December 18, 2012

Dreams of Failure

I graduate college in 3 months. I filed the paperwork and started a company almost a year ago, but after getting hammered by homework, it is sitting in dilapidation. For five years I've fought to try and make my dreams a reality. For five years, I've failed, miserably. I am more fortunate than most in that my parents are perfectly willing to let me stay with them throughout college, so failure is relatively painless for me.

I have failed at almost everything I have ever attempted to do. Be it a combination of foolish ambition or rash decisions, the only projects I ever actually completed were pathetically simplistic, and usually done for school. It started when I was 12, and tried to build a campaign for Age of Mythology, a real project I could call my own instead of simply tinkering and upgrading existing ideas. I made half of one mission and gave up.

When I was 13, I was introduced to Freelancer, and became very interested in building mods for it. I volunteered to help an attempt at recreating the Halo universe inside Freelancer. For almost 2 years I tried to help in various ways without having any real skills by organizing schedules and development plans. Then I got myself banned from very mod I'd worked on so hard, and had my dreams crushed by a lead developer who screamed at me for being a useless piece of shit that just annoyed the crap out of everyone for two years instead of doing anything useful.

A short while later, I teamed up with someone else who had left that same mod for unrelated reasons in an attempt to rebuild an open-source version of Freelancer that would be bigger and better in every way. At least this time I knew it was stupidly ambitious, but I was hoping that by creating it as a community effort that ambition could be met by the combined skills of many people. Obviously, this never worked. It never even got close to working. I had no idea what I was doing, learned the basics of C++ only a few months ago, and had no idea how to build a 3D game.

In the middle of this, I got my first programming job as a royalty-only, laughable attempt at making a spiritual successor to the Descent series. I was forced to work with an artist who was completely fucking insane and a manager who was either totally incompetent or hopelessly idealistic. A month after taking the job, the last remaining programmer quit, leaving me, a 15-year-old high school kid, as the "lead programmer" of a game when I had no idea what I was doing. I quit 2 months later and learned never to take royalty pay, ever.

After finally giving up on my stupid open-source freelancer project, I played Cave Story, and realized that instead of using someone else's graphics engine, I could build my own. If Cave Story can make a compelling game with such a basic graphics engine, surely I could too? Back then, the best open-source 2D graphics were SDL, which didn't do much more than draw things on the screen. I decided I would build a better, open-source engine in C#. Like everything else I had ever worked on, it was a disaster.

After rebuilding the engine in C++ and coming up with some rather inventive ideas for how to do unusual 2D graphics, I quickly realized that it should really be a proprietary engine. For the first time I began thinking about making a living through my own projects instead of working for some giant corporation. It was at this point I saw an incredible flash animation and sent some very bad fanart to a certain amazing person. I had a vision of something truly remarkable, something amazing, the missing link to my constant daydreams and fantasies and bizarre programming experiments. When I discovered that this person I was practically worshipping as an idol had similar ideas, I instantly knew that I had to find a way to make it happen. In the spring of 2008, everything in my entire life became focused on achieving one, singular goal - make that game idea into reality.

That summer, I landed an internship at Microsoft and spent 3 months working the only real job I've ever had. I hated it. The entire time I had been working on a much simpler 2D game idea, hoping it would serve as practice for what my cave-story imitation had morphed into - an epic multiplayer focused game that bore absolutely no resemblance to the original game idea. It was supposed to be my company's breakout title, a way to generate the funds needed to build my idol's game idea, and I'd build most of it during my last year of high school as my senior project.

The incredibly basic 2D game idea imploded after I realized I couldn't write my own physics engine. Instead, I started using Box2D, and set out trying to construct the epic multiplayer game. It was a catastrophic failure of massive proportions. By the end of the year all I had to show for my project was a stupid jeep driving across a platform. I passed anyway, and somehow got accepted into the University of Washington, but only once I wrote them an angry appeal letter after being rejected.

I prepared to move out and start my new life free of my parents. Ok, the game hadn't worked out, but that summer I'd get the rest of the basics done, and during my first college quarter I can get an initial alpha out and I'll be able to pay for my dorm that way! This, of course, was also a complete and utter failure. I ran back home with my tail between my legs after only a single quarter in that hellhole and half my savings gone from paying for housing, after realizing half my engine was broken and needed to be rebuilt from scratch. I also discovered that I was terrible at network programming.

I figured I needed help on focusing on work more, so I tried to build a productivity app, only to learn that GTK+ is almost impossible to work with and Qt has a 1.5 gigabyte SDK of madness. Then I tried to build an alternative to MSN after its servers kept crashing and dropping messages, but that failed miserably for similar reasons. It was around this time I realized that the one thing I thought I hadn't failed at - my simple audio engine - was actually complete garbage and almost totally useless.

Throughout my second year, I attempted to reconstruct the engine, and intended to port it to C# so a friend could use it. This, of course, also failed. It was during my second year I came up with a pivotal, brilliant idea that I was never able to work on because I lacked the foundation necessary to make it feasible. My work on that foundation was then interrupted by realizing I needed to build a physics editor, which in turn made me realize that CEGUI is terrible. So not only did I fail to reconstruct the engine, I also failed to build the physics editor, and every single other editor, and the editor I built to make editors.

By chance, at the beginning of 2011, the amazing person I still considered an idol suddenly needed a programmer for his game. Seizing the opportunity, I successfully got a chance to build a prototype, put everything else on hold and got to work immediately.

Then my mom had a heart attack and nearly died. I became more determined than ever to make sure 2011 would be the year I finally managed to do something. Anything. So of course I discovered my animation system was broken and eventually had to put the prototype on hold. Then I only got a 3.4 in the computer science class, and ended up having to major in Applied Mathematics instead of computer science because they wouldn't let me in. Thus, I had failed at getting into the major that was the entire reason I had wanted to attend the UW in the first place.

I wanted to get serious, and finally created my company sometime in November 2011, possibly more out of desperation than for any real reason. I completely failed at finishing anything at all for 2011. I decided 2012 would be the year everything changed and went back to my physics editor, determined to make it work.

So of course I failed at that too. Then I failed at finishing my productivity manager. Then I tried to build a puzzle game so drop-dead simple there was no way I couldn't finish it and completely failed anyway. At this point college dumped so much homework on me I was virtually incapacitated for 6 months. I was convinced I had to get the puzzle game to at least be functional by the end of summer 2012, so naturally I failed to do that. I then decided I needed the tile game to be up and running with a demo in a month or two, and continued my amazing streak of utter failure.

2012 is almost over and the world is supposed to end in a few days. Two weeks ago I released my first commercial album. After my entire life being a miserable failure at everything I cared about, I decided my goal for the album was to make a measly $45. Surely, I can meet a goal that is so pathetically low all it does is pay off how much it cost to get it into iTunes and Google Play? I was pushing the album on every single social media outlet I had access to. I made $15.

2013 will be my sixth year of fighting for this dream. My dream has been torn apart and shredded into a ghost of what it once was. Now all I want is to just be able to feed myself without living in my parent's house. Screw being famous or rich, I just want to make a living doing something that doesn't make me want to throw myself off a cliff. I guess wanting a job that you don't absolutely despise is stupid, idealistic thinking.

I wish I had something to show. I wish I could say, look at this thing I built that nobody is looking at! But I've failed at everything so hard I don't have a single completed project. The only thing I have to show for the last 5 years is a useless piece of paper in a major I didn't even want and a list of failures so long it's disturbing to look at. So why then, do I continue in this hilariously idealistic dream that is clearly never going to work? Because I am numb to failure at this point. I can't do anything else. I simply trudge onward, relentlessly fighting against this endless storm of not being good enough, hoping that next year, next year will be different... I will fail a thousand times if I have to just to make this happen.

Because dreams are worth fighting for.


  1. Hey man. I feel for you and I can relate to that feeling greatly. My lesson would be to take life at smaller chunks.
    What worked for me is being both more realistic about my abilities as a programmer and what I'm capable of developing as a single person. As well as making more concrete and realistic plans.

    1. What bugs me the most is that I have constantly toned down my projects in terms of ambition over and over and over and over and have still failed to complete any of them. At this point many of them are getting stupidly simplistic and yet I still have difficulty.

  2. Hi there.
    If you want to make more money with your music, you should probably think about you markteting strategy. There are so many tools you can use to download from youtube or bandcamp for free. People will rather use them instead of supporting you...
    If I already had my own bank account I'd totally buy the Solar Noise - Ep album (I'm only 15), because you Sir are one of best music artists ever. And I know you can't even buy a sandwich for that...
    I can only wish you the best of luck and hope you won't give up on your dreams.

    Merry Christmas
    (and sorry for my bad school english. Im still learning it)

    1. Trying to stop people from illegally downloading your music is NOT an effective marketing strategy. If you don't upload the songs to youtube, someone else will, and if you take those down, someone ELSE will, in an endless cycle. Both Bandcamp and Soundcloud can be bypassed by digging into the temporary files cache. Anything else can be bypassed by simply recording what's coming out of your speakers. The most I do is prevent any actual download buttons so people understand that I expect them to buy the songs, but attempting to stop them from illegally downloading the songs is a waste of time. What's more important is exposure that directs people to an online store where they can purchase it.

  3. You do make awesome music though!
    Aurora Theory is amazing and I'm surprised you didn't choose to sell that album. It's something I'd buy!

    1. Aurora Theory is incomplete and all the songs on it are available for free, so I can't really sell it. Once I finish the album, I'll go back and remaster all the songs and then sell that.

  4. Dude. I totally feel you. I'm one of those people who always has a side project going. That's what I've done for the past ten years. Always gotta have something else going, to keep the creativity flowing. Guess what? None of the projects I've worked on I've finished. Not a single one. Why? Because I've always gotta start from scratch. I've got to re-invent the wheel... because I want to know how the wheel works. I like to understand the insides. It's fair to say I love the process much, much more than the result. But the result impresses people. The result is what gets you noticed. So I've been trying to find a project I can actually finish, too. Little things. And I'm in the same boat -- even the little things I'm having trouble finishing. Why? I think for me, it's that I can find minutiae even in the little things. I can find a reason to fail. I get stuck very, very easily. I want to make it perfect. I place the bar very high. I want what I produce to match perfectly what I have in my head. And I can think big. But I am just one person... with very little time... and a limited attention span. The longest project I worked on lasted three years. And it was a lot of fun... but it ultimately wasn't what I wanted to do.

    I think the challenge is just that -- finding something you really want to do, that's so worthwhile that you could work on it forever and still get joy out of it.

    So what is it you really want to do? What's a dream that's really worthwhile?

    1. I've known what my ultimate goal is for a while. How I get there has constantly changed.

  5. I might be a jerk for saying this, but, I loved this post. Not because of the hilarious honesty.
    Not because of the witty writing.
    Not because of the foolhardy but charming ambition of a student programmer.
    Not even because of the shared pathos of failure that gives this piece its power.
    I loved it, because being a graduating senior at a similarly competitive university, its nice to know that I'm not the only one whose constantly failing to meet his own objectives and falling behind the path his idols set.
    Thank you for that. May Misery be thy Muse xD.

    1. That is actually exactly why I wrote this in the first place, in case anyone else was out there consistently failing at everything they try to do.