Category Archives: Ramblings

… and the money is in the taking

(Part 2)

I see a kind of game devs that have a particular preoccupation with monetization. When I say monetization, I generally mean the kind that doesn’t just about selling your stuff on Steam.

Monetization brings a game dev into another framework. When a game dev has an issue with a component in their game that affects their income, it is not an issue they can simply forget. They have chosen a path and decided what their bottom line is. There is, on one side, the hobby of tinkering with games’ nuts and bolts, and on the other, the figuring out how you can be monetarily be rewarded from your efforts. Each balances according to their own tastes.

This points back to the first part of what I was saying. It seems to — partly anyway — explain why there is a such a big fuss when software doesn’t turn out the way you want. For professionals, there’s no time to screw around with incomprehensible decisions, and frustrations grow out of a need to produce results, and that is being undermined by some third party. It’s your job, your paycheck, your reputation at stake. It’s serious business, as all real businesses are. When you make your hobby into a business, it becomes a business, and it won’t feel like a hobby any more.

Game development — with its big studio and indie counterparts — is a whole different world. They have their own denizens, atmosphere, and grading system. It’s far from a desirable world, and heck, it’s not even particularly better than my boring one.

If there is a solace, a quiet place, a haven, where as a kid you dreamed about fascinating worlds, it’s not here, nor there, but temporally offset.

The fun is in the making…

There are two kinds of people. People who like to play, and people who like the make things.  And among those who like to make things, I can see two more kinds of people between them:

  1. Those who like making stuff.
  2. Those who like having made it.

Those who like making stuff, consequently, eventually — ideally — like the fact they made it.

And then there is a kind of person who prefers to have done it already. Of course, if it were already done before he started on it, then he couldn’t be considered a creator — and he wants to create. But if he could do it with a push of a button, or use an Imagino-matic device, that would be the most ideal situation.

But how much work does he want to do? Does he want to work just enough to feel like he’s earned a six-pack from a 2-minute calisthenic workout? Or is it like giving birth to a baby?

There’s more than a line, or a degree, or a quantification that crosses the boundaries of convenience and perseverance. How much automation is there before it’s actually automation? How much are we really putting in for the amount we’re getting back?

The nature of software is that we build on top of one another. We don’t write Assembly because there is no practical benefit to it.  But now, I ask a different question: When it comes down to it, would you be willing to start from scratch? It’s not about delineating degrees of laziness versus masochism. Instead, it is an attitude, an approach to life and learning.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking an easier route, especially if you took ‘hard’ to get to ‘easy’: you’re worth your own weight, like any good SAS trooper. But some people don’t want to take ‘hard’ at all. They just want to be shown a way that produces results. They don’t see problems as natural curiosities; for them, they’re irritants, not accelerants.

In the CG industry where I work, there are many varied roles, and people vary a lot in this regard. An animator has animation skills and he doesn’t have the inclination to rig a character, and I wouldn’t hold it upon him to do so. But I would expect him to be committed to all things animation. A modeller may not take interest in matchmoving, but his anatomy should be solid.

So it surprises me that there are so-called game devs who feel insulted to have been forced to troubleshoot their own game-related problems. But aren’t game devs supposed to regard game development problems the very point of game development? Isn’t this what ‘making a game’ is all about? Isn’t this actually the fun part?  ‘Making my game’ is supposedly what we enjoy. But in fact, what some people actually mean is ‘Seeing my game made’.

I don’t know. Maybe I think too old-school. I look at 2400AD and think Chuck Bueche, and the whole lot of them back then, were having loads of fun playing around with bits and pixels. And I am having tons of fun, too, and every bit and byte grateful that in this day and age we have such an easy time making games. But the thing is, I wouldn’t mind it at all if it were much harder.

.. and it will stay as a hobby.

(Part 2 of the first rambling, I guess.)

I’ve been making the art for the environment lately. It’s been fun, but I sometimes wonder when the fun will end. Sometimes the inspiration peters away and I’m left trying to find out what I’m going to do next. It’s never a nice feeling, the gradual dissipation of inspiration, the inevitable melancholy.

But I do what I can. And I have a set of concepts that I have drawn, that I’m determined, for better or worse (meaning better or worse art), to get done. The total will be 5 assets. Then I will draw up some more, and do the cycle again.

Of course, the way I say it now, it doesn’t sound much fun. But assuredly, it is. However, I know that there are times when the fun part diminishes, but one must go on. And while I’m feeling  pretty good right now, I know that it will eventually go away. But it comes back, for sure, but sometimes I don’t find myself taking the opportunity to get back on to it again.

One shouldn’t take this thing too seriously. Surely enough, if I felt that making a game was as bad as doing particle simulations, I would seriously question why I’m doing it. I always thought building a game was like playing Lego, only that you can build the nature of the world and building conversations, and not just its physical manifestations.

C3 was announced the other day, which was greeted predominantly by the dominant folksies with jeers and boos. These are indie devs, and hobbyists alike not thrilled with either their pricing structure, or their browser-based implementation of the Editor.

For myself, I had been eagerly awaiting C3’s announcement. I was not particularly impressed with either the pricing structure, nor the browser app, but I was more concerned with the limitation brought on upon the browser implementation: folder-based projects were not supported. Originally, what really interested me in C3 was its promised Editor SDK which allowed users to create Editor tools, presumably to control more of the objects and workflows better. I always saw C2’s an unsophisticated editor, so this SDK surely piqued my interest. Unfortunately, even if the trickle of news eventually reveal this SDK, folder-based projects are essential for me. I am a newbie in C2, but not quite a newbie in coding and production workflows, and this is how I choose to work because all my production experience is geared towards accessing discrete assets from multiple application in my system, eg modifying source files directly from custom tools, or modifying source images from Photoshop. This is surely part of the fun I have in making games.

So, in short, until they overcome that fundamental limitation of ‘single-file projects’ by releasing desktop builds, C3 is a technical no-go.

In the Scirra forums you hear experienced indies and hobbyists alongside straight-up newbies, and each one has their own problem with it. But I am a hobbyist, for sure, and I don’t hope to take this so seriously that I will have a ranting fit just because I don’t agree with the developers vision for his product. If I was really serious, I could take up a more serious engine. But I’m not that serious. At the end of the day, after I complete this game, if i find that I’m getting more involved with it, perhaps I’d be more inclined to write code using Corona SDK, or even Phaser, or perhaps get back to Unity again. C2 provides a very nice and easy method of making games and that was the allure. But I’m not adverse to complication.

I won’t deny it, however: I will feel a sense of loss if C3 is still a no-go by the time I have to make a decision.

There is a kind of seriousness needed to be able to finish something. With Citizen 2401, I need a bit of that seriousness. But it’s not a seriousness connected to the platform I’m using, since I know that I can achieve anything with any platform; it’s just a matter of nutting it out. And nutting it out is something I do every day anyway.





It started as a hobby…

…CG, that is. Now, I’m a professional. I’ve been so for 15 years. After a while, though, it becomes a tedium. If you’re good at certain things, it’s quite easy to be scoped in to do those things over and over again because employers would rather employ you to maximise the benefits of your proficiency.

This itself isn’t half bad, if only bosses actually knew what you did.

As I began my career, ‘career advancement’ never entered my mind. That meant that I didn’t know I was coming into a career, nor did I expect my bosses to advance my career while being employed by them. I think this is because I was actively advancing on my own. I was learning new things, I was getting better at the things I already knew.

Now, there is a great dissatisfaction when that advancement stops. When it does, I question why the company doesn’t do more for me. Then I come to understand that even if I had been given a SIGGRAPH pass, or sent to NAB, or some artist convention in Europe, simply knowing more is not career advancement. Neither is a job title — I’m a “CG supervisor” — and neither is a pay raise.

I’ll tell you what it is.

There is a situation that doesn’t allow me to apply what I learned. To be compelled, by my situation, to allow things that go against my knowledge and common-sense tells me that my personal advancement only goes so far as my nose.

When there is no utility in learning or experience, ‘career advancement’ stops.

Let’s compare that with being able to take charge of a situation and come out on top. To apply what I know, to make ignorant mistakes, and by its very virtue to gain experience, that kind of ‘advancement’ is the kind of satisfaction that made me love the craft so much.

This other situation is not dissimilar: not to have the space to learn something new. I want to explore new ground, especially the world of interactivity (it combines my creative interests with the coding skills I’ve learned through the years), but there is no enthusiasm to explore this in the studio where I work. It is only interested in what it already does and continues to ply the same trade routes year in and year out.

When learning is limited to the scope of your established career, –a.k.a boredom — ‘career advancement’ stops.

What started out as a hobby became a profession. It was satisfying as long as you were improving, and learning new things. But 15 years down, it’s become more about evading egos and enduring the squabbles for the Almighty Dollar.

Then there are yearly reviews which tell you that if you only did this or that you’d be worth a lot more.