Life-note: Going to GDC, looking for meetings

In addition to my intended post this week, I wanted to throw in an important note.

And if you actually got that, we should totally meet. I have no idea what the Tank or Healer is, but I am probably both those guys?

LFM DPS to GDC! Got key!

I will be going to San Fransisco (which, as a note, is literally half a world away) to talk about, show and play Cloudbuilt. So, let’s babble a bit to justify this as a “Life Note”. It’s the first time to the Americas, I’ve been looking forward to going to GDC for years now and… yeah. It’ll be great.

But I don’t run a blog to talk about my life (I’ll save that for my retirement, if the world cares… hah, who am I kidding, this is the Internet!), and I don’t post this just to express happiness. I want to reach out for finding meetings. I would love chatting with press, of course: Being a small indie studio, making news is our best option. We make news only by having a cool game. And do we have a cool game! Which of course is super-subjective, and I of anybody have some kind of self-interest to claim so; but, honestly, having played the game for months I still find it fun to try new challenges and revised levels. But, hey, don’t take my word for it (especially in these days of preview controversy); let’s meet up and have you play!

We’re working on a new trailer, which is likely to be a lot better than that half-a-year-old-from-Alpha thing you’ve seen so far. We’ve also made – and let me finish this sentence – collage level using bits and pieces of actual levels without spoiling the fun of those actual levels. So… game! Play! Yay!

Back from GDCE/gamescom 2012

I just got back from a hectic, crazy fun and invaluably… valuable week in Cologne. I could do a long write-up about this with impressions, and I will later, but for now I’m happy to just break my own silence to say that’s what’s been up.

A collegue reminded me after my last post that what I type here could colour the perception of Coilworks. So I really should stress that what I type here is my own opinions and thoughts.

Finally, Breakthrough

Maybe they should call themselved "Cirkus starter"?

Cloudbuilt got announced last week, and this picture, used as Rock Paper Shotgun’s header image, turned a small story into a big circus. Click to reach their story.

Wow, what a week!

Last weekend, we at Coilworks uploaded an announcement trailer for our game Cloudbuilt. A colleague expressed an expectaton of at least 500 views, which I found optimistic. We had worked hard on the promotion for Ovelia: The Wake, reaching just a few hundred, so how would we reach that when most videos on youtube reach next to no-one? Oh, how wrong we turned out to be.

Read more of this post

Pre-travel GDC-Europe/gamescom -12

Last year, I volunteered at “Game Developer Conference – Europe” in Cologne, and I’m happy to say I’ll get back this year!

Last year’s visit was really great. A lot of new people to meet and greet, loads of valuable presentations and my first impression of an international games fair.

It was probably the latter that left the strongest lasting impression. I had checked the prices before-hand, in an attempt to get my head around the cost-structure of marketing, and I noticed it was *expensive*. Like, a thousand dollars per square meter expensive. Just for the floor space. So when I entered the halls and saw giant monters with loads of empty space in them, I was baffled – how these guys could complain about risk and profits and spend this kind of money on empty space was beyond me (it later turned out those plazas was intended to hold a crowd, so it wasn’t so wasteful after all). And on top of that, it was 5-10 meter high structures, massive screens and speakers for trailers and of course dozens of computers for the games, gladly with multiple screens so the line outside the booth could watch. Add to that, I also knew this wouldn’t be re-used for other fairs, as I had asked a booth-person at GameX about it the year before. As a new, indie fellow who hadn’t seen the industry before, it was intimidating (and kind of awesome, in the true sense of the word). With the perspective given by distance, I still feel there must be a cheaper way to get your word out. Something smarter to do with a booth to grab attention than be bigger and louder than the next guy.

Before I went home last year, I spoke with a lad who had booked a bed in the room for the duration of gamescom which I and a friend had been staying during GDC-E, and he noted the prices had gone up threefold for the duration of the event. I didn’t think it was this bad at first, but reading about tent-towns setting up in the city of Cologne I understood he wasn’t kidding. After all, gamescom pulled a quarter of a million visitors to a city of a million, I understand if the hotels can’t take the pressure. And, missing out in it, I can see why they were visiting!

Perhaps needless to say, I started to get worried when the application for volunteering this year wasn’t up when I checked in early May. Or late May. Or early June. All room would be flooded if this kept up, and I refused to book rooms and travel I might not get to use.

But the application form finally got up, and I’ve got accepted. Which meant, looking for room wasn’t that easy. Checking the hostles, and even some available apartments (note: not the hotels – it’s way too expensive), and turns out every place is booked during gamescom! I may have found someplace now, but damn was it difficult. Lessoned learned – look ahead better than any bottleneck in your “pipeline” is if you want to do stuff as you want.

Distractions

While I studied, I believed starting your own would be some kind of short-cut to having a job. After all, all you have to do is start it and no-one can filter you out!  I sure missed an important aspect of it – you want to be paid to really call it a “job”. And getting there takes a lot of time and a lot of work.

Thankfully, we’re fortunate enough in Sweden to have government-funded university education for up to six years of studies. Which means, you can start that company and study to get the money you need. Drawback, of course, being you have to spend time studying. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Here in Skövde, we’ve also been fortunate enough to have an “entrepreneurship education”, a one-year program teaching very basic economics, marketing and project leading, all while writing a business plan. And the best part have been that it basically leaves you loads of time for that company you’re working on!

But, as I mentioned, that means you sooner or later will need to put time aside to study. Like a weekend. Like right now. And, as with all students who have to study something difficult to motivate, it’s easy to get distracted. By, like, writing this blog post. But it’s personal marketing, so can I use that excuse?

There’s other distractions, too, such as updating a trailer with (placeholder) gameplay footage. Nordic Game Conference is next week (I have to remember the phone charger this time, so you can have pictures!), and I’ll be busy pitching Ovelia: The Wake and Coilworks to various people. Because of that, May’s been stressful, but it’s going to pay off next week.

This past week, I’ve also been approached to test an app called “Dosemem”, which lets diabetics (such as myself) to easily store data about blood sugar, insulin and use that to set goals, search documentation and so on. So far it’s been very useful, so I’ll give the inventor Agneta Toresson some deserved credit. Hopefully she can get it through testing and let any diabetic friend of yours (who understands Swedish) try it out!

I’ve also made slight progress on the strategy board game prototype (which I call “project homecoming”, but thinking about switching to “alien home”), and should probably assemble some first play test soon. There’s just so much other stuff to do, as you may have noted.

Finally, some game-y stuff: I’m been playing Uncharted 3 at a friends house with another friend. It’s interesting how sharing a single-player experience through taking turns and watching each other changes the experience to something a lot more social. I wonder if you could encourage that somehow – it’s something I think many gamers miss out on.

A secretive life

As promised before, here’s the first by-weekly blog post about running a start-up dev studio.

During these weeks, I’ve been booking meetings for Nordic Game Conference, prepared a company pitch for Connect (a company serving as a meeting place between entrepreneurs and venture capitalists), visited the Start-Up Day 2012 in Stockholm and made a major change of course on our first project. Trouble is, I can’t go into the details. Not because it’s boring to read (I’ll make it fun to read!), but also because I perhaps should guard the details for now.

Which is a shame. Running a new business requires lots of time (and I’m far from the one spending most hours at work), yet there’s not much to talk about regarding it. Very much because of this, “a secretive life” has become a recurring phrase in my mind the two last weeks, knowing I had to write something here. I’d have liked bringing pictures, too, but I sadly didn’t. Maybe next event…

Well, that’s for the day-to-day work (I’m at a computer, like so many other people). I could write about the start-up day for a bit, though, because that was a fun event.

Very much because of this, “a secretive life” has become a recurring phrase in my mind the two last weeks, knowing I had to write something here. I’d have liked bringing pictures, too, but I sadly didn’t. Maybe next time.

Also, I realize this is a week late, so I’ll type down a few on-my-mind words about Batman: Akham City, or actually about parallell story lines. I started playing it the other day, and so far it’s great. However, the game features short chapters of Catwoman between the Batman chapter. Even though Catwoman has some really fun gameplay, I don’t like the decision to have their storylines alter between them. So far, they’ve always ended in cliff-hangers, which means I’m very exited about a character’s plot when it ends, only to be thrown back to a character whose story I, at that point, don’t care at all about. Just to have the same thing happened once I’ve build that care. I see this so often in all manner of media it feels like some kind of “writer’s best practice” (in which case, I beg to differ). If someone could explain to me why you’d do this to a story, I would be grateful.

Revision to the blog

This is kind of embarrassing.

I started this blog back in… 2007, I think, in an attempt to post once every week and show the world how much I knew in time to have been running for a bit when I would need to find a job.

It didn’t really turn out that way.

The last post is from early 2011 – in other words, I haven’t written anything for a whole year! So I’m not even near one post per week. However, I have no wish to try – I’ve been doing a lot of useful things since then. I made myself a job, as CEO (and producer and designer) at the start-up Coilworks. For a 2011 summary, you could just as well read the Coilworks 2011 retrospective. There are some episodes I’m not adding there, which I may or may not wish to write about in the future.

However, leaving this blog behind wouldn’t be that smart of me. Now I’ve got several brands to build (my own, my company’s and the company’s game’s), so that mean I should use this more rather than less. It also mean I should have what I use cause some effect.

For starters, I’ve recently made my facebook feed public for followers. I usually post links to all manner of things that interests me (games, tech, science, politics, thinkers), and although some private stuff can go through, I’ll try to minimize it. My twitter and youtube activity can also be seen through that feed.

This also means I my regular days could be interesting to people. What does a CEO/producer/designer of a small but ambitious start-up do for a day? My 2007 self would probably love to know, so I’m thinking of doing something by-weekly about it. That way, we can focus on the more exiting things and ignore the dull (shuffling papers and such).

This doesn’t mean I don’t want to keep writing reflections, but those will take more time (something that’s been kind of scarce, and sure will be). I’d like to write a documentary about playing Mass Effect from the first scene of the trilogy to the last in “one life allowed”-mode and without the “easy-way-out”-choices (“charm” and “intimidate”). I’d like to write an analysis of dialogue system design and their implications by comparing several modern conversation-RPG:s. I’d like to write a lot more, all stored in a digital post-it on my desktop, so I hope I’ll get time for it.

To round up, let’s just say that the maxim “the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know” applies – My 2007 self might’ve thought he knew a lot, but my 2012 self know there’s still loads to still learn (although that 2007-self had a few nice views).

// Johannes (of 2012)

Goals of 2010: Part 2 – rounding up (already)

Here we have a good example of why you should think a few more times than one when starting a series of posts. In this case, I found out many of these points were half-finished, although they could be considered “finished” if you tweaked the goal a bit. So instead of writing one post for each, I’ll write this one post, and then be able to go on with other ideas.

The “Learn UDK or Unity” point was pretty much fulfilled. I did learn the UDK level editor with their BSPs (geometric shapes) and Terrain tool, Kismet (a “visual scripting language” i.e drag and connect boxes of conditions/actions and logic) and, towards the fall and winter, made a half-working HUD, menusystem in Scaleform and applying it to UDK, as well as a loading screen and splash screen.

The “Learn Photoshop” point was pretty much fulfilled. Although what I initially implied was “learn to draw”, what I did learn was how to use photoshop is used with pretty bad drawing skills to create something nice anyway. Sure, the menus and interface may not look amazingly super-good, but they do look quite alright. I suspect I should put a screenshot up to let you be the judge, but I’ll make do with simply looking back and give my own impression of the result.

The “Learn lua” point went beyond expectation. I initially wrote this point to make sure I finally took the time to learn this language so I could start scripting or perhaps do a UI-mod to World of Warcraft, but as summer came I stumbled upon the course “programming for World of Warcraft” which taught these very things and then some. I still got some complementary work before the course can be formally closed, but it totally meets this goal.

The “make some small games” point failed miserably, no matter how you bend it. I didn’t even start doing a first game. Booo! :(

The “build a map in Warcraft 3 or World in Conflict” point is sort of fulfilled. I drew some flow chart maps for the levels, and made a quick draft in the WC3-editor, but never iterated on it. Boo! However, and even better, I did make a map with UDK, and did so in an iterative manner. By “doing a map”, I’m only considering the geometry, spaces and connections between them, not any fancy shaders or special effects (or, sadly, scripting). I started out using geometric shapes to build as close to a final level as I could and when we were happy with that I used the terrain tool to build a height map for the level and placing out the major props of the level (the minor props weren’t made as far as I’m aware). This is, perhaps, for another post.

The “lead something well” point was part failed, part done way more than I could anticipate. When written, I only intended for the project that was currently going. However, just weeks into the year, I was elected chairman for the Skövde game dev student association known as AGES (“Academic Game Environment – Skövde”, for those who wished to know), a task I’ve put energy into and is fairly sure I’ve done well (I’ll have to ask the board and the members afterwards to be sure, though). Towards the spring, I got another leadership position in our school project “Wheelchair Racer”. Although the game became way less then we wanted it too, and didn’t at all take the direction I was initially wishing it for due to compromises in very early stages, I believe I did a fair enough job. The group had very little drama and we shared the vision (note: we were only two people when said compromise was made, the others joined later on), but I could’ve done more to know what the designers wanted personally and how they were doing during the project. So that project is at my minus-account for this point. However, just a few weeks after the project I got recruited on a new one to design and lead. Among this new team were some members of the old, and afterwards I learned the previous project had influenced that decision to pick me up. So I suppose I can’t have done as bad as I believe. This fall project went smooth, although shut down mostly due to lack of programmers on the team.

I could have written in length about this, but I decided not to. It didn’t go that well as to be worth writing ten posts publicly about, but it went well enough to write something about.

The development of a business card

Some may wish to say this story is way beyond the scope of what its story matter should entitle. I say this story is the end-point of a development where I get to speak about it, its intentions and results. It’s about a business card, but it’s just as much about design and development (note that there’s no “game” in those two words).

The problem I wanted to solve was this: Game Expo “GameX” was approaching, as well as the industry summit Nordic Game Stockholm Summit, and I wanted to gain new contacts and make an impression. I wanted the impression to be remembered and show that I was a clever designer. I also wanted it to have a professional quality.

Read more of this post

Goals of 2010: Part 1 – introduction

Some people make promises for the new year, such as “I will start training” or “I will heat healthier”. Fun thing is they never seem to hold, and I’ve only taken one once (I was around 11 and decided to not use any bad language – it held until February when I thought a class-made had flushed my glove). I think it’s pretty silly, but after I decided to not continue with the Student Union-activity in December last year, I set up eight goals which I wished to fulfil with this new-found spare time to direct my efforts. Funnily, life sort of made me fulfil seven of those eight goals in perhaps not the way I intended, but still with acceptable interpretation.

I intend to list those ten goals and how life fulfilled them for me. It’s game related, but primarily it’s because there’s a few fun stories in there and it allows me to show off some actual work. However, listing the thinking behind each of these points would take an insane amount of text to deal with, and no-one would really bother reading it all. So I intend to split it into several parts.

Here’s the goals:

1. Learn UDK and/or Unity
2. Learn Google ScetchUp
3. Build a GUI, preferably in WoW
4. Draw something nice in Photoshop
5. Learn Lua
6. Make five “completed” games for portfolio, prefferably in Game Maker or Unity
7. Build a map in Warcraft 3/Starcraft 2 or World in Conflict
8. Lead a game project or the AGES-board well

I so far haven’t completed 6. There’s still 2 months to go, although it feels unlikely I’ll be able to make five games in two months when I’m already full-booked between 8 and, depending on the day, 17 to 19 or even 22 every working day. Unless I knock it up a notch and make all five during DreamHack (which is four days, but pretty much dedicated to gaming… or game-making). That’s unlikely, however.

Update: I actually haven’t completed 2 or 7 unless you sort of bend the goal a bit. But I’ll talk about that later.

So, with that said, there’s a lot of fun stuff to post about in the coming weeks!