Working For Myself – First Two Months

Original Author: Keith Judge

Lionhead Studios – in some ways it feels like it was a previous life, in others like it was yesterday. I thought I’d write a post-mortem style post about my experiences so far.

What Went Right

  • Productivity – When I began, I was excited and determined to write a game on my own. I was also somewhat apprehensive about having the mental discipline to remain productive on my own. A common reaction from people when I told them about my new studio was to ask how I was going to get any work done at home with a family. So far, I’m happy to report that those fears were unfounded – or at least so far, my enthusiasm has overridden my natural laziness and the kids have proven less of a distraction than expected. We’ll see if this extends to shipping a game, though I’m quite optimistic at present.
  • Learning – Even with a decade’s experience, I would never claim to know everything (or even a substantial portion) of the knowledge required to build a game. In the last two months my learning has accelerated. Subjects such as physically based lighting, better knowledge of rigid body physics, DirectX 11 and a smattering of the Win32 API have since entered my lexicon.
  • Great Free Software – I’ve been able to build my game at an accelerated rate due to some very handy open source code that is available at no cost. Blender, etc have all saved me significant chunks of time. When I finish my game I may be able to donate code or money (if I make any) back to the projects.
  • DirectX 11 – It may be seen as a gamble to limit myself to a smaller portion of PC gamers (though not that small according to the monthly Valve Hardware Survey), but supporting only Windows Vista/7 has made development of the game engine a lot simpler. This is because I haven’t had to rely on any vendor specific DirectX 9 driver hacks (INTZ, RAWZ, instancing, etc) in order to make things work, plus DirectX 11 has a much better debug layer and useful new features. Although I’m developing my engine with only the GeForce 8800 GTX I have at my disposal, I hope there will only be minor issues in making the game work with any other DirectX 10 or 11 hardware – and there’s simply a smaller set of hardware to test which helps with my limited resources. Also, the knowledge gained in using DirectX 11 will be useful if I need to do any contracting to top up the coffers. If nothing else, this technology also gives me something to differentiate my game from most other indie games.
  • Finding Free Days Out At The Weekend – I’ve been keeping my weekends free so far to spend with the family rather than with my PC. My wife and I became National Trust members a few months ago, so there’s plenty of free (except for fuelling the car) days out locally that we can take the family to at the weekends. For those of you not in the UK, the National Trust is a large organisation which looks after lots of old houses, gardens, monuments, castles, palaces, etc around the country, and a large chunk of those are in or near Surrey, where I happen to live.
  • #guessmycompanyname – I ran a little Twitter/Facebook game in May where I invited people to guess the name of my new company, and posted periodic clues. I offered a copy of my first game to the first person to guess correctly. The game lasted a few hours, generating lots of Twitter messages (though not much Facebook activity) before two people correctly guessed “Razorblade Games” at the same time – I’ll be giving them both the prize when the time comes. At that point I turned on the company website, Twitter and Facebook accounts for business. After an initial flurry of interest things have waned which is no surprise since I’ve not announced my game yet. I was a little disappointed none of my twitter followers who work in the press reported on the new studio, but that would have been a bonus as that wasn’t the objective – I plan to start talking to the press when the game is demo-able and I have screenshots/video to back it up.
  • More Time With The Family – I’m almost always home for mealtimes, am keeping weekends free and have time to play with the children every day. As a result I feel as though I’ve grown closer to my family.
  • I’m Generally Happier – I’m on the way to achieving a lifetime ambition and this is a great boost for me. I feel less stressed about work, there’s no office politics or bureaucracy to deal with, I can work more or less when I feel like it (exceptions below!), My wife often comments that I’m happier now than I’ve been for years.

What Went Wrong

  • Very Little Social Life – My social life has declined massively since working for myself – mostly down to the lack of money, but also because there’s no pub to nip into on the way home from work. I’ve been to a couple of parties since and had the occasional beer or five with friends, though I can quite easily go an entire week without leaving the house or having a face-to-face conversation with an adult other than my wife. If we can solve the money issue (detailed below), this problem may fix itself.
  • No Work Colleagues – Related to social life, I miss working with my friends and having people to chat about what I’m actually working on. My wife will listen to me, but she doesn’t understand the details of normalised specular, or rigid body interpenetration so it’s harder to have any work conversations. Twitter and MSN are proving to be a substitute of sorts, but it’s not really a replacement for a good old chinwag. In future I may collaborate with others, but I want to at least get one game done on my own. I’m also going to the Indie Day of the Develop Conference in Brighton in July (and hopefully to other, future meet-ups), so that will be a great opportunity to chat with other game developers in person.
  • Sharing the Office With My Wife – My wife also does some work from home and we started out time-sharing the office, but that turned out not to be practical. Currently, my wife’s PC is on the dining table downstairs so we can both work in parallel in the evenings, but this isn’t a permanent solution and we’ll have to fork out for a desk for her soon and move some stuff around to fit it in. She’s a little annoyed I’ve essentially booted her out of what used to be her office, but she understands the necessity.
  • Looking After The Kids Is Time Not Making My Game – When my wife does her contracting work away from home, I have to look after the children as paid childcare is out of our budget and neither my mum or her parents live nearby. This has occasionally meant 2-3 frustrating days at a time where I’m unable to work (the kids’ afternoon nap times excluded). There’s not much we can do about this though, my wife’s contracting work brings in essential funds, so we’re just going to have to grin and bear it for the time being.
  • Game Hint On The Website Is Too Subtle – On the company website there’s a little square to the left of the logo that is slightly darker than the background. Click on it, and the website’s colour scheme will reverse and the text will change slightly. Now there’s another square slightly darker than the background to the right of the logo, click this and things will go back to how they were. This is actually a hint about the game I’m building and I was hoping this would generate some chatter and interest, but this seems to have not been the case. I don’t think anyone has found it without being told there’s something there to find (and those people found it by looking at the source code, not finding it naturally). However, this sort of ARG style thing is something I’m interested in playing with further when it comes to promoting my game, so keep your eyes peeled.

What Isn’t Decided Yet

  • Money – I’m working entirely self funded (more accurately wife funded), but money is quite tight. As I said above, my social life has suffered as a result of this, but we’ve been getting by. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee my game will make any money, even if it turns out as good as it seems in my head. I’m probably going to have to do some contracting work before too long to top up the coffers (open to offers, hint hint) or try to obtain some outside financing (again, I’m open to any offers!).
  • The Game – My game isn’t finished yet. Although it seems brilliant in my head, I worry about whether it will be any good to the extent that it sometimes keeps me up at night. Perhaps this is the life of a tortured creator, but it hasn’t put me off – far from it!

Overall I’d say the good stuff vastly outweighs the bad, and I’m raring to go for another two months and beyond.