Schifty's Blog

Game Development and Media Reviews

The Best and The Worst Things About Army of The Dead

Army of the Dead is a fun zombie heist movie by director Zack Snyder. A team of mercenaries is sent into Las Vegas to kill some zombies and to retrieve a bunch of cash from a casino vault. Here are the best and worst things about this movie.

The 4 Best Things About the Movie

#1 The movie has a lot of fun action scenes that are set in a Las Vegas that was overrun by zombies. There are even different types of zombies. Some zombies are smart and fast, some are dumb and slow. The setting and the different zombie types keep the action scenes fresh and the plot interesting. Expect less of a horror movie and more of a stylized action movie though.
#2 The cast around Dave Bautista who played Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy is doing a pretty decent job. The characters might be a bit cartoony but have interesting personalities that totally worked for me. The Safecracker was especially interesting to watch.
#3 The president of the United States is quoted by a news anchor saying that nuking Las Vegas on the 4th of July would be really cool and actually kind of patriotic if you think about it.
#4 It’s one of the few bigger releases in the past 12 months.

The 4 Worst Things About the Movie

#1 The movie has some jarring script issues. I’m not talking about plot holes and the power of hindsight here – I’m talking about really confusing stuff. Some of the characters seem to be able to just jump around between locations. The main antagonist was even able to keep up with a helicopter on foot at some point. The amount of money that was supposed to be transported weighs around 2 metric tons – that is way more than what a couple of backpacks can handle.
#2 A lot of things were set up that never really paid off. The movie heavily teased the usage of a giant circular saw to fight off the zombies but we never really got to see it. The protagonists even talked about some dried up zombies that get reactivated by rain but we didn’t get to see this either. This leads me to believe that Zack Snyder tried to do another 4h movie but somebody at the studio put their foot down forced some cuts. This felt especially frustrating right at the end of the movie where the fate of one character was not even mentioned.
#3 There was this one scene were a character died and everybody else just stood there like a deer in the headlights. They clearly could have done something about it. The character alone killed like 20 zombies and the whole team collectively decided no to help her against five more. It was just baffling.
#4 The movie played around with a very shallow depth of field. This led to a lot of very blurry scenes that were sometimes completely out of focus. This is an unaltered still from the movie.

The Conclusion

The movie is around 2h 20min long and was a fun time overall. The script had a couple of jarring issues and could have used some more work but you get pretty much what you expect from this Zack Snyder movie. There were a lot of stylized action scenes that felt similar to his previous movies like 300 or Justice League. If you like to see a bunch of zombies getting killed and if you are a bit more forgiving about the script you are going to have a good time.

4/5 – Hope this helps.

Make Your First Game Asset

Have you ever wondered how to make a video game asset from start to finish? This tutorial covers the creation of fully destructible crates using only the freely available tools Blender, Krita, and Unreal Engine.

Step 1 – Make a Crate With Blender

We start by creating the crate mesh in Blender. We do this by slightly insetting all 6 faces of a cube. The new faces in the center of each side have to be slightly extruded inwards after that.

When insetting faces, make sure select every face and to check Individual.
Open the context menu and select Extrude Faces Along Normals.

The crate has be hollow to support the destruction effects within Unreal Engine. Therefore we create a 2nd cube and move it inside our crate. The cube has to be scaled down to be slightly smaller than our crate. We can then use a Boolean modifier to remove the insides of the crate.

The size of the cube inside of the crate (black outline) determines the thickness of its wooden walls. Create a Boolean modifier and select the 2nd Cube as the Object. Apply the modifier to make the change to the crate permanent. Don’t forget to remove the 2nd cube before export.

Uniform meshes can look pretty boring. I recommend you to add imperfections to the mesh by creating a couple of loop cuts and moving some vertices around using proportional editing. This gives the mesh a bit of character which works great in a low-poly environment.

Adding 3×3 loop cuts (CTRL + R) to the cube enables you to slightly deform the crate using Proportional Editing – the sphere of influence can be scaled by using the mouse wheel.

Open up the UV-Editing screen and add a new image with a size of 256×256. Save that image to a file called ‘CrateTex.png’. Select the entire mesh and export the UV-Layout to different file. Create and name a material. Assign it to your crate. Link the base color of the material as a image texture to the newly created image. If you switch the shading mode of your viewport to material preview, your box should appear all black – just like the created texture.

The UV-Layout can be exported under UV -> Export UV Layout.

Step 2 – Use Krita To Make a Texture

Import the UV-Layout into Krita with a canvas size of 256×256. Create a new layer beneath the UV-Layout and fill the background with a darker brown. Select the square areas in the center and paint them in a lighter tone. Feel free to add some details like a text saying ‘FRAGILE’ or paint an arrow pointing up.

Hide the UV-Layout layer before you export the result back into the texture file.
Reload your texture in Blender (Alt + R) and verify that everything looks correct.
Export the crate into an FBX file.

Step 3 – Create a Destruction Effect In Unreal Editor

Create a new First-Person blueprint project in Unreal Editor. Import the created FBX and the texture by simply dragging the corresponding icons into the editor.

Edit the imported material and make sure that the texture is sampled. Set Roughness to 0.9.
Go to the Plugins window and make sure ‘Apex Destruction’ is activated. Otherwise, the option to ‘Create Destructible Mesh’ will be missing.

Click on the imported static mesh and click on ‘Create Destructible Mesh’.

Open up the destructible mesh and play around with the ‘Cell Site Count’ to control the size of the resulting fragments. A higher number means smaller fragments.
Create a new actor called ‘Crate’. Replace its root component with a destructible component.
Link the component to your destructible mesh. Check ‘Simulate Physics’ on the component.
Make sure to apply radius damage to the mesh

Place the box in the level by dragging the actor into the viewport. Shoot at it.

Step 4 – Make It More Interesting

Hope that helps.

How To Get Started With Blender and Unreal Engine

Learning how to create simple models with Blender that you can actually use for game development might seem impossible to a lot of people, especially to programmers who don’t feel like they are artistically inclined. However, after +50h of practice, I found myself having the confidence to create simple game assets myself. Here is how I got started.

I stumbled upon a couple of very interesting Blender tutorials by Grant Abbitt on Youtube. He teaches very simple techniques for absolute beginners and his videos feel more or less like a mixture between painting tutorials a la Bob Ross and Lego instructions. These Beginner Exercises are very easy to follow but often ask you to try things out for yourself first before continuing with detailed commentary.

After finishing the first four beginner exercises, I started to look into creating an actually usable asset. This is when I jumped to the Low Poly Well Tutorial. This tutorial consists of three parts and yielded a very decent result. I especially liked how this tutorial challenged you to create some of the easier stuff yourself. This gets you into the right mindset by forcing you to think and plan ahead when modeling.

The well tutorial teaches you how to add different colors, bumps, and dents to your mesh in order to combat uniformity and to create a visually interesting result with a bit of character.

After finishing the well tutorial, I wanted to move on to something bigger – something that I could export to Unreal Engine, something I could animate and show off. I wanted to create a product that people would like and enjoy. The ideal guide to support that goal was the Sea Shack Tutorial. The tutorial consists of twelve parts but the actual geometry was modelled in the first six. The construction of the shack is briefly explained but you are left on your own after modeling the lower platform. The creation of twelve easy objects in the scene is skipped too. However, the shack and the other minor models should be pretty easy to recreate with the previous tutorials in mind.

The final result in Blender. I added a camera path with a little dip in the back to get the most out of the scene. There are some screen space reflection artifacts remaining that I was not able to fix.

Getting Your Assets Game Ready

In order to make the assets available in Unreal Editor I had to export the scene as an FBX file that can be easily imported. Joining all elements of the scene together enables you to easily transfer the whole scene layout as a single static mesh to Unreal Editor. Make sure to name all the materials you are using because those names are used to create material assets in Unreal Editor during import. Most material assets need at least a little tuning when it comes to shininess. Cloth materials require back-face culling to be deactivated as both sides of the mesh need to be rendered. The recreation of the water material needs most of your attention though.

The most complicated material to recreate in Unreal Editor is the water material. Make sure to set the render mode to Translucent and activate the checkbox next to Screen Space Reflections.
During the modeling process in Blender, some normals might have been flipped. Objects with flipped normals will not be rendered correctly due to back-face culling. You can check your normals by activating Face Orientation. Blue faces are rotated towards the camera and are fine while red faces are not. This can be fixed by pressing Alt + N -> Flip in Modeling mode.

After the initial import of the scene with all components joined together I removed the fish meshes from the Blender scene and exported a single fish mesh separately. I wrapped the fish mesh in a fish actor that is animated via Blueprints. The fish actor was then placed, scaled and rotated multiple times to replace all previously existing meshes. You need to do this for every additional element like the seaweed or the flag that you want to see animated.

The animation blueprint for fish moves and rotates the mesh slightly back and forth. The random time offset is helpful to prevent a uniform animation look.
I presented the final result from Unreal Engine on reddit to figure out the market appeal and received over 600 upvotes. The negative comments focused on the chosen coloration.

While I’m personally really happy with the result I do think that the scene and I might benefit from additional optimization:

  • This little animation currently requires 30 single color materials. This number could be vastly reduced by mapping a texture onto the mesh.
  • The walls of the shack consist of multiple individual boards. The number of vertices could be reduced by using a single simplified mesh and a normal map.
  • Bones and Rigging could be utilized to improve the fish animation.

Hope that helps.

A Beginner’s Guide To Rendering

Understanding computer graphics is hard. It is even harder to figure out where to start. This guide aims to provide a top-level understanding of common terms and processes that make pictures happen. The examples are implemented using Blender and Unreal Editor and do not require any programming or art skills.

Vertices

Vertices are an important building block of computer graphics. A vertex is a single point in a virtual space that can be implemented in multiple different ways. The most basic version of a vertex in a 3d space consists only of the values X, Y, Z that represent its position. Vertices are commonly used to define lists of triangles that represent a 3d mesh because triangles can be easily rendered by GPU programs called shader.

When working with 3d editing software like Blender you will be presented with quads instead of triangles as quads are easier to shape into complex models. The mesh will be automatically triangulated during export to be later used in your game engine.

Back-Face Culling

Triangles have a front-face and a back-face. Usually only triangles facing the player are rendered as this almost halves the number of triangles that have to be rendered on screen. This technique is called back-face culling and leverages the assumption that you shouldn’t be able to see the back-faces of solid 3D objects.

Back-face culling is off: The back-faces of this object are visible and take up valuable resources. This is typically unnecessary as most objects do not have holes in their mesh.
Back-face culling is on: The back-faces of this object are invisible and we render only the outside of the object as we assume that our objects typically don’t let us look inside of them.
The material settings of Unreal Editor allow you to deactivate back-face culling for each material.

UV-Mapping

The first common extension of vertices are a set of texture coordinates usually referred to as UV-coordinates and are used for a process that is called UV-mapping. The two values u and v are ranging from 0 to 1. They reference a point in the 2d space of an image with (0.5, 0.5) representing the center. If you create a triangle in 3d space with 3 distinct UV-coordinates you can visualize that triangle in the textures 2d space. The UV-coordinates for each rendered pixel of the triangle are interpolated and used to look up a specific pixel from a texture in a process called texture-sampling.

UV-coordinates are assigned to a mesh. A shader can use these coordinates to sample the texture.

Normal Maps

The combination of UV-mapping and texture-sampling can also be used to implement normal-maps to create more detailed models without using more vertices. Normal maps are used to ‘bend light with math’. This creates an illusion of bumps and dents that are missing from the mesh.

I created the texture by taking a picture of my coffee table and cropping it into square dimensions. The normal map was based on that texture and created with a process called baking normals using Blender. The added normal map creates the illusion of deep ridges that are not really there. Creating a mesh with that level of detail would require a lot more resources than just adding a normal map.

Texture Masks

UV-Mapping can also be used to implement texture-masks to enable color customization. Masking a texture is similar to setting up the texture itself. You assign texture coordinates to the 3d model and paint the areas you want to mask. The mask acts as a switch between the texture and a dynamically specified color on each rendered pixel. A common RGBA texture mask comes with 4 switches that enable you to blend and combine a total of 5 textures.

The colors of the marked areas of the mesh can be adjusted easily while preserving the rest of the texture. Masking is commonly used in character customization or to color code team members.

Vertex Color

Another common extension of vertices is the addition of a vertex color. A vertex color is usually represented by 1-4 values but can be even higher depending on the use case. Vertex color is used to mix and blend textures on terrains or walls that would otherwise look very stale. This is achieved by associating each value of the vertex color with a different texture and by blending accordingly. This effect works better with models that have lot of vertices as vertex coloring with very simple meshes does not allow for enough details.

The vertex painting tool in Unreal Editor enables level designer to paint right on the mesh.
A Quick Comparison
Vertex ColoringTexture Masking
– no additional texture required
– quality depends on vertex density
– information stored in vertices
– designed to create endless variations
– used for level design
– information stored in texture
– independent of underlying mesh
– typically one mask per object
– designed for dynamic coloring
– used for gameplay features
Vertex Coloring and Texture Masking both implement texture blending but have different use cases.

This was just a quick peak into the world of rendering techniques. Let me know what you want to see next.

Hope that helps.

What’s New with Apple in 2021?

I’m not a frequent user of Apple products but this years marketing event peaked even my interest. Apple introduced new products and focused on 3 talking points. The migration to their very own M1 chipset, colors, and being a company with a strong focus on the environment. Here are the products.

The iPhone 12 in Purple

The event starts off pretty weak. There is a new color for the iPhone 12. Great.

AirTag

The New iMac

Ted Lasso Season 2

We got to see a trailer of the new season of Ted Lasso! It’s a great show and a surprising reminder that Apple is still a content creator. I really enjoyed the first season but I am a little skeptical if the show’s concept can remain interesting throughout another run.

The New Apple TV

There is a new Apple TV with a bigger remote out. It can do 4k. Apple tried to sell the addition of the power button on the remote as an innovation. Yes, it was missing on the current models. What a joke.

The New iPad Pro

Apparently there is a new iPad Pro. It runs on the new M1 chipset and has a wide-angle lens that tracks you during video calls. I’m not sure what professionals are using iPads, but they seem to be out there.

Hope that helps.

Review of ASTRONEER

ASTRONEER is a 3rd person sandbox game that lets you explore seven different worlds with fully destructible terrains and an innovative base building system that lets you link different modules together. You need to collect resources, build up a base and research new technologies. These technologies allow you to travel between worlds, gather new resources, and to build an even bigger base that is capable of manufacturing complex materials. I played this game for over 55h before I reached the official end of the game, here is what I thought.

This is my base on the starting world. There is only a limited number of buildings available in the game with the majority of buildings being dedicated to energy production and resource storage.

Resources

You spent most of your time gathering resources. The terrain is fully destructible and your digging tool can be modified with different power booster for especially hard rock or base building. The digging in underground caverns reminded me a lot of Minecraft. You will find plenty of resources in the terrain which will be transferred into your backpack while digging.

Gathering Resources in ASTRONEER is interesting as it deforms the terrain and you never know how many resources are hidden underground. It leaves ugly holes around your base though.

Your inventory is pretty small and will become even smaller if you researched quality of life improvements like work lights, an O2 tank or batteries as they share the same space. You can involve vehicles on your resource expeditions but they are usually really hard to handle in caverns and only of limited use for resource hauling outside of the beaten path. Drilling with vehicles is an absolute nightmare. This leaves you with the option to spent the majority of your time building reliable roads or requires you to spent a lot of time backtracking. Something like an elevator would have been fun here.

Your final gear ends up using a majority of your backpack space. This leaves you with only 4 free slots.

Base Building

The platform provides large and medium sockets for a furnace and additional storage.

The base building system is pretty neat. There are 3 different socket types in the game. The small sockets store individual resources and items. They are the same ones you have in your inventory. The medium sockets can hold medium items and the the large sockets can hold large items. Each building requires a specific socket and these sockets are provided by platforms you place onto the ground. This socket principle is pretty self-explanatory and it’s pretty fun to ‘click’ your base together. You have to connect your buildings with electrical cables to utilize solar or wind power. Wind generator and solar panels have different output levels on different worlds so you need to adjust your outpost composition according to that. As those energy types do not continuously produce energy you have to store the energy in batteries to consistently provide energy for your base. This makes energy management a lot more interesting as you have to account for spikes in energy consumption. The Factorio vibes are not as strong as in Satisfactory but you can clearly feel the inspiration the first time you build an automatic ARM – and this is despite the lack of conveyer belts. The game offers base automation but the required amount of resources to finish the game does not make it really necessary to go beyond the absolute basics.

Exploration

The early exploration in the early part of the game is fun. Your O2 supply is limited and fresh O2 is provided by a network of tethers. You are therefore limited to the range of your tether network when exploring during the first hours of the game. You can expand your network by placing new tethers which are pretty cheap to make. While some might feel like this is very restrictive I appreciate the tether network to guide me back to my home base. At some point you will have vehicles available that enable you to roam around more freely without tethers as they serve as a mobile supply for O2. The untamed wilderness is a big damper on the fun exploration with vehicles though, as your vehicle frequently flips or gets constantly stuck in the environment. You really have to pave roads everywhere.

The tethers are your lifeline. They provide you with necessary oxygen to survive. They show you where you have already been and how to get back – that is pretty good game design.

There are little ‘puzzle boxes’ sprinkled all over the world that require you to provide a certain resource or a certain amount of energy in exchange for some research points. Crashed space ships have useful resources or items inside. While this is really interesting in the first couple of hours, running around on the surface gets boring rather quickly. As you dig yourself to the core of the 2nd or 3rd planet you will grow increasingly disengaged with the world in front of you. There are huge underground caverns with interesting looking elements that do not offer anything of value to the games progression but a couple of research points. At around 1/3 of the game I just ignored all of that beauty. Games like Subnautica offered new resources at every depth level and this made exploration way more rewarding as you actually had to engage with your new environment.

On my quest to reach the core I usually ignored all caverns by simply digging a long tunnel all the way down to the core. This took a lot of time and wasn’t that fun.

The best part of the exploration aspect is building rockets! It’s a lot of fun to prepare for a trip to another planet or moon. You have to decide what to take with you to get your outpost running as your storage capacity is very limited and crucial resources might not be readily available at your destination. Visiting new planets is necessary to obtain special resources like gases or minerals that are vital to your technological progression.

There are three different shuttles available in the game. They all use the same type of thruster. I actually never used the large shuttle as the medium shuttle had just enough storage space to work with.

Gameplay

The game is guided by missions which tell you what to do next. These missions are optional but seem to be tailored towards an ideal progression. You have to activate a shrine on the planet’s surface and you have to then dig towards the center of planet to activate its core. You do that seven times with little to no meaningful difference. Sometimes the terrain requires a stronger drill. Sometimes there is a hyper aggressive plant. Sometimes there is less wind or more sunlight. Sometimes a crucial resources is a bit rare – that is it. I would have loved some more meaningful variation. ASTRONEER can be played in multiplayer and supports sessions with up to 4 players.

You can create outposts on different worlds to gather and process new types of resources.

Conclusion: 4/5

ProCon
+ fun base building
+ fun power management
+ building rockets
– main quest is very repetitive
– no incentive to explore the majority of caverns
– gathering resources with vehicles is painful
– all worlds feel the same

Hope that helps.

Politics in Video Games is Everywhere

Far Cry 5 surprised a lot of players by openly referencing modern politics.

The recent discussions about including politics in video games seem pretty dumb to me. When people complain about politics in video games, they usually complain about an attack on social norms. The conversation is mostly limited to inclusiveness and gender politics. It lacks the realization that there are political messages in every story and therefore every video game. Even the ones you would normally deem apolitical. This inclusion of politics might not even be intentional but there is usually no way around it. You either reinforce societal norms or you try to challenge them. Let me prove that to you.

Games like Cyberpunk 2077 started to move away from traditional character creation by letting the player select a body type instead of a labeled gender.

Remember Star Wars from 1977? Star Wars is the story about a young man named Luke Skywalker joining the Jedi in fighting against the evil Empire to free the galaxy from oppression. It is not the story about a radicalized teenager turned terrorist who joined a cult and blew up a space station with tens of thousands of people inside. Why is that? It’s because George Lucas chose to make Luke his protagonist; he became the hero of the story and not its antagonist. Remember that the next time you are playing Call of Duty. People usually don’t recognize the choice of protagonist by a game developer to be a political decision as long as it doesn’t go against established norms. Your enemies are called terrorists and you have the duty to shoot them. Now think about the last time you fought off an evil invasion force from the west to protect your family? People would call that blatant political propaganda.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare made it simple to understand who to root for. This was not deemed controversial by most as this game was published during the height of the War on Terror.

The science-fiction setting is usually pretty immune to feeling political as most contemporary context is removed. Ironically, most stories that are set in the future are in fact as political as they can possibly get because they have to predict the future of humanity. Finding the trajectory for humanity has to start with an analysis of the current political situation and its problems. Is humanity prospering without the need for money like it does in Star Trek or are mega-corporations taking over and making everybody miserable like they do in The Outer Worlds or Cyperpunk 2077? Those cases represent massive criticisms of capitalism. Have we learned to live together with aliens and embrace diversity like shown in Mass Effect? Or is humanity locked in a constant war for survival like it is in Halo? Curiously, the latter game is about a pure and homogenic group of warriors with blue eyes that kills diverse groups of aliens. These games touch on the subjects of strength through purity vs. strength through diversity – which sounds pretty political to me.

The Outer Worlds parodies the consequences of unchecked capitalism but its message was not seen as controversial as the context of todays political parties was completely removed.

Let’s look at games like Cities: Skylines. This game is political and it doesn’t even have a story. As you build your dream city you eventually have to navigate your city’s budget. What is a fair amount of taxes? At what point are your citizens going to protest your government? How does lowering taxes impact growth? You can’t get around answering those questions without making a political statement, even if you really don’t want to.

You can adjust the tax rates of your city in Cities: Skylines with several sliders forcing the developer to set a ‘default tax rate’ associated with economic and political consequences when moving away from it.

Politics has always been in video games. When people say that they don’t like politics in video games, they usually just refer to an isolated statement that disagrees with established norms.

Hope that helps.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – Episode 1

The first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier just premiered on Disney’s streaming service. The show started off with one of those typical Marvel action scenes that we have seen plenty of times in over two dozen movies in the MCU. Don’t get me wrong – the visual effects looked very impressive and the editing and directing were on point. However, I started to watch comic book shows and movies with a lingering fatigue when it comes to explosions and everything CGI. Surprisingly, the show moved away from the fast paced action and focused on the main characters. They had problems, felt guilt and acted human. I liked that. I want to see heroes struggle and maybe even solve some of their problems without punching something through a wall. The show has definitely some potential to deliver on that. Wouldn’t that be pretty neat? I’m looking forward to next episode!

4/5 – Hope that helps.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

The theatrical release of Justice League did not remain very fondly in my memory – it actually barely remained in my memory at all. There was this joke about Batman being rich, Superman coming back to life and the assembled team fighting an army of CGI monsters to prevent a doomsday machine. This was all pretty generic comic book stuff. Ben Affleck as Batman, Jason Momoa as Aquaman and Ezra Miller as The Flash looked interesting on the surface but didn’t do anything memorable in the whole movie. The main reason being that their characters’ usefulness just paled in comparison to Superman. ‘Let’s watch this team of heroes struggle for 2h until Superman swoops in and saves the day with ease’ was simply not a very enticing plotline.

A couple of years later, Zack Snyder was able to release his original vision of the Justice League movie. His ‘Do Over’ released on HBO Max in a 4:3 aspect ratio. You have to be prepared for some thick black bars on your left and right of your TV screen. The movie is divided into 7 parts including an epilogue and has a runtime of almost 4h. It starts off with a personal message from Zack Snyder thanking his fans that made this release possible. It is, generally speaking, the same movie but with some extra time spent on fleshing out the characters. The movie made me actually curious about the Flash and the main antagonist Steppenwolf. Unfortunately we also get a lot of bland CGI battle scenes that do not bring anything new to the table although they were noticeably more violent. I also never cared for this whole Amazonian world-building that they did in the Wonder Woman movies and unfortunately we get a lot of that in the first part of Justice League as well. I actually ended up hating the first third of the movie. The rest of the movie was better – significantly better. The characters had something to do. Each and every one of them contributed to the plot. Well, except Louis Lane who was just there to make us feel sad about Superman’s demise. The assembled team was interesting to watch but it was never really explained what the individual characters could and could not do. This led to some ‘I guess they can do that now’ moments. Despite the team being way more useful than before, the movie still felt a lot like Superman just showing up at the end to save the day. The end of the movie with its whole epilogue chapter overstayed its welcome, despite having good scenes with the next antagonist Doomsday and another very intriguing dream sequence that was set in the previously seen dystopian future where earth seemed lost.

Overall, the theatrical cut of Justice League failed where Zack Snyder’s cut succeeded. The new version made me curious. I actually want to see more. I want to see a standalone Flash movie and I want to see Batman fighting alongside Jared Leto as the Joker against the army of Doomsday and an evil Superman. That might be fun, right?

3/5 – Hope that helps.

5 Books That Helped Me Become A Better Game Developer

As a game developer I was never much into books. I loved playing video games, binging shows and watching movies but I was always alien to the greater value of reading. I had to work through a couple of math books in college, loved Harry Potter and Game of Thrones but rarely picked up anything beyond that – and at some point in my professional life, I stopped reading books altogether. And then 2020 happened. With some time on my hands and the desire for self-improvement I stumbled upon this statement:

If you don’t read, it’s like you can’t read at all. There is no difference.

These words resonated very strongly with me. I started to wonder about all the missed opportunities for self-improvement and all the valuable insights I lacked. Independent video game development is much more than knowing how to create art, code or design – it’s also about understanding goals, noise, and habits. I started to have this massive surge of FOMO about broadening my perspective that pushed me right into compiling and working through my first reading list. These five books are not specific game development but they really helped me to find focus in life and therefore become a better game developer.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey was actually on a recommended reading list for my computer science degree in college. It’s a classic that introduced the concepts of proactivity and synergy to a broader audience. It took me around 10 years to finally read that book and I am quite saddened to have waited that long. The first part of the book focuses on personal growth. The author explains to you how to identify what is important to you and how to get there. The second part teaches you how to engage in meaningful relationships. This book profoundly shifted the way I perceived my work and the interactions I have with others. I realized that making video games should have more priority in my life – waiting for the perfect moment to focus all my energy to advance my life’s agenda doesn’t cut it anymore. I recently reduced the hours of my current day job significantly and started to reach out to publishers and other independent game developers in hopes to someday be a part of something great. ‘Your project looks fantastic! How can I help?’

Atomic Habits by James Clear is a book about the power of habits. It focuses on how to develop and maintain good habits while also explaining how to get rid of the bad ones. I started to compile a weekly habit tracker to make sure that I work out, clean my apartment, study Russian, and wake up and go to bed on time. So far I’m almost half a year into this fixed daily routine. If you can figure out how to manage your life outside of game development, you have a better chance of focusing on it

Make Time by Jake Knapp taught me about the dangers of smart phones. I used to waste a lot of time on my phone scrolling through Reddit or watching YouTube videos. Don’t get me wrong – it’s absolutely fine to watch videos or read articles you are actually interested in. I use the word ‘waste’ here because I remember distinctively how I wasn’t even enjoying much of that time. To stop this, I removed all games and social media apps from my phone. I blocked websites like Reddit and Facebook and put restricting timers on apps like YouTube and my browser. I deactivated all notifications and put my phone permanently on silent mode. I also started charging my phone in the living room over night. This helped me to avoid those ‘30 minutes’ of phone time before going to bed and after waking up. I was able to massively cut down the amount of procrastination and fatigue that I experienced every day. As a result, I ended up having more time and energy for game development.

Getting Things Done by David Allen is a book that focuses purely on productivity. It argues that people who feel sluggish and overwhelmed might have too many things on their mind. The book describes a system where you have to create and maintain a set of lists. These lists enable you to offload all the things you worry about onto paper. The things you have written down do not occupy your brain space anymore and you don’t have to waste your time thinking about doing your taxes over and over again. The book inspired me to write down all the raw ideas I come up with and all the raw feedback I’m getting for my game into a list – this is my ‘Inbox’. I review that list when I plan my next update and assign an action and a priority to it. Writing everything down helped me to finally implement ‘would have been nice’ features that I had in my mind for almost 2 years.

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon is actually the reason I started this blog. The book recommends you to detail your journey as a creator as a way to promote your work. People are interested in the process of making video games or are interested in what you can teach them. Some people might even want to collaborate with you. The book argues that creating your little space on the internet and sharing your work beyond the pure product connects you not only with potential customers but also with likeminded people. Great artistic endeavors do not originate in a vacuum, but are usually the product of a network of artists.

These are some of the books I have read in the last six months. Hope that helps.

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