In this episode, Dr. Brian Burton visits Angel and Stephanie to discuss the health benefits of video games, old-timey word processors, and the mistakes game developers make. Dr. Burton is an assistant professor at Abilene Christian University and teaches digital entertainment and information technology.
When we were six-years-old and brought that smelly, plush teddy bear to our kindergarten show-and-tell, we were utterly proud of our artifact … despite the Kool-Aid stains and bits of questionable gunk clinging to its fur. It was ours, and we loved it. We weren’t afraid to show others our most-prized possession, even though it was flawed.
As we age, however, some of us become more self-conscious and aware of what others think of us. We learn to present ourselves to the world daily, sometimes worrying about how we come across.
At Reactuate Games, we’ve chosen to film, stream, and document our entire development process from day-to-day. Our goal is to share a behind-the-scenes look at how a video game evolves, as well as the company who creates it. But as we have found out, it’s not all rainbows and lollipops inside a startup company. We have run into roadblocks and gotten embarrassed or nervous about our work, too.
We first encountered this last week. I interviewed one of our digital artists, Katey, for a clip on YouTube (You can see that awesomeness here). While editing the material, though, I became super self-conscious about my video-producing skills. At one point, the video bothered me so much I almost wanted to scrap it and re-film.
Also last week, our artists created some amazing graphics for the game (a command center, some mineral shards, a builder unit), but as with most creative products, they were first rough drafts. So rough, in fact, some questioned whether or not to show our followers.
The temptation to only report the good news is strong here. After all, we are representing a company. But we are much more than that at Reactuate Games. We are dreamers, and students, and gamers who are trying to create a video game that people will love and enjoy for years to come. And we want to share with others our experience.
So how do we ignore these self-conscious tendencies when we are devoted to recording the good, the bad, and even the ugly?
Ron constantly reminds the team of what digital artist Feng Zhu says in this GDC video session (you should take a look–it’s pretty inspiring). Shown to us on week one, Zhu’s video encourages game developers and artists to not be scared of the blank canvas or making mistakes. Because if someone is scared to try things, learn, or produce imperfect work, then he/she is also afraid of progress.
Though we aim to show our successes, inevitably struggles will occur along our journey. And that’s okay. We’ll document those, too. It’s all a part of the process. Plus, we’re proud of our game and our company. Even if it does have some gunky, imperfect parts.
Nothing pumps us up more than Kenny Loggins’ 1980s hit “Danger Zone.” Sure, Tom Cruise has gone a little cray since Top Gun, but most of us at Reactuate Games can still get a rush from the adrenaline-inducing tune, which is a part of Ron’s special morning playlist. And as the second week got under way, we learned more about Ron’s music tastes (hint: he has the Xena theme song in there, too), our game, and each other.
The Reactuate Games team received more info on the game this week and shared the Super Secret Game Design document with email subscribers. This file explains the backstory of Colony Manager (possibly changing to Colony Maker) and how the player advances through the game. We shared this as a thank-you to our subscribers, so if you’re interested in the original design for the game, sign up here.
We’re actually creating graphics for the game now, too! Sam drew up a spiffy rocket ship, Austin played around with some terrain, and Katey created a monkey for scale purposes. Slowly but surely, the RG team is moving along.
Last week, we also took a field trip to The Gathering Place, an Abilene hotspot for gamers to hang out, compete, and play all kinds of games. We met with them in hopes to sponsor an event in the near future or at least get the word out to our Abilene audience. Afterward, we stopped by 7-11 for much-needed Slurpies to rehydrate and refuel before getting back to the office. Because work is hard and stuff.
On Friday, we had some Internet connectivity issues, which hindered our Twitch stream some, but that didn’t stop us from battling in our NBA Live 15 bracket and meeting a few new followers when we were broadcasting. Katey came out on top (*cough*… it was her game…*cough*), but it was a fun team-building experience, and we learned a lot about how gamers should get to skip tutorials, i.e., we spent thirty minutes watching our fearless leader learn to dunk.
Our second week together came and went quickly. The constant sound of mouse clicks filled the office, as we accomplished many of our week’s goals and built a sturdy foundation for our game and our company. And I personal can say it’s all due to Kenny Loggins.
Now on to week three!
P.S. Need some motivation? Watch a 1986 Cruise fly really fast.
Confused about what we mean by Scrum Master? Here’s a look at how we’ll be working at Reactuate Games.
What is Agile-Scrum?
The Agile-Scrum methodology is a new workplace-development process. Using this method, employees have more say over how long it will take to complete a task, and they will get feedback more often. The Agile-Scrum system encourages frequent check-ins at Scrum Meetings so that others may help their team members when a task-problem arises.
What is a Sprint Planning?
First off, a sprint is the duration a team has to accomplish tasks. These periods of time can be a week long or longer, depending on how much work the team has on its plate. The Sprint Planning involves the product owner and the employees listing their upcoming tasks, ranging how large the tasks are, and ordering them based on priority for the company. These meetings take place on the first day of the sprint.
What is a Scrum Meeting?
A Scrum Meeting is a five-minute gathering of the team where all employees answer three simple questions:
What did I work on yesterday?
What am I doing today?
What is standing in my way?
It’s a time to briefly meet and check on each other and his/her progress throughout the week. Team members are also able to offer help to others by eliminating what is standing in his/her way. This speeds up work flow and promotes team building.
What is a Sprint Retrospective?
A Sprint Retrospective takes place at the end of the sprint, and it allows the staff members to discuss what each one accomplished that week. The team can also talk about what is to come in the next week.
What is a Scrum Wall?
A Scrum Wall is a place where the team’s tasks are shown, usually on sticky notes. Three categories split the flow of production– To do, Doing, and Done. As an employee works on his task, he moves the sticky note to the corresponding slot. This technique displays the progress being done in the office and where each teammate stands on their tasks.
Who is the Scrum Master?
The Scrum Master is the MC of the Scrum meetings; however, this person does not always have to be the boss. Scrum Masters can vary daily, and everyone can end up being the scrum master at some point. The main purpose of the scrum master is to resolve any issues standing in a team member’s way.
The first day of any new job can be nerve-racking. Five individual first days with a brand new company … perhaps even more so. But that didn’t keep the Reactuate Games (RG) team from expressing their eagerness to start building a video game from scratch. On the fifteenth floor in Abilene’s tallest building, the Enterprise Tower, Ron introduced the team to the RG command center, a two-room office with red couches, five Ikea desks, and a great view of West Texas. Here we would develop a game from nothing. Here we would create what was once only a mere thought.
For most of us, our first week at Reactuate Games was a learning experience. Not only is working in a business environment with elevators different for some, but producing a game of this magnitude with a handpicked team is a special experience some of us have only wistfully daydreamed about until now.
Throughout the week, we studied design tutorials, coding, and photo-editing programs, learning skills we will need for everyday tasks during this intensive summer launch. Humbly, we even looked to the Google-gods for help with a few of our problems. After our Agile-Scrum development training, (a relatively new workplace methodology we will discuss in another post), we transformed the office into a productive and “stream-friendly” atmosphere. We moved around the furniture, created a Scrum Wall, and had our first Scrum meetings, which were a lot less painful than any Rugby player may presume.
We had a lot of questions at first– Where do we start? How does this game development stuff work? What are our goals, and how long will it take to reach them? It seemed as if we had more questions than answers.
But questions are not necessarily a bad thing, especially for our new company. Asking means that we care. It means that we are excited and willing to work. It may even mean we are all a little anxious about the journey ahead of us. However, despite not knowing the territory we will venture into in these upcoming months, we are all packed and ready to go.
Reactuate Games has hired its team! Get to know the crew …
Ron Davis, President and Creative Mastermind
It’s always been Ron Davis’s dream to write and create video games. With degrees in both Mass Communications and Computer Science, Ron leads Reactuate Games to becoming the first game company in Abilene, Texas. The company’s Creative Mastermind enjoys creating in general, but games are special to him. “Games are the narrative of our age,” says Ron, believing games are simply stories that people play and interact with. Games like Starcraft, the original Warcraft, and Borderlands have all made an impact on Ron. Tiny Tina from Borderlands is his favorite game character because she’s 13-years-old and blows stuff up.
Austin Graham, Code Artist
Hailing from Jacksonville, Florida, Austin Graham originally had interests in marine biology, but upon moving to Corpus Christi, Texas, Austin’s passion for video games took over, leading him to the field study of Digital Entertainment Technology at Abilene Christian University. At a young age, Austin was intrigued by fantasy and sci-fi storytelling, The Magic Treehouse and Star Trek among his top two influences. Games like Civilization and the Zoo and Rollercoaster Tycoon series impacted Austin’s love for games, which stems from his view that games create powerful and needed escapism for players. A nice strawberry-spinach-banana smoothie refreshes him after a long day of programming.
Katey Bluel, Digital Artist
Katey Bluel has many homes–Indiana where she was born, Rowlett, Texas, where she grew up, and her new apartment in Abilene. Gaming is a family hobby for Katey as her step-dad introduced her to video games and her sisters and mother play regularly. Katey developed an early passion for art and drawing but disliked the painting and coloring techniques; this led her to drawing and creating digitally. As a student in the Digital Entertainment Technology program at Abilene Christian University, Katey hopes to use her talents as a digital artist to create games and maybe teach others about the field. Katey’s other hobbies include Netflix, playing with her puppy Peyton, and snacking on cheese quesadillas from Taco Bell.
Stephanie Whitlow, Marketing Producer and Podcast Host
A native Texan, Stephanie Whitlow recently graduated from Abilene Christian University with a master’s degree in English. Though she gets sweaty-palmed playing video games, she loves the storytelling within them and the control players have to evolve the plot. When she isn’t writing and broadcasting for Reactuate Games, Stephanie enjoys competitively playing volleyball and basketball, watching the San Antonio Spurs win, and eating Mexican food. Her favorite video games include Sims, Just Dance, and Mario Party.
Angel Rodriguez, Podcast Host
Angel Rodriguez is currently in the U.S. Air Force but leads a fascinating double life as a game enthusiast and competitor. Angel speaks regularly to groups on how gaming can benefit communities and individuals, and he also travels the world, playing his favorite games in international tournaments. Angel knows his stuff and is an experienced gamer.
This is the business plan that won the ACU Springboard Idea Challenge 2015. I was asked by some of my GDC Conference Associate friends if they could read it, so I’m posting it.
Posting it was actually kind of hard for me and I’m not sure why. I did take out the financials because they included salary numbers and some people don’t like that being public. Plus the income numbers were mostly just pulled out of my butt, but those forecasts are required by VCs.
We’re going to do development in public and that is ultimately why I just decided to get over my discomfort and post the plan.
Notes about the plan
It’s a mini-business plan, meaning it was limited to 10 narrative pages. There could have been a lot more detail. Matter of fact I have a note in Evernote titled “Business Plan Expulsions” where I put stuff I took out.
There are lots of different outlines and templates you can find for business plans. This plan is based on very loose guidance given by the Griggs Center about what they wanted to see in the plan. It is also focused for the Springboard competition and talks a lot more about the Summer Launch than I think a plan aimed at other angel investors would be.
It assumes the readers don’t know anything about the games industry or software development. People with a deeper understanding of the industry may think some of the explanations were simplistic, and they are.
Things evolve, already there are changes. This plan had changed before I’d even pitched. A big change was the name of the “Summer Intensive” in the plan to “Summer Launch” now. I found people thought “Intensive” meant internship and it would only last 3 months. But what it really means is 3 months of intense focus that will lay the foundation of company.
Finally describing an art business like a video game company in a business plan is like describing a woman by her gym workout. Those number may be somewhat related to her beauty, but they miss the magic and transcendence that is beauty.
Why did I win?
The short answer is “I don’t know”.
The less short answer is there isn’t one thing that made the difference. I get this a lot, where people try to guess what it was that made them pick me. But if I put myself in their place, I’m sure it wasn’t just one thing.
I could write a whole blog post on what was thinking as a wrote it, and all the value I got writing the various parts of the plan. Maybe I will if I think people are interested.
My final answer is always, all I know is what they said when they presented the award to me which was, “Ron has a lot of experience in the game industry and he’s got some really innovative ideas about how to use students.”
Form a team. Build a game. Attract an Audience. Launch a company.
These are the goals of Reactuate Games’ Summer Launch. We’re going to build a team of coders, artists and producers from local colleges and universities, then spend three months creating a working playable prototype. While creating this we’ll be live streaming our development process, working with our community and building something awesome. At the end of the process we’ll launch a Kickstarter and allow the community to decide how we move forward.
We’re hiring four full-time positions starting at the end of May in Abilene Texas.
Reactuate Games is not hiring at this time.
Digital Artists are jack-of-all-trades artists with a wide variety of skills to create assets for actual use in games. They will have knowledge of the tools needed to create the art work and the ability to quickly learn new tools.
Create beautiful art work that wows everyone that sees it.
Deliver game artwork in formats needed for use in the game.
Obsessive use of the source control system.
Always create art assets with an eye to how it may serve multiple purposes in the game and allow customization by other artists.
To apply send you resume or a link to an up to date LinkedIn profile, as well as samples of your work to email@example.com.
Applications are due by May 1, 2015
You might want to check out the Jobs FAQ, especially if you are applying from outside Abilene.
Reactuate Games is not hiring at this time.
Code Artists write the computer code that brings our games to life. Code includes not only those things written in a language like Python or C#, but logic created in development environments like Unity.
Create elegant, beautiful and effective code to bring the Game Design to life.
Conform to the Reactuate Software Coding Standard for the language code is written in.
Obsessive use of the Reactuate Games Source Control System.
Always write and document code with an eye to how someone else may have to expand, maintain or otherwise interact with it in the future.
(This is not a technical artist position, rather the name reflects that game code is an art and a science.)
To apply send your resume or a link to an up to date LinkedIn profile, as well as samples of your work to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Applications are due by May 1, 2015
You might want to check out the Jobs FAQ, especially if you are applying from outside Abilene.