I think it's time to come clean as to why I haven't been streaming or working on CrystalDust in the past six months: I'm done with Pokémon ROM hacking.
After a decade of work on CrystalDust, and almost fourteen years spent in the Pokémon ROM hacking community, I think it's finally time to say goodbye. This has not been an easy decision to come to, believe me, but it's a decision I've been considering for a while now. After December’s release, I felt like I could take a well-deserved break from CrystalDust and really think about what it means to me. And frankly, it means a ton. It's defined an entire decade of my life, it's what got me into college and my current job as a software engineer, and it’s what kicked off an intense interest in what makes computers tick.
The Game Boy Advance was the first machine I ever learned how to program at the assembly-code level, and I could argue it's the first machine I ever programmed for at all. I definitely have a lot of fondness for its capabilities and quirks. But I'm being held back by the inherent limitations of what I'm doing: replicating a twenty-one-year-old game on twenty-year-old hardware. I'm not bringing to life an idea I had, I'm trying to interpret someone else's to the best of my ability… and I’m doing it on hardware that was released when I was four. And I just don't want to do that anymore.
In 2014, I went on a years-long hiatus, not knowing if I wanted to come back. You, the fans, eventually convinced me that yes, people still wanted it, and no, I wasn't a decade too late to the GSC remake train. The fans have been what kept bringing me back to CrystalDust, because I honestly, truly, don't want to let any of them down. I made a promise that I fully intended to keep, so not seeing it all the way through seems like a cop-out at best and a disappointing, abject failure at worst.
But I made that promise when I was twelve.
I didn't know the realities of game development, how much time it would take, and that I would still be working on it at the age of twenty-four. I didn't know the mental and emotional toll it would take to be working on the same thing, day in and day out, for years, or that burnout would eventually cause me to stop development for almost four years. I didn't know how exacting my perfectionism would become and how it would make the simplest of changes take ages to do. I didn’t know how envious I would get when seeing my friends working on modern hardware and achieving so much more than the humble Game Boy Advance from 2001 was ever capable of. And importantly, I didn’t know just how much making someone else’s game was limiting my creative freedom in other aspects of my life.
Last December, having just missed the ten-year anniversary of the PokéCommunity thread being made, I released the best work I think I've ever done. v3 kicked it all up a notch and allowed me to do things with the decompilation project that binary hackers could only dream of. I was able to start over from zero, with a more complete understanding of both the GBA and the Pokémon Emerald game engine, and having source code meant that modern development practices (including actual version control!) could be used, limiting headaches stemming from binary modification and making development fun again. I brought the best of v2 forward, including many of the assets that were made by wonderful members of the community, and made the best alpha I could. I am incredibly proud of it, and of my team for getting CrystalDust there in the end.
But I’m done now. I’m twenty-four now, have been graduated from college for two years, and I want to do more with my life and my time. Every time I’ve tried to work on a new project for the past decade, CrystalDust keeps popping back into my head as a nagging reminder of my unfinished business. It’s meant that everything I’ve tried to create has had the ghost of project
s past to remind me that I haven’t finished my last big thing, so that’s what I need to be focusing on right now. Why bother trying to make something new? I should clearly finish what I started, right?
This isn’t reality though. In reality, that’s called a “sunk cost fallacy” – the idea that, because I’ve given this project ten years of my life, not completing it now would mean that the last decade of my life has been wasted. To avoid this, I have to choose to be proud of what I did and what I learned (with some of that actually being applicable to stuff outside ROM hacking, too!). The work I did for v2, even if it wasn't as good as I'd like it to have been now, was incredible at the time. As far as I know, I had the first day and night cycle that, unlike every other system at the time, didn't need to knock out an entire color channel for its changes (limiting you to garish shades of red, blue, green, and combinations thereof), and could even light up windows at night. I had the first hack to really tweak the PokéNav and add a proper working clock to it. I implemented the Bug-Catching Contest, ported features from FireRed that I felt were missing in Emerald, and even modified the intro sequence (well, that one was mostly Shiny Quagsire, but it was still in my hack). Most importantly, I really felt like I had made the best Crystal remake for me. No matter how many times I've expressed dissatisfaction with v2, I'm still incredibly proud of teenage me for doing it at all.
I just want the ability to do other things with my life without the specter of CrystalDust hanging over me. I want to explore streaming, voice acting, video creation, electronics, programming for things other than the GBA, art, music, and just everything else that life has to offer, you know? But in order to finish CrystalDust at the rate I was going, it would probably take another five years, and I honestly can’t justify it to myself anymore. The fun I have working on it and the joy and satisfaction I get from people enjoying it simply isn’t enough to keep me going on this zombie of a project anymore. I hope that most of my fans will stick around for what I do next, but realistically, I know most people are here for CrystalDust, not me, and I think I’m okay with that. If you’ve made it this far, I hope you check out some of the other stuff I’m going to be working on!
I also think I may need to leave behind the DoMoreAwesome name. It was always meant to be for stuff I made with friends, but aside from some Let’s Plays, that never really happened and it just became another moniker for myself. Not just that, but its acronym is shared with my deadname’s initials, which hasn’t bothered me that much but is certainly more incentive to stop using it. I’m planning to rebrand everything under Sierraffinity, but leaving CrystalDust as part of DoMoreAwesome, in order to refocus on just one name for my new projects and leave the ROM hacking stuff in the past. The website and everything will stay up for now, if only to host the ROM hacks.
Does this mean the end of CrystalDust? This might surprise you, but no, not necessarily. There are still some bugs to fix and new assets to import, so I need to take care of that first. Afterwards, if someone were to come to me with a strong vision and was willing to bring it to completion, then I would be willing to let them take charge. I had huge plans for where it was going to go from what I released in the v3 alpha and even created a whole versioning system so that save files could be upgraded if an incompatibility came up, so someone else coming on board would have what I believe is a strong foundation to build from. And I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to taking on some sort of advisory role, if it was needed.
Thank you to everyone who has supported me on this journey, and a particularly big thanks to the CrystalDust development team, past and present. I also want to give a huge shout-out to my Patreon supporters, who helped me alpha test and gave me that extra kick in the rear to keep working when I wasn’t feeling up to it. I'm not going to close the Patreon page at this time, since doing so would remove my "Founder" status, but I will be pausing billing indefinitely and request that nobody else join until I have something new sorted out that I'm willing to accept donations for.
And finally, a huge thanks to you, the reader, for caring enough to get all the way down here. Unless you’re just here for the TL;DR, in which case… a smaller thanks. But still, thanks.
TL;DR: I’m quitting Pokémon ROM hacking, but that doesn’t spell disaster for CrystalDust. What does that mean? Read the rest of the post!