ZackBellGains #7

Hello world,

I hope that you are making the most of your day! It’s funny because yesterday I tweeted that I would be wrapping up a week’s worth of daily blog entries last night, then I completely spaced and broke the habit. Oops! However, I did begin two new ventures last night that I figured that I would share.

  1. I updated my resume. Ok, it was more like my first actual resume. To be honest, I have never had a job. Over the last ten years (I am twenty-six), I have either privately taught drum lessons, played drums, worked on game contracts, sold game assets, and ran my own game studio. I have never applied for a job. Now that I have successfully shipped a few titles, AAA games studios are reaching out to me with work, so I figured that having a resume was a good idea! I talked to a few people about a job that I might not be able to turn down. Perhaps more to come on this topic very soon…?!
  2. I began teaching myself HTML and CSS. I want to have the ability to create, modify, and maintain my own websites/pages. WordPress is great and it is very simple, but I can feel that with this blog and the other articles series that I am interested in that this page will get very cluttered and difficult to navigate very soon. I am going to spend an hour or so each night going through the free content on Codecademy. When I complete that I will pick up a book or two and continue to tinker on my own. If I can muster the energy, perhaps I will blog my progression and learning of these topics, as well.

Thank you to everyone who reads these, follows me on Twitter, and supports my journey. I have a lot going on right now and I couldn’t do it without that emotional safety net. It is Ludem Dare weekend AGAIN and I have still yet to participate. I have way too much going on elsewhere. Tonight I plan on finishing up a demo of the potential Frog Sord revival project and then work on HTML/CSS stuff until I get tired.

Until tomorrow,
Z

ZackBellGains #7

ZackBellGains #6

Hello world,

I hope that you are making the most of your day! Today was my first official day with what I am considering a completely full work load. That means one in-house game, contract work on a game, a ‘job’ working on my startup, and a non-gamedev contract gig. I haven’t quite started that last one, but overall, things are pretty cramped, crowded, and chaotic! I am not including this blog and my work over on Patreon.

Today I focused on two things, for the most part. I worked on an in-house prototype for what might become the next, smaller Spaceboy Games project, while my assistant worked on my startup business. We have a lot of busy work to do; non-technical work that just requires raw time in front of the computer. I am having my assistant bust out a lot of that while I am working on code, then later in the day I join him on that side of things and answer any questions that he may have ran into. It’s 1:00AM and we are both going strong. I have a feeling that it’s going to be a long night! I haven’t enjoyed one of those in awhile.

I will keep this short because I am in a groove with lots to do. Keep your questions, suggestions, and whatever else that you have to say coming my way! I hear you and I am liking the back and forth.

Until tomorrow,
Z

ZackBellGains #6

ZackBellGains #5

Hello world,

I hope that you are making the most of your day! I know that I have been! In fact, I tend to work better under pressure. Sometimes I take that a bit too far and the internet gets upset with me. Some people believe that I am promoting crunch culture and burnout; knowingly or otherwise. I feel that self-awareness is definitely the key here. Know your body and know your mind. Use common sense and if you aren’t sure about signs and symptoms, do some research. A bit of health, psychology, and nutritional science knowledge can go a long way!

Workload
Anyway, today I opened the flood gates and both posted on Facebook and tweeted that I am available for small contract gigs. As usual, I was flooded with direct messages and emails regarding a wide variety of jobs ranging from design help to programming complete demos. I opted to accept work from my friends, the Telepaks! I didn’t choose to work with Gabe and Michelle solely because I attended their wedding last year, but mostly because I was super interested in the piece of code that they want me to tackle. Tomorrow I will be reorganizing my to-do list for the coming weeks and figuring out a strategy for how to accomplish all of these different goals and project milestones in a relatively orderly fashion.

How do you organize simultaneous projects and/or goals? Do you work on Project A between 9:00AM and 12:00PM, and then work on Project B until you are finished with work for the day? Or do you work on Project A on Monday-Wednesday, and then look at Project B on Thursday or Friday? I tend to be a bit haphazard. I work on what moves me. When I begin to feel some wear and tear, I hop over onto one of my other gigs. The burnout of each project is what solidifies my love for the other projects. They couldn’t exist without each other.

My current plate involves INK 2, prototyping a new Spaceboy project, assisting with Butt Sniffin’ Pugs, working out the details of some contract work for Amazon, and an endless workload provided by my recent startup that brought me to Los Angeles. That’s a lot of work! How you approach my mess? 100% for curiosity’s sake!

Q&A
As always, feel free to submit questions to me in any and every way that you know how: Facebook, Twitter, blog comments, email, etc. Thank you!

Q: “You mentioned you use the pomodoro technique, which I’ve tried before and found that it made my workflow slower and less focused. I was wondering whether it took you a while to get used to? Or did it just start working straightaway? And how do you deal with having to figure out where you left off every time you come back to work?”

A: Hmm, I feel that I started using the pomodoro technique when I hit a personal plateau. Because of this, any change or organizational strategy probably would have felt good or better for me, at the time. It has become more and more useful as I get used to it. I use https://tomato-timer.com/ and once I learned the hot-keys for starting a pomodoro, pausing, initiating a break, etc. things became much smoother for me. Hopefully that helps! As for figuring out where I leave off between work sessions, I’ll credit that one to paper to-do lists. I am still a huge fan of pen and paper priority lists. I am always writing them and I generally don’t tackle all of the bullets in order. However, I will cross things off as I finish them and when I return to work, I still begin with the first bullet to not be completed.

Q: “[…] you talked about having chats with your mentors. I was wondering how you managed to find these mentors in the first place and how you recommend other people go about finding their own mentors.”

A: Good question(s)! I have a few mentors at the moment, but they are subject to change. Jesse Freeman is an evangelist at Amazon. He was a mutual Twitter follower who bumped into me at GDC a few years back. We became very close friends and now we make it a point to meetup at least once per month to discuss both work and personal things (I am on the west coast of the US and he is on the east coast of the US, but Amazon has locations near both of us). Robert Bowling was the creative marketing strategist for almost the entirety of the Call of Duty franchise. One of his many ventures since leaving Infinity Ward was a game publisher and he had openly tweeted that he was looking for projects to pick up. Austin Ivansmith, a director at WayForward, recommended me to Robert and we eventually met at PAX West. We now work together in Los Angeles on projects unrelated to the publishing space. Contacts are king in the games industry. If you want to meet people you need to be vocal, physically present, or both. If you can’t make it out to conferences to meet people, then reach out to them online. DM me. I will be your mentor. Good luck!

Until tomorrow,
Z

ZackBellGains #5

Take Aways: Flinthook

takeaways_flinthook_0
Hey, everyone! This is a series that I am calling ‘Take Aways’; a game review where I also discuss gameplay elements, game design concepts, and bits of polish or “game feel” that are worth stealing, tweaking, and/or adapting for your own game or project! I am not going to sum up months of blood, sweat, and tears with a number. I am going to highlight moments of genius among a sea of hard work, scope creep, scope cuts, and impostor syndrome. Enjoy! Continue reading “Take Aways: Flinthook”

Take Aways: Flinthook

ZackBellGains #4

Hello world,

I hope that you are making the most of your day! The drive between Seatle and Los Angeles is a long one. I am back in Washington for a few days, visiting family and attending a few scheduled meetings with my initial game development partner, Ryan Swarner. Ryan and I are working on a game to be published by Spaceboy Partners at a later date. I am contemplating bringing him on to assist with INK 2 content, but I have a personal problem with delegating when it comes to private projects. I highly recommend that you establish a list of people whom you trust to do your work for you. Hell, they might even be better than you are. Take a chance, delegate, but have a plan.

I moved to LA to work on a startup that I pitched to Robert Bowling back in January or so. For the most part, it is still a digital project, but it is not game development. That has been quite different for me, but also quite rewarding! It even involves a physical product that will give me the opportunity to work closely with a manufacturer and new forms of distribution for me. The physical portion of my workload has me learning a bunch of new tools, as well. I have been working extremely hard to cram Photoshop and Marmoset Toolbag 3 down my throat this past week or so. Be sure that you are never complacent! A developer should ALWAYS be expanding upon their knowledge and tool belt. Don’t stop growing just because something isn’t necessary today; the industry is incredibly volatile and ever-changing.

That’s all for today! The drive has kept me away from the computer, for the most part. Gameplay GIFs will becoming a larger part of my workflow again and I will begin to push Pepper Grinder marketing a lot harder, as well. Check out Pepper Grinder, the next game to be published by Spaceboy Games, if you haven’t heard of it prior. It is a very, VERY enjoyable action-platformer coming to Steam Q1 2018.

QUESTIONS: One other thing that I want to do with these daily entries is answer all of your questions. These can be anything from personal stuff, to dev questions, to things about current projects, to literally anything else. Ask me on Twitter, or email me, or any other way that you know of getting in contact with me.

Q: You seem to work a lot of hours. How do you manage a social life and prevent from getting burnt out?

A: I work from home, and for the most part, I work for myself more so than I do contract work. I want to mention that because the fact that I work very odd goes could skew the amount of time that you assume I am working. Just because I am tweeting GIFs at 3PM and 3AM does not mean that I had been working for twelve hours straight, but sometimes, that is totally the case!

I feel that having multiple projects helps me to prevent burn out. When morale begins to dip with one project, I switch gears and work on the other. Having to-do lists and using a pomodoro timer really, really helps me work longer and work more productively. To me, it is much easier to plan out four pomodoros than it is to just sit down and work haphazardly for two hours. They are essentially the same thing, but I personally get very, very different results.

Until tomorrow,
Z

ZackBellGains #4

ZackBellGains #3

Hello world,

I hope that you are making the most of your day! Today wasn’t the most exciting of days. I did a lot of travelling because I wanted to be home for at least a portion of Easter weekend. I want to take this entry to talk about making and maintaining contacts, opening doors and creating opportunities, and how that first bit leads to the latter.

 

It’s Not What You Know. It’s Who You Know
I am sure you have heard that before, and it is no less true in the games industry than it is anywhere else in the world. A successful developer is likely good friends with other successful developers, actively communicates with popular YouTubers, streamers, and journalists, and is only one or two contacts away from a connection with a publisher or other means of potential funding. Who you know can make all the difference because in the world of indie games, the volume of your voice and the breadth of your reach is often more important than the quality of your game(s) when it comes to keeping a small studio afloat (sales are typically limited by your lack of marketing prowess).

It may seem like common sense, but it is in your best interest as a developer to be kind to everyone that you come in contact with. This goes for people whom you meet at conferences to the seas of faceless avatars met online. There may come a day where you need someone and having more options than you could possibly consider is an amazing problem to have.

Know When To Say Yes
“Know when to say no” is a common word of advice among my peers. A lot of these developers are also living paycheck to paycheck while juggling a game and/or studio during their long evenings alone. More and more I am feeling that it is important to continually analyze who you know and what options you have on the table so that you can also consider each of these options. There have been times where I needed more money, felt completely doomed, and had a dozen job offers to choose between if I WOULD HAVE JUST STOPPED PANICKING LONG ENOUGH TO ASK. A lot of developers have impostor syndrome and a lot of people with impostor syndrome underestimate the number of fellow developers who would absolutely love to collaborate with them.

Right now I am going through a bit of this myself. I am stressed out, some things are going incredibly well, some things appear to be crumbling, and some things feel fragile, but worth fighting for. I took a few days this week to slow down and connect with the people close to me. I met with one of my business partners and mentor, Robert Bowling (Infinity Ward, Humble, etc), and discussed my options regarding our startup. I met with my friends, Jesse Freeman (Amazon) and Austin Ivansmith (WayForward) to discuss the different contracting options that I have available to me. I also met with Ryan Swarner, my very first partner in the games industry and discussed the status of the project(s) that we are working on. Having these conversations with these people was great for morale and gave me a renewed sense of direction. I strongly suggest that you do this sort of thing often!

Moving Forward
Alright, so what were the results? It isn’t quite that simple. I certainly have a lot to consider. I can tell you that Ryan and I are collaborating again. We have a project in the works that will be published by Spaceboy Games. We are also discussing the future of Frog Sord with Fellipe and a few potential contractors. I am working hard on my project that sent me down to Los Angeles and I will able to speak about all of that a lot more in the near future! There are a whole bunch of very exciting options on the table and it is an exciting time for me, in general. I am hoping to be more descriptive with these entries soon, as well as start streaming the work that makes the most sense for that setting (likely INK 2 development). Let me know what else interests all of you, and I will work it into my routine!

Until tomorrow,
Z

ZackBellGains #3

ZackBellGains #2

Hello world,

I hope that you are making the most of your day! Early yesterday, I decided to begin an articles series called, ZackBellGains. Within these posts I will detail my life, my work, and my progress as a human being over the course of the next year or so of my life. I am going to be making these posts EVERY SINGLE DAY! I have recently been fascinated with the idea of documenting my life and what something like that might mean to my future kids and my potential grandchildren someday.

INK 2
Today I made an unofficial announcement that I have begun the development process of a follow-up to my 2015 Steam title, INK. To further celebrate the news, the original game will be on sale for $0.99 (80% off!) over the course of the next two weeks! If you haven’t played the game, please consider checking it out. If you have, consider shooting me an email or a tweet in regards to what you would like to see from a sequel! I have never made a sequel to one of my games, so I am a bit nervous, but I will tell you why I decided that this was a good idea.

In short, I had enough solid content and fresh ideas that were eventually cut from the first game (due to timeline and budget) to justify giving it another shot. I will break down what I have in mind! Please let me know if there is anything else that would excite you as a returning player and/or anything that you think might attract new players and broaden the target audience!

Game Modes
INK 2 will be developed by ZackBellGames with sound design and OST by Vincent Rubinetti, and published by Spaceboy Games. I have broken the game down into three distinct gameplay modes! As things develop, I will expand upon each of these, but for now I will introduce you to the gist:

Arcade Mode is the bread and butter that made INK the success that it was! This mode is level after level of fast-paced, twitch platforming while unearthing your surroundings using the ink spurts of the player character’s double-jump. This means more levels and more mechanics! I am taking a look back at player feedback and I have decided to remove the boss battles from this mode because RNG has a negative impact on the speed running community’s view of the product. This mode will be built for speed running, equipped with a timer, quick-reset, windowed mode, and a recorded ghost of your best time that you can race through each level again and again.

World Mode is the experimental iteration of INK that I briefely mentioned in the postmortem that I published on Gamasutra in 2015. A lot of the more interesting mechanics that I had prepared for INK were contradicting, and grinded against the speed running nature of the game. These mechanics were typically more puzzle-influenced and/or more combat-heavy. I have decided to present this portion of the game as a compact, highly-polished metroidvania adventure. Explore this new world of INK and discover new abilities, enemies, and bosses along the way! I think it’ll be a lot of fun and will attract a different kind of player.

Battle Mode is simple. Play INK with your friends in a mode that can most easily be described as a 2D variation on Nintendo’s Splatoon. I will detail this segment of INK 2 in time, but I can promise you that these turf wars will be a ton of fun!

Easter
I am going home to Seattle for Easter weekend with my family! I will likely begin to tweet INK 2 progress GIFs very soon, but for the next twenty hours or so I will be driving (ugh). If you are enjoying these entries, are looking forward to INK 2, or would just like to support me and my team, please check out HackyZack on Steam or the Humble Store. Thank you all so very much!

Until tomorrow,
Z

ZackBellGains #2