GDEX 2016 logo

GDEX 2016 aka Start Making Games!!! They Are ART!

Over the last weekend I had the pleasure of experiencing the 2016 version of the event now known as GDEX. This is the 4th year running although it was previously known as OGDE (The Ohio Game Development Expo). Last year was 70 or so people showing off their games and this year was around 100. It took place over the weekend before Halloween at COSI in Columbus, Ohio

Friday kickoff party
The weekend started out for me Friday night. The kick-off party was at Land Grant – a brewery across the street from the Columbus Idea Foundry. I bought tickets expecting food, possibly drink, and hoping to meet up with some friends from COGG (the Central Ohio Gamedev Group) here in Columbus and some friends from the Cleveland Game Developers group.

I brought Sarah along because some of the people I was expecting to be there are graphic designers and I wanted them to meet up. We got there a few minutes early and they were really just getting set up. We happily found out once we registered that part of the cost of admission was food in the form of the Challah Food Truck which has some amazing sandwiches. After we ordered our food, we sat down at a table. We started talking to the other guys at the table and found out they too were just getting started on the journey of developing games.

My friend Stephanie showed up with a few of her friends from Cleveland not too long after that and we got to catch up a bit with what they’d been up to in the last few months. It didn’t take long for things to get too crowded for us to feel comfortable. The seating there looked like it was geared to handle about 100 people and the GDEX organizers said they had 170 people buy tickets. We ended up leaving after less than two hours there.

Saturday talks

The day started out with a bang. Volition gave a talk about how they develop the look and feel of the game and how to know if you nailed it. They used their upcoming game Agents of Mayhem as a case study. It reminds me of Overwatch but you would not want to play it with your kids around due to language. Everything is big, explosive, and the “good guys” are probably best described as “Chaotic Good.” If you’re not familiar with Agents of Mayhem, you may be familiar with their other mega-hit games – Saints Row. My main take away from the talk was to figure out what feel you want the game to have and make sure the whole team knows it before you start making the game. If you haven’t figured that out yet, then your first order of business should be figuring that out.

I jumped from this to a talked called “Building a Local Game Community With Cultural Allies” featuring some organizers from the Cleveland Game Developers group as well as a guy who is running a game dev group in DC. This panel also included my friend Jarryd – more on him later. The focus of the talk was how to build your community by welcoming new members by doing things like Game Jams and informal social gatherings. It also included tips on working with cultural institutions like museums, libraries, and universities. The idea is to bring some people who would normally not be interested in games into contact with games and let them know it’s not all Pac Man and first person shooters.

After this was lunch and time to hit the show floor to check out the games. Some highlights:

  • Finally getting to try Night Air – Stephanie and Jarrod’s game. I thought it was supposed to be a Metroid type game but found out it’s closer to Contra but set fighting aliens in a partially demolished Cleveland cityscape. I’ve seen them post several screenshots. Getting to try it out was a real treat.
  • Bombfest – Zac Fierce’s game that reminds me a lot of Bombsquad, but more wood blocks than claymation. Lots of fun with the interesting twist that characters roll around instead of jumping to dodge quickly.
  • Dehoarder 2 – Smiling Cats game about the struggle of living with hoarding and getting help to get out. It feels a bit like Katamari in that you need to clean up small things to get motivation to clean up larger items.
  • Cleveland Game Developers group – lots of game jam games including Hummingbird in a Hailstorm.
  • Never Not Shooting – Hand Cannon Games crazy fast 4 player co-op game where you defend the sun against invading aliens trying to make it go super nova.
  • Collapsus – “Tetris meets Rubiks cube” puzzler by Wraith Games.
  • Extra Life – an awesome charity that does a 24 hour gaming marathon as a way to raise money for children’s hospitals. This includes Nationwide Children’s which explains why they haven’t partnered up with Child’s Play.

The next talk I went to was “The Life of a Game Programmer” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on this one. My wife was expecting a talk on work/life balance and I was expecting something more technical. He talked a lot about using Unity and different technologies and splitting up the front and back end. He didn’t do a deep dive on the technical stuff. So I got bored because it wasn’t technical enough and my wife got bored because it was too technical. I think the work/life balance talk would be more interesting because less developers, especially game developers, are talking about that part of the industry.

The day finished up with a keynote by IGN’s Daemon Hatfield. He’s got a podcast reviewing games for IGN and has been working there ten years and reading them for most of their 20 year history. I haven’t really been a huge IGN reader but seeing this amount of game industry history presented by someone who has been in the trenches this long (10 years!) was pretty amazing. It made me want to become a regular reader and maybe listen to his podcast.

Sunday talks

The first talk was Evan Todd talking about 13 years of bad code. He pulled out examples of bad code where they all had one thing in common: take a “good” design principal and overuse it, you’ll end up with a mess. For example “Don’t use globals” and end up with having to pass everything around to all objects that need it. He mentioned his first game was something he created when he was 13. Evan has one game he’s well-known for – Lemma which is a first-person parkour game that looks amazing in VR. He was also showing off his new game called The Yearning which is a player vs. player game involving spider robots that can climb up walls and ceilings as well as jump.

Next up was “Perspective Shift: Up Your Game By Making Games” which talked about all the valuable life skills you learn by making games. Grit, determination, tenacity, creativity and making what the users what instead of what you want. The speaker used Steve Jobs and Apple compared to Hewlett Packard as a case in point. Much of Steve Jobs’ thinking and caring about making products people enjoy came from working on games for a few years at Atari before he worked with Steve Wozniak to create Apple.

Last but not least was Jarryd Huntley talking about how indie game developers can learn from indie musicians. This including touring, leveraging your network, working on projects together – now known as “jamming” in both industries. He threw out some wild ideas like having musicians and game developers going on tour together especially if the musicians wrote the soundtrack to a game. He also made the point that it’s a well-established practice in the music industry to hold a day job to earn money to pay for tours and other expenses involved with creating and promoting your music. Why do some other people think you’re a failure if you don’t get to the point that you can quit your job and work on your craft (gaming or music or art) full-time with the release of your first project? It will likely take years and several projects before you can make a living solely off your creations. In fact, Jarryd pointed out an article where a web developer making games mentioned that making games drained his creative energy and web development actually served as a productive way to recharge that energy.

Overview

The weekend gave me a ton to think about as well as meeting some awesome new folks and seeing what some friends of mine have created over the last year. I have no excuse not to jump in and just make something. I think I can best sum it up with the quote from the “Perspective Shift” talk “Sucking at something is the first step to being kinda good at something.”

We're debt free - tracking progress paying down debt with mason jars

More Than Ten Years of Work and a Jar of Pennies to Make us Debt Free!

After more than ten years of work, budgeting, living below our means, and making sacrifices like driving a car with no air conditioning in the Ohio summer it has finally happened. WE’RE DEBT FREE!!! This is including the mortgage!

We paid off roughly $143,000 in mortgage debt plus $21,000 (give or take a few hundred) in credit card debt and student loans since we took control of our finances after taking a Financial Peace University class from Dave Ramsey.

A couple years ago we decide to track the last leg of this financial journey out of debt using a jar of pennies where each penny represented $100 balance in our mortgage.

After Friday night trip to the bank to pull out $3,000 CASH and then a trip to the bank branch that has our mortgage this is what our jars look like:

We're debt free - tracking progress paying down debt with mason jars
We’re debt free – tracking progress paying down debt with mason jars

I’ve got a longer post in the works but here is a short version of what we did:

  1. Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps
  2. Started using the You Need A Budget (YNAB) software and system. Basically Dave’s zero-based budget but living on last month’s income rather than this month’s.
  3. Living way below our means.
  4. Having goals and enjoying the ride.
  5. Big beefy emergency fund for several bumps in the road including four job losses, hitting a deer, medical issues, and the medical expenses of having two kids.
  6. We decided to get Gazelle Intense once we realized we could be 100% debt-free in 3 years if we put the pedal to the metal.
Relax, be confident, be amazing, be you!

The Best Layoff Ever – Part Two – The Whirlwind Hustle

Quick recap – in October of 2015, I left my previous employer to work with friends at a place I’d worked before on software I was passionate about. I immediately clicked with the team, but only got to work with them four weeks before new management came in and did a mass layoff.

This left me job hunting between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which was not a fun experience but I realized what an amazing group of people I’d become a part of. As of January 2, 2016 I had two very promising job prospects. And that’s where the story picks back up…

Continue reading The Best Layoff Ever – Part Two – The Whirlwind Hustle

Don't Go Alone

The Best Layoff Ever – Part One – The Crash & The Team That Had My Back

Over the last few months I’ve had a wild and crazy ride of a career transition. I’m still in IT, still a geek, but I’ve had a whirlwind rollercoaster of a ride over the last few months and finally had some friends convince me to share the highlights of the story with the world. So here goes…

Continue reading The Best Layoff Ever – Part One – The Crash & The Team That Had My Back

Visual Goal Tracking – Paying Off My Mortgage With Mason Jars and Pennies

Earlier this year, a friend of mine posted a fantastic idea on Facebook. Her husband was deployed in active duty to the military and she was having problems explaining to her kid when daddy was going to be back home. I’ll give you a moment to grab a tissue while you take that in….

The idea she came up with – grab two jars, and fill one with little plastic army men. One per day until her husband came home. Every day, they move one plastic green soldier from one jar to the other. When the first jar is empty, and the previously empty jar is full – it’s time for the family to be together again!

This got me thinking – you could use the same idea to track almost anything! Just get two jars, fill one up and move things as you make progress. Early this year, we got our mortgage under $60,000. I found out after buying two mason jars that the jars are just about the right size for 600 pennies. So each penny represents $100 of our mortgage.

Here is what it looked like when we started using the jars for tracking our goals.

Started visual tracking of paying off our mortgage early - Summer 2014
Started visual tracking of paying off our mortgage early – Summer 2014

RLIC – Real Life Interrupted Chat

RLIC – short for “Real Life Interrupted Chat.” I’ve used this term for a couple years with the friends I chat with (usually about three a month). When you are a parent of small children, it can often be tricky carry on extended conversations with someone via any kind of chat program . Instant Messenger, Facebook, texting, it doesn’t matter.

You can be mid-conversation and then you hear yelling and find out the cat has banana smashed into his tail and the kids are both fighting over the same My Little Pony toy even though they have at least ten of them.

This has been the story of my life lately if I try to chat with someone while I’m at home. I feel a bit like if I was in the room talking with someone and then mid-sentence just sort of disappear.

 

The TL90x Extreme Workout for Parents of Toddlers

Tonight I invented/discovered a new workout to do with my kids. I am calling it the TL90x since it involves toddlers.

Required equipment:

  • Bouncy house with a slide
  • IKEA circus tent
  • One or more toddlers.

Warmup:

Stomp around chasing a toddler (two year old girl in my case) and shouting “I’m Sharptooth and I’m going to tickle you!”

Workout:

Pick up previously mentioned toddler and swing her around saying “ONE! TWO! THREE!” and on the count of three, throw the toddler into a bouncy house. Do a flying leap into the bouncy house. Now jump up and down on the bouncy house until said toddler decides to go down the bouncy house slide. Jump down the slide head-first and do a dive-bomber pushup coming off the bottom. This entire paragraph describes one round of the TL90x workout.

Repeat this until the toddler gets tired of doing all this and then proceed to the cool down.

Cool-down: 

Go into an IKEA circus tent and pick up the toddler. Lift the toddler up until her head hits the top of the inside of the circus tent and say “BONK!” Put the toddler back down. Repeat until toddler decides to get out of the tent and see what any siblings are up to.

Currently “Reading”: Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath

I’ve been a fan of Malcolm Gladwell‘s books ever since I discovered them with Outliers. He’s got a knack for finding very interesting points that get overlooked in stories. So when I heard he had a book out about David and Goliath and how we tell the story all wrong, it got my attention.

The opening story, about David and Goliath and what was really going covers basically the same material as his TED Talk about the same story. He then leaps into stories ranging from underdog basketball teams to trying to find a cure for cancer that generally are very different takes on the same ideas:

Most things we often consider advantages can actually be disadvantages and vice versa. Also some things that are definitely negative can also have very positive things that come along with the negative.

I put “Reading” in quotes because I am listening to the audiobook narrated by Malcolm Gladwell. He’s got a very good reading voice and I’d highly recommend the audiobook to anyone who is busy especially if they have a commute like I do.

Buy from Amazon:

Empty Shelf Challenge for 2014

I’ve decided to participate in Jon Acuff’s 2014 Empty Shelf Challenge. The idea is simple.

1. Clear out a bookshelf.

2. Every time you read a book, put it on this shelf.

3. Track your progress by posting pictures of the shelf.

4. The goal is to fill up the shelf with books you read in 2014.

So far, the books I’m reading are all in digital format, so trying to figure out a way to do this. I’ll likely just print out labels and put them on books I already own that are about the same dimensions as the non-digital versions of these books.