Don’t Panic

Hello there! Welcome back.

Today marks a significant milestone for me as I have just renewed my Xamarin and Apple subscriptions for another year. When I started this journey I knew it would take time to turn this into a business yet somehow I still thought I might make it within a year. This has not happened and as a result I can’t help but think that this is both expected and unexpected. It’s an indifferent feeling that I can’t quite explain as well as I would like.

The Year At a Glance

The year hasn’t been fruitless however, as I’ve learnt a lot about the process and the people. I’ve made a significant change in my life in that I shelved atStumps, a project I had been working for years and years but never quite finished. I’ve also reached out to the greater community and became involved in MakeGamesSA, a South African game development community. I seem to have also inspired two colleagues, who have also released a game each, Save a Fire Fly and AoM.

AOM

AoM

Save a Firefly

Save a FireFly

I also delved into Twitter. Now I’m not really the social media kind of guy so getting up and running wasn’t a natural thing for me.

Most importantly though, I’ve learnt some new respect for time. I’ve learnt that I really haven’t got as much time as I thought and that I need to choose carefully the things that I do with my time.

Dont Panic, It’s The Mensa Experience

The real “achievement” came totally unexpected and it took other people congratulating me before I realized it. Last week Thursday I was invited to attend a Mensa meeting with my cousin to hear a talk by Hanli Geyser about game development.

Mensa

Mensa is the largest and oldest high IQ society in the world. It is a non-profit organization open to people who score at the 98th percentile or higher on a standardized, supervised IQ or other approved intelligence test

So I was excited to hear someone who clearly knows more about stuff than I do talk about game development. At midday, I received a call informing me that the speaker had cancelled at the last minute and they wanted me to replace her. In an instant my stomach turned, my heart skipped a few beats and my emotions were shouting “DONT DO IT“. “Just say no“. I was the opposite of Nike.

It took a moment for me to stop, think and breathe. I had a “DONT PANIC” moment that would have made Douglas Adams proud. I saw it written in bold red letters on a black background. Like this:

dont panic

Don’t Panic

I reminded myself that I’m on this journey to make it a success and that I won’t ever know where the road leads unless I take it. I said yes. It was one of those “yes” then fall down to the ground moaning “what did you think saying yes” moments.

I had very little time to prepare. Less than an hour in fact, which included feeding the dogs, eating something, taking a shower and oh yeah, preparing a speech! I was rushed, so I pulled out my block of sticky’s and scribbled notes on the first one, building up the story from who I am to why I chose games and then finally ending up with some of my journey. In total I had 30 sticky’s, each with just a few hints at topics on them.

At the venue, I started my evening with a Heineken. You know, because I could. I was relaxed and I had fun with it. This was “winging it” at the next level. I only made it to the 9th sticky before my time ran out and question time began. The audience was captivated and thoroughly enjoyed the topic and I ended up saying a whole lot more about a whole lot more than I thought I would. In the questions that followed I seemed to have covered most of the other sticky’s so I supposed I still ended up using most of them. It was a wonderful experience and I am ever grateful for Mensa for inviting me in the first place.

Since then, the fact that I spoke at Mensa seems to have spread like wild fire. I have people congratulating me at work, on Facebook, on Twitter and most certainly in person. I didn’t quite realize that people view it as an exclusive club at that level. Whether that is warranted or not is not for me to say, I can merely observe the reactions of those around me and be proud that I did it…

Mind the gap

If you recall, I received a mail from a Xamarin “Customer Success Engineer” and he asked me if I needed any help, among other things. In my reply to him I explained my obstacles in releasing and I asked if he was aware of any other indie’s who had similar limitations based on locale. His reply stumped me, not because he answered any of my questions, in fact he answered none of them. His reply stumped me because he offered me a better deal on Xamarin than the one advertised on their website.

So, as I said in the beginning, I’m not over thinking anything and I’m just going where the road takes me. He probably could have answered my questions but where would the challenge be if you had all the answers to begin with, right? As far as the road and the journey took me, cash in hand was my biggest concern with what I’m doing and here he was offering to lower that burden just enough for me to actually do it.

Behind every man

I went backwards and forwards considering it and eventually my wife convinced me to take a chance, to practise what I preach so to speak. She assured me that we’d be fine and that there’s no reason why I can’t be as successful as I want to be.

I took the bait, on good faith mind you. Good faith that I would be able to port my game idea to iOS, it would run and I could sell it. I purchased Xamarin for Business. Yes, stop rolling your eyes at me young reader. I told you before, play to your strengths. Michael Jordan was a far better basketball player than a baseball player! My strengths are fairly tightly coupled to the Windows Operating system. What’s more, I work for a blue chip during my work hours and I use Windows there so it would flow more naturally if I go home and continue to use Windows.

Not only did my wife support me to buy Xamarin, she understood that I needed a Mac. Now any guy would feel his heart skip a beat at this point. Most of the time statements like “boys will be boys” and “boys and their toys” are thrown around like it is more common than the common cold. I’m lucky that my wife doesn’t do that. Not only that, but here she was encouraging me to get a Mac, so that it can stand there and look pretty and be my build server.

I’m on a spending spree

I made a few phone calls and finally settled on a price. I was as apprehensive as can be, but I did it. I bought a 13″ MacBook Pro with Retina display. The small one, not the big one. I figured that when I could afford it I could throw parallels on there and I could do Windows development like it should be done, on a Mac 🙂

I wanted to throw the Mac keyboard away. It was frustrating typing without a dedicated home, end, page up, page down or delete button. Over time though, I started getting used to it but for the most part, my Mac was a shiny little build server in the corner of my office. Pretty to look at and a gateway to iOS.

I haven’t mentioned registering as an Apple developer, because it was the easiest part of all. Since I was one in 2007, all I had to do was renew.

And we’re off…

That’s right folks. I was working on the final product. I could code it on Windows, build it on my Mac and test it on my iPhone or iPad. Things were going great. I had an occasional hiccup, but it was mostly due to integration between the PC and the Mac and followed a logical pattern, so it was easy to work around once I understood it.

But what about Android?

I had a little niggle at the back of my head and it was called Android. Xamarin offered me the same deal on iOS and Android. What if I could release on Android too? So I waited a while, thinking about it. Mulling it over properly. When a friend of mine registered on the Windows app store and Amazon to test if the same limitations applied, I made my decision.

Thanks to John I now knew I could sell through Amazon’s App store as well as the Windows App store. Before my window of opportunity elapsed I needed to buy Xamarin business for Android too. Make no mistake, the offer had an end-of-life so I had to make up my mind quickly.

So, in the same month I went from not being able to afford to go on holiday, to buying an Mac, Registering as an Apple developer and buying both Xamarin’s iOS and Android editions. I also bought a few supporting utilities and a bunch of sounds. This was getting really expensive really quickly.

My bank loved me. So much so that I’m filling in loan forms as we speak, but that’s a different story and one for another day. Hold thumbs though, will you?

This was EPIC

This was not the end of my discovery or redefinition of what I do. It was merely the beginning. I started off with a set of walls surrounding me, cutting me off from doing what I thought I could do and I’ve surpassed them. Sure, I’ve not released a single game or made a dollar but at least I could release one. Someone might just buy it and like it. Who knows. I am under no illusions that this might very well be a one way street in which I’m to gain very little, but there’s no rule that defines it to be so. This is life my friends, we’re all along for the ride.

Where am I now?

Well, I’m glad you asked. The last few weeks have been very, VERY long. I’ve hardly slept, I’ve hardly done anything but work. This isn’t totally abnormal for me, but I did more than the usual. I can assure you that having a full time, demanding job and then creating something like Zombie Apocalypse at night is no easy feat. I had to cut myself off from most of my friends and skip out on many fun times simply because I had to work after hours, every hour. Every weekend, every minute. If you are considering doing this and are not willing to part with your social life, head my warning: DON’T DO IT.

But I did it for myself and obviously, I did it for you, the gamer.

During this time I’ve learned that the most difficult thing for me was the graphics. I drew almost 2,500 sprites in Microsoft Paint, pixel by pixel. Yes, you read that, I drew it all in paint. Remember, I’m not an artist, I’m a programmer. I could easily have done it some other way, but how would I have made sure that all my graphics seem to “fit” together. That the colour schemes are the same, that the tile sizes work etc etc? In the end, I found it easier to just draw it all from scratch. It paid off I think, the cartoon-like look I went for is kind of fun and quirky.

If I can one day afford to hire a graphic artist I will. This meant that I had to spend a substantial amount of time drawing graphics. Time that could have been much better served writing code, expanding the game concepts or well, just making it more fun.

I made a purposeful and active decision not to do everything that I have planned. I have a wall filled with sticky’s and ideas that could make the game lots and lots more fun, but at this rate I need to get it into your hands so that YOU can tell me what you want and what you think. If you don’t like it, then I’ll move on to the next idea. If you like it, I’ll keep refining it. To me, this is the minimum viable product. I would love to give you more in the first go, but that’s not possible right now. Anything I do rolls into another idea and another idea. To implement these ideas I need time, support and money. I have none of those. So bear with me, this is our journey as much as it is mine.

I mentioned that I purchased some sounds for the game. Initially I used sounds that were in the creative commons domain and I have to say, there were some good quality sounds that I replaced by ones that I now own the rights to use. I still don’t know what I’m going to do about game music.

The game, well it’s almost done. Last night I added a sword and grenades so that you could have a little more options when you kill those pesky Zombies! I have a large town map and you can enter into any building you like. Buildings are a safe zone, where Zombie’s won’t go. This gives you a chance to recover your health and to change gear. Also, you can stand on the roof of certain buildings and throw grenades on the zombies below.

Watch this space, I’ll be submitting to Apple VERY soon.

In game samples while testing various weapons

In game samples while testing various weapons