Monthly Reflection #9 – Refocusing on UE4 and Going to USA

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

Every last working day of the current month I publish a report reflecting on the previous month. These reflections exist to demonstrate my progress, share my experiences and help transfer what I learn to others.

The Past Month

This November I took time off to prepare for the Bahrain Game Jam 2018, simplified my schedule, tapped into my investments to refocus on learning UE4 and applied for Train Jam 2019’s diversity program.

I’m writing this reflection a bit late because of the game jam ending on 1st of December, and the subsequent chaos that I needed to clear up first.

Against Sahara – Current Status

Didn’t work on the game this month, and have decided to postpone development for awhile and fully focus on simply learning UE4.

I needed to do this move sooner but what stopped me is my lack of cash savings which would’ve lasted me a couple more months at most.

But since then, I decided to cash in my stocks and bonds.

This will cover another year of living expenses, and allow me to focus on improving my UE4 skills and wait on releasing a game just yet.

Learning UE4 – Going Deeper

I have spent this past month mostly reworking my UE4 workflow and upgrading my UE4 development skills.

The difference showed in my Bahrain Game Jam 2018 (BGJ18)’s entry, where if you compare to my previous solo jam entries the upgrade in production values is quite clear.

This is a gameplay video of my BGJ18 solo entry from end of November:

This is a screenshot of my Global Game Jam 2018 solo entry from January:

You can download both and play them to see the difference from here:

Simplifying my Schedule

I’ve decided to let go of “gym day”, and instead start the week every Sunday by studying the business side of things and doing research, while the rest of the week to be spent on whatever project am working on, whether a learning project or a commercial game.

Instead, I’m now doing shorter, more-intense bursts of exercise throughout the day, everyday and don’t count it towards my work schedule.

Applying to Train Jam 2019’s Diversity Program

A couple of weeks ago I saw the application for Train Jam’s diversity program just 2 hours before deadline, and signed up straight away.

The team behind the initiative have accepted me into the program, am going to Chicago and San Francisco on March 2019 if God wills it.

Two of the most difficult aspects of game development in Bahrain and in the region in general, is the severe lack of quality education and access to experienced devs and game publishers or game investors.

Participating in Train Jam as well as attending the Game Developer’s Conference will give me access to all of these!.

Needless to say I’m very excited, and grateful for the opportunity as the game developers community in Bahrain has been trying, and unfortunately failing, to kick-start an industry here and go beyond hobby projects for 6 years and counting, but this might finally be the catalyst towards a real industry here (hopefully).

What’s Next: Going More Advanced in UE4

I’m working on a small 3rd person survival game and plan on working on it throughout December, while going back to Against Sahara afterwards.

This ends this month’s report, hope you enjoyed and if you have any feedback please comment below ๐Ÿ™‚ .

Showcasing Against Sahara

Monthly Reflection #8 – Marching Ahead

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

Every last working day of the current month I publish a report reflecting on the previous month. These reflections exist to demonstrate my progress, share my experiences and help transfer what I learn to others.

The Past Month

This October I worked on my current flagship project Against Sahara, helped organize Unreal Bahrain game dev meetup which happened on 6th October, and made changes to my weekly schedule as well as my goals.

Against Sahara – Current Status

After going through 7 iterations of the game’s design, I finally ended design work and started development!.

So far I have a very ugly-looking-but-working main menu and started work on the card play framework.

I don’t have anything to show yet since it’s mostly backend work for now, but I plan on having a basic version of the game playable by next month.

Organizing Local Game Devs Pro Meetup

This proved to be a lot more time consuming than I first anticipated, but largely in part because it was my first time and was learning the ropes, although the meetup proved to be a success.

I also held a very quick talk introducing Kenney’s Asset Forge, which is a fantastic tool for quickly making art assets, especially for non-artists.

Due to the time I spent working on the meetup, I didn’t get to work on Against Sahara as much as I hoped and got a bit delayed.

Speeding-up my Pace

Last month I mentioned that I don’t feel like am progressing fast enough on my Houdini skills or the game, but to solve this I needed to look at not just my time management but also my focus.

So far my weekly schedule looked like this:

Sunday: Gym Day, which is exercise + learning about indie game business.

Monday: Study Day, where I studied Houdini.

Tuesday to Thursday: Project Work, which is mainly business activities for Z’s Laboratories and Against Sahara.

But I’m changing my schedule to this:

Sunday: Gym Day + Study Day, spend the day exercising, studying indie game business and UE4 development.

Monday to Thursday: Work, doing business activities for Z’s Laboratories and developing Against Sahara.

I’ve decided to let go of Houdini for now, and fully focus on learning the Unreal engine.

My skills in Unreal are not up to where I want them to be yet and it’s showing in my slow progress on Against Sahara, so I decided to refocus on Unreal and use my Sundays to make very small 1-day projects.

Also, Houdini and 3D modelling in general is a complex skill to learn with many sub-skills needed, and dedicating just one day a week was not enough.

On the whole, trying to learn UE4 + Houdini + Designing commercial games all at once was inefficient, which is why I’m removing Houdini from the equation for now.

I’d remove the business side of things as well and just focus on learning UE4, unfortunately my savings won’t last me forever and I do need a proper source of income within the next few months.

What’s Next: Building a Playable Version of Against Sahara + Designing a Small Custom Environment in UE4

I’ve already started working on a Halloween-themed environment that I plan on finishing next Sunday.

Development of Against Sahara is also under way and while slow am making steady progress as I wrap my head around how UE4 works.

This ends this month’s report, hope you enjoyed and if you have any feedback please comment below ๐Ÿ™‚ .

Monthly Reflection #7 – Step By Step Towards Our Goals

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

Every last working day of the current month I publish a report reflecting on the previous month. These reflections exist to demonstrate my progress, share my experiences and help transfer what I learn to others.

The Past Month

During September I worked on my current flagship project Against Sahara, helped Unreal Bahrain with a lot of tasks for the community and finished going through the Houdini Fundamentals Book.

Against Sahara – Current Status

Designing a card game that is fun, engaging and has educational value proved a lot more difficult than I first realized.

While I originally planned to finalize the design by first week of September, I’m still designing as of today since research is taking a lot more time than first realized.

I’ve gone through 5 iterations so far where I redesigned the entire gameplay and continue to edit and playtest.

I just received today a book I bought as a reference material on the Berber people who live in the Sahara, who’re my game’s characters belong to.

I expect a few more changes to the game’s design after going through the book to make it more representative of the Berber people and their lifestyle.

So far, the gameplay is almost done, all the cards been designed and the story is conceptualized but the gameplay and story is yet to be finalized.

Learning Houdini

I’ve finished the Houdini Fundamentals Book, and started making simple things like low poly books and heightfield maps without tutorials to better learn the tool.

Unfortunately the Houdini Apprentice license doesn’t allow me to export FBX or use the Houdini Engine for UE4, so until I buy a subscription I won’t know how my models look in engine.

I will be buying a license soon of course but only after I learned the tool well and started making assets for Against Sahara, since the sub is quite expensive.

New Weekly Schedule Review

Last month I started a new weekly schedule, and after reviewing my work and progress for the month of September I can happily say the experiment proved successful!.

My energy and focus are better than ever and the game has been progressing steadily.

The only thing is I feel am not progressing fast enough on my Houdini skills or the game, but I’ll refrain from any further adjustments for the next month as new habits need time to prove their worth.

Helping and Being Helped by the Community

Mahmood Alsarhani from Regnum Studio kicked off a new weekly event for the game dev community in Bahrain called Co-Dev Day.

Every Saturday Bahraini game devs gather in a coffee shop and work along side each other on their games.

I’ve joined the first Co-Dev Day and did a spontaneous one on Thursday last week with Adel and can say it helps a lot for focus and also to get feedback from each other.

I’ve also taken quite a bit of time off from my game to help organize the next Unreal Bahrain meetup on 6th October.

Working together on our individual goals and helping each other makes everyone more likely to succeed and I’m immensely grateful for all the work Yusuf, Mahmood, Noof, Moneim and all the contributors put into the community.

What’s Next: Finalizing Design & Building First Digital Playable for Against Sahara

Not much left design-wise so I’m likely to finish it within next two weeks, afterwards I’ll start work on creating the digital version of the game.

I’m aiming on depicting 1/4th or less of the final game in a demo, which will include the first phase of the game along with finalized art.

But for next month the goal is to build a playable with placeholder assets only to further test how the game will be played on screen.

This ends this month’s report, hope you enjoyed and if you have any feedback please comment below ๐Ÿ™‚ .

The Minimalist Lifestyler Screenshot

Monthly Reflection #6 – I Love Game Jams!

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

Every last working day of the current month I publish a report reflecting on the previous month. These reflections exist to demonstrate my progress, share my experiences and help transfer what I learn to others.

The Past Month

During August I worked on my current flagship project Against Sahara, participated in the Zanga Game Jam 2018 and reviewed my work schedule to come up with something better.

Against Sahara – Current Status

I’ve bought domain name againstsahara.com for its future marketing website (nothing there yet), and I’m in the middle of finalizing the game’s design after building prototypes and testing.

I should be finalizing the design (concept/story/game rules/art/etc.) by 6th September next week.

Zanga Game Jam

The 2018th edition of the Zanga Game Jam happened from Friday 17th to Sunday 19th and we had a local site at Corporate Hub 9 in Amwaj Lagoon – Muharraq.

I joined in with a couple of new devs and built with them The Minimalist Lifestyler around the theme Minimalism.

The Minimalist Lifestyler Screenshot

The Minimalist Lifestyler Screenshot

This jam is the 4th I’ve joined in the past 12 months, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon!.

They’re an awesome way to meet and work with new people and play around with fresh ideas ๐Ÿ˜€ .

New Weekly Schedule for a Healthier Self

I felt like my growth was stagnating and my health was deteriorating slightly, so I decided to experiment with a new weekly schedule.

Starting from last work week of August (26th – 30th), instead of small blocks per day for various activities I separated the week into blocks.

On Sunday it’s Gym Day, when I focus entirely on exercise

Monday is Study Day, where I focus on improving existent skills and learning new ones (currently learning Houdini).

From Tuesday to Thursday is project work, which is mainly business activities for Z’s Laboratories and Against Sahara for now.

The effects so far are promising!, starting the week with heavy exercise left me energized for the rest of the week, and dedicating a specific day(s) for study and work made me more focused and ended up a bit more productive than usual.

But it might just be due to excitement of the change so won’t know for sure till I review results during next month’s reflection.

What’s Next: Learning Houdini & Building Digital Demo of Against Sahara

I’m going through Houdini’s official “Houdini Fundamentals” book at the moment, and plan to complete it by end of September.

I wish to make my own assets for my games and chose Houdini as my tool of choice, so this is in preparation for making Against Sahara’s art.

Once I finalize the game’s design, I’ll start building the final version of the game, starting with a story-less and art-less demo.

This ends this month’s report, hope you enjoyed and if you have any feedback please comment below ๐Ÿ™‚ .

Monthly Reflection #5 – Time To Switch Gears

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

Every last working day of the current month I publish a report reflecting on the previous month. These reflections exist to demonstrate my progress, share my experiences and help transfer what I learn to others.

The Past Month

I mentioned last month how my lighting and coloring senseย suck,ย so I did quite a bit of studying this month, mainly on the visual side of things.

I signed up to The Gnomon Workshop for a 1-month subscription and went through the following courses:

Lighting & Coloring Practice

With practical skills you have to apply them to learn, and so I practiced lighting and coloring using a pre-made scene from the asset store:

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What’s Next: My First Commercial Game

Since April 2018 I focused almost entirely on building up my game dev skills, and it’s finally time for me to put them to the test.

I already started working on my new project in late July, and plan on finishing a demo by mid-August (hopefully).

I’ll be announcing and showing a physical prototype of the game (final game will be digital) during our local game dev community’s next meetup on August 4th.

As for the UE4 VFX course, I didn’t apply what I learned just yet since I decided to prepare a demo for Gamer’s Day in Saudi that will be happening in October.

I’ll be going through it again at a later date, either during the new project if I decide to create original VFX for it, or after finishing the game.

This ends this month’s very short report, hope you enjoyed and if you have any feedback please comment below :).

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