Tag: Startup Life

Once Upon a Time

What better way of starting a new year than looking back?

During the holiday season I was mostly amongst family and friends, or just plain chilling out, hence not much got done on the game. Now I got my gamedev mojo back, but check out what I found in a treasure chest (no, really) when digging through some stuff I moved into our new house from my childhood home.

This is how it started. And no office is complete without that memorabilia on the wall, right?

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My old 5.25″ floppy disks (don’t know what that is? Ask your dad, he might have a 5″ floppy, tee hee), most likely still in working condition if such a drive still existed. My first computer programs and games on them, in Basic-8000 format for the Zilog 8001 processor, 512×256 monochrome graphics, and occasional monotone beeps for sound. Sweet. Ordered from left-to-right, top-down, there’s:

  • My first disk ever, “Programs”, from 24th of October, 1987, so I’ve been 10 and a half when I got the computer. It contains various not-so-advanced programs, like the infamous 10 CLS 20 INPUT “What’s your name?”, A$ 30 PRINT “HELLO GOOFBAG!”, and so on.
  • I didn’t even remember it, but one of my first”real” game attempts seems to have been “Fighting Master”, from 1988. I now recall it being an arcade-style fighting game where two dudes hit and kick each other. It never worked if you were two on the keyboard, which kinda defeated the purpose.
  • Then my most precious gem, the “Games” disk no. 1. I recall it being the first new disk I have ever purchased, and I started to fill it will all the games I came up with, complete with a “menu” program to launch them. Some games I even finished to a state where I and my brothers could play them, like “Jackpot”, a one-armed-bandit into which I put secret keystroke codes to win more. My own favourite was a game about our local bus driver who drove around in a city of boxes and picked up invisible items and passengers, some lenient, some aggressive. I think there’s something like 60-80 games on the disk, not sure thou.
  • Piilosana” is a finnish word for a kind of a crossword puzzle. This baby, from 1992, is actually one of my fully working software, originally made for my mother who made sometimes crossword puzzles to magazines. It could load, save, edit, and print puzzles, all in a nice WYSIWYG UI. Yay.
  • Ah, my “MasterWorks“. What a unique name and a great piece of office software. No, really, it had MasterDraw which was quite advanced, given I had only the monochrome display. It had the standard drawing primitives, but also text with bitmap fonts, “spray can” painting, gradients (looked like crap), saving, loading. It was in this code I kinda invented GIF. There was MasterFonts for the bitmap font making, MasterMusic (for monotone beeps, WTF!?), MasterCard (LOL) for printing cards and labels, and MasterNumPaint, which I’m not sure, but I think is my complete failure of mimicking Excel. Seems to be from 1992 – I was 14 at the time.
  • “Rescue 9116dX”, oh, this I had forgot also! My attempt for my most advanced game ever, a side-“scrolling” space shooter. I think I tried to clone that Nintendo 8-bit game, can’t remember the name right now. First time I started to use sprites. It never got anywhere as the memory (56kB free for Basic) was not enough to contain the sprites plus running code, and the drawing speed of the 4 MHz processor was anyway too slow for any real graphic processing (in Basic – perhaps assembler could have done more?). Simple small lines and circles á la Pong were OK, but a circle greater than 50 pixels in radius was so slow that you could see it being drawn, arc-by-arc, if you animated it. From 1993, cool that I labelled all disks properly. Loving the cover art. 🙂

Alright. Let’s get back to the future, I have a game to make!

Hi, I’m an Indie Gamedev

Why on earth would someone give up a nice career and/or great, stable income to sit at home doing childish stuff like making video games? Well, there are probably as many stories about that as there are independent video game developers.  But what is indie gamedev and who are those people?

There seems to be certain types of indie game developers. There is the young, hippie-looking guy who makes pure games (according to himself, at least). Often still in school or recently graduated, very often with badly groomed facial hair, he mingles a lot in various big and small indie video game meetings and conferences, and makes those retro games. His games are purer than yours because he tunes his game mechanics a lot and the game is not about fancy graphics like in that triple-A FPS everybody loves to hate. His life is good enough that he can get by making games and posting pictures of his hipster beer on Twitter. Often he lives in a shared apartment which looks like a bunch of hobos lived there. I have no idea how these guys get by or had enough money to start their gamedev journey in the first place. Ranting aside, there’s a lot of awesomely great games coming out from these gamedevs.

There are also the professionals who have been in the video game industry for many years, often in bigger, perhaps AAA game companies. One of them gets enough of the shitty projects and insane deadlines, and nicks a few friends with him when he quits. They set up an independent game studio and push out the games of their dreams. These games tend to be the big hits as they got all the components – graphics, audio, game mechanics – on a very professional level. The game studio is financed by everyone’s savings until the first game is out, after which they are filthy rich. Perhaps they have got some funding from external investors, but how indie is that?

Then you have the guys who wanted to do something else, or always wanted to jump into their dream job of game development. They’ve saved enough money to make the jump, or they have good connections to their previous profession and do some sub-contracting to get income during the game development time. They might do full-time or part-time depending on the possibilities around their very grown-up lives. Often a bit older with a significant career or work experience in their back pocket – most likely from whole another field of work than gamedev. They seem to overuse the word “dad” in their Twitter bios.

I’m of the third kind. Too old to be a hipster hobo and no gamedev experience in my career to jump-start a professional game studio with friends. I was a bit hasty in jumping into this field, which has always been my dream work, so I did not have enough savings to go full-time indie. I resort to the pretty-good solution of doing sub-contracting into my old field of work. It has upsides as well as downsides – the upside is that the money is pretty good, and in one aspect pretty easy as well. The downside is that it eats up a lot of your precious time of game development. Now, for a bit younger guy – one without family, that is – this would be no problem as I could just code deep into the night, around weekends, around working days. But I’m not a weirdo who loves his job more than his family.

As the success of an indie gamedev is, for the lack of better generalization, the amount of games he has pushed to the market, I have been toying with the idea to go full-time indie. But there’s the income-issue to be solved. Crowd-funding? Zeroing out gamedev time to go beg for money to angel investors or VCs? Begging for investments from family and friends? Perhaps go as deep as taking a personal loan? Viable options, all of them.

But what is “indie” then? I’m not going to dig deep here, and trying to define it is only for amusement. Most people use the word “indie” as opposed to the big game studios pushing out all the well-known games (“AAA games”) with massive marketing budgets. But I’m a bit more strict than that: “indie” comes from “independent”, alas, if you have a lot of outside funding, you are not independent anymore. Sorry about that. Now, there is some wiggle room here. If your funding is mostly from family and friends, or the like, I bet they do not want to meddle with your game ideas that much. You’re still indie. If you got investors who don’t want to design your game too much, then you’re still indie. My point being, as long as you and/or your team which is directly involved in the making of the game is still in charge, you are an indie. You create the game independently of any outsider. I think such a setup gives you a lot of freedom as you are making the games YOU want, and that is why we see such a great amount of creative, weird, cool, awesome games from indie gamedevs.

Being indie is naturally no magic recipe for making great games. If you are making another clone of an 3D endless runner where you swipe on the screen to make your game character move away from oncoming obstacles, your game still sucks. Also, stop with the Minecraft clones. It is embarrassing.

Well, that’s it for some ranting. Enjoy your holidays – I will take some time off and hang out with friends and family. Even as an indie gamedev I can afford that.

Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body

As you could imagine, a part of every life-improvement plan contains elements of health, exercise, and food. So does mine.

This part has actually started out pretty well, and it is one of the parts that has not stalled, well, not too much.

When it’s about a man turning middle age, having a family at home, and all those excuses, the discussion around sports seems to revolve around time, or more precisely, not having any. When do I have time to do it? What kind of sports should I do? And it’s very true. A big part of a life-improvement plan is about time management, and I do not differ there in any way. I love spending time with my family, and I will never change on that. Alas, the time for sports has to come from other places, not from the time between my homecoming from work and putting the kids to bed.

I used to do a lot of gym and roller skating, but those have been dismissed since years. Going to the gym is a bit boring and I do not hold the discipline to do it with the energy I had when I was 22. If I go to the gym today, I tend to compare myself to the 22-year-old myself. And today’s myself tend to lose that comparison.

So, what’s a good sport one can do by minimising the time he has for it? Jogging is a good candidate. So is cycling, and other sports which you can do a) by just stepping out of your front door b) replace a part of your normal routines with, such as job commuting, or c) something you can do while working.

Weird enough, cycling seems to be a sport that every 35+ man who works in IT or computers, seem to get interested in. I could imagine it is partly because one can build his own bike, assemble it from different parts (“Do you have Shimano XT or Deore or… and what disc brakes do you use?”), thus fulfilling the geek factor, much like building your own computer (when we used to do that in the 90’s – no-one does it anymore, right?). On a physiological note, cycling is better than running – old men don’t want to strain their knees, heels, and feet.

I’m interested in picking up biking, I even looked up the bike I like to buy, but then my {now former] employer fudged us out of our bonuses  (you might start to get the idea why I was not thrilled by the situation at work). So I’ve put the bike on hold for a while. Will look into it when I’m back in Finland. Won’t have any commuting to do, though, which is a pity!

Anywhoo. A promise is a promise, so no procrastination for me. Immediately when I got back to work after having this epiphany for a life-improvement plan, I put two 1.5 hour reservations around lunch hour for “lunch hour sports, out of office”. That calendar block also blocked out some annoying meeting requests I’m sure, so win-win!

It worked. When the calendar said it’s jogging time, I jogged. No excuses.

Now that I’ve jumped of the hamster wheel to build my own company, I have started to procrastinate again when it comes to sports. Get a grip, man!

I will. I promise.

Bruce Lee

The Journey Starts Here

A 1200-step life improvement plan. 1157 steps to go.

Wait, let’s rewind a bit.

Funny thing happened. I’ve always been entrepreneurial but lazy (lazy in the  good sense, think of laziness when it comes to programming. It’s a virtue, which the Perl community noted decades ago). I got a bit bored of my day job and at the same time my ideas, which I’ve been working on since years, seemed to make more and more sense from an entrepreneurial point of view. I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions but in August 2012 I decided I would do one, for the fun of it. I called it a “life-improvement plan”, as a pun on such plans – they seem to be as big a business as they are full of crap (just by looking at the amount of self-improvement books out there).

Just to make sure – my life-improvement plan, this blog, and certainly this company – is no self-help preaching thingy, ending in me trying to sell you one of those how-to-improve-your-life-really-really-this-time-books.

The 1200-step life-improvement plan is a play on the famous 12-step program AA has. I just realised I need a few more steps to reach my goals. What are those goals, and what are those steps? Well, a lot of things happened in one year, so I need to run through the major happenings:

First I was, like, “my job sucks“. Then I was, like, “what if I, this time for real, allocate a few nights a week to build a prototype and see if that could lead to something“. I had all kinds of constraints, mainly lack of time and energy, mostly attributed to my day job and a family of two kids and two dogs. So I added one requirement to the life-improvement plan: do not sacrifice being a good dad while pursuing your new goals. I’m at an age where I can’t afford to code all night long without considering others. This is why I recommend anyone to do this kind of career jumps while they’re young and single. 🙂

I was actually successful in working on a prototype for an app I knew would bring me millions. Being mature enough, and having way too expensive living costs, I focused on what mattered. No expensive Macbook Pro’s, Aeron chairs, height-adjustable desk. Just spent a couple of hundred buck for a new monitor to the existing Mac Mini which I nicked from the living room, installing XCode, and voilá, set to go. However, after a couple of months I was in dismay. I decided the prototype was a no-go, mainly due to my lack of knowledge in Mac/iOS programming and time to pursue it harder. Objective-C was new to me, as was the iOS SDK, but I knew that with a few days of training I get the hang of it – it’s just another language and framework, after all. But the app’s scope just blew up.

So I did another prototype. This time for a game idea I had gotten after a few glasses of red wine around the time Super Hexagon was released. After a few weeks I decided that this is a go. But instead of continuing to build it during the nights –  of which I had way too few of – there was other variables now in play. I could not quit my day job cold turkey – my living costs in Switzerland were way to high for that, but with some coincidences and luck, we decided with my family to buy a house and move back to Finland. All this resulted in me quitting my job and deciding to use our way too few savings to ramp up a company. A game studio, the company of my dreams since I was a teenager.

I had some concrete goals and steps in my mind when I formulated my tongue-in-cheek life-improvement plan. Shortly, or as short as you can describe a 1200-step program, it contained the following goals:

  • Goal: start doing what you love for work
    • Step: do a prototype of one of the software ideas (an iPhone app at that time) and evaluate it
  • Goal: Get in better physical shape. I’m athletic, but I haven’t done anything physical in 6 years. It does not show on my figure (thank you, genes), but in energy levels.
    • Step: start doing sports which are easy and quick to do in any daily situation: jogging is the best candidate.
  • Goal: get filthy rich
  • Goal: do not sacrifice anything on the family side (“anything” is taken a bit loosely, but you know what I mean – don’t become a coding ogre who lives at night, not having any contact to your family anymore)

That get-rich-goal might seem superficial, but is actually none of the kind. You see, money is the only thing I lack in my life, always have. I have [had] a good job, a insanely great wife and super adorable daughters, a great family, even some friends. Money is a means to be able to do more stuff I and my family love to do. See, I used “do”, not “own”.

I will describe the progress of those goals in future posts in more detail, but the quick run-down on the status after the first year is:

  • The get-in-shape part was the most successful. I started jogging and got into better shape, resulting in more energy to put into this journey. I need to keep doing it – now I have slacked off a bit too much due to the moving out of Switzerland [TODO: insert more excuses here]
  • The don’t-sacrifice-your-family went also fine. I did not lower the amount of time I spend every day with my kids. On the contrary, I could actually have done more for my company than I did. I’m a procrastinator and a family man, what can I say.
  • The start-doing-what-you-love: here more happened than I could keep up with. Plans changed. Things came up. I quit my job and moved to another country much quicker than I anticipated, but on the positive side, I could jump into the startup life with much more time and enthusiasm.

This blog post is from my personal point of view. These kind of post will definitely be one part of this blog, but don’t be afraid – the main point of view for this blog will be the journey of my startup – about game design and development, coding, game and app projects, progress thereof. And with a good pinch of sarcasm without emoticons and border-line NSFW jokes.

Welcome aboard!

Ville Lundberg

Game Developer, CEO, CTO, Founder, Senior Project Manager… hey, I can choose my own title! Suck on that, mid-European title masturbators! (Sorry about that – had to get it out of my system.)