2017 in Review

At the start of 2017, I came up with some professional development goals in this blog post: Goals for 2017. Specifically, these were “off-the-clock” goals (outside the scope of my Funkitron work and goals).

Now that 2017 is over, it’s time to reflect. How did I do?

1. Level Up My Game Design Toolbox

“Success here looks like a vastly improved toolbox by 2018; one that lets me quickly and effectively solve game design challenges.”

This year, I managed to consolidate and organize my existing notes. I also added some great new tools from Daniel Cook’s Lost Garden, Ian Schreiber’s Game Balance Concepts, and I am currently soaking in the many wisdoms of Kobold’s Guide to Board Game Design. I feel like I have a pretty solid framework for how my game design knowledge all fits together, and can confidently and efficiently draw tools from my toolbox.

However, it is a drop in the water compared to the ocean of knowledge and reference I need to amass. I need to find more tools by playing more games, reading more books, and just overall having more experiences.

Grade: B. Useful progress, but I need to do much more.

2. Shrink My Games Backlog

“Success here looks like an smaller and more sustainable backlog by 2018. I hope to be well-versed in 2017 hits, and get a few major classics under my belt too.”

I only made a small dent on my backlog this year, playing only a fraction of the games I hoped to play. However in the second half of the year (since moving back to Rochester), I have managed to play a bunch of tabletop games, both new and classic. These experiences have opened my mind to new kinds of play, have inspired me, and helped me deal with some of my inhibitions around learning new games. Best of all, they were a ton of fun.

Some other good news is that I recently purchased a gaming desktop and a Steam Link, so I am in a great position to shrink my backlog in 2018.

Grade: B. Not enough digital games, but way more tabletop gaming than I expected.

3. Tinker

“Success here looks like a personal collection of microscopic digital and paper prototypes, spanning a range of genres and taking interesting risks.”

On the “personal collection” side, this has been a failure. I spent most of my free time in 2017 vegging, socializing, or dealing with major life changes such as the move to Rochester and getting to know my new baby nephew.

The silver lining is that I did manage to take some time to rapidly prototype some casual game variants for work, which I developed on my own in HTML5 then pitched to my boss as possible new projects to take on. This hyper-focused creative brainstorming and problem-solving was extremely satisfying, reaffirming my desire to specialize in this area. And the reception was positive enough that my boss let me take a full work week to iterate on one of the prototypes with his guidance, which was a blast.

Grade: D-. No personal tinkering, but some rewarding work-inspired tinkering.

4. Get Involved With The Community

“Success here looks like a strengthened bond with the Boston community, improved presentation skills, and a positive impact on some younger aspiring game developers.”

I’m gonna give myself a bit of a pass here. Moving to Rochester mid-year made it near-impossible to strengthen my bond with the Boston community. I did however manage to:

  1. Cement some important relationships so they could continue in long distance.
  2. Give two lightning talks for Boston Indies, one of which I am very proud of.
  3. Serve as a judge for the Mass DIGI Game Challenge.
  4. Dive headfirst into Roc Game Dev and meet a ton of new people.

Grade: B. Given the circumstances, I am very proud of my 2017 community contributions.

The Verdict

Overall, 2017 was mostly productive… just not in the ways I expected. The big move to Rochester definitely disrupted some goals and shifted the targets of others. However, I am proud of my progress in spite of those hiccups, and feel positioned for success in 2018.

Coming soon – a blog post on my 2018 goals.

Goals for 2017

My primary focus through 2017 will continue to be Funkitron and Cascade. But it’s important to me that even when I am off the clock, I do as much as I can to keep growing as a game designer.

So to kick off the new year, here are some of my game development goals for 2017:

1. Level Up My Game Design Toolbox

When I first started formally studying game design, I fell into the trap of obsessing over critical language. I searched for and asked community leaders to point me to a “Game Design Dictionary”, and offered to organizations like the IGDA Game Design SIG to help build one. At least one experienced designer said I should slow down, explaining to me that critical language is an organic Darwinian process that cannot be forced. But at the time I was frustrated at what seemed like a lack of tools, so I ignored the advice.

As it turns out, overthinking highly subjective semantics is a very inefficient way to learn. I should have taken that advice. Like designing games itself, it makes much more sense for me to jump into the creation process, borrow any tools available, and rapidly iterate on my own personal Game Design Toolbox as I go. I consider a toolbox a set of handy design concepts that I can apply direct to my work. Unlike a dictionary, the primary focus is on function over meaning.

One clear method to level up my toolbox is to expand it. I will continue my search for new tools by trying new games, reading articles/books on the subject, and in general exposing myself to everything life has to offer.

But the bigger the toolbox gets, the more it needs to be organized. So as I iterate, one of my goals will be to put the weaker tools on the bottom, the handy tools on top, and my trustiest tools on my tool belt. In practice, this looks like a curated collection of notes in google docs and spreadsheets, with links to more detailed sources. As it evolves, it may become more of a tree or web, and I may explore new ways to access the information.

Success here looks like a vastly improved toolbox by 2018; one that lets me quickly and effectively solve game design challenges.

2. Shrink My Games Backlog

It’s very important to me to as a designer and gamer to play a wide variety of games. I want to try classics that have shaped today’s landscape, to play innovative games that took risks, and to keep up-to-date with modern games and trends. And I do not want to be tunnel visioned by my natural preference towards certain types of games.

But to really make a dent on my backlog, I need to accept that cutting games from my list is always good, and that it’s never too early to move on from a game that isn’t giving me anything useful.

Success here looks like an smaller and more sustainable backlog by 2018. I hope to be well-versed in 2017 hits, and get a few major classics under my belt too.

3. Tinker

As a healthy creative outlet and to keep my rapid prototyping skills fresh, I hope to spend some of my off-time this year creating mini concept prototypes in HTML5 and Unity.

Tinkering is important to me, because it lets me take weird creative risks that I cannot easily get away with in the constraints of my professional work. It lets me answer lingering questions, and introduce me to even better ones. It helps me clear my head and kill my darlings.

And on the physical side, tinkering lets me practice my rapid prototyping skills and stay fresh with game making tools. Which never hurts!

Success here looks like a personal collection of microscopic digital and paper prototypes, spanning a range of genres and taking interesting risks.

4. Get Involved With The Community

Since leaving Playcrafting in late 2014, I have spent the last two years with my head down, focusing entirely on my work. As a result, I have become relatively recluse, missing out on many Boston game community events.

But now that I feel that I am hitting a comfortable rhythm in my career work, I want to get involved again. I am starting to see that even as a young designer, I may have valuable things to offer to others such as advice and encouragement to recent grads and indies trying to break in, and maybe a fresh optimistic perspective to the vets.

I don’t know what form this will take exactly, but it could include speaking engagements, teaching, event planning, and more. To start, I will be giving a short 5 minute presentation for Boston Indies February Lightning Talks.

Success here looks like a strengthened bond with the Boston community, improved presentation skills, and a positive impact on some younger aspiring game developers.

Leaving 2017

These are some meaty 2017 goals for the year to accomplish on top of my career work (and on top of a social life and marriage), but they are all crucial to my growth as a person and as a game designer.

At the same time, although I’ve defined success individually for each goal, overall success is much more flexible. These goals won’t change me overnight, but help shape the kind of designer I will be long term. So even if I land below the 50% mark, I will consider that an overall success. And I expect all four of these goals to come back in 2018 regardless.

Cheers to a great 2017!

Fall 2016 Status

I’d like to get this blog going again. It feels appropriate to start with some professional updates. Who am I today professionally, and how do I intend to use this blog?

Career Status

As of this writing…

  1. I am a Technical Game Designer at funkitron, inc. I am currently working on the casual match-3 slots game Cascade.
  2. I have a couple of years of game design and game programming experience under my belt. I have also shipped a few games.
  3. For a mixture of personal and professional reasons, I have moved on from the indie project Brain & Brawn. I still have a strong friendship with my ex-partner David Wallin, who will be continuing the project on his own. And I wish him the best!
  4. I am based in Boston, and am mildly active in the local game dev community. I try to attend meetups at least once a month so I can stay in touch, but am no longer running events like I was in my Playcrafting days.

Overall I’ve had some great fortune in my early career, and things are looking bright for the future.

This Blog

The primary goal of this blog is to explore my thoughts on game design.

I’m very fortunate that my work lets me flex my creative muscles on a regular basis. But there’s a huge mass of questions and ideas in my brain that don’t get answered in the scope of my work. My hope is that in writing, I can process some of those thoughts.

I expect future blog posts to span a wide variety of topics. I may want to do postmortems on past projects, break down one-off experiments, speculate on theory, or even dissect a specific feature or system in a game.

It’s hard to say how things will evolve, since I’m depending on my brain to unravel and respond to both the changing industry and my own growth in realtime. But what I can say with certainty is that I’m looking forward to the journey.

Thank you for reading!