Best of British: Developers need to break free of the bedroom
Byron Atkinson-Jones on breaking down barriers
Byron is an experienced developer who has worked for the likes of EA, SEGA Sports Interactive, Lionhead Studios and notable indies Introversion and PomPom.
Most recently he went full time indie to work on his first multi-platform title Cyberstream Fugitive.
When I used to work for Introversion Software, the company motto was "Last of the bedroom coders" - a reference to the fact that a lot of games were coded on PCs set up in people's bedrooms.
Certainly, when I was a kid this was very much the case.
My parents didn't want an ugly PC sat in the living room, let alone put up with the beeps and other noises it would make as I played games. Indeed, I was never content with playing games, anyway; I wanted to make them, and so that bedroom soon became my own little office.
I would like to say times have changed, but in reality the room I call 'my office' is actually one of the bedrooms in the four-bedroom house I share with my wife in London. So, in a sense, I'm still coding from the same place I was all those years ago.
Working from home in this way has a lot of benefits. For one, I'm my own boss and, as such, I get to dictate my own hours.
They usually end up being 9am till midnight, which is odd because, when working for somebody like EA, I would have been amongst the gang moaning about such ridiculous long hours.
Somehow working those kinds of hours for myself feels different, and the principle is sound – I get to dictate my own hours and work how I want. I am the complete boss of the situation and I only report to me.
Working this way does have one massive downside though - from morning to night, you're on your own. There's nobody to bounce ideas off, there's nobody to talk a particularly nasty bug through with. It can get very lonely day after day just working in a room on your own.
Sure there are lots of events going on that you can go to but there's nothing to quite beat being able to discuss game development issues with somebody else.
You could argue that there's Skype, email or even Twitter but it's not the same. Every now and then as a human being you need to interact with somebody.
There's nothing better than showing off something cool you just did and talking it through with people.
The other night I was introduced to the new Loading Bar in London by Nicoll Hunt, developer of Fist of Awesome.
It's an odd place to find, nestled just on the fringe of the dodgiest area of Soho and inside a smoothie and Cocktail place called MADD.
Loading Bar was the brainchild of Jimmy Dance and it's a place where you can come, relax and play some games while sipping drinks.
Looking around the place I wondered if it could be the kind of place I could come to make my games during the day instead of sitting in the lonely office. Sure enough, Jimmy's intentions are that this space be used for a lot more than just drinks and games.
I decided to give it a go. Armed with knowledge of this amazing place and with Twitter to hand, I sent out a tweet inviting people to turn up and either make games or just interact with us when we make games.
Sure, it was short notice, but Mike Bithell – the man behind Thomas Was Alone and the aforementioned Nicoll Hunt turned up and we worked on our own games: Mike on his 'project two', Nicoll on Fist of Awesome and myself on a mini-game I've been developing called So Hungry.
The event went as planned, we were able to show each other what we were up to, bounce ideas of each other and solve any bugs/issues that came up. For an added bonus during the day, other people turned up not to make games, but just because they were interested in what we were doing.
I was quite surprised that I was able to make significant progress on So Hungry – in fact I managed to hit a significant milestone: gameplay code complete.
Get out of the bedroom
In all, the day was declared a success and my own social interaction batteries were recharged and ready for me to descend back into the solitary cave of an office.
It was so much of a success that as we were leaving for the day, Mike and I discussed the idea of making it a weekly event.
I've been a big evangelist for collaboration amongst developers for a long time now and getting together to develop your games (rather than just being stuck in an office on your own) is one way of making this a reality.
I would encourage more of use to start trying out this kind of development model. It's partly why the Best of British group was founded and why I became a member in it's early days.
It's far too easy to fall into the trap of becoming too insular and just carrying on with what you're doing without any real feedback from others.
I've seen far too many developers doing this and, when they turn up with their games, they aren't as good as they think they are and they end up just canning them – which is a pity and something that could be avoided by just sharing and showing a lot earlier on.
This requires a lot of trust on behalf of the developer and a realisation that we aren't really all in competition with each other. Open spaces like the Loading Bar can help to break down those barriers to a certain extent since they are places that anybody can turn up to, not just game developers.
So, the next time you find your social batteries getting a bit low, reach out to some of your fellow developers and, you never know, they may be just in exactly the same situation as you and up for a day developing in a public place. I know I'm going to be doing it again.
Keep an eye out for my announcements on Twitter and, if you are thinking of heading down there for the day, give me a shout and I'll see if I can come along.
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