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  1. While I download and install Unity 4.6.21 beta, I think this is a good time to share all the work that is going into the music side of Archmage Rises. Music sets mood, tone, and feel. Perhaps I should rephrase that: Music reinforces mood, tone, and feel. Music bypasses the (rational) mind and speaks to the imagination. A quick demonstration of music's true power is to watch a movie trailer (say, Inception) with just video. Not quite the same without the music, is it? :-) [media][/media] I met James Marantette three years ago at a game conference in Portland, Oregon. Our first conversation may have been about StarCraft--but deep inside, I realized that I had discovered a very talented composer. We ended up working together on a few tracks for my previous mobile titles--nothing on the scale of Archmage Rises. However, I'm beyond excited to report that James is willing to do all the sound and music for the game! James is now going to show how we went from a vague idea to a title track that perfectly captures the spirit of Archmage Rises. James Marantette: Music is fun because we evolved to respond to it. Music tells us how we are supposed to feel. It will let us know if we are winning, losing, suffering, or conquering. That is a lot of power to have at your fingertips, and my job is to provide music that can make a real difference. Thanks to previous works and past gaming experiences, Thomas and I have a very good set of rules and guidelines that help us achieve this with marginal casualties :) Now, what if we break that? What if we break the rules just a little bit? I'll say this several times in this piece: Thomas and I like cello. A lot. What if we run that cello through a tube amp, some fx pedals, and a crazy big reverb? Magic. That's what happens. Or, you know . . . a really nasty, dirty, bad sounding instrument. But that's the point of trying and making different choices. While the track featured in this post leans toward a more generic title track, the feel of the game will be heavily set in "a little bit of something old and a little bit of something new." It should be familiar territory with hints and whispers of something else. Something darker, something unexplored . . . something magical. Archmage Rises needs a score, and Thomas asked me to do it. My name is James Marantette and I've been working on the music for Archmage Rises for the past several months. My background was in classical violin--and from there, I got into making electronic beats on my parents' old computer. It's been a long time and a long way from their basement, but the same childish wonder comes out every time I sit down to create. "What will this session produce?" "I wonder what happens if I do this." Creating is half technique and half inspiration. It's about breaking down mechanical barriers and letting the creative side take over and just . . . create. It's a blur when you look back. Hours can pass by, but the end result is usually exciting. For Archmage Rises, I want to pull from elements of electronic music and orchestral scores to make a soundtrack that stands out. I start everything "in the box" (no real instruments) and will, on bigger projects, go back and track real instruments over the fake parts during the final stage of music production. I run Logic Pro and use most of the East West plug-ins for my samples--and they can get about as close to the real thing as digitally possible. With Archmage Rises, we didn't know what we wanted the soundtrack to sound like. We knew it needed to have a serious, darker tone--but it was important for the music to still "let loose" and become what it was meant to be with minimal interference. It's super important to get references in any sort of collaborative work, so Thomas and I collected a lot of music we liked (and that he wouldn't mind hearing in the game). Thomas Henshell: One of the first questions James asked was which game soundtracks could be starting points for Archmage Rises. I sometimes listen to game soundtracks while I work: Mass Effect, StarCraft, and Sins of a Solar Empire. But my most memorable game soundtrack experience is found in Max Payne 2. I love that game. Not many people did, but I was completely captivated with it. It's a third-person shooter that is artistic, that has no respect for conventions. I played it through in one sitting on day one and have played through completion several more times. Something inside me said the cello from Max Payne 2's title track was the right place to start. James: With that, I took off. I put together around a dozen tracks with various instruments and moods to see what did and didn't work. We spent a couple months looking through instruments, locking down ideas, and we both came to agree that cello should be the sound we use as our main instrument. We didn't want vanilla cello though, and we ended up liking the sound of it running through an amp with some heavy reverb and turned way down in the mix. This gives the sound some "grit" that really lends itself to the game, while still being "pretty." One evening I sat down, determined to write something good--something fantastic. This would be it, the night I made my best piece. I got nothing done that night and mostly browsed Reddit while listening to iTunes for ideas. So I tried the night after . . . but nothing. Then the night after. . . and that's when I got the first glimpse of "Choices." If the game is about choice, how can I put that in a piece? (Pretty simple idea, not sure why I couldn't have thought of that the first night--but hey! That's part of the creative process). I decided to use two cellos and have them follow two melodies that would become one unified harmony. Two cellos making two choices. Half the time, the melody would lead them to new places; sometimes, it would bring them right back where they started. It worked. Core idea laid out with a few surrounding ideas I wrote "Choices" in two hours. The core of the song is only about 20% of the work. Another 30% is finding a way to start and finish it while making the whole thing work. Then 40% is review, and adding small parts in where they fit. To throw out some more percentages: I spend an equal amount of time on the first 90% of the work and the last 10%. It's that 10% that counts; it's what makes the song sound good on my laptop speakers as well as my studio monitors. When I play it in a car or through headphones, I still hear all of the instruments and I don't miss out on anything. The mix can be equally important to the arrangement and should always be given the time it deserves. Hopefully, the following breakdown gives you an idea of how I put a track together from start to finish. First you have to pick your color palette: What key will you be in? What general progression do you want create? I pick an instrument, usually the one I want the core of the song to revolve around (in this case, cello). Then I sit down and play several bars on repeat and record take after take. I try different things, play with ideas, and enjoy a jam session with my computer. On "Choices," I loaded up a cello sample library and went to town trying different arrangements with two cellos playing different parts. Hopefully, I find something I like after a while. You see, art can be hard; it's quite difficult to brute force it--and when someone does this, the audience can tell! Once I have a theme or core idea, I write a full chord progression. Now I have a structure in place, and it's time to decide on energy. Usually, I write the highest or lowest energy part first--and fill it in with either some synth pads/atmosphere or drums/staccato strings. Now I have my main part--and it just needs a beginning, middle, and end . . . like a story. This is where I try other instruments. Find a second melody that complements what I've done so far--or perhaps a negative to my positive. In the case of "Choices," I wrote the two cello lines first. I made three or four really good melodies and picked two to use in the first third of the piece. I surrounded it with slow but powerful strings and drums. I then wanted this extreme contrast where it goes from slow but strong to fast and delicate. It gives the song a needed change and ushers in the final third. This I wrote last, and it was a compilation of everything I had done up to that point. It crescendos to its peak, which mixes fast with slow and ends up just sounding fun. I was trying to have a good time with it; the game is an adventure story in a realm of fantasy, after all! Now, keep in mind that throughout this process I was constantly sending tracks to Thomas. I religiously updated him with my thoughts every time I got some solid progression -- like the professional composer that I am :) [media][/media] Thomas: This is the point where James, excitedly, sent me a rough complete track to listen to. The track was a mess in places, but something about it was perfect. It doesn't sound anything like Max Payne 2, but it captures the feeling I wanted to extract from it. This is where it is important as a team leader to have imagination. It's not about what he sent me; it's about where he was going with it. James was totally on the right track. I gave some specific feedback on sections I thought were too long or didn't transition well, but I ultimately needed to trust his ability to polish the piece. James: The thing I have enjoyed most in working with Thomas is his honesty. It's straightforward, and it cuts a lot of time out of my work when I know that something isn't sounding right for the game. It also lets me know that when I've done something right, it's really right. The end is added and overall movement is realized with additional instrumentation Once I have the parts laid out, it's time to go back and add any instruments that could be needed or pull out any that aren't helping. Then I have to make final decisions on how the instruments will sound. Do I want these violins to be light and happy or dark? Is this synth easy to hear while still not drawing too much attention to itself? There are 30 tracks in my session, and each one needs some time alone with me to determine its rightful place in the mix. [media][/media] Then it's time to face the final 10%. Job one is listening to the song over and over and again--spending several hours mixing and making sure that everything is in its exact and correct place. Burning copies and listening in cars and through headphones. This is where the technical side has to take over. Creativity needs to give way to mechanical prowess and knowledge. I need to edit out the frequencies of the string section that are cutting into the drums. I need to have the piano cut through without just raising the volume. I need 35 tracks to sound like one big movement of sound. Oh, yes: Since the last chunk of work, I now have five additional tracks full of reverb and effects filling out space that was empty or tightening up drums. The song is finally organized, parts are cleaned/edited/finalized and mixing begins My hope is that you enjoy the piece. I like feedback and always look forward to what the community has to say about my work. [media][/media] Seeing the collaboration slowly come together has been exciting. I've enjoyed the game's art, and it has definitely affected the music I've made. I'm excited to be a part of Archmage Rises and can't wait to play it! Thomas: [Phil Fish voice] I'm only one guy! I'm working as fast as I can! :-) SDG Check out James' SoundCloud portfolio. Feel free to contact him about your project. You can follow the game I'm working on, Archmage Rises, by joining the newsletter and Facebook page. And you can tweet me @LordYabo
  2. I was on the 35th floor in the north conference room. Through the window, I could see the gray, rainy Toronto skyline. I was here to learn about government funding programs for Digital Media. At my table were a television/documentary producer, a toy manufacturer, and two suits who looked so dull and cliche that I didn't even introduce myself. The panel consisted of several government agency workers, a consultant, and a game developer. The information shared over two hours was good, but I enjoyed the spicy chicken wrap from the buffet a lot more. As a wrap-up, the organizer asked the panel what final words they would like to share with the roughly 40 people in attendance. With only 20% of all applicants being selected for funding, the two agency reps and the game developer stressed how important it is to sell yourself. It wasn't until this moment when the slightly scruffy toque-wearing game developer said this, that I realized how important sales technique is for the indie dev. Fortunately, this is something I have experience with. And I am happy to share these techniques with the rest of the indie dev community. In this article, I attempt to demystify the science and psychology of selling (pitching). I will focus on selling to EXTERNAL parties (strategic partners, customers, etc.). If people see value in this, then I'll take the time to describe how to sell to INTERNAL parties (your team, your boss, etc.). I'm writing primarily for small indie game developers who will often need to pitch themselves -- perhaps to journalists, publishers, investors, potential hires, strategic partners, game contests, government organizations, incubators, and many others. However, these principles of selling aren't specific to game development. Anyone can use them to build their business, land a job, or convince someone to marry them Before I take advice from anyone, I like to know their experience. So before I go any further, let me digress a moment to summarize my professional sales experience. I began selling as a full-time commission-only computer sales person at a Canadian electronics retailer called Future Shop (similar to Circuit City or Best Buy). The company paid 25% of the profit of whatever you sold. As you can quickly see: 1) recruits either learn to sell FAST or die; and 2) if you can sell, you have unlimited maximum income. I took to it like a fish to water. But I also took my new profession seriously: I learned everything I could from the extensive training program (based on the Xerox method), managers, co-workers, books, tapes, and video training series from motivational speakers such as Zig Ziglar. I did well and eventually became a sales trainer for new recruits in the corporate head office. Now sales execs generally look down on one-to-one business-to-consumer (B2C) sales, and retail in particular -- for some good reasons, I must admit. It's usually done very poorly. But here is one important advantage: The number of pitches you can do in a day in retail is astronomical: 20-40 pitches a day every day compared to business-to-business (B2B), which allows for 1-2 a day at best. That kind of regularity, repetition, and low cost of failure (if you misspeak and lose a sale, someone new will be along in the next 5 minutes) is the perfect training ground for learning how to pitch. I moved into B2B sales first for a web dev company (1 pitch a month), then into business for myself (about 1 pitch a month). I was still 100% dependent on my ability to sell, but now with the pressure of supporting my staff and other overhead, too! For more than 10 years, I sold custom mobile software projects ranging from small ($25-50k) to large ($700-900k). Over the years, I reckon I've sold about $6+ million across 30+ projects with a 95% closing percentage. My pitches were primarily to a C-level audience (CEO, CFO, CTO, CMO, COO). To conclude this summary, I'll share one of my proudest sales moments: I was about two years into my business. I was introduced by conference call to a mammoth prospective customer: We had 4 employees, and they had $4 billion in annual revenue. They used IBM for most of their IT consulting and were considering a mobile software project -- and using IBM for it. I flew into town (I still can't believe I managed to get the client to pay for my flight and hotel!), spent a day with the CTO in the board room, flew home, and closed the deal the following week by phone. Take that, Big Blue! Definitions B2B sales are most similar to what the typical indie faces -- whether you are pitching your game to a console manufacturer or a journalist. I will use the lingo of "Customer" to mean the party you are selling to. When I use the term sale, I want to be clear what I mean. Simply put, a "sale" is when you convince someone of something. It is a transaction of the mind. It's like Inception - but this time everyone is awake Once this is accomplished, handing over money, signing contracts, creating a feature article, or any action the customer does is secondary. It wouldn't have happened if you hadn't convinced them it was worth doing in the first place. OK, let's get to it! 1. Every Buy Decision is a Largely an Emotional One. This is the most important and shockingly counter-intuitive truth I can share with you. If you don't remember any other principle, remember this one! When making a decision, people like to think they are rational and logical. While they know they have emotions, they don't understand or believe that emotions make up probably 80% of their decisions. Don't burst their bubble! The poor souls living in the Matrix are happy there! For example, let's say you are house shopping with your spouse. You look at two houses with roughly the same features, location, and price. But the more expensive house that is slightly older and needs more work just has a great living room that seems perfect for family visits. On a pro/con list, you should not choose this one -- but most people do. Why? Because you have an emotional attachment that drives a seemingly fully rational decision. Ever got a job you were slightly unqualified for? Ever NOT get a job you were overqualified for? If your answer is "yes," you know from experience the huge role emotion plays in human decision-making. It is NOT all about features, merit, dollars and cents, brand or background; sales technique can overcome ANY weakness or hurdle if executed the right way. You too can beat IBM! Or you can be in the best position (factually and objectively) and totally blow it Success is within your grasp -- something you can control through sheer determination. What I'm trying to say is that time spent learning and practicing sales technique will increase your closing percentage -- NOT because your product changed, but because of how you pitched it. More features won't sell your game; you will! 2. Sell Because it's Your Job. No one else will sell you but you. If you won't sell you, you are screwed. Most people are uncomfortable selling. I think salespeople rank just below politicians and lawyers on the Slimy Job Top Ten list. I believe two major factors contribute to this: Because you gain something out of selling, somehow this makes the act immediately feel disingenuous. Your motives don't feel pure. Selling requires risking personal rejection and failure. Someone may make a face at you, respond with something hurtful, or (worse) ignore you completely. This was true for me. I'm an introverted computer nerd who tried to attract the ladies with well-crafted autoexec.bats. I dislike meeting new people. I'll never forget the lesson a Future Shop manager shared when he noticed several shy new recruits reluctant to approach customers: Have you ever been at a bar and seen a really attractive person across the room you'd like to meet? But you are too afraid to approach him or her? Maybe you think they are out of your league, or just want to be left alone, or look busy, or some other excuse. Now consider this: What if you were hired by the bar owner to be a greeter. He made your job very clear: "I want you to make sure people have a good time here, so make sure you talk to each person at least once and see how they are doing." Now how would you feel about approaching the attractive person? It's way easier! Whether it goes well or poorly, it doesn't matter anymore; you are just doing your job. You no longer feel threatened -- or threatening. The difference between the two scenarios is not one of facts or features. Neither you nor the other person has changed. The change happened inside you. Now you feel permission or even the right to make the first move. You need to get to the place where you give yourself permission to approach that publisher, journalist, voice actor, or the general public. Until then, you will simply give yourself too many excuses not to sell. 3. If you Don't Believe It, No One Else Will. Humans are born with two unique abilities: to smell a fart in an elevator to smell a phony In order to sell well, you must have conviction. You have conviction if you truly believe in yourself and your product. While I must admit it is possible for the highly skilled to fake conviction, there is no need to do so. Real conviction is easy and free when you are in love with your product. It will ooze out of every pore; little things like the tone of your voice, word choice, the speed at which you speak, and the brightness of your eyes. Conviction is infectious. People want to be caught up in it. Which goes right back to point #1 about the emotionality of selling. But why does conviction sell? Because a customer is constantly scanning you to see if what you are saying is true. Conviction is important in how the customer reads you. Imagine you are trying to convince a friend to see a movie. Your friend thinks: He appears quite excited about this movie. I would only be that excited and passionate if it was a really good movie. Ergo, the movie must be really good. In Jordan Mechner's book, The Making of Prince of Persia, he records the process of making the first Prince of Persia game (which was incredible for its time). The production team believed in the project immensely, but the marketing department did not. When they chose the box art and shipped the title, this great game had dismal sales for the first year. Only when a new marketing department came in, believed in the product, and revisited the box art and marketing plan did the game start selling. Conviction gives the customer the data needed to sell themselves into believing what you are saying. This dovetails nicely with my next point. 4. Want What is Best for the Customer. I'm currently doing a sales job on you (oops, I seem to have broken the fourth wall!) I'm trying to convince you that what I am saying is true -- and when put into practice, will make you better at pitching your game. Why am I typing this at 2:36 a.m. when I could be sleeping -- or better yet, playing Mario Kart 8? Because I genuinely believe this information will help someone. It costs me very little (some time at the keyboard) and could make a real difference in someone's life. See, I'm not typing this article for me; I'm doing it for you. Whether or not I benefit from doing so, my primary motivator is to do something good for you. If you want to get your game featured on a certain site, stop thinking about how it is good for you to be featured and start thinking about how it is good for them to feature you. Reasons (arguments) made from the perspective of their good will impact deeper and resonate longer. So how can you know what is good for your prospective customer/journalist/publisher/government agency? Do your homework. Know what makes your target tick. Find out what motivates them. Discover what is important to them. More importantly, find out what is not important to them. For the conference I attended, the purpose of the government program was to generate digital media jobs in our province. The overseer specifically told us: "When you write your proposal, be sure to point out how this will lead to job creation." This is great advice for two reasons: The customer is not only saying "Tell me how it's good for me," but also "I'm lazy, so make it easy for me." In other words, the customer is 'tipping his hand' by saying "All things being equal, the proposal that more easily shows what's in it for me will be chosen." Don't rely on your target audience to do the work of understanding. Your pitches will vastly improve if you spoon feed them the goodness! 5. Don't say what is True, say what is Believable I had just started my software company and was having lunch with a veteran entrepreneur millionaire friend to get some advice. During the soup course, he asked, "So what does your software company do?" "We make amazing custom software," I answered. "I understand that, but what specifically are you good at?" "Here's the thing, we are so good with such a great process we can literally make any kind of software the customer wants -- be it web portal, client-server, or mobile. We are amazing at building the first version of something, whereas many companies are not." "That may be true, but it isn't believable." I dropped my spoon in shock. Maybe your role-playing game is 10x more fun than Skyrim -- not just to you, but empirically through diligent focus group testing. But don't try and approach a journalist or publisher with those claims. It may be true, but it certainly isn't believable. What is true and believable is, "If you liked Skyrim, you'll like RPG-I-Made." Ever seen a byline or quote like that in an app description? Yep, because that is as far as you can go without crossing the line into the "unbelievable" territory. 6. Create the Need Every sales pitch is like a story, and every story is like a sales pitch. Let me explain. You can't give an answer to someone who doesn't have the question. You can walk up and down the street yelling "42!" to people -- but if they aren't struggling to know the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, it won't mean a thing to them. You can't sell a product/idea to someone who doesn't have a need. Every pitch follows the three-act story structure: Act 1: Setup Act 2: Establish the need Act 3: Present your solution We see this in The Lord of the Rings: Act 1: Frodo is happy at home, life is good. We meet a bunch of characters at Bilbo's birthday party. -- Setup Act 2: A ring will destroy everything Frodo loves. And people are coming to get it right now. -- Need Act 3: The fires of Mount Doom can unmake the ring. Frodo tosses it in, by way of Gollum. -- Solution Study the first part of infomercials to see how need can be quickly established. Humans have plenty of basic latent needs/desires you can tap into. You don't need to manufacture a new one. When it comes to gaming, one simple one is "to feel awesome." Pretty much every game I play makes me feel awesome. Now I may or may not be awesome in real life, but I have a need/desire to feel awesome -- and games fill that need nicely. Bringing it back to the government program, what is their need? They are handing out money and tax incentives. At first blush, there doesn't seem to be a need that I can tap into. But applying principle #4 of what's good for them, we can do our homework and discover that if the program has 20 million dollars, they HAVE to give that money out. The people working there are not evaluated by how much money they keep; they are rewarded by how much they give away. They literally have a need to give away money. But not to just anyone; they need to give it to studios that will manage it well and create long-term jobs in digital media. As a final example, notice how I establish a need for this article. This article is based on the common need for indie game devs to promote themselves. 7. Talk to the Real Decision Maker Who is the best person to pitch you? You. So don't expect all the time and effort spent pitching a minion means they will pitch their boss on your behalf just as well. Aragorn did not find a mid-level orc, explain his position, then hope the orc makes as impassioned a presentation to Sauron. Aragorn knew he needed to climb the corporate ladder. He went directly to the Black Gate to take his issue up with Sauron directly! Throughout most of my B2B sales career, I initially got in the door through a mid-level manager like a project manager, IT director, or operations manager. These people have "felt need". Their team needs to do something new or is inefficient and needs software to solve it. But a $250k decision is way beyond their pay grade; they need the CFO and maybe CEO to make the decision. You can spend hours and hours pitching the minion with amazing props and demonstrations, and they turn it into a 3-line email to their boss saying your presentation was very nice. Aaarrrggghhhh!!! Even worse, what if the competition is talking to the CEO over lunch at the country club while you are spending all your efforts on the minion?! Flanking maneuvers like this are a common reason for losing a sale. Remember in point #1 how all decisions are really emotional? By filtering your pitch through someone to the CEO, all of the emotional trappings disappear; it literally is just features/functions on a page. Meanwhile, the sales guy at the country club is showing interest in the CEO's children, sharing stories of his own, and having a good laugh. All things being equal, 9 out of 10 times when the CEO has to decide, he'll go with the person he met. Everyone trusts what they see with their own eyes more than what was reported to them by another. Use this to your advantage. This doesn't mean you shouldn't talk to minions or treat them like a waste of time. That is mean and dehumanizing. You won't get anywhere with that. My point is not to RELY on the minion to do the sales job for you. You have to climb the corporate ladder to the actual decision maker and give it your best. A concrete example is when I organize a pitch session with the mid-level manager, I make sure their boss is invited to the meeting. Or I do the whole pitch to the mid-level manager and then ask, "Do you think your boss would see value in having this information, too? I would be happy to come back and run through it." If they are impressed with what you've done, they are more than willing to move you up the ladder. Now, big companies are wise to these ways and may have strict rules on who can meet with external parties. This is frustrating. The best you can do is to find the closest person to the actual decision maker and pitch your heart out. Personally, I find this ladder-climbing the most difficult aspect of selling. But then I have to remember principle #2: It's my job. If I don't do it, no one will. 8. Sell the Appointment, not the Product When are you at your best, selling-wise? In front of the person with all your tools, demos, snappy dress -- and sharing fancy coffees. When is it harder to say "no" to someone -- over the phone/email or in person? In person. Most people suck at cold calling/emailing. While it is a sucky task, one big reason people fail is because they have the wrong objective. They think that as soon as they get the person's attention, it is time to pitch. By-the-power-of-Grayskull no!!! When you first encounter someone you need to pitch, your goal is to get a meeting where the person is relaxed, focused, and mentally prepared to listen to what you have to say. Your email or call may have interrupted their day between meetings, or baby bottles -- and they don't have the headspace to listen, never mind think. You will get a "no" at this stage. So give yourself every chance of success; book the meeting! To get the meeting, you must be diligent about three things: Keep the conversation as short as possible. Tell just enough to whet their appetite. DO NOT tip your hand -- build the need/desire for the meeting. Keep steering them back to the appointment Granted, this one takes some practice -- but here is a quick example to get you started: "Hi, Mrs. Big Shot. I'm Thomas, and I am making a new kind of role playing game that I think would be a great addition to your platform. Could I schedule just 15 minutes of your time to show you what I'm working on? I really think you will like what I have to show you. " "Role-playing game, eh? Dime a dozen, pal. What's so great about yours?" Well, I have some new A.I. techniques and combat mechanics that haven't been seen before. I'd love to meet with you to go over the key features of the game and even show you some gameplay. How about a quick meeting later this week?" "Have you made anything before, or this your first time?" "I've released two games previously, but I would be more than happy to go over my qualifications and previous experience with you when we meet. Is next week better than this week?" "I'm pretty busy this week, but schedule something next week with my assistant." "Thank you, Mrs. Big Shot! I look forward to meeting you!" Why does this work? Because curiosity sells. Since you haven't given Mrs. Big Shot something yet to reject, she is open and slightly curious to see if maybe, just maybe, you have the next big thing. 9. Inoculation The ability to inoculate against objections is probably the single biggest gain a newbie sales person can make. Removing and eliminating objections is the key to closing the sale. In real life, we get vaccinations to prevent disease. The process is to introduce a small weak version of the disease into your body against which your immune system will build a proper defense for the long term. When the actual disease comes along, you are immune. Inoculation (in sales) is the process by which a salesperson overcomes objections before they have a chance to build up and fester. The longer the objections gestate in the customers' minds, the quicker the "virus" takes hold. You do this by bringing up the objection first yourself, and then immediately answering it. If you bring up the objection first, the virus is in its weakest possible state -- and the customer becomes impervious to it. So after you prepare your pitch -- whether it's website text or email -- you have to look at it from the customer's perspective and see where your weaknesses are. Maybe get a friend to help you with this. Let's imagine you've come up with three likely objections to your game: You've never made a game before. Your selected genre is oversaturated. Your scope is aggressively large. Before I go any further, let's reflect for a minute on how likely you are you to close the deal with those three objections hanging in the customer's mind. Not very likely. Even if they haven't voiced them yet, just thinking them will torpedo your chance of success. Now imagine all three of those objections have been inoculated against. It's clear sailing to closing the deal! So here is an important principle: If someone raises an objection when you try to close, what they are really saying is that you haven't successfully pre-empted the objection by inoculating against it. Learn from this! Remember this objection for next time. Spend time thinking through possible ways to inoculate against it. The more chances you have to pitch, the more experience you will have with objections, and the more inoculations you can build into the next version of your pitch. Sales is a real-time strategy game! Prepare your defenses well! Another principle to remember: Customers are not necessarily truthful and forthright. They may have objections but haven't shared them with you. If they don't share them, you have no way to overcome them -- and your sale dies right then and there. Inoculation is the best defense against this. A further benefit of inoculation is that by bringing up your perceived weakness yourself, you gain credibility and show that you can think critically. This goes to character, and people generally want to work with credible people who can think critically. So how can we inoculate against those three example objections? You've never made a game before. Early in the presentation, like when you are sharing your background or how you came up with the concept of the game. Say something like, "Now this is the first game I'm making myself. However, I have X industry experience doing Y. I also have two mentors who have released several titles that I meet with regularly. When I don't know what to do, I lean on their experience. " Your selected genre is oversaturated. Mid-presentation, show some screenshots or demo -- and the genre will be known. You can say something like, "Now I know what you are thinking: Another First Person Cake Decorating game? And initially, when I was designing it, I felt the same way. But here is why I think our First Person Cake Decorator is unlike anything else in the market . . ." Your scope is aggressively large. Late presentation just before the close addresses objections like this. "Now I recognize that our scope seems too large for our small team. But team member X worked on such and such, and it had 3 times as many A.I. agents as our game. And we are open to discussing the scope with experienced developers. At the end of the day, we want to make something new and compelling for the genre and are looking for key partners like you to help us get there." 10. Leave Nothing to the Customer's Imagination Since I was pitching custom software, I had nothing to show because it didn't exist yet. It's one thing to pitch a car or house that is right there in front of the customer. But to pitch an idea? And they have to agree to spend the money first before they see anything tangible? This is extremely difficult! Now I imagine in the game space that the people you meet probably exercise their imaginations regularly. But in the business space, I can assure you that the CFOs are NOT hired for their creative imaginations. More likely, their lack of it. So what do we do? Do not rely on the customer's imagination to understand what you intend to do or build. Make it as concrete for them as possible. Words are cheap, so use props. One reason my software company closed many deals despite being up against larger, more experienced competitors is the lengths we would go to show the customer how their eventual software may work. Our competitors would hand in four-page proposals; ours were 20-30 pages. We spent dozens of hours mocking up screens and writing out feature descriptions. Sometimes we would build a demo app and throw it on a handheld. All this so they could see, touch, and taste the potential software in the board room and close the deal. Even if our software solution cost more and would take longer to complete, the customer would go with us because our presentation was more concrete. They could see success with us; whereas, they would have to imagine success with the competitor. In games, you can make a demo. But if that is too much, you can at least get an artist to make mock screens, get some royalty-free music that fits the theme, and then show footage from other games that inspire you. Props beat words every day of the week. 11. Work Hard! Earn it! The movie Rudy is a great example of this principle. Based on a true story, Rudy wants to play football for Notre Dame. Trouble is he isn't big, fast, or particularly good at football. But he tries! Oh, how he tries! He practices more and with greater gusto than anyone else. Finally, at the end of the movie, Rudy is given the chance to play in a game. The crowd chants and the movie audience cries because it's all just so wonderful! Almost all of the software deals I closed were bid on by multiple competitors. Canadians love the "3 quotes" principle. When I would check in on my client waiting to hear that we won the job, it would boggle my mind to hear the decision is delayed because one of the competitors was in late with their proposal. Are you kidding me?! We delivered our proposals on time every time. That may have meant some late nights, but failure wasn't an option. And as previously mentioned, we always delivered more in our proposals than our competitors did. Everyone likes to reward a Rudy because we all want to believe you can overcome your weaknesses through hard work and dedication and achieve your goals. Working hard during your pitch says more about your character than anything else. It gives the customer the impression, "If they work hard here, they will work hard for the whole project." The reverse is also true: "If they are lazy and late here, they will be lazy and late for the whole project." Again, talent isn't everything; who you are inside and how you work is. I have personally awarded work to companies/contractors because they worked harder for it than the others, even though they weren't the best proposal I received. 12 You Have to Ask for the Close You miss 100% of the shots you don't take. - Wayne Gretzky I'm not great at networking or cold calling. I've already shared that I'm not great at ladder climbing. But where I really shine is closing. Closing a deal is like winning a thousand super bowls all wrapped up into a single moment. With a bow. And sparklers. I could write a whole article just on closing (and there are books dedicated to it), so I've limited our time to just the most important, most missed principle: You have to ask for the close. I have seen great sales presentations fail because the presenter never asked for the deal. They talked and talked and said lots of wonderful things, but then just sat there at the end. What were they expecting? The customer to jump out of their seat screaming, "I'll take it!" Or maybe it's as if there is a secret that the salesperson is there to make a sale and they don't want to blow their cover by actually saying, "So, will you choose us?" If you don't ask for the close, you won't get the objections -- and if you don't get past the objections, you won't win. So ask for it! Now to some specific techniques to help you. First, be clear about asking for the close. If you want an interview, say "So do you think you can interview us?" If you want a meeting with someone, say "So can we book a meeting for Tuesday?" If you really struggle with what I just said, try the pre-close to boost your confidence: "So what do you think so far?" That is not a close. That is a non-threatening temperature check. The customers are just sharing their thoughts, tipping their hand to tell you what they like and any immediate objections that come to mind. After you discuss their thoughts, you still have to circle back around to booking that interview or the meeting. Second, when you ask for the close, the next person who speaks loses. Silence is generally uncomfortable for people, so this one requires real grit and determination. Many salespeople say something during the silence to try and help their case. They are doing the opposite. Asking for the close is a pointed question that requires the customer to make a mental evaluation and then a decision. If you say anything while they are doing the mental process, you will distract them and cause the conversation to veer away from the close to something else: tertiary details, objections, etc. I was in a meeting with a potential client when I had the unfortunate task of telling them their software wouldn't be $250k but $400k and take months longer. I explained why and then asked for the close: "This is what it costs and how long it takes to do what you want to do. It will work exactly as you want. Would you like to go ahead?" They were visibly mad at the ballooned cost/time. I sat in silence for what felt like hours but was probably 3-4 minutes as the VP stared at the sheets I'd given him. Finally, he said "I don't like it, I'm not happy, but ok. But this date has to be the date -- and no later!" The silence put the burden of making a decision squarely on the VP, and he decided. Third, expect objections. Even if you did all your inoculations correctly, there will be something you never thought of that they did. Hopefully, you got the big ones out of the way -- but I don't think I've been in a meeting where they just said, "Great presentation. Let's do it!" Sometimes people bring up objections for emotional reasons: They just don't want to work with you. Like the girl who won't go out with you because she has to wash her hair that night. There really is nothing you can do at that point. You've failed to build rapport or show how you can meet their needs. You won't recover these blunders at the closing stage. But for real objections, these are legitimate reasons preventing them from going with you. Get past those, and it's time for the sparklers! It is critical to first get all the objections in one go. This is most easily done with a simple question, "Other than X, is there anything else preventing us from working together?" I'll show you why this is important in a moment. If possible, write down every objection they give you. Most people get hung up on one or two. In my hundreds of meetings, I have never seen someone able to list 4+ objections to a pitch. Now work through each one of the objections in turn -- treating them seriously. Treat them like they are the end of the world if unresolved; because they are! Before moving on to the next objection, say "Does what I just shared address your concern?" If they say yes, cross that off the list. Once you have dealt with each of the listed objections, say something like, "Well we've addressed A, B, and C. So now do you think we can work together?" By gathering the list of objections first, you have achieved several things. First, you've shown you listened to them. Listening and understanding can overcome much of the objection. Second, it brings a natural path back to the close! They listed out the agenda, and you dealt with it; there is nothing left to do but close! Finally, you are preventing them from coming up with new objections. This is a psychological trick since you gave them every opportunity to list out their objections earlier -- now that time has passed. They look foolish if they do it again. Sort of like when you get to a certain point in a conversation, it's just too late to ask the person their name. If they raise new objections at this point, it looks like they are just stalling or delaying. Maybe that is what they are doing -- because the objections were emotional ones. These principles apply to writing as well! Like a website "squeeze" page to get newsletter subscribers. You have to be clear and obvious about what you want: You want a newsletter signup. Well, make it clear and easy for them to do that! Conclusion Well, there you have it: roughly 12 years of sales experience boiled down to 12 principles. Did I "close" you? Was this information helpful in improving your pitches? Use the comments to let me know! SDG You can follow the game I'm working on, Archmage Rises, by joining the newsletter and frequently updated Facebook page. You can tweet me @LordYabo
  3. LordYabo

    Inside the Indie Art Process of Archmage Rises

    Hello,   So first off a clarification, these aren't concept drawings.  They are actual game art.  Since it is final product in the game, I can afford for it to be good.   Now about "prohibitive for an indie developer" it all depends on what budget you are working at.  The term "indie" is used to describe a whole host of devs.  I was listening to an indie haven podcast and the female game developer guest said "Steam charges $100 to be on their store!  I can't afford that!  That's insane!"   If that woman has a computer, a roof over her head, and internet, she DOES have $100.  Maybe she is spending it on something else right now, but all that says is that the something else is more important than her game dev career.   What I don't understand is how an indie will pour months or years into their project, and then balk at paying $5,000+ in art.  To have invested sooooooo much and then stop at the last 1-2% is like buying a car and then leaving it in the driveway because you refuse to pay for the fuel.   Money is congealed life.  We trade our time for money, but we also trade our money for time.  I could spend 3 hours cleaning my house, or I can hire a maid to do it for $60.  I'm out $60 but I just gained back 3 hours I can focus on my game or something else.   This is what I've learned in life: an expert can always do something faster AND better than an amateur.  So let's say I, who am not an artist, is going to do the art for my game.  Well I suck at it, so I'm going to spend a month of my time doing the above picture and it will look horrible.  Now did that cost me money?  YES!  Even though I didn't pay someone $$$ to draw, I still paid me.  How did I pay me?  Well in rent, food, living expenses.  If my monthly expenses are $1,000 then I just paid me $1,000 and used up a month of time to make a crappy picture.  Better to get a real artist to do it in 4 days.   The other option many indies pursue is partnering for a stake.  The team works for a % of profits when the game ships and sells.  This way no $$$ has to change hands, and you only have to pay if there is actual profit.  The downside of this is finding people who are willing to do this.  The really talented people have no problem finding paying work, so they would have to be really impressed with your project for them to forgo paying work to work on your project.  The second is that people who are not yet talented enough (or haven't figured out how to get paying work) are the ones most likely to take a deal like this.  That could mean you aren't getting the best work you could and could be a competitive set back.   I'm currently working and using the pay from my job to pay my artist expenses.  My wife and I are living on less because we are pursuing the dream of the game.  It is that important to us.  I can't think of anything being more "indie" than that, and it is totally within reason for me as an indie developer.
  4. I'm relatively new to art appreciation. A big turning point for me was a few years back when I read John Milton's Paradise Lost. Since then, my appreciation for art and the artists behind the work has continued to grow. I even have some Peter Max limited edition prints hanging on my walls. I'm a huge fan of fantasy art and pretty much any game art coming out of TSR in the 1980s. There is something about the oil on canvas, seeing the stroke of the brush--which for me sort of elevates the work. I'm not complaining about the perfection found in digital painting--just that I like the "handmade" quality brush strokes bring. Archmage Rises is a love letter to tabletop role-playing games. The art style is '80s TSR for the modern area. Seriously awesome! I can't afford to hire Larry Elmore, Todd Lockwood, or Keith Parkinson. So to recruit artists, I went through hundreds of fantasy art portfolios on Deviant Art. Of those, I contacted many. Of those, I worked with three. Rogier van de Beek's style was (by far) my favorite. So this week, we're going behind the scenes with Rogier on how he does freelance indie game art. Take it away, Rogier! Rogier van de Beek: Whether for concepts, game art, or promotional purposes, you're going to need someone to create the art. Visual representation is the easiest way to set a mood or tell a story after all, since human beings are highly visual. Although Archmage Rises is heavy on storytelling, art is still needed to set the tone or mood. This is where I come in. My name is Rogier van de Beek, a freelance concept artist and illustrator from the Netherlands. I've worked with Thomas for the past seven months on Archmage Rises, and I have to say that it's been a total blast. But enough talk: Let's take a deep dive into the piece, "The Mage Classroom." First off, every artist out there has a unique own way of working. As they say, there is more than one road that leads to Rome. So the first lesson is to follow the one you are most comfortable with! The goal for this image was to create a classroom where a mage teacher imparts his or her knowledge. Someone who is talented, but not overly powerful or special. It is a pivotal point in the character creation process. The room is owned by someone who knows a lot about magic and teaches the children their foundational knowledge. The first step is always to discuss the image idea with Thomas. Maybe he has something specific in mind like a certain type of chair, or monster skull on the wall. Other times, it's just a certain emotion the image must evoke. I then ask him to provide me with several reference images. Having the client provide reference material eliminates a lot of guesswork and makes me feel more confident about the task. Thomas Henshell: Finding reference images takes forever! As a programmer, designer and writer, I don't really know what I want other than "I want it to be awesome!" Isn't that enough direction? :-) Finding reference images helps me narrow down the ideas into something more concrete--something that both of us can understand, point at, and discuss. So I definitely see the value of spending hours finding the right references. Rogier: After the initial discussion, I look through the provided references but also find my own. I'm looking for a way to capture all the important ideas in a single image. Then it's time to start sketching! I start by exploring the composition of the image. Camera angle is super important, for example. I don't create a list of objects or anything, I just imagine what I would see if I was standing (or sitting) in that location. Then I move into what would be the most interesting way to display all the elements in the image. Like the large chair of the teacher. The giant desk. The magical staffs and the bookshelves. It needs to feel like a real classroom. After doing some sketchbook work and exploring the idea, I finally have something I can use. It's time to switch to the tablet in order to be able to sketch it up digitally--and then send it off to Thomas and find out what he thinks. Thomas: This is the most exciting and scary part for me. It's exciting to see a game scene I've only thought about or written some dialogue for suddenly come to life right before my eyes. At this stage, I pounce on any email coming from Rogier so that I can see what he's done. It is also scary because if the sketch is completely wrong, it means I haven't done a good job of communicating the vision of what is needed. A wrong sketch means lots of time has to be spent finding better reference images, writing more documentation, and having more meetings. So everyone is happier if I just approve the sketch. Finally, as a non-artist, I sometimes have a hard time knowing how to evaluate a sketch. The door in the sketch isn't open, but it is in the final. The monster head on top of the bookshelf isn't as large as it is in the final. A sketch is like Act 1 and 2 of a story. Its up to my imagination what Act 3 will look like, and my Act 3 may be different from Rogier's. I usually will approve a sketch without changes. If we have totally different visions for the picture, it will show up at the next milestone. Rogier: When Thomas approves the sketch, it's time to start painting it up. Sometimes this can be very intimidating! What looks great as a sketch may not look great as a painting... You have the lines, you have a picture in your head, you have a feeling this picture will be really cool when it's done. But until it's done, the first steps of painting it up will be horrible! Especially when you start going over your sketch and finding all the mistakes you made. Yikes! I use references for many different reasons. Most of the time, I use them for materials or lighting. When I don't know how something will look in a certain lighting setup in the "real world," I try to find a picture of it so I can see how it really looks. The beginning of a painting can be a lot of fun or be absolute hell and make you doubt everything about yourself and the idea you have set up to create. :-) The process varies, but I find it's always best to start big and go small. I 'block in' the shapes, detail a bit of the shapes, and make them more distinguished to get the overall values in place. Then I go smaller and smaller... I try to work out all of the picture at once; this way, you have a higher degree of "control," understanding where the picture is going to end up, the POV (point of view), and final composition. In this case, I happen to like the initial illustration. It wasn't too long before I had some nice values and mood in the picture. I was confident that I could take it all the way through to a satisfying conclusion. Thomas: This is a pivotal stage. Now I understand what the picture will look like. Sure . . . a lot of detail is missing--but the mood, lighting, and palette are all there. I may not know how Act 3 ends, but I can see the gist of it! Rogier: With the first general colors in and approved, pretty much everything is set up. Now is the time for detail work, which I call "rendering" even though I'm doing it by hand :-) This is the part where you sort of shut off your brain and just paint away hour after hour. The relaxing part of the job, finally! I used to not take any breaks while working on a project. That was a (big) mistake. I now understand that taking a break actually speeds things up. Leaving and returning allows me to clearly see what I am actually painting. Surprisingly so, spending hours looking at the same image makes it harder to see. I take a break to avoid the feeling of 'Oh no, what have I done?!' - or worse, getting a bunch of revisions from the client. Since this is all about indie development, it can get tricky because timelines are tight and budgets are tighter. It is better to spread three days' work over four actual days and do some other little things in between, than to power through. A work of art cannot be rushed! Here's a helpful tip: Flip your canvas a lot so that you get a fresh view of your image. When you flip (mirror) your image, it sort of refreshes it in your brain--which helps when looking for mistakes. Also, zoom out a lot to avoid tuning the mood/feel of the image out with too much detail. Sometimes images can be so detailed that they end up looking dead. Zooming out makes it easier to figure out where the focal point should be, which equals "more detail." This greatly enhances the overall composition of the painting. On the other hand, I want viewers to have something to see wherever they look in the image. As they focus in, they discover details they hadn't noticed at first. This makes the image more engaging to look at. However, preserving the mood and composition is essential. Play with light and atmosphere, and keep detail in check to create a nice balance. Then it's time to send the finished work to Thomas again for feedback. It wastes everyone's time to put lots of detail into an element of the painting only to have it moved or removed due to late revisions. Thomas: At this stage, it's clear to me how the picture will end up. Small revisions may be asked at this point, but we're way past any big revisions. I generally am very excited to see it coming to life and tell him just to keep going. Due to my excitement, I pretty much bug him every day to see if he is done yet :-) Rogier: Once I get feedback and approval, I go into the final detail phase. I continue with the detailing and then add some atmosphere while desaturating some of the darker areas. This will tie the whole piece together and give me more control on where I want the viewer to look. Then I send it off (hopefully!) for final approval. Overall, I'm pleased with how the image turned out. The fact that it's detailed but never gets boring to look at is something I'm really proud of. When you size it down, the values and composition still work really well--which is also a plus. When up close, nothing feels "un-rendered'; you can always tell what you're looking at! Thomas: I could stare at it all day. Rogier: I hope this art walkthrough was helpful! Can't wait to play the finished game. Thomas: Thanks, Rogier! SDG Check out Rogier's Deviant Art portfolio. Feel free to contact him about your project. You can follow the game I'm working on, Archmage Rises, by joining the newsletter or Facebook page. Or if you really want to call me out on something, you can tweet me @LordYabo
  5. Jan. 23, 2015. This is my goal. My deadline. And I'm going to miss it. Let me explain. As I write this article, I am also making soup. Trust me, it all comes together at the end. Part I: Software Estimation 101 I've been working on Archmage Rises full time for three months and part time about 5 months before that. In round numbers, I'm about 1,000 hours in. You see, I have been working without a specific deadline because of a little thing I know from business software called the "Cone of Uncertainty": In business software, the customer shares an idea (or "need")--and 10 out of 10 times, the next sentence is: "When will you be done, and how much will it cost?" Looking at the cone diagram, when is this estimate most accurate? When you are done! You know exactly how long it takes and how much it will actually cost when you finish the project. When do they want the estimate? At the beginning--when accuracy is nil! For this reason, I didn't set a deadline; anything I said would be wrong and misleading to all involved. Even when my wife repeatedly asked me. Even when the head of Alienware called me and asked, "When will it ship?" I focused on moving forward in the cone so I could be in a position to estimate a deadline with reasonable accuracy. In fact, I have built two prototypes which prove the concept and test certain mechanics. Then I moved into the core features of the game. Making a game is like building a sports car from a kit. ... but with no instructions ... and many parts you have to build yourself (!) I have spent the past months making critical pieces. As each is complete, I put it aside for final assembly at a later time. To any outside observer, it looks nothing like a car--just a bunch of random parts lying on the floor. Heck! To ME, it looks like a bunch of random parts on the floor. How will this ever be a road worthy car? Oh, hold on. Gotta check the soup. Okay, we're good. This week I finished a critical feature of my story editor/reader, and suddenly the heavens parted and I could see how all the pieces fit together! Now I'm in a place where I can estimate a deadline. But before I get into that, I need to clarify what deadline I'm talking about. Vertical Slice, M.V.P. & Scrum Making my first game (Catch the Monkey), I learned a lot of things developers should never do. In my research after that project, I learned how game-making is unique and different from business software (business software has to work correctly. Games have to work correctly and be fun) and requires a different approach. Getting to basics, a vertical slice is a short, complete experience of the game. Imagine you are making Super Mario Bros. You build the very first level (World 1-1) with complete mechanics, power-ups, art, music, sound effects, and juice (polish). If this isn't fun, if the mechanics don't work, then you are wasting your time building the rest of the game. The book Lean Startup has also greatly influenced my thinking on game development. In it, the author argues to fail quickly, pivot, and then move in a better direction. The mechanism to fail quickly is to build the Minimum Valuable Product (MVP). Think of web services like HootSuite, Salesforce, or Amazon. Rather than build the "whole experience," you build the absolute bare minimum that can function so that you can test it out on real customers and see if there is any traction to this business idea. I see the Vertical Slice and MVP as interchangeable labels to the same idea. [media][/media] A fantastic summary of Scrum. Finally, Scrum is the iterative incremental software development methodology I think works best for games (I'm quite familiar with the many alternatives). Work is estimated in User Stories and (in the pure form) estimated in Story Points. By abstracting the estimates, the cone of uncertainty is built in. I like that. It also says when you build something, you build it complete and always leave the game able to run. Meaning, you don't mostly get a feature working and then move on to another task; you make it 100% rock solid: built, tested, bug fixed. You do this because it eliminates Technical Debt. What's technical debt? Well like real debt, it is something you have to pay later. So if the story engine has several bugs in it but I leave them to fix "later," that is technical debt I have to pay at some point. People who get things to 90% and then move on to the next feature create tons of technical debt in the project. This seriously undermines the ability to complete the project because the amount of technical debt is completely unknown and likely to hamper forward progress. I have experienced this personally on my projects. I have heard this is a key contributor to "crunch" in the game industry. Hold on: Gotta go put onions and peppers in the soup now. A second and very important reason to never accrue technical debt is it completely undermines your ability to estimate. Let's say you are making the Super Mario Bros. World 1-1 vertical slice. Putting aside knowing if your game is fun or not, the real value of completing the slice is the ability to effectively estimate the total effort and cost of the project (with reasonable accuracy). So let's say World 1-1 took 100 hours to complete across the programmer, designer, and artist with a cost of $1,000. Well, if the game design called for 30 levels, you have a fact-based approach to accurate estimating: It will take 3,000 hours and $30,000. But the reverse is also helpful. Let's say you only have $20,000. Well right off the bat you know you can only make 20 levels. See how handy this is?!? Still, you can throw it all out the window when you allow technical debt. Let me illustrate: Let's say the artist didn't do complete work. Some corners were cut and treated as "just a prototype," so only 80% effort was expended. Let's say the programmer left some bugs and hard-coded a section just to work for the slice. Call it a 75% effort of the real total. Well, now your estimates will be way off. The more iterations (levels) and scale (employees) you multiply by your vertical slice cost, the worse off you are. This is a sure-fire way to doom your project. So when will you be done? So bringing this back to Archmage Rises, I now have built enough of the core features to be able to estimate the rest of the work to complete the MVP vertical slice. It is crucial that I get the slice right and know my effort/costs so that I can see what it will take to finish the whole game. I set up the seven remaining sprints into my handy dandy SCRUM tool Axosoft, and this is what I got: That wasn't very encouraging. :-) One of the reasons is because as I have ideas, or interact with fans on Facebook or the forums, I write user stories in Axosoft so I don't forget them. This means the number of user stories has grown since I began tracking the project in August. It's been growing faster than I have been completing them. So the software is telling the truth: Based on your past performance, you will never finish this project. I went in and moved all the "ideas" out of the actual scheduled sprints with concrete work tasks, and this is what I got: January 23, 2015 This is when the vertical slice is estimated to be complete. I am just about to tell you why it's still wrong, but first I have to add cream and milk to the soup. Ok! Now that it's happily simmering away, I can get to the second part. Part II: Scheduling the Indie Life I am 38 and have been married to a beautiful woman for 15 years. Over these years, my wife has heard ad nauseam that I want to make video games. When she married me, I was making pretty good coin leading software projects for large e-commerce companies in Toronto. I then went off on my own. We had some very lean years as I built up my mobile software business. We can't naturally have kids, so we made a "Frankenbaby" in a lab. My wife gave birth to our daughter Claire. That was two years ago. My wife is a professional and also works. We make roughly the same income. So around February of this year, I went to her and said, "This Archmage thing might have legs, and I'd like to quit my job and work on it full time." My plan was to live off her--a 50% drop in household income. Oh and on top of that, I'd also like to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on art, music, tools, -- and any games that catch my fancy on Steam. It was a sweetheart offer, don't you think? I don't know what it is like to be the recipient of an amazing opportunity like this, but I think her choking and gasping for air kind of said it all. :-) After thought and prayer, she said, "I want you to pursue your dream. I want you to build Archmage Rises." Now I write this because I have three game devs in my immediate circle--each of which are currently working from home and living off their spouse's income. Developers have written me asking how they can talk with their spouse about this kind of major life transition. Lesson 1: Get "Buy In," not Agreement A friend's wife doesn't really want him to make video games. She loves him, so when they had that air-gasping indie game sit down conversation she said, "Okay"--but she's really not on board. How do you think it will go when he needs some money for the game? Or when he's working hard on it and she feels neglected? Or when he originally said the game will take X months but now says it will take X * 2 months to complete? Yep! Fights. See, by not "fighting it out" initially, by one side just caving, what really happened was that one of them said, "I'd rather fight about this later than now." Well, later is going to come. Over and over again. Until the core issue is resolved. I and my friend believe marriage is committed partnership for life. We're in it through thick and thin, no matter how stupid or crazy it gets. It's not roommates sharing an Internet bill; this is a life together. So they both have to be on the same page because the marriage is more important than any game. Things break down and go horribly wrong when the game/dream is put before the marriage. This means if she is really against it deep down, he has to be willing to walk away from the game. And he is, for her. One thing I got right off the bat is my wife is 100% partnered with me in Archmage Rises. Whether it succeeds or fails, there are no fights or "I told you so"s along the way. Lesson 2: Do Your Part So why am I making soup? Because my wife is out there working, and I'm at home. Understandably so, I have taken on more of the domestic duties. That's how I show her I love her and appreciate her support. I didn't "sell" domestic duties in order to get her buy-in; it is a natural response. So with me working downstairs, I can make soup for dinner tonight, load and unload the dishwasher, watch Claire, and generally reduce the household burden on her as she takes on the bread-winning role. If I shirk household duties and focus solely on the game (and the game flops!), boy oh boy is there hell to pay. Gotta check that soup. Yep, we're good. Lesson 3: Do What You Say Claire is two. She loves to play ball with me. It's a weird game with a red nerf soccer ball where the rules keep changing from catching, to kicking, to avoiding the ball. It's basically Calvin ball. :-) She will come running up to my desk, pull my hand off the mouse, and say, "Play ball?!" Sometimes I'm right in the middle of tracking down a bug, but at other times I'm not that intensely involved in the task. The solution is to either play ball right now (I've timed it with a stopwatch; it only holds her interest for about seven minutes) or promise her to play it later. Either way, I'm playing ball with Claire. And this is important because to be a crappy dad and have a great game just doesn't look like success to me. To be a great dad with a crappy game? Ya, I'm more than pleased with that. Now Claire being two, she doesn't have a real grasp of time. She wants to go for a walk "outside" at midnight, and she wants to see the moon in the middle of the afternoon. So when I promise to play ball with her "later," there is close to a 0% chance of her remembering or even knowing when later is. But who is responsible in this scenario for remembering my promise? Me. So when I am able, say in between bugs or end of the work day, I'll go find her and we'll play ball. She may be too young to notice I'm keeping my promises, but when she does begin to notice I won't have to change my behavior. She'll know dad is trustworthy. Lesson 4: Keep the Family in the Loop like a Board of Directors If my family truly is partnered with me in making this game, then I have to understand what it is like from their perspective: They can't see it They can't play it They can't help with it They don't know how games are even made They have no idea if what I am making is good, bad, or both They are totally in the dark. Now, what is a common reaction to the unknown? Fear. We generally fear what we do not understand. So I need to understand that my wife secretly fears what I'm working on won't be successful, that I'm wasting my time. She has no way to judge this unless I tell her. So I keep her up to date with the ebb and flow of what is going on. Good or bad. And because I tell her the bad, she can trust me when I tell her the good. A major turning point was the recent partnership with Alienware. My wife can't evaluate my game design, but if a huge company like Alienware thinks what I'm doing is good, that third party perspective goes a long way with her. She has moved from cautious to confident. The Alienware thing was a miracle out of the blue, but that doesn't mean you can't get a third party perspective on your game (a journalist?) and share it with your significant other. Lesson 5: Life happens. Put It in the Schedule. I've been scheduling software developers for 20 years. I no longer program in HTML3, but I still make schedules--even if it is just for me. Customers (or publishers) want their projects on the date you set. Well, actually, they want it sooner--but let's assume you've won that battle and set a reasonable date. If there is one thing I have learned in scheduling large team projects, it is that unknown life things happen. The only way to handle that is to put something in the schedule for it. At my mobile company, we use a rule of 5.5-hour days. That means a 40-hour-a-week employee does 27.5 hours a week of active project time; the rest is lunch, doctor appointments, meetings, phone calls with the wife, renewing their mortgage, etc. Over a 7-8 month project, there is enough buffer built in there to handle the unexpected kid sick, sudden funeral, etc. Also, plug in statutory holidays, one sick day a month, and any vacation time. You'll never regret including it; you'll always regret not including it. That's great for work, but it doesn't work for the indie at home. To really dig into the reasons why would be another article, so I'll just jump to the conclusion: Some days, you get stuck making soup. :-) Being at home and dealing with kids ranges from playing ball (short) to trips to the emergency room (long) Being at home makes you the "go to" family member for whatever crops up. "Oh, we need someone to be home for the furnace guy to do maintenance." Guess who writes blogs and just lost an hour of his day watching the furnace guy? There are many, many hats to wear when you're an indie. From art direction for contract artists to keeping everyone organized, there is a constant stream of stuff outside of your core discipline you'll just have to do to keep the game moving forward. Social media marketing may be free, but writing articles and responding to forum and Facebook posts takes a lot of time. More importantly, it takes a lot of energy. After three months, I have not been able to come up with a good rule of thumb for how much programming work I can get done in a week. I've been tracking it quite precisely for the last three weeks, and it has varied widely. My goal is to hit six hours of programming in an 8-12 hour day. Putting This All Together Oh, man! This butternut squash soup is AMAZING! I'm not much of a soup guy, and this is only my second attempt at it--but this is hands-down the best soup I've ever had at home or in a restaurant! See the endnotes for the recipe--because you aren't truly indie unless you are making a game while making soup! So in order to try and hit my January 23rd deadline, I need to get more programming done. One way to achieve this is to stop writing weekly dev blogs and switch to a monthly format. It's ironic that writing fewer blogs makes it look like less progress is being made, but it's the exact opposite! I hope to gain back 10 hours a week by moving to a monthly format. I'll still keep updating the Facebook page regularly. Because, well, it's addictive. :-) So along the lines of Life Happens, it is about to happen to me. Again. We were so impressed with Child 1.0 we decided to make another. Baby Avery is scheduled to come by C-section one week from today. How does this affect my January 23rd deadline? Well, a lot. Will baby be healthy? Will mom have complications? How will a newborn disrupt the disposition or sleeping schedule of a two-year-old? These are all things I just don't know. I'm at the front end of the cone of uncertainty again. :-) SDG Links: Agile Game Development with Scrum - great book on hows and whys of Scrum for game dev. Only about the first half is applicable to small indies. Axosoft SCRUM tool - Free for single developers; contact support to get a free account (it's not advertised) You can follow the game I'm working on, Archmage Rises, by joining the newsletter and Facebook page. You can tweet me @LordYabo Recipes: Indie Game Developer's Butternut Squash Soup (about 50 minutes; approximately 130 calories per 250ml/cup serving) Dammit Jim I'm a programmer not a food photographer! I created this recipe as part of a challenge to my wife that I could make a better squash soup than the one she ordered in the restaurant. She agrees, this is better! It is my mashup of three recipes I found on the internet. 2 butternut squash (about 3.5 pounds), seeded and quartered 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger (about 50g) 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 1 yellow onion diced Half a red pepper diced (or whole if you like more kick to your soup) 1 tablespoon kosher salt 1 teaspoon black pepper 1/3 cup honey 1 cup whipping cream 1 cup milk Peel squash, seed, and cut into small cubes. Put in a large pot with broth on a low boil for about 30 minutes. Add red pepper, onion, honey, ginger, nutmeg, salt, pepper. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer for approximately 6 minutes. Using a stick blender, puree the mixture until smooth. Stir in whipping cream and milk. Simmer 5 more minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream in the middle and sprinkling of sourdough croutons.
  6. LordYabo

    Behind the Scenes of Catch the Monkey

    Behind the scenes screenshots during the development of Catch the Monkey
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