Socrates said “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
There isn’t necessarily a universal truth for all problems. People have tried to find the “right” way to run a country or a nation, and we’ve come up with democracy, capitalism, communism, fascism, dictatorships, and more. Every time people thought they had arrived at the objective truth and “proper way”, it turned out to fail the test of time. The only objectively true conclusion is that a lot of problems don’t have objectively true solutions. Often the solutions are positive or negative based on your perspective, and this relativism is important to keep in mind. This post is inspired by a Very Bad Wizards podcast where they talk about Jorge Luis Borges’ short story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.
This does not mean that ALL issues are relative however, as some people seem to claim. Most of science provides good examples for this, while we don’t necessarily know the truth about certain phenomena, we can say with a high level of certainty that the truth does exist, and it’s the same no matter how you look at it. This claim that all issues are relative starts to show when people lose faith in the systems which have failed them; they may start to lose faith in ALL systems. Some systems however, while not necessarily objectively the “best”, can still be good and can be improved upon slowly.
We don’t need to know everything. We don’t even need to strive for that. As Socrates said (or supposedly said), wisdom is realizing that we don’t know everything. Knowledge, on the other hand, speaks to objective truths that we do “know”.
We can focus on accepting that we have limited perspective and we’ll always be influenced by biases and our point of view.
If we DON’T do this, we start to think that the things we do know objectively can apply to other things that cannot be known objectively. The example used in the podcast is a Silicon Valley tech person who’s really good at programming and then learns some psychology, and thinks that they can create happiness with their app. (Seems like this has already happened a few thousand times…)
We have to realize our limitations when it comes to knowledge and be wise about how we use and share the knowledge that we do have. If we want to openly discuss, think, or progress as a society, we need to be aware of our perspective and aware of the problem that we’re trying to solve, especially if there is no correct solution.
I recently listened to an amazing podcast with Joe Rogan and Jonathan Heidt which I highly recommend checking out. One of the topics that came up was how to fight the current sociopolitical climate and how to make real change, or rather how to get back on track to diminishing racism, sexism, and other forms of judgment based on people’s appearances.
As they mention in the podcast, Martin Luther King Jr. called out to his “white brothers and sisters” several times in his famous speech. Countless other influential people who fought for the rights of the oppressed have aimed for change by pointing out the similarities between all people, and asking members of opposing groups to understand where they’re coming from without attacking those groups.
We’re not doing that anymore. There are a number of factors and I won’t claim to have done the research to prove it statistically, but I think it’s clear that we’re seeing a trend away from the progress of the last 50 years. What we’re seeing now is lots of name-calling, divisiveness, dismissing opinions of people based on their race or gender or socioeconomic status, and we’re seeing this from all sides. This is catalyzed by social media, and has led us to the tension we feel today.
We can change this and get back on track, and I sincerely hope that we will.
If we can open our ears to people with different opinions, listen to them as people and not as the “enemy”, and realize that we’re all just people, we can get back on track. We can agree that everyone, regardless of who they are, faces certain human problems. We can feel for someone from a completely different world because we’ve had the feelings that they are having at some point in our lives. We can start talking to each other logically and clearly, and more importantly we can start listening to each other without labeling or extreme bias. We can stop focusing on what colour our skin is or what gender we are, and realize that none of that is important if we want to become closer to one another, build trust, and ultimately live in a world of true equal opportunity.
If you’ve read my blog recently, you’ll know that not long ago I discovered Seth Godin and his genius wisdom. At one point in his interview on the Tim Ferriss podcast, he talks about controlling your inputs in order to overcome a feeling of being overwhelmed. In fact, not controlling your inputs can lead to overwhelm, stress, ignorance, dependency, and more, so I’d like to talk about this idea today.
Everything you read, hear, see, and do comes to you somehow as an input. The news you read in the morning, the stories your friends tell you, the tasks you choose to do at work, the art you choose to go see, these are all inputs that you engage with. But what happens when these inputs are too many, too time-consuming, or too demanding? We feel overwhelmed and stressed. What I’m about to discuss can apply equally to your work life as it can to your personal life, and I find that this is a problem I’ve faced while running the business side of my game development studio.
In Godin’s words, it’s a systems problem. We’re not controlling or managing the inputs we have in an efficient or effective way, and it leads to stress. The imagery he used (which I absolutely loved) was that “drinking from a firehose is a really bad way to get hydration. It’s a dumb choice to drink from a firehose,” even if it could hydrate you. I, of course, pictured someone grabbing a firehose, turning it on and carefully trying to get their lips in the stream only to have their face blown sideways by the ridiculously high pressure water over and over again. So how do we manage these systems?
Removing and Rebuilding Inputs
The first step toward diminishing stress from overwhelm is to remove all unnecessary inputs, to the best of your ability.
In Seth Godin’s case, he says that he doesn’t have a television, he doesn’t use Facebook or Twitter, and he doesn’t go to meetings. Not every input can be removed of course, but many of them can. When I say unnecessary inputs I mean anything that you have control over, even if it’s something you enjoy and feel that you need. Then, you can properly start from zero.
The next step is to add carefully picked inputs back into your life. By choosing the ones you care about most, you may realize that some of the things you do are done without you really wanting to. Again, I’m not talking about the things you don’t have a choice about, but rather the things that you do have a choice about but you might not realize it. Once this breakdown and rebuild of inputs is done, you will almost surely end up with less inputs than when you started.
Say No to More Things
In both business and in our personal lives, a lot of us (myself included) have trouble saying no. We think we’ll be missing opportunities or that we’ll offend someone, but I’ve found that saying no to things frees up my time and energy for much more useful things. I almost never miss much, and I’ve always found people to be more receptive to “no” than I thought they would be.
More specifically on the work side: do you really need to follow that business lead? How long will it take you to look into the new software they’re offering? Who told you about the software? How long will it take you to learn it if you do follow through with using it? For our company, I try to make sure that we choose the inputs we see when it comes to things like software. We don’t just open our ears to anyone selling us anything, we seek out a solution to a problem we have only if it’s an actual problem we actually have. Otherwise, I try to defend my team from the noise firmly and unapologetically.
Sometimes we feel like we just have too much to do. Maybe this concerns work, maybe it concerns our social lives, and maybe it concerns hobbies. We’re overwhelmed, and we don’t know where to start. I can think of two good ways to prioritize these inputs: starting small and pushing past discomfort.
Starting small is the best way to get past any kind of procrastination, and is an equally valuable strategy to get started when feeling like we have too much to do. When you look at a messy room with clothes everywhere, dust on shelves, and papers on a desk, you can start by choosing a small corner, working on it until it’s done, and moving along from there. This is an over-simplified situation, but it’s an example of a negative input that you didn’t choose and you need to deal with. In the past, I’ve written very brief outlines for documents I’ve had to prepare. This was as simple as starting a 90 slide presentation by writing six bullet points on a page. That was my first bit of work on the presentation, and that’s all I did on the task that day. From there I could go back another day and put more bullet points between the ones I had already created, and start moving along from there. The tiniest commitment to the start of a task can make a huge difference.
The second situation when prioritizing is to decide whether or not you have the energy to push past what might be a negative or difficult input. In Godin’s (paraphrased) words:
Do I care enough to experience discomfort to get to the other side? If I don’t, then I should turn off the input. Because sitting with an uncomfortable input when we don’t care enough to make things better is just a formula to be unhappy.
As I mentioned above, sometimes it’s not worth the effort to deal with the input. Oftentimes, the seemingly impossible-to-turn-off inputs can actually be turned off.
Control Your Inputs on Social Media
This one relates more to our personal lives, but could have applications in work as well. In our everyday lives, assuming you’re using social media, you’re being bombarded by ideas and thoughts and suggestions of what to do, where to go, how to dress, and what to think.
As much as Facebook’s algorithms are good at serving you information that you already want to see, you can’t stop there. If you do, you risk complacency and ignorance. Facebook, Google, etc. do not control your inputs, and I find that blaming them for your lack of balanced information is irresponsible. You actively choose to use their platforms to get your information, and even within those platforms if you stick to only the things that are being served to you, you will end up missing out on finding greater knowledge and truth.
Read opposing views of news stories that involve conflict between two sides, do the fact-checking on topics you’re going to consider sharing with others or being passionate about, stop spending time scrolling through your personalized news feed, stop falling into YouTube holes watching silly videos… these are all ways of reducing your inputs to things you actually control.
Seek Out Inputs, Don’t Let Them Seek You Out
To conclude, the common thread in this whole post is that you’ll be better off if you actively choose to seek out specific inputs. If you can avoid inputs that throw themselves at you and more purposefully seek out inputs, it can lead to less stress, less feelings of being overwhelmed, less time wasted, less ignorance, and less complacency. Generally speaking, this will create space and time for you to improve in the way you want to improve and live your own life, and not the life someone else tells you to live.
In case you aren’t in the video game world, or if you are in the gaming world but are living under a rock, E3 happened last week! E3 is the annual game conference where all of the big companies announce new games, release dates, and general hype stuff. Here are a couple of the coolest things that I saw, and some reflections about those things.
The first piece of news that stood out to me about E3 this year was Microsoft buying Compulsion Games along with three other studios, and opening a studio of their own called The Initiative. The reason that stands out is because we’re close friends with the folks over at Compulsion, and they helped us get off the ground as a studio and figure out how to exist in the games world from the very start. We’re super happy for them, and super proud of the Montreal community that helped spawn them (or that they helped spawn, really). Beyond our happiness for Compulsion, I think this marks a pretty big shift in focus for Microsoft. The days of larger companies (Microsoft, Sony, Ubisoft) buying small studios was rumored to be over, and I think this proves otherwise. To me, this is just another step Microsoft is taking to show its dedication to the indie or mid-level (some would call it AA or iii games) studios. You should really check out Compulsion’s new story trailer for We Happy Few:
Nintendo showed some amazing stuff in their E3 video, as usual. Most notably among them was a long segment about the new new Super Smash Bros game, which includes all characters that have ever been in any Smash game! You can tell by the amount of time and focus they spent on it that they aim for this game to be the next Smash Bros Melee, and aren’t going to be discounting it for future competitive tournament play. They also showed a new Mario Party game, and announced a million things that will be coming to Switch, including Fortnite. I think the inclusion of Fortnite along with these other games will be huge for the continued success of the Switch.
Also, Overcooked 2 was announced with online multiplayer! If you liked the first one, this one is similar but has more features such as throwing food items, more dynamic levels, and of course online play. This is an interesting move for a couple of reasons; first, the choice to make a sequel instead of provide free updates to the existing game is one that many indie studios are not making. The aversion to sequels has been described by some people in the industry as being very silly, seeing as sequels almost always sell better than their original counterparts if the first game was a success. Why we tend to avoid sequels is a huge question that could probably justify a whole other article, but we’ll leave it at that for now. Second, the addition of online multiplayer to a game that performed well despite having only local play is an important one that emphasizes the idea that a local multiplayer game simply doesn’t have the potential to do well in the current game landscape. Additionally, it might show that it was easier for them to rewrite significant portions of the game and make a new second game rather than make adjustments to their current one, a strategy that many indie studios have avoided (much to the chagrin of some busy programmers).
Apart from those things that were most important to me in terms of announcements, I was excited to see a Cuphead DLC which I will surely buy, and I might be interested in getting back into the Tomb Raider series if I can get over the fact that the games tend to be more like movies than games, and just enjoy the ride.
There are a bunch of big announcements that I totally skipped because they simply aren’t the kinds of games I would play. Fallout ’76 was announced, a new Halo, Forza 4 and about a million shooters that will probably be uninteresting but will surely make millions of dollars. You can check out some pretty in-depth reviews of each company’s press conference on any of the big press sites: IGN, Kotaku, GamesRadar, etc.
For the last 4 years, one of my favourite times of the year has been the week in March marked by the Game Developer Conference, or GDC for short. It’s the biggest game conference in North America, and attracts a bajillion extremely interesting and inspiring people. This year, we were fortunate enough to bring the whole team. Our goals included some team bonding, learning, keeping up business relationships, and more. I definitely think we succeeded, and wanted to share a few of the most important things that I learned. I hope this post will be useful to game developers and non-developers alike.
First off, talking to the amazing devs at GDC for me thinking about Ultimate Chicken Horse and about its future. I’ve had a bit of a feeling that we’ve been working on the project for a long time, and I want to start working on new stuff… but on the other hand, the game is doing well, the community is great, and there’s still a lot of potential. So what’s next for the future of UCH? I didn’t outright ask people their opinion on this, but it was somewhat obvious that it is / was on my mind, so I got a lot of feedback on it. Do we want to go more casual and community-heavy? Do we want to add more mechanics to level the playing field, like Mariokart-style? Do we want to go more competitive? What’s required if we do that? How can we improve the tech? What does the community want? Do we have the funds to hire more people, and if so, what will they work on? I won’t go into too much detail here about my thoughts on the matter, because I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up (or down) before the team talks about it and decides what’s next, but it’s definitely on my mind more than it was before.
Many, many games come from game jams or quick prototypes.
It feels like the majority of the successful indie games that I saw at the conference started off as game jam ideas. This was the case for Ultimate Chicken Horse, and it doesn’t really surprise me that it’s the same for many other games. It seems like game jams are a good way not only to practice skills, but also to come up with great ideas. There’s some fairly common wisdom that it’s easier to be creative given some constraints, and without thematic or timing constraints I think it can be easy to stare at a blank page forever, waiting for the next revolutionary idea to pop out of your brain. Even in the AAA studios, some of the games came from quick pitches from someone who wasn’t an owner or creative director at the company. These were as simple as a short presentation with some mechanics and some concept art, and they were off to the races. Of course, I should emphasize that it’s absolutely critical to be able to kill the project early on if it’s not working, but that’s the case whether it came from a game jam or any other method.
Ask. Just ask!
We’ve been pretty good at this, as I’m somewhat shameless when approaching people for help. But it works! You’ll never know how much you could be missing if you don’t ask other developers, publishers, platform holders, friends, family, etc. for help. The industry has a lot of wisdom that it’s very willing to share if you’re able to overcome the shame of not wanting to bug people… so do it!
Different ways work for different people, there is no right way. This point is actually what my talk with Tanya Short (Kitfox Games) was about, though we looked at it from the business side. We talked about general things that should be considered: burn rates, revenue sources, projections, diversification of studio into multiple projects or not, etc. But I also spoke to people about the creative process, and it was interesting to hear some pretty opposite views.
The big one that stood out to me was when I was talking to someone about coming up with content updates. He said that he tries to envision what the trailer for the update will look like– that is, what’s interesting that the public will latch on to, before starting work. The idea there is that a patch with a bunch of bug fixes and user interface improvements isn’t enough to get people excited, and the trailer helps guide the production toward something useful and exciting. On the other hand, some people like to go the more organic route and play around until they find something that works well. It’s not marketing-driven and is easier to get early feedback on, but whether one way is better than the other is really up to the studio. And as with anything in this industry, many different strategies can work!
You need to build a community before launch.
This is actually a bigger topic, and I’m going to write a full article on Gamasutra and my personal website about this sometime soon. The basic idea is that you give yourself a much better chance at success if you’ve created a community around your game before the game launches.
On a less educational note, there were a couple of highlights that I wanted to point out from the conference this year, that include talks and just general feelings.
The first one of those was my favourite talk, the ‘Composer Confessions 2’ session. The talk was done last year as well, and it brings together five composers to talk about some times that they’ve screwed up and what they learned. I’ve always had a very strong personal interest in game music, and I like to write some myself (even though I’m not nearly professional), so it’s really inspiring to hear people like Austin Wintory (Journey, Assassin’s Creed, Tooth and Tail), Gareth Coker (Ori and the Blind Forest, ARK), Darren Korb (Bastion, Transistor, Pyre), Peter McConnell (Hearthstone, Psychonauts), and Gordy Haab (Battlefront 1 & 2, Halo Wars) talk about their craft.
I only mentioned a couple of the games they each worked on, but there’s a ton more and these guys are absolute legends in the field. Some of the main lessons included making sure to delegate work and not be a control freak, learning to accept what the client wants even if it’s against what your musical instincts tell you, and learning to show completed examples instead of work in progress because producers can’t imagine the finished product in the same way musicians or the composer can. Beyond that, the talk was hilarious. Each person had a 10 minute slot to talk about whatever they wanted, and somehow they all ended up being hugely entertaining and funny.
Another thing that I really liked was THAT Party, a party I hadn’t been to before because tickets sell out super quick and I had other, more “businessy” parties to go to each year. This time I went and I found it really nice to see and meet some indies that I haven’t met, but also to be able to “party” in more of a traditional sense, with drinking and dancing and such. This isn’t because I’m a natural born party animal, but rather because I like the idea of moving from the business contact mentality to the friend mentality, so a mix of that combined with more professional cocktails was nice this year.
Beyond that, I feel like our team had a good chance to bond– not necessarily all of us at once around a table, but in pairs that would split off as we walked places, shared hotel rooms, and talked about non-game stuff together.
Alright, so it looks like this post has become huge and I should probably stop writing before everyone falls asleep. Thanks for reading if you made it this far, and I’ll have more articles coming soon so check the website or follow me on Twitter @RichMakesGames for updates.
As I was biking home from work today, I saw another biker almost get doored (hit by a car door opening) and on the next block, saw a driver almost hit another bike, seemingly oblivious to the entire world around them.
After having biked every day for many years now, summer and winter alike, on bike paths, roads, bigger roads, and roads that probably shouldn’t be biked on, I figure that I’m qualified to give some tips about city biking. If I’ve survived thus far, it must mean I’m doing something right… right? Let’s go with that. So here are some ways to not die while biking (especially in Montreal).
1. Make sure that a car can’t hit you, even if it tried. The basis of survival on a bike is not to trust anyone: cars, bikes, pedestrians (especially pedestrians). Just make sure that you don’t get in anyone’s way, and make sure that whatever they do, you can avoid them.
2. Keep a door length between you and parked cars. This is probably the toughest guideline to follow, so if you are squeezing between a lane and parked cars, go slowly and watch out for a few things:
Check the direction of front wheels; if they’re straight, the car can’t pull out unexpectedly.
Check the lights; if the lights were just turned off, the door is likely to open any second. If the lights are on, it’s anyone’s guess.
Look at the side mirror; often you can see if someone is in the car by glancing at the mirror.
Check the lane next to the parked car (that is, the lane you need to swerve into if they open the door); if it’s tight and there are cars passing, make sure you’re going slowly enough, otherwise you can swerve.
3. Stay on the left side of cars that are turning right. While this may be counter-intuitive to some, it’s extremely important because drivers never check their blind spots ever, and even if they did you shouldn’t trust them to see you (see point 1). By getting between the turning car and the other lane, you ensure that the car can’t hit you, no matter what.
I’m quite sure this one is not legal, but is way safer than what is recommended. This is a photoshopped image of the “right” thing to do… in fact the recommendation is “drivers should yield to bikers”, but we know that doesn’t happen much.
4. Be aware of your braking and accelerating abilities. If you’re going down a hill in the rain, be aware that your braking distance will be significantly less than on a flat road when it’s try. And when a light turns yellow, you need to know what gear you’re in and how hard you can push it to make it through before the light going the other way turns green. Usually when you screw this up it doesn’t lead to death, but it’s just generally a dick move.
5.Don’t bike on dangerous bike paths. For the Montrealers among us, you may already know to avoid the De Maisonneuve bike path. I’m not sure what insolent city planner thought up that one, but so far I know three people who have gotten hit while biking, all three were hit while on that bike path. For those of you that don’t know, essentially it’s a one-way street with a bike path as shown below.
The issue is that because it’s one-way (and even if it was two-way), drivers will sometimes check their blind spot behind them to see bikers coming their direction, but then forget to look at the other side. Honestly it’s safer to bike on Sherbrooke (a bigger street without bike paths).
6. Take a lane! Legally, in Quebec at least (and likely elsewhere in the world too), you should take a lane and should not squeeze between a lane and parked cars. Further, you should definitely not squeeze between two lanes of moving cars unless death is the kind of thing that appeals to you. If you’re in a sketchy situation, take a lane. Yes, people might get pissed off because you slow them down, so maybe consider another route next time… but take the lane this time to be safe.
7.Don’t take risks if you don’t know the lights. Ideally, you wouldn’t take risks at all, and you’d come to a full stop at stop signs, and you’d never go through a red light. But if you’ve been biking for more than 43 seconds, you’re bound to do these things. My suggestion then, be smart about it! If you don’t know the walk light timing or the synchronization of lights while going down a hill, don’t risk it. Play it safe until you know your way around your route.
8. Clearly show pedestrians and cars where you’re going. What I do to make sure that people know where I’m going is that I’ll often dip my shoulder and turn my head a bit to the side, tilting my body as if I was leaning on my bike but not actually doing it enough that the bike turns. Usually this clearly indicates where I’m going and they react accordingly. It’s like that awkward thing where you walk straight at someone and don’t know which way to go, so you sidestep awkwardly. Just… higher speed.
9. Bike in front of where a pedestrian will be when you cross their path. This is probably the most controversial and debatable guideline. In many cases, I don’t even do it, but I believe that it’s the right thing to do. All of bike-bike, bike-pedestrian and bike-car problems are basic kinematics problems. In the case of crossing paths with a pedestrian, I’m going to present a very counter-intuitive idea.
If a pedestrian is walking at a constant speed, and you’re biking at a constant speed, it should be easy enough to predict where they will be when you cross paths with them. Some bikers choose to go behind the pedestrian, so as not to scare them or make them feel cut off, but this presents a big problem. If the person gets worried, they’re going to freeze or slow down instinctively. If you’ve predicted where they won’t be, well then you might be running right into them.
People rarely (if ever) speed up when they feel like you might not know what you’re doing, so if you plan to be ahead of where they will be then you ensure that if they walk at the same speed, slow down, or even freeze up (some people really don’t understand how much control of our bikes we have!) then you’re guaranteed not to hit them.
10. Avoid leaves, gravel, and salt. Especially if any of this stuff is wet, it can really slow down your braking time or make you slip if you’re turning. Wet leaves can be even more dangerous too, because sometimes they can get caught in your brakes and make your brakes hugely ineffective. The salt part is less for braking and more for the health of your drive-train, but this is usually a winter biking problem and most people aren’t that crazy.
That’s all the knowledge I have to share right now, I hope it helped at least to make you more aware of the decisions you make while biking, and maybe helped to create some good habits as well. I think that people who are just starting to commute by bike as well as people who have been doing it for a while can benefit from a reminder once in a while. Also I really like biking and was inspired to write, so there you have it!
If you haven’t played the beautiful, 30’s era cartoon-inspired game Cuphead yet, then you should. It’s an extremely challenging platformer shooter made up of a slew of intense boss fights mixed with some run ‘n’ gun levels as well. You can check it out on Steam here, and I’ll put the trailer below for reference.
I’m not here to review games however, as there are a bajillion other people who can do that better than I can. What I wanted to talk about today was one of the many things that Cuphead does right, beyond its precision platforming, innovative art style and skill progression. One of the things that I noticed is that:
CUPHEAD ISN’T ASHAMED OF BEING A VIDEO GAME. THE GAME DOESN’T MAKE EXCUSES.
The game presents the player with an extremely clear, simple motivation right at the start and explains why you need to fight all of these bosses. Next, an elder (your grandfather, maybe? I don’t remember) tells you he can bestow upon you some super-power that makes you shoot from your hands. What?
The answer to that “What?” is that it doesn’t matter. At all. You know why you’ve bought this game and why you’re playing it. The developers know why you’ve bought this game and why you’re playing it. Why should the game need to go and make excuses about what it does and why? The game should also know that you’ve bought this game, and it should definitely know why you’re playing it.
An example of what might have been done in another game would be that you would be told some elaborate explanation of the lore and the justification behind these super-powers, or you might be sent on some sort of process to figure them out. Once you get this ability (to shoot), you’re sent to a tutorial, which pretty clearly states that it’s a tutorial. Again, no bullshit. You’re in a game, playing a tutorial. That’s it. You’re not playing through what is an obvious tutorial, while the game attempts to hide it by pretending it’s a a part of the story or making up another excuse as to why you can, for example, swing a sword at people infinitely but never die.
The final example of this is when an ability is unlocked or purchased. Forget the fact that you can buy new “weapons” even though it’s just your hands shooting stuff; it also tells you “Press Y to equip your new weapon” or something similar. Clearly, you’re in a video game and need to know how to play.
I won’t claim that all games should be this up-front about everything they do: motivation, control, tutorial, etc. Different strategies work for different games, and each game has their way of doing things. But it was a nice relief to see this kind of approach after playing many games which try to pretend that everything has to make sense within the world of the game, as opposed to admitting that they’re video games and that people need to understand how things work, even if it breaks the “immersion”.
Anyway, go check out the game. It’s doing amazingly well and with good reason, so give credit to the folks over at Studio MDHR.