Extended Crunch is Bad. Bad, bad, bad πŸ’€

General / 19 juin 2018
Onegai shimasu (γŠγ­γŒγ„ します) Β πŸ™‡

Crunch. This is a controversial subject and I'm still going to talk about it.
I've had my fair share of crunch time. The toughest was a straight 4 months, 7 days a week, 100 hrs or so a week. There are only 168 hours in a week, so you can understand the misery. For years I had a sleeping bag under my desk that I finally used in the outdoors a few years ago. One night I fell asleep at the wheel of my car. Luckily I was at a stoplight and my foot was on the break. It was 2am and they streets were bare. Another lucky break.

Extended crunches does bad things to your health, physically and mentally. I started to gain weight. My blood pressure spiked. I started to drink more to numb myself. I was already an insomniac so my sleep became worse. I got angry easily. I began to shut myself off from my family and friends. I held bitterness and resentment to a lot of people, mostly for no good reason at all. Once I almost threw a punch at a programmer for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. It was 1 o'clock in the morning and we were all tired, getting on each others nerves. I was talked down by a fellow artist. The next day I had lunch with the programmer. I could not, and still can't, remember what he said to piss me off. Neither could he (fortunately). We are still pals. Then our game was canceled a few months later.

Productivity will slow. Mistakes will be made. Tempers will rise.Β 

Why is there crunch? A number of reasons. The main one, IMHO, is poor management and poor scheduling. Other reasons could include people not doing their job to help out or as arbitrary as the person in charge wants to see people working harder. I've seen it all. The IGDA (International Game Developers Association) has done extensive research on crunch time here:
https://www.igda.org/page/crunchsixlessons?
And if you've not read the "EA Spouse" story, do so:
https://ea-spouse.livejournal.com/274.html
Crunch still happens. Sometimes, crunch get built into the schedule (absurd, right?) Some of my colleagues were on a year long crunch, 6 days a week minimum (and were looked down upon,  by management, if they were not there Sundays). Brutal 😫. Crunch will burn out wonderful talent very fast and they will have to be replaced (which takes time and $$).

There may be a little crunch here and there, for a couple of weeks, for polish. No big deal.It should not be used as a standard practice for working on ANYTHING. I did the calculation once one what my actual pay would have been had I'd been paid for the amount of overtime that I worked. It was astronomical. And I was certainly not the highest paid artist.

Why am I complaining? There is such a thing as a "life" that I, and many others with this experience, want to have. Down time is essential in this line of work. A balance in our lives is necessary for active creativity and career longevity. What is not right is for companies to take for granted the people who work for them. To be just a number. An asset (which I was told I was once). To be taken for granted. I know several colleagues that have started new Indie studios and do what they can for the employees to have a work/life balance because they don't want their employees to experience the same stress as they did. The change is happening, however its too slow. Does not mean you should stay away from the industry. It is fulfilling in so may ways.

Making games is not as fun as playing them. However it should not feel like a very slow death.

Don't Relax Just Yet πŸ’€

General / 05 juin 2018
Onegai shimasu (γŠγ­γŒγ„ します) Β πŸ™‡

I covered this topic a little previously, now I want to spend an entire post on it.Β 
When you're on a project, just because you're done with your tasks does not mean you're finished working on the project. Whether it be coding, art, producing, management, whatever. You're not finished until you move onto another project. If you chill and celebrate early, your other teammates (who continue to work) will wonder why, and begin to resent you. They don't want to spend late nights and weekends working to finish the project because you decided to check out early. You're here to bring your best. When you mentally check out early, you are not giving your best. This is your ego talking, telling you that you've done enough. You need to check that ego asap.

In all my years I the industry I see this far too often. One person finished his/her task and chills out for weeks after that. Sometimes months. This makes extra work for everyone else who have to cover for things that could have been taken care of, usually small things that no one wants to do. There's always pickup work that needs to be completed. Even if you're not good at it, don't sit back and ride the rest of the project out. If you're not good at a task volunteer for it anyway because usually you can get help, and it will be appreciated. If not, others will feel the guilt for having things cut or for the final product not being as good as they know it could have been.

Remember: you are here to be a valued member of a team and to support your teammates as you expect them to support you. You're also here to be of value to the company that hired you.

That being said, I don't recommend doing something WAY outside of your expertise.Β 
Example: If you're an artist I don't recommend working on AI code. Stay within your field and help out the rest of the team. Especially if unforeseen circumstances pop up. Like a team member having to leave. There will be things that are out of your control that can't be wrangled with. So help out with things that are in your control. The more you help out within your expertise the faster you can honestly celebrate not only your accomplishments, but that of the entire team.

Remember: you'll take your lumps together and your victory laps together.

The More You Know πŸ’ͺ

General / 31 mai 2018
Onegai shimasu (γŠγ­γŒγ„ します) Β πŸ™‡

I recently finished an assessment on Lighting and Compositing with the Game Art students. Normally, the assessment calls for using Nuke to compositing the render passes. My VFX students did this, however I know that game artist will never use Nuke in the industry. So I changed it up for the Game Art students to use Photoshop instead for the final compositing. Without them knowing it, I taught them how to build textures using layers. It's the same as compositing an image, with minor differences. One of the things I told them is that the more they know Photoshop the better, and more valuable, they will be as an industry artist. What all industry artists MUST understand is that the more they can apply the basics the less they will rely on specific apps to do certain jobs. In their case I don't want them relying on Substance as a crutch. Because there WILL come a day when they won't have Substance available and they will have to create textures.

The more an artist knows about basic techniques the better an artist he/she will be and the less reliant they will be on apps to do one job. And the better they will be at using that app, like Substance. For artists I'm talking about using layers, basic design principles, color theory, understanding how light works, composition, etc. I have a friend who is a traditional oil painter and his photoshop paintings look just like his oil paintings. Quite astounding. He can achieve this because he knows the principals of traditional painting and can apply them to photoshop. As a photographer I have a deep understanding of how light and shadows work together. That knowledge transfer easily to 3D.

When I was in college I was trained in the Classic art styles, as an abstract artist, a graphic designer, and photographer. I also took art history and psychology. All of this taught me how to view the world through a critical eye and provided an insight into how people perceive art. Only towards the end of my schooling did I start to learn 3D (on SGI machines using Softimage). I was able to apply everything I learned to the new tech that was being implemented in the industry. All of my high-end tech skills I learned on the job (there was no school for video games at the time).

If you already took higher-ed art classes then you'll have an advantage. However, you can still learn the basics at home, on the internet. There is no end to tutorials and learning materials. You have to go that extra mile, though. And practice. Every day. Even if it's a small thing just to keep you sharp. It's the small things that will give you the edge over everyone else.


The Holy Trinity of Game Dev πŸ˜‡

General / 23 mai 2018
Onegai shimasu (γŠγ­γŒγ„ します) Β πŸ™‡

IMHO there is a Holy Trinity of Leads in Game Development that exists and needs to be respected.


  • The Art Director
  • The Programming Lead
  • The Design Lead
  • And the Producer greasing the never ending wheel between the other Leads.

There are other parts to the team to keep the company running: executives, HR, marketing, etc.Β 
Here, I'm on only referring to the core development members that are creating the game.
Each lead have people working under them. ADs have artists, PLs have programmers, DLs have designers. Even Producers could have production assistants. The chains of command.Β 
(If you have a problem with another person on the team talk to your lead first. Ill cover this in another blog post.)

In an established and well functioning dev group this is the ideal scenario. If one of the Leads begins to interfere or do the job of another Lead friction usually happens because the said Lead has an agenda: to get his/her stuff done first AND does not have a foil to double check the work.
Example: If the Art Director suddenly does the job of the Design Lead then there is the possibility of the AD loosing design perspective. A Game Design Lead is there to advocate for the consumer so the consumer will play the game. Maybe reply it. So you can see the potential dilemma.
The Producer has the role of making sure that everyone is getting things done on time. The Producer will also help ease the jobs of the leads by effectively communicating in areas that are not understood by the other. Producers also love problems that can creep up and helps the whole machine keep running as smoothly as possible.Β 

It's important for the Leads to REALLY understand the jobs of the other Leads. Not to know HOW to do their job. Just what they are doing in order to understand their point of view.

Now, there is something to be said for Indies where there are not enough people to do the distinct jobs. Indies may not have a choice but to wear multiple hats. That in itself is a monumental task that can really grind a person down. It can also create a hard core appreciation of the other's job.Β 
I've worked on very small teams and very large teams. Both have their ups and downs:
  • On a small team you could feel that you have real ownership of a project. Communication can be fast and loose. Money is tight so you may have hand-me-down equipment. You may have to work extra hard to get things done. You may have to do things that are way beyond your expertise.
  • A large team could have a bigger family feel. More people to help solve problems. Productivity could climb. The project might be bigger. More $$$! Communication could be bogged down or outright lost because of the size. Since its a bigger project you might be expected to produce more. It can be an organizational nightmare for the Producer. You may be stuck doing the same thing for years.
Some people like tiny teams. Others like the giant AAA style studios.
My preference is somewhere in between, which can be very difficult to find.Β 
They are out there, though 😁


Don't Get Comfortable 😰

General / 15 mai 2018
Onegai shimasu (γŠγ­γŒγ„ します) Β πŸ™‡
Something that could potentially happen to you is getting comfortable. If that happens you have started on your path to becoming irrelevant. The only way to keep yourself relevant is to step out of your comfort zone. Your can't learn anything new without discomfort.

Learning a new piece of music, or a new modeling technique, or driving. No matter what it s you might screw up (the first time) and will have to do it again and again in order to be proficient. Ask for help from those ho know how to do whatever it is. Don't try to learn "in the blind". It's always best to have some sort of reference, like a video or another person.

You will always feel out of your element until you get the hang of whatever it is you're learning.
And thats OK. Its a natural reaction. Your brain and body have to adapt until muscle memory is achieved. Or whatever goal you set out is accomplished.

It's not to say you can't feel some of the comfort of achieving a new goal. Revel in it, and be humble. No one likes a showoff. If you can teach it, then do so. It will re-enforce what you learned. As a teacher I have to do my best to stay updated on the latest and greatest tech and techniques. I also rely on my students to show me new stuff, as well. If I start to get comfortable at my job Β I know I'm no longer relevant and I always feel the need to change that.

I like podcasts, especially the TED radio hour. So I wanted to share this very topic that was covered.

https://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/606073044/comfort-zone

F*ck the 85% mark 😱

General / 09 mai 2018
Onegai shimasu (γŠγ­γŒγ„ します) Β πŸ™‡

There is a moment in every project, whether its writing a book, making a game, or creating a film, where you've had enough! Everything looks bad! Nothing is working! This thing sucks! I stink at this! That is the 85% mark. The Ugly Phase.

At this point you've spent a lot of time, maybe with others, on whatever it is. You're getting tired of it. It does not look good or feel right because you've spent a ton of power on it and it's not done. If you have coworkers you are probably getting sick of them, too! This is where you really see all the perceived flaws because it's not complete. This is the hardest part of any project to get past.

I've seen it happen. Where someone will abandon the project at this point, vowing never to return. There is no getting around it, the Ugly Phase. All you can do is find support with others, like your teammates, and do your best to keep moving. I recommend keeping things that you made at the beginning of the project to see how far you have come. If its your studies, keep you first assignment, and cringe as to how bad it is compared to what you have now. It will get better so long as you hod on and do your best to work through it.

Remember that its OK to feel these things. We're only human. Go and let off steam. What you should not do is bring others down. That will come back around to haunt you eventually.

Once you get past the 90% mark you will start to see the end in sight and hope will return. The project is almost complete. Others will see the end as well and that will help encourage you to finish.
The relief, and rewards, will always be worth it. And then you get to do it all over again 😈

Devil's Advocate 😈

General / 02 mai 2018
Onegai shimasu (γŠγ­γŒγ„ します) Β πŸ™‡

In my opinion all director level managers (like Art Directors) need a Devil's Advocate. They need someone to ask the hard questions. Someone who is on the front lines with the rest of the crew. A person who can keep an objective view of the goals and the team. What Directors DO NOT need are suck-ups and yes-men. They don't need anyone to feed their egos. Independent thought is so important as well as double checking to make sure the Director is on the right path for the team.

This means the Director must be flexible. To bend and not break. Good Directors are not dictators. Β  they are adaptive to new and unexpected situations and actively listen to their crew. If the majority of the team is in agreement that the product is going in the wrong direction, the Director should listen.Β 

One of the toughest things for a Director to do is to make an unpopular decision. Like letting a team member go. These types of decisions must always be for the benefit of the team. Or the company. The Director will have to have a thick skin to withstand the potential fallout and redirect frustrations to creative efforts. So long as the decision is a benefit to the product, or company, it will work itself out. What's even more difficult is if the director has a personal stake in the decision. Example: the person being let go is a friend. I've had the unfortunate duty of letting friends go from jobs. Its worse because I brought them into the job to begin with. If directors appear to be callus or cold it's because they may be doing their best to keep an objective distance of the team and the product. This is why it can be difficult for friends to form and maintain a company. Business and the longevity of the products can sometimes interfere with friendships.

Keep in mind that a Director will do his/her best to maintain scope of the product or company as a whole. Which is why they need a Devil's Advocate. Sometimes the Director needs to be questioned if they decision they are making is a good one. That its actually good for the rest of the team, the company. Directors must always maintain the long view. In which case the Director must seek council with their Devil's Advocate.

A Director's success will be reflected in the rest of the team's success. In the company's success. The rest of the team will want to work with the Director on the next project.
And a tight team, that trusts each other, is a successful team.

Know Your Limit πŸ’£

General / 25 avril 2018
Onegai shimasu (γŠγ­γŒγ„ します) Β πŸ™‡

It takes a long time, and diligence, to be really good a something. Some people have a natural knack for whatever they are good at. You can't be great at everything, though. I recently had a discussion with one of my students who wanted to be good at everything. I said that it was impossible. Our industry wants people to be exceptional at one thing. To be good at others. And then willing to learn new skills later on. Even in indie studios there are people who have specializations yetΒ have to do a ton of other work because there is no choice.

The best way to be good at something is to love what you're going. I mean really love it. Where you can see yourself practicing this thing because you find it fulfilling in some fashion. Once you get really good at it then you can pick up other skills or add to it.

I don't think I'm good at drawing. I struggle with it. I can get by enough to communicate what I need, and sometimes that's enough. I am very good at hard surface modeling, especially robots. I enjoy it. I'm really good at fine art photography. I can't live without taking photos, although I enjoy it as a side gig and not my main source of income. I'm good at other things and really such at others (no one will ever see my animations).

I thought that being good at everything was going to make me more valuable when I first started. I was wrong. All it did was make me just passable. Once I focused one one thing, and got really good at it, then I was asked to do other stuff. I still held on to being really good at that one thing, which was hard surface modeling. Afterwards I added UV mapping to my skill set. I found that I enjoyed it. UV mapping drove other people insane! So I took advantage of that }:-)

I always tell my students that if you do the thing you love, everything else will work out. Which is why you can't be good at everything. You can't love everything. You're only human and can't split yourself that much. Follow what you love, what you can do every day without loosing your shit, and learn other skills on the side.

If you attempt to be great at everything, you'll be great at nothing.
A paradox? Maybe. Yet it's the truth.

Grunt Work 😀

General / 17 avril 2018
Onegai shimasu (γŠγ­γŒγ„ します) Β πŸ™‡

When you first get into the industry you will not be giving the glory assets, no matter how good you are. Those items will be reserved for the more experienced team members. In the game industry you'll probably be given mundane assets, like crates, or background animations, or something else that is considered grunt work. Β When I got in I had to make dozens of UIs with a maximum of 2 colors, black and green, and a resolution of 640x480 each. Eventually, down the road, I got to make cool stuff. Even help develop whole worlds

Again, remember that you are a part of a team. The project comes first, not your ego to make awesome assets. In most industries you will start at the bottom. Sorting the mail, organizing some asset library, monitoring a render farm, rotoscoping, etc. And they will be low impact gigs that can easily be replaced by another person. The newbies get these jobs because the upper team members want to see how good you are at what you do: can you meet deadlines? can you take direction? Β No matter how lowly the job appears you still have to do the best work you can do. Even if it lasts a while (if it lasts more than a year, or so, and you see no upward movement then you need to reevaluate the job).Β 

You might also be asked to do some pick-up work that is not your specialty for any number of reasons. Usually it's because the team is short on staff and you have bandwidth to do more work. Sometimes the work may not be portfolio worthy. Don't complain, do it anyway and get it out of the way. Now, if its unethical or really way outside your expertise, that's a different story. Talk to your manager and see if there is another way. If it's something you can do then do it. The task may not be beneath you, you're just letting your ego getting in the way. The faster the mundane task is done the faster you can get to your specialized sexy stuff.

This may be different in an indie company. In that case everyone pitches in on the grunt work because everyone is on the hook to get the project done at a high quality. No matter what situation you're in, there is no room for prima-donnas.

This rule also goes for jobs you man actually don't like (until you find something new). In my past, there were companies and teams I was not a fan of. I even got passed up for promotions at one job years ago. I still did my work to the best of my abilities and I got some really good portfolio pieces. More importantly, I got the respect of other team members and made good friends. And these will stay with me for the rest of my career.

Nothing is Sacred πŸ’”

General / 10 avril 2018
Onegai shimasu (γŠγ­γŒγ„ します) Β πŸ™‡

One of the things that we have to do as creatives (art, programmers, etc.) is to stay current with new tech, art styles, whatever. If we don't then, we become irrelevant in a very short period of time. That means being flexible and being open to change. Most of all it means that you have to LET GO OF OLD STUFF. For example, holding on to old portfolio pieces will not only date you, it will keep you from moving forward into new areas. I'm in the process of changing my portfolio and eliminating 4/5 of it. I don't remember the last dev who used basic to code anything.

You also must be able to receive critiques with a plan to take the ideas that are actionable and implement them for the future. That means looking for people to critique your work who can give you feedback that is more objective andΒ  relevant. You also have to take some critiques with a grain of salt, especially if you get a visceral reaction. Some of the critique might just be personal tastes.

The bottom line is that you MUST be willing to learn new things, change, and adapt, unless you plan on becoming a relic. Example: I am finally wrapping my hear around linear workflow for games. It's finally making sense and I plan on teaching it to my students. Sometimes, I learn new things from my students, which is very exciting.

Anyone who claims to know everything about a particular subject is FULL OF IT. There are always new things to learn in your field, no matter what it is. You must maintain a culture of learning inside yourself at all times.