That First Quarter - 2017

Prologue

It is the middle of March. Many of our New Year's Resolutions have already been cast aside and we return to the humdrum of day to day. Now feeling the strain of our efforts as the promise of a clean slate that the New Year brought starts to wane.

So what has Q1 of 2017 held for you? For me, it has been a period of highs and lows. Lows predominantly coming from lack of sunlight and general burn out that accompanies a long form project that is still hibernating from the public eye. The highs have been pretty good though and are what I want to focus on in this three part blog.


Part One

Games that Itch(.io)

Mama Seuss, the game I mentioned in the previous post [click click], is now available to download. It’s small and silly and perfectly mine. Which means the controls are a little broken on Xbox controller but works pretty well on a PS4 controller. So if you are even slightly interested, go give it a download for free… for me. I spent a long evening setting up the page for it, making gifs and the like and I must say. I’m pretty proud of myself for getting it all done. There was a time pressure to get it uploaded before the group closed for adding it to the Code Liberation page. While an arbitrary deadline, it worked wonders for me as a motivator to finish the game as much as I could in the available time. I recommend anyone who has troubles finishing things, try and make yourself accountable to someone, for a specific date. Humans are lazy by nature so it’s an excellent way to check your biology.

On a separate issue. I shut down the old website I used to have my own game content under. This was called Indieful Entertainment. A name I hated but was such a brain worm I couldn’t think of anything else. I have instead opted now to release all my personal game work under HollyPixel, my internet moniker. For a long time I didn’t have the confidence to do this. Code Liberation gave me enough confidence in my own abilities to do this and that’s a really good feeling. So if SALT; A Social Story comes out of hiatus later this year, look out for it on the HollyPixel Games social channels. Enough people have told me I need to finish it so I would hate to disappoint them!


Part Two

You, Me and GDC

I attended GDC again this year, my third in four years and certainly the best one I’ve had so far. This year was astronomically expensive however, due to the rock bottom pound sterling thanks to the Brexit Brigade. Making it possibly my last GDC for a while unless a big financial shift happens in the markets. So I was determined to make the most of it. For me, that is mostly going to a lot of talks. It’s honestly one of the main reason I even go. That’s just my opinion and I’m very uncool, I’m fine with that. I have found I meet a lot of really awesome and like minded people at the talk, more so than at the party scene after hours. But as with everything, everyone is different. That’s just one introvert’s humble opinion.

Since I’m such a proponent of the talk I thought I would share some recommends from this year that I think folks with vault access should check out:

Jeff gave an amazing talk last year about giving effective critique (I recommend you watch that if you haven’t already). He is an excellent speaker and applies his knowledge gained as a teacher to his work as an Artist at Harmonix. He’s a truly empathetic human and has insights that can easily be applied to everyone working within games, not just artists. This talk is especially helpful to those looking to get into or are in a more managerial role in a team. A role where you need to feedback to others on their work or talk to other departments about how the work you are both creating needs to work together. Or anyone who wants to work better with others, which hopefully is everyone out there.

Snap to Character is about making characters that Players will be attached to. It’s not about creating likeable character, but one’s that players will be interested in. Harrison breaks this challenge down into simple parts that are easy for anyone to understand and how you can apply them in your game. He breaks all his examples down with case studies from the projects he has worked on over the years and a lot of pitfalls that games make. Anyone who is interested in Narrative in games, especially when it comes to characters. This is one you need to watch.

While a fairly simple talk, covering the tech art side of making Abzu, this is exactly the kind of art talk I like. I have a secret dream of being a technical artist, I love solving problems more than most. So being given an insight into material setups with vertex offset nodes to make fish swim animations was a total joy for my brain. It also covered some quick tech used for fog and lighting. If you are someone who is interested in the more nuts and bolts side of the art in someone else’s game, this is a good watch.

I love puzzles and I know I’m not alone in that fact. This talk was placed at an annoying 3:30pm slot, just as my brain was hitting it’s Afternoon Slump. So I will have to go back over this one to fully retain the knowledge that Laura imparted. The general topics about covered how designing for physical and VR is very different to designing for a traditional video game. Things like physical tiredness, immersion and player attention.

This was the only talk I decided to miss my last session of the day for in order to stay back and chat with everyone afterwards. This was a really warm an eye opening experience. So many people are interested in how we can bring magic of escape rooms to more people. Not to mention a great chance to geek out about ARGs with like minded folk.

This talk isn’t really a practical one and the vault video really doesn’t do this talk justice.The atmosphere of the room was really palpable and it was great to be there in person. This talk spoke about how you can invoke empathy with various techniques. More importantly Martin also speaks of WHY we should do it. That the world is cold and hard, that we all have a platform for saying something, so we should aim to say do something good with it. A lesson I’m sure we all can get on board with in these uncertain times.


Part Three

And then came a website.

A website went live a few weeks ago. It’s a weird one. Keep an eye on it if you’re interested to see what I’ve been doing with myself for the past two and a half years of my life.


Epilogue

It is the middle of March. The days are finally starting to warm a little. Blossom peaking out and bluebells rising from the earth. You realise, the sun shall be here soon and it all doesn’t seem so bad.

Fatigue, Code Liberation and the V&A

Here I start another blog on another site. Knowing full well, much like all my blogs that came before it. It will eventually become an abandoned page on the internet. Never visited by anyone. Collecting dust and regrets.

But is that going to stop me from doing it? Heck no! I live for the excitement for the thing that has yet to be abandoned. So on we go. To an update about making games!

So, anyone who knows me knows I have been working on an "yet unannounced" game for years. It's state of development limbo is something that kind of kills me inside a little bit. Mostly cus I worry my peers think I'm irrelevant or that I'm not actually DOING anything, cus hey, they haven't seen anything from me since SALT showed at Rezzed a year and a half ago. And I've looked back at that build of SALT, the writing is terrible. I was working on that unannounced game then too, just to give you a sense of how long this has been! So having worked so hard on something which I am yet to show any videos or screenshots from is really frustrating. I think it's something really cool but it's taken 2 years to get there.  Two years of limbo, two hard years of making decisions, finding they were the wrong call and having to iterate and course correct.

All of this really takes a toll, on my health (both mental and physical), my social life and my general feelings about myself, my work and "my worth". Really unhealthy stuff, but we all do it so I'm not going to pretend like I'm above it. There are certainly the days I fondly remember the comradery of working in an office and the regularity of Friday drinks with my office buddies. It wasn't often an exciting experience, but it was stable and it was safe. Now it's me in our office (John and I work in the same space from home), my team popping up on slack occasionally and a lot of lonely days of grinding out the work. It's draining and I felt like I needed a boost to bring me back to the land of the living. 

So in September a friend posted a link to the first UK Code Liberation Workshop being run by Pheonix Perry in conjunction with the V&A. This was my chance to try and bolster myself up! As usual I had the fear about applying, cus I have done a few scripting tutorials, but it was still mostly all out of my comfort zone. Learning in front of strangers too? *Shudder* Flashes back to the times I would break into tears when I was learning 3D and my work was just horrific and misaligned. I told John about it and he said "you're going to apply though right?" to which I replied, "of course!". I have trouble saying no to people.

Early October I found out I was selected for the workshop along with two of my friends. I wasn't alone! And most importantly I was motivated!

The seven weeks has flown by and whilst the topics covered in class I could have done at home (except the Arduino stuff, turns out I actually find electronics fascinating!). I wouldn't have done if I was just at home learning and struggling on my own. You put it off, in the evening after you have sat at the same computer for hours, the last thing you feel like doing is sitting there some more, only to feel like you are drowning. Without Code Lib I would never have had the confidence to ask my partner for help when I got stuck on stuff, such is the luck of living with another game developer who is a "functional coder". Learning new things is uncomfortable and embarrassing. You have to be back at that baby stage where you try and grab the coffee table and pull yourself up. You fail to grip, you fail to balance, you fail to muster your strength. By making a choice to learn something totally new as an adult, you put yourself back in this vulnerable situation which you haven't been in for decades. It's scary, but ultimately unlocked a pure joyfulness and curiousness that I haven't felt in such a long time.

I'll probably try and write another post about code lib in more detail at a later date. But for now, know that's it's amazing. If you get a chance to apply for one of their workshops. Take it. I've met some super awesome women, we've helped each other. I've also learnt so much about myself and what I can achieve.

I will be showing this game, a silly massage simulator called Mama Seuss, a Swedish Mama who's making her kronor from giving super quick massages. This silly game, I have made all by myself, with the help of awesome women who volunteered their time to teach us (and John) will be shown at the V&A. A place I remember going to on school trips. Among the ancient marble statues of marvellously naked people, I shall show a game about conveyor belt massages. I don't think I've really processed how cool that is yet. It's so amazing that games get enough respect to have a presence at such a loved establishment.

If you are in London on the 25th of November (2016) please do come along and join the madness.  Facebook event with full details here > https://www.facebook.com/events/238386896576594/ or the V&A link for the event here > https://www.vam.ac.uk/info/friday-late