Rob Justice, Game Designer

This is an experiment in being candid. Judge not, lest yadda yadda yadda.

I’ve struggled in the “game designer” space for a couple months now. I know Impostor syndrome is at play, but there is more. There have been a series of events, roadblocks, that have killed my momentum. There are also maladaptive thoughts that keep popping into my head. I struggle to put down but it seems like knowing about them just make me believe I’m more susceptible.

I want to break down a few of these situations and thoughts. I hope by working through them, and sharing them, I will be able to overcome them. We’ll see…

7th Sea

There is a lot to unpack here and I’m not comfortable unpacking everything in public. Close friends and family will understand why this is on my list. Those who don’t get it, the best I can do is to tell you I saw how the sausage gets made.

Relationships were permanently changed while making 7th Sea Sausage. This wasn’t unexpected, but the impact those changes have had on me is a lot more drastic than I expected. Honestly, I think I lost a close friend during this process. And it really sucks.

Before anyone asks, I’m not talking about Mike. On more than one occasion, both Mike and I, have been asked, “Is Rob mad at Mike for working full-time with John Wick Presents?” The answer is, unequivocally, “No. I never have been and I never will be.”

The question comes from knowing how much I wanted to work with John and make games for a living. Which is how a lot of our old listeners and fans know me. A lot of them didn’t come along on the journey of meeting my wife, getting married, having a child, and building a family.

Does this mean I’m not envious of Mike’s position? Again, absolutely not. I’m very envious. Of course I want to eat my cake and then have some pie. Except while I’m not eating cake, I have a very wonderful pie I’m enjoying. If I lost you, the Cake is being a full-time game designer and the Pie is my family. Not that I eat my family… Stop being difficult, you know what I’m saying.

To break things down Adult™ style; If I wanted to work full-time in the RPG industry I’d have to cut my salary by two-thirds. I have a family I want to support. I’m very proud I can provide enough income so my wife can stay home with our kids. Having a strong and healthy family life is far, far, more important to me than writing games. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a difficult choice, but at the end of the day, I need my family. I just want to be writer. In this instance, needs out weight wants.

Then there are those relationship changes I mentioned. In some ways, I feel like I dodged a bullet. If I uprooted my family and career back then, and the same things happened, I’d be devastatingly unhappy today. Or maybe those relationship changes wouldn’t have happened because I would have been closer… or.. or… or.

I need to put the brakes on there. That is the past. What happened, happened. The damage is done, it is time to move forward.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Infamous Butchers

I was… am… so close to the finish line on this one. Then the part of the process I always get hung up on… hung me up. I have to rely on other people to finish Infamous Butchers. I’ve always struggled with that.

If it’s someone else’s project, like how I worked on Unspeakable, 7th Sea, or (hope to work on) Cortex Prime, I’m golden. I don’t have the burden of responsibility. When I take the reins… I feel like I need to do everything myself. Then when I can’t, I feel like a failure.

Except with Infamous Butchers I pushed through and chose to rely on other people. Then very reasonable events transpired and I had to find other people to rely on… I half-heartily tried again and… nope, that’s not working out either. Now I’m stymied. So the project languishes and now it feels stupid to go back.

I really want to get Infamous Butchers across the finish line, but I don’t know if I can… because of this goddamn thought I keep having.

“I have never completed a project.”

I have so many RPGs I’ve sunk so many hours into, only to abandon because I wasn’t happy with them. I’m incapable of handling the feeling I might put out a “bad” or “incomplete” game so I never finish what I begin. Because if it’s never released, it doesn’t count.

It then becomes a self-fulfilling idiom and here’s the fucking maladaptive train, right on schedule. “I have never completed a project. Why would this project ever get completed? Nobody has faith in me because I’ve never finished anything I’ve started. I’ve made too many promises and betrayed too many trusts, no one will support my games.”

This one is different. Goodbye “Grim Heroic”, I didn’t want to write you anyway (Right?) Hello “Solaris Historias”, you’re what I really want to make (Right? You’re believing this?) Oh, Is that “In the Pines”? Yeah, I mean, I want you to be a real person too, but I need to learn so much more because I can finish your legacy. (What?) And I see you “Eidolon”, you’re up either before In the Pines or after… Whenever I’ve learned whatever I need to know to make you perfect. (Seriously?) “Lovecraft Hangout” was just kind of joke (yeah… sure) so that’s fine to… “Headlights” calm down, you’re going to become something different (I promise) and “Black-Hearted Savage”, I’m sorry but you were a failure out the gate… (True, true) Maybe I’m not ready for RPGs, I’ll make card games. (Makes sense) Yeah, I mean, I’ll finish “Infamous Butchers” one day, maybe, (maybe?) but I need to learn something so let’s do another project. (Yeah!)

Reading the Play

There’s the secret…

I’m done with this game.

I don’t mean giving up, I mean I could cross that finish line if I wanted to. I got proofs back. The cards are exactly what I want. I’ve done some playtesting. I’m happy with the rules. Then… I keep tweaking them so I need to do more playtesting. Of course, I need to get the rulebook laid out too, but I can’t do that until I finalize the rules and I can’t do that until I do more playtesting but I can’t ask people to playtest the game because it’s not finished yet and…

AURG!

Seriously, the game is done. It’s playable, even fun. I just keep putting up my own roadblocks to no get it across the finish line. I think I can’t finish it because if I do then “I have never completed a project.” loses merit and I really need to justify my failures.

This, of course means…

“I’m an asshole.”

Everything comes back to this thought.

I can’t finish a game. Because I’m an asshole.

I’m losing my friends. Because I’m an asshole.

Infamous Butchers sucks. Because I’m an asshole.

Reading the Play is a joke. Because I’m an asshole.

I can’t work in the industry. Because I’m an asshole.

It doesn’t matter how much love and support I get. Compliments don’t matter. I’m an asshole.

Things with JWP wouldn’t be where they are today if I wasn’t an asshole.

I’d have a half-dozen games completed if I wasn’t an asshole.

I’m so lucky I have a family, because with them I’m not an asshole. I’m only an asshole when I chase my dreams. As long as I’m supporting, I can allow myself to be a rock star. When the spotlight hits me… Everyone sees me for what I am. Puckered. Round. Smelly.

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3 Comments

  1. You are an asshole. We all accept it.

    Your opinion of your work is low. But, that doesn’t matter. My opinion of your work is high. Let’s go with my opinion. It’s more objective.

  2. I recognize a lot of this. I’ve been there. Heck, I am there. I wish I could offer advice how to push through it. I do think that getting something out in front of the world is important. Not that it will remove impostor syndrome, but it kind of breaks the seal and makes the next one easier to let go and release. But that might just be me.

    And I can’t wait to finally play . . .

    YOUR GAME!

  3. I’m with David, we all accept who you are and are interested in what you do.
    A game is finished when the designer says it is – Luke Crane spends years tinkering, Nathan Paoletta moves onto the next project and has a dozen that are as yet unfinished. Either is fine, it’s done when the designer says it is.

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