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Jam-packed yet slack.

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

I hate it when blogs start with a “I haven’t blogged in ages” type apology, so I’m glad I’m not doing that. Moving right along.

Stuff has been going on, yo! (Everywhere except here.) These last few months have seen a lot of change, and I’m feeling quite adrenalized, to be honest. I was lucky enough to have some great fun these last few months, and I see it spilling over into next year all things going well. Warning, I’m going to talk a bit about the things I’ve been fortunate enough to experience over the last 6 months or so, and how they’re shaping me as a person and where my creative direction will lie in 2012. It’s probably narcissistic, self-indulgent and trite but it’s cathartic so *raspberry*. List incoming, take cover!

We sold our house in May. More stressful than it sounds. I also had pneumonia which was enough to knock me around for a month or so. Only really getting my groove back now, in December. I don’t recommend getting pneumonia if you’re considering it — takes a lung, lung time to recover.

I had a trip over to AVCon in Adelaide in July to check out the Indie Games Room and the great work associated there. It was an amazing weekend and I had an absolute blast. AVCon is one of the better organised conventions Australia has to offer and it was obvious in many ways, particularly the work done by the captain running the very tight ship – Dustin Wilson. I loved the indie games room being right next to the main convention so people just had to roam on in to have a look, was great seeing local indie games being showcased to the masses like that, Ben Kilsby did a great job. I did a few interviews there and spoke to some very talented developers and I hope to put those videos up sometime soon. It’s been ages but other things got in the way…

Like Freeplay. Oh freeeeeplay. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. (Spoiler: ALL of the ways). Last year’s Freeplay Independent Games Festival was a life changer and this year’s was no different. Almost makes me fear what the hell next year’s is going to to do me. I was lucky enough this year to be an Associate Producer at Freeplay 2011, and that left me in charge of one night of the Playful Program which ran in the days preceding the festival proper this August. We put on an evening of Lemon Joust club, featuring a street game involving wooden spoons and lemons, set up like a (playful, and deliciously silly) night of Fight Club. Along with lots of scotch and some belly laughs, it was a learning experience. I’ll write more on what I learned at Lemon Joust Club another time. It was fantastic to be involved in Freeplay 2011 and I’m antsy as hell to start working on 2012. Paul Callaghan is foolishly letting me help out again next year*.

In September I popped in to the State Library of Victoria to check out a pride of primary and secondary school students presenting the games they’d made, run by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. It was truly amazing to see how smart these kids were and the insights they had on game development and creativity, some as young as 6 years old. Also a little jarring to be confronted with some misconceptions about our industry normally associated being a particularly adult state of mind – indicating just how deep-seeded some of our issues are that even children are spouting the same rhetoric. I walked away feeling positive about it though, and with a knowledge of some great tools available for our younger game developers, such as the Kudo game lab.

In October I was lucky to be asked to be on a panel at Cherchez La Femme (a salon-style discussion night with a feminist frame) on an evening discussing Women in Gaming, along with Clem Bastow, Moran Paldi, and Ben McKenzie, hosted by the glorious Karen Pickering (on whom I have all the crushes). With “women in games” being an issue many people wanted to discuss throughout the year, it came to a rapid boil enough to warrant a night to talk about it disassociated from any official gaming collective. I think having the issue on its own and with no one scared of speaking “on behalf” of anything really helped to address the state of women in games as it stands, both in the games themselves and the industry creating them. Once you have a good look at how it stands you can then start to sort out what needs to change and why. Only from there can you start to ponder the “how”.

November saw a very very lucky me attending GCAP 2011, the Game Connect Asia Pacfic conference put together by the Game Developer’s Association of Australia. It was a very different beast to Freeplay, with more of an industry focus than a cultural one, so it was the yin to my Freeplay yang, so to speak. Experiencing both certainly left me with a pretty well-rounded look at what our local games dev scene has to offer, and what it needs to work on. At GCAP there were some fascinating talks about Serious Games (something I hadn’t given a lot of thought to previously) and how they can be used for training and retention of knowledge in industries such as defense, law enforcement, healthcare and education. I particularly enjoyed the talk by Randy Pargman of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (yep, that FBI) on how the Bureau uses games and simulations for training modules. He crowdsourced the order in which he talked about each topic he wanted to cover, leaving it in the audience’s hands through the AudienceStar web application. Changed the way I looked at attending a lecture or talk, it isn’t just a talking head at the front of the room anymore. We engage now more than ever in these environments. The entire conference had great little tidbits to take away about game development and building a brand, and the people I met were fantastic. Was great to meet (and thrash at Raskulls at the Mana Bar!) Mike Acton from Insomniac (and behind the #AltDevBlogADay blog), and meet the likes of Tracey Lien, Tim Best, Amir Rao from Supergiant, Shainiel Deo from Halfbrick, and Dr Jens Schroeder from QANTM, among glorious others. Really was spoiled for company over those 3 days, and made some strapping realisations.

Which brings us to December. Where I currently sit. This month saw us buying a house, a meeting about Freeplay 2012, an IGDA Christmas party, way too much scotch, a Christmas, way too much wine, a Boxing Day, and … this blog post!

The realisations made over the last few months have left me facing a different direction creatively. A few months ago I was offered the role of editing the latest Gamebook Adventure — Temple of the Spider God — by Tin Man Games. Seeing my name in the credits for a game was exhilarating and the experience of actually doing the editing was surprising amounts of fun. The tools Neil and Ben have developed, and their experience in the Gamebook genre (this being their 7th title) both ensured smooth passage in an unfamiliar landscape for me, and I firmly believe it wouldn’t have been as fun or as enriching an experience with anyone else behind the helm. I’m going to be working with them again in the future and feel so incredibly lucky to have that opportunity. I’m currently writing something that I can’t talk about just yet, but through editing the Gamebook and starting this project, I came to the realisation that actually making stuff was much more rewarding to me personally than writing about the things other people are lucky enough to make. So for now I seem to be going in more of a game dev direction than writing about games themselves. I’ll still feel the need to vent I’m sure, and there will be the occasional article flying around but right now I’m having a blast writing for games instead of about them.

So it looks like 2012 will be an exciting year toward a new direction. A goal is to work on 4 more games at least, start a few projects of my own, launch a website I’ve been meaning to launch for over 12 months, and keep blogging. Oh, and a vegetable garden. There’s something relaxing about watching tomatoes level up until they’re ripe and ready to be eaten.

2011 was a year of paralysing self-doubt that stopped me expressing myself adequately, which definitely has ongoing affects on the psyche. I was too scared to write. After hearing many writers (curators, creators, artisans, teachers alike) all say that it’s part of the writer’s journey, I feel like I have now surrounded myself with enough support, love, positivity, and a collective of erudite people with amazing levels of experience that I don’t feel like it’s such a lonely journey anymore. 2012 will be different. It’s going to be lead by a phrase that once told to me changed my life:

“Self-doubt is the price you pay for getting to do cool shit”

Bring it on, 2012!

*Thank you Paul. Not enough words. Honestly. Not enough words. Not enough good ones anyway.

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