The Dam

An expected weekend trip to Las Vegas provided an opportunity to take a detour to the Hoover Dam. It's a spot I have always wanted to get the chance to photograph, in particular since they built the new bridge further down the canyon, and I had my wide angle lens with me ...

Hoover Dam

... because it sure does provide an awesome view!

Hoover Dam

It also frames some interesting shots from the other direction as well.

The sheer scale of the construction project is still mightily impressive, and the early century styling that went into the facades and surrounding decor definitely calls back to a time when society felt like it was stretching out from the great depression and reaching for something more.

Hoover Dam

I also loved this statue outside the visitors center.

Hoover Dam

I was very glad we took the time out to take that detour and get these shots!

If you go down to the woods today ...

... you might find this guy lurking around!

The new Treeman kit from Games Workshop was just such a nice looking model that I had to grab myself a box and have a go making one, even if I don`t actually play Fantasy Battles. This was just a case where the painter simply had to have a go. The box allows for any of three variants to be made, so there are a bunch of extra parts and options, which meant it was perfect for some light conversion and creating a base that would really set him off!

The model is definitely very visually `busy`and I struggled with the colour scheme quite a bit as I worked on him. In the end I went for a kind of autumnal feel, with deep, dark, reds and oranges, and then created some contrast with the greens for the leaves and his beard. 

I also had a lot of fun creating the base. Re-purposed some real tree bark, and then used green stuff to fashion some rocks and vines, and finished it off with some of the critters included in the kit itself, and a mix of the army painter shrubs and grasses I had lying around in my modelling supply box.

All in all pretty pleased with this one!

Recommended Reading

Creativity Inc is one of the best non-fiction books I've read in quite a while. In fact it's almost two books, or rather it is interesting in two distinct ways. 

First off it is an excellent history of possibly the most important creative company of recent times, Pixar. Written by Ed Catmull, one of the company's founders, the book presents an honest and in-depth account of the Pixar story. From early struggles, to the very different energies brought by the likes of Steve Jobs and Jon Lasseter, through the success of Toy Story, to the ups and downs of growing a successful creative company. It's worth reading for that alone. So if you have even a passing interest in Hollywood, or even just Pixar, it is a fascinating peek behind the curtain.

For me however the book offers even more if you want to learn something about creative management. Catmull talks a lot about how having a candid working environment was instrumental in their success, and his book certainly follows that mantra. His voice comes across in a very genuine way, and there are lots of intriguing and thoughtful insights into the challenges of running a truly successful creative company. He talks about many of the types of challenges that those working in games will be well versed in. I certainly found myself sagely nodding along as I read. Teams that rely on both highly technical and highly creative sets of expertise face a whole slew of challenges, and Catmull shares his thoughts on many of them. It's well written, insightful, and doesn't pretend to preach a 'golden path'. 

It might not have set out to be one, but this is possibly the best book I have read about managing a creative process. 

If that's something that interests you then make sure to check it out!

Strike while the iron is hot

With the latest wave of Hordes releases from Privateer Press came the new Troll solo Horgle Ironstrike, and I couldn't resist grabbing him as the latest addition to the Troll warband.

Horgle works well with a couple of warbeasts from the faction (Pyre and Slag Trolls), so I decided to paint up a Slag Troll to go with him.

Went with a more stone and iron style scheme for the Slag Troll, and I was pretty happy with the results. Managed to achieve a suitably textured finish to him that sells the metallic elements that go with the blacksmith Horgle. It also looks like he might be effective on the battlefield, so will look forward to getting to throw him at the enemy next time out!

Bring out the big guns!

Went back to the Tau last weekend and worked up the Forgeworld Riptide variant R'Varna. The additions to the base kit are suitably bulky and add a more armored look to the kit. Then there are the guns ... those are big guns! This one was a lot of fun to paint. After all the Warmachine painting recently it was also nice to go back and bolster the Tau army a little ...

... considering putting together some of Commander Farsight's eight protectors from the Farsight Enclave codex as the next side project for the Tau. A good excuse to maybe take a look at the Broadside kit that has sat on my desk since the new Tau wave went out last year. We shall see!

The anecdote of the angry boss ...

While I was in Brazil at the festival a few weeks ago I was speaking with some indie developers that were starting out. One of them asked me if I could share any of the things that they should watch out for, or if I could advise of any mistakes they could avoid. 

It's a common question. I get asked it a lot when speaking or teaching. Our education infrastructure has generally taught us that this is how we learn. We seek knowledge from others. So you hear these questions a lot  

"What mistakes should I avoid?"

"What mistakes did you make I can learn from?"

"What's the most common mistake you think people make?"

It's a question I struggled with for the longest time. It was an awkward one to answer. It required touching on personal weaknesses, and a little bit of introspection, but more than that any answer I used to give always seemed more than a touch vague, or incredibly ambiguous as I pondered how to best translate my specific experiences into an understandable lesson. I tended to feel like I was cheating people with my answers. Teaching from your mistakes would seem like it should have been much easier. 

I was missing something. 

The light-bulb moment in relation to this question came once I made the leap from considering the specifics of any given decision (and it's associated mistakes) to thinking about the process of making decisions. 

The problem with our problems as it were is that they are often very specific to the situations in which we find ourselves.

Sure, it is true that there are always some general observations that might touch on the high level concepts of making your way in your chosen industry, that can be shared, taught, or learned. By and large however your mistakes are your own. 

There are so many factors that are often very specific to the situation in which any given mistake occurs. There is the decision in question, those involved in the process, their personalities, the politics at play, the potential audience (or any other parties impacted by the potential mistake). All factors that may be different or provide different contexts.

I'd been thinking about the question in the wrong way.

I realized that the way to answer the question was not in trying to translate my own experiences, but in explaining how I approach decision making in the first place, and how you deal with it when you do make a mistake. In thinking about that I was always drawn back to a hugely influential interaction I had with one of my bosses when I was a junior manager many moons ago.

The anecdote of the angry boss.

This boss, who shall remain nameless, was a straight talking and very volatile man. He had high standards, and inspired more than a little fear. You would often see him tear people down for their mistakes. He always had the potential to be a very angry man. He seemed to wield that attribute like a weapon. The proverbial sword of Damocles swinging above our heads. It was certainly motivating in a certain kind of way, but not in any way that I sought to emulate. As time wore on and I worked with him longer, I came to think that his anger was often erratic and subjective. Some people he had a hair-trigger temper with, others he seemed to respect and tolerate various degrees of error. To me, as an inexperienced manager, he seemed to be playing favorites.

I was lucky enough to appear to be in latter category, but it bugged me. Sure, he was still harsh, demanded high standards, and made sure we knew when we had made an error, but in a weird way it bugged me I had never provoked his temper. It was almost like a missed right of passage. Around a year in I finally plucked up the courage to outright ask him. Why had he never screamed at me? ((and my inner voice was almost insecure about it! Was I not worth screaming at? I had screwed up plenty! I should have been shouted at! Isn't it weird that sometimes we crave even negative attention? I'm sure the psychologists out there could have a field day with my insecurities but let's just put it down to our minds being weird things sometimes.)) 

He looked at me a little confused, and then smiled, probably realizing I hadn't figured out why on my own yet. Maybe he was a little disappointed I hadn't. Maybe it was just obvious to him.

He explained simply that the reason he had never exploded at me was because I had never repeated a mistake. Making mistakes, he explained, was a natural by-product of making decisions and was to be expected. He paid me to make decisions after all, and I wasn't always going to be right. Making a mistake, at least not an honest one, was not worthy of his wrath.  

Repeating a mistake however, was to him a cardinal sin. It demonstrated one of two things, that you had not learned from your mistake, or worse, you had not even realized you made a mistake in the first place. He explained that I could make as many mistakes as I wanted as long as I was not being stupid, was taking responsibility for my actions, and was learning from them. 

He assured me that he would most definitely scream at me should I ever repeat a mistake. (He never did, something I now reflect on with a little pride rather than with any bizarre insecurity) I might never have agreed with the way he dealt with repeat offenders, but his rationalization stuck with me. 

It's a lesson that had a huge influence on how I would approach mistakes from there on in. I might not have been aware of it at first, but I started to admit to my errors much more readily (even just to myself, often the hardest part, always a little scary!) and learn from them. Which meant developing the maturity to recognize your mistakes, minor and major alike, so they can be mentally filed as learning experiences. 

Then, in being asked about it later on, I finally realized that this lesson is how I could answer those questions about how to manage mistakes.

Don't be afraid of them, because they will happen.

Embrace your mistakes by always learning from them, and most importantly ...

... never repeat a mistake and remember the anecdote of the angry boss.

Some more Trolls!

Managed to finish up the latest additions to the growing Trollblood warband this weekend.

The Sons of Brag were an interesting character unit to paint. I might have gone a touch overboard with the blood splatter, but I wanted to give them the feeling of front line warriors that get up in the thick of it. The Trollbloods are growing now, and I almost have a functioning army to use in games fully painted. Just some Pyg burrowers to finish up and I should have the bare bones of a decent list to start seeing if I actually like playing with these guys!

Postcards from Brazil

I spent the first half of the week in São Paulo, Brazil, to take part in Brazil's Independent Game Festival. I had been invited to give the design keynote to the assembled ranks of eager game developers, publishers and other local business types. I wasn't sure what to expect, it was my first time visiting Brazil, but the whole experience was fantastic. The passion of the local developers shone through, and I lost count of how many great conversations were had, both with the assembled Brazilian developers, and the visitors from the US and Europe.

The set-up was in the city's cultural center and it made for a very fitting venue, which had a kind of cool, underground lair, feel going for it.

There was a good mix of local and international guests, and I was honored to have been asked to give the keynote for the design side of things.

I was very pleased with how well the session was received, and it seemed to strike a chord with the audience. It's always a little daunting giving a speech in a foreign country where you are reliant on translation, but everything went smoothly, and we were graced by a talented translation team!

More than anything though, it was cool to get to meet other developers and get to see some games I hadn't seen before. While some of the nominations were games that have already garnered a good deal of positive press (and indeed my playtime!) like Papers Please, The Banner Saga, The Stanley Parable, and Nom Nom Galaxy (which eventually picked up the top prize) there were also a few games I was seeing for the first time, and some great local games.

Gorogoa, from solo dev Jason Roberts was a revelation for me. It's a gorgeous little puzzle game, with wonderful hand drawn art. Getting some time with it's creator just increased my admiration and I'll be waiting eagerly for the full release! It's smart, engaging and beautiful. Check out the demo on his site for a taster!

Ephemerid by Super Chop Games might not be described as a game by some, maybe more of an interactive album of music, but I found it enchanting none the less. With a soundscape that has a unique guitar driven sound that in many ways evoked 70s concept rock to me, but hit it's own notes. It comes out in a few weeks on the iPad, well worth taking a listen!

It was also great to hear Jamie Tucker from Asteroid Base talk about their upcoming, and much anticipated indie title, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime. That was easily one of the most popular games on the show floor, and represents some great co-operative fun.

I also got to play Bounden for the first time, which, in particular for someone as uncoordinated as me, is surprisingly fun! It's another one that is due out very soon!

From the local teams, two stood out for my personal taste. First was Chroma Squad, which finds it's inspiration in strange Japenese TV, and you find yourself trying to create a Power Rangers style show, and play out the 'episodes' in suitably zany turn based tactical game-play. If it sounds a little surreal that's because it is, but it also plays well, and has a neat retro style.

Then there was Like A Boss from Fire Horse studio, which in many ways takes it inspiration from games like World of Warcraft. Basically the usual roles are reversed and you take on the role of an MMO raid boss and have to dispose of waves of pesky raiders who attack you, intent on stealing your loot! It's a well paced and fun concept, and the beta version I got to try was already playing very well. I'll be tracking this one! These guys walked off with the prize for locally developed games.

Then we also got to talk to a whole bunch of other local teams at various stages of developing their ideas and games. There was a pitching competition that was won by Prosperity Games with their Jotunheim project, which is a giant robots meets pokemon style game based on Nordic myths.

Another intriguing project was Tetragon. The team let us play an early version of the game on the web for some feedback. Even early on the game is interesting, and the mechanics appealed to my puzzle solving mind. Another one I'll be following as they keep polishing and building.

All in all it was a very rewarding trip, and I can't speak highly enough of our hosts, and all the dev teams and people I spoke to. So many great folk, and so much passion for game development. It was an honor to get to go and meet everyone!

New quest incoming ...

Next week I'll be in Brazil for the Independent Game Festival being held in São Paulo. I'm going to be giving the key-note speech on the design track on Tuesday morning. It's both exciting and a little scary, in particular as it's the first time I've been asked to give a key-note. Expectations to meet and all that!

There are lots of great games nominated through the festival, some of which you'll probably have heard of, some of them might be new to you, so make sure you check out the list of the nominations here.

And on the off chance that you're in São Paulo next week (and the Google stats for the blog suggest at least some of you may hail from Brazil) come by and check out the games on show!

Some Ren Faire fun ...

Took the cameras out this weekend to one of the local Renaissance Faires for some quality old-timey people watching. Lots of cool costumes on view.

... and what would Ren Faire be without some jousting?

... but I think this was my favorite shot of the weekend. Even a muse needs a few minutes of shut-eye on a hot summers day ...

Allin all, a pretty neat way to spend a Saturday!

Friends being successful!

A trio of things that made me happy over the last couple of weeks. Nothing beats seeing friends achieving some of their goals and ambitions!

I've mentioned both Shattered Planet and Life Goes on before on the blog, as I have friends working on both projects, and both reached major milestones recently.

Shattered Planet is following up it's well received launch on mobile platforms with plans for a PC version, and the game got the greenlight on Steam this week!

Going one step further, Life Goes On launched on Steam and is available right now. It's an awesome little puzzle platformer with a bunch of character. Any game that describes itself as 'a comically-morbid platformer where you brutally sacrifice knights and use their dead bodies to solve puzzles. With death as your only means to progress, journey through trap-ridden worlds to find the Cup of Life.' is worth a try in my books!

Lastly, and by no means least, another of the members of my old Montreal writers group got published! Martine Svanevik, and her short story, Harsh Beauty, appears in the new Black Apples anthology. If you fancy some fairytales of the dark and delicious variety it's well worth checking out! It really is awesome to see another member of the group get their name into print!  

Nothing better than seeing friends be successful! 

More Trolls ...

I had another productive weekend at the painting table, with some more Trollbloods completed to join the ranks of the fledgling army.

The Bomber is a fun sculpt, I just love the little fuse lighter clinging on to his back for dear life. I also managed to get Janissa and one of the three Sons of Bragg finished up. The kind of pseudo-Celtic vibe that runs through all the Trollblood sculpts appeals to me, and I get the feeling I'm going to end up painting a few more of these guys than I initially thought!

The Butcher

This imposing looking fellow was a project a friend asked me to undertake last weekend, and was an absolute blast to paint. Possibly the heaviest lump of white metal that has ever negotiated my painting table, the sculpt is amazing.

It took longer than usual to finish up, and I even had to varnish parts as I went (since the model was too heavy to hold by the base stably) to avoid rubbing off my own paintwork! Very pleased with the results however, one of my favorite jobs so far with a Warmachine sculpt.


A good chunk of the weekend was spent wandering the halls of the Anaheim Convention center surrounded by cool stuff and amazing costumes! Wondercon was in town, bringing with it all manner of pop culture fans, and some great photo opportunities! 

The convention was a sell out, and there were some great sights!

You can find the entire set of pictures here over on Flickr

Under a blood red moon ...

This week saw a lunar eclipse in this part of the world, so we wandered out with the camera's to see if the clouds would grant us an audience with the blood moon. We were in luck!

Overall it made for a nice hour or so out under the stars watching the moon turn red.

Aiakos Kickstarter sculpt

The result of the weekends endeavors at the painting table was another of the Warmachine tactics exclusive sculpts completed.

This one worked out really well, and was again a wonderful sculpt to paint up. The folks at Privateer did a great job with this series. Aiakos here was going to another member of  our gaming group, so painting a model that I know is going into someone else's collection usually motivates me to get to a higher than average standard. Pretty happy with how he turned out!

Next up is probably the Khador sculpt.

Kickstarter goodies ...

The exclusive Kickstarter sculpts from Privateer Press showed up on Friday. So given they are the two characters that I can use immediately I had to dive in and paint up the two Cygnar miniatures.

They turned out pretty well, and I'll probably take a bash at one of the other factions need weekend. Although I did cave in and get myself enough Trollbloods to start a small second army to go with the Hunters Grim, so I might get tempted to paint up some of those instead ... we shall see!

Earthlock: Festival of Magic

I've mentioned this one before, but the folks from Snow Castle are back in the middle of pitching their game on Kickstarter. You can find a new trailer over on You Tube that shows off the alpha build of the game (which I got to see at GDC last week, it's shaping up really nicely!)

Check out the campaign and you can find the details here over on Kickstarter.

I have a real soft spot for the JRPG stylings, and I'd love to see this one made, so if you are in the same boat, drop by and take a look at the game. 

The Hunters Grim

These guys were a set of miniatures that I have wanted to paint for a while. When I was first introduced to Warmachine and Hordes, these were one of the Hordes sets that really appealed to me. I think I might have a soft spot for trolls (I blame my years in Norway!), so these guys were a ton of fun to paint!

There are a lot of great details in this kit, and lots of gear and equipment to paint. They have such great character I simply had to paint them up. No idea if I will ever actually have a Trollbloods army, but for now this trio will probably sit on my desk at work for show. I was very pleased with how well they worked out, and think the final result is one of my better efforts!

Shattered Planet

My friends over at Kitfox games have launched their first game this week. Shattered planet is a science fiction game that finds you playing the role of a clone exploring strange alien worlds. Its a fun turn-based challenge that offers a kind of old school feeling with a try and try again mechanic (think an exploration based FTL type experience)

It's also a lovely looking title, and the team at Kitfox have nailed a really appealing aesthetic and style. You can try the game out for yourself, for free, on both Android and iTunes

Check it out!