Dev Personal Blog

Dev Log: On Hate(ers)

Update, 9/19/2019: My experiences ended up culminating in me writing this in-depth essay on my observations, feelings and analysis of toxic people, usually known as haters or antis. Hope that sharing my thoughts can help someone!

Today, while fulfilling some delayed backer rewards, I came across one particular backer who had apparently been sending me messages full of hate for quite some time. Now, there are at least 20- 30 of these people that have dedicated their life to spreading their negativity about me, and I normally just go on with my life. But I was quite surprised at this one because I couldn’t really imagine how someone I had barely ever talked to could spew so much hate?

These are a series of messages that they sent to me, without me responding in between, (except the first one where I said I couldn’t do a refund), that continued on their own between January 2019 and September 2019. The reason I am showing them is because I wanted fans who were interested to understand the kind of messages I was receiving from people, and why I’m pursuing legal action. I think that a lot of creators and probably celebrities must get these kind of messages, and I don’t think it should be something that’s hidden in the dark. It should be talked about. People are just people, and I don’t believe anyone should ever be treated like this. And I sincerely hope this person can get help. (Click on the picture to see all three screenshots)

I think what’s interesting about this particular person is that they took a very aggressive stance towards me based off the fact I was falsely accused by a former artist that had been with us for a few months of non-payment (I have plenty of proof towards otherwise, in fact they made more than any other artist I’ve worked with, but that’s for another post I’m preparing in the future).

They also saw me explaining the truth behind campaign and game delays as “throwing my team” under the bus. They twisted everything that they heard to fit some kind of specific vision of me being evil, and themselves, some sort of champion of justice…All the while I hadn’t even been seeing those messages.

No matter what you think someone has done (I mean, short of big ones like murder), mercy, understanding and love is a better tool to resolution than throwing hateful words around. Yet, this person had never actually come to talk to me about any of this. They just started lobbying names and cursing at me without actually taking the time to get to know me. Most backers and fans, however, just took my explanation as “Ah well, projects just go wrong sometimes, but thanks for trying to fix things” and it’s a stark, but welcome contrast to me versus how the vocal minority thinks.

For my part, I really do hope this person is able to pursue legal action for their $15 (even though I have fulfilled their rewards they no longer want), because I’d love to have the opportunity to speak for myself on a fair playing field that isn’t just hateful yelling. Anyway, I guess I just wanted to shine a light on the ugly reality of what I’m experiencing, because chances are that your favorite artist is getting messages like these, too. It’s why your support is so very important to people’s whose works you enjoy.

- Ajané

Starting Over As Not ADS, But As Ajané

I have an announcement to make.

My role as ADS’ team leader is over. I’ve decided it’s time to transition into a solo artist. Simply put, the creative team has been long gone, and after a series of health problems this past summer, I realized can’t make things work the way they were (and they weren’t working well anyway, as they weren’t sustainable).

Things had changed around me, and I made strides to change the company, but I hadn’t made the necessary changes for myself. In this blog, I decided to go into the full history of what led me to where I am today, and why I’m transitioning from being the leader of ADS (which is now officially just another name for my collaborative works) to just myself, just Ajané, with a focus on sharing my creative works through Patreon.

What Will Happen to the Old Patreon? Well right now, I’m locked out of it, and Patreon Support is trying to help me get back in. But when I do, I’ll message those patrons privately and let them know what’s going on and talk with them. I’ll save any content on it, and then eventually disable it.

History: I started my professional creative career as the leader of Aeon Dream Studios back in 2015 - an indie team of three who began work on Mystic Destinies: Serendipity of Aeons (MDSOA), an otome visual novel over the course of 3 years.

After MDSOA was nearly completed, we created campaigns for a spin-off sequel Mystic Destinies:Echoes (MDE) and released a demo for a sci fi visual novel, To the Edge of the Sky (TTEOTS) around Spring 2017. The response was unprecedented and while we worked on completing MDSOA through spring and summer, the demand kept growing. The team went through its first changes as our first artist left, and another writer came on.

We finally decided to give into the demand and make a full game and yet another crowdfunding campaign to fund it. I hired more freelancers to help out, and we split into two teams. The next two years would have me mainly on the To the Edge of the Sky team while I helped out with Mystic Destinies: Echoes.

But although we had the support of our fans, it soon became clear we had taken on too much, and delay after delay followed. Our budget stretched and stretched until it was finally drained. The core creative team had essentially disintegrated by that point, leaving myself, two unfinished games, unshipped rewards, and all of the unfulfilled promises that we had made together.

I put the company on hiatus and tried to recover some funding, but it wasn't enough to do more than to give TTEOTS an unreleased update, some artwork, and finish off some MDE tasks. Without active releases, updates, and a plethora of upset fans and new anti fans, revenue streams slowed. Faced with a plethora of health issues after a major period of stress, no budget, and no team, I faced answering the question of whether I could truly ever continue to create games, whether I should continue my career as an artist, and whether I could truly fulfill all those delayed promises.

The fact was, that I believe my destiny is to be an artist, and share so many more stories with the world. And I didn't want to throw away all the blood, sweat, and tears of my team anymore than I wanted to disappoint fans and not make good on my word. So I racked my brain until I came up with a solution that might be my best chance at earning the funds needed to make good on those promises: Patreon.

That's where you come in. With your help, and switching over to episodic releases, I hope to be able to continue to create, now as a solo artist: in order to fulfill ADS' promises, as well as share my future new stories and worlds. In return, I'll share with you everything I'm doing creatively, as often as I can, and make Patreon the nexus of everything I do creatively.

I intend to keep releasing projects I collaborate with freelance artists with under the Aeon Dream name, but the former team is gone, which is why I'm simply using my name this time. That team is over, but the things we created back then stands as evidence of our time together, and I want to preserve it somewhere other than on my hard drive. So, I'll also make Patreon a public archive of everything the former Aeon Dream team had created together.

I hope you'll help me fulfill ADS' promises, and help me get a new start, so that I can show you new and amazing worlds and stories in the future.

Wishing you love, light & eternal understanding,

Ajané

End-of-May Update + Developer's Thoughts

Hello, this news update will be different than I had anticipated. I will follow with a more detailed one in June about my plans to address some of the communication issues and a break down of how Echoes will work (this update will also go straight to backers since it will contain vitally important information).

I will be as straightforward as I can.

TTEOTS IOS release

It's very frustrating, but the iOS release of Chapter 04 was rejected. There was one big bug with Four's POV and Apple is requiring some additional menu functionality. It's something the programmer is working on. When I have the fixes, I'll make sure to submit immediately. When it's approved, it will release immediately for premium and updates will be posted to social media a little after. For releases, they will always be updated on social media within 24 hours.

Mystic Destinies: Echoes

Sometimes, we used to joke and called this a cursed game because there were so many delays. I told everyone that it was my hope that I could get it out this April and May, but that won't be possible. Many people seem to take the dates I share I'm aiming for as a guarantee, and become disappointed when I miss my mark.

That's understandable, so as of now I have decided not to give anymore future release dates for Mystic Destinies: Echoes until it is completed. I'll still have my internal dates, but I don't want to confuse people or over promise by accident any longer. I understand people are already angry about the delays, and this will probably make people angrier, but there are also those that have asked that I not give dates if I can't guarantee them. I used to give specific dates, and then I went to seasons as a compromise, but now I think I'll give this method a try for Echoes.

I can only do what I can do, and even I have to accept that I am human.

When I made the promises I initially did, we had three other people, and a very different company altogether. With me remaining now, as just one person, I am working hard to meet the promises that were made with a much bigger staff. But obviously, it will take much longer. The facts remain the same: development on the game took too long, there were too many delays, and what was left afterwards, I couldn't use most of. I can't change the past, or how people feel, but I can change the future.

Some take me stating the facts to mean that I'm looking for sympathy or trying to play the victim. I have no need for either. The facts are simply the reasons behind why things happened, and why it's taking so long to correct them. Put succinctly, we messed up, most of the staff had left at some point for various reasons, and I'm the only one here left trying to fulfill the promises.

Putting pressure on me, repetitively asking questions, won't get the game out faster, or change our past mistakes. It does, however, make me stronger so I do thank those who want me to fail for giving me an opportunity to grow and improve. It takes pressure makes a diamond, and I'm sure any future releases won't be plagued by these problems.

However, at this point I've got to be straightforward and simply say once again: 1) Mystic Destinies: Echoes will release whenever I'm finished with the game. 2) Then I will address backer rewards and any remaining questions.

It's taking forever, but I've made up my mind to finish it, regardless of how impatient people feel. So far, since working alone, I've managed to release an Echoes demo, and to release the delayed release of TTEOTS from last September, so next on my check list is completing Echoes.

I've had some personal difficulties with life lately. Health, someone precious to me falling ill, unexpected things happening with and to other people I work with that caused further delays no one could help. I understand now that life is chaotic, and it's best to just work around it.

I want to model a healthy artist work-life balance while fulfilling the obligations ADS made in the past. I realized that I can't make up for two years of development in a few months, so I'm just resolving to work well until it's done. Whether the people who are interested in Echoes wait patiently, or vent in anger everyday at me for the situations that have occured in the past, or yell at me for the situations they assume are occurring while I'm quietly working is up to them.

Your choice is valid for you. I have no right to tell anyone how to live.

I don't have time to engage with people extensively right now, and if people desire, they may view that as ignoring or running away.

It's not. It's an active choice to put my energy elsewhere, towards fulfilling my obligations, in the order I said I would. If I have a little bit of time, I do try to reply where I can to some of you, but in some cases questions may be going unanswered for months. I think that's unacceptable, but there's nothing I can do about it until Echoes is out of the way. And as I've said, I'm making big changes to make sure this kind of situation doesn't happen again in the future.

But I understand the narrative people make in their head becomes their reality. For some people, anything I say that doesn't fit that narrative will be invalid for them, otherwise it would create cognitive dissonance. They even go so far as to make assumptions and jump to conclusions to fill any gaps. Psychology has always been a big interest of mine, and I try to always understand others, so I try to understand even those who criticize me.

I think that understanding is a huge requirement towards loving others, and in my stories I try to help demonstrate many situations where people are misunderstood, or things are not as they seem, so that people may come to understand others better. And so, I have come to understand that some people will never be able to see my words, understand them and believe them in the way I intend. Their truth is one they will defend with their whole being.

I accept that. And I prefer indisputable actions to words, myself. But I digress.

I will continue to communicate updates here, nonetheless, though, and major, tangible updates relating to Echoes itself will be posted in the relevant campaigns. (Some people have shared they really hate getting updates that are just “the game is still delayed”, so I try to be considerate of their inbox and only provide new and relevant information).

I'm not asking for patience, sympathy, or understanding, or for people not to yell at me, or complain or judge me or criticize me. I am surely not perfect, and I won't live up to any perfect image anyone had of me or my work in their mind. Only you can decide how you want to live your life everyday. I prefer to live with love rather than hate.

I just wanted to communicate clearly what the situation regarding my work is right now, and share a bit of how I think. I'll continue working regardless of the circumstances, or how long it takes, and I'll be sending another update in June.

Wishing you understanding, love and light,

Ajané





Dev Personal Blog: Moving Forward with Restructure

Hello, as I said in my previous blogs, we’re going to be moving forward with restructuring the company, and I wanted to continue to share my plans on that for those who are interested in the nitty-gritty details of how ADS runs.

But first, I’ve seen some confusion lately: ADS is NOT an entire company of all the people and staff that are listed in the credits. For a moment, after Egle left, it was literally just me creatively, before Jackie decided to “rejoin” on a larger capacity. The artists and other names you see listed in credits are freelancers working under my direction.

So they aren’t associated with us as a company, but are independent professionals in their own right that we (the current core members of myself and Jackie) are blessed to work with, but aren’t part of my discussions about the company. We have never had more than three core members at a time. That is who I am referring to when I say “we”, past or present. Hopefully this list will help clarify who has worked on what up till now. I don’t currently have a freelancer list of works with us prepared, but intend to eventually.

Anyway, with all of the experience I have gained, I’m now applying it when deciding the direction of the company. Luckily, Jackie and I now work together physically as well, so that has already helped. I wrote this for myself, but decided to share it to clarify the direction we’re headed in.

My goals for the company are to:

- Reduce likelihood of delays. I am not foolish enough to think there will never be a delay again, when even major games multi-million dollar games are routinely delayed. Life happens to all of us, and with a small team, life happening means delays since there’s no one to replace each other. But I know we can drastically reduce the amount with the improvement of our internal workflow practices and how the work is distributed internally.

Already, as Jackie is now physically with me full time, I can see that things have improved and benefitted in ways creatively and workflow-wise that we didn’t predict. We can and will also improve by extending development timelines so we have more time to work. This means more infrequent releases going forward, but more reliable ones.

- Improve communication between fans/customers and “the company”. There are messages I simply don’t have time to look at, as with my amount of roles, my work time has to be focused on creating or directing. I’ve largely cut social media out of my life to focus on positivity and creating…Just sharing my thoughts on social media can cause anxiety. So this task is at times, incredibly stressful and negative to our mental and ultimately, our physical health. It has always been the task that drained the people that worked with us the most, including myself.

But I recognize the need for it to be consistent and reliable if we are to be a company we can be proud of. Besides that, I personally feel terrible when people can’t get the help they need because I can’t even see it, or I miss genuine and kind fan messages. This isn’t up to my personal standards, yet I’m already at the limits of how much I can do. That is why I’ve decided to outsource to third parties who aren’t involved in the creative process.

- Begin beta testing our games. Testing takes a great deal of development time. Every release must be tested over and over and over by myself and the lead programmer I work with. Bugs are difficult to catch across thousands of devices, not to mention various platforms too.

I would like to build a reliable and trustworthy beta team for games that can thoroughly test for bugs/typos and help cut down on development time and raise quality across releases. In the past, we simply didn’t have the development time to meet our deadlines and still have time to beta test, but that’s all changing. I will be looking to build the team in the coming months.

- Release all delayed crowdfunding rewards. Another thing that isn’t up to my standards, is that we have been unable to ship all of the physical rewards yet. This is partially a temporary budgetary issue, and partially a lack of administrative manpower. If it comes down to it, I will personally do it myself along with Jackie, but I am still searching for a good solution to how we can best release these and catch up on our commitments.

Like many crowdfunding start-ups, we underestimated the manpower required to actually distribute rewards. It is for this reason, that I currently do not plan to do any crowdfunding again, even if it means we have to take a break from making games to accumulate revenue to develop. We will focus on other paths, like novels at those times.

- Release everything we’ve promised thus far. This is actually the easy and fun part for us. Ultimately, we are creators and enjoy creating. That’s why we keep at it. Most of the work and framework for any pending releases is already done, but we need to get the budget for actually releasing it. It hangs over our head everyday, thinking about the fans who have been waiting so long that trusted us. We want to see everything released, too. And it’s not up to our personal standards or vision for the delays to have happened the way they have. That’s why we’re spending 2019 without creating any new projects.

Solutions I came up with:

  • Improve internal workflow structure/practices and communication to speed up our creative work and smooth out the kinks. Extend development time to allow for life to happen.

  • Customer support and possibly majority of social media will be handled by a third party freelancer or service outside of the company, as soon as we are off hiatus.

  • Begin beta testing group to improve game release quality.

  • Continue fulfillment of crowdfunding rewards. Avoid crowdfunding campaigns in the future as part of our business model.

  • Work on completing existing projects. 2019 will not have any new ones for ADS. Possibly not 2020 either. We need to play catch-up, but we also need to maintain a healthy pace for us.

I’ll continue to serve as the creative core as I teach Jackie more about game development and we write together. Here are the latest roles and openings I plan to fill after our budgetary hiatus. All will freelance and hourly/as needed.

  • Administrative Assistant

  • Customer Support

  • Social Media Coordinator

At the moment, there is no one filling these roles, which is part of why we are on hiatus. So, these are my internal plans for this year. Jackie and I decided that we personally are best at being ourselves. We'’ll continue to be honest and direct in our personal communications with others, treating people not as customers (that’s what the customer support rep will be for), but as human beings.

Honestly, the capitalist attitude between companies and customers is just something that suits neither of us, and I don’t think we can do that comfortably. We believe in being polite, but honest with people. Whatever people think about us, or our past as a company, the two of us have decided to continue to work to fulfill our obligations, however long it takes, and continue to share our creations with the world, simply out of the passion of creating art.

Dev Personal Blog: Thoughts on the Mystic Destinies: Echoes Discontent

I'm the leader of ADS. I am mainly on the To the Edge of the Sky team. I made the concept, very rough plot for Echoes a year ago, and the structure for it, and then left the writing in my teammates hands. I’m coming back in at the end to make sure the project is tied together and polished the way I want, but have been hands off with the script.

There's been a lot of discontent (as always) about the delays for Mystic Destinies: Echoes. People are asking for communication and transparency. So this is what I have to say to those who feel this way, as transparent and direct as possible. I doubt I’ll write again about it - I like spending my time on actual work, rather than talking about it. These are my personal feelings, so take them as you will.

“However, Aeon Dream Studio's communication with customers, especially Kickstarter backers who have paid upfront for a game they love the sound of, made by a developer who they already love and have faith in, is creating a clearly toxic environment for your game, your staff, your fans/future reviewers.” - Excerpt from a Kickstarter Backer Comment

Every time we post an update for Echoes, we indeed get toxic, angry comments that make us stressed out and sick to our stomach if we read them. Hence, why posting updates to Echoes gives us severe anxiety. We can't change the past. We've already apologized for the past situation before we had split into two teams, but from that point on, some people already decided what they were going to think and feel about us. Can't change that either. People will think whatever they want in the end.

Posting updates actually interferes with the work now, makes the writing team on Echoes feel pressured when writing, makes us all feel like we're going to be attacked no matter what the update is if it doesn’t say “The game is released.” So me, who isn't on the Echoes team generally writes the updates.

But we still get unpleasant comments that we can do nothing about anyway. No matter what it is we’re saying about Echoes, there’s someone saying hurtful, negative things, calling us liars or pressuring us. It's as if we're being eternally punished for not doing a good enough job. Perhaps we are - maybe that’s the point of why people say such things. I certainly haven’t been able to figure out any other reasons, as it doesn’t change anything other than to make us feel badly. So if this is how a fan’s “love” feels, then we definitely don’t want it. Us on the core writing team all agreed we’d rather stop developing games than to go through this experience again.

As I said in the apology months ago, we're still a new company. We're still learning our limits and what we can do, what's comfortable for us to do, and how we want to do it. We all pretty much prefer to just work quietly in peace rather than yell about progress regularly. We're indeed not very good at marketing, and it's unfortunate that we're too small to have a marketing department. The sprite art has already been done for a year, and we've already released those updates. We want the CGs to be a surprise.

We're not going to tease writing in case people don't want spoilers, and the way we develop these kind of releases is to be completed all at once with the proper UI fixed at the end, so no screenshots are available. And even when we did post the things we had, we'd get unpleasant comments about not wanting to see that, just wanting the game. So, some of Mystic Destinies community became a toxic place for us.

We made some mistakes early on, and strings of unforeseeable and serious personal life circumstances made it where we had to split into two teams and make two games for actual survival. We are all extremely private people and we don’t want people to worry about us, or worry about the project, so we don’t speak about our personal misfortunes. We just try to do our best and announce any resulting delay we can’t avoid. If you want to get real, as grateful as we are for the MD community believing in us, MD simply doesn't make much money yet, and we'd be homeless and starving by now if we hadn't released TTEOTS.

TTEOTS if you'll notice, is episodic and therefore requires more frequent updates about it. It is also much smaller and shorter than any of MD to release a single part, and is 90% done by myself in terms of actual writing and programming. There's new art constantly, and the community is large and engages with me on Twitter.

MD’s community is still small and mostly not on Twitter. And unfortunately, a lot of the fans of the game are angry and toxic towards the creators. That's okay; one day it'll change. But for now, there's just not much to said or be shared. And there’re negative feelings towards us whenever we do anyway.

But unfortunately, lot of emotional damage was done with our connection between us and our work. Nothing would come at first, and we felt sick just working on it. It took bringing in a third writer at the beginning of this year to heal that enough to continue the game. And that team has been hard at work on it. Do I wish they were done? Yes. Do they wish they were done? Yes. Have we been lying about the release dates? No. We have absolutely no reason to lie. Angry fans? Already got them.

So what would lying bring? We have a policy of honesty. We don't like to share a lot details about our work, sure, because we find it a waste of time we could be spending on work and we like to surprise people, but we are always honest about what we share. They were targeted dates that the team told me. Being candid, the team is the less experienced half and they continuously underestimated the remaining work left before we went on hiatus. They worked themselves to illness instead.

What can be done about that? It's clearly not good enough. It can be said it’s my fault too, as their leader. I asked them to take over the project after all. From my position, I can yell, I can threaten, I can get angry, I can cry, but I know writing in fear and under pressure doesn't actually produce anything good. Nothing even comes out in such circumstances. I've experienced it for myself, and seen the effects.

I've also been lucky to see and experience the effects of being allowed to write in peace with an encouraging, patient and supportive fandom who gives us all the space and time we need. So I just try to protect the writers (and artist) from upset fans by handling them myself and, personally, I give the Echoes team some internal deadlines and the space they need. I go off to focus on my own work.

We already all know that finishing the game itself is its own reward. Financially, no game dev wants to be working on something that’s “nearly done” as you’ve then spent the money and you’re not getting any return yet. Not having Echoes released affects us and our lives more than anyone, and I wonder if people know that.

There's nothing else I can do about the past or current situation except to learn from the experience and do better next time. I won’t be splitting the team up ever again most likely, or at least not for the foreseeable future, but for the moment, I can't control other people. No one can. People can get angry, complain, etc…But essentially, we cannot force people to do anything. I have already told the writers that if they can’t finish within our next internal deadline, I will be forced to take over.

Am I already under a great deal of stress from my personal life? Yes. Am I under a great deal of work and projects? Yes. Do I think the game is ultimately my responsibility? Yes. Do I want to hurry and move past this and complete the game that has been taking so many of our resources? Yes. Do I expect that, no matter what we release, it won't be good enough to some people because of the delays? Yes. Does that make it feel like we went through all this hell for nothing? A bit, yeah. I'm sure many creatives have been exactly where we are. But, we’ve come this far together through worse. We’ll make it through.

I’ve already decided that we won't ever have an Echoes repeat. We learn and improve professionally and creatively all the time. We've all learned a lot. Whether or not those fans who are angry and upset will decide to stop making us out to be villains instead of struggling, stressed out anxiety filled game devs that we are is a question I can't answer. We made mistakes. We’ll make more, as we’re only human.

Throwing around blame, whether other people do it, or we do it to each other internally…It may feel good in the moment, but ultimately, it’s pointless. It doesn’t change the situation or help fix it. All we can do is say “I’m sorry what we’re doing isn’t good enough” and continue to learn better ways to do things. Those better ways may not be exactly what you personally want, but we will avoid making the mistakes of the past again. It’s not fun for anyone.

I already expect what I've written here will simply make people who don't want to let their negative feelings go grow angrier. I already know that these people cannot be satisfied, no matter what I say or do. Being that this is the situation, we’ve said this in the past, but we'll be leaving Mystic Destinies alone for quite awhile to heal from the experience. Hopefully in that time, the MD fandom grows bigger. And hopefully those with such negative feelings left in their hearts towards the creators of something they apparently love, will be able to move onto something else, or else find a way to quell those feelings.

I myself haven't read the Echoes script I was given just yet, as I like to do editing in one go, but I can say I hope that someone will enjoy the game, despite all the negativity its development created in both fans and developers. To everyone who backed us: thank you for giving us a chance. To our supportive fans who may read this, thank you for giving us time and space to learn and continuously improve. You are a light in our life and encouragement to keep moving forward.

Ephemeral - A Short Story Not Unlike BTS' Singularity?

This story was originally posted on our Patreon in February 2018. The reason I decided to release this one publicly now is because I read the lyrics to BTS' Singularity and thought there was an uncanny similarity and wanted to share it. I actually wrote it while listening to BTS' Crystal Snow on repeat.