Back From Nowhere

Hello, everyone – I am back, but as the title suggests, I never really left!

I am not quite sure when I last posted here, but I can presume that it was upwards of two months ago, as I took 5-6 weeks away from Twitter and it has been a few weeks since I ended that hiatus. When we last spoke, I was writing a book about the 2015 development process of my first commercial project, INK. Things with Spaceboy Games had been falling apart, and the friends who were once my team, had moved onto new endeavors. I was down and a bit sporadic, but I was healing and the creative difference of being an aspiring author was very therapeutic. I am not going to take the time to dig through the details of how all of that is going, when you can read about INK, etc. I am going to fast-forward to now because now is very different.

I have decided to plow through a sequel to INK – yes, INK 2. My last game, HackyZack, was published by Humble. Humble, a private games charity with a positive reputation for being a big part of the indie games community, was acquired by media giant, IGN, today. That is important news, to say the least. All of us publishing partners reached out to Humble today after we received a joint email, explaining the merger. As you can guess, everyone who has yet to release their titles, exclaimed their concern(s). We are told that Humble will remain independent, and that aside from ownership, nothing will change at Humble. The public has already begin to lash out via the Twitterverse, and I am doing my best to remain transparent and to share information as it becomes readily available to me. In short, I had planned to continue my relationship with Humble by allowing them to publish INK 2, as well. I stand by that decision today, but nothing has been signed yet and the wheels of change are in motion. I am scared, but I trust my partners at Humble. I trust John Polson. I trust Bob Mills. I trust the rest of the people at Humble who I have come to know through business and through friendship. That is all that I can say tonight.

I have announced #Dev365 both officially, and through the rumor mill, obscure hints, and word of mouth. My plan is to publish tutorials and blog content for aspiring devs everyday throughout the year of 2018. If you have wondered where I have been or why my production of GIF content has slowed down to nothing, this is your answer. I have been backlogging content for #Dev365. I have been aiming for 90 days worth of content prior to my January 1st launch date. I figured that with 90 days of material, I could skip every other day, take a weekend or two off, and then double up on other weekends while still making ends meet. I have design articles, theory and business articles, and a mass amount of GameMaker demos that can take any beginner from zero to releasing a game on Steam in no time. I want to fill in the gaps and give away all of my secrets. I want to be the one-stop shop for all things games education. Coming soon. I appreciate your love and your patience.

Thank you,
Z

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Back From Nowhere

Preface

                Like every new developer, I have made a seemingly uncountable number of mistakes. I have had bad ideas that I felt were great at the time and I have failed to deliver on truly inventive projects due to a lack of discipline, improper financial planning, and chaos derived from the unknown variables of everyday life. I got the privilege to write this book about my first commercial video game, INK, which I launched on PC, Mac, and Linux back in August of 2015. INK was successful beyond my wildest expectations, and this book is certainly about that and about what I think that you might take away from my journey, but I also need to warn you that it wasn’t my first rodeo either; not even close. Before the ideas that compose this game were even a seed in my mind, I had attended and dropped out of three universities, accepted a $100,000 loan in exchange for 60% of my first business, fallen flat on my face working to retain that opportunity, had quit the games industry completely, moved to California to pursue my other dreams, and lived through the ups and downs of two, very impactful relationships. For whatever reason though, I ended up back at home, was blessed with a specific set of variables, and signed up to give this thing one last shot. ”

I am working. I know that it might seem that I am completely absent, but I am working. There is more to come. Thank you.

Z

Preface

What to do with Advice

Hello again,

I have been writing to all of you more often lately. For the most part, that is because I am writing more frequently, in general. My book project is coming along quite nicely and it leaves in writing mode and a writing mood each evening or whenever I wrap up a session (today was a bit slow if I am being honest).

Anyway, I got a lot of great feedback on my most recent entry regarding Morning Pages, one part of my typical morning routine, as well as my related rants on life as a developer, dealing with anxiety, and so on. With that being said, I wanted to discuss advice, as its own topic. Everyone gives advice, consciously or otherwise. Fans, friends, and others who have any form of respect for you might even view your actions as advice. This can be harmful and unintentional, so I wanted to tell you how I look at advice. This is where we go down the rabbit hole and I pretend to give advice on taking advice from someone who may or may not be qualified to give or take advice. But hey, do with it what you will!

One great quote about advice can be read as a solid summary for what I am about to discuss: “Look at what one has accomplished, where they have been, and where they are headed. Their own advice got them into each of those situations.” In short, the person giving advice has previous experiences equal to that of the quality of their advice at the time. This basically just means that if someone hasn’t released a game, consider ignoring their advice about releasing games, and so on. This isn’t always going to be true. Teachers and people within the educational space often study without practice. You just might want to consider the source.

Consider that you only see the highlight reel. Yes, I shipped INK on itch.io and then soon after on Steam. Yes, I co-founded Spaceboy Games. Yes, we helped launch High Noon Revolver on Steam. Yes, we shipped HackyZack on Steam. Yes, I am writing a book about my development process while designing, building, and publishing INK. I taught, played, and recorded drums and general music professionally. When I was in school for Computer Science, my minor was a focus on Nutritional Science (and Psychology during a separate educational path). I *do* have certain qualifications and can justify speaking on these topics. However, I failed to flesh out many game demos and prototypes. I received funding and then failed to ship a game in 2012. I failed to raise enough money to have a successful Kickstarter campaign. I failed to please a contractor and ship another game project in 2014. I stumbled around with my concepts for our Fara project before falling back on my HackyZack demo from 2015. A LOT of failures lead to that first small victory. Don’t believe that my bio is my list of things that I attempted, nailed, and then took a bow. I have been through chaos.

In 2012, my mother helped me found my first company. An international investor gave us nearly $100,000 to work on a seemingly simple project with only two other developers who were close friends. I couldn’t manage a team that size, I ruined both friendships for a time, I bled money, and I inevitably cancelled the project without even showing up to the meeting out of embarrassment, anxiety, and fear. We then had to move out of our house, move onto our own things, and I went back to drums for awhile, thinking I wouldn’t return to games. I am so lucky to have had that experience, learn SO much, fail again and again, and have a support system to fall back on. My family makes this possible. If you don’t have that, it’s going to be harder for you. I need you to know that you might not have all of the pieces necessary to follow in my footsteps.

Be cautious when getting pumped up about advice. Be weary of discovering someone’s secret sauce. There is no easy way. Keep working, work smart, and don’t stop learning. You can do this. I can do this.

What to do with Advice

Morning Pages (For Productivity and Overcoming Anxiety)

Good morning, everyone!

Yesterday I decided to tweet a few strings of notes regarding motivation, productivity, anxiety, and depression. I was “in a mood” and wanted to ramble on about life a bit. I received a ton of feedback and support so I thought that it might be nice if I returned the favor. I would like to share one exercise that I have adopted which I feel helps me cope with the bad days and initiate productivity.

The first thing that I do every morning is repeat a writing exercise that is commonly referred to as Morning Pages. You can read about this being used by many, many successful people. I think that I first learned about it via Tim Ferriss during one of his podcast entries. The idea is quite simple, but it has helped me curb anxiety and depression, let go of stressors and insecurities, and it gets your day moving in the right direction by giving you the feeling of being immediately productive.

The concept of Morning Pages is simple: you are to hand-write three pages of stream of conscious thought. Everyone’s idea about the actual content differs (I suggest you try a few things and see what feels most beneficial to you), but I will just fill you in on what has worked best for me. I use the first two pages to just spill my brain onto the page. It should be a quick stream of consciousness, often without much rhyme or reason at all. Some days it very serious and deals with issues that are leftover and unresolved from the days prior, and other days it is silly to the point of being gibberish to an outside reader. The idea is to start creating and let out anything that you might be holding onto that could potentially prevent you from doing your best work and having a positive day. The third page is often a story that I write to myself about what I plan on doing and accomplishing that day. It’s a to-do list for what is to come, presented as a short story.

There are many other ways to structure your Morning Pages (Tim discusses another popular variant in his TED Talk). This one has worked most consistently for me. Morning Pages should take no more than thirty minutes at the very most. Use it to overcome your anxieties and trap your emotional problems within the pages. I follow this up with ice water, black coffee, and a multi-vitamin. If I am still not feeling loose and ready to go, I may even supplement that with a form of meditation. Usually a very short and basic form of meditation like listening to the some song each day while feeling gratitude and focusing on growing more and more calm.

All of this might seem silly to some. It certainly isn’t right for everyone! Use it as an example or an introduction to other exercises that could be helpful to you in work, health, and life. Do research and let me know if you have beneficial routines of your own!

-Z

Morning Pages (For Productivity and Overcoming Anxiety)

ZackBellGains #13

Ah, lucky number thirteen! Let’s use this one wisely. I hope that everyone is doing well and working hard on whatever speaks to you. Personally, I am feeling better and better with each day. I’ll fill you in with another quick update!

I got a job, JK

I want to talk a bit about negotiation, contracts, and relationships. For better or worse, your relationships are what will get you in the door for an opportunity more than your resume, your schooling, and your portfolio combined. In my experience, an application is received, glanced over, and then if it seems remotely relevant, the team will ask around the office to see if anyone recognizes the applicant (personally, or otherwise). This can be great for an indie who is vocal on social media and transparent during their development process on any number of shipped products. This effect can put you in both exciting and intimidating situations!

I have been asked by friends and followers lately about my search for a AAA gig and why that isn’t happening or hasn’t happened yet. Well…I can tell you that I no longer see that happening until Q3 2018 at the earliest, for several reasons. Let’s tackle these one-by-one:

1) I applied for gigs that I didn’t necessarily want. First of all, I don’t recommend this. It is a technique that could potentially give you a bit of a bad reputation. I am not sure that I was consciously aware of what I was doing at the time, but I was applying for any and all things that seemed intriguing and then obviously had to back out of x and y, in order to accept z. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do if it wasn’t going to be independent games and I had hoped that when I was hit with the right offer, I would just know. That wasn’t the case.

2) I got excited, spoke too soon, and ended up burning myself. This one leaves a bad taste in my mouth and is almost embarrassing, but it is a good lesson if you haven’t learned it yourself. As mentioned, your relationships come first. It was easy for me to apply with a buddy’s name in the title of the email and quickly move to the top of the pile being considered. I did this at three studios. One in particular got a bit messy because I had multiple friends on the inside promising me different things while I simultaneously went through the standard application and interview test processes. All you need to do is tell a few friends about the promise from buddy A and then for someone to fact-check with buddy B or their coworker to instantly receive a slap on the wrist from HR. Stepping on your own toes is easy to do when playing both sides of a situation and sharing. Be careful and try to be honest before thrown over the flames.

3) My book offer was solidified! This was the bottom-line factor when deciding what I wanted to do moving forward. Yes, Amazon is paying me. Yes, I am writing a book about developing INK, my first commercial game back in 2015. Beyond that, I do not want discuss this further due to contracts and the like. I will be running an actual announcement and preview blog post through their PR team sometime in the near future. Thank you for your patience.

After the Book

I haven’t signed anything beyond the INK book (tentatively titled, Developing INK: Design by Necessity), so I think that I can talk about what I hope to do after that ships. Right now my plans are to work with them on some developer blog content and potentially do a follow-up book about my work on HackyZack, another game that I released with Spaceboy Games. If things continue at the current pace, I can see the entire process of writing, editing, and publishing the books to take about three months each. The blog content would ideally be spread out during and after the book work, potentially adding another 2-3 months of paid work. I usually factor in a bit of a buffer and that would put me somewhere in early to mid 2018 when I will be looking for work again. HOWEVER…

Humble Bundle

Speaking of relationships, I have really enjoyed my growing partnership with Humble. John Polson is the head of games publishing at Humble and he has been very easy to work and communicate with. HackyZack was the first game to go through their new publishing platform in March and I have definitely considered working with them again. As with most “firsts”, there were a few bumps along the way, but overall, HackyZack development and launch was a pleasant experience. People email quite often to ask about how things went and for advice when approaching them or making pitches; I will likely publish a blog post that covers a lot of this!

Anyway, I know of two future bundles that my games are going to be a part of already and I am excited to see more people playing both INK and HackyZack! On top of that, I am slowly starting to discuss the future of INK 2 and another project of ours with John, as well. We haven’t worked on multiple projects in parallel before, and they certainly haven’t funded a team like that before, but it’s something that I think could be mutually beneficial! I will have more to say about that after the book comes out, I am sure.

That ended up being a bit more wordy than anticipated, but the more, the merrier. I hope that you have a wonderful day. Stay positive, be grateful, and work smart!

Z

ZackBellGains #13

ZackBellGains #12

Hi everyone,

It has been awhile! I just thought it would be nice to do a quick check-in. I’d like to do these more often. If it doesn’t happen, I think I will consider opting for quickie video updates via Twitter. I want to consistently let everyone know what’s going on in my world!

Today has been a good day. It is a bit after midnight and I feel like the day has just begun. I came in from the garage a few minutes ago and I am dripping with sweat. It has been quite warm lately and I had just wrapped up my first night of German Volume Training. I decided that I would commit to working towards a bodybuilding comp in late 2017, maybe early 2018, depending on progress. I will likely cover that progress (and GVT) in that Nutritional Science series that I started last month. I have a second installment done, but I’ve been slow to post it.

As some of you may have seen, I brought on Del (@MiiMows) to work with me on the book (Developing INK: Design by Necessity). She is working on the cover, illustrations within the bulk of the book, and extra decals and things for the page numbers, margins, and what not. I am wrapping up the first rough draft and reorganizing a bit. It has been fun and the project has inspired me to return to a graphic novel project that I started back in 2012. I will introduce all of you to Zach Shoemaker, the illustrator for that, very soon!

Ryan Swarner is working with me on INK 2, but he has agreed to put it on somewhat of a hiatus until I wrap up this first draft of the book (at the very least). I apologize for the lack of gamedev and GIFs on my feed lately, but the book is taking priority due to the fact that it is paying the bills (thank you again, Amazon).

I have more to announce in regards to my partnership with Amazon, so stay tuned for that, too! Things are quite great lately, but it has been very different for me to be working in the dark. I so much enjoy sharing my work with all of you in real time. I hope that this changes in the near future.

Thank you all for your continued patience and support,

Z

ZackBellGains #12

Nutritional Science Pt. 1

Hello everyone,

For those of you who don’t follow me closely, do not be alarmed!  You are in the right place. I typically discuss programming, design, and GameMaker: Studio 1.x and 2.x on this blog. However, I am also an avid fan of weight lifting, nutrition, and interesting/progressive diets.

Us, as game developers sit way too much. We stay indoors excessively. A lot of us aren’t aware of what that is doing to our body, why it’s a problem, and/or what we could be doing to combat that! I am about to start a new diet and weight lifting routine, and thought that this would be a good opportunity to spread some non-development knowledge with my fan base! I hope that this can help you in some way. If you are not interested, feel free to ignore it, but I suggest that you give Part 1 a chance! Thank you!

Thermodynamics
This first segment is more like a physics class, but that’s ok! I’ll do my best to keep it simple. The laws of thermodynamics deal with the conservation, transfer, and entropy of energy. When talking about nutrition, we refer to units of energy as ‘calories’. A calorie is the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 °C. A calorie is also equal to 1,000 small calories and is what we use to measure the nutrition in food. This is why the labels in some countries use ‘kcals’ instead of ‘calories’ (this distinction is simply to keep the numbers manageable, i.e. 90 kcals in a cup of skim milk rather than 90,000 cals).

Why do we care? Thermodynamics and the ability to count calories is the reason why we can predict how much weight we would gain or lose given a specific diet. The laws of thermodynamics say that if the number of calories that we consume is fewer than the number of calories that we utilize throughout the day, the body will lose weight due to metabolizing fat, muscle, etc. in order to retain that equilibrium. The opposite is also true- if you consume more calories than you burn, the calories will be stored as fat or be used to repair and grow muscle tissue. The body does not care or even understand the source of the calories. If a person burns 2,000 kcals per day, they would lose weight if they only consumed 1,000 kcals per day. That is true regardless of the 1,000 kcals came from a pound and a half of chicken breast or a half-dozen twinkies. In fact, if they continued that diet for a week, they would lose exactly 2 lbs of body mass.

Estimating Fluctuation In Body Mass
How do I know that? Well it takes roughly a 3,500 kcals deficit to metabolize a pound of fat. Given a seven day week, a 500 kcals daily deficit will result in losing 1 lb (500 * 7 = 3,500). The same can be said for a 1,000 kcals daily deficit causing you to lose 2 lb within a week (1,000 * 7 = 7,000 which is 3,500 * 2). And so on.

A 3,5000 kcal deficit is required to metabolize one pound of body fat

Alright, so now we know that we can calculate how much weight we will lose during a week by comparing our daily calorie deficit to the number of calories required to metabolize fat molecules. The hardest part of this process is determining your BMR (base metabolic rate) and taking into account your activity levels and personal metabolism. You can find fancy formulas for this all over the internet, but I tend to use the simpler ones and then adjust as you start to see results.

This calculator can estimate this value for you: http://www.calculator.net/bmr-calculator.html

Ok, so what exactly is this number? It is the number of calories that your body burns each day to keep you alive. This doesn’t take into account standing, walking, or any form(s) of exercise that you may get throughout the day. This is simply the number of calories it takes to breathe and continue bumping blood throughout your veins. From here you can use a exercise calculator of some kind to approximate how much you are burning during your workouts and throughout your day. If you are unsure, just pick a number and record your weight gain/loss after one week of accurate calorie counting. Adjust up or down if you end up having a weight fluctuation that you didn’t anticipate.

Here’s an example: If my BMR is approximately 1,900 kcals per day and after I take into account exercise and metabolism I burn an average of 2,500 kcals per day (let’s keep the math simple here), the following numbers could be used to calculate weight gain/loss.

1,500 kcals/day = 2 lbs of weight loss within a week
2,000 kcals/day = 1 lb of weight loss within a week
2,500 kcals/day = maintain weight throughout week
3,000 kcals/day = 1 lb of weight gain within a week
3,500 kcals/day = 2 lbs of weight gain within a week

Weight Loss Vs Fat Loss
You may have noticed that I didn’t specify the amount of fat loss, but instead used the term ‘weight loss’ or fluctuation in overall mass. This is because our bodies can change weight due to water, fat, or muscle gain/loss. When our weight changes, that change is broken up across these different molecules. Our diet can greatly influence which molecules are metabolized! This is the main difference between the pound and a half of chicken breast against the half-dozen twinkies. Protein is an important macro-nutrient that promotes muscle retention (chicken is one of the best sources of protein on our planet). If you do not consume adequate protein while burning more calories than you consume, you generally metabolize equal parts fat and muscle tissue. This can often lead to a body type referred to as ‘skinny-fat’. This is caused by losing large amounts of weight without showing any change in body composition (your ratio of fat to muscle tissue). If you lose just as much muscle as you do fat, you will be indeed be a smaller version of yourself, but you will have the same proportions and overall shape. Often not the desired goal!

To maintain the most muscle during a weight loss diet you should consume adequate amounts of protein, incorporate weight-training into your workout routine, drink enough water, and get enough sleep. Some sites will say quite a bit more, but I find that between 0.6g and 0.8g of protein per lb of your body weight is enough to maintain muscle mass throughout a weight loss period. This amount will increase in proportion to how much heavy lifting you are doing while attempting to lose weight. Body builders need to consume much more protein than sedentary people. This is because it’s not actually your body weight that is important here, but actually your lean body weight (body mass – fat mass).

Example: 200 lbs * 0.6g = 120g protein/day

TLDR;
-Your body weight will fluctuate if your calories consumed do not equal your calories burned, regardless of calorie source(s).
-To metabolize one pound of fat, a 3,500 kcals deficit is necessary.
-A 500 kcals/day deficit will result in a 1 lb weekly body weight loss.
-Body composition is more important than body weight for a healthy body and overall appearance/aesthetics.
-Consuming adequate protein will prevent muscle atrophy during weight loss periods.

Conclusion
Diet is far, far more important than any form of exercise when it comes to losing body fat. Abs are certainly made in the kitchen. You cannot undo a terrible diet with any number of crunches or ab machines. Ignore the myths and the fad diets. The only thing that really matters in terms of body weight fluctuation is the laws of thermodynamics and your calorie consumption compared to your calorie expenditure. If you want to have a healthier body fat percentage, consume fewer calories than you burn, consume adequate amounts of protein, consider a weight lifting routine, stay hydrated, and rest.

In later segments, I will discuss macro- and micro-nutrients in detail, sample diets, more about muscle growth and protein synthesis, how hormones affect these processes, strength training, training for hypertrophy, nutrition supplements, and different approaches to weight training.

Thanks,
Z

Nutritional Science Pt. 1