2015 was a hard year. I feel obliged to hide this fact because this blog is an extension of my social media, and it’s so easy to slip into talking about onesself as a lifestyle brand to emulate, rather than a human.
But 2015 started with devastating family news that I got while exhaustedly working a conference for someone else’s game on my birthday. And 2015 ended with me getting so fucked up from pneumonia that I could barely breathe without triggering a coughing fit so bad that they usually ended in dry heaves, leading me to miss deadlines and fall way behind where I wanted to be.
The middle of 2015 wasn’t super great either, as you might expect.
I’ve tried to write this post several times, deleting it each time. Every time I start to run down the list of shit I’ve gotten done, I started thinking about what more I could have accomplished if only I’d been less lazy/less emotional/less ill–or the opposite, getting anxious that 2016 list won’t live up to 2015’s length.
But, despite 2015 being a particularly hard time, I still did things that I was proud of. So rather than driving myself nuts by listing every little thing and measuring the length, I’m just going to rattle off some of the things I’m proud of, for posterity.
But I have a little something extra at the end.
My favorite talks
I remember cackling with glee when I got asked to do this. My partner asked me why I was so happy. “Because I get to talk about my work!” I yelled.
This was a super-fun talk. Kaho in particular has made a ton of work that I’ve used as precedent, so it was really cool to be in conversation with her. During the Q&A, someone asked me what failure would mean for me in this context, and I answered, “If a humorous game of mine made someone feel unsafe, I would have failed.” It was something I knew in my gut, but verbalizing it was really helpful, and gave me another guidepost for my design process. Punch up, not down, you know?
This might be my favorite talk that I’ve ever given. After ages of kicking around and rehashing facets of the same ideas in different talks, I finally tied them together in my Influences talk for Indiecade. It’s all about how riot grrrl shaped my upbringing, and how the ethic of riot grrrl in turn shaped the kinds of games I design. I’m really proud of it. If you want to read my design manifesto, this is probably it.
My favorite interviews
Y’all, Jonathan Holmes is so great. I remember that I was off my game for some reason that day (I mean, it was 2015 after all) and asking my partner anxiously whether it would be brutal interview. My partner assured me, having been interviewed by him, that I would have a great time. And I did.
I remember Holmes asked me at some point (dunno if it was on or off camera) whether I had practiced my answers, because they sounded so put together. (Which is already a nice compliment!) They weren’t canned statements–I can confirm that Holmes asked me such good, interesting, and unique questions that any canned statements I might have had couldn’t be used. Our conversations spanned my games, games culture, developers and the pressure to be public figures, and more. I want to make another game just to have another chance to chat with him.
Colleen was a great interviewer, and one who was very understanding of our desire to talk about our games rather than just the garbage that women in games face. This interview lets you see the design perspectives of a bunch of rad women, which I think is super valuable. Plus, it was just an awesome excuse to hang out and talk shop with some of my favorite people.
About twelve people attended this, but holy hell I was so hyped on having my work in an Actual Museum, as an Actual Exhibit, I barely noticed. Charles did a wonderful and very insightful job framing Slam City Oracles in its context, which is something I don’t talk about a ton but is vital to understanding my creative process for it. The questions were all super insightful, the crowd was lovely–it was just a super-affirming time.
Plus I got to see little kids freak out with glee over the game, which is, like, the best.
My favorite projects
I could talk about the release process of SCO (thanks again to Andy Wallace for helping me with fiddly controller nonsense and other little bits), but the truth is, seeing SCO go into the world was massively, massively fulfilling to me.
I’ll always be sad it wasn’t a breakout indie hit. Who isn’t sad when their game isn’t the chosen one? No GOTY lists, no festivals, no prizes, not a ton of press. That always hurts.
But the folks who got it really got it, and remembering that always makes my heart swell up. Offworld, The Mary Sue, and Autostraddle gave it incredible love. One of my favorite quotes from the latter:
“When you want to smash all the patriarchy […] play this game. You will feel better when your two minutes are up. And you’ll probably also feel better when you’ve phoned a friend. I know Laura and I were ecstatic to relive our childhood sleepovers of gaming co-operatively, shoulder-to-shoulder, even just for a moment during our very busy day.” - Autostraddle
I can’t tell you how good it felt to know that my target demo, folks very similar to me, Got It. I crack a smile just thinking about it.
I made this at my job, so obligatory disclosure that none of the following ~feels~ represent my workplace or its opinions, yada yada.
My favorite kind of work is the kind that pushes me just outside my comfort zone. Membrane, admittedly, is even a bit more than that: it’s my project, so whenever something needed to get done, I had to learn it, no matter how far outside my wheelhouse it originally was. I’d only just started writing production frontend code for large-scale web apps when I started hacking on Membrane, which meant learning databases, backend, how to write APIs, how to write better frontend production code, and a whole bunch of other tiny skills.
Somehow it never felt impossible. (Well, I haven’t had to do any devops for it yet, maybe that’s why.) It was hard, for sure, and the code reviews were humbling, but it never felt out of my grasp. It’s a pretty significant step for me as a coder in general–the largest scale project I’ve done, and the first real piece of open source software I’ll be releasing. It’s not released yet, but I’ll still call it a 2015 win.
The idea for Facets came out of a conversation with Caroline Sinders, Phoenix Perry, and Mohini Dutta, where we all bemoaned how siloed games conferences tend to be. We really wanted a space where we could have games in conversation with other art forms. So we designed one ourselves. I’d say it was a pretty huge success, and it was a delight and a privilege to get so many different smart people in a room and hear them discuss each other’s art form with new eyes.
This might be the simplest thing I’ve ever made. I did it at the Code Poetry summer session of SFPC. It’s just white text against a black wall, with the prompt “When was the last time you felt [x] and [y] at the same time?” projected against it. Two emotional states are chosen at random from a list of emotions, and the emotions change every four seconds.
That’s it. For a career programmer, it was almost unnervingly simple. And yet, I found people standing in front of it and staring for far longer than I expected. I found myself doing exactly what I did with tarot cards and horoscopes: feeling my brain start to wake up and search around for a story or a memory long gone that fit the prompt. The rapid cycling of the prompts kept everything short and sweet and impactful, giving just a few seconds for reflection and the sudden recollection of a meaningful moment in the viewer’s life.
I really liked it.
Also made at SPFC, When was the last is a chapbook of six computational poems made out of a zodiac relationship prediction for me and my partner. The (very negative) text from this prediction is cut up, shuffled, rearranged, and lightly edited to form a series of poems about relationships. There are five different covers, each with a different constellation randomly generated in Processing.
What I liked about this project was that this process interruped the rigidity of these predictions, allowing algorithmic chance and human choice to influence the kind of relationship the source text originally forecasted. This was me as Sarah Connor scratching “NO FATE” into the picnic table. And who doesn’t want art that lets them feel like that?
I write a lot of code, but I don’t make a lot of tools, if that makes sense. That’s something I wanted to start moving away from in 2015: being able to make my own tools, and making them in a way that meant they were reusable by me and other people.
Baleet was an early shot at that. It’s a tool that helps you delete your Twitter archive. I’ve already written about Baleet on this blog, so I won’t go into that much detail.
@ra ramsey i need you to know that i coded a tool for myself & it p much WORKS & DOES WHAT I WANT & IS THIS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE YOU— jane frie(n)dhoff (@JFriedhoff) November 26, 2015
But I was pretty psyched about it.
Although I’ve been programming for ages, it’s only been within the last few years that I actually started drilling down into web programming specifically. A lot of this year was learning proper frontend, learning any backend at all, and–with this project–learning how to deploy stuff.
@_tiny_tarot is a small NodeJS app with a big ol’ JSON file of cards, meanings, and images. I’ve done that sort of stuff before; the big deal to me was finally deploying something myself. Heroku made the process pretty straightforward, and once I got the guts to put my credit card info in (still haven’t been charged at least), I hooked it up to scheduler too.
today's card is The World. let's think about how we can find harmony. pic.twitter.com/qw6BvOxzEj— tiny tarot (@_tiny_tarot) December 9, 2015
I check it every day.
So was it enough?
Here’s the thing: this list will never be long enough. Not to satisfy me, not to satisfy anyone else. And yet, the length of this list will probably also make someone else feel like shit. Hell, if you lied and told me this was someone else’s list, I’d feel bad that mine almost certainly wasn’t as long as theirs.
You can do whatever you want for 2016, but here’s my suggestion: don’t let this busy shit haunt you. Don’t let the long, confident lists of other folks freak you out. Even the confident among us are usually freaking out under the surface anyway. If you let your accomplishments form the sum total of who you are, you’ll never feel real.
You’re allowed to want to do better next year, or to commit to a practice, or to hope you do a good job over the next 12 months. But if you find yourself addicted to this list porn, stop. Know that you are already good enough. Know that all the end of the year means is a new calendar. It’s never too late to make things, you’re never too far behind, you’re never too out of the loop or too amateur. You’re awesome just the way you are.
I’ll be rooting for you in 2016.
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