Twenty-three years ago, I sat alone at a lofty window desk in Lehigh’s tech library, looking out at the campus, watching people go about their day with apparently more courage than me. I was hiding. I was reeling.
For weeks, I’d been sending a daily email to a group of Lehigh professors, describing my solo work on Gravity & Colony, my ill-fated precursor to the Web and many other things. Were you to look at my design books from 1992, you’d be surprised by how much I got right. And now here I was, slowly describing my dream to people who might understand.
“I wish I had time to sift through your messages and filter out the egocentric ramblings so I could attend to that part of your writings that do focus on your supposed topic. Unfortunately I don’t. Please remove me from your mailing list.”
I still remember the pain of that email. I remember sitting at that window desk for hours, unable to summon the strength to leave the building, let alone continue with my daily emails. For an authority figure, an expert in his field, to so callously rebuke me … I mean … lack of interest stung enough, but slamming the door on the way out … I was floored. Little did I know this kind of response would become the Internet norm.
Slowly, numbly, I made my way back to my apartment, walking over the river as the sun set, caught between the faint hope of continuing and the certain relief of giving up. Bracing myself as I checked my email, expecting another well-crafted time bomb to appear, I instead read this from another:
“I nearly got off this one at the very beginning, but I am glad I didn’t, I’d have missed seeing your honest voice.”
This well-timed kindness, this complete and welcome contrast, taught me more of value than a thousand lectures. While it’s easy to say of criticism, “That’s just one opinion,” the sting is still there, and likely always will be. Decades later, I still feel it. But that day I learned something deeper, something I can draw upon in uncommon hours when continuing seems impossible.
Beyond the clamor of critics lies the heartfelt few. My efforts are for you.
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(Tidepool Alpha 3 is now available for anyone to DOWNLOAD).
I know you’re busy, but I’m pretty sure you have ten minutes. We need more sketches for kids to use in their stories and haunted houses and corn mazes, and such.
It’s cool if you can’t really draw … in fact, it’s better. Draw with the freedom of a kid.
Here’s what to do:
1) download and run Tidepool RIGHT NOW from the PlayTidepool website
2) click the paint canvas and draw, draw, draw!
3) click the checkmark and name your sketch.
Legions of kids may one day see your sketch roaming the Tidepool landscape, using it for inspiration for their own sketches, putting it in their stories.
Sound cool? TEN MINUTES (I timed it.)
Tidepool will always have bugs I haven’t found. It’s the nature of software. The only way to a solid bug-minimal product is for many people on many systems to push its limits and record their findings. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We officially released Tidepool Alpha 3 last Tuesday. Even with an extra month of tests and fixes, working harder than I’ve ever worked, I pushed “send” on the invitation email with trepidation, afraid of what I didn’t know.
Last month, my first full test yielded exactly 40 bugs, which I fixed in two weeks. The next test was an even 30 bugs, which took one week. The last yielded a coincidental 20 bugs, which in itself would an amazing, till we found exactly 10 on the day after release. While the numbers were going down, the fixes themselves were shaky. I was burnt-out and long overdue for rest.
So I let myself slump like an understuffed carnival prize, looking up now and then to see who of the 150 had clicked through my email or downloaded Tidepool. Each day, Isabel and I recorded a new episode of Let’s Play Tidepool, our YouTube series chronicling our misadventures in-game. What a joy to finally play Tidepool again with my daughter. And yet no one else had played. Only a tenth had even clicked through the invitation.
Friday morning I broke down and fixed some bugs, then uploaded new installers. Later I sent a test announcement, asking people to click through my custom mailing list functionality. By day’s end, roughly half had clicked, so at least 70 people were getting my emails, of which 8 had downloaded. But why weren’t people playing?
Friday night I found the reason, a whale of a bug that kept out new players. Over the next 24 hours, I worked 18, finally stopping last night with new installers and an even greater fear that I’d once again made a mess of things.
Whatever the outcome, I need to step away now. Our initial $75,000 investment is gone. The collective year and a half of Tidepool time is over. I need to focus solely on billable hours again, perhaps saving Saturday for fixes.
Now is a time to actually play Tidepool, sketching agents and making games for others to play. Bugs or no, we need to put away the nuts and bolts and build a world. Only then can we lure more than ten people to try it.
After running a gauntlet of showstopper bugs and last-minute preparations, I’m very pleased to announce the launch of our first public Tidepool alpha!
Tidepool Alpha 3 adds true programmability to your sketches, allowing you to make games and stories that interact with players.
Since this is an alpha release, you should expect to find some unexpected behavior or slow spots. Everything will get smoother, faster, and easier.
More than 150 of you have signed up to playtest Tidepool, so we’re going to roll things out slowly to assure we don’t swamp our server.
Before playing, you’ll need to pick a slot in our schedule. We’re allowing ten new players a day in the first week, which should allow us to fix performance issues.
For more details, visit the launch page, which includes a five-minute Welcome Video.
p.s. Watch us play together in our Let’s Play Tidepool YouTube series.