Tag: Cleveland Game Developers

Zac Pierce is destined for greatness

I’ve known Zac Pierce casually for a few years now, and I gotta say, I really like the guy. I can’t say we’re friends, because we don’t hang out and do things together, and I don’t really know him all that well. But I do have an impression of him that’s been forming over the past several years since I met him, and it’s been consistent and continually reinforced every step of the way.

We first met at a meetup of the Cleveland Game Developers, and I remember him demoing an early version of his game Bombfest, now released. Even several years ahead of its eventual release, the game was really fun, and showed a ton of promise. The animation and motion were smooth and felt very, very good. The gameplay was a lot of fun, and the graphics were splendid and cute.

The game was like playing with action figures and toys that had come to life and had the ability to hurl bombs at one another. It was something like Bomberman meets Dodgeball, with realistic physics, destructible terrain, and these sweet little digital models of toy building blocks and figurines, the sort you might have played with when you were maybe 4 or 5 years old. The goal to be the last man made it an outstanding multiplayer game, and I could tell that this game would be great at parties.

Zac delivered a talk at GDEX 2019 entitled Failing to Succeed, which was a look back at four years of developing Bombfest, which he had come to regard a failure.

I’ve never enjoyed a talk so well that I disagreed with so much. Zac is a great storyteller, and he shared his story, turning it into a masochistic confessional where he beat himself up for all the things that went wrong over the course of four years that he spent pouring his heart and soul into bringing Bombfest into the world. It was entertaining, funny, and full of valuable insights. But damn if it wasn’t hard to watch a young guy who I’ve come to admire shit-talk his accomplishments so thoroughly, just because the sales performance was underwhelming.

For certain, Zac didn’t do everything perfectly. And if a few things had been different, maybe he’d have been rewarded for his hard work more like what he deserved. But I don’t think of his story as one of failure. The Making of Bombfest story had far more success in it than failure, and far more than he gave himself credit for.

Bottom line, the game didn’t end up the hit that it deserved to be, and didn’t make him all the money he hoped it would, or needed it to. And bottom line realities are important, and they are harsh. But, despite commercial success eluding him so far, Bombfest was and is a great game, and the fact is that Zac Pierce is destined for greatness.

He’s questioning it right now, and it’s only natural, when you work as hard as he did at something for as long as he did, and it doesn’t accomplish what you hoped it would, of course you question it.

But I’m certain. While I listened to Zac tear himself down for 45 minutes, I heard him rattle off success after success, and immediately dismiss each one.

  1. He succeeded at educating and training himself in the skills and tools of game creation.
  2. He succeeded at coming up with a really fun game prototype with excellent core mechanics and a very polished visual style.
  3. He succeeded at raising funds to continue development through Kickstarter.
  4. He succeeded at completing the project and released the game.
  5. He made a lot of mistakes along the way… and he learned from all of them.
  6. He succeeded not in just releasing the game, but getting it published and ported to the Nintendo Switch.
  7. He did all of this during a period the industry has come to call Indiepocalypse, when even established independent game development studios struggled and went out of business and even bigger studios had a hard time staying afloat. And he did it with his first real project.

Zac Pierce put a game on the Nintendo Switch in his first at bat. Who else can say that, but Zac Fucking Pierce?

Zac, each morning when you wake up, you ought to go to the bathroom, splash some cold water on your face, look at yourself in the mirror, and loudly proclaim:

“I’m Zac Fucking Pierce, and God DAMN if I didn’t make one HELL of a videogame.”

Daily affirmation

The bad news, sales were disappointing.

OK, so there’s that. So despite all the litany of success, that makes Bombfest a failure? I don’t think so.

The sales didn’t meet expectations. But the game is good. Of course sales do matter. You can’t put your life into something for four years and not have it pay off, and feel great about it.

But that’s a shame, because there’s so much about the Bombfest story that Zac deserves to feel great about.

Whether he finds success and fortune in game development or in some other area, he has a bright future, thanks to his talents as a programmer, designer, and artist, his vision, and his energy.

The fact is, the biz is brutal. Indies have it harder than anyone. And there’s a glut of product. You can do everything, or nearly everything, right, and still not end up with a hit game. For his first time out, Zac Pierce did way better with his project than a lot of people do. Maybe he didn’t succeed at the biz side of bringing Bombfest to market, but he absolutely nailed the design and development of the game, and demonstrated dedication to a project that went on for four years.

Bombfest has made Zac about $30,000 so far. It needed to be more. $60,000… $100,000… $300,000… what level of revenue would be enough to tell you that you’ve made it? Enough to be on par with an entry level salary in some “real world” job that you could have taken instead of choosing to challenge yourself? Enough to put you on firm footing to produce your next project the way you want it to be without having to worry about whether it’s a hit or not? Enough to never need to work again unless you want to?

Really, people have strange ideas of what success is, what it means, and what looks like. We think of success as someone standing in a spotlight in a packed arena playing a guitar solo and then going home to a mansion and swimming in money. We think of success as something that happens suddenly, overnight, with little apparent effort, because “when you’re good, it just comes naturally.” We think that way because we don’t see successful people being successful until their success has been at work for so long that it has made them famous enough for us to be unable to fail to notice them.

But success looks a lot different from the inside. What it looks like, most of the time, is a lot like Zac Pierce’s talk on Failing to Succeed: a long story, with hard work, struggle, mistakes, goals met, challenges overcome, and a continuing battle with crippling self doubt and anxiety.

There’s two ways to read that title, as Zac pointed out himself: One, “failing to succeed” meaning literally that success was something did not happen. The other, “failing [in order to] succeed” — the things one must do on the path to success, in order to figure it out and get there. It’s pretty clear that Zac’s story is true in both senses. But in the long run, the second meaning will eclipse the first.

Game Programming for Artists

Game Programming for Artists by Jarryd Huntley and Hanna Brady

Game Programming For Artists is a new book about to drop by my Cleveland Game Developer colleagues Jarryd Huntley and Hanna Brady.

It’s a book that intends to introduce artists to computer programming for games. Oftentimes artists and programmers come to the problems of game development from a very different set of skills, and it can be a challenge for them to understand each other. As well, often artists have ideas for games that they need help to program, and this book should help them to start to become a little more self sufficient.

I haven’t seen it yet, but I know that they’ve been working hard on it for the past year plus. I’m looking forward to seeing it in print.

Cleveland Game Developers Level Up 2/20/16 workshop

Excuse to Create – West Side – featuring “Level Up”

Saturday, Feb 20, 2016, 1:00 PM

Lakewood Public Library Main Branch
15425 Detroit Avenue Lakewood, OH

14 Video Game Developers Went

About Excuse to Create”Excuse To Create” is our casual working meetup event. Want to brainstorm or ask questions of other developers? Want to turn up your headphones and code without family distractions? Maybe look for opportunities to collaborate, pair-program or share your latest prototype? Just want to draw, sketch, or compose? This is the meet…

Check out this Meetup →

Global Game Jam 2014 postmortem

The Global Game Jam 2014 site doesn’t seem to have a blog capability this year, or if it does I’m stupid and can’t find where I can blog about my progress. So I wrote this entry as the weekend unfolded.

The theme this year was: “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

Interesting theme! I like it. A good idea came to mind almost immediately. I thought about a world that changes as the player changes. By picking up items, the player’s attributes change, and as the player’s attributes change, the world’s attributes change as well.

Then the idea came to me to have the player change by looking into mirrors that reflect a distorted view of the player. The more the player looks at the distorted reflection, the more they come to look like the reflection, giving them new powers… but, the world changes to match.


Global Game Jam 2014

This weekend is Global Game Jam 2014 weekend. I’ll be participating at the Cleveland Game Developers site.

I’m a bit anxious about this one. 2013 was a pretty poor year for me in terms of weekend jams. I got sick for GGJ2013, had computer problems that knocked me out of CGD Summer Jam, and out of the 3 Ludum Dare compos that I tried to participate in, I only managed to complete a game for one of them. Adding to my anxiety is the fact that I have no plans apart from showing up. I’m hoping that I will find a team to work with, but whether that happens or end up going solo, I think my approach will be to focus on something small and simple, rather than go for something experimental.

I’m hoping to turn things around for 2014, so I really want to make a decent game for GGJ this time. I hope that the theme inspires me and that I don’t struggle too much with it. I’ll be spending the rest of this week doing coding exercises to get my mind ready.

3 Upcoming Ohio Tech Events You Should Put On Your Calendar

July has turned into my regretful month of not being able to participate in all the things.

Cleveland GiveCamp 2013

July 19-21, 2013. Register to volunteer. Spend a weekend helping out a local nonprofit with a small IT project, to be completed in a weekend. Hosted by Lean Dog.

I did GiveCamp 2011 and had a very good experience. I would be going this year, but for my involvement with the Cleveland Game Developers Summer Jam.

Cleveland Game Developers Summer Jam

In the tradition of Global Game Jam, Cleveland Game Developers is putting on our first self-sponsored weekend game jam. July 19-21, 2013. Tickets are available through EventBrite. Hosted by Shaker LaunchHouse.


July 27-28, 2013, at the Ohio Union in Columbus, Ohio. If you’re a Python developer, or interested in becoming one, this is a good conference to check out.

And, coming up in the near future…

Ohio Game Dev Expo

This one won’t be until September 14, also at the Ohio Union, Columbus, Ohio. I haven’t been to this one before, but am looking forward to checking it out. It appears that we’re starting to establish a strong community of game developers in the state. It looks like there is likely to be a pretty large Cleveland presence at this one, but I’m excited to get to meet other game developers in the region.

GAME.Minder Expo 2013

Last Saturday, I attended and spoke at GAME.Minder Expo, held at Shaker LaunchHouse. after taking ill in January and missing the 2013 Global Game Jam, this was a great day to jump back into the Game Dev scene.

It was a relatively small event, but still probably the biggest local game dev event that I’ve been involved with to date. Organized by Handelabra to promote their studio’s mobile gaming efforts and the GAME.Minder podcast, and local area game developers in Ohio. Turnout was almost 40% higher than expected, with the official attendee count at 136. The Keynote talk was presented by Ian Schreiber, a co-founder of the Global Game Jam.

A bunch of us CGD people had dinner with Ian and his wife, and he said that we are getting big. It has been wonderful to see the local independent game developers organizing and building up our community and create a scene, and to be a part of making that happen.

Members of the Cleveland Game Developers meetup were well represented. I gave a brief talk on GameMaker, Jarryd Huntley talked about Construct2, while Brian Gessler and Justin Demetroff delivered a talk on Unity3D. Ian Faleer and Stephanie Frankiewicz gave a talk on the Art of the Game. And the folks from HashTag Nerd had a booth set up. There were a few other presenters as well. Videos are still being uploaded, but a number of them are already available on GAME.Minder’s Youtube channel.

The evening event was a screening of the Kickstarter-funded documentary Minecraft: The Story of Mojang. The movie was excellent and inspiring.

Game Jam 101 Lightning Talks

This Saturday, I’ll be at a Cleveland Game Devs meetup, where we will be giving lightning talks in preparation for the upcoming Global Game Jam happening later this month. I’ll be giving two talks, one on setting goals, and one on keeping the momentum. Following are my notes for the talks.

Game Jammer Goals

How to decide what to shoot for in your next weekend sprint.

A weekend is not a lot of time to make a game! To get the most out of your weekend, you need preparation and mental discipline. Having goals will help you focus and get the most out of your jam weekend.

So what should your goals be?

Have you made a game before, ever?


Your goal should be to make a game! Easy as that.

Really, though, it is best if you have at least some game making experience before you try to fly solo. Do look for a team to join, and see what you can offer them. Focus on delivering a skill from your repertoire of strengths, and integrating well with the team. If you can get anything back from the team, hopefully it will be insights into skill areas where you are lacking, techniques that you can apply in those areas, or exposure to new tools that you can start to learn.

Yes… but never in such a short time!

If you have never made a game in a weekend before, likewise your goal can be to complete a game. It can be done, as proven by thousands of people. Before jams became popular, most people thought it took months or years to complete a game project. We know now that this simply isn’t so, and the amount of work that can be accomplished in a weekend can be incredible. Still, like running a marathon, it’s hard to believe until you’ve done it yourself.

It feels really good to have this accomplishment under your belt, so if you haven’t completed a Game Jam, this should be the only goal for you.

Even if you don’t make it this time, but still want to keep trying, then focus on learning what you can from the experience. If you weren’t able to complete the game you wanted to make, why was that? Did you lose track of time? Did you plan for more than you could possibly deliver? Did you struggle to implement something that you felt you could do, due to inexperience or pressure? If you couldn’t figure something out in the weekend, don’t give up – keep working on it after the jam until you figure it out. That way, at the next jam, you won’t be stopped by that failure again.

Don’t be afraid to fail, but try to fail early, and always fail at something new.

Yes! I’m a Jam veteran!

Then you can make a few more choices… completing the game may not necessarily be the most important thing once you’ve proven that you can do it. Be willing to take greater risks.

Once you’ve proven to yourself that you can do it, if you enjoyed the experience enough to want to repeat it, you should keep going on to bigger and better things. Participate in as many Jams as you can find time for, and make it a goal to do more with each new game, always improving on your last effort.

Where should you focus your goals?

This is a personal choice, and it depends a lot on where you’re at, where you want to go, and what your strengths and weaknesses are. Here’s a few areas to consider.

Learning/Experimentation. It’s only a weekend. If you fail, it’s no big deal. You only lose a tiny amount of time, and you can learn so much. So take risks. Try something you haven’t done before. Make your focus learning and experimentation.

Be willing to accept a failed concept, incomplete game, or failure to complete a submission. Ideally, you still want to make a game so you can show off what you learned and receive feedback on it, but it’s less important to have a good game than it is to learn from the experiment. If you want to have the best chance of having a finished game by deadline, limit your experimentation to one thing only. For everything else, stick with what you know.

I don’t recommend picking up a new tool to experiment with. Rather, do something different using a tool you know well. To complete a game in a weekend, you just don’t have time to learn a brand new tool that you’ve never used before. Using new (to you) tools won’t get much you recognition, but new game design concepts often do, even if they are not successes.

Still, if you really want to try a new tool, it can give you a taste of the tool, enough to give you a sense of whether it’s something you want to devote time to mastering.

Ideas for domains to experiment/learn with:

  1. Graphics
  2. Sound effects
  3. Music
  4. Controls
  5. Game mechanics
  6. Genre
  7. Setting
  8. Mood
  9. Story
  10. AI
  11. Level design
  12. Randomness
  13. Procedurally generated content
  14. Physics
  15. Particle systems
  16. Network
  17. Multiplayer

Each of the above is still quite broad – don’t be afraid to get much more specific when coming up with your ideas for experimentation. But do decide on the specifics late – once the theme is announced, and you are starting to come up with concepts for your game is a good time to narrow down the specifics of how you will experiment with in a domain.

Teaming. Step up and be a leader. Try to organize a team.

Or just be on a team. A team needs more than just leaders.

The thing a team needs most is do-ers, without ego, who can communicate. Never forget this.

Leadership does not mean making decisions for the group; it means helping the group to come to agreements about the decisions it makes together.

Community. When I say “community,” primarily I’m thinking of all the participants in the jam who are not part of your immediate team. This could be other groups at your location, or they could be other groups anywhere in the world.

The jam is when everyone comes together to make something and show off and share with each other. This is the best time to make new friends (or grow existing friendships), and get to know the community. Play and review games made by other groups – make note of who created them, and follow their projects. Make it a point to get to know the people and learn about them. Follow them on twitter, visit their web site, and learn about their other projects. Who knows, they may live nearby! Drop them a line and let them know you like their work.

The essence to community is giving. The community is indifferent to most of its members, but it recognizes their greatest contributions. To stand out, give the most. Exchange your knowledge and skill – be willing to sacrifice a little dev accomplishment for a little knowledge spreading. Make a game so you can get feedback from the other jammers. Give feed back on the creations of others. Write tutorials. Build and share your own tools.

Winning. If you’re a true pro, and your team is functioning like a well-oiled machine, this is what you should go for. Make the best game you possibly can in the time allotted. Go for it, try to win! Learn how the event is judged, and try to do well in those areas where you feel strongest. Focus on your strengths, or if you’re working with a team, let each team member focus on their strengths, once all areas of project have coverage. Your experimentation should be minimal – stick with what you know you can do well, and know will work. It’s all about coming up with a good design quickly and executing.

Take a balanced approach. Try to do a little bit of everything. After all, it’s pretty hard to complete a game without doing a little bit of everything. But still put an emphasis on one area or another.

For me, I try to take a balanced approach. I stick with what I know well for about 70-80% of the project, but try to make learning something new an important goal on top of simply finishing a game. I don’t care about “winning” the jam, but I want to do better than my last jam. I also try to be involved in the community in order to get inspiration from what other developers are doing, and to build reputation as a designer/programmer.

Be Flexible. The weekend will surprise you. Be adaptable to the surprises, because they offer you opportunities. The best things about a weekend jam are the things that you couldn’t have predicted beforehand. Don’t set out on a mission to complete a rigid list of goals, but have a number of potential goals in mind, and be willing to drop one in favor of another if the right opportunity comes along. If you try something and see quickly that it’s not going to work, or that you wouldn’t be able to finish it by deadline, it’s OK to drop the idea and go with something else.

Weekend goals vs. Long term goals

A very good use of your time in a game jam will be to incorporate your longer term goals when choosing your goals for the weekend. Successful people tend to set long term goals and work toward them by taking many small steps.

Use the SMART criteria:


  • Specific: Don’t be vague. Focus on a specific goal. If it is too general, you will rationalize and bargain with yourself that the goal has been met, rather than focus and work harder to achieve the goal. You can still be flexible with your goals while being specific, but if the situation dictates changing goals, try to change from a specific goal to another specific goal.I want to complete a game in the next 48 hours is pretty specific already. If you can, though, go further – I want to complete a game that incorporates teleportation. Or, Complete a game that uses the mouse for controls. Or, Complete a game that causes fear by imparting a sense of helplessness and sudden, surprise danger. You get the idea.
  • Measurable: If you can’t measure it, then you don’t know how well you did. Pick things that you can measure. This gives you something to aim for, and lets you re-calibrate as needed.Game design is hard to measure. How do you quantify fun? Still, there are things that are quantifiable. My goal is to rate 256 games for the compo. Or My goal is to place in the top 25% of entrants in the category of [x]. Or Create sprite animations for 8 different poses in the next 2 hours.But don’t try to make your goals based on arbitrary numbers. Try to pick numbers that are meaningful. It’s better to have a smaller number of well-done features than a larger number of weak features. What’s better, a game with 10 boring levels, or 1 really great one?Often, the easiest way to measure may be simple binary: either you achieved it or you didn’t.
  • Achievable: Don’t set yourself up for failure by picking something that you can’t hope to accomplish. You should have an idea of what you’re capabilities are. It’s fine to challenge yourself, but don’t set the goals unrealistically high. If you don’t have any clue at all how you’ll achieve a goal, step back and set a more realistic goal that you can achieve, which gets you closer to achieving the too-hard goal.
  • Relevant: Don’t pursue extraneous goals. Focus on what is most relevant to your larger goals.In a weekend jam, there’s just not a lot of time to waste. Focus on the essential features of the game you want to make. Don’t waste time on extraneous things.
  • Time-Based: Give yourself a reasonable window of time to achieve the goal. Assess yourself at that time and decide what to do next. But also check yourself before then to see if you’re on track.During a Jam, time is constrained as it is. You know you have 48 or 72 hours to build a game. I encourage you to subdivide this time and assess periodically where the project is at, and decide whether to drop or modify features in order to make the submission deadline.


Game Jamming 365

How to keep the momentum

  1. Be obsessive. Think about game development all the time. According to the Bureau of Unverifiable Statistics, men think about sex on average every six seconds. As a game developer, you should think about game development even more than this.
  2. Be persistent. Don’t give up. If you can’t figure something out, show off what you have been able to figure out and ask people for help.
  3. Set small goals. Pick small projects. Do things that are within your capability to complete quickly. Do simple, mini projects that aren’t full-blown games, but are good development exercises, or that can be useful reusable components in a game.
  4. Make time. At a minimum, set aside one night a week to be your time to devote solely to your projects. Arrange your calendar so that you can do this. Work over this minimum any time you can.
  5. Fill every possible moment. When you get into your project, you won’t want to stop. Find ways to put time in on your project. Carry a notebook around with you to draw and write up your ideas. Write yourself notes whenever you have a few seconds – at the bus stop, on the train, waiting for an appointment, in the elevator.
  6. Get back on track. Life will always intrude and take you out of “the Zone.” When that happens, figure out how to get back on track as quickly as possible. Deal with the distraction effectively and efficiently, and go back to development. If it’s a true life priority that’s calling you, then give it the attention it deserves, and resume your game projects when you can.
  7. See the Game in everyday life. Look around you, everywhere there are systems that could be seen as games. Teach yourself to recognize these patterns and then apply them in your projects. Art imitates life. Make up games about brushing your teeth, or walking your dog.
  8. Take a break. When you get exhausted, when you get stuck, when you’re not feeling it, when you’re wanting inspiration. Step back and give yourself time to recharge. Work on something else. Just relax. Meditate or exercise. Watch a movie. Hug someone you like.
  9. Play. Play games. Follow your favorite developers’ new releases. Return to your old favorites. Visit them with a fresh eye, think about what makes them successful.
  10. Release. Put your work out there for people to see. Give them easy ways to provide feedback to you. Use achievement statistics to collect data on how players play your game. Analyze the data to figure out how to make better games.

Cleveland Game Developers October Meetup

Last night was one of the more interesting Cleveland Game Developers meetups that I’ve been to in a while.

IGDA Ohio Chapter starting up?

We’re discussing becoming an International Game Developers Association chapter. Coincidentally, on my own initiative, I became a member myself just recently. I haven’t gotten very much use out of my membership so far, so I’m definitely welcoming of an official chapter starting up!

CGD member and Stark State College Computer Science and Video Game Development instructor Mike Geig, who is leading the initiative, says he is definitely working on starting this up, and the only question seems to be whether CGD would like to officially fold itself into this group, or remain an independent meetup group. Things are in the very early stages, so he’s still trying to figure out pretty much everything at this point.

Cleveland Game Devs Saturday Activity

This Saturday, October 20, CGD member Sam Marcus will be putting on a “thing” on random numbers. Sam always brings a potent blend of humor and math to his presentations, so I’m looking forward to learning more about randomness and how it can be used to good effect in games. I use randomized values quite a bit in my own projects, and I’m always finding new uses for them. I’m looking forward to learning some clever new stuff from Sam.

Exploding Rabbit

A new face showed up at our meeting and introduced himself as Jay from Exploding Rabbit, of Super Mario Bros. Crossover fame. He and his wife Iggy moved to Ohio from California recently, and have settled in the Cleveland area. I am glad to see more people who are working on serious projects coming to our meetings. It’s very cool to have people doing high quality work in the area.