Getting Hired: My Best Tips

It’s been a little over a year since I was hired at Gameloft, and since then I’ve gone from being an intern to being a full time employee and even getting an extra job title (I’m now a Technical Game Designer and a Game Economy Designer on my project). I’ve been meaning to write this article for almost as long (if not longer, truth be told), though I keep either forgetting or being otherwise too preoccupied. But, seeing as I’m just coming down from all the rambling I’ve been doing at MIGS to young folks about these very topics, this seems like a good time to finally crank this piece out.

Over the several years I’ve spent hunting for a job, I’ve had plenty of ups and downs, but most importantly I learned a lot. Aside from luck and a bit of skill, most of my success can probably be attributed to learning through iteration. With this article, I’m hoping to condense a bit of that into what I think are the most valuable and practical tricks I’ve acquired over the years. I’d like to think they’re universal enough that they can be applied not just to getting a job in game design, but pretty much any job. Hopefully, some of you reading this might learn a thing or two from my mistakes (I saved the best ones for near the end, but they aren’t the last ones so you can’t cheat).

Study Your Field

To be clear, I don’t mean go to school. Of course, school can be immensely helpful. If your field of interest does have specialised studies designed to help give you the necessary skills to get into the industry, absolutely look into that. A lot of companies will use your base level of education not just as a metric of your skill, but also as an indication that you’re actually able to put in the effort and finish something (being able to finish things is a good mark for a lot of employers, so keep that one in mind). But no, that’s not what I’m talking about when I’m referring to studying your field.

What I actually mean is you need to study the actual industry surrounding your field. Do everything in your power to learn how your field works. What are some typical business structures? Who are the big names? What does each position do? What are some common problems facing the industry and what are people trying to do to address them? These are all questions you need to ask. But more importantly, you need to ask them not from a consumer or layman’s point of view. You need to think of it the way an insider does. After all, you’re planning on becoming one.

Games are a great example of an industry where a lot of the consumers seem to think they know how the industry works. Allow me to disabuse you of that notion: most gamers have no idea how games are actually made. Certainly not from a professional business perspective. It’s not just a question of dumping a few assets into Unity and bam there you go.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying gamers are completely ignorant, nor that game developers and publishers are blameless or not deserving of scrutiny. Game devs make mistakes and poor choices quite often, and when they do something that hurts consumers they should absolutely be called out for it. What I’m saying is, the choices they make aren’t arbitrary, and they’re often far less simplistic than you might think. Like any other industry games are fraught with politics, business statistics, technical limitations, human limitations, and the unfortunate realities of, well, the real world. Working on games is a career, and not an easy one. There are many people in this industry who work very hard, even on things that might turn out to be viewed as complete trash. Often times, there are deeper reasons for that trash turning out as it did.

Figure out those reasons. Start understanding why your industry of choice works the way it does. Many industries have plenty of resources that you can dive into and research. Just doing that will immediately put you a step ahead the common schmuck who thinks they knows better than the professional despite having no experience because they’re just that smart. I can guarantee you 9 times out of 10, they’re not, and everyone in the industry can spot those people from a mile away.

Allow me to give a quick example. Do you remember Assassin’s Creed Unity? That game that was buggy to the point of being ridiculed online? A big part of why that is is because the game needed to be rebuilt from the ground up using a new engine, because the old one wasn’t able to support the co-op tech they tried adding with that installment. The engine, being new, didn’t work the same way the old one did for a lot of stuff, so a lot of things that people were used to doing had to be re-learned differently. When an entire massive crew of devs are simultaneously trying to recreate something in a new tool... Well, have you ever tried writing your name with your non-dominant hand? Yeah, it’s kinda like that, but with several thousand people trying to do it on the same piece of paper. Anyway, that’s a grossly simplified representation of what happened and there were certainly many other deeper factors at play, but it might help you understand why this would be a sore spot for a lot of the people who worked on that game. It’s not an excuse by any means, but saying that the game was bad because the team was lazy would just be insulting. I don’t recommend insulting people you want to work with.

Go Where The Pros Go And Do As The Pros Do

Ideally by this point, you know the basics of what you’d need to get into your industry, and you’re just about ready to join it yourself. Well, this is when networking becomes important. There are two big tips I can offer when it comes to networking. The first one has to do with how to find the right people to network with.

This really isn’t that hard: figure out where the industry professionals meet up, and go there. Many industries have meetups and networking socials. These are meant to be places for industry professionals to get together, make connections, share their knowledge and experience with each other, and maybe even have some fun. Often times, it’s not that hard to join in on these. Look into societies, organisations, and events meant to represent these industries and go to them (for example, video games in Montreal have La Guilde, the IGDA, MIGS, MEGA, CGX, GANG de Devs, and Alliance Numérique, just to name a few). There are resources out there for pretty much every industry, and you should in no way be shy about looking into them. Also, if there are after-parties at events, go there then try to figure out where the after-after-party is (that’s the one all the professionals go to to escape the kids looking for jobs; it’s the MUCH more interesting party).

Now that said, there is a certain code of etiquette that should be respected when it comes to going to these semi-exclusive venues. Keep in mind that when you’re at these events, you’re not there to hunt for a job. That’s what recruitment drives are for, and that’s not why these professionals are there (in fact they’re trying to avoid that). No, you’re here to make business connections, and to absorb as much knowledge as you can. See what these people talk about. You can admit to not being employed in the industry (yet/at the moment), but that shouldn’t be why you’re there. Instead, use this time to get an insider finger on the pulse of the industry. You can even relay some of your own experiences if they’re relevant to impress some people.

If you can act like you’re a professional, soon enough everyone will take it for granted that you are one, and you’d be surprised how friendly and open people can get with their fellow industry-members. This is more of an aside, but I once saw the lead designer of a major studio demonstrate the proper technique for slapping to another industry pro, using the CEO of a decent-sized development studio as his demonstration dummy (all of them were consenting and pretty drunk at the time). On another occasion I heard another big name rant about all sorts of problems that he had with the internal structure of a very big studio (and learned a lot about their corporate structure in the process).

The point is, even if you’re just schmoozing, this is a great way to make connections early that will help you later on. And in some cases, you can end up with some interesting stories (just don’t share names when it comes to the compromising stuff; that will blacklist you fast).

Getting Into The Circle

Okay, so you’re in a place with a lot of potential people to network with, but you’re shy and awkward. Unfortunately to some degree, you’re just going to have to get over that. You won’t accomplish anything huddled up in a corner pretending to stare at your phone (trust me, I’ve done it enough to know). Fortunately for you, there’s a pretty good trick I’ve used time and again to help with this.

To start, you need to just insert yourself into conversation circles. You will find this phenomenon at all major social events: a bunch of people form a little circle where they talk to each other. All you need to do is slide right on into that circle. Find a gap and occupy it, until people gradually make a bit of space for you and you become a part of the circle. It can be awkward at first, but often times someone will take the initiative and introduce themselves. If you can manage to do it, even better. Ideally, try and contribute something relevant to whatever they were discussing. This can be as simple as asking a question or agreeing with someone’s point (though it’s best if you add something in yourself too). Just make sure that whatever you’re adding to the conversation is pertinent. If you do this a few times, you’re bound to end up getting into a conversation with some reasonably outgoing person. If you can, try to remember their names and what they do and/or what you talked about (this isn’t necessary, but helps a great deal). Generally, if they shook your hand and asked your name, you’re good to go.

Now, the next time you go to an event, find one of those people you spoke with last time. Wait until they’re in a new social circle with some other people you haven’t met, then gently slide yourself in and greet the person you know. This is now the perfect opportunity for you to introduce yourself to the people they’re with (or for them to introduce you, if you’re lucky). Congratulations, you now have more people you can find in other circles next time! Rinse and repeat, and soon enough you’ll have a whole bunch of people in your network scattered about. Even if not all of them know your name, they’ll still probably recognise you and say hello when you greet them (or they’ll pretend to remember you because otherwise it’s extra awkward for everyone including them).

One thing to be careful of though, is to not get stuck in the same circle every time. The first time my classmates went to one such event (I was already a 4-year networking vet at this point), they all talked to each other in one big circle. You must not get stuck only talking to people you know. This is acceptable in short bursts (especially if other people you don’t know join your circle), but is not a sustainable strategy for effective networking. Leave your comfort circle and go talk to some strangers!

Ask for Advice, Not A Job

This is one I’ve heard several times in some form or another, but I overheard a recruiter today say it this way and it really struck a chord. You see, a lot of companies and industries use connections and referrals as one of the go-to ways to find talent. After all, if X person who’s already in the company vouches for someone, they’re probably worth hiring. This is part of why having good connections can be so valuable. In the games industry, it’s absolutely key.

However, there’s a catch to this. When you refer someone to a position, you’re putting your reputation on the line for them. This isn’t something you do with just anyone. I’ve referred several people, but they’re all people I’ve worked with and know to be capable individuals that I genuinely believe would be assets to the company. I’m definitely not going to recommend someone I barely know, let alone never worked with before. For most industry professionals, that’s the simple reality: we aren’t going to help you get the job because we don’t actually know you and whether or not you actually deserve it. This is why so many of them will deflect or ignore such requests.

Now that said, that doesn’t mean we aren’t willing to help you at all. It simply means you need to present your request differently. If you’re going to ask to meet with someone, don’t do it on the pretext of trying to get a job from them. Ask for advice or to “pick their brain” about a subject. Be mindful, listen well, and be respectful of their time. If you do that, many professionals are actually quite willing to offer advice and suggestions. They can help you improve your portfolio, give you good tracks on what to look into to improve your skills, and even just provide you with insight into what they do and how the industry works. If you ask these sorts of questions, they will often not only oblige you, but they’ll remember you later.

I’d like to think I’m a great example of this. I’m more than willing to talk your ear off about anything games industry related and offer whatever tips I can to help you get into the industry. If you’re willing to take the initiative to ask me that sort of thing, and you do so respectfully, I’ll absolutely try to take some time out of my schedule to give you whatever advice I can. Just don’t ask me for a job. If you do all that and I think you might just be the real deal, I might even let you know the next time I see an opportunity I think suits you! But I’m not going to do it just because you asked.

Clean Yourself Up

Honestly, I thought this point was obvious. In my mind it should be. I’ve heard recruiters say variations of it and I’ve kinda scoffed, since it seems so obvious. And yet...That has been proven time and again not to be the case.

If you’re going to get into an industry, you need to have a certain level of professionalism. Practice basic hygiene (I kid you not, the other day I shook hands with a man that scratched his armpits and crotch while we were talking. Needless to say I went and washed my hands thoroughly right after). Try not to dress like a homeless person that just fell out of the dumpster they were sleeping in. Don’t be rude or vulgar to people you haven’t gotten to know yet (even if that’s your normal sense of humour). Learn to form coherent sentences. Spellcheck your resume. Check your resume for errors and inconsistencies. SPELLCHECK YOUR RESUME. Don’t trash talk other companies (they talk to each other, I assure you). Don’t write your application and address it to the wrong company (that one is a common error among those that use the same letter template for every job, which is also a thing you shouldn’t do). Those are some of the big ones.

If you’ve got that covered, here are a few more. Showcase only the work you’re proud of (no one wants to see the bad stuff). Don’t focus on your negative experiences unless you’re following it up with how you learned to improve them. Keep things clear, short and concise (I know I’m not exactly doing the best job with that one, but hey, I’m not looking for a job right now). Get to the point, make it, and be done. Practice your organisational and communicative skills.

Really, there are an abundance of tips on how to present yourself when looking for a job out there. Take heed of them, because they will definitely help. A lot of potential applicants get tossed out because they didn’t take the time to do these fairly simple things. At the end of the day, it demonstrates a certain level of respect for the company you’re applying to or the people you’re communicating with. They’ll appreciate it, and be more willing to listen to you as a result.

Be The Solution

Alright, this is one of my two favourite pieces of advice, because I think it’s probably the most useful one when it comes to framing your mindset when communicating with a potential employer.

The premise for this is simple: when a company puts a job posting up, they are first and foremost looking to solve a problem. They might be lacking in skill or manpower, or just need some fresh blood… But the point is they didn’t put that job posting up out of pure whimsy. This is where you come in. Your goal, as a candidate, is to prove that you are the solution to their problem.

That might seem kind of obvious when you put it that way, but it’s something that should be built into how you interact with a company. As much as they might try to promote their “humanity” a company is first and foremost a business. They aren’t there for you. It sounds cruel, but it’s true. So when you present yourself with the mindset of being someone that deserves to be hired by them because you’re so great, that’s not really going to get you much traction. They don’t owe you anything, and they aren’t all that interested in making sacrifices for you unless they really see a value in doing so. Instead, frame yourself as “the person who will solve their problem”. Don’t even stop there. Be the person who will solve their problem better than anyone else, because you have an edge that they don’t have (see my next tip for more about that). Better yet, if you can also demonstrate your ability to solve their problems, that can go a long way towards making you stand out (of course, you need to be careful not to come off as being a cocky goober who thinks you can do their job better than them, either; there’s a balance there).

Naturally, in order to do this effectively, you need to figure out what their problem actually is. That’s where you need to read the job posting carefully and do plenty of research on the company. Figure out what exactly their problem is, then do everything you can to make yourself out to be the best solution to that problem. I firmly believe that doing that will always make you an appealing candidate.

Have an Edge

This is my other favourite piece of advice. But I’m going to contextualise it a bit before getting into the meat.

I started off in a generalist multimedia program. This meant that I knew how to design video games, code, do art, do 3D stuff, animate, do graphic design, and a whole bunch of other stuff. That’s great and all, but it didn’t actually land me a job. After a couple years with no success, I went back to school and got a specialised degree in game design. On top of that, I relabelled myself as a “technical designer”, or as I liked to say “a designer that can actually build the games he comes up with” (explaining what a technical designer actually is is an entire article unto itself). I did this because I noticed that among most of my peers, I had a much stronger code background than any of them (in part because of my prior studies, but also because I did a lot of game jams where I had to do the code because I was the only one who knew how).

Within a few months, Gameloft put up a posting for a Technical Design Intern. I looked it over and noticed that the two key things they were looking for was someone who knew the Unity engine, and knew how to program in C#. As it happened, I had both of those skills in abundance. In fact everything they listed, I had. I even had the title! So, I applied, and the rest is history.

I know for a fact that the key reason I was hired was the fact that by having a design background and technical skills, I was effectively solving two of their problems at once. And it’s not even like I didn’t have these skills before. I just needed to showcase them properly. In this case it was simply a matter of putting certain skills in the right order and making sure my title reflected the key difference I could bring to their company over other generalist designers. This was my edge (these days my edge is probably more the fact that I’m actually pretty good at numbers, and therefore can do game economy design too, but that’s a story for another day).

So, the moral of this story is that while having a broad knowledge base is excellent and extremely useful, especially if you’re not sure what it is you want to do exactly at first, once you have that you should absolutely find something that sets you apart from everyone else that has gone through the same training you have. Is there a skill you’re particularly good at, or a unique combination of skills that you have? Do you know a tool no one else does? These are all things that can be your edge.

This is why you can’t rely on school alone. School will give you access to many potential edges, but it’s up to you to pursue them, either through projects, extracurriculars, or in your spare time. It may seem like hard work, but I guarantee that the people who do it are at an extreme advantage. I mean, that is why I call it an edge.

Be Persistent

Alright, those were my two biggest ones, so I’ll wind down with some simpler stuff.

Being persistent is difficult. By the time you’re looking for a job, you’re probably already paying bills and have expenses you either can’t afford or have to work some crappy retail job to keep afloat. I spent three years in this city before finally landing something. Believe me, I get it.

But it’s exactly because of that that I can say you mustn’t lose hope. Times can be tough, but if you’ve really got the conviction, you’ll get there eventually. Just keep iterating. Learn from others’ mistakes. Learn from your own mistakes. Take every opportunity you can to hone your skills and knowledge and network. It’s not a waste of time. I may not have gotten a job through my connections, but it’s through my connections that I steadily improved my portfolio and my ability to answer difficult questions. All of my past efforts, even the failures (especially the failures) have taught me how to get better, and that eventually paid off.

For that matter, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. There are resources out there for just about everything, and people with the knowledge and desire to help you find them. We’re all in this together, and one of us succeeds, we all do. So, don’t give up!

Stay Vigilant

Okay, maybe that part got a bit sappy. Let’s end on a slightly more practical note, while also tying things back neatly to the first of these points I made.

You should always try to stay vigilant, especially for opportunities. When it comes to job hunting, these can come and go in a flash. Jobs can get swept up in a matter of days or hours sometimes. This is definitely true in the games industry, where the problems that need solving often need that solution yesterday. It’s very fast paced: blink and you’ll miss it.

That is why you need to arm yourself with a good repertoire of tools to help you. LinkedIn Jobs is one that served me well. Almost all the big companies here use it, and it’s how I found my job. I set it up to give me regular notifications about postings based on the filters “video game design” and “video games montreal”. Simple enough, but it gives me no shortage of results on a regular basis. I apply for industry newsletters and keep an eye out for industry events. I keep a large number of LinkedIn connections to industry insiders who post news about the industry. I also check gaming news regularly to keep myself abreast of what’s going on in the broader industry. I might even occasionally check how some companies are doing on the stock market. These are all things you can do in your underwear at home.

And it’s not just about being aware either. Your resume and portfolio should always be up to date, so that you can send them at a moment’s notice. Keep a mental map of the broad points about every company you’re interested in, so that you can reference that knowledge if you need to write a cover letter. Keep in semi-regular touch with the people in your network. Make sure that if someone decides to look you up, you are prepared. Extra pro-tip: it’s actually much easier to regularly update stuff as it is changes rather than do large passes later. That’s something I’ve learned the hard way…

Conclusion

Alright, I think that about covers all my biggest pieces of advice when it comes to finding a job. I hope some of it might have been useful for you (or perhaps someone you know). And of course don’t forget: reading all of this is useless if you don’t act on it, so go out there and get yourselves hired already!

Bonus: Keep Busy and Your Skills Sharp

Someone pointed out that I should add this point, and they’re absolutely right (merci Jérôme). While you’re hunting for a job, don’t forget to actually practice your craft as well. Work on personal projects and go to game jams (these are fantastic for building your portfolio, developing your skills, and also for networking with other talented people who might even be able to help you later). If you’re not in games, there are often equivalent activities. Either way, participate actively in doing the thing you want to get hired for. This helps you get better and also demonstrates your dedication to the craft, which is something that reflects well on you as a professional.

Furthermore, try to find a job that is at least tangentially related to your field if you can. For example, I did a fair amount of part time work as a playtester for some noteworthy mobile titles prior to being hired (I actually still do some on the side, albeit not as often) and worked for some independent projects as well. This not only helped to pay my expenses while I searched for a full-time job, but also proved to be useful points on my resume as relevant experience. Just be wary not to depend on these too much: independent projects can often fall apart suddenly (especially if there’s no business plan or money backing it) and these sorts of jobs won’t necessarily be enough to keep a roof over your head. They are not an excuse to stop your search, but rather a mechanism to help you with your search.

Most industries have low barrier to entry jobs that they just need filled, no higher requirements necessary. This is a good chance for you to develop a rapport with the company and its employees as well in some cases (though don’t forget that the job you were hired for comes first). Through that, you can make connections, learn things from the inside, and maybe even make a good impression on someone who could help get you a job. If you’re lucky enough that the need is there and your talents have been noticed, it can definitely happen.

Bonus 2: Don’t Be Too Picky About Your First Job

This is a mistake that I’ve heard quite a few times. I was admittedly a little guilty of it too at first, though I don’t think quite as much. It’s pretty common that people say they want to go work at X big name company. In games, it’s usually a AAA studio, because they want to work on the big titles that everyone knows. While it’s not impossible to get hired by one of these studios, I’ll warn you right now that it’s not very common, certainly not when it comes to the really high value brands. The people guiding today’s big titles aren’t juniors fresh out of school; they’re usually seasoned experts with a lot of experience under their belt. Games in particular is an industry where experience and seniority will usually trump raw talent, because experience is reliable and stable, which is what you need in a big company structure to keep things running smoothly. So don’t be heartbroken if they don’t ask you to have a key role in the next big project. That will come eventually, after you’ve paid your dues.

And that doesn’t just go for specific titles or companies either. In Montreal at least, it’s very common for people to say they don’t want to go into mobile gaming. I was one of them at first. But truth be told, there can often be a lot of fluidity when it comes to industries with sub-categories, especially if the fundamental skills are shared across them. Game developers in mobile, indie, and AAA all bounce frequently from one category to the other, because the tools and skills involved are largely the same. So don’t think you’ll necessarily get pigeonholed into a category just because you took a job. That only becomes a problem if you present yourself that way. Take the opportunities you can find, and build from there. A perfect opportunity isn’t going to just show up, so don’t pass up on other chances waiting for one.

An Update Long Overdue

It has been quite some time since I last posted here, hasn't it? A little over half a year, in fact. Truth be told, I've wanted to post here long before now, but despite having an abundance of things to write about, none of them really gave me enough motivation to do so. Not to mention in the last two months, my life has been so hectic that this is the first weekend I've actually been able to just sit down and rest. But I digress.

A lot has happened since the last time I made a blog post on this site: I've participated in four game jams (for one of which we won the best game award), I graduated from university (again), I made a great deal of progress on several of my personal projects, and perhaps most importantly, I got my first job in the industry. Though there are a great many things I could say about all of these things, the last one is the one I really want to talk about. After all, this blog is by and large about my professional development, and what bigger thing is there than my first position in my desired career?

Granted, it's only a 6 month internship, but being placed as a technical game designer at a major studio (Gameloft, if you're wondering) is certainly a huge step for me. It's quite potentially that foot in the door that I needed. Either I make myself invaluable enough to them that they choose to keep me on after my contract is done, or I have a very nice addition to my CV. And that's not even accounting for the connections and experience I gain along the way.

Experience. That word has perhaps been at the core of all of my challenges so far. As someone just getting into the industry, there's a fairly major issue with the fact that almost every single posting you can find requires some form of experience. You need work experience to have your application recognised, if even looked at at all (I know many recruiters deny this, but I've yet to see evidence to convince me otherwise). And even if you choose to go the networking route, that requires a certain level of social experience (in other words, useful contacts). On top of that you need the luck to be in the right place at the right time, and have exactly what they're looking for. Of course, all of this makes a certain degree of sense; a company has needs, and they can't just hire a complete unknown in the hopes that they'll turn out to be good. That's a huge risk. On that front, I had the good fortune of being at exactly at the right place at the right time and having both social and skills experience I could leverage to get in. After all as I've said before, I know I have the abilities needed to be a good designer. I just need people to know it.

And that's where my new challenge lies. I've gotten into a company, at least for a few months. I've been assigned to a project. A new one at that, with a much smaller team meaning I get to have much more input than I might otherwise have had. It's intimidating, but at the same time, it's exactly the kind of opportunity I should be hoping for. But there is a snag there. I can only prove myself if I get the chance to demonstrate my skill, and in order to do that, I have to get people to listen to me.

You see, even though I've gotten in, I have no authority, seniority, or rapport with the people I work with. In other words, I have no experience. Not in this context. As a technical designer, my job more or less is to figure out the structure of a given task, and then tell the programmers what tools or features I need to execute that structure. The problem lies in the fact that even though I can easily define a system, I have to get the programmers to go along with it. This is the part that is difficult. As of the present moment, I don't think the programmers on the team fully understand just what my role is. Truth be told, I'm not entirely sure I do myself. What I do know is that on at least two occasions, I've noticed early on that an existing system I've been asked to work on was flawed and pointed out the thing that we needed, was subsequently told by a programmer that this was not the way things were built, and a week later found out that the programmer was told by someone higher up to essentially do the same thing I suggested a week earlier.

Now don't misunderstand. This isn't me complaining about my coworkers or even stroking my own ego for ultimately being right. At the time there were very valid reasons for building things the way they were built and not accepting my proposals. After all in these instances what I was proposing were akin to massive overhauls of how the existing systems worked. And I am a junior with no real authority after all. What would I know of how their systems worked? These guys not only have technical knowledge that I don't, but experience with the engine that allows them to know that certain solutions I might have taken as obvious choices to be impractical and unstable. These are fair criticisms that can be levied against me and my proposals, and I have no real defense against them. In fact, I can think of a lot of young boiterous designers who might come in and say everything is wrong and needs to be redone, when in fact they have no idea what they're talking about. There's yet to be any evidence that I'm not one of them (I mean, I know I'm not, but I do have something of a bias on the subject so its not like they can take my word for it). In the end however, the fact of the matter is that time was wasted, either by me or the programmers, on trying to force a system that didn't meet our needs to work. It's an inefficiency that has lost a modest amount of time and energy, and it's a problem I know can be fixed. After all, I've done it quite a few times before.

Something important to point out here is that I'm not entirely ignorant of how programming works. In all of the aforementioned game jams I participated in, I was the lead programmer. Part of what helped us get so far in those jams was the simple fact that being both a designer and a programmer, I could future proof and structure my code in a way that made it easy to build on as time went on. I could define the scope from both the perspectives of what we needed to make a functional game and what I could program in the time we had. But in the context of a larger company, there are way more things you have to consider. There isn't only one programmer, or one system. Sometimes the code defines the structure, and all the designers supply is the stats for it to parse. Sometimes even when both of things are working together, there's an element from another department that throws a wrench in the mix. I'd love to give more concrete examples, but I fear doing so pushes the edges of what I can say with my contract, and the last thing I want to do is jeopardise that.

Naturally, it would be easier if I had the authority to simply say "do it like so" and have everyone follow my authority. But of course, that's not how things work, at least not here. All of the problems I mentioned are natural in a team environment. One can expect toes to be stepped on, and for communication to lapse here and there. But these downsides are worth it for the wealth of benefits that having a dynamic team grants. It allows individual parts of the whole to be self sufficient and solve their own problems, in a way that's much more creatively liberating and efficient than it would be with a single dictatorial entity. The difficulty I see is when the communication between these parts is limited, and one side can see a problem than another can't or won't, either because they have a blind spot from their perspective or there are other implications that the other side might not even be aware of. How do I broach that gap to point out issues so that they can be resolved without being dismissed? Is it simply a matter of seniority? Is it a question of how I approach the subject? Or perhaps it's about whom I approach it to? Maybe it's just power politics? These are matters I still need to work on.

In the remaining month (almost exactly. The 26th of December is when I'm slated to have my first day of vacation, not including Christmas day and the weekend prior), things are going to be very hectic for me. A major deadline is looming and though the issues I've pointed out have by and large been resolved, it doesn't stop the fact that I'll have my work cut out for me rearranging things in light of these new structures. Somewhere in between that, I'm going to have to try my best to seek out an answer for that challenge of mine. If I do figure out what the magic recipe is, I'll be sure to let you know. Until then, I'm open to suggestions.

P.S. It isn't lost on me that the subjects of my recent game jams and how I got the position might also be a compelling subjects to discuss. I certainly have a fair bit to say on them. But that's probably best saved for future posts.

Fall Life Update

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.

Job Hunt

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.

Tabletop

Is name Vladimir Yevgeny Borishof. Is live in Irrisen with Babushka from Old Country.  Babushka come Golarion for get potato (is not knowing how), but niet many potato in Irrisen. Is very malnourish. Babushka say is like Old Country.  Vladimir grow big strong like ox, but hungry and is not have vodka for pass time. Is go to Taldor to get bread and potato so not malnourish and make vodka for happy Babushka.

Is name Vladimir Yevgeny Borishof.
Is live in Irrisen with Babushka from Old Country.

Babushka come Golarion for get potato (is not knowing how), but niet many potato in Irrisen. Is very malnourish. Babushka say is like Old Country.

Vladimir grow big strong like ox, but hungry and is not have vodka for pass time. Is go to Taldor to get bread and potato so not malnourish and make vodka for happy Babushka.

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.

FateWeaver

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.

The city of Degwoch, in its current state of drawing progress.

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.

Sir Neddus, a true follower of the glorious light of Iomedae, and lacker of an inside voice.

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.

What was that noise? Oh, it's just a box.

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.

The actual costume under the box.

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.

Some of us at a pub after the first day. Apparently I just happened to be looking at my phone the moment they snapped this (I swear I was socialising the grand majority of the time).

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.

Conclusion (Finally)

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!

A Little Life Update

The past few weeks have been pretty crazy for me, as shall next couple I'm certain. As of a few minutes ago however, today probably marks the most significant day in this period of chicanery. I'll save the news for the end of this post, where I'll just list a few of the things that have and will be going on.

Or8Weaver's Conversion

My previous post was on the subject of Homestuck, and the new direction I am taking Or8 in the hopes of evolving it into its own thing. Since then I've worked a fair bit on adapting the rules of Fate to my setting and altering Or8 as well. I've made a good bit of progress on both fronts, though admittedly between all the revisions and things left to address it feels akin to unraveling a particularly tangled ball of wires. It's a slight bit overwhelming, but bit by bit I'm beginning to see the underpinnings of the final product. Now it's mostly a matter of bringing in the old material into the new, and rigorously editing it until all the kinks are worked out. I imagine I'll still be working on it for some time before I really have anything worthy of showing here, but I'm confident that some day I'll have made something I can be proud of with this.

A somewhat rough sketch of my Lvl 17 Oracle/Paladin/Holy Vindicator Anen the Peace Giver, hero of Osirion and slayer of undead pharaohs across the ages

A somewhat rough sketch of my Lvl 17 Oracle/Paladin/Holy Vindicator Anen the Peace Giver, hero of Osirion and slayer of undead pharaohs across the ages

Pathfinder

I've mentioned Pathfinder quite a bit in my recent posts, since it's recently been very significant to my development as a game designer. That said, my latest milestone is as a player. As of last Saturday, I completed my first adventure campaign, having aided in striking a final blow to the undead pharaoh Hakotep of Mummy's Mask. Granted because of the sheer power of our party, the outcome was never really in doubt, but it was deeply satisfying nonetheless. Mummy's Mask is notable in that it was the first adventure path I ever played (and with the same GM), though the first time our campaign ended with the final boss of the second book. I joined this new party at the start of the third book, so it was effectively both my first game and my first completed game start-to-finish (and first completed game overall). It may not mean much practically speaking, but it holds a fair bit of significance for me personally. I'm quite pleased; it was a fun ride and I'm glad to have seen it to the end.

Job

Though I still haven't succeeded in finding a full time job in the industry, I've been working fairly consistently thanks to the Crowdsourced Testing Company. As of last week, I received my first payment from them. Though it may not be full time work in the traditional sense, it's kept my hands busy, my mind sharp, and my pantry full, and it's doing so in a way that allows me to retain the convenience of my unemployed schedule. I dare say I wouldn't be able to take advantage of all the summer activities otherwise, so in a sense it makes for a good way to take a "year off" without being too draining on my finances. And there is a certain gratification in being frequently told that I am apparently quite good at my job as well. Even if they are just platitudes, they've been giving me enough work and attention that I get the impression there is some truth to them. If nothing else, it tells me that I am indeed still a competent individual, despite the challenge I've had getting into the workforce proper. But given the final subject of this blog entry, those challenges may soon be alleviated...

OIGC

I've attended the Ottawa International Game Conference since its conception, and wasn't about to break my streak with this one. Despite saying on multiple occasions that I have trouble seeing Ottawa as having a real games industry, I do still hope that it might one day develop one. I know from experience that the potential and the talent are there for it. And that aside, Ottawa is an excellent meeting ground between Toronto and Montreal.

That said, this year felt rather underwhelming by comparison. There was a distinct lack of major industry presence (especially when you consider that the year prior featured major figures from Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa). It was still very enjoyable, and certainly there was value to be had. Nonetheless I can't help but feel like there was a lot of industry pull that was lost. Admittedly I have a good bit of knowledge as to why that is, seeing as I'm well acquainted with a few of the major organisers of both this and previous year's OIGCs, but I won't get into that. In any case, it was much more akin to a social meetup than a conference.

I simply could not manage to get this camera to take a decent image. This is the best I got.

I simply could not manage to get this camera to take a decent image. This is the best I got.

The most noteworthy thing to come from the conference was that I had the opportunity to meet with Liana Kerzner, a feminist advocate and games consultant whom I have a great deal of respect for (I've followed her YouTube Channel for quite some time). I managed to have a few fairly interesting conversations with her and some other attendees at the conference, and learned quite a few things about the games and TV industries from seasoned veterans. To be perfectly honest, the chats over drinks were much more intellectually and personally engaging to me than any lecture could be. Really, that's why I go to these events. Well, that and the networking.

There was one particular conversation I wanted to broach but didn't get the chance to at the conference, which had to do with the interpretation of the D&D alignment system. It's something that Liana has recently assured me she will tackle, and I hope to eventually post my thoughts in a bit of a more organised manner once I hear her response.

I did also get called a "shitty person" by a bartender for not tipping him (while being in the process of procuring a bill from my pocket to do just that), which did kind of sour the last night a bit for me, but that's another story for another time perhaps. Moral of that story is don't name call your customers, even if they are shitty people. That's just bad business.

My Old Home

On another note, this visit to Ottawa marked another fairly major milestone in my life. My mother has for a good while now been planning to sell the house in Ottawa that had been my home since birth (and which only stopped being my home last year). The process had been ongoing since before that, but now we really are reaching the final stages, to the point that my visit this past week might very well have been my final one ever. If things go as planned, it will be sold at some point this summer.

While I know that from a logical standpoint it makes sense (I don't live there and my parents rarely stay there, preferring either the cottage or Florida), I can't help but feel a little sentimentality over saying goodbye to it. Yesterday they even gave away my old piano! Not that I played it much in recent years... I only ever played one song around Christmas time, just as a sort of personal tradition.

It occurred to me that I never even put up the image collection I had made of the house (it was a pseudo-time lapse with a shot at the start of each month for a year). I might still put it up, since it's already done, though at the same time I wonder if I should, considering very soon it won't be my house any longer. I'll have to think about that.

Toronto

With the past taken care of, there's the subject of what's to come. Toronto is my next big event. To be exact, I'm visiting my dear friend and university partner in crime Andrew Richardson in Oshawa for a week, which will include a visit to Toronto both for TCAF and just to visit the city. It's been a long time since I visited Toronto properly, and that was back when I was too young to properly appreciate it, so it will be interesting to compare it to Montreal and the various other large cities I've been to.

There is also the chance that I'll get a little look into Andrew's job. He's doing some interesting stuff with a motion capture and general media studio, including the Quantum Tunnel YouTube channel with Denis Dyack (yes, THAT Denis Dyack). They've also done some work with game companies, including ones in Montreal, so who knows, it might provide a chance for some more networking. Even if that doesn't turn out to be the case, It's been quite some time since Andrew and I have hung out together, so I am really looking forward to that regardless.

Now then, speaking of university and networking (I know it's a terrible segue. I can smell my pizza getting ready in the oven and it's distracting me from thinking of a better one)...

School

The final bit of news relates to that application I made to the University of Montreal's "D.E.S.S. en design de jeux" (which translates to Advanced Studies Diploma in Game Design). I'm pleased to announce that as of today, I've been accepted into it for this upcoming fall term!

Needless to say, given the amount of hope I'm putting in this being my foot in the door to the game industry, I'm quite excited with this news. Though I was fairly confident that I would get in (modesty aside, I am a pretty good student), the three month wait did have me feeling a little nervous. With this confirmation however, I know that my biggest and best chance to get into the industry is secured. Obviously it's just a step, and it's by no means a guarantee that I'll get anywhere, but I know that I have the capability and the drive to prove myself with such an outlet, and I'm definitely prepared to put the work in to reach my goal.

In the meantime, I'll probably stick with the testing job for the summer and focus on getting some of my various personal affairs in order. I have enough things that need to be sorted out that I'm hardly going to run out of them before the realities of school and work further limit my free time. At the very least, I can put my energy towards reducing that shock. But for this particular moment, I'm just going to enjoy my little success.

Homestuck's Conclusion and Or8Weaver's Evolution

On the 13th of April of this year, Homestuck concluded after 7 long years of being one of the longest and most popular webcomics out there. It's easy enough to look up this monolith of an internet cultural icon, so I won't go into detail about it. Instead, this is about my relationship with it.

I was a fan of MSPaintAdventures and Andrew Hussie's works since quite a long time back. Before even the Problem Sleuth days. However, it's with Homestuck that I actually started getting into the fandom. In fact it could be argued that Homestuck is what brought me into the world of fandoms to begin with (I wouldn't really count my time in the Playstation or Ratchet and Clank forums as such). It started with the old Skaianet Imageboard, then I began roleplaying with Trollmegle. Later I moved over to DeviantArt and the Pesterchum application for art and roleplay respectively. I had a lot of fun with the Homestuck fandom. I learned a great deal about internet culture, the very concept of roleplaying (which in turn helped me with my writing and character design skills), and it pushed me to draw and create various things. It's also what prompted my exploration into the concept of crossovers, which until then I didn't really know to be a thing. And the fact that all of these stemmed from one fundamental source was awe inspiring to me. That something so mundane as a cleverly written comic could fuel such a microcosm was baffling.

Then of course, there were all the friends I made from it. Between friends I made through RPs and art collaborations, I actually amassed a fairly high number of online pals. I still keep in touch with some of them, though most I've since lost contact with. However one person in particular I still keep close with, as our interests shifted over to include video games and other hobbies. But alongside those other hobbies, there was always our collaborative RP project: Or8Weaver.

Now, Or8Weaver has been going on for over four years (since the 16th of December 2011), and is still going strong. In fact I'm literally writing it in another window as I type this. Or8 has served as a testing ground for a lot of concepts for me, both in terms of mechanics and narratives. However, despite how much it's deviated from the original source, the fact that Or8 is a derivative fanwork has always loomed over it. Evidently, there's not a whole lot I can do with it in any practical sense that wouldn't breach copyright. This is something that up until recently I was never particularly bothered by. After all, Or8 itself is more of a personal thing. But then there was FateWeaver, the game I had been converting the setting to be used in. And as I've gotten deeper into my plans for that game, this particular issue has come to the forefront of my thoughts.

Just a few days before the end of Homestuck, I had one of those thoughts one gets as they're laying in bed trying to sleep. It was an idea about how to convert the hemospectrum aspect of troll society into its own unique system using the seven deadly sins as bases (admittedly, I might have an anime I watched recently to thank for seeding that particular thought). Over the following few days, I fiddled a bit more with the concept, and though it's still a good ways from completion, I get the feeling that I can very feasibly proceed with converting the entirety of the Or8 setting to remove any references to Homestuck. Most of the content was already of my own creation, with only some nomenclature and core elements coming from the original material, so in truth it's actually not all that much work for me.

All that to say, though it won't change anything for now, I've begun an alteration to Or8Weaver that will allow me to convert a fan project into something of its own. Really it already was at this point. I just needed that little extra push to change the label. In time, as I continue to make the modifications to the Fate system and the Or8 setting, my hope is that some time in the future, I might soon have a full tabletop setting of my very own. It's a project I'm very much looking forward to developing further. And while I have Homestuck to thank for being the catalyst that brought about its conception, there's a sense of great accomplishment in knowing that with Homestuck's conclusion, Or8 will be reborn and live on.

I've gotten a bit rambly, so I'll leave you with this sketch I doodled recently. It's a rendition of my Pathfinder version of Astrea Maryam (who is an important character in Or8). Not much else to be said there, other than playing a spellcaster has proven much more fun that I thought it would be, and that I've thoroughly enjoyed playing her in all her renditions.

DMing A Tabletop Game: First Book Post-Mortem

As of the time I'm writing this, I fairly recently completed running "In Hell's Bright Shadow", the first book of the "Hell's Rebels" campaign for the Pathfidner Roleplaying system. This is a retrospective on my involvement with tabletop, my views on the game itself, and how it's helped me better understand game design.

Tabletop

My experience with tabletop RPGs is fairly limited. I started with Warhammer 40K's Dark Heresy back in University back when some of my friends were in a small group. It took some getting used to (it didn't help that I knew next to nothing about the 40K universe at the time), but the experience itself was great and I got some fantastic stories out of it (the butter story, the sacred oil tale, and the self-destroying boss are some of my personal favourites).

Come August 2014, I tried getting back in touch with an old friend of mine from high school, and got invited into a Pathfinder game (Mummy's Mask) that he was running through a site called Roll20. We got to the end of the 2nd book before our party was wiped out, but it definitely made firm my interest in the game. After that, I researched and dabbled with some other systems (5e and Fate primarily), though most of my gaming has been with Pathfinder. According to Roll20, I've clocked just over 700 hours of time in-game. I've played in about 10 games (though only 6 of them got past the first couple sessions).

Pathfinder

The System

As I mentioned, Pathfinder has been my primary game system. I had the good fortune of having friends that knew the rules fairly well, because I can safely say that many of the rules for that game are rather opaque. It's generally said that between Pathfinder and D&D 5e, Pathfinder has significantly more content, but also a great deal more bloat in numbers and systems.

Overall, Pathfinder is a great system, and if you have someone willing to guide you, it's a fantastic way to start playing tabletop. It's built on the D&D core, so a lot of its ideas are very classic fantasy and therefore easy to recognise. I've used Hero Lab (another great tool) to make the character creation process easier to deal with. And gradually I've been stepping out of my comfort zone to explore more technically challenging aspects of the game. Notably, I recently started playing my first prepared caster (an arcanist), which is a big leap considering I don't usually play magic users (rogues are more my style).

All that said, as I've played more of the game, some of its flaws are becoming more readily apparent. Combat manoeuvres are something that bother me, since they are implemented in a way that makes them generally much less advantageous compared to just using a standard attack. They require a great number of feats to be usable, and even then they use an additional set of rules that mean the table more often than not has to stop and pull out the rulebook when they occur. Grappling is apparently better than it was in 3.5e, but still requires a flowchart to understand. I remember the first session I ran, one player tried to play a weapon sundering-based character, but the system made this very obtuse and generally less effective than just hitting the guy instead. Considering how cool these sorts of actions are, it strikes me as sad that performing them is so much more difficult.

Another gripe is the feat taxes in general. I played a rogue my first time, and because I invested a lot of time in my character, I really didn't want to let her die. Ranged fighting therefore seemed like the way to go. But it took ages just to make that bow useful. Same with weapon finesse. There are many other "feat taxes" that have been brought to my attention since. Fortunately, most of my DMs have simply used this solution, and it's worked out. Many of my other gripes, such as the limitations on actions, alignment, and the lack of balance for certain classes (notably the rogue and summoner) have been addressed in the Unchained rulebook. Nonetheless, it's a topic I could easily spend an entire day rambling about, so I'll move on.

The Setting

As for Pahfinder's setting, after the first couple games I made a concerted effort to explore the wikis and learn the lore. I was very pleased to find that there was an impressive database of information. There is a lot of good work that has been put into Golarion. The setting is rich and interesting, even if some of the parallels are a bit obvious (Vudra, you mean Fantasy India; Kelesh =Arabia, Osirion = Egypt, and so on). The writers have done a good job of providing ample setting information with which to run the adventure paths, while still having a system that is general enough to not rely on the setting entirely. Plenty of the games I've played are homebrews that do a good job of replacing the setting.

One aspect in particular I've taken an interest in is religion. Pathfinder has an established pantheon with major deities, minor ones, demigods, and everything in between. Lately I've been having a lot of fun reading about them and seeing how the story accounts for the existence of actual gods. In fact, one of my latest projects has been to go through the major pantheon and create "iconic worshiper" characters that represent their assigned core deity's aspects. It's proven to be an excellent character development exercise, and it's led me to produce some rather interesting personalities that also serve as functional characters. Incidentally, expect those to appear on this site some time in the near future.

Hell's Rebels

Hell's Rebels is Pathfinder's first "Chaotic Good" aligned game. It sets players as revolutionaries in the cultural city of Kintargo against the oppressive devil-worshiping Thrune government, that due to an ongoing invasion is getting all the more vicious and totalitarian. I like to simplify it for my players as "you are the French resistance in occupied Paris". The campaign starts off primarily as an intrigue and base building game, then eventually escalates to a full on rebellion and combat. However it's easily the least combat-oriented campaign that I know of.

Prior to this Hell's Rebels being released, I had wondered about DMing a game. However at the time there were no campaigns that really struck me as ones I'd particularly want to run. My greatest interests were political intrigue and an emphasis on tactics and strategy that would not necessarily be combat-oriented. I had actually started developing my own campaign using the Fate system and my Or8Weaver setting with those ideas in mind. However, when I learned of Hell's Rebels, needless to say I jumped on it.

Having now run the first book and read the others, I can say it is definitely my favourite campaign by far out of those I've seen. However it does still have plenty of flaws. There are some instances where the game outright states that there is a right way to go about certain things, and sometimes it conflicts with itself in terms of whether it wants players to be non-combative or not. The game clearly has the idea of allowing for different tactical decisions, but at times it feels as though the system itself doesn't make it particularly viable.

The Game

The Rules

Now, I started my game with a lot of preparation, and with story heavily in mind. I looked into and implemented several variant rules and extras with the intention of making combat smoother and easier (variant action economy and the feat tax fix being the main ones). I gave everyone a custom item that would level up with them as they progressed, the idea being that they would act as a kind of indicator of story progress (I also didn't use XP, for reasons that will be apparent soon). I also tried very hard to ensure that everyone's character fit the campaign and the setting. Because at least two of the people who planned on joining were completely new to Pathfinder, I wrote documents to simplify many rules and aspects of the game, like classes and religions.

All in all, I spent a great deal of time on that prep, but I was careful not to overdo it. I know the rule that players will inevitably mess with your expectations, after all. Most of what I did after that was emergent: I added characters based on quips or funny events that occurred. Eventually, I started writing scripts for dialogue and streamlined the information in the book (because sometimes I had to spend a solid few minutes flipping through pages to find out a small piece of information for a particular room).

The Players

I was prudent about people I didn't know mucking up the game for the others (since I had certainly seen it in the past), so I stuck to people I knew. Most were people I played with previously and people I knew outside of the game. A couple were friends I had who were interested in trying the game for the first time. I was fortunate in that three (later four) of my players knew the rules well, much better than me in fact, so I could rely on them to explain how something worked when need be.

Admittedly, the party did not mesh particularly well initially. Some of them had very different play philosophies, and it resulted in characters and players clashing. Fortunately that has since calmed down for the most part, and as they've gotten used to each other and I've discussed things with them personally it's been largely smoothed over. However it is always a concern.

There was one last factor to mention that I think in hindsight was a mistake on my part: I recruited six players. I learned a bit too late that four players is what Hell's Rebels was built for, and I now understand why some DMs don't allow for more than that. Juggling encounter difficulties to reflect that has been a constant challenge.

Most of the party came in from the upper side of the map and used nonlethal attacks. Hagger took the other route and asked if pools of blood could be considered difficult terrain.

My Experience

Technically speaking, Hell's Rebels is the second game I've been the DM for. Last summer, I briefly ran my Or8 game with a couple friends to test it out and see how I enjoyed DMing in general. It turns out I absolutely loved it, and now that I've gone through a whole book, I can safely say that I genuinely enjoy DMing even more than playing. I suppose that is as good a testament as any for why I want to become a game designer.

I should probably preface that as far as DMs go, I'm extremely lenient. My philosophy is that, at least for this particular game, the characters were more important as figures within a story than as statblocks with which to solve problems. Some dungeon runner games seemed to put more of an emphasis on making optimised characters largely for the purpose of surviving. I didn't want that to be what happened, so I was much more willing to let players twist the rules a bit in order to make adjustments that fit the characters. As a result, I allowed for some rather broken characters (I let someone play a Synthesist Summoner; that should more than explain how lenient I was to anyone familiar with Pathfinder).

As a result of giving the players several boons and allowing for six of them, I found that encounters were rather trivial at first. It led to the first few sessions having a lot of back and forth as I adjusted the difficulty of enemies to account for the team. It's something I still haven't mastered, though I've definitely gotten better at regulating encounters to match the players.

As for how the players have been addressing the game, I'd say it's been bumpy. From the start, players have on a few occasions clashed. I've had players nearly sabotage the efforts of other team members, or kill characters the rest of the group planned on sparing. The term "murder hobos" has come up. However, initially a lot of this had to do with the fact that I did not make the consequences of these actions very clear. It occurred to me that while the book does state that in most cases killing enemies is a bad thing, Pathfinder does conform to the standard game rules of "enemies are things you kill for XP". And even then, some characters, bosses in particular, are stated to fight to the death, and have no details about how to deal with them if they are simply knocked out or captured instead. It's a lack of internal consistency (or at the very least a loophole) within the narrative of the books that I've had to navigate.

One thing this had led to is a lot of improvisation on my part. I've gotten into the habit of claiming to "invoke DM-fudge" in order to simplify rules. Given the way I run my game (which involves actively encouraging less traditional means of dealing with problems and using tactics and the environment), I fudge a great deal. Often times when discussing the game with my players, I'll mention some aspects that I've altered, and they find themselves agreeing that they preferred this method for the most part (usually because it's in they're favour, if I'm to be fair).

What I've Learned

The main takeaway that I have from this game is just the extent to which players subvert expectations. Not only in terms of the players versus the game itself, but also relative to each other. Team dynamics are often complex and illogical, and when they are presented with a loose set of rules, it can often lead to chaos.

I find myself bouncing between giving players more agency and less. In the first book of this campaign, there are a multitude of missions that can be completed in any order. However, I found myself having to limit this, since I couldn't fully craft each encounter for them to all be ready from the start. Were I to redo this game, perhaps I could, but given my player's feedback, it seemed like something more linear would have been preferred. In fact, since I've started scripting scenes and sequences, players seem much more willing to go along with my story and at least attempt to follow what they believe to be the ideal path. I think it largely had to do with the fact that no one wants to "lead" the party and make decisions about how to proceed for all of them.

Now, I don't know if I could say it's convinced me that linear narratives are better. I am still more inclined towards giving players choice when I can, and hard railroading still strikes me as bad practice. However some of these factors may be circumstantial to this campaign (after all, the game itself seems to suggest a correct or ideal path), so I've tried to consider what my experience means in context. What I've determined is that while choice is generally beneficial for players since it gives them agency, it has to be very clearly outlined, and the consequences have to be evident from the very beginning. Moreover, this is rendered even more important than usual the more players you have working together.

Those statements are of course self-evident when stated out loud, but it's amazing how often their forgotten or not fully appreciated. I'm guilty of that myself. But with this game, I'm getting better at learning how to recognise good and bad game gameplay decisions of that kind.

Another important lesson is the importance of balancing challenges for the player. Between balancing the player's equipment and levels, as well as the enemies they face, I've created many instances of "enemy AI" that I built to challenge the players without being unfair. I got into the habit of rolling enemy dice manually rather than in roll20, so that I can decide when to adjust the numbers (mainly to avoid the enemy getting a nat20 on a character and killing them off on a fluke). It's made me appreciate the significance of randomisation in games.

I play Warframe at a high tier so I'm acutely familiar with farming and "RNG". There's obviously a balance between giving players moments of gratification at achieving an unlikely success and presenting frustrating lack of success due to consequences they can't control. Evidently giving players perfect odds of success can lack engagement, but make it too hard and it's just annoying. So I've taken to putting much more of an emphasis on "circumstantial modifiers" as a way of balancing that out. Things like small bonuses for using an environmental factor, or planning ahead, or even simply based on how well the party is doing. I could easily see that as translating to "enemies do less damage when a player loses most of their health in a single attack" in some games. Honestly, it's a concept I think many games would benefit from.

Evidently, all of that is part of a game designer's normal job. It's a balance that needs to be found and struck, and it's unique to every game (and never quite perfect). What Pathfinder so far has been teaching me is how to do it on the spot. It's sharpening my instincts and in the process showing me the kind of designer I am. I understand my biases, my habits, where I need to reinforce my skills and where my desires as a designer can conflict with a player. For those reasons, I consider this experience invaluable (and very fun, for that matter), and look forward to continuing on with it as part of my journey to become as great a designer as I can be.

A Note On Fate

I mentioned it briefly, but I feel like I should mention it a bit more. Fate is quite simply my favourite tabletop system I've ever encountered. It's significantly more free-form than many other games, and allows for the sort of gameplay experiences you simply don't find in a more rigid system like Pathfinder. It does so by stripping down a lot of the numerical complexity and putting an emphasis on player and DM generated content.

Evidently its greatest drawback is that it requires a lot of creativity on the part of the DM and the players. The rules are vague, so people have to resort to just saying what they want to do, and the DM determining what sort of roll that translates to. It's also heavily skewed against players who want a more structured system. That said, for a designer like me, It's ideal, because it's pretty much all fudge. The core is so basic that from there, anything can be crafted by the DM, and the sorts of dynamic adjustments I was mentioning before are a matter of course. I think that in the one instance that I tested out DMing a Fate game, it taught me a great deal about how players act when given very little guidance. It results in something that's a lot more organic and fluid, and by observing those trends, it becomes much easier to build more sophisticated mechanics, rather than constructing a whole lot to begin with and watching it crumble when players break expectations with what they want to do.

Honestly, I would strongly recommend trying many different types of systems out. Each has their own unique traits that make them a very different experience. It's easy to think of all tabletop RPGs as being fundamentally the same, and to a degree it's somewhat true. But the slightest nuances in how each system is approached makes a huge difference, and understanding the implications of these decisions is a very compelling thing for any designer.

Winter Update

It's been quite some time since I've posted here. It certainly isn't for a lack of things to talk about or of desire to do so. In fact I have several posts I've been meaning to put up. However, life has kept me busy on most days and exhausted on others. It's left me in a state where I've been so preoccupied with clearing up the various items on my to-do list that sitting down to focus on a single item seems inefficient. But, for the most part that's been addressed, so I'll gradually start bringing myself back into a state of normalcy, at which point I'll eventually get around to writing out more of my thoughts in a formalised manner. For now, this will be a brief summary of how things have been going since my post in November.

Travel

The primary reason my backlog became so full had to do with the fact that I spent the bulk of December out of town. For most of that, I was in Florida visiting my parents (who now habitually spend winter there). I have to admit that while it was very jarring to be so warm at that time of the year, it was even stranger when I went back to Montreal to find that there still wasn't any snow. As for my actual time spent there, a lot of it was trying to mitigate the aforementioned backlog with my mom's laptop, but I was also working on several projects for this very site, which I'll get to later in this post.

I had all of one evening at home before heading off to Ottawa for New Years. It's become tradition that I spend that evening at my grandmothers. This however was the first year she was not there to spend it with us. However, I also found myself in a bit of a dilemma, since I was invited to meet up with some of my old high school friends for a New Years party. I ended up making a compromise and calling in to my aunt and uncle at midnight. The party itself was fairly fun, though admittedly most of us were far too inebriated to have any business going out into town as we did. Without getting too detailed, I spent the last half hour of 2015 cleaning up a friend's rather unfortunate mess. Still a fun night though.

Employment/Education

Sadly, I've yet to snag a job. It certainly isn't for lack of trying, but some of the conversations I had at and following MIGS made it pretty clear that I had my work cut out for me. One factor I had considered but largely ignored was that apparently there's a preference towards hiring from the local schools. It's understandable and very logical: there's a certain familiarity that breeds trust in reliable candidates. It also means that they're already somewhat attuned to the culture.

Let me be clear I'm not stating in an accusatory manner, nor am I blaming hiring bias for my lack of employment. Primarily I believe the main factor against me right now is the fact that my portfolio is for the most part mediocre. I know I could do better than a lot of what my projects show. But I cannot expect others to assume my competence. I directly plan on addressing that with some of my plans for the site (I'll get to that), but there is one other venue I am attempting.

While in Florida, I made the unfortunate discovery that Ubisoft's Graduate program, which I was hoping might serve as a good chance to get into the company, would not work. It didn't include design positions, and the domains it required education for were not those that I had studied in. But the mention of master's degrees made me think about additional studies.

I'll readily admit that I am not a fan of school. It lacks the consistent directed structure and "real life impact" factors that I really enjoy when doing work. However, I can't deny that it's a great venue through which to practice your skills and make connections. I had looked for game design post-grad studies in the past and found none, but this time I did find a single one at the University of Montréal. The single year duration was icing on the cake. I've sent in the application in the hopes that this might be the foot in the door I so clearly need, but it will be some time before I know what is to become of that.

There is one last thing to mention on the subject of employment. Though I'm still looking for a job to at the very least sustain me for the summer, in the meantime I've joined into a crowdtesting service. I've done plenty of testing in the past, and unlike some people I don't mind the challenge and monotony it involves. I'm hoping it will give me a chance to keep my skills in that domain sharp and provide at least some income while I continue my job hunt.

Tabletop Gaming

One thing that I have been engaged in since last year is tabletop gaming. Specifically Pathfinder. However, as of late it's taken up much more of my time. A big reason for this is that I took the leap and actually started running a game myself. I'll be reserving most of my thoughts on the subject in another post, but the short of it is that I've come to greatly appreciate the value that running a tabletop RPG has to a game designer.

Website

So after all that, what about this website? The truth is, while there are several things I would like to put on the site, I feel as though I have to clean them up further before I can justify doing so. However, I am also self conscious enough to realise that if I submit to my perfectionist tendencies then I'll never put up anything and as a result none of that content will ever be seen. So, I'm going to steadily resume working on some new content I have in mind for the site.

The biggest additions I have planned are documentation and more blog posts. I have a lot of documentation templates I've created over the years that I think show my skills at organising as well as my initiative when it comes to doing so. The blog posts (though I know they are likely not going to be read for the most part), I hope to use as a way of further communicating myself as an individual. They serve as a record in the event that I am scrutinised, and also give me a way to flesh out the thoughts in my head. Who knows, someday maybe one of them will actually be useful to someone.

Aside from these, I do have some more minor things I might add, such as some photography and other projects I do for recreational purposes. They likely won't show off my professional skills much (I'm not a bad photographer, but most of the shots I take are spur of the moment shots with no consideration for composition or quality; rather, just the subject).

As soon as I post this, I'll be starting on my post about tabletop, after which I'll be looking over a draft I had done for a post about my French heritage. There should be several additions to the site in the next little while.

MIGS15 And Future Plans

MIGS

I spent the last three days at MIGS, the Montreal International Games Summit. It was my first time at the conference, though from my four times at OIGC (the much newer Ottawa equivalent), the whole thing felt fairly familiar.

Admittedly, MIGS was not nearly as impressive as I expected it to be. Perhaps that was simply an effect of my expectations being that it would be proportionally larger than OIGC based on their respective industry presence (with Ottawa being minuscule compared to the juggernaut that is Montreal in the game industry). It might have also had to do with the fact that I attended at the lowest tier, and therefore didn't have access to the master classes. I think a lot of my impression simply had to do with the fact that so little of the event was geared towards design. There were plenty of talks about business, audio, and mobile development, but I didn't see all that much that really prompted me to think about video game design itself. I had also been told by some friends that had attended previous years that it felt more sparse and less organised this time around (and also more expensive; I won't deny that was a big hit to my funds, especially without a steady income as of yet), but I have no direct experience to gauge that myself.

That said however, it was still a very worthwhile experience. I did learn a few things from some of the talks, and others were just interesting to attend. The recruitment zone was also very useful to me, seeing as I'm still looking for a job. Several notable companies were there and I did manage to make some connections. I've been spending the last couple days following up, so hopefully it will result in something. As much as I've loved all this time for myself, I would really like to actually get into the workforce. I feel like a bit of routine and direction could go a long way towards motivating me, not to mention I've been eager for a very long time to get real industry experience.

Besides the job search, MIGS also turned out to be a great socialising event. I ran into several people I knew, including friends I had made at OIGC and other events. I even ran into some folks from the old Ottawa gaming scene as well as some old classmates. Later on during the after party I got to catch up with some of them which was nice. Additionally I got to see a fairly prominent figure in gaming slap his drinking buddy (who was also a significant figure in gaming) for fun. I get the impression that witnessing that taught me something profound about our industry, but I'm not sure what that is as of yet...

There was one last thing I found very worthwhile about this whole thing, and that can be encompassed in this photograph:

That right there is me awkwardly standing in between Amy Hennig and Warren Spector. Their names are easy enough to look up, but Hennig is of Jak and Daxter, Uncharted, and Last of Us fame, while Spector is known for the original Deus Ex. They are respectively icons of the cinematic and choice schools of games. They are also two of my personal idols as a game designer. It is my dream to some day achieve their caliber. My own ideas and aspirations for what I would like to make draw heavily from them. In fact, my ideal game would build off of the work both of them have done. Later on in the day, I was able to speak to Mr. Spector briefly and bounce one of my ideas off of him, and he gave me some brief but compelling advice. That alone made this entire thing worth it in my opinion...

What Now?

MIGS is done, and I must get back to my "work". In the last few months, things have been pretty crazy for me. The move, reorienting myself in a new city, my grandmother's passing, and the frequent visits to Ottawa that resulted in have all eaten away at my time. I haven't had all that much of a chance to build up from where I left off with my studies. My backlogs of to do lists swelled pretty intensely, and they're only now starting to get back down to modest levels.

Making Games

Aside from actively applying to jobs, the first and most important thing for me to do (at least according to the various professionals I've spoken to) is to start making games. Admittedly while I do have the skills to make games on my own, and with enough work I know I could make things that are superior to what I have in my portfolio right now, the truth is I prefer not doing everything on my own. Honestly it just feels incredibly lonely doing so. That, and it takes time to make games. It could be a while before I really have something polished to show off.

However, one thing I know I can do well is documentation. I'll be doing a lot of writing. Concepts, design documents, design experiments... I'll be writing all of them and putting them on this site. I have at least one game concept I'm prepared to create on my own, and a design doc will be the place to start with it anyway. Who knows, if my ideas are particularly compelling I might be able to attract someone to come and collaborate with me on a project. Time will tell, I suppose.

Playing Games

I've got a lot of games on my (mostly digital) shelf that have yet to be touched. I recently beat Undertale, but Dragon Age 2 and Metal Gear Solid 5 have been sitting in my "In Progress" section for quite some time, not to mention the scores of other games still waiting. I consider each game I play to be both for fun and education, so I tend to take my time on them, but now that I have a stretch of uninterrupted time, I think I'll be able to actually make some progress there. It would be nice to be up to speed with current gaming culture.

Aside from video games, I've also recently starting running a Pathfinder tabletop game over the internet with some friends of mine. I've been playing a lot of tabletop in the past year and I've really taken a liking to it. Running this game (Hell's Rebels is the campaign) is something I've wanted to do for quite some time now, and it strikes me as an excellent practice in game design (especially when I've been making my own campaign separately). Already my little party of murder-hobos have subverted expectations laid out by the book, and I've had to find ways to adapt it to them, which is proving to be really challenging, but also really fun. I'll likely do a post mortem of my experience on this blog eventually.

Tl;dr

So, in short, MIGS was fun and I got to meet a lot of really swell people, and now I'll be spending the next several weeks working on building up my portfolio and playing some games. I'm eager to get started!

Pins and Personal Logo

I meant to write about this quite some time ago. Before I moved, in fact. However the move to Montreal happened much faster and as a result writing about this topic went to the back burner. But now that things have settled a bit, here we are.

You may be wondering what that is, or at least why I posted it. If you've met me before, or looked at one of my online accounts or business cards, you may recognise it. You've probably already noticed it on this very site. The pin on my jacket is of my personal logo. In this post, I'm going to talk a little about what it is, and what it represents. It's not especially deep, but it may serve as a little window into my mind and interests.

The first thing to note is that this logo is a combination of several elements: the Greek letter psi, a trident, and a fish hook. All of these combine to form the letter J (my first initial). Each of the components of this symbol represents an interest of mine.

Psi is a fairly straightforward symbol. I am an avid fan of psychology and the social sciences. How the mind works is something I find fascinating to study, especially in how it relates to others in the grand network of what we call society. The mind is the domain I feel most strongly connected to, as it is perhaps the subject I find most interesting to learn about, and the one I wish to direct my efforts towards. My greatest ambition is to not only better understand the mind, but to give others pause to explore that venue themselves, and perhaps in the process learn something about themselves, others, and the world they live in. Video games have a unique place in how they can affect people, both emotionally and intellectually. That is a power I wish to harness and use for the betterment of mankind, even in the most seemingly mundane ways.

The second component I mentioned was the trident. This is more thematic than the other components. Simply put, I really like water. Blue is my favourite colour, I always played with Poseidon in Age of Mythology, most of my favourite animals growing up were aquatic, and at one time I thought I wanted to become a marine biologist. You should have seen my rooms prior to moving. The first was completely covered in dolphins and aquatic themes (I even painted the room with that in mind), and the second had an underwater wallpaper across a sizeable chunk of the room. See below:

Yeah, I really liked aquatic stuff. I still do, though I'm perhaps not as obsessed as I once was. Nonetheless, a lot of things about water I find relate to me. Calmness, going with the flow, adapting to one's surroundings, knowing how to find the most effective path, playing the long game (think erosion)... I think there is a lot to be said for having a "watery" temperament, as opposed to a fiery one (same with the other elements; that reminds me, maybe I should toss my idea of the elemental personality types up here some time).

The last aspect is the hook. At first glance, this could very easily be tied in with the trident aspect, and that wouldn't be inaccurate. But it also wouldn't be accurate to just stop there. A big part of the hook's symbolism related to interpersonal relations and the idea of debate and tactics. I've always been a big fan of debate and discussions. My father was a lawyer and my grandfather a diplomat/real estate agent, so I guess it's something of a hereditary predisposition. One of the ideas I value highly is the that of letting your target come to you (i.e. baiting). It simply makes tactical sense to prompt your subject to spend their efforts coming to you. When done correctly I've found it to be far more effective than any offense, and as such I've integrated that philosophy into a lot of my behaviour. I don't impose, I ask. I don't attack, I parry. I let others come to me, and provide what benefits I can to keep them coming. That may sound more devious or creepy than it actually is, and there is a lot more complexity and nuance to the idea than I can properly convey without turning this into a wall of text, but sufficed to say the hook represents my appreciation for the effectiveness of luring techniques.

And finally, they all come together to create a J. A J that stands for Justin. Me. Not much to say there beyond that. So, why put it on a pin? Well, I've always liked wearing self-identifying symbols for one. In high school it was a shark necklace (which now that I think about it, I got while in Montreal, heh), in university it was a Homestuck Virgo pin, and now it's this. Furthermore, I find it to be a good ice breaker (people like to ask about it: see what I mean about the hook thing?). Plus, it shows off my aesthetic and design skills. In a way, this pin allows me to wear my heart on my sleeve. And for someone who doesn't like talking about himself to other people (don't get me wrong, I like talking about myself, but only if the person wants to listen. That's why I like writing here: people only read it if they want to), that's worth slapping a piece of plastic on my chest.

Seems like a lot of consideration to put into a simple symbol, doesn't it? That's just how I roll.

EDIT: There is one thing I neglected to mention, and that's the concept of three. You might notice I mentioned that my symbol is made of three components, and at least two of those components are three-pronged symbols themselves. This isn't accidental. Three is my favourite number (Actually it's 31, but 3 is my favourite single digit), however it's also indicative of another perspective of mine: that of the trichotomy (which you might have guessed is also where I got my user and website name from). More and more I've found modern culture to focus on the ideas of dichotomies. Us versus them mentalities that place everything in black and white, good and evil, right and left. In terms of social and political conditions, polarising radicalism has become more and more rampant lately.

This attitude is something that has always concerned me, but in more recent years I've come to appreciate the importance of dispelling false dichotomies. The term trichotomy is my way of pointing out that there is a path besides any two extremes, and that path is the nuanced approach of the moderate, that can see the values and validity of both sides and pursue solutions that work towards a benefit without alienation. Of course, the various spectrum of opinion are rarely split into just three sides either, but the simple leap from black and white to black and white AND grey is a significant enough distinction that I believe it must be brought back to the common conscience. As someone who holds many liberal views, but finds the radicalism and exclusionary tactics of the extreme left distasteful and even harmful, a big part of my identity is trying to bring to light the moderate perspective of someone who has not been indoctrinated to a single "side", but instead seeks to understand and mediate the two extremes. If that seems like a confusing or overly simplistic statement, rest assured I'll explain myself in due time, as I further populate this blog with my thoughts.

Montreal: A One Month Impression

As of writing this, it's been just a little over a month that I've lived in Montreal. I've made my first trip back to my old home as a non-resident and had my first out of town guests over. I think it's safe for me to consider myself a resident of the city. And with that, now seems as good a time as any to give my impressions of it.

Coming from a town like Ottawa, Montreal is a massive change. The city is bustling. There is a variety of people, culture, places, and experiences here that simply cannot be compared. It helps that in this city I live just a stone's throw away from downtown, right in the heart of everything, whereas in Ottawa I lived in a suburb close but not quite in the heart of the city. However even with that taken into account, the difference is staggering.

Among the first things I observe in a city is the people. And call me vain, but what I noticed first was their fashion sense. Comparatively speaking, people in Montreal dress very well. For context here, Ottawa is a government city. People there by and large dress like bureaucrats: pret-a-porter suits or simple dress shirt, tie, slacks... And sneakers. With all due respect to the Tenth Doctor, there's something wrong with wearing a suit and sneakers to work (I know why, but still). As someone who dresses in three piece suits all the time and sticks out like a sore thumb more often than not, there was something deeply satisfying about coming to this place and finding groups of people similarly dressed. Right away it gave me the sense that I fit in. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of hoodies and t-shirts and guys with beards too, but at least my style has some representation in there as well. Oh, and I neglected to mention, but the girls here seem to take way more care of themselves and their appearance. Maybe the over-exposure to university students wandering around the campus in sweatpants and pajamas is to blame here, but there's something really refreshing about seeing people (both guys and girls) putting in the effort to look pretty.

Another factor is the language. Montreal is unique in Canada in that it's distinctly French, but is sufficiently metropolitan that you will still find plenty of English. It's funny considering Ottawa, what with being the capital and sitting on the border to Quebec, is dominated by English save for a few pockets of French. I know this because I spent my childhood in those pockets and University out of them. In the first year out of a French school, I started losing my French so fast it terrified me (and I was good at French too). Coming here, I feel it's much easier to be bilingual. Of course, my Ontario accent is glaring enough, but I imagine it will change with time (for the record, Ontario French is like a weird half breed between France French and Quebec French; not all Canadian French is the same).

And then there's the culture. Food, entertainment, lifestyle... Everything here is just so much more flavourful. As one might expect from a government city (especially a Canadian government city), Ottawa is fairly milquetoast. Granted, for the most part it suited me well enough (don't get me wrong, I do really like Ottawa, as much as this post may suggest otherwise; it was simply too dull for me), but there's something about the looseness and easygoing attitude in this city that I feel I really needed in my life. It's encouraging me to go out and see things I might otherwise have ignored. I'm experimenting. I'm wandering and looking to unlock the secrets of the city, and I can tell that there is so much more here for me to explore than there ever was in my home town. I won't deny, it is a huge perk that I am an absolute sucker for French Canadian food (lumberjack breakfasts, poutine, smoked meat, bagels, etc.) and this city is known for most of my favourite dishes (heck, my favourite seasoning is called "Montreal steak spice).

I should note that though most of my comparisons have been to Ottawa, I've had the good fortune of traveling a lot in my youth. I've been to many large cities in Europe and even a couple further East (before it became quite as tumultuous as it is today). I've seen both historical cities and modern cities, and everything in between. Montreal of course has many of these things. Just from looking at certain parts of it the historical influence of the French is obvious. I live very close to the Old Port area and have visited it a few times now. It's as touristy as any tourist trap might be. Admittedly, that's something I've never been fond of in cities. It usually lacks the authenticity of the real thing in favour of snagging a few extra coins out of tourists who don't know any better. Fortunately, as a modern city Montreal isn't nearly as caught up in this aspect of its culture as many other cities are. The Old Port is nice to visit, but it's also fairly well delineated and distinct from other regions of the city, which cater to every type of interest that might be sought (except of course the quiet farmland). There's something I appreciate deeply about a city that can acknowledge and celebrate its past, but doesn't dwell on it (comments about Quebec separatism aside).

So, all that is to say, in the month I've lived here, Montreal already feels very much like home. It is a city that is very much my speed, that I feel not only comfortable in, but also exited by. As I've returned to my efforts to find employment (no luck so far, but I'm preparing for my next volley as I write this; business cards, networking, new personal projects, the whole shebang), I do so with a sense that I'm on the right track, and that I made the right choice in coming here to forge my new life.

Now, I just have to start building it.

A New Home

Since last Wednesday, I had been visiting Montreal. I only just got back today a few hours back. I'm happy to say, it was a trip well worth taking.

It has been my intention to move from Ottawa to Montreal for a good few years now. There was a myriad of reasons for this, and I'll get to those in a moment, but to me such a move has been something of a no-brainer for quite some time. And as of this past weekend, I can proudly say that I've found the condo of my dreams. It covered everything on my list and then some. And thanks to a wonderful real estate agent by the name of Stéfanny Fodor, I'm happy to announce It will be mine come August.

So, why the move from my hometown? Don't get me wrong, I love Ottawa and all things considered this house has proven an ideal base of operations, but this move is in many ways necessary for me. The most evident reason is the career opportunities: Montreal is a massive hub for game development, AAA and otherwise. There is a massive thriving industry there that simply does not exist in Ottawa (at least not right now). Additionally, Montreal is a much bigger and more lively city (let's be fair, Ottawa is about as tame as it gets as far as major population centres go).

But most importantly, this move is also a change. Barring my visits to other countries, I've lived in Ottawa my entire life, and truth be told I've grown a bit too comfortable here. In this period in my life, that sort of stagnation isn't something I want weighing me down. So, to me it makes perfect sense to go out of my comfort zone by going somewhere new. It forces me to break old habits and take advantage of all the opportunities life has given me. I'm still young after all, so this is exactly the time to build a new life for myself.

Of course, as far as risks go it's still pretty safe. I'm only a short bus or train ride from my home and family. I already have friends who are staying in Montreal. I'm also bilingual so there's no language barrier. Not to mention I have financial support at the ready if I really need it. I'm extremely fortunate to have all of that going for me, but you can be sure I'm not about to squander it. I'm going to put in the effort to make the most of my advantages.

I'm already updating my CV and applying to jobs. With any luck I'll land a position before I move. If not, well I'm just going to keep trying. Persistence is necessary when it comes to this sort of stuff. I'm confident that sooner or later I'll find my in. Not certain (because one can never be entirely certain of anything), but confident. And for now, that's enough.

Wish me luck! I'll take care of the rest.

 

PS. Stéfanny Fodor really is an exceptional real estate broker. She was highly professional and competent, made sure to filter options to match my needs and budget, carefully detailed and explained every step of the process, was fluently bilingual, and was also just a very enjoyable individual to spend time with (the coffee and free rides around the city also helped). Having seen how other brokers handle their tasks and how this process can go, my experience was remarkably smooth, and she is in large part to thank for that.

If you happen to be looking to buy/sell a place in Montreal, she's definitely worth looking up. She comes with my highest recommendation. Merci, Stéfanny!

Starting Content Complete

I'm proud to say that as of now, I've added all the content I can think to add at the moment for this site. Barring a couple small exceptions, I've included just about every worthwhile piece of content I've produced in recent memory. Those few exceptions I'll be looking into at a later date. For all intents and purposes, this site is on its gold release.

Now I can go back to making new things to add to it. Or at least, I will after my trip to Montreal.

New Beginnings

As of yesterday, I have officially graduated from BIT (the Bachelor of Information Technology, more specifically, the Interactive Multimedia and Design stream). It was five years of difficult work and many challenging projects, but it was greatly valuable for me as a designer. I left high school with very little design training; all I had was some artistic skill and a whole lot of ideas. Now I've also come to appreciate how difficult bringing ideas into reality can be. That said, I also know that it's well within my ability.

And so, with school done, I can begin the pursuit of my dream: to become a video game designer. I've already begun the job hunt, and am seriously pursuing a move to Montreal. As much as I love Ottawa, it's much too quiet for my tastes, and Montreal has the big studios and international recognition I want to tap into as I start making a name for myself in the industry. I have the skills and the knowledge, so now it's just a matter of getting the experience.

That makes this the perfect time for me to start this site. It will serve as a record of my quest. I have no illusions that it won't be difficult, and I can't pretend to know where it might take me. Will I achieve the dream of becoming the creative director for a major franchise I came up with? Will my ideas be the source of inspiration for future generations? Will I make games that people around the world enjoy? Or will my life take me somewhere else? Perhaps I'll find fulfillment in something I've never considered. Who knows. But some day, I'll be able to look back through this site and be able to answer those questions.

I invite you to follow me on that journey. As I go, I'll update this site with my work, the major events of my life, and whatever thoughts I might think pertinent enough to write about. Hopefully, it will be inspirational, thought-provoking, and entertaining. With any luck, all three at once. But, as with everything else in life, only time will tell.