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On Let's Plays

I've been sitting here this morning paralyzed at what to say in response to this...

 

The last few months since we launched That Dragon, Cancer have been pretty incredible. The mainstream culture, the gamer culture, and others have all embraced our story and been willing to listen to our heart as we released a project that we spent more than three years on. They’re talking about Joel and sharing their own stories of loss and bringing comfort to each other. In every regard, the reach of our work continues to confound us.

 

However, there is another side of this that I’ve been afraid to talk about in public. And that is this: our studio has not yet seen a single dollar from sales. That Dragon, Cancer was created by a studio of eight, and for many of us it was a full-time effort that involved thousands of hours of work. This huge effort required taking on investment, and we decided to pay off all of our debt as soon as possible. But we underestimated how many people would be satisfied with only watching the game instead of playing it themselves.

 

And so yes, Let's Play person, I agree with you, it does suck to have someone else making revenue off your work.

 

We paid Jon to create music for our game because we understand that he needs to be paid in order to spend time creating that music. If someone else uses his music without permission, we also believe he should have the right to determine the consequence. And if there is revenue being drawn from that use, we believe he should be compensated.

 

We feel the Let’s Play culture adds value to this medium. And for games with more expansive or replayable gameplay, it can directly benefit developers. Even knowing that some who streamed our entire game refuse to directly encourage people to support us, we’ve still sat on the streams and talked with streamers and viewers. We’ve watched the playthrough videos and we see the value that this community is adding to our work through sharing themselves. Let’s Play culture is vibrant and creative and really cool.  

 

However, there is a flip side for the developers whose content you build your work on top of. Despite infringing on developers’ copyrights, it can especially benefit those who make competitive or sandbox games.  However, for a short, relatively linear experience like ours, for millions of viewers, Let’s Play recordings of our content satisfy their interest and they never go on to interact with the game in the personal way that we intended for it to be experienced.  If you compare the millions of views of the entirety of our game on YouTube to our sales as estimated on SteamSpy, you can hopefully see the disparity.  We have seen many people post our entire game on YouTube with little to no commentary. We’ve seen people decompile our game and post our soundtrack on YouTube. We’ve also seen many, many Let’s Players post entire playthroughs of our game, posting links to all of their own social channels and all of their own merchandising and leaving out a link to our site.

 

All of this to say, we have removed all of our Content ID’s from Jon’s music. If anybody received flags for ad revenue share, you should be able to reupload in a few days without the flag. We did not intend to make copyright claims or to force anyone to take down their videos, we simply intended for Jon to be able to draw some income from the original soundtrack to our game that he poured his heart into.

 

All we are asking in return is that you honor our work, the work you build your livelihood on top of, and acknowledge that when you do it, there is a real cost to developers. For us, it costs us the ability to continue to share this game through translation into other languages and bringing it to new platforms, along with starting new projects.

 

If a fraction of those who viewed a let’s play or twitch stream of our game left us a $1 tip on our website (less than the cost of renting a movie), we would have the available funds to continue to work and create for the benefit of the gaming and the Let’s Play community.

 

We have allowed our content, the fruit of our sweat and our tears, to be used by Let’s Players and to your fans for free to create content with, and you are drawing a small amount of ad revenue from our content.


We are asking that you return that favor by creating Let’s Play videos that don’t just rebroadcast the entirety of our content with minimal commentary, but instead use portions of our content as a context to share your own stories and start conversations with your viewers.  We would encourage you to link to our site and directly encourage viewers to support our work financially through buying the game, or donating a dollar or two to our studio if they believe that what we did has value.  This small act will allow us to continue to work.

 

-Ryan and the Numinous Games team.

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Linux Update to our Kickstarter Backers

In our rush to the launch date we set for ourselves of January 12th to launch on OUYA, the Forge TV, OSX and Windows, we let our Linux backers down.  We did not launch with a Linux version, which has served to make our Linux gamer backers feel like second class citizens.  

Please accept our apologies, we screwed up, we have reached out to some of our Linux backers for testing help and taken some time to get a test environment ready, and we are currently working on rolling out our Linux build and should have it ready very soon.

TDC is built on the Unity 4 game engine, and so we are constrained in our support to those distros targeted and supported by Unity and the graphics driver support maintained by hardware vendors.  

That said, we do not rely on advanced graphics libraries.  We support the Shader 2 standard, and so the game should be compatible with most popular distros and supported cards, however it will not be perfect, and we ask for your patience as we work through these issues, and transition as a studio into supporting our players.

On our agreement with Razer and Linux on Steam

There has also been questions about our distribution agreement with OUYA.  First, you should know that OUYA has always been about doing the right thing, and has always been fair and generous with us.  Our original understanding of our exclusivity terms was that in our negotiation to bring TDC to the Steam storefront required that we exclude Linux from Steam and only provide it as a DRM free option on our website.

This was out of our desire to honor OUYA’s investment and our console exclusivity term.  Our interpretation of the approaching launch of the Steambox and the Steam OS, which is Linux-based, is that we would be violating this agreement by releasing TDC on Steam for Linux.

We reached out to Razer for clarification and we’re happy to announce that they interpret the Steambox as a PC, and as such we will be releasing TDC on Steam for Linux, as well as a DRM-free option soon after for the Humble widget on our website along with the Humble Store.

Thank you for your love and support,

-Ryan, Josh, Amy and the rest of the Numinous Games team.

 

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Pancakes for Dinner:  Summarizing a Life Cut Short

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Pancakes for Dinner: Summarizing a Life Cut Short

In the hot flashes of anger that followed my son’s death, I had some strange thoughts. I’ve never really talked about them to more than a handful of people. Joel was just 5 years old when he died from an aggressive brain tumor. It is amazing how quickly you have to begin making plans after someone dies.  I told my friends it felt a lot like planning a wedding except that all the decisions were terrible.

As we discussed a memorial service and wrote an obituary, I became frustrated.  What could we say about Joel?  Funerals are supposed to be for old men, not little boys. We should have been able to talk about Joel’s life work, his wife and children, his great impact in the world. What could we even say?  He loved bubbles? It made me so angry. I told my husband I thought we should just walk up on the stage of his memorial service and say “I hate all of this” and drop the mic. I seriously wondered if maybe we shouldn’t just wait a year to have a memorial service, so I could talk about Joel’s life when I wasn’t so angry that it wasn’t continuing.

It was a strange week: picking out a “nice spot” for his burial. trying to imagine our family spending time crying together in this shady area under the tree, or over there with the view of the mountains … asking friends to pick up snacks for the viewing, ‘what kind of juice do people like to drink during tragedy?’ ...  measuring his body for the casket, only to discover he had grown another inch and would have been able to ride the rides at Disneyland that he couldn’t ride just the month before, during the bitter sweet trip we took, trying not to dwell on the fact that it was probably his last.

A terrible week with terrible decisions, most of them expensive, but everyone was so generous, sending us money in greeting cards like it was some macabre graduation party, but they were right to help us, because the last thing I wanted to think about was how much all of this was costing, and so I was grateful for each new envelope.

We finally settled on what to say about Joel at his memorial service. We made videos about all the things he love:, dogs, water, his brothers, music, horses and when were done sharing every photo and video we could possibly share, we talked about how loving Joel changed us. He might not have had a job, or a wife, but he did impact the world, because he impacted us.

In the time that has passed, my anger has cooled.  I’m less bitter that we couldn’t know more about him and I lean into the things I do know, that he thought falling down was hilarious, that he loved babies, and that filling his mouth as full as possible with pancakes was one of his greatest pleasures.

It turns out a memorial service is not the best time and place to remember a person. It’s too fresh. Sometimes you don’t even know yet what you will really miss the most about the person you are memorializing. It took me weeks to settle into a life without my son, to know that joy felt different without his laughter in the mix, and to realize that I was glad to have a little hole in my joy that could never be patched.  It was a space reserved for Joel and I didn’t want it filled.  Not only do we want to keep talking about Joel, we want others to keep talking about the people who changed their lives, to celebrate the little spaces in their hearts that they don’t want filled in either.

So, when we release the videogame we made about Joel on January 12th, we’re going to eat pancakes.  He would have liked that.  We hope you’ll eat pancakes for dinner too.. January 12th is Joel’s birthday. He would have turned seven this year, and photos of people all over the world eating pancakes in his honor would be a pretty great present to our family, who still miss him and his sticky syrup face.  While you’re eating pancakes, and taking photos and posting online, share about someone you love and miss and wish you could have know just a little better.

If you post photos on social media using the hashtag #ThatDragonCancer (the name of the video game that memorializes him better than any eulogy or tombstone ever could) we will see them and share them and know that a little boy without any accomplishments to speak of at his memorial service can still change the world.

 

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"A Letter to Eli: One Kickstarter Backer's Contribution"

By Amy Green

The title screen for “That Dragon, Cancer” loads.  You pause for a minute and take a deep breath. You are bracing yourself for the emotional impact of spending the next two hours in the world of our family as we care for our terminally ill son, Joel. As you click the “start new game” button you aren’t sure quite what to expect, but you hope that the experience is beautiful and true.

As Ryan says in the videogame, “Joel isn’t the only one to ever fight that Dragon … ” and so, as you learn to love Joel, we hope you realize, through little glimpses, that he is one of many. The handprints on the wall and the cards in the hall remind you that so many people have gone before Joel and too many more will follow after.

We asked Kickstarter backers to contribute their personal stories to the videogame’s landscape, so that each piece of hospital art represents a real person. Aaron Horn first learned about the videogame from our development partner Josh Larson, who attended the same startup community events as Aaron in Des Moines, Iowa. When Aaron heard about “That Dragon, Cancer”  he thought of his son, Eli.

Eli spent over half his life fighting cancer. He was diagnosed with Stage IV Neuroblastoma at the age of three and a half, and after undergoing surgery and treatment for the adrenal gland tumor (and then subsequent brain tumor a few years later) he was diagnosed with Leukemia, a side effect of the treatments Eli received. Eli died just before his 8th birthday. As you play the videogame, you may stumble across a letter written from Aaron to his son.

“Dear Eli,

I feel nothing but pride for the way you battled cancer. I remember the way you learned to ride your tricycle down the hospital hallway, instead of down the sidewalk like other three-year-olds…

Aaron hopes that as you finish reading the letter, it sticks with you, “I hope they are inspired by Eli.  I hope that they get a small glimpse of his bravery and realize what's important in life and that the small things aren't worth getting worked up about.  I hope that they can see his faith and strength and that he is a very loved boy.”

Aaron supported the videogame, in part, because he is passionate about childhood cancer awareness and said, “From the early screenshots and concepts that I saw, I knew this would be a great insight into a world that is very hard for a family to explain to others that haven't been exposed to it before.”

 When we talk to players at conventions, they often tell us how personal and intimate the experience of playing That Dragon, Cancer feels. We have always hoped that the videogame would inspire others to share this kind of intimacy, but it can be a challenge. Asking Kickstarter backers to contribute their own stories to That Dragon, Cancer was an invitation to come be vulnerable with us.  When Aaron first submitted his letter, it was a little objective and distant, but then we asked him to write the letter as if Eli could actually read it. What would he want Eli to know, if he could speak to him again? According to Aaron, “it was obviously a much more emotional task.  I am very glad I did it and I really appreciate their support of that process.” We were amazed at the way his letter was transformed when he approached it more personally, and we're so honored to have a chance to know Eli through Aaron's words.

Even though Aaron is more familiar than he would like to be with the hospitals and treatments that act as secondary characters in Joel’s story, he still has to brace himself, like any player, for the way the videogame will impact him and the memories it will revive, “Over time, you forget some of the smaller details about hospital life and I expect that much of that will come rushing back to me during the videogame.  I expect it to be emotional, but also a joy to remember those times that I had with Eli.  I also look forward to the community response to a bold project like this.  As I said, childhood cancer awareness is very important to me, so I certainly hope the release is met with a lot of press and success to help that mission.  More funding for childhood cancer research is needed and my hope is that this videogame helps generate more desire in folks to contribute to that cause."

---

Aaron Horn actively raises funds for pediatric cancer research in honor of his son Eli through www.beatcancertoday.org

 


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A Call for Player Testimonials

Have you played a demo of our game in the last two years? Can you help us cross our funding goal with a personal testimony of how the game impacted you? Send us a video or text message to info (at) thatdragoncancer.com, and we’ll include it in our testimonial update next week.  Thank you for your support! We’re 76% of the way there!

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We've launched a Kickstarter, and we're coming to OUYA, PC & Mac via Steam Simultaneously!

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Hi Friends,

The game has come a long way in the past year.  We have just a few scenes left to build before we can work on fixing bugs and polishing the game for release and we’ve taken a hard look at our budget and decided that we need to raise more funds to finish game in the way we believe it should to be finished. This also means that we will be delaying the release until mid-late 2015.

The most important way in which the design has changed in the last year is how we’ve incorporated and encoded interaction with Joel into the experience.  We did not start out the design of our game with much animation. In the demo scene we showed last year, we didn’t represent Joel visually at all.

That has changed drastically.  We have Joel dancing, and clapping, laughing, and playing in the park or playing catch with a dog.  Our newest member of the team, Ryan Cousins, who has been working with us since January, has brought the expertise we needed to be able to do this and we find the interactions we get to create in the game very rewarding.

That’s just one example of how the game has grown since we started. We also have a few more scenes than we planned, but we believe they are necessary because they tell a more complete story, the story that needs to be told more than the one we set out to tell.  We started this project while Joel was still with us.  Joel’s death this year made us realize that the details of what happened to Joel do not matter as much as just being with Joel mattered, and we desire to reflect that truth in every scene of the game.

Our Kickstarter is live right now, along with this campaign and with help from OUYAIndie Fund and a private investor loan, we feel that we will be able to finish this game well.

http://thatdragoncancer.com/funding

We’ve been given this amazing platform to tell Joel’s story and we want to tell yours too, so we’ve made space for you in the game through our backer rewards. We want to enable you to really participate in the creation of That Dragon, Cancer.

We need about 3,000 backers who will contribute $30 to our campaign in order to be fully funded.  Will you be one of them?

We’re Launching on OUYA, Windows, and Mac Simultaneously!

Also, we are very happy to announce that, in association with OUYA, we will be releasing the game for PC and MAC download through Steam on the same day we release on OUYA.  OUYA has been really great about working with us and our desire to bring this game to as many people as possible as soon as possible and were willing to change our exclusivity terms to do that.  I’m not sure how many companies would be open to that so late in a project, but I believe we’ve found a special partner in OUYA.  They believe in games, they believe in indies, and they believe in us.

So please, share the kickstarter page on your social networks and with your friends and family, and be a day one backer. We need your help to make this happen. Thank you.

Love,

Ryan

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Recovering from PAX, Charity Update, Let's keep it going.

I just wanted to say Thank you for PAX. We got to meet many new amazing, caring and kind people this weekend, and I’m continually encouraged that this industry is full of loving people.  One new friend came back at the end of PAX just to check on me and make sure I was doing alright.

This weekend we raised $110 and gave out some beautiful art. Thank you so much for those who took the time to donate (even though our wifi situation made it a bit cumbersome.) For those of you that still want to donate, use the link I’ve provided in this post.

We will soon make space for the art on our website, so that the rest of you can see the beautiful, personal artwork made by game players and game makers and game spouses; with experiences that show just how diverse are the voices and stories of those in the gaming community.

I also received word, that had we given more time, some other artists would have contributed pieces. We’d like to keep the call open. Keep sending art. Keep telling your stories.

We’ll post submissions, if we receive a donation of any amount, we’ll email out a print ready PDF file of the donor’s choice.

-Ryan

ps. If you want to practice your art, come hangout with us on rendersketchgame.tumblr.com We hangout on google for 10 minutes every week day and make art together.

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"The Day I Faced That Dragon:" A call for visual stories.

The bustle of PAX Prime is upon us.  It is hard to believe it has been a year already.  I am grateful that in the Indie MEGABOOTH this year, we were assigned the same booth location.  There is a small storage area in that corner of the floor.  

I will use it again to hide.  

It will be my refuge when my throat gets too tight.  For when I have to explain yet again that Joel is no longer with us.  For when I tire of the latest overheard and flippant joke of “what’s dragon cancer?” and the sea of faces and funny hats becomes too stormy to remain afloat in the life raft of hugs and tears that surround our booth.

I am grateful.

To have a space to memorialize Joel.  We get to tell our story.  I get to tell the world why MY son mattered.  Why should I get to do that?  Why me and not someone else.  Because he was MY son.  And he mattered to ME.  And I miss him.

I am not alone.

And I know that there is a deluge of tears shed every day for the soul that inhabited that room; that car seat; that pair of pants; that bit of air that was filled with his laughter or her voice.

So we want to make space for your story.

“The Day I Faced That Dragon.”

What do you miss the most? How did it change you? Where do you find hope? What do you do with your anger? Maybe guilt? Where is joy to be found?

Bottle it up, pour it into a cup.  Make something beautiful.  Make Art. We’ll serve it at PAX on your behalf.  This year we’re raising money.  This time with Extra Life.  They love games, you love games.  They love kids, they raise money for children’s hospitals.

Here’s what we’re asking for: 

  • Create a work of art that can be printed.
  • Email us about the day you faced “that dragon” in what ever form it came it does not have to be cancer.  Any “dragon” will suffice.
  • Attach your art, send it via email to info@thatdragoncancer.com
  • Do this by Monday, August 25th, 2014 9am pacific time.
  • We’ll curate the work and get posters and postcards printed at our expense.
  • All submissions will be posted on-line with your story.

These posters and postcards will be given out for free as thank you’s for folks who donate directly to Extra Life at PAX Prime, we don’t take the money, folks who donate will just show us the receipt.

We’ll provide a donation “kiosk” at our booth.

That’s it.  Tell us your story, we’ll tell it to others and raise money for hospitals that save children’s lives.  

Because the ones we loved matter to us.

-Ryan

Here is my submission:

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“The sun still rose in spite of my strong recommendation it not.” - Ryan Green - August 19, 2014

Written March 13, 2014 - joelevangreen.com

Amy and I did not get much sleep last night. As the hours flew by faster than I could catch them, we prayed, we grieved, I cuddled my sweet son as tightly as I dared, examining his face and hands and toes and belly button, taking pictures of us that I will never show anyone else, and sweeping the hair across his forehead over and over again.

Joel fell asleep at home. Surrounded by his family and friends, only hours after we had filled our home with songs of worship to our God and prayers for mercy and healing for Joel and for ourselves from the voices of our church and friends and family.

As I awoke this morning after an hour of sleep, I lingered in the early morning light of our room, his body cradled, as always, in the crook of my arm. Except instead of the sweet sighs of comfort and the warmth of his little body against mine, the moors of death had tightened, leaving Joel’s earthly tent, cold and breathless.

And so now we mourn, and we weep, we rage and we argue with the God who knows how the story will end. And we laugh with our family and friends, and sob in the quiet moments, and wrap ourselves in his blankets and wrap ourselves in His peace. The kind that passes all understanding as we make the decisions that will lay Joel to rest.

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On Sound Design and Goodwill

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Jon Hillman, That Dragon, Cancer sound designer, composer, programmer.
Jon Hillman, That Dragon, Cancer sound designer, composer, programmer.

While working on an upcoming scene, we discovered a need for a classic ‘Spin n’ Say’ toy to be created, with which the player will interact. It’s been a while since I played with this kind of toy, and after a brief search around the house I remembered how few of my sons’ toys make noise (you gotta do what you can to stay sane). A few seconds on the internet later, I was well-reminded of how this toy works: pull a lever, a dial spins, and delightful low-fi narration and animal noises ensue. In our toy’s case, there’s also some buttons and an extra lever.

Some of these sounds are simple to make, basically put a microphone in front of something and press record. A few edits and minimal processing, and there you have it. So, I figured I’d head to the thrift store and see what they had. At first I saw nothing like what I needed - almost everything was digital with very few mechanics (no buttons, no moving lever, etc). I was about to leave when I threw some toys to the side in frustration, and the perfect toy was revealed. Lever…check. Spinning dial…check. Unbelievably annoying sounds coming from a tiny speaker inside a cheap plastic case with a happy farmer on it…CHECK.

Recording Sound with Spin and Say toy.
Recording Sound with Spin and Say toy.

Once back at the studio, my first priority was to get the batteries out of this thing. I’d need to be able to pull the lever and isolate the mechanical sounds I wanted. A few minutes of recording and editing later, and that work was done. I then wondered how to approach making our own narration and animal sounds, and most importantly how to make them sound like the toy. I have lots of tricks up my sleeves (ie; effect plug-ins and hardware), but was concerned with the time it might take to mimic the toy via processing,  and my declining mental health over that course of time.

Glancing down at the toy, which was face down with its guts hanging out the back, I realized I could probably add an audio input without much fuss. Then, mimicking the toy would be as easy as pressing play and putting a microphone in front of it. Thanks to the general state of things in my studio, my soldering iron/hacking tools were already out and ready to go. About 10-15 minutes later, I sent out a recording of a team-favorite track made through the toy. After a few very silly late-night voiceover sessions with Mike, we had our toy fully-realized in the game.

Guts of a toy
Guts of a toy

With all the fancy tools we have these days, I often forget about more organic, natural approaches. I’d probably still be tweaking some knob on an EQ, or auditioning impulse responses, if I hadn’t have just hacked that toy. Now I have a new tool on the shelf for whenever I need that ‘awesome’ sound again, and the world can rejoice in having one less Farmer whatever-his-name-is toys in circulation.

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Thank You For Playing

We haven’t talked about it publicly, but back in June of 2013, we were contacted by a documentary film director who had seen a one-liner mention of our game on killscreen, and was interested in finding out if we’d be open to letting them come out and visit our family in order that he and his partner might produce a documentary about the making of the game.

Thus began the production of the film “Thank You For Playing.”

You wouldn’t think it so, since our family has been so public and in the news about sharing the game, and we’ve been part of a web-based documentary before, but letting a film crew in to our personal, creative and professional lives was a little scary.  We are not the producers of this film.  It is independent of us.  Before this project, we did not know David and Malika, but we decided It was important that people see the parts of our lives in-between the scenes of the game.  Life happens in the middle and so does death.  David and Malika were with our family the three days leading up to Joel’s passing.

They recently posted a teaser trailer announcing the film, and have set up a facebook and web site to promote their project.  We hope you’ll support them.

-Ryan

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On Work, Joy and Love.

In the midst of all of the struggle and pain in this last year, our family experienced a lot of joy.  I think that would likely be one of the most surprising aspects of our family life to one outside looking in.  

Joel’s illness often tethered us to our home for long stretches of time.  While I went to work, Amy would often spend many consecutive days driving more than an hour each way to Denver and back from Children’s Hospital; spending most of each day with Joel and one or more of our children in a tiny treatment room while Joel received chemo or waited for tests.

So when we received good news or had breaks in treatment, we loved to take long road trips as a family. 

One of the longer trips we took lasted two weeks and took us from Colorado to Washington, down the Coast of California to San Diego and back through Arizona.  I will always treasure our road trips, eating pizza in swim trunks at the local hotel; all six of us sleeping in a room with narrow; hard beds; driving for hours at a time through redwood forests and snowy mountain roads in van that smelled of 4 very messy boys, their toys and fast food wrappers, and dance parties.

One of the other blessings that has been mixed into my life is the ability to support my family and the cost of treatment through work on “That Dragon Cancer” as a full time job.  When I started this project with Josh, I had plenty of code experience, but very limited 3d artistic ability.

As you see from this picture, the uncanny valley is very real, and I was slipping from the ledge.  Over the last year, I’ve had the pleasure of throwing myself fully into work as an artist for the first time.  Working with Josh and Nat and Ryan, and learning and experimenting,  writing and drawing and sharing our story with the world has been tremendously fulfilling.

 And I’m grateful, that even though my skill does not yet match my taste, that we have the opportunity to honor Joel through this project, as well as the time and resources to create something beautiful and that gets more beautiful the longer we work on it.  This is especially vital to me now as we grieve; having the chance to throw all of my ability, and love, into work that matters to me has never been more important to my health and the health of my family.

I hope that this post encourages you, first that choosing work that matters too much to let yourself fail and choosing to go after it even when your skill doesn’t match your taste, is work worth completing.

This isn’t just my art, this is our art, and I think that is an important distinction.

It’s built on the experiences we choose to share together, and the beauty we choose to make together.

Create with each other, Learn from each other, Love one another.  It’s worth it.

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That Scapegoat, [insert people group here.]

I don’t want to talk about our game today.  

I want to talk about the way we treat each other.  I want to talk about the ways in which we’re able to stamp others with labels so that we can dismiss them.  I want to talk about bruises, and pride, and unforgiveness, and bitterness, and distrust, and the unfathomable abuse that occurs in this world to cause it.  I want to talk about the unimaginable priceless value of a soul.

But I’m not sure if it’d do any good, unless I see everyone as valuable.

I’d love to talk about rumor weeds.  The ones that feed on sub tweets, suspicion, speculation and very little first-hand information.

But I may grow one of my own in the process.

I’d like to talk about monolith organizations that eat people, print money and poop product.

But that’d be too easy a target.

I want to talk about easy targets.  And why we eagerly rip them to shreds on the Internet.

I’d like to talk about OUYA.  I’d like to talk about an industry full of souls with value. I’d like to talk about you and me.

 

This affects us too.

But first, I must disclose something.  I’m a father of four who decided to make a game about our family’s journey fighting terminal cancer in my 4 year old son, and took corporate money from OUYA (In a direct deal with OUYA, and NOT through the Free the Games Fund) so that I, and my 3 other teammates with a total of 3 spouses and 5 more children could continue to work full-time, pouring in our love, passions, faith, and tears into something we believe in. Oh, and our fifth member, with a spouse and three children, he donates his time because he loves us.

I recognize this might make me a corporate puppet, maybe a sellout, maybe entitled, certainly desperate, hopefully adequately “indie.”  I recognize that when I go to bat for the people of OUYA, that the conflict of interest is readily apparent.  We jumped in the boat with OUYA, we want OUYA to succeed, we want developers to jump in the boat with us.  There’s no hiding that.

 

Target practice with OUYA, GET SOME.

A popular target dummy in my circles on twitter over the past few months has been our friends over at @playouya. Unfortunately due to one poorly worded tweet, our game got to be the ammo:

@playouya: The Powerfully Moving That Dragon, Cancer Is Now A OUYA Exclusive http://bit.ly/17mD6om  GET SOME.

What started as an exciting day for us, quickly devolved into mudslinging at our fine faceless corporate sponsors.  I mean obviously, on the day we announce that we’ll be able to finish the game thanks to a healthy investment in a project that they found worthy of existing, the soulless money grubbing corporation that cared nothing for me or you or anyone else, tweeted poorly.  See?!  SEEEEEE! I told you they’d change once they were legally incorporated and got some money…

Unfortunately, reality didn’t matter.  A person innocently tweeted GET SOME to promote us, in good faith. The Internet smelled blood, and pounced.  It didn’t matter what we thought about it, or that the community manager didn’t mean it that way.  It didn’t matter that the head of developer relations, who brought us to OUYA, immediately proved to us that our best interest was her first priority. It didn’t matter that a founder fought for our deal even when OUYA’s profitability wasn’t guaranteed, or that the head of OUYA thinks about charity and the value of developers before profit.

None of that mattered.  What mattered is that we, the nameless mob GOT SOME.

 

Let he without sin, throw the first stone.

The truth is, criticism is important. In order for it to be helpful though, it should be done the right way.  If we have an issue with each other, we live in a world where corporation or not, we can talk directly to people.  We can ask them why, we can offer ideas on how, but when we don’t talk to each other directly, things can fall apart.

And frankly, there’s really no way around it, OUYA PR has been a field of exploded mines. But that usually happens when you’re the first one through the minefield.  They’ve made mistakes, sometimes they haven’t fully owned up to them.  Sometimes they believed that they could spin the explosion away from them.  

  • OUYA units didn’t go to backers before retail.  Gigantic failure of confidence and trust.  Did they give up, take the money and run? It seems to me they doubled down in effort to try and make it right and still aim to make it right.  

  • The commercial didn’t work, it was tasteless and out of touch with the intended target audience, acknowledged, removed, apologized (poorly spun), back to the drawing board.

  • Developers exploited fund loopholes to get extra funding for their football game.  But they still would have had to deliver an actual product to get 75% of it.  I say “would have” because they voluntarily took themselves out of the fund.  Let’s see what they produce.  Maybe it will be rad.

The difference between the folks at OUYA and most everybody else, is that they got to live through their failures in public, while we got to lob stones. Imagine for a moment, how that would feel.  And suddenly you’re not lobbing rocks to knock out the funny-named faceless corporation, you’re lobbing rocks and hitting people.

You’re hitting Julie, and Bob, and Kellee and every person in that 30-odd member OUYA “cooperation” (See what I did there?) who wants to see a dream come true. Who wants to help the industry. Who wants to succeed.  Who had the guts to step out on the field.

I hope that Julie’s latest display of deference, humility, and grace in revising the FTG fund again and soliciting feed back from the developer community (including reaching out to our team this last week) as a gesture to a community she loves will grant OUYA one day of reprieve and hopefully some trust can be earned back.

The game industry is a community that needs each other.  We have families, We have bills, We have dreams, and skills that don’t yet match our taste.  We’re trying and we’re doing. All of us; you and me; we’re making games and writing about games, and playing games and pouring everything we have into it because it’s a language we understand, it’s one that speaks to our heart.

Maybe that’s why we have a problem trusting.  We’ve become an industry that will as quickly elevate someone for disrupting the status quo as we’ll fight over the scraps of what’s left of them when the mob is through.  We’re an industry of individuals that are starting to speak with our own voices, and not those of the corporation. And so we’re exposed; and we’ve been abused; and we shouldn’t have to tolerate such unnecessary suffering, but we’re told it’s the price of admission; “get a thicker skin.” This is because the cost of the opposite, the cost of being fair, of seeing others as valuable, of trading in assumptions that make us feel safe, is in a currency of intimacy.  

I’m choosing to trade in intimacy.  Not the kind that exploits, not the kind that takes advantage of, not the kind that abuses, but the kind that invites you to share in my suffering, and share in my comfort.  The kind that gives life.

And so I’m asking you, before you sling another arrow over the twitter wall after hearing that OUYA is exploiting a poor dying child, ask his father why a picture of he and his son sits next to a box of tissues on the show floor of a booth we decided to create, paid for with the funds we control, that came from OUYA.  And you might hear that I actually placed it there and you would hear how much I adore him, and that we didn’t start with tissues, they were given to us, because people needed them. And if you still take issue with what I’m doing, then you can tell me so and we can talk about it.  

Like Lana, who despite picking up a stone, dropped it and listened and apologized for spreading something that wasn’t true.  I really admire what she did. Because what started out as well meaning outrage directed at someone she thought took advantage of us, may have turned into respect for someone who was supporting us.

If we’ll pause, and talk to each other, we’ll find beauty in each one of us.  And a soul that’s worth treasuring.  

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Coming To OUYA

We have some big news to share with you.  We are launching That Dragon, Cancer on the game console OUYA in 2014.  Additionally, OUYA has chosen to invest in the game to assist with development costs and ensure our game gets made.

If you haven’t heard of the OUYA (pronounced “ooh-ya”) yet, here’s the pitch:  OUYA is an open, indie-loving, Android-based, affordable ($100 US) micro game-console that hooks up to your television.

Why the Living Room first?

If you’ve read about our game at all, it may come as a surprise to you that we’d choose to bring That Dragon, Cancer to the living room first.  The living room is typically a gathering place.  It is likely not the first place you’d choose to play a dramatic adventure game dealing with the subject of childhood cancer… and perhaps for many, this game may be too personal an experience in the presence of others.  

Our hope, however, is that while this may be a personal experience, that it will be a shared experience.

We’ve taken our demo to very large conventions like the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, a business mixer at a cigar bar, a salon at the “Unwinnable mansion,” the Sensory Overload that is E3 in Los Angeles, Games for Health in Boston, and the indie-sponsored Gamescape in Baltimore.  My sister represented us in the UK at the Eurogamer and RockPaperShotgun sponsored Rezzed in Birmingham, and the awesome team at Second Impact Games stood in our place at the Develop conference in Brighton.  

As I’m sure they all can attest, the neatest part about showing the game in public is the conversation afterwards.  We’re finding that when you share your heart with people, they want to share their heart with you, even in the middle of a loud convention-center floor.  That’s what we want to do.  We want to create a safe space for people to talk about hard things.  

We can’t think of a safer place to share in meaningful conversation, food, laughter, and yes, even video games than your living room.

 

Why the OUYA?

If you’ve followed the often turbulent launch of the OUYA, you may be wondering why we’re partnering with such an outspoken upstart.  Well, the short answer is, they have the guts to make something they believe in, in an industry that is stacked against their success.  They aren’t complaining about what the industry should be, instead, they’re making it in their image.

Making games is a tough business.  It’s expensive, and competitive, and it’s often brutal and unforgiving.  The television game console has been a platform that few indies have had success in. It is prohibitively expensive for most indie studios to publish and high development costs prevent most publishers from taking the risk with a “game” that, say, explores the trials, joys, and tears of fighting childhood cancer.

We needed a partner willing to take a chance on us, and who was able to see the interactive medium for what it is capable of and not just for its current market trends.

At this point, you might think we’re stacking the deck against ourselves by launching on a console in its infancy.  Perhaps.  The road has been rocky so far for OUYA.

But we believe in what they’re trying to do, and we believe in the people doing it.  Dealing with hard things, and building new things is not easy.  Especially when the world is expecting failure but holding their breath for success.  

We believe there is a space for game experiences like ours alongside the space marine shooter and the next candy sorting game.  The OUYA presents us with an opportunity to shape that space by bringing our game to a round table that equally values the scrappy upstart with the established publisher.  We believe when other developers do the same and when gamers and non-gamers in a family living room can experience what we’re creating, the conversation about what games are and what they can be will expand.

The OUYA team put their hearts and their money and their reputations and the contributions of 63,416 people who believed in what they’re doing at stake to create something special.   

We want to build it with them.

-Ryan

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