It almost feels like it hasn't been worth writing an update for the last month because so little "progress" has been made on Spellbound. But I suppose such is life, and it too must be captured and noted as a part of the journey of an indie developer. I have still been doing various contract projects for both corporate clients and small game studios. On the contracting side, I've decided that it would be a good idea to subcontract work I can't do to other people and then add my management fee to their rates. I currently have my former artist working on a small contract project, so it is a viable business idea. He charges me $35/hour and I charge the client $50/hour for his work and I keep the difference. It's not much, but its a good start. In the future, I will raise his rates and pay him more when there is more work and larger projects, but I don't want to make public promises I can't keep. The hard part will be finding enough work to keep everyone busy.
I've also been playing a light support role to my girlfriend. Her business is taking off and she's easily become the primary bread winner of the household and that relieves financial pressure from me, allowing me to continue working with minimal income. I can't stress enough how grateful I am and what an impact it has on my creative pursuits.
A few days ago, she had a senator from China come and visit her company and our ranch. He was really interested in seeing my VR game, so I gave him a demo in my office. My roommates are all sales people as well, so they got to try out the game at the same time. One of them was instantly motion sick, but the other really enjoyed it. Probably the best takeaway from this was just how bad my user interfaces actually are -- they are not intuitive enough at all for completely new people to use. Also, the pacing of the action is also too rapid for novices, so I'll need to redesign my tutorial level to be more "tutorial" focused than story/immersion. Anyways, the Chinese senator was very impressed with what I'd been working on. I have a feeling that I may have a trip out to China in my eventual future. I think the Chinese market for VR is thirstier for content than the North American market, so it would be great for me to see first hand what the market landscape looks like.
A fellow VR game dev told me the other night that he's been wanting to show my game to other people, but the trailer for the game is so out of date that it doesn't do the game proper justice. I completely agree, it's two years old and features old technology which I don't support anymore. Here's the stupidest objection in the whole world: I don't know how to produce a good game trailer. This is extra stupid because... I work in an office filled with film people who could help me. What's wrong with me? I'm a bit afraid to ask for help knowing I have no money to offer.
I have been doing a lot of reading of epic fantasy books on the bus ride too and from work. I'm currently reading through the "Legend of Drizzt" series by R.A. Salvatore. Every time I read one of these epic fantasy books, I feel totally inadequate as a writer. I have a lot of self doubt that I could produce anything as good. Despite that, I'm going to have to push hard and write out a story for Spellbound. The writing is going much slower than I would have liked due to various distractions (ahem, contract work and lack of funding). I also feel a bit daunted/overwhelmed by the size of the writing project and what it's going to take. I should just shut up, stop whining, and start writing.
"Yeah, Eric! Quit yer moanin', bitchin' and belly aching and get back to writing!"
I have been entertaining the idea of producing another type of nature VR travel experience using 360 videos. It would be much easier and faster to produce and could turn into a new revenue source to fund my development of Spellbound and build my brand a teeny bit more. I must find some time to produce a rough prototype and see if its technologically viable. I've written out a 2 page business plan and it seems pretty good (but all of our own ideas sound good!). This idea has passed through my feasibility filters and its time to start figuring out what it would take to produce. Anyways, it doesn't hurt to give it a try and see what happens.
On another note, I think some of my best ideas come to me while I'm walking to work. There's just something creatively magical about the act of walking and thinking. It really gets the juices going. I remember this one time I was working in Iraq on a tough problem with relational databases. Somehow, I had to get multiple records from one table to match multiple records from another table. I couldn't figure it out for days while sitting at my desk, but then I went for a long walk on base and solved it in my head. I came back, implemented it, and it worked perfectly -- it required an intermediary table to store lookups. Two days ago, I was walking a mile to my bus stop (in the rain) thinking about "stuff". The night before, I had been tutoring my girlfriends son on math homework. I have also given lectures at my former university and local meetups on game development and design. I have worked in Iraq and Afghanistan to rebuild war torn societies, and through my experience, I have concluded that the underlying foundation for a peaceful and prosperous society is an educated society. So, if you want to bring peace, prosperity and compassion to the world, start by educating people. I happen to love the acquisition of wisdom and the feeling of enlightenment it brings, so my way of sharing that is by teaching people what I know and hoping they too can share my passion. On my walk, I got to thinking: What if I give lectures in VR where people can learn something? It would be done within the universe of Spellbound, so the learning experience would be within a classroom of budding wizards, being taught be an old, gray bearded wizard (me). The character animations could be driven by a mocap suit and the voice could be recorded easily enough. The instructional material would be framed in the context of things wizards care about, so I'd be giving an hour long class on the intricacies of alchemy and brewing a witches pot, and it would be about selecting the right proportion of herbs, spices, ingredients, and cantrips. On the surface, it would be a lesson on magical brews, but in truth, it's a lesson on fractions and ratios. It would be a great fake out, where people come into a classroom expecting an hour of entertainment (which it is!) but they'd really get an hour of education. But, the lesson would be framed and presented in such a way that the audience doesn't realize its learning something else which is valuable in the real world too! I could produce a dozen lectures on various topics of interest, framed in the context of advanced wizardry, and people could attend my lectures in VR. If I can convey my enthusiasm for the subject, it'll be infectious and people will want to see all of the other lectures. What seemed like a action role playing game on the surface, had a lot of secret surprises on the back end. Some people may not be interested in this academic part of the game and prefer action and adventure, but others may be only interested in the academic side -- There's nothing wrong with wizards who spend most of their time in the academy advancing their own knowledge. After all, that's what wizards are predominantly known for! I think if I embed secret rune combinations within the lessons, students can get unique magical rewards by paying attention in class and it can be just as rewarding as exploring an ancient dungeon. I like this idea; I'll have to think about it more and let it ruminate.
Lastly, I've been continuing my work with the Leap Motion and integrating it with 360 video. Check it out here:
I heard from my partner that some sales guy saw our work and liked it so much that he said if we finish this app, he'd be willing to sell our services to other companies. If that brings in more work and it pays well, I'd be all for it. I'd eventually want to hire someone else to work for me and take over the production and I'd move myself into more of a creative managerial role, but for now, I have to keep building out the tech and envisioning how this will work. I've been trying to unite the film industry and the gaming industry for over a year, so this sort of represents a culmination of my efforts and helps create a sort of new type of media. I'm excited to see where other creatives can take this. Anyways, I still have a lot more work to do here and this is still evolving quickly, but I think what we're building here may be the first of its kind in the world. I'm excited.