Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Update on crazy solo project progress

Hey all!  So, it's been two weeks since announcing that I was learning to code, going the route of some solo projects, and that Gab and I are moving the family abroad.  So, here's quick bulletpoint updates for those who care:

We leave Thursday for France and Spain

No, not for a permanent move yet.  We're still trying to lock down the region we want to move to.  We're about to spend two weeks driving in southern France, and four days in Barcelona to see if anything in those regions captivate us enough to move there.  Fingers crossed, I'd love to get the move underway.  If not though, at least we will have gorged on amazing food and seen some stunning visuals.

I'm learning to code in JavaScript (UnityScript) with Unity

After loads of research and suggestions from knowledgable friends, I picked JavaScript (UnityScript, potato potatoe, the buttons say JS for a reason) and Unity as my jumping off point into coding.  I found a fantastic series of video tutorials that are laid out like a college course with sample projects to create, and I dove in.  It's kind of staggering the amount of educational material out there for people who want to learn this stuff... it continues to come down to a person's motivation to learn this stuff.  It's pretty much all free if you have an even halfway decent computer.

Here's the series I've been going through.  If you want to learn game creation, this is as fine a leaping off point as I could suggest.  The Walker brothers used to teach at SMU Guildhall and posted this massive chunk of tutorials.  They're excellent for someone with a bit of background in art or production who wants to learn the coding side:


Nope, haven't started a specific game yet

Despite nearly busting at the seams with enthusiasm and inspiration for different prototypes, I am not starting a specific game just yet.  I know I could start creating artwork for a game now and be off and running, but I want to do this right, methodically.  I want to get a more broad exposure to coding first, and complete the series of tutorials and test projects before allowing myself to leave "tutorial mode".  If I sat down over the next month and created a ton of art assets, it would be a crutch, the 'safe' stuff I already know how to do, and at the end I'd be no closer to being a self sufficient game creator.

I'll be at GDC

A matter of days after returning from Europe, I will be heading to San Fran for GDC (the Game Developer's Conference).  Not working in an office around friends means it's always going to be a challenge to feel connected to the industry.  Damnit, I couldn't skip my favorite event this year, even though I'm only heading out for Wed-Fri instead of the whole week.

Work space is set up

I've got my office set up and purring along again in the original BitMonster offices... otherwise known as my basement.  I won't lie, I'm basically high on having the flexibility of home life and being productive on my own schedule.  As many clever managers could tell you, if you remove the mandatory structures to people's work, often they're much more productive by holding themselves to their own yardstick.  I want to be down there more than I know is healthy... it'll take a while to learn balance and how to live life focusing on work when I'm working, and not working when I'm not.  But, that's a must.

Oculus Rift

I'm all aboard the VR train.  I've got a snazzy Oculus Rift VR setup going, and I'm loving it.  I have pretty poor vision in my right eye, and perhaps that is somehow beneficial because I'm experiencing none of the nausea or discomfort some people have claimed they feel in a full VR goggle rig like that.  I absolutely love the technology and immersion this technical direction offers, and plan on supporting the hell out of it with my future projects.  I don't think I'd make something yet that *requires* VR goggles, but I'm damn sure willing to bias towards projects that can take advantage of them incredibly well.

I think the companies that are creating all this VR potential are doing a huge part to stoke gamer's and dev's imagination in a time where it's easy to be depressed about various aspects of the gaming industry.  I absolutely want to be part of this stage of gaming.  Yeah, it's not perfect... yet.  I'm not one to wait for all the lights to turn green before moving forward though.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Life changes in 3... 2... 1...

Hey all!  I'd like to use my blog this once to post a bit about what's going on with my career and family rather than random game design thoughts.  (if you have no knowledge or interest in game "stuff" and only want the family info, feel free to skip to the 2nd half)

Over the last 20 years (good lord) at some point I've professionally done damn near everything technically related to developing games.  Modeling, animation, texturing, level / track design, audio work, UI design, campaign event scripting, writing, lead roles in most of those… pretty much everything *but* actually programming a game.  As many designers can attest, that last component (actual coding) can often feel like what separates 'making games' from 'desperately wanting other people to make your games'.

(Much of my work on Gears 1-3 as Gameplay Designer was creating the playable prototypes for most of the weapons, creatures, game systems, lots of campaign sequences, etc... but often those were essentially 'playable design pitches' and seldom were final shippable features.)

No matter how far I can take prototypes and assets, at some point I feel that I'm ultimately a peddler of ideas spending more time pitching and discussing than implementing.  Without writing code, as a designer, every concept I'm excited about is tempered with the inevitable concern of, "would I be able to find people who would build that with me?"

Often it fundamentally comes down to 'find someone willing to give you a team to create it, or learn to do it yourself'.  That's a key aspect of the indie games movement, people realizing there's that second viable option.

I have an ache to truly become self sufficient as a game creator and break my reliance on others to fulfill my creative intuitions.  It's clear we're living in the golden age of making that happen with available resources and tools online.  So that's my path.  I'm going to take a good long time (if needed) and dedicate myself full-time to learning anything I need in order to truly author my own game projects.  I can't say I won't collaborate with others or try alternative methods to bring projects to life along the way, but my goal is to not depend on those options.  At bare minimum I need to be able to participate in game jams like Ludum Dare 48! :)

If you've ever shipped a solo project, or dove into coding recently, I'd love to hear about your experiences.  I've had the great fortune of working with some of the most talented people in the industry, and have gotten some great advice so far (and found some role models in the process).  My friend Kent Hudson was among the first to get my head leaning in this direction, with his successful release of The Novelist on Steam (while learning to code along the way).  His passion for that project shows through every time he speaks about the game, and his courage is truly inspiring.


The second aspect of this decision is... geographic.

With an enthusiastic family, savings to run on, and an internet connection we could live pretty much anywhere.  We plan on taking advantage of that.  Big time.

Last year at GDC there was a pretty drool enducing presentation from Colin and Sarah Northway (two respected indie devs who travel the world while each making their own solo games).  When I saw this stunning slideshow of this adventurous married couple in 1000 random amazing settings, I had to wonder why we don't live somewhere with a hammock full time.  We are fixing that ASAP.  We're moving abroad!

Where specifically?  It's being narrowed down.  So far we've visited swathes of ('House Hunter International' favs) Costa Rica, Belize, and Merida Mexico as potential move locations.  In march we're spending two weeks driving from Lyon south along the French coast, over to Toulouse, then down to Barcelona, Spain (although our interests are primarily the towns in between).  Gab and I have been doing steady French lessons for a bit over a year now, so, it'd be fantastic to use those skills.  We may hit Panama after that if we haven't decided by then.

Yep, we're taking the kiddo of course, and no, we don't think it's an education issue.  We're of the opinion that exposing a 12 year old to the WORLD, is a great thing.  If we move somewhere with a good international school, awesome.  If not, there's great online school options now that would make amazingly memorable trips even more simple logistically.

If you're afraid we'll be kidnapped and murdered the moment we step off a plane outside the US, we don't really need to hear your opinion on the topic ;)  I was actually told by someone we shouldn't visit France right now because "all the stuff going on there".  When asked what they meant, they said "you know, Syria".  Sigh.  Yes, Syria, which is apparently just west of Paris before you reach the North Korean drug cartels.  Sigh.

So yes, Gab and I are crazy excited about the prospect of an international move and dramatic lifestyle change.  If you have visited some mind bogglingly cool town anywhere in the world, with a warm/mild climate that we should consider, I'd love to hear about that as well!  We're extremely grateful for what our success in North Carolina with Epic and BitMonster is allowing us to do, but we're a pretty nomadic couple craving a heavy dose of new experiences.

It's a terrifying leap into a void, but, such is life!

(Naturally I plan on posting significantly more about my projects and the learning process here as well.  There may be fewer real articles and more "WOAH, CHECK THIS OUT!" moments... hope that's cool!)

Thanks so much as always for reading, and especially for all the support!