Chugging Along

IMG_5666Life is good.

K’s been finally able to get to sleep quickly. The routine has gone from lasting about 1:30 (that’s one HOUR and a half) to about 5 minutes, which is fantastic. Well, that’s about 30 minutes of “prep” – washing, brushing teeth, reading, etc., but that was always on top of the previous 1:30 as well.

He’s completely obsessed with the Frozen soundtrack, which would be worse except I actually like most of the songs, so it’s been at least mostly tolerable, and it’s what he wants to listen to when going to sleep. Put ANYTHING else on, or sing anything else, and he says, “Go! Go! Go!” until you switch to the Frozen soundtrack. So well played, Disney.

The kids are still enjoying time at the pool on days when it’s warm (which are starting to get less frequent). J’s kind of swimming – it’s clear that it’ll be time to get him some sort of lessons, as I think it can be a lot easier to learn from someone else. While J still needs his goggles and gets upset if water gets in his eyes, K doesn’t care AT ALL about getting water in his eyes, or going underwater. He’s just like, “Yeah, whatever, let’s go again!”

Work’s been interesting – we’ve been basically working full-time on Wonderspark, which is fun – the idea’s really fleshed out over the last few weeks, and though there are still some handwavey bits, for sure, there is a really solid core game that we can build even if none of the handwavey bits work out at all. So that’s pretty sweet.

It’s still just the two of us, and so progress goes in fits and starts. It’s mostly chronicled here.

This week is all “people”. Monday we’re doing a bunch of user interviews, which is a strongly encouraged part of the Lean Startup process. So we’re basically trying to ensure that we’re ‘filling a need’ or ‘solving a problem’. It’s not about asking people what they think of our solution (the specific game we’re making), but more trying to make sure that there is space for it in their lives, and that it’s solving a need that they have that they’re likely to pay for. The process is usually for more “blank slate” startups, and so translating that process into something like “games” where the need is known but the *specific answer* is not may be a little strange, but we’re gonna give it a shot & see. I suspect that our first interviews will be a bit of a clusterfuck, but that’s what learning is for. :)

Later in the week, I’m spending almost every lunch meeting up with other entrepreneurs, including someone I’d worked with very briefly at Big Fish who left a while before I did, but was one of the people I respected most at the company. I’d been thinking about reaching out to him when he unexpectedly reached out to me, and it’s always nice to have people that you liked & respected reaching out to you – I think it’s a sign you did something right. Rather, I think it’s the sign you did the *most important* things right, that people want to work with you again, or at least maintain that relationship over time.

We’ve also spent a lot of time organizing things around the house. Since we’ve got more time, and finally some things have “finalized” about where stuff goes, I’d started moving things around in the downstairs, throwing out/donating stuff that we’re not using anymore, and finally uncluttering large sections of stuff that have been sitting around for far too long without proper attention.

IMG_8405So, for instance, this “alcove” in the downstairs always ended up full of random things, because it’s one of the least-used spaces in the house. But since I’d moved the desk out of that space & over into the downstairs bedroom, which is now our full-time office, I had a chance to pick up a little piece of furniture to properly organize the music equipment, and set up a “station” to house it all in a usable way, which is cool.

Aside from the easel, which gets regular use from the kids, the entire bookshelf is accessible without digging through stuff, which is probably the first time that’s been true since we put the bookshelves in a few years ago.

The rest of the downstairs is finally similarly uncluttered (for us, I know other people have a much more stringent definition of “uncluttered”). But it’s nice to feel like we’re winning the battle instead of constantly drifting further into entropy.

J these days is back into dinosaurs, which is kinda cool, because we’re now building on some already-established knowledge. He went through a probably-induced-mostly-by-me LEGO phase, and while he still makes cars and stuff, the dinosaur toys he got last year around Christmas are back in full rotation again. We’ve been hiding and finding them in the backyard, which is great until one of us forgets where we put one of ‘em. I’m sure years from now we’ll find random dinosaurs in trees.

The backyard is probably the source of biggest potential for improvement. One of these days we’ll need to just go in there and basically wipe it all out & restart from nearly scratch. There are still bits of retaining wall that are under the hill that need to get dug out & disposed of, and then just coming up with an actual plan of what to do (and how to do it). Because it’d be easy to spend $100K to redo the entire backyard, which is insane. But at the same time, looking at our neighbor’s yard, it makes the space so much more useful that I can’t say spending some money wouldn’t be well spent when the kids are still small & can run around like a pair of goons out there.

IMG_8341Still doing trackdays, which are fun, but a little less frequently (since with no income, they’re a pretty big expense). Going back to Sonoma on 10/9, which is still my favorite track. Haven’t done the extended Thunderhill, but that may have potential to unseat Sonoma, I dunno. Every time I go I feel like I learn a lot, so that element of it is always really exciting.

It’s nice to have a group of friends to go with, as well – it makes it a way more social experience. It does seem like “trackday” is the new “kitesurfing” is the new “golf”. The thing business people do when businessing. I ended up at a happy hour for Shasta Ventures, through a friend, and talked to one of the partners there, and he’s a trackday guy as well. So there’s a nonzero chance that someday, instead of getting funding by going somewhere & giving a pitch, it’ll happen through some random discussion of the best line through Turn 2 at Sonoma. Who knows.

Anyway – other than that, not a lot going on. Kids, work, more kids, more work. Been trying to get out of the house for lunch to meet up with people, just because it’s nice to talk to other folks every once in a while. But so far, things are going super well. Project’s exciting, life outside of work is fun & fulfilling, kids are doing well, levels of sleep are slowly increasing. If we can get K to skip waking up at 5:30 and sleep, as he sometimes (rarely) does until 7, I think we’d be firmly lodged in the “life is fucking awesome” camp. As is, hell, we’re there anyway.

Unemployed but Busy


Ei-Nyung and I have decided to start a new company.

This feels like a really bizarre thing to say. Let’s put the obvious thing up front. It’s risky. Starting up a company has a very high likelihood of putting a lot of stress on our relationship. The plus side is that we’ve worked with each other for five years already, so hopefully this won’t be too different than how that went, except for the intensity of it. Which is obviously a thing.

Still, I’m excited.

We both have really strong ideas about how a team should be run – I think that, more than anything else, is the big drive here. Neither of us feels like we’re likely to find a “real” job that is going to be a place where we’re as happy with how the team is run than if we do it ourselves. Which is odd, maybe a little egotistical to say, but after the experience of running Self Aware for the last few years, and seeing how other people do this kind of thing, I’m just not interested in working for someone who does this worse than I do.

Which means that now we’re in an interesting situation. We’ve got enough to self-fund a minimal team if we have to, and we’re definitely starting the process spending a whopping $0 (or as close as we can get) until we’re confident we’re heading in the right direction and need to hire someone else. But at the same time, given Self Aware’s success, I’m hoping I can find someone willing to invest in the potential and help us ramp things up a bit quicker, and provide a sufficient marketing budget to get whatever we’re doing off the ground. So far, I’ve had the chance to meet with a handful of folks, and some things are still in process. We’ll see how all that shakes out in the next few weeks.

But in that time, one of the interesting things is that it’s become pretty clear what initial direction we want to take. We started with two concepts, and while one is familiar, and likely to get to revenue quickly, the problem is that it’s an incredibly crowded market, and if we can’t get that off the ground, there’s no useful “Plan B”. On the other hand, the second concept is much more out there, and full of more unknowns, but at the same time, it’s a bigger idea, so it’s got a lot more ways to approach it while still adhering to the big idea. That’s the direction we’re leaning at this point, but all that really means is that it’s the first thing we’re trying to test the concept for.

At Self Aware, we’d almost accidentally ended up implementing a really raggedy version of the Lean Startup – Ei-Nyung had seen Eric Ries talk way back when at GDC about his experience at IMVU, and we took that talk and ran with it, not realizing that there was a whole movement starting up around it. But last year, Ei-Nyung found out about Lean, and we’ve jumped in to learning what else was going on while we were trying to derive the process from first principles. Funnily enough, we’re both now signed up to be mentors at a conference in October, and I’ll be giving a talk in December at the Lean Conference. :O That’ll be exciting. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to try to get some sort of speaking gig somewhere, to see if I could give a compelling talk to someone other than a captive audience. So I’ll get that chance, it seems. Pumped up for it, but the catch is that you can’t use anything you haven’t properly licensed, which puts a weird spin on my process, because I tend to use a lot of pop-culture imagery in my presentations because they work well to reinforce ideas in a (hopefully) memorable way. Something recognizable also is a shorthand, because you bring a lot of context with a single image. So trying to structure a presentation without that will be new for me. Still. Psyched.

Also been working on a handful of other projects, most of which have (thankfully) wrapped up (or wrapped up to the point where my time is minimal on them). Lots of fun stuff – diverse, for sure. Just wish any of it had paid reasonably, but I suppose the problem is that I tend to get excited about doing stuff, and I hate negotiating compensation. So whatever – either it’ll work out in the end, and the people I’ll have done this for will square up eventually, or I’ll learn a lesson about stuff. I’d much rather trust people & believe they have good intentions & get screwed than be paranoid all the time. Of course, I recently managed to learn both sides of that lesson the hard way. *shrugs*

The end of the year’s gonna be interesting. Potentially lots of stuff happening between here & 2015. Scratch that – lots of stuff is happening between now and 2015. The interesting thing will be to see exactly how it happens, because I think we’ve got a good idea of what we’re intending to do.

Failure and Repetition

Photo on 6-26-14 at 4.14 PM #2


I’ve been trying to paint the helmet that I use for trackdays for a while. A few months ago, I painted it with some Plastidip, and mocked up what it ought to look like with vinyl tape. But the tape kept shrinking, and so it looks terrible. What it convinced me of is that I wanted to actually *paint* the helmet correctly.

A few options existed. I could just grab a bunch of rattlecans, mask things off & paint the sucker, and that’d probably have been fine – the “right” way to do things for the level of time investment I was willing to spend.

But there was another way, which was to use the “quality” paints, where you can get a bunch of better finishes, and even some better “effects” – pearlized finishes, metallic stuff, etc. And the paint would be higher quality, and more durable. I figured, “Why not?” I had a compressor and an airbrush already.

So I set about trying to learn how to do this, and I learned. A lot. And it was all trial and error. First, an airbrush is too small to cover a whole helmet. It’s for detail work. So I got a paint sprayer. Much more effective. Second, different types of paint don’t play well together. A water-based and something-toxic-based paint can’t be painted in multiple coats, or the toxic paint destroys the water-based one. So pick one & go with it and don’t mix the two. Third, prep matters. I’m not sure exactly where I screwed up some of the things, but some other of the things were clear. Around edges, don’t wrap the tape over anything that changes height, or it’ll peel away and you’ll get overspray. On complicated surfaces… don’t mask straight lines. At least, not as a n00b. Don’t let your trim tape sit for more than a few hours or on a hot day it’ll shrink, and all your edges will get screwed up. Sand everything smooth. Any imperfections are emphasized 10fold in the final finish, because it’ll screw up any lines you need straight, and since everything else will look good, anything that looks bad looks much, much worse. Get something to keep particles from settling in the paint (ie: don’t paint outside on a dusty day).

In the end, I took the helmet (above) where I learned all those lessons, and sanded it all the way down to the original bare primer, because this time I’m going to be painting it with a different kind of paint, where I’ll need to learn how that paint works *first* before going and screwing up the helmet I actually like.

All told, this was a week+ worth of work, and if cost efficiency and result quality were my goal, I should have just paid a professional painter. But for whatever reason, this is a skill I wanted to learn, and though frustrating to fail, the failure and education were highly pleasurable, because I feel like I’m learning a rare skill that I’ll be able to use more of in the future. (If the helmet turns out well, I’m going to paint the plastics on my scooter.)

So it’s been fun, even though it sounds frustrating. It was a project that was basically utterly useless, to do something only I was ever going to care about, tremendously difficult, and yet somehow… hugely enjoyable and fulfilling. Even in (so far) failure.

Creativity, Inc.

I’d suggest that reading Creativity, Inc. is mandatory for anyone who’s managing anyone in videogames. Again, just to make sure this is clear, I’m in no way equating myself with Ed Catmull. But Catmull’s approach, ultimately, is *very* similar to what almost all of my major priorities at Self Aware were. He had more time, and has WAY more experience, but the approaches were similar.

Most of what I learned, I learned from working under terrible managers, even extraordinarily recently. People who had to “message” the truth. People who claimed to want creativity and initiative, but really just wanted everything to be “right” and someone to blame when it wasn’t. People who didn’t give a shit about the people on the team, but did things like hang “Open 7 Days” signs above the engineering pit (yeah, that’s awfully specific). People who had brilliant, creative, hard-working and dedicated people who only wanted the best for the team that they were working on, but then couldn’t let their ego actually *listen* to them, give them any freedom, or do anything other than 100% what they wanted to do.

And as I write all that, almost every sentence in there (save one) is applicable to *multiple* people I worked under. So if you think, “Ah, I know THAT GUY,” THAT GUY is multiple guys, because this kind of shitty management is so prevalent in the industry that it’s the rule, not the exception.

But it can be done better. You can have autonomy. You can work towards mastery. You don’t have to just have a job, you can have a *purpose* (via Daniel Pink). You don’t have to be stuck with someone telling you how to do everything you’re supposed to do, you can be told *why* you’re supposed to do something and then actually have the room to exercise your expertise. You can be tactical AND strategic, because your team is made up of extraordinary people that you’ve grown to trust – because you didn’t work insane hours, because you had the time and space to bond as *people* and not just as co-workers, and because everyone, up and down the chain, had to trust in your judgment for the process to work.

There is a LOT in Creativity, Inc. that I feel like I can learn from in a new venture when given the space to try it out. There’s a lot I *didn’t* learn about how to deal with a larger-but-still-small team. How to deal with the culture as it starts to unravel, and how to deal with new people who’ve only worked at a successful company, and who didn’t go through the process of wondering exactly when you were going to have to pack it in and find different jobs.

But mostly, it’s affirmation that what I believed would work *can* work – it wasn’t just a fluke that Self Aware was what it was. It *has* happened in other places, and even larger places – the kinds of places where bullshit is “inevitable”. So, I’m inspired to push forward, to try to do this *again*, because it is not just possible, it is the *only thing worth aspiring to*.


I got an article published in Polygon a while back! posting a link here just in case I ever need to find it again:

Things & Stuff


LooksIMG_7988 like I’m finally able to add images again, which is nice. Was broken for a long while, and it looks like some sort of WordPress update has repaired that.

I’m posting from an iMac I finally got set up. Since it’s looking like we’ll be working from home for a while, it’s nice to have a setup with a big monitor & lots of connections to things. It’s now connected to my various music gear, so that’s all nicely integrated.

In general, things are going well. Not a lot to report. Slowly organizing & repairing small bits of the house. Trying to figure out what to do with the backyard. I think I have a good idea of what I want to do next re: work, just a matter of finding the people who will be interested in doing it with me, and figuring out how to fund it. So that’s going to be a lot of fascinating conversations in the next few months, but there are some great options out there, so it’s fun getting those discussions started.

IMG_7981Haven’t gone to a lot of track days recently (though I did paint & “decorate” my helmet for kicks) – most of the week’s spent with the kids (Monday with J, W/F with K, but have been going to the pool in the evenings after picking up J early). It’s been really great getting to spend so much time with them. K’s growing up so fast. He’s got lots more teeth, can walk stably (mostly), and is really starting to understand and speak words. You can ask him to make all kinds of animal sounds, and he loves it.

He loves sleeping a bit less, and that’s probably due to congestion or an ear infection or something, but it still makes nights fairly difficult. 15 months, and he’s still regularly getting up often at night. It’s gotta change sometime, right?

J has been doing really well. He’s a fantastic big brother. If anything, a bit too excited to see K at times, but he’s really gentle, and really forgiving, and has been really generous sharing his stuff & his space, and can understand that some things are now his & K’s rather than just his alone. It can be rouIMG_8005gh at times, but he’s a trooper.

We recently went to Maui (for vacation) and to Milwaukee (for a friend’s wedding). Both trips were amazing. Maui is gorgeous, the beaches were really nice, and overall, just a very pleasant place to be. Overall, my favorite spot in Hawaii so far is Kailua, but we’ve still got a handful more places to check out before we can say authoritatively. So we’ll have to go back, you know, for science.

Milwaukee was great. The wedding was amazing – always great to see friends finding people that they really fit with (and who are wonderful in their own right, of course). We spent a bunch of time at the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum and Discovery World. Ate at a bunch of good places (All Purpose, with A/K/A, who kindly drove over from Chicago, Honey Pie, and Umami Moto were all standouts), and spent a bunch of time just walking around and seeing something new.

I think next  up would be a trip to Australia or Europe. I dunno. I’d love to go back to Helsinki, and I feel like it’d be sensible to try to do some “Tour de Finnish Mobile Developers” and meet “my people”, but it’d be challenging with the kiddos.

It’s nice to blog again. FB & Twitter are great and all, but eventually all that data is going to get lost, which is sad. I like reading over my years-old posts, and remembering what it was like to be then.


Difficult Lessons

We’ve been on vacation in Maui for the last two weeks, and as we’re about to head home, I wanted to write down something I learned last week that was really difficult, both so that I’ll remember it, and so maybe you can learn from my error.

We were staying at a nice place, with a waterslide that led to one of the pools. We ended up here because we thought that J might like the waterslide, since he’s shown so much recent affection for pools and water. It turned out, he was really opposed to trying it, and really scared by it. Because this was really similar to his reaction to going to a pool, at first, I thought it would be good to get him to go on it at least once, and if he didn’t like it, he wouldn’t have to try it again. After much coaxing, he finally went, and he had fun, but didn’t want to go on it again.

The second-to-last day we were at the place, I was tired and irritable, but we were going down to the pool to go for a swim. I thought, “This is the last day we’re likely to go swimming, maybe we should go on the water slide one more time.” So, I asked J if he wanted to go, and he said “no”. I followed that up with a “Come on, the way we get into the pool is by going down the water slide.” That led to a weird standoff, because I didn’t remember the earlier interaction, where that one trip down the slide we’d told him he wouldn’t have to go again. He got confused, and upset – “I just want to go swimming!”, and I thought at the time that he was just being obstinate – after all, he’d enjoyed the time down the slide before, and he was safe – clearly (to me, at the time), he was just being that reflexive scared of doing new things, and I didn’t want to give in to that.

So it became, “If you want to swim, go down the slide or we’re going back in.” The confused look on his face clearly came from the fact that he remembered the earlier interaction, and didn’t understand what was happening. “Okay, we’re going back in. Let’s go,” and I grabbed his hand, and started walking back to the room.

He pulled away, and retreated into himself, and said, “No more dad.”

I can’t describe, accurately, how heartbreaking it is to remember that moment. At the time, I didn’t understand what his motivation was, and I was irritated because he was being “chicken”. But I was wrong, and instead, he just didn’t want to go, and we’d *told* him he wouldn’t have to go, and *I* was the one who was completely fucking things up, and I was in a foul mood.

“No more dad.”

I ended up negotiating with him that we could feed the fish and go swimming tomorrow morning if he promised he’d go down the slide. He promised, and we went back to the pool, played wholeheartedly, and had a wonderful time. One of those kinds of times I’ll always remember, with big laughs, and excitement, and playing until we’re both exhausted.

Later that evening, Ei-Nyung said something that reminded me of the agreement the week before. J had long since gone to sleep, but the rest of the night, I kept going over our whole exchange, and realized how wrong I’d been. I was miserable. How could I have been so *wrong*, and more, so mean about it?

The next morning, when J woke up, I talked to him – just him and me – and told him that I had forgotten that he didn’t have to go down the slide again, and that while I appreciated that he’d promised to do it, he wouldn’t have to, and we’d still go feed the fish and go swimming. He was happy he’d get to do the things, and that was that. We fed the fish, went back to the pool, and had a great time.

But I will never in my life forget the moment he said, “No more dad,” and I hope that I’ll never do that again. I think one of the things to take away from it is that my reading of his reactions isn’t always right. He has a long memory, and an accurate one, and throwaway comments can have a great deal of meaning to him. He can’t always express *why* something is upsetting him, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t legitimate, or that there isn’t a clear causality – he just can’t express it yet. He’s so articulate that it’s hard to remember sometimes that he’s still just a kid, and sometimes he feels things he can’t yet say.

Lots of Changes

So, bunch of stuff has happened recently. The biggest weird thing is that I’m no longer part of Self Aware Games or Big Fish. Reflective Games, which was what we were calling ourselves with the new studio, is no more, and that whole experience is behind me. There’s really not much else I can say about that. I loved the teams, and I loved the people I worked with over the last five years.

One thing that I’m really looking forward to, though, is spending more time with J & K. K’s starting to almost talk – he says “Banoon!” for balloon. Also for moon. “Ba!” for Ball. He’s got Mama & Dada most of the time. He *loves* to play with balls. To throw them, to catch them, to bounce them. He’s got this great thing, too, when he’s really excited, where his legs just pogo – you know if he’s really happy when you pick him up, because his legs do this: || <> || <> it’s adorable.

J’s really becoming his own person. He’s going through so much as he grows up – he used to love dinosaurs – would obsess over them, read about them, wanted to do almost nothing else but learn about dinosaurs – and one day, it all stopped. It’s taken a while, but I think that the root of the change was that no one else at his daycare liked dinosaurs, and either he got made fun of, or he didn’t want to be different. Which is really sad. I’ve been trying to convince him that it doesn’t matter what the other kids like, and that if he wants to learn about dinosaurs, we can do that at home as much as he wants. But I think there’s just that peer pressure that’s hard to avoid. We’re also building some pretty complicated Lego sets together. It’s really interesting to me, because when he’s in a good mood, and can focus on it, he’s quite adept at matching up the pieces, finding them, putting the thing together. But you can *see* him get tired doing it, and how he stops paying attention or stops caring. Which is fine – I’m not trying to pressure him into anything (at least not consciously, though I’m sure I am to some degree) – but it’s fascinating to watch him go from excited to having his mind wander off, and then come back to it.

Been going to a bunch of trackdays at Sonoma Raceway, Thunderhill, and Laguna Seca. It’s been a blast. It’s sort of like bouldering in many ways – the track is a problem, and you’ve got to figure out the best way around it. Each corner is a challenge, and there are many different circumstances that dictate the best way to tackle it. You get a lot of visceral physical feedback when you’re doing it right (and wrong). I feel like I’ve learned a LOT, and that every time I go to the track, I get a noticeable step better/faster. It’s also a really fun way to hang out with people – gives you a lot to talk about in between sessions. There are a bunch of folks I know who want to do this sort of thing, and are held back by their car, or the thought that you need previous experience or whatever. You don’t need a crazy car. You don’t need previous experience. There are SO many people who go to these things where it’s clearly a “bucket list” item that they’ve dreamt of for ages. Why wait? Just do it now. That way if you really love it, you get to do it even more!

Anyway. Yeah – kids. Work. Or no work, rather. That’s about all that’s up so far.

Iso Isa

I miss my grandfather. He came up in a convo on Twitter completely out of the blue. I remember many things about him, and my time with him, but three stand out:

1.) Him coming to my swim meet. This wouldn’t necessarily be weird, except the least formal he ever got in public was maybe unbuttoning the top button on his suit and loosening his tie. Surrounded by a bunch of adults in sweatsuits and kids running around in speedos, it was an interesting image.

2.) The trip he took me and Kari-Michael Helava on to Finland to visit our relatives and see where that side of our family came from. It was incredibly special to spend time with just him and my cousin, and while I don’t remember *most* of the details of the trip, I remember one night at dinner, he was playing with the breadcrumbs that were left on his plate while we were waiting for the rest of the meal, and I thought it would be funny to shout “DON’T PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD!” the way an adult would have said to a kid (like me) at the time. He laughed, and laughed and laughed. I still have the laplander hat I got on that trip. One of these days, J&K will wear it, and wonder where I got such a weird hat.

3.) One of his visits, just before he & my grandmother left, he sat down on my bed and talked to me. He talked about how I had opportunity to *do* something, and to make a difference in the world, and that it was my responsibility to do so in a positive way. I wish I remembered his exact words, but all I remember is the tone and the reverence I had for him. It took another decade and then some before I felt like I was in a position, or had the opportunity to put his words into action, but I think over the last few years, and now with my kids, that moment is always something that’s in my mind, and something that nudges me, I believe, in the right direction, even when it’s not the easy direction to go.