Today, I’m excited to announce (what is this, a press release? lol) that I’m embarking on a new adventure as Senior Game Designer at Ubisoft Singapore!
I am forever thankful for the opportunity Mighty Bear Games gave me, and for all the great people I had the privilege of working with (and learning from!) there over the past five years, but now it’s time for me to set sail into uncharted waters full of pirate ships, skulls and possibly also some bones!
Time to buy myself an eyepatch, and also a parrot costume for my cat. So she can sit on my shoulder and squawk. Yarr!
About Game Design, Imposter Syndrome and Soul-searching
Through most of my professional life, I had this nagging feeling in the back of my head that I was not good enough, that I didn’t know what I was doing, and that sooner or later someone would expose me for what I really was – a fraud. Imposter Syndrome hit me hard both when I was a designer at Funcom and when I later went on my own indie adventure.
That situation was not much different when, around four years and seven months ago, I accepted an offer to join a relatively fresh startup studio in Singapore as a game designer, after they initially caught my attention by developing a casual MMORPG on mobile called World of Legends, which would become the first mobile game I ever worked on.
At the time, Mighty Bear Games had somewhere between 12-15 employees. and I was immediately thrown in at the deep end on day one, when I was tasked to take over the reins of the game’s economy and combat design/balancing from the other designer on the team, who had started planning his early retirement from the industry just before I joined!
I still have nightmares about the Excel-sheets I took over, which could only have been created by some mad genius Excel wizard; numerous humongous, interlinked documents with sections that had to be manually updated and exported to CVS files, before being imported into the game’s data server through a careful process and in a very particular order. Modifying one document would have cascading effects to half a dozen others, some of which could take upwards of 5 minutes to load up as a result. Thanks, BK <3
Anyway, it kept me busy, and I learned a lot about Excel in a short amount of time as a result. World of Legends itself eventually made it to global launch on both Android and iOS, but was unfortunately shut down not long after because the number of players coming in, and the revenue those players generated, was not enough to justify continued development of the game.
However, the studio gained lots of valuable experience in the process (and learned first-hand that making MMORPGs is hard), and we moved on to the next projects with boundless zest:
Since joining Mighty Bear that fateful day back in 2018, I’ve written game feature designs, scripted AI logic, balanced combat systems and game economies, pitched designs for new games and even done some level design. I’ve contributed across multiple teams in the creation of an MMORPG, two games for Apple Arcade (Battle Royale + Arena Brawler), a Match-3 Adventure, a Merge-game and – most recently – another Battle Royale game in the Web3 space.
Thanks to the opportunity Mighty Bear Games gave me I’ve gained a ton of designer XP and have leveled up my design skills multiple times over, but more importantly, I now feel like I finally know who I am and what I can do.
As a result, I no longer internalize the self-doubt and fear that haunted me for so long, and though there might still be a small lingering remnant of that all-too-familiar feeling of inadequacy lurking somewhere deep in the shadows of my soul, I can now look back at everything I’ve experienced and accomplished and feel confident that I could go into any team and contribute in meaningful ways, regardless of where I go or what game I work on next.
Going forward, I’m eager to continue growing as a game designer and excited to apply the skills and lessons I learn along the way to create new gaming experiences that can stand the test of time!
I was aware of this even before I came to Singapore, but I would nevertheless like to take a moment just to restate the obvious: Singapore is hot and humid. Not only is it hot and humid, it is also full of ants, spiders and cockroaches – a combination that in theory should make this a less than ideal location for me to live, yet in practice, it’s not too bad. The ants are out of sight and mind as long as things are kept neat and clean, the spiders (brrr, spiderssss) mostly stay hidden in moist, dark corners, and the cockroaches are… well… intimidating, but thankfully only encountered rarely.
Aside from these minor issues, there are many things about Singapore I love. My wife being from Singapore and also living here is one such thing. Supermarkets (and other establishments like cafés, restaurants, fitness gyms) that are open 24/7 and can be found within 10 minutes walk from where I live is another. A huge contrast compared to my home village/island/municipality back in Norway, where the only thing open 24/7 is a soda-vending machine outside our local gas-station. A seemingly endless variety in food – whether from local hawker stalls, fast-food places or restaurants, there’s always something new to try. Okay, so I’m not the most adventurous person in the world when it comes to trying food, but even so, I have tried a whole bunch of different foods in Singapore. Not everything has been equally great, but that’s okay! Internet speeds are insane. Singapore had the highest average peak Internet speed and third highest average speed in the world, in 2016. Fiber everywhere!
I can get anywhere I want in Singapore within 50 minutes tops (and usually much less), due to the MRT trains and bus-routes that criss-cross the city, combined with taxi-services like Grab/Uber. While I miss driving a car of my own, I don’t like driving in city traffic; I prefer the less crowded, open country roads. Also, cars in Singapore are insanely expensive. Not sure how anyone actually affords owning a car here. Continue reading “Singapore is hot and humid – news at 11”
Welcome to three years later! You can now witness, first hand, my blog’s revival; like a phoenix rising from the ashes, it will ascend through the swirling maelstrom of time and retake its position as one of the blogosphere’s most obscure, unknown and least read weblogs.
A number of events have taken place since I wrote my last entry, so let me get you up to speed: Language-studies, romance, part-time (60%) work as a system developer, trip to Iceland, trips to Singapore, vacations in Norway, engagement ring, more trips to Singapore, more part-time work (80%) and less time (20%) for game project, wedding-feast, and more! Most recently, I moved to Singapore, where I am currently residing on an LTVP (Long-Term Visit Pass) and have just started looking around for potential work in the Singaporean game development industry. That about sums it up for now, I think?
Anyway, this first post of the new era will be rather short, but rest assured that I will (again) try to post more regularly in the coming days, weeks and/or months. Or years. If this plan holds water, expect to see posts concerning the fate of a certain game project, as well as tales of my new adventures in Singapore(!) and other random nonsense.
Having been back in Norway for nearly three weeks already, I can hardly sit still in anticipation of finally being able to get up in the mornings and go to work at a location actually intended for getting work done, using a computer that’s not more than a decade old and doesn’t try to oppose me at every click of the mouse, at the supermegaawesome office of the top-secret (shh!) and not-yet-officially-launched indie game development studio I’m co-founding – Way North Studios!
*gets up and dances a jig*
What’s the hold-up? Partly, waiting for the new computers, paperclips and/or dance-dance-revolution mats? we ordered to arrive (any day now – woho!). Partly, bureaucracy (meh!) we need to trudge through in order to finalize the registration of our dev studio as a proper company in Norway, as well as to get all our Internets, insurances, hidden cameras, circus-operating permits, alarms and lethal guard hamsters sorted out, amongst other crucial and critical things.
Meanwhile, I pour over design documents, make plans for art and asset pipelines, try to choose what version control scheme to go with (currently leaning towards Mercurial), figure out how to deal with data-storage and the safekeeping of said data and – whenever my current computer is being agreeable – explore and uncover all the secrets and forbidden techniques hidden away in Unity.
In other news, I managed to find my Collector’s Edition coin (a Septim) from Oblivion in an unopened, sealed plastic bag – just lying at the back of a shelf all innocent like. Naturally, I promptly opened it and declared it forever my lucky game development coin. For the curious – it’s made of solid fake gold, is about 36 mm in diameter and 2 mm thick, and this is what it looks like:
We’ll get along just fine, my preciousssss Ssseptim. You’d better bring me luck, or I’ll melt you down! (Just kidding, I wouldn’t do that (I totally would, though))
In these my last days and weeks in Montreal, I spend most of my spare time poring over documentation, tutorials and example-projects for Unity – and to some extent, Blender – soaking up as much knowledge about and experience with these tools as I possibly can. The goal: to become self-sufficient and able to create games and/or prototypes of games in Unity, entirely on my own. Not necessarily to go at it all on my own, but I figure it will be a good foundation for whatever comes next.
UnityScript vs C#
Secondly, while converting tutorials from one language to the other I’m learning how it’s done in both languages at the same time, and though I’ll sometimes run into stumbling blocks where language-specific implementation of code is required, it forces me to apply my braincells, dig deeper and really figure out what’s going on and why.
Meanwhile, at work…
My final days at work mostly consist of tinkering with AI scripts for an (unreleased) dungeon that I have been working on, updating the documentation for said scripts in preparation to hand it off to whoever will work on it next, as well as diving into an issue that’s been a thorn in my side for quite some time, but which hasn’t had the highest of priorities: Shields.
More specifically, shields that clip through the heads of characters, stick through their hands/arms, are incorrectly positioned/rotated when equipped and/or are seen from the side in the inventory instead of the front (making it hard to actually see what they look like).
Having previously already gone through every single shield-asset in the game and documented what was wrong/needed fixing with each, I’ll now be trying to fix as many of those issues as I can before I pack my things and jump on a plane back to Norway.
I have an upcoming jubilee of sorts in a few months, at which point I can celebrate having endured life in the game development industry for five (measly) years. This cause for celebration is somewhat diminished by the fact that Funcom announced earlier this month that they are restructuring and consolidating offices – which means that I, along with the majority of the other developers at Funcom’s Montreal office, are being let go. For my part this means that I have at most two and a half month left before my official last day at FC, and having started working for FC in late March 2008, this means I might just about pass the five-year mark (yay!) before I’m officially out of a job (nay!).
Throughout these last soon-to-be five years I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working with a diverse bunch of awesome people (and I hope that I’ll be able to work with some of them again in the future!) on twodifferent MMORPG projects, and I would not change that for the world, but what exactly have I learned after this time spent working in the game development industry? Which of the preconceived assumptions and expectations I brought with me have held up, and which have been thoroughly shattered? What knowledge have I acquired that I can bring with me where-ever I go next?
I’ve played with the idea of writing a post along these lines in the past year or so, but what I’ve found out is that it’s not easy to summarize several years worth of experience in a simple blog post. Instead, I will try to focus on some of the more obvious lessons I have learned, the ones I can point at and say “that might have been useful to know/realize the value of when I first started”. Some – or maybe all – of them are perhaps obvious enough that they’re hardly worth mentioning, but then again – everything is obvious is hindsight. Continue reading “Lessons learned by working at Funcom for five years”
Zubon posted over at Kill Ten Rats about resetting characters (examples given: Torchlight, Kingdom of Loathing) being preferable to resetting worlds (examples given: Torchlight II, Borderlands 1 and 2) when reaching the end of a game. The former entails resetting (or retiring+re-creating) a character to scratch and giving it some boost or other (stats, skill-points, items, gold) to give it a flying start, while for the latter you reset the game-world and increase difficulty to match the current status of the character.
While an interesting topic of discussion on it’s own, this got me thinking.
Resets in virtual worlds
Character resets in games like the ones mentioned above is nothing new – it has been done in MUDs and BBS door-games (like Legend of the Red Dragon) for decades already, after all. It would still be novel in a modern virtual world, however, and personally I would love to see a virtual world where the following mechanics are combined:
Optional or forced retirement of characters that have reached a certain threshold (character lifespan, fame, fortune, epic achievements)
Restarting after either of the above events as a heir of the original character with some form of inheritance/boost (stats, more powerful than usual heirloom item, title, etc)
Syncaine put up an interesting post about content in MMOs, and how there’s too much focus on one-off (single-player) content as opposed to reusable (multi-player) content. He got that partially right; there is too much focus on one-off content, and on content being intended for single-players in a multi-player environment.
Developer-created content is expensive
The production costs are astronomical for content-driven development, both prior to actually launching the game (which then puts a huge pressure on the game becoming a “box office hit” immediately after launch to recoup as much of the development cost as possible, and after launch – when the developers must fight a never-ending battle to make enough content to keep the hordes of content-greedy players at bay. The players will always consume this content faster than the developers can develop it, and it becomes a battle of attrition to see who tires first – the developers of churning out more quality content or the players of waiting for the next batch for consumption.
However, the answer to the issue that Syncaine raised is not to modify this process to produce re-usable, generic content – or to make grouping “harder” or “less streamlined”. The solution lies in systems-driven design and systems-driven gameplay. Given the right type of systems, the right set of tools and the right amount of freedom, the players can themselves generate content that has the potential to be infinitely more interesting to them than playing through yet another story X created by developer Y. That is not to say that there is no room for developer-created content, but if the consumption of this content becomes the primary focus of the game, the battle has already been lost; the players will expect more of the same and be upset when they run out of such content to consume.
This is not the content you are looking for
I want to make what I feel is an important distinction here, which I don’t see a lot of other people making. I see a clear distinction between player-created content and player-generated content. The former I see as being about giving the players the tools to create their own dungeons, missions, quest NPCs etcetera – which can then be experienced by other players. Since the players are, collectively, more creative and prone to experimentation than a small group of developers will necessarily have to be (due to budget/milestone-constraints), chances are good that somewhere among the flood of content that will be produced by the players (a good chunk of which will be related to giant, flying penises), there will be some real gems, perhaps even some unforgettable master-pieces.
However this is treating the symptom of the problem and not the cause. Outsourcing the work of content-creation from the developers to the players in this manner is not the solution.
Instead of outsourcing content-creation through player-created content, I wish to see more developers embracing the promotion of player-generated content. I don’t mean content in the traditional MMO sense here, but instead the gameplay that emerges as players utilize the tools built into systems-driven virtual worlds to drive both their characters and said worlds forward. Or sideways. Wherever. I realize that this sounds a bit vague, but bear with me and I will continue on to say that the next logical step we need to take in MMORPG development is to embrace the concept of virtual worlds more closely.
The potential for player-generated content in virtual worlds is… out of this world. To unlock this potential, those virtual worlds require systems. Not just systems that drive combat, but systems for crafting, systems for exploring, systems for inventing stuff, systems for politicking, systems that promote socializing, systems that promote creativity, systems that provide options, choices – systems that make alternative lives possible. The more of these systems that are in place and the more of them that are interconnected in some way or other with other systems, the more opportunities there will be for emergent gameplay to occur. Sometimes this gameplay will go down paths that the developers might not want it to, but this fact should be embraced, not shunned. Instead of restrictions, freedom. Freedom to make the choices that matter to the player – the choices that makes the journey their character is on their own journey.
This reinforces the bond they have with their character and increases their feeling of ownership, not just of said character, but also of the world the character lives in, promoting a pattern of thought that goes… “This is my character. This is my story. This is my world. This is my home.”
You can’t get a better retention device than that.
I… cried. Realized that this is the first game to make me do that, for real. Turns out that “fun” isn’t the only tool in the box that games can make good use of. I thought I knew that already, but I was never really sure until now. Wish more developers would take risks like this, and not just stick with the same old over and over.
I highly recommended this game – it definitely gets my stamp of approval, for whatever that’s worth. If you want to play just one more game this year, do yourself a favor and play The Walking Dead.