NaNoWriMo 2015 Chapter 1 – Planning!

2014 was my first attempt at NaNoWriMo. I failed in the most spectacular of fashions. Just shy of 16k words. Out of a minimum 50k. Not even halfway. For someone who only decided on Oct 31st that they’d give it a go, I’m not ashamed. In fact, I’m bloody impressed.

Of course, I could run through the ‘excuses’, I’d just moved to Oxford, I’d just started a new job, I’d just come back from GameCity, blah blah blah. Excuses mean nothing. I’m still impressed.

The 15k words I wrote are probably garbage. I can’t even bring myself to go back and read what I wrote, but here’s a link – I can’t even remember what my overarching plot was meant to be.

I started 2015 with an awesome writing plan – a short story a day! Aiming for around 500 words, using Story Cubes, what could go wrong? Turns out, everything can go wrong. You go out one evening after work and are too tired to write that day’s story, boom, behind schedule. You’re sick for three days, can’t even look at a screen and spend a few days recovering? Boom, behind schedule. You start trying to improve your fitness and get a rigid gym schedule going? Boom, behind schedule. You get the picture.

I’m a little sad that I won’t be in Oxford for this year’s NaNoWriMo as the architecture and history of the city made for some great inspiration. However, I’ll be partaking from Manchester. The city where I’ve never felt so creative, so motivated. Maybe that’ll help me. Maybe my plan will help me.

I don’t have a plan yet, per se. But read this as a pledge. A pledge that over the months between now and Oct 31st, I shall conjure up a plan, a plot, maybe even some fully fleshed out characters ready to bring them to life on Nov 1.

VideoBrains June – Can Developers Ever Be Objective Consumers?

First post in a long while, but here is the transcript of a talk I gave today (June 20th) at VideoBrains in Loading Bar, London. I was due to give this talk back in January, but due to a number of reasons (namely crippling social anxiety), this got pushed back to June. Whilst this talk had been prepared for the previous slot of January, it got rewritten and has evolved over time and is mostly two talks – one based on the industry in general and one based on my own experiences – gelled together.

Hi, I’m Hannah and I normally do talks based about facts, figures and data all about accessibility, so please bear with me during my first ever talk about my opinion on something.

I do feel that I need to add a bit of a disclaimer of when I use the term ‘developers’ I mean anyone and everyone involved in the creation of games; designers, QA, artists, programmers… the list could go on.

So let’s get to it…

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Assassin’s Creed Unity’s release was a joke. For those of you who have spoken to me for more than five minutes will know that I’m the biggest defender of Assassin’s Creed, but, Unity was an embarrassment. However, our reactions to it, as developers were no less embarrassing. Sure, Ubisoft could have handled the whole ‘no playable female characters’ scandal more appropriately, but in turn, we could have been far more forgiving in light of the bugs and issues upon release.

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I am not defending the issues and bugs at all. As a QA engineer, I don’t think my job description would allow me to do that! Day One patches are an evil upon the industry. I don’t know exactly how they became to be the norm, but they are. And we’re the biggest critics. Non-developer consumers of video games may just grumble once or twice about them, but just about every time there’s a major AAA  release with a day one patch, we all (and yes, even I’ve done this once or twice) taken to Twitter, Reddit and everywhere else to bemoan the slight inconvenience getting between us and the game.

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A common occurrence in this situation or when games release with bugs (no matter the severity), is the phrase “did this game even go through QA?!” I’ll let you in on a secret – of course it went through QA. If it didn’t, the game wouldn’t even run. The game wouldn’t even exist in a playable form. Maybe I’m preaching to the choir here, but the attitudes towards QA are disgusting, and from time to time, developers have made me feel ashamed to “only” be in QA.

I like to play games for the narrative, for the gameplay. For context, here’s a short explanation of how and why I got into games;

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I do not remember the first time I played Spyro The Dragon. I do remember the years it has stayed with me. I couldn’t have been more than eight years old. My dad probably bought the game for me, he was always the one to buy games for me.

For years, the lovely, charming young purple dragon stayed close in my heart. He still does to this day. Being from Wales, I have never been surprised by my feeling of kinship towards the dragon. What has surprised me in recent years is how much this game shaped my future without me realising.

Eight-year old me wanted to be a forensic scientist. Over the passing sixteen years, the career path of choice has flirted with translator, linguist, psychologist. I have ended up in games, specialising in QA and usability.

Spyro The Dragon provides a bright, vibrant universe in which to run, glide, headbutt and breathe fire. Much like many 3D platfomers from the nineties, Spyro The Dragon contains many hub worlds, each filled the brim with different levels, bursting at the seams with a huge range of themes and environments. My favourite of which resides in the first hub world, The Artisan World. The level in question is Stone Hill, the home to farming dragons, bouncing lambs and rams roaming free throughout the level.

In a way, this level symbolises where I come from; one side of my family hails from the bounding hills and valleys of South Wales, the other from all over the country, mostly small coastal towns. Stone Hill contains both of these landscapes; gems hidden among trees, dotted across the hills; treasure chests tucked away on a small beach at the very edge of the level.

Stone Hill contains something more precious than memories of my homeland, Stone Hill is the place I first encountered the concept of digital finity. To those of you perhaps not familiar with the mechanics of Spyro The Dragon, Stone Hill introduces the gliding mechanic, forcing the player to use it in order to complete the level.  The aforementioned hills create a circular track above the level, making the player use the newly learned gliding move to get there. This track is home to a blue-wearing egg thief, but that pesky creature is not what this is about. This creature is merely a vessel to move this forward, the initial reason I explored those hills.

Stone Hill provided the first limitation on my digital imagination. Many hours were spent walking into, headbutting, flaming the invisible force-field that acts as the world boundary around the upper track of Stone Hill. Even to this day, I load up Spyro The Dragon at least once a year to try and break it. I need to break it. Standing with my nose pressed up against the glass, I can see the outside world. I need to break through. The glass must shatter.

Perhaps this need to break through the boundaries is what has inadvertently led me to a career in QA. The trope of “you must spend your days running into walls over and over again to see if you can break through” is one that always comes up when I reveal I am a QA tester. Whilst that could not be further from the truth of my day-to-day work, there indeed have been games I have worked on in which I had to exactly that.

This egg thief and little purple dragon are the sole reasons I got into games, and the sole reason I gave up on games for ten years. After studying psychology at university, I realised I wanted to go back to games, to create them. So I had to play them.
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I can’t think of a time where I’ve thought “I’m going to drop money on a game and judge people’s programming skills”. But I do find myself noticing the slightest of issues, issues so small and insignificant that I wouldn’t even spend more than a minute logging the issue into Jira. But five plus years of being in the industry and being involved with the creation of games has clearly wormed its way into my head.

We’re clearly not objective about our consumption of video games, and a large percentage of job adverts for games jobs even specify “a passion for games” as a requirement for the job. Of the four games companies I have previously worked at, I have not met a single employee who wouldn’t call themselves a ‘gamer’, including non-development staff. I have often wondered if this means a HR department will pass over on a say, a programmer who doesn’t enjoy games, but loves the technology and hire a self-identified ‘gamer’ instead.

I’d be interested to find out if the film industry is as vicious as we can be. I wonder if writers spend their time questioning another writer’s use of grammar, or lexicon. Take these Stephen King quotes (both taken from ‘On Writing’) for example;

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

This can easily translate directly into games development. In order to be a great game developer, you have to play games, immerse yourself in games and develop games. As King says, there’s no shortcuts. Sure, if you’re a lighting artist, you’re going to want to play games to see how other games handle lighting, to see if you can do better. If you’re a narrative designer, you’re going to study games of various genres and be better than them. If you’re a QA tester, you’re going to subconsciously spot bugs. We can’t make better, greater games if we don’t know what the competition is doing.

This second quote, which I think is slightly contradictory;

“I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, most fiction. I don’t read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read.”

Again, this can be translated directly to games. We all got into this industry out of passion for games. No-one in their right mind is under the impression we’re in it for the money, that’s for sure. In order to continue to make great games, we have to still enjoy playing games. No matter the reasons we play games, we can’t constantly have our ‘developer’ brains switched on when playing. That’s too much like hard work. The hard work should be spent making the games. The last thing any of us want is for our hobby to become like a chore.

* this will be updated with image credits once I’m back to a stable internet connection

Moving On: Saying Goodbye to Pawnee

They say that home is where the heart is. My heart belongs in a fictional town in an often forgotten state in a country I have never visited. Pawnee, Indiana feels as real to me as my home town. These two towns could not be more different, aside from one being fictional and the other, well, being in Wales. They have both, however, had comedy shows based on them. Pawnee being the setting of long-running, well-loved NBC show Parks and Recreation, Barry playing host to Gavin and Stacey from BBC Wales.

Parks and Recreation aired from April 9th 2009 to February 24th 2015, spanning seven seasons. Only the first two of which have ever broken onto British airwaves. But that did not stop the global reach of this show breaking down borders, breaking down walls between people. If recent events have anything to go by, making new friends is a lot easier if you have Parks and Recreation reaction gifs to hand.

I remember the week I was introduced to this show as though it was yesterday. It was the middle of August 2013. I was living, alone, in Liverpool nearly 300 miles away from home. I had just moved to this strange city, had just broken off things with a long-term partner. I had never felt more homesick. An acquaintance had mentioned this show, Parks and Recreation more than once.

Living in Liverpool was the first time I had truly moved out of my childhood home. Sure, I had just spent four hours on the south coast of England at university. But this was different. This was the big, wide world. And it was scary. One lonely night after work, I found myself pondering what to kill away the hours watching. Next thing I knew, I had consumed the entire first season of Parks and Recreation and the early morning sun was filtering through my window. I was hooked.

Before long, and coincidentally the day before the season 6 premiere, I was all caught up with the comings and goings of the realistic characters of the Parks department. The characters are more true to life than most people I know. However, I could quite easily point to people in the office and say “He’s an April” or “She’s a Leslie”. But deep down, the characters represent parts of each of us that we may not want to admit to. Personally, I very often take on board Ron’s dislike for people, April’s general hated of everything, Ben’s nerdiness, Leslie’s determination, Ann’s… Well, I think Ann Perkins is a special character.

The journeys that we have been on with this characters are deeply personal ones, sometimes even journeys of reflection and finding things in us that we never knew existed. Comedies are not made with this purpose in mind; 30 Rock is another prime example of this. Relating to these two shows is easy, both are centered around strong females who reside in predominantly male worlds. That has not stopped people of other backgrounds falling in love with these shows and their characters.

Saying goodbye to this show has been like moving out all over again. The wonders of “what will the future hold”, the anticipation, the worries. These were all respectfully handled in the finale of Parks and Recreation, which was a pure joy to watch. Just joyful, raw emotional resolutions. Hope for the future.

I hope to return home one day. I know that Pawnee, Indiana will be there waiting. With waffles.

Hannah’s Stories From Cubes – Week 02

Hannah’s Stories From Cubes is a daily series of flash fiction as inspired by a set of Rory’s Story Cubes. These weekly round-up posts (updated every Sunday throughout 2015) will collect all seven links and give a brief overview of how each week’s writing has gone. If you wish to read the stories the day they come out, please follow Stories From Cubes on Tumblr.  

Week 2! This week has been hard. But during the weekdays, which is when I expected I would flail about a bit. Turns out, that attempting to have a social life and do this doesn’t quite work so as such I ended up writing Friday’s, Saturday’s and today’s stories today. So as a bit of a “pick-me-up” I have decided to slightly tweak my aims here with Stories From Cubes; 365 short stories throughout 2015. This means that if, say for example, I end up going on holiday and not having access to a PC for a week, I can write that week’s stories on the days before I go away. I think this will give me a lot more flexibility with regards to other aspects of my life. Without any further ado, here’s this week’s stories! (Click the dates for the links. Links should open in a new tab.)

January 5th 2015

There’s not much I can say about Monday’s story, other than the only dialogue in its 409 words is “KLARKALTH THALRRRK?”. Yup.

January 6th 2015

Tuesday’s story was slightly more autobiographical than I would have liked. But at 403 words, I feel that it was quite cathartic to write. May also possibly have been very, very loosely inspired by Alice In Wonderland.

January 7th 2015

Wednesday’s story was abrupt and nonsensical. But hey, it’s about a guy going to sleep. Sleep is always nonsensical. The abruptness comes in at just 394 words.

January 8th 2015

Thursday’s story was my first attempt at something vaguely horror-ish. I think I may have managed to pull it off. Someone did tell me it was “creepy”. I’ll take that as a win. Word count was 423.

January 9th 2015

The story that should have been written on Friday was the first one so far I did a tiny bit of research for. My lack of knowledge of Canada still astounds me. This story is also the first one thus far that appeared to write itself once I got into it. Despite what happens in it (British man goes on adventure in Canada and disaster strikes!), I had a lot of fun writing its 555 words.

January 10th 2015

I’m slightly ashamed that “Saturday’s” story pretty much rips off the film District 9, but with a far happier ending (spoilers!). But I like District 9, a lot. So maybe this story’s 470 words is more of a homage? You tell me.

January 11th 2015

Sunday’s stories recants a tale close to me about the terrors of still not being able to drive. Sure enough I can drive, just not in the eyes of the law. It is also the first of 2015’s stories to be written in the first person. Occasionally, I prefer this style of writing (I hate reading it though), as it allows me to not get stuck on characters’ names and genders. At 468 words, I feel like it’s a fairly decent end to a fairly decent week of writing.

All feedback (well, constructive criticism) is welcome.

Hannah’s Stories From Cubes – Week 01

Hannah’s Stories From Cubes is a daily series of flash fiction as inspired by a set of Rory’s Story Cubes. These weekly round-up posts (updated every Sunday throughout 2015) will collect all seven links and give a brief overview of how each week’s writing has gone. If you wish to read the stories the day they come out, please follow Stories From Cubes on Tumblr.  

Week 1! Okay, so first of all, happy 2015. Forcing myself to write each day has already become slightly difficult, but the feeling of accomplished each day as I hit the “post” button on Tumblr is thrilling enough to keep me going. Without any further ado, here’s this week’s stories! (Click the dates for the links. Links should open in a new tab.)

January 1st 2015

Thursday’s story was a short tale of the classic “boy meets girl, boy gives girl flowers, girl falls in love with boy” cliché. I had quite a bit of fun with this one. Word count was 635 words.

January 2nd 2015

Friday’s story was this week’s longest at 934 words. It includes wizards, magic and a somewhat terrifyingly sentient aeroplane. I did want to put more of an alien/mystical twist on this one, but I found that at nearly 1,000 words long it was dangerously close to completely ignoring the “of around 500 words” limit I had imposed on myself.

January 3rd 2015

Saturday’s story is my least favourite of this week’s. At 520 words, I can safely assure you all that the ending is bad. I’m ashamed of the ending. It’s rushed, it’s blunt, it doesn’t do any justice to the characters. But as someone reassured me when I lamented about this, I promised 365 stories, not 365 *good* stories.

January 4th 2015

Sunday’s story is probably my favourite of this week’s, despite being the shortest at 277 words. Once I broke through the barrier of “uhhhhhhhhhhhh, these dice were not in my favour”, I realised that I could just sit back and just let the dice tell the story, no matter of how weird, bizarre, out of this world the story may seem. So Sunday’s story is about a turtle, who like maths. I now want a pet turtle who likes maths. Yup.

All feedback (well, constructive criticism) is welcome.

Goals for 2015

This time of year is always known as a time of reflection on the last twelve months, and to look forward and plan out goals for the next twelve. I don’t have goals, per se, for 2015, but rather ideas for projects that I’m aiming to kick off in 2015.

The first of these projects is something I’ll be calling Hannah’s Stories From Cubes. I bought a set of Rory’s Story Cubes just before Christmas and had an idea. I attempted NaNoWriMo in 2014, and failed miserably. But alas, I am not defeated. I shall be using these Story Cubes to create a flash fiction story a day (~500 words) every day for the entirety of 2015. Instead of spamming you all with links to stories on this blog every day, I’ll post a link to a public (but not editable!) Google Doc document with the day’s story and then posting a weekly round-up post on here each Sunday. (There! I’ve now posted this online so I have some accountability.)

The second of these projects is still in its infancy; I’d like to start doing videos showing, and analysing, game tutorials. There’s obviously a lot I need to learn to how to do this as I’ve never done any video work before. And I have zero idea where to begin. But yes, this is something I’ve been thinking about for a while and 2015 is perhaps the year to kick this off properly.

There are, of course, other projects that are kicking about in my brain but aside from very vague notes and not even fully formed ideas, they barely exist. So there may be a few surprises throughout the year. Maybe. Hopefully. Possibly.

As for what I’m doing initially in 2015; I’ll be talking at January’s VideoBrains about developers, consumerism and ranting a little bit about Day One patches. Grab a ticket if you’re in London/can get to London/have perfected teleportation on January 26th.

And finally, however you’ll be seeing the new year in; have fun.

See you next year! 🙂

2014

When I first sat down to write this post about 2014, I ended up with a 500 word essay that had barely even begun to cover January (A lot has happened this year!).

This year, whilst it does deserve a long and thought out retelling, has been as far from boring as can be imagined. So with that in mind, here’s just a (not-so-boring-hopefully!) highlights of 2014;

  • I’ve travelled at least 17,000 miles (with around 15,00 of those being by train)
  • I’ve attended at lease one ‘major’ games event per month on average
  • GDC Europe!
  • Gamescom!
  • GameCity!
  • Experiencing Manchester in all of it’s glory
  • Met some of the most amazing people this world has to offer
  • Crazy adventures with Chris
  • Met some of my favourite authors (See above!)
  • New Stormlight Archive novel (See above!)
  • Played too many games, ranted about too many tutorials
  • Loved too many people, laughed too many times

If that’s not one of the greatest twelve months, then I don’t know what is.

Of course, there were some downsides;

  • February
  • August
  • No new novel by China Miéville

As sad as I am to see the end of such an amazing, unbelievable, unforgettable, humbling year, I am genuinely excited to see what 2015 has instore (Aside from a lot of Brandon Sanderson novels!)

I wish you all a happy 2015 🙂