If Da Vinci Lived in the 21st Century

Apologies for the delayed post this week. I am in Italy on vacation and so getting the time to post has been less than easy. The first leg of the trip in Rome there was simply too much to see and do. Thankfully, now that we are taking it easy, I have time to sit down and write this. Everyone was telling my husband and I not to go to Rome in August because it is particularly hot, but the plus side is that all the hotels are extra cheap and there are less tourists than usual. One of the things that fascinated me the most in Rome was seeing a Leonardo da Vinci exhibit near our hotel at Piazza Poppollo.

The da Vinci exhibit got me thinking about a lot of things. I actually picked up a biography about the man which I am still reading through today, and it is immensely fascinating. However, I didn’t need a book about his life to identify da Vinci as a multi-passionate individual, so it was easy for me to understand his interest in many different fields, from science to nature to art. The Ted Talk by Emilie Wapnick (I also linked to it in a previous post) described Leonardo da Vinci perfectly. He kept over seven thousand notes in his journals, jotting down everything from to-do lists to random observations to inventions to drawings of everyday life. If da Vinci got bored with one research project, he switched to another with equal fervor. The man also became fascinated with the most random things, such as the tongue of a woodpecker. This led to many perceiving him as weird.

A photo from the Leonardo da Vinci museum in Rome This picture includes real miniature models of his inventions built with wood.

Society recognizes da Vinci as a genius with insatiable curiousity and incredible talent. The sheer amount of inventions and artworks featured in the exhibit blew me away. Yet a thought kept nagging at the corner of my mind. The more I read about the man, the more I wondered. If da Vinci had been born in the 21st century, would we still regard him as a genius? Would globalization and the internet be a hindrance or a help? Would the world even know his name?

I believe that if da Vinci was born in the 21st century, nobody would have ever known of his genius. While the internet may at first seem a boon to a man like da Vinci, it is also a rabbit hole for endless distraction. We know from descriptions written about him by friends that da Vinci was a distractable man. The man had many inventions tossed aside, such as scuba diving gear that was never usable by an actual diver. Luckily for him, this didn’t mater because there was plenty of other things for da Vinci to learn and discover. There was no need to spend a decade deep diving into a subject like specialists do today. That is because 500 years ago most subjects didn’t have much material to learn yet. After all, fields like medicine, natural science, and psychology were just being defined at that time.

Another image from the exhibit.

There is another reason I believe society would not recognize da Vinci as a genius in the modern day. That is marketing. Combining globalization with the internet means we have a world where everyone is competing for attention. I doubt marketing would have appealed to him. I definetely can’t imagine him devoting time to analzying Google’s search algorithm. Not when there are so many other interesting things to learn and discover. People learn marketing because they want to be seen and discovered. Yet da Vinci was only discovered because he was commissioned by wealthy patrons to make art and invent devices. Because of the money he earned, he could afford to pursue his curiosities. This was mentioned several times in the exhibit. This is what he really wanted.

Obviously there is no way to prove to you for sure if da Vinci would be recognized by society as a genius in the 21st century. The broader point I wanted to make is how much more difficult it is today as a multi passionate individual. Every field today has specialities with sub specialties on top of them, and most of them takes years to master. The only way to master multiple specialties is to become a workaholic, such as Musk who famously stated he works 120 hours a week. That is not sustainable, or healthy. Ultimately, being born as a multi-passionate individual in the 21st century can feel like being dealt a tough hand.

Even the famous Last Supper began disintegrating quickly because da Vinci used an unverified experimental technique.

Still, I like to think we can take some solace in the fact that, even someone as brilliant as da Vinci might have been overlooked in todays information overloaded world. At least for me, when I am feeling insecure, I find it a comforting and reassuring thought.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

Recovering From Creative Burnout

It might surprise some people reading this, because I’ve been publishing these blog posts every week for a month or two now, but I have been recovering from creative burnout for quite some time. Part of this is because of my last game development experience I wrote about in my last post, Navigating Your First Game Development Contract. Part of it is because it’s difficult in the saturated social media world to receive feedback for your creative endeavors. Yet another part is our human tendency to compare our work to other creatives who might be more successful than ourselves.

None of the reasons listed above are more valid or more justifiable than others. The worst thing you can do for yourself when you are recovering from creative burnout, is to beat yourself about it. Not only will that fail to get you out of a slump, it will actually make you feel significantly worse and may even lead to depression. In fact, it might seem illogical but the first thing I recommend doing is accepting that it is okay to be in a slump. We are all human beings, and human beings are not perfect. Therefore, you can not expect yourself to go through life never experiencing any creative slumps. They happen to many of us, and we can overcome them.

One of the first things I noticed about my slump was that starting a new project felt like a completely overwhelming task. My energy reserves felt depleted, probably because I used most of them up on my last project. As creative people we are using our right brain constantly and it can get worn out, like a muscle. This is especially true if you just finished tackling a large project. So, have a little sympathy for yourself. I’ve found that when I’m feeling down it helps a lot to practice loving kindness meditation. It may seem like a small step, but it’s important to gain some of that confidence back. Believe you are worth comfort and respect. That starts with loving yourself!

What can you do once you are feeling a little bit better? I suggest starting with small things. Projects that you can share with friends and loved ones to gain back a bit of that validation and start feeling good about yourself again. If you’re a painter, that might mean making miniature landscape paintings on tiny canvases. If you’re a musician, maybe you remix an old track or hit up an old friend for a collaboration. Writer? Maybe you write some flash fiction. Game developer? You might look up game jams on itch.io that have strict limitations on time and complexity.

This self care wheel includes lots of ways to practice loving kindness towards yourself.

The point is to take baby steps toward getting back into your full creative practice. Have patience with yourself. It might require a number of small projects, and you might even have to revisit the first step of practicing loving kindness and compassion for yourself if one of these small projects doesn’t work out the way you hoped or you feel some resistance. If you are burnt out, you should focus on having compassion for yourself and practicing loving kindness.

It is likely that if these small projects feel exhausting or give you no sense of accomplishment, then you experiencing severe creative burnout That doesn’t mean you are broken. It just means you need to give yourself a little bit more time recovering. Focus on rest and relaxation before picking up your creative practice again. Don’t force yourself to work on something creative if it doesn’t give you any sense of joy or excitement.

Another important thing: whether you are burnt out or just in a slump, reduce your time on social media. This goes especially in terms of following successful creatives. Even if think we are just admiring another creatives work, subconsciously we still compare ourselves and feeling worse. If you know you have that kind of masochistic streak, you can temporarily delete some of the social media off your phone. That way you don’t end up mindlessly browsing and feeling worse without even realizing it.

The “do everything” mindset is what often leads to burnout. That is why baby steps are so essential.

Finally, remind yourself that motivation is good, but it doesn’t necessarily come before action. In fact, more often than not, motivation and action are closely linked, and action actually comes first. With the case of creative projects, oftentimes we begin making something, then we become more motivated by our progress, and the cycle repeats itself. So don’t be surprised if your first small project feels a little bit tedious at first, that is normal!

There is a ton more I could say on this subject. Recovering from creative burnout ties into our general mental health and there are tons of discussions around that topic online. However I want to provide practical advice so you can get started quickly. Feel free to comment where you are at in your slump recovery journey, and I will try to offer my best advice. You can also tweet at me @nadyaprimak. Good luck with your recovery journey!

Pitfalls in Working with a Game Publisher

There are thousands of indie game developers all over the world who make games. But, only a fraction of those developers have any experience working with a game publisher. I was one of those developers when I saw an opportunity to work for a start up that published educational games. I submitted my game portfolio to the company and was accepted shortly after. It was a super exciting moment. I couldn’t wait to start working with a game publisher on a legitimate platform.

Unfortunately, my experience working with the company was less than ideal. Perhaps there were some warnings early on, but I did not know what signs to look for. Also, the company seemed eager to share information with me about how to complete the project successfully. They set up a video call with me and e-mailed me the PowerPoint that illustrated the requirements needed. They immediately gave me access to the platform where other developers submitted their games so I could get some inspiration for what game I should make.

I immediately noticed many of the games submitted through the platform were very simple. This made sense, because there was a requirement to complete the game in three months. Still, I felt pretty confident I could make a game that was more interesting. There was a clear incentive for making the games more engaging. Developers were paid by the percentage of users who play their game.

What I didn’t realize, and what wasn’t made clear to me, is that the game I built had to work seamlessly on an internet browser on older iPads. This was the reason that the games I saw on the education platform were so basic. Unfortunately, during my on-boarding the technical aspects of just how simple my game needed to be were not discussed. I had no idea that I could not have a three dimensional game where you could move a character around an environment with arrow keys because the iPads running Chrome could not handle rendering at that frame rate.

It can be difficult to export a game to an iPad or the web by itself, but both at the same time? VERY DIFFICULT

It was a huge blow to my motivation and excitement about game development when the testers reviewed my game. They said that it was unplayable on the required platforms. It was also a shock because I had been using the testing platform provided by the company many times. Before I submitted the game I played through it on the testing platform religiously. It seemed very counter-intuitive for the company to provide a testing framework if “passing” the test didn’t actually mean it would run on the final system.

I attempted to re-factor my game by reducing the complexity. For starters, compressing the graphics and simplifying the 3D models in the environment. After another round of testing I realized that there was no way my game would work within a web browser on an iPad without making huge changes. I had only a few weeks left at this point.

Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t create a build of the game and run it on an iPad myself. The problem was that the game had to connect to the companies proprietary API’s, and those API’s were only designed to run on the companies domain where the testing platform was. To make matters worse, their API also didn’t run on an iPad — only a computer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRVqZ58EcP8&feature=youtu.be
A brief video preview of my game, Grand Canyon Adventure.

In retrospect, I can’t help but wonder if the company was trying to take advantage of eager indie developers. The kind who are too new to know how to distinguish a sketchy arrangement from a legitimate one. I was one of those developers, who trusted that the information I needed to succeed would be provided to me. Maybe it was disorganization and mismanagement on the part of the company that made the technical requirements unclear. Regardless, the result was the same.

I wanted to share this story because I’m sure there are other indie developers out there looking for contracts to prove their capacity and get their work seen by more people. It’s an admirable goal, and far be it from me to discourage any indies from doing that. However, its important to be aware that many companies take advantage of indies eagerness to get professional experience. I wish I had done more research and asked more questions before diving into making the game. Hopefully this post will help those of you reading to be aware of some of the pitfalls. Especially in cases where you are working with a publisher that has very specific rules about the types of games that they accept.

It was not a lack of motivation or excitement about making the game on my part. I read through the rules, visited the forums, and took time to explore the platform the company used. Sadly, I had pretty much completed the game before I learned it would not be publishable on the platform..

Spending three months on a game that ended up not returning any profit is bad enough. Whats worse is the bad taste is still there an entire year later. I can only imagine how much worse it would have been if I signed a contract for a year. I know this has happened to other developers. It is my sincere belief that the industry needs to do a whole lot better. Especially in terms of making the technical limitations transparent, without taking advantage of indie developers passion.

My itch.io page for Grand Canyon Adventure

Even though my game didn’t get accepted while working with the game publisher, I decided to publish my game publicly on itch.io instead. After all, it is a shame to work on something and have it sit unseen on my hard drive. It’s an educational game for middle school students where you navigate a boat through the rapids of the grand canyon. You earn points by collecting gems and answering questions about erosion.

Are you an indie developer? Have you had any bad experiences working with a game publisher, on educational games or otherwise? I would love to hear from you in the comments.

Thanks for reading and feel free to follow me on Twitter @nadyaprimak where I talk more about game development, art, technology, and more.

How the Tech Industry Discourages Multi-Passionates

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about how I sometimes regret specializing in a front end development framework. Mainly because I inadvertently pigeonholed myself into work with outdated technology. What I realized I might have been accidentally implying in that post is that the tech industry therefore prefers multi-passionate people. I wanted to correct this implication because it is extremely incorrect, in fact I would argue that it is the opposite. There are not a lot of creative jobs in the tech industry, at least not if you are a developer. This is what makes it especially difficult for multi-passionate folks.

Technical interviews, especially for developers, are grueling. It is not uncommon to have one or two coding tests, sometimes with multiple developers watching you code live and taking notes while they’re at it. I’ve had cognitive assessments, personality tests, multiple choice questions, timed exams, and everything in between. What sucks the most is that almost all of these tests are designed to assess your left brain. That is, how good you are at algorithmic thinking, or logic puzzles, or your depth of understanding a specific programming language.

Coding reports like this discourage people who are looking for creative jobs in the tech industry

It’s a real frustration for someone like me, who has a mixture of skills in user experience, web design, and front end development. I often find when I’m looking at jobs that the ones which list this mixture of skills as “desired” are also the companies which are very small and basically just want to have one developer that doesn’t mind “working under pressure” (sidebar: if a job asks you about how comfortable you are under pressure, you should probably run away). Then the jobs which specifically want a “front end developer” couldn’t give a damn that I know my way around Photoshop, or that I have an online portfolio that showcases my game development, or that I have interests outside of technology at all.

The closest thing I found among creative jobs in the tech industry that I came across was being a UI developer, which crossed the boundary between user experience design and programming to some extent. But it was still a far cry from truly stretching my creative muscles.

Of course I would not write this if I thought I was the only one who experienced this frustration. There is a ton of gate-keeping in the industry, which you can read about here, here, and here. Not expressing enough passion about coding or not being up with the latest frameworks can easily cost you the job. As a result, people in the tech industry often feel pressured to give up their hobbies and their other interests and spend both their time inside and outside the office brushing up on trends, researching new tools, and making side projects to stay fresh.

The gatekeeping is real. Probably from StackOverflow.

This is a huge turn off for most multi-passionate folks. They tend to get bored doing the same thing each and every day. When they first discover a new interest they might become intensely absorbed in it for a while. But eventually that intense interest tapers off and is replaced with something else. Emilie Wapnick discusses this phenomenon in her fantastic TED talk, which I highly recommend.

The tech industry receives so much criticism for excluding people and ideas. Yet it continuously encourages developers to specialize in more and more specific tools. What the industry needs most right now is people who value the the long term happiness of their customers. That includes the user experience, genuine human interaction, and taking privacy seriously. To do this well, employees should be able to put themselves in the shoes of their customers. Hiring people who have diverse experiences and a wide range of interests would certainly help. Hiring people for their single-minded obsession with technology will have the opposite effect. It will continue to fuel the delusion that all problems can be solved with more technology.

The lack of diversity also discourages multipassionate folks

Some might infer from this that I want to do away with all coding tests. No. I am not advocating for an extreme approach. I think currently the industry skews very far in demanding employees to live, breathe, and eat code. That it is not conducive to a collaborative and open minded workforce. Of course it also relates to the bigger problem of toxic work culture. That, unfortunately, is another can of worms I won’t get into in this post.

Hiring in tech is broken. Having a single minded focus on the developers technical skills dehumanizes them. It also makes multi-passionate folks feel like they need to fit a very specific mold. I believe it is also the reason why so many companies don’t invest in good UX researchers and designers. After all, those skill-sets bridge different industries and require a more multi-passionate approach. Many companies seem to not see the value in anything that is not pure code. Basically anything that doesn’t follow the motto of “move fast and break things”.

That motto has NOT aged well.

Part of the reason I started this blog was to have an outlet to talk about all of my interests. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to write about a multitude of topics. While there are not a lot of creative jobs in the tech industry for developers, there are other ways to stretch your creative muscles. I do it by refusing to force myself into a niche that I would get sick of after a few weeks. The tech industry is changing, albeit not as quickly as I would like. I hope this post reaches the people who can spread the message that multi-passionate people in tech should be embraced rather than estranged.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

Why I Don’t Make Art For a Living: How Capitalism Kills Creativity

I’ve been writing a lot about game development and coding so far on the blog, especially from a creative coder perspective. However today I am going to empathize the “creative” more than the “coder”. I initially created this blog with the help of a book called Renaissance Business by Emilie Wapnick. I discovered her after listening to her amazing TED talk . Basically this blog is my platform to celebrate and share my many passions with readers, instead of forcing myself to fit into a specific niche mold. This post explores the question about whether capitalism kills creativity, and how I have personally found that it’s difficult to focus on creative expression when trying to sell my work and make it marketable.

To bring this back around to the topic of art consumption, I have always thought of art as the center of all things, because artists can make work about almost any topic under the sun, and in almost any form, and still have it be recognized as art. I won’t get into an art history lecture here but if you’ve ever been to a modern art museum you will know what I am talking about. I think that makes art, in many ways, the original Renaissance Business. Why business? Because artists need to eat, too.

A little more background about me before going further. I have been working professionally as a developer for four years. However, I actually majored in Visual Arts in college and still have a lot of passion for the arts. When I was in school I imagined myself being a graphic designer and selling photography and illustration on the side. In my sophomore year I got my first DSLR, a Canon 60D and I was utterly thrilled. I was also lucky to have a family that loved to travel far and wide.

I used to take my Canon 60D with me every time I travelled

As you can guess by now, I took a lot of photos. I also knew a fair bit of photo editing with Photoshop, because it was the same tool I used for graphic design. I loved to tweak my photos and create vibrant, luscious imagery of nature. Unfortunately for me, there was already tons of these images on the internet. I didn’t think about that while beaming at some of my best photos. What I was thinking about was how great my photos might look on someone’s wall. Or how with my nice fancy camera I could print them out at large sizes.

You can probably guess where this is going. Like millions of other people on the internet, I decided to open an online store. There were quite a few platforms to choose from: DeviantArt, Shopify, Etsy, Cafepress, Fine Art America, and all of these other options. I did several hours worth of research and settled on Fine Art America, because I liked how I didn’t have to deal with any of the shipping or printing, and basically just had to upload my digital files and set my prices while letting the platform do the rest. Below are some of my photos, for context:

At first I was hopeful. I saw visitors looking at my images, sometimes commenting. I decided to share on Twitter and Facebook. Got some more visitors. A few family members bought some prints in the first couple of weeks. Unfortunately, that was all that ever came of that shop. Even today I still get visitors checking out my photography, because I haven’t bothered to take down the shop.

That was when it hit me. Being a skillful artist, photographer or otherwise, was not enough to see any success selling your work online (not implying that I believe I am exceptionally talented, just that I put in many hours to hone my craft). In fact, being a skillful artist didn’t even mean that you would get noticed. It might have worked years ago when artists relied on selling to local communities that didn’t have access to a tool allowing them to view beautiful art with one simple click or keyword. Back then, seeing a skillfully painted landscape or illustration might have been at least a little bit rare.

You have to advocate for yourself to make it as an artist in the twenty first century

Perhaps that is not entirely fair of me to say. I have sold a few small creative items over the years. Once I had some illustrations featured in a magazine, and I’ve drawn some portraits in a park for donations that people seemed happy to hand over. Some might even accuse me of being delusional. What was I expecting, that posting some art on the internet would actually mean something? I admit, I was naive. But I think there is something sad about the state of art consumption. It seems the business acumen of an artist ends up being more of a contribution to success than the years they spent perfecting their craft. Maybe this is nothing new though, after all, we know Van Gogh died penniless and hated by many.

Yet I wonder even if artists who were successful in the era of Impressionists would be able to succeed in today’s online world. There are so many things an artist needs to know in order to be able to sell their art to make a living. First, they must be active on social media. They must be active members in several online groups or communities. They must post updates of their work frequently to their followers lest they lose interest. Finally, they must be in tune with popular culture and understand things like SEO, content management, and web hosting. Then they must continuously keep their finger on the pulse of the creative industry they are in. That was when it hit me. Could this mean that capitalism kills creativity?

Competition for selling art online is fierce

Naturally I didn’t know all of these things at the time. My thinking was that I could simply put up my photos and people would come and buy them. I wasn’t ready to devote hours of my day to promoting my new photography store and getting my name out there. I thought my photography could stand on its own, but I realized that was simply not the case. The store has been up for five years now but the only sales were in those first couple weeks.

Fast forward to 2018. I was missing graphic design after working for 3 years as a front end developer. My husband was in law school and after work I was often bored while he studied. Recently I had finished reading The Handmaids Tale. I knew that on Etsy, people liked to buy posters, purses, and mugs with quotes on them. My thinking was that maybe I could sell digital prints with quotes from feminist literature. I bought Photoshop and started to collect quotes from books and authors I liked and download beautiful cursive and italic fonts that would make the quotes look more like a work of art than simply text on a page.

My most popular print on my Etsy shop, Literary Ladies

In many ways the Etsy store I created with these feminist literature inspired quotes was exactly the kind of thing that most marketing gurus and even other successful artists encourage creatives to do. Find a niche that fits into popular culture, create a style or brand, and make items that fit into it. Finally, they must create a store only for selling those items, and make it easy for consumers to purchase.

Sure enough, following these guidelines did lead to some moderate success. Certainly a lot more than my photography store. I sold dozens of my download-able designs (I didn’t want to deal with printing and shipping myself), though most of them were all purchases of the same thing. A Wonder Woman quote (see image above) that I made after the Marvel film was released.

If I had to be honest, this was the most discouraging part of all. It meant that unless my quotes were centered around something popular, nobody would buy it. Even if it was a specific niche with a specific brand. I had been more interested in finding quotes from literature, but those quotes sell in much smaller quantities. It felt like if I wanted to make art for money, I wouldn’t ever be able to follow my heart. Instead I would need to follow hours of research based on trends and popular culture. That concept essentially sucked all of the joy out of making art.

Screenshot of a site letting you buy posters. A good example of how capitalism kills creativity: everything has to be pop culture related.

Perhaps this is more of a philosophical question, but isn’t true art the kind that comes directly from the heart, and brings the artist joy? I don’t mean to disparage people who make art for a living, because I have tremendous respect for them. Especially Japanese animators who toil away under extreme deadlines and often work themselves to death because of the time consuming nature of the art they make. In this case, capitalism kills creativity by literally killing the person. What I really hold at fault is capitalism, and how it turns art away from joy and into another corporate product for consumption. A product that can be broken down into business components instead of creative spirit.

Even if the artist actually enjoys the art they are making, the value of the art is considered so low that it is considered OK to burn them out and basically, torture them. To me, that is a sign of a culture that does not appreciate art at all. It’s a sign that maybe capitalism kills creativity after all. Although my Etsy shop and my Fine Art America website are still up, I don’t really have any expectations that they will ever turn into actual businesses. In fact, I’m not sure that I want them to, because making art is one of the few joys of adult life and I don’t want that joy to be stolen away from me.

Some people say that if you do what you love at work, you never work a day in your life. I would argue that, at least under a capitalist system, if you do what you love at work, what you love could eventually become what you hate. That is why capitalism kills creativity. That is why I have continued to work as a front end developer and make creative works like games, drawings, and generative art as a hobby and passion. I wish this wasn’t the case, but sadly after my past experiences that is what I have concluded.

The most overused quote on the internet.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the state of art consumption, and what you think could be improved. Do you think capitalism kills creativity? Are you a professional artist? Hope to become one some day? I know this op-ed may be a bit depressing, but by no means do I want to discourage readers from making art. The world needs it, even if it goes under-appreciated.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

Making Your First Video Game: 10 Tips

Over the years I have participated in several game jams, some solo and some with peers. I don’t regret getting involved in any of them, but there were definitely some disappointments and frustrations along the way that I think could have been avoided if I had done a bit more of my own research first. I hope this post will offer some useful tips for making your first video game to help readers to avoid some of the pitfalls that I encountered.

Game jams are one great way for someone to get their feet wet with games, even if they’ve never made a game before. The most important thing to remember is to keep the game simple. It should also be mentioned that there is sometimes a pretty thin line between interactive art and game development. Take for example, Nathalie Lawhead‘s work, which I wrote about here. Don’t let the traditional perception of games as mindless shooters burden you. Make sure you check out games on itch.io to see how diverse games have become.

One tip for game jam success: having a good team makes a big difference
  1. Be extremely cautious of teaming up with strangers on the internet. This may be the most controversial suggestion for some and the most obvious for others. The thing is, I do not have any friends that wanted to work on a game, so I decided to team up with some people I met through a discord group. It all seemed fine at first, and many of the team members delivered. We had a story, music, and graphics for the game. Unfortunately, our game developer disappeared a few days before the project was over and never came back, leaving the game unfinished.
  2. Keep your scope small, ESPECIALLY if developing solo. When I was developing one of my first games, I became excited about all of the cool mechanics and logic I could add to make the game more interesting. What I didn’t think about was how each feature I was adding would affect the actual game play. I ended up play testing the game an insane number of times, and still wasn’t sure if it was winnable at the end.
  3. Make sure your UI is not an afterthought. It’s easy to get so caught up in the mechanics and other features of your game that you can forget about how important it is for players to actually understand HOW to play. This is probably my biggest regret with Education Sim. I assumed that players would look at the instructions before they started playing, which is usually NOT the case. The engine I was using added limitations to how intuitive I could make the UI, and if I had given myself more time to think about those challenges I would have had a better game.
  4. Agree on regular check in’s with your team. There is nothing worse than getting ghosted by a teammate when the project is about complete. You can avoid this happening by agreeing on regular check ins where teammates share their progress. That way, if a teammate does not show up or have any progress to share, you can find someone else. This ensures the game still gets completed on time.
  5. Make a game design document early on. Probably the best way to do this is in google docs, so you can share the document with the team and give them editing rights. You want your team to be on the same page about what you are making and what the major features will be. Until it is written on paper you don’t know what ideas are really in everyone’s head. It’s important to know whether you are all really on the same page. This also goes for solo developers, because it will work as a reference for you and keep you clear on the scope of the project.
  6. Draft a time table/schedule to stay on track. You don’t want to be polishing off your graphics when there’s less than a few hours remaining (if you’re doing a game jam) and you’re missing key features. Use google spreadsheets and map out how long you (roughly) want to spend on each aspect of the game. That will keep you from getting carried away. Make sure to mark the priority items as well.
  7. Be experimental. You don’t have to make a clone of another game. Sites like itch.io are not for professional, polished AAA titles. People want to see the trashy, the bizarre, and the experimental games so let out your inner weirdo.
  8. Stay reasonable with your expectations. Many people dream of making it big in the game industry, but the indie game scene is vast. As a result, it’s unlikely your first game is going to be a huge success. You are more likely to be noticed after growing a portfolio of games, with fans who will come back to see what you make next!
  9. Share your progress on social media. Don’t wait till the game is out to share! Twitter has a strong indie game developer community, with hashtags like #indiedev and #screenshotsaturday. You can also consider streaming your game development on Twitch or Youtube. I haven’t tried this myself, but it seems like a good way to build a following. Beginners enjoy following developers who stream. Make sure to save your past streams and link back to your portfolio/game to keep new players coming.
  10. If something is not working, pivot. If you’re not enjoying making the game (and you know you usually do, otherwise what are you doing???), or something is majorly wrong, the final product will probably not be very good. Don’t be afraid of switching it up! Just be sure to account for having less time and knowing the scope of the new game should be smaller.

I hope you found these tips for game jam success to be helpful! If you did, please let me know in the comments and share your games. What tips helped you the most?

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

Cons of Specializing in One Front End Javascript Framework

Four years ago I got my first job at a start up. It was a very proud day. I called my dad from a Starbucks holding the offer letter in my shaking hand, and already imagined myself taking the metro the following week and walking down to the new shiny office building downtown and feeling like a grown up city woman, finally entering the field I had struggled for two years to be taken seriously by, building up my portfolio bit by bit. I was told many times that specializing in a front end framework was the way to go, and it wasn’t until much later that I learned about front end javascript framework cons.

I still remember it fondly, but what I hadn’t foreseen nor had anyone really warned me about was that it’s a lot harder to stay on the cutting edge of new technologies once you are actually employed. At the time the cool new front end framework was AngularJS, and I embraced the opportunity to master the framework, since a) the job required it and b) it seemed like something that would stick around for a while.

There are a LOT of Javascript front end frameworks

Now I wasn’t exactly wrong about it sticking around, but I didn’t expect that four years later I would still be working with, not just the same framework, but the same VERSION of the framework. For those that don’t know, the newest version of Angular today is Angular 8, and it is VERY different from AngularJS. So different in fact that learning it is practically like learning a new framework entirely. Then there is also React, a framework which has rapidly gained popularity and actually become more widely adopted than Angular. On top of that, there is also Vue, which isn’t as popular but is quickly gaining traction as well.

I hadn’t intended to get pigeonholed into AngularJS, but it happened because for the last three years I’ve worked in a city where there are a lot of government related jobs and a lot of enterprise companies that move slowly and use outdated technologies like AngularJS. I also typically found that by the end of the work day, I didn’t have a lot of juice left to teach myself other frameworks. As a person who doesn’t just live and breathe my day job, if I was going to code outside of work I wanted it to be coding games or working on creative coding projects with Processing or other generative art technologies (if you’re interested in this, I wrote another blog post about it here). I imagine there are other people reading this blog who have that itch to express themselves creatively that feel the same way.

There are a LOT of versions of Angular, and quite a few versions of React as well. Its constantly changing.

Many developers will tell you, its hard to work in this industry and maintain a hobby. But without exercising my creative muscles I feel like part of my soul is missing, and when all is said and done I still have that urge to express myself. To be fair, front end development does allow for some creative expression at times, especially if you are working at the ground level of a startup and get to have a say in the user interface of the application or website. But overall I still had the urge to express myself creatively when the work day was over.

What I didn’t always have is the energy leftover to learn the latest and greatest framework, because coding all day can really suck that out of you. So at that point I felt stuck with this specialty in AngularJS, one that is no longer particularly desirable in a field that is ever changing, but also one that is hard to break out of now that I have four years of experience with it.

I don’t want to end on this pessimistic note, because thankfully my hobby creative coding projects like making games also help to show prospective employers that I have the ability to teach myself other languages and frameworks, even if they are outside the front end tool set. However, I don’t think this issue of getting pigeonholed into a front end javascript framework gets talked about enough.

There are many articles about breaking into tech and getting that first job. It is also true that the next job is always much easier to get than the first. Still, it’s also easy to become complacent once you’ve broken in, because there is a lot less external motivation pushing you to keep learning and breaking new ground. This complacency is hard to guard against, but guard against it you must, because otherwise you may find yourself stagnating professionally, unmotivated and unhappy.

I’m curious to hear comments from other developers if they experienced any cons to specializing in one front end javascript framework. Have you found yourself pigeonholed into a specialty in tech? Front end or back end? Do you wish you had more time to pursue creative coding projects?

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

How to Make a Poetry Bot

A while ago I published a post about how I used Spell, a machine learning framework that allows you to train your models faster without the pain of dependency management on your machine, to implement a style transfer. I’ve continued to use Spell, and have expanded into exploring other training models. In this post I’m going to show you how to make a poetry bot.

Today I wanted to write about making your own text bot with Spell. I’ve always been a huge fan of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. I know some find her work a bit morbid, but her poetry has spoken to me throughout many years and I continue to marvel at how someone who rarely left her home could have such incredible insight into the human condition, the natural world, and the realities of life and death.

A portrait of Emily Dickinson, the famous reclusive poet

Since Spell conveniently had a video tutorial for creating a bot trained on lyrics from DOOM, I figured I could apply this quite easily to Emily Dickinson’s poetry.

Surprisingly for me, the hardest part was not the training but the web scraping component. I started out with the Node.js tutorial for web scraping and then poked around some documentation for puppeteer. I also looked at cheerio to figure out how I could get the scraper to press the “next” button. This was necessary for when it reached the end of the results on a page.

At first I decided to scrape poets.org, which only had 5 pages of poetry by Emily Dickinson. It seemed like a paltry amount, and I knew Emily Dickinson had been very prolific. So, I did some searching online to find a better source. Although a bit more difficult to scrape, poemhunter.com ended up being a better source. It had 31 pages of poetry by Emily Dickinson. Jackpot!

I used NodeJS for scraping a website with all of Emily Dickinson’s poems

I did run into some issues at this point, with lots of errors about the socket hanging up that I thought was crashing the scraper. It was hard to deduce exactly what was the cause, but by modifying my file writing function to add each poem to the file one by one instead of appending each poem to an increasingly long string and writing the file at the end, I still got the data back that I was expecting.

All of Emily Dickinson’s poems were added to the same text file. This made it easier for the LSTM training model to process the data. Once the model was created, I downloaded it back to my machine and created a small web app with ML5. The app uses the model to generate new poetry, with an adjustable variable called “temperature”. The variable allows you to change the amount of randomness you see in the generated text. As opposed to the AI drawing purely from the poetry data in the file.

Here is a brief sample of output from the bot, for your reading pleasure:


Birds at the Corn— The Sun— With Men Orchard with Me— The Bone at House— The Bonnet Day— The Milly strain of He can the March— And then I star me— And Death— A Dread His Eyes the Sun— And then the Sun too Day the Birds— The Room To only still— And I too see the Soul That Desert face of Sun— The Man As House He stand— And stand to the Soul a Bee— And then the Soul as Beauty

If you’re interested in creating your own text bot with Spell, check out this video tutorial which I used:

Hopefully now you have a good idea of how to make a poetry bot! Of course if you’re having any trouble and want to see my code, I have it up on github here.

The Best Way to Learn Game Programming Online

Coursera hosts the game development specialization by Michigan State University

Last week I wrote a post about why I don’t think that a game development degree is worth it. However, that does not mean I don’t believe you can learn game programming online. About two years ago I enrolled in a Game Development Specialization on Coursera offered by Michigan State University. At the time I had just moved to a new city with a new job that wasn’t very engaging, so I decided that, after building several JavaScript games, I might enroll in some online courses to finally learn Unity. I believe the specialization offers some of the best MOOC game courses out there.

I had already done an Interaction Design specialization on Coursera, which is probably why I gravitated toward choosing another specialization. Sure, it wasn’t a graduate degree, but a specialization still looks more impressive on a resume than just a single class. Plus I really did have a lot of time to kill. My husband was in law school and was busy with coursework, so I didn’t have much going on at home.

Michigan State University has one of the best game development programs in the country

In fact I had so little going on I completed each course in a fraction of the time. That is, each of the 5 course was designed to take a month, and I completed 1 per week. The first was an introductory course where you make a couple of basic Unity games. The second teaches game design principles, and the third is about selling and promoting games. Finally the last two courses take you back to Unity to build some more complex games. That course also guides you through the game publishing process.

What’s special about the Michigan State University program is that the coursework is laid out in digestible chunks. This is in contrast to an overwhelming list of sections like you often see on Udemy. For example, I bought a Blender course on Udemy that is something like 500 sections — a tad overwhelming. There’s still another reason why I think this program offers the best MOOC game courses. Michigan State University has one of the top-rated game design programs in the country. You may be thinking yeah, but that’s not the same as their online offering. True, but the courses are taught by the same professors, so I would argue that they might be more similar than you would expect.

Roll-a-Ball is one of the first games you make in Intro to Game Development

Like any online course, you do have to have some self discipline in order to get through the material. With a $79 fee (per course) you can prove you completed all of the coursework. At the end you receive a certificate of completion that you can share on LinkedIn. Because I am someone that lacks self discipline, I decided to pay the fee. That way it acted as an extra motivator for me to complete the coursework. The certificates of completion also lend me a little more authority, which is useful.

If you’re interested in hearing more about a particular course, hit me up or drop a comment below. I might write some future posts about my favorite parts of the courses. If you are just interested in the technical side, skip Business of Game Development and Principles of Game Design. The Intro to Game Development Course by itself is enough to get you making relatively simple first person perspective games. But you can also take Advanced Game Development if you want to learn about how to make platformers.

Super Sparty Bros is a 2D platformer game you make in Advanced Game Development

Have you taken any of the courses I mentioned in this post? Finish the capstone? Think there are better courses to learn game programming online? I would love to see links to your projects in the comments, as well as your opinions about the specialization. Maybe you took another course and want to swap notes? Please share your thoughts below.

If you’re curious to see the projects I built in this class, here are the links below. They are in order from the first project to the last project. The last project, Queen Dungeon Escape, is probably the most fun since it actually has some unique mechanics.

Roller Madness – 3D Roll-A-Ball

Box Shooter – 3D FPS

Queen Dungeon Escape – 2D Platformer

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

Is a Game Development Degree Worth it?

The other day I read a fantastic write-up by Australian game development professor Brendan Keogh titled “Are games art school? How to teach game development when there are no jobs”. Basically, it boils down to a discussion about whether or not a game development degree is worth it. It was actually a written version of his presentation from his talk at GDC this year, but since the video of the talk is only accessible with a subscription, he was kind enough to make a version that anyone can read.

It’s probably one of the best articles I have read about getting a game development education and what being a game developer really means. Brendan talks about how game students come in with a misconception about how the program is meant to prepare them to get a job in the AAA game industry. The problem with that, of course, is that there are waaaaay more game development students than there are jobs in the industry.

GDC, the official game developers conference in San Francisco where Brendan gave the talk originally

I have to agree with Brendan on this point, because even in the United States where we have the vast majority of studios, there are whole swaths of the country where game development jobs are almost nonexistent. That even includes metropolitan cities like DC, where the only major studio is Bethesda, but there are at least two graduate programs that I know of offered nearby, and a lot more in the surrounding states.

The thing is, I have a bit of personal experience with the graduate programs in the area. I actually enrolled in a class at one of them, and though I met many lovely people there, at the end of the day I just didn’t feel like the return on investment was worth it for the amount of money I spent. Of course I was in a unique situation, coming from a programming background, having also already made games on my own.

American University has a graduate program and game lab in Washington, DC, but few students end up in the AAA industry

That’s the part that is trickiest, which Brendan also brings up in his article. “The students I’ve seen have the most successes as game developers—be that finding any job or be that getting some form of recognition for the games they make—are the students who act like they’re already game developers. Because they are. You don’t need a degree to be game developer. I would tell this to students regularly.” That is what I feel like I knew intuitively, perhaps because my bachelors degree was in Visual Arts, and Brendan also spends a lot of time comparing game development studies to art school.

The reason he compares the two is because, like art school, students of these disciplines often end up having to pave their own way to a career. In fact, I found it quite interesting that he compared artists with game developers, because it ties into another post I wrote a little while ago about Nathalie Lawhead and her work which bridges the gap between art and games. The skills art and game students acquire can transfer to a number of different industries. For example, a game development student might end up working as a web developer, or a project manager, or a journalist.

Bethesda is the only AAA studio in the entire DC metropolitan area

Thing is, I already had to pave my way to a career after my bachelors degree. I decided I was going to be a web developer, so I spent two years working for my Alma mater in the art media lab while teaching myself JavaScript and building a portfolio. Having paved my way once, I am not as keen on paving my way a second time. Or at least, if I must pave my way, I would prefer to do it without sinking further into debt.

Ultimately, I decided it doesn’t make sense for me to pursue a graduate degree in game design and development. Reading Brendan’s article reinforced my decision. That is because it reminded me that if you make games, you are already a game developer. The degree will not make you more of one. That being said, I really liked how Brendan talked about his approach in teaching a game development program. If I lived in Australia, I might have considered taking his class.

Preview of some of Brendan Keogh’s games on itch.io

Getting students should be focused on making games early, and often. They should be looking at games that aren’t AAA quality but rather those made by indies all over the world. This shifts the perspective of what game development really is and what types of people make games. His article inspired me to stop being a perfectionist and focus on making simple things and releasing them. He also convinced me that the worth of a game development degree is (probably) not equal to the cost. That is, if you are not in great financial straits.

That is the true path to success in the game industry — start making games now. The more you make, the better you get. And the more chances you have of being recognized for what you do. Of course you will fail sometimes. Your game might even be a bit trashy, but that’s part of the process and how you grow. Oftentimes people wait until they are motivated to start a project. But, the sad truth is that if you wait for motivation it might never come. The truth is that action comes first, then motivation, which leads to more action. It is a cycle, but the first step is to make a game.

This blog post is both a reflection and response to the write up by Brendan. Still, I felt like I only touched the surface. If you are still want to learn more, I highly recommend reading it. He gets into all the nitty gritty details, with statistics and everything. You won’t regret it. Or check out his games on itch.io.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.