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I'm Leaving Gamedev! (AWOO + L&F News)
There's not an easy way to say this, so I'm going to be direct about it:
I (Ivan Katz) am stepping away from Love & Formaldehyde and A Werewolf Opportunity, Obviously, and permanently closing up shop as Arcade Party. I don't intend to come back.
For everyone who wants to play it, AWOO will still exist and will almost definitely be finished without me involved. My creative control is 100% relinquished and almost none of my words will be in the final product, while the existing demo won't be taken down (by me, anyway) at any point. The same goes for the other projects I've been involved in -- I can't say that I myself plan to finish Love & Formaldehyde, but it (and my previously completed work) are staying up as long as this page is here and I myself not going to touch or modify anything on Itchio from this point forward.
Tomai's bonus scenes are likewise still in production, but my work with them is over. From this point forward, Cupid Date and the demo for Love & Formaldehyde are also going to be 100% free, not PWYW, as a type of archive so that the players who've told me they're meaningful VNs to them never lose a place to find those worlds again. I already preserved backup copies if anything does happen to them, so you're welcome to contact me by email if something goes awry, although it might take me a bit to respond. The reasons for my decision to quit are unfortunately messy and complicated, so I'd recommend tabbing away now if you were only interested in hearing about the projects' futures.
Back at the end of July, I mentioned over on Twitter that I was going to try to take a break starting in September until at least March, because I had just moved and knew it'd be a bit hard to find a new place to work. I also wanted to reassess my relationship to visual novels by taking some time away. I'd hoped to be able to finish all of my VN work (namely what remains for Tomai and Love & Formaldehyde) in August and find steady IRL work in August/September. Then I'd announce my hiatus over here, but at least I'd have a little bit of new stuff for y'all to enjoy while I was gone. That sounds pretty simple, right?
Anyone who's smarter than me will probably be able to guess that I hadn't remembered how hard moving to an entirely different place while finding decently-paying, reliable work in a smaller town I'm 100% new to would be, so I never got to take that break. Tomai's bonus scenes didn't get done, along with Love & Formaldehyde, anywhere close to that timeframe. Those projects were a cloud over me for the entire back half of 2018 -- I ended up in a place where my debt from so much invested time with so little pay (they're free projects, so in hindsight, duh) got worse and worse, while my ability to persevere in the face of struggling to get new work became more and more difficult. I wrote nearly 325,000 words last year, and at least two-thirds of those were so outright unusable that I didn't even feel like I'd grown as a writer for having written them, which is a uniquely horrible feeling. There were weeks at a time where I couldn't write anything at all.
My rapidly deteriorating mental health meant I couldn't produce writing work I was even remotely OK with, which made me feel even shittier and dragged out the process of finishing those things, which made my struggle to find a job harder than ever, etc etc. Working as Arcade Party has became a drain on me in every sense of the word to the point that I honestly kind of resented it! I would rather have never said that, but putting it out there feels so much better than just pretending it isn't where I've been at for half a year. And I don't know if it's possible to not resent something that's made you fundamentally a worse person, at least in the place I'm at -- it's always been funny to hear that my characters are quick to discuss their feelings, because I struggle to do that myself without cloaking it in thirty layers of irony, or assurances that I don't need help (because I'm not dead yet). What a giant, absurd leap, huh? (That's the irony! That's the shit I've gotta cut out this year, seriously!)
I've started writing again for a radically different kind of job (a full-time writing job that pays livable wages that I feel like I can do, holy shit!!!) that's completely disconnected from this, where it's been both 1) a relief to feel like I still have a fulfilling future waiting for me and 2) a disappointing wake-up call that I really can't pretend I'm able to write for my own indie VNs anymore. Flaws in my approach and all, I've given it the best try that I as a person possibly could, but the pressures of independent VN dev turned out to not be healthy for me. It happens! This is a livable (or at least survivable) environment for some people -- but my health can't just "buckle down and keep going" past a certain point, and I run real risks by putting our field's ultra-common advice into practice. The miasma of self-employed pressure to be creating or working or doing something never really goes away, even if you look the other way.
There's a reason this post is full of only pictures of Love & Formaldehyde, and it's that looking back, I can see so much of my own warning signs in the lines I'd written. The gags about dropping dead or hating working in what's a really fucking cool profession, the fact that I turned to a main character like Prince to exorcise my own frustrations with being unable to communicate or work the way other people can… There's a shitton of the tiny gestures in that direction that I can see now that I'm looking back! My only real life goal is to do fun things that won't kill me, so when I started to notice that I was suffering physically, I should've actually put my foot down and taken that break without feeling like I needed to keep chipping away. Maybe I could've felt like I had a future in VNs if I hadn't felt like I had to deliver on work that was killing me. But I did, and I almost couldn't not think about them in some ways, so here we are.
I'm not really proud of the fact that I didn't finish all my projects myself, but I'm also not all that proud of their current states to begin with, anymore. There are a lot of things I would do differently if I could go back and do the past two years from scratch. Many of them are even more complicated and difficult for me to acknowledge than this post already is to write, so I'll just say I'm cognizant of a lot of my own professional missteps and am sincerely sorry to everyone for all of them, especially for the situations I can't address directly for one reason or another. I know a few of them are particularly disappointing, and trust me, they're things that disappoint me, too. I'll 100% cop to the fact that they're the fault of my own decisions in so many ways.
But I can't overstate how much I appreciate every player who's written me wonderfully encouraging messages, or told me how much it means to them to have characters they see themselves in, or generously donated money out of love for my work! You've all been amazing -- you deserve so many rewarding, worthwhile stories and well-developed, relatable characters in the visual novels you play. I'm overwhelmed and honored to know that I was that kind of developer for some of you. And I hate to feel like I've let you all down by stepping away like this, but I know I can't cash in on money, time, or health that I just don't have anymore. Even if I could, you all deserve a lot better than my burned-out, barely passable efforts!
This is a long, embarrassingly dense nine paragraphs and posting it already feels like ripping off a bandaid to reveal a truly gross scar -- thanks to everyone who read or skimmed to the end, haha. A special thank you to Auro-Cyanide, Träumendes Mädchen, and KittyKatStar for writing their own blunt blog posts/Tweets/etc in 2015-2018 that made me realize being honest about this wouldn't kill me! I wish I had a better, more coherent explanation for any of this, but it is what it is. I'd rather be direct to at least help other people experiencing creative work-related burnout know somebody sees them and gets how it invades every aspect of your life, because those three creators being honest meant the world to me. And the most I can give everyone else at this point is my transparency about why I quit and a direct goodbye, so...
Goodbye. Thanks so much for your support until now, everyone.
I'm looking forward to falling in love with VNs as a fan again.
Get Love and Formaldehyde [DEMO]
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Aw!I hope you're feeling better now!Only good wishes!
I know you won't see this now that you've gone, but I wanted to say thank you for all the work you put in and that I love your work even if you don't. I don't believe you've disappointed anyone (besides maybe yourself) and I am glad you are finally putting yourself first. When the things we love start to become obligations rather than passion projects, it is important to take a step back and find what truly makes us happy. Making your art should be something you enjoy, not just something bearable. I sincerely wish you nothing but the best in all your future endeavours and believe you'll do great whether you return to the world of VNs again or not :)
Good luck with your new job!
Best of luck, Ivan! I'm very happy for you for the fact that you now have a full time job as a writer. Maybe, with time, you feel the need to come back to VN developing, but even if that isn't the case, you know in this community everyone appreciate your work and you as a person.
I understand you 100%, sometimes, even stuff we love can drain us out. I hope you find all the happiness and stability you deserve, and if you ever do come back, we'll welcome you with open arms. I'm extremely grateful to Cupid date, to AWOO (wich is still one of my favorite VNs) and to you. Take care, i hope you're happy wherever you are. <3
It sucks, but I totally understand you. I'm in an extremely dire situation rigth now myself - I can't find a job that can sustain me, I live in a place where I can't pay my rent right now and I have to deal with an outright crazy person (sorry for the harsh word, but believe me, it's true) but I fear they'll throw me out if I act about that, and I can't get myself to draw or write anymore because of all the stress, so it prevents me from trying to go on with my projects, and the added stress of that prevents me from looking for a better "regular" job too... It's a nightmare, so yeah...
Anyway, it at least you found a way to get out of this shit, then I'm happy for you!