Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Life/Work (in)Balance

In the past couple of weeks I've read a couple of very interesting articles which have got me thinking a lot about how we work and the future.

Becoming Super Mom

First up I read this article from the Selfish Mom blogzine.  Having it all, living the dream, being a super mom.

Now most days I don't have the energy to get dressed in the morning let alone spend all day playing, feeding, looking after Willow, feeding Alex and myself, general chores AND all evening working on Super GQ, but it looks like the trick to having it all is working your butt off.  It makes sense really.  And it's not about the short term, this is all about paying it forward because in the short term you're going to be tired, irritable and to busy to notice that it will all be worth it.

Of course things will get easier as she gets less dependent on us, and it's really in my best interests to make sure I've 'feathered by nest with more than just fluffy chicks'.  I'm already dreading the moment we have to send her to a nursery and then school, and before we know it she'll be off and carving her own path...  OK the last two are a long way off, but there is the prospect of day care.  One of the awesome things about the both of us working from home is all the time we spend with her, it's also the single reason why it's taken us so long to get to this point with Super GQ.

me, not working...

If Alex and I can keep making games, I'm sure the 'empty nest' feeling will be less of a blow, as I'll have my other 'babies' in development. I think that's one of the best things about being in a creative industry and getting to make things you love.  And I don't think I need to worry so much about 'having it all', I'll be happy enough keeping what I have.  I could just use a few more hours in the day...

We are not alone.

And then I read the second article that got me thinking a lot.

It was doing the rounds on my facebook so I had a read and saw a very familiar story.

Another couple choosing to take the plunge and go indie, working from home and balancing bringing up their daughters and working on  a new game.  It's slightly different in that their kids are significantly older than Willow is now, raising different issues to what we have on a day to day basis, but the thing I was really interested in was how they planned to make the work/home life happen.

In the article the couple talk about how they wanted to keep work and home life separate, even though their stations where now in the kitchen.  Working their normal work hours and not spending all their work time talking about family and all their family time talking shop.  This failed spectacularly though as life gets in the way, not to mention that their girls are into gaming and so are naturally curious and wanted to be involved.

Alex and I didn't plan.  Sometimes I think we really should have planned what we were going to do, but you know what?  I'm glad we didn't.  At the time we just rolled with the punches.  I couldn't get a job so we started a little side project then Alex got fired so we up-scaled the side project.  If we had sat down and made a 'sensible' plan where we get 'proper' jobs to give us some security* for our soon to be family, we wouldn't have gone indie and released Glyph Quest.

In the end they include their second daughter in the development of their upcoming game Ninja Pizza Girl, a game about much more than delivering pizza! I think it's awesome that they are working with her to make this game.  It seems they were fighting to keep the two worlds apart and really it was better to let them combine.  In the future I hope that we will get to include Willow in game making (if of course she wants to be involved in making games).

Now this is Agile development!

the living room walls are covered.

We've never tried to separate work and family.  In reality it would be almost impossible.  Instead we work around Willow.  When she sleeps we work, when she's with me Alex works, when she's with Alex I work.  We have lists of all the things that need doing on post-it notes, spread sheets, and note pads.  It has taken over our living room.  It means some days more gets done than others and some days one of our lists won't get ticked off at all.  But when you're working all day everyday it's OK to sacrifice an hour to play practicing sitting up or experimenting with eating pear, or having a really long nap.

We've set ourselves a mid September deadline, so now more than ever we need to be on top of this family/work balance.  Despite not having a 'plan' or really much of a balance I don't think we're doing half bad.  I guess we'll just have to see if we make this deadline or not.    

*Not that there's ever much security in the games industry, small companies live and die by their games, medium companies close all the time and even the industry giants cull staff when they need to cut costs.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Game dev, Mommy guilt and not blogging.

So, I haven't done this in a while...

Actually I've written a bunch of posts between the last one and now, just never actually published any of them!  The main reason being because on rereading them, they were all quite negative, ok some of them were very negative.  I don't know why.  Possibly I needed to vent a little, possibly the fact that it was taking me three days just to get one post finished, possibly because my hormones/emotions/energy levels are all over the place most of the time.  Could be any reason really.  But here we are, and I've promised myself I'm going to publish this post.

Two devs and a baby

The bunny's for scale, not eating.

Here's a thing we didn't consider; game development with a baby will be harder than game development when 6,7,8 months pregnant.  And by harder I mean almost impossible.  I mean we knew we would have less time, Willow needs us for absolutely everything (even getting to sleep) but how little time we had was something we just hadn't seen coming.  It's a steep learning curve this parenting lark.

The first few months Willow was very needy (and as I write that line the guilt creeps in, but more on that to follow), she wouldn't be put down, for the first month not even to sleep.  Sleeping involved taking it in turns to have baby sleeping on our chests, soon after she would sleep on the bed with us (she had to lie on her side tho), and this resulted in me not really sleeping and doing the night time feeds.  Once we figured out that she needed to sleep on her front things got much easier, but we wouldn't have let her before she got to the stage where she could lift and turn her head, thankfully she's always been really strong at holding her head.  In this time I did zero game development and Alex did very little.

Once Willow started sleeping through the night (8pm to about 6am) I was able to start getting some work done.  By this point I was of course well behind Alex.  It's a good job we decided to go with Super Glyph Quest as Alex is able to use all of the old art as place holder!  Of course this meant working on assets for Super whilst she was sleeping, going to bed around 2am, waking up at 6am, and then 8 or 9am when Willow will proudly announce that she is awake and therefore so must we be.  Naps when she sleeps are essential.  
Now at six months old, Willow is far happier to entertain herself for chunks of the day.  Her travel cot is a makeshift playpen (we've a proper one to come) to contain her as she rolls and shuffles around, and she will feed herself a bottle freeing up my time a little more.  At this stage we are able to go (almost) full crunch.  She still demands some of our attention, especially with her first teeth coming!

Mommy Guilt

See where I write 'demands' and 'needy'?  I feel just terrible about this.

Becoming a mother has certainly made me a much soppier person.  I well up without any warning, am incredibly sensitive about almost everything (don't get me started on my figure) and I feel guilty anytime I put my own needs before Willow's.

Right now she is feeding herself a bottle of formula.  Until very recently she was exclusively breastfed, but now we are entering the weaning stage I need her to stop associating me as the source of the food.  As my mother puts it 'she looks at you like you are food'.  Now she is happy enough with it (she wolfs it down!) and formula is developed so babies who cannot be breastfed grow up just as strong and healthy, and to be fair she has two tiny teeth (sharp as razors) so it's a dice with death every feed, but still, I feel I'm letting her down because I use this time to do something other than look after her.

Even when we put her on the play mat, she is happily gurgling away, chatting to Camelopard and Zeblim (yes we have named her toys for her) and having a roll around, but I feel bad, like I'm ignoring her.  Or even worse, when we leave her with a family member for a few hours an evening (and she will be sleeping almost the entire time) so Alex and I can have a night off, man that racks my heart strings.  And it's all because up to now I have been playing with her, helping her roll and crawl, feeding her all of the time!

So I feel guilty, when really I should be feeling proud of her!  She's growing up so fast and learning so much, including how to not be so attached.  Something I need to learn.

Super Glyph Quest

New logo, new motto

When I'm not feeling like a terrible mother for letting my baby grow and develop, I am trying to get as much work on Super done as I can.  Because there's a lot that needs doing!

Super is an opportunity for us to add lots of things that we didn't have the time to add to Glyph Quest, like a proper narrative.  Adding actual quest lines and story arcs is something I feel we were desperately missing (thankfully peeps were happy enough to go around slaying monsters), and I'm really happy with what we've come up with but it does mean more characters to draw.

Then there's avatar customization.  I would have loved to have added this to Glyph Quest but we just didn't have the time, as it turns out it requires a hell of a lot of work.  But it's worth it!  Also coming to Super is more gear (not just two robes upgrades), which players will craft from monster parts and have the ability to mix and match (possible set bonuses if I can convince Alex it's a good thing).  

And there's the new monsters.  Alex didn't want me adding some of the more obscure beasts from the depths of mythology in the previous game, but this time he's letting me go nuts.  Partly I feel this is due to our new found love of Pointless, where the obscure answers win, but mostly I think he's fed up of monsters that are part this thing and part that thing - with wings.

The town of Helmstone for Super Glyph Quests' map

The bit that I'm dreading however is the UI art.  I am not very good at it.  It's taken me about a week just to draw the new map (it's a lot bigger than the old one) and that's before I get into buttons, pop ups, text boxes and health bars.  I can draw a new beast in a couple of hours, it takes me the same amount of time to do a button.  Maybe I over think it?  I mean, it's just a button right?

Well there we go.  Man has it been a busy and rewarding few months!  But there is plenty to get on with, so I'll leave this post here and try to update again sooner.  Much sooner.


Thursday, 6 March 2014

The Biggest Challenge and the Greatest Reward

A Long Break

It's been over a month since my last blog update and that's all down to my newest favorite person in the world, my beautiful daughter; Willow Victoria Trowers.

So, I knew that as soon as she was born I would have to take a break from game development, what I didn't know (or maybe chose to ignore) was that I would be taking a break from almost everything that isn't either holding, feeding or just staring at her.  I know I'm bias, but she is just the most beautiful thing I've ever known, and as much as I know I need to put her down when she sleeps so that I can get on with things (even if that's to get some sleep myself!) I just don't want to.  I'm told this never gets old, and I'm OK with this.

Willow Arrives

Before her arrival, I knew that giving birth was going to be difficult/challenging/painful, the subject was talked over at length throughout our ante-natal classes.  Of course, taking about and planning for the birth and experiencing actually giving birth are worlds apart!   

There was also little point in 'planing' our birth experience.  The hospital we should have gone to was full, sending us 15 miles through rush hour traffic at 7am to the next hospital over.  Now I was having contractions every 3 or so minuets at this point so the actual journey to the hospital is a bit of a blur to me, but as I remember it Alex was totally cool, composed and supportive as he drove us to the hospital - not panic'd and worried about having to deliver the baby himself as we were stuck in stand still traffic at all, but like I say, it's all a bit of a blur now.  What I can tell you is; contractions hurt.  A lot.  

As soon as we reached the hospital we were sent straight to a delivery room, and one with a pool.  During the pregnancy I wasn't interested in having a pool birth, I thought it just wasn't for me, but by the time we got to the hospital I was in so much pain that anything which could help relieve that was welcome so the midwives started filling it up.  Having now had a pool birth I can't recommend it enough.  I was 8 hours into labor by the time I got into the pool and the heat and the weight lift were a massive relief.  Having not slept before the contractions started, I was exhausted.  Everything ached and my limbs were starting to give up on me, even with the support of the water.  I started to feel like I couldn't do this without more help - some more effective pain relief or intervention.  The contractions had slowed down and the midwives were talking about getting me out of the pool and seeing what needed to be done to get the baby born, it seems that threatening to take me out of the pool was all we needed to move things along.

After 10 hours of labor and with the help of some gas and air, a pool and Alex continually assuring me that; yes I could and indeed was doing great, Willow was born.  

her first sleep, really I should have slept at this point too...

The first I realized that it was all over was the midwife telling me to pick her up!  I looked down and floating just below me was this perfect tiny baby, I pulled her up to the surface, keeping her body in the warmth of the water and she opened her eyes and just stared at Alex and me.  It took a few moments of taking it all in before I remembered to check to see if we had a little boy or a girl, because at that point I didn't care, all that mattered was that she is perfect.  

The one thing that we had talked about and wanted for the baby was to leave the placenta attached until it had stopped giving baby the last wave of blood and nutrients from me, and we couldn't do that.  No one had mentioned that to test baby's blood to see if I needed the final anti-D injection, a sample was taken from the umbilical cord so the midwives needed to clamp it before it stopped pulsing.  So much for planning.  After this Alex did get to cut the cord (which is not nearly as easy as you think), Willow was weighed at 7lb 7oz and after Alex changed his very first nappy she was handed to me for some skin to skin and her first feed.          
It's maybe cliche to say that it's overwhelming, life changing or the greatest thing I've ever achieved, but it is all of these things and more.  It was hard work and I have never been prouder of myself.  I didn't think I would be able to do this without all of the pain medication and possibly intervention but I did!

Feed, Wind, Change, Sleep.  Repeat.

Everyday is different with her.  She's learning everything so quickly and so are we!  There is a basic formula that needs to be followed and so long as she is fed, winded, changed and gets to sleep she is by all accounts a happy baby.

multitasking like a boss

This cycle is however my entire life right now.  OK, that's a bit of an over exaggeration, we do get to go out as she is really well behaved (as in she mostly sleeps in her buggy) and Alex and I tag team for the most part (but feeding is mostly on me, literally) but getting anything else done is difficult. For example; it's taken me 3 days to write this blog post, never before have I wanted extra arms more than I do now.

So game development is firmly on the back burner for now.  Which is frustrating in that I have things I want/need to do, but the time I am spending with Willow is priceless.  We will never get this time back and I'm so glad that Alex gets to enjoy it too.  

We have been amazingly lucky with the reception of Glyph Quest.  Our first foray into indie development has been more of a success than we hoped it would be and this has given us the opportunity to enjoy the first moments with our daughter, but we will have to get back to work soon.  The great thing that going indie has given us is that Alex hasn't had to return to work after 2 weeks paternity leave, but the reverse side of that coin is if we're not making games, we're not making money.

So, time to start looking at a Glyph Quest sequel...       

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Maternity Game Jam

Glyph Quest is out!  Beating Sproglet to be first out (39 weeks, come on Sproglet!) Glyph Quest is now available for iOS (coming soon to Android).

What an intense few months it has been.  Making this game in such a short amount of time was however necessary, I'm at the point where sitting at a computer is not at all comfortable and Sproglet is not a fan of having the laptop on the bump.  Which means of course that I have no hope of taking part in the Global Game Jam this weekend or the Candy Jam that's happening now (but hopefully I'll have a baby to distract me soon - fingers crossed).

But it got me thinking, I'm not the only game developer in the world to get pregnant, I wonder how many other mums make games during their maternity?  Like a Maternity Game Jam.

Mums making games.

Leigh Alexander has written an amazing article about mums in the industry.  My pregnancy left me unable to find a new job; and yes for those you asking employers cannot discriminate against pregnant ladies, but unless they outright say the reason you're not being hired is because you are pregnant, there is no way to enforce this - and no one is going to do that - but my unemployment gave me the opportunity to make a game that I am truly proud of.  All of my time these last few months has been taken up with working on Glyph Quest and now that it's finished*  I feel a bit lost!

My take away from this article is that although having a baby is gong to make life hectic for a while, but eventually it'll bring a new structure to my days and in this I can continue developing games.  If the experience of these other mums is anything to go by, having children should make me more focused and driven than I was before, and that is only a good thing!

I was never planning to stop making games, but I know I will need to take a break.  It's just very reassuring to see other inspiring women taking on motherhood and games development and succeeding at both.      

*Well we have an update and a bug patch on the way but that's all in Alex's corner not mine!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The final furlong: Sproglet vs Glyph Quest which will make it into the world first?

And we're off! Glyph Quest is in the hands of the app store guardians and we have just reached 38 weeks pregnant, Sproglet could be here at any moment.  So with up to 14 days for submission to be approved and the same wait for our due date, the race is on!


For Glyph Quest the last week has been non stop, all cannons blazing, condition one set on the good ship Tiny Flat - crunch was officially here.

Now how in the world did we end up in self enforced crunch?

We've known the due date for the baby for a long time, it just always seemed so far away.  It was next year after all - that's ages away.  And Glyph Quest spent the longest time being just two weeks away from finished, two more weeks of knuckling down would have this bad boy ready to go.  OK so suddenly it's January, suddenly that lofty deadline of 'before the baby is here' is now only two weeks away (well, 'ish') and Glyph Quest still needed that final push.

Players pick to be a Witch or a Wizard.  We still don't know which Sproglet will be...

Now crunch is never really a good thing, crunch when you work from home is equally a terrible idea, crunch when you work from home AND are heavily pregnant is just asking for all kinds of trouble... but then at least I could nap whenever and no one would mind!  For how exhausting it has been (for Alex too, he's been able to put far more hours into this than I could) the pay off has been huge.  Massive leaps in content and polish day by day, getting the task lists down to nothing, and even adding a few bonus bits (yup we are still suffering with 'wouldn't it be cool if...' syndrome).

We had to tell ourselves to stop.  We've being trying to 'put it in a box and ship it' for days now, but keep getting hooked in playthroughs and finding small tweaks we could make.  Finally (4am Monday morning) we pushed the button.  

And the weight off both of our shoulders is lifted, mostly.

The weight of the baby bump is still increasing.

Next Steps

It's all about those chains and reversal bonuses!

So what do we do now?  Aside getting the flat in a state ready for the little one (the housework may have taken a backseat during the crunch...), and maybe taking a day to catch up on sleep, there is of course plenty we need to be doing.  Least of all some sort of marketing push.

We are very proud of the game we have made, and all bias aside it is really good fun and addictive, everyone who has played it so far has agreed with us on this!  But Alex and I can only put it in so many peoples hands, we are confident that if it's your kind of game you will enjoy it, we just need you to find it!

So the website is up and running, twitter and facebook accounts made and of course we are both blogging about the adventure - so that's social media covered.  Now we just need to push these, get a new trailer out, hit up the press and so on.  Simple right?

And then of course there is the possibilities for updates; new play modes (local turn based multiplayer and an endless mode have both come up in 'wouldn't it be cool if'' conversations), Game Center leaderboards and achievements (we are baffled at how Alex and I have got this far and not added achievements) and of course support across more devices (Android, Windows even Vita maybe).

So it seems 'stick it in a box and ship it' is a bit of a misnomer.  I would say the hard work is done now - we've made a game that we both love and want to promote - but now we have to promote it and with all of zero experience in self promotion it should prove another interesting challenge.

Hopefully we'll have created enough of a buzz before baby arrives.  Sproglet vs Glyph Quest - place your bets now!

Friday, 3 January 2014

Why getting pregnant meant going indie.

As I write this two very significant things are happening; first, I am eight months pregnant with my first baby and second, I'm about to submit my first independent game with +Alex Trowers to the app store.

Right there are two things that should probably never be attempted at the same time, but then I didn't really have much choice.  So how did I end up here? 

Good News and Bad News

Way back in May 2013 my personal life started moving in a different direction to my professional life, without wanting to bore you with all the soppy stuff, the decision was made that I would re-locate and move to Brighton from Plymouth to be with Alex.  So I handed in my notice and prepared to walk away from my wonderful creative producer role at Remode Studio, it wasn't an easy decision (I'd miss the people first and foremost) but also it wasn't all that hard, after all the opportunities were fantastic.  Brighton is a hub of game studios and there was always the option to commute to say London or Guildford.  And so the job hunt began in earnest.

A month later I find out I'm pregnant.  Now this wasn't planned but, it wasn't an unwelcome surprise!  Alex and I needed little to no time to decide that we would see the pregnancy through, the timing wasn't great but starting a family was something we both wanted (and in fact still want, we're not there just yet).  And although I knew this wouldn't help my getting a new job I was still optimistic, I was after all still perfectly capable, willing and wanting to work.

Of course what had happened was I'd become unemployable.   

Rejection is never easy, even when you know that it's not a reflection on your skills, personality or passion.  There is however a limit to how many times you can be told to 'keep in touch for future opportunities' before it drains the last of your self esteem.  And of course it only got worse, the longer I couldn't get a job, the closer to the inevitable maternity leave I was getting.  Eventually I gave up.  We decided that we would wait until after the baby for me to find a new job and in my extended maternity leave I could have a crack at some personal projects, make some indie games and have a stab at learning Unity.

So that was the new plan and a very exciting plan it was!  I had been hoping to get some Unity under my belt for a while (programming is not exactly one of my strengths), and making a game myself from inception to product was something I had been itching to do.

And then the plan changed again.  Alex had to leave his job.  Suddenly the game we had been pottering around with in our spare time was promoted to Plan A, and we had to make it work. 

Glyph Quest

Don't be fooled that Unicorn is not your friend.

Glyph Quest started as an experiment, a simple puzzle game for iOS we would release to see what the process was like as neither of us had done it for ourselves before.  When it evolved from experiment to career choice we knew we had a very hard deadline to make and a lot to learn and produce.  Alex took charge of the code (he's a self confessed non-programmer but he's a damn sight better at it than I am), I took the role of art monkey, and between us the game design continued to evolve and grow into what is now (very nearly) the finished game.

So there we are working from our tiny one bed flat in Brighton (ah yes did I mention that we are soon to be moving house too?).  It's not the most ideal of set ups, although my desks proximity to the kitchen fridge has proven useful (it's within arms reach, yup I'm practically working in the kitchen...) and the further along the pregnancy has got, the greater the need to be as close to a bathroom as possible has become (did I mention this flat is tiny?).  So things are nice and cozy, the biggest challenge we've found to this games production has been reigning the design in.  It turns out Alex and myself are the worst for 'wouldn't it be cool if...' and by worst I mean best, we are very good at coming up with great features, mechanics and tweaks.  But we are a production team of two and as such there is only so much we can do before our time to actually produce this game is up, having a baby on the way as your deadline is a milestone that can't slip.  Once the baby is here that will certainly mark the end of any production time, at least for me (did you know it's possible to have to spend up to 12 hours a day breast feeding in the baby's first week?  No, neither did I...). 

I've had many challenges with this pregnancy (if it could er on the side of complicated it has), 3am hospital trips, crippling back ache, pre-natal depression.  But this blog post is not about that.  Despite all that pregnancy has thrown at me, and for that matter every other bit of bad luck and timing, we have made this game.  I have continued to work right to the wire to make this happen.  I couldn't get a job when I was looking, I wasn't desirable at the time, so now I'm an indie.  It's sad that I had to go through all this to get here, and no doubt I'm not the only person who's given up with trying to fit a job description and gone it alone, but that's what had to happen.    

By the end of the month I will have achieved two life goals. I have wanted to have children for a long time and now I've found someone I can share that with and very soon we will meet this little person who will change our lives forever.  I have wanted to make games for longer than I've known I wanted to be a parent (after completing FF7 in 1998 if you're curious), and soon I will be releasing my first independent game.  It has not been smooth, easy or painless, but it will hopefully enable me to continue to work for myself.  Well, for my family.