I'm well aware that I haven't done much in the way of updating this site for some time now. I've been keeping fairly busy, but a big part of that is simply that I didn't feel all that motivated to write a new entry, despite having several drafts sitting around to finish up. But now that September has hit and a few major events have transpired, it seems like as good a time as any to pick things up again, and cover some of the ideas I've been working on during the hiatus.
I more or less stopped looking for a job after confirming my entry into the University of Montreal's Game Design program. That isn't to say I haven't been looking at all; I'm still keeping tabs on new postings and the like. But I more or less became convinced that my current method wasn't working. I either need to get more connections or improve my portfolio before I can really get my foot in the door. Most likely both. I'm confident that I have what it takes to make it, but without a good outlet to enable and motivate me in both of these aspects I wasn't making much progress. Instead, I took the time waiting for school to start to enjoy my free time a little. I played some games, experimented with some ideas, and worked on some projects. I have also been keeping up with the testing work. It's helping to make sure I keep productive in a work context as well (and paying for the groceries), so I wasn't about to drop it. But in terms of finding a full-time job in game design, I've essentially put it on hold until April.
One thing I've been more active with than anything else is tabletop RPG stuff. After the Mummy's Mask game, the same group started a Reign of Winter campaign on Fridays, which has easily become the most hilarious campaign I've been in. I play a crazy Russian alchemist (as in an actual Russian who's babushka ended up in Golarion somehow) named Vladimir Yevgeny Borishof who is searching for potatoes in order to make food and vodka. He's accompanied by his younger brother Ivan and a jadwigan frost oracle with perpetual frostbite. Already the fact that we're decked to the nines in anti-cold chicanery has rendered a lot of the challenges in the campaign null and void, and our persistent insanity (which I refer to as "Chaotic Russian"), paranoia (Vladimir refers to everything as traps, and he's usually right), and moral dubiousness (we caught a pixie who was trying to ambush us and stuck it in a tanglefoot bag; that bag eventually became our go-to pixie prison, and now it's become an intelligent item that hungers for the souls of pixies) has made it feel a bit like Guardians of the Galaxy, in that we're completely refusing to take anything about the campaign seriously.
Aside from that one, the Wrath Campaign marches on (Astrea has finally reached a stage where her Dispelling magic is rendering her a little overpowered). On Wednesdays I now play a 5e game with some friends in person. That one is only just starting up, but the GM's style is interesting in that it's focused a lot more on puzzles and brain teasers than your average campaign. It's actually quite interesting to compare his GMing technique to my own, which is much more narrative focused. I might write about that as a retrospective once we get further into the game.
And speaking of my GMing style, Hell's Rebels continues. As a matter of fact now that we've gone through one of my most anticipated missions (the Vyre dinner of book 3), I came to find a new project. You see, I reworked a lot of how that mission progresses. I used a fusion of combat and social encounter mechanics to gamify the dinner beyond a few simple skill checks. Given all my modifications, it occurred to me that there are a few instances where I modified sections of the book, and I think what I'm going to do is write out more formalised versions of these reworks as well as my analysis from a game design perspective. Considering I fully intend to run Hell's Rebels again in the future, it will be a useful resource for myself, but also a potential tool that others might have an interest in. What's more, I can certainly think of some other games that I would have minor revisions for. I'll likely format all these thoughts in a separate blog within its own project section dedicated to "Game Mechanic Reworks" or something like that.
I've been working on FateWeaver (my adaptation of the Fate tabletop RPG system) for quite a while now, adding a new section or revising one here and there every so often. The core rulebook is nearly done, as is my primer on the lore of the setting of Infernia. I planned out several other primers that cover things like equipment, psychic powers, skills, stunts, etc. but most of those are still in the early stages. Nonetheless, I'm rapidly approaching the stage where the written version of version 1.0 is about ready. I'm hoping to have it done and up on this site before the end of school. I'm also really looking forward to testing it out.
Video Games & Art Projects
I did mention I've been playing some games. By that, really I mean Overwatch. I've been playing a fair bit of Overwatch. It's a solid game that has filled my long unsated need for a god team-based FPS. I haven't really played one since Call of Duty Black Ops, which when I think about it is fairly surprising. In any case, I've been enjoying it greatly, both as a diversion and as a study in asymmetrical competitive play. I was at one point working on a blog post about it, and doing a little study in the game's mechanics and balance, but I happened to start writing it around the time of one of the major patches, and so several of the character critiques I presented had been invalidated by buffs and nerfs. Do feel free to ask me about why I think Mei seriously needs a debuff though. I have some fairly strong opinions about that.
Aside from Overwatch, I have still kept Warframe on the back-burner. I don't play it nearly as much as I used to, but every once in a while I still show up. That game has seen a lot of changes in the last few months, and I'm enjoying them a fair bit. It's another topic I've wanted to broach, along with the notion of perpetual evolution of games through content patches being part of the new landscape of games, but it's another subject that I felt I needed to consider and structure my thoughts on more effectively before making a post about it. The short answer is that my opinions are mixed. I like that it allows for games to improve over time through feedback without having to go through the costly iterative process of new titles, but it also worries me in a sense that it might lead to some developers spending more time focusing on old games rather than coming up with new IPs and innovations. I know the perfectionist in me could easily work in perpetuity on a title I didn't think I had gotten just right. I had to learn to let go sometimes and start something new. As such, this new paradigm seems like an easy way to regress back to that sort of behaviour. It's a bit more complicated than that, and I certainly can't evoke all my thoughts in a single paragraph, so moving on.
There is one other game I tried to play, and that's the new Doom. Sadly, I discovered that my computer can't seem to handle it. At all. Like I was getting a perpetual 5 fps when I tried to run it, even on low settings. I'm not sure why the game was so demanding, but needless to say I can't exactly play it in that state, so I'm just going to have to wait until I get a new system or replace the graphics card on my other PC so that it can run games without crashing. Oh, and there's also Deus Ex Mankind Divided. I haven't bought that one yet. I was thinking of asking for it for my birthday, but it occurs to me that I likely won't be playing it for a while and by the time I get around to it I'd be better off getting the Game of the Year edition whenever that comes out. I am very eager to try it though, since I've heard very good things.
I did say video games AND art, didn't I? Well, on the art side I haven't stopped doodling. I do it much less frequently, partly because I preoccupy myself with other things but also because the humidity here has been absolutely oppressive and it positively ruins my drawing paper. I have done two pieces worthy of mention. One is a new city sketch that is still a work in progress, and the other is one of my tabletop characters: the gallant Sir Neddus Arterius Adfer. I'm pleased that my sketching skills haven't completely left me, even if I know I'm not quite where I want to be with them.
Videos, Shows, and Books
I've also been doing a fair bit of show watching. The new seasons of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, Shokugeki No Soma, Steven Universe, My Little Pony (I swear the animators are going crazy this season), and Star vs the Forces of Evil have all remained on my radar. As well as that, No Country for Old Men, Starship Troopers, Sicario, Imperium, Noragami, Erased, Your Lie In April, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (I know it's about time I watched that one), Mirai Nikki, The Devil is a Part Timer, The Irregular In Magic High School, and Stranger Things have been added to my "watched" pile, while a few other notable shows have gone into my "watching" one. That and while I've been trying desperately to shrink my Youtube Watch Later list, it seems to be perpetually stuck in the 300s. Ah well, eventually I'll figure that one out (probably when I realise I don't actually need to watch every little thing). On the book front, I finished Plato's The Republic, Tales of Cu Chulaind, and started Steve Erikson's Gardens of the Moon. I won't go into too much detail on all these things (and I've certainly forgotten a few), and instead just say that they've almost universally been interesting (or at least informative), and it's helping to broaden my media appreciation.
Trips & Conventions
As I recall, my last blog post was shortly before my trip to Toronto. Well I did that, and met with my friend Andrew. We had a good time, watched some movies, explored Toronto (which I hadn't done in a very long time), and even met Denis Dyack (he gave me some useful pointers and also some book recommendations; Gardens of the Moon was one of them). All in all it was a pretty great experience that probably merits more talking about than this little mention, but for now I'll leave it at that because I can tell this is already going on longer than it should.
After that, the next most notable events were Comiccon and Otakuthon. The former I only spent a day on, and mostly wandered around admiring the cosplays and sights. I did sit in on a panel with the Deus Ex voice actors, and got a few autographs. I did also buy a bunch of Jojo books (in case it wasn't clear, I really like Jojo). Otakuthon meanwhile I was much more involved in. After just missing it last year (since it was literally the same weekend as my move into the Montreal condo), I wanted to go in full force. And so I brought back the old Snake/Big Boss cosplay.
I was more careful about not ruining my legs with all the crouch walking this time. The box is still absolute hell to sit in for extended periods of time (it becomes a literal hot box, and I was already hot in my costume), but the reactions I was getting made it very much worth it. I never did find any pictures of myself online though, which admittedly is a little disappointing. Call me a narcissist, but I was hoping for a tiny bit of internet recognition. Ah well. Really it's just about being entertaining, and that I most certainly was.
The last major trip was this past labour day weekend. Given that classes were supposed to start on the 1st (according to my initial schedule that is; this changed about a week before), I wouldn't be able to go home for my birthday. Instead the folks came over and we celebrated with dinner at the Bremner, then I went back with them to the cottage (which is now officially their place of residence. Feels weird knowing that the old house is sold) and later to my grandmother's house to spend time with my aunt and uncle. There was also a ceremony at the gurdwara in honour of 11 months since my grandmother's passing, which my uncle and I are hoping will allow my aunt to start moving on (she's been taking it quite hard). It's all very strange and certainly punctuates the fact that this is a time of transition. I've already written what I had to say about my grandmother, so I won't repeat myself, but I'll just say that I do miss her dearly. It was good to see many of the family friends again though.
Anyway, with that finished I came back to Montreal on Monday, and classes started right back up the day after, so that's what I'll talk about next.
Back To School
So yes, school has started up again. As I think I've mentioned before, it wasn't my first choice to return, but I can't deny that this represents probably my best chance to make connections and build my portfolio in a way that might secure me the position in game design I moved here to find in the first place. So far, the program is an interesting one. The group is small (12 people, 18 with those that took the intro course as an elective) and entirely male (which is funny given that last year was apparently a 50% split). Half of my classmates are from France, and about a third have backgrounds in history. Honestly I couldn't say if the demographics are what I expected. The main part being that only a small handful of us actually come from a design background. But, everyone seems like decent fellows and they appear to at least know the basics, so I think that should work out fine.
All our classes are in a single lab only slightly larger than my condo. It's a little cramped, but honestly I kind of like it. It feels cozy. That, and there's plenty of equipment around: computers, game systems, a bookshelf full of video games, board games, and books on game design. It's got everything one might need to do some serious game design work, and I for one am pretty eager to give that bookshelf a good and proper inspection.
Our professors definitely seem to know their stuff. They all seem to have relevant backgrounds, and the lessons I've listened to have been quite informative. Part of me was worried that there would be a lot of rehashing of stuff I learned in BIT. There certainly is a fair bit of repetition in some ways, but there's also a lot more insight that relates to the industry, specifically Quebec's industry, that one would only get from someone who knows that industry well. What's more, one of our classes will feature speakers from various companies and backgrounds to tell us about their experiences as game designers in various domains. I'm particularly looking forward to that, since I love hearing people's stories and the insight they've gained.
And the networking... I have to admit yesterday I made more headway networking-wise than I have in a very long time. And unlike many of the connections I've made in the past, I feel like I'm actually getting into an active community in which my presence might be noticed more readily. It's a position from which I think I'll get to be a lot more comfortable building connections that might actually bring fruit.
There is one challenge to all this though, and that's the language barrier. In case I haven't mentioned it, the "DESS en design de jeux" is entirely in French, and as far as I can tell, I'm most likely the best English speaker in the room (if not the only one on some occasions). I am a native French speaker mind you, but that French is distinctly Ontarian. My writing is solid, but fairly formal, and my speech is peppered liberally with bad grammar (that's more a fault of me occasionally tripping over my words in conversation rather than any actual failure of understanding French grammar; I do it in English as well) and English words (there are a lot of words I just don't know in French). Mind you, Quebec French has plenty of English words too, but they're not always the same ones. And the France French speakers are in a whole other category. My comprehension fortunately is still excellent, so listening is still quite easy, but I'm going to really have to work to improve the speaking portion. Fortunately, I've been steadily improving through practice by going out and communicating with people (I'd say I'm about at the same level I was when I graduated high school, which is good considering I nearly lost it during my first year at Carleton). I've never been a particularly strong French orator, but I've never been too bad either, so I think I can work myself up to par easily enough with some practice.
So, all that is to say, life has been keeping me busy, even if I haven't been posting much on my social media venues. Now that school has started, I'm going to be busy in a different way, but at the same time, I'm going to make an effort to put some of what goes on in the program up here as well: projects, thoughts, etc.
And to start that off, as soon as I finish this post, I'm going to be working on my first assignment. It's a little 2-5 page introspection on my past, present, and future as a game designer. What I'll do is I'll post it here once it's done and submitted. It will be in French, of course, but really I should probably start showing off my bilingualism more sooner or later (I've had a blog post about my relationship with the French language sitting in my drafts for over a year now...) So, until next time!