My general plan for January was pretty simple: Take some time off around Christmas, take my concepts and initial idea-proving work and come back at it refreshed and full of energy and pep!

Things did not go as planned.

I found myself just as exhausted as when I decided to put a proverbial pin-in-things in December. “This ain’t right” I thought – I mean, I explicitly stated I was taking time to relax, so I should have relaxed right?! That’s how it works!

That is, apparently, not how it works.

So I’ve learned at least one thing, I don’t know how to relax right now. That’s… a step, but doesn’t really guide me to how to, y’know, force that relaxation on myself so I can get back to the high levels of energy that I’m used to. The level of focus that in the past meant a new person at my desk interrupting me every 5-15 minutes with brand new questions, swapping topics to solve problems while threading in my own work without a hitch. I had it! I want it back!

I’ve swapped people at my desk to assist in questions around school or helping get a cup that’s in the high cupboard, but I find myself playing catch-up far more than I used to when I sit back down to get back at it. We’re living in some pretty crazy times with some massive disruptions in all sorts of things, I’ve even started a “scrapbook” of things I just stumble on in my day-to-day that really highlight the… casual insanity. I’m hoping years from now some of the massive problems that have been exposed lately world-wide are addressed and that I can look back on that scrapbook with friends and have some head-shaking reminiscing moments. The state of the world is occupying my brain space much more than I’d like, is that it?

I don’t know. It could be a number of things, this is very new for me (a phrase I’m sure many people in their own scenarios can relate to in 2020 and… beyond…). Tackling new frontiers is very important in game development. Staring the unknown straight in the eye and saying “… I will google that” as opposed to passing-the-buck is a solid skill to have. To leverage that skill though, you really should have a basis of foundation to ensure you’re asking the right questions, to even know what you should be learning. Just try googling “how can I force myself to relax?“, there’s a plethora of suggestions out there, but also I don’t think I’d be asking the right question to begin with, I think the problem is more complex than I’m even able to articulate right now.

So where to go from there? Well, I’m trying to make Gilroy Games a sustainable source of income for my entire family. I’m my best asset, I can leverage my experience in both game design and engineering to accomplish any array of tasks generally assigned to a group of people, sometimes faster than the group. That’s not a flex, years ago when I was a single person assigned to a project (and only half my time at that) the progress of that project was praised and directly compared to fully staffed other teams in the company. It’s a phenomenal advantage to reduce communication time between workers to nothing (honestly, that praise is what planted the nugget that it’s a totally reasonable thing that I could just make my own games).

So the hard truth I need to accept: My best asset is not functioning at peak proficiency.

This is a problem I’m not familiar with solving. Just like I buy assets or modules to help speed things along in areas that I know from my experience would save me a ton of time (or in the case of assets, hit an artistic quality level I could never hit myself!) I think I’m going to need some outside help. I’m going to try something that is radically new to me. I’ve now had two chat sessions with a therapist.

Way I see it, it can’t hurt to talk to an objective human about this weird problem I’m having, a weird problem I’m having trouble even putting into words. I think this very post is an indication I’m doing something right – cause if I’m being real here the bucket of work that contains things like [journal updates, page updates, business administrative work, promotion] are for me some of the hardest things to do, requiring the most amount of energy. Here I am, doing it!

It’s a strange thing to ask for help when you don’t necessarily know what kind of help you’re even asking for, when part of the help is… defining what’s being asked for. I think that’s probably true when it comes to mental health in general, so all I can say is I encourage anyone reading this feeling any weird vagueness like I’ve described, just go for it. It’s a strange industry that weirdly specializes in that exact scenario.

Lesson learned this month: I need to keep working on and investing in myself if I want the games I make to be the best they can be.

One of the neat things about doing something on my own, as opposed to working for some corporate entity, is I can share whatever I want! Even ugly screenshots, even spoilers 😉

Here’s a snip of how this weeks roughly lookin’ like for new project

I don’t plan on doing regular updates or anything, I just realized *right now* that there was no one to stop me from doing something like this, muahahaha!

I’ve made a couple small personal projects before (one was when I got my first Android phone, made a simple native app with smiley faces that you could have bop each other, gradually making them become sadder and sadder emojis), but nothing outside the scope of a simple weekend-or-two. I thought I’d take the opportunity of unemployment time to make something a bit larger in scale.

First things first, I set myself up with a few goals:

  1. Gameplay that focuses on choices made
  2. Playable from a web browser
  3. Can be considered “Finished” within 2 months

Alright, goals. Good, I’ve set a loose framework to fit my next steps in.

I thought back to my early days, the days where I was standing up and doing presentations in front of the company with the fancy new things I wrote in C#. As a Systems Designer, it was important for me to be able to showcase the system working agnostic of the game environment. After all, on a team of people everyone has their prioritized tasks and it’s going to take many people doing many things before it all comes together in a lovely visualized game environment. So when I stood up and did my presentations they were 100% text from a custom C# Terminal program.

See, I would sit by people who spent their days working on their power-point presentations for their next meeting. Literally, days. I would estimate the ratio of work that was contributing to projects vs. the presentation of work they were doing for projects (images, dozens of iteration on wording, sometimes animations, etc.) would be around 2:99 – I’d watch this while seeing many co-workers pressured to achieve tangible results of very complicated or difficult things and think to myself… what a waste.

Myself, I would set a goal to invert that ratio, 99:2. Basically, I would build out my tools and tech and content in a way that I could do it live in front of the company. And it wouldn’t be pretty. But if the people who needed to be informed got informed, I felt it was a successful strategy.

There were many jokes and playful (or not so playful?) groans by the time I did my third presentation. In my mind, this was always offset by the thoughtful questions and genuine excitement I received from a few members of the studio – but, I’ll admit, when there’s 100~ people watching a presentation of just text it’s not the most exciting thing non-tech people will enjoy. Even if I can show cool things like: “Hey look, this combat system is 100% simulated and we can use it to shortcut reproduce bugs or tests faster than it takes to load the game!”. For the 6~ people in the audience who genuinely appreciated it, thank you, you were the reason I stood up in front of everyone 😉

As a call-back to those early days, and because it fits within that framework of goals I’ve set for myself, my first real solo project (that will be web-based, and I can send links out for people to play) will be a text-based game with an emphasis on choices.

As to what “Finished” means, whether it’s a solo endeavor or working for a company, games are never “finished” these days. If my text-based style doesn’t find an audience then it will probably just hang out in “demo” form. If I can find some people who enjoy it though, and are willing to pay for a more “complete” version… well then, maybe that’s how I’ll be spending my subsequent months.

One can dream!

Several weeks ago our small team was informed that funding has been withdrawn and the company paying us will cease to exist at the end of the month (yesterday). I’ve put together something I wish I had done on my previous project, a memorial to look back on in the years to come.

It was a project in its infancy, recently erupting from beta to a live audience, fresh off a fairly significant update just a month after its release. It always started from a… highly irregular place, to summarize: The boyfriend of my previous project’s Lead Engineer worked with a guy who knew a guy who acquired funding and was tasked with starting a North American game development studio. They weren’t quite sure how to go about that from the actual development standpoint, so they recruited us.

I haven’t been at the start of a studio before, but I suspect it was… irregular. So we had a studio of 5 people, and our first week on the job was to… figure out what game we were making! Up to that point, I’ll be honest, it was all very strange. When I received my first paycheque I was still quite surprised (despite: hey, they bought computers and we have an office) and also immensely relieved – I had been living off of a very generous severance given to me by IGG when they shut us down at my previous job, but it was running quite low. If this crazy start-a-studio-from-scratch thing didn’t pan out I’d of had to jump on a pretty aggressive job hunt.

The game had some fairly serious requirements: it was to be a 1 year project to a beta with live (non-development) humans playing. It had to be fully server-authoritative and have some hefty anti-cheat security. It was a mobile game that will launch internationally (including China), and it was expected to ramp up to some significant revenue numbers fairly quickly. That was December 2018, we spent the rest of December building up a technical foundation and determining art style. I got excited, I spent my Christmas “vacation” building our combat simulation and its various dependencies, throughout the entire project I took only a single vacation day for a long-weekend away.

I seem to have a linear narrative so far, I’m going to drop that and just type a bunch of words to indulge the whimsy of where my heart wants to meander.

So I’ve lost weight during the pandemic. Weird segue right? One of the perks of our office-sharing space was we had free beer on tap, and generally at least one pretty good one (though the sour they got in… so good, but also no other beer keg had been demolished so fast, so maybe too good?). Turns out when I stop drinking beer every day I shed pounds, hah. As a studio we had opted to work from home since the beginning of March.

In fact I made ample use of my own work-from-home setup back in November (2019) when I was suffering from what a doctor described as: “either a very bad case of bronchitis or pneumonia“. I was miserable for 8 weeks and absolutely wrecked for one of those weeks – but even during that week, the hours I spent out of bed were on the project for at least 40+ of’em. So I was accidentally very prepared to hunker down for a pandemic at home already.

One of my early goals was to design and create game systems that could be re-used across many game genres. To validate that these systems could be used outside of the Soulite Monsters project part of my process was to have them all working in a stand-alone C# terminal before integrating the library into the Unity project (and later, also the server). This had some really solid compound benefits, including the ability to rapidly reproduce bugs with simple text commands sent to a terminal, and verify those bug fixes without all the visual/UI overhead of the project.

We originally weren’t talking about building a single project, the goal was a sustainable studio. In month 2 I was already writing out plans and team structure on how we could evolve to both develop and support multiple projects (that shared technology that functions agnostic of any game project was one of the key elements of this). In fact, I got out of bed one night to have a conference discussion on what it would look like if we needed to immediately ramp up to 30+ people.

It was a wild ride. It sounds like people who have been part of a start-up can most relate. In a large company, responsibilities are dolled out, and if something slips through the cracks a meeting is held and by the end of it that floating responsibility would have a dedicated handler. We started with 5 people. There’s no committee to decide optimal work-load – you want that thing? No one else currently has the band-width to do the thing? You probably need to learn to do the thing.

This is also true for requirements passed down from the voice of the person funding the project. Need a trailer? Alright team! Who wants to put this together?

… no takers? Artists are busy? Errr… okay, guess I’ll make a trailer… that’s a first. I got to learn that Blender is pretty darn usable for making trailers, that was unexpected and neat. Context: I have near-zero aesthetic sense, probably why I’ve gravitated from Game/Systems design to blend it in with programming in general. So I’ve never, ever, had the desire to play around with video capturing and editing tools. My morning started with googling, and before lunch I sent out two 15-second trailers that disappeared into the ether that was some overseas business stuff that we weren’t exposed to.

It was an incredibly unique experience, and I hope a lasting learning experience for everyone involved. After all, whether it’s a risky start-up or multi-national company the games industry is not a stable place. I was told by recruiters many a year ago that the average life-span of an employee in the games industry is 2 years. I defied that by spending 7 of my first years at Relic Entertainment (until their parent company THQ declared bankruptcy), and continued to be stubborn by staying at every company I joined afterwards until they shut their doors.

Very rarely is there an opportunity to really persist with something lasting over a long period of time, though sometimes you’ll have your gems out there that you can continue to enjoy (I shockingly still see the odd news blurb for Company of Heroes crop up and my heart warms up each time), so there’s at least that. But when it comes to Mobile and more modern games… they get taken down, forgotten. As support dropped I’ve seen many of the games I’ve worked on just… cease to exist. That’s why I felt it was important to put together something of a memorial for Soulite Monsters, something I can selfishly look back on or to share with friends over the years.