Posts Tagged ‘productivity’

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 πŸ™‚ .

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 πŸ˜€ .

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 πŸ™‚ .

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. πŸ™‚

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??

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