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!


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,


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!

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:

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

-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.

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.


Nutritional Science Pt. 1

ZackBellGains #11

Hello world,

I hope that you are making the most of your day! If you are reading this, you have likely been waiting for this entry for a few weeks. Perhaps you have even heard a few rumors about me going to work for this or that studio. I want to take a few minutes to discuss what I have been going through over the past ~two months and then conclude with my decision(s) regarding work moving forward. Thank you all so much for your patience and support!

I drove back up to Washington a month or so back because I was approached by a few directors of teams that I admire, as well as a recruiter. I signed a ton of NDAs involving the interview material and the offers that were made, so instead I will speak only about companies that either I had contacted or that had contacted me. I won’t directly say whether or not they made offers or what those offers were. You can presume that yes, I had offers to work at/with one or more of the following businesses: Microsoft, Amazon, Bungie, Naughty Dog, Sucker Punch, Gearbox, Pokemon Company, Sketchfab, and YoYo Games. I have spoken to at least one employee from each of these entities over the past few months and I was quite excited by the result of some of them!

The idea of transitioning from an indie to a AAA developer isn’t something that I had serious considered in the past, but the more that I pondered the opportunities that had arrived, the more excited I was by the prospect. Hell, this journey even got me back into playing games again. I don’t play games too often these days, but I played A LOT of Destiny during the past month or so. I played through Uncharted 4 again, and explored the multiplayer content for the first time. I had a lot of fun and it sort of revitalized my love of games. If anything, this was opening my eyes to new ideas, creative combinations of genres, and away from my typical knee jerk to begin another 2D platformer.

However, there’s a catch. There’s always a catch. Most of these job offers come at the price of a strong-arm non-compete clause and your soul. During the first few weeks, that was ok with me. I would have been more than happy to jump into a big project with a big team and let Spaceboy Games fall out behind me, but this application process had me playing games and had me excited about games again. I have new ideas and I want to make them!

On the other hand, I have my ongoing collaboration with Amazon. I am soon going to be announcing some written content that is being funded by my pals at Amazon. I am incredibly happy to be doing that work, but some of the non-competes would have prevented it! The more I work and the more we discuss details, the more it seems like this collaboration will be lasting much longer than this initial project.

The bottom line is that my current set of collaborators will likely be enough to keep me afloat for 6+ months rather than the initial 1-2 months that I had signed up for. This means that I will likely be able to continue with my independent games work throughout the next year or so. Longer if any of the projects released during that time span perform well!

So what does all of this mean for today? Not a lot, to be honest, and it isn’t quite as exciting as revealing that I am going to be working on a AAA franchise or a household name. It does mean that I am back. It means that I am going to be pouring all of my time into content. It means that I am going to be preparing Patreon content. It means that I am going to be scripting assets for the GameMaker Marketplace. It means that I am going to be practicing and showcasing my pixel art and animation progress. It means that I am going to be writing books about my development process and past projects. It means that I am going to be making games. It means that things are good.

Thank you,

ZackBellGains #11

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,

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.

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,

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.

 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,

ZackBellGains #8