Archive for category: Personal

The Frailty Of The Flesh

14 Apr
April 14, 2015

Man, I wish I was a robot.

Or at least a cyborg of some sort. Come on science, what’s the delay?

The last few days, I’ve developed a persistent aching in my mouse arm, along the forearm and near the elbow. Not the first time this has happened, but it’s always scary when it does. I need that arm, long term repetitive strain would be a huge problem in my life.

My only choice, in order to avoid a lasting injury, is to take a break for a few days. I still need to work at the day job, of course, but it’s the after hours PC activity that, I believe, pushes my muscles and tendons to breaking point.

It needs to be done, but I resent the loss of productivity.

Bah.

Thinking Out Loud

08 Apr
April 8, 2015

I’ve long debated with myself over what I want this blog to be. Do I only want to post stuff about game development? Or do I want it to be more of a personal journal, a place for thinking out loud?

And do I want to talk about controversial topics like atheism or politics, that might drive away people who only browse this blog for the game dev updates? People who are nice, but who don’t want to read views they may feel are attacking deeply their deeply held views on whatever? It’s so easy for that kind of content to ignite into flame wars.

I don’t know. But I do know that trying to keep this place “game dev only” has resulted in long patches where I go quiet. Honestly, some parts of game development are just boring drudge work, and I find it hard to motivate myself to write about those aspects. I’m probably sabotaging myself here, there may very well be people interested in reading about even the tasks I find dull as ditch water, but it is what it is.

But I do think I should be trying to write on this blog regularly. For the practice, mainly. Of all the tasks I’ve tackled in making System Crash, writing is the hardest. Not necessarily because it’s the hardest skill, but it certainly is the one I’ve developed the least. Programming is obviously my main skillset, I’ve been doing that professionally for a decade and it comes fairly easily. Art, well, I’m competent enough to get by. But writing, writing is where I bleed.

So I’d like to get into a practice regime, in the same way one would get up every morning and do sit ups. And I think that, whether it’s writing fiction or non-fiction, attempting to put my thoughts into words will exercise those writerly muscles.

So I’m trying something different as an experiment, as least for a while. From now on, I’m just going to post whatever moves me to write. Whether that’s gaming/dev related, personal anecdotes and musings, or even contentious politics. I’ve decided that GarethFouche.com is for me, my personal stuff. All of it. It’s a better place than my facebook wall, that’s for sure.

If I feel the need to split off the game dev part so that people can consume only that, I’ll add a dev blog to roguemoonstudios.com. Feel free, lovely reader, to let me know if that’s how you’d prefer things to be divided.

I’m fairly lazy, so I’d only go to the effort of splitting that content off if there was a demand for it. ;P

Fake It Till You Make It.

05 Mar
March 5, 2015

My twitter feed right now is filled with awesome devs meeting and hanging out with other awesome devs over at GDC, having a whale of a time. I’m a bit jealous, I’ll admit. Maybe more than a bit.

I have the money to go to GDC, but I’ve never quite been able to justify it to myself. With the terrible exchange rate from SA rands to US dollars, it’s a rather expensive trip. And that’s just the trip, never mind actually renting a booth. Without a game with a bit of buzz behind it to show, I don’t know that the return on investment would make sense. Or rather, make cents.

At least, that’s what the “sensible” part of my mind tells me. But I’m still jealous.

And I’m remembering something I read about the phrase “fake it till you make it.” The word “fake” has unpleasant connotations attached to it, sleazy connotations. But, as someone pointed out once, the point isn’t to be a fake. Rather, it’s to act like the thing you want to be, even if you don’t feel you are that thing, yet. If you want to be a game developer, act like a game developer. Go to the conferences, introduce yourself as a game developer, go up and talk to other professionals in the industry etc. Even if doing so feels like wearing a suit that doesn’t fit. Eventually, so I’m told, it stop feeling like an act you’re putting on.

As a side note, I still hesitate to call myself a game developer. I haven’t finished and released a commercial game yet, so I still feel like a wannabe. Calling myself a game developer twangs away at my Imposter Syndrome, and I still often introduce myself as a programmer.

It’s something I need to fight against. I know that, logically, but it’s still a struggle, emotionally.

So I’m thinking next year I just need to make a plan and go to GDC. Just fucking do it. Walk the walk. Go as a developer, get a name tag that says Director of Rogue Moon Studios on it.

Oh, how pretentious I feel saying that. I struggle to refer to myself by that title with anything other than a self-mocking smirk. What a laugh, me, a director. Psshhtt.

Gotta work on this.

Worldcraft

04 Mar
March 4, 2015

Well, that’s that, then. The last of my things moved out of my old flat, spare furniture sold off, keys handed over to the landlord.

It’s a bit strange to be out of there, finally. Seven years I’d stayed in that flat, I’d long since outgrown it. But I stayed because rent was low(ish) and the shops were within walking distance so I didn’t have to drive much. A good spot for keeping my expenses reasonable while I pursued my dream of indie game development.

That didn’t quite work out, of course. Despite my careful planning, I still ran out of money before finishing my game, and I’m now back to working a day job while I finish SC after hours. But it sheltered me along one leg of my journey, that little flat, and now I’ve seen the last of it.

Strange, like I said. But good. Good to move on.

The packing up was rewarding, too. I sorted out my crap, consigning the detritus to garbage bags and hauling them off to the bins. You feel lighter after such an exercise, unclogged. And it forced me to go through my old notepads and scrap books, looking for anything worth keeping. In the process, I found my old game design notes and the little concept sketches I did, some of them kind of cool, some of them scribbles incomprehensible to anyone but myself.

I sat there, on the floor in my now furniture-devoid apartment, paging through those old, dusty notes and smiling. Remembering.

Game development can be hard, and solo game development even more so. There’s no one to motivate you but yourself, no team mates to draw emotional strength from or to share the burdens with. There have been times, working alone in that little flat while my friends buy houses and start families, where I’ve wondered whether the sacrifice was worth it. Whether I even really want to continue. Whether it matters.

Looking through those notes reminded me. No, this is where I belong. This is where my heart is, where it’s always been.

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Page after page of notes and sketches and diagrams. Skill and character descriptions, city and continent maps, spider diagrams of plot brainstorming. Snippets of world lore and quest ideas, monster and building and equipment concepts. Logos and emblems. Database designs and class descriptions(the code kind).

Some of the pages I took photos of:

 

Much of it shoddy, my nascent skills not quite up to the task of capturing the ideas in my head. And not yet disciplined or committed enough to sit and really flesh them out. But the spirit of the endeavor was there, shining through those pages. The urge to bring my daydreams of other worlds to life.

Like I said, I’ve asked myself whether it matters to me, which is part of the larger question of what I want my life to be about, really. The answer is there, in those notebooks. Indie game developers have a variety of reasons for doing what they’re doing. Some come to game design in order to explore interesting mechanics, others for the chance to bring their art to life. Me, I’m a world builder. World building, the exploration of imaginary places and characters, is what really fires me with excitement.

That’s why I love the fantasy and sci-fi genres. That’s why I can lose an entire Friday night on some Warhammer 40k lore wiki. That’s why I don’t skip the text. Strong world building is the common factor across my favourite games, more than mechanics or genre; compelling fictional worlds that I long to lose myself in, characters that I want to spend time getting to know.

I have spent my youth enjoying and absorbing the fantastical worlds that others have built. Now I want to craft worlds of my own design. And then hand them over to other people to enjoy.

Design is communication. The skills I’ve taught myself, coding, painting, writing, those are just different tools to communicate a design. Each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Game development weaves these disciplines together, binding story, art and mechanical interaction into a whole greater than its parts, conveying living, breathing worlds as no other medium can.

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I’ve saved those old design notes, filed them away fondly for when I need a boost. To remind me of where my heart lies, if I forget again.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have worlds to build. 😉

Sense and Sensibility and Hippopotami

24 Feb
February 24, 2015

That’s my idea for one of those classical-novel-meets-pop-culture-monster books that seem so popular these days. Africa’s second deadliest animal (after the mosquito) deserves its time in the literary spotlight, methinks.

The action in the novel would have to take place mostly at night, though. Hippos, as we learned, are rather fond of spending their sunlit hours participating in group lie-ins, you see.

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As I’ve told my girlfriend repeatedly, dating her comes with some good perks. This last weekend saw us trotting off up north to St. Lucia, as a client of hers had offered her and a partner (yours truly) a weekend at their holiday lodge. To take in the sights and experience the attractions on offer, the better to write about their establishment.

St. Lucia is a cute little town, all the attractions are along the main road and everywhere you see signs to watch out for the hippos that leave the river and wander around town at night.

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We didn’t manage to spot any hippos on the lawn of our guest lodge, much to our disappointment, but the weekend was rather enjoyable. The estuary tour was a highlight, taking a leisurely barge ride down the river and having sundowners near a pod of sleepy hippopotami. They’re bloody huge animals, let me tell you.

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The horse ride on the beach the next day was also fantastic, setting out in the morning along untouched coastline, making our way down to the the lagoon where crocodiles wallowed in the shallows just a couple of meters away. There’s something primeval about riding a horse along untouched beach while the sand undulates past you…

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We ended the weekend at the skiboat club, eating our lunch while bachelor male hippos gnashed their teeth and fought in the waters nearby, the locals paying little attention to the common sight.

Overall, a great weekend.

HQ Relocated

10 Feb
February 10, 2015

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It’s been about a week or so since I released the new SC beta and I’m getting some good feedback from folks trying out the build. So thanks, everyone who took the time!

Overall, the impression seems to be pretty positive, which is gratifying. I’m happy with how the game stands right now, myself, but it’s easy to lose perspective on these things. So it’s good to know that people are enjoying playing it and I’m not deluding myself. There are a few things that still need tweaking, but overall it’s onward toward final release!

I was hoping I’d manage to get the next build out this week. But that’s not looking like it’s going to be possible, as I’m in the middle of moving out of my old flat and in with my girlfriend. It’s a big step, one we’re both excited about, a new chapter in our lives and so on. Buuuutt it does leave me with a million and one things to get done in a fairly short space of time. Game dev, at least for a week or so, has to take a back seat.

A little frustrating, any delay, when the finish line is so very close now. But you have to make some allowances for life, don’t you? 😉

I’ll leave you with a shot of the view out the window, from my new desk location. It’s rather pretty, up here on the 7th floor.

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Looking back on 2014.

20 Jan
January 20, 2015

I think you’re supposed to write these kinds of retrospective pieces at the end of the year they’re relevant to, at least by about New Years. Not halfway through January. But fuck your rules, man, I’m a free spirit.

Twenty fourteen. It sounds like some science fiction date. It almost is. To write about it in the past tense is somewhat surreal. And to think that it marks the third year of working on System Crash, even stranger. I quit my job and took the plunge into indie game development just yesterday, didn’t I?

No, no. that me was heavier in the wallet and lighter around the waist.

Making things is harder than dreaming about making things. An obvious truth, but that doesn’t mean you don’t learn it all over again when you actually get down to doing a thing. You learn it in the same way that Sisyphus learned that ruddy great boulders are heavy. A truth plucked from the realm of the abstract into painful, grinding reality. You learn it your bones, your sinews, down in your water. Shit be tough, yo.

And the worst part of it all is the gnawing uncertainty. Is this the right choice? Am I going in the right direction? Maybe I should have forked left instead of right. Is this finished, or does it need more time to bake? Others can light the way, those who’ve already made the trip, but you can never walk exactly the same path. At the end of the day, it’s really down to you and your gut. You just have to hope that your instincts are good.

Twenty fourteen. The days of future past. How I look back on two oh fourteen depends on my mood, really.

If I’m feeling tired and glum, 2014 feels like a bit of a failure. A difficult year of struggling to juggle a mentally-intensive day job and a mentally-intensive side project. Along with my personal relationships and physical health. A struggle that has turned into a gruelling slog. It’s a year where I repeatedly spent time and effort building UIs and game systems that I then chucked out. A year where I failed to really get my act together when it came to marketing System Crash effectively. Which creates the gnawing fear that I’m going to release SC to a resounding silence. Eek.

Of course, I have a tendency toward self-flagellation.

When I’m well rested and feeling positive, I see 2014 differently. I’m working for a great company that helped me get back on my feet, financially, one which encourages my game development efforts. And I have a wonderful girlfriend who is incredibly supportive of my dreams.

The decision to iterate and improve aspects of System Crash has resulted in a marked improvement to the game. The presentation of the story and world is far more engaging and interactive, and there’s a lot more content. I managed to write 21k words of story and dialogue in total, about the length of a short story. And my revitalized finances have allowed me to commission new, world-class background illustrations that flesh out some of the areas that I felt were lacking, bringing the world of System Crash to rich, vibrant life.

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MapCompare

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The game is almost done. It’ll be out shortly, for real this time, and by this time next year, I’ll be writing about my progress on Game 2! And I’m bursting with ideas for what comes next! Really, I have a document full of ideas for new game projects.

I’m right on the verge of achieving something I’ve dreamed about my entire life, releasing my own commercial game, one completely of my own design! I’m proud of what I built, and excited for what comes next!

And sucking at marketing is something you can improve, it’s not like people not having heard of your game is a terminal condition. You can fix that. It’s something I can work on and improve at, over time. This first game is about learning, more than anything, and the areas where I make the biggest mistakes are the areas where I can learn the most.

Most importantly, I’ve learned how to wrestle with the doubt, anxiety and weariness that beset anyone doing anything creative. Resilience, the ability to persevere in the face of hardship and doubt, the thing that psychologists call ‘grit’, is one of the most important traits to develop. I’m building that endurance! Again, it comes back to doing, rather than thinking about doing.

2014. The third year of my adventure. What a year it was. I can’t wait to see what 2015 brings.

Happy 2015!

12 Jan
January 12, 2015

Well, I’m back from holiday now and ready to tackle the new year, creative tanks refueled and energy levels restored!

That was a long, difficult year (I’ll write more on that in an upcoming post, but suffice to say, I was fairly burned out by the end of it), so I chose to put aside any thoughts of “being productive” over the break and get some proper R&R in. Once social duties were discharged, I played 2 video games start to finish (and got halfway through Shadowrun:Dragonfall), read through some of my backlog of books and gorged myself on TV series. And spent my evenings drinking and gazing at the stars in the jacuzzi with my beautiful girlfriend.

I’m really glad I did. It’s going to be a big, challenging year for me, and it’s important that I take my own advice here and don’t push myself to the breaking point. 😉

Anyway, let’s start off the year right with something cool and System Crash-related. I finally finished the proper website, and it’s looking stunning, thanks to some great art from my artists.

Check it out!

And if you’re interested in the game, don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter! I won’t spam you, I promise. 😉

The Juggling Act

11 Nov
November 11, 2014

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I was asked a question by Daniel in the comments of my last post, about how I juggle my leisure time and work. Do I go full coder-hermit, or take regular breaks?

So I thought I’d turn my answer into a blog post, since the answer might help someone, somewhere.

First, let’s set the scene. I work full time as a programmer, putting in a standard 40 hours most weeks. I work remotely though, so that saves me burning time I would otherwise sit in traffic, which is nice. I don’t have any kids or other dependents. I do have a girlfriend, who I mostly see on weekends. For the first year and a half of System Crash’s development, I worked full time on it, burning my savings until they started running out. The start of this month, November, marks the third year that SC has been in development, though I would put the total man-years at approximately two, as my progress working after hours is about a third or a quarter or what it would be working full time.

The first thing I’m going to say is that game development is for the long haul. Except for extremely small, simple games (which you should be making if you’re a beginner), anything you build is going to take a few months to finish, minimum. You may be tempted to burn on all thrusters as hard as possible, to banish all social contact and code late into the night, chain-drinking caffeinated drinks in the hope that enthusiasm and a fierce work ethic will take you across the finish line. But that is almost certainly not going to be the case. You will burn out long before the game is done, that way.

You have to approach it as a marathon runner would. You must pace yourself for the long haul, carefully managing your internal resources. Your goal is to come up with a strategy which will set a moderate but sustainable pace, and which will see you across the finish line in a reasonable amount of time.

The human body is also not a machine. We are analogue beings, our bodies follow ancient rhythms and cycles. And those rhythms vary across people. What works for me, won’t necessarily work for anyone else. You have to start with self-analysis. When are you most productive during the day? How much sleep do you need? How much social contact? How much time for chores?

For me, I have found that I struggle to work in the early evening. My energy levels climb through the morning, peaking at midday, then falling again after lunch. By early evening, I’ve fully shifted into unwind mode, recuperating, relaxing, having some supper. And, once I’m in that mode, I find it hard to pull myself back into work focus again. It’ll usually be 9 or 10 before I get back into the swing of work, if I go that way. Which leaves me working past midnight.

These days, I tend not to work in the evening, though. At least, not much. What I’ve found works best for me is to get up a few hours earlier in the morning, instead. I’ll make sure I don’t open any email or check twitter, anything that could lead to procrastination, and I’ll get a few good productive hours in, first thing. Not only am I fresher in the morning, it’s motivating to feel like you’ve gotten the work you wanted to do out of the way first thing.

Then, when you’re relaxing in the evening after working all day, you don’t feel any guilt. It’s the pleasure of knowing the day is over, that you’ve done all you can, and that you can rest.

It requires careful discipline on my part, since I’m naturally a night owl. If I let myself, I’ll stay up past midnight. But if I do that, I wake up too late to get my early morning session of work in, requiring me to work in the evenings instead, which leads to me staying up late again and so on and so forth in a cascade. Or, I might still wake up early, but without my 8 hours I’m sluggish and prone to procrastinate instead of working efficiently. It requires careful discipline.

When I pull it off, it’s great! I get between 2 and 3 good hours work a day in during the week, and in the evenings I play games or read for a few hours before I hit the hay. On the weekend I’ll put in about 10-12 hours, distributed around the time I spend with my girlfriend and social events (she watches her shows while I code on my laptop). So somewhere north of 20 hours a week, on average, is what I put into SC.

Now, this is not to say that careful time management is all that’s required. I have had to give up many things. I go out less, and don’t see my friends as often. I don’t play games anywhere near as much as I used to, ironically, and I haven’t got the time to invest in any game that’s going to waste my time with filler or stuff I’ve seen a hundred times. I’m not getting enough exercise, really, and have gained a fair bit of weight in the last three years. My back and legs get sore from sitting at a desk too much, which was the main driver for me to move to a standing desk. I dropped taekwon-do lessons, which I enjoyed. And my relationship survives in part because my girlfriend is incredibly understanding and supportive of my goals.

It’s pretty demanding. I’m working 60 hour+ weeks, every week, month after month, with no guarantee or reward at the end. My body and mind suffer the effects of permanent, self-imposed crunch, and I still hit the occasional wall, physically and mentally. When that happens, it’s best just to take the weekend off and chill. Do the things you love that help to fill the well again, then come back to it and keep working. Just so long as you don’t take too long a break, or lose focus and drift onto something else. That falls under “knowing yourself” again, being able to take enough of a break when you need it to restore your batteries, without falling out of a regular routine.

It’s like gym, you can skip a day or even a week, but skip a month and you’ll find it hard to start up again. Beware that trap.

So the take-away is this:

1) Plan for the long-term. It’s consistent, sustained effort that gets you there, not a quick dash. Don’t try to outrace burnout.
2) Work around your own rhythms and constraints. No two people are quite the same. Know yourself.
3) Your body is not a machine. Schedule recharge/down time.
4) Manage your time effectively so that you get the most out of your hours. This requires discipline.
5) You’ll have to make sacrifices, regardless. Anything worth doing will require something in exchange. Work out what you can give up or cut back on, and what you can’t.
6) Recognize when you reach breaking point and give yourself time off to recuperate.
7) But know the difference between taking a break and losing focus. Make sure you you don’t lose your momentum.

I hope that helps. 🙂

Sustenance

23 Oct
October 23, 2014

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Gosh, but Alien:Isolation is pretty.

Especially on my new gaming machine. Everything on ultra, runs smooth as butter. Delicious. Screenshots can’t really do it justice.

I stood in front of this window, staring in wonder at the scene in front of me, for about 5 minutes. And trying to find the right angle to take screenshots. At least, until an android came up behind me and strangled me. Bloody androids.

The only good android is a phone.

Funny thing, right. Game development is so intensive, so time consuming (especially with a day job), that I can go long periods without stopping and playing new games. At least, nothing more involving than lunch-break games. Things I can fit into half an hour. Which is not a good thing, I think. You can lose sight of why you’re doing it. Why you’re working so hard. What was it all for again?

It’s good to regularly reconnect with that sense of wonder. To remind yourself that this is why you push yourself to the edge of exhaustion. The body needs food, but so does the soul, the creative spirit. Don’t forget to eat. 😉