?

Log in

Wed, Dec. 3rd, 2008, 03:34 am
Friends-Onlyness

This journal underwent the dreaded Friends-Only change sometime early in 2006. One of the reasons I wanted to start writing this was to have a public forum in which I could document my life. Not because I feel like my life is important enough for the general public to care about it, you understand. No, it was because I've tried writing private journals in the past, and was terrified that someone would find them and discover my Deepest Darkest Thoughts(tm). A public LiveJournal was a way of allowing me to keep a record without fearing secrets - if I had no shame about what had happened, it could be documented. If things were secret, I could just not post. Often, I doctor the truth, as is my perogative. It's my account of my life, and I can say what the fuck I want about it.

The journal went friends-only in early 2006 because it turned out that "Public" was just a tiny bit TOO public. I still update, and still tell my friends and Esteemed Readers what's happening in my life, but I like to guard against random Interweb bozos just being able to read everything. Feel free to add a comment to this post asking to be included in the Hallowed Inner Circle of my Friends List, but be aware that I'm unlikely to grant access unless you're actually a Real Life(tm) friend of mine. For everyone else, I'm afraid you'll have to wait until I'm famous enough to write an autobiography.

To summarise the story between early 2006 and now, I'm still in Leeds, still working for Popstar. I've worked on some awesomely popular and well-selling games, and some other stuff which has been decidedly lower in profile. I got a girlfriend, which was good for a bit, and then not good so much. I got another girlfriend, and at the time of writing, that's working out pretty okay. I've had a variety of interesting relationships with friends and flatmates. I've thought and written about a whole bunch of stuff. I've worked on projects, most of them of the geeky programming variety, and a couple of them of the pyromaniac fireworks variety. I'm more comfortable with myself than I have been in the past, which is to say that I still suffer from crippling self-despising, but have learned to put a brave and confident face on it, for the most part. I'm not a Timelord, despite the rumours you may have heard.

This post is primarily intended as an endcap to the early posts which I decided to leave Public, and as a message to people who aren't on my Friends-List but who think they should be or would like to be to speak up and get themselves included in my Esteemed Readershup if they feel like it would be interesting or important.

Fri, Dec. 16th, 2005, 01:47 am
On Recording One's Own History

Faintly nonsensical musings about the permanency of our wordsCollapse )

Sun, Mar. 27th, 2005, 05:25 am
The Badgers Are Back...

In a fit of online boredom, I've finally resurrected my website. Now in it's 3rd (and most polished looking, for better or worse) incarnation, this'un features the return of the fabled badgers from way back in the days of "Masked Flamingo's Funky Pink Nest" and some of the content from my old "Chessboard" site. There are still a few bits and pieces to go up, but it's at least 75% there I reckon. Let me know what you think of it. You can find it at http://electrodruid.zapto.org/

Tue, Mar. 8th, 2005, 09:08 pm

Howdo?
No vastly exciting new news this time, which is probably for the best.
Sent off some paperwork to Popstar agreeing to work for them (well
duh...), and I'm starting on 4th April - which will lead to a truly
hectic move to Leeds, but since when are these things ever easy?
In other news, despite (or perhaps because of?) Wikipedia currently
trying to decide if it should delete my horribly geeky page about a
programming language I made up ( http://electrodruid.zapto.org/l33t.htm
, for anyone who happens to be interested), I've had a whole bunch of
new stuff sent to me. One bloke is putting the finishing touches to an
interpreter written in C, and another guy sent me a very very scary
program which, well, does what it says on the tin:



#define print(x) main(){printf(x);return 0;} /* >+++++[<++>-]<[>++++

# +++<-]>++.+.[-]>+++++[<++>-]<.[-][

#

# This polyglot prints "HI" when run in

# Brainfuck, C, COW, Perl, Python, Gammaplex, l33t, and ruby

#

# */

print ("HI\n")

#/*

# @X"H"Xr X"I"Xr RE

# moOMoOMoOMoOMoOMoOMOOmOoMoOMoOmoOMOomoo

# mOoMOOmoOMoOMoOMoOMoOMoOMoOMoOmOoMOomoo

# moOMoOMoOMooMoOMooMOOMOomoomoOMoOMoOMoO

# MoOMoOMOOmOoMoOMoOmoOMOomoomOoMooMOOMOo

# moo 5 0 7 99999998 1 7 0 1 8 9999998 1 91

# ] */



(What's the betting LiveJournal totally messes up the formatting on
that?)
Incidentally, the l33t bit of it is that bunch of numbers near the end.
It's "cheating" to write l33t code in that way, but that's another
story. I'd never heard of polyglots before (a polyglot is a program
which does the same thing in several different programming languages),
but I soon found loads more:



 http://www.nyx.net/~gthompso/poly/polyglot.htm





If you're a geek, enjoy the craziness. If you're not, best to completely ignore all of this and back away slowly...

Wed, Mar. 2nd, 2005, 10:42 pm
Leap of Faith...

I couldn't wait for the paperwork to come through. Today I had "the talk" with my managers, who mostly seemed pretty upbeat and pleased for me - even a little surprised I'd generated so much interest from other companies. With good reason - Although I've done work I'm proud of, Evil Amateurish never stretched me to my full potential. Never. Not once. Not even close. They bend over backwards to hire talented people, and then waste them.

Anyway, enough complaining about my current job, I have a new one lined up which I can complain about when I get there ;o) I handed in the letter to the HR department, who are working out how much holiday time I have left, which dictates when I'll be leaving. Probably another fortnight or so, which is perfectly bearable in the Grand Scheme Of Things. Plans for the flat in Leeds seem to be going well, looks like I'll be moving in 1st April, and presumably starting work a week or two after that. Popstar don't appear to be in any huge hurry on that front, which is fine by me.

So, it's done. The wheels are in motion. There's a whole bunch of cliches I could drop in here about a new beginning and jumping in at the deep end and stuff, but it's probably all a bit self-evident. At this point in time I only have two regrets: One involves a party I should have gone to when I lived in Dundee, which isn't relevant to this post. The other is that I should have learned to drive and bought a van by now to ease the pain of moving again. Next time. Next time I'll do it. Maybe.

Tue, Mar. 1st, 2005, 11:42 pm
It's Happened...

So I won't bore you with stories of all of the interviews I've done. Suffice to say it's been a very busy few weeks of wearing shirts and pretending to be slightly better at my job than I really am. I spoke to 5 companies in all, 4 of which whom made me offers. The guys who didn't offer annoyed me a bit, because they had the job I really wanted, in Brighton. But Steve (Maverick games developer extraordinaire) is going to (name changed because I think it's funny) Popstar Games in Leeds. Popstar terrified me like a rabbit in the headlights of their annihilating scepticism for a couple of hours, during which time it was all I could do not to run screaming from the room. Apparently I survived the ordeal well, and they offered to match my highest offer that day (with the unusually aggressive stance that if I waited til the next afternoon to accept, they'd probably give the job to the guy they interviewed the next day cos his CV seemed good too).

These guys are the Best Of The Best Of The Best, in a way which Evil Amateurish Games would like to believe they are, but can never be, and Popstar are bloody proud of that. They use this to impress and scare any candidates until they're sure that the guys they're talking to are the guys willing to give several million percent to live that dream and (apparently) earn the kind of bonuses which people outside the industry always think we earn but we don't. Suddenly in combination, Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine" and "Have a Cigar" (tracks I'd previously thought were a bit weak) now make sense...

I provided what is (in her words) "A Steve-shaped spanner in the works" to a friend of mine who lives in Leeds. I don't know if she should have an amusingly false name yet, so I won't name her at all for now. She's been my mate since College, she is one of the most lovely people I have ever had the good fortune to meet, and this morning she was meant to sign the lease on a one-bedroom flat. After a couple of drinks with her yesterday, she decided not to (with a tiny bit of persuation on my part). Instead she went hunting for 2 bedroom places today, and will pay her half of the deposit on an apparently rather nice place tomorrow. Quite how the logistics of paying my part will work is unknown right now, but Popstar have made it very clear that such trivial issues as relocating and salary are of little consequence to them, so long as I can work and thrive there. Something will get sorted out.

So, I'm moving to Leeds, apparently a lovely city with a shockingly (at least in Woking terms) low cost of living. I get to live with one of my old mates, who (if I hadn't mentioned) is lovely. I get to work with a company who could not look better on my CV if they tried, and they made no bones about the fact that (a) they liked me and (b) They would push me in a way which Evil Amateurish just didn't seem capable of doing. All told, pretty scary shit, but pretty good shit too. Top this off with a lovely night I spent in Guildford tonight with a bunch of local game developers, and a bunch of guys from a hardware manufacturer talking about the possibilities of indie games on their Shiny new handheld console*, and it's all been a rather good day.

* (For what it's worth, the possibilities are slim, but they ARE possibilities - If this thing can be worked out properly, the floodgates could be opened for a totally new business model for game development. That's totally dull to the non-geeks reading this, but to the geeks even a slim possibility is like Mana from Heaven).

So, dear reader, how was your day? What's your news? I need to get SOME comments on my ramblings, if only to alert me to the fact that people actually read this drivel.

Thu, Feb. 24th, 2005, 08:55 pm
The Story So Far

"Life must be lived forwards, but can only be understood looking back"

I forget who said that, but it's a good quote. The moment I've been looking back to recently was a lunchtime in 1989. I was eight then, in my primary school classroom. What with memory being what it is, I don't know if this event actually occurred in exactly the way I remember it, but it makes for a (semi) interesting story. I was playing "Granny's Garden", an educational puzzle game on the school's antiquated BBC Micro. In a moment of boredom I started prodding random keys on the keyboard. I hit Escape, and the game was suddenly replaced with a screenful of some bizarre-looking text: Specifically, the BBC BASIC which the game had been written in. I was fascinated. My teacher, Mr. Stephen Burton (a mild-mannered beardy computer enthusiast who wouldn't have looked out of place on an Open University program) saw what I'd discovered and told me I wouldn't be going out into the playground that lunchtime - instead he would teach me the fundamentals of programming.

This is probably the breakthrough my teachers had been hoping for. I was a pretty screwed-up kid, often angry and frustrated, sometimes violent towards other kids and even the teachers. I didn't have a lot of control, both of my body (I'm left-handed and was a really clumsy kid which led to embarrassment with sports, handwriting, anything practical), and of the events in my life and my reactions to them. I suspect it clicked with Mr. Burton that a computer was something I could be in control of, a tool with which I could turn the stuff of my imagination into a reality, with none of that messy physical skill which is needed for anything else.

I was hooked instantly. I started with the basic (pardon the pun) 10 PRINT "I AM COOL" 20 GOTO 10 stuff, but started playing about making games pretty quickly. I decided that this was what I wanted to do for my career, a decision which I've stuck with for the past 16 years. I did some text based stuff, then messed around with the 8 by 8 pixel graphics which you could create by entering a bunch of binary numbers representing rows of pixels. I laboriously copied BASIC programs from magazines to make games, then tweaked them and improved them. I cleaned up some of the bugs in Mr. Burton's own epic attempt to recreate Monopoly in BBC BASIC (and, in a rather unethical move, hacked the intro screen to show my name instead of his). My teachers eventually commissioned me to write my own educational software, to help me learn basic arithmetic (something which I'm better at now, but still not great).

I got a Spectrum to play with at home, but mostly used it for playing games rather than making them. When the very wonderful Your Sinclair magazine finally bit the dust, I traded my Speccy in for a SAM Coupe, the most powerful 8-bit computer known to man. The machine was a dinosaur when it first came out, not a patch on the Ataris or Amigas of the time, but was a joy to tinker about with and make games on. When I was thirteen I had completed a game called Blokker (you can still get it online as abandonware from various places), and decided to try selling it via mail order under the name Mungus Software. I put a tiny free ad in a magazine, sold a few copies, paid for a bigger 1/4 page ad, sold more, saved up enough to get me to one of the SAM trade shows in Gloucester, and started working on a follow-up. "IMPostors!" was a Lemmingsy/Lost Vikingsy multi-character puzzle/platform game featuring 5 imps with different skills who worked together to get through a whole bunch of different levels. It was actually more inspired by an obscure and criminally under-rated old PC game called "The Humans", which has since faded into obscurity but was a big influence on me at the time. I did most of the level design during the German lessons in school with my mate John Thrower (who bought a SAM too and started making games as well). Various smaller games and other bits and pieces paid for postage, copying disks, buying cool new hardware and software, and our space at more shows. By the time I was 16 we were embarking on IMPostors 2, a much bigger project with no less than 6 people all contributing art, chunks of code, design, music and sound effects. It never got finished because by then the SAM had dwindled to so few active users that much of the "scene" had collapsed, so I put Mungus on the back-burner (where it remains) and went to College.

A-Level Computing, Maths and Theatre Studies - the Theatre Studies only because I wanted some light relief from Maths, and couldn't have faced doing Physics instead. Computing was ludicrously easy, I had known most of what was being taught for years already by that point, and any new information was assimilated without much effort. Maths was a nightmare which I pushed myself through. My overriding memory of it is of weeping over past papers every night for 2 months, terrified that I would fail. I got a B in the end, which remains one of my proudest achievements.

I fluffed up my uni application, because all of the "straight" Computing degrees just seemed too dull to me. I knew I wouldn't be able to tolerate the courses enough to actually complete them. Right at the end of college I found out about Abertay Uni where they had just started the UK's first Computer Games Technology degree. I applied like a shot, but by then I had to defer entry, so lived for a year in Exeter, working full-time in Burger King. I was only able to stand the job because I knew what would happen after it. The degree was bloody hard work. I broke up with my second girlfriend in 2nd year for a variety of reasons, but one of the major ones was that I was spending more time making PlayStation games for coursework than I was with her. I adopted a "No girlfriend" policy during 3rd year for largely this reason, it wouldn't be fair on any girlfriends I had. Which was really annoying because I met a whole bunch of really lovely females who thought I was great but with whom nothing meaningful could happen because of my rule. It's still painful to meet up with these girls, in the knowledge that the time for doing stuff with them is over and they'll always be The Ones Who Got Away. But, I got the degree, which was the goal for moving to Dundee in the first place.

The degree was followed up by Dare To Be Digital (www.daretobedigital.com), a 10 week competition for teams of 5 people, to make a game demo from scratch. I ran our team, and we made "Zoo Crew", a puzzle/platform game featuring 5 animal characters who used their skills to work together and escape from a zoo. The parallels with the IMPostors games is pretty obvious. It's a very comfortable and interesting style of game design to me, one which is both under-used and unfortunately somewhat unfashionable, although that problem isn't insurmountable. Dare saw me working 16-18 hour days, 7 days a week for 16 weeks, which left me utterly exhausted and on the bring of total mental collapse at the end, but it was worth it. We won the competition, I got a job at Evil Amateurish Games (name changed to protect the guilty), and Zoo Crew is still quietly being worked on. The concept is the same but the gameplay, platform and target audience have shifted slightly to bring the ideas to a wider modern audience, but it's still essentially my baby, just in slightly different clothes.

Evil Amateurish Games has clearly not gone so well. I've found the corporate culture somewhat stifling, and it's brought me to the horrible realisation that the games industry today is completely different in every single respect to the industry I thought I'd be going into when I was eight. Team sizes and project budgets are vast, developers are completely dependent on publishers, who for the most part are deeply uncreative people with no interest in the merits of a game's concept or execution, merely how many units it will shift. People will work inhuman amounts of unpaid overtime, on salaries which are already a fraction of what they could be earning making non-games software, because they "love the job". Employers have started taking liberties with this goodwill, and the concerns about work/life balance are becoming increasingly serious. The sense of ownership gleaned from being involved in all aspects of a game's production is now largely impossible to find outside the tiny, commercially unsuccessful cabals of die-hard bedroom programmers making independent titles for probably not much more money than I was making in my SAM Coupe days. Originality and creativity are all but dead, and can only be revived when developers find a way to break that crushing dependence on publishers and find a way to afford to make games which can really push the boat out. Middleware and online distribution may perhaps offer a light at the end of the tunnel but I can't work out how we got into such a dark tunnel in the first place.

Over the years I've given up sleep, friendships, relationships, money, most of my control over where I live and work and no doubt a couple of years of my natural life (which will vanish in some stress-related disorder further on down the line) to make games. I STILL love it, I'm STILL passionate about it, but when I look at what I've lost to keep steering down this path, and when I look at where the path has lead, there are times when I feel cheated. I either joined this industry ten years too late to catch the fun stuff, or ten years too early to enjoy my youth during the Second Wind. There's not much I can do if I'm too late, but if I'm too early I guess that means I need to find a way to bring the change about that is so clearly needed. But I have no idea where to start.

I sometimes wonder if the eight-year-old me would have made the same decision had he known what I know now. I suspect he would have done, but sometimes I dream of going back and meeting him, seeing how much I've really changed since then, how profoundly the decision of a primary school kid has shaped the character and experiences of a jaded but unbroken adult.



Stay tuned for the next episode in which I enthuse ravingly about the wonderful new job I'll be getting and how stuff is going to all work out for the best... ;o)

Sun, Feb. 20th, 2005, 11:43 pm
Hello, World!

Yup, after many moons of arguing that blogging was a deeply self-indulgent habit, I have finally decided to self-indulge. Mostly the only blogs I see are written by teenage goths who believe that the rest of the world actually cares about their angst, or by geeks who believe they have some truly profound things to tell us all. I will readily admit to being a geek, but I suspect profundity is beyond me. Still, this should at least while away some dull evenings now and again, which can be no bad thing.

So, I don't know what audience, if any, this will be aimed at. Probably some vague kind of format will spring up over time, but until then I'll probably stick with the usual stream-of-consciousness ramblings which I enjoy so much. Expect to read nonsense about my exciting life in the games industry (Yay! Wasn't that whole ea_spouse thing brilliant?!), my alternative life as a manically depressed jester who goes by the imaginative name of Lester (that's right, Live-Action Role Play, or cross-country pantomime to those unfamiliar with the concept), some drunken wibble on evenings when I feel so inclined, and perhaps some whining about my painfully nonexistent love-life which you can feel free to ignore or laugh at as you see fit. Or, you know, express sympathy and surprise that someone as nice as me could have trouble with that sort of thing and ask me out for a drink sometime.

What's happening to Steve today then? Well I'm doing lots of showering and ironing of shirts and generally preparing for what I imagine to be a fairly gruelling three job interviews in as many days. Right now I work for Evil Amateurish Games (there's an acronym in there somewhere I think), and am trying to quit. I've already done an interview with Other Games Corporation Who Aren't Quite As Evil, and they love me, but over the next three days I've got interviews with some smaller, cooler-looking games companies in various parts of England (Bath, Coventry and Brighton, to be precise), and I'm really interested in seeing if being smaller means they're smarter and more dynamic in the way they work, or if they're just as bad and will go bust or be bought by a bigger company over the next year. The games industry is a pretty scary place to be right now in that respect. Either you work for huge companies that shovel out complete pap to the idiotic masses who lap it up year after year, or you work for a smaller company, trying to do something interesting (at least that's the idea) but knowing that when you leave work in the evening the company might not even exist the next morning. I really should have bitten the bullet and learned how to write business software. Although I would probably have killed myself through boredom by now if I had.

Anyway, back to that all-important personal hygiene and train journey planning... If anyone is reading this, wish me luck! Not that I need it, of course, I rock at this games malarkey.