Where Do You Find the Time to Play AND Make Games?

Like many indie game developers, I have a day job.

It pays the bills, but in exchange it asks me to dedicate a significant portion of my time to it during a given week.

I am married. I like being married to my wife. Since love is spelled T-I-M-E, in order to continue being married to my wife, a portion of my time is also spent just being with my wife.

We have a house. Now, before you buy a house, everyone is excited that you’re looking. They ask about neighborhoods you are considering and let you know about realtor friends they have.

But once you buy a house, suddenly everyone’s tune changes to the sarcastic song of “Oh, have fun doing all the maintenance on it! That’s home-ownership for ya!”

Like, they knew. They knew the entire time, and yet they never said anything until you joined them in their misery! So a portion of my time is spent mowing the lawn, fixing things like dryer vent ducts and minor plumbing issues, and general cleaning.

I like to sleep a full night. Well, I don’t actually. I wish I could use that time for other things, but I know sleep has a bunch of benefits. So aside from the occasional all-nighter in an emergency, a portion of my time is spent being uselessly unconscious.

So between a day job, commuting, married life, home ownership maintenance, eating, and sleeping, I find it difficult enough to schedule enough time to make games on the side. Cut back on idle time spent on Twitter and Facebook, cut out TV watching, cut writing in my blog, and there’s still only so much time left in a day.

And there aren’t even any children in the picture yet.

So how do some of you find time to actually play games?

It amazes me to read that other part-time indie game developers not only have time to play a new release but to also finish it within a week and give their well-conceived thoughts on it.

I once read about an interview with a prominent game designer who was asked what his favorite video games were, and he admitted that he didn’t play games. I remember wondering at the time how it is possible that someone could be in the industry but not play the games made by that industry.

But if you’re busy, and you are trying to make time for what’s important, then the less important stuff gets cut.

When my choice is to make games or play games, even if the temptation is high for play, making gets priority. I can play later. Or I can make time to play, but it will be limited.

For instance, this past Saturday I played board games with a bunch of people. The evening was dedicated to it, and then it was over.

Other times, I have played Mario Kart or Smash Bros with friends, or I’ve found myself with some free time and decided to use it to play a single-player game.

But those times are rare. They’re definitely not daily, and I don’t find myself playing a game for many evenings in a row until I’ve finished it.

That’s because I’ve dedicated those evenings to making games. Or mowing, but assuming the grass is fine, then it’s dedicated to making games.

It’s not that I don’t want to play games. In fact, I do want to play the many games in my collection, including games I still have from the NES. I have this delusion that one day I’ll have time to sit down and properly finish Final Fantasy and all the Wizardry games. I was playing X-COM, but only when it was released on Humble Bundle, but I never did get around to playing Civilization: Beyond Earth. Heck, I bought Civilization 3 at a physical store many years ago, and it has yet to be installed on my computer. Despite my poor game-playing track record, I love playing games, and I would play them more if sleep wasn’t so important.

Playing games is also good for research. How do you make games if you don’t know what is already being done, or what the trends are, or what conventions to follow to avoid reinventing the wheel?

Playing games keeps me informed. When someone talking about game design refers to Super Mario Bros or StarCraft, I’m on the same page. When they say something about flagpole jumping or Kerrigan’s betrayal, I know exactly what they’re talking about.

But when they refer to StarCraft 2 or Fallout 3 or really almost any major game released in the past couple of years, I’m going to have trouble understanding references if they aren’t explained.

It’s kind of embarrassing. Growing up, I was the “kid who knew everything about Nintendo”, but today I would have no street cred.

But I find myself choosing between making games and playing games, and playing games isn’t chosen often in favor of making progress on my own creative projects.

So if you are one of those people who somehow makes time for both, please write a comment below to let me know: how do you do it? Do you find that some areas of your life are out of balance as a result, or do you somehow make it all work? Do you purposefully take a period of time off from your indie game development to play a new game to completion, or do you play games regularly and squeeze in game development in the time left over?

A Book on Procedural Content Generation

Sometime back, I discovered Procedural Content Generation for Games, a book about using the computer to create or help to create game content such as levels, landscapes, rules, story lines, or any number of things.

The chapters are available in PDF form on the website for free. Each corresponds with a lecture for a university course the book was designed for, so it is a bit academic. It’s also a little rough, as the point of it being released for free online is to get feedback. These chapters are drafts and not necessarily how they’ll be when officially published.

The book hasn’t been released yet in hardcover, but Amazon’s link shows it as a 2017 edition. And since textbooks are like cars (I once had an accounting textbook that said it was an edition for a year that hasn’t arrived yet), apparently it means it might be released later this year?

I don’t know. There isn’t too much current info on the book. The latest blog post announcing new chapters was from 2013, and the link to the course website is broken.

But the chapters drafts are still available, and they offer some good insight into the algorithms and approaches used in existing games such as Rogue, Spelunky, Elite, Spore, and Minecraft.

Whether you’re interested in the Mario AI framework they describe, or learning how race tracks can be generated to appeal to certain player types, or how to use L-systems and formal grammars in general to generate plants and other features of your games, you could do worse than read through this freely available resource.

Being a Real Ally for Marginalized People in the Game Industry

I’m a white, straight, cisgender man. But I didn’t used to be.

In the past, I was just me. A unique individual human being just living his life like everyone else.

Then I started becoming aware of the fact that as a man, I live a completely different life compared to women.

I had my butt pinched once. It was by a woman passing by in a club when I was in Cancun on spring break in high school. It was such a novelty that I didn’t know how to react at the time other than with curious amazement that it happened.

All women, on the other hand, have experienced unwanted harassment from men. Some have experienced quite a bit, and some have received unwanted physical contact, and some have been physically hurt for resisting, and some have died.

And that’s just one general way in which we live different lives.

Then I started becoming aware of the fact that as a white man, I live a completely different life compared to people of color.

I got pulled over for speeding when I was in high school. I was nervous, and I got off with a warning. I had been pulled over for speeding maybe four more times, and I got a warning almost every time. One time I recall two officers on each side of my car, and another squad car appearing, and I wondered why there was so much overwhelming force. Everything was fine, though.

Black men, however, have to tell their children how to behave when, not if, they get pulled over so as not to give the officer any reason to believe they are in danger and an excuse to shoot first, ask questions later. Black drivers may drive the speed limit even if traffic is speeding around them to avoid getting into such dangerous situations in the first place. Some still get pulled over for Driving While Black. Some get harassed, some get physically hurt, and some die.

And that’s just one general way in which we live different lives.

Then I started becoming aware of the fact that as a cisgender man, I live a completely different life compared to transgender people.

One time in middle school I accidentally walked into the girls’ bathroom. It was on a different floor, and I didn’t realize I was in the wrong bathroom until I was washing my hands and noticed the lack of urinals and some strange dispensers on the wall. If I had been caught, I probably could have explained that it was an accident, and if I got in trouble anyway, it would probably have been a minor punishment.

Transgender people have entire states passing laws preventing them from peeing where they are most comfortable, which is scary because just peeing in a public bathroom has been a dangerous situation historically for them. Some have been physically beaten and some have died because other people became uncomfortable that someone different was in their bathroom.

And that’s just one general way in which we live different lives.

I used to just be a regular human being, but then I became aware of my privilege.

Privilege is about Society, not You Personally

I have a lot of privilege. I don’t have to pay attention to any of those things happening to people who aren’t white, male, and cisgender. I can continue to live my own life oblivious to it, because horrible things just generally don’t happen to me merely by virtue of me existing, and if something happens to a friend who happens to not be white or male or cisgender, well, it was probably a one-off because if it happened to me, it would be a one-off.

That’s privilege. It doesn’t mean I was given anything in life. It means societal norms are such that when I was born, I get to play the game of life on easy mode. No extra obstacles are thrown in my way due to me being me. No one is out to put me in my place, because my place by default is on top. I still have to play the game and exert effort, but I don’t have to work twice as hard to get half as much. People don’t look at me and assume I can’t possibly know what I need to know to do a job, so job interviews for software development positions don’t require nearly as much effort by me to impress as it might be for, say, a woman.

I don’t have to feel guilty about being privileged, as I didn’t specifically do anything to obtain that privilege. But I should be aware of it because how I tolerate the systems that allow that privilege means I’m basically tolerating the status quo for all of the marginalized people out there.

As uncomfortable as it may be to acknowledge this, my passive tolerance does, in fact, make me part of the problem.

But being made aware of it wasn’t easy.

Privilege is Invisible

I think it’s a much more profound challenge than it seems at first blush. It’s hard to communicate with people who have a very different frame of reference in life.

People with privilege don’t recognize that they have it, and so when they come into contact with someone who isn’t in their privilege bubble, it’s a jarring shock.

Privileged people see the world as meritocratic, and the idea that anyone has a disadvantage due to systemic issues is ridiculous specifically because they don’t see the system. To them, it’s just How Things Are.

They say things like “Why don’t you do what I did and work hard to get what you want instead of whining and hoping someone will give it to you?” without realizing that they were given the opportunity to work hard to get what they wanted without having to ask for it. They don’t see themselves as privileged because they worked hard.

They don’t see how what might be a minor and temporary inconvenience for them is yet-another-blow to someone’s dignity and welfare.

There’s that saying, “He was born on third base and acts like he hit a triple.” In a way, that’s everyone who has privilege. For people without privilege, many weren’t even allowed in the lineup.

For some (many?), being told that they need to go back to the plate to swing the bat and hit the ball before they can take a base, just like everyone else, is a setback.

Oh, and by the way, now there are more people who are allowed to participate.

It doesn’t feel like equality so much as the privileged person losing something. They start looking wistfully to the past as when things were better (specifically for them), and without getting too political about it, that’s how certain politicians seem to get so much traction with passionate voters by appealing to their bigotry.

People without privilege are much more aware of it because it is a constant issue in their lives. To them, someone with privilege must seem very obtuse. “How can they possibly not see what I see?”

It’s because their privilege is invisible to them.

So you have privileged people who don’t know they are privileged who might not have a mean bone in their bodies, and they might think of themselves as genuinely good. Yet they are part of the system. Being made aware of this fact, that they have privilege and there are systemic problems for people who don’t, and they should take some responsibility for being part of that system that allows for it, is a potentially ugly process.

Many go into denial because, hey, they are genuinely good people and don’t hate anyone! Some of their best friends are [insert non-privileged group here]! They didn’t personally do anything wrong!

And they might even be right on all of those counts, but it’s uncomfortable for them to believe that they fell down on the job of being more active in terms of even acknowledging privilege exists because it sounds like they should feel personally guilty about it.

So, if they ignore their privilege, the world goes back to the way it was when everything was a matter of pure merit and hard work, and it’s not their fault that other people are less well off.

Privilege is invisible to those who have it. Confirmation bias helps. And communication and spreading awareness is an uphill battle as a result.

Ok, You Have Privilege. Now What?

I think one challenge I’m finding is what to do now that I am aware of my privilege.

And I mean do, because being aware and not changing how I behave and act feels like it is worse than being unaware and blissfully ignorant.

I’ve been doing some research, partly for my own growth, and partly as research for my church’s efforts to ensure they are a welcoming organization for transgender people. A lot of the action steps I’m finding out there for allies are along the lines of “Don’t say this, don’t assume that, do make space.” All good, but after that, I feel like there should be more to it.

Like, ok, I get it. Don’t be a jerk, and treat everyone you meet as a human being. Learning about hurtful and appropriate language and micro aggressions and existing systemic oppression are details, but there has to be more to it, right?

I’m not saying my education is complete, nor do I want to downplay the importance of those details, but it’s one thing to see and recognize privilege, and another to do something about it.

But I feel like there’s a next step that I’m responsible for figuring out because no one is talking about it.

Most articles I’ve found for allies boil down to one of either two things: a list of do’s and don’t’s to help you be aware of your privilege, or a diatribe about how allies are failing at being real allies. It seems like every ally-related article I find focuses exclusively on the “be aware” part, or it laments how allies are falling short of actually doing more than making themselves feel better about being so progressive. There’s almost nothing out there that feels like set of a tangible actions and behaviors that would make a lasting difference.

The video game industry struggles like many industries with marginalized identities. Mattie Brice is a games critic and activist I’ve followed on Twitter for a long time who has written about this topic often. Recently she tweeted a link to her article which captures why things haven’t improved substantially despite the number of marginalized voices creating games these days.

Brice argues that despite progress on a number of fronts, it seems the status quo is still pretty much what it was, and it seems to be because that’s what supposed activists actually want.

That is, people asking for more diverse representations in games expect to play the same games we’ve always played. You know, only this time Ubisoft could figure out how to budget for the production of female models.

Right now liberal games people find the values of marginalized perspectives quaint, nice flavor that could be adapted or added on to what we already have, but not the main dish. So they aren’t necessarily against radical viewpoints, and definitely encourage them to exist, but only unsupported so change is as slow as possible.

This forces people who have the most to lose and are currently in danger to take the majority of the weight of moving things along.

This idea that marginalized people shoulder the brunt of the work of rising up against the systemic problems is something I was made aware of while talking about ways transgender people could feel more welcome at my church. I didn’t want to speak for these people as I worried it wasn’t my place to do so, but it’s exhausting for them to do everything on their own because they are fighting an uphill battle.

If I had to constantly talk about being a white, straight, cisgender man, and constantly defend every action or thought as a white, straight, cisgender man, it would, in fact, be exhausting. But since society sees me as the default, I don’t have to exert that energy.

So as an ally, what I could do is amplify marginalized voices rather than merely sit back silently. They have their own voices, and I can do much more than wait for them to feel comfortable enough to speak in a hostile environment. I can make the environment more friendly. I could share what they say.

But I could also do more.

We know that these people get less resources, both from games and society as a whole, and not changing how you consume and practicing what you value continues that divide. Said liberal masses are forcing marginalized creators into critical positions by being apathetic at best about the literal support the give while contributing to entities that maintain the status quo.

Marginalized creators don’t often have access to the marketing might of major publishers, and as a person of privilege, it’s easy for me to not even be aware that these creators exist, which contributes to their marginalization without my awareness.

From this article, I’m thinking that one of the tangible things I can do as someone with privilege is to make the extra effort to find marginalized voices. So when I think about buying a new science fiction book, for instance, rather than choose from a bestsellers list or merely on Amazon’s recommendations, I could actively seek out science fiction books written by authors I might not know about.

That’s not a difficult thing to do, but until Brice’s article, it hadn’t occurred to me to do it.

And if I address this in each aspect of my life, from where I eat to what I read children before bedtime to what movies I decide to watch to what I personally create, then I’m hopefully doing more than mere awareness and actually practicing what I value.

I’m going to continue to look for more, but being more conscious about where my dollars go is one tangible, impactful thing I can do to make privilege more visible. It doesn’t sound so hard, but I’m surprised there isn’t more about it out there.

Being that I have the awareness of my privilege to ignore injustice, it’s a moral decision not to ignore it. Being in a position of privilege, I feel obligated to do more than the bare minimum of merely not being a jerk. It will probably be exhausting work, but it’s already exhausting for the people who don’t have the privilege to avoid the work. It is wrong to sit on the sidelines and think I’m still a good person while other people suffer indignity, harassment, injustice, and death.

Nintendo Reveals Details, Pictures, and Official Name of NX

Nintendo hasn’t given away too many details about their upcoming console known as NX. Rumors abound, with speculation based on patent filings, and recently a few leaks about the NX controller turned out to be hoaxes.

Many expected Nintendo to make a formal announcement at E3 this June, but the company surprised fans with not only the announcement but the release of their new console through the What’s New section of Nintendo.com:

It is with great excitement that we introduce to you the NintendOne4, our most advanced home entertainment console yet!

In the past our systems have been designed around the kinds of games our designers would like to create, and we usually kept those systems a secret until we felt we accomplished what we wanted it to do. Sometimes, however, what we create isn’t always well received by our customers.

They were clearly referring to the disappointing reception of the Wii U, of which they recently denied rumors that they had stopped production on it. Many of their target customers were never clear on what the Wii U was and why they should have bought one.

The NintendOne4 surprised many analysts who expected yet another console that was more unique than what competitors were offering.

Instead, Nintendo has opted to put out a system that seems more inline with what a follow-up to an Xbox One or PS4 would look like.

We’ve designed this new system based on the enthusiastic feedback of our most passionate fans, and we think you’ll love the gaming experiences this new system allows for.

NintendoOne4

Nintendo of America’s Reggie Fils-Aimé was quoted as saying, “We’ve always been interested in what the fans want”, and that the company was moving in a completely different direction due to the needs and wants of a devoted following.

“We knew we had passionate fans, but there was this very small, core group of people we discovered who were super passionate about gaming. They’re kind of the gatekeepers of games in terms of their influence, and in fact, once we started hearing what they had to say, we realized that NX had to be completely different from what we were originally trying to do.”

When pressed about this group of fans and their influence, Fils-Aimé referred vaguely to a very small group involved in social media who coalesce around “some hashtag or another.” They’re Nintendo’s essentially free focus group, and they have been instrumental in the company making the strategic moves they did.

“We think it’s amazing that there is this tiny community of very vocal fans who can tell you exactly what they’re thinking and feeling at the drop of a hat. And we want them to know that Nintendo is listening to every word they say and taking it very seriously.”

He quickly changed the subject to speak excitedly about the NintendOne4’s launch titles.

“There are an unprecedented number of innovative and enjoyable games people can play right now, which is unheard of for a new console launch.”

Almost 300 games are available, and some surprising items in the list include Halo 5: Guardians, which was originally a Microsoft-exclusive title.

“Yes, we have some very interesting partnerships,” said Fils-Aimé, while gesturing with wagging fingers in the air.

My Blog Post on Running an Indie Business en Espanol

Javier Fernández recently reached out to me about translating my post Indie Developers Have Always Needed to Treat Their Businesses Like Businesses into Spanish.

And so now over at Zehn Games you can read Los indies siempre han tenido que tratar su negocio como lo que es: un negocio, and it’s available to a wider audience.

I don’t speak Spanish, but I liked that he even translated the whiteboard image. B-)

I’m going to go drink my jugo de naranja now.

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