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Permanent decisions and infinite variety. Create a nomadic tribe and guide them across a randomly generated tundra to meet its God.
2,212 backers pledged $78,017 to help bring this project to life.

Reflections and Confessions for a New Year

Posted by Roxlou Games (Creator)

Note: although most posts are written from the whole team’s perspective, once again the following post was written by Joe alone.

More often than not these days, I find myself in a difficult situation. For example, today I am going to make every effort to be direct and to the point in this post. However, I also must respect the privacy of the many people in my life that affect my decisions, so there are some things I just can’t talk about. As always, I’m going to do my best and hope that it’s enough.

It’s been a few months since the last update, which is hardly fair to the project or its backers. However, it is also true that this is the earliest that I could manage to write an update, for reasons that I will get into shortly. Realizing that I’m short in my duties to Unwritten Passage, and that I’m also doing the absolute best I can, has caused me to come to terms with the reality of the position I’m in. This also means that the project’s backers deserve to know the whole picture, without sugar coating or spin.

As I’ve alluded to in the past, my family has struggled with medical issues. However, what is only clear to those that are close to us, is that these problems have been far-reaching and long lasting. The past year (the year that I decided to go indie), has been particularly difficult in ways we never predicted. Although in many ways it would be easier to talk about by getting into specifics, I will have to leave it by simply saying that it has been hard, that a lot has been demanded of the entire family, that it has been getting harder each month, and that I have been failing to balance the load.

Every person in life has a limited amount of themselves to give. I have been striking a compromise between a project that has had its own troubles, a family in crisis (that I oftentimes couldn’t or wouldn’t recognize), and the regular demands of supporting my wife and daughter on my own. I am tenacious and hardworking, and I have been creative in addressing the problems that I see. But I have my limits, and sometimes tenacity can become willful blindness and stubbornness. And those qualities don’t honor the trust that my wife, my daughter, my backers, and my contributors put in me.

So here’s the situation right now, as simply as I can think to put it. We raised $75k (which became about $68k after various Kickstarter costs) to make a game in 6 months with the efforts of 3 people. At this stage we’re at the 9-10 month mark. I’ve stretched the budget hard, and for the last month and a half I’ve been doing contracting on the side to try and stay afloat and to give my family the stability to see the doctors we need in order to heal. To be blunt, this is not enough. It is not stable enough for my fragile personal life (due in part to how healthcare works in the U.S.). It is not enough to retain fulltime commitments from my contributors. And in the meantime, as I balance my roles between programmer, designer, writer, producer, contractor, husband, father, brother, and son, I am not doing a very good job.

This is difficult for me to admit, as I have a reputation in the industry for taking risks and for following through on that ambition. But it turns out I have my limits (as everyone does), and I am at my limit right now. But even though this is a bitter pill to swallow, Unwritten Passage and its backers have been very important to me this past year. You all deserve my best effort, even when that means admitting difficult truths.

So why did we fail to create a realistic budget and come in on time? I feel that I would need to write 3 full postmortems to address that question: one as an indie game developer, one as a small business owner, and one as a bit of flotsam swirling in the maelstrom of the U.S. health system. But in short two idioms apply: “hindsight is 20/20″, and “shit happens”. Although nobody was perfect in this process, I do feel that everybody did their best with the information we had. I am grateful to everyone that has helped us gather so much success so quickly, and despite it all I still feel lucky. I have learned a lot about myself and the people I love, and I want very much to be a better person moving forward.

OK, now the big question: is the game canceled or what? I have been thinking hard about what is the right thing to do. The stupendous work already put forth in Julian’s music and Lee’s art still sets my imagination on fire. And I see people come to life all the time when I describe the concept to them. However, my experience also says that we have lost momentum, we’re out of money, and it’s now a one-man project centered around a fulltime game developer with family baggage that needs better health insurance. And I’ve worked in the past on wonderful projects with real promise that have been canceled, so I know what that looks like. Sometimes it still takes a lot of luck to make a game.

But I’m not ready to completely call it quits and say that Unwritten Passage is dead forever. However, to say that the project as I pitched it is alive and well would be beyond naive. It would be dishonest. It lives on as my personal side project, something I hope to bring about on my own and through the help of talented friends when possible. And should it come to be I will do my best to deliver on my original promises… but I have to be honest. To many this is probably the end.

To all that have helped me, my contributors, and my family embark on this experiment, I thank you. I don’t have the words to express my sincerity and my appreciation. I will be leaving up the websites and will continue to update the backer pages as news develops, so if you are interested in staying in touch with the project I’ll keep you up to date. Finally, we have of course been using the campaign funds to best make good on our promises. However, there is a small fund left for pursuing future art costs for the game. If you are a backer and feel that we have violated your trust in us, please contact Roxlou Games via Kickstarter and I will do my best to give you a refund.

Thank you all.

Joe Houston - Roxlou Games

P.S. Anybody know any good jokes? Leave them in the comments to brighten this post up.

Homer Turgeon, KogX, and 6 more people like this update.


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    1. Missing avatar

      J on

      * forewarning: been going through all of my KS updates lately and only now just responding

      No worries Joe, you do you first -- and if the game gets canned a few people will be upset, a handful will be sorry, and most of us will just be sad that we never got to experience it. Life throws curve balls a helluva lot more often than it does an inside fast one, and even then we're rarely looking for it.

      Best of luck with your struggles, hope you come out on top and I hope you don't worry about a pitch that went south -- shit happens and when it does it always seems to be to those who aren't prepared for it.

      Cheers and good luck,


    2. The Evolutionary on

      If I may make a suggestion? The money's spent. Why not open source it and get volunteers to develop it. You could get a lot of free help that way, and maybe you can complete the project this way, although the money made may be less (or very little...doubt it will be none). Just an idea.

    3. Missing avatar

      Lucy Jones on

      My Dearest Nephew.
      I still back you and will always back you, come what may with this project. I know who you are and what you're made of, and I know you've given it your all. The rest is simply beyond your control. That's all I need to know. I wish you and your little family all the best as you work out the kinks that are blocking your progress. You have my love, admiration, and respect for the Warrior that you are. Who knew that you'd be playing your game-in-progress
      so strenuously in real life?

    4. Raphael on

      Life can be a bitch sometimes, I think we all understand that. There's no need for a refund on my side - it was money I "gambled" anyways. It would be great to see the project completed one day, maybe, but first take care of your personal life :)
      I really appreciate your honest approach, and the offer for a refund is a real show of respect for your backers. Respect best reciprocated by not demanding a refund.

    5. Brian Uhrig

      Sorry to hear about the family health issues. I've had some of that myself and that is now behind me. I hope that you and your family will overcome the issues at hand.

      Two atoms are walking down the sidewalk when one of them suddenly stops.
      "I think I just lost an Electron."
      "Really?, are you certain?"
      "I'm Positive."

    6. Missing avatar

      AstralWanderer on

      Unhappy news is never good to hear and this update, while it could have been more timely, can't have been easy to write. On the other hand, as long as you're prepared to hang on in there (and eventually, things will/must improve...) I see no reason why we shouldn't too. Good luck.

    7. Missing avatar

      Jordan on


      Very sorry to hear about the health issues you and your family are dealing with. It's never easy to balance work in this industry and the difficulties life can throw our way. I can only imagine how difficult it is to do on your own. Good luck going forward.

    8. John GT

      Hang in there. I'm sorry the game may not happen, but I'm more sorry for the circumstances that got you there. I hope you don't give up on the game; god knows most of us gamers know how to wait years for games we want. Good luck either way!

    9. melliecarma on

      i don't want a refund; i just want you to stay comitted to your game idea/project. so finish it whatever time it takes. due respects for your honesty, joe - this hasn't been easy on you i know and i appreciate that. to publicly admit that things haven't turned out as planned takes a lot of courage yet it is the only way to retain one's street credibility. this project is not a failure; it only turns into one if you lose courage and call it canceled altogether right now. i'd rather would view it as terminally suspended. be sure to keep those interested updated on the future progress of unwritten passage.

      that said best wishes for the well-being and financial stability of you and your family. whatever it takes family comes first in every circumstance. you have to find a means to keep your family stay afloat financially. don't rely on that weird social welfare/healthcare system in the states. yes it's weird as it doesn't provide healthcare for every american yet the states claim to be a civilized country - this is a contradiction in itself.

    10. AKASlaphappy

      I hope everything works out for you and your family! I do not need a refund, I have bought 100s of games in my life time that sucked or I just did not enjoy them; to hold you a indie developer to a higher standard then AAA games to me would be beyond stupid. I have never gotten a refund from a AAA studio for a game that was buggy or unplayable so why would I start with a indie developer? Maybe in the future we shall see your vision for this game, if not sa la vi.

    11. Missing avatar

      Irene K on

      Joe, thank you for your honesty - can't imagine how difficult this must be for you. Stay positive and focus on your family. I have ZERO regrets about backing the project :)

    12. Missing avatar

      Mikhail Shvyryev on

      How very unfortunate. Thank you for this update: I have seen a number of other Kickstarter developers just vanish mysteriously as soon as the money ran out, so your honesty is duly appreciated.

      One should always remember that Kickstarter does not offer a guarantee, and one should not be backing a project unless he is prepared to lose the money.

      I do hope your family gets better.

    13. Swanky Robot Games on

      Not a big deal. Shit happens. Wishing the best to you and yours, Joe.

      (And, seriously, people who are getting bent about devs 'bricking it and walking away'--you have no, no idea how difficult this stuff is under the best of conditions. If $15 on an interesting project is too much for you to risk, that's fine, but passive-aggressively ripping on Joe with your "I'm done backing stuff" is sad. Be better.)

    14. Missing avatar

      eks on

      I'm not gonna ask for a refund, and sorry if I can't come up with a joke, but let me be the one to say it here: you Americans really, REALLY, need to fix your healthcare system. This is the kind of situation that *only happens* in USA. You would not have this problem if you were an indie in Uruguay, Brazil, India, China or almost any other civilized country in the world.

      That being said, good luck Joe. It would be great if you can make Unwritten happen, even if take a way longer time.

    15. Missing avatar

      Sean Marks on

      First project I've backed that's been an outright failure. Feel like there's been quite a few lately where the dev just bricked it and walked away so I was bound to get hit by one eventually. Whatever, it's money I already spent, but with all the devs mismanaging their KS cash lately, I'm pretty much done backing stuff for now.

    16. Yachmenev on

      Thank you for posting this. It's a shame that this has happened, but there is a risk to all projects, especially software projects, and kickstarter backers needs to be aware of this. Some might use this text as a warning to others, but I think it's just a statement about how things are. Shit happens, especially to projects.

      I backed this for $30 and I will not ask for a refund.

      All the best to you Joe, and thank you for your efforts so far, and let's hope something comes out ot this eventually. :)

    17. Jonah Falcon on

      A man finds a magic lamp and rubs it.

      A genie emerges and states, "I WILL GRANT THEE ONE WISH!"

      The man says, "I want a dick that'll touch the floor!"

      So the genie cut off his legs.

    18. Jonah Falcon on

      Is the build playable? Maybe we can play the alpha or beta?

    19. Peter Holthaus on

      I got the mail yesterday, pretty tired after a stressful day with my son and my initial thoughts were "oh, too bad his families health issues got worse".
      And even after a good nights sleep I can't find any reason to make you return the money. I -and surely most others here- pledged for the game idea, not a finished product.
      So if you decide to make the whole of it as-is open source and someone else finishes the development: great! If not: sad but nowhere close to a disaster.

      Go on and take care of your family first, keep the game somewhere in the 'mature in peace' corner of your mind and if things turn better see what grew there.

      As for a joke:
      How do you achieve fission?
      Give an atom to a physicist and say 'don't break it!'

    20. James Patton on

      It;'s a shame things have gone this way, but thank you for being honest about it. It must have been (and probably still is) difficult to juggle all of those roles. But at the end of the day, you and your family have to come first. It's important you take the time to figure something out which will give you all the stability you need. If that means you have to stop work on the game, so be it - and keep my money for all the work you've done.

      I have one question about your family's health, though I understand you can't go into specifics. You say these health problems have been worsening all year. Was this year just a really bad fluke, or is this the kind of chronic problem that just gets worse over time? If the latter, I'm truly sorry.

    21. Blackstaff on

      That's truly a shame. It was a great project which came after a very hard fought campaign. I hope you can find a AAA job secure enough to pay for the medical bills and a way to relaunch the project later. If not, like others I think you should release everything done this far to the backers : engine, soundtrack, art,...

      Good luck in your future struggles !

    22. Jordan James Fuller on

      Oh well. Sad that it didn't happened but you were upfront about the whole thing. I can not in good conscious demand you give me a refund after all that effort, or demand that you abandoned your family for the sake of an indie game. Keep my money and may you have better luck in the future.

    23. Imban

      More like Unmade: That Which Didn't Happen. :(

    24. Missing avatar

      cpt_freakout on

      Many thanks for the update. Hope everything gets better and goes well. I believe many of us here are supporting you and your ideas, not so much buying a game, and this is also a part of that. So I might not be too far off when saying that we are with you along this process, and we shared this dream of yours, even if for a little while, and I think that's awesome.

    25. Shane R

      I second jhansonxi's comment below; release the source code, engine and assets under a permissive license and Creative Commons.

    26. Missing avatar

      Anonymous on

      <3. Projects happen. I hope things get better for you and yours soon.

    27. Missing avatar

      Ryan Seney on

      Thank you for your honesty Joe. I'm patient (with too many games as it is) and willing to wait for you and your family to heal and recover. First rule of life is to take care of yourself and your family. We'll be here when you're ready to return to the project.

    28. Kain Shin on

      So a horse walks into a bar. The bartender asks "Why the long face?" The horse says it is because he ordered H2O and his friend ordered H2O, too... and then died. The bartender says "No worries, you're still here, and your Kickstarter is still active. You're doing the best you can to do the right thing, and you're not giving up. That's the important part. Those who backed you still believe in you because you became a concept to many of them, and I have faith that whatever comes out at the end of your ordeal will be worth the wait... because of who you are."

      That's what the bartender said.

    29. Michael "4ier" Telford on

      So, this guy goes to get his annual physical examination, everything is going well until the doctor presses the stethoscope to his chest to listen to his heartbeat.
      Tik tik tik
      "Well, that's weird. I've never seen anything like this. I'm going to recommend you to the best cardiologist in town. Come back tomorrow and we'll find out what's going on."
      Well, the guy is a little worried, but he comes back the next day to meet with his doctor and the cardiologist. The cardiologist presses his stethoscope to the guy's chest to have a listen.
      Tik tik tik
      "Hmmm. That is odd. I haven't heard of anything like this. I'm going to call the best cardiologist in the country to fly in and take your case. Come back in a week and we'll get this figured out."
      That was even more worrying, but a week passed with nothing bad happening, so he comes back to find a whole team of cardiologists ready to diagnose him. They hook him up to all their measuring equipment to finally find out what's wrong.
      Tik tik tik
      "I'm sorry sir, but we have never seen a case like yours. We're going to have to call the best cardiologist in the world. He's German, and he's very busy, but I'm sure he'll be able to help you. Come back in a month and we'll get this fixed."
      Well, since even the best doctors in the country couldn't figure it out, he was naturally worried sick. A few weeks passed, and he gets a phone call, the German doctor is flying in tonight, ahead of schedule, so the guy can go in tomorrow and see what's wrong.
      So, the guy gets to the hospital the next morning, and sees all the cardiologists gathered around, waiting for him. They usher him to the examination room and start hooking him up to the machines again, but the German cardiologist comes in behind them and waves them off, taking out his stethoscope. He presses it to the guy's chest to hear what all the other doctors have heard.
      Tik tik tik
      "Doctor, you're my last chance! Can you help me?"
      The German doctor smiles at him. "Yes. Ve have vays of making you tok."

    30. Lance Ivy on

      While I'd be pleasantly surprised to catch a soundtrack or something out of this campaign, I appreciate and respect your honesty and realism. I'd never ask someone to place their family's well-being on the line for my pledge.

      As for a joke:

      A SQL query goes into a bar, walks up to two tables and asks, "Can I join you?"

    31. Missing avatar

      samm on

      I can't think of a good joke at the moment, so I will just say this: Thank you for your (veiled but) open words and I hope your struggle pays out at the end. All the best to you and yours, and hope to read something soon.

    32. Paul Evans

      I hope things get better for you. This health insurance mess in the USA is the number one reason why it is so risky to start something up, especially when you have dependents.

      Although perhaps more work then you and your volunteering friends have time for to administrate, consider licenses and releasing assets and something that builds on github or similar. Perhaps others will help you finish it for the love of the game, or it will be an academic curiosity for those learning game dev. It would be a shame for your hard work to sit and decay in a private source repository. I know of too many projects that suffer the "Top Men" from Indiana Jones style fate of sitting in a warehouse somewhere.

    33. Missing avatar

      Sam Brian on

      Thanks for letting us know. While it is disappointing to see this project come to a close, family comes first.

      Though you are under no such obligation to do so, I hope you will take some of the backers' suggestions and release either an art book or soundtrack for digital download. That said, I gladly contributed to this game despite the risk it would end like this and I do not regret that choice.

      I wish you and your family the best.

    34. Donald M Pollack on

      Very disappointing to have to hear this. I guess my luck with kickstarter would eventually lead to a failure in delivery. Just means I will have to be even more thoughtful in examining future projects and how I spend my goodwill.

      I would however like to see what recent work has been done up to this point in some form.

    35. Missing avatar

      Gregorie Morgan-Young on

      For me, the money is already spent. I know I didn't spend as much as other people did, but you used the funds for the game and that is why I gave it to you. I'm sorry that things have been so hard for you and your family. That's the scariest thing in the world, and no one deserves that. Especially not with the added pressure of having to please a bunch of people who trusted you with their money. I just hope things get better for you, and I hope that eventually (even if its ten years from now) this game sees the light of day. I'd love a copy when/if it does. Just keep us updated I suppose. I really, really wish the best for you, and I hope that everything becomes a little less awful health-wise going forward.

    36. Aaron Standridge on

      If you're taking a poll, add me to the list of people who would be interested in a digital download of the soundtrack, in the event that Julian is agreeable.

      Have you considered approaching a publisher with what you have, or some other alternate means of completing the game? I see from your profile that you are also in Austin, and there are a lot of gamedev resources here that you might explore before throwing in the towel altogether. Drop me a note if you want to talk about that sometime. We'd love to have you come by the studio and see what you've got so far.

    37. Lewis on

      Sorry to hear that. 2013 turned into a shit year for me as well, replete with newfound chronic health issues and a poorly timed lack of insurance. Take care of your family.

    38. Missing avatar

      Pablo Olmos de Aguilera Corradini on

      I understand that sometimes things go out of control, but you also have a compromise with a lot of backers.

      There a couple of good suggestions in this thread and I thinks your should follow them. Specially the one about freeing the source code. And I agree with Malcolm: you should honor the social agreement. You ARE a professional.

      Regards and hope you can solve the health issues.

    39. Brys on

      ...I wish Kickstarter had an edit option. Let's try that again!

      I would have to agree with some of the suggestions from other backers. I'm not going to ask for a return of my pledge but putting together an art book/soundtrack of what you already have would be a nice gesture, it'd be a shame for it to never be seen and appreciated if this is the end.

      While I'm disappointed this was always a risk. I hope things improve for you and your family.

    40. Brys on

      I would have to agree with some of the suggestions. I'm not going to ask for a return of my pledge, but putting together an art book/soundtrack of what you already would be a nice gesture.

      While I'm disappointed this was always a risk. I hope things improve for your family.

    41. Malcolm Swoboda on

      Pretty damn disappointed, but also could very much see this coming. And Kickstarter is not a pre-order.
      There are some good suggestions on this thread, and you should take at least some of them very seriously.
      At the very least, you're not fully honoring the social agreement, if you don't release the assets that DO exist. Either give it up entirely, or push on forward in some capacity, imo!

    42. Missing avatar

      jhansonxi on

      I make the obvious suggestion of releasing the source code of the engine and tools under a permissive license. That's not free since you'll have to review and manage code contributions along with developing parts that external developers are not interested in, but it could reduce your workload a bit. If you post the story outline of the world and release some of the art assets under a Creative Commons license, perhaps as part of a free "mini game", it may help spur third party contributions. You could sell the rest of your original design in episodic form which may help bring in some early income. Third parties may use the engine, tools, and free art assets to develop new games or additional side-stories in your world which could help increase awareness. Obviously there is a risk of third-party content being contrary to your world (racist/sexist/pr0n) but maintaining control over the name trademarks can help limit such negative influences.

    43. Missing avatar

      Pimpollo on

      I appreciate your honesty and admire your bravery in sharing these words with us. No one is exempt from misfortune, from suffering, and family is the most important thing in this life. You have my full support and I hope others will share my sentiment. I wish your family the best and know that you are not alone in your ailments. It's what makes us human and what makes us stronger. Keep rocking!

    44. Jeff Lake on

      A hydrogen atom walks into a bar. He says to the bartender, "I think I lost my electron."

      The bartender says, "Are you sure?"

      The atom says, "I'm positive."

    45. Missing avatar

      Homer Turgeon on

      The greatest joke in the world.

      A band's truck is driving around the corner of a hairpin curve in the mountains, when the drummer's set falls out of the back.

    46. Missing avatar

      PurpleXVI on

      As appreciated as the honesty is, this feels a bit... disappointing. Not in the sense of the game not being completed, at this point the original backing is so far away that it's hardly anything I was HYPER PUMPED FOR EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK, more just the attitude.

      "Things got rough, we're stopping."

      Keep chipping away in your downtime, instead of admitting defeat. And for those people who backed enough to get artbooks, soundtracks or whatever... give them as much as you can of that. The music that's finished, the art that's finished, etc.

      And, you know, as a final thing, something you could do that might help a lot of people, since budgeting sounds like it was part of the issue, maybe do a write-up exactly on how your budget got drained away, what mistakes you felt you made, etc. as a helpful guide for other game dev kickstarters.

    47. Missing avatar

      papibanks on

      I am sorry to hear that and wish you a better year going forward. As keto said, if you would release parts of the art, music and some form of gameplay video (the latest build or something interesting), that would be enough (for me at least).
      Good luck

    48. MannyLaMancha on

      Thank you for the honesty. I second Keto's idea of giving access to the art and music via a video, PDF book, mp3 release, etc. That would be enough for me.


      First of all, I wish you the best for you and your family. 2013 has been a shit year, and quite frankly I'm glad it's over.

      Regarding the project, I understand that it being your work and a labor of love, you'd hesitate to do what I'm about to suggest but... why don't you open the project?

      By this I mean, publish all finished materials, documentation and invite the community to pitch in and maybe finish it?
      It sounds crazy, but some big projects have been finished thanks just to fan work, and this way it won't die...

      Hope you consider it at least :)

      Best wishes for 2014 dude :)

    50. KogX on

      I certainly hope that things go better this year. Perhaps the game would soon be complete enough to try your hand in the greenlight system and early access on steam or try to gather more attention to the game. Maybe giving an interview to people like RPS on your experience on the project can help get more funding and attention.

      As for a joke ummm......
      I went to my IT coworker with an empty cup of coffee. I told him I successfully installed Java. He hates me for that joke.