The night before Early Access
The night before Early Access

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s almost curtain time! We’ve been rehearsing for months with a limited audience. Now we’re about to take this show on the road. Bring it to the masses, as it were.

Yes, this means the Early Access launch is nigh! The wait is measured in weeks instead of months. Soon we’re going to put Early Access live on our Steam storefront and officially start this party. Are you excited? ‘Cause I’m excited! Also terrified. But you know, there is no opportunity for courage in the absence of fear.

So this means we’re approaching the end of Act 1 in the NewCity narrative. Time for a bit of an intermission while we set the stage for Act 2 and all the craziness to come. We’re feature locked as of now while we prep for Early Access. That means no new features—just bug fixing and polish over the next few weekly releases.

Hey, at least we got trains in before the lock.

I like trains
I like trains

We’re using the spectacular Asana for bug tracking, as it provides a handy interface for creating tasks and updating them with comments on our progress. If you’re involved with a team of any size working on just about any sort of project, I can’t recommend Asana enough. Especially in the post-cubicle world we find ourselves in. When working remote, it helps to have some central locations for sharing info and tracking progress—and Asana makes it easy. No, this isn’t a sponsored post. Why do you ask?

But in all seriousness, it’s a great resource! I won’t often namedrop the tools we’re using behind the scenes to make the magic happen, so rest assured when I do so, it’s because I genuinely find value in the product.

Speaking of products, let’s talk a bit about the IndieGoGo rewards. If you contributed at the Factory tier or above, your wait for swag is almost over. We’re coordinating the production of the NewCity t-shirts and 3D printed skyscrapers in preparation for shipping them. At present, it looks like they’ll be going out around a little after the launch of Early Access. Thank you for your patience thus far—we’re a small team with a lot of spinning plates in the air, but we haven’t forgotten our commitments! We’ll update you with more info as we get closer.

Prosperity can be hard to find
Prosperity can be hard to find

Let’s talk about game development. Not as pertains to NewCity, but in the abstract. This is a strange season of life we’ve entered, one where most of us are cooped up at home, either working remotely or trying to find ways to fill the time. Those of us who aren’t already engaged with one project or another may have an abundance of free time to fill. Perhaps you’re once again able to entertain interests, hobbies, and dreams that had fallen by the wayside.

It’s an excellent opportunity. And if Google Search Metrics are any indication, many people are choosing to fill this free time by learning a new skill or making good on dusty dreams. Perhaps you have an interest in game development. I sure hope so—I may not be of much use in any other realm. Assuming that you do, or that you’re bored enough to entertain the idea of tinkering with a game of your own, this next section is for you.

Cast yourself back in your mind’s eye to March of 2018. What were you doing? It may have been a month just like any other for you. Or perhaps you have some momentous milestone that immediately springs to mind. I know I do. March of 2018 was the moment I broke free of a proverbial fog bank of aimlessness and uncertainty with a single minded goal—I was going to make a game. I was in a season between jobs, where the only paths forward I could see led me down dark alleys and deeper into the savage wilderness of life. I knew that I had a rare opportunity on my hands, as well as time and the motivation to make good on it.

That’s all well and good. But where do you start? Hmm…

I wasn’t about to let such questions stop me. I had heard a lot about this Unity engine indie devs were using, and it sounded as good as any other. So I downloaded it, launched the editor, and stared at it for a bit. Really stared. You know the sort of staring I’m talking about—where your eyes cross and your vision blurs, and if there was an animal hidden in the background image it would jump right out at you.

Not long after that, I Googled something akin to “How to make a game with Unity.” It sounds too good to be true, but it’s really that easy. I found a wealth of tutorials and a strong community of friendly, helpful people—but what’s more, I found a YouTube channel by a guy called Brackeys. And I can say with complete and unwavering certainty that I am a game developer today because of him. As I mentioned, I wasn’t about to let silly questions like “What the heck are you doing?!” and “Is this the stupidest decision you’ve ever made in your life?” stop me from pursuing my quest wholeheartedly. Without Brackeys, I would have searched for other resources and tutorials to keep the ball rolling. But I didn’t have to keep searching. I found his YouTube channel and his incredible Unity tutorials. And he was my impersonal mentor during my first steps in the wide world of game development.

I spent the next three months in crunch time. “Do indie devs have crunch time?” you ask. To be honest, I don’t know. I didn’t have a manager breathing down my neck or a timecard to punch. But I was at my desk for more than 12 hours a day 6-7 days per week, and the only items in my web browsing history were YouTube Unity tutorials, StackOverflow questions, and API references. It was an insane grind. I’m fortunate to have such an understanding wife, or else I might be sleeping on a ratty couch in a back alley somewhere. I’d still be making games, but from some public wi-fi hotspot with an old Thinkpad laptop.

I probably couldn't run this on a Thinkpad
I probably couldn't run this on a Thinkpad

By June, I was ready. All these hours of head-down development had come together into a playable prototype. I was so excited to see it coming together. So naturally, I had a playtest. My game was multiplayer, so I invited some friends and family to gather around and play my game together. Frankly, my game sucked. I knew it sucked. They knew it sucked. But there were some small gems in the midst of all the dirt and detritus worth digging up, dusting off, and using as a foundation to keep pressing forward. And to my friends’ and family’s credit, they were willing to focus on the good instead of the bad and somehow have a good time anyways.

It’s discouraging to think that you reached the summit of the mountain, only to discover it was a false summit and that you’re barely half-way up (if that). It could have been the shock to my system needed to snap me back to reality. But I’m nothing if not reckless and persistent. In fact, it convinced me that what I really needed to do was tear my game down to the bare foundation and start over. That was a hard, hard conversation to have with myself. In the end though, I’m glad I had it.

And while I was talking to myself (not literally, of course), I realized something else. I had finally found my nebulous and elusive “calling,” so to speak. People talk about finding that one thing in life that really sets a fire in your soul and makes you excited to leap out of bed in the morning. I had never had the pleasure of discovering that before March of 2018. I thought I was doomed to a life of simple work and separate dreams besides. But for the first time, it all clicked. I was doing something I loved. I wasn’t getting paid for it. No one was popping into my makeshift office to make sure I was on task. I was doing what I loved because I wanted to do it. It can’t be overstated—this changed everything for me.

So yeah, I had to take my game back to the drawing board and just about start from scratch again. I realized I needed some more knowledge to make it happen—perhaps more directed learning than I could provide for myself through Google and StackOverflow. So I went back to school in Fall of 2018. It was a weird feeling to be in college in my late 20s, especially so considering the degree I was chasing was almost a byproduct of what I was really after—learning more about programming so I could make more and better games. After dropping out of college five years prior for lack of drive and focus, I said I would come back and get a degree for something once I “really knew what I wanted to do.” I had finally found my reason to get a degree. I graduated with my Associate’s in Computer Science, Emphasis Programming, in Fall of 2019. But if you’re paying attention, I had already been working at Lone Pine Games as of the middle of that semester. I’m not the best programmer or game developer in the world. But I’m so thankful Lone Pine took a chance on me, and I can’t believe I get to wake up every morning and do what I love for a living.

Chase your dreams, folks. They’re in your heart for a reason. And there’s no better time to dust them off and bring them back out of the closet of your mind than a season where the entire world is in upheaval. We’re all reinventing ourselves right now. Come out the other side of this chrysalis as the person you wished you could have become. If you only had the time.

Night time is the right time
Night time is the right time

Let’s try to pull a few lessons on self-directed learning from my long and rambling narrative, shall we?

Lesson one for picking up a new skill— Start as simply as you need to. It can literally be as simple as Googling “How to make a game with X,” where X is your engine/framework/programming language of choice.

Lesson two for picking up a new skill— Find a mentor. They don’t even need to know who you are—just find someone you can follow by example, or someone willing to share what they’re learned.

Lesson three for picking up a new skill— Be ready to commit yourself and develop discipline. It’s a lot of work, but if you love what you do, you’ll only suffer existential crises half as often.

Lesson four for picking up a new skill— The goal you see in your mind, the summit you’re hiking toward—it may not be the end of the road at all. In fact, if you’re lucky it’s only the beginning. Don’t get discouraged. Keep your chin up. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. And sometimes starting from scratch with new knowledge is just the thing you need to be your best.

Lesson five for picking up a new skill— Be patient and understanding with yourself. You may have an idea in mind about how life is supposed to go, when you’re supposed to hit certain milestones—but life rarely cares about your plans. Be flexible, and identify these moments of opportunity where you can take the next step or make good on a goal. Your achievements are no less exciting or worth celebrating because you earned them “late.” To that I say, “Late according to whom?”

Hopefully there’s something of value in here for someone out there. If nothing else, I hope you enjoyed the story. Got a skill or hobby you’re eager to explore in this season? Let me know about it! Tweet me, message me on Discord, whatever you find most convenient. I’d love to hear from you. And if you find you’re interested in pursuing game development, I’m happy to continue sharing what I’ve learned. We’re all in this together, and we’re all going to roll into 2021 with dreams fulfilled or goals in progress.

Let’s make this a better year than it has any right to be.

We’re going to be moving our Community Game Stream schedule around a bit to make it easier for our global fanbase. We’re looking at possibly streaming Fridays at 1pm UTC-7, 8pm GMT from here on out—please do send us a message on social media if that works better for you to let us know we’re on the right track. Or let us know we should keep searching for a good time! Whenever we go live, you can join us on Discord and Twitch for a fun-filled stream of automation on an alien world, watching supersoup struggle with even the simplest aspects of OpenTTD, or whatever other game we might be playing. We’ll be live on the Lone Pine Games Twitch Fridays—keep an eye on the Discord for details as we dial in the right time.

Questions? Comments? Feedback on the game? Sound off on our Discord.

As always, we’re incredibly thankful for our great community across the web. We love seeing the hard work and attention to detail you pour into your cities, and it inspires us every day to keep building. Thank you again for your support.

If you want to play the game and haven’t contributed yet, head over to our IndieGoGo page. We’re also on Reddit and Twitter. Give us a follow if you haven’t, and we’ll keep you up to date on what’s new with New Cities!