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About this blog

Rantings on the game business and anything else worth writing about.

Entries in this blog


New GameDev.net Challenge!

See my post here - http://www.gamedev.n...-dev-challenge/

I did one of these something like 3 years ago and thought it was cool, and I figured it was time to do it again. It is a weekend challenge, theme announced on Friday at noon, 72 hour window for development, and cool prizes will be up for grabs




Where the Jobs Are

I'm not sure how long this entry will be, but this is just something that has been on my mind. In the games industry news we are constantly seeing studios laying off. Back when was I was interviewing around I had two different companies close the position (without hiring anyone), with one of them admitting they realized they didn't have the budget for the position. We are well into the current console systems' life cycles, and budgets for the largest titles have soared beyond imagination. Huge projects are getting canned frequently and large, established studios are closing and/or being subjugated to laying off large portions of their staffs. Talented and experienced game developers are on the market for finding new jobs, and fresh graduates from school who are looking around don't have a lot to pick from because they have to compete for jobs with all the experienced folk who are looking as well. The situation appears, at the surface, dire.

I don't think it is at all; there has simply been a large market shift over the past couple years. There are a number of great opportunities that have emerged simultaneously with this predicament.
Growth in the indie space. With so many talent developers finding it difficult to make it in the AAA console gaming space, many are striking it alone. Xbox Live Arcade, the smartphone (particularly iPhone/iPad) market, PC, and online social gaming spaces have had a flood of startups. These markets are are hit driven as it is for consoles, but the markets themselves have grown tremendously and the barriers for entry are considerably lower. Growth in the mobile market. Over the past couple years the number of mobile developers has exploded, along with the market size. Some, in only a short couple years, have become practically giants in their own right. Mobile gaming may not be as 'glamorous' as console gaming, but the number of potential players is huge. The rapid advancements in mobile gaming technology has made wicked awesome gameplay possible that wasn't possible only a couple years ago. The number of people who own an iPhone or Android phone is an order of magnitude larger than the number of console owners there are, each of them a potential gamer with the right apps. Growth in the social gaming space. When I was graduating with my Bachelor's degree three and a half years ago, social gaming was basically text based games with a couple buttons to interact with the game. Now they are incredibly richer, and everyday there are new games being released with better graphics, better audio, and better gameplay. Wikipedia tells me that there have been over 55 million copies of every game in the Call of Duty franchise sold. Top social games have more unique players than that play them in a month.
As I've mentioned before, I now work for the largest game developer for Facebook. There are so many people playing online social games on Facebook that we can't hire people fast enough to make enough quality content for people to enjoy. We have a ton of great titles on the horizon, each pushing what is possible on the social gaming space. I'm flabbergasted that more people aren't trying to jump onto this bandwagon, where the games you make will reach a wider audience than any console comes even remotely close to.

BTW, hit me up if you've got skills and you're looking to make a move into where gaming is going




Job Search Metrics

I promised a summation of my job search metrics awhile ago, and now I'm finally sitting down to finish compiling it and to write it out. Not sure if anyone will find this useful or beneficial, but I figured I'd throw it out there just in case [wink] Some of these numbers may be slightly off, due to my record keeping being my e-mail, but they are pretty close.

Search Time: 14 weeks
Positions/companies applied to: ~80
Posted positions applied for: ~50
Non-game companies applied to: 5
Interviews: 14

I was laid off on Aug 20th and was given my offer of employment by Zynga on Nov 23rd. I pretty much saw the lay offs coming, so I started applying a few days before I was laid off. This amounted to approximately 14 weeks of searching before I had an offer in hand (a quite good one at that). During that time I applied to approximately 80 positions across the US. Note that about 50 of those were actual posted positions, the other 30 were unsolicited contacts. I applied particularly heavily, whether positions were posted or not, in Texas (since I'm currently in Austin) and in Chicago (since my family is only a couple hours driving distance away). Out of the 50 positions that I applied for, admittedly, many of them were outside of my experience level/breadth, but it is always worth a shot! I also spoke with a single recruiter, though I never got any contacts out of it. The 5 non-game companies were local and were web and software development companies.

Now onto that last number, the number of interviews - 14. Saying 'interviews' is a bit of an overstatement, that is really just the number of companies that I got anyone to call me, generally meaning their HR department. 5 of them I never got past the HR, or initial phone call. That leaves 9 companies that I actually got real developers on the phone and/or I met in person. 2 of those companies weren't hiring at the time, but got me on the phone (and video Skype!) for interviewing about about future openings. That narrows it down to 7 companies. 2 of the remaining companies closed the positions without hiring anyone, due to hiring needs changes. The remaining 5 companies that I had at least 2 interviews, and that didn't close the position without hiring anyone, were EA Mobile, Zynga Dallas (formerly Bonfire Studios), Bioware Austin, BancVue (local non-games company looking to start an edutainment division), and KingsIsle.

All five of these companies were outside of my family friend gaming Wii (primarily), DS, and PC development experience. Bioware Austin and KingsIsle both have MMO projects. Zynga Dallas was a mobile developer and is now a social games developer. BancVue is a banking software company developing an online edutainment product. EA Mobile is well, cell phone games. The company that I made it through the carnage with is Zynga Dallas.

Zynga Dallas started as Bonfire Studios, which formed out of a lot of the former Ensemble team. They were actually among the first companies I contacted. They were still Bonfire Studios at the time and they had a posting for a Senior Producer. I didn't have the level of experience they were looking for, but I sent my resume in anyways, presenting myself as a potential Associate Producer for their team. I managed to get onto the phone with their Senior Producer at the time, who informed me that they didn't have a position for me at the moment, but to keep checking back with him, as there was a good chance they would in the near future. I kept e-mailing him every week, finally getting him back on the phone again 2 months later. The rest, as they say, is history! They're a fantastic team with the backing of social games giant Zynga. I look forward to starting work with them this coming Monday [smile]





I'll keep this short because I'll be writing a follow-up entry with metrics on my job search within the next few days. I'm now employed again! I'll be joining the Zynga Dallas team as a Producer in about a week and a half. w00t!




Interviews :)

Well, I wrapped up my face-to-face interview with Bioware Austin about an hour ago and I have a face-to-face interview with Toy Studio in two days. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

To provide more actual substance in this journal entry, listed below are 10 questions that I have had asked of me, and you should be able to answer them. Most of them don't have necessarily a 'right' answer, but if you're preparing for an interview I'd suggest you be able to answer these questions.

1) Why don't we start off with you telling us about yourself?

2) Pitch yourself, 30 seconds or less.

3) Do you know what all this position entails?

4) How familiar with [genre] are you?

5) Why do you want to be a [position] at [company]?

6) What is one of the worst mistakes you've made, and what did you learn from it?

7) Can you tell us what your favorite project was and why?

8) [non-leads] You're two weeks out from the next milestone and you don't have enough time to hit your tasks. What do you do?
[leads] You're two weeks out from the next milestone and you don't have enough time/resources for your team to hit the deadline. What do you do?

9) You've been handed a list of tasks (or features, content list, etc) and what your next milestone date it. What do you do now?

10) When we get off of the phone with each other, why should we keep moving forward with you and not toss away your resume?

Well, that's it for the moment. I hope these questions are useful for you. I'll post again in a week or two, hopefully with a job in hand. I'll sum up some of the metrics of my job search.




The Job Hunt

Hey all, I figured I'd pop back in and write a bit of an update. Maybe you'll find something of interest to yourself, or think of something useful for me [wink]

First, I'll talk about resources I've used in my job hunt. They boil down to two categories - connections and websites. Connections is using the people you know. I'll outline what has happened so far by using my connections. If you're not using LinkedIn then you should, because it is a fantastic way to keep in touch with people you meet throughout the industry!
I applied to a few Associate Producer positions at EA. A buddy of mine just so happens to work at EA Mobile and he put in a good word for me. What do you know? My resume magically wound up at the top of the pile and I got an interview! I've had two solid interviews with EA Mobile so far, so things are looking pretty promising with them.
My former Studio Director knew of some possible positions opening at Bioware Austin, so I passed him my resume as well as over to a Senior Technical Artist I know there, Professor420. I haven't heard from Bioware (unfortunately), but it was still good to have people trying to look out for me!
I was talking with the head of the Hamsterball Studios Austin branch, who I know from doing business with him. He volunteered to keep his eyes peeled and asked for my resume. Nothing has come out of it yet, but again, the more resources the merrier! By the way, their work is fantastic if you need music, voice acting, or SFX for your games.
Those are a few examples of using your connections. Establishing good relationships with the people you meet in the industry is so vitally important. You never know when you might have to reach out for some help. It might not even be job hunting, your company could be looking for outsourcing resources and you'll get brownie points for your excellent recommendation from both sides. Next I'm going to outline some websites that have been of use to me.
GameDev.net - Due to my last Journal entry, jjd was kind enough to point me to a recruiter friend of his, whom I contacted. He didn't have any openings at the moment, but he took my resume and is going to keep is eyes out for positions. In case you didn't catch it before, another GameDev.net member, Professor420, also tried to help me out by passing my resume to a Project Manager he knows and respects. This website is great for sharing knowledge and making connections.
GameDevMap.com - Holy cow is this a gold mine in finding game companies. It took me awhile, but I literally crawled through every single link, recording studios that have listings for Producers. I've found and applied to quite a few positions through this route. I've landed interviews with two companies from this - Bonfire Studios and Telltale Games. I interviewed with Bonfire Studios a couple weeks ago and have kept in touch with a Senior Producer there. They weren't hiring at the moment for an Associate Producer, but he informed me of a possible position opening within a month or so. Good thing I was preemptive, right? I had a short interview with HR at Telltale Games at the end of last week. I'll have to wait and see if anything comes out of it. To sum up, GameDevMap.com is a great resource, but it going to require some legwork. Doing the legwork has obviously proven to be beneficial though!
Gamasutra.com - Obviously everyone here has heard of Gamasutra, but it is worth pointing out. Gamasutra's job listings seem to be the number one go-to place for looking for industry jobs. Interestingly enough, I haven't gotten any interviews via this route yet. I've definitely been using it though!
Craigslist.com - A lot of jobs are posted on here nowadays. When I was at Seamless Entertainment, we used Craiglist to find some ActionScript Programmers and some Flash Artists who turned out invaluable for the Sesame Street games. I've applied to a few local, not necessarily game industry jobs via Craigslist. I had a brief HR discussion with one company that was building a game team, but I apparently applied a bit late due to applying like 5 days after the post went up. Wow.
Well, there you go - my story for the past few weeks. I hope something here was useful to you, or at the very least entertaining [smile].




Time for a new chapter

So, I'll be straight forward - I was laid off a week ago. Our studio went from about 20 people down to 6 in a matter of two weeks. The last year has been an absurd ride, having a couple of months invested 300+ hours at work away from my family and now I am jobless.

I know, I sound bitter. I am a little bit, but this is also a kick in the pants to explore the rest of the industry. I had been working for the same company for three years at two different studios. Three years of working on work-for-hire projects, with little creative control as a Designer and then Producer. Three years of working on budget, or cash grab, projects. Within the first year I felt the need for something 'more', but I was hiding in the safety net of a fairly stable job. This is what was ultimately important to me, because I have a family to support. Well, now I am free, getting a decent severance check, and looking for new opportunities.

I have interviews lined up with EA Mobile and Bonfire Studios, and I have some friends looking into Bioware Austin for me. I'm both scared and excited at the same time right now. Wish me luck :)




Making the Cut

We have hit the home stretch of development with our RC date for the Wii coming up in exactly 5 weeks and 1 day! What does this mean? Lots of overtime, focusing on essential remaining tasks, and making the cut list.

Over the past week especially we have gone back and forth a bit with the publisher on the cut list, and coming up with that list is always a tricky balance. I present below a list of considerations that have to be taken into account to ensure your game is going to ship when it needs to -

1) Contractual Obligations - Yikes! This is the stickiest part, because there are always certain metrics defined in your contract. If the RC date is set though, and there isn't enough time remaining to get all of that in, contract discussions have to take place. As the Producer this is slightly over my head on this project in particular, but if you are in a small indie team with a contract then you need to keep yourself and your publisher in constant check of the realities defined in your contract.

2) Making the Publisher Happy - Do you ever want to work with them again? Do you want them to actually sign off on your milestone deliveries? I'd imagine you're going to answer yes to at least one of these questions, so this problem is going to apply to you. Publishers always expect the world to be delivered on the drop of a dime, so if you want them to be happy then you'll have to make conceptually ridiculous demands. Does this mean burning longer hours at work? Does this mean spending more of the budget that you'd like? Sometimes.

3) X Amount of Remaining Work and Y Amount of Remaining Resources - Happens to everyone, and I can guarantee you Y is less than X in this situation. How badly do you want to crunch your team and yourself? What is going to make the publisher at least somewhat happy? What is essential that is remaining? What is just 'fluff' that is remaining? Answering these questions means leaning hard on your leads, lots of e-mails and phone calls with the publisher, and a bit of battling with QA.

No one likes to cut anything. The publisher doesn't want anything cut, and you don't want to cut anything because the feeling is always that the more content there is the better. You'll you have to cut work that has already been done, because the required work to finish a feature, mini-games, etc. is going to be too much in relation to the more essential content remaining. Sometimes less is more though, which is always a hard sell to the publisher, because they have fewer bullets for the back of the box. Do we half ass all the remaining features/content, or do we cut off all the fat and make sure that what we do ship glistens?




A Look Back

I keep saying that I need to post more regularly here, but it never happens. The thing is though is that I really want to. I find the GameDev.net Journals much more so interesting to read and I find the community much more exciting than when you look at "Expert" blogs such as on Gamasutra, MSDN, etc. The people here are so much more diverse - professional game developers, aspiring professional game developers, hobby game developers, and people who aren't game developers, but enjoy the technical company that this site provides. Pure awesomeness if you ask me!

Anyways, so here I am with my latest journal entry. This year I've blogged about Lua and Love (which like most game projects faded into the darkness, unlikely to ever be seen again), and I blogged about my experiences with an outsourcer who really pulled through for us to help get a milestone shipped. I'm happy to say that we're still working with them (Dainty Productions), and will continue to do so because they rock so much. Thanks guys!

Two very exciting things have happened to me in the past two weeks. One is that the project that I've been toiling away on since the beginning of the year has finally been revealed - Sesame Street! You can check out the website for some brand new Cookie Monster and Elmo games coming your way at http://www.sesamestreetvideogames.com/. The second bit of news that happened is that I've finally officially been promoted to Producer. I came onto the project at the beginning of the year, stepping into an AP role, though technically still a designer. I quickly found myself having to step up into a full Producer role, growing our internal team size and taking the reigns on the PC and Wii SKUs for both titles. While I have been doing the job for some months now, it feels good to finally have the official title (and paycheck [wink])!

Sesame Street has been an exciting and stressful IP to work with. The show has been around for over 40 years and EVERYONE knows it, so it has an incredibly rich history and fan base. At the same time, there have been very few Sesame Street videogames produced, so videogame production isn't familiar territory for Sesame Workshop. Mixing educational and gameplay goals is always a tough struggle, but in the end everyone wants the same thing - quality products that children will enjoy. We have about two months left on development, and it'll be a fantastic feeling to see these titles on shelves.

Without further adieu, I present to you the box art and gameplay helper sleeves that are shipping with the Wii versions of the game - GoNintendo.com.




LoveRTS Roadmap

I haven't been able to play with this pet of mine much since I started it, but I have had a chance to get a few things up and running -

* Builds maps out of tiles
* Player can pan around the map by putting their mouse near the edge of the screen, or using WASD or the arrows keys on the keyboard
* Loads up a ship
* Player can make the ship move to a location by right clicking with their mouse

Things I plan to do before I call this v0.1 and let it out to public consumption -

* Maps will be defined and built from external map files that are loaded in
* The ship will have working facing and will actually animate
* Ship will be able to "fire" at an object that you left click on
* There will be dumb AI ships to fire at and that will shoot at the player
* The AI ships will explode if it hit enough, and so will the player
* There will be objects to hide around

Moving beyond v0.1 into v0.2, so far I plan on -

* Setting up menus
* Add networking
* Add additional player and enemy ships
* Allow for multiselect of ships or enemies, so they can all move together or fire together

I'm not planning any further then that, but I wanted to get my plan written down instead of in my head [wink]




Constant Velocity along a Vector?

OK, I feel pretty dumb here. I know I've seen the solution to this before, but I'm drawing some blanks here. I'm working on a basic RTS prototype with Lua and Love, and I'm having difficulties getting my ship to smoothly move at a constant speed to wherever I click. Right now my below code basically works, but I'm either not calculating ship[0].factor_y or ship[0].factor_x correctly or I'm not applying them correctly. The angle is drastically affecting the speed of ship, which is definitely not what I want. Could anyone point me in the right direction here?

Calculated on the click of the mouse -

if math.abs(ship[0].target_x - ship[0].start_x) > math.abs(ship[0].target_y - ship[0].start_y) then
ship[0].factor_x = (math.abs(ship[0].target_x - ship[0].start_x) / math.abs(ship[0].target_y - ship[0].start_y))

if math.abs(ship[0].target_x - ship[0].start_x) ship[0].factor_y = (math.abs(ship[0].target_y - ship[0].start_y) / math.abs(ship[0].target_x - ship[0].start_x))

Within characterUpdate (dt) -

if ship[0].x ~= ship[0].target_x then
if (ship[0].start_x > ship[0].target_x) and (ship[0].x > ship[0].target_x) then
ship[0].x = ship[0].x - (dt / ship[0].speed) * ship[0].factor_x
elseif (ship[0].start_x ship[0].x = ship[0].x + (dt / ship[0].speed) * ship[0].factor_x

if ship[0].y ~= ship[0].target_y then
if (ship[0].start_y > ship[0].target_y) and (ship[0].y > ship[0].target_y) then
ship[0].y = ship[0].y - (dt / ship[0].speed) * ship[0].factor_y
elseif (ship[0].start_y ship[0].y = ship[0].y + (dt / ship[0].speed) * ship[0].factor_y




The Small Guys

I had an interesting experience today, which I found to be pretty damn amusing. I'm producing the lead SKUs for, from my perspective, a pair of fairly high profile titles. Lately I've been dealing with the headache of out sourcing art assets for these games.

We've been looking for out sourcing studios that are capable of turning around high volumes of 2d vector illustrative art and animations in Flash. A lot of the typical studios we deal with have a focus in 3d, so this is a very new arena to us. I've come to a hard realization that most "Flash houses" are used to dealing with very high profile (and thus high budget) companies who pay for "complete packages" for television and web advertising campaigns / products.

Getting skilled 3d art from an outsourcing studio in the US/Canada/UK/etc will cost you a couple hundred dollars per man day. Dealing with these Flash folks has had me dumbfounded with costs up to $1000 per man day. Holy crap is this new to me, and certainly not within your typical game development budget.

I was finally able to get into contact today with a company that I could get some somewhat reasonable rates and promised very fast turnaround. This took several phone calls and the eventual pointing to a new company that has up until now has delt with iPhone games and web development.

What I found so amusing was how enthusiastic the owner of the company was about working on a Wii title and the brand. I've been getting stonewalled by these high priced companies and then I was finally able to get someone on the phone who sounded downright giddy about expanding their business into developing assets for games that will find their way onto the Wii (and other platforms). I've only been been working as a professional designer (and now producer) for two and a half years now, but talking with the owner of the company was almost like a flashback to two and half years ago when I was hired to work on Wii and DS games ... it felt pretty cool.

I feel really good about this potential relationship. Working with the "small guys" certainly has its potential cons, but there are a number of pros that I think definitely make it worth it. On our side we get a lower price and guys who are willing to push themselves to deliver and prove themselves. On their side it gives them a chance to make a decent amount of money and to expand their portfolio into the console arena.

For some reason I felt the need to share this. I've been having a hell of a lot of difficulty getting any sort of decent rates or any sort of reasonable turnaround times for the past two weeks with any of the companies I've talked with, and I finally had this break today with the "small guys" company that could really save the day for us, as our next milestone is really, really quickly approaching.




Big Fat Liar (I am)

OK, so I pretty much suck. I haven't posted a follow-up to my last entry when I promised to give details on my Love project the following day.

I've been working as a Game Designer for the past two and half years and have been itching to try out a Producer role for awhile. The project that I am currently the Lead Designer for is mostly on autopilot right now, and we have another project that my studio is now tackling in which the Lead Designer for it is at one of our other studios. On Tuesday morning I asked my boss about trying my hands at an Associate Producer role on a project and he put me immediately to work. I'm now handling production over the Wii and PC (lead platforms) builds of two children's titles!

Needless to say, being Lead Designer on one Wii title and Associate Producer on two titles across two platforms has suddenly made me really, really busy. Hopefully this weekend I'll be able to fire up Geany, make some Love, and write about it [wink]




Making Love

I can't ever really talk about much of anything I work on at work due to restrictive NDAs and our projects not being publicly announced as us working on them until the last minute (the joys of working at a work-for-hire studio). Due to this fact, I've been struggling for some time to think of things to actually use this journal for. I've finally found something - Making Love!

I know what you're thinking right now - either that this is a horribly inappropriate topic for a gamedev journal OR that your interest is incredibly peaked and you want to know what I'm about to say next! Well, that isn't the type of Love making I'm talking about. Instead, I'm referring to the awesome Lua scripting based 2d game engine called Love2d.

I've been itching for a way for me to develop my programming/scripting skills a bit, and Love seems to be just the answer for me. It is incredibly easy to use and has a very accepting community around it, just like gamedev.net.

I'm going to be (hopefully) making semi regular entries on my foray into Lua and Love. Tomorrow I will be writing up an entry on where I'm at with my current Love project and where I'm intending to head with it. Hopefully some Lua gurus will spot my journal and provide me a few tips on the way too [wink]




Family Fun Football

Just over year ago I moved to Austin to work on a new title at a brand new studio. We were well into production when we had a series of curveballs thrown at us. These curveballs causes a completely new direction, which became Family Fun Football. To say it has been emotional would be an understatement, but we've finally shipped the title.

Family Fun Football amounts to a bundle of multiple different emotions. It is a completely different product than we had originally contracted to do, but wound up filling a different hole in the market. We had to throw a LOT of work out the window, but wound up pulling off some damn good work in only about 5 months time. In the end we wound up with a product that I can say is definitely a fun, family oriented football experience that beats the pants off of Backyard Football.

My boss blogged about the development, so instead of rehashing a bunch of his stuff I'll link to his website - Family Fun Football at PhilOnGames. I learned a lot from this project. I've worked on a few Wii and DS projects before, but this was my first as a Lead Designer.

If you've got kids and want to share the football experience with them in an arcade, family friendly title, then Family Fun Football should be right up your alley.




My Brute

In general, I'm not a big fan of the gazillion flash based games spread all over the internet. Today a coworker of my pointed me to mybrute.com, where you make a "brute" and fight other people. You get stats and the game automatically generates a 2d brawl between your brute and whatever other brute you select of a similar level to yours.

It is kind of like a mix of an online RPG and a pyramid scheme. I say this because whenever a new player fights you, they become one of your pupils. They attract other people, who become their pupils. Whenever your pupils level, you get XP for it.

The graphics are cute, the battles are bloody, and it is really easy to use.

Fight my brute at mybrute.com




Miscellaneous Updates

I've really got two updates to throw out -

1) I have a new interview up on tech-artists.org with Jen Bahan, Rigging and Technical Animation Supervisor at Rhythm & Hues. Click on the link and check it out [wink]

2) The new name for the studio I'm working at is finally "public". The name is Seamless Entertainment and the website is seamlessentertainment.com, though the website is a bit bland at the moment. It should be updated for GDC (I hope), seeing as how we'll have representatives there under our new name. Unfortunately I won't be one of them [sad]

Where as Black Lantern Studios, the original studio in Springfield, MO. will retain their emphasis on family friendly budget titles, the intent for this new studio is to stretch out into new audiences with "edgier" titles. We're currently fund raising in a sense for an original IP by essentially doing out sourcing work for our original studio, but I think the prospects look good.

We'll see what the future holds!




Design Workshop I Session I

Due to the weird way things have been happening at work, details of which I can't get into, people have been a bit down and disoriented. I decided that trying to revive this "university" concept a coworker of mine had tried before to get rolling at our old studio would be a good way to get people perked up. The general idea is for people to hold classes and/or workshops to get people involved and learn about the other disciplines in game development. I decided to kick start it with a fun design workshop.

The outline I drafted up went like this:

o Meeting Intent
o First and foremost, everyone needs to enjoy themselves!
o This is a good way for us to experiment with a brainstorming process we haven't used before

o Forming Teams
o Everyone draws a slip of paper from the pot
o Everyone is paired up by the slip
The slip determines the group - A, B, C, etc.
The slip determines a person's number - 1 or 2
o If there is an odd number of people then one group will have three people

o Generating Concepts
o Everyone jots down two concepts on two slips of paper
o Those two concepts are put into a pot
o Each team of 2 pulls out four concepts from the pot (2 each)

o Putting the ideas on the board
o The 1's put one of their team's concepts on the board
This generates a number of columns
o The 2's put up an idea onto board
This concept cannot go into their teammate's column
o The 1's puts up another idea onto the board
This concept cannot go into the original column or the column their teammate placed their concept
o The 2's puts up an idea onto the board
If all columns have had ideas placed in them by their team, then the 2 can place his concept wherever.
If there are any remaining columns where his team had not placed a concept, he must select one of them.

o Taking Ownership
o Each column is assigned a designator
o Slips of paper with those designators are put into a pot
o Each 2 reaches into the pot and grabs a designator
o Their team is now assigned that column

o Making a Premise
o Each team has 10 minutes to answer the following questions (so short paragraphs)
What is the look and feel of the game?
Describe a defining game mechanic in the game.
What is the key selling point?

o Presentation
o Each team presents their idea
o All of the other teams provide feedback
o The teams record everyone else's feedback

Including myself there were six of us there (half of the people at our location). It was slow to get started (namely waiting on pizza and for one of the guys to show up to the meeting, which we wound up grabbing someone else to replace him), but once we got started everyone seemed to have fun. We spent about an hour on this and came up with some weird game concepts. The groups of ideas that each of the three pairs wound up working with were:
* revenge, ocean, computers, drinking
* jail, rhinos, adventure, ink
* zombies, island, crayons, open world

The guys with the last one couldn't figure out how to include crayons, so they suggested that the game ship with a pack of crayons. I pointed out that the boxart for the game could be line-art and that people could use the crayons to color it in.

In any case, hopefully this will inspire you to try something new with your brainstorming processes. We all had fun and I'm going to have another session next week to try to take our basic concepts and turn them each into a 1 page sell sheet.




Hiring a Boss

We've been in a weird predicament at work. How often are you working on a game and the publisher decides, "You know what, our original strategy probably isn't going to work out, so we've decided you guys should switch platforms, we'll give you another year of development time, and we're going to give you a boat load of more money"? Well, that is what has happened with us.

This is a boon, blessing, terrifying, and crappy all at the same time. On one hand, I was going to be the head honcho designer on a cool game and now I'm going to have to step back a bit and hand the reigns so to speak over to someone else with more experience, on the other hand I'm getting to work on a MUCH bigger budget project and I'm going to have a much more senior designer to learn from now, which will realistically result in a better game.

For the past couple of days I've been interviewing potential senior designers along with my current boss, the senior producer. It is kind of weird screening for someone who is going to more or less be taking my spot and is going to be my boss. I'm having to evaluate these people on who is going to be a great mentor for me AND who is going to give us the best bang for the buck for this project.

So anyways, we're hiring [wink] Anyone who happens to be a senior level designer or senior level producer who is looking for a job or just plain a new job on a cool project, go ahead and apply! These two positions are for our Austin studio. Job listings are on our website at blacklanternstudios.com.




Updates on Life

Ok, I admit, I really suck. I haven't been maintaining this journal nearly as much as I ought to. I even let it expire. *gasps* Well, I finally renewed it with a whole year, so maybe it'll work out better this time.

Since my last journal entry I've had a new kid, a baby boy! My wife and I welcomed him into our family back in November, which has certainly been keeping us busy.

I've also posted up a couple more interviews I've conducted at tech-artists.org with Kees Rijnen, owner of Lumonix and co-founder of Slick Entertainment, and with Jeff Hanna, Senior Technical Artist at Volition. Within the next couple of weeks I'll be getting an interview with Jen Bahan, a Rigger/Technical Animation Supervisor at Rhythm & Hues. Head on over to tech-artists.org and check them out!

I also just got my tax returns today (yeah!) and just placed an order for a new tube amp for my geetar. When my wife and I were moving to Texas we were a bit strapped for cash and I sold my half stack, and I've been without an amp since. A coworker is really big into playing the blues on his acoustic, so I picked up a Valve Junior, a little Class A 5-watt tube amp which should be a blast to play with.

I SWEAR my next journal entry will be soon and relate to the game industry and/or community in some way. [wink]




Just a couple of updates

I've got a new interview up with Jason Parks, Senior Technical Artist at Sony Online, on TAO.

Didn't mention it before, because I wasn't sure about it, but Little League World Series 2008 was released at the same time as Garfield and I got a Special Thanks in that one for spending a couple of weeks at the beginning as the lead designer before being yanked over to Iron Chef.

We're *cross my fingers* shipping off GM today for ICA.




tech-artists.org (TAO)

For the past month or so I have been working on tech-artists.org, a website started by Bioware Austin Technical Artist and gamedev.net member, Professor420, an active member of the Visual Arts forum. It is a really neat community for those who are professional technical artists to swap tips, trick, and techniques, and for industry hopefuls to learn a thing or two.

So what does a Game Designer have to do with a website for Technical Artists? I studied Computer Graphics Technology in college and well, it still interests me [wink] I love being a Game Designer, but I've also had to make some sacrifices in being able to really pursue my interests in the 3rd arts.

In any case, onto my point. My point is two-fold: let some of you know about tech-artists.org who haven't heard about it and to let you all know that my first interview I conducted as a member of the Content Staff went up yesterday. The interview is with Steve Theodore, Technical Art Director at Bungie and columnist of Pixel Pusher in Game Developer Magazine. Head over to tech-artists.org and check it out!




Pleasant Surprises

About two weeks ago the first game was released with me being credited in it. That game was Garfield's Fun fest. A few months ago I stepped away from Iron Chef to redo all of the level collision and item placements in the entire Garfield game within a few day's time. It was a nice break to do something a little different than what I had been up to. I received a "Special Thanks" in the credits. shadowcomplex was the Lead Programmer on it. He made some pretty sweet 2d level development tools that made things MUCH easier than I expected.

I also discovered today that since the first of this month I have been a "Designer II" at my company. I discovered this when I sat down with my CEO to discuss a raise and then found out I had gotten a bit of a raise on the 1st. He kind of uhmm, neglected to tell me.

So, between getting my first official game credit, having Iron Chef being close to the light at the end of the tunnel *crosses finger*, getting my promotion, and relocating to Austin to work as the Lead Designer on a fantastically cool game, I'd say this has been a pretty good couple of weeks. I thought a little differently this morning before I found out about the raise, though.... [wink]




Hello Austin!

I am now in Austin, TX, and I am going to be starting my new position as Studio Designer on Monday. The project I am going to be working on (and have already started working on a little bit) is mind-blowingly cool, especially for a guy who just squeezed his way into the industry a year ago. I've got my own office, I am going to be working with a team of people that I am very excited to work with, and it looks like it is going to be a blast.

For the past week though I have been dealing with the dreaded process of moving. Yuck. I was fortunate enough to get enough of a moving allowance to allow me to fly down here, find a place, and to pay for a moving truck to haul all of my family's crap. The downside is packing up a duplex full of stuff when it is frickin' insanely hot out only to get to my moving destination and move all of this crap onto a second story apartment when it is 100 degrees out. Keep in mind that only a year ago I was living in northern Indiana. My wife is pregnant with our second child, so she is out for heavy lifting. That means I've had fun for the past two days hauling all of the stuff of a family of 3 up into a second story apartment pretty well by myself. Luckily, I've got a couple of guys from work coming over tomorrow to help me with a few heavy things. Game developers don't tend to be very muscle bound, though.

Well, enough of the LiveJournal-esque talk, I'm in Austin now and it is pretty cool (or hot, actually). I've had the week off to just get moved in, which is awesome, because I don't know how I'd have managed all of this if I would have had to go straight to work (which a couple of other guys have had to do). To any fellow Austinites out there, Aloha!

Iron Chef is getting closer and closer to wrapping up, with pretty well just a few straggler things remaining. I look forward to seeing it on shelves in the near future. Once it is actually released I'll be able to retrospectively talk about some of my experience with its development in a little more detail than I've been able to thus far.




Of Menus and Men

I promised a long time ago that I would write a thing or two about some of the things I've learned with my experiences as a designer. My first topic isn't very glamorous, but every game needs them - menus. I am going to discuss a very important topic with menus, and that topic is efficiency.

Menu Efficiency

There are tons of topics in life where the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle can be employed. Menus are one of them. For some strange reason, one that I can't understand, people seem to want to make overly complicated menu flows. Can't easily fit it onto an existing menu? Make a new menu out of it!
There are a number of reasons that I can think of why this really ought to be avoided.

o As a player, how many clicks or button presses do you want to go through to start playing the damn game?
o As an artist, how many assets and layouts do you want to generate for unnecessary menus?
o As a programmer, how menus do you want to have to recode?
o As a producer, how many man months do you want to budget for excessive menus?
o As a designer, don't you think the more elegant solution is the better solution?

Use Case:

A Nintendo DS game needs to support Local Wireless play between two systems, Pass Play on one system, and the ability for two players to play cooperatively or competitively. Let's look at the needs of these:

o For Local Wireless you need to have the option to be able to Host or Join a game. A Host needs to be able to scan for other players wanting to join. The person Joining, or Client, needs to be able to view available games.
o Pass Play just needs a single game card and system. However, supporting Pass Play means that both players will not be playing concurrently.
o The option of allowing Cooperative Play or Competitive Play means that some sort of toggle needs to the provided to the player(s).

Many current DS games provide a sort of multiplayer setup that provides the player the option to Host a Game or Join a game. The Host goes to their own screen where they choose the game type and wait for another player to join their game before continuing on. The Client goes to a screen where they view available games where they choose which one they would like to connect to. After the player joins the game one of two things will happen:

o The game will then begin if the Host was only waiting for a single player to join and the game is setup to do this.
o The player joining waits for the Host to confirm and start the game. This happens often in games where more than one player may be joining the game or if for some reason the menu is coded this way.

What am I proposing is a better solution? Using a single menu for all the above! Who said that you can't actively scan for available games from the same menu that you'd make your Join or Host option? Displaying the available games on the same screen that provides the Host option as well keeps the player on that one menu. Throw in a Pass Play button and a Competitive or Cooperative toggle on the screen and you have everything needed for Local Wireless on a single screen! A little ingenuity with the help of an artist will help you arrange the Joinable games, Host option, Pass Play button, and Competitive/Cooperative toggle into one very accessible menu.

I hope you find this entry to be useful. As a designer it is always a surprisingly big struggle to create menus that work best for your game, so they shouldn't be overlooked. They may not be the biggest thing that gamers will notice, but if done right they certainly will add to a more intuitive experience.

I welcome criticism and praise [wink] Hopefully I'll find time in the near future to make more write-ups.



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