Unleash Your Creativity: 5 Ways To Set Your Game Dev On Fire

Video Game Development sets a high bar. What are the keys to keeping the creative fires burning?

1. FAIL

When I first started out, this single idea set my creative process free. My whole focus became please myself. And I had to try a lot of things to please myself. Once I had an idea I loved and was convinced it was the best I could do, I didn't give a hoot what anybody else felt. If they didn't like it, or my idea landed with a fatal splat, who cared? I embraced the possibility of failure, and it set me free. Ironically, I started having a lot of success.

"I have not failed. I found 10,000 ways that didn't work." Edison vs Tesla

 

2. DREAM

By dream I mean take a walk in the woods and let your mind go. Do the dishes. Watch TV. Play a game. Distract yourself. I like to work on ideas then go to sleep. Invariably, I wake up with a some of the best ideas I'll ever have.

"Trying to force creativity is never good." Sarah McClauchian 'Angel'

 

3. JUMP

How are you going to fly if you don't jump? I look for the single idea that scares the pants off me and go for that one. Sure, there's been times when that crazy risk turns into an abysmal, embarrassing failure. When that happens, refer to #1 on this list.

"The biggest risk is not taking a risk." Mark Zuckerberg vs a toaster

 

4. WATCH

What does great creativity do? It connects. Become an observer of life. The more you understand what makes people smile, what makes them laugh, what makes them cry and what makes them love, the more you infuse your ideas with the deep humanity you need to make people connect with your work. Every bus ride, walk down the block, and hang out with friends is an opportunity to learn. I find a wall to lean against at big parties. It's who I am. But I also love people watching. It's how I learn things that help me write.

"You can observe a lot just by watching." Yogi Berra deja vu all over again

 

5. PLAY

Back in the days when I was teaching music, I used to tell my students 'they call it playing.' Never get so rigid in your process you don't just let go and have fun. Follow your passions, work your craft, perfect your tools, but never forget sometimes to let go and rock. You bump into the most extraordinary ideas that way.

"Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game." Michael Jordan is rich


Are You So Dependent On Technology You Die Without It?

The tyranny of tools - the phrase kept coming into my mind. We've haplessly drifted into a place where we can't walk down a street without a technology leash.

I began thinking this way when I moved from team to team, and every team had a set of tools to increase our productivity. Each team had an almost religious fervor about 'their' tools being better than the tools those other teams used. Until there was an outbreak of tool envy and suddenly the team shifted into a new tool set. Slack, Jira, Asana, Whats App, Skype, Zoom, onto bigger things, Zoho, Salesforce, and bigger still, Hansoft, Streamframe.

Good steady workers keep their heads down and learn the ins and outs of these tools, the quirks, the shortcuts until they 'own' the technology, and the team starts to hum and settle in and then . . .

There's a new tool.

There's always a new tool.

It's the restless nature of the technology beast.

Code builds on code and spews out better tools.

Technology has the shelf life of a mayfly. 18 months. And the update better be revolutionary.

And what does that make us? Worker bees tied to the technology tit?

In his paper, Legacy Systems and Functional Cyborgizations of Humans, Alexander Chiselenko coined a word for what we become when we are too tightly bound to our technology: Fyborg - functional cyborgs. He even devised a self-test for you to check your fyborg status,

  • Are you dependent on technology to the extent that you could not survive without it?
  • Would you reject a lifestyle free of any technology even if you could endure it?
  • Would you feel embarrassed and "dehumanized" if somebody removed your artificial covers (clothing) and exposed your natural biological body in public?
  • Do you consider your bank deposits a more important personal resource storage system than your fat deposits?
  • Do you receive most of your knowledge about the world through artificial symbolic language, rather than natural sensory experience?
  • Do you identify yourself and judge other people more by possessions, ability to manipulate tools and positions in the technological and social systems than primary biological features?
  • Do you spend more time thinking about -- and discussing -- your external "possessions" and "accessories" than your internal "parts"?

If you answered "yes" to most of these questions you are already a cyborg! Congratulations!

Here's an amazing thing, of course. This is not a new test. It was first proposed in 1995. It's been appropriated in lots of ways, including by a rock band that called themselves, Fyborg. Catchy.

But let's be honest. Didn't we all answer yes to most of those questions?

And that's telling. In 1995 the odds were you might have failed the test. Twenty years later?


The Future In Video Games Is Southeast Asia

We've been building the company at supersonic speed. We see the future all around us in KL.

The trick is not to predict the future, not to wave your hands over a crystal ball, not to toss bones or read omens in a dancing fire. The trick is to actually live the future, declare today the day things change, evolve, move on.

So we went to Southeast Asia, a part of the world that’s been growing, coming together, taking control of its future. Things are changing, the world re-shaping itself on a daily basis and Southeast Asia is in the middle of it, maybe in some cases at the epicentre.

SEA is the fastest growing games region in the world.

In terms of diversity, population, revenue, SEA’s new economic clout is starting to send signals: Look at us, here we are. An area as dynamic as Europe, growing in leaps, something to pay attention too.

"SEA growth is outpacing Latin America and Eastern Europe. Revenues have surpassed a billion dollars. The huge population means no ceiling on growth."

Maybe more importantly, entry into the SEA market is wide-open, with fewer barriers than China.

There is a more compelling opportunity for foreign investment. Trade is invited to create something new, explore different possibilities, find its own place, with fewer dictates from the government. And culturally too, the welcome is open-armed, the door ajar.

"All countries in the region are familiar with English as a language of international business. In Singapore and Philippines, English is an official language. In Malaysia, English is an active second language and other regions widely use English in business." 

SEA culture is in step with the West online as well.

"Southeast Asia also shares many of the same preferences for social networks as the West. As high as 95% of those using mobile social networks or chat applications in Vietnam are active on Facebook. The lowest percentage of Facebook users in the region is Indonesia, and that is still at 78%. Twitter and Instagram are also utilized at a good rate in all regions." Newzoo Research

New standards, new currents of entrepreneurship and investment flow across the Pacific in both directions. New economic opportunities are on the horizon. The time has come to live into the future and seize the days that lay just ahead.


How Do You Develop Iconic Characters For Your Video Game?

Nothing makes a game sing more than a great lead character. Where do you find them?

Photo courtesy of http://pacman.com/en/

Sometimes I wonder if the fault is in our engines. There’s a sameness to a lot of games. A sameness in movement. A sameness in look. And a sameness in character. Which means a sameness in story.

But in any creative the key to great success is originality. Sure, after a hit game you’re going to see 20 hit games that simply look like variations on a theme. That happens in movies and TV and on the shelves of your local bookstore. Why should video games be any different?

What I’ve been working on are different ways to look at story, different ways to approach things, and asking myself how do you develop iconic characters? Because if your aim is a great game, it begins right there, with a great character living a great story.

That’s what captures people and spins them into the heart of your game. That’s what they remember. And that’s what signs them up for the next ride.

We’re talking story here, which gives rise to character, which underlines your game with iconic force.

I’m not discussing iconic characters in games (because that’s already been ably done right here) but rather looking at ways to pop those iconic characters out of your personal brain pod by examining the context of your story.

Now some games are more story focused than others, but every great character has a story, even if that story only belongs to the design team. Every character needs context and that context begins, always, with desire.

What does the character want above all else? To chew on this let’s look at a simple character that also is arguably one the greatest video game characters of all time: Pac-Man. A simple character in a simple story.

Pac-Man’s whole goal is to survive. And when he doesn’t he lets out that plaintive little cry of despondency, a perfect match to your dead hand on the joystick. I have failed. I have been eaten. Desire so clear-cut means everybody instantly connects with a character, and yes, everybody apparently connected with Pac-Man. And identified with Pac-Man. Another essential criterion for an iconic character.

The context of Pac-Man is the Maze. He’s caught in a Maze. Aren’t we all? That’s the underlying message of the game and why it was an instant cultural tsunami.

A strong, clear-cut desire in a universal context. You can’t beat it.

Let’s stick with Pac-Man a moment because by examining and re-examining context, we deepen our story. What I am suggesting is when you get stuck in your story, check your context. If you find your way forward from the contextual point of view, not only will you uncover new storylines, you will deepen your protagonist’s character.

Pac-Man is trying to survive. Pac-Man is also insatiable. And Pac-Man is trapped. To ultimately survive Pac-Man must escape the maze. The Maze is everything. It defines every single thing about Pac-Man. His world is bound and limited. His hunger is a product of the Maze. His harried scurrying, crazy left, and right, and backward and forward, his limited choices a product of the Maze. Everything about Pac-Man is the Maze and if you want more character in this little ball of fun, keep returning to the Maze, because the Maze will give you endless ways to develop his character, and therefore his story.

You can write a War and Peace length epic novel about Pac-Man if you keep harvesting context from the Maze. And no, I am not going to do that. I said you could do it.

Let’s say some mean ass game producer gives you the assignment of developing Pac-Man’s character. Where do you begin? The Maze. Once upon a time Pac-Man was bored.

What next?

He was bored because he was stuck in the Maze. The Walls were high, the paths limited. The same slog again and again. What would that context mean to Pac-Man? I’d say it would drive him crazy. Pac-Man is insane. In fact, Pac-Man has reached his breaking point. He can’t take the Maze anymore. He snaps. He becomes a homicidal maniac.

Now what?

What if he escapes the Maze? Without the Maze, he wanders the city in an unconfined rage. He kills and maims and becomes Dark Pac-Man. The lack of the Maze is the now context. Without the confines of the Maze he loses all touch with reality. He begins to hallucinate. He starts to babble, but people he meets mistake his babbling for enlightenment. Pac-Man becomes a guru, with followers and a religion springs up. He’s carried around the city in a golden chair.

And then?

Umm, The Maze! Always return to the original context to find your story. He decides the Maze now means survival. He needs to escape the crushing pressures of being The One. He must get back to the Maze. But without walls he is hopelessly lost, there are no boundaries, so how can he find the Maze again?

You figure it out.

There are a million roads to take in a story, but the right ones will be the ones that return to the context of your story. A context can evolve, and shift, and sometimes change completely, but when you get lost in your storyline, step back, check out your context and right there is your new way forward.

Understanding your context and placing your character firmly inside of it can lead you to a protagonist with iconic resonance.


Does Your Team Have What It Takes? (Take The Test & Find Out.)

Video game development is only as good as the team.  But what makes a great team?

I was part of a team that produced 25 grand operas. One after another. Hard work, but the team worked together seamlessly.

I was on a team that launched a major brand globally in 118 countries. The team came from everywhere, had different backgrounds, spoke multiple languages, but pulled together beautifully.

Then I was on a team that produced a TV show. It was a slog, all 200+ episodes, like pushing a big stone up a steep hill.

What was the difference?

If a company wants to outstrip its competitors, it needs to influence not only how people work but also how they work together. NY Times.

It's the Golden Age of Collaboration. 80% of workers time is spent in meetings, or on calls, dealing with emails, or productivity tools like Slack or Streamframe.

Project Aristotle was designed by Google to collect data on teams. The goal was to understand what made a great team. Tracking individual's behaviors, even who had lunch together, allowed Google to amass a huge amount of data to draw sharply sketched conclusions.

And what were they?

I'd sum it up this way:

Okay, yes, I'm being a touch facetious, but studies of how the better performing teams function always came down to fundamental dynamics between team members. In a great team everybody gets a chance to talk, people show respect. Emotions are key. If a team feels suppressed or bullied, its performance suffers.

So maybe a good way to assemble a great team is to test your intuitive understanding of people's emotions. In a room filled with people, emotions are complex and fluid. Reading the teams emotional landscape can make you a great leader. And great leaders lead great teams that get great results for your business.

The Reading The Mind's Eye Test was developed to test the emotional response of highly functioning people with Aspergers. But it also serves to check your ability to read the emotional mindset of the eyes. The eyes, after all, are windows to the soul, and the soul is the homestead of our emotional state.

I got 27/36, so maybe I'm not the hot shot team leader I think I am.

How did you do?

TAKE THE TEST HERE. 


Game Dev on Speed: The 5 Minute Meeting

Video game development is hard work, but you can lose whole days in meetings.

There are days when long meetings are productive. The whole team gets in a room. The discussion is lively. People get their ideas out. People get heard. Teams develop a sense of comradery. But there are other days when meetings become a drag, go on forever, have no focus and ultimately no purpose. Nothing gets done. An entire work day down the tubes.

What's the secret for a great meeting? What are some of the techniques? And is it possible to get more accomplished in less time?

In video game dev you need meetings, you need to get together, you need everybody on the same page. But time is money. So how do you make sure your money is well spent?

It's all in the prep.

Here are steps you can take to make sure your team gets together, talks it over, and gets back to work in the shortest time possible. All the while increasing productivity. And maybe staying less stressed and more healthy as well!

6 STEPS

1. Set an agenda and distribute it ahead of time.

Maybe you have time to do this or maybe not, but if you do, you'll save a ton of time. If everybody knows what you're talking about, people come ready with questions AND answers.

2. Start the meeting off with a quick intro of the topic.

Set it up. If you're the one who called the meeting, it's your meeting, your responsibility, your agenda. Get it going in the right direction right from the start.

3. Assess the problems you're trying to solve.

Have a discussion about industry trends - who's doing what to solve similar problems, new technologies, new ideas. Reference your thoughts. Prepare slides to back up your idea.

4. Discuss solutions.

Make a list and assign the list to different people to try out different solutions. Set up threads to discuss the process. Or even better, solve the problem right there. Don't make a meeting that has to solve too many problems. Pick a problem and solve it. In a sense, as a manager, you might want to use a meeting to teach problem-solving. If your team gets good at problem-solving, maybe you can have fewer meetings!

5. Actions.

Every meeting must result in action. Otherwise, it's a bunch of people getting together and bullshitting. And we've all been to too many meetings like that. Once you have the problem defined and solved, set actions to put into place the solutions, and be specific. Assign the work to a particular team member. Get it done.

6. End every meeting with a summary and a set up the next session.

A healthy production pipeline is always active and has a strong direction. Don't let your development drift.

Get these steps down and your meetings will fly.

But there's one other consideration to set up a quick paced meeting.

What kind of meeting are you having?

There are four basic types of meetings, and knowing which kind your calling makes everything go smooth. And quick.

4 Meeting Types

1. Creative: Discussing any aspect of a story, production, art, design, any detail that needs a creative discussion.

2. Decision: Anything that needs to be decided, budget, purchase of software, team assignments, any organizational discussion, timeline, milestones, when you need decisions to move forward.

3. Information: A breakdown after an industry show, discussions about clients, plans about travel, new technologies to discuss, industry trends, company policies, and programs.

4. Analytical: At the end of development, a dissection, what you've learned, how to apply the experience going forward, the nuts and bolts of the business.


3 Pillars of Great Video Game Design

An idea floats in the ether, formless, a spark, inspiration, but to bring it into focus you need a great design.

A great game, no matter the medium, engages people, gives them new challenges to take on, and skills to learn, and rewards them in the end. This might be chess, or it might be Final Fantasy. It's fundamentally the same.

A well-struck balance between different factors is the hallmark of great game design.

There are three elements that work together to produce a great video game design. There are multiple factors at play, some of them intangible, but balancing these three fundamental parts of a game design, getting everything just right, can take you a long way down the road to a game experience that hooks you and won't let go.

1. Gameplay

Is it possible to make a game so intuitive to play you jump into the game, and you're completely immersed from the start? Maybe not, but I believe that should be the goal of every great game design. It's truly a fundamental part of games that is often overlooked. People will talk story (so will we in a moment) and art and atmosphere when they discuss game design, but the gameplay makes the difference. Good gameplay design gets you into the game fast, and you forget about it. It's seamless. What can be more fundamental and critical in game design?

You might spend hours getting the look of your characters just right, but if the gameplay is off, nobody will ever get a chance to enjoy all your hard labor on character design.

There is a place for all those elements people often discuss when it comes to game design, but I rolled them into one big, meaningful whole because seeing them that way creates another concrete pillar for our game design triad.

2. Dimensionality.

Let's borrow from String Theory for a second (yes, really) to discuss dimensionality as height, width, depth and time. To create a vibrant four-dimensional place, a game must look to different emotional elements working in harmony: Soundscapes, art, music, voices, story, all combining to design a real immersive atmosphere, The idea is to transport a player.

Gameplay gets them into the game, but dimensionality propels the player into another world. The perfect balance achieved, and the player is barely aware of the game at all, the player becomes part of the game. To bring a player to this state, it's important to understand all the elements of a game's dimensionality must work together. Anything superfluous must go.

A great game can be a crude sketch, a simple world of 8-bit depth, but even in the most straightforward game the right dimensionality draws a player into the game and provides a memorable experience.

Let's play that again; the greatest compliment a game designer can hear.

Which brings us to the third pillar a fundamentally sound game design must have, and arguably the most important. Without this, you might as well not even begin.

3. Concept.

When I was a kid, I started out in an advertising agency that was devoted to the Big Idea. The Big Idea was everything. It was undeniable. It was unique. It set an impossible standard, but it served an exact purpose. Unless your idea resonated, breathed, had its own momentum, you shelved it and looked for another one.

Believe me; I spent many hours staring out my office window at 3 A.M. waiting for the Big Idea to appear. And when somebody nailed one, it sent a charge up and down our New York skyscraper. Nothing has more power than the Big Idea, and it's as true today as it was twenty years ago.

Do you alway come up with a Big Idea? No. If every game, every designer had a Big idea, the world would be a better place, but sometimes you have to move forward with what you've got.

The point is to examine every aspect of your game idea until you have shaped and understood your concept. Because Big Idea or not, everything must serve the concept. If it doesn't, hit delete.

Test your concept, challenge your concept, go over it with other people, make sure your entire team is on the same page about every aspect of your concept. What's the ultimate test of your concept? You can't wait to start. And that eagerness to share your work is at the bedrock of every great game design.


The Beautiful Process of Digital Art at Streamline

In our digital art, we seek mystery and depth.

We endeavor to break new ground, wander new realms, find our way to something new every day.

It is an artists' charge to do no less.

An artist strives to stand away from society. To be different. The rest of us - the bankers and politicians and scientists and teachers - are under no such obligation. But an artist stands alone by choice, becomes their own testing ground, their own experiment, creates their own path and rules. Not that any of this process is all that considered or fits any pattern or route. The best art surprises the artist as well. It is unexpected. All revelations are.

Experience in art only means experience in discarding and choosing, no experience in the process, and every master will tell you the life of an artist is losing all technique until all you are left with is the core of your inspiration.

So most of us take it for granted the life we have, the nuts and bolts of it, but an artist recasts it, approach the mystery beneath, not to solve it or find any great answer there, but merely to point and say all may not be as it seems.

In digital art, in the complex collaboration of video game development, this dance toward art is the greatest challenge. It requires a process that is rigorous and free at the same time. It requires a depth of communication between different teams. It 's hard. But it's possible. And the result can be translucent.