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!


  1. Lee, you DO realize how terrible and dangerous the world is, right?! Oh, mean, statistically, it's never been better...despite what people on Facebook and the news say? ;)

    I've never known any friends to have anything but great experiences traveling the world...even those who have ventured into places people "aren't supposed to visit." I follow a few travel blogs, and these two seem to have nothing but great experiences: I definitely look forward to updates from you all over the place!

    As far as creating your own thing, I can say this much: even though writing has never paid off that much, financially, for me, it's always been worth it. Writing novels, seeing a pile of pages that are wholly something I made with time and care, is one of the best feelings. I'm very happy for you guys--that you've worked so damn hard for years to reach a place where you can be in total control of where you live and what you will do creatively. Not that I believe one must "earn" it, but it's always a bit more encouraging when you see a good person who's busted ass have big dreams come true.

    I can think of few people more deserving of such great opportunities, and I want some friggin' circus arts photos of you guys in France...'cause they're big on that! :)

    1. Time and again that's what I hear from people with their own projects. There must be something to it!

  2. Awesome! That sounds like a fantastic life exp!

    re:" If you've ever shipped a solo project, or dove into coding recently, I'd love to hear about your experiences. "

    my 2cents experience:

    Learn to love the wall. You're familiar with the wall from new 3d packages. New design scripts. etc.

    But when I recently started programming was when the wall took on a whole new form. It was just the most impenetrable everyday obstacle I would encounter over and over. It wasn't like it was when I use to just be as an artist/modeler or designer. It becomes a silent impenetrable mental barrier. The wall can come from deciding on a feature and not knowing how to code it. Implementing math wrong. Having to learn math you figured you would never need (at an age you never expected to be learning math!) Or maybe figuring out a bug that seems like it should work but doesn't. For me I had a massive discovery of an entirely new layer of learning like what/where are memory leaks. Getting motivated to face the wall day after day needs to become routine. But more importantly slaying the wall, getting over it on your own or help with others to get over that wall will become your joy/rush. Feed off that. You will find yourself becoming Wall Slayer. Friends might hand you code to get past it, stop that friend and have them explain the code in there, because everyone seems to traverse walls differently.

    Oh, and whenever someone tells you to code properly, understand they are evangelizing their right way to do it. In the end if it gets the job done and functions properly without penalty to the end user, it is the 'right way'. Computers are just to advanced to be worrying too much on methods of some of the elder guys who grew up on assembly.

    This is the right idea. I believe multiple discipline game development can only make you stronger. Heck I don't even know if we will be relevant in 20 years. (Eric's crazy tinfoil hat time) Where "Computer, make me a game" might have sounded preposterous 20 years ago, so did the whole magic phone/tablet technology. Now it doesn't really seem like such a far fetched idea 20 years from now that any end user will be able to make 90% of software that needed to be developed by a studio. (/tangent)

    Best of luck, I look forward to following your exciting journey!

    (oh, and irc chat client. Find one for your SDK. seriously.)

  3. Congrats! I wish you well as your adventure continues and expands in scope. As for the geography question, I can't speak highly enough of SE France; specifically Nice, Eze, Antibes, etc. along Cote D'Azur. It's stunning. Eze is a medieval walled stone city overlooking Mediterranean, built circa 1100. U2 live there while making records if that tells you anything and there's scant little of the globe they HAVEN'T seen. Nice has a big international airport, and is a mere minutes from Monte Carlo and better still, San Remo in Italy and some charming Italian mountain villages.

  4. THIS is what life is all about. So happy for y'all and wishing you love and light on your journey!

  5. Hey Lee! After 14 years pro as an art freelance I've recently decided to say "**** it!" and learn to code/prototype/tech art etc etc my game so far is getting a LOT of attention and I'm doing a kickstarter soon! is the website, the game is called Ashen Rift: a man and his dog and I also learned a new engine while I was at it! Unity3d!... Amazing to be set free, to just dive in and learn.

    Feel free to chat me up on FB about it, I'm having a blast making it so far.

    1. Awesome! Best of luck with the project! The vid on your site is already excellent, really slick so far.

  6. Pre-emptively missing you already! I know you'll make great stuff! Happy for you I'll have to come visit you wherever you go.

    1. Damn straight you will :) Miss you guys already as well.

  7. Was thinking about it Lee, and I REALLY enjoyed living in Australia for 6 months. Beaches, friendly people, good food, and lots of amazing places to visit (cities with very different characters, the red centre, surf towns up the coast, barrier reef, tropical jungles). New Zealand was also incredibly beautiful, has an amazing variety of landscapes/climates, and is probably more laid back. Some friends lived in Wellington for a few months back and seemed to enjoy it. My 2c! Good luck no matter where you go!!

    1. That area is definitely on our radar for a recon visit. Seems like some good areas down there to explore!