As some of you might know, there has been quite a lot of drama going down in the case with the next-gen 2D action/adventure RPG “Elysian Shadows“. So I decided to set the record straight once and for all. Well, said and done. As I did a long interview with Falco Girgis (Lead Engine/Toolkit Developer for “Elysian Shadows”), so I hope that you guys and girls will enjoy it =)
Honestly, I had no idea (whatsoever) about all the drama that´s been surrounding the “Elysian Shadows” project for the last couple of months, in the matter of fact. I thought that everything was all cool actually, because when I wrote my article about “Elysian Shadows” back in February this year. I had no clue on what was going down at the Elysian Shadows Team camp. Actually, at the time I was just very happy for your success on Kickstarter (“Elysian Shadows” raised $185,323 USD back in August, 2014).
So I´m quite curious to hear your story on what happened between August 1, 2014 (the launch date of “Elysian Shadows”) and the 9th of October last year? (the date that you uploaded your “Misadventures in Kickstarter Crowdfunding: Episode 1“ video to Youtube). Especially since “some” people claim that you ran away with $185,000 in cash, and there are quite a few rumors on the Internet on what went down in the team. So feel free to set the record straight.
Honestly? Everything is cool with Elysian Shadows and has been for the most part. Take a second to reflect back upon the last several AiGD videos. Take a second to look at the team mates who have been up all night, the ones who look like shit and are clearly pouring every ounce of their being into the game… Those aren’t the ones that the drama has been revolving around. It’s the least productive members whose contributions slowed to literally a trickle during that time period who are making all the noise. You know what Patrick and I have been doing during the time? Same thing we always do. We’ve been keeping our heads down and giving Elysian Shadows everything we’ve got.
People have definitely quit the team, but the ONLY reason anyone has EVER been kicked off in the long history of Elysian Shadows has been due to a lack of effort. We have had team mates literally do nothing for well over a year before finally removing them from our roster. It’s pretty sad, but the truth is that unless money is involved with an indie game, you can’t exactly expect team mates to be able to dedicate large amounts of time to the project. Status, fame, and the promise of a future paycheck can definitely help, but for the most part, an indie game development team is stuck an in awkward place between hoping to god they get self-motivated, hard workers with a dream to join the team, and having to accept the fact that there is literally nothing you can do to push underperforming team mates to work harder.
It’s kind of funny to me how I have been accused of “micromanagement,” as though that is what has justified the shitty behavior from the team mates who left… If anything, I’m guilty of a lack of management. I am the ONLY programmer on this team. I have had to develop a cross-platform Engine, Toolkit, and Framework rivaling Unity2D (and it can even do 3D) for half a dozen platforms (with more to come), while still attending graduate school at one point. I WISH that I had time to micromanage! For the ENTIRE first year, Tyler Rogers had been on his own, working from home, any hours of his choosing, basically with the understanding and good faith that he knew what needed to be done. There were many points during development when I took him aside and told him that I was so swamped with ESTk and getting the graphics engine perfected for Patrick that I would not have time to lead gameplay. I literally told him that if he was not leading that front, we would fail. Every time he told me that he understood. Every time I was left disappointed.
During the summer, Patrick flew out from Poland to live with us for the final 6 months of development. Up until that point, we had mostly been working separately. Now that the entire team was here and crunch time was upon us, it was definitely time to begin working together on a set schedule. We rented the trailer next door to my house as our studio (where Patrick would live for the next 6 months) and agreed to work there every day…
At first Tyler was doing fairly well. He was showing up every day, helping set up network infrastructure, helping to manage build servers, etc. There was a LOT of work to be done initially that wasn’t directly relating to the game. We needed an automated build infrastructure, because shitting out builds for 5 different platforms manually after each bug fix was becoming unreasonable. I also wanted some level of automated testing infrastructure in place to do basic testing on builds, making sure nobody did anything stupid that broke a build for someone else. During this time period, I was also continuing my work on the game and engine. We came to find by reflecting back upon commits, that Tyler had more or less been doing nothing for ES during this time. There were a lot of fights about whether setting up servers was a full-time job or not and for the first time, Patrick and I started looking back at commit histories to see what Tyler had been up to… which (and I can prove) was sometimes absolutely nothing for weeks at a time. We came to realize that he hadn’t done anywhere near what the rest of us were doing for the past year.
To compound problems even further, Tyler was receiving a steady paycheck from the Kickstarter funds while Patrick and Cole weren’t being compensated at all. That wouldn’t have necessarily been a problem, as Tyler and I both had bills, houses, and a mortgage that we were paying for while I had an engineering job and Tyler worked IT… But even I couldn’t justify watching Patrick work himself halfway to death and not get a penny while Tyler was getting a paycheck to show up barely half the time. So this is probably where the “micromanagement” bullshit came from. We started having to enforce actual “work time.” We started checking commits. We started having to text him and message him on Skype asking him where the fuck he was when he wouldn’t show up. You think any of us wanted to do that? You think it was pleasant to have so much friction between the team and to continually have to be the bad guy? No, but it’s better than the alternative: pretending the problem didn’t exist.
There’s an even darker, bleaker aspect to all the drama that I haven’t yet revealed for fear of being indecent, but I’m not in a particularly hospitable mood currently, so what the fuck… It probably won’t come as any surprise to AiGD fans that we all dabbled in some level of performance enhancing substances. We’re all a bunch of ADHD-riddled high-achievers. Hell, I’ve had an adderall or vyvanse prescription for years on and off (I’m clean now, thank you very much). There were times when shit was so bleak and I was so stressed out and depressed that they may have honestly been the only things to get me through it. Could you wake up every day, give it your 120% coding something that pushed you mentally under the pressure of knowing that thousands of people were watching and your life’s dream is on the line if you fail? Could you sleep soundly? No, none of us are proud of our “dabbling,” but none of us are ashamed either… We did what we felt had to be done.
Anyway, I digress. It got to the point where the only productive work coming from Tyler was done on these medications. We could all see him becoming more and more dependent upon them every day just to get by… and I have no doubt that by the end he wasn’t just popping them to work, he was popping them to “feel normal.” We are all acquainted with those demons, and we had several “interventions.” At one point—I shit you not—I LITERALLY told him “Look, man, even if you show up for work feeling like shit and don’t write a single line of code, just come and play Sega Genesis at your desk until you feel better.” We just wanted to see some inkling of emotional investment… and he would STILL skip work… So the fighting and bitching would intensify.
The one day Patrick and I wake up to his mommy and daddy at our little devtrailer moving all of his stuff out. We weren’t given a single second heads up. Nobody had any idea that he would actually quit. We weren’t even allowed to commit the code or art we were working on. He took servers, routers, networking equipment, monitors, desks, and even Patrick’s bed… I can vividly remember (and you can see it in Adventures in Game Development) trying to get the team to keep their heads down and keep working while his shit was being moved out.
Before he quit, there was even a point when I saw trouble on the horizon and decided to help him out. After months of frustration from seeing no battle system materialize, I spent an entire week laying the Lua framework for all of combat to the point that it was essentially fill-in-the-blank with content for adding swords, guns, weapons, and enemies. I handed my work off to him, and somehow, miraculously, there was NO FUNCTIONAL COMBAT SYSTEM remaining by the time he left the team… The first thing I had to do was revert all of his work, and we used absolutely none of it.
The whole ordeal put us back quite a bit financially and temporally, because this was a large, unplanned interruption, but we recovered fairly quickly. As I had said in our Kickstarter update, it was one of the best things that had ever happened to ES. We were all so depressed and overworked. To do great engine, Toolkit, or art work and not actually see any cohesive gameplay experience materialize as a result was nothing short of excruciating. Once he left, I took over his position as well, and we very rapidly started making great progress with gameplay. We had a new sense of urgency and a newfound pride in our work and the direction of ES.
We had always said that if Tyler had simply sat down with us and said that he needed to take a break to get his shit together, we would have been more than accommodating… But instead, what he did was childish sabotage. Not only did he screw over 2k people who donated to our cause, but he has essentially destroyed a childhood friendship. I haven’t spoken to him since.
Yes, there are tons of alternate theories and rumors as to what happened. I just ask one thing here. Go back and rewatch the AiGD chapters throughout those months. Notice someone missing? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Even if you don’t believe a word I’m saying, his lack of work for months is clearly visible for all to see. He was in a grand total of ONE SEGMENT during that time, only because we grabbed the camera and literally forced him to show off what he was working on.
As for the people claiming we “took the money and ran,” that’s a level of idiocy that doesn’t even warrant a proper anger response from me. All you have to do is watch one chapter of AiGD to see that we were literally working our asses off the entire time, and we are continuing to do so today.
On the 8th of October last year, Jed Whitaker posted an article called “Indie dev’s angry rant demonstrates the stress after being Kickstarted” on destructoid (https://archive.is/6t839). And you responded with the following (I borrowed the text from your “Misadventures in Kickstarter Crowdfunding: Episode 1” video):
“Well, woke up to my face on the front page of Destructoid, flipping two birds at the audience, with the caption of “Fungal Asshole.”
…I ain’t even mad. As a matter of fact, this is the most fun I’ve had on YouTube in years. Have at it, boys. Thanks for the free PR and marketing! Enjoy the show!”
Personally, I feel like the article was something of a cheap shoot. As Destructoid was kicking on someone who´s already down on the ground (you). In other words, they took advantage of the situation to get some clicks at your expense. What´s your thoughts on that? And what did you feel when I realized that you were on the front page of Destructoid? (besides what you already mentioned in your video).
I think a lot of people misunderstood what “The Misadventures in Kickstarter Crowdfunding” was. It was supposed to be a stress outlet for me. In AiGD, what we did looks almost fashionable to people. Staying up all night, chugging coffee, fighting the good fight… it was all so romantic and heroic… But there was a growing discord with what I felt and what I think we were projecting in AiGD, and I wanted something more real and more raw that more accurately represented what was going on. I hate the cognitive dissonance of feeling like I’m being fake on the internet… I wanted something with dark humor that was slightly self-deprecating. As the name “Teaser” was supposed to imply, that was just one tiny segment (meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek) from what was going to be a larger, AiGD-style episode. Unfortunately when Tyler decided to post it all over Reddit with his fake accounts accusing us of being “Whiny Brats,” it was very easily taken out of context…
The comment about me making YouTube videos like I was “a 12 year-old again,” was meant as a jab at myself. I used do AiGD, because I loved the indie fame and attention, but as I grew up, it kind of became more of a job for me. It became something I did to promote my work and for my fans, and I lost those delusions of grandeur. Something that was originally very self-centric and egotistical for me became actually very selfless.
Honestly, Destructoid could have said almost anything and I really wouldn’t have given a shit… I am often accused of being a narcissist, but I don’t really take myself anywhere near as seriously as people think I do… I spent most of that night rolling around on the floor laughing my ass off at my face on the front page… I thought it was fucking great, and I still do.
I have received several messages from people who discovered us on Reddit and from that Destructoid article saying that they are so glad the publicity allowed them to find us. As a matter of fact, that was probably our best week yet as far as website sales go. Like I always say, in a business where Zoe Quinn gets 1000x more publicity than our Kickstarter did just for what she did with her vagina, no publicity is bad publicity… It’s a fucked up world we live in, but take what you can get and run with it.
I know that a lot of indie developers have a really hard time getting around (food, lack of sleep, money and so on). I mean, I remember when I read an article about Dennaton Games (Jonatan Söderström and artist Dennis Wedin, the Hotline Miami lads). And I think it was Jonatan Söderström that basically lived on fish sticks and noodles for a very long time. Even so, I have to admit that it was rather painful to hear and watch your “Misadventures in Kickstarter Crowdfunding Trailer”. As I had no idea that you went through all of these problems, pains and challenges. In fact, this is the actual description of that video:
“The Misadventures in Game Development is a spin-off side series based on the Adventures in Game Development, featuring a unique mixture of comedy, satire, self-loathing, and sarcasm brought to you by that one (sexy, good-looking) dude developing the engine, toolkit, and now gameplay and scripting, and everything fucking else that needs to be coded for Elysian Shadows.
Follow us on a journey of self discovery as we venture through hell and back again, taking a cold, hard look at life in the shoes of an indie game developer crunching for an upcoming Kickstarter release. Unfortunately the glamour and decadence are all a facade. We aren’t snorting cocaine off of hookers’ asses… We’re sitting in our underwear coding and living off of coffee and protein bars every single day. Welcome to the fucking struggle, gentlemen. Fasten your seat belts and enjoy the ride.”
And just the text alone screams of anger, frustration and tons of stress. And if I´m not wrong now, you did catch a fungal infection, start losing hair, and you also burned yourself out in the process? So, why didn´t anyone help you guys? Or was it just too hard to find the right talent that you needed at the time?
Haha, damn, I forgot how good the description was for MiKC! Honestly, it kind of comes with the territory. Everyone wants to make an indie game, but almost nobody does. It takes a level of dedication bordering on insanity and a generous dose of masochism to make it happen. You almost have to like pushing yourself to the limits of what you can physically and mentally take. You have to get off on continually fighting against the odds, and sometimes it’s a losing game. You have to be able to get kicked to the curb continually then get back up again and get right back to fighting for it.
What makes our project so much worse is the fact that we are doing something so new and novel that there really isn’t much help out there for us. This isn’t just something we’re slapping together in Unity. This is an all new artistic and technical direction also for a platform that isn’t even supported anymore. The learning curve for what we do is astronomical, and we don’t have the resources to pay graduate-level engineers and artists to join us… Instead we’ve had to rely on “friends” who have not necessarily been on our level to help us get by… and that’s kind of exacerbated the problem.
Something a lot of people overlook is that we’re just making a “game.” That’s not what we’re doing. We’re making a game, an engine, an a Toolkit. Plenty of people on our Kickstarter backed us and bought the game just for access to our tools, because they want to make Dreamcast games or “Next-Gen” 2D games using our development suite.
What´s the current status with “Elysian Shadows” today? Because I read the “Team Drama, Combat Engine, 4 Player Local Multiplayer, Delays” post earlier today (it was posted on the 9th of December last year). And that was a really heavy read, and sadly enough I can relate to some of the stuff that you´ve gone through (people who steal stuff, lie and don´t deliver what they have promised).
The game itself is materializing epically; it’s just behind schedule. Yeah, the drama sucked, yeah, we had days where we wanted to kill ourselves, but it was all for the best in the end. I think Patrick and I can and are doing a much better job with combat and gameplay… Then there’s also a super SUPER surprise on the not-so-distant horizon that I literally am not even allowed to talk about. Like literally. I’m under an NDA. But trust me, it’s going to be game-changing (pun intended), and for the first time in quite a while, none of us are depressed working on ES. We’re just super excited for the future.
Not so long ago Bertie Wiseman stated that he was quite excited for “Elysian Shadows”, and he also asked you if it´s possible for you to make a port of the game for a potential new SEGA console. What´s your take on that? And what do you think about Project Dream so far?
I’m such a nerd that I port ES to different platforms in my free time just for fun, and we’re already planning to support pretty much everything under the sun, so you can 100% count on Elysian Shadows and ESTk supporting the crap out of any form of Dreamcast successor there is.
I have seen so many of these Dreamcast 2 movements come and go without materializing into anything, but I must say if any of them were to have the momentum to actually make a difference, this would definitely be the one. Count us in.
When, where and why did all the Reddit hate start against you and “Elysian Shadows”?
Apparently I pissed Tyler off with the Misadventures in Kickstarter Crowdfunding Teaser, so he decided to use his army of Ayn Rand-oriented fake Reddit accounts to repost it along with bashing us as being spoiled, whiny, and running off with the money… How do I know those were his accounts? Because they were the same fake accounts we used to use on Reddit to promote ES during our Kickstarter. Surprise! 😉
How have you, your fans, supporters, friends and family cooped with all the drama and setbacks with the “Elysian Shadows”project so far? Personally, I got stressed out just reading about all of your past events (no offense meant).
Yeah, it has probably been the single most stressful event of my life. I have always been the kind of guy who loved basking in stress and triumphing. I ate it up. I loved being able to do what other people couldn’t do… But for the first time in my entire life, I felt myself drowning in it.
For the first time in my life, I stopped reading YouTube comments. I was always the kind of guy who prided myself in reading every single one, no matter how negative, and trying to take the criticism constructively… but there’s a point where it becomes literally cancerous. Where the comments are so stupid, so misinformed, and so hateful, that there is literally nothing constructive to be gained by reading them… I’ve removed myself from that situation.
I have definitely spent a considerable amount of time beating myself up over what has happened, being depressed, being angry (especially at fucktards on Reddit), and being anxious… but I have never been the kind of person to take the sort of thing laying down.
I took a few weeks off and spent every single day back at the gym. I’m eating nothing but health foods, and I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m off of all medication, and I took up meditation. I even traded coffee for green tea. During this time I also went back and started replaying all of the classics that influenced Elysian Shadows: Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, A Link To The Past, Final Fantasy 6, and Phantasy star for inspiration. I tried to get myself physically and mentally prepared for round 2, and this time I will be able to handle the stress gracefully. Bring it the fuck on.
What´s your thoughts on the established Gaming news media after everything that you have been through so far? Did they tell the truth most of the time, or did they run hit pieces and tabloid like articles about “Elysian Shadows”?
For the most part, my opinion on them was established right around the time of our Kickstarter. Here we were once again killing ourselves, working day and night to promote this game that we poured our hearts and souls into… We raised nearly $50k in a SINGLE DAY, which was unheard of. We had tens of thousands of subscribers on YouTube. We were a BIG deal… But what were they covering? Zoe Quinn and what she was doing with her vagina.
It’s a sad fucking day when sites supposedly covering game development could care less about it. They only care about the latest sensational story. I’m sure once ES releases and is successful, they will all come crawling back to us for a story… I eagerly await the day. Until that time, I always recommend that everyone does what we did: Build your own audience. That’s what Adventures in Game Development was about. It was about getting our message out and allowing people to become emotionally involved in our project without having to suck the crooked cock of the gaming press.
If you could go back in time before the Kickstarter campaign even started, what would you have changed? And why?
Part of me wants to say something about being more careful with who we allowed on the team or to be more involved in management… But I’m a man of few regrets, and in the end everything has worked out perfectly for us. I’m not so sure that this gigantic surprise we have in store would have come to fruition if we were on schedule, and it has honestly taken away all of the pain, the suffering, and the depression from us. It magically made everything worth it for us in the end… So I don’t know… maybe I wouldn’t change anything. This is a slight misstep on our long road to greatness. Don’t forget games like Fez were also extremely late, and once they were released nobody gave a shit about that… It’s remembered for being an amazing game, not for being late.
Do you have any advice to give to other indie developers out there on how they best could avoid the setbacks which you (and your team) had to tackle?
Actually, not really. It feels kind of arrogant to preach about how to manage a team when as of now, I haven’t really done it successfully. The best advice I can give is on managing yourself. Kickstarter and crowdfunding is a marathon of stress. It’s not a sprint. Things that may have worked for you in the short-term like staying up all night, chugging coffee, taking adderall, etc. will not cut it in the long-term. I advise you to prioritize your health first. Get a gym membership. Go running. Boost your dopamine and serotonin levels naturally and build your resilience like that… Because Kickstarter is fucking ruthless, and if you aren’t able to take the stress, it will chew you up and spit you out.
Is there anything else which you would like to tell our readers? (goals, achievements, plans and so on).
Actually, yeah, there is one thing. Don’t take the silence the wrong way. We’ve had plenty of periods of silence on YouTube, between AiGD Chapters, and we’ve always popped back up to surprise the shit out of everyone with awesome progress to show off… We’re in an awkward place right now, where Patrick and I are the main developers, and we’re in different continents. We’re also under an NDA with something huge brewing, so we don’t want to spoil anything… I know there are a lot of rumors going around the internet, but just let the idiots talk. We have our heads down working, and at the end of the day that’s what matters… It’ll only be a matter of time before we make a triumphant return to AiGD, and I have never been more excited.
Robin “V-Act” Ek
The Gaming Ground
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