It's been a surreal couple of weeks following launch. Axiom Verge has exceeded my wildest dreams and become a critical and financial success, and I'm ever so appreciative of all of its fans and all of its acclaim. But's been almost like watching this in a documentary of someone else's life. I don't feel like this is real, or that I'm really here experiencing it.
Because all I can think of is Max.
I adopted Max about four months before Axiom Verge was even a twinkle in my eye. I'd always wanted a dog, and I'd felt I could finally provide one the life it deserved. When I met Max at the dog rescue I could tell right off the bat that he was something special; after having been introduced to several other dogs, I asked the lady working there if they had any dog that was especially kind and loving. "Droopy loves everyone," she explained as she brought me to his cage (they had named him "Droopy" due to an eye condition where his eyelids drooped - this was later fixed through surgery). As I walked him out, it felt like he already knew I was his future doggy daddy, as if knowing that we were to be companions until the end.
I took Max everywhere. He'd spent the first three years of his life living in god knows what kind of conditions as well as in the dirt pen of the rescue, so I wanted him to see as much of the world I could show him. Most people think that Las Vegas is just a strip of hotels but actually it's surrounded by beautiful mountains and canyons, so that's where we spent most of our time.
But even when we weren't out exploring, he was always by my side, watching me work on the house or on computer. He's the sort of dog who wouldn't go running even if you left the front door open for him. He loved to snuggle next to me on the couch as I programmed AV. He understood me without me having to teach him. "Over here, Max!" "Out of the way, Max!" "Stay close, Max!" Overall he seemed curious about whatever I was doing, regardless of what it was.
But I knew that Max had always wanted a family. Eventually I was able to give him that, when my fiance (and now wife) Chloe came to live with us. I think the best part for Max was finally having companionship at all times, even when I was at work at Petroglyph.
Unfortunately it was around this time that Max developed cancer. He had three malignant tumors develop at the same time, each of a different type. Between surgery and radiation treatment, I ended up having to sell my car (spoils from the days of extravagant EA bonuses) to pay the bills.
He had to spend about a month in Carlsbad, CA for radiation treatment. We drove from Las Vegas every weekend to visit; they let us take him to our Motel 6 room overnight.
A lot of people were telling us that you can't beat cancer - that it would be kinder to euthanize Max - but, miraculously, he pulled through. There was never again any sign of cancer in his body, just patches of white fur where he'd been irradiated.
And that's when we received the pub fund offer. I was ever so close to experiencing the dream where I could spend every day with Chloe and Max. And, soon, a little Happ, too. Chloe was expecting. I could show them all the world.
March 28th 2015, three days before launch, began like any other day. Max woke us up to be fed, I went upstairs to my office to work. But as we ate breakfast it became apparent something was wrong. Max was hanging his head low and not looking us in the eye. I went over to check him for injuries, and his belly felt hard. I called the vet immediately; she said to take him to the emergency room.
It turns out Max had something called Gastric Dilation and Volvulus Syndrome. It's a condition that can happen to large-chested dogs that ingest too much food or water or have too much activity after eating. We think Max probably drank too much; he was always aggressive at his water bowl. Luckily, the surgeon told us we'd caught it soon enough that the tissues were still healthy; he was able to undo the damage. Max was going to make it.
I was in good spirits. Max was going to be okay - he'd beaten cancer, after all. And the game was getting tons of media attention. Chloe and I envisioned spending the next fall travelling the country in an RV with our dog and newborn son.
But it just wan't to be. The next day, one of the ICU technicians called to let me know that Max was suffering internal bleeding. They didn't know why. Okay, I said - do everything you can. So they took him into surgery again to stop it.
The day before launch, the reviews were coming in. 5 stars. 100%. 85% Metacritic, higher than any game I'd ever made under EA or Petroglyph. But now Max needed blood transfusions because he just wasn't getting enough protein to heal. On launch day, we sold enough copies that I could fund the next game. I constantly refreshed the sales tracker, trying to drown out my fears with whatever good news I could glean. Max needed another operation to remove tissues damaged from the lack of circulation.
It went on. He eventually progressed to multiple organ dysfunction, a common side effect of volvulus, and one that modern medical science still hasn't found a way to conquer. They called us in around 5 am on April 3rd to say goodbye, in case he didn't make it.
Max's heart stopped beating later that morning.
Launch week is supposed to be when you blog about how well it's going and how proud you are of your accomplishments, but, for me, I couldn't feel this at all (thank god for Dan Adelman and everything he does!!) I've tried to tweet positive things and keep the buzz going, but it's empty. Chloe said this could be the universe's way of balancing things out - it takes away as much as it gives. If that's the case I'd trade all of Axiom Verge's success just to get Max back. It feels so hollow to know that with all these good things coming around the corner, he couldn't be there.