Developer life

Big veiny Dan

Happy 1st year of Indie/Freelancing life.

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Hello Tiebreaker fans its Dan :)

Will I last another year as an Indie/Freelance dude?

Will I last another year as an Indie/Freelance dude?

On this date a year ago I was getting fired from my last job for “Financial” reasons.  Happy 1 year of Indie/Freelancing life for me!! :)

If you’re in the corporate world you’re used to yearly evaluation, at least I was. Now having no boss to report to aside from my wife, I thought it would be a good idea to have a quick look back at 2012, see what I did and what I learned during that first year as Freelancer/Indie developer.

What I did.

Looking back at it I did a bunch…some would even say I was involved in too many things this year. I guess I could have done less and focus more on certain things, but quite frankly I think most thing I was involved in needed to be worked on. Here’s the list.

  • Freelance contracts: Got to pay the bills
  • Taking care of the family: This is priority for me. What’s the use of successful if you have no love in your life?
  • Taking care of the house: Somehow working from home equal doing more cleaning up. You take the Bad with the Good :P
  • Taking a business class: Not sure at this point if that one was necessary…the future will tell. Good thing its finished.
  • Shape Invaders development: My pride and Joy, and after 1.5 years invested in it I want to finish this game.
  • Tiebreaker Studio community management: I’m not the best at it but, PR has to be started way before the game launched in our case we’re ok. :p
  • Other personal project development: It’s a personal project I feel can help me bring some money in later. This one had to be worked on. More on that later.
  • Training: At 41, I’m not getting any younger. I have to stay in shape to be able to keep up at that speed. It also helped me get my mind of the job.
  • Having a social life: Seeing “real” people and having none Skype discussion is good.
  • Give Game design class: That one came up late in the year. At this point it takes me a lot more time that expect to prepare all the class material. But I’m investing in the future as next year will be easier once all the class material is done.

Looking at the list only the business class and the game design class is kinda not necessary. Sure I could have stopped training, having a social life, or taking care of the family and house, but I strongly believe that doing these things kept me happy and in good health, which is the most important thing to me. Doing all this, I learned/Realized/Re-learned a couple of new things.

What I Learned.
Have not drawn in years...it's good to be doing it again.

Have not drawn in years…it’s good to be doing it again.

  • Charging a lower fee, to get a new client is ok, but at some point you have to charge what you think your worth. So try to charge as close to that amount as soon as possible.
  • Help people as much as you can. Someday they will help you back.
  • You can’t expect everyone to share your dream/plan. You have to accept that and move on.
  • Having an awesome wife that believes in you is invaluable.
  • I have great In-laws! Thanks Jacques and Denise for all the food.
  • It’s surprising how going somewhere to work is expensive. If you count gas, the time you go out for lunch, the snacks you buy it adds up to lot and helps balance the budget.
  • Construct 2, Unity and ASE sprites are awesome software.
  • I still got some drawing skills.
  • Completing a game part-time takes a loooong time.
  • Doing PR is not that easy.
  • Making a business plan takes a long time…
  • …but nothing sells more than the actual product.
  • Preparing class materials also takes a long time.
  • Sometime helps come from unexpected person.
  • Site blocking plugins like StayFocusd are life saver.
  • Writing Blog takes time. (How can people work and Blog at the same time?)

That’s how 2012 went.
The plan for the 2013 stays the same, complete Shape Invaders, launch this new product, continue Freelancing and giving class. Hopefully all this will allow me to generate enough money to stay independent. Otherwise, I’ll have to go get a job…It could be worse, but I’d like to keep it that way. :P

Thanks everyone for the help and the support.
-Dan

motivation

5 tips to stay motivated during a part-time project

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Hi guys, its Vince :)

Many of us have projects we work a few hours a week working on. But often, we lose interest in a project and leave it or shutting it down. If it’s your case the question you must ask yourself is: How can I stay motivated and complete a part-time project?

I am currently developing a game with 3 friends, we call ourselves Tiebreaker Studio. The game is called Shape Invaders, it’s been in development for more than 2 years. Hopefully we will be able to finish it in the next few months. That said, I had developed a few tricks to keep me motivated through all this time and I’d like to share 5 of them with you.

Tip #1. Surround yourself with a good team

Before starting a project, you must be sure to have good teammates. Your friends are not necessarily good teammates. You must know each of them enough to be sure they will put as much effort as you during the various stages of the project. Teammates must have good communication skills and a good understanding of others expectations. As in a couple, the communication is very important in a team. A good team will be able to discuss problems and find solutions quickly. You should also setup some tools to help maintain good communication. In our case, our team has a Wiki, a bug base and we often use TeamSpeak to talk together remotely.

Tip #2. Keep a good pace (good frequency)

It is important to have good routine. You should book a few times during the week to work on your project. What is important is to work each week. You must be consistent and continue to invest efforts again and again until the project is completed. Personally, I often worked the weeknight and Sunday evening. I work when the children are asleep and when my wife listens to her TV series. In this way, I make sure to work a certain number of hours each week without losing quality time with my family.

Tip #3. Be well organized

In the team, it takes a person who is monitoring the project. It takes someone who plays the producer role. However, I do not think this is a full-time job. Using tools such as Jira from Atlassian or Trac from Edgewall Software, it becomes easier to empower every team member to keep their tasks up to date. Thus, monitoring is easier to perform for the person who is the producer. When every tasks are clear and the project planning is well organized, the team can clearly see the progress of the project and remains motivated.

Tip #4. Set goals every week

It is important to give you short-term goals to complete each week. Personally, it keeps me motivated because I set goals that I am capable of achieving. This way, it’s easy for me to see what I’ve done. Be careful, it’s better to attain a smaller goal than to miss normal one. So think small when setting your goal.

Tip #5. Meet from time to time to maintain a good team spirit

Remote working is great when doing a part-time project. It allows each team member to work when they want. However, it is important to stay in touch with all team members. I suggest planning meetings at regular intervals. These meetings allow the project to progress but they serve primarily to solidify the team. Meetings that are fun and productive forge a strong team spirit.

So I hope these tips will be helpful!

Here is a list of the tools we use at Tiebreaker Studio:
– TeamSpeak (http://www.teamspeak.com)
– Confluence (http://www.atlassian.com/software/confluence)
– Jira (http://www.atlassian.com/software/jira/overview)

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Dev Blog: Production Blitz #10

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10 what a great number!
It was Guy Lafleur’s jersey number, as well as the amount of plagues of Egypt and the amount of inkblots in the Rorschach inkblot test.  Last week-end was Tiebreaker Studio 10th production Blitz. So lets see if we were able to live up to the awesomeness of number 10

The event was held at my place. I had conveniently kicked-out my wife and kids for the night and most of the Saturday so it was us, with beer, chips and Bacon. Nothing could stop us for completing another big chunk of the game. Little did we know that evil had already struck in Mike stomach. Yep Mike had contracted a disease so vile that even with all his will he was unable to attend the event…we took it on the bright side as it meant more food for us. :D

Rich and I were up and running pretty early Friday and Vince caught up with us later that night…then it was work/fun/work all evening and most of the night. We missed Mike a lot so we decided to hire a Donkey Kong has is replacement (See pictures below). It turned out we almost didn’t see the difference.

We hammered at a couple of things this week-end.  Here’s the lowdown

  • Integration of all the Visual FX for the special weapons
  • Designed the game background for the 5 regions
  • Play tested the level and did some level balancing
  • Reviewed some Music track
  • Cleaned up the bug base
  • Created another teaser video (see at the end of post)
  • Played some Torchlight 2 and Super Meatboy
  • Wished Richard Happy birthday
  • Talked like old men by the fire
  • Tried Bacon Tex-Mex Bacon twist

In the end Blitz #10 was good and fun, but I got the feeling that with the last few features implemented Blitz #11 will be even better.
Speaking of next time… blitz #11 is already scheduled for the end of November. But for now enjoy the awesomeness of these few shots and new teaser video. :D

-Dan

 

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Indie Game: The Movie – Dan’s review

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Hi Guys

A couple of weeks ago I watched “Indie game: The Movie”. After seeing the trailer last year I was really looking forward to the movie and I must say I was not disappointed.

“Indie game: The movie” follows Edmund Mcmillen and Tommy Refenes (the guys behind Super Meat Boy) the weeks leading to the launch of the game on XBLA; and Phil Fish (the creator of FEZ) a couple of weeks before PAX 2010. Throughout then movie there are comments from Jonathan Blow the maker of Braid.

What I liked about the movie is that it focused more on the emotions and motivations of each team instead of the technical aspect of development. In doing so it connected with me as I recognize myself a couples times in these guys.

  • Like Mr. Blow, I was tired of “not doing the things that I thought I would with my life.” or at least try doing them. That’s the main reason we started Tiebreaker Studio…to do the game we wanted.
  • Like Mr. Refenes I don’t really care if Shape Invaders sales or not. I’ll be happy if does, but if it doesn’t it does not matter, I’ll be proud of what we accomplish nonetheless.

As the movie continues you get to learn more about their personal life and how the dream they are pursuing affects it. Being a family man I could more than relate to that because I know how being focused on a project like that can affect the one you love. But don’t worry, by the end of the movie things turned out OK for both teams. :P

While watching the movie I found myself wishing I could be 20 years younger. Not that I would trade my life for anything else, but just for the fact that it’s much easier to create and distribute video game today that it was 20 years ago. If I had access to the tools and distribution method we have today, my professional life would have been different I can assure you that.

To end this short review I’ll say that If you are involved or interested in indie game development you must watch that movie. If you’re like me, it will motivate you to keep working on your game, or it will push you to start working on one.

-Dan

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Dev Blog: Production Blitz #9

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Hello Tiebreaker fans :P

Last week-end was our 9th production blitz and for the first time Rich hosted the event.

It started very early Friday morning and ended Saturday afternoon. Rich did everything in style, the place was nicely setup and the food was excellent. Another first this week-end was our first visitor during a production blitz, a friend and former colleague our ours Miguel came to visit. It was great to have him give his opinion on our work and of course being together again is always a blast. Aside from goofing around here’s what was accomplished during the week-end

  • Talked about our progress and our plan for the future
  • Integration of art assets. The nuke among others
  • Completed first pass of level tweak (more pass to come)
  • Reviewed sound effects (done by a secret friend of ours)
  • Fixed bugs
  • Creation of a video to announce the winner of the weirdo poll
  • Started on a new type of tile that will allow us to keep shape formation throughout level
  • Designed Shapes attack patterns
  • Drank beer and ate poutines
  • Laughed at this way more than we should.

Our 10th production blitz will be held in the end of october, we can’t wait for it. In the meantime here are a couple of pictures to enjoy.

-Dan

 

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Dev blog: Summer slackers

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Hi guys,

This is just to let you know that we’re not dead..we’ve just been slacking off that’s all.

Hey kid it’s nice outside go out and play!..Ho you’re playing Shape Invaders, it’s ok you can stay in.

The thing is that here in beautiful Québec we get to have nice weather only 1-2 months each year, so when it happens we usually try to go outside and enjoy it (read play with the kids or cut the lawn) instead of being in front of the computer. Rich and I also got to  find some freelance work to be able to pay the bills. But while we’re working on our contracts we don’t have much time to work on Shape Invaders and even less time to write about what’s going on. That explains why we were on the quiet side for the last month and we’re sorry about that.

Summer and BBQ goes together.

That does not mean some stuff didn’t get done. Rich created some awesome tank animations, explosion sprites and shapes’ helmets. Vince and Mike fixed a bunch of bugs to make the game more fun and more stable, allowing me to start balancing the levels. With summer now in full swing we’ll probably continue to enjoy the warm weather a bit, but soon we’ll be back on the saddle working to complete Shape Invaders. Here are some of the big things left to do:

  • Completing all the art asset
  • Implementing the shop
  • Tweaking all the levels
  • Implementing the final boss :D

Our target is to complete the game for the holidays 2012. Hope we can make it.
Thanks a lot for all your support and keep checking us out, we’ll be posting some new stuff soon.

-Dan
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Where the magic happens

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Hey guys,
We hope you’re doing great today.
Tiebreaker Studio does not have an office…yet, we’re all developing from the comfort and mayhem of our homes. So we thought it would be interesting for you guys to see where we work. Go ahead take a look and see where the magic happens :D

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Indie dad survival tips

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Hi everyone, it’s Dan

Time when I wasn't Indie..so sad :(

When I started working at Tiebreaker Studio full time I thought I would have more time to blog and let you know what’s going on with me and Shape Invaders development. Unfortunately life being life, time is not something I have plenty these days. Going indie is hard. It’s hard when you’re a kid living in your parents’ basement, but when you’re married with children it adds another layer of complexity. In the last few months, I have learned a thing or two about being an Indie Dad and I thought that, for my first blog, it would be a goodidea for me to share what I have learned with you guys in case other Indie Dads would like to do the jump to the sweet life of Indie game development. :D

1. Spend time with your family

When you are your own boss working out of your basement, the line between work time and family time get blurred a lot. Over are the good old days of 8 to 5, 5 days a week. Now it’s possible to always be on the job. When you believe in your project and are working to feed your family let me tell you it’s natural to always want to be in front of the computer working. But as a famous admiral said a long time ago: “It’s a trap!”  Sure, things will move faster…for while, but your wife and kids need you too, and last thing you want is to have them feel like your business is more important than them. Remember that you’re doing that for them as much as for you. And if they end-up resenting you and your work because of how you acted, it’s no worth it.

2. Have a to-do list

Admit it, you have a bad memory,  we all do,  That’s why “To-do lists” exist. Sometimes people don’t want to use to-do lists because of the time it takes to maintain them. Trust me it’s time well invested. Don’t use your to-do list only for business related tasks only, use it for everything, kids appointment, chores to do in the house, etc. That way you won’t forget anything important in your professional and personal life. There are a bunch of free to-do lists software on the net. Pick one and use it.

3. Have a schedule

If you want to be able to make smooth transitions between, work time and family time, you must have a schedule. When you work in an office it’s a lot easier to make that transition…when you are out at 5pm it’s family time until you get up the next morning. However when you work at home, this line gets blurred a lot. So you and your family need to agree on a schedule. It does not matter what the schedule is, but you need to stick to it as much as you can. This way it will be easier for you kids to know when daddy is available to play, but it will also be easier for you to know when to stop working and spend some time with your family. However this one is hard to do, so try your best

4. Finish what you start

Starting things is easy…finishing them is hard. There’s few thing more motivating than being able to say “it’s done” and be able to move to something else. Unfinished things only nag you as you keep thinking about them and how great it would be if this was finish. So instead of starting a million things at one stay focused, start something and finish it.

5. Go outside and see other people

Being indie often means you don’t have the money to rent an office; it’s our case with Tiebreaker Studio. I work out of my basement 6 days a week all by myself. Its’ cool since you’re more focused and have less distractions, but after a couple of week of that regime you feel quite lonely, it can get depressing and play on your moral and energy. Try to go out of the house a couple of time a week, even during the day. Take a walk, go to the grocery store, go see friends…interact with real people. It will make you feel better and help wash off that loneliness funk.

6. Exercise regularly

There' s no easy way out!

You’ll need energy to complete your project. However spending 10 hours + a day in front of a computer will bring your energy level down and you’ll fell sluggish and tired. Try to exercise at least 15 minutes each day,  do whatever you like but move and get of that chair for a while anyway it’s killing you :P http://dailyinfographic.com/sitting-down-is-killing-you-infographic

7. Show your game to your kids or kid’s friends

This one depends on what your game is but if it fits you kids age, have them play it. Not only will it help you play test your game, it will also show your kids that you are working on something real and that you are making progress, they’ll like it even if they don’t love your game. As a bonus, have your kid friends play too; you’ll score some points on the “Cool Dad” meter which can only benefit your kid.

8. Talk about your plans to your wife

Your wife is your first investor, she has a stake in what you do more than anyone else and if you fail she fails too. So it’s only natural to let her know how things are going, what you are working on, when you thing thinks will come through, etc. This information will help her feel less stressed out about the situation (if she is) and will allow her to give you better advices.

9. Get enough sleep

As Juan Rico once said “Happiness consists in getting enough sleep. Just that, nothing more”.  If you want to be productive and be on top of your game every day, then get enough sleep! Otherwise, you’ll have more difficulty to focus on things, thus leading you to take more time to complete your tasks, then leaving you with less time to sleep. Hence the infernal circle. Besides things always look worse than they are when you’re tired; in the world we live in you don’t needed that added stress. It’s ok to get to bed very late sometimes but follow it with a good night sleep the day after.

10. Play Games

Time is scare and playing game sound like the last thing you should be doing. But au contraire playing games will help you stay motivated; it will inspire you and even help you solve problems you may encounter in your game. If you play other good indie games, you’ll get to realized that making good games with almost no money is possible, and if you are competitive like me you see these games as a challenge. If they can do it, you can do it too.

Hope these tips will help some of you out there. I know they are not ground-breaking tips but sometime it’s good to go back to the basics.

 

Thanks for following us and thanks for reading this post :D

-Dan

 

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Dev blog: Production Blitz #8

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Hi everyone
We met this past week-end at Mike’s place for one of our traditional Production Blitz. It was our 8th blitz and things went pretty well :) We started earlier than usual and a lot of issues were fixed during the 24hours stretch including.

  • Designed and implemented new intro text for levels
  • Designed transition flow
  • New animation and special effect
  • Tweaked the interface transition
  • End of level tally screen
  • Fixed engine bugs
  • Added sound FX
  • Corporate stuff

But most of all we had fun. It was great to see each other again, exchange on what’s going on in our lives and see Mike’s newly renovated basement :P . For those who missed them, here are some of the pictures we took during the blitz. The next blitz should be held at the start of August, we’ll keep you posted.

-Dan

 

 

 

 

 

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Drawbacks of being indie

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In my last article, I took the time to explain the benefits I saw in being a small independent team in game development. These advantages were freedom, fun and being close to the players. However, being small and independent also has its drawbacks.

1st Drawback: Double Life

When starting a new project, revenues are often very low or simply nonexistent. It is therefore not possible to put aside our day job to dedicate ourselves only to our new project. We

must live what is called the “double developer” life. Like Batman, during the Day, we have a job that allows us to pay the bills and during the evenings and weekends, we do the fun stuff and put our efforts on the project. This is often the case for independent developers starting in the business. As a result of working only evenings and weekends, the development of the game automatically takes longer. A project that would take three months to complete under normal circumstances can easily become a nine months or more project. This lack of time to develop the game becomes a huge obstacle and can affect motivation a lot. This is why I advise you to be part of a team when starting a project that will be done part-time. Games are complex and it is often a lot easier if you do it with other people. This way, the project moves forward even if you are unavailable for a few days. Not to mention that it is difficult to have skills in art, programming and design.

2nd Drawback: Money

This might be the last Bacon you'll eat in a while.

To some extent this is connected to the previous point. You have to be able to pay your bills, and more often than not indie devs don’t have money and do it for the love of the game. However not having a dime is a problem. Because at some point you’ll need money to buy some equipment and software and this money will come out of your pocket. If you believe in what you do it’s fine when its couple of hundred dollars, but when it’s thousands or tens of thousands you would need to spend, it becomes impossible. For example, for the game

we are currently developing at Tiebreaker Studio, we needed at least a Xbox with a Xbox Live membership and a subscription to AppHub to adequately test our game on the system, that we paid with our money. But hiring a sub-contractor for music and SFX is impossible if you want to pay them what they are worth. Fortunately there are other ways around and many companies encourage game developers by providing access to free development tools. It helps a lot smaller developers. But to some extent, when you are better equipped, it’s easier to develop a good game.

3rd Drawback: Stress

Tough choice: Less stress or more freedom?

For some people like my friends Dan and Richard, we can add one more drawback: the stress. My friends have recently taken the plunge, they abandoned their main job to devote themselves to Tiebreaker Studio full time. For them, the time of regular paycheck is over. As they too have bills to pay and live on their small savings, you can easily understand how the situation can lead to stress. They replaced the inconvenience of the double life for an even greater money problem. No pain, no gain… and actually it’s the bet they take. However, even if it’s a personal choice, it is still a bit stressful!

4th Drawback: Marketing

In large companies, we often see entire teams dedicated to the marketing. Those teams work hard to promote company’s AAA games. In a small indie company, it becomes quite a challenge to stand out of the crowd. To overcome this major drawback, we must use resources available to us like our friends, family and social networks. With a little luck and a good game, chances are that people will notice it and start talking about it and hopefully buy our game. However, nothing is easy and it takes a lot of effort.

In summary, I believe double life, money, stress and marketing are the major drawbacks of indie developers. However, these obstacles can be overcome if you are dedicated to what you do; and to my opinion the benefits of being indie are much greater than its drawbacks :)

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