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Another Update (voxelquest.com)
605 points by shawndumas on June 14, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 115 comments

It's rare to see a Kickstarter project essential "fail" in delivering the original product but to have so many backers feeling satisfied [1]...it's a testament to the creator's consistently thorough and engaging updates that backers were happy to just be on the journey, even if they didn't get the game they promised. Also, it appears that the estimated delivery was Jan. 2017...there's probably a positive psychological component to being honest early rather than dragging people through a long period of denial and delay before going radio silent.

[1] https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gavan/voxel-quest/posts...

When I fail, I fail spectacularly. :)

I knew coming in that it was overly ambitious (heck, my website stated that from the very first days), but I think that shooting for the stars was a good way to just explore the current limitations of tech and try to do things that no one else was doing - reason be damned.

The best thing that happened was not something entirely tangible. I have witnessed the most beautiful side of humanity in my struggles (however trivial my struggles are in the global scope of the world).

Stop trying to give my money back, I don't want it! VQ has been a fascinating project to watch, and I was always more interested in the tech than in any particular game that gets made with it.

I'm happy to hear it'll be open sourced, and hopefully people will continue to push it forward! I've been meaning to pick up some C++ and graphics programming...

Man, people must really hate money. Somebody just increased their pledge to me, likely out of spite.

It's not that I hate money, it's that I pledged on Kickstarter so you'd make a cool thing. You made a cool thing, I got to read about its development and watch all the update videos, and now you're releasing it to the community under MIT (or similar) license. As far as I'm concerned we're square.

I know the Kickstarter project was planned as an RPG and maybe you could have throw together a game using the engine as it stood a year ago just to call the project done, but I don't think that would have been a better outcome.

Feel exactly the same. Backed the kickstarter because I was once (a long time ago) also interested in writing a voxel engine but never had the time, and since then - everything voxel related peaked my interest.

The updates were always nice, and I've always thought of it ending up as an SDK/playground for voxel technology, and never as eventually a real game. If it would become opensource, in my view - that would make it a successful kickstarter, and not a failed-one.

Thanks :)

I did the same on a different project. I told the guy to keep the money and spread the word or put it toward the next project.

I think part of it is that you made the sincere offer of refund, and gave people control over that. Regardless of how reasonable it is for a sincere creator to keep the money on a failed project, people still appreciate being able to have the option to 'pull out' on failure.

I think you mean "failure"

Or people are more interested in converting their money into your passion :)

You can't take it with you.

Maybe you can :)

I'd rather leave the world penniless, having exhausted all of my funds nudging it in the right direction ;)

or the idea of MIT (or similar) license might attract a couple more people... might want to throw up a one time donate link just to see :)

[edit: ah, I see how this patron thing works - or not - one time would be nice]

Agreed, same here! I was in the Kickstarter, and I don't need my money back. I'd rather Gavan keep it, and not have some debt hanging over him. It's the nature of Kickstarter that not everything makes it. Honestly, I've gotten more out of my $30 just from the updates about the engine (and the fact that you're open sourcing it!) than I've gotten from a lot of the other Kickstarters I've backed.

I guess I have to thank the general outcome of Kickstarters for setting the bar low for me :)

And that your engine is an outstanding piece of work!

Maybe you've gotten used to it from having worked on this so much, but it's a breath of fresh air to see unusual approaches being pursued in a game engine. So much of the industry is dominated by either 3D triangle meshes or retro pixel art, and VQ has shown that these aren't the only ways forward.

Fully agreed. I'd rather someone innovate, be passionate yet fail than do the same old garbage (not literally, just so much stuff is cookie cutter these days) and "produce"

I was one of the people who pledged $20. It caught my eye because it was a unique approach that I'd thought of myself in much less concise terms and told myself that I'd think more about or try "someday". Pledging was like outsourcing my someday to you!

As I posted before:

I don't want a cent back. I didn't pay for a "product", I paid to watch him try this novel approach to a game engine. Money well spent.

Now "Transformers 3" on the other hand... I paid to watch that too. Michael Bay, you owe me $12 back for that stinker.

I'm in the same boat. I don't want a refund either. Just watching this dude create amazing work as satisfying enough.

I do plan to tinker with this engine though....

I haven't contributed to the Patreon but have been following from the side lines. From my perspective, this isn't a failure at all. You've created high quality updates as you've progressed in your project and you're leaving the project open source for the community. I know that if I were to have given you money, I would feel entirely satisfied since you're giving your work back to the community. I can't wait to poke around the source.

Thanks for hard work. Good luck at OpenAI!


Same here, didn't contribute, but you are a great person, totally respect your decision; let's try to make this OS project a reality!

When you fail, you fail gracefully. Much respect.

Thanks :)

Like the other commenters, I definitely don't want any money back!

Sad to hear of VQ's demise, but open-sourcing it sounds like a great idea.

I think people are incredibly supportive when you're open and honest about building. It's not just about delivering on a great product, but sharing in the adventure of making something from nothing. If you're down to build something open and honest with a community you should check out baqqer.

Thanks, I just took a look at it. I have a couple offers to do crowd equity / funding, but for reasons I state below (about family, stress, other things) I am holding off at this point. Additionally I have already committed to a job. I will definitely consider it in the future. :)

When you see people say things like:

"I backed you, not the product, keep the money!"


"Open Sourcing it is worth more than I ever backed for this project, refund not needed"

AND (the best of them all - the way the internet does compliments):

"I will spend however much time is required to hunt you down in person and forcefully give you the money back if you dare refund me."

You're reminded of how little the things we own or build matter compared to the bonds we develop.

Maybe 10 years from now, through a community-led project, your game (with you as 1 of the leaders of the project) becomes a reality.

The game then takes off and is played by the same community who built it. You end up making about 90 good friends who you game/hack/build the game with and become a small internet celebrity to niche-gamers.

Although this story is not on the "high-tech, Docker-swarm-graphDB-containerManager-C++killer-version0.0.1234.44444" level, seeing a story like this reminds us of our humanity, even as people who rot away behind screens all day :)

Thanks, I think that the future is wide open and anything can happen down the road. I hope that my work now eventually puts me in a better position to enable such things. :)

As a Kickstarter backer, MIT licensed code very much exceeds my expectations. Thank you!

I'd love to get a playable game out of this someday, but it doesn't have to come from you. :)

Best of luck, OpenAI is lucky to have you.


Worth a shot, I know there are some people around here who don't know what to do with their money, who might be considering financing the next chat/social/... app, but I implore you to consider supporting Gavan full-time (should he actually want it of course). I absolutely would if I could, unfortunately public cancer research is not exactly a lucrative business...

Voxel Quest is a great project that deserves all the attention it can get. It might not be the next unicorn, hell, it might not even produce any ROI, but as I see it, it has the potential to have a great impact. See it as a goodwill project if you will, a chance to make a nice dent in the gaming landscape and more.

It's not often that I feel this way, but some things just deserve to exist and be worked on for their own sake. Voxel Quest is one of these things, and Gavan is the one who can make it happen.

Thank you, I appreciate it, but I have been given a fair shot, and I failed (or however you want to label it).

I still came out better in the end, with a more developed skillset and better reputation.

There are thousands of people out there just like me, waiting to prove themselves. These are the people that deserve funding. :)

I met my first investor on reddit, a total stranger who took a chance on me. Hopefully I can reach a financial position at some point to give another person a chance as I was given.

This would have been a failure if you haven't learned, but I got the hitch you have learned a fair bit. You deserve all the help you are getting. :)

I want to throw my money in your face. Have you considered doing a crowd sourced funding round?

I did get an offer to do crowd equity (some company that is actually run by one of the former Activision founders). I don't know that doing more crowd funding is necessarily the best avenue - I could just be digging my pit deeper. I'd prefer to build up some savings myself and maybe start my next company the right way, although that will be a long ways out.

I don't mean to make assumptions, but are you being overly hard on yourself? Have there been negative replies about the Kickstarter / Patreon?

The comments I've read seem to indicate that people (myself included) want you to keep pushing on.

There was a mixture of things. I never felt too burnt out but towards the end when stress and financial issues mounted up it made the process entirely unenjoyable (and to be clear, its never perfect, but this was the worst). When you have a solid window of time to accomplish something, things go ok, but when you run out of time you start flailing in an attempt to prioritize various things.

The bigger issue, which has been largely invisible to people, is that building a game on your own while you have a family impacts them in a really negative way (namely, you can't dedicate the time or money you would like to for them). If you have money you can compensate (with babysitters and such), or the same goes for time, but if you have neither than it is pretty hard on everybody.

Basically, it got to a point where I would rather the game be more of a hobby than a commercial venture; I was never good at the commercial part anyway. :)

Upvoted to the moon. I have been going through this for a few years now (building a game engine, no less, with a wife and young children). I can't give my kids the time I would like and I can't give my project the time I would like. It feels like being torn apart sometimes.

I don't know if this is healthy or not (would I be happier not pursuing my passion? Would I be guilt-tripping about too little time with the kids anyway, with a regular nine-to-five?) but I can't quit, it would fuck me up too much (sunk cost, shattered dreams, etc.). I might have to hit rock bottom first (or make it big, right?).

In that sense I envy and credit you for moving on - best of luck.

As long as you feel you have a shot, keep going. Better to have tried and failed than live with regret. But knowing when to quit is also a virtue. :)

Good on you for knowing where your priorities are. I've seen many people go the other way and it always ended in regret.

as open source, will you be administrating/managing the repo, or have you found someone to do so? I know the non-coding aspects of open source can be very time-consuming as well.

Ideally someone else will manage it but I will contribute where I can.

If I'd known the end result of this would be an open source game engine, I'd have given you more money. Take it! Keep it!


I'm happy that Gavan is Open Sourcing his work and that people are generally happy with the outcome.

That being said I would not be surprised if Gavan announced a brand new voxel project and kickstarter a few years from now, starting from scratch like last time.

Previous discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7491456

Yep, to be honest I don't think I have it in me to do another 3D game. I have a lot of other 2D game ideas I'd like to tackle at some point though. :)

Genesis failed out the gate because (as mentioned in that thread) I got very little in terms of donations ($700 would not carry me more than a month in California).

VQ was my honest shot at it, and I learned many painful lessons from it. Seriously, drag me out in the back alley and shoot me if I think I need a third go at this. :)

Just give it a little time... you forget the pain, and just remember the good times. Otherwise no one would have a second child! Much less a third.

That's true. In fact, I always say the first child is the "warning shot"

Or book.

Is there something you would do differently, if you could go back in time?

Like many developers around here I got into programming through game development. Back in the days I started working on my own game engine and put a lot of effort into it without going anywhere. About 8 years I spent working on it on and off and learned a ton of C++. I believe, it was time well spent, but sometimes I get the nagging doubt that I should have spent my time more wisely.

Times change. Family, 2 kids, a house. I had to optimize my way of spending time. In the late hours I got left I started dabbling into other engines and frameworks for 3D games: Three.js, Dart, Haxe (Flambe, HaxeFlixel, HaxePunk) and now finally settled on Unity.

If I could go back in time I would tell my former self: "Stop wasting time doing everything from the ground up. Start making games!" I believe many aspiring game developers fall into the trap of doing everything by themselves. They start building frameworks and stuff just for the sake of it and forget, that making games requires a more widespread skill set (Game Design, Concept Art, Modelling, Texturing, Marketing, etc..)

Your engine is a work of art. I love the approach you've taken. But from the start I always thought, that you should start working on a game as soon as possible. What's your opinion on this?

Excellent question. :)

First, it is quite contrary, but I believe that you don't necessarily need to make a "game" - in the way most people think that you should. You are better off if you can, but it is not a requirement. The best example I can cite is Minecraft, whose own creator claims it is not a game (he also is adverse to labels in general though). I demoed VQ to someone at GDC and they had fun just walking around and enjoying the scenery (yes, it was the proverbial "walking simulator").

There is value in whatever you decide to do, even if it is not monetary value. The most important thing, I think, is that you are having fun, because if you are not then the game business is generally not worth the associated suffering.

In my case, I enjoyed work most of the time, and in addition got to take a stab at pushing technological boundaries. The latter was not particularly valuable in terms of gameplay, but it was valuable in terms of creating interest and opportunities.

That said, the most telling thing that I found was that I often wanted to find something simpler (not a strong desire, but definitely in the back of my head). If I had to redo it all I'd make a 2D platformer - as overdone as that is, it is something that is far easier to work on and there are not nearly as many technical battles.

What you decide to use is up to you, but going completely from scratch is not a good idea IMO (unless you want to learn it all). I am a big fan of minimalist frameworks like Monogame and bgfx - they handle a lot of that annoying framework setup for you, but do not include the usual scene-graph workflow that you find in Unreal and Unity. That said, Unreal and Unity are excellent options if you do prefer a scene editor and an engine that is ready to ship out of the box.

> If I had to redo it all I'd make a 2D platformer - as overdone as that is, it is something that is far easier to work on and there are not nearly as many technical battles.

I, for one, am extremely happy that you don't get to redo all of it :P

Thank you for your wise words!

You are absolutely right. Beauty can be found even in 'simple' things. Hope to see more creative work from you in the future if you get to it.

Wish you all the best!


When I fall into this line of thinking, I sometimes realize that the efforts I spent building my own thing from the ground up gave me a lot of insight into how the thing worked, what tradeoffs existed at a lower level, and it was extremely beneficial to have spent that time, whether I use what I wrote or dump it for a packaged solution.

Do you think you were able to analyze your choices better, or understand the systems better, use them better, have more insight, because you spent time up front doing your own thing?

I rarely (if ever) feel like time I spent that way was wasted.

Yes, as with mathematics you learn the most by deriving the solution yourself. The only way you could waste time is if you walk away with nothing (money just being one of many quantities you could factor in)

Jumping on OpenAI must be exciting! No matter how hard you try pushing the voxel rendering tech forward, the same effort invested in the AI has a much bigger potential. I hope you do well and enjoy it ;)

Thanks, I look forward to contributing to the best of my ability. Their organization is not as hyped as it should be, and maybe that is a good thing.

Great work on the engine, I also have been going through some of the harder times you mentioned whilst working on my own game engine - so I can totally empathize.

Can I ask how you ended up at OpenAI? as in did you apply directly? If it is personal for any reason no worries.

Thanks again for sharing your story and engine with us! Oh and btw if you need help with the game networking ( I built a sockets based networking engine which seems to work ok) let me know.

Sorry to hear - hope everything works out for you!

"Can I ask how you ended up at OpenAI?"

Certainly. I had heard of OpenAI from their first announcements, being a regular reader here on HN. I later saw on Twitter (when I was on the job hunt) that they were hiring and it seemed like an interesting place to work. I applied directly, without any references (other than being visible here on HN).

Thank you for your reply. I have yet to be confident enough to apply directly to companies I like, even though I am in my prime. I keep wanting to make sure my portfolio is "perfect" heh. God speed dude.

I just discovered this, took my time to get acquainted with the whole situation and I must say that I'm amazed!

You did a really great job, don't be too hard on yourself. As a developer I always value tools over a product, and you went that extra mile to give the community a tool, instead of giving them a game. I think you deserve every penny, great job!


I would say that when you get asked about the project in interviews or casual conversation, don't sum it up as a failure of any sorts. Speak about it as a success in research because that's what it really is. Basically, don't downplay your accomplishments due to one metric of success/failure such as Kickstarter or Patreon cancelation.

Thanks - I do believe it made good strides elsewhere, in spite of whatever one might deem it commercially. :)

The amount of positivity in this thread makes me believe in humanity again :) (coming from someone battling with depression)

Couldn't agree more! Although sad Gavan will be passing on the torch, seeing this make the top of HN and the overwhelming support from people is such a positive surprise.

I would love love love to see a number of indie game studios pick up the open source engine and do crazy things with it that even Gavan didn't imagine. I'm so excited for the potential in this.

Sorry to see you go. But I'm proud that you are going out the proper way by releasing source code. Having amazing projects like this die and never see the light of day is very sad and happens too often for my liking.

Yes, and to be honest this could have happened. Fortunately my investors were cool about everything and let me open source it.

It wasn't your intend but to me this project and it's conclusion that is happening right now kind of proves my base assumption that crowdfunding of creative endeavors is a very good idea if the circumstances are right. My hypothesis has always been that there will be people willing to pay other people to do stuff that is interesting and that one of the major motivators is to make sure those people can work on said stuff. In essence I feel it's more important to communicate that the money is meant to keep the creative process running and not for specifics products. I will pay X$ so that artist Y can keep doing what they do but probably won't pay Z$ to buy a product from that artist if that makes sense.

I feel like the reaction you are getting indicates that hypothesis isn't horrible. Thanks for that :)

I agree and you're welcome :)

I haven't followed this project, and know very little about rendering, but I saw in your updates you ended up moving the voxel generation off the GPU and onto the CPU. How feasible would rendering on the CPU be for your engine? Is it highly specialized towards using GPU features, or could it be reasonably distributed across multiple traditional CPU cores?

I debated moving rendering to the CPU at one point. The CPU allows you to use much more creative tricks, but of course lacks the ability to crunch tons of numbers in parallel to the extent that a GPU can. It is possible, but the question is - is it worthwhile? :)

Do you have some example?

One good example is ray casting. In a GPU there is no temporal locality, each pixel is ideally independently determined. On a GPU you can cast a single ray and flood fill out from there. This is slightly similar to what Ken Silverman did in Voxlap with wave surfing, although IIRC that algorithm only fills along vertical scanlines.

I look forward to every update on Voxel Quest. I find the entire project breathtaking and beautiful. Even if I never personally play it, I am grateful that it exists.

Thank you :)

You couldn't have handled this situation any more gracefully. I hope your engine finds a game... or a game finds your engine.

Good work on VQ! I can totally relate to what you went thru, since I went thru exactly the same thing myself 6 months ago. Glad to see you are open sourcing it, might have legs still, though nothing can compare to the passion of a founder.

Yeah, not to mention its quite a complex code base. But hopefully I can help some people at least getting it to compile. :)

amazing work on Voxel Quest, I have been following this since the start and it made me want to carry that same engineering excellence in my open source projects!


It is really nice to see someone in the game industry with honesty and integrity. But at the same time, it makes me sad that it stands out as being so incredibly rare.

Thank you, I am honored!

Your game website looks great! What's it implemented on?

Thanks, it was built from scratch in C++/OpenGL. The only major library used was Bullet for physics.

Edit: oh, the website or the game? The website was made with Weebly.

it's good you clarified that but I'm afraid the damage may already be done:

somewhere right now there is a young ambitious web UI designer thinking, "I know! I'll start a new fad where every web UI requires a JS physics engine!" and somewhere else right now, some uBlock Origin developer is thinking, "Uh oh, I better start designing a way to block those too."


Haha :)

This is incredible, looking forward for the release of the engine, what is it that you'd be doing with openAI?


Mostly basic software engineering tasks, helping put together some test beds, maintenance, and stuff like that. The researchers there will be doing the heavy AI lifting, which I am not very experienced in (at least as far as NNs, of which I only have a basic working understanding). Still I'd like to take it as an opportunity to dabble further with AI if I have any spare time, maybe flushing out VQ's emergent AI / proglog-ish language some more.

I'd so be in with the researchers! Such an interesting work best good luck!!

Good on you for being honest all along and for open sourcing the results and offering refund.

I wish people (both people seeking funding and backers) would take more realistic and honest approaches towards crowdfunding.

Odd as it may sound, I don't believe more realism would be a good thing in crowdfunding. We need more projects like Gavan's game - things that are ludicrously ambitious that still produce a fantastic outcome even if they fall before the originator of the project is satisfied.

Crowdfunding as a mechanism to pre-order something you know for certain is achievable is good, and very useful, but crowdfunding moonshot projects has it's place too. We should help people do crazy hard things because, occasionally, the outcome is awesome.

Voxel Quest is one of those times.

There are plenty of ludicrously ambitious projects. It takes someone like Gavan running and communicating about the project for it to be a success even if it doesn't make it to the finish line.

The outcome of a lot of over ambitious projects is that there is virtually no communication after funding and then they come up with some bs story about how they spent all the money before they could get anything to show for it.

Crowdfunding would be 10x what it is today if all of the "failed" projects had failed with regular communication, significant progress throughout, and a handoff of material (code or kit type release).

Unfortunately this is the exception rather than the rule.

The lack of communication from some projects has little to do with how ambitious they are. Simple projects can be terrible at keeping backers in the loop. I absolutely agree that it's a problem, and maybe something that actually represents an opportunity. An app that pushed project founders to communicate regularly would be useful...

Yep. I think crowdfunding started off well during the boom, but then people abused it and it got too crowded, causing people to lose faith on both ends.

Wow! In 2016, to have a successful Kickstarter, you don't even need to deliver anything; you just have to be charismatic and write interesting updates for people to want to give you money.

Dreams are the new deliverable I suppose. A lot of people have labeled me as charismatic, but in person I am very socially awkward. :)

What else do game makers do than deliver dreams? Just maybe not the dreams you planned on delivering from the start. :) Grats on your successes, may they grow with you.

I backed this from the beginning without the expectation of getting a real game - but rather backing research into voxel tech that up to then was mostly a cool tech-demo. I think the initial kickstarter was also pretty clear about this only "possibly" becoming a game eventually. It being released as opensource is something I had hopes for, but never expected - so for me, this is indeed a successful kickstarter. I've had others that supposedly were successful - but which in my eyes completely failed to deliver (hello Ouya).

Can anyone be more even-keeled or humble than Gavan?

You impress me, sir. keep the patreon around for people who just want to support a seriously good person who makes fun stuff from time to time.

I'll consider it, but money will not go to me - if anything it will be used for bounties or awards to people who contribute to the source repository.

Would voxel quest work in the vive?

Yes. I have a CV1 that I was going to test VR on. Its current post-process point fill might prove troublesome to some degree though (a few edges would probably not produce coherent voxels for each eye).

Awesome! Can't wait to try that someday. Did you approach any VR funds about funding?

Someone suggested I try it, but in the end I had so little time the only safe thing was to begin searching for jobs. I have had countless offers fall through so I am aware of the dangers of trying to work out a deal with another party.

syngrog's rule of "offers" and "exploratory conversations": nothing is real until their money shows up in your bank account ;-)

Never knew about this project, the water and water physics looks beautiful. Hope this ends up in good hands.

The project had relatively little exposure outside of Hacker News. Glad to see people are still discovering it for the first time. :)

May I ask what you'll be working on at OpenAI? (congrats, btw!)

Basic software engineering tasks mostly (not research). :)

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