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!


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!


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

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