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Too Many Options

So now I’m stuck.  I’ve received essentially 3 “opportunity” options (They aren’t really jobs, not all of them: an unpaid part-time opportunity to shadow a game designer; a part-time paid opportunity to help set up something in the gaming industry, and a paid management position at a start-up gaming company.)

But I havent even really had a week off, let along the 6 weeks I thought I wanted.  So initially I figured I’d say no to at least 2 of them, and anything else that came my way…

But what if I am closing doors that won’t open again? And I also realized that at the moment, I just have ZERO experience, to the point that when I sit at home “working” and “studying” I just get frustrated being unsure if I’m even taking the right steps.  If I do take work now, at least I get sideways into the industry, even if it isn’t yet doing quite what  I want, and I stay productive – which tends to make me more productive in my off time, too.

But if I am going to take work, is it better to take something handed to me now, where I will probably have more control and an easier in, but be working with less famous people; or to try to get in with “higher” mentors and perhaps miss a good chance?

I lean toward the former (smaller companies and opportunities now) but welcome feedback…

While I’m generally not a huge fan of Facebook games, as past posts can attest, I do enjoy playing the new ones to pick apart how they work, what they do to get me hooked, and why I end up getting bored.  I also have two games I am actually kind of enjoying: The Sims Social and Mousehunt.

But when Google bought Slide and closed down their biggest social game SuperPoke Pets (yep, still around) – the few players left exploded.  And it got me thinking about the inevitable lifespans that most social games are going to have, and how this could be a pretty massive weakness.

MouseHunt players are bound to get pretty furious if the game disappears.

When I bought Fable 3 or Skyrim, for the most part I was hosting my progress on my own system.  Even if xbox went out of business, I could still play that character (in some cases.  I understand that many games are now saving in the Microsoft cloud of xBox live – but it’s also a long shot that this will go away any time soon.)  The money and time I’d invested don’t go away.

Now I don’t invest money in the Facebook games I played, and Sims Social (being owned by EA) probably won’t disappear any time soon, but Mousehunt is created by small studio HitGrab, and is bleeding users.  Those who do stick around are mostly those who have invested tens and hundreds of dollars into their traps and stats.  At some point, HitGrab will probably have to close down the game.  And what do those players get?  A big ol’ nothing.

I guess I’m just curious if there are things that can be done to fix this.  Can people download the most recent version of MouseHunt and preserve their equipment as it is, even if they dont get upgrades?  Can we port it to our mobile devices?  Is this something social games are even thinking about?  Because as a dedicated player, I sure am.

Carson City Board Game Cover

Carson City: great atmosphere and story-telling, but too complicated a set-up to get there.

I know the articles I was reading urged designers to work predominantly with Action style, especially if you want to create a really unique experience.  Well when one – like myself – can’t draw even a discernible cube, visual-oriented gets tricky.

Not to say I don’t still fall into it.  I feel like, as I’m working on ideas, I start with an atmosphere or a basic story I want to capture in the game.  Before I even think about how things look, though, I then need to move into how it plays.  With board, games I find I get overwhelmed here, but it makes me think about how visual and action can work together.

Recently I’ve been obsessed with the idea of mystery board games: each player having information the others wish they did.  Clue or Mystery of the Abbey, only more grown up.  I picture how to tell the story of Jonestown, or of the TV show Damages, or the DaVinci Code novel.  But for each of these, things got really complicated really fast.  Whenever I needed more mystery, I added some element to a player.  Until even I couldn’t keep it all straight.

And then I was reminded of a few things some of the designers I met with last spring said: Have one core unique game play idea; start with simply a deck of cards.  And so I’ve started trying to think more action-oriented and simpler.  I think of Poker, which at it’s heart captures the idea I like so much in the stories: everyone knows a bit of the same information, and then a bit of their own information, and has to bet on what everyone else is going to do.

So once I get my head out of Skyrim and movie producing this weekend, I’d like to sit and try working on this atmosphere with just a deck of cards, and see what can come out….

The Spirit Realm from The Amber Spyglass (work C/O Jown Howe)

I have a meeting with friends to work on a game idea tonight, and we’ve been asked to design baddies/weapons/environments.  This simple request has been helping me figure out my skillset incredibly well.

1)  I can’t draw.  Period.  I cant event make a clear sphere.  So actually designing the baddies has been a disaster.
BUT

2)  That lead me to thinking a lot about how baddies would integrate and reflect their environment.  If they evolved on this planet with this ground and this gravity, how would they move.  And in a game, how could a small change in the environment change your weapons?  The villains you are fighting?  And even your basic mission there?  And this I found a lot of fun.  (Clearly we’re thinking about a space-themed game).

AND

3)  From thinking about the environment and the type of baddies that might be there, I could better think of the sorts of weapons that might work on place and not another, how their functionality would change, and what you could do with even just 2/3 core weapons (Knife, object shooter (bullets, explosives, etc.), and energy shooter (laser, freeze ray, flame thrower, or even gravity changer).

And even earlier in this process, I found that it’s hard for me to think of the theme of games and the core mechanic,  but that I have a lot of fun finding variations on a theme.

LESSON FOR OTHERS:  Give at least a little time to any potentially relevant project.  Notice when you find something hard to do or frustrating, and ask why.  Decide whether it means you need practice, or whether it’s just not in your skillset.

I’ve found the baddies really hard to do – too specific a request.  So I think about the environments, and how I could

Anyone heard of Code Hero?

I saw that Code Hero is demoing tonight at SF Beta; essentially it looks like they’ve created a game to help you learn how to create games.  Meta, and pretty brilliant if you ask me.  If it works, of course.  It looks like the essentially put you into the world of Unity3D (so I was planning to learn Ruby on Rails…should I be learning this too?  I’ve heard this platform mentioned a number of times now), give you a Javascript-shooting gun, and make you rearrange the world with code to solve puzzles.  I haven’t tried it yet, but anyone have thoughts?

On the bigger picture, the draw of this game is also the core of my draw to the gaming industry overall.  Think about how much we learn when it’s put into a game.  I memorized 150 pokemon, all of their attacks, when they learned them, what they’re type was, how they leveled up, etc.  Imagine if that had been presidents (hell, there are only 44 of those – could I memorize 3 times the facts?) or molecular compounds?  I’ve learned how to navigate bizarre inter-dimensional portals, how best to equip a character for an imaginary world, and yet I still can’t tell you the capital of every state.

And studies continue to get published showing the importance of play in our earliest development; that through play we learn how to navigate both our physical world (this hurts, this doesn’t, this moves, that hits me back) and our social one (I can break that rule, but not that one.  If I give this, I get that).  Why don’t we learn languages through games, or coding, or how to sew?  Or, more accurately, why isn’t this more normalized in educators education?

So in the end, while I will gleefully start making short-lived goofy mobile games or addicting social ones, my real goal will be to make games that teach us something about our surroundings and help us feel better about the time truly well-spent playing.

Say Yes To Everyone

Okay, no.  Not really.  Then I wouldn’t have any time for myself.  But for the most part, I am trying to say yes to just about ever phone call or meeting request I get – or at least offer to do a quick skype chat.  The “why” made itself very clear today.

I, stupidly, scheduled 7 meetings today.  Well, 3 calls and 4 meetings.  All of which, at the time, didn’t really seem relevant to my job search.  But they were wonderful people, I had a lot of fun, caught up with friends and…

…got someone with a mailing list targeted to C-level executives at growing gaming companies to offer to let them know I’m looking for opportunities to shadow producers and/or designers.  Now of course, I don’t know if this will actually happen – since this guy’s never really met me in person – but I can certainly keep asking. 😉

So you really never know who knows whom and what they might be able to provide.  So regardless of status, give everyone at least a little bit of your time.

How Do You Overcome Fear?

While I was working on less-enjoyable tasks for clients and FailCon, I could look forward to this time to explore and learn, to pursue a new passion.  I generally was joyful for time for myself, and for the opportunity to try something new.

Well, now I don’t have something to distract me; now I am actually supposed to be focussing on this.  And I am engulfed with soul-crushing terror.  What if I’m not good enough?  What if I don’t even get meetings?  What if I can’t handle a structured work-place?  What if…what if…what if.  And at times it’s so bad as to be paralyzing.  I find small hobbies to distract myself, games to play, blog posts to write (heh).

So I’m on the hunt for suggestions on how to overcome this.  Some things I’m trying (that work to some level) are having a very structured schedule, working out (which seems to work off stress), talking to as many people as I can (which also has the problem of keeping me from learning), and working to set small goals (which right now is hard, not even knowing what is realistic to start.)

But I welcome any other suggestions – small goals I can set, low-anxiety foods, etc.  Please do let me know, as I find myself short of breath more often than I would like to be…

Follow-up

So I think I’ve noticed the main difference between those who seem to have jobs land in their feet and those who can’t seem to get a foot in the door:

Tenacity.

This doesn’t mean they apply to a lot of places, or even just that they do a follow-up email or call (though that’s definitely part of it); it’s that they are tenacious without even thinking about it; that they’re just naturally inclined to take interest and stay engaged with the appropriate people around them.

For Example, while I of course don’t have any gaming job offers yet, I’ve had two startup job offers and one unpaid gaming internship offer – and that’s without sending out a single application.  Why?  I really think it’s because I just work to stay in touch with people, to stay at least moderately interested in what they are doing, and to offer them some value in exchange.  And these aren’t relationships that arose overnight; there were developed over years.   But even now, as I work to change career, I tell everyone who asks, just in case they may have good advice.   When I was working Inside Social Apps, I definitely should have done more of this, and I’m regretting it now.  But that said, I don’t give a second thought to reaching out regardless.  I’ve heard others say “Oh, but so much time has past” or “I don’t want to bother them” or “They probably don’t remember me” and man does it piss me off.  Who cares?  What do you have to lose (aside from potential work if you don’t do it.)

So while I’m unemployed – but not desperate for work – I’m trying to say yes to every meeting, every phone call, and every opportunity; at least for now.  I’m following up more diligently than I ever have, and trying to help people find others to hire if I’m not the right fit.  And even when I do find work, I hope to keep this up – though in a lesser capacity – because you never know when I’ll be back in the boat.

Close Every Door Behind You

What is the biggest motivator for anyone to get a job?  Running out of options.

So if you are planning to make a career change (especially if, like myself, you are changing to something you know nothing about and have little experience with), having other options can just keep you putting it off – even if it’s a dream.

I’ve found it surprisingly difficult to turn down client requests and work, despite my not even wanting to do it anymore.  Knowing I have a paycheck coming is relieving, and having clients reaching out to me – with no marketing on my end – is easy.  Pursuing a dream, on the other hand, is hard work.  And really frightening.

So not only have I spent months prepping current clients that I’ll be leaving in November and turning down clients that approach me now, but I’ve also been training a protege to send all these clients to.  This makes it impossible to turn back, impossible to take the easy gig or keep putting off studying.  And some days, it’s the most exciting thing ever; it leaves me feeling empowered and in control.

Some days, I just want to curl into a tiny ball and cry.  It’s hard, really hard, to stop doing something reliable, even if you don’t really like it any more.  You need to be ready for that fear; the kind of fear that feels like it’s slowly simmering in the pit of your stomach, sometimes boiling over into your lungs and chest.  The fear that makes you physically ill and doubt everything you want to do.  You need to face it, deal with it, and then move on.  (HOW to deal with it is another whole post…and with #NaBloPoMo, I won’t waste that here.)

Here I stress the importance of closing every door behind you.  Take the time to close them neatly and nicely – we’re closing doors, not burning bridges: you never know who those old clients might know – but make sure they are really closed.  Start your new journey with a clean slate, so you’ve got no where to go but forward.

And of course, as new clients approach you, don’t just say “No, I am no longer available” but be sure to tell them why.  I’ve had a number of people offering introductions and suggestions for gaming careers when I tell them.

A Fake Post

Today I am working my final client event – GeoLoco.  I will have arrived at the venue at 5:00am this morning and be working until probably about 10:00pm, when I will want to drop dead.

So yep, this is a programmed post for #NaBloPoMo – written a few days before today.  Is that cheating?  I sure hope not!

Tomorrow will be my last day of “freedom” before I dive into my new task: learn more about what I really want to be doing with my life and take proactive steps to get it, rather than just accepting anything that lands in your lap.

And damn, is it already hard.  I continue to get calls about event work; I may have even agreed to help a friend with a bit of consulting help.  I mean, come on.  Money is nice, right!  (I’ll have a more thorough post on the dangers of that, possibly as soon as tomorrow…)

One thing I do want to be doing during this “free” time is meeting with startups that are:
1)  Hiring
2)  Have Funding
3)  Are between 4 and 20 people on the team
4)  Doing something honestly innovative and possible world-changing

Suggestions?