I like naming things. I have my given name, but I like having chosen names as well (handles).
When you name something, you’re owning it. Projects, concepts, and ambitions. The name you give might be a working title or code name. Just because a project shipped with a different name doesn’t change your bond. You’ll always be connected with something you named.
When you choose a name for something personal, your pen name or your band name, it’s something done in the moment. It’s a snapshot of who you are, or an ambition. But as we grow, we change. Our goals and ambitions change. A name might not fit us anymore, and that’s okay.
It’s okay to reinvent yourself.
Gamma rays and solar flares
When I was a teenager (the 90’s), I created the personal branding: Gamma Flare Games.
Why Gamma Flare Games? Because it felt unique, sounded legit, and I thought it was cool. My sense of cool is where most of my names come from. Was it a company? No, but I wanted it to be. I was too young to get a job in games, so I made one.
Making games was everything to me. I avoided homework and spent every waking moment thinking about making games. I’d fill notebooks and reams of paper with game and character ideas. I created Gamma Flare to be my ambition. It was permission to take this hobby and passion to the next level.
I went on to make and release several games under the Gamma Flare name, but not commercially. I was still a kid. Money wasn’t something I understood yet.
By college (1999) I’d grown tired of the Gamma Flare name. It didn’t really encapsulate who I was anymore. I was learning more and more about technology, creating art, and making music. At my core I still aspired to make games, but I did other things too.
So I created a new branding: Sykhronics.
Sykhronics is a mashup of psychotic and electronics. “Psych-ronics”, but for style flair I dropped the P and made CH into KH. If I’m honest, I still think Sykhronics is a cool name, but I later learned the frustration of choosing names others can’t say or spell. Sykhronics encapsulated my ambition as a more rounded creative, but at its core a game developer.
Sykhronics followed me for decades, even after I started working in the games business. In mid 2005 I left my jobs, and in January of 2006 I founded Sykhronics Entertainment, a sole proprietorship for my works as an independent game developer. That lasted until around 2016, when I decided not to renew my business license.
I didn’t exactly stop using Sykhronics after shelving my business. I did a soft reboot as Sykronics, losing the H, but otherwise my intentions were the same: make games and art. I’m still proud of my business cards.
I wouldn’t say I was lost, but I didn’t have the same ambition anymore. I was in my mid-30’s, and over the next few years took time to figure out how to be a proper adult, start dating, and whatnot. Maybe I was lost, but it was my time to be lost.
The other lost year
Speaking of lost, I crossed into my 40’s during the lost year (2020). Leading up to it, I’d just left a job making video games for a friend. I had the classic millennial problem. I wasn’t making enough “progress financially” for retirement and everything adults are supposed to plan for. I was still obsessed with games, but 20 years deep, my trust in games as a career had waned.
In the short term I had some filmmaking I wanted to do. I took a stab a short film, a mini documentary, and helped a friend with his Kickstarter. I picked up the video hobby the year before. I enjoy it. It’s something I want to do more.
After that, my plan was to find a well paying job that either didn’t eat all my time and brain, while on the side learn Houdini and Unreal, so I can finally begin crafting my indie action mind-fuckery dream game. Why not?
Resume updated, applications sent and…hey, what’s a Corona-virus?
What a horrible night to have a curse.
In this weird new confused world, I wasn’t going to find work any time soon.
I had a bit of money left, things I could sell, plus no shortage of ambition. I decided if I couldn’t find a job, I’d make a job.
I was starting a company.
A company name I’d been sitting on was Interactive Snacks. After the mouthful that was Sykhronics Entertainment I wanted something playful, something descriptive, and something you could actually read and spell.
My plan was to build a company focused on instant games. I forget what I was calling them, but I saw an opportunity. Sykhronics was driven too much by ambition for a team of one. Focusing on smaller “snacks sized” games seemed far more manageable.
Also, this time I would incorporate. I made efforts to keep Sykhronics small, simple, and solo. I hate doing taxes, and the last thing I wanted was to do TWO taxes. A sole proprietorship came with other limitations that became apparent once Canada’s business relief benefits entered the picture. Even before Covid it was bananas! A corporation existing for one year gets access to credit, loans, government support programs, not to mention all businesses making less than half a million are taxed at a lower rate (though if you exercise profits as dividends, in Canada you pay about the same). There’s more upkeep to a corp, but there’s more benefit.
On July 1st 2020, Interactive Snacks Limited was incorporated.
I spent many months both before and after incorporation applying to startup business programs and accelerators, looking for funding like a proper startup. I made some great headway, learned a lot, did as well as I could, but “video games” as a business activity would not sell.
After months of planning and pitching, I was finally ready to give up on games.
I ludum DARE you
Before my recent “I’m a C++ programmer” identity crisis, I was having my “I’m a Game Developer” crisis. I been struggling with this the past several years.
I always aspired to make games. At 19 I dropped out of college to take a job making them professionally. I could’t complain. I got exactly what I wanted. I was making games for a living.
The problem is I wasn’t making what I wanted. Finding time and motivation to make games while holding a day job was hard. So, some friends and I started jamming, scheduling weekends we’d get together to challenge ourselves to create, and that became Ludum Dare. Years passed and Geoff’s forum (the OG Ludum Dare) was long gone, but the event it inspired carried on.
Responsibility for Ludum Dare fell to me, which was probably good since I was pedantic enough to keep it going for 20 years. Ludum Dare, my strange adopted digital child.
For years, Ludum Dare was just a thing I did. Like any recreational activity, some people play-in or run sports leagues, I ran a “sports league” for game makers.
Then it got popular.
When I first attended the Game Developer’s Conference in 2009, I was as Mike the Game Developer, with a puzzle game in the Independent Games Festival (Mobile). When I last attended GDC in 2019, I was Mike the Ludum Dare guy.
Again my aspiration was to be a “Game Developer”, not a “Game Developer Developer”. I was proud and honoured to be in my position, but I couldn’t let go of “Mike the Game Developer”. It’s who I aspired to be, and I just couldn’t shake it.
By the end of 2020, I’d stopped trusting game development. Sure, I could have continued to find work (I turned down a bunch of it), but I was done with the video game gamble. It was going to take miraculous luck and motivation to thrive, and I was all out of both.
I ludum DARE you to try again
After a nudge from a friend (hey Jesse), I decided fuck-it. I changed my focus again to Ludum Dare, and pivoted Interactive Snacks to be a company on a mission to support Ludum Dare and its community. The company had existed for about 6 months now. We just needed 6 more and some income to get access to all the small business perks.
I don’t mean to belittle my effort in games, but making a business focused on Ludum Dare had obvious potential. I jokingly call it easy mode, if you consider working weeks straight of late nights and weekends easy. No, it’s the right amount of difficult. It’s the gaming business that’s unreasonable.
I’m in a weird place now. As an entrepreneur I’m no longer failing. I’m used to failing. I’m also no longer pay my bills by making games, and I don’t know if I will again.
That’s not to say I wont continue to make games. But in 2021, once Interactive Snacks had made its first profits, it finally felt like games were no longer my career.
Who even am I now?
Reforging a path
Do I aspire to make games? Yes, I still do, but it’s different now.
Do I aspire solely to make games? No.
This is where I differ between who I am now and who I was. Yes I still want to make games, but I have many other things I’ve grown to appreciate, so I have permission not to make them as well. Yes this is a technicality, but if you’re someone defined by their aspirations, it’s a technicality that means everything.
Sykhronics was the aspirations of a game developer that created other things. Having Sykhronics as an identity meant a lot to me. I never called myself “Mr Sykhronics”, but everything I created was Sykhronics. It was a name for the body of work that followed me since college. A name for a 20 year story.
I like naming things. What do I call this next story?
For most my life, entertainment was games. Playing them, and making them.
Sure I watched the odd TV show, movie, read the odd book, but games were everything to me.
Fortunately, my tastes have matured since then.
An anomaly in my view of entertainment was the internet. Social media, chatting, blogs, podcast, and even learning. There’s still trash everywhere, but today I frequently watch a YouTube video to learn something, and feel good about it. Entertainment doesn’t require a win condition or a plot.
Ludum Dare is entertainment.
It has rules, it even has win conditions. In a way Ludum Dare is a game, but it’s a game at a macro societal level, not one constrained to a 320x240 pixel display. It’s both meaningful and entertaining to many people. To some it’s even a lifestyle. I don’t play soccer, I Ludum Dare. It defines people. Some video games are such phenomenons that they define people. “I’m a Minecraft YouTuber”.
What a privilege to be at the center of something with such an impact.
So sure, I’m the Ludum Dare guy. That’s just one facet of who I am though.
Ludum Dare is to date, the most successful entertainment I provide. From that and all the games I’ve made, you could say I’m an entertainer.
Okay, I’m an entertainer.
I might not monkey myself in front a camera… I mean I do sometimes, but not all the time.
No, I entertain with things that are built… engineered.
I’ve always liked the word “engineer”. Who makes a game engine? An engineer. Who makes the design real? A (software) engineer.
I think I’ve established where I’m going.
We look down on entertainment as “distractions”. I think it would be funny to own that, to say “hey I’m here to waste your time”.
And thus we have Mike, the Distraction.Engineer.
I vet names by searching for them on Google, sometimes by checking trademarks, but frankly, I mainly vet names by looking up domains. So I was brainstorming name ideas, and discovered that distraction.engineer was available. I grabbed it, and over time I really grew to like it.
This time, the only flair is the dot. I can even say “Distraction dot Engineer” out loud, and people will be able to spell it. After 20 years of spelling out Sykhronics, not to mention a lifetime of spelling out my own last name (Kasprzak), it’s a relief to have a name that can be spoken.
This is my brand now. My personal brand.
I like Interactive Snacks too, but it’s like they say about separating church from state. I don’t intend to sell or give up ownership of Interactive Snacks, but I’m not Interactive Snacks, I run and do business as Interactive Snacks.
To clarify, I don’t expect anyone to call me the Distraction.Engineer. But in that little space for job description, or when asked what I do, I have a fun name for it.
Hi I’m Mike, and I engineer distractions.