frontiers removes those expectations, and lets me try to sell a smaller-scale, more casual and much more personal kind of story.
RPGWatch: It’s hard to fill big worlds with meaningful content without too much generic stuff and repeating. How do you want to achieve that goal - surprise player and make it fresh?
Lars: To be honest, with the actual game world I’m going for a quantity over quality approach. The story and the lore is unique and fresh, but the world itself has lots of generic structures and lots of repeating elements. That sounds like the exact opposite of what you’d want to do in an exploration game, but what I discovered early on is that enjoying yourself while exploring doesn’t seem to depend on uniqueness or freshness. It only depends on novelty.
This is kind of a dangerous thing to say out loud. People are really skeptical of this claim. It may even scare off some potential players. But it’s true - when I’m playing Minecraft and I run across an unexplored cave I get a little thrill from that new arrangement of cubes just as surely as I would from a twenty-thousand-dollar hand-modeled cave. As long as there are little differences from here to there you still get a thrill from turning the next corner. Your brain forgets the similarities. So I’m embracing the generic brick-a-brack construction style and letting it be what it is, then introducing variations and subtle differences wherever I can, like randomly varied interiors and object spawning.
RPGWatch: Is your world mostly wilderness or is it balanced using both wild and inhabited areas?
Lars: It’s coming in at around 20% inhabited to 80% wilderness. I was shooting for 40% / 60 % for the mainland but that’s not going to happen. I don’t think I even mentioned that ratio during the Kickstarter because knew it was really ambitious. Having an indie budget stinks sometimes but oh well, you have to work with what you’ve got!
How much effort do you put into a story? Does it have minor role (just an excuse for exploring) or do you plan to make it important (progressive) to tie whole experience up?
Lars: A lot of effort, actually. But I wanted that the effort to be enjoyed even if you weren’t following the story. The story is what drove the overall shape and climates of the terrain, the landmarks, the placement and style of settlements, etc. Those are all things that make the game more enjoyable even if you never finish a quest.
Ryan: I've always held that a good story is one of the most cost-effective ways to make a game entertaining. If you're going to spend many thousands of dollars on graphics, sound and animation, why be satisfied with a story that sucks or barely exists at all? In Frontiers, it's there to give context to the gameplay and make it feel like it's building to something bigger than exploration alone. Walking into remote places is one thing. Overcoming massive obstacles to get there, by your own effort and ingenuity, that's where true satisfaction comes from.
RPGWatch: There is one sentence in your concept - "could someone else follow him into the untamed frontier". Does it mean that NPCs are more dynamic and may travel bigger distances?
Lars: No, not at all. NPCs remain largely static. Originally they were totally static, like adventure game characters, but there were a few Kickstarter goals that have livened things up a bit. Some will now move from place to place following paths and many have routines within cities. But nothing they do approaches the complexity and dynamism people are accustomed to in AAA games.
Ryan: Not so much. It's more of a story thing. Where Daniel Benneton has gone, no one else can follow -- at least not without doing the impossible first...
RPGWatch: Should we expect some special interactive objects in game world?
Lars: Actually you can expect nearly every object you encounter to be interactive in some way. It was important to me that you could pick up and manipulate every object in the world. I’m not a huge fan of drowning in lifelike detail but only being able to pick up one or two brightly lit objects among hundreds. I wanted all objects to be ‘live,’ and for the most part I’ve achieved that.
The unexpected downside is that when every object is complex enough to be picked up and manipulated, you can’t include nearly as many of them in the world. So things ended up looking a bit more sparse than I’d intended! Still, it’s a decent trade-off.
RPGWatch: How important will be crafting?
Lars: Object crafting, food preparation and potions are all based on the same mechanic so it’s pretty central.
RPGWatch: What are the most common mistakes in contemporary RPGs in your opinion?
Lars: This first one isn’t necessarily a mistake, because if you’re all about the stats then it won’t ruin the game for you. But making the player feel like Jesus. If I walk into a world and I’m already the most important thing in it, the plot ends up feeling like one prolonged quicktime sequence.
But a no-way-to-interpret-it-charitably mistake? This weird trend of presenting the player a couple of buttons at the end of an otherwise complex and morally satisfying story. It’s happened enough times that it’s starting to feel like a conspiracy…
Ryan: Not having any actual roleplaying in them. Roleplaying is about more than just levelling up stats. It's about letting your character form a unique identity, and personality counts for that more than which abilities you choose.
RPGWatch: What do you think about recent gaming trends like KS campaigns, F2P, forced online components, streamlining (dumbing down), over-the-top action/gore…?
Lars: Oh boy. Opinions incoming. Cue the trolls.
I think KS campaigns are great as long as they’re approached for what they are. They’re risky investments, not pre-purchases. I hope they continue, bubble notwithstanding.
Free to play. There’s nothing wrong with it in principle. But if anything brings this industry to its knees, it will be large publishers cramming free to play and microtransactions and DLC into games and genres where it simply doesn’t belong. I come from VFX and it’s been fascinating watching the big publishers make the same mistakes as the big movie studios, beat for beat, only faster. It only took them a few years to start pouring hundreds of millions into massive projects that cannot fail to sell less than [x] million copies to break even (and discovering that it’s totally unsustainable, just like Hollywood). Forced online stuff falls into the same category. With microtransactions and free to play I think they’ve finally overtaken Hollywood and they’re out in a totally uncharted realm of bad decision making. It’s like going to a $10 action movie that forces you to pay $5 every 20 minutes or it’ll skip the action and show you a the hero reading a book.
Streamlining - again, nothing wrong with it in principle. Gaming is a mainstream pastime now (have you heard?) and not everyone has the patience to learn fifty-odd controls. It only bothers me when a specific game series that I appreciated due to its complexity is streamlined to sell more units, for no other reason than to sell more units. If the existing fanbase isn’t large enough to support the project that’s one thing. But I believe that the players have a sort of implicit partial ownership of whatever games they have supported, in spirit if not legally, so I don’t like it when games are altered solely to bump sales. In a better world the developers would choose to (or have the choice to) spend less money on the project, sell fewer units, keep its niche appeal and still generate reasonable profit. But that’s my idealism showing I guess. It’s easy to criticize as an ivory tower indie developer.
Over the top gore is great. You wouldn’t think it from playing FRONTIERS or from hearing about my other game projects, but I’m a horror buff. So as long as violence is marketed appropriately and enjoyed for what it is, I’m all for it.
Ryan: Kickstarter is a wonderful thing, and I hope people keep using it despite the rash of scams, failures and poorly-thought-out projects on there lately. If Lars and I needed money to fund a new game, where else would we go but crowdfunding?
I have mixed feelings about F2P. On the one hand, I don't believe it's inherently awful, but I've never seen it done well. That is to say, in a way that hasn't made me feel like the devs are looking at me like a mugger spotting their next victim.
Forced online components -- dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Also unnecessary.
Streamlining can be done well. Mass Effect 2, for example, was mechanically a better game than ME1, lacking all the fiddly inventory stuff. I did miss some of the skill elements, though, and it's easy to cut too much. Balance in all things.
RPGWatch: Fan question - your favorite RPGs?
Lars: Fallout 2 and System Shock 2 are my all time favorites. They’re just so damn good. Morrowind and Daggerfall are in the top 10, of course. More recently I really enjoyed Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I’m a massive Cyberpunk junkie so I couldn’t get enough of it.
Ryan: How many do I get to pick? Planescape: Torment, Might & Magic 6, the Baldur's Gate series, Arcanum, Lands of Lore, the Fallout series... I could keep going for a while.
RPGWatch: This game's major focus is exploration yet there are quite a few writers involved in this game. Stories are (mostly) pretty linear but exploration is extremely non-linear. So how does that work out?
Lars: Part of the reason we had so many writers is because they were doubling as world designers, so they had to work in parallel very quickly, laying down the foundation for the world I was building. Instead of concept art we had quests and lore that gave me a clear set of requirements and goals. We need [x] villages, [y] landmarks, [z] character types, and so on. Even if the quests are never played, those choices are all present in the world.
The side quests can afford to be more linear than the main quest since they’re mostly self-contained and limited to a couple of nearby areas. Linearity only seems to become a problem when you expect the player to stay focused while they’re wandering about in the world. That said, I only have a small portion of the side quests implemented so far. So who knows, there might be that there are difficulties I just haven’t run into yet…
Ryan: Our contributing writers have been working solely on lore and side quests, designing that stuff and writing dialogue. Side quests are easy to just drop in -- they're there for people who feel like doing something in one place when they stumble across it. I'm responsible for everything pertaining to the main quest, and it's done with a similar attitude. It's there if people want it, if they're interested in the quests, the characters, the rewards, etc.. No time limit, no NPCs pushing you or whinging at you. Since it's an open world, there's nothing to force you to do the story if you don't want to, we just do our best to make you want to.
RPGWatch: Do you have Holidays and other special days where something in the game changes? For instance, Saint Patrick's Day might be a day when beer is free at the taverns or Memorial Day is a day when soldier's gear is cheap, etc. Halloween would be a very dangerous day to be near cemeteries or out after dark.
Lars: There are holidays and traditions, complete with the potential for exactly the sort of thing you’re talking about, but any plans to implement them are on the backburner. I have to get the core stuff sorted out before I get to that kind of thing.
RPGWatch: Name one person outside your family that really went above and beyond to support your vision.
Lars: Eric Chauvin. He and I worked together in VFX for years - he’s the one who helped me get established in the first place - and he was incredibly supportive and positive when I told him I wanted to step away from the industry and design games. I’m not sure I appreciated how much that support meant at the time. If he’d been more skeptical or had tried to persuade me to stay in the industry things might have gone differently.
Ryan: David Wood, the guy who got me into Gryphonwood Press and has always been there to help me through my early days in publishing, conventioneering, and every other particular of making me a better writer. My life would have been infinitely poorer for not knowing him.
RPGWatch: Does your wife contribute Frontiers by writing, art, coding etc?
Lars: She organizes the quests and quest implementation, as well as a lot of the business end of things. This process generates more spreadsheets than I ever thought I’d see in my life. If you show up in a location and the correct characters with the correct dialog have spawned, you have her to thank for it. She also patiently listens to me freak out when I’m convinced the game is going to be a miserable, wretched failure, then reminds me that if I want something to be better I need to work on it, not complain about it. So I do.
The following questions were aimed directly at Ryan Span.
Ryan: When you say it like that, it makes me sound a lot more important than I am! Yes, I do write for Malevolence. About 70% of the books in the game are my work, equivalent to a decent-sized novel, so there's a lot to find.
STREET is my trilogy of cyberpunk novels, full of telepathy and nanotechnology, inspired by classics like Neuromancer and Snow Crash. I'm a huge cyberpunk fan so it's what I always wanted to do. After cutting my teeth doing some really bad fantasy novels and one space opera, none of which will ever see the light of day, I felt it was time to try something more ambitious. STREET is what came out. It's far from perfect, but I love it all the same, and part of me misses working on it now that it's all done.
RPGWatch: Has your method of releasing your first book free and then the remaining books chapter by chapter been working for you? Would you have preferred a publisher?
Ryan: I started out releasing them online-only, but I've had a publisher since 2008. All three books are in print and various ebook formats through Gryphonwood Press. Releasing them the way I did is what got me my deal with Gryphonwood in the first place, so I certainly have no regrets on that score!
RPGWatch: How does it feel to be writing for a video game VS a web serial? Major differences?
Ryan: Interactive writing is a very different discipline from anything else. Dialogue trees, for example, are not a thing outside of video games. Aside from that, you have to think of every possibility, the most obscure situations a player might end up in, and make sure they're covered in your plan. The closest analogue would be a choose-your-own-adventure book of hundreds and hundreds of pages. It’s fairly brutal.
This may well be the height of hubris, but after training and editing work from Frontiers's contributing writers, I've actually started working on a guide to writing for video games which will cover exactly this kind of thing. It’s something I want to use as a training tool for future projects, and to sell to anyone who's curious about what goes into this kind of work. That'll come out shortly after Frontiers does.
RPGWatch: Do you ever wish you were an artist as well?
Ryan: Oh, I'd love to be able to write comics and illustrate them. Sadly I have the hand-eye coordination of a drunk chimpanzee, so it was not meant to be.
RPGWatch: Why is your favored writing genre science-fiction but you are a full-fledged ARMA member? That’s quite a polar opposite.
Ryan: I love all genre stuff. Science-fiction is probably my dearest love, but I don't see it as my one and only niche. ARMA for me is a simple equation. I love history + I love swords. Trying to reconstruct real historical swordfighting techniques from the original manuals? Count me in.
RPGWatch: You say you "freelance" for tabletop games. Does that mean you are writing publishable stories or single episodic games?
Ryan: I haven't done any recently, but what freelancing I do is usually contract fiction (stories set in the game's world), setting material, box blurbs, and whatever else is needed at the time.
RPGWatch: Why should we care about the protagonists story rather than just exploring?
Ryan: Because it's not just the protagonist's story. It's yours. Frontiers is whatever you make of it, and we have a big Fallout-style ending to match, which gives a detailed breakdown of the ultimate consequences of your choices and actions throughout the story. This offers literally dozens of different combinations. It even takes into account what you did with the side quests! You'd have to be very careful to get the exact same ending twice.
RPGWatch: Which writers inspire you?
Ryan: To name a few, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Frank Herbert, Patrick Rothfuss, Chris Avellone... And a whole lot more.
RPGWatch: If you had to compare yourself with another sci-fi author, say... Piers Anthony, how would you rank your past works or your potential?
Ryan: I'm the worst person to ask. I consciously avoid comparing myself to other authors because, in my own opinion, I'll never match up.
RPGWatch: Can you switch projects easily in your head? How do you keep all your characters separate in your head?
Ryan: It's something I've gotten better at over time. I used to only be able to work on one thing at once, or everything would flounder. Now I don't even have to think about it. Just a matter of practice.
RPGWatch: What did you decide to do before you started writing? What paid the bills?
Ryan: Actually, I was writing long before I joined the job market! I've worked plenty of retail in my life, not so much a decision as a necessity. Writing doesn't pay well. Most of us have day jobs and/or long-suffering spouses to actually cover the expenses. I am very very lucky and extremely thankful to be able to write full-time. It really is a dream come true.
RPGWatch: What’s the hardest thing about writing for Frontiers?
Ryan: Characters. Compared to a novel, you're restricted in how you develop them. You can't put their innermost thoughts on the screen like you would on a page. We don't have access to expensive motion capture stuff either, so we can't do body language. These personalities have to shine through and be charming in nothing but speech and emotes. That's the toughest thing by far.
RPGWatch: Do you proofread your own work? Who edits your books?
Ryan: I have to proofread! Everything needs multiple passes. I get help from friends and fans, too, when they don't mind a few spoilers. As for my books, that's all down to my editor at Gryphonwood.
RPGWatch: Why did you decide to not advertise Street?
Ryan: Largely because I find internet ads annoying and useless. Cyberpunk is such a niche genre that I knew I was never going to make any money off it anyway, so I decided to let the chips fall where they may, and rely solely on word of mouth and convention appearances and such. Again, no regrets!
RPGWatch: What’s your favorite quote?
RYAN: From Invictus, by William Ernest Henley:
"In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed."
RPGWatch: Have you ever read a book and thought "Damn, I could have written that" or "I wish I would have written that?"
Ryan: Really, I’d give you the same answer as I gave above about games. I don’t want to do other people’s books. Every writer has that occasional moment where he or she thinks, “That’s not how I would’ve done it,” and there’s some writing that’s just plain bad, but it’s like crying over spilt milk. It’s in the past, and you’ve got to keep moving forward, doing what you do because only you can do it quite like that.
The following questions were so close to answers Lars & Ryan have already covered in depth I have taken them straight from their Reddit Interview and inserted them here. They scanned their answers to make sure nothing had changed in the past 6 months and agreed to let me re-post them.
RPGWatch:What's your experience with unity been like? We're you ever frustrated that it couldn't do something you found and liked in other engines you may have tried?
Lars: Overall it's been very positive. I plan to use it in the future.
But I would never, ever, ever make an open world game with it again. It's just not what the engine is built for. The low-level manual resource management just isn't there and it makes stuff like dealing with texture memory a total nightmare.
But again, now that I've 'broken' it I have a firmer grasp on how it wants / expects me to do things, and I can see myself using it for all kinds of non-open-world projects. If I use a hammer as a toothbrush it's not the hammer's fault when I chip a tooth.
RPGWatch: What’s your weekly schedule like? and how do you prevent burnout and do you manage burnout if it sets in?
Lars: This will sound weird but I don't think in terms of 'weeks' any more, it's just day to day to day. Without looking at a calendar I'll guess that today is Wednesday? (D'oh, Thursday. You see what I mean.)
For me there are two kinds of burnout - I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing burnout and I'm not taking care of my body burnout.
Taking care of my body is super simple, I just take breaks, eat food when I'm hungry, go to bed when it's dark, wake up when it's light, and drink water all day. When I do this stuff, I feel good and I get more work done. When I don't, I feel bad and get less work done. I repeat those simple facts to myself whenever I'm tempted to work past 12 or sleep in past 7, or to skip a meal because I'm 'in the zone.' The zone is a lie, it's never worth it.
Not knowing what I'm supposed to be doing is harder because it's sneaky. Sometimes it hits me even when I have an apparently clear goal like 'Finish [x] small feature.' But if I feel edgy and annoyed and I can't put my finger on it, a few days of that will burn me out. I've gotten better at noticing it early - it usually means that my goal isn't as clear as I thought, and there are buried decisions in there that I need to think through first. A clear goal doesn't just mean simple, it means that you have a direct route through it. When I'm hopping around the project and making a bunch of decisions to clear the way for my end goal - treating them like hurtles to clear - it burns me out. When I'm make decisions deliberately one at a time, where the decision itself is the goal, it energizes me.
Discipline helps too. Teaching myself to work when I'm not motivated helps me feel OK about stopping to take care of myself when I am motivated, because I know I'm not depending on a feeling that might be gone tomorrow. If that makes sense.
RPGWatch: How do you get people to work for you aside from offering them huge gobs of cash?
Lars: That's part of it.
To me this is a simple formula. People need:
Confidence in the project
A chance to show off
Deadlines that aren't bullshit
If you pay someone fair, and if they feel the work they do will end up on a shelf (or on Steam or whatever), and if you've got them working on something where they can flex their creative muscles a bit, and if you don't ask for stuff until you actually need it... they will stick around 99% of the time.
In other words: if you can't pay someone fair then you shouldn't be asking them to work in the first place, unless they're a close friend or something. I feel really strongly about that.
If you can't inspire confidence in the project then you need to put more work into it before asking others to put work into it. If you can't give them a chance to show off then you're probably asking the wrong person to do the work. And if there isn't a tangible reason for them to deliver their work by the time you ask, then you're only making demands to assert your dominance, and they'll smell that bullshit a mile away. Better to get organized, figure out exactly when stuff is needed and avoid hiring people (or at the very least setting deadlines) until it's actually necessary.
Of course in practice these rules can get all muddled and hard to follow. But you've got to pay people, that's the one thing that never changes.
RPGWatch: Do you ever get stressed that you've got a fan base that know you, watch you, have supported you in advance of a project, and now you have to finish it?
Lars: I wake up every morning and try to organize my life around finishing the game. There's no other way to handle it. Not sure if that makes sense. But how else could you think about it, you know? If I'm not organizing my life around finishing it, that's when I get stressed.