Week 92 – Three deadlines and a playtest

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator. For illustrated depictions of these events, visit my daily comics page.

It’s been a busy week!

Hubbub was finishing up the first beta for Home Rule on monday and tuesday, and at the same time I was drawing hard for the Suitkees project, as that soft deadline turned into a hard deadline for the end of the week. And in the meantime I had to finish up my #wizardjam entry. Luckily I had been smart and done most of the work on that over the weekend, so all I had to do was make some promo art and write a description for the itch.io page. I did that on wednesday morning and launched the game before heading to the war museum in Oosterbeek with the Hubbub guys to playtest Home Rule.

Tim and Alper

It’s been a while since I did an actual in-person live playtest on location. The target audience is kids 8-12, and they are always fun to work with. And to our surprise they really picked up on what we were trying to do and had fun playing the game. It was nice seeing them contemplate aloud the moral dilemmas people in a warzone have to face. We came away with a bunch of good feedback and happily dug into some pizza at the end of a succesful day.

On thursday I finished up the Suitkees drawings, sent them out and then went to the housewarming for the Dutch Game Garden in their new home next to Central Station. I ran into some old friends and made a few new ones, and generally felt glad to be part of this industry. It was nice to be among peers again and I considered one day getting an office there when business gets good enough.

Once that was all behind me it was time to unwind. I spent most of Friday making my portfolio website responsive and mobile-friendly, and I got pretty far with it. And over the weekend I fired up Shadow of Mordor with the intent of finally finishing it. When you’re purely interacting with its mechanics and ignoring the story, that game is so good.

Next week: A late start after Kingsday and planning new ventures.

Week 91

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator. For illustrated depictions of these events, visit my daily comics page.

Being your own boss is no field trip. One week it feels like the business is on fire, the other like I’m living on borrowed time. Especially around tax time when I can hand 21% of what I’ve earned back to the government. But one of the big improvements to my business I’m instituting this year is time tracking. I used to track my time with just a txt file for client projects where I had billable hours, but I never tracked all the hours I spend on my own games, comics etc. And those are far and away most of the hours I put in. So I’ve started using Toggl. It’s free and perfect for what I need. I worked with it before at Paladin, and I saw Kars using it at Hubbub recently and thought oh yeah that’s smart.

Speaking of Hubbub, we’ve been whittling away at the beta for Home Rule. It might have been kind of ambitious to try and recreate the iMessage interface in Unity, but Alper got pretty far with it. This week is more tweaking and improvements to get everything ship-shape for the playtest tomorrow.

I figured I’d have more work of Home Rule this phase, with the concept redesign following the alpha and all that, but Kars did a great job doing the heavy lifting on the game design. This freed up some time to work on the Transavia illustrations for Hoog+Diep. I sent out a test illustration previously which was liked, so I sketched out all the illustrations in greater detail. On friday Transavia and Neckermann looked at it again and they were very positive.

Inbetween I found some time to start on my #wizardjam entry, a gamejam held on the Idle Thumbs forums. I had wanted to participate in #adventurejam but the timing didn’t work out, so this was a nice way to still get jammin’, and the Idle Thumbs episode titles proved ripe ground for ideas. I’m working on a small topgun-jetfighter-switches-flipping game called MaydayMayday Cockpit Freakout, which I plan to be releasing tomorrow.

It feels like I’m jumping from project to project, but since MaydayMayday is tiny and has a definite deadline it takes precedence over Reconquista, which I’ll also be releasing soon. Reconquista just has a few loose ends in the design which make it hard to finish.

On top of that I also got an interesting call from Menno at Mindbreaker Games. They’re working on a P&C adventure game and are crunching out a demo for a grant proposal, and if that goes through they might want to work together, as our interests and goals are similar. So more on that in the future perhaps.

Next week: bustin’ to get all these projects done on time.

Week 90

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator. For illustrated depictions of these events, visit my daily comics page.

This workweek had a late start because I only got back from my much-needed Easter break on tuesday. With a fresh mind I jumped back into it on wednesday with a status update call with the guys at Hubbub, and after that a call with Pieter at Hoog+Diep, a design agency that contacted me to do the promotional art for their new app. They found me through the work I did for KLM and their app also has to do with air travel. That afternoon I finally caught up with my backlog of daily comics.

On thursday I worked my side job and stopped by the Hubbub studio afterwards. Kars presented me his new ideas for the flow of the home rule beta, and I went home to mull them over. Then I made an art test for Hoog+Diep, and I’ll hear more about that next week.

On friday I made the last few missing daily comics and made some mockups to go with Kars’ new ideas. Afterwards I went for a bbq at the park with friends, which knocked me (but mostly my stomach) out for most of the weekend. Woof.

Next week: Like I didn’t have enough to do, I dabble in the Idle Thumbs game jam.

Week 89

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator. For illustrated depictions of these events, visit my daily comics page.

On monday I started out helping my friends unload containers at their warehouse again. It was a nice way to start off the week with some physical activity. Then I ran errands and updated the blog and such. There was a terrible storm that evening and I was glad to be inside.

On tuesday I worked my side job and then stopped by the Hubbub studio in the afternoon to kick off the new beta phase of Home Rule, the game for war museums. We came up with some rad ideas to start working on, and after that I stuck around to fiddle with my game a bit. I also thought of a concept for the Adventure game jam that starts next week.

On wednesday I sketched out some designs for the Home Rule beta and pushed a few fixes and features down the pipeline for my own game, and sent a beta version out that evening. I didn’t receive any bug reports, which is also an interesting contrast to the sort of games I usually make. 2D (adventure) games are strung together by interdependent logic and a specific flow of events, something which is ripe for things to break or execute in the wrong order, while this game lets you roam free and really only has two spots where it forces some rigid code on you, so essentially there are no bugs. That feels weird.

I think I’m going to call this game Reconquista, a suggestion by Alper. It communicates the theme and the setting nicely in one catchy word.

This game poses a dilemma though, because on the one hand the experience that I wanted to communicate with the game is there and I want to release it, but on the other hand my game developer instinct wants to add more actual gameplay and make it a real ‘game’ that I could charge for. I think I’ll have to trawl itch.io a bit to see how other people are handling this. If you have sage advice feel free to share in the comments.

On thursday I had a call with Kars and Alper to discuss the designs we had done for Home Rule so far, and on friday I called with Alper again to see what the next steps would be for the beta. He was going to work on that into next week while I went of a short Easter vacation with the girlfriend to the island of Texel, which turned out fun and relaxing. I tried to catch up on dailies before then but holy shit I was far behind. The backlog should go up today or tomorrow.

Next week: a return to civilization and a new assignment.

Week 88

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator. For illustrated depictions of these events, visit my daily comics page.

This week I spent a good chunk of time filling out a grant application for Creative Europe Media, a European Commission that offers support for interesting video games. Though because it has to go through the European Commission there is a ton of procedure to follow – making accounts, registering my company, discovering that the registration system the dutch Chamber of Commerce used when I registered two years ago has been changed, googling to find the correct code for the new system, and then generating a fancy pdf form and filling that out. 21 pages of complicated questions, some of which I didn’t really have an answer to. One thing is that I got the feeling they are thinking in a waterfall schedule, where milestones and deadlines are set in stone. I’m doing this project by myself, so I can’t already estimate in hours how long I am working on each phase. The budget was a monster to wrangle as well, but I managed to fill everything out on time, and the guys at the Vechtclub were very supportive when I told them about it on wednesday.

The reason I was at the Hubbub studio on wednesday was to brainstorm about the direction of the museum game project (I’ll start using the official codename SHACHI from now on because I’m getting tired of typing ‘museum game project’). We had a cool prototype, but it kind of existed outside of the targeted museums, instead of being integrated in the exhibit. It was a tough nut to crack but we came up with something really interesting. More on that soon as we start the beta phase.

On thursday I sketched up some mockups for the new idea so that Kars could use them in the client meeting, and then I went to Amsterdam to have dinner with my old couchsurfing buddy Troy. This was the first time we were both back in Amsterdam again after I had moved away from there, so for both of us it was a welcome reunion with a lovely city, I thought that was interesting.

Friday I was spent, so I passed the time catching up on my backlog of games. I finished the Spiderman and Guardians of the Galaxy playsets in Dinsey Infinity, and reflected on how brilliantly simple their game design is. They get the core of the characters right, give you a playground to exercise their abilities until you have mastered them, and it’s exactly long enough that you don’t tire of it too much. Then I played some MGS Ground Zeroes (big fan also) and upgraded some of my other game projects to Unity 5.

Next week: Getting my short game into beta state for real and deciding whether I’m going to participate in the upcoming AdventureJam.

Week 86

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator. For illustrated depictions of these events, visit my daily comics page.

Last week was pretty productive. I finished a final drawing for Niels on monday morning in time for his presentation on tuesday (which went well). After that I spent some time tinkering with my own game until Kars was back in the studio late in the afternoon, and I went by to dicuss the progress of the museum game and determine what we would polish in the final sprint week.

Tuesday after work the girlfriend and I went to look at a new apartment here in the area, but size-wise it wasn’t exactly an upgrade while it costed more than we pay in rent right now, so we returned home unanimously convinced that we were doing pretty good right now actually. And we were hoping to pick up our new cat that afternoon, but his final checkup was proving to be a bit of an ordeal, so instead I tinkered away at my own game.

I started wednesday by knocking out some of the new tasks in the Hubbub sprint backlog. I like having small tasks with clear courses of action, like fixing bugs or implementing a design into the game, because you can sort of chain those together in a burst of productivity. Designing things or drawing always takes a little more time and thought, which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy that as well, but I’d rather have a huge to-do list filled with those small tasks you can do quickly than spend a day conceptualizing over three ethereal design tasks.

On thursday after work I stopped by the Hubbub studio to implement some of the final tasks in the museum game sprint. Inbetween I went to finally pick up the cat with my girlfriend, and we spent some time on an adventure in the forest of Zeist looking for an ATM. That area is pretty insane, nature-wise. We brought the cat home and watched him explore his new surroundings, then I went back to the studio and finished up most of my open tasks. The museum game prototype is looking pretty solid. More on that in Hubbub’s weeknotes.

I also got an offer to do illustrations for a design agency working with another dutch airline. They had seen my work for KLM and wanted to know if I was available.

On friday I did a few remaining non-essential tasks and got aquainted with our cat Poekie.

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He is pretty mellow, which I am thankful for because that means I can continue working from home in peace. Although at night he tends to get up and around, so I guess I’d rather see that reversed.

Saturdaymorning I went in to work again, then ran some errands and eventually visited my girlfriend’s mother for her birthday. And on sunday we ran more errands, looked for new apartments and generally took a break from an eventful week.

Next week: an attempt to get my own game into a beta-testing state.

Week 85

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator. For illustrated depictions of these events, visit my daily comics page.

It’s been a busy week. I realized at the end I didn’t make any notes for the daily comics, so I’ve decided to skip those and resume this week.

On Monday I had a call with Kars at Hubbub to review the current prototype of the Museum game and plan the next steps. I spent the day exploring the art style a little further, and I checked in on the Unity 5 release.

All throughout the week I was also chipping away at my own little game. I upgraded to Unity 5 on tuesday and spent some time playing around with the new features, and most importantly the previously-Pro-only features that are now free. The Profiler has been most useful to me, as it shows me in realtime exactly which things are causing a load on the CPU/GPU. Before, I had no way of knowing. But within minutes I could determine that it wasn’t the amount of trees and foliage I had placed down, but the ocean shader. I swapped it out for Unity’s own Water shader (now also free).

This project is becoming almost entirely filled with stuff from the Unity Asset Store. It’s amazing what you can do when you have Unity skills and about 60 dollars worth of pre-made assets.

On wednesday afternoon I went by the Hubbub studio again to work on things that were missing/lacking in the game flow, and we ended up with a pretty robust build at the end of the day. Then we marvelled at the swirling birds above the building.

It was also my first day working behind a standing desk, and I quite liked it.

On thursday I worked my part-time job, and then my girlfriend and I went in search of a cat. We found a nice one at a local pound, so get ready for cat pictures sometime next week. After that I worked some more on character designs for Niels ‘t Hooft’s novel/presentation.

On friday I was recruited by the girlfriend to sit in a nerve-wracking virtual queueu for concert tickets while she was at work, and in the meantime I called with the Hubbub guys to review the prototype. Not a lot was needed to get it feature-complete, and this was promptly executed. Thus, work on my own game continued.

Saturday was kind of a black hole of gaming, and on sunday, after finishing the drawings for Niels, I spent the day relaxing out in nature with the girlfriend.

Next week: spit-and-polish on the Hubbub museum prototype and more.

Week 84

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator. For illustrated depictions of these events, visit my daily comics page.

Last week was a busy one. It started off bad – on monday morning the power went out! Luckily by the time I was about to relocate to a cafe it got fixed.

On tuesday I worked my part-time job and finished the second round of KLM mockups before doing tech support for my grandpa. In an instant I realized the depth of the knowledge I have accrued about spyware and what you shouldn’t click on on the internet.

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On wednesday I went to the Hubbub office to kick off our new project. It’s an interactive experience on iOS for select museums in Holland. Aside from the art I’m also doing design work on this one. We had a productive day and built a working proof-of-concept.

On thursday I went by the home of Niels ‘t Hooft to discuss his character design assignment and do some initial sketches, and ofcourse to catch up. Ran into Roderick Vonhögen‘s film crew there as well, whom you may remember as the geek priest that was excited for my game Black Feather Forest. Later in the week I also found out he mentioned me on the Gamecowboys podcast (~1h25m), and we made plans to brainstorm someday about making a ‘Bible Mysteries’ adventure game.

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On friday I was back in the Hubbub office to continue on the museum project. Alper and I made good progress on the prototype, despite having to solve a bunch of nonsensical Github merge conflicts. We then decided to upgrade our Unity version to the latest, but this introduced a bug that blocked building to iOS for a bit. And then we found a huge bug in the location-based code, which was also fixed. It was a technically-challenged afternoon, but the prototype has improved greatly.

We closed out the week with drinks at De Klub, and I went home with a warm feeling, only to realize I had to get up early the next morning to do the boring part-time job before my weekend would start. What a bummer. Back when the only work I did was at home, I relished having a job to go to three mornings a week, but compared to the satisfaction of working in your chosen industry with fun colleagues it suddenly seems quite bland.

Luckily I was done quickly and could get back to working on my own game the rest of saturday afternoon. I finally fixed the occlusion culling code that I broke by adding a proper 3d model to my enemy prefab, and built a little pause menu with a brightness slider.

incamenu

I decided to upgrade to Github for version control and backup of my personal projects too, instead of zipping up the project folder each evening and uploading that to dropbox.

Hours spent watching progress bars this week: 3

Week 83

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator.

Working irregular schedule is fucked.

On monday I went by the Hubbub offices bright and early to figure out the new storyboards for KLM. After that I went to lunch with Niels ‘t Hooft, which I hadn’t seen in a criminally long time. We talked productivity, planning as freelancers, cool apps and how to create new reading experiences in the digital world. I look forward to seeing what he comes up with.

On tuesday I got asked for another short illustration assignment, and I again struggled with what I should set my hourly rate at. Or rather I have one but I tend to scale it down for friends and longer assignments. It’s hard putting a value on yourself.

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I knocked out the new storyboard sketches and then on thursday Skyped with Kars to review KLM’s feedback and set up the final tasks.

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The next morning I was back at the Hubbub office again to kick off the next project I’m doing with Hubbub, this time one that runs for several months where I’ll be involved in a more intensive manner, doing design and prototyping as well as art. It’s a cool project and I’m excite to get started on it.

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On saturday I spent all day in Amsterdam to watch Oscar-nominated movies with friends, and spent a quiet sunday with my parents and girlfriend.

Next week: new project kick-off.

Week 82

This is a weekly recap of what has been going on in my professional life. It’s to keep track of what I’m up to and to give you a peek at what it’s like being an independent creator.

After the Hackathon last weekend we got some nice press about our concept. I took a day to recover and went to help a friend in their warehouse, unloading new merchandise. It’s nice to do something physically intensive every now and then to break up the monotony of sitting at a desk.

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On tuesday I started working on a small game based on the dream I had the friday before. I never made a fully 3D game by myself, always some kind of 2D because I’m not that good at modelling and rigging (pretty bad actually). But this idea needed 3D, and it was small enough that I figured I could manage – it didn’t need complicated systems or GUI, just a character walking around an island. So I pulled open the bag of Unity resources and assets I amassed over the years, and putting all those together actually made something cool pretty quickly.

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I started thinking about whether anybody had attempted full body awareness for the player character, and how cool that would be, and before I knew it I had a mecanim-ready character that I pulled off the asset store walking around with a camera in his head; it worked really well!

I continued by building terrain using the Unity Terrain engine, populating it with foliage, and I grabbed Prototype (a plugin by the ProBuilder guys) to make some basic geometry right in Unity. The buildings don’t need a lot of complex shapes so for that purpose it is ideal for me. I continued tinkering with it during the week until I fell down a hole of performance optimization. You could spend hours tweaking the run speed and grass density and draw distance into perfection…

Luckily I managed to climb out of it to build the enemies. All week I had been wandering around the island by myself, shaping it bit by bit, getting to know every corner of it. And now suddenly there was this awkwardly textured sphere, hovering a little above the ground, and ominously following me where ever I went. It was bizarre to me that even adding this abstract shape immediately created tension, and a feeling of dread, like I wanted to get away from it. I can’t wait to replace the sphere with the actual enemy character as I start building out its behaviour this week.

In between I continued work on KLM where we had to change gears to process some new feedback, worked at my part-time job, drew more daily comics, and dug up a few threads that might lead me to new assignments. And I closed the week out nicely by going stargazing at the observatory with my girlfriend.

Next week: new assignments and old friends.