Finding the right work

When I started Radical Application Development in 2015 one of my core goals for the business was to get into app development. At that time I had built a number of business systems and databases and I was eager to make a consumer product. I didn’t have time to pursue this goal full time but throughout 2016 I learned a lot about Swift and iOS development.

Time and again I ran into issues with the apps I wanted to make. Most of my ideas seemed like they would be achievable but ended up being far beyond my skills. I vastly underestimated how complex iOS development was. Each time I ran up against what I could do I gave up instead of pressing on. For example, I built a really awesome time tracking app using Core Data but when I tried to sync the data between devices I had nothing but issues. I lacked the skills and confidence to write my own syncing engine so I put the project on hold and never picked it back up.

Toward the end of 2016 my friend (and later podcast co-host) suggested that I check out SpriteKit. I had never even considered making a game, but I worked through some tutorials and decided to give it a shot. I spent most of November that year building a small game called Random Arrow. I released the app into the iOS app store in December 2016.

While Random Arrow never took off I gained something valuable from it. Working in SpriteKit and Swift on a simple game gave me the confidence I needed. Despite having no idea how game engines worked, and little “real” programming experience I was able to produce and ship something. Looking back at Random Arrow now I think it’s sort of a silly idea, but I’m still glad I made it. The confidence I gained from that project lead me to expand my consulting services beyond FileMaker. I starting making web applications in PHP–which has paid the bills ever sense–and I started learning Unity and Unreal Engine.

In early 2017 Dave and I decided to attend a local game development meetup. I wanted to share Random Arrow and was eager to meet some “real” game developers. While we were at the meetup Dave tried the Oculus Rift. He was pretty impressed by it and so was I. I didn’t actually try it at the meeting as I kind of nervous that I would look silly. I purchased a VR headset and a PC to use it with and turned my focus to VR development. I’m not going to go into details here but I spent the next two years with my attention focused on VR. You can get most of the story from VR Hermits.

As with the early iOS projects I got in way over my head with VR development. While I learned a ton about Unity, C#, 3D modeling, animation, and AI, I never shipped a consumer product. I kept my business running during this while with consulting work, mostly FileMaker or PHP projects, but I spent almost all of my time and energy on VR. At one point I was working so much that I actually did a lot of damage to my hands and wrists–damage which I’m still dealing with.

In spring of 2019 I finally decided to step away from VR development, at least where games are concerned. I know enough about game development now to know that I’ll never make a great game. I’m more than capable of using the tools and doing the development, but I lack the type of vision and creativity needed to make a great game. If I really wanted to I could make some bad games, but I’m not interested in doing that.

I’ve spent my time since then working on FileMaker, WordPress, and PHP consulting projects. I also started working on a new iOS app–something that will be the focus of this blog over the next few months. After nearly two years of trying to get good at something I’ll never be good at, I rediscovered that I am good at some things. I have a lot of skill when it comes to problem solving, user interface design, data modeling, and I’m going to spend my time and attention on those skills from now on.

I may revisit VR development someday, but not as a game developer. I’d love to create some productive applications in VR and AR, possibly even expanding on the projects I’m building now. Now that this little side quest into VR is over I’m making real progress on iOS development. Some of the concepts that baffled me in 2016 are easy to grasp now. There are also a lot of new APIs and advancements in iOS and Swift. I could even pick up my time tracking app again, as Apple had made new APIs for working with Core Data and CloudKit. For the first time in years I feel like I’m on the right track.