Interdimensional Travelling

This is kinda ridiculous in a way. I mean, in many ways. It’s especially ridiculous given the fact that the last time I posted here was a bit over a year ago, to say basically the same thing.

These usually start with a long ass philosophical discussion and end with a quick note about a relatively major life change. I then carry on, glad that I finished yet another text with a punchy end, both keeping it as a memento of my life at the time and in the hopes that maybe it’s food for thought to someone who drops by.

The whole zeal for structure thing is why it’s so hard to just spill the news first. This is, however, a post about doing things differently than I would usually do, so here it is: I’m attempting an experiment in inter-dimensional traveling. I’m also leaving Bossa and starting at Deepmind at the end of this month.

Jeez, that was hard to say. Terrible cadence. Anyway, stick around for the philosophical bit.

Part 1: London

I knew moving to London would be a big quality of life hit compared to Hamburg, also requiring a bit more frugal living. It’s an amazing city, but when you have to commute from the South Side everyday by 3 transport types, every single transfer being punctuated by a slight 15 second delay that makes you lose a bus, which adds about 15 minutes more to your commute time… you basically decompress by not leaving home that much during the weekend. In one way it’s good: everything is expensive as crap, so you do get to save some money 😀

First world problems and all, but c’mon, if I wanted shitty commute I’d have stayed in Rio. I love London but pretty much hated living here until about 2 months ago, when I moved to a flat closer to work and with more attractions than a Lidl and fried chicken takeaway (both things I dearly miss, tho).

There’s the obvious fact that Brexit is a thing (or at least it has to be, eventually, I guess?), the fact that ZING overnight your cost for visa health surcharge can just double etc… yeah.

Part 2: Work

Bossa is amazing. It’s a bunch of amazing talented and fun people – and even though I’ve worked with amazing talented and fun people in all the companies I’ve been at, it’s the first time there doesn’t seem to be a single person who is an asshole anywhere in the company – maybe that means I’m the asshole, which just makes everyone even nicer because they never told me so.

My last project in Germany wasn’t all that flashy but I had a great team, and it spawned some stuff that I later re-wrote at home and open sourced (Signals and the UI Framework) or at least wrote about (like the Item Database).

Being a Hidden Object Game and a project with many reboots and renames, it was internally referred to as HOG. So when I got there I obviously convinced everyone to theme everything around pigs: our sprints were named after hog mash-ups, we had hog toys around the office and I tried convincing the manager to use the team event budget to get us a pet pig (unfortunately that never happened). We had fun, but the stress of shipping a mobile title, dealing with platform-specific bullshit and the grind of F2P got me desperate to not do that anymore ever again.

We had from the more literal representations like the Armahog…

A cool thing about Bossa is that we have regular game jams – it’s part of the company’s DNA. In one of those, I ended up in a team that wanted to do a casual mobile game. That was when I found out that I wasn’t just tired of mobile F2P: I was burnt out. I dreaded going to work for those 3 days, but I shipped – shipping is what I do.

… to the more abstract and artistic Jellyhog.

Originally, I went to Bossa to work on a very ambitious PC project. It had some really interesting technical and design challenges, but I was especially happy to work again on a title I would like to play – it had been years since Ballistic and Horizon Chase. Things weren’t always smooth, but they sure were exciting.

Alas, projects get cancelled. It’s always sad, but some times it’s the correct decision. This was one of them. After that, I ended up on a smaller, but fun and quirky new project (still unannounced), that reminded me a lot of Horizon Chase in terms of scope.


“I’ve been shipping Unity games for the past few years

Says I, in the home page. Over the years, that got me to a point where mid-sized Unity games are just a solved problem; I now consider myself pretty decent in turning the impossible Quality-Cost-Scope triangle into a decent Venn Diagram. That’s not because I’m awesome or talented, it’s just because I’ve done it quite a few times, in quite a few companies, with different projects, teams, cultures.

So here I was, working on a mid-sized Unity project, in a platform very known to me, using Signals, the UI System and the ItemDatabase, and while I can’t reveal much about the theme… well, let’s just say we make a lot of pig jokes every day. I ain’t even kidding.

Now, don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a F2P title; it’s solid fun and has innovative gameplay. I think it’s turning out really great, and it might end up being a pretty big deal. By now, I honestly love the game and the team. But I’m getting old. I have a finite amount of time in this planet. I’m extremely fortunate to be doing something I love and getting paid for it. And yet… well, let’s put it like this: another thing I love is traveling, but if I were paid to do that, I wouldn’t want to visit major European capitals again and again.

In the games industry, the good days are the challenging ones, the bad days are the hard ones. Challenging is when you’re stuck for days trying to figure something out, or trying to conjure a solution to an impossible problem and feeling you’re a complete fraud. Hard is when you have to grind needlessly over office politics, or deal with things that could have been prevented.

I’m sure you’ve been through those situations, or at least read about them – but the more experience I have, the earlier I see the patterns forming, which means the more annoying the hard days are. And it sucks, but it’s the job. The question is: if it’s just a “job”, where does the attachment come from? And this is even from the very fortunate position of never having endured severe crunch and having dodged about 3 layoffs over my short years in the industry.

Don’t trust any game developer that doesn’t sometimes wonder if it’s passion or Stockholm Syndrome.

Part 4: Grown-up decisions

So let’s summarize all of this

  1. London is expensive, especially if you’re a migrant
  2. Brexit is a clusterfuck (and I say that very aware that Brazil is a continental glass house when it comes to politics) and settling here loses most of its appeal if you don’t have free transit to the EU
  3. I feel like I’ve groked mid-sized Unity games
  4. I’m in a very weird spot regarding working in the games industry

The way I looked at it was: might as well move to Canada, get a permanent residency in a couple of years and keep churning them mobile Unity games out until something more interesting comes up.

The plan was actually set on, after shipping my project at Bossa, pivoting to that. Then the question was: is there ANYTHING that would keep me in London longer?

Turns out there was a Deepmind job posting for a gameplay engineer.

I say it’s my first “grown up decision” because there’s an immense amount of emotional reasons not to do it, but there’s absolutely no logical reason not to go for it.

I’m a rogue academic. I’m way more bothered for my MSc. research not being out there helping people than not having the degree. I care little for the power structure and titles,  but I was schooled in the craft and I think the scientific method is mankind’s greatest invention. I read about neurosciences on my free time for years and my experience as a game developer actually fits the role. The main reason I’m so versed in juvenile humor is because otherwise I go fully into existential philosophy and that’s way worse to a room full of people.

Originally subtitled “Choose your own adventure” on my Instagram

Also, not gonna bullshit you, the money is pretty good. Not just the difference between “living comfortably” and “living very comfortably“, but between “hey, not only fasting during lunch makes me lose weight but it also saves money!” and being able to provide study opportunities for my wife.

But the really exciting part is the fact that everyone is still figuring this out. I’ll be completely out of my depth, but in some way, everyone is. It’s a rare chance on a new, booming field. I’m very aware that it implicates on many ethical and societal questions, especially regarding how massive companies use their computing power and humongous amount of data gathered on us. But given the choice between simply criticizing from the outside, or delving into it and trying to be a force for good, I choose the latter.

Also, not gonna bullshit you, the money is pretty good.

Part 5: Make Good Art

If you follow me on twitter, you know that try as I might to avoid it, I end up blurting about music every now and then. I’m a fan of Devin Townsend, and his latest album actually had a lot of influence in my frame of mind while I was making my decision. First because it’s an amazing album that marks (to me) his come back as an artist doing what he wants, instead of very good albums that are more commercial/accessible, but just that: very good. Second because the artistic product of his midlife crisis felt a lot like what I was feeling regarding my craft and what I should aim for next. The cherries on top were the lyrics to two of the songs: Borderlands and Why?.

In one, the chorus reads “Gotta have a good good life“; this usually ended up playing as I was smelling someone else’s armpit during my Northern Line commute from South London in the morning.

In the other, the lyrics ask “Why run away?” throughout the song to finally, at the end, finish with “Why run away, when you can just walk away?“. Heh.

Does that mean that you’re not developing games anymore?

Not really. Game development is something I do. It’s my itch. However, in regards to games, I became that weird cousin you have that has a major in film studies and only really digs expressionist Slovakian films from the 50s: no one in their right minds would ever pay me to make the kinds of games that I want to make – including myself, hence me still having a day job.

I’m a starving artist who really likes to eat.

6) The road Ahead

Bestiarium is constantly in my head. I’ve spent literal years beating around the bush, making prototypes, doing thematic research, dreaming about it. So I finally decided, time permitting, bringing it to light. I still don’t know how it’s gonna work out – more than one person who interviewed me said “ah yes, I had personal projects as well, but my mental energy is completely drained by the time I leave the office“, so I’m sure it will be more complicated than it seems. But challenging, not hard.

I probably won’t be able to talk about the work I’ll do at Deepmind at all, and I’ll need to confirm that I have clearance for the other open source projects that I want to build, but if I do manage to kick off Bestiarium as a thing, I’ll write about it more.

7) Wait, what about that crazy talk about interdimensional travel?

Ah, yes. It’s a metaphor.

Vectors are the best (losing only maybe to normalization). Now, I’m shamefully bad at even the simplest vector math, but they’re elegant, simple to understand and can represent pretty much anything.

If you’re trying to explain vectors to someone, you usually start with the good old spacial position example: given an origin, you can represent anything in (x,y,z) coordinates. So if you’re traveling through space, you’re changing your (x,y,z) coordinates. The usual “but it can also be abstract” next step is adding time: time isn’t an obvious “address” but since Back to the Future, the space-time representation is pretty much common knowledge by now.

So allow me to vectorize my work years: let’s say (Location, Company, Time)

  • (Rio, deVoid, 2009)
  • (Porto Alegre, Aquiris, 2013)
  • (Hamburg, GoodGame, 2015)
  • (Hamburg, Bigpoint, 2016)
  • (London, Bossa, 2018)

So there’s a pattern there: I’ve traveled through time (obviously), space (many miles, many cities), and the less obvious Company dimension. And even though it’s always different, there’s these things that are always the same, and the more I explore those dimensions, the more the patterns emerge and the less it becomes interesting to me.

Remember when you first “saw” time as a dimension? It was always there, just invisible to you. You just added a new coordinate to your way of thinking, and this whole world opened. Then let me add a new dimension to my list: Industry.

  • (Rio, deVoid, 2009, Games)
  • (Porto Alegre, Aquiris, 2013, Games)
  • (Hamburg, GoodGame, 2015, Games)
  • (Hamburg, Bigpoint, 2016, Games)
  • (London, Bossa, 2018, Games)

Maybe more than fringe science (and Marvel plot point fountain), the multiverse hypothesis is an excellent allegory: if you’re feeling stuck, check how many coordinates you’ve been operating on – maybe there’s one that you didn’t see before and you could change.

Except for time. Be mindful of your time. Time devours us all.


2 thoughts on “Interdimensional Travelling

  1. Well, it is pretty nice to read something here again 😀

    I wish you luck, for real, i’m pretty new to the game industry (1year and half now), but it’s not difficult to see myself in that position, i think that the major thing that moves programmers are challenges, always learning something new.

    I can only hope to see more posts here, and if possible, about game development :D, but if no, it would also be great to keep following your programmer experience from now on

    1. A few months late, but thanks for the comment, Magno!
      I plan on writing more often if I manage to get Bestiarium rolling for real (TM) this time.

      Good luck on your future projects!

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