It would be a lie to say that I've been away from GD and side gamedev projects only because I've had a job in another part of the software industry. You don't need to work in the games industry to make games. Another thing keeping me away was the lack of fire and direction of where to go next.
My last game project was a casual game called Tiki Lounge Blackjack who's main focus was learning new technical stuff. I wanted to learn about the challenges facing developers moving to a multi-core, multi-thread world so I created a simple multi-threaded game engine which I then slapped a casual card game on top of. Unfortunately this focus on technology was obvious in the end product and pretty much ensured that it was ignored by any casual game publishers I approached. Overall the project was a success since I learned so much great stuff and finished everything from top to bottom but it was still depressing to see it dismissed so easily. I didn't want to dive into a new project until I was sure that I had something that would be a new learning experience for me and would also be fun to see through to completion. This new experience brought me to the goals on my new project:
Goal #1: It's all about the game
My new project had to be all about the game. The game isn't the add on to show off the technology, the game is everything. While I still enjoy the technology side of things and want that to be part of the project I don't want it to consume me. With this in mind I've made a decision to not reinvent any wheels.
Existing technology is going to be used for everything and anything.
I'm not going as drastic as just creating a mod for an existing engine but I'm also not creating another class to represent a 3D point.
I need to enjoy playing the game.
As much as I enjoyed playing Tiki Lounge Blackjack knowing that it was my creation it still wasn't a game I would have purchased myself. You need to love what you're building to really create something special.
No preconceived notions about gameplay or timelines.
I'm going to use prototyping as my tool to find out what actual works and what's fun more than anything else. And the fun will come about in it's own way on it's own schedule. No game competitions or any other arbitrary deadlines are going to move me along. There is a caveat that I don't want this to turn into one of those projects that never gets out of the prototype phase so I will move the project along at a regular pace but am open to revisit different elements if they don't end up working.
Goal #2: It's a hobby, not an escape hatch
My new project is for my enjoyment and not meant as a means to escape the work world. My journal used to have a tag line about using my project to look for escape hatches. I was so unhappy with my job that I thought I needed to find an escape. Since then I've really come to terms with job/life balance and realize that I'm alright having a day job as long as it doesn't consume me. Having a game project that is supposed to save me from the mundane real life put too much pressure on it which really showed when I started pitching Tiki to publishers. Let's keep the hobby a hobby. If I happen to ship something that people want to pay for that's great but it's just a bonus and not the goal. Game direction is not going to be decided by a business plan.
A quick word of thanks to the kind words in the comments. I wasn't sure if anyone would remember/care about my journal so it's great to see people reading the entries.