Weekly Reflection #4 – Studying and Working from Home

Written by Zainab Al-Ansari on . Posted in Blog, Reflections

 

Every Saturday I publish a report reflecting on the previous week. These reflections exist to demonstrate my progress, share my experiences and help transfer what I learn to others.

 

The Past Week

I began development with my new SHIFT team this week (last week was just setting up). It went fairly well, I completed my programming task easily which was to create the base for the game’s core mechanic. Although, I was forced to waste a bit too much time reading up the existing code base. Next week I’ll be helping Danijel (our leader and animator) to get the new Mecanim system working on the code side, but I don’t have any background on Mecanim so I started learning it with Unity’s tutorials. I also began practicing low polygon, stylized 3D art as am hoping to create game assets for both my own projects and others’ by selling them on the Unity Asset Store and the new GameDev Market. I tested the waters by making a simple barrel and a pine tree by following tutorials from PigArt YouTube channel, but plan on designing my own models in the future. I’ve dabbled into basic 3D modelling and animation before using Blender, here is some of my previous work for a university elective:

As you can see my skills are fairly basic, which is why I decided to go the low polygon route for starters, and as I level up I’ll make more detailed models. One major change this week was my new schedule. I finally managed to organize my time in a way that lets me actively enhance my skills, finish my work and have time for myself and loved ones. Here is the schedule (Friday & Saturday is weekend):

 

Time/Day Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
10AM Study/Practice Study/Practice Free Study/Practice Study/Practice Free Free
11AM Study/Practice Study/Practice Free Study/Practice Study/Practice Free Free
12PM Study/Practice Study/Practice Free Study/Practice Study/Practice Free Free
1PM Lunch Break Lunch Break Free Lunch Break Lunch Break Free Free
2PM Work Work Free Work Work Free Free
3PM Work Work Free Work Work Free Free
4PM Work Work Free Work Work Free Free
5PM Work Work Free Work Work Free Free
6PM Work Work Free Work Work Free Free
7PM Work Work Free Work Work Free Free
8PM Work Work Free Work Work Free Free
9PM Work Work Free Work Work Free Free

 

The new schedule worked really well for me, and it’s flexible enough that I study or work on whatever is most urgent at the moment. Among the subjects am studying right now is Electronic Engineering and Game Design. I study EE basics mainly off the text books available on All About Circuits. The reason why am studying EE is, first I’ve always been more enamored with hardware than software (I liked to open up broken equipment and look inside as a kid). Second, I joined Google’s new Little Box Challenge that’s calling for the next evolution in power inverters. When I stumbled upon it I thought this is a good excuse to start learning more about electronic devices and how they work, so I signed up. (P.S. Deadline to join is 30th of September, if you’re interested). As for game design, I’ve been building lots of prototypes while working with the book, Challenges for Game Designers. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in making games, the writer’s practical approach to explaining the various components of games and how they’re designed and built is really the best way to learn design. I mean, you’re not going to learn much by just reading about it, you need to do it!

 

The biggest problems I was having this past week were the constant interruptions from my family while I was trying to work. They often broke my concentration for minor things. Also, we’ve been having a lot of trouble with our broadband connection, which is why am late on releasing this particular reflection. Without internet I had no choice but to wait till today and go to a coffee shop to write (which is where am sitting now). This is quite troublesome, and internet problems aren’t exactly rare in Bahrain, but I can’t afford to waste so much time. My study time for today now went to writing this article.

 

Analyzing Problems

The problem with SHIFT’s current code base is lack of documentation and standardized conventions. Random naming of variables and functions, no comments what-so-ever and no guide lines to how the project is aught to be engineered led to wasted time for any new programmer joining the team. As for my family’s interruptions, they’re simply not aware of my work time.

My lack of a backup-plan in case of an internet-outage lead to this article’s delay, so I’ll need to create one.

 

What’s Next

I’ve mentioned the issue with lack of guidelines to the SHIFT team with an unanimous agreement, so this week I’ll be writing a wiki for it. I’ll also explain my work schedule to my family so they know when am working.

Batelco, Bahrain’s supreme-ruler of the Telecom companies, is offering a new cheap 4G data-plan for youth. I’ll try it out and see if I can work well with it. If so, I’ll use it as my main internet connection, and use our home broadband as backup instead.

 

This is my longest reflection yet, I hope you benefited from it. Please share with me your feedback and opinion by commenting below or sending me an email via the contact page.

Cheers πŸ™‚

Weekly Reflection #3 – Listening to One’s Heart

Written by Zainab Al-Ansari on . Posted in Blog, Reflections

Every Saturday I publish a report reflecting on the previous week. These reflections exist to demonstrate my progress, share my experiences and help transfer what I learn to others.

The Past Week

I discovered something very surprising about myself this week…

I need a team.

No, I don’t mean in the sense of having more skills on hand or the sort, I mean I can’t bear to work alone. This astounds me because I’ve always been more of an introvert, so the idea that I hate working alone seems absurd. But that’s what it is. I tried to fight this awhile, explaining my unwillingness to open Unity to simple doubts or lack of motivation. But no, deep down I knew I just didn’t enjoy walking towards a goal without anyone by my side. So, I decided to join a team and made a post on the Unity forums offering free services as a programmer.

The response was overwhelming. At first I feared nobody would be interested and I’d be stuck waiting for weeks on end, but thankfully within just a day several people contacted me to join their teams. I talked to a few, and joined up with Danijel, a nice Croatian artist. I immediately felt this is someone I’d like to work with, although he can be a bit negative at times.

Work was slow this week as I was settling down with the new project, a 2.5D Platformer, and Git proved more of a hassle to setup than I anticipated. A full day was wasted trying get it working on my machine until I finally managed to do it.

 

Analyzing Problems

The most important thing I learned in the past 4 years of hacking my productivity, is to note what’s not working and getting rid of it immediately. If you’re forcing yourself to do something, then you’re not achieving your full potential. This is why I decided to make the jump and join a team so soon, the longer I waited the more time and potential I’d end up wasting.

 

What’s Next

Next week will be interesting, as I start tackling my new responsibilities. I’ve also planned a weekly schedule to keep ahead of all the stuff I need and want to do, so I’ll see how that will affect my weekly churn-out.

 

What I want you to take from this post, is to pay closer attention to what your heart is telling you. I’ve thought deeply and analyzed my own emotions to come to my “need a team” conclusion, and the benefits are already showing with my momentum suddenly on fire. So, next time you’re going through a whirlwind in your head, sit back, take a deep breath, and ask your heart What the heck do you want from me??

Weekly Reflection #2 – Prototyping

Written by Zainab Al-Ansari on . Posted in Blog, Reflections

Every Saturday I publish a report reflecting on the previous week. These reflections exist to demonstrate my progress, share my experiences and help transfer what I learn to others.

 

The Past Week

It’s been a productive week, and my wake-up trick helped immensely. After building a playable prototype, I ran a playtesting session with a couple of friends.

Β 

It’s very early in development as you can see, but prototyping early and often has lots of benefits, and I’ve already noted a major one. So far I’ve only been toying with a few ideas for mechanics, but the playtest helped me see the game inside. Now I know what game to build, and unless unforeseen obstacles come in my way, I’ll be releasing the game by the end of the month enshalla. (it’s small)

The biggest problem I had this week was with the playtest scheduling. When I’ve built a core mechanic, I didn’t want to make any assumptions on what sort of game would be good with it, and instead waited to watch actual players toy around with the pure version. I ended up wasting an entire day waiting without further development until I met my friends, and instead written an article to minimize lost time.

Analyzing Problems

The reason why I ended up wasting development time, was because:

1. I didn’t schedule a playtest early enough

2. I greatly overestimated the time I’ll need to build the core mechanic

 

What’s Next

Next time I need player testing, I’ll make sure to book players early. It will also be very helpful to find alternatives to in-person testing when not possible.

I hope you benefit from this reflection. I know playtesting so early can be scary if you fear judgement, but its benefits can’t be stressed enough. Unless you’re prototyping some kind of a patent, you don’t need to worry about people “stealing your idea”, and the benefits, from saved time to saved costs, far outweigh such risks.

 

God Bless, and please comment below with any thoughts πŸ™‚

Users VS Competition, and the Golden Age of Platforms

Written by Zainab Al-Ansari on . Posted in Blog, Game Tips

As I mentioned in my first post, I’ll be reporting on what I learn so you can benefit too and this is the first such post.

 

Back in April 2014, I attended a technology forum called iTECH Gulf, a famous regional event for ICT professionals. One of the presenters was Borut Pfeifer, a designer and lead engineer in the team behind Skulls of the Shogun, a successful turn-based strategy game for beginners. He talked about the challenges faced in development of the game, and some surprises they learned along the way.

 

One such surprise has to do with their most successful platform.

 

Skulls of the Shogun is available on Android, iPhone, iPad, iPod, Steam, Xbox 360, Windows Store and Windows Phone. Out of all of those, you might be surprised to know the most-sold version is Windows Phone edition. If you’re keeping with industry stats, you should be aware that Android has the biggest chunk of the smartphone industry, with iOS closely behind while Windows Phone is barely competing with the dying BlackBerry.

 

Infographic: iOS and Android Grow at the Same Pace | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

 

So, why is the game most successful on the platform with the least amount of users? To explain this, Mr. Pfeifer went on to give an analysis of the situation, and he described a general overview of a platform’s life-cycle:

 

  1. Early/Young: Platforms in this stage are only just sprouting, and generally don’t have many users or competition, proving development a risky bet. One such platform can be the Oculus Rift.
  2. Late/Old: Mature platforms are those with lots of users and competition. Although they have a much bigger potential user base than new platforms, the aggressive market requires luck and a good marketing strategy/budget to compete.
  3. Golden Age: These golden eggs are those who have already matured from their infant state, and have a big user base but the competition have yet to catch on.

 

According to Mr. Pfeifer, he believes Windows Phone is in its Golden Age. True enough, not many developers take Windows Phone seriously, and those who do tend to be beginners into the industry. Because of that, the Windows Phone Store is filled to the brim with low-quality apps and games, while Windows Phone users remain hungry for quality apps. Having a Lumia 520 myself, I can attest to that since I find it hard to get a quality app. So it’s no wonder that when a high grade game like Skulls of the Shogun came out, Windows Phone users gobbled it right up.

If you want to take advantage of that though, you should hurry up; because the number of quality games is increasing and soon there will be a fierce competition.

 

Bottom line is, to mitigate your risk as much as possible, you should try to target both old and new platforms, instead of putting all your effort into an already crowded market.

 

I hope you enjoyed this article, and if you have any further insight into the situation, please comment below πŸ™‚

Thanks

 

Weekly Reflection #1 – Building the Foundation

Written by Zainab Al-Ansari on . Posted in Blog, Reflections

Every Saturday I publish a report reflecting on the previous week. These reflections exist to demonstrate my progress, share my experiences and help transfer what I learn to others.

 

The Past Week

This week’s goal was to build my business’ foundation by updating my website, listing down and understanding my current skill set, researching the relevant markets and planning my future goals and next steps to take. You see, what I wish to achieve this work year (September 2014 – July 2015) is to answer two main questions:

1 – Can I make a “livable” income entirely online using my skills and interests?

2 – Is this life-and-work style the right one for me?

I’ve decided the best way to go about this, is for at least the first 6 months to only use skills I already have to build products. Right now what am confident of using is my development (mobile apps, games, websites), 3D modeling and writing skills. I researched online markets and possible way of monetizing my skills, and decided to make a game for my first project with a focus on innovative gameplay, since my art skills are lacking. I have already begun working on a concept and built a prototype last month, and will continue exploring possibilities with it.

The main problem I had this week is procrastination. Although I completed my tasks for the week, I did end up wasting hours and this is a problem I must solve now if I want to accomplish my goals.

 

Analyzing Problems

The main two reasons why it took me so much will power to start, was because:

1. I was tired and lacked sleep. I use an alarm to get up 7am everyday, but due to fluctuating sleep time I ended up sleeping too little.

2. I didn’t have a strict schedule.

 

What’s Next

I have a neat little trick up my sleeve for fixing my sleep while waking up on time without an alarm, which I’ve been using for years, and silly me didn’t use it last week. Interested in knowing what it is? Well, just tell your sub-you to wake you up!.

o.o

I know it sounds crazy, but try it. When you go to sleep and after laying down a few minutes and you start to doze off, make an effort to scream inside your head WAKE UP AT 7AM!Β Or whatever time you want to wake up in. It helps to visualize the words and numbers, I also find it particularly useful to imagine my sub-conscious as her own person while giving me the thumbs up that she’ll wake me, and it works like a charm!*

*DISCLAIMER: This technique isn’t perfect, the time you actually wake up will differ from your target depending on when you sleep. Especially because no matter what, the brain will wake you up only when you’ve slept enough, and this tends to be in blocks of 1.5hrs.

So, what I’ll try to accomplish next week is figuring out the main mechanic of the game I’ll be building. I’ll also try out a stricter schedule, working from 8am till 3pm with a lunch break, and avoiding the alarm as much as possible.

I hope you enjoyed this reflection (and don’t think of me as crazy…). I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please comment below πŸ™‚

Cheers!

 

A New Beginning

Written by Zainab Al-Ansari on . Posted in Blog

Salam Alaikum, and welcome to my humble blog. My name is Zainab Al-Ansari, and am an aspiring Legendary game designer. I come from the little country of Bahrain, and at 23 years I’ve recently graduated from Bahrain Polytechnic, ICT bachelor majoring in Programming.

 

During the last year of our studies at poly, we are required to get a job related to our major and work throughout a semester, mine was the position of a Web Developer at VII Tech.Β Part of poly’s requirements is to submit weekly reflections where we look back on the previous week, and objectively discuss our failures and successes, what we learned and what we need to do to improve. I found these highly beneficial, not just to understand my strengths and weaknesses, but also to see how far I’ve come later on, and so decided to continue the practice. However, instead of keeping these weekly “reports” for myself, I thought perhaps other people might benefit and learn from my experiences, which is why I decided to release them for the public. Expect them every Saturday starting 6th of September, and if I fail to deliver feel free to scold and call me lazy!

 

So you might be wondering why would you want to read some unknown person’s thoughts? Well, for one thing I expect the blog to be especially helpful for game developers, as well as those who work from home, as I’ll be documenting both my practices, their effects and my game development efforts. But more than that, anyone who shares my love of knowledge would benefit. You see, calling learning my passion, is an understatement. Learning new things excites me, it’s the reason why I wake up in the morning, and consider it my life’s purpose. I want to see, feel, taste and hear everything there is to experience, know of all there is to know, learn of all humanity’s sciences, art, music, literature and all we’ve done. Unlikely dream, but I still pursue it eagerly, and have been so for as long as I remember. If you’re curious enough, you’ll be happy to know that I’ll be sharing not just my work but my pursuit of knowledge with you as well. So I hope you’ll stick along and share our journeys together!

Contact Me!

I wish to hear from you, so please feel free to contact me whether to give feedback, ask for advice or anything else. You can use the contact form here, send me an email directly at zainab (at) zslaboratories (dot) com, reply to my posts in the comments section below, or post in my Facebook page. Also, if interested you can subscribe via email or RSS feed on the left, to receive notifications of my posts.

Looking forward to hearing from you πŸ™‚

Cheers!

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