Week 119 – penultimate

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.

Last week I drew more artwork for Yoast. It’s a change of pace from game development where you’re focused on one project and draw lots of assets for it, while here each blogpost is a little project and has a turnaround time of a few days, so there’s lots of small moments of completion and release, which is nice.

I also drew some assets for Embodied Games and made a few mockups for some new interface elements in Vrije Vogels, the Hubbub museum game. It should be appearing in the App Store in the coming months so I can finally show you what we’ve been working on.

Doing the work was hampered by the fact that I don’t yet have internet in our new apartment, so I went down to the restaurant around the corner to mooch off of their free wifi. Staying connected proved to be a real challenge though, and when it was finally stable and I was doing a pull from a Git repo my laptop crashed with a BSOD. Sigh. Getting a photoshop file from the Creative Cloud account I use at Yoast proved to be an equally cumbersome process. But eventually I got everything done.

Then came Moving Day at the end of the week. It took the better part of the day but we managed to squeeze everything into our new apartment. Incredible how much stuff we had amassed. Now one more week until the girlfriend is done with her job and we can start putting everything together again.

Next week: home improvement and the launch of the newsletter.

Week 115 & 116 – Track of time

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.

So I see I forgot to blog in week 115, oops. That week contained my first workday at Yoast, where I settled in quickly and mostly just spent the time setting up my workstation, adobe creative cloud, checking out the publications backlog and getting a feel for the style I’ll be working in. Compared to getting up at 5:45 for my side job, walking into the office at 9 felt very comfortable (even though it takes me 1h45 to get there), and I had one of those moments where you really feel like an adult.

At the end of the week I looked at a place that was a 5-minute walk away from the office (we’ll be moving too, see aforementioned commute time), but it didn’t really meet our standards so unfortunately I had to pass on it.

This past week was more of the same for that matter. Though on tuesday night I went to INDIGO, the annual dutch games industry expo. I had a great time there, if mostly because of catching up with friends and setting appointments to have drinks with them. It was weird to think that last year I had a booth there myself, but I didn’t envy the exhibitors’ aching feet.

indigo2015

On friday I stopped by the Vechtclub here in Utrecht to have a quick drink with Kars from Hubbub, to kind of cap off our project together. Though it seems it will get a small tail this week. It feels like a weird moment in time, because the project ended perfectly timed with me moving away and starting a new job, and he is moving all the way to Asia! (for half a year). We only worked together on a freelance basis, but I feel more of a connection with Hubbub than any of my other freelance clients. I’ll miss this point in time.

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Soaking up the last of the summer rays at #bierklub

A post shared by Kars Alfrink (@karsalfrink) on

Inbetween it all I lit up Photoshop to finish drawing assets for the game I’m helping out with at Radboud. They were all food items, drawn in a fairly realistic way. I did it that way to match the style of the game without really thinking that much about it, but it was oddly satisfying, and the assets turned out real good.

On saturday I stopped by the birthday party of John Gottschalk, designer on Westerado, and felt invigorated by our shared passion of narrative games. On sunday I saw The Martian, and it was everything I ever asked for in a sci-fi movie. I loved it.

Next week: inktober and a new apartment.

Week 113 – Snap back to reality

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 I returned from vacation to find a bunch of things I had to do had accumulated. Eventually I spent most of my time on the final sprint for the Vrije Vogels game, culminating in me going to the Hubbub office at 5 pm on a friday to work out the last few bugs before the deadline. It was fun though, having everyone in the (virtual) office and punching out the last few things, improving things for a few hours and seeing it all come together. Especially marking off everything on the todo list was a satisfying way to start the weekend.

Inbetween I did some logo sketches for a client in the UK I had worked with previously, and I added a few things to the lighthouse keeper game, with the intent of showing it off at friday night’s PlayDev meetup. Eventually┬áI couldn’t attend due to the aforementioned crunchtime, but working on it was nice, it’s been on the backburner for too long.

Over the weekend I finally finished The Witcher 3 with over 100 hours on the clock, and immediately moved on to MGS V, which I expect will eat my free time in a similar amount.

Next week: more interviews and working at the university.

Week 103 – Released a new game

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.

Last week was hard. Not because I had a lot to do but because it was so damn warm. We measured the highest temperature and the hottest night so far in the history of this country – even though compared to places like Italy or Indonesia it’s not that big a deal. But it makes sitting down and doing this hard enough.

Regardless, I started the week off helping out at the warehouse of a friend. It ate up most of the day, and I liked it better than my side job, which by comparison is very monotone and boring. After that I had a Skype call with Hubbub to plan out the tasks we’d like to tackle in the last batch of work on the museum game.

On tuesday I decided that if I was going to start on a new game (which I will next week in De Torenkamer), I should really finish one of my open projects. Finishing Black Feather Forest was impossible, and the astronaut game was nothing more than a tech demo yet, so of course the choice was clear: Reconquista.

Reconquista had been in limbo for a few weeks because the last few tasks were too vague or I couldn’t decide on exactly how I wanted to tackle them, but I decided to just sit down and figure it out. In the end it was easier than I expected to fill in the blanks and deliver a game that felt fairly done. It had a good starting and ending point, and the stuff inbetween seemed bug-free and cool.

So! You can download the game off itch.io for free right now!

After that I mostly just surrendered to the heat and made a plan for my time in De Torenkamer next week. A plan that changed near the end of the week after the announcement of De Pont, an open call for game devs or filmmakers to make a short game/film set on the ferry that runs between Amsterdam Central Station and Amsterdam North. That could be a very interesting idea to run with.

I also played through Her Story, which is an incredible game and I finished it in one sitting. On saturday I went to a concert and on sunday I helped out my girlfriend sell her illustrations at a local market, while the Tour De France ravaged the very same city we were in.

Next week: gamedev in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam.

Week 100 – milestones for all

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 marked the end of a few running tasks, which thankfully cleared the board a little bit.

On monday we submitted the grant application for our literary game idea. Somewhere next month we’ll receive word on whether the judges think it’s cool enough (and thus receive the first batch of funding for a prototype), so for now we sit tight and await the result. It was weird to submit something based on an idea without any kind of prototype or concept art, but I think even in this form it already sounds pretty cool.

The rest of the week was mostly spent on the last bits of art for the current sprint of the Hubbub game. We had some trouble contacting the client because of changes in their management etc, so we didn’t quite end up where we wanted to be, but we still made huge progress and have a version you can play through from beginning to end. Next week we’ll probably kick off one more polishing sprint and then get ready to deploy it in the first museum. I’m looking forward to sharing what we’ve been working on.

Halfway through the week I also got the input I needed to start working on a few illustrations for returning client Hoog+Diep. I only had until today to work on them, but the scope was exactly right for me to work on comfortably, and I delivered the final bits this morning pending any final feedback. Little assignments like that are great to fill up the empty space in your planning, easy and fun to work on and done quickly, allowing me to enjoy the great weather on friday.

Over the weekend I did some work on Deck 5, a small scifi game I’ve had lying around for a while – you may remember it from weeknotes past. I went back and forth on its design a lot, going from 2D adventure game to firstperson exploration game to isometric 2.5D puzzle game. I think I finally hit the look and feel that I envisioned when I drew the first mockup back in 2010, and I’m excited to start making content for it once I finish Home Rule and Reconquista.

Below you can see the progression of the game since 2010. I’m particularly excited by the billboarding-shadowcasting-sprites in the latest prototype.

Bonus: the doors from the 2014 early early Unity prototype.

Next week: Home Rule polish sprint kickoff.

Week 99 – clients coming out of the woodwork

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 started off with a promising meeting with Sytze Schalk, a writer/designer who is working on a grant application for a multi-year transmedia experience including theatre, graphic novels and games. He was looking for someone to develop his adventure game idea and ended up on my portfolio, so we met to discuss ideas and possibilities and decided to go ahead with the application together. He wrote it during the week and I checked it from a game designer point of view. We’re submitting it today.

Besides that I kept working on Home Rule for Hubbub, filling in the various placeholders with final artwork. It was a lot to slog through and it went slower than I anticipated, but the game is starting to look really good. On friday I was in the Hubbub studio to work on some things, but man it was hot. I hope we don’t get a tropical summer like that or productivity is going to suffer.

Halfway through the week I also got a call from Hoog+Diep, for whom I did some artwork a while back. They had a new project that needed some illustrations. And a friend of mine wanted to schedule a meeting about some artwork for her new project, so all of a sudden assignments are coming in from all over the place. The question will be which ones actually end up going through, but I feel a lot better about the next few months now.

Inbetween all that I spent a morning writing out the rest of the storyline for Offstage chapter 2, and I hope to start drawing it in a few weeks time.

Over the weekend I enjoyed the sunny weather, meeting family and friends, and some Witcher 3.

Next week: finishing up the third Home Rule sprint and more gamedev.

Week 97 + 98 – Keep on truckin’

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.

Week 97 was mostly spent truckin’ forward on the artwork for Home Rule. We tried coming up with a better name for the project but nothing really jumped out just yet. It was tough to have everyone scattered all over the place and working on the project at different times, but this week things are coming together.

Over the weekend I saw some movies and spent time with friends, something I had been neglecting a bit due to all the work lately.

Week 98 started off with me helping another creator, namely my girlfriend, in selling her artwork at a market on the second Pentecost day (yeah in holland we pretty much double down on every national holiday). She sold a ton and we had fun, the very direct contact with customers is always nice. The rest of that week was more of the same.

Inbetween I sowed the seeds for some new projects in the latter half of this year and early next year. If even one of them goes through it’s going to be a good year. But they’re largely dependent on subsidies so we’ll see how it goes. Just the fact that I’m being asked for these things more and more is a calming thought in the black void of freelance work.

At the end of the week I decided to make work of upgrading my legacy hosting account. I’ve been displeased with the speed of my websites for a while now and considered switching to a different provider, but then I decided to call Godaddy support and see what I could accomplish. And I came out with an upgrade to their latest server technology, locked in for 5 years for the price it would normally cost for 2 years, and a free file and database migration worth another 150 bucks. Plus a fun conversation about art with the tech support guy, an amateur artist living in Dublin.
I was surprised that nothing broke in the process; the only thing I had to do over the weekend was re-hook-up the posts database to the off-stage wordpress. So now all my sites are back online and working spiffy.

I’m going to stop doing dailies for a while, or at least discard the backlog when I pick it up again.

Next week: Home Rule beta 2 wrapup.

Week 93/94 – Unwinding and maintenance

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.

Week 93 had a late start due to Kingsday, a dutch national holiday. On wednesday I had a call with Hubbub to plan out all the features we want to put in the next Home Rule beta (including a better name for the project), and on thursday I had a call with a potential new client, an illustration rushjob.

I spent the rest of the week doing administration and updating my portfolio. Google’s new policy is to give priority in their search results to sites that are mobile-friendly, so I dove into the world of responsive design and media queries to make my portfolio site adapt to all kinds of resolutions. It was a nightmare of weird glitches and quirks but it works now!

Last week also started out mellow because of the national war remembrance days. I made a little character animation for the folks at mindbreaker games who are working hard on their demo. It was nice to open After Effects after a long time and animate a little something using the latest version of the DUIK plugin, which is UHH-MAZING. Highly recommended if you do a lot of character animation.

Later in the week I finally sat down and upgraded Black Feather Forest to the latest version of the game engine. Miraculously nothing broke! There were a few weird thinhgs in transitioning from Unity 4 to 5 while simultaneously updating two plugins, but I managed to solve 90% of them in an afternoon.

I’m itching to continue developing Black Feather Forest. I realized a few weeks ago that it’s been a year since I started working on it. And I think almost half a year since I stopped development to rethink a few aspects. That stung, so I’m determined to carry on with it in the next few months. A Kickstarter may be inevitable.

But first Reconquista! I started that project up at the end of the week to add a few features and get it ready to launch. I expect that will happen in the next few weeks. The game is practically done, I just need to figure out one thing and then I can push it out the door. It makes no sense to leave it lying around for much longer.

Next week: new dailies and the kickoff of the third phase of Home Rule.

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.