Some thoughts for 2019

2018 has come to an end, and 2019 is upon us. Because of this I would like to get a few thoughts out there about what my expectations are for the coming months, both in regards to personal developments and events happening in the greater scheme of things so to speak, starting with the former of course.

It’s been over a year since I first decided I got sick of being a non-drinker all my life, and since then I don’t feel like I’ve lost the sense of self-control that I usually take for granted. I do like to take it up a notch every now and then, but it’s only in the holiday season so far that I actively feel like trying to approach drunkenness (to my disappointment I haven’t succeeded yet, but at least I’m having fun). I’d say that’s a good sign and I personally owe it to a regulated schedule of light recreational drinking. If anything, I like to think I’ve gotten confident with drinks, and I’m that in the next year I hope to share the experience with the right people. In fact, there’s a part of me that hopes to start going to Christmas and Halloween parties for real.

On a related note, I do hope I manage to open up to other people more so that I can succeed in socializing with others, and, in time, find the kind of person I’ve been searching for for so long – in other words, the right person to love and be loved by. And on that front, I think there’s a chance I might just find that person. I don’t want to say too much, but while I was out doing some seasonal shopping I saw someone pretty who caught my attention. This wasn’t an encounter where I simply glanced at her a few times and then moved on; I had the opportunity to talk to her, and although it didn’t go the way I hoped, we seemed to talk about our shared musical interests and now I want to find any chance I can get to meet with her again. I know I’m being awfully optimistic, especially for my situation, but I genuinely think we might have something in common and I think I might just get along with her.

I’ve been in part-time employment for about a month or two now. I work for a very small training company and I mostly do administrative tasks there – basically I help keep the place organized by making sure all their records are in the right place and similar tasks. However, as part of my administrative role there, they also have me working on a project to streamline their customer records. I don’t want to give everything away, because I think that would mean potentially divulging trade secrets and what have you, but let’s just say they’re giving me the chance to apply some skills from my game design student days outside the field I studied. Also, although I’ve only been coming in for a few days each week (and in that time, just a few hours), I am getting paid and from next week onward my hours, and from there my pay, will go up. With any hope this will give me a stable income that will allow me to build a stable life for myself where I can pursue most of my dreams.

And on that front, I still intend to form an artist cooperative centering around video games, or more specifically story-building for video games, but there’s been a bit of a snag. For months I’ve been trying to arrange a meeting with a post-graduation research program facilitated by the university I once studied in that would potentially help me with my project, in particular by allowing me to get in contact with people with whom I could get my project started. However, we have been unable to get the meeting started because the person I need to talk to has been unavailable, and as it turns out has been ill recently. Now I can’t get things started until after New Year’s Day. However, we are on January now, so I think I can start getting in touch soon about when the meeting will happen.

In addition to this, there is a development concerning the video game industry that may affect my path. I want to elaborate on this development and its rammifications further on a separate post but I can give you a quick summary. Basically, major video game companies across the West, as well as some Japanese companies, are nosediving like no tomorrow. They are rapidly losing stock, and there are signs that we could well be heading for another video game crash the likes of which haven’t been seen in over thirty years. I’ve been told that the collapse of big industry giants might pave the way for smaller companies to take the reins, leaving room for new modes of organization to become more prolific, but I’m honestly not sure how things are going to go. Still, if that’s true, it does give me some reason to strike while the iron is hot, or even before that.

But I’ll be honest, I think the collective nosedive being undertaken in the video games industry is a reflection of something much larger we’ve been seeing. Right now we’re heading into a major global recession the likes of which haven’t been seen since only as far back as 2008. It was expected that there would be a holiday boom that might have offset the downturn we’ve been seeing, but no, not quite. You might not see a sudden downturn,  you might not see it too soon, there’s a chance you might not even see it in 2019 necessarily, but it’s coming, and it’s going to affect so much of our way of life. And, keep in mind, given that economic stability often goes hand in hand with war, this may also play into things like American military expansion, Russian geopolitics, the possibility of Chinese excursion into Taiwan, the eventual invasion of Venezuela by either the US or neighboring Latin American countries, and even the ever-looming threat of nuclear war between either NATO and Russia or India and Pakistan. All the while we in my country still have the effects of our manhandled Brexit plan to worry about, and any global downturn we have could make our already turbulent situation even worse – it’s my opinion that we will more than likely leave the European Union when all is said and done, and I’m still glad that we’ll be leaving, but unless we take bold measures to secure the economy from the ravages of global market forces we could well be in for one of the worst economic scenarios we’ve had in a long time. And if China and Turkey, and perhaps arguably the USA, are any indication, consistent economic decline will be followed by increasing authoritarianism as nation states try to hold together their capitalist economies which depend on the fluctuations of global markets. Trust me, if I were you I’d be very concerned about how the next few years are going to play out.

But, hey, the new year has only just begun. Perhaps I’m giving the worst possible picture of the days to come, and I am good at keeping worst-case scenarios burned into the back of my head. That’s not say, of course, that the dangers aren’t very real. All that said, however, there’s no reason to dwell to strongly on the negative. After all, you never want to take the black pill. Still, the world is a pretty crazy place right now, it almost feels like it’s going to hell in a handbasket for lack of a better phrase. But here I am, in one of the quieter parts of the world, or far that matter one of the quieter parts of Britain. There’s still time for me to make my way in this world, there’s still time to carve my own path.

Happy New Year everyone.

The true test

Having started the first proper week back in university, two facts are made abundantly clear. The first is that there’s going to be plenty I have to do in order to get through to the end of the course. I’m not kidding around, sometimes it feels like they’ve brought back homework and given it a different name and context. Second, I pretty much have to do everything on my own. I can’t make a game on my own, because that is fucking impossible for me to do within the time I have to complete the course and my current skill set, but everything else I have to do on my own. This is largely going to consist of written proposals for the first part of the year, but going forward I expect my pathway to be much more research oriented.

To me, this is the onset of a new challenge. In the past, I did do things on my own, but there was a lot of teamwork, for all the good it did for my cynical soul anyway. But now, I see myself having to devote myself to independent study and research. This is where the true test comes in. If I can succeed in this effort, then I can prove that I’m more than capable of researching and thinking independent to a wider world in which I hope to gain employment. If I succeed, particularly if I get a 1st, it will be proof, not simply to myself, it will proof of my intellect. And if I can find the path to using that intellect to get me a sustainable income, and hopefully allow me to spend my days in America, it will be a great source of pride and happiness.

I have an awful habit of underestimating myself that I haven’t really shaken off, and I feel like even with my academic successes (by which I mean my written work being highly marked) that thought tends to be reinforced by my actual design work, which I don’t rate very highly myself. I keep being reassured by others that this is actually the sign that you’re better than you think, as in Dunning-Kruger effect, but I compare my own work to the others and I’m convinced that it’s objectively worse, even if it’s not that bad. If I can get a job anywhere in the games industry off the back of exceptional independent research, which my lecturers think is possible for me to produce (and they wouldn’t have reason to doubt me based on results), then I hope it will help to put this shit to rest.

Done with my third year at university

This next post is just a quick update on my part in what’s going on for me personally, as I have some relatively important news. As of June 9th, I am officially done with my third year at university. And by officially, I mean that we’re done with the game showcase we were doing and my program director flat out told me that there’s nothing more to do and there’s no real point in sticking around after that point until the next academic year. For me this means there is nothing to do other than prepare for my fourth year, wherein I undertake the Masters course. Because I’ve signed on to an integrated Masters degree continuing directly from third year, I don’t actually have a graduation ceremony until next year.

So what does this mean for me? Well, I’m probably going to be looking for a part-time job for the next few months and find some activities for myself so I don’t get bored. A summer break can be very long for me, and the last two breaks I didn’t get up to much. I will definitely need to spend some time planning my next project for university, particularly as one of the tutors wants me to submit a few ideas to him.

The program director has offered me an interesting avenue of exploration for the coming year: he identifies one of my greatest strengths on the course as my written work – that is reports, dissertation, any kind of written academic analysis – to the point that he considers me more of an academic than a designer. It’s an interesting if slightly disappointing assessment, considering that being a good designer is what I’ve wanted to be the whole time. But, I do believe him all the same. He told me that I should consider working towards being a game design academic within the fourth year, because that would meaning working towards my strengths, which he says will be more practical and successful for me in the long run than spending the fourth year trying to build up skills that I have struggled with before. I am still considering what I want to do, but I may well take that offer.

All in all, I’m not sure if it’s been a good third year or not: I like to think I’ve done well and I have improved in some regard, but I also think some of my efforts have been wasted, and I feel like I have fallen into some counter-productive habits. I took the project I was working on very seriously, and the fact that we were all supposed to be working as an organized team effort. When the other team members weren’t living up to expectations or they were acting like idiots, I always resented it, and over time that resentment built more and more especially when those kinds of fools were telling I was in the wrong, even if they were right. And eventually this, coupled with the project becoming more and more like, made me feel bitter and detached from the project, whilst at the same time there were still the attachments that developed towards the conduct of others because it had affected my morale. I don’t think I was all in. That’s why I decided to something new, separate from my old team. I’ve wanted to do it for months now, and I think I will be free of the attachments and the bitterness. I’ll hopefully be refreshed, all in, and pushing what I do further than before. For now though, let’s just make the best of a good summer.

A hard lesson

One of the longest abiding struggles I have had in university was the struggle with my colleagues. Not only have I frequently disagreed with them, but I have also actively resented some of my colleagues a lot for various reasons. Particularly in the team for the game I am working on. My colleagues either attend university infrequently or are frequently late, when they are supposed to show up regularly and in fact they are supposed be there between 9am and 5pm each week day, while I’m the only one who shows up at 9am (in fact I usually show up slightly earlier than 9am). And they have a habit of leaving other responsibilities related to the course until late into the project cycle, like necessary recording for development trailers. Coupled with the impression that most of them are into all sorts of bullshit from social media. Because of that I have come to detest half the people I work with.

And I think this may have actually influenced some bad things on the course. What frequently occurred was that I would set about the work we talked about and I was expected to do, but when I did it I felt perturbed by one of the colleagues. And I’m the kind of person that hates being perturbed. Basically he would look at my work as I was still working on it and tell me how it should be done and I wasn’t prepared to show him anything because it was still being worked on. But the biggest source of my contempt was by far the fact that he convinced us to essentially turn what was , and he used my poor marketing strategy (namely my choice of demographic) to justify it. It went from a supernatural-based beat ’em up involving a half-demon protagonist, to a fantasy-based version of that with some of my intended themes intact, to pretty much the same thing without the narrative that drove it and the design direction changed to suit a shortened experience that we would have to make. And because of that, while I was willing enough to work with them and typically kept to what I had to do, sure of what I was doing, and hated the idea of taking cues from someone who I see as having molded my project in his own image. But I would learn that this was actually the cause of a potential problem.

Yesterday I briefly attempted to design a logo for the game, or rather for the game show. I was convinced that I was finished with the task I did beforehand but was unsure of what to next so decided to wait for my colleagues to show up and make the logo while time flew by. One of them showed up and noticed what I was doing, and proceeded to complain that I was doing the logo without having the discussion for it. We then had a long talk about the problem of just going off and doing work on your own, which thinking about it now seems weird given they sometimes tell me that they stayed at home rather than go to university just to work on their own, but it was a pretty deep conservation all the same. We talked about the problems of the other group, who have a much worse problem with communication than we do, and how one of their group members doesn’t actually like the project that he’s doing but just gets on with it and does work on his own and the others aren’t happy because it’s out of sync with the art style (they’re doing a cartoon-style platformer, and he doesn’t like platformers and doesn’t usually draw in a cartoon style). It very much made me think I was having the same problem. At one point, the program director for the animation course interjected in our conversation in order to give us some advice. He felt that the discussion we were having was a step in the right direction, and pointed out that a problem with development projects in the games industry is when the team members are always against each other and don’t care about the project in the end, and so don’t communicate with the rest of the team and just get on with the work. According to him, the result is that not only does the game fail, but that failure becomes attached to you in that other companies know you made that terrible game and don’t want anything to do with you.

After that, I took on a new perspective of the team dynamics. I didn’t realize until know that they were actually interested in helping them, because I thought too little of them to think that they were actually interested in helping me. I was jaded and resentful because their antics eroded my morale, but as much as I often hate what I see as a lack of commitment, they aren’t complete shitheads. Now I see two sides to this whole thing. I still think my colleagues’ lacking in attendance is the sign of a lack of commitment and there is good reason to resent such behavior, and the program director for my course has expressed similar and more vociferous sentiment on the matter. But I may well have created a problem that, for at least the other group on my course, was worse: a lack of communication. And I’m not sure I’ve completely cultivated the balance between individualism and the spirit of collaboration.

Starting to get tired….

This is a rant that I saved for when I finished the previous post about an experience I had in university, or rather a rising feeling of exhaustion and disillusionment.

Let me explain: over the past week we were supposed to be designing what’s called an art target, which is a basically a visual representation of what we’re supposed to be design, with all our design work proper being based around that general representation. Towards the end I had received a message from one of my colleagues explaining what we needed in an itemized form, and I run with it thinking “OK, let’s do this”. The next day, we got shitcanned by the program director because the art targets we generated appeared to be bland, flat and uninspired. I wasn’t fully sure what I did wrong at the time, but I didn’t say anything. All the while I just had this feeling of resentment – I followed the advice of my colleague, and we got shitcanned for doing so in my mind, and all I want to do is try and fix that, but every time I come up with something it’s always wrong, apparently, and when I try to help it feels. In addition to this I spent the opportunity, doing almost nothing but drawing some quick sketches on paper in one night, and one Photoshop the morning after, each time trying to perfect my skill at trying to convey something artistically and then I get told it’s not about how well you draw.

So as I designer I’m starting to think I’m always doing the wrong thing, or doing something the wrong way. All the while, when I got told “you’re a gamer, you’ve played games, what is it that you like about them?”, I just didn’t know what to say. And after that, I just felt like such a fraud, and that filled me with a sadness that was difficult to contain. I know everyone else got told the same thing, and it wasn’t just aimed at me, but that didn’t make me feel any better. It didn’t change the fact that I don’t know why I’m even here. My written work is great, I can analyze what I do, and I’m competent in areas such as character rigging and creating environmental assets as well, but I feel like in terms of basic design I feel like I’m just not cut out. Worse, I feel like I’m just taking cues and following instructions! And why? Because other people always project this sense of confidence and knowing what they’re doing, so, logically, it just felt like a matter taking the word of people who I assumed knew better than me. But the people I work with frequently come across such a non-committal bunch non-committal trollops with a blase attitude to the course. I’m there every morning, showing up at exactly the time I’m supposed to show up, while they usually show up later than me and one of them always has a reason not to show up, and they only buckle down and change this as of this week and even then I’m still convinced at least one of them has dedication issues. And when they’re gathering “research” for their designs, it feels like all they do is get from random work that someone did on Deviantart or some shit, while I try to go from real-world sources and recognized fictional media, sometimes including other games if I have to. I try to go out of my way to avoid quoting other games that are like what I’m working on unless I have to because it’s the best way to explain what we’re trying to do. In my mind that’s called, oh I don’t know, fucking originality! As I write this I feel like I’m letting myself get played and I’m thinking “why the fuck am I doing this?”.

But I already know why. Aside from what I said earlier about them projecting a sense of confidence and the appearance that they’re better artists than me (which judging from their actual work seems to be grounded in reality), the game I worked on used to be my project, and then they joined and convinced me that doing things their way might actually make a better game. I submitted a design document back in April 2016 and the next month we had our documents marked and my document was one of two that were judged by the lecturers to be the one being worked with. I was surprised that that happened, because by my money I had done a shoddy job of the document, and I think the target demographic I set for the game may have been a major weakness, having limited a potential audience. In a free market in the actual games industry I probably wouldn’t give a fuck, but in university we have to have a public exhibition for our games and we have to worry about people being repelled by what I might create. So anyways, we then formed groups of three for each project corresponding to each document, and we discussed how we were going to do this. They convinced me to turn the game from a supernatural-oriented beat ’em up into a fantasy oriented beat ’em up, because they thought that would be more accessible. For a while, after discussions, I thought I could still make this kind of unique, preserve some elements from the original idea I had, and make this into something I could get behind. But as time went on and we made it into a simplistic game for virtual reality, that became less and less, until now I’m convinced that this isn’t my game anymore, not since the others joined me in creating it. Now, in terms of design, it feels like their opportunity to do some World of Warcraft wankery.

Because of all that I’m hating the people I work with more than I did before, and from the looks of it I have to work with them until May. I can’t help but wonder if we’ll get into a situation where I say “I hate you”, and one of them says “well I hate you too”, and I say “well I hate you more” and all that bullshit. But then I also remember that part of it is still my fault. My fault for not writing a better design document, my fault for being convinced by them that their way of doing things had merit, my fault for not taking more control. Because of that, I felt less justifiably angry and more like the sense that I was kind of a screw-up who had no business in game design. But I can’t quit now. It’s the second half of third year. What’d be the point? All I can be certain of is once the third year is over and I continue into the Masters portion of the course, I never have to work with them again, even if it means working with only one other person. If I have to work with the same people again, I would resent the prospect. If I have to work on the same game again, which is being talked about, I would resent the prospect. And the main reason I’m continuing is for my own advancement as a technical artist, because the better I do on those terms the better my prospects will be later in life if I get into the industry. I wonder if maybe, just maybe, I’ve discovered the errors tied to pursuing something for your own advancement? Because it’s not as though I’m all in regarding the project I’m working on, particularly if I’m convinced it’s more akin to the project of someone else who hijacked my original idea to make it their own, whilst quoting other games in the process moreso than I could have done, and on purpose no less! And particularly not if I hate the people I have to work with. This is for my own advancement now, and even though being a Satanist I shouldn’t be bothered by that, I am worried that by the end of the project I will wind up being poorer, not richer, for it.

Once more for opportunity…

I remember earlier this year I was told about how tricky and complicated rigging and skinning a character is as a job, and that if I can not only get good at it but also good at doing it efficiently, I would become highly employable and a valuable asset to a game developer because not many people actually like doing the job. I felt a wonderful sense of opportunity back then. And yesterday, I got reminded of the possibility of that opportunity again.

One of the things I have to do for my third year is write a critical analysis document. Essentially, this document is a kind of research document where you have to try and learn something new about something you are already familiar with in your field. It could be character rigging, animation, something involving the game engine, stuff like that. It’s not the same thing as a dissertation, but it’s not considered a report either, but it is still an academic document and has to be treated accordingly. I am likely to consider researching methods of rigging or skinning a character in Autodesk Maya in order to discover the best, most efficient method of doing so. I was told by one of the lecturers that the method they showed me was actually a longer method of doing so. If I could find a better method through the means of research, as well as practical experimentation, it could lead me to a kind of mastery. And if I get that, I could be pretty damn useful, become employable in the games industry and perhaps go far within the field and attain some worldly success.

In addition, according to one of the lecturers, many researchers (98% apparently) have a habit of changing their hypotheses because they think being wrong would invalidate their research and their work. This is important because being right isn’t the point of a critical analysis document. You can put forward a hypothesis and have it proven wrong, but the whole point is what you find through background research. Being willing to not change your hypothesis in the document and show how it was proven wrong would make you among the few. In my mind, that meant the possibility of being among an elite of something, in a sense.

It all made me feel like the path of mastery awaits me, as well as, for some reason, self-overcoming. But it does feel like I might reach a time of attainment and cultivation of mastery and overcoming. I hope that’s the case, and I hope I reap the rewards of such attainment as well as see for myself as a Satanist the virtues of that path.

May the spirit of transformations, becoming and overcoming be with me in that journey.

The black sheep of art and entertainment

Throughout the history of the video games industry, there have been many instances where the industry has been unfairly vilified or looked upon with suspicion or disapproval, and where its consumers are also unfairly vilified or looked upon with suspicion or disapproval. The video game industry has been around for well over 40 years, but only relatively recently have video games become more widely accepted.

In the 1980’s, video games were seen as market that only appealed to children. This is just one reason why Nintendo in 1985 had to market their Nintendo Entertainment System (or NES) and its peripherals (like R.O.B.) as toys rather than as games systems. The other reason was the notorious games market crash that happened in 1983, which caused games to be viewed as commercially non-viable and most stores were unwilling to carry games systems until the NES became as successful as it did. The perception that games were played only by children continued to be perpetuated until at least the mid-to-late 1990 when it was clear that the industry was catering to a more mature audience, or an audience that has grown out of the games produced by, say, Nintendo when they were younger. Even before the 1980’s though, when games as a general medium tended to be associated with controversy over violence, there was an arcade game released by Exidy in 1976 called Death Race, which became controversial because the object of the game is to run over “monsters” that flee the vehicle and scream when hit. Then in the 1990’s, games like Night Trap and Mortal Kombat became the centre of hysteria over violent video game content. As the decade drew to a close people began to blame video games for the Columbine Massacre because the media reported that the perpetrators of the massacre played Doom and created death match maps that supposedly resembled Columbine High School, and people have been trying to video games for violent crime ever since – of course, their attempts are in spite of the significant reduction in violent crime that coincided with the rise of people playing video games, along with the general lack of evidence that video games cause violent crime in the first place. Not to mention, the media never got bored of a chance to paint gamers as psychopaths, such as in the controversy that surrounded Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 over the airport level. There was plenty of whipped up hysteria over violence in video games and usually it came from social conservatives.

When video games weren’t accused of making you violent, they were accused of being bad for your health. Back in 2009, the British government released a poster which insinuated that video games were the main cause of obesity and that children who play video games may die early by playing video games. This poster was released as part of the government’s Change4Life campaign which was, surprise surprise, their attempt to tackle obesity. Not only that, but the poster referred to playing video games as basically doing nothing. Apart from the premise just being inaccurate and misleading, what was really egregious this campaign was that this poster was released at a time when the video game industry was responsible for boosting the economy during a time of recession. And in general, this and similar accusations are generally based on the stereotype of gamers as fat nerds who don’t have a life.

And more recently, when games weren’t accused of causing violent crime or being bad for your health, they were accused of being misogynist, and their consumers were accused of being savage, racist, sexist and generally backwards. It’s significant that around this time we started to see the gaming press being infiltrated by feminist ideologues. This combined with the revelation in 2014 that Zoe Quinn, the creator of a text-based choose your own adventure book style game called Depression Quest, had sex with gaming journalists, apparently in order to get her game promoted, led to the online revolt known as Gamergate, and the controversy that ensued. Those who supported Gamergate did so because they were tired of what they saw as corruption, cronyism and a lack of journalistic ethics within the gaming press, along with its collusion with feminists like Anita Sarkeesian who were basically out to convince the press that gamers were sexist and misogynistic in order to advance their own agenda. But the mainstream media – even the gaming press – dismissed Gamergate as a hate mob concerned primarily with harassing women, even though only a few Gamergate supporters were actually guilty of doing so. As a result, there were now those who shunned gamers collectively and denouncing them as backwards individuals, thus effectively siding with the feminists and the mainstream media narrative.

A visual illustration showing exactly how things have changed for gamers.

There’s a certain aspect of this mistrust and ignorance that extends to game designers. Not many people understand game design as a discipline, people still tend to ask “what do you actually do?”. This is illustrated by Scott Rogers in his book Level Up!: The Guide to Great Video Game Design:

Let’s talk about making video games. To most people, making a video game is a mystery. The average party conversation goes like this:

“So you program video games? Is it hard to write all that code?”

No. I said I design video games.

“Oh, so you draw the characters? That must be fun.”

No, I don’t draw them. That’s what an artist does.

“I don’t get it. If you don’t code the games or draw the games what do you do?”

Apparently nothing.

At this point in the conversation, I tell the person that games are made by elves. (Sometimes it’s just easier to tell someone a fantasy than explain what I do for a living.)

–  Level Up!: The Guide to Great Video Game Design(page 28) by Scott Rogers

Also, when we were having our talk about what to expect of the third year, we were introduced to the third year space and the lecturers had to explain a few things about the space. We were encouraged to put content on the walls such as concept artwork and research, but we were warned about putting up anything that was too violent on the walls because of the possibility that such imagery would be noticed by passersby (some of whom are apparently women in their 50’s) and by the lecturers’ boss, which would mean that the lecturers have to fight for the right to keep that space for us third year game design students. You have no idea how lucky the third year students are to basically have their own space where they can just work on their projects, and apparently there are people who would do anything to take that from the game design course, and any thing that convinces them that games students don’t deserve that space is enough to make them feel that they can take it.

To be honest, regarding my university, I feel like there’s envy coming into play. The game design course I study under is a course where you can potentially learn a wide pool of skills. You need to know not just how to make a nice 3D model, but how to do it efficiently, up to standard and in a way that you can get your computer-generated asset to actually work in the game engine. You need to know how to rig the characters you make for your games. You need to know how to animate them. You need to know how the game engine works so that you can import your assets into the game, or if you’re going to actually manage the content in engine in order to make it work as a cohesive whole. You need to be able to communicate effectively with the rest of a given team, and even how to operate as a team – which also means you’re going to have to balance working with others with your own individuality. You have to figure out how to tell a good story, design good characters, and design levels. You to learn how to organize and plan effectively, because good game design really needs good planning. You might even have to learn skills involving leadership and even entrepreneurship. You learn and grow as a designer and as a person.

This is a course that offers several skills, some of which can be transferable in that you might find a way to use them outside of game design, and our course is apparently home to some of the hardest working students in my university. So if you’re a game designer or game design student and someone asks you “what do you do?”, you may actually have to respond with “what don’t we do?”. Some art and design courses are, by contrast, geared towards more specific areas of work, which may offer less skills.. The animation students, from what I understand, are just learning 3D animation, possibly geared towards the film industry. Then you have photography students who do, well, photography in an artistic context. Fine art students make visual art under a nebulous category that includes painting, sculpture, and everything else. Illustration and graphic design students, to be fair, actually might have a number of profitable jobs going for them, with graphic design students finding work in advertising for major companies and illustration students designing covers and illustrations for books (sometimes children’s books) and magazines. Then you have the glass art people who seem to me like they spend their days making stained glass windows and other stuff that exists mainly for show. I could go on. The way I understand it, other art and design students may have less options open to them because there are quite the few art courses where you’re basically just an art student without much transferable skills. And from what I hear from my course’s program director, there are students from other courses who complain that they don’t have what we game design students have.

In our course, we’re the black sheep of arts courses probably because what we are working on is not purely artistic and passive media, we are very much learning how to make entertainment. Video games are not a purely artistic medium, like a painting, a sculpture or generally anything passive. Video games are a medium of entertainment fundamentally defined by interactivity and whose primary goal is not artistic consumption but simple enjoyment by a player. There is certainly artistic and intellectual merit that can be found in video games, but it’s important realize that fun and entertainment – and functionality I might add –  come first when designing the game. In other words, we’re an art and design course that isn’t purely about making “art”, so we’re looked upon a little differently by people of other art and design courses. Again, at least that’s going from the program director. And I’ll tell you what, I am glad and also pretty lucky to be studying under the tutelage of lecturers at my university who understand video games as they are and clearly appreciate the medium accordingly. Going back to Gamergate, it seems that other academics did not understand this, and wanted video games to serve a role that it might not need to serve by turning it into a more “artistic” or even social medium. It should come as no surprise that these academics were rejected by actual gamers. But for this, they have been vilified by those same academics and their allies in the mainstream media.

To me, it’s telling that games and game design students have had this reputation of being the black sheep in culture, even as video games are already accepted in the mainstream and have been for years now. It’s also telling that video games give people what they might want in a very powerful way, and in turn provide happiness and entertainment to people in a powerful and direct way. It just feels like there are individuals and interests who are very much against such a thing.

A pyrrhic victory?

Well, for all intents and purposes, we have basically started the third year of university. I mean, technically we don’t start our actual third year until either late September or the beginning of October, but we’ve finished everything in the second year, we all passed, and now we’re moving on to the third year. And now, we’ve split into two groups and it’s been determined what projects we’re doing. Despite that my assignment was very much incomplete, at least in my view, and there’s still a lot that could have been added, my idea was chosen as one of the two projects. The other is a combination of two people’s projects – one deemed looking in context, and the other in need of a complete design overhaul. The projects were chosen based on the actual feasibility of them being made (keeping in mind we’re still only making a small portion of the game), rather than marks we got for our assignment – some people’s ideas were rejected on the grounds that they were too technical, requiring mechanics that no one new how to do and couldn’t be done in the time we will have.

So yeah, I was somewhat happy to find that my idea for a game got selected. But it was far from perfect, and my idea being chosen came with a price. I was in a group with two people with different talents, ensuring a balanced team. Unfortunately, while they were willing to get behind the idea, they also suggested we change it a bit. See, my idea was a supernatural third-person brawler of sorts where you play as a Cambion (the offspring of a demon and a human) trying to find his brother and try to ensure a better future for his kind as well as the humans and demons they share a world ruined by the ravages of a devastating war with. In terms of story, it stands out against any other game about demons, but in practice it’s a lot like Devil May Cry only with a more stripped down approach (Devil May Cry and its derivatives tend to focus on style and rewards complex and hard to pull off , but mine doesn’t). One of my new colleagues suggested that we could keep the game largely as it is but at the same change it into a more broadly Fantasy game, rather than the specific supernatural brawler. Much of the concern was more about the potential demographic than anything else, but as I’ve learned that can affect the whole design of the game for fairly obvious reasons (who you aim the game at tends to affect the overall design in many aspects, including the art style and what the player does in-game). I was open to it, at first, but I did not always get along with the idea of changing things, and I didn’t like what I saw as the possibility of going after a larger market for its own sake. But to be fair, my idea’s demographic was narrow and small. I believe I succeeded in a small sense in considering the demographic, but it’s very small for a game to rely on. In the end, I decided to agree with the suggestion that we make design changes to make it more of a fantasy-type game, but mostly to avoid the potential for a long and pointless circular argument – the kind I had to deal with in October with the animation students in order to fight to keep my vision (I lost that fight, and in the end we did a still render of a generic post-apocalyptic garage scene for that module, and I hated it).

At first, I feared I’d hate it, but I eventually found that a more fantasy version of my idea still had some of my ideas in mind – namely the presence of demons as morally the same as humans, and the side-moral of “things aren’t always what they appear” (or as my colleague put it “you know not everyone you meet is a twat, right?”). I must concede that I may have failed in that regard because of the amount of hostile demons the player fights in order to progress, which I only put in the my design document because I feared an exclusive diet of humanoid enemies would grow dull in a game with heavy supernatural themes. At least now there’s scope for a wider range of the types of beings you can encounter (the player character, for instance, is now most likely a half-ogre kind of creature who simply receives the help of a sympathetic demon), and potentially even a greater way of illustrating a moral I had intended. The colleagues even feared that cramming demons down the player’s throat would be too much, and it may suffer an age-old problem of the artist – you know your ideas and love them, but not everyone else gets it, and unfortunately for the game designer this means less people may buy your game or even work with you in making it. Obviously, I let loose with a certain facet of my imagination too much and it seemed to everyone else like an obvious self-projection that other people can’t work with. Just another moment where I fear I need an outlet other than game design for some of my ideas. But the way things are going, the ideas we’re pursuing now are ideas I can still get behind and still put a bit of personal inspiration into through some of the research, and it’s still in a suitable degree alignment with the project I initially panned out. Who knows, maybe things won’t be so bad after all. But there’s a lot that needs to be done before October.

A significant silver lining; a smell of opportunity

Consider this a follow-up to the last post I wrote about university life, after that I’ll try to avoid the subject on the blog for as long as possible. I still felt friction with other team members this week about how I’m doing my work. I’m currently tasked with rigging and skinning an enemy character. This involves creating a skeleton for a 3D mesh, binding said skeleton to the mesh, and then painting the skin weights in order to determine the influence of certain weights on certain joints. This is an important part of the process of 3D animation and it’s not particularly easy. Not only that, but the last time I did any of this mesh skinning as part of my course was March or April of last year. So it has been a struggle for me and I do get pretty demoralized and generally sick and tired of people getting on my case when I don’t meet their expectations. Granted, they really need me to be done with it. One day I went to do some work in the studio at the university, mainly for the sake of being there, but I also spoke with two of the lecturers. One of them told me something very interesting about my job.

He told me that my job is one of the trickiest things you can do as a game designer, and that few people in the games industry actually like to do it (I’m guessing one of our lecturers is one of the few who are happy to do it, though he is good at it). But he also tells me that if I keep at it, there’s a chance that I might become a valued asset in the games industry because few people like doing rigging and skinning. Suddenly I felt like there was an opportunity to work towards a personal advantage for me. If I could get good at this whole rigging and skinning thing, survive the third year, and do my fourth year for the Masters degree, I could earn a lot of respect, open many doors to various opportunities, and have the opportunity to run amok and seize what I wish for in the industry. That made me feel a lot better about what I’m doing, and it’s given me a lot of ambition.

What’s gonna happen to me?

Yesterday I came out of my last lecture feeling like I want to split myself open or do something equally horrible. On Monday we established a timetable of priorities for the work we have to do, and we were meant to put up a production schedule up for the group, but for some reason we didn’t do it until before 12:00am before a certain lecture. One of the lecturers seems more insistent about production planning than the others. So when he asked about our production process, and we told him about how we went about with our chart, I feel like he lost his patience with us again because it seemed to him that our group only posted the chart right before he was around, as if simply to satiate him or something. Then I began to feel like it was my fault, mainly for the reason that, as one of the lecturers reasoned, we’re all making the same mistakes we did last semester and not doing the work. I felt very upset, even depressed, because when you say to a group I’m in that you’ve all done wrong in some way, I never really know what *I* did wrong as an individual. Especially because I actually did do some work, and I did try to follow an outlined idea of how work might run down (though I didn’t really succeed in achieving an ideal output of work). That leads me to conclude that, as a group, we all just get treated the same way regardless. Then I start to think that if I had nudged the others about the chart we might not have had this. And I still don’t want to think that way at all because to me it just isn’t right. I don’t ever want to share the same mistakes as everyone else, or be tied to everyone else’s mistakes, not ever. I feel deeply insulted about that, and I get resentful, sad, angry, and probably something else along those lines too.

I’m also beginning to worry not only that I’m not going to handle this semester like I handled the last semester, but that I’m really going to suffer trying to handle this next semester. We’re really expected to just spend more time working, particularly in the university premises (even though we are able to work at home). When I talked about that with my group-mates, one of them told me it’s probably because the lecturers have no way of measuring our actual habits. My worry is I know that we’re all just going to go off and do our own work anyway, myself included, because we all just want to complete our part of the project, and the assignments pertaining to it. My worry is that it’s going to just be so much time working, so little time doing anything else, and I’m not convinced I’m even on top of time management on a personal level. And that’s where I go to the question alluded in the title of the post: what’s going to happen to me after all this? How much time will I have to simply live? Am I just going to work like a machine? Am I going to abandon everything else? That would horrify me and sadden me on a deep level. If I was assured that I was to start operating on a mechanical level in order to succeed in life, I’d either kill myself or spend the rest of my life in the wilderness because that’s just not the way I feel I’m meant to live, let alone how I feel humans as a species are meant to live. Part of me thinks I’m probably overreacting, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking this is going to be one of the worst times I have yet to experience. I also think part of our problems is that I don’t think I or some of the others really know what to say when we’re asked certain questions. We’re not really prepared in some cases, and that in my opinion can cause a lot of problems.

And I think some of you might read this thinking, “if you feel that way then what are you still doing on your course?”. Actually, I kind of feel like there’s no going back with me in my course. If I thought of transferring, I wouldn’t exactly know what to do instead of game design. If I dropped out, then I would prevent myself from making the best of what life as a student could still offer, and I think I’ve still made a decent life with it so far despite it still feeling unfulfilled in important areas. And however I stretch it, if I leave my group, that pretty much means giving more work to spread between what will become a group of 5 people, and we have only 7-8 weeks which is not a sparing amount of time for us to complete our project. If I left, I’d be creating more work for them to do in a small amount of time, and my only thought about it is it will make them very unhappy about their course, and it would make their third year a lot harder and more miserable for them. Even if leaving might make me happy, the rest would have a horrible time and I feel I’d be the cause of it. Despite what I consider to be my selfish nature, I don’t like that thought. But saying that, I also can’t help but consider that if I bail but they continue on and somehow succeed in spite of it, it might inspire a new-found sense of regret and the feeling of amounting to little in comparison to them. Other than that, the only reason I don’t leave the course is because of the life I think I could still make as a student, and some of what I’ve learned about game design clicking with me in a certain way and giving me ideas about what I could do in that field if I made it. So I feel like there’s no escape, no turning back. They only way is to move forward, and even then I now feel there’s an aspect of that which might feel less admirable. Once again, confusion has risen when I thought that I had defeated it or found a way to feel good about what I do. Who knows though? Maybe I’ll feel better as I go along, perhaps actually achieve some of what would be ideal to achieve and move the project forward, and maybe it won’t feel so hard. But mark me when I say that there are some things I can’t live with forever: namely the pressure of dealing with the group and with feeling down because I’m not perfect or do as much as would be ideal. If I find myself continuing to struggle with it and feel miserable, I know I’m not going to survive, and it will probably have a noticeable impact on what I do.