I have been working on Manage the Universe for a few weeks now, and I am still in the prototype phase. A few idea’s are getting more refined during this process, so that is what I want to show you today.
This gif starts with the ‘starsystem overview’ or so called ‘level 3 view’ and when the planet gets selected, we move over to the ‘planet regional view’ or ‘level 2 view’.
The idea is that on level 2 you get to a Civilizations like overview and manage the world by interacting with these tiles and expand cities and corporations on them.
These tiles on level 2 are fed with a historical and geological history system that will decide their state and their progress. So on getting to a world for the first time, you can encounter already developed cities based on the history of the world and the history of the inhabited race.
These tiles are ‘districts’ that you are able to explore on a level 1 view with your character. So next to do would be to make a level 1 view where you can actually get down to this planet and walk around in the cities / deserts / woods.
There are a lot of people around me and my family that like to know what it is that I do, and how things are going with my game company. For them I have this email list in Mailchimp.
I’m going to change some things to this email list. Currently it is just ‘the same’ as this blog, but I find it hard to come up with a good email each time because I know people read the email list for different reasons than these blog posts.
So I’m going to stop sending them a summary of this blogpost, but instead focus more on the ‘what people close to me want to know’. The email list content is thus going to be more centered around running the company and the impact it has on me and my family, while this blogpost is more focused on game updates and less about detailed personal/family matters.
I had some great holidays the past 3 weeks. It was a good mixture of relaxing at home, go out camping, building a nice garden shed, and meditating on my companies future and the next game to build.
Manage the Universe – my new game
Previous update I shared that my new game will be centered around the following
space, inception, sleeves, management, adventure, 3D pixel-art, replay-ability.
The name of the game is ‘Manage the Universe’ for now. It will be most of all a strategy game mixed with the management style of games. I thought this name to be quite fitting for the genre and the content.
It’s basic gameplay is that you are a person that have to play the game on 6 different levels to achieve the end goal, and the end goal is to rule the universe. At level 1 you are a mere peasant, roaming an inhabited planet and you have to help your environment to advance. At level 2 you are a governor of a province, and try to get along with your neighboring provinces. At level 3 you start becoming a space oriented world organization, seeking for help and answers on your near planets and stars. At level 4 you start to really get a grip on space and build massive fleets to conquer the stars and find other civilizations. At level 5 you organize with other civilizations into federations and establish a galaxy wide order, while striving for supremacy. At level 6 you start a secret order, have a base, and recruit followers. This to unravel a mysterious fate that is brought upon your galaxy.
The thing is: you can play all levels at once. Every planet is visit-able, every civilization has its history and is plans for the future. You can play small fleet battles with early space crafts or massive end-of-times size space battles with planet-destroying capable dreadnoughts.
This game will be about feeling powerful, discovery and strategically play your ‘cards’. The challenge is to not to win, but to advance.
It will also be about allowing you to play the way you want: want to stay doing level 5 stuff only? Ok. Want to start a new game at level 5 immediately? Ok. Want to use the same randomized seeds over and over again? Ok. Reset the universe mid-game and get to keep most of your stuff? Ok. At least that is how I want to play my games…
Aesthetics and my new game
During my holidays I build this shed:
I really love doing all kinds of creative works. I tried to create this shed with a mixture of functionality and beauty, and all from only an image I had in my head. In the end I think the treated wood wood nicely contrasts with the darkgrey paint, the thick beams give it some posture, and the angles help to blend it more into the garden and keep a sense of depth. It is only the roof that I’m not that fond of, its finish was hard to be done nicely.
With my new game ‘Manage the Universe’ I want to spend more time on the aesthetics than I did on previous titles. A bit like the before mentioned garden shed: a mixture of functionality and beauty. Functionality is something I really like myself so my games will always be heavily influenced by that, beauty is something I long for but don’t understand (yet).
Animal Winter – update
I’m working on this title I came to call ‘Animal Winter’, as a side project to have something completely different to wrap my mind around.
This is the latest advancement:
It is now a ‘proper’ endless runner with a never ending generated environment. I use so called ‘segments’ that the game dynamically stitched together.
There is not that much game related content for me to show currently, because our main seasonal holiday has landed and my kids are now at home for the coming 6 weeks.
All kind of interesting family activities are now taking place, from building a new shed for our bicycles in the garden to staying over at grandparents.
For me the holidays are an excellent time to reflect on life and to clean up some physical and mental stuff.
Digital escape wrap-up
So with the dust settling I can finally see some clear outlines.
I definitely think I need a vacation and get a bit less attached to my client’s projects. For me it is good to be concerned about the well-being of the total project but everyone has the right to have their own problems. I better not try to solve these problems for them, they have their own journey to complete.
My lesson is that I have to be able to work in projects with problems and alongside others, without the need to solve those problems. Yes I can help to make the issue more clear if they ask me to do so, but from there on it is their burden to carry.
One other thing I can do is to be more clear on my responsibilities and draw a clear line when I get the blame. I tend to react ’emotional’ by just talking like crazy, but that isn’t helping any party involved. I think it is better if I just state/verify the facts, and then retreat and allow myself to reflect on the issue and formulate a proper and well-thought out response.
Very few people are creative
Speaking of having the right on your own problems and life being miserable: I found a lot of great motivational people at the interwebs lately and I want to share a game-related insight with you.
This one is from Jordan Peterson. I find it easier to digest this lecture if you know where he comes from. For him, humans are destined (programmed/pre made) to function in a community and help their community with what they got. And if the human understands what he/she got and put it to good use, this human will enjoy life and be rewarded by the community with a fitting reward that encourages more.
I like that he goes from idea’s to being creative, but at the same time addresses the issue that it is very easy to get idea’s but to execute on it is harder and to be renown for it by the community is almost impossible.
On this time mark he shows a way to measure creative success. I need hard frameworks like this to keep myself positive, because with time I degrade my doings and think less of them.
When I apply this on myself, I came quite some way with my game ‘Find the Gnome’. Because I didn’t only complete it and release it, but random people did buy this game and even did leave nice comments. Yes it was on Steam and yes It’s not that much of a prestigious platform to have a game on, but I think my creativity rating is currently at least a 2 and arguably a 3… and that is much more than zero.
It is a long day since the last update. Something bad happened to the ‘Digital Escape’ project that needed all my attention.
But first, the good stuff.
I got a sweet present for father’s day. My in-house office is upgraded with a very nice looking name tag:
Back on track with Bart
Bart and I were working on something I came to call ‘Animal Winter’. But during the early outbreaks of the COVID-19 crisis we both got motivational problems. We didn’t decide on what to do, but cut each other some slack due to the circumstances.
Last week we caught up again on this game. We both came to the agreement we still see value in working together, and to continue work on this title. We tuned down our expectations, so we now expect to see some minor progress only each 2 weeks.
We are currently in the prototype phase and are creating some hastily-put-together scenes to decide on what works and what not. Currently it looks like an endless runner. It resembles a peep box with paper figurines, and you are a fox trying to acquire food while running this obstacle course.
I met a new client from America. He did find me through my ‘Digital Escape’ project reference on LinkedIn.
They have this Facebook game ‘Hoop Master’ they will release 1 Juli. For this game they need support on using Azure services and PlayFab to reach out to their audiences.
They want to launch a new game each month and for that purpose they build a back-end/server capable of doing so. They already have some engineers doing back-end stuff as a side job but they found out it is hard to utilize the vast platform Azure nowadays is. That is where I came into the picture as a Azure / PlayFab specialist.
This is a project that requires only a minor amount of hours a week. They pay a hourly fee, and the fee is sustainable for me. These characteristics aligns perfectly with my desire to have multiple work-for-hire clients, and still have spare time for my own game projects.
Everyone has idea’s. But creating something real of an idea is hard, and it is even harder to create something worthwhile.
I don’t know if my current idea is a good one. But I have learned a lot from my previous attempts at creating a game. For instance, this new game has to be something I want to play myself. With ‘Find the Gnome’ I did build it for my son and that didn’t work out that well.
My new game is going to be a game around these themes
space, inception, sleeves, management, adventure, 3D pixel-art, replay-ability.
I really love these concepts, genres, environments and styles. I think this will enable me to be a better judging of my own game.
But the question is: do you like a game of this type? Or do you know someone who will? Because I really like to get in touch with you or them, so we can shape this game together!
So… the ‘Digital Escape’ issue that I have at hand is a serous one. I probably get sued over my last move with them: I abandoned my contract.
The short version is: from day one we weren’t a perfect fit, and this problem became worse over time. I warned them often, but to no avail. This became such a draw on my time, mental health, and my family life that I had to call it off.
So time will tell what will become of this project and my contribution to it. And if they take me to court or not. I still hope we can just acknowledge this wasn’t a happy marriage from the start on and just part ways.
I am finally able to shed some light on the project I’m working on. It is called ‘Digital escape’ and it is a recreation of a real-life escape room in Escaperoom071 in Leiden.
Most of the work currently is going into creating the right ‘feel’ of the scene. This turned out to be significantly harder than anticipated. But we are here for the ride en we enjoy creating and learning as we make progress.
And a thing about spotting business opportunities and making the most of the situation at hand: We needed to launch during the lockdown because then the experience had a uniqueness to it that would mitigate the quality issues that come from a short development cycle.
So we are still planning on launching on the end of Juli, but now our focus is more on a quality experience than a quick delivery. We are giving it our best.
Learning to trust
I’m steadily learning more about how to run a business. A big part of the learning I’m currently experiencing is to get the magic out of ‘trust’ and start trusting people, starting with myself.
I made quite a few plans on what to do next, what should be my long-term goal, how to build a company, how to get a sustainable income, how to do work that I enjoy, and so on. All these long-term plans I developed didn’t work out. But on the contrary, every time I trusted myself or joined up with a person, I made the next step running my business. Plans didn’t work, but personal stuff works?!
A bit of warning: The following is my own learning, and probably has something to do with my personality / family trait.
For me ‘trust’ was to let someone else do something you would prefer to do yourself, but you are just not in the position to do so. And then wait for them to do what I would have done.
As I write these words I see them sounds stupid, and they are. But think about it this way. What have the following in common: working for a boss, being in a relationship, living in the Netherlands, having a good pair of brains.
The common denominator here is that these all are reliably fall-backs. There is no merit in relying / trusting when having circumstances like these. These circumstances make that I can just take my ‘trust’ back and do it myself, and probably get something oke-ish result out of it too.
I just never really had to trust myself or someone else. I now see that I just have to trust and letting go of control. Every time I did trust myself or someone, I really enjoy it. It gives so much more freedom and adventure. Not all things did work out that well though, but they never were complete failures.
The nice thing about having to trust myself is that with this I start trusting others more. My goals in work become more humane, because I see other humans go trough the same struggles as I do and we are in it together.
One of the goals of my blog is to show my own learnings in the hopes you can learn something from it too. I did share some financial info while doing so.
I know that sharing financial info is often perceived as a thing not to do. But I see too much people struggling with it. That is why I am more open about it then you could argue is wise.
For example: Lets say I need 2700 euro incl btw at minimum a month to survive as a business, and want 6500 euro incl btw to get to a sustainable long-term healthy business. Then that is what I need, do I? Where is the problem with sharing this information?
I hear a lot of people in the business world say ‘well you should be payed what you are worth’, and from there on name numbers that are all about maximizing profits. Or about justifying their own requests. Or this ‘healthy’ grow number in the back of their minds that their company should grow with a 2 digit number each year. Or the shareholders should be payed.
To me that sounds like consumerism to the max. It is the old habit of “Why settle for less if you could get more?” Well: because this is a spiral that will run out of control. I don’t NEED more, I WANT more. And then that ‘want’ will get hold of me and make sure I never ever have enough.
I think that with good financial skills you should be able to figure out what is enough to provide for yourself and your family, and then just stop getting more and start enjoying life.
As the weeks start rolling by the escaperoom project gets shape. With the 1th of June as the deadline for the product being ready for testing, and the 27th and 28th of June as the release date. Well, things do not work out as planned. I think we are halfway were we should be. Releasing on the 27th of June still is possible but with much less testing done.
I’m not trying to look good, but I foretold the team this would happen because of how work is structured. The idea was that if everyone showed his best intent and worked in his own productive ‘zone’ everything would be OK. At first I thought “well what do I know I never have build creative works like games in a team so my experience probably doesn’t translate”, but it turns out building games looks almost similar to how I’m used to do software development. People need to work together, know what is expected of them, how much ‘quality’ the work has to have in the phase it currently is in… and if things get off track you want to have a way of knowing the impact and fix it as soon as possible. That we needed some process definitely took the others by surprise.
Last week we all agreed that there needs to be a balance between creativity and speed on one hand and some process on working together and a shared goal on the other hand. I like it that we as a team decided to make the improvements (and not just me forcing stuff on others) so from here on things will get better.
I won’t go into much technical detail here, but I was working on getting all moving stuff synced and working well over the network.
The idea is that as you change the letter rotor you get a sequence BAAAA and then the drawer opens. My task is not to get the puzzle magic happen, but make it that other persons can see you doing your bit on the puzzle and that this networking thing is easy to add into the puzzles. As you can see it is a bit laggy and unresponsive, so that is the next thing for me to work on.
I finally decided to get a bookkeeper to look at my books and keep them updated.
When I started my business on December 2019 I had the idea of trying to do things myself, but for safety get a bookkeeper to look at the numbers halfway 2020. This to know if I was on track and doing things according to best practices and laws.
Funny thing is that I’m good with numbers and forecasting, but just keep making mistakes when it comes to the details. I have had my share of f*ckups already, just by not paying enough attention. For instance, I have to phone with the ‘belastingdienst’ on Tuesday because I received a letter stating something strange. I have to tell them that something did go wrong on my side and therefore probably also on their side and now things are lost in their administration…
Yeah I definitely need someone looking over my shoulder when details matter and there is not much room for error.
While working on my escaperoom project I’m already looking for the next project to take on. Last week I did some intakes for consultancy jobs. One stood out from the others in that I walked out at the end, baffled by what just happened.
I want to stay classy with talking about what happened because I’m just a specific person with my own believes and my own working ethics, and it could be that someone else would be very delighted to work in a place like that.
I had an appointment with the owner and the head of the software department. The head of the software department was a nice guy and I had a nice time talking to him about all the good technical stuff they had, so technically I found a match.
But the owner was a special kind of person. I talked with him for 45 minutes just enjoying his view on working and be amazed by how he run the business. It was totally not how I would do things but I liked hearing a businessman talking passionately about everything he build up. 5 minutes into talking with him I discovered this wasn’t going to be a match at all. But hey why walk away if you enjoy the talk? I managed to avoid specific questions of him but I think my reactions gave away that I doubted some of his statements…
What I learned from this is that although I enjoy talking I have a business to run. I think I was a bit vague because I wanted the talk to go on, but if it is so clear there is no fit I should just state that. I want to do work to my liking, he wants to have people that work to his liking: no match, no hard feelings. That is where intakes are for.
In hindsight I think I hoped he magically turned out to a good fit if I just understood him more or he sees my added value. But in contrary, as the talk continued the strangeness of the questions increased and I just could not hide being amazed by the boldness of his requirements.
I have a question for the frequent reader of this blog or the email campaign: in what type of update are you most interested? I started with these game project updates with pictures and a few personal reflections, but ended up talking more talking about business stuff.
I’m 2 weeks into the project for Escaperoom071 now, and I’m getting the hang of it. I have helped the team setup a project with GIT repo in Azure DevOps, I have setup a Unity3D CI/CD pipeline in Azure DevOps that builds our game and my local computer is configured as an Azure Build Agent to save on build costs.
All within the free 5-user limit of Azure DevOps of course!
But that is just one of the ‘side things’ I got to do. As another side thing I also had to make some architectural decisions on how to structure the game internally, what networking stuff to use and how this all comes together when someone pays somewhere and magically gets into the game.
I got hired for fixing the networking part. Like: getting players to see each other in the game, and see what they are doing and interacting with. So with all the tooling setup and the raw outlining of the product in place, Monday I was finally be able to start on the networking part. I finished syncing player movement today, Yay! It was actually more easy than I initially thought. I am using Photon BOLT, it has good support with great tutorials, and it does exactly what is should do.
As always, there was business stuff to think about.
For instance, I have to get a new project when this project ends on the 30th of June. I really like the gamedev for hire thing, working remote, talking English with other team members. The real deal! But can I get another game project by then? Or do I signup for another business software development contract that will last at least 3 to 6 months?
Or another thing that kept me thinking: how to setup a contract? I got written confirmation that the escaperoom project will pay me at the end of the 2 months for a given amount… but I want to have more certainty like weekly payouts or milestone payouts, short payment terms, and more certainty of what I am supposed to do so I can more easily show that I indeed finished work. On one hand I want to start fast and show them that I am a likable person, but on the other hand I cant live of the smiles of my business partners…
This week I tried a trick to get more productive. I read this trick somewhere a long time ago and finally gave it a try.
I work in blocks of half an hour, on a predetermined part of work, and have to stop at the end of the block. During that time, if I find myself distracted, I add a mark to the ‘distracted count’ on a paper next to me and carry on with the original planned work.
It turns out this helps 2 ways: get more focus on the task at hand, but at the same time it limits the energy burn when getting to deep into a certain task. At the end I manage to do more work in a single day, and can handle a workload with more diverse tasks in it. I allow a minimal of 5 minutes between blocks to just do whatever I want. Walk, game, browse the interwebs, things like that. But I determine on forehand at what time the next block happens and what task to pickup. That moment of relaxation is surprisingly rewarding and fun.
Sooo… with that said that’s it for this update. What parts of this update did you like, where do you want to hear/see more from? Leave a comment below, give me a call or mail me.
My goal for my first year of being independent was to create a few games of my own and hopefully find 1 ‘real’ payed project. But I didn’t count on finding a payed project, especially not this early…
So I’m very happy to announce my first payed project! I’m in advanced negotiations to create a digital game related ‘thing’ for Escaperoom071 from Leiden (Netherlands).
It is for a 2 months payed project with some other developers, and I’m in for the whole network/backend part.
For me this is a dream coming true: being able to develop games and at the same time doing what I’m good at. It feels so natural and good at the same time to be responsible for backend stuff and make architectural decisions about how to start and where to head to. Apparently a lot of my experience does translate to game dev.
With my work at Strukton wrapped up, I’m free to start something new. And the new thing is the above mentioned game project, that will run for 2 months. It also is for 32 hours/week so I can still spend time developing my personal game project with Bart.
In the previous update I mentioned that my motivation lacked. I think I have found the root of the issue: I have too many different things at hand. I think more people can relate to this, so here a bit more depth in what happend:
First of all I am a father and husband and I have a family to attent to. Due to COVID-19 the kids are @ home and a lot of the daily family business and household chores are now shared responsibilities to keep things manageable.
With me running a business now I have to do administration, acquisition, and define business goals.
The consultancy project at Strukton required 32 hours a week (excluding travel) and consumed a lot of my mental energy.
And because I want to get into gamedev I had to make sure every week contained some progress on gamedev too.
So my working weeks ranged from 60 up to 80 hours a week including travel, and is spread across at least 4 different types of responsibilities… The ‘funny’ thing is I always thought this would not happen to me and I would make sure everything could fit in a 40 hours working week. Well, turns out that’s not easy to do if you are responsible for your own business and still have a lot to learn. It takes practice to become efficient at it 😛
Hopefully this focus on gamedev helps having more mental energy. And the project is on a remote position so way less travel is required. We’ll see.
I have not much progress to report this time. Working on the game projects didn’t work out these weeks.
It seems I have some difficulties getting myself motivated to get working on stuff, combined with some minor health issues. I think it is probably due to the whole COVID-19 thing making life so much different.
But things are getting more bright. Because we currently have literally warm and sunny days. A few days in the sun and I am feeling much better already!
So while feeling better I want to shamelessly plug my own games 😛
Well, it is official for me now: due to COVID-19 things didn’t go as planned at Strukton and my work here is done.
It was expected tho, because I was brought in to do a specific project that would end on the 31ths of April. But right before the whole pandemic thing they asked if I would stay a few months more. So I was hoping I could sit this whole thing out with some more projects at Strukton. But some of their own projects got delayed and thus they now have enough capacity to manage all projects themselves.
I do spot new opportunities though. I recently signed up on Upworks.com to see if there are international projects I can work on. And I worked out our finances and we have ample room left. Maybe this is the time for me to try some work I normally wouldn’t accept because of the rates. But I rather do some great projects that pay not too great and get some more broad experience, than sitting at home and doing nothing.
O, and for those wondering: hey in the Google Playstore it is called Gearfull with to ‘ll’. Yeah, that wasn’t supposed to happen 😛
On the business continuity side things are still going well. My main source of income is showing no signs of problems so I will be able to continue working on my games in 25% of my time.
However the business project is getting ready for the final phase. In 1 or 2 months the project is over and I will need to look for a new one.
Depending on the situation in the world and progress on the new game project I can choose to spend some dedicated time on the new game or to get another business project.
Dedicate time to the new game: due to the Corona pandemic gaming is facing all time highs so releasing a game during these times could really pay off. Financially I can already sustain a few weeks without income so it is a viable option. I could even use it to search for a new project without the need for hasty decisions, so this option is the most likely for me if the game is at a viable stage.
Get another business project immediately: there is a lot of uncertainty in the economy currently but even now there is a search for developers. What I fear more is what will happen a few months later because a recession is very likely. So saving money could be a wise move, especially because I’m a starter.
So overall I am optimistic of the prospects of my company. I have a lot less to worry than a lot of other freelancers at this moment. I am very grateful that I still have payed work, my wife can make a difference as a nurse in the lung ward, and I don’t have serious ailments in my family at the moment.