Embracing the Fail: Or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love The Chaos

So many of you will know that when I graduated university I set up a ‘games’ company under the misguided thinking that I’d be okay going it alone without any knowledge of the industry whatsoever. I had a client and things looked pretty promising. Naturally it all went pear-shaped and I got terribly depressed for a good few months.

I’d like to thank Devi Ever for helping me realize that things could have gone a lot worse and it’s never the end of the world if they do. Devi made a few mistakes and she’s in a bad situation but she’s still fighting and making games – it made me realize how pitifully small my problems running a company had been. I think at the time with all the stress piling on top of me I thought it was the end of the world – but it’s never the end of the world even if you do make a mistake (except if that mistake is setting off a doomsday device… then it might be the end of the world and you probably shouldn’t have done it.)

I’ve also recently been doing a lot of client work sorting out other peoples issues in businesses larger than the one I tried to run. Apparently the kind of issues I’d experienced in my own time as a director are actually completely normal! I thought for a long time that I was only having problems because I wasn’t ready for them… but apparently it’s common to find that people just aren’t ready to deal with when things get messy. We’re all human and none of us really know exactly what is going on all the time – we all make mistakes!

I look back now at the mess I was in before Christmas and realize a few things:

  • The company made no profit, but it also made no loss. It was practically as if it didn’t do anything in the first place.
  • I spent most of Christmas worrying that I’d lost people as friends because of the business – they’re all still here today and I’m glad of that.
  • Clients are always happy to take more than they are supposed to… it’s natural for people to get as much out of anything as they can.

I also feel that before I left university I hadn’t experienced nearly enough failure in my life: I found all my university exams and coursework easy – I breezed through my presidency at the anime society – I never really had anything go horribly wrong. I kinda needed something to kick me out of my complacency and make me realize that not everything is so straightforward.

I learnt so damn much when I was running my company and I would like to try again soon. I’m hoping this time I’ll stick to my guns and do what it is I do best: make interesting games and run hilarious game jams.

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Performance and Games Network: Kickoff Workshop

On the 25th and 26th of March there was a workshop at The University Of Lincoln for the Performance and Games Network. This network is a collaboration between the Universities of Lincoln, Exeter, and Nottingham, Tiga, and Arts Queensland looking at how we can use the performing arts to examine the design of video games. Kieran and I were invited along by Patrick to participate in the workshop alongside people from loads of different places including De Gute Fabrik, Rare and the performing arts themselves.

We were able to take a look at the technology powering the new Kinect 2.0 as well. I was very impressed with how powerful the camera is now – at times it was like something out of minority report.

The workshop was designed to encourage people to work together in order to create unique and crazy games that looked at the idea of the performer. There were some amazing things developed and I was very impressed with the sheer variety of things that came out of it:

  • A physical game that uses office chairs and a Kinect where participants have to push and pull other people from one side of the room to the other.
  • A game in which participants strip in front of one another to score points (although they can’t actually see the other player accurately because they are wearing a rift.)
  • A game where a player takes on the guise of Godzilla and has to avoid missiles that people fire by sending tweets at a bot.
  • Mario Kart controlled by a VIOLIN!
  • Street Fighter controlled by pulling on strands of conductive yarn.
  • Mario Bros controlled by stirring cups of tea.
  • A motion capture game that looks at the idea of physical Chinese whispers and the Exquisite Corpse.
  • Using the Oculus rift and a cool camera rig to allow a user to see through the back of their head.
  • A wheelchair tank game that uses the Kinect in a very interesting way.

The workshop was incredibly inspiring and I’m looking at taking on some projects over the summer that centre around a lot of the stuff I learnt over those two days. I’ll definitely be looking at incorporating MakeyMakeys into my future work as I’m interested in using them to create some unique interfaces for games, I’d really like to do some art installations using them. I’m also hoping to continue work on the Godzilla game with Patrick and Alex over the summer and we’d love to try and get it on one of the big screens at Game City in Nottingham.

You can find out more about the network at http://performance-games.lincoln.ac.uk if you’re interested in learning more about what is going on! It’s awesome!

The Value Of Games

The cause and solution of all my problems...

There’s an increasing noticeable trend that games seem to be getting cheaper and cheaper. I can currently buy a decent indie game for less than the price of a pint at the pub. Why is a game that I will spend several hours playing less expensive than a drink i’ll have imbibed in about half an hour? Surely developers are selling themselves short? I think we are.

Recently I was discussing how much we’d sell Hashtag Dungeon for when it is first released. I feel as if it’s worth more than a few pounds, but it the current environment we’ve got to follow the trends and make things super cheap or we’ll not get any interest whatsoever. I’m going to have to bite the bullet and hope we get a lot of sales instead of just a few. It makes me sad we have to sell something we’ve worked on for ages for so cheap – but that’s just the way things are now.

I think theres a distinct problem with a great deal of gamers nowadays. The rise of the ‘Humble’ Indie Bundle and the ridiculously cheap Steam Sale has left them weary of games that have prices more than £5.00. They want to play interesting indie games but do not value the time and effort that has been put in by developers to create the game. They want the world but don’t want to pay for what its actually worth. They’re the kind of people who claim to be a fan of a game and then expect the developer to spend every waking moment working on it for them for no extra reward.

Games are pieces of art and you wouldn’t expect to be able to buy someones artwork without paying them a vast sum of money for it, right? It doesn’t seem right that someone should have to make their game super cheap just to be able to compete with everyone else’s ridiculous prices. They’ve poured their soul into their game… why do they have to cheapen themselves?

When is this maddening mass deflation going to stop? When all games are free to play and most self-respecting developers have gone bust because they can barely afford to feed their families? People need to realise that this current cheap-as-chips system isn’t good for anyone… it needs to stop before the games industry collapses in on itself and there’s nothing left but Candy Crush Saga.

Can Jam 2014

Can Jam Logo

Hey everyone! Just a quick blog post to tell you all about the upcoming Can Jam at The University Of Lincoln. It’s a 24 hour long game jam ran by students and staff at the university for the glory of game-making students everywhere!

It’s going to be starting on the 8th of March at 9:00am and any UK student with a valid form of identity is welcome to come along to participate. We’re really hoping that you’ll be able to come along and make games with like-minded people. If it’s anything like the last three it’ll be an awesome event. I will be there helping out and providing people with my homespun brand of passionate encouragement (until about 3am – then you’ll have to deal with grumpy Sean).

There will be people coming from both Crytek GmbH and Rockstar for the judging so it’s a great opportunity to network and show off your skills!

Also… this year we have a fancy trophy. I’ve yet to lay eyes on it because apparently it’s far too fancy for any one person to lay eyes upon. It’s really that fancy.*

You can sign up here! There’s only a limited number of places so make sure to grab a ticket quickly! Also feel free to share the details with anyone or anything you might think will be interested.

*I have literally no idea how fancy it is right now. But I can only assume it’s going to be pretty fancy.

Hashtag Dungeon: Thanks Guys!

Hey guys and gals!

This is just a quick little blog post to thank everyone who has tweeted, retweeted or blogged about Hashtag Dungeon so far. Myself and Kieran have been flipping out at every positive comment, response or article we’ve found. We’d like to thank everyone for the great interest in our game.

I literally squealed when I clicked on this video…

We’re working super hard to get the game out as early as we can in order for you guys to get your hands on it. I cannot even begin to explain how excited I am to see what everyone does with the dungeon editor – if it’s anything like the fancy stuff I’ve seen done by our alpha testers then I’m going to be so happy. I’m really looking forward to playing through your dungeons… hopefully you won’t make them too hard (I’m kinda sucky at not getting hit by stuff – especially goblins).

I’m going to get back to working on sprites now. The more enemies, items and traps I can cram into the game before we release the better. We’d really appreciate it if you guys continue to give us feedback and share around the game with anyone you think might be interested – that’d be super special awesome of you.

Also as a little thank you because you’ve decided to click on this blog page thingy here is an EXCLUSIVE picture of one of the enemies from the game – the fireball throwing Flame Mage:

Flame Mage

Game Jam Round-Up (#7DGGC and #ScareJam)

I’ve been a little busy recently so I didn’t get chance to write a round-up for either the Gentlemanly Game Challenge OR the Scare Jam. Yes, I know it’s been a while since both of them… quite a while – but I don’t care! It’s time to round them up and discuss how they went! Grab a glass of wine substitute (grape juice) and enjoy my game jam round up! Cheers!

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So I’ll start with the Seven Day Gentlemanly Game Challenge. It was interesting to see what people took from the idea of ‘Gentlemanly’ as a theme. There was a whole lot of steampunk stuff – which I approve of, however I’m still not sure if steampunk always equates to gentlemanly or the vice versa.

We had a nice array of games. Team Noname (Now known as Volatile Element) made a cool RTS game in Unity. Kieran Hicks (who is now working with me on Hastag Dungeon) made a game in which you play a hobo who must rise through the ranks in order to get into the country club. There were some really juicy ideas in the game entitled ‘Monoculus Rift’ which placed the player in a retro environment as seen through a fancy monocle.

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The Scare Jam was awesome. I can’t believe how many people turned up to make games. I was so impressed by the turnout from every year of the computing courses at Lincoln. All the games were pretty well done too and there was a great deal of variety among them. I’m not entirely sure why I chose to do a game jam based on scary games since i’m a very jumpy person myself. This was particularly evident when I jumped halfway across the room when playing one of the games.

Halloween

Alex Saye won the prize for the overall best use of mechanics for his game “14565” where you play a blindfolded person attempting to escape from a terrifying monster. Its lack of visuals and reliance on sound really made for a great experience as your imagination fills in all the blanks and makes it far more terrifying. You can download it here. Wear headphones.

Kieran Hicks received the award for scariest game. His 3D Gamemaker maze game pushed the boundaries of what most of the judges thought could be done in the software. Plenty of jump scares all around.

Team Volatile Element gained the final award for most interesting use of the theme for their game “Child’s Whisper” for the Oculus Rift. It was a surreal and spooky experience that had the player controlling their right and left eyes with a controller.

Duncan Rowland gave out a special award for a game developed using the Mindwave. This game tried to gauge the players stress levels in order to change the environment around them. It was a very interesting insight into getting the Mindwave hardware integrated with Unity.

As with all the game jams I’ve ran at Lincoln i’m always impressed at the creativity and skill the students have. It’s great to see people who are passionate making games and I love to give them opportunities to just make games for the hell of it. It’s my hope that at least one or two of the games will be developed further after the jams are done – there’s definitely a few gems that deserve the attention of the gaming public!

 

Time To Say Goodbye!

My three years at university are up! It’s time to have a look back on the years and see what I’ve learnt and reminisce on both the good times and the bad. It’s a time for me to immortalise my love for my friends in one giant blog post of epic proportions. (You should listen to this whilst reading…)

Lets start with first year: Perhaps my least favorite year of my university life! I met some awesome friends that year and learnt that even if you get on well with someone you might not necessarily be able to live with them! I first really got into anime this year and I had no idea how deep i’d be into the university’s anime society by the end of my time at university. This was the year I also decided to swap courses from Games Production to Games Computing – one of the best decisions of my life and I shall always thank Oliver Szymanezyk for giving me that last little push to do it! I didn’t particularly enjoy the drama that occurred in my first year – it left me very stressed out and upset, but I got over it!

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My second year was… quite eventful. Having secured my place on the JAMS council as the media and comms officer I was very busy making newsletters and posters – I also developed an unhealthy love of banners and all their beguiling ways. Second year was also the year I went to Eurogamer Expo… where after having a chat with a girl at one of the booths I ended up in contact with Andy Goff… who has played a major role in my life ever since! I realised that I loved to teach people and I really wanted to encourage others to start making games, which lead onto several events I ran in my third year and a games computing club at my old school. I had a rough time that year in my council role because of occasional stressy drama, but I learnt a great deal about running a society – which pushed me to run for President. My 21st birthday occurred that year too, where we celebrated with my first cigar and plenty of fine wines!

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The third and final year of my university life was where I think I met some of the best people I know. It was the year I made things official with my current girlfriend after an age of being on-and-off again. My presidency at the anime society was practically dream-like, my whole council did their jobs wonderfully and we didn’t often have any real problems to deal with – we kept the focus on member fun and it paid off in a big way. I set up several game jams this year to encourage the new first years to make games and I’ve met some amazing games designers this year – specifically Alex Saye: who is one of the most talented programmers I know. I also founded my first games company, “Top Notch Studios LTD” of which I am now the managing director! Finally all my hard work paid off and I am about 90% sure that I’ll be coming out with a first overall for my three years here at university – which is sweet!

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Last weekend I went to the MCM expo with my anime society – it was my last official role as president. It was an alright day for the most part although I did get lost in the morning and couldn’t find any friends until we were about to go… that put a dampener on things. I was expecting to get back on the bus and fall asleep – but nothing could have prepared me for what happened next: the majority of my members had chipped in to buy me presents and then I was given a book filled with goodbye messages from everyone… it was one of the happiest moments of my life so far (I was crying tears of joy for a good one and a half hours).

It’s  truly breaking my heart to leave every friend I’ve met at university, but I know that I’ll see you all again and I’ll do my best to keep in contact with you. I will miss Tuesday sessions at JAMS and Wednesday nights at LGS, I’ll think fondly back on all those nights wasted doing very little in The Shed. I’ll perhaps even shed a few more tears if I look back on those pages in that book I was given.

I want to thank everyone who has been a part of my university journey – you’ve made it great!