Pre-Launch Panic Attacks (And How To Beat Them)

I’ve been having panic attacks at 3:00 am for several months now. I’ll wake up sweating, nauseous, dizzy, and fighting feelings of dread. After several hours of talking myself out of wild fears regarding Pinstripe’s hypothetical failed launch and hateful Steam reviews, I’ll barely fall back into a shallow sleep, and if I’m lucky, avoid nightmares about super weird things I can’t write about on a Unity blog post. My wife is a nurse and she calls these “stress dreams”. Preparing a launch for a Unity project as dear to me as Pinstripe is causing serious stress, but I’m learning to fight back. Pinstripe has been in development for five years now, had a tremendously successful Kickstarter, and it sometimes feels like everything is riding on the success or failure of it’s launch. If you’re anything like me, pre-launch is an emotional roller-coaster and sure-fire way to get a few gray hairs. So here are three ways to fight off fear, stay focused, and follow-through on your game just before launch.

Take People’s Comments and Stuff ‘Em In A Drawer

This is a metaphor. In my brain I’ve got a comment drawer and it’s overflowing with stupid comments. But I’ve got a little folder in there called “Not So Stupid Comments”. In this folder are ideas from friends, family members, Kickstarter backers, and advisers about Pinstripe. It’s easy to let every comment from every person drive you crazy, but it’s important to keep these close but not too close. Think about your game right now. If you’re anything like me, you can remember the person, day of the week, time of day, and exact sentence of a particular criticism towards your project. It’s tough to let it go, isn’t it? Things like, “I don’t care about the character” or “What’s the point?” or “It keeps breaking and stuff” tend to stick around in your brain. Thing is, these comments are priceless, but they need to be put away initially. Put them away, and don’t let them deter you from staying confident and sticking to your vision.

So when your MMORPG friend plays your glittery art game and says he “feels it should have ax upgrades and viking-goddess-creatures,” say “you’re absolutely right” and stuff his comment in a drawer. My rule of thumb is don’t make a change unless three people mention it. And that’s the glory of beta testing with large groups. This is your time during pre-launch to see which of your friends’ comments were valid and which deserved the drawer.

Visualize Failure and Embrace It

I'm a big fan of self-help books. They get me through tough self-defeating thoughts and make me feel like I have control over my destiny. I don’t actually believe I do, but at-least it feels nice to try. So go read Think and Grow Rich. It’s a bit old and dusty, but I’m starting to think it’s magical. Everything that guy says to do seems to work (except for pretending to talk to Abe Lincoln -- that kind of freaks me out). Anyways, there’s a chapter about learning to deal with fear. Fear can really damage your project. Think about it, your project started as a passion project from your heart, and it was probably a hobby. Then suddenly you find yourself just about to launch, and you think about all the time you’ve spent, all the money you could make or not make, all the hateful comments, and worst of all, your close friends will know you are a fraud. These types of thoughts can infect your project and turn it into a heap of garbage come launch day. So, I’m dead serious when I tell you to go sit in a closet, close the door, sit in silence, and visualize, pretend you have already launched your game, and all of the terrible things you feared came to be. Now embrace that failure, live with it, and see how you feel. It’s not so bad is it? It could be worse. Really, it could be worse, so don’t build your Unity game in fear, build it in childlike wonder, and have fun. Unity is perfect for this. Have fun with it’s new features -- it seems to always have something new that makes your game shinier and cooler, and most importantly, put a smile on your face.

Be Patient and Research For Crying Out Loud

Have you ever taken a Unity plugin, asset, or script, and hijacked it to do what you want? It’s like taking a blender and trying to somehow use it as a power drill (I have not done this, but I can imagine it would cause the screw to potentially strip. I’d avoid trying this.) And I’d also avoid frantically building out your project because you just want to be done, and slapping Band-Aids of nonsense code onto nonsense code just to get the thing working. Rather, take a deep breath, grab a coffee, and spend hours, if not days, researching Unity’s tools for the most effective and efficient production methods. If you’re trying to make a Unity tool do something and can’t initially find the solution without hijacking it yourself, there’s probably a better way to do it right under your nose. It just takes a little research. Here are some terrible ways I used to do things in Unity, and here’s what I eventually learned due to patiently watching Unity’s nice tutorial videos (they are actually super, super nice):

  • I used to do all character animation with Flash and then export them as massive sprites sheets. Little did I know Unity and Spine have a really, really nice thing going. If you’re not using Spine in your game, use it! No more sprite sheets -- thanks to Unity and Spine working together seamlessly, you can create glorious skeleton animations in ten minutes.  
  • This one is embarrassing: I still have game elements in Pinstripe that harness the ultimate power of my hijacked legacy GUI elements that I loaded with crazy amounts of messy OnGUI JavaScript. Granted, this was created prior to Unity’s amazing UI tools, but it took me until this week to let go of my hand-made responsive “GUIScreenDynamics.js” class and let the house of cards crumble at my feet. Sometimes breaking your game temporarily to implement Unity’s new features is totally worth it. You'll feel like you’re wasting time, but you’re not.
  • The audio mixer. The glorious, glorious audio mixer. Several weeks ago, Pinstripe was littered with reverb zones and reverb effects, so much so that the game was eating up some serious memory, and causing audio to leak. Everything I was trying to accomplish with this landmine of potential CPU usage was accomplished with the simplicity and efficiency of the audio mixer. It took me a full 8 hours to fully understand how it works, and another week to get my previous system removed and replaced. It was absolutely worth the time and research.

As a result of fully researching Unity’s tools, I can stay asleep a little longer at night. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, take a break, and just watch some of the Unity tutorial videos. There’s a slim chance you know everything about Unity. I promise you will learn a lot, and you'll have clarity regarding your project’s production.

Don't Panic

It’s not like I’m unashamed about my silly anxiety. It sucks. And it’s a bit weird sharing my story. But I wanted you to know, because I have a feeling most Unity developers know what I’m talking about. Making games and finishing them strong is hard, and I think people who know my work think I’m just some kid who loves making games, but unfortunately the majority of the time I feel like the opposite. But I’ve ultimately learned that not taking people’s comments too seriously, realizing that failure is not the end of the world, and spending time patiently understanding Unity’s tools will help you rest easy. So take it easy, make your game a game that you love, and most importantly, follow through and release your masterpiece with your chin up!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email at info@atmosgames.com.

Also, feel free to pre-order Pinstripe!