ZackBellGains #10

Hello world,

I hope that you are making the most of your day! The job search is nearing its end. I don’t want to talk about that today. I want to have a quick chat about ZackBellGames. I have decided that I am going to continue making independent games. In fact, I am getting back into the prototyping process tonight and I am incredibly excited about that.

I have a LONG list of mechanics, twists on genres, concepts, and stories. I haven’t completed this process in awhile so it is a bit jarring and I am having a hard time committing to one or the other. My plan is to make a quick demo (one or two evenings of work) for 3-4 of the game ideas that I am most excited for. I have taken the opinions of friends into account and I hope that all of you can be happy about the decisions that we have made.

For now, this prototype is just me: ZackBellGames. I am not yet sure what will happen with Spaceboy Games yet, but I just wanted to make this post to inform you that I am not going anywhere. I am still making games. Regardless of what happens to my studio, Zack Bell will continue to create. I will begin tweeting GIFs of prototype progress later this week. I will also begin discussing the new job.

Thank you,
Z

ZackBellGains #10

ZackBellGains #9

Hello world,

I hope that you are making the most of your day! Today was a great day. Late tonight (early this morning…?), I finally finished all of the design tests and interview materials that I had acquired over the past two to three weeks of applying for AAA games studio positions. I suppose that I can expect some followup interviews within the coming week, but for now, I feel this renewal and freshness that I honestly do not recognize. I feel that everything I have worked on until now has either shipped or found closure. I am ready for the next leg of my career.

Pepper Grinder
The future of Spaceboy Games is uncertain at this point. Sandy is working at Yacht Club Games (congrats again, brother), Fellipe has some awesome projects in the works, and I am talking to some large studios. However, Spaceboy Partners is STOKED about working on Pepper Grinder with Riv Hester. I cannot commit to my initial release window, but I can say that you will see this game on Steam by Q1 2018. It is going well, and I am excited to be a part of it. I will let Pepper Grinder speak for itself.

It’s fucking great, right?! Pepper Grinder is an action platformer designed to be alot like oldschool Nintendo titles like Donkey Kong Country, Yoshi’s Island, and Super Mario World. Pepper uses her drill (Grinder, obviously) to plow through layers of soft dirt and launch herself into the air as she maneuvers herself across the landscape of each level. Riv is beginning to incorporate new mechanics like a grappling hook, water levels, and large floating balloons to ricochet off of. I am beginning to plan our PR/marketing strategies and will soon start talking about the project more aggressively. Feel free to reach out to myself or Riv if you’d like to know more, want to request an interview, or if you are a member of the press in need of an early build. Regardless, please keep your eyes peeled for more of Pepper Grinder, by Riv Hester.

INK
In 2015 I made a game called, INK. It was a small project with a brief development timeline. However, it was far more successful than I could have ever hoped for. I am incredibly appreciative of that and my experiences during development and the aftermath definitely shaped me as a developer. Recently, I partnered with Amazon on a project that is quite new to me. I am going to be writing a series of eBooks about INK! This content will cover the development process, my approach to design, a peek inside of the code and how I created some of the effects, and the process necessary to work with Amazon and port the game to their Fire TV platform. I cannot tell you much else about this today, but I am incredibly excited for the opportunity. I will update all of you with details and release information as soon as I am able!

The Future
For now, these are my focus. I am working with Riv on Pepper Grinder and I am working with Amazon on this book about INK. I have a pile of prototypes that I am tinkering with, but have yet to pull the trigger on any of those. One of them will likely become the next Spaceboy Games project, but that has yet to be seen. Another update very soon with results of the job search and how that relates to the projects that I am taking on! Thanks, everyone.

Until next time,
Z

ZackBellGains #9

ZackBellGains #8

Hello world,

I hope that you are making the most of your day! In case you hadn’t noticed, I took a week off from this series of blog entries. I wanted to talk about why that is, and use it as an excuse to talk about what I view as the entrepreneurial mindset.

A Look Back
To understand why I took the last week or so away from the blog, you have to understand why I wanted to start this thing to begin with. Rewind and you’ll see that my project HackyZack had launched on Steam, I had reached a fork in the road as far as my career was concerned, and I wanted to write about my relocation to LA and what it means to/for me. Over the last week, I haven’t been in LA! I have been back in my home state of Washington. Initially, I had been back to visit my family for a late Easter, but because of the volatility of the independent games industry and entrepreneurial job stability, I took some time off to really step back and consider my options.

A few things happened that really sparked this mini vacation.

1) Spaceboy Games’ co-founder and animator, Sandy Gordon, accepted a full-time position at Yacht Club Games! I want to wish a huge congratulations to Sandy for taking a huge step in signing onto such an amazing team. We wish him the very best!

2) Given that, our plans as a studio needed to change since our ability to produce games that focus on high-quality pixel art has now vanished (for the time being). We need to either hire a new artist or figure out an alternative.

3) As a safety net, I tossed my resume out into the world to see if anyone would bite. I applied to work with the following companies: Bungie, Gearbox, Pokemon Company, Sucker Punch Productions, and Vayner Media. I am talking to a few of them, but due to NDA(s) I cannot go into detail at this time.

Curiosity
 To me, the spirit of the entrepreneur and the spirit of most independent developers that I relate to comes from this special form of undying curiosity. It’s an unquenchable hunger for knowledge, answers to questions about how things work, and finding solutions to problems that people didn’t even know they had. I am looking at all of my open programs and browser tabs and I am realizing that I have found my way back to that special place. I have codecademy open, where I am teaching myself HTML and CSS to further my ability to share content. I transcribed all of the rhythms and rhyme schema from Kendrick Lamar’s new album, Damn. I am listening to Dorian Yates discuss high intensity training via podcast as I type up this blog entry draft. I have been playing the hell out of Destiny DLC, Borderlands, and Infamous as I carefully fill out gameplay design tests for their respective studios. I am watching all of the GDC content put out by their employees, as well. I am prototyping new multiplayer content for INK 2 and discussing funding options with a potential new publisher. I am doing familiar things and new things. I stumbled my way back to what feels like the beginning, but also further along than I have ever been.

Find out what inspires you to think, and then you go and you feed that. Dependent on a few factors I will either be moving back to Washington (Bungie or Pokemon Company), remaining in Los Angeles (working on my startup, full-time), moving to Austin, TX (Gearbox), or moving to New York (Vayner Media). I am not really leaning in any which way because I am not sure which doors are open to me. When I find out, all of you will know, too. I want to remain transparent and accessible whether I continue to stick with my indie roots or I venture off into AAA games territory. I would be more than happy to talk about that end of the industry just as openly as I have about what I have come to know so far. Be patient, but there will be more from me on this very soon!

Until next time,
Z

ZackBellGains #8

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