My 2011

2011 was a strange year. I can’t tell if it went really quickly or really slowly. It certainly had a lot of ups and downs. I started out the year wildly optimistic, amazed by the relative success of The Infinite Ocean and the possibility that I could survive by making games. And if I could have kept selling games for that amount of money, it would’ve been a great year. But as the months passed, everything started collapsing in on itself, and though there were many positive developments, emotionally I ended up about a hundred feet below rock bottom, digging to see if I could reach the Underworld to get some Hellstone.

I feel like the year was a failure; that feeling is surprisingly strong. It’s probably not entire accurate, however. Looking back, I do see that there was some interesting stuff:

  • I made You Shall Know The Truth. It didn’t get as much attention as I would’ve liked, but I think it’s pretty good. I wish I hadn’t spent so much time working only on this one game, though, since that started us on a downward financial slide that was hard to stop.
  • I made Alphaland (with Terry’s help). The game was quite successful, especially if you keep in mind that it’s a game about a small blue rectangle. Unfortunately this was the point where I realized that the limitations of Multimedia Fusion when it comes to making Flash games were more severe than I’d realized. That’s why several of my more interesting projects – Rise Like Lions and A Candle in the Dark – had to be postponed.
  • Alphaland was later featured at Spielsalon, in one of the oldest museums in Europe. That was cool.
  • I wrote a science fiction screenplay called Melinoe, of which I was very proud, and which got a very good response from Amazon Studios users, but which hasn’t even been nominated for anything on the site, let alone won. After getting so many positive comments and emails (more than most scripts on there), it was crushing not to even be given a chance.
  • We made The Book of Living Magic. I still get a ton of mail about the game, so it’s obviously not a failure, but the near-impossibility of finding a sponsor was shocking. I did not see that coming, especially not after The Infinite Ocean did so well. The aggressively negative attitude of FlashGameLicense towards the game didn’t help its chances or my morale.
  • I wrote a short story called Fuck Vampires. Not everyone liked it, but that doesn’t really matter. I know some people found it inspiring, and inspiration was what it was meant to provide. I’m perfectly content with it.
  • Verena and I created a cooking show and produced the first episode. It seemed to go over well. Soon we’ll be putting up a small IndieGoGo campaign for it. (We don’t have the money for a website, and the show needs a website.)
  • Two of my four articles for the Escapist were published in 2011: Second-Hand Elf and The Bolshevik in the Borderlands. They were fun to write (though the latter was also really hard) and the results were pleasing to me. I even got in touch with some very nice people because of them.
  • I wrote a complete script for the as-yet untitled Nexus City Prequel. I can’t wait for the game to be finished and for people to get to know some of the characters in it.
  • Verena and I created the Oneiropolis Compendium. I still haven’t managed to find a way of getting any attention for it, but I can certainly say it’s been popular with the regular readers of this site, and has kept us from starving.
  • Verena published a novelette called Life Support. Sadly, due to the enormously long time we spent without an internet connection and because Verena had to spend ages making graphics for games and the Compendium, we haven’t managed to promote it enough. Still hoping to do that.
  • On a less creative level, I very much enjoyed being interviewed for Matt Chat (1|2|3) and Electron Dance (1|2). Good questions make for good conversation.
  • I did my best to maintain this blog and keep writing interesting entries/articles. I love the idea of this blog as not just a place to announce games or other projects, but as somewhere you can go to read interesting, thought-provoking or simply silly stuff about all manner of subjects. One of the better things I wrote this year was Every Night I Dream Of Home. Mostly because it’s just so painfully true.
  • I learned how to use Stencyl, and almost finished two games: Catroidvania and Traitor. Let’s see how they do in 2012.
  • Oh, and I wrote a children’s book that Verena illustrated, which will be published in Greece this year. Except I still need to revise the text and I have so little time. Argh…

That’s a pretty good list, isn’t it? Nevertheless, my memories of 2011 will not be pleasant ones. What I will remember most is that escalating sense of despair, the emotional highs of hopefulness followed by rapid plunges into disappointment, the poverty and the helplessness. The country I grew up in turned more and more into a fascist state openly ruled over by banks while my family, like most Greek families, found it harder and harder to survive the new policies of financial genocide. When I think of Greece, of how long and hard my parents worked to have even a semblance of dignity and safety, and how rapidly it’s all being taken away, my despair triples.

I’m not going to lie to you. I go into 2012 with a sense of trepidation. Not because of misunderstood facts about ancient Mesoamerican calendars, but because 2011 showed me just how little hard work really counts for – whether it’s my work or anyone else’s. Not that you can avoid it, but it doesn’t necessarily get you anywhere.

I also became very aware of how harmful stress is. I’ve been living in a pretty much constant state of anxiety for a long time now, and it’s showing. My work fell behind on several occasions because I got so sick. A massive insomnia problem isn’t helping, either. I know other people are worse off – one of my aunts died of cancer this year, and seeing a human being waste away like that shows you how fragile we are – but it has been a real problem.

Still. Trepidation or no trepidation, we’re not giving up. There are stories to tell and recipes to film. Let’s just hope that we find a bit of success this time around. Just enough to feel a little safer, to have a little breathing space. Then we can get started on the real work.

Leave a comment

10 Comments

  1. I know things have been tough for you this year, but I think it’s pretty clear that creatively, you’ve done some amazing stuff, and you should be damn proud of that. I think The Book of Living Magic is among your best work, and that Alphaland is better than you seem to think it is.

    Here’s hoping that 2012 is a spectacular year, for both of us!

  2. No one

     /  January 3, 2012

    Can’t step in your shoes, so I won’t say stuff like “oh no, you can’t give up, something good will happen.” I don’t know shit. The only thing I’ll say is something you already know, but it’s never a bad thing to mention: your work touches people. Everything you wrote, better or worse, is fucking awesome. It brings out the best in people. I just got to know of your stuff this year, and I can already say I’ll keep checking on you as long as you keep doing stuff. If you stopped creating things, you would surely be missed.

  3. Nico

     /  January 3, 2012

    I’m sure it’ll get better Jonas. Hang in there. If you continue to produce quality works like you have this past year, it’ll get noticed, sooner or later.

    I have great hopes for your Nexus City projects and they seem to have a little hype going for them. I think teaming up with Terry is a great idea, both creatively and as a “career” move. Hope it’s as good as I think it can be with the two of you on board.

    Happy new year to you and Verena. And keep making awesome games ! :)

  4. Yes, things are tough, but, let’s be frank here. You and Verena managed to be incredibly (and impressively) creative despite everything. Can’t help but congratulate and wish for a truly great 2012; both personally and socially.

  5. @everyone: Thank you. You are nice. If you were here I would give you cookies. Except I don’t have any cookies. So maybe it’s good that you’re not here.

    @Terry: I certainly didn’t mean to sound negative about Alphaland! I am very proud of it and very grateful for your help. I just meant that it was surprisingly successful given its extreme minimalism.

  6. James Patton

     /  January 3, 2012

    Just wanted to pop in and say that, while I wish the year had been more financially stable for you, I don’t think it could have been more creative. You did everything from metaludic minimalism to soul-warming childish joy to political outcry. The work which I consider the best (TBoLM) was played by hundreds of thousands of people and brought them a great deal of joy; even the work I wasn’t personally moved by (Vampires Suck) clearly moved others. I think it’s impressive that every single piece of work you’ve put out this year has been well received – the challenge now is to somehow monetise all this creativity so you don’t starve.

    I also think teaming up with Terry should be helpful: after all, he pretty much “made it” with VVVVVV so it’s possible your collaboration will alert more of his fans to the work you do.

    So, on this arbitrary threshhold between what we decide to call “old” and what we decide to call “new”, I hope that the next arbitrary annual time-section goes better than the previous one, but is equally if not more creative!

  7. Michelle

     /  January 4, 2012

    The problem with the internet is that it can be really difficult to see how much your work has moved people. I found Alphaland and You Shall Know The Truth deeply moving and thought provoking respectively. And most of all, as you know, I really adored The Book of Living Magic. I think there’s something about it that just brings back everything everyone feels nostalgic about- the sense of limitless possibility, imagination… even just feeling that they matter. With such beautiful work, I find it hard to imagine 2011 as a failure, even if it wasn’t financially a success.

    I just hope someone sees the potential here soon and gives you some kind of security, so that you can continue to create so beautifully without so much of the stress that comes with it.

  8. Dieter Brummer

     /  January 4, 2012

    Keep making wonderful, inspiring and thought-provoking things. We who do not have the courage even to try making a living doing something they love salute you.

  9. Dyxo

     /  January 6, 2012

    You know, after playing the Book of Living Magic this was an interesting in site to the creators mind. I’m sorry to hear of all the darkness that lingers within you at this time, but to be able to set that aside to be able to give your games the feel they need is an amazing talent to say the least.

    No matter, hearing about the financial downfall during Alphaland, which I’m sure I’ll notice the detail when I play it, does make me think about my future as a game designer…

  10. Keep your chin up Jonas, things are bound to turn around in 2012. For what it’s worth I loved your articles in the Escapist and your Matt Chat interview. Hopefully you get the chance to do more journalistic/media-type things in the new year!