Month: December 2014


2014, like 2013, is a year that contained huge swaths of stuff I’d much rather never think about again.

I’m not going to go into it here, for reasons that I wish were obvious to most folks, but it’s been made clear to me over and over again that they’re not. Regardless, even as vague as that is, that’s all I’m gonna write about it. Professionally-speaking, the first half of 2014 can go fuck itself over and over again until the end of time.

IMG_8175Personally, where it’s possible to separate the two, 2014 was awesome. The kids are great. 2014’s driving characteristic, honestly, is “lack of sleep”, but aside from that, we’ve got two of the greatest kids I could ask for. They get along great, they’re funny, they’re constantly learning and growing, they’re generally really positive and happy, and if K slept through the night, we’d be in a really great place. Ei-Nyung’s mom has also helped us a TON this year, and we’d be much, much worse off without her help at critical times.

This was a year where we spent a huge amount of time at the Piedmont pool. Since I was unemployed, I started swimming a bit, and I brought J&K to the pool as well. J went from hating it to loving it in the span of a day or two, and K has zero fear of the water, which is both awesome and terrifying. That’s been one thing that’s been a really clear distinction between the two kids – J had tended to be inherently cautious, while K is just like blaaaaaaah!  And for the record, both approaches are great, and valuable, and it’s really interesting to see how differently they both approach things.

We did a good amount this year. Had a great trip to Maui, went to El Sargento, made some new friends, spent a lot of time with old ones – never enough, really, but our lives are all different than they were, and given what they are now I’ll take what I can get and appreciate it. I *deeply* love the friends that I have, and whether I see them one day a year, or they come IMG_5620over for dinner a few times a month, or we grab lunch every few weeks, it’s great to have such a bunch of caring, generous, and god-damned brilliant people I can call my friends. I’m really, really lucky in that regard, and I never, ever take it for granted.

The latter half of 2014 turned around when Ei-Nyung suggested we do a startup together. I wouldn’t have ever expected that before, but this year it made perfect sense, and thus Wonderspark was born. It’s been a really satisfying, really interesting experience so far, because even though this is my 2nd startup, this phase of it is stuff I didn’t have to do with the previous one. So it’s been a really good learning experience. I think the one key takeaway is that your message can never be simple or clear enough, and when you’ve got it down to the least it can possibly be, you’re still an order of magnitude off. Every time the message gets simpler, it gets better.

We’ve now spent a good deal of time talking to investors, and it’s clear that in this environment, raising money is going to be an uphill battle. That’s fine – it’s what we expected, and we’re fortunate enough to be able to crank away at this for a good long while without needing to go find other jobs. The disappointing thing is that we can’t just bootstrap and hire other people at this point, but well, it is what it is. Either we’ll find some folks who are interested in working with us for equity, or we’ll find some way to get a product out with what we have. Either can work.

I had a bunch of resolutions last year. With any of the “lose X pounds,” I failed miserably. I did get a public speaking gig this year, which was one of my bigger ambitions. I gave a talk at the Lean Startup Conference, which you can find here. “Um” is the thing I’ve gotta fix the most, I guess. 😀 Maybe in 2016, GDC. If you watch it, and have any other feeIMG_8080dback, a comment would be greatly appreciated.

Went to a lot of trackdays, and found that the real cost of these is (for me) in brakes and tires. Ha. Gotta get some trackday-specific wheels & tires at some point. I’m thinking I might try it by just switching to Yokohama Advan Neova AD08r’s on the stock rims, trying that, and then if that works, getting a set of dedicated wheels. During the summer, when it’s guaranteed to be dry. Learned a ton, though, and had a lot of fun with friends. Not much to complain about there.

The last of my resolutions for the year, though, were that by the end of the year, I’d control my own destiny. It’s weird, and it cost a lot in many, many ways, but that is something I was able to accomplish in 2014. And it’s the reason 2015 is gonna be fucking awesome.

Cabo Trip!

Trip Notes

We left Oakland at 9am. Picked up Halmoni and headed to the airport for an 11:20 flight to Los Cabos. Everything went well, though traveling with two kids & two carseats is never trivial.

The flight was smooth – 3 hours and change, but what I hadn’t expected until reading the notes that day was another 2 hours of driving on the other end of the journey. The flight was a bizarre juggling of Kuno & Jin with me & Ei-Nyung + Halmoni, with a C & P thrown in in completely random places for good measure.

After arriving, we needed to get the car rentals, which was more of an adventure than it should have been, even though we were forewarned of the additional $45/day in *mandatory* insurance, which more than tripled the base cost of the rental. Some folks who hadn’t read up on things ended up quite surprised, and at least one other person in line ended up storming out of the place in a huff. This is really dumb, car rental folks. Just put up honest rates and you’re gonna have a lot fewer angry customers.

We needed to get supplies & food, and we weren’t sure what was going to be in El Sargento, other than the house owners had said it was a small place, without even an ATM. So we decided to stop by a nearby supermarket, where we picked up a bunch of food. Ended up eating there, since we were all pretty hungry. Was about as good as any other lousy steam-tray style supermarket lunch, which was to say, “Not particularly good.”

Next up was the 2+ hour drive from Los Cabos to La Ventana to El Sargento. Eric led the way, and we were just following, and by the time we were on the road after getting our stuff, getting the cars, and getting food, it was already completely dark. The drive was fun, though – lots of twisty turny bits, and it was only at the end where conditions got a bit dire. I don’t know why folks put speed bumps in large streets, though, other than a handful of folks probably nuke their suspensions hitting them at way to fast, because there’s no warning they’re coming and few clearly posted speed markers. Still, we noticed them all, nothing bad happened.

Last bits of the drive were on dirt roads – turns out El Sargento is a pretty small town. The house we’re in is pretty nice – a main living area connected to an open kitchen, along with three bedrooms & two bathrooms. You can go up onto the roof easily & look at the stars. It’s not a huge place, but it does have direct beach access by walking down a bunch of stairs, which makes it TOTALLY AWESOME.

Every day basically starts on the beach. Eric’s done a lot of kiteboarding, but for us, it’s mostly just playing in the sand and some in the surf. I went out and snorkeled for a bit – it’s fine – there’s some coral, and there are a handful of cool fish, but at least so far it’s been too murky and too choppy to really be something to *cough cough* write home about. Eric also got stung by a jellyfish, so I’ve been a little paranoid floating around out there.

We’ve cooked a lot of fish tacos, made tons of guacamole and had a lot of good food, mostly home-made. We went out to eat at Las Palmas last night, and it was fine, but it wasn’t leagues better than what we’re making out of the local ingredients. The one notable exception was their beef tacos, which were delicious. I could have eaten a bunch more of those. We’ve been getting fish from a local place that catches whatever that day, and it’s been great.

The kids are getting along as well as can be expected. They squabble over stuff here and there, but for the most part, are content to run around and have adventures basically non-stop. It’s nice to see J & K so happy to be running around on their own. J & I read through “How to Train Your Dragon”, and I was surprised by how not at all like the movie it is. We also read through “The Complete Book of Dragons”, which was fun – J’s drawn a lot of dragons over the last few days.

K has really gotten down his “Yes” on this trip. He’s been using it sporadically before, but now you can ask him almost anything with a yes/no answer, and he’ll answer you. You might have to ask a few times to get an *accurate* response, but he’s way more communicative now as a result, which is awesome. He’s been having a *blast*, and it’s great to see. He runs around a lot with the bigger kids, and when he’s not up to that, he’s hanging out/spending time with Halmoni. He’s still not sleeping well, which is not great, but ah, well. What can you do?

We’ve shuffled sleeping arrangements around a lot. Most nights, J is in Halmoni’s room, but one night I slept in there while J & C slept in the same bed. Last night, I slept with K while Ei-Nyung slept out on a couch in the living room, and that didn’t go particularly well for anyone. Still, feels like things are slowly getting better. Or I’m delusional. I dunno. K was sick for a bit, and he’s still stuffy, but it seems like he’s on the upswing, at least. Nothing gets that kid down. When he’s awake, he’s happy. When he’s asleep, he’s fine. The only time he’s sad is when he’s making the transition either way.

Today we hiked for about an hour up and down the beach trying (unsuccessfully) to find hot springs. More later, but so far, it’s been a really nice trip.

Professional Unfulfillment

I’m just trying to sort through some feelings. I don’t mean for this to come off as a humblebrag or anything else. I’m just trying to work through things, so I’ll be talking about how I feel about things. If you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, skip this post. I’m probably going to sound like a jackass.

Over the last fifteen years, I think it’d be very difficult for me to make a serious argument that things haven’t gone well. I assumed it would take years to get a game design position, much less a position where I’d do anything other than execute on whatever someone else told me. Instead, I made quick career progress, got to work on a wide variety of fun stuff with a decent hitrate for success, I founded a company (mostly) that did *extremely* well, we made a number of things all of which I’m quite proud of, and yet, I find myself feeling like basically my professional life isn’t even close to being a success. In many ways, it feels like a total failure.

I think the problem is that we achieved a certain level of monetary success that allows us to be comfortable, but not to have *control* over our lives – that is, we don’t have enough that we can essentially not work for the indefinite future & do crazy shit like travel the world. Well, I mean, we certainly could in the short term, but my worry is that unfortunately, both of our careers have “short fuses”, where if you’re out of the industry for a few years, getting back into it is not all that different than starting completely over. So I don’t feel like we can fully take a break and not suffer the consequences of that in the longer term.

And the frustrating thing about that is essentially the result we got was the *best* we could. We made what has been at times the #1 grossing app in the App Store, and over its lifespan, one of the most financially successful games on iOS, period. And you’d think that might be enough to retire on, but due to the circumstances of how it was started, and how it all ended, nope. And I’m realistic – we’ll certainly try to make something great again, but hitting that sort of financial jackpot is *always* a huge roll of the dice, even if you’ve done the best work you can. No one can predict with any degree of serious accuracy what will succeed. So we’ll give it our best shot, and see what happens.

But that’s not really what it is. Because I don’t really care about the money. I mean, I care, sure, but it’s not like I set out to make $. I set out to try and build an amazing team that could make amazing games. And I *did* succeed at that. Much, much better than I would have hoped. For a while, it was *exactly* what I wanted. And maybe that’s part of the problem. I know it’s possible. Or at least, I know it *was* possible. And as much as I want it to be possible again, I don’t know how it’ll work out. Sometimes, I just want to work with the same folks again, and try to recapture that magic. But time has passed. Everyone’s at a different phase in their lives now. I constantly worry that one day, when we can secure funding, or whenever it makes sense to hire someone, that we’ll hang our shingle out there… and no one will show up.

That *constantly* terrifies me, and I feel like the fact that it does is a fundamental indicator that things aren’t right.

All I want is to love what I’m working on, and work with people that I care deeply about, who are also passionate, and driven, and creative, and crazy. I want for us all to work in service of the same cause – to make something awesome that no one’s seen before, that people *love* to play. And for all that to happen so many things need to line up just right. Because what it comes down to is that at this point in my life, I don’t *want* to start over. I don’t *want* to start with a team of strangers, even though many of the strangers that we hired in the past are now close friends. I want us to start this thing with people we care about, because the *reason* we’re starting this thing is to make something better, not just for players, but for the team. Even before, the driving force was always to try and make a company that treated its employees extraordinarily. Not just with perk-related bullshit, but by actually caring about people, and building a real team. And right now, we’re not there.

I feel like for a while, even though he has *no idea who I am*, Stewart Butterfield & I lived in semi-parallel worlds. He was running Tiny Speck, which made Glitch, and we were building Fleck. Two games that some folks put in the same pool, and we had such similar arcs to the games, from smallness to a passionate userbase that never grew to ultimate failure. And Tiny Speck continues on into Slack, where they’ve now achieved the double-whammy – tremendous financial success *because* they’ve built something people absolutely love. I’m jealous. Honestly. I don’t mean that in a mean way, I don’t wish them ill. I’m just jealous.

I guess it took him from Flickr to Tiny Speck to Slack, and for me, I’m maybe in the middle phase – the entire arc of the previous company was the first act, and the third act is where it comes together. Maybe I just need to be patient, work out where the funding comes from, and just keep cranking away at things until we crack that nut. Maybe I’m just insecure, and I think the team I wanted to work with doesn’t want to work with me anymore. I don’t know.

So much is going so well, and that one thing eats at me constantly, because if it’s true, it means everything I thought I’d succeeded in over the last six years wasn’t actually a success. And even dealing with that potential is a frustrating, strange, and bitter pill to swallow.