Homage to Just A Geek

Homage to Just a Geek, headline image
A few months ago I read Wil Wheaton’s ‘Just a Geek’ and enjoyed it tremendously. Wil gave an unflincingly honest and humorous look into his life. It made me reflect on mine. This is my little homage to Wil’s book.

An autumn morning a few days ago

Merciless clock and a light breakfast get me going and out of the door before 8am. Often that’s before my wife and 2 year old boy or wife get up, but this morning they do.
I’m at the door when Eino, my little guy comes up to me and says (in Finnish).
– Daddy goes to work.
– Yes, daddy goes to work.
– Daddy drives fast (grabbing my leg)
– Daddy tries.
Then he asks for a hug and kiss, wife too, and our cat begs a nose-kiss, and I’m on my way.

The morning is quite beautiful, crispy. I drive the beach road in Helsinki area with the sea warmer than air whisking up a pale fog. Morning sun turns it to a wall of white, hiding the ocean, where nearby islets show only as silhouettes. Aware that soon enough sun will do the northern trick and stay down most of the day I just enjoy the glare. Gravel crunches under tires of my rather creaky 20+ year old bicycle as I speed up and feel mighty fine.

Just under 10 kilometers away, in Helsinki center, awaits my workplace, an old an respected game company. I have the pleasure of leading art production for a game. We have a great little team. I enjoy it like no job before. But I must say none of this, what I have in my life now, came easy to me.

An autumn morning 9 years ago

I wake up slowly in my singles flat past 11 am. It was another long night of single-player gaming and reading. Since it is late I start the day with lunch, a packet of spinach lettuces with jam which I figure is healthy not realizing how little spinach there is or protein or anything else positive for that matter. Then few meters to my desk and I’m at work, 60 minutes and I’m done. The too rare and random web design and illustration jobs I have are like that. I get by with them, unemployment support and dreaming of winning the lottery.

Soon I’m out of the door. The apartment building I live in is a good lonely distance from Tampere center and offers forest trails right from the front door. I run a lot, it keeps me reasonably sane and unappealingly skinny. The forest is beautiful, dark evergreen with rays of sunshine slipping through the trees and touching ground at pleasant angles. I have an eye for beauty but am not feeling it now – what I feel is discontent.

I’m 27 years old but have no proper profession. I have almost a degree in Cultural Anthropology which I am in no hurry to finish or interested in as a job. I have had a graphic design business of my own for 5 years, on the side of studies, but have no contact network, no success worth mentioning or real interest to continue.

What I do enjoy and think I can do is multimedia/games/movies/animation, mainly the artwork and animation side of it. Still despite my projects and studies(I focused on Multimedia clearly more than my major) I’ve only done some random jobs of the type.

The issue in brief is lack of contacts(most jobs go to people people know), the lack of valid degree and especially(and this is in hindsight) not having that important first trainee position which I never apply for because I think I won’t be valued if they don’t pay me from day one. (Very poor thinking right there)

I moved to Tampere to escape getting stuck in my studies at Jyväskylä University and to do Animation Production diploma course. However the program taught me nothing new and I also failed my personal one-man animation production attempt – was stumped by technical issues and lost the momentum realizing how huge project I had undertaken and how slowly it progressed.

I am restless, disillusioned and worried my life is going nowhere. I have moved 2 times within one year from one shared flat to another, looking for something not knowing what, and finally to border of Tampere to be in peace and alone. Same applies to relationships, pretty much.

In stark contrast my friends are doing so well in their studies, professional lives and relationships that there is no comparison with their lives and mine.

I return from the run with a mild high from endorphins and for some time I can forget all that crap and can think. Standing sweaty and energized in the spartan apartment I feel a need for new approach. I will build an animation production in small steps and make a learning material out of it and will apply for a grant to do it all. And I will forget graphic design and develop my 3D skills with more diligence, especially the hardest part, characters.

Autumn morning in 2010

I walk my wife to the door, kiss her and wish her a good day at work. I put tea on boil, power up my computer and move our pre-teen feline beast off my keyboard. It goes with a flick of a tail and disapproving purr. I check where I was with work last night and it is looking good. I almost forget the tea, going to shop or even cooking for my wife as I delve deep into a project I am optimistic about.

In many a regard things have not changed. I’m still energized by ideas and projects. I’m still more unemployed than not and now officially so as I have recently closed down my company. I’m a partner in another company, we make movies, but that isn’t helping my lack of income. I have a resume worth showing, including 5 years of game work for a high rated (freeware) game, and have made a demoreel and a personal animated short movie. In many ways last 6 years have been a lot better than the low point of 2004.

But things have come to a head. I’m married and we’re been planning on having a baby. This isn’t about me, self development and making just enough to get by anymore. It is about family and responsibility. I feel a pressing need to succeed and have been burning midnight oil for 2 years now.. I pretty much pass out once a week from lack of sleep. We’ve talked I should get a job at supermarket or something, anything.

It is not as if I hadn’t tried. Lately there has been a major Recession which may have stumped my serious attempt with a proper demoreel in 2009. Then again I have found the reel broke a few basic rules, so maybe it was me. Yet I know I am good at what I do. This year I got into GamePro recruitment program and was, in their words, their first and foremost offer to game companies for Art. However all companies initially looking for a 3D artist backed away from the program before it could start.

Regardless of all his my latest venture has me excited and optimistic, once again. I’ve been writing a computer graphics blog on and off for 8 months and it has gathered some momentum. With recent tutorial competition wins I’ve been inspired to create a commercial tutorial about 3D Animation Character Creation. I feel very confident I can make a good product. Hell, I’ve been fiddling project like this since 2004.

Sometime in the afternoon our little catmonster does an inspired rip-a-rip on our sofa and gets me off the computer for a while, chasing her. After the cat is satisfied I still remember her, apparently not caring what type of attention it is, it leaves the furniture alone. Unable to focus I do my customary open positions-check. There’s an UI artist inquiry from an unknown company called Supercell. I do not specialize in UI but what the heck, a quick application can’t hurt.

Next day I have an interview and sign a contract a day later. Work starts in December. Turned out they needed an animator and a 3D artist and I fit both bills. And almost on the same day that I start the work my wife gets a positive on pregnancy test.

I am my choices. (I am not Jack’s colon. I don’t get cancer and kill Jack.)

Even though it was a lucky change that had me meet the right people at right moment, I believe my choices got me here. I chose my focus in 2004. I have done 3D since 1999 but choosing it over other things gave momentum. I chose not do work I don’t have passion for – I rather did projects(often unpaid) that helped me improve. In the end, especially as I was a complete dumbass and never thought about applying for a trainee position, it was my choice to live many years as a starving artist. And in the end it was worth it.

What kept me going was some unfounded belief in myself. Had you told me 9 years ago where I would be now, I would have believed you and said ‘Good, that’s sounds about right’.

So there you go. This is the truth and for me putting it out here it is scary. Like most people who write I also try to show only my good side. But in a way it is a facade even when it is true.

If there’s anything I hope you take home from this is that it is never too late to start anew. And if you are young, say around 27, and don’t yet have a career or are unhappy with what you do now.. if so then please shut up and do something about it.

Thanks for reading and I believe I can take your feedback(with only a little dread) should you choose to give it. Please do. And for a more personal, entertaining and interesting story go read Wil Wheaton’s book. It kicks ass.

Be an Expert

Be an Expert, image
What makes an expert? Why do companies want experts? These are examples and thoughts of a 3D artist working in games.

Lately I’ve been happy to see game industry growing with the expansion of consumer base which has lead to more jobs. This very clear locally here in Finland – the games industry is blooming. There’s a Finland-special in Edge magazine 04/2013 that touches on the bloom. Another even more entertaining read, though not as recent, is this VG247 article which is available online for free: http://www.vg247.com/2012/02/03/scandimania-adventures-in-finnish-games-part-one/

There is demand for artists, programmers (especially server-specialized) and more, and one thing always looked for, and often found lacking, is expertise.

What makes an Expert?

Common definition for an expert is deep knowledge and experience of a topic. 10000 hour rule is often mentioned for mastering a subject. 25000 hour rule also comes up since these days. Have you noticed how many people ‘graduate’ as Doctors these days? Lucky for us working in games and in other creative fields the important bit is actual experience.

Experience and knowledge makes it easier to solve problems and to do it creatively, and more so it gives base for coming up with new solutions and identifying problems that others haven’t noticed or anticipated – even solving problems that have no pre-existing solutions to look up. This is why, in games industry, anything beyond a junior position requires solid working experience. Hobby projects do count – it is a matter of showing you have done the work.

Experts can also communicate. An expert understands the idea well enough to tell others about it and has some social skill to deliver it. The other skilled people, ‘backroom pros’ do still have a place in the games industry, but a social and communication skills make a difference and create leaders.

Finally and I think most importantly experts are good students before anything else. People become experts only because they study, try, work, learn and teach. And a person who is so invested in learning a subject does more than learn to do it – she finds the core information, brakes it down to base parts – gets to the system within. Knowing a thing so well helps her use it effectively and improve it.

In the end it is a matter of curiosity and love for the subject – the things that make you put in the required hours and thinking. I don’t believe in shortcuts.

What about Natural Talent?

I’m not getting into subject of talent or how it would help. Superb Radiolab does it so much better. Listen to Secrets of Success. http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blog/2010/jul/26/secrets-of-success/

Personally I don’t think I have any particular talent for art. I just like creating things and work at learning it.

Why companies want experts?

Experts are people who know their craft exceedingly well and can work together. Working with such people is good. Sure they make mistakes but those are rarely spectacular. And because experts are such great students they can also teach, help others get there. And being students the experts also know that they can’t know everything and don’t pretend otherwise.

There you go, my take on experts. I have the pleasure of working with them 🙂
[clear] [related_posts]

Blogging time out


An update has lately been a rare thing. I feel I should tell you why.

What’s up with CGmascot?

When CGmascot begun yours truly was a freelancer with time to write about my interest; tutorial-like articles and little researchy pieces. The blog was my hobby(still is). I had at least one article per week at start, but things changed quite radically with a steady day job in game industry and lately with a new addition to my little family. Hence the time I have for the blog, or for hobbies in general, is very close to zero.

Also it doesn’t help that before getting employed I took on an extensive tutorial project that is still ongoing. Tutorial takes away what little blog time I have. But rest assured in the end the blog will benefit from the tutorial. As it is rather massive in scope, I can pick things from it to share here at CGmascot. Little sharing also helps the tutorial become known.

Long story short: I will still add do the blog occasionally. Please check back sometime. Better yet, subscribe to the RSS feed or Email Updates – then you will be notified when new content is up. And have no worries about subscribing – I don’t do spam.

Cool stuff

To lighten things up here’s a few things I’ve enjoyed lately.

  • Supercell (as in the company I work at) storm cloud, impressive pictures.
  • Game Development History – All Your History Are Belong to Us, a very good documentary series about game companies and their games
  • Indie Game Revolution – Gametrailers Bonus Round talks with great indie developers about creating games today
  • TED – brilliant talks on various topics – like this one and the follow up

Comments are always welcome.a href=”http://www.cgmascot.com/design/surface-flow-matters/”

Gunshine.net Beta release, Supercell insider and articles


Today marks the release of Gunshine.net Beta, a free browser action roleplaying game, and publishing of the company behind the game, Supercell, and investors behind it. This post tells about the above, about my involvement, and links to other articles.

Gunshine.net Beta

The game is technically special, perhaps even amongst the first in a new wave of browser gaming. Why? Scores of other current browser games(MMOs included) are static and slow-paced. Gunshine brakes the mold: It is a fast real-time strategic action with friends – that’s the special bit. Also it is all free and easy to get into and play. I know it sounds like marketing spiel but that really is an accurate description. Fans of online roleplaying games and/or fast action, or those bored with old generation of online social games, will likely enjoy it. Other developers may follow with more fast paced browser games.

Gunshine runs in browser without special things to install. Game does require Flash-plugin but then again 90%+ people who use browser have it already. Ipad and Iphone-users though are out of luck without Flash-support (for now).

Gunshine.net is still in early Beta meaning it has bugs and the content is in progress. But worry not – there is plenty to play at the present. Currently we invite Beta testers to play and give feedback so we can improve and build what we have. The game is built to grow step by step.

Supercell and my part

In short Supercell is a promising startup with strong backing and a great creative team. I can say some well known game industry veterans have seen Gunshine.net and Supercell worth investing in. Supercell-site and the articles linked below will tell you more about the company and about our backers. I’m more on solid ground writing about our creative process.

My work at Supercell is why this blog has been quiet-like since December 2010. I’m happy to be part of a team of professional game developers. We have a flexible pipeline on the art-side, each can and do juggle many tasks. However quite naturally the majority of certain type of tasks go to people who spezialise in them. I create 3D and 2D assets, weighing on the former, and lots of animations. To me it feels quite sweet a role – so far getting to model and animate many of the coolest creatures in game. Regardless mine is just a small part of the whole, the team together make it all happen.

I hope to share more inside info about our creative process later.

Articles

Here are some articles about Gunshine.net and about Supercell. I will keep adding links for a while to this list.

So, what do you think? Is Gunshine a hit or a miss? If games like Gunshine are not the future of browser gaming then what is?

Working Independently or for a Company?


This is food for thought to those comparing solo freelance freedom with employment and teamwork – perspective of a person going from one type or working to another.

My Change for one way of working to another

Since December 2nd 2010 I have been part of a new game company, Supercell, as a Game Artist. My main tasks are character animation and modeling, but since it is small company still I get to do many other things as well. It is teamwork.

Before this I’ve been a freelancer for 10 years, partly on the side of studies. I think it was 2002 when I last worked for someone else, before this. The change is reason for this article.

Company or independent?

I’m biased – I fell in love with teamwork early on at multimedia project on first year at university or more likely before that playing basketball and rinkball with friends. Regardless of this in working life I’ve found myself working far more by myself, for clients, rather than in someones employ. I’ve done everything myself from web pages to 3D-animation and to accounting for quite some time. And even thought some projects I am/have been in are teamwork, like U6 Project in Team Archon, those team are either spread far apart like Archon or work in otherwise scattered manner . It is not the same as in a small team driven game company.

This article really comes down to what feels good – working alone or in a team. That’s the change I feel most meaningful.

Here is a little comparison-table – quite obvious stuff.
[styled_table width=”600px”]

Freelancing Company job
You decide how you work for your client, and when. You’re the creator. Team together or team lead works out the how and when. Team has better changes to come up with more creative solutions.
You handle everything in the project – the tasks you like and the ones you don’t. People specialize – if you are best at something you get to do a lot of that.
The scope of yur project is limited by resources and your skills meaning smaller projects or painfully long production times for big projects. A good team can create pretty much anything and fast – a bad team can spend endless hours and get nothing decent done.
You need to be a generalist – good at many things. Everybody in the team needs to excel at something.
You need to get along with your clients and yourself. All in team need to work well together.
Feedback and rewards are external. Feedback and rewards come from inside and out.
You learn by doing and from following others (i.e. online). You learn from and teach your teammates.
[/styled_table]

The thing about team is that working together on a common goal gives it more importance and momentum, keeps ideas flying and everybody gets feedback for their work. If things work right, there is a sense of We and Us, together. Capacity to do teamwork really is one reason humans survive and thrive, so it comes no suprise working in a good team also feels rewarding. On the other hand one wrong piece in a team can break the whole machine.

Your choice depends on what you like and what you are like, of course. Not everyone works best with others and not everyone can make it by themselves (nevermind the steady paycheck employment brings). Any good or bad experiences? Would you rather go solo or work with others?

Personal Animation Production Critique

I feel it is only right I rip into my own work just as I did earlier with work of others.  So here is a personal animated short movie of mine from 2009 and critique for it.

Animation

I made the animated short Flight or Fight in spring 2009. It was a technical exercise that got out of hand, big time. It goes against what I recommend, to begin with I had no story to tell. You can read about the production process here, a sort of an making of. I’m a bit ashamed to show this short for it is anything but my best work, but having said many times that I’ve learned by doing I think I am obliged to show this, too, as I learned so much from it.

Short is also available in HD(recommended) at Vimeo.

Critique

I will judge the animation on how it achieves the illusion of life, or not – following the animation principles which I wrote about here.

Story takes place underwater.  One of the top animators in game industry told me, kindly, that it was an extremely silly choice – very hard animate.
Underwater setting provides water resistance which acts like a brake and a force, both at once.  It will have effect on Dynamics, Balance, Follow Through and in small ways pretty much everything else. In short it will make the animation look floaty, artificial, which is a problem already with normal 3D animation and underwater setting only adds to it.

[styled_table]
IMPRESSION PROBLEM AREA DEFINED
All animation seems to forget water resistance except when convinient. Underwater, especially with any type of current, holding balance and staying still would take far more of an effort than shown here. Moves are also too effortless and he Fishman stays on the bottom like glue when he wants to and he sinks too fast. Dynamics, Dynamic Balance, Anticipation
Fishman movements lack fluidity, the round flowing feel and and up’n down and side to side movement you’d expect from underwater motion. Arcs, Variance, Anticipation
Fish movements in particular lack weight and strenght – the speed and acceleration and decelartion is not quite right. Dynamic, Anticipation, Arcs, Timing
Neither character changes their volume in motion. Lack thereof is best seen where the fish is caught under the big root and fights free. Squash and Stretch
[/styled_table]

In addition to the above, my animation has acting problems.  The fisman doesn’t convey his thoughts well enough.  Stronger poses and better timing would help – and really better acting, too.

Post scriptum

Regardkess of the short not meeting my standards in animation, I’m quite happy with it as a technical achievement – that I got it done despite the problems.  The colours are nice too and the mood works sometimes. Of course the most important thing is I learned a lot.
What about you – any production experiences to share, or anything related? Feel free to write below.

Ultima 6 Project review

Ultima 6 Project was released in July 2010.  Now I’d like to tell you how it has been received. This is not about blog topics but a personal thing – but important enough as such that I want to share.

What is U6P?

Ultima 6 Project is a massive free role-playing game for PC and Mac.  It is an old game classic Ultima VI re-made and improved – our version of it.  Us here is we, the Team Archon.  You can see my part of the project  here, and read my take on the benefits of project like this.  I’m attaching some images from the game(click to view in full).

Ultima 6 Project screenshotUltima 6 Project screenshotUltima 6 Project screenshotUltima 6 Project

After the summer release U6P has been reviewed in a number of places and with quite positive results, too.  I’m linking to the official online reviews below (those that I know of).

Ultima 6 Project Reviews online

Ultima 6 Project Magazine reviews

Pelit-magazine(Finnish) gave U6P score of 90/100.  I’m translating some of the final bullet-points from the review for you, below.  I won’t show any scans from the magazine as that is usually frowned upon.  If you know Finnish, get the mag and check out the full one-spread review. And if you know some other magazine that has reviewed U6P, please write below – let me know.

  • Feels like a real Ultima.
  • Plot takes hold and takes you away.
  • Lots to do.
  • Realtime combat is tricky.
  • Camera plays tricks on you.

Pelit-magazine final words are:  “Ambitious fan-project is a mind-opening experience”.  They also gave the game Pelit Magazine Recommends-stamp of approval.

[box type=”note” size=”large”] If you know of any more U6P reviews, please let me know and I will add them to the list.  Comments are also welcome.[/box]

Hobby Project Benefits

Oftentimes people have hobbies that either offer a fun challenge they can’t get at work or help them learn new things. Some take on hobbies to learn and to grow resume – to find a work in the field of their hobby. In my article Stay motivated one thing I suggested taking on a project together with others.  It is what I did, and now I wish to tell you how it was for me – the benefits and the costs.

I joided Ultima 6 Project in December 2005. I’ve written more about the project and what I did here. The game was released in July 2010, after 9-10 years of production.
My motivation to join was to learn more about game production and low-poly work and because I like old Ultima games.  And I did indeed learn by doing – within year or two it became easy, like a fun part-time job.  Being in production meant working with others, meeting common goals, having deadlines and management reminding of things to be done – you know, all the stuff that makes team projects addictive, rewarding and at times stressful.

Now before going to the cons and pros, please note U6P is unique and a seriously long venture, way beyond anything sensible. So the ups and downs of more reasonable project are probably different.

What project as a hobby cost me

  • Oodles of free time – poof, gone. I don’t care to think what else fun or useful I could have done with that time. Especially after noticing I was no longer learning, just working, I couldn’t help but wonder what other game project would give me a tougher challenge and more current generation work samples or even, you know, pay.  I did consider several times if continueing was sensible.
  • Some dark brown hair – gone grey.   A serious hobby is at times tough like any job.
  • Some paid work. Sometimes it has been so intense, I have let freelance opportunity(nothing big) slide past to meet project goals first.

Having said the above costs, dealing with them or not was completely up to me.

What I gained

  • I soon learned what I had wanted to learn.
  • Motivating and encouraging enviroment and a fun part-time job, though no pay.
  • Friends.  Project drew together some great people.
  • Credit of being an important part of a game project like no other(very large in scope and in work years) – probably certifies all main team members as insane.
  • An Intel-interview about my work.
  • Loads of work samples from the field of low-poly 3D.  And I am happy to say that despite my initial worries about the usefulness of such skills, they are very good to know and low-poly 3D is anything but dead as a field of work.
  • Tutorials. Made a few to assist our team members and, later, for anyone interested. assist new folks wanting to join our project.  Sort of got me started with the whole learning blog thing.
  • [highlight type=”light”]6 months after this article:[/highlight] A job in game industry. Having released a big well rated game was a very important factor in landing a job.

So yes it was worth it.  Especially now that the game is out the good things come rolling in.  It is possible some other project might have given more and in less time, but that is not a way to think about these things. If a person is always looking for something better and moving on, they may not finish anything. Committing is important.

Will I join another freeware project?  No, I will no longer work without payment. Don’t have the time.

What about you – have you considered taking on a hobby project or have you already done something like that – and how did it go?

Interview for Intel

I was interviewed on INTEL’s ISNTV Digital Arts-show. (voice only for my part)

2013 UPDATE: Intel’s Digital Arts Show-pages have been closed for a good time now and this page had broken links, until now. I found the video interviews elsewhere on Intel’s site so the links should work, for now.

Digital Arts does many things, including interviews of people in the field of Arts.  One good example is musician Justin Lassen’s interview (from Intel booth at GDC).  Justin is an exceptional artist and a does well before the camera, too.
Reason why I got on Intel’s radar was winning their Digital Art Tutorial Challenge a few times in a row.  Other than that I’m guessing my blog and big projects raised a few eyebrows.

See the interview at ISNTV Digital Arts show.  Host of the show is man of many titles, including Intel Artist and Animator Community Manager, Steve Pitzel – a terrific guy.  We had a good chat, both on record and off.  I manage to sound reasonably sane most of the time, so I call it a success.

Go see and listen and leave some feedback below, if you like.

Ultima 6 Project Released

I’m happy to announce that our massive freeware role-playing game for PC and Mac is now released!
Go explore the huge living world, meet curious individuals, go on grand adventures, sail the seas, delve into massive caves and forest and try to make it out alive.  And if you happen to remember the main quest, try to help Britannia deal with the mysterious gargoyle race and the war.  For more info and the download go to http://www.u6project.com

U6P has been my part-time job for well over 4 years and many on our team have worked on it harder and longer than I have.  You can read about my part here.  I’m very happy for the release, positively glowing, and hope old Ultima fans enjoy our take on the classic and that the game captures new fans as well.  Go take a look!

Got a comment on our game or on freeware game projects in general? Feel free to write.