I have something cool to share today. But first, a story.
When I was a kid, I played a lot of video games. I rarely play any today, but have never stopped being fascinated by them. They sit at an intersection of some things I’m really passionate about. Visual art, storytelling and technology. When I enrolled in college 18 years ago (GOOD LORD), I naturally wanted to study game design. But as I learned more about the program, I started to believe the math requirement was beyond me. I was young, and let the idea that I didn’t do so well in school define what was and wasn’t possible for me. So I chose a Digital Arts & Design program instead. I still loved what I studied, and have since built a career that often puts me at the intersection of those passions I mentioned. It’s pretty cool, and I’m thankful for it. BUT… I never stopped wondering what could’ve been if I hadn’t quit game development before I even started it.
Then came the pandemic and lockdown and with that, some time. I used that time to finally start learning how to make video games. Turns out, it’s pretty hard. A lot of one step forward, two steps back. Even after years of working at it, it’s still hard. but I’ve sure learned a lot. Above all, I learned that making a video game is an amount of work not meant for a single person. Especially when it’s not your full or even part-time job. But man, it’s fun, and I love it. So I keep at it when I can.
But back to this cool thing I wanted to share… I made a trailer for a game project I’m developing. It’s called GREENFIELD. There’s still a daunting amount of work ahead that stretches farther than I can see, but I’m so relieved to finally have others see what’s been living only in my own imagination.
Just over 10 years ago, I was about to turn 27 and hunting for ways to keep myself on a trajectory of upwards and onwards. Best as I could figure at the time, that meant leaving behind a very stable and very loved staff position I’d held for 6 years, to set out on a freelance career of uncertainty.
I had doubts. In fact, I was terrified. I poisoned my mind with the thought that I wouldn’t be good enough to secure enough work to make ends meet, let alone thrive. Even my parents, who’s advice I still seek and value to this day, basically advised me against it for other reasons, and I can’t say I blame them. It didn’t make a lot of sense on the surface to them. I loved my job, the work, the people, the company, and I was making great money for the season in my life. It was safe, and freelance was a risk. None the less, I charted my course, gave notice to my bosses and mentors through a very shaky voice, and to my own amazement, I took the leap.
It helped that I had a clear vision of what a successful freelance career meant to me, before I even embarked on it. I wanted to work less, earn more, make more art (as opposed to only directing it), and position myself to work remotely should I ever choose to leave the sprawl of Los Angeles behind. Those 4 ideas, each one a different form of freedom, was what I sought in freelance, and the promise of those ideas made leaving a job I loved, turn from unbearable, to obvious.
Looking back a decade into it, it’s clear my freelance career took shape differently than I imagined it would’ve, but I met the destination I set all the same. Put modestly, freelance has gone well. Put bluntly, last year alone I took months of collective time off, earned more money than ever, spent the majority of my days making art, and worked entirely from my home office. I attained the ideas I sought all those years ago, and it didn’t take 10 years. Some came immediately, and some took longer, but for the most part, reaching my definition of success in my career, is old news.
So, I’m not celebrating reaching some metaphorical mountain top in this moment, that’s already long been true. What I’m trying to do, is preserve the memory that I once did something that absolutely terrified me, and that it worked out alright. That I swam instead of sank. That I took a risk, and that I not only lived to tell the tale, but am better for it. It’s easy to forget how brave we once were, when we’re standing in the shadow of new fears. So here I am, trying to remember, because 10 years sure seems like an awful long time to have not rolled the dice.
That’s it for 2022. Made it through another year of monthly challenges and resolutions. Some wins, some losses, and some ideas of what comes next.
I wanted to have a website and announcement trailer finished for my game project, but that was a swing and a miss. It’s in progress, and could just call it done, but it’s close to being something I’m proud of, so I’m going to see it through right. Even though I don’t have it done, it was a good goal to have throughout the year. Kept the ball rolling.
I also meant to start networking with the indie game dev community. Sharing encouragement and constructive criticism for other devs and their projects, as well as putting myself out there and sharing my work with the community. This is something I wanted to do the least, and it showed. I did answer some questions here and there on forums for other devs, but as a whole, can’t say I put much effort towards this one. Being social on social media has just never come naturally to me. Wish I could chalk it up solely to a fear of rejection, since that can be overcome, but I think more than anything it’s a general disinterest in it all. I dont know how you overcome that. What I do know is at some point, I’m gonna need to lean into it, especially if I ever expect my projects to reach an audience. This just wasn’t my year for it.
My last overarching goal for the year was to try and eat vegetarian at least 3 days a week, building on the momentum of the past few years. Some weeks I went over 3 days, some weeks under. I didn’t strictly track this one, so I might be a little over, or I might be a little under for the year, but whatever the case I’m fine with that. What’s important to me was having a lasting mindset throughout the year to try to eat less meat, and I did just that, even if it wasn’t always perfect.
As for my monthly challenges, this marked my third year of exploring them. I started them because I was feeling stagnant. They were meant to spark some change and ideally growth. I’ve certainly learned a lot, from some more than others, and have no regrets about it, but over time I’ve started to question my motivations in continuing them. Some challenges haven’t required much of me, while others were unreasonably demanding. But even the smallest challenges I’ve come up with, still occupy space in my mind and demand my attention. None of which is helping put out the flames of a wildfire that’s been burning through my life for years now.
My marriage has been easy in so many ways, and it’s been hard in others. I’m sure that’s true and natural for just about any marriage, and to expect anything more might just be fantasy. But for us, the hard parts seem to be much harder than they ever should be for anyone. While it’s no one’s fault, it’s been true for a long while now, and it’s been difficult to say the least. Even more challenging is I don’t see any path forward that doesn’t hold even harder times and heavier thoughts on the immediate horizon. Knowing this, I don’t think coming up with a list of monthly challenges is going to help me be fully present for the work ahead. It would do the complete opposite. It would help me ignore and continue to tolerate the challenges of our marriage instead of addressing them. That’s what led me to incorporate these challenges into my life to begin with I think. To stave off that terrible feeling of being lost. I believe a clear heart and mind will yield you direction, like a compass would, but this compass needle is easily disturbed by the noise of distractions.
I’m not setting any resolutions or monthly challenges this year. Instead, I’m going to do my best to be present in my life, to feel it all, to listen to those feelings, and to try and get myself and my wife pointed in the direction, or directions, we need to go. All this said, I’m entering 2023 knowing that this year will probably be the hardest of my life yet. Although in this moment it doesn’t feel all that happy, I’ll say it anyway. Happy New Year.
In November I set out to dedicate some time to playing indie games. Partly as research and inspiration toward making my own game, and partly to make fun a priority. I played two games. Little Nightmares II, a sequel to a puzzle-platformer that I first played years ago. The second, a game called Control. A trippy action-adventure game that I also first played a few years back, but has since had new content released for it. Loved them both.
I’ve learned so much about game dev over the past few years, and playing through that lens has been a fun new experience. Little Nightmares was actually created in the same game engine I’ve been learning. It was cool understanding how something was most likely working behind the scenes, and in other cases not fully understanding but reverse engineering it as best I could.
I play games so infrequently these days, that I don’t know when I would’ve had the chance to experience these two, if not this month. That’s why I was fine bending the rules a little, since neither of these would be considered indies. Control cost over 30 million dollars to make, and the ending credits scrolled for several minutes straight. It’d be impossible for me alone to create something even remotely close to the same standard of either of these games. Even still, I had fun experiencing them, and feel inspired by them and all the same, and that was the whole idea.
I’m so far behind in chronicling my monthly challenges that much of my being wanted to just give up on this aspect of it entirely, but damnit, I made a commitment. My October challenge was to participate in Inktober again. It went how it usually does. Excitement leading up to it. Mild dread halfway through. Pride in the end. I’ve done this one so many times over by now, you’d think there isn’t much more to learn from it. But these little doodles always help me better express or understand my thoughts, feelings and experiences. If you spend enough time looking in, you’re bound to see something new. That’s why no matter how many times I do it this one, it’ll always have something to give.
I tried intentionally meditating for the first time in my life about a year ago. The experience I had was mostly positive and I kept up with it for a bit, though slowly but surely, I practiced it less and less. Meditation is hard work, and I don’t mind that, but this work didn’t always feel like it was paying a fair wage. I know it has power though, and I’ve still been curious, so I set out to dig a little deeper.
I spent some time in September exploring some more, and took Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Masterclass on mindfulness and meditation. The guy’s a character, and I enjoyed it. A lot of the course was high level and easy to understand, like the idea of mindfulness being the awareness that arises from being present. A lot of the course felt very nebulous to me though. Ideas that are hard to grasp by simply listening or even doing. One of the more potent things that stuck with me, was the work he’d done teaching mindfulness to prison inmates. Particularly how the men reacted, which led him to describe the experience as if “he were giving food to starving people.” Such a powerful idea. It quickly had me looking inward, wondering what parts of me are dying of starvation and atrophying, even while my body outwardly stands tall and strong.
I took this course months ago but have managed to maintain practicing mindfulness regularly. The trick in making this work sustainable for me this time around, was realizing that sitting or laying meditation, which is what I’ve typically practiced, is just not for me. Instead I’ve found walking meditation, in part thanks to my friend George. I find it much more natural to be aware and present when in motion. Always have. Don’t know why it took so long for me to put together that I’ve had more success entering a state of mindfulness running my third mile than I ever had laying on my back with my eyes closed. Now a few times a week I listen to guided meditation while I walk a few miles through my neighborhood, in the middle of my workday. I often feel refreshed and clear headed after. It’s not a silver bullet that works every time, but this time around, it at least feels like work that pays a fair wage.
My solo indie dev project that I’ve been calling Greenfield is still happening. Taking up nearly all the free time I ration for creative pursuits. I’ve often heard the analogy of a hard thing being like pushing a boulder up a mountain. This project feels like that, but this mountain seemingly has no summit. Just keeps going up. A truth that’s made Six Foot Giraffe really hard to keep up with. I remind myself though, that this project I’m pouring so much energy into can fail. Creatively by falling short of my vision for it, and or financially as an indie game competing in an ocean of other games. And that’s assuming I can even finish it. It’s not hard to imagine that I may regret pursuing this, no matter how enamored I am with the process in this moment.
On the other hand, the work I do here on Six Foot Giraffe will never be something I regret. What I make and share here today compounds its value to me down the road, many times over. When my years past inevitably become just an impressionistic blur, it’ll be here that I’ll find my long lost thoughts and feelings, in full focus. I’ve been at this long enough now that this isn’t just a theory. I am already experiencing it. So let this be a reminder to myself not to quit.
I’ve always loved biking around the city. I wrote a little about that before here. While it was true when I wrote that, that I’d ridden a bike more days than I hadn’t in 10 years, I definitely can’t say the same thing since covid and remote work started. My daily commute was where I got the majority of my biking in, but I haven’t had a commute in nearly 3 years. So I set out to bike 100 miles for August. Not a hard distance to bike in a month, but the whole idea was to just get out there and have some fun again. So that’s what I did.
Somedays I biked to lunch, somedays biked for errands, and somedays I had no agenda or direction at all. Just rode to ride. Heading down any which street offered the path of least resistance. Meaning wherever there was a green light or a wide street. Even snuck in an 18 mile round trip to and from the beach one day. A sure way to make a cold drink even colder.
It’s a hell of a feeling riding no hands with arms stretched wide and the wind pushing through your fingers. And that’s really the highlight of the month I think, the pure fun of it. The month was also a reminder to not let biking slip away any further than I’ve already let it. A fun bonus was passing a slower moving cyclist who seemed shocked that anyone could even be going faster than he was, but more specifically, when he broke the awkward silence inherit when passing and asked, “Man, what is it.. ? Is it you, is it the bike.. or..?” We both started cracking up, and I told him I’d just been at it a long time. Stranger, you made my day.
Still chipping away on my indie game project. New environment and puzzle design.
Tried to learn a new word everyday of July. The aim wasn’t to arm myself with some set of obscure words to impress strangers, but really to save myself from some embarrassment. Growing up, I don’t think I had the best education. Not that it wasn’t available right in front of me, but because I really didn’t put the effort in, and because I often just fell through the cracks. Not asking the questions when I needed the answers. For the most part, my scores usually placed me in classrooms at a low level. One middle-school year in particular, we took an unexpected test that “wouldn’t count toward our grade.” Given that, I was more interested in making an intricate design on my scantron than actually taking the test. I’m pretty sure it was intended to determine our reading level though, since at the start of next quarter I was placed in a small classroom of kids who were hardly literate. We were tossed candy every time we were able to read a sentence aloud to the class, so I went on with it. It was more of an exercise in learning how to catch, than how to read.
Some of those consequences of my education have come up in my day to day. Particularly with vocabulary, and especially in my twenties. I thought “thirdary” was a word, and even used it often at work. You know, like, primary, secondary, “thirdary” (deep exhale to blink away the sting of embarrassment). I thought several meant exactly seven. I regularly misuse affect and effect to this day. Or how about that time I sent that company-wide email, explaining we needed to first “asses” the situation. God.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t able to laugh at it all today, and the truth is, time and experience fill in the gaps of our education pretty quickly anyhow. That said, I like learning, and there is still a real possibility I’m regularly making a mistake as offensive as “thirdary,” but just not yet aware of it (yikes). So I downloaded “Word of the Day,” paid for a lifetime membership because I’m a sucker, and a new habit was born.
I go out of my way to hide and silence most notifications on my devices, but it’s actually been pretty fun getting a daily ping for a new word. Plenty I’d heard before but didn’t know their meaning, and some I’d never seen in my life. The only words I already knew for the month were vignette, imperiled, sleuth, garble, Manhattanhenge, and Earthship. While not every new word sticks with me, enough do. The clearest win from the month was recognizing a word in the book I’m currently reading, that I only learned just days earlier. Couldn’t help but smile a little at it. We’re halfway though August now and I’m still keeping up with it, so I think this one’s here to stay. It’s kinda fun and takes such little effort, so why not. Plus, while I did say I wasn’t doing any of this to impress strangers, I have no issue trying everything I can to impress my wife. So far, she is not amused.
One second of video, every day, for 30 days. That was my monthly challenge for June. Inspired by my friend Duncan, who’s been capturing one second of video everyday, for over 8 years now. 8 years! Can’t say doing it for only a month was much of a challenge for me, or that I learned much, but I did have fun doing it, and that was the whole idea.
I did have some more exciting days that were harder to pick one second over another, but for the most part I didn’t have too much going on outside my normal routine. Turned out to be a pretty accurate representation of what I’m doing and seeing, day to day. Not wildly exciting right now, but the years do have a way of compounding the importance of things like this.
If I had to say something I learned from it, guess it’d be that you really don’t need to lug a big camera around to capture some good looking video, like I normally would when we travel. Of course I’ll still do exactly that, but it’s nice to know, ya know? Anyways, “Those are rats.”
I set out to run 120 miles in a month, and succeeded, but man was it brutal. Mentally and physically. Felt good breaking records and pushing my limits, but I think I consider the month to be a loss, not a win. I’ll explain.
I was miserably sick early in the month and missed a few days because of it. Those missed days added up to needing to run between 4 and 4.5 miles, every single day, for the rest of the month to hit my goal. Having to do something every single day without missing a beat in order to succeed, is either a sure way to fail, or a sure way to hate something. There were days I really, really, didn’t want to run. Days I probably shouldn’t have run. But I ran. Mainly out of fear that’d I end up having to run 5, 6, or 7 miles a day to make up for it.
So while I’m glad I stayed true to my word, and pushed myself mentally and physically, I also took something I really enjoyed doing and made sure I hated it. I know I can run faster and go even further in a month, but I also know now that I just don’t want to. I can definitely imagine some more running challenges in the future, but ones that aren’t so rigid. And please, if I go back on my word here and ever try to do something like this ever again, for the love of God, someone, anyone, please stop me.
I didn’t “make” these images. In fact, no one did. They were generated using artificial intelligence. It’s like searching something in Google Images, but instead of using text to find an image, you’re using text to make the image. It’s mind blowing to put it mildly.
These were literally generated in seconds, and in multiple variations. Something not quite right with a result? Refresh it and instantly see another 4 completely unique variations, in any art style, from illustrative to photorealistic. And again, and again, and again. Simply put, there is no designer in the world capable of working this quickly or efficiently.
You can imagine how thoughts about my future job security quickly and wildly spiraled out of control. The more I thought about it though, and the more I played with it, I started to understand and accept it as one more tool in the toolbox. As a practical example, I generated these images to help me visualize and concept some environments that have been living almost exclusively in my mind for my indie game project. The speed this tool allowed me to iterate and test concepts, as well as simultaneously be inspired by the generated visuals themselves, is just unbelievable. It’s as if I suddenly have an army of designers working for me, ready and waiting for my art direction. Truly transformative. Not something to fear, but something to embrace.
This video does a good job of explaining how it all works. In a lot of ways, and especially after watching that video, I feel like this technology strengthens the thought that nothing is original. That everything is inspired by something. I’m sure my thoughts and feelings about it all will continue to evolve, as will the technology. It’s a new frontier with some very clear pitfalls and I’m sure ones yet to be revealed, but for now I’m just enjoying playing with this thing, staying up way, way later than I should be in doing so.
I challenged myself to walk 75 miles in April. I’ve always felt good when in motion and ideas seem to come more naturally too. So I set out to make it a priority. At an average of about 3 miles a day, it seemed I was on track to shatter my goal of 75 miles. But the sudden passing of Alexis’ mom and the responsibilities that followed took complete precedence over anything else.
Skipped a lot of days for good reason, but I still managed to carve out the 75 in the end. Probably the most I’ve ever walked in a month, but this challenge was always more mental than physical. I think the discipline of having to do something everyday, even when you might not want to, strengthens the mind more than the body. In the end, I have a new personal record, a harvest of ideas, and lastly, a pretty funny exchange with a friend.
In March I wanted to take some sort of creative writing course. Always been interested in writing, but why I really took this one on, was the hope that it’d help me continue to develop the story for my game project. In the end, it did that and then some.
I considered some courses available for free on Youtube, and even some paid ones there, but decided to dive into MasterClass instead. I’d known and been curious about MasterClass for while, but this was my first go of it. It’s basically a series of lectures by individuals at the top of their field. From film directing, to cooking, to astrophysics, and everything in between. Whatever you’re curious about, it’s probably there. I absolutely love it. It’s been a new source of inspiration that’s become a regular part of my week. Even if nothing else came from this goal, that fact alone would’ve been more than enough to make it worth while.
I took some time last month to reflect and journal some of the things I’m grateful for, and why I’m grateful for them. Some of what I wrote seemed small, like how beautiful the weather was on my run, or how peaceful a walk through my neighborhood can be. Others felt bigger.
“I’m grateful to have hobbies and passions that keep me afloat through the harder moments.”
“I’m grateful my parents are still here, and still healthy. I can’t imagine my world without them. My mom is older than both her parents were when they died. I wonder if she thinks about that as much as I do.”
“I’m grateful my phone lights up because I have friends who think of me. I remember when messages like these were far and few between.”
And the list goes on. I wrote at least five things every few days. Ended up with more things I’m grateful for than there are days in February. Goes to show that even when you’re having a day, there really is so much to be grateful for, just right in front of you. The trick is taking that deliberate moment to realize it.
15 years in and I still struggle to define what exactly Six Foot Giraffe is. One thing I do know, is that it serves as a sort of safety deposit box for me. For the things I want preserved and kept safe. Things like these words from a complete stranger.
In regards to the work I do here, when I say I only aspire for it to inspire, I really, really mean that. It’s a hell of a thing to be inspired. If I can do that for someone, for anyone, in any capacity at all, that’s really as good as it gets for me. As an artist and as a human being. It’s incredibly rewarding. Thanks Michelle, you made my day.