Monthly Reflection #4 – Game Release!

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 received my new Alienware 17 R4 laptop, and with it was able to package my pinball game without any hiccups!.

All the freezing and crashing problems I suffered with Unreal have more or less disappeared as well.

Other than that, I wrote the Learning Game Dev guide I promised last month.

My Second UE4 Project: Z’s Pinball

A simulation of a classic pinball machine, made in 4 weeks using UE4’s Blueprints (no C++ just yet).

Things I learned from this:

  • How to code using Blueprints
  • How to make editable Blueprints of assets using Blueprint Splines and exposed parameters
  • How to create basic Materials
  • How to use decals
  • How to create simple VFX in Unreal Engine’s Cascade Particle System
  • How to make a simple UI in Unreal
  • How to package and cook games in Unreal
  • Basic performance optimization
  • Using Git with Unreal

What’s Next

During the making of Z’s Pinball I realized how dreadful my color sense is 😆

So, I’ll be focusing on visual skills during July. Namely color, light, VFX and perhaps some modeling.

This ends this month’s report. Your comments and feedback would be greatly appreciated, so do comment below. 🙂

To invest in yourself is the best investment of all! by Randall Tiongson

Monthly Reflection #3 – Invest in Yourself

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

In May I worked on a Pinball simulation using Unreal Engine 4 as a learning project.

I meant to release the game by the end of the month, and while I did finish it, I just couldn’t publish it.

The UE4 Editor is a Power-Hungry Beast

I own a 9-years-old Dell Inspiron N5010 with a dual core 2.4GHz processor and an ancient AMD Radeon HD 5000 graphics card that, with care and an excellent build quality, is still working flawlessly.

However, it’s well below the recommended hardware requirements for Unreal and, although it runs Unity 3D without any problems, it just can’t handle Unreal at all.

I’ve been working on the lowest editor settings and the most FPS I get is 23.

That wasn’t too bad in the beginning, but later on UE4 proved to be buggy and unstable, constantly freezing and crashing while I work or try to test the game.

The most pain I suffered was when it was time to compile and package my project. Despite it being a small Pinball game, it took hours for a single build, and it often failed with errors that had nothing to do with my actual code 😑 .

So, I gave up.

Instead of wasting so much time (several days so far), I decided to buy a new gaming laptop that more than can handle Unreal.

Gaming laptops are over priced in Bahrain (like, think 2x its actual worth) and my budget is tight, so I bought an Alienware 17 R4 from Amazon for around $1330. Here’s hoping it comes in one piece 🤞.

I’ll be attempting to package the game again when the laptop arrives.

Investment is Key to Growth and Self Fulfillment

If you’re an amateur or hobbyist, then my advice is to stick to what you have till game dev becomes an important part of your daily life.

But, if you’re already committed to becoming a pro and starting your own studio, then it’s extremely important to invest in yourself And your tools.

Never again follow some random tutorial on YouTube or go through low-quality courses just because they’re free.

While their authors mean well, amateurs unintentionally teach some really bad habits that are costing you a ton of time and effort without you realizing it.

Invest in your education and choose courses and books made by experts in their fields, don’t shy away from paying for high quality knowledge.

Also, buy the tools that would greatly improve your workflow.

Whether it’s a Visual Studio plugin that vastly improves your C++ workflow, a license to some expensive software or more capable hardware, investing in your tools and speeding up your work allows you to create more and higher quality content in less time with fewer hiccups.

I can’t emphasize on how important these two points are. If you’re in this for the long run, then not investing might hamper you or downright stop you from achieving your goals.

What’s Next

I completed the 30 Day Blog Transformation Challenge course on Udemy, and while waiting for my new laptop to arrive I’ll be focusing on my blog for a week or two.

I’ll be writing a guide to learning game dev effectively, and will touch on choosing your learning materials in more detail.

Other than that, while working on Pinball the skill I lacked the most was coloring and lighting. I will subscribe to Gnomon’s Workshop and do their color courses.

I’m planning on using Houdini in my work too for creating assets and VFX, so I’ll go through Gnomon’s Houdini fundamentals course as well.

To know when I post my guide or other articles, subscribe to my RSS feed or newsletter .

Monthly Reflection #2 – Starting Small

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 April I focused on learning the basics of Unreal Engine 4, mainly the editor and Blueprints. If you read my previous reflection, you’d note I had planned to make a small mobile game that helps players de-stress.

However, after researching stress, its causes and ways to combat it and designing as small of a game as I could manage that would fulfill that purpose, I quickly realized my technical skills (especially in UE4), are not up to the task.

So, I switched strategies and focused completely on developing my technical skills by making a series of small projects, and have no intention of commercializing them.

My First UE4 Project: A Basic Room Visualization

No code, no Blueprints, no gameplay or asset making, focusing completely on learning the very basics of Unreal Engine 4, which is the level editor.

A 2-week project where I made a basic room using pre-made assets.

Things I learned from this:

My Second UE4 Project: A Pinball Machine Simulation

After achieving level 1 on my previous project, level 2 would be to learn to develop actual gameplay using Blueprints as well as creating custom materials.

For that purpose I’m making a Pinball machine simulation. This project is still ongoing, you can see my current progress below:

Note: I mistakenly wrote Day 4 in the tweet, but it's actually Day 5

Writing Better Blog Posts

Beside game development, I’ve been going through the 30 Day Blog Transformation Challenge course on Udemy.

My wish is to write better, more engaging blog posts that are more useful to you.

I would greatly appreciate any feedback in this regard, and if you have any requests for content you wish to see from me, please do ask.

What’s Next

The plan for next month is to finish the Pinball Simulation project.

I haven’t decided what to do after finishing the Pinball game yet, depending on my skill level at that point, I will either get started on my first commercial game or do another learning project.

This ends this month’s report. Your comments and feedback would be greatly appreciated, so do comment below. 🙂

Monthly Reflection #1 – Starting Anew

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

Every last Thursday 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

Woah, where to start.. This has been a very crazy and hectic month. Well, I guess I’ll begin by explaining why I’m restarting Z’s Laboratories.

On 8th March, 2018 I resigned from my job, and despite how much I liked my colleagues and working there my health was deteriorating rapidly due to stress and my already battered body couldn’t take the hit. But since IT jobs in Bahrain (I worked as a web developer) are generally very stressful, and I had enough cash to last a year + was confident in my small project and business management skills, I decided it’s time to give Z’s Laboratories another shot.

11th March was my last day at work, and on 12th March I started working on setting up a business.

My main focus for the month was to write a simple and feasible business plan for my first year of operations, setup my work processes, establish a new routine and get started!.

Throughout March, I accomplished the following:

  • Planning my work/life routine and applying the new habit.
  • Planning the gaming and game dev events I will participate in.
  • Writing my 1st year plan using the Clean Canvas business pattern, and setting a clear vision for Z’s Laboratories.
  • Building a small HTML5 game called Hooman is Yum!, and publishing it on Kongregate, essentially establishing my 1st income stream.
  • Putting Hooman is Yum!’s source code up for sale on Scirra store, which became my 2nd income stream.
  • Participating in Unreal Bahrain’s Bahrain Comic Con booth and showcasing 4 of my games.
  • Setting up an accounting system for Z’s Laboratories.
  • Signing a contract with myself to better manage the business and finances while holding myself accountable.
  • Preparing an excel sheet to track my work hours, tasks and leaves.
  • Setting up a YouTube channel for Z’s Laboratories and uploading the 1st video.
  • Updating my portfolio, website’s content and layout to match my vision for Z’s Laboratories.

I’ve set my work hours to be from 8AM to 2PM, Sunday to Thursday while having 45 paid leave days that I can take anytime of the year. This is both to maintain a steady productive workflow while having a stress-free and balanced life style. I go to bed around 9PM and eat my meals at the same times everyday to keep my biological clock ticking like a real clock.

My current routine looks roughly like this:

Time/Day Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
6AM-8AM Morning Ritual* Morning Ritual Morning Ritual Morning Ritual Morning Ritual Morning Ritual Morning Ritual
8AM-2PM Work Work Work Work Work Free Free
2PM-4PM Family Time & Lunch Family Time & Lunch Family Time & Lunch Family Time & Lunch Family Time & Lunch Lunch Lunch
4PM-5PM Study/Practice*** Study/Practice Study/Practice Study/Practice Study/Practice Free Free
5PM-6.30PM Free Free Free Free Free Free Free
6.30PM-7.30PM Preparing & Having Dinner Preparing & Having Dinner Preparing & Having Dinner Preparing & Having Dinner Preparing & Having Dinner Preparing & Having Dinner Preparing & Having Dinner
7.30PM-9PM Night Ritual** Night Ritual Night Ritual Night Ritual Night Ritual Night Ritual Night Ritual

You may have noticed that I’m treating myself as my own employee. This may sound strange, but I did this for 2 main reasons:

  1. I have a very real tendency to overwork myself to death and self destruct while neglecting everything and everyone around me, so by setting strict boundaries I make sure to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
  2. It makes managing and planning the business easier, while giving me stability in my personal life.

This setup isn’t for everyone, but it’s working extremely well for me and I look forward to each new day.

* My morning ritual consists of exercise, shower, breakfast and dressing for work
** In my night ritual I turn off all electronics, dim all lights, meditate, reflect and get ready for bed
*** For this year I'm studying Japanese

What’s Next

The type of games I decided to specialize in as Z’s Laboratories is 3D stylized Open-World games for Nintendo Switch, that have a positive effect on the players’ real lives, either by teaching them a real world skill, exposing them to different view points and getting them to reflect or by making their day a bit better.

To prepare myself for this path, next month’s main focus will be to build-up my game dev skills by making a small game that helps players de-stress after work. I will aim to publish it on both Steam and mobile app stores for iPads and Android tablets, since that combination roughly matches the Switch’s hardware.

I plan on making all assets for my games by myself as part of my business model and put them for sale on asset stores, hence establishing small passive income streams while building games.

This is going to be a very exciting year for me and hopefully I’ll be able to at least break even, that will let me continue for another year without getting a “real” job.

 

This ends this month’s report. Your comments and feedback would be greatly appreciated, so do comment below. 🙂

Weekly Reflection #7 – New Changes

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

Character controller and mecanim scripting done! 😀 The programming for SHIFT is almost complete and the remaining work is mostly art and level design. Although my part is more or less finished, I’ll be helping out the other team members with their own work as needed. However, not the upcoming week as I’m preparing a mini game design workshop I’ll be holding for IGN’s convention next Saturday, as well as a showcase for BGD. If you’re in Bahrain next weekend, make sure to drop by and say hello!

Beside working on the game, I’ve been doing some maintenance on the website. Main change would be setting up my new Monthly Newsletter. I realize 1 or 2 emails per week for each post posted is a bit much, so I decided to create a monthly newsletter to be sent out the last day of every month, and perhaps give exclusive tips for subscribers. You can subscribe here:
[newsletter]

 

What’s Next

I’ll be preparing my workshop for IGN next week, and plan on redesigning the website a bit. Mainly the home page, to make it more attractive. I also have some posts coming up that would be especially helpful for beginner game developers, and plan on making such posts regular from now on, so stay tuned!
 
I hope you enjoyed my post! As always, comments are encouraged and welcomed. Cheers!

About Z’s Laboratories

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