It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear

I hate ‘Friends’

I’ve always hated ‘Friends’

I’ve hated it since it debuted in ’94 and them roommates and I were dirt poor, living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and it took TWO subway rides to get anywhere. The roomies and I would lambast the show for its sheer ‘un-New York-ness’. No one we knew had giant apartments like that. There were no strikingly attractive people living across the hall from us. Our ‘wacky adventures’ were rollerblading the city streets looking for the cheapest food and ale we could find.

But I can’t get that damn theme song out of my head.

2nd gear. Stuck. Summer break with 2 kids who are bored. Family vacations stuck in the car driving for hours. Summer camps (special needs for lil’ Art Director and chess camp for Jr. lil’ Art Director).
Playdates with other kids. And I truly believe Sartre is being misquoted when he said ‘Hell is other people’ – I think he mean to say ‘Hell is other people’s kids’ – either I have some sort of ‘vibe’ kids pick up on, or there is a serious parenting crisis in the country; but it seems that if I show even the slightest interest / interaction with anyone my kids are playing with, they instantly glom on to me and demand my attention. Its almost as if they’re neglected by every single adult in their lives and they are starved for grown up attention.

Rant over. Seeing that I haven’t written since April- I can totally relate to the whole ‘stuck in 2nd gear’ motif. Even though things HAVE been moving forward.

I’ve been slowly plugging away at the mobile game – and despite the struggles of adding the Curved World effect that it seems is necessary for all infinite runners these days, its getting closer to release. The biggest issue, of course, is the impostor syndrome nagging of ‘is it any good?’ Which I’m sure will plague me 10 years down the road after the internet has shredded it, mocked me into a cave-living hermit.

Booper Get Home logo

I’ve been playing around with AI stuff as well – I tried plugging my game into Midjourney, and this is what was spat out – and I kinda like it as a starting point, so it might become the logo for the mobile game. After some edits. Painting it from scratch. Adding my kid’s handwritten font. Redoing it again cause I don’t like it. BUT – I do see the potential for faster iterating of ideas, maybe not the actual art creation, but just quickly throwing out stuff to see what get the creative juices flowing.

intern work!

Lastly – I got an intern! A fellow Oculus Launch Pad dev (who also happens to be a new media professor at a nearby college) approached me with a student who wants to learn VR dev and I have to say; as SOON as I get a dime of funding, I’m hiring this guy. Its been so long since I’ve done any collaborative work with someone else, that I had forgotten that people can bring a whole different kind of creativity to the table. The animation above really drove that point home. I would have given this character a skootchy, wiggly type of dragging on the ground movement, but instead my intern gave it this vertical, bounciness that I totally adore. Having a different viewpoint can be completely eye-opening.

Keep your eyes peeled – crowdfunding is coming soon!

Going Mobile

Since I’m pretty much dedicated to being a game dev; I’ve realized that its a HUGE undertaking that can’t be done by one man alone.

you spin me right round

Well. I *could* do it all myself, but my kids’d be graduating college and starting families of their own by the time I got anything finished. So I need ducats. Big time.

So, I started to pursue funding – except to no one’s surprise; people just don’t hand out checks to random people saying, ‘Go make yer dream game kid!’ Which is quite disappointing. Thinking to myself about ways to make money, I did come to the realization that if I’m ‘going’ to be a dev – how about sell your work?

early ideas on the mobile game

Since I already have characters / assets / framework already in place for a game I want to make – how about bang out a mobile game that I can get out quick?

Its something published; which funders want to see

It’s something using the same characters, so the start of a franchise.

I can tout it when I demo my game and people ask ‘how can I help?’ I can point them towards the mobile game for a quick purchase and it’ll amuse the kids on the car ride home AND keep the game in people’s minds.

And it avoids the failed KickStarter / Ko-fi / Patreon route that seems to doom a lot of indie devs.

So – may I present ‘Go, Booper, GO!’ – the first iteration of my mobile game:

Buy it when I release it, k?

Winning streak

#WritingWednesday and I just realized I hadn’t posted a blog in like, forever and seeking to rectify that.

So let’s show off, shall we?

I never had a badge before!

Working backwards – I just got into the finals of the Game Dev World Championship and I’m absolutely floored. Can NOT wait until March 15th to find out I didn’t win. but, hey – that’s just my pessimistic side speaking.

Over the Xmas break – I saw a FaceBook post from a local reporter, Taylor Bruck, who was asking for any ‘feel good’ stories and I rolled the dice and pitched my game, and to my delight, she accepted! She came out to the house, interviewed the kids and myself, shot some video and took a few pix and a few days later, it aired on Spectrum 1 News.

Screenshot of the Spectrum 1 news story
Lookit what I done won!

I also showed my game at the Cleveland Gaming Classic back in November and that was a fun one – partially because it didn’t require me to drive 2.5 hours to get there (plus the relief that if I forgot something, I didn’t have to pray that a nearby WalMart had what I needed and was open)

aww, taking after his dad!

it was also nice that I got to show the kids what I do, and what these type of conventions are like. Plus they got to play videogames (always a win) and see cool stuff like this:

Pretty sure he shot first

But it was also nice to branch out to a new expo, meet local people that are also in my dev community and see fellow parents and kids friends, it felt more informal and relaxed.

And hey – winning an award for Most Creative didn’t hurt either.

The other thing, besides the holidays, and kid’s off from school and epic deluges of snow and testing positive for Covid-19 and winter blahs is me deciding I needed to get off my butt and get a product ready to ship. If I’m seriously going to pursue funding, the people who write the checks are going to want to see a track record. And that means shipping titles. So I said to myself: ‘Self? What’s the quickest wat to publish a game? … @#$%^& – I gotta make a MOBILE GAME.’

gotta collect them in order to spell a word

So, since I have a crapton of assets ready to go – lets make this a franchise and ‘educational’ to boot. I had started with calling it ‘Booper Prelude’ but a gave dev friend and mentor suggested that I use ‘Go Booper Go!’ and it has a nice ring to it.

I also figure that when it comes expo time again, I can have a tablet running it and a QR code to the Play Store page so people can drop me a few bucks to help support the VR project as well. Gotta start thinking business stuff.

Return of the expo

or: How I spent my weekend

So – now that I’m back, rested, exhausted from all the catch up work, stressed from the up coming holiday season and prepping for the next one; I can properly relate the adventures of GDEX/Origins.

I had started prep week with the usual busy work; getting my expo gear out of the closet, gently washing my ‘Booper’ t-shirts, hastily ordering new stickers since my stock was low – and being dismayed to find my new banner had gotten wrinkled from being in a closet for a year and a half. Helpful suggestions included letting it warm up gently in the sun, ironing it or using a hairdryer to warm it up.

I opted for the sun, cause there was no way in hell I’d trust myself with ANY heat source near vinyl.

ah, the good old days, where my $#!+ wasn’t wrinkled

I got my various bits of expo gear gathered in the dining room, commandeering the expansive table to spread it all out and make sure I wasn’t missing any connectors, cables or other important techy bits to demo my game and settled down to a little TV with the missus and check my email.

Finally! The organizer had been apologizing for the lack of load-in info and the few messages in the ‘ol inbox looked like he finally got it. it looked kinda the same as always, where the loading platforms were, check in times and when to show up Thursday.

Wait… Thursday??

Tomorrow? I was expecting a Friday check in as we’d done the past years. $#!+. Panic started creeping in – I was not relieved of parental duties until Friday noon, because the wife had scheduled a little time from work to go pick up the kids after school. Thursday was my eldest 11th birthday. Thursday was a day earlier than my stickers were supposed to arrive,

Just sitting there… waiting for me

So I spent an absolutely panicked Thursday morning grabbing my PC, Laptop, all the aforementioned gear, cramming it in the wife’s car, grabbing the kids from school, having a rushed 11th birthday for my eldest (I always seem to have a expo on his birthday- the guilt over THAT could fill a novel) and drive like a maniac to Columbus and get my booth set up.

Only to discover that I’d left my power cable for my monitor sitting on the desk back home. $#!+.

Quick text to my bro-in-law (whose couch and ale I’d be helping myself to none too soon) and he offered his nice curved 35″ monitor. A lovely piece of equipment that I could see any number of bad things happening to and I would have to reimburse him for – so I asked if he had anything else. Which turned out to be a 19″ ancient flat panel from 2004. So, I spent the rest of the evening driving around some small town Ohio looking for a big box store that might actually carry a VGA to HDMI converter, praying that it’d be open and doubly praying that it would actually *WORK*. Wal-Mart had one, probably over priced – I could only hope that it worked in the morning.

My booth, in all its glory…
…and the view from my side

Friday and I’m running a bit behind because every fast food joint seems to have a line around the block – I get to the expo with 10 minutes before the doors open and wend my way through the throng of eager expo attendees. Quick setup the monitor loaned by the excellent bro-in-law and fire it up- it worked! The gates opened and I raced to set up the rest of my booth; feeling like I was losing precious demo time.

Annnnd it didn’t matter. I got set up, ran a quick playthrough to make certain no glitches were waiting for me, downed a gulp of coffee and stood by my booth ready to show my game proudly. And waited.

No one seemed to be the slightest bit interested in my game.

After a quick consult with y neighboring devs, we all quickly came to the same conclusion: there wasn’t a lot of crossover between tabletop gamers and video gamers. We did get the odd player here and there, but this was nothing like the regular video game expos where I’d have 3 and 4 kids lined up, waiting for a turn to explore my little hand crafted VR adventure. I spent the day mostly people watching, talking with the other VR booths and wandering around, observing the tabletop expo – it was HUGE, like a dozen times bigger than the GDEX or MakerX shows I’ve shown at.

Cousin-in-law and super cool daughter, 2 of my biggest fans

Saturday went a lot better, felt more like the usual crowd, and certainly more families- but still didn’t have the rush and hum of GDEX. I did get some vistors, my bro-in-law and his son used my passes to wander the floor and play some games (and bought some too) and generally geeked out over the offerings of dice, swords, steampunk goggles and many, many boardgames for sale.

I also got a visit fromt he awesome Brian Skeel, a composer who I’ve worked with and who made the epic win / fail fanfares I use in my games, both light and whimsical compositions based on some singing my lil’ art director did; very reminiscent of the old Looney Toons short phrases.

My 1st award. Ever.

The highlight of the day came at the end, when the floor closed and we game devs piled into a small conference room, and announced winners of various game dev categories. I was floored when they called my little game for the Best in Music & Sound. I never got awards, ever – growing up I wasn’t good at academics OR athletics and to actually win something was a triumph I’ll not soon forget.

Sunday was bittersweet. Its a shorter day, so the exhaustion from the previous 3 days was tolerable, knowing I’d be able to sit my butt down for a long drive home. I got to spend a bit more time wandering the floor and wondered what I could do to make my display pop more (and without breaking the bank with huge monitors or banners) I heard of a expo closer to home – the Cleveland Gaming Classic, and I promised myself that I’d look into it – showing my game is thrilling and the more eyes I can get on it the better.

Slowly the day came to an end and I packed up my gear, a bit sad that it was over, but also happy that the pandemic hadn’t completely ended events like this. I drove home to find the kids outside playing, the wife sitting on the glider on the front porch and I showed the family my new trophy. And as my weekend came to an end, I smiled – knowing that I picked up a few new fans.

those who can, do. those who can’t, do podcasts

So as I count down the microseconds until the kids are back in school (and dreading that Delta variant will close everything up again) I’ve been doing a lot of interviews online lately.

First up:

I love the fireside chat format – especially when my energy plays off the person I’m talking to. I have to admit, I was super tired and had a couple of ales which carbo-wired me, so I feel like I came off as a totally spastic geek. I could feel myself collapse after this was over and the camera turned off.

The next one was neat because it was filmed *IN* VR! I was fortunate because this was my 3rd or 4th time in Spatial Ape and right up until this interview, I’d crash or overheat my Quest and have massive stuttering issues. Having got a new 5ghz router (hopefully) put these issues to rest, the interview went smoothly and because I was wearing a HMD, I wasn’t imbibing as much as the other interview.

Wish these were real. And I had a lot more of them.

The next one I can’t discuss much – I will say it was with a major VR platform and they offered me $75 Amazon credit to spout off about my half-assed approach to game dev and life in general. By far one of my faves, cause I got paid for it.

Lastly, a chat with 2 local fellas about being a stay at home dad. I did talk about the game a bit, but I also got to talk about things that affect and shape how my game was brought about, how its shaped and where it might be going. Its a podcast by two local dads, and it really touched me with a sense of community:

plus I got to relay the harrowing tale of my 2nd child’s birth, right on the steps to the kitchen:

If I ever get down about this past year – I shuold remind myself I’ve been published in a magazine, a book, more interviews than I can remember and in VR. Despite the life altering consequences of Covid-19, I’ve been able to get a lot done. And hopefully more is in the future.

‘We ain’t got no innocence’

So, in a vain attempt to NOT use the cliched ‘School’s Out For Summer’ lyric, I just googled the song and picked one at random. Weird how a song written for anarchy and rebellion is now a trope for shows like The Simpsons.

So, yes – school is out until September- and after the year we just had, its feels like we just went back into lockdown with the wife working from home, kids bored out of their skulls and me running around dealing with 2 constantly hungry small people, a wife who needs tech support and a cat that wants nothing more than to be outside, going Rambo on every living thing she sees.

On a completely unrelated note; I just brewed 5 gallons of beer yesterday.

5 gallons of dunkleweizen, anyone?

So, I think with no immediate relief in sight- I may have to revert back to old habits; namely getting up at 5:30 in the AM if I want ANY shot of getting dev work done. And that is only achievable with the strictest of discipline, exercise, getting proper rest and avoiding sheer quantities of alcohol – like the 5 gallons of ale I just made.

I can use this time to get other things done – like how my compulsion to write out the entire plot of Booper longhand, can easily be worked on while the kids are bashing each other with Wii controllers or sitting outside with the cat as she patiently waits for the chipmunks to chase each other all over the back yard before she drops in like a certain cheery Jedi exclaiming, ‘Hello there!’

Waiting for lunch to arrive

Despite all these distractions – I am working. I’m looking at a way of using the player as a UI tool – so having Booper jump on a button to start the game – or jump in a hole to exit – I just need to work out the designs and how reactive it should be:

Guess I’ll ponder it while I’m out back, sweeping up the mulberries which stain my driveway a lovely deep shade of purple…

“La La La – I can’t hear you!’

After going through Demo Day for Launch Pad (and getting more than a little bummed about not getting a dev grant) I’ve decided to throw myself back into working on my game – which has been neglected for far too long. Marketing might not pay off immediately, but jumping into something created by my own 2 hands pays off now

Except when you try to work, your wife – who is also working from home – gets slammed with an absolute Suez Canal sized shipping container of work. I felt just as stuck as that boat. Can’t concentrate on tutorials with her constant zoom calls, can’t focus on what I’m working on because she often need beverages because she is non-stop talking all day long and I still have a house, decimated by two rampaging boys to clean up.

Not to mention the cat always wants food / attention / go outside.

I need to drown out the noise. I can’t focus otherwise

Hence- noise cancelling headphones. They’ve been a godsend when I just need to focus. I’ve been so distracted by things that any moment of quiet gives me the ability to get something done – which these days, is priceless.

The other big thing that was a boost, was the release of this book.

I had done an informal interview with Todd over Twitter – and initially he thought this would just be a blog entry. But then he’d ask a question. And then another. And I’d go off on tangents (a huge part of my chapter is focused on my time in NYC and post 9-11 life) – and suddenly he says that he’s making it into a book. And so he did.

Last year I was honored to illustrate the cover of a book – this year I have a whole chapter in one. Next year?? Either a whole book about me; or I gotta write one.

Year of quarantine

The banner photo for this piece is from a year ago, when it was officially announced we’d be staying at home, the kids would stop going to school and we were all uncertain as to what the future might bring; so we neighbors all gathered for an impromptu beers and hang out session, enjoying just one last hang out.

(it wasn’t until I previewed it that I realized the image was posting upside down, but I thought I’d leave it as a way of illustrating what this past year has been like.)

This was the last of a crazy season of pitches, presentations and lectures, I’m thrilled to get a small amount of exposure across the pond, and it was a lot of fun. I credit my 11th grade Speech & Presentations teacher Mrs. Collins for my ability to keep my presentations on focus, clear and (hopefully) with a minimum of filler words.

It was also the first time I got paid for a speaking gig – could totally get behind having money thrown at me for spouting off to a captive audience. I think I’d do a monologue style like Spalding Gray:

Considering I’m probably not the best example case for how to be a solo dev, I think I could get more traction by telling amusing anecdotes about having a neurotic housecat or that time my kid projectile $#!+ on the curtains.

Or I could tell of the year of the pandemic; how I was set to be interviewed on the radio, or about to show my demo to the largest audience yet at the Cleveland Int’l Film Festival – and how having those things yanked away because of lockdowns just wrecked me. I went months not looking at my game, or doing anything other than doomscrolling social media and drinking more than I should have.

It wasn’t until September and getting into the Oculus launch Pad program that got me turned around and focused again, and I’ve been going at a decent clip since. Now that the vax is right around the corner and the kids are going back to school, maybe I can get back to cranking on my game with a little more regularity.

Or maybe spend more time with the wife who is working from home and taking more walks around the neighborhood…

Unchained, and ya hit the ground runnin’

Sorry, I’m a sucker for Van Halen lyrics…

So, only an month and a half into the new year and I’m JUST getting around to making a blog post – but I swear I’ve had good reasons! Let’s work backwards:

Me, doing my best simian impression

I just did an interview with a podcast called BandanaGames, and it was a blast; looking at the rough cut, I’m this animated, geeky spaz – but its nice to see my enthusiasm carries over, and I do believe – its infectious. We talked about everything under the sun and 40 minutes blew past before I knew it. I could have talked longer.

Pitching BIG

2 days before that – I submitted my Oculus launch Pad demo (fingers crossed!) hoping for that sweet sweet dev grant money. I checked with the other local dev who was in the program and she’s not even trying for it! Guess that means one less person I’m competing against, but I feel bad that she missed an opportunity.

The above screenshot is from The Big Indie Pitch – a ‘speed dating’ style of pitching games to industry types; mostly for feedback, but there was a cash prize for the winner. I feel honored that I got an honorable mention, along with a twitter pal who is an amazing indie games advocate. I did get some amazing feedback and energy – but pitching to 5 groups of two judges each was exhausting. It also taught me that not everyone will be excited about my game and I need to adjust my tactics when I encounter folks who are less than enthused.

1st article about the game!

I also had an article published in VR Trends magazine! Now, granted, I wrote the article and furnished the screenshots and contributed to the Patreon – but still! I’m in a magazine!

Marketing reports? What, am I becoming a business??

I also had a marketing consultation meeting with a UK based team that specializes in indie games called Game If you Are, a special courtesy given to select Oculus Launch Pad members. They looked over my logo, pitch deck and short descriptions and gave a LOT of great feedback, in addition to reminding me that I’m not just trying to sell to kids, but more importantly their parents.

So, all told, 2021 has been an amazing year. And its not even halfway through February. I also have a mini lecture next month with the Tinderbox PlayAway Games Festival, and they’re going to do a separate interview next week, and I’m in talks with a programmer who’d really like to join the Booper team. I just hope I can keep this streak rolling.