I design, therefore I am

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:

Games I worked on at MBG

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!

Singapore is hot and humid – news at 11

Arab Street, Singapore, on a rainy day

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”

From the brink of oblivion, I summon thee; blog, return to life!

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.

Lessons learned by working at Funcom for five years

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 two different 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”

The Winds of Change

The wheels of the gaming industry churn, developers come and pass, leaving games that become legacies. Legacies fade to obscurity, and even obscurity is long forgotten when the development cycle that gave it birth comes again. In one development cycle, called the Facebook/Gamification-cycle by some, a development cycle yet to come, a development cycle long pass, a wind rose in the hills of Montreal. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the churning of the wheels of the gaming industry. But it was a beginning.

Ahem. Horribly mangled Wheel of Time-quotes aside… As March transitioned into April this year, it meant I had spent exactly four years in the game development industry, after I packed my bags and moved to Oslo (and later, to Montreal) at the end of March in 2008 to join up with Funcom – a few short months before the launch of Age of Conan. Since then I have worked primarily with refining, updating and maintaining AoC’s state-machine and animation-systems, while also temporarily taking on a few extra side-jobs where needed such as basic rigging/skinning and animating in Autodesk 3ds Max (very useful for fixing minor issues with character-animations and 3D assets), the creation of particle-effects for spells and environments, scripting triggers and conditions for said particle-effects to play, as well as creating and hooking up triggers for sound-effects for monsters. The common denominator (in my case) for all of these tasks is their link to the animation-systems and/or behavior control center (state machine).

When I crossed that four-year milestone two and a half months ago, though, I decided it was time for a change. Without change, without new challenges, the mind can grow stale and one’s motivation can falter. As luck would have it, an opportunity for change arose, and I took it. As a result, on Monday just hence, when I came back to the Conan-team after a five-month temporary hiatus spent working on particle-effects for monsters in The Secret World (which is just about to launch, btw!), I sat down at a new desk, next to new people (well, people I hadn’t sat next to before, anyway) to start training for a new position: AI Designer!

This is a new and untested field for me, but hopefully I can draw on the knowledge and experience I have acquired over the last four years to smooth out my transition into the world of AI Design for video-games.  It will definitely be in my favor that I have extensive knowledge about the state-machine (which is prominent in AI scripting for AoC), and that I am at least somewhat familiar with the primary tools I’ll be using as an AI Designer. I do, however,  have a lot to learn – though there will always be challenges to overcome and new things to learn. Anyway, interesting times are ahead, that much is certain. Who knows – perhaps this will be the start of another exciting four-year (or longer) journey into the future! :)

(For an insight into what being an AI Designer for Age of Conan involves, check this link. While “slightly” out of date (it’s from 2008!), the general principles (and tools in use) are roughly the same.)

Do Android-phones dream of electric (angry) birds?

After much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the fact that mobile frequency bands in Montreal are not compatible with the old, trusty workhorse of a cellphone (HTC Diamond) I brought along from Norway and would only allow me to use it in 2G mode, I finally bit the proverbial bullet and shelled out for a new cellphone (in fact, I ended up shelling out for two, since the service provider refused to sell me a SIM-card and subscription without also selling me a phone, and the phone I wanted wasn’t in stock, and they would not let me order one…*shakes head in a mixture of wonder and disgust at the way business is being done in Montreal, and at stupidity of self*)

Google Nexus One
Google Nexus One

Anyway, the phone I was after eventually came back into stock, and the Google Nexus One (N1, for short), is a pretty darn decent smart-phone. Large, nice touchscreen (mine has the SLCD one), excellent camera with LED flash, extra mic for noise-cancellation, fancy Android operating system, access to more than 160 000 downloadable applications from the Android Market, etc and so forth. All that jazz. It’s even possible to call people with it, and send messages and stuff. Pretty cool.

One of the main reasons why I bought this particular phone – even though it’s not the newest of the new, not the fastest of the fast,  not the slickest of the sli…actually it is pretty slick – is because this phone (and its kin) is amongst the first phones to receive updates and fixes to the Android operating system directly from Google whenever those updates become available.

Imagine my frustration, then, at discovering that my cellphone provider actually blocks the official Android updates from being pushed (fancy buzzword, wooh!)  to N1 phones bought through them and operated on their mobile network. Apparently they want to make sure that the updates don’t “break” anything for their customers or their network before making the updates available. I guess that might be seen as admirable by some, but it also makes one of the reasons for why I bought the phone redundant. Android updates are in general being pushed out by the phone producers only after extensive testing, in many cases causing the customers to be stuck with old versions of the operation system (1.6) and potentially not receiving updates at all when the phones go “out of date”, as the producers want to focus on newer, flashier phones. I had hopes to avoid those situations by buying a Nexus One, but apparently my hopes were naive and unrealistic.

So far I’ve only missed two Android updates – one (3 1/2 weeks ago) which fixes a WiFi-connection issue that affects me both at home and at work, and another (yesterday) with updates to various system applications. A larger Android update – version 2.3 aka “Gingerbread” – is also on its way, and will probably be here before Christmas. Normally, as a Nexus One user, I should expect to have access to this Android-update shortly after it’s been officially released – but at the rate of updates I’m receiving through my service provider it does not bode well.

However! All is not yet lost. The phone comes unlocked, root access is available by the snap of a couple of fingers, ROMs and kernels can be flashed, and I can basically circumvent my service-provider and install the Android updates myself. Additionally I can install user-developed mods, hacks and feature-additions (hidden hardware features such as FM radio, 720p video recording, even CPU overclocking).

Still, it is a pain in the ass to be forced to jump through such hoops to get hold of updates that many other Nexus One owners have already gotten with no hassles, when all that is stopping me from getting them sent to my phone and installed automagically is the “helpful” attitude of my Canadian mobile service provider.

Oh, and I also gave in and added an authenticator to my WoW account. A version of it that runs on my Android-phone, of course!

Canadian Summer

A couple of months ago – back in early June – I was offered a position at Funcom Montreal, in Canada. The position is the exact same as the one I had in the Oslo-office, and the salary is pretty much the same, but with the added benefit of having a lower cost of living in Montreal compared to Oslo.

It took some deliberation and much chin-scratching to decide what to do next; it’s never easy to uproot and move, especially not to a completely different continent, but in the end I concluded that the pros of moving outweighed the cons and accepted the offer. That was two months ago.

Right now I find myself situated in a temporary apartment in Montreal, and my two first weeks on BritishCanadian soil have just passed. Despite all the fake Frenchmen running around, it seems like a decent enough place. At first glance it seems pretty similar to Oslo and Norway. At second glance, though, you start noticing some differences. The metro on bouncy rubber wheels, and the lack of any air-condition in the metro-stations. The hilarious policies that cellphone service providers operate under (I have to pay both when sending and when receiving SMSs/phone calls? wtf). Monthly bandwith limits on Internet. The fact that drugstores seem to outnumber grocery-stores. The absurd amount of water in the toilet-bowls. The lack of Norwegian brown cheese. THE LACK OF NORWEGIAN BROWN CHEESE!

I did find a Norwegian website that can ship me some of this precious cheese (and other Norwegian food-products), though unfortunately the shipping-price for half a kilo of brown cheese from Norway to Canada seems pretty expensive. No luck as of yet finding anyone/anywhere actually selling it in Canada – though there must be some “Norwegian-Canadians” around (432,515 according to Wikipedia) who should have created a market for it. Hm. Unless they’ve abandoned their cultural heritage completely and forgotten all about the brown cheese! Traitors, all of them.

(Edit: Since this blog-post was originally published I have actually found Norwegian brown cheese in Montreal. Currently I know of two places where it can be bought – though I’ve only ever been to one of them. The first (which I’ve been to) is in a cheese-store inside Atwater Market (2nd floor) called La fromagerie Hamel, and the second is a place recommended to me by a random stranger who read my post and sent me an e-mail telling me about La Vieille Europe, which apparently has quite a lot of special/exclusive cheeses (which the Norwegian brown quite clearly is), though I have not yet been there.)

Brown cheese or not, it does seem like I’m going to be staying in Montreal and Canada for a while, and as my current abode is just a temporary thing that I’ll only have access to for another two weeks, I had better get back to my apartment hunting.

Au plaisir de vous revoir!

Computer troubles

So, yeah – I spent maybe 7 hours yesterday trying to install Windows 7 Ultimate (retail version). This, after spending the last two days before that trying to debug and hopefully fix my previous installation of Windows 7 (trial version of release candidate), to no avail.

It happened late on Sunday just as I was about to go to bed; suddenly, completely out of the blue, I was hit with a blue-screen which then started dumping physical memory to disk, before it promptly restarted my computer. During the reboot, and during all subsequent reboots, the computer would reach a certain point in the startup of Windows where it would simply throw its bits and bytes in the air, give up, and reboot. In other words, a never-ending cycle of reboots.

Disconnected everything, reconnected only the essentials. Still rebooted. Tried various repair-tools, both rescue discs from Microsoft and third-party ones. Still rebooted. Tried with selective RAM-chips. Still rebooted. Eventually I started up the computer again using an older hard-drive with Vista installed, and ran every disk-checking and anti-virus/malware tool known to mankind on the crashed drive (an Intel X-25M SSD), every test confirming that the disk was in tip-top shape and clean of any infections. In short, I couldn’t find any faults with the drive itself, nor with the windows installation.

So I backed up whatever files I needed without any trouble, then bought a full-version of Windows 7 Ultimate (no point in re-installing trial which runs out in… March?), downloaded it and started re-installing the OS from scratch. At which point I ran into yet another issue…

Just as the installation-process reached the “Completing installation”-part, it would freeze and never move on to finalizing the setup. Tried numerous tricks and tweaks and changes and prayers that random people on the Net swore had fixed the issue for them, but without luck – until I switched the monitor from my 24″ wide-screen display to an older 19″ screen, connected using a VGA-adapter (GFX card only has DVI-support), as well as switched out the old wireless keyboard I’d had for years with a wired one. – at which point the OS finally installed without giving me any more trouble.

Today will be a “re-install everything” day for me, and I guess I’ll also take this opportunity to thoroughly clean out the computer for dust and enforce some order to the internal cable-mess. Then I’ll tweak this Windows-installation to new heights and widths and breadths performance-wise using Age of Conan as a benchmarking tool!

Not a good day at all

As days go, this one could definitely have been better. As reported here (the details of which have probably been spread all over by now), about 20% of Funcom’s work-force are being laid off or put on forced leave, and most of those being affected are situated in the Oslo-office, where I happen to work.

I was not, thankfully, among those 20%. Unfortunately, plenty of others were, and it’s going to be really hard to get used to not seeing the now familiar faces of those departed friends and colleagues in the hallways, during the morning meeting, in the cantina – or face to face as a part of the development process. Though not quite as hard as being without a job, obviously…

Best of luck to all those who were affected by the layoffs/forced leave; I really hope I get the chance to work alongside with some of you guys again one day, be that at Funcom or elsewhere. You guys all rock several different sorts of awesome.

Blog maintenance and restaurant criticism

After having just updated to the latest versions of WordPress plus all active plugins for it, I’m experiencing some… funkiness on the admin-side of things. Hopefully it won’t spill out into the actual blog, but with my luck where updates and upgrades are concerned, something bad is almost certain to happen.

Those who wait for pizza have to wait a bloody long time..

Also, I just have to mention this horrible experience a co-worker and I had at Dolly Dimple yesterday. We arrived there at around 8 pm, and the place was all but deserted when it came to other customers. We sat down, peered at the menus, then ordered a best-seller pizza and something to drink. The drinks came, and we drank them while waiting for the food to arrive. Meanwhile, other people had started to show up, though the place could at no point be considered “packed” or even slightly crowded while we were there.

Some amount of time passed. Then, as more time passed and no pizza showed up at our table, we started getting a bit suspicious. Especially considering that the other customers that had arrived after us were getting their food. And finishing it. But we remained calm, collected and patient. At one point we saw something resembling charcoal being taken out of an oven, so we assumed they were just having a hectic day and we’d get the food eventually.

However, sometime after the one-hour mark one of the waitresses comes over and asks whether we’d like something to drink before we go, or maybe some dessert. /facepalm. Actually getting us the main meal first would kinda be a good idea, wouldn’t you think? Turns out they’d forgotten about our order. So they threw some free nacho-chips our way before they went to work on our order. For real this time.

Then, finally, after some more waiting we at last got our pizza. It actually did taste pretty good, and that’s something coming from me who normally doesn’t like pizza all that well… but was it worth 337 NOK ($52,69, split on two people) and nearly 1 1/2 hours of waiting? Not really, no.