Around December 2022, I decided to join Arcada's Game Design and Production course. In some sense this was done out of desperation, because I was unemployed, not getting new interviews for a very long time, and since I wanted (and still do) to move to gamdev, I thought that maybe doing the course will bring me 1 step closer to my dream job.
I honestly do not know if it necessarily did that. I did not learn that much new stuff, if any. My work experience and certain level of perfectionism forced me to learn various aspects of product development cycle. Granted I would never consider myself a pro in any of them, but I know enough to be able to understand workflows, reasoning behind various decisions and processes and even suggest changes. Not in "what you're doing is wrong/bad", but in a constructive and grounded way.
I also can't say that the course provided any extra structure to my previously acquired knowledge, too. Again, this more because of combination of my experience, curiosity, and… Laziness. Being a houseplant stirs me to find ways to do things efficiently, which forces me to ask questions, and, in turn, search information on how people do that stuff, what are recommendations and warnings related to a particular process, that I want to optimize. This usually implies that I read some articles written by professionals in a field, and often, I read about polarized opinions as well, if any of the articles is leaning towards "why you should" or "why you should not", rather than something balanced.
This is not to say that I did not learn anything at all. The course was well structured enough and full of content, that is useful for younglings or people who have not worked with any kind of application development before. It can also provide a clear(er) picture of how art, coding (which can also be considered an art) and more practical things like product/project management can mix and even come into conflict. I am just saying that I am probably too experienced for the theoretical portion of the course.
What was extremely useful for me was the game creation, the "practical" portion of the course. Even though I code as a hobby and spew out some story once in a blue moon, it's not really a good way to learn how to do any of those things. Having strict limitations (including deadlines) does help you hone your skills, especially, when you know, that others will be affected (and you are as responsible a guy as me). I was forced to make games, and in the act of making them, I learnt something.
First of all, I learnt that I can do this. Having a "dream" does not mean that you can achieve it. Thinking to yourself something like: "I am so awesome; I can easily make a game" – does not make you a good game maker (whatever the role you envision yourself in). Being able to analyze games, does not make you a got game designer either. And I am not saying that I am such an awesome game designer now that I have 2 games and a prototype. I am saying that now I know that I can envision a game design and make something playable out of it.
Enjoy the Process
Secondly, I confirmed, that I… Love the process of the creation.
When I coded something during my Citi years, it was usually out of necessity: either to quickly solve an issue or to automate a process on which I was wasting too much of my personal time. When you create something like that, you do get satisfaction when you finish the job, but it comes mostly from the fact that you reduce your stress level as result of that creation. But since you were creating under stress, you may not remember the process itself as fondly.
When I coded (and will continue to) my website it was also mostly out of necessity. I either wanted to see if a service is possible or wanted to find a way to show what I can do outside of my current employment, which was/is restricting what I can share. Since I was somehow pushed into PHP back in the day, it just so happened to be a website. A mediocre one at best, but still created from scratch and a good learning experience. But do I like working on it? Again, it can bring some level of satisfaction, especially when I am able to implement something challenging, but… It is still not what I want to be doing.
During Arcada's course I worked on 2 games and 1 prototype (which I do plan to turn into a proper game), and the catch is, that I would not play them. If I saw any of them in, say, Google Play, I would scroll by. At best, I would play them for a couple of minutes. But working on them, testing every little thing, testing their "flow" and "feel"… I really enjoyed that. Knowing that I can get this kind of enjoyment from the process – means a lot. There is still a chance that if I get to do this professionally, that at some point I will realize, that this is not for me after all, but it is a small one.
Embrace the Random
I also learnt that I am not a good manager. Or maybe more like "was reminded of that". When I was working in teams, I was taking on project management, essentially, more because I was coding, so it was somewhat easier for me to see the whole picture of what is required, but… I talk a lot. I write a lot. That may work (to an extent) for product manager, but I think it may not be as good for project manager. That role can benefit from a person being more concise, more specific, and… Starting planning and managing from the very beginning, instead of when a deadline is approaching, and you essentially need to figure out what you can do with the limited assets that you have, while not pushing too much on other team members.
On the other hand, I am more of a "embrace the random" kind of guy (© Tool, "Lateralus") in this sense. Not that I don't or can't plan, but still. In fact, this is also a good skill. Concepts of both full games came into being from randomness. Jiangshi did not start as a game about a vampire: we did not realize that we had to change all the art in "Fire Jump", we started talking about vampires (they fit the changed mechanics), I randomly googled "jumping vampire", learnt that is totally a thing, and Nguyen said, that she grew up on stories about them, and as result, we got the theme for the game. Similar thing was with Radical Resonance: Robin shared an idea of a side-scroller with jetpack, I said that making jetpack feel "right" may be too difficult with my skill and our time limit, then at some point shared a thought of not flying constantly, and that somehow led to Robin talking about flying using soundwaves from a speaker/amp, which in turn got us to the final game idea.
People Are People
Probably the last thing that I learnt (once again) is that people are different. Some of the people I worked with during the course are "powerhouses". Highly productive, highly efficient, very "on-point". Others… Less so. The result of the work that they did share during the projects' life cycle was good, no arguments there at all, but sometimes it felt like they were not really "there". Not that into it. Maybe because something was going on in their regular lives outside the course, maybe because they realized that this is not exactly what they want to be doing… I do not know the reasons and I am not sure they matter, in the end.
What matters is that, again, I am not a good manager. I believe that I failed them as one. I was not able to find a way to bring them to their peak and help them stay at it. Help them be involved, help them be productive, efficient. This kind of "enablement" is part of a good manager's responsibilities.
Regardless, I have increased my network. I have no idea if that will help me with becoming a gamedev professional, but for this we'll just have to wait and see. What I am 100% sure of is that I will finish Dangerous Dave: Endless Nightmare, and I will also try to integrate all 3 games with my website for leaderboards.
And hopefully, make more games, no matter how small.