I love emerging technology. Back in 2011, I bought a NeuroSky MindWave brainwave reader with the intention of developing for it in my downtime. Things didn't really pan out on that front and downtime never arrived, leaving the headset to gather dust except for the occasional novelty show & tell sessions for visiting friends and family. Every day, I'd sit at my desk working on my core projects and see the headset up on the shelf. And the dust.
In terms of scheduling, I'm not very good at spare time. If I didn't have kids and a wife, I'd probably never leave the computer. Work (either contract work or my own 'core' game projects) normally eats up a lot more time than I ever intend. That's not such a bad thing when you enjoy your work as much as I do, but it's also not exactly convenient for 'outside things'. Even with the best of intentions I don't tend to make it out to many game-related social events or game jams even though they happen fairly regularly around where I live. Here in Ottawa, The Dirty Rectangles (http://www.dirty-rectangles.com/) meet ups happen each month - a collection of awesome creative game developer types, some great speakers and eye-openingly interesting show and tells. How many times have I made it out there? Twice. One of which, I was guest speaker- so that shouldn't even count. I am a disgrace to the game dev community because of my terrible, terrible spare time scheduling. That, and the fact that staying in to work is so much easier for me than going out and talking to new people.
One Game A Month
One Game A Month (http://onegameamonth.com/) or #1GAM as we Twitterites like to call it, is .. hmm .. a club? An activity? No, I like to think of it as a movement. Yes, a movement in the way in which traditional painters and artists used to have movements. That's how cool it is. #1GAM is a movement started by Christer Kaitila (McFunkyPants) for the indie community to get together and produce one completed game each month.
Taking the plunge to sign up for #1GAM was something I wanted to do to kick my butt into actually building some of these smaller projects and getting some of these ideas out of my head and into the 'game world'. If I just kept going the way I was going, they'd stay as just ideas and I'll stay in my comfort zone. I need to get out some of the smaller-scale crazies that have been bouncing around my head for the last I-don't-know-how-long. All those games that I wanted to make as kid; playing as a stunt-man, train driver or space fighter.. the ones that will never make it commercially or merit full-on development but ideas I'd love to play out.
There are no prizes in #1GAM and (thankfully) there are no rules, but the real value is in motivating and bringing together a community of developers all running in the same direction. There is a strong emphasis on collaboration just as much as completion, with the #1GAM website awarding achievements to developers for a variety of activities from social (helping out other game developers etc.) to production to business, perhaps making sales or putting a game up for sale on an app store or web site.
You might think of it as a monthly game jam without a cause, and as with any jam there is a lot to be learned here both technically and in limited scope game design. Building the next Gears of War in a month is out, so what do you think you can actually deliver within that time? How far can you push the time you have? Most of us don't have the full month to spend writing a game, so even estimating the amount of time you have can be a challenge.
If things don't go to plan, no-one is going to mind if you miss a month or if a project doesn't work out. We all have some incredible obstacles to overcome in getting our games to completion and it could just as easily turn out the same way for us next month. The great thing is that along with that understanding comes a whole lot of support. Other developers involved with #1GAM are around to chat to, give tips or even just listen to you when motivation flags. Christer makes a point on the website of stating that "You're not alone: support is available" - with over 3,500 people taking part in #1GAM, the support network is strong with this one.
Month 1: Stare Master. The most technologically advanced computerized staring competition ever made *:
Since I found out that the NeuroSky brainwave reader could detect blinking, I wanted to make a staring competition. Such incredible technology put to such a pointless and inane use is somehow appealing to my curiosity. Will it be interesting? Will it be fun? Up until #1GAM I didn't know. Thankfully, at the end of month 1 I have a finished game named 'Stare Master' which proves my point about some game ideas in that sometimes, they're probably better left in my head! It's sort of fun, but once the novelty value of the blink detecting brainwave reader wears off there's not much to hold the player. I had a lot of trouble getting the brainwave reader to work so at this point I'd be quite happy to put it back on the shelf and go back to ignoring it. Maybe that'll change in 6 months time, but it has been a tough project to finish. Just this weekend, I was ready to give up because I couldn't get the reader to connect. I'd been trying and trying the whole day to fix it with no luck, then for no reason at all (I didn't change a single line of code) it just started working again and I was able to finish the game. That's how game development goes sometimes, though, isn't it? Just when you think you're done, things can switch around in surprising ways.
Of course, I understand that I may not make it in creating finished games every month (the odds are stacked against) but it isn't just about that. This is a personal journey to explore some of my small crazy ideas that I jot down and never wind up doing anything with, as well as widening my scope to do more collaboration with fellow game lovers. The core projects I work on tend to stretch between 6 months and a year in production, so reaching the finish line on some smaller projects might also make 2013 a more rewarding year. At the very least, come December I will have some fun little mini games to look back on.
Time, time, time, see what's become of me
Notice that when I write about my own time, I write things like 'didn't schedule' rather than 'didn't have time'. When you are passionate about something, you make time. A little story: I used to run the game programming department for Fuel Games studio and I would interview candidates who often started by telling me how passionate they were, how much they love games and how much they wanted to work for a game studio. When I asked them if they'd made any games, the answer would often come back as a 'no' and, for me, the interview was as good as over. I needed to hire people who understood what it takes to make games, who understood some of the problems game developers face and shared some of the passion I have for what we do. Making games is not easy and sometimes is can be a horrible, soul-destroying and depressing job when things don't go right. I get grumpy about problems I can't solve and I lose sleep over bugs in code, deadlines and broken game mechanics.. but I couldn't *not* make games. My games are my canvas, my code is my paint. I'm an artist that finds games as a form of creative expression, which means that I make time to express myself.
I am all about games. I love that people are making games out there, right now. I love that 3,500+ people signed up for #1GAM and that over 400 games have already been uploaded for it. Most of all, I love that the community is coming together and helping each other to stay motivated in creating the things we all love. So, take the plunge and join me in getting out of the comfort zone. Have fun making games!
You can download the game Stare Master via the #1GAM website http://www.onegameamonth.com/psychicparrot
If you have a NeuroSky MindWave headset, use that to detect blinking. If not, I'm afraid you're going to have to go oldschool and use the space bar to tell the game when you blink. No cheating, though, m'kay?