The last couple of months sure have been the weirdest of times, huh? How have you been staying focused and creative? We chatted to some of our developers around the world to ask them how they do it.
How are you going?
“With a clear separation [between work and personal life] I feel much healthier and more productive.”
– Ata Sergey Nowak
Oli Clarke Smith, Paradise Killer, Creative Director: “Exhausted but good! We’re heading to content lock on Paradise Killer, which means everything that is going to be in the game is in the game in a near final state. This leaves the rest of the time on the project for bug fixing and minor improvements that don’t radically change anything. So we’ve been working very hard to get everything that we want in. Systems have been ripped out, new content added, UI overhauled and the world got a final dressing pass. The game is feeling and looking fantastic but it’s been gruelling.”
Phil Crabtree, Paradise Killer, Technical Director: “In some ways I’m quite fortunate that lockdown hasn’t had a huge impact on my life. My wife and I have both been working from home for some time and I don’t have any kids to look after, so my working day hasn’t really changed. There have been some impacts though. Obviously you start to miss being able to see family and friends and providing support for them has become a lot harder. I’ve also had a lot of events cancelled; some were just for fun like gigs I was going to play with my band, and others we’re for my wife’s business which have had a big financial impact. I think all game related events have been cancelled or reworked too which makes this a strange time to be developing and releasing games. It’s hard to be too upset about any of these things though when you consider what some people have gone through as a result of Corona though.”
Ata Sergey Nowak, Suzerain, Producer: “The last couple of months have been very hectic and challenging. Having a lot of time also helped me process certain things that happened in my personal life. But now everything has been mentally better because I can go to my office while abiding by the public safety rules. Getting that fresh air really matters.
I have also decided to arrange slightly more time for myself because the long period of isolation drastically blurred the lines between work and personal life. With a clear separation I feel much healthier and more productive.”
Daniel Marx, Orwell Game Series, Lead Game Designer and Writer: “Personally, I’m doing pretty well. I live on the outskirts of Hamburg, Germany, and while Hamburg was hit by COVID, in general Germany has been pretty well off compared to other countries. Also, restrictions have been mostly optional, which means – besides being able to visit public events and facilities that had to close – you were still able to carry on with your life as usual as long as you kept distance from other people. At the time of writing this, even shops, restaurants, barbers, and even public swimming pools are largely up and running again.
For Osmotic Studios as a company, it’s not been too bad either: Turns out people play more when they’re forced to stay at home! I’m glad we’re so far untouched by that.
Having said that, I’m aware this is all pretty meaningless in the face of how COVID affects so many lives around the globe at the moment. I am incredibly privileged to be in a wealthy country, handling things just fine for the most part, working in an industry largely untouched or even profiting from the current crisis, as far as that’s possibly. Many others have been or are less lucky, losing their jobs, their health or even their lives, and therefore I believe we have the responsibility to help contain the pandemic where ever possible and help each other to find their way around this time of hardship.”
Have you been working on something during isolation? Tell us about it
“I have been playing the drums a lot more than I used to and specifically more time actually trying to improve.”
– Phil Crabtree
Oli Clarke Smith, Paradise Killer, Creative Director: “We work remotely so it’s not been a massive change for us. However, since we can’t go out or see people on the weekends, it’s meant we can be totally absorbed in the game and work as much as we need to. This isn’t healthy long term but as we hit content lock and head towards finalling, it’s been good to have all the time we can on the game.”
Phil Crabtree, Paradise Killer, Technical Director: “As Paradise Killer is now entering the final stages of development most of my time has been poured into that. However, I have been playing the drums a lot more than I used to and specifically more time actually trying to improve rather than just sitting down and playing along with songs. For the first time in months (maybe years) I feel like I’ve actually developed some new skills which feels pretty good. I keep thinking about getting the band to do a stay-at-home style music video so perhaps that is the next step.”
Matt Trobbiani, Hacknet, Developer: “Oh yeah – my new next game, Wrestledunk Sports is going to be out pretty soon! You’ll be able to play a demo of it really soon – keep an eye out!
It’s a strange time to be working on a really multiplayer and sports focused thing, but it’s made me feel a lot better about putting such a big focus on the netcode and online performance. It’s more important now than ever!”
Ata Sergey Nowak, Suzerain, Producer: “During isolation my main focus was to maintain our efforts in design improvements, finishing existing content tasks, polishing and improving our organisational layout as a studio. Juggling between many tasks and priorities is part of what makes this work really unique.
Another huge push was our marketing efforts to bring attention to Suzerain which has really begun to kick into gear. Our new trailer and key art have done wonders in attracting new people along with the LudoNarraCon event. I have also arranged partnerships with awesome companies, content creators and widened our presence overall.
The pandemic in some ways slowed many processes down outside of us. Which meant that certain processes took longer to accomplish than usual.”
Evan Anthony, Genesis Noir, Creative Lead: “We’ve been working hard to finish up Genesis Noir.”
Daniel Marx, Orwell Game Series, Lead Game Designer and Writer: “It just so happened that the COVID pandemic and the regulations it brought coincided with the start of our next and all new big game project set for April. When COVID hit Germany, we decided to all work from home. Working all remotely for us was new, but it wasn’t a big issue as long as we were working on the Orwell mobile version, where we could just tick off our individual to-do lists because we knew exactly what had to happen before release.
With a completely new and experimental project things we’re very different: We had to develop ideas and concepts from scratch, things where we would have loved to actually sit together and discuss at great length, which now wasn’t possible. So we had to adapt and consider options on how to make experimentation and discussion work remotely. Over time we’ve developed some new routines like more thorough online documentation of what everyone did, and what has been decided and why. We’ve established online meeting rooms team members can set up to brief people or discuss questions that have come up where everyone who wants to can join.
Where with Orwell a lot of the work was intertwined between departments (which for the most part only consisted of one person each) and most of the game was discussed among the entire team, at lot of our work now feels quite more detached with individual team members now working independently and on their own on larger aspects of the project. While this comes with the challenge of making sure everyone is still on the same page, it’s also great because the decision making process is quicker and less exhaustive and people don’t always have to wait on one another to be able to move on with their own work. It’s also mandatory because despite the circumstances of the pandemic, the team has now grown to six full-time members, so double the size we were while making Orwell!
As for what this new project we’re working on is, I can’t say too much about it at this time. It’s a very different game than Orwell was and much stronger on the visual side, but it keeps the focus on the narrative and how it’s interwoven with the mechanics. We’ll have a real animated world with characters living in it this time around, something new for us if you’re familiar with Orwell. And yes, of course you can observe them!”
Do you have any tips to keep on being creative during this weird time?
“Just go ahead and pick something up, try and you’ll see if you like it or not.”
– Daniel Marx
Oli Clarke Smith, Paradise Killer, Creative Director: “Make sure your window to the world is wide. Don’t just play the same old games or binge stuff on Netflix. Try new things, read a new book and find a hobby that uses your hands. I make plastic Gundams and it’s a great way to unwind and do something creative. Also, stop looking at the news and drama on twitter. Your head will be full of anger and outrage so stop reading it, give your mind a rest and allow it to be creative rather than angry and anxious. People are having a bad time and expressing it anyway they can, most often on social media. Turn off retweets for people that constantly retweet news or hot takes. We all need to be aware of what’s going on in the world but it’s very easy to let twitter outrage consume your thoughts and block out the thoughts that make you happy or creative.”
Phil Crabtree, Paradise Killer, Technical Director: “Try and embrace it. It’s easier said than done and obviously very hard if you’re suffering during this time, but for me the chaos of the outside world has meant that in some ways my life is less erratic and more predictable. Knowing that I will be in the house all day has lifted some anxiety about all those other things you ‘should’ or ‘could’ be doing and instead I can focus on the things I want to do.”
Matt Trobbiani, Hacknet, Developer: “I think listening to me for advice on this is probably a bad idea – I really enjoy long periods of isolation and being able to focus a lot on my work. If that’s not you, any advice I give will probably just lead you astray.
One exception to that is walking a lot – I go for a big walk basically every day, and I think that really helps!”
Ata Sergey Nowak, Suzerain, Producer: “Arrange time to take a few steps back and be open to new things or experiences to drive your creativity. Connect with others that have different passions. Find methods of positive escape that energise you to do what you love. To have quality output you need to have a lot of good inputs.”
Daniel Marx, Orwell Game Series, Lead Game Designer and Writer: “First, I know this is a scary and confusing time and I hope you’re only affected by restrictions and not in any other more serious way.
They say creativity grows around limitations and if COVID isn’t one big limitation I don’t know what is. Instead of seeing the pandemic as restrictive and wishing things to be “normal” again, try focusing on the things you still can do.
Your changed daily routine might provide a fresh perspective: How is the pandemic affecting your life and why? What are you really missing from your life right now? What’s turning out to be expendable? Have you neglected something you always wanted to do?
The important part is starting with something, basically anything, no matter if you think you’re good or bad at it. Just go ahead and pick something up, try and you’ll see if you like it or not. I’m not particularly creative about things as long as I don’t start and really get into it. For example, with writing it’s better to write down just about anything than sitting and pondering about what to write. Doing the thing will trigger your creativity, and then new ideas will flow and you’ll want to improve whatever you did.
Before long, you might find yourself doing something you never pictured yourself even doing because you never before tried.”
Tell us about what games you’ve been playing, books you’ve been reading, or shows you’ve been watching while at home
“This period of my life will be synonymous with Animal Crossing.”
– Oli Clarke Smith
Oli Clarke Smith, Paradise Killer, Creative Director: “This period of my life will be synonymous with Animal Crossing. As well as AC, I’ve been playing a load of Earth Defense Force 5 with my partner and digging into my stack of PS1 imports. I’ve been reading a lot of the manga Fire Force and been watching the anime adaptation of Dorohedoro and the outstanding Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! I don’t watch a lot of western films and TV because I like more escapism and that is especially important during These Trying Times.”
Phil Crabtree, Paradise Killer, Technical Director: “I’ve just started playing Deadly Premonition on Switch which is brilliant. It’s one of those games where you can really feel the love that the dev team put into it. I’ve also been getting into Yakuza 0 which is just an absolute joy to play. Every few minutes seems to hit you with a new surprise that just makes you smile. I’ve not been reading much but I have just listened to the audio version of “The Psychopath Test” by Jon Ronson which, like all his books, was really interesting and entertaining. If you’ve never read anything by Jon before, I highly recommend “Lost at Sea” which is a series of short, fascinating stories from his life. I’ve struggled a bit to find a new TV series to watch so I’m open to recommendations! I have just watched the first couple of episodes from Little Fires Everywhere and that’s got me gripped!”
Matt Trobbiani, Hacknet, Developer: “I’m lucky to have a group of friends to get on voice chat with and play games online a few nights a week! We’ve played Factorio, CIV 6 and Monster Hunter World recently! We’re onto Diablo 2 at the moment.”
Ata Sergey Nowak, Suzerain, Producer: “During isolation I have really enjoyed Oculus Quest VR and the wireless physical activity it provides. I would heavily recommend Red Matter, a sci-fi puzzle adventure game. It is a very atmospheric game and makes you think to solve many puzzles while providing slight tension to keep you hooked. If you want to sweat, the boxing game Thrill of the Fight is great cardio! Just make sure to not punch your wall or other objects.
For passive entertainment I reconnected with some TV Shows like Silicon Valley which I find absolutely hilarious and a perfect critique of the tech industry. Also had the opportunity to wrap up the Expanse which is such a great show with its attention to detail. Oh and if you like historical stuff you have to check the Crown. The depiction of the big events between 1920-1970 is so well done.
I have mainly done reading on the Economists daily articles about all types of serious subjects. The research based aspect of their coverage really makes it a worthwhile read. They also allow you to send your criticisms or disagreements to articles and publish them in the first pages. Found that so open and cool!”
Evan Anthony, Genesis Noir, Creative Lead: “We’re in crunch mode as we finish up Genesis Noir, so I haven’t had much time to dive into much media. I did play Sayonara Wild Hearts and Year Walk and was tremendously impressed by both. Simogo is a super inspiring studio!”
Daniel Marx, Orwell Game Series, Lead Game Designer and Writer: “I finally found the time to play Red Dead Redemption 2 from start to finish, which had been on my list for quite a while. I was impressed by how alive and natural the entire world felt, especially the community of the camp: People talking to one another as the go by, commenting on what the player is wearing, what’s recently been going on, gathering around the campfire to sing. It feels like there’s actually life going on in the camp, regardless of what you as the player do. It may sound like it’s nothing special and easy to implement, but pulling it off in the game so it feels natural like it does in RDR2 is incredibly difficult. It’s certainly a feeling we’d love to capture with our upcoming game, which is all about a small world and community, so RDR2 is a great reference for that, even if its budget exceeds ours by the tiniest bit.
I’ve also watched Upload, a great and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny show about virtual afterlife with some serious undertones that comment on what might happen if death and the afterlife would be commercialized. I really like (more or less) philosophical sci-fi considering one particular question of “what would happen, if X was possible” (go watch Black Mirror if you haven’t!), so this was right up my alley.”
Anything else you’d like to add?
“Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to do everything all the time!”
– Matt Trobbiani
Oli Clarke Smith, Paradise Killer: “I just want to emphasise how much you poison your mind, happiness and creativity with constant news and social media feeds full of drama, outrage and bleakness. Curate your internet use to the things that make you happy. I am very trigger happy with the mute filters and turn off retweets for almost everyone I follow. Whenever you’re feeling happy and coping with stuff, someone will retweet something that will make you angry and you’ll have a bad time again. And use this time to try something new.”
Matt Trobbiani, Hacknet: “Whenever I’m trying to push myself to do more than usual – almost always with work – I try to remember that it’s normal for something else to give to make that happen. If you’re struggling to get work done, or stay creative nowadays, it’s ok to sacrifice a little upkeep in other areas to find the energy for that. You can always tone back the work to put more focus into those things later! Always trying to do ‘more’ without doing less of anything else isn’t really sustainable, and is a good way to start letting everything slip, and feel terrible about yourself.
If I need to work really hard on something, I usually just give myself permission to eat whatever I want, and let my sleep schedule get really bad to make it happen, for example. Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to do everything all the time!”
Ata Sergey Nowak, Suzerain: “Every day of life counts. Let’s not take it for granted!”
Daniel Marx, Orwell: “Please please please stay healthy!! We’ll beat COVID together!”
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