Looking back at 2009

Initially just a “I’m still alive”-post, I got a bit mad and wanted to do a short re-cap of my 2009. The blog hasn’t been active, and as such can’t really reflect what I’ve done this year (the fact that I want it detached from my life just strengthens it), but some – if not most – of it is related to games, game design and “hey, employers, look at this blog – ain’t I awesome?”.

The year of 2009 began with January, snow and a dawning game developing project. My first with a team, actually, and a first where a complete team intending to finishing a game within a time-limit. Only been doing stuff like writing down ideas, try to build maps (only to give up half-way through because there was neither plan nor vision behind it) and throwing together some not-so-good WoW GUI:s, it was an exciting period – at times. Obviously, game development is not all fun and games all the time. It can actually be rather dull, tiresome and draining at times. Such as when you enter the “office” in time and, when your meeting time passes by, needs to call everyone who’s late, only to raise annoyance on both parts. Or such as hearing good ideas thrown about, only to meet them with “can’t be done in time”, or such as coming with a suggestion which is must-have (in my case, written documentation and play-testing) only to have them met with “not necessary, can do without”, or needing to convince a unmotivated member because the game wasn’t fun, even though it was a play-test you then had to defend for “wasting play-testers”. Then there are moments when it was just wonderful, such as the first days the programmers and graphics guys sit down and start doing something like a game you’ve so far only seen on paper (note: we did prototype it, but that doesn’t give the same feeling of accomplishment). When the programmers after weeks of planning and learning the tools (causing you to worry about if this will ever get anywhere) finally gets something visible and interactive on the screen. When playing the game with the “real” graphics the first time or with the sound and music finally implemented. Or seeing spring arrive as you sit down late on the dead-line day burning the disc with the final build to give away, when everyone else are done with their work and the only thing left to do is up to you, and only you.

Developing the game, Alcheringa (it’s up on the Blog, I believe – dunno if it’s a working version, though), had some personally charged moments, as you can hear, and turned out both disastrous and amazingly well, depending on perspective. Within the university, the game quickly became forgotten, rarely played and the few who did disliked it (because, honestly, it started out arty, and stayed art-like even if toned down – and it wasn’t very fun) and got heavily criticised during the presentations. But, on the other hand, it got recognised by the jury of the Swedish Game Awards and we all went down there, put our game with games all which was cooler than ours (if you ask me, and I believe most of the team would agree), doing interviews and talking to people who thought it was somewhere between brilliant to a master-stroke. A completely surreal feeling, and – like a sudden flash – you understood all the successful people who thanked luck or thought themselves surprised. Even more surprisingly, I later ran into a guy a year above me who noted the game to be “one of the few of your year I’ve heard about” (not exact quote) – suddenly that success had spilled over back “home”.

Now, I’ve assembled a team for another game development project outside school. It started out in late may with me gathering people I considered talented with an insane idea (I still believe it can be build, but demands a far bigger scale then the handful of people and year I imagined). After a summer passing with no progress and fall with meetings with no work being done, we are building. Some say the project got saved, but I won’t say that until the game is done (on time).

But games-projects haven’t been all this year. Although seemingly the most related subject, I’ve done other things I’ve perhaps learned even more useful things through. Last december, I took a chance and volunteered to the board of a branch of the Student Union called “SkHum” (Skövde Humanitarian – true to student culture it is a play of words, its pronounced the same way as a Swedish word for “shady” or “weird”). But, as a cascade consequence of Swedish student politics, said branch was merged with two others to form a new branch. In the first two or three months, we not only had to get to know each other (9 strangers from very different educations), but also form a brand with colour-palette, name, logo/mascot, slogans, culture for more students but with fewer means (for instance, our right to do student-social, or “fun”, events and sell artefacts to build the culture, were stripped from us). I personally did a lot of the logo-building (designing said logo so all kinds of interests were happy), but also had a finger in a variety of stuff such as the introduction-blanket given to all new students after summer, organising the “buddies” (think older-student “mentors” for the new ones) when needed be and defending our choices from angry nostalgic students (although others did a lot more defending then I did). For the introduction-week, it was work from 10 in the morning to 6 or 8 in the evening with no breaks (I can’t recall any breaks, only calmer periods) for an 8-day period. And a myriad of other stuff so small I can’t remember them right now.

And, of course, stupid as I am, I’ve taken courses not in the real program, studying sketching parallel to the first game project (stupid idea), programming during the summer and studying some AI programming the following fall. I can’t say I’ve become good at any, but I’ve gained an understanding for it and have a better, and especially broader, knowledge base then many of my student peers (dare I even say that?). Sure, it’s specialist knowledge the industry is said to want, but I believe a broad base is needed if that specialist path is to arrive naturally. Next year will be used to trying out a bunch of different game-design related tasks and see where I really want to go (as well as much more studies). GUI-building, level-design and project management are high up on the list, as well as mechanics.

So 2009 have been an interesting, if hectic, year and I believe 2010 will be just the same.

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