12 May 2017

The Slow Application Development (SAD) Methodology

Head space!
C'est à un combat sans corps qu'il faut te préparer, tel que tu puisses faire front en tout cas, combat abstrait qui, au contraire des autres, s'apprend par rêverie.

A rant about very little in particular (which is incidentally also how, if ever my exploits as a Roguelike developer are to be mentioned in some footnote of history, they will be described).

I found some notes for an old blog post, and decided why not go ahead and publish this scrambled mess?

I was going to start by mentioning Tobias and the Dark Sceptres, which had just been released for free after 13 years in the making. This was in 2014, so bringing it up now might feel a bit late. In that sense, I guess everything is going according to plan.

This is supposed to be a blogpost about the Slow Application Development (SAD™) Methodology, the professed in-house design philosophy here at Domus Daedali. The rules of the SAD Methology are as numerous as they are fickle…

Thou shalt start in the middle.
Thou shalt code under the influence.
Thou shalt add empty variables with vaguely suggestive names, in case thou needst them later.
When too late, refactor.
Release sometime, release sometimes.
Embellish details.
Thou shalt never monetize thy project!

The guy who released Tobias had been tinkering on and off since he was a kid, and the whole thing was made in klik'n'play or something like that. Now, some of the commentariat were boggling at the fact that he didn't charge any money for the game, and I remember thinking: If you have to ask why someone chooses to give away something they've been working on for thirteen years, you probably won't understand the answer.

As always, I find comfort in the SAD methodology.
If it's not broke, fix it.
Never monetize!
It's one step forwards and two steps back, so the way ahead may be to walk away from your project.
Take out your money and shoot it in the head! 
We have to build cabins.

LoSt's business plan
The SAD methodology is not applicable to professionalism of any kind: From struggling artists to celebrities and mainstream developers, movers and shakers of the mindscape… We bid them farewell, with a thanks for paving the way nonetheless.

The crux of the matter is that having no real stakes in the project means you've less time in the day-to-day, but so much more as the years accumulate.

Though it remains unclear what we are trying to gain freedom from, we are willing to spend every ounce of our patience and monomania to get it.

A tiny shelter.

Developing commercially entails another mindset entirely. Mind to say, it is not one less respectable. On the contrary, it demands an admirable effort and excess of ideas to achieve the degree of polish needed to set something afloat in the vast ocean of cultural products. In fact, one of the things that prompted me to pick this post up again after all this time, was a post about monetizing RL devlopment over at Cogmind's excellent blog. (That's already been four months, so I'm staying true to my tenets, if nothing else.)

In any case: As fascinating as I find that pursuit, and as much as I respect and understand the decision to venture in commercial game design, I am also glad this is not the way that Land of Strangers is going. Even if I were to try to tidy it up, finish and sell it as an "indie open world wild west roguelike", the work/pay ratio would just be weepable, and I might risk the overall vision by making "concessions" to some imagined demands from the paying public. Developing in accordance with the SAD Methodology, I get instead to focus on the work/play ratio.

What I like about making my "little open acid western roguelike" is that I don't have to take all that stuff into account. I can choose to just say no, or whatever, to wholesome values and clever design choices. Proper graphics and overall polish? Yawn. Audio, who needs it? (Or maybe I will, but just slap on a sub-par recording of me mishandling my youngest son's ukulele.)

Never finish.
Work in the crevices.
Start side projects.
(Don't) quit your day job.
Just in case.
Have kids.
Stand in a pedestrian island reciting sutras whilst meditating on the cars coming to rape you.

Psyching up to do some coding
The SAD Methodology depends on a circular definition: The refusal to monetize and the refusal to finalize enable one another, defining a space, like a protective chalk circle where any (in)conceivable project can be allowed to grow. In many cases, it becomes a question of necessity. Lately we're seeing how old giants like ADOM and Caves of Qud are monetizing updated versions of their classic games. One thing these two have in common (and an article could be devoted just to discussing the differences), is that the colossal games which were already in place as the business model started to kick in, had taken many years of hard, unpaid work to achieve. If ADOM and CoQ had started out as commercial projects, they probably would never have seen the light of day.

I suspect this is part of the reason why Mark Johnson  has refrained from any kind of crowd funding scheme for his grand opus Ultima Ratio Regum. It also seems that Krice professes to the SAD Methodology, so what in the world could go wrong? It certainly is the fuel of much vaporware – and honestly, we would be so much worse off without classic never-mades in the vein of Shockfrost's game and World of Rogue.

It might be tempting to say that sites such as Kickstarter have been doing us a disfavor by blurring the lines between professional and amateur development. But the problem doesn't really lie with concepts like crowd funding, even if there is a deep-set problem with how capitalism is carried out these days. Be that as is may, the SAD Methodology isn't mainly about Smashing Capitalism™ (though let's do that as well, while we're @ it).

Rather (with the risk of becoming too pretentious even to the tastes of a reader who made it thus far), I'd say it's akin how a painter or author is never able to step back from the work and say: It is finished. Such a grandiose image can also be applied to humbler endeavors.

Never finish!
Never monetize!
Go and live in the desert!
We're all blessed. 

You know the drill.

We have to build cabins.

As always,

1 "You must prepare for a battle without body, to be able to take a stand no matter what; an abstract battle which, unlike others, is learned through reverie." (Henri Michaux, Poteaux d'angles)

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