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johnmasterlee's blog

What It's REALLY Like Making Indie Games
2:57 PM on 04.14.2015
I Would Never Get My Own Cooking Show
1:30 PM on 03.21.2015
Never Revealed Game Concepts
2:27 PM on 03.18.2015
Tossing My Art Salad
2:24 AM on 03.13.2015
How To Make Wicked Fried Rice
6:41 PM on 03.10.2015
Classic clip from Bethesda Softworks' XCar
2:15 PM on 03.01.2015

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johnmasterlee's Profile Destructoid

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johnmasterlee 's blog
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I'm a game developer, and head up several gaming studios, including Wicked Loot and FitGoFun. Been in the game industry for many years now. It's the only life I know.

I pretty much done it all. QA. Marketing. Game Design. Coding. Editor. The guy who had to wear the (stank) mascot costume at a gaming event. The guy who drove a truck to deliver games to a warehouse. For the love of the game.

It's sorta about games. But mostly about my life.
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So I'm working on two indie games at once. And I would say that overall it's pretty typical of indie game development. Small team trying to do it all. Refactoring lots of code as we learn about better ways to create. Lots of coordinating to nail down new ideas, and then once you implement it, we realize something more interesting is worth exploring. It's fraught with lots of uncertainty that's for sure! This video captures a lot of what I do for a living.

So here's the reality of making games:

  • It's a lot less sexy than you think it is! If you got a team size bigger than 3, which we do, and if the team mostly works remotely, which we do, you will spend a lot of time in meetings and specing stuff out.
  • And the funny thing is, even though we are all gamers, and speak the same language, because of the differences in our professional backgrounds, we still don't quite speak the same language. Coders think and express their ideas quite differently than artists do. And finding ways to bridge that gap is a lot of what game development is about. It's amazing how often we had to change the way our terrain looked because we all had a slightly different visual of how it looked in our head, and how to build it.
  • Sometimes I work at night. Sometime I work when sunlight is out and I wished I could be enjoying it more. Then I realize I work day and night I never see the outdoors to begin with.
  • I do lots of play testing, which means fixing tons of bugs and tweaking game balance. Constantly. And no matter how much game devs fix stuff, someone will find a problem that we still couldn't catch.
  • Sometimes we create concept art, change it several times, and then go back to what we started with. And that's perfectly fine. You sometimes have to go full circle to realize what you had was really already working just fine.
  • And I spend a lot of time doing marketing and business development. You hear how often indie game devs didn't realize how much work goes into promoting your game. I realized this... and still it's more than I anticipated! In this day and age, it's easier to reach fans directly, but that also means you gotta keep up constant communication with them.

So there you go. Game development is a lot of EVERYTHING. It's complex, and few people realize how it consumes you. But truth be told: I still rather be doing this than anything else.

So I was pleasantly surprised at you all actually enjoyed my recent blog post about making fried rice. After all, Dtoid is a gaming focused website, and that instantly conjures up images of people who rather eat cheetos and delivery pizza. So this opened my eyes on two fronts. First, the community here does have interests outside of games, and that we aren't all cut from the same stereotypical mold. And second, that food is universal, and we spend a lot of time eating it, making it, appreciating it, and talking about it.

So over on my YouTube I started to make more vids about food over the last few months. Which again, was initially a bit odd because much of what I like talking about is about how my life is centered around games. But I find cooking to be absolutely liberating, exciting, and just darn fun. And it's a lot like making games, but I'll get into that next time!

This particular batch of vids covers a pretty nifty online service called Green Chef. Basically, if you don't got time to prep and cook, but still like the idea of a homecooked meal, then this thing is a godsend. Each week they mail you a batch of meals in the form of raw ingredients, and they give you a recipe to mash it all together into something that looks like a real meal. 

There are a bunch of services out there like this now ie. Blue Apron and Plated, but I gave Green Chef a shot because my friend Steve invested in it and he wanted some honest feedback about the service. And second, everything Green Chef sends you is much fresher, and mostly organic. I never really gave much thought to the whole organic movement until I was in Hawaii recently and started to change my diet. Man, the food really does taste better when the ingredients are better. Who freakin knew.

Anyways, while I love cooking, it's pretty evident that I would never get my own cooking show because following recipe instructions is just not something I do. And second, when half the meal is already prepared for you like Green Chef... that's sorta like... cheating.

While cleaning out my pile of artwork and paperwork, I found some old game concepts that brought back memories.

Some of this stuff dates back 20 years, so it's amusing to look back and see what was going through my head. What's cool was one concept I had codenamed Cat Burglar, where you play as a thief that steals rare treasures in museums. Had similar mechanics to Tomb Raider. Ironically enough, I went to work on Tomb Raider shortly after this. Though after reading through my notes, it's clear my ideas was too ambitious. One of puzzles I created would have been a nightmare to implement! I'll chalk it up to a newbie game designer!

I do LOVE the general idea I had for a Mega Man style platformer but with wacky superheroes, which I'm surprised no one has done. The characters designed were based on old friends in high school, though looking back, I have to admit while it was all in jest, I can see how some of it seems like it was poking fun at people... kids... My best friend (who is a 10x better artist than I ever was) and I ended drawing comics of these characters and selling them to friends in school, and we had a scene that made fun of the teachers as being unlucky collateral damage in a superhero vs supervillain battle. They weren't too happy about that either and somewhere along the lines we were banned from selling more comics on school grounds. 

Anyways, been thinking that this Mega Man + superhero concept could be a fun one to work on after Spark Rising :)

2:24 AM on 03.13.2015

When you have a pile of artwork stacked up all over the the place, it starts to look like an art salad. Except it's made from trees, so maybe mulch is a better comparison. It's heavy as hell when you gotta lug boxes of it around as it piles up. So I decide to get rid of it. 

One of the main reasons I ended up designing games for a living was because I love the idea of turning something as simple as a sketch into some sort of interactive form. And it's what fueled much of my early career in gaming. I use to draw all sorts of things, as this video highlights. Mechs, comics, still lifes, angels, sexy ladies, etc. 

Tragically, I haven't been seriously drawing in years. MANY years at this point. Every now and then I'll whip out a pen and sketch something, and I'll draw stuff out to create new game characters, or environment layouts, but nothing that is noteworthy anymore. It's kinda sad, yet at the same time, I'm doing so many things that having the ability to block out hour at a time to diligently work on a piece is just outside of my capabilities right now. The reality is, art is often times just the beginning of where game design starts. But the process of creating a game, from designing, to coding, to animating, to testing, to marketing, ends up taking up much of my waking hours. And I'm OK with that. I enjoy piecing it all together. Truth be told, I always end up working with artists on game projects that quite frankly are leagues above my skill level anyways. So I tend to think of my art as good enough to convey my ideas, but not good enough to make all the ladies love me.

While going through all these old boxes of sketches, I did find a bunch of old game ideas as well, which was fun. I'll make another vid about that sometime!

Not to lump all you gamers out there into one big wad, but it seems to be the unfortunate reality that many of you are much better at Cooking Mama than real life cooking. After all, in a day and age where it's so easy to just call for pizza delivery, or microwave a Hot Pocket, why even bother mastering the art of cooking?

Simple: Because it'll save you a crap ton of money, it's healthier for you and it'll taste better. OK, that last part... ONLY if you are good at it!

So I made this vid showing you all how to make fried rice. It's ultra easy, and works wonders when you gotta work your way through left overs you find scattered around your fridge. But there is an ancient chinese secret to it... which I don't know... so I'll just teach you the Master Lee way instead, which is to wing it!

I learned how to cook back at my first job when I worked at Eidos. I barely made minimum wage, was living in San Francisco, living in a studio while sleeping on a floor because I couldn't afford furniture. I wanted to level up from hotdogs and ramen which was my diet in college. I found that you can take baby steps to mastering the art of cooking, so I been vlogging about my experiments, hopefully to inspire more of you to give it a shot too!

Eventually inspired enough to take a few cooking clases, and then went to teach a cooking class. What I learned was that cooking was merely mixing stuff together in particular ways and there are really only a few techniques that you know, you can apply to many recipes. 

If you got your recipes that you think are yummy and easy to make, please do share. I love trying new things!

I use to work on this PC game called XCar: Experimental Racing at Bethesda Softworks about 20 years ago. You can't find much info about the game online because it's before the internet got popular. But I managed to dig up this old news reel I had sitting around on a VHS tape at home. This stuff is classic!

Year: 1997. It's from WJLA TV7 5pm News, which is a local channel in the Washington DC area.

It's amusing to see how the reporter raves about how realistic the game was (he was starting to sweat while playing.) By today's graphical standards in gaming, it's ironic this clip feels so... vintage.

BTW - That Asian dude in the news clip... Yeah, that's me, 20 years younger and sexier.

Some notable things about the vid:

  • The game box was really unique, and a nightmare to assemble. It had a clear plastic shell, and the box within it was shaped like an X. It didn't hold together very well, so extra tape had to be used. I remember this because I helped out down in the shipping facilities when we were in the middle of getting the product out the door.
  • For promo purposes we partnered with a maker of a hydraulic racing chair which you see in the video. And yes, the chair itself cost about a ridiculous amount of money as the reporter indicated. And no, it really wasn't very realistic, since it was so jerky your eyeballs could have been shaken out of your sockets.
  • Yes, there really was all that sort of telemetry data you can play around with. But to be honest, it was utterly confusing what each thing did, even if you were a diehard car fanatic! If only the net had game wikis back then.
  • The game was created by a satellite team at Bethesda Softworks that worked out of a little known west coast studio. They went on to make NHRA Drag Racing.
  • I was in my early twenties and was a mere peon working at Bethesda Softworks. This was my first time on TV so it was a real hoot!
  • And yes, Courtney Cox did use to work at Bethesda Softworks... but that was right before I got there.