Friday, 22 September 2017

Creativity

Almost a year ago, I wrote a text post on my website titled "Creativity". While it was one of my more interesting text posts from the time period, it doesn't carry much in the 200 words I spent complaining about not being creative enough.

However, there are some things I expressed in that post which no longer reflect what I believe today, and some more things which I feel I need to expand upon. Consider this video (or for those of you who still follow my text posts, one of those) a re-make of that old post from December, 2016.

Creativity is something which I don't believe is possible to pin down as a single, definite attribute. A so-called "creative person" is not necessarily a person who is inherently creative, but rather someone who believes themselves to be creative. Maybe you'd disagree with this quasi-post-modernist view of creativeness, but just bear with me.

Creativity is ultimately a function of familiarity with your chosen medium and how much you're willing to come up with a hundred awful ideas before you get anything good.

In order to be really creative, you have to know the exact limitations and boundaries of your tools. Your tools might be the Godot Engine, FL Studio, Sony Vegas or some bizarre combination of all 3. This means you'll have to spent a lot of hours learning how to use them. It's taken me six hundred hours on Godot and I'm still learning new things about the engine even now as I work on Mass O' Kyzt.

Once you know how to use them, it's a lot easier to allow your mind to wander into territories that you might otherwise never have thought to even approach. Certain media such as game development are particularly obtuse in that regard, which bit do you work on first? The bare-bones mechanics? The art direction? The codebase? The story?

After creating a game or two, it gets easier to see exactly what you can do and where you can go from each starting point. If you want to create a game where mechanics take the lead, you can write out the mechanics first. It gets easier to recognize what kind of idea each idea you have is- "something involving glowing blue mushrooms" is an idea where the art direction and style takes the lead. "A game wherein you upgrade your enemies" is an idea where the mechanics takes the lead.

Imagination and creative thought does need to be trained, but I don't believe it's in the same way as a muscle needs to be exercised. I think that a lot of people will get better imaginations the more they try, but not because their imagination somehow "became bigger", but rather because they're more comfortable with the process as a whole.

Here's an exercise in imagination: pick a random word(preferably a noun, verb or adjective, don't be a dork and pick a preposition) and think about literally the next thing that comes into your head. Even if it's not related whatsoever to your initial word or its a random fleeting thought, grab it and do the same again. If I'm making any sense, you'll be led along a random path of neural connections and associations and maybe come up with some ideas.

Don't get frustrated if you don't come up with anything, that's part of creativity. Coming up with like a billion bad ideas is almost required in order to come up with one or two good ideas.

Spending your time pursuing a bad idea is usually not wasted time, since you're practising your "making-the-thing" skills so that you can become more confident coming up with a better thing to make.

This is getting really quite rambly, which is impressive because it started off rambly but I'm going to cut it here. I have a cold, so my script-writing is pretty rubbish. Anyway, thanks for watching and stay tuned for more illness-induced rambling about something which a lot of people either realize already or don't care about.

Monday, 18 September 2017

The State of Steam

Anyone watching my videos is presumably already familiar enough with the current state and reputation of Steam. Steam is often described as a dumping ground with little-to-no curation or care as to what gets shoved to the storefront.

This comes as no surprise since let's face it- that's exactly what Steam is and has been for the past few years.

For context to what I'm about to say, I'll give a brief background into Steam.

Steam launched in 2003, and it was pretty humble. Initially only sporting Valve's own titles, the platform carried on for a while and gradually accrued more and more games. The submission process was manual and personal. A developer would have to speak to a real representative of a real company in order to get their game considered for release on Steam.

Getting something on Steam was a serious mark of prestige, where it would have been sold alongside Valve's own titles as well as the best the industry had to offer.

However, in 2012 Steam made a radical change to how their store worked. They introduced Greenlight. A year later, Steam's prestigious status on the industry had all but disappeared and getting a game on Steam was practically commonplace for any realistically competitive product.

The reason that I explain all this is because Steam has greatly changed as a service. The Steam that was a prestigious place for reliably high-quality games is gone, and little trace of it remains today. The Steam that has taken its place is what some people would call a dumpster fire full of snakes and vomit.

So why on earth did they do that? They ruined their own service and reputation, right?

In February 2013 - or about 7 months after Greenlight launched - Gabe Newell expressed his desire to make Steam a "networking API" rather than a "curated process". He spoke of his boredom with the Steam store, calling it a "middle-ground marketing thing".

Clearly, Gabe Newell's vision for Steam has evolved since 2003. Steam appears to be going in the direction of a kind of open marketplace for games. A massively more popular and consumer-friendly version of itch.io, if you like.

Steam is moving away from being its own ecosystem for games to be sold, bought, discussed and critiqued. It has become a centralized platform for the distribution and purchase of games and little more. Marketing today is primarily done outside of Steam, whereas in 2010 having your game on Steam was marketing in itself.

Communities are primarily built on external forums, chatrooms, or in my case a YouTube channel.

Steam no longer wants to be a one-stop shop for all things developer-related. Steam wants to be a smaller part in a larger and more varied toolkit.

Of course, the motivation for this change is very likely because they want money. They're definitely making a lot more money as a distribution middle-man than they would have been as a prestigious curator.

However, this makes being an indie developer a lot harder in the process. The advent of the asset flipper and associated low effort or low quality games on Steam makes getting noticed a lot harder than it was in previous years.

Independent developers are in a tricky spot right now. We have Steam and Google Play which are both great for distribution, but we're at a loss for a curated platform. Getting a game noticed is hard and only getting harder, both due to market saturation and large players in the field taking a back seat.

Currently, sites such as GOG need to be successful in order for indies to be successful. GOG is currently what Steam was 7 years ago, minus a whole lot of DRM.

The Humble Store is also making good progress to shutting out the gutter-trash masquerading as video games that pollutes the Steam store.

In short, yeah, Steam isn't what it was and has ceased to make things easy for indie developers. Now, they're something entirely different but useful in its own right, for the limited scope of problem they're intent on solving. It's been a long, gruelling gauntlet of a changeover but Valve are closer than ever to making it a reality with Steam Direct.

Thanks for watching, and stay tuned for more videos, either scripted, unscripted, whatever, I don't know. I even scripted this last little bit at the end, that's how scripted this video is. God, script-writing is a pain.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

The (Short) Story of One Almond Games

Some of you might recently be aware that I am in the process of dissolving One Almond Games, a limited company that I created for the purposes of distributing my games.

This video will explain why.

So about a month ago, I decided to get the Steam Direct paperwork done early so I could concentrate on making my game.

I paid the fee, went through the "Onboarding" process when I came to a fork in the path. I could either be a Limited Liability Company(known as an LTD or in the US, an LLC) or I could be a Sole Tradership.

I'll briefly explain the differences between them.

A sole tradership is easier to set up, slightly less formal, but it's much less safe in that if I get sued or go into debt then the UK government will come for my  kneecaps. That sucks, since I need my kneecaps to walk around and such so I looked into the advantages of an LTD.

A Limited Company is safer in that it's its own legal entity. My kneecaps are safe, but the corporation would be forced to give up its non-corporeal kneecaps should I incur any debt on the company's behalf. However, a Limited Company is much harder to set up and keep records on. Jeez, I wish I knew how much harder it was because if I did, I wouldn't be making this video.

For whatever reason, I thought that it wouldn't be too much harder to create a Limited Company so I chose that one. Besides, I'd probably want to create a company like that in the future, so why delay the inevitable?

I fucked around a while and eventually came up with the name "One Almond Games", a reference to popular webshow Jake and Amir. Shortly afterwards, I decided to register the company "One Almond Games".

After a short time spent researching the next step, the step after that, and the next 43 steps, I realized that I'd gotten myself into perhaps a bit more than I realized. There are a lot of caveats and hidden costs to creating a company, you know. A PSC register, shareholding, a business bank account, a Universal Tax Reference, and more things of varying degrees of complexity. Due to the bizarre way that the gov.uk website is set up, almost none of these things were made clear enough from the beginning.

After enough stumbling, I got over most of this stuff and I was beginning to believe I was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. That was, of course, until I got to registering a business bank account. In the United Kingdom, we're required by law to keep a separate and special type of bank account for a Limited Company. This is known as a business bank account. Being under 18, I was outright denied by many companies save for Barclay's. Barclay's had a route for under-18s to register a business bank account, but they needed to see me in person to do so. I couldn't do it online.

Well, that should be fine, right?

Not quite, and I'll explain why.

I phoned up, booked an appointment with them, did everything I needed to do. The day before the appointment, I received a phone call from Barclay's asking about my identification documents.

No problem, I'd already applied for and received a provisional driver's license. The easiest form of photo ID since it's cheap and doesn't involve months of lessons to acquire. I just have to fill out a form, pay a fee and get a licence.

However, this form of ID was - for whatever bizarre reason - not accepted by the bank. The person on the other end of the phone was very sympathetic and I don't anything against her, but come on- really? A full driver's licence is fine, but a provisional licence isn't. The only difference between those two documents is how much time I put into it.

So, being blocked from creating a business bank account, I reevaluated the whole situation. Yes, I could continue with the Limited Company, pay more tax, have infinitely more hassle and with little in the way of reward, or I could shut down this company and just go back to a sole tradership.

Fortunately, I'd already registered for self-assessment with HMRC(the UK equivalent of the IRS in the US), so I don't believe I need to do anything else to be registered as a sole trader. Even then, I don't even make any taxable income for a while.

When combined with the already high workload of school, the actual game in question, a YouTube channel, and somehow fitting family and leisure time into all of that, I realized that a Limited Company is neither feasible for me at the moment, nor is it even worth it if it was.

I mean hey, at least I've got some experience with the process as a whole. Should I come back to the idea of a Limited Company in future, it'll be easier and more familiar. I suppose that's worthwhile, if nothing else.

And that, ladies and gentleman, was the story of One Almond Games Ltd.

Either way, thanks for watching and stay tuned for more videos, eventually. Workload is decreasing a little bit since no more Limited Company, but also increasing a lot since school now.

For those of you who don't know how the UK school system works, I've been working through a qualification known as A-levels. Last year, I was dealing with the AS course and this year I'm dealing with the A2 course. The A2 course is significantly more difficult and heavyweight, so I'm not looking forward to this. Wish me luck!