Posted on March 14, 2017
Dead End Game Development: There Is No Such Thing As Free Beer
Note: “Game Development Dead end” is new blog series where we tell the stories behind games that were never finished or released (most of the time, for good reasons.) For every game a developer releases, usually there are 10 more sitting 1/2 finished on their hard drive. This series aims to let some those ideas, no matter how terrible, get their chance to live.
In 2008 we moved out of our house and into a hotel for 4+ weeks, waiting for the occupants of our new to vacate so we could move-in. In that time, I wrote a blog named “Dispatches From A Transient Programmer” as I attempted to make game named “Free beer”. Here, for the first time, is whole sordid tale of the game Free Beer, with brand-new Epilogue describing why it was never finished.
JULY 6TH, 2008: DISPATCHES FROM A TRANSIENT PROGRAMMER #1: THE MOVE
I believe that crime stories in the local newspaper are written in way to make the reader feel more comfortable about their surroundings, no matter how awful the story, so that people will stay put and continue to buy newspapers. A good example of this is the use of the word “transient”. Sometimes I will read story about, for example, someone being stabbed on the street. “Oh my Lord, how awful” I think, but as read further, I see that the the author of the story describes the victim as a “transient”, and I feel a sense of relief. “Oh, well, that’s not me, only transients get stabbed on the street.” You see Transients are bad news. They don’t live any where in particular, at least not in your town, or they are just passing through. There is almost a sense that they deserve what they got because the word transient just sounds so negative. I bring this up because I, and my family have become transients. We are the enemy of society.
Let me explain. We decided to buy a new house a couple months back. We were running out of space for our 3 girls, and out of patience with our neighbors. We found a new house about 1 mile away, put in an offer, and things started rolling. Soon, our house was on the market and we sold it much quicker than we anticipated. The sellers of the house we were buying needed a long escrow, and when everything was said and done, we ended up with a 25 days between when we had to be out of our house, and into a new one. We now have a gap in our living arrangements and the world is simply not set-up for these kinds of gaps. We are now living in a hotel, and are in effect, transients…for the month of July. On the good side, we have no wired phone, gas, electric, water, cable, internet, long distance, or home security bills. We get free breakfast daily, and a access to a pool daily. On the other hand, I’m so used the cushy life of having a “home” that adjusting is very difficult. For instance, where do I have mail sent? My Goozex habit on hold. The Wii will not connect through the hotel Wifi, so no WiiConnect24. As well, hotel internet access is slow and it’s not encrypted. I can’t really do any late-night programming work without waking anyone up. Also, the TV channel section in the room is terrible. With no Disney Channel or Food Network our family’s TV habit will be severely hampered. I did locate some of the Disney Channel shows on the Disney XD web site, but so far I have not found any way to watch the Food Network online. Who got kicked out on “The Next Food Network Star” last night? F*ck if I know.
Anyway, this is the first dispatch from the transient programmer. I’ll have more inside information from the outskirts of society as it becomes available.
July 9th, 2008: DISPATCHES FROM A TRANSIENT PROGRAMMER #2: FREE BEER
As a transient programmer (with a family) we are living in a “suite” hotel. I never realized the the true purpose of these establishments until a few weeks ago when I went looking for a place for us to stay during our “gap”. At a regular hotel, you get a room, a couple beds, a bathroom, and the distinct feeling that you are paying too much for too little. However, this suite hotel is designed for extended stays. While it costs just about the same as any other fairly decent hotel (that is, far too much), it offers all sorts of useful amenities. First, they allow pets, so my girls can have their cat around. They also have free breakfast, BBQs and tables, a sports court, nice new plasma TVs in every room. They also have FREE BEER. Yes, that is right. FREE BEER. Four nights a week they have “happy hour” in which you can get a free (although fairly slim) meal, and FREE BEER. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of another hotel that gives FREE BEER, but we found one with FREE BEER.
The FREE BEER though, does not mask the fact that the internet connection is slow and shared by everyone. This must be what all the nay sayers were talking about when they said cable modems would be useless because everyone in the neighborhood would share the same data pipe. That situation never materialized at my old home. The cable modem was always fast…when it was up. Time Warner however could not guarantee any sort of uptime and that is why I switched to FIOS the day it came available. We were basking the in the digital glow of 15mbps for months in our old house, but now we are in a room sharing a single connection with 100’s of other guests. The slowness of the connection makes any sort if online development impossible. Everything has to be built off-line and tested offline, and then uploaded at the last possible minute for a final test in production. If something goes wrong, rolling back can take 10 times longer than I’m used to. It sucks.
Another oddity about staying in one of these long-term hotels is the people you meet who are also staying for a long term. On Monday I noticed a VP from our department sitting at a table during happy hour enjoying the FREE BEER. It just so happens that he is very friendly and one of the best VPs we have. He came over to talk to to my family comment on the FREE BEER. The funny thing was that he and his family are kind of in the same “transient” position were are in, however the scale is to such a different degree that it is laughable. While my family is scrimping, saving and struggling to edge-up to a slightly larger house to support the growing needs of our children, he is living in the hotel because he is having a mansion built in the best part of town but had to move out of the house he was renting (also in the best part of town) because it was sold in a foreclosure sale. He told us straight out that the “novelty” of the suite hotel would wear off quickly. So, while I’m beating myself-up trying to design some kind of game as quickly as possible that might make me a few extra $$$ to offset the cost of our current albeit odd, but inadvertently and expensive lavish housing situation, he’s lamenting the fact that the place is not really up to his usual standards. Oh well, for now the playing field is level. We both get the same crappy internet connection, we both have an awkward time time trying to explain to everyone we know that we no longer have a permanent street address, and four times a week, we get to enjoy the crisp taste of FREE BEER on tap. Did I mention the FREE BEER?
JULY 14th, 2008: DISPATCHES FROM THE TRANSIENT PROGRAMMER #3: DIGITAL DREAM HOME?
I’ve been working for the past few days on a game to salute one of the “amenities” at the hotel here, namely the “Free Beer”. The game is named “Free Beer” and in it, you simply make an attempt to drink as much “free beer” as possible before you get too drunk to control the game. I’m not kidding. I should have it finished in the next couple days and then I’ll see if anyone has the “cajones” to sponsor it. If not, I’ll put it up here with a Game Jacket. I don’t think Mochi will accept it because it has mature content (sort of).
However, today I don’t want to write just about “free beer” again, but about the idea of a “Dream House”. While my family is currently biding their time until we can move into our next “dream home” we visited Disneyland today which purports to now have on display the ultimate “Dream Home“. Woe be to us if their idea of a “Dream Home” comes true though. Apparently to Disneyland (and their partners HP and Microsoft), a “Dream Home” is simply a bunch of nicely decorated rooms that consist of dozens upon dozens of HP branded LCD screens of every shape and size imaginable running various forms of Windows Vista. As well as being used for such mundane tasks and computing, watching TV and blogging on the internet, these these “screens” also take the place of photos, paintings, holiday decorations, board games, audio systems, security systems, climate control systems and any other task you can imagine an LCD screen attached to a Windows operating system might be able to perform. To some extent, the “Dream Home” elicited a faint “neato” from my brain as we walked through it. Especially the “story telling” room, which transformed into a showplace for the most amazing telling of Peter Pan my kids have ever been enthralled with. However, most of the rest of this “Dream Home” was simply exhausting.
Look, I’m no luddite when it comes to technology. I welcome plasma TVs and LCD displays for computers and lap-tops. They have crisp visuals,, take-up little space, and look really cool. However, the effect of dozens and dozens LCD screens in the Disneyland “Dream Home” showing family photos, famous art work (most likely rife with DRM), videos, etc. did not make us want to stay very long, but instead had us running for the exists. Some of the ideas in-fact, simply did not work as well as their real-world physical counter-parts. For instance, they tried to show how a camera and projection screen could replace a standard mirror. However, the effect was muddy and hard to see. A regular mirror would have been far better. On top of that, many of the LCDs were blue-screened with media errors and OS problems. It was a constant reminder that a virus or worm of significant threat would have this “Dream Home” rebooting and scanning more often than it was helping and entertaining. I’m not sure what final product the designers of this “Dream Home” were trying to create, but I’m pretty sure that the “Windows Kernel Error meets digital Cold-War bunker” loaf they pinched out was not what they intended. There is just so much virtual reality I can take before I feel like my head will implode.
Anyway, waiting to get into our own new “dream home” is excruciating. Even though it is certainly not on the scale of what Disney was trying to off-load, it is still a nice step-up from the veritable cave that had us crawling over each other just a couple weeks ago. The Disney Dream Home did teach me something though. We certainly don’t have to fill our new house with every gadget under the sun to be happy. If this experience has taught me one thing it’s that our family was “overly entertained” in our old house (something my wife has been trying to get through to me for many years). In the hotel we have one computer and about a dozen TV channels right now and everyone seems to be adjusting just fine. We certainly don’t need the “dream” of having an LCD screen of every imaginable configuration in every corner of our new house. While The Disneyland “Dream Home” did inspire me to buy a couple new digital picture frames, it will be long time before you’ll find an LCD screen in the backyard offering BBQ tips, or my family putting together a virtual jigsaw puzzle on on 50 x 50 LCD touch-screen. We’ll take the box of 500 pieces and try it on the floor, thank you very much.
JULY 21, 2008: DISPATCHES FROM THE TRANSIENT PROGRAMMER #4: STUFF I TOOK FOR GRANTED: THEN AND NOW
Now that I have moved out of my single-family house, and I have been back visiting my parents often at their house where I grew-up, I realize that I will probably never be able to provide my kids with the same type of house that I grew-up in. Yes, I can get them a bigger house with more stuff, but I don’t think I can ever provide them the comforting nuances of in a 70’s/80’s suburban neighborhood. Given that, here is a list of “Things I took For Granted As a Kid Growing Up In A Single Family House In Middle-Class Neighborhood In The 70’s and 80’s”
- A Front Yard that could be played-in
- A Tree that could be climbed
- A long drive-way that could be used for multiple games and to park cars
- Visiting friends houses on the street and not having my parents worry about were I was going.
- A garage that balls could be kicked against, thrown against, etc.
- Room for a basketball hoop and game of one-on-one
- The freedom to ride my bike any where wanted
- My safe feeling of having my dad coming home from work
- Mom coming back from the supermarket with bags filled with food
- A street filled with single-family homes each with a front and back yard.
- A House with a regular address with only numbers (i.e. with no #A, 1/2. Unit 1, etc).
- Coming home when the street lights turned-on
- All kids sent outside to play instead of inside to play video games
- Available parking…on both sides of the street
- Walking places
- Marathon candy bars and Bubble-Up soda in a returnable bottle
- Big Wheels.
- Playing guns, ditch ’em, etc. at the local school and not having the SWAT Team called-in.
- > Zero Tolerance
- Paperboys with bad aim
- Playing Atari 2600 games and wishing I had one.
On the same note, now that I’ve been living in a hotel, I’ve realized that there are tons of things I simply took for granted when I owned my own place. Many of these are things that I never knew I wanted until I did not have them any longer. Now I can’t wait to get them back.
Things I Took for Granted When Living In a House And Not a Hotel
- My own parking space
- More than 13 TV channels
- Secure, encrypted Internet access
- A wired phone that did not charge 50 cents a minute.
- Light switches that turned on lights that they logically should turn on
- A temperature Control system that could be turned off
- My own artwork/photos on the walls.
- A place to have mail sent.
- My own garbage can.
- A place to wash clothes that did not cost $3.00 per load (including drying).
- A refrigerator that did not freeze everything.
- An oven
- A lock on my door I trusted
- A printer (I didn’t take mine)
- An answering machine
- A doorbell
- A modicum of privacy
- A junk drawer
- An array of readily available tools
- An unlimited supply of filtered drinking water
- A bed that did not hurt my back
- Multi-ply toilet paper
- Removable coat hangers
- More than two chairs for 5 people
- The option to let the cat go outside
- The option to let the cat crap outside
- The sounds and smells of home
- Space to have people visit
- Being able to relax
- Fences and gates
- A sense of control
We still have 10 days on this Transient sojourn. It will be 10 days too many. I thought I would have a demo of the “Free Beer” game today, but that will have to wait until next time.
JULY 29, 2008: THE TRANSIENT PROGRAMMER #5: THE LAST DAY, FREE BEER REVISITED
OK, so this happens to be the last day I will spend as a transient” programmer. By 7:30 tomorrow I will finally have another house to move-into. However, tonight has been pretty difficult. It’s 4:00 AM, and sleep is not coming easily. The hotel got old about 2 weeks ago. That is when my family started to notice little things that separate a hotel room from an actual home. First of all, no matter how they try to hide it, the hotel room is built on an unforgiving concrete slab. After a while you realize that, besides the decor and room separation, the actual building is one-step away from being a garage. Next is that aforementioned decor. I suppose if you are staying in a hotel for 1 or 2 nights, the decor is not really an issue. However, over 25 days it has time to sink-in. This room has the most offensive red and black striped carpet I have ever witnessed in any establishment. As well, the pictures on the walls, and furniture all match this color scheme with deadly accuracy. Honestly, it’s like a Freddie Krueger bachelor pad in here. As well, the low quality of the fixtures has become readily apparent with each passing day. The showers now dribble, the light sockets are falling our of the lamps, etc. It’s odd how we put up with these things though. If this was not a long-term stay, we would asked for another room weeks ago.
However, the one constant throughout the entire stay has been the FREE BEER. Nearly every night my wife and I have enjoyed a glass of FREE BEER. We have not gone over-board, and we have kept our consumption of the FREE BEER fairly low, but we still enjoy it. We may have stopped eating the food the hotel provides last week, but not the FREE BEER. The FREE BEER has never let us down. To that end, I have been developing a new game named FREE BEER to launch on the site. I’m not sure about the moral value of game where the main goal is to “capture” as much FREE BEER as you can before you run out of time, but while living in a hotel with fixtures that are falling apart, resting my feet on horror-movie carpet while trying to bide the time my 5th consecutive night of insomnia, it sure seems like a fun idea. My next transmission will be the Alpha version of the game.
March 24th, 2017: FREE BEER – EPILOGUE
There was never an “Alpha” version of Free Beer. The game never saw the light of any day, and I’d pretty much forgotten about it for almost 10 years until last week when I decided I wanted to try-out this new column about Dead End Game Development.
When I searched this site for mention of the game, I was surprised to find that I created some pretty significant blog posts around the game. If you made it through the above, you’ve read them all.
Free Beer was never finished for a multitude of reasons, but I think the most significant is that, when all is told, it was really only interesting to me when I was holed-up in that hotel, marveling at the free beer 4 nights a week. Also, it was not a particularly good idea, and when you get down do it, was just a crass attempt to be “funny” but with no real humor.
Buy hey, this was smack dab in the middle of the “Flash Game Era”, when almost any idea, no matter how weird or crass, could become a hit game.
The game was pretty basic. You use the arrow keys to move. You try to “drink” (run over) as ,any beers as possible in the allotted time. The more you drink the harder it is to control. Each level adds new challenges to make it harder to finish. The “map” screen was placeholder. I used an image-processed Google Map of my old neighborhood. The reasons for using my old neighborhood instead of new neighborhood are lost to time, but it leave me to speculate about my true mental state at the time: was I really happy about leaving?
I found another game on my hard drive related to this one. It was named “Free Candy”, and it was dated in October 2008. The only difference in the other version is that instead of disembodied head you controlled a jack-o-lantern.
“Free Beer” was never meant to be. It was one of my windmills tilted. A flash of an idea born out of boredom and necessity to keep idle hands busy. It falls into the category of what I call a “vacation brainstorm”: the types of ideas that fill your head and seem plausible because you have removed yourself from your regular, daily schedule. There was no audience for it. No place where it worked. Like most dead end game development projects, it lived a rich life inside my head and on my hard drive, but no where else. It’s story is really the story of transition. Of being a a transient, and how that concept can play on a person’s mental state. It’s less a game then, then a very personal view into my own mind in the summer of 2008. A living journal of life in flux.
Click image below to play the Free Beer prototype:
(turn your volume down, as it starts loud and can’t be controlled in this version)
Also published on Medium.