Commuting

General / 30 August 2018

I hate commuting.  I think my disdain for it was initially implanted in my brain when I was younger and reinforced while in college. Much of my feelings on commuting trace back to my father. He drove about two hours to work one way for a little over 12 years. He would wake up at little before 2 AM and leave by an exact time in the morning, I want to say it was 2:12 or something like that. He would arrive at 4 and sleep in his car until 6:30 or 7AM when he would go in to the plant, have some breakfast, and start the day. He would leave around 4 PM and get home at 6PM most days. He chose to to do this exact version of his commute so he could drive slow and avoid cars on the road. He is a strange person as he clearly valued car longevity over his personal time.

I did this commute for a summer when I was in college. I worked a summer job at his plant and rode up with him most of the time to save money. On the rare occasions I drove up (usually if I overslept) I would do that drive in no longer than an hour and ten minutes during peak traffic. While his version of that drive was insane, an hour and ten minutes was a long time to lose. I decided I was never going to do that again.

Until I did.

Prior to Dreamline, my worst commute as a post college adult was from Providence to Boston. I lived with my buddy Vic for a few months in 2012 and drove up to Boston for work. On a good day, I got up there in 45 minutes, which wasn’t bad. On a bad day, it took 2 hours. It sucked, and not just because of the time sink. Having only lived in small to medium sized towns where everyone is nice and traffic was minimal, driving in New England was a huge shift that took some time to get used to. Until I was acclimated to it, driving on 95 with a bunch of angry New England natives was quite stressful.

I eventually settled in Natick, where my commute was a much nicer 20 minutes most days.

What I am doing now is a mix of old and new. I don’t have a car, so I am reliant on SEPTA (South Eastern Pennsylvania Transit Association, the Public Transit for Philly and parts of the surrounding suburbs) to get me to work. I have a regional rail train I need to catch at 8:10, so I often rush through my mornings. Much like my father, my commute is about 2 hours long one way. This significantly cuts into my daily life and trying to squeeze everything I want to accomplish in is an exercise in time management extremes.

  • I wake up at 4:25 to let out the puppy an hydrate with water and coffee. Summer is a true puppy so sometimes she’s difficult.
  • I leave for the gym at 4:50 or so.
  • I wrap up my workout by 6. This is a bigger sacrifice than you may think. I am known for long, exhausting gym sessions.
  • I walk the dog from 6:10-6:30 although Summer, our dog, often makes it take longer.
  • From 6:45(ish)-7:30 I squeeze in feeding the dog, making and eating breakfast, shit or shave, shower, getting dressed and making lunch if I didn’t prep for the week.
    • Usually something is sacrificed in the morning. Today it was lunch and shaving.
  • If I’m out the door at 7:30 I am usually OK for the 7:34 bus, although some days I am finding I need a backup plan. So far, they involve sprints to other buses.

My return ride is simpler, but I am often exhausted (I’ve been up for 13.5 hours by this point) and just want to be home.

  • Leave work at 6.
  • Train leaves at 6:26
  • Catch the 7:21 if I’m lucky or the 7:35 most likely.
  • Walk the last 10 minutes and I’m home at 8.
  • In bed by 9:30 (unfortunately it’s often past 10) for hopefully 7 hours of sleep.
    • I sometimes have trouble sleeping during the week so it’s more like 5-6 hours most days.

There are a few pros to using SEPTA. Once I’m where I need to be, I can relax. The train ride is long and smooth, so I can write (where do you think I’m doing this post), draw, game on my Vita, or sleep.

I’ve slept too much on the train lately, which is feeding into my discontent with the commute. Summer is exhausting. She was on my last nerve today and caused me to be just late enough to miss my bus. My in the moment back up plan was to catch the 33 to 7th street and… sprint a block to catch up to a different 47 bus. I made the train at least.

I’m quite frustrated with my commute as a whole. I truly miss the time I now no longer have. This manifests itself most in my personal projects. I am very behind schedule with my asset kits. I don’t have the required hardware to work on it during my commute and I am either burnt out or tied up with personal priorities during the weekend. Not being able to work in that way is feeding into my displeasure and negative thoughts during the week.

However, it’s not like me to resign myself to fate and I’m going to make this commute work FOR ME damnit.

Finding a way to turn my commute into productive time is a top priority. I can reclaim over 20 hours a week on my commuter rail rides alone, and if there are delays or other issues, that’s more time for me to work and less lost time to games or zoning out. In order to be set up for the next few years, groundwork needs to be laid ASAP. This means I need to get back on track with portfolio work, asset kits, and writing on proper tools. I like my Android tablet, but it’s from 2013 and incapable of running design software. I’m amazed it still works frankly.

Enter the 2 in 1 Notebook.

I’m waiting for my W-2 employment to be confirmed (I should be converted from hourly contract to salaried employee shortly), and once it is, I will be purchasing a fairly powerful 2 in 1 Notebook that has support for the Wacom Bamboo Ink platform. This will allow me to work on the train in all manner of programs: Maya, Zbrush, Substance, and more. I can spend my commute working on my assets and portfolio. Additionally, I’ll be able to work on my blog in a more productive way. I envision this device being a powerful supplement to my desktop and a business investment allowing me to work from coffee shops and other locations in the future. I want to get back into the education space in a small way (bet it a class at Drexel or teaching a small group of students every month or two) and being able to meet in person at a coffee shop and still work will help greatly. I want to get back into education in some small way and being able to meet students and work with them out in the world is a big bonus for them.

Or a bar, I don’t think I would cater specifically to under 21 year olds.

An added bonus: If I take a contract for a fixed duration in the future (similar to my work with Bluepoint in 2017), I won’t have to lug my desktop with me.

There are many different ways this piece of equipment will enable me to claw back some of my time spent commuting. If I can get those 20 hours of work time back a week, I think I’ll feel even better about where I am and where I plan to be.

Dan

Road Sketches 01

General / 14 August 2018

Part of my ideal vision for this blog is to post artwork as well. That’s not just going to be art of show in my portfolio. Yesterday wasn’t an easy day and I decided to sketch on the train, and again while waiting on Vray. Enjoy.

Journey of A Games Artist “re-brand”: A Journal from The Road

General / 31 July 2018

I started blogging with Journey of A Games Artist in 2010 as a way to document my process, share my frustrating job search, and chronicle my thoughts on the games industry and life. It was truly a journey of an artist who was focused on working in games. I was also 23 going on 18 in a lot of ways. Since I started blogging, my writing has evolved and this blog has had minor revisions, but it has remained remarkably the same for nearly a decade. I have not.

As you may know if you read my work at all, I started working at DreamLine as an artist this past June. I’m no longer making game specific art. In reality, I’ve been making all kinds of art since 2013. When I started freelancing, a lot of my work was from non game clients. My bills were often paid by architecture firms, media companies, and teaching from 2013-2017. Sure I worked on games still, but it was a much smaller part of my business than I realized (with a few exceptions). Now, at least for the time being, I’m doing something new. This new chapter has me producing 

As of today, Journey of A Games Artist is changing to better align with the Daniel Rose of today. I’m an artist, a writer, a former and future educator (hint hint nudge nudge), fitness lover, game enthusiast, economics fan, and an explorer of the self (something that is easy to ignore in this media saturated society). My vision for this re-brand is to incorporate all of me into my writing, not just the game art stuff. It’s about me and what I think or create while I’m on the road of life. 

I am an infinitely deeper human being than I was at 23. I was basically a teenager back then.

Today, Journey of a Games Artist has become A Journal from The Road. When I have art to show or write about, those posts will continue to follow the format you are use to. I think it works quite well for my own improvement and for any readers who wish to see my process. However, you will see a bit more content and definitely more varied content here than before, including posts like:

  • Breakdowns of games
  • Short stories or viniettes
  • Elements of my personal self discovery
  • Fitness posts
  • More articles about media I am a fan of
  • Random thoughts
  • And more!

My commute is long and I don’t have a laptop, so I have to find new ways to create. I’ve found the mornings to be a good time to write. My brain is usually in high gear, I’m full of ideas, and I am scratching some of the itch that I have to create my own art. These days, writing (and soon sketching) is the easiest way to express myself. Writing on the train works well, but I do find that I prefer to edit works on a PC still. Because of this, I’m going to try to have new posts every two weeks.

I’m going to close with a thought on one of Kanye West’s more famous quotes; “I am a God”. On the surface, this quote is considered asanine and egotistical and I have absolutely jumped on that bandwagon. What if it wasn’t meant to be though? Kanye is an artist like myself. So is God (or the gods, your pick). God creates life, and that life is the art of God. If God must create, then it could follow that the artist who feels they must create, least they die, is also a god. Therefore, Kanye is a god because he must create. If we follow the same logic, then all artists of all kinds are god’s in their own right.

I hope you enjoy the changing blog as much as I plan to.

Dan

The Park Bench Diorama: Postmortem

General / 04 July 2018

Before I get to the meat of this blog, I need to cover two quick things. First, I typed my draft on the train to the new job at DreamLine. This is my first attempt at typing drafts while commuting instead of playing my Vita (which is definitely getting a workout). Second, I never commented on Nintendo’s E3 showing: Smash Bros. looks cool, and that robot game might be fun. But is it enough to make me buy a Switch…(not quite yet)

Park Bench: Postmortem

Its rare that a project comes together so quickly for me. Generally, I end up taking a while to rework assets and re-do layouts to try and really perfect my work. With The Park Bench, it was very much a sprint to the end. Its an end I am incredibly proud of even as the scope of the project changed significantly as I worked. The story of this project mirrors my last year and a half, so I think its important to share the timeline of the project before I get into the details.

The Park Bench was always intended to be a diorama. I was in Texas when I started the project and had some bigger plans for the full scene, but those larger plans still involved a smaller scene. The project lapsed when work on Shadow of The Colossus got intense, so I shelved it. I didn’t pick it back up until I started teaching at Drexel in the fall of 2017. The scope expanded as a result. This was an unfortunate side effect of using it as a demo scene for a class that focused on building environments for games. I lost the small feel and narrow focus and started making a small level (this further illustrates that one should always outline a project). Once class wrapped up and the holidays started, I let the project sit again. To be frank, this project probably would not be complete if not for two…catalytic events: GT 3.0 and DERP.

GT 3.0 is what Gametextures is calling their site improvement project. Early in the year, Tanner (the owner) and I had some varying discussions about expanding what I do for the site. It didn’t go anywhere at the time, Tanner and I both had to shift focus to other projects, but it did give me the idea to use Gametextures for the majority of my source materials. In the modern AAA game environment, artists are more and more specialized. This means that, realistically, I wouldn’t be making my own textures very often. Using Gametextures sped up my workflow immensely and let me focus on world building, modeling, and Unreal Engine technical work. GT also made it easy to maintain my lightly stylized look that the majority of my portfolio has. Without GT, its safe to say The Park Bench wouldn’t be done right now.

The other catalyst is DERP. DERP is the code name for the project that pushed me to leave freelancing, and is a story I will share in the future. As it relates to The Park Bench, DERP gave me various points in the last few months where I was not working due to missed payments or other issues. During these times, and definitely after I left the project, I focused all of my energies into The Park Bench. If DERP wasn’t such a shitty situation, TPB would not have been completed as quickly.

The Park Bench:Goals

Something is out of the ordinary as it relates to this project. I apparently didn’t write my usual Tech Document for it. Tech Documents are outlines I write for personal projects so I can keep track of the work I intend to do. While I was in Texas I was a little less organized than usual, and The Park Bench was meant to be a smaller, faster project. 

So much for that.

When I picked the project back up towards the end of 2017, I mentioned in my WIP blog that I wanted to put this into VR. Since I scoped the project down to a diorama, I didn’t think VR would have been a wise choice for this particular project.

Since I didn’t have many defined goals, let’s move on to what worked well and what didn’t.

The Park Bench: Successes

  • The Diorama layout in general was a success. I had enough space for some very cool close up and player sized shots, as well as a fly through video I was able to shoot. My layout was larger than most dioramas I’ve seen but it worked well for the final version.
  • My usage of Gametextures was a huge factor in making this project work. I did two different workflows; one was to use their Substances in Painter as base materials for my assets, and the other was to manually rip parts of the textures and remix them in Photoshop so I could use less individual textures and materials as needed (there was a bit of straight up tiling bitmaps used for the terrain). This workflow was mostly used on foliage to great effect.
  • My continued attempts to hand model trees have improved my skills in this area. It’s still hard, and with Speedtree it’s mostly unnecessary, but I like to think it’s a good thing to have in my back pocket.
  • Certain parts of my scene are full of hidden meanings and fun little messages. The paper, my choice of Metallica tape, and carvings on the bench all mean a little something.

The Park Bench: Failures

  • My actual bench didn’t quite turn out the way I hopped. It’s fine…I think my biggest issue is that my UV layout was not ideal. The UV pack is fine but I could have stacked even more and mirrored some shells too.
  • My rocks are still on the blobby side. I have a tendency to not sculpt very sharp rocks, and for a mellow scene like this it was ok, but I really need to focus on creating really detailed, sharper rock formations in the future.
  • Stationary lighting proved to be a bit of a difficult issue in my videos and in one or two shots. Possibly due to post process settings, the two of stationary lights I used to highlight my bench would show up as very bright bulbs in a few very specific camera angles. I never figured out what was happening, and I ended up hiding them in those instances.

The Park Bench and The Shadow of The Colossus Effect

Without realizing it, my work a Bluepoint had a huge effect on how I approached portions of The Park Bench. On Shadow, there were 3 main environment techniques we used to get a large amount of variation AND consistency out of a relatively small amount of assets.

  1. World Space Texture Mapping
    1. This is a technique where a texture is projected in world space, as opposed to being based on a UV map. This is useful for non animating asses, as a swimming effect can occur when used on a moving asset. In Shadow, as well as The Park Bench, a world space color map was used to help blend many of the rock and stone assets together. Because the texture is projected in the world, color is shared across an entire area making assets appear more unified.
  2. Decal Blending
    1. If you’ve played a game and noticed harsh edges where cliff faces, boulders, or other areas intersect the terrain, you’re not alone. In Shadow of The Colossus, we addressed this issue by using a certain set of decal projectors to blend between the terrain and our stones. These decals varied in material, but the idea was to use them to hide those seams. I chose to do the exact same thing in The Park Bench. It worked to great effect. I added an additional twist as well. Thanks to the R&D at Gametextures, I made use of a Parallax based decal that gave some decals a more believable 3 dimensional look and feel.
  3. General Decal Variations
    1. Most of our rocks in Shadow were textured using a fairly neutral base diffuse map, and our various world space albedo maps helped fill in the color details. However  there were many, many instances where unique details were impossible. Storing variations of textures that had water runoff, sun bleaching, and other special details would have crushed our memory budgets and taken hours to make. Using decals, we were again able to add these unique details while saving on memory and time. In The Park Bench, I used them to add the same types of details to the scene, as well as to unify the different rocks even more. Additionally, the Parallax decal came in handy, allowing me to add even more blends to my ground once I hit my 16 texture sampler limit in my shader.

This shot is a great example of all three techniques I discussed above.

Its interesting what you can take away from different experiences. In my project after Golden Abyss, I tiled everything and forced Unreal 3 to render lights in real time. After WB, I focused more on my Zbrush abilities. Finally, after Bluepoint, I tied it all together with a mix of quality models, self created and sourced textures, and a greater understanding of the freedom modern technologies give artists.

Conclusion: The most 2018 Portfolio Piece 

I think The Park Bench is the best work I have done and it closely mirrors the type of work many environment artists will be doing in the games industry today. I didn’t make every aspect of every asset, but I am proud of what I did make and what textures I chose to source. In a lot of ways, this project is the most 2018 of anything in my portfolio. It uses a lot of original work as well as work done from other content providers and remixes it all into something new.

View all of my The Park Bench: A Diorama work here, and take a look here for my Shadow of The Colossus work.

-Dan

Final Quarterly Report: Q2 2018 (April-June)

General / 02 July 2018

In a number of ways, it’s fitting that I wrote my first draft of this blog on the train. I wrapped up the second week of my new job and I’m pretty pleased with it so far. DreamLine is a bit more corporate than most other places I’ve worked at with a somewhat more conservative dress code and specific clock in/clock out instructions, but then again I’ve always worked at game or entertainment companies in a contracting role. Soon I expect to be full-time so some additional corporate goodness, like agreeing to their new rule book, is expected.

Actually, Turbine (a Warner Brothers studio) was super corporate. So… I take that back.

Q2 Sucked

There is literally no way to explain around this. Q2 was terrible. I was paid late by clients, had money pratically stolen from me, found out PayPal is a terrible company for freelancers, and was knocked around so badly that I chose to get out of the freelance game. I felt like a fighter who had suffered a string of defeats, all by knockout.

Thanks to some adjustments I made to budgeting and savings, I was able to float on my lower than expected Drexel income. In fact, I only had to dip into savings this week (and it will be repaid next week and then some). While it does not feel good to do that, I should be a little happy that I managed my cash flow decently.

I do plan to write about DERP and the specifics of what happened this quarter in the future. I’m hoping he does right and pays me for the work I’ve done and that he is using, but I personally expect to not be compensated. This means I’ll have to try to settle my debt with PayPal. I will not pay them the full amount. They don’t deserve it until they update their policies and consider all the evidence for others in my situation, as it is not unique.

My commute might suck sometimes but I should refer to this post and my most recent blogs as a note to myself that the commute is indeed worth it.

Final Breakdowns

Task Tracking

  • Hours worked: 347+-12
  • Billable Hours: 293+-8
  • Average Efficiency: 83%

There are a few notes with my time efficency breakdowns I need to mention. First, the end of May and June were not tracked as closely as normal. Between interviews at DreamLine, meetings with a few potential clients, and burnout and frustration dealing with DERP, I had multiple days, and even weeks, where I was just not working. Mixed in would be time I spent grading or working on Drexel projects. I didn’t track them very closely in June, hence the +- signs in my hours worked and billable hours. Likely, the time not tracked wouldn’t affect my efficiency, but its hard to tell.

This wasn’t a good quarter for proper tracking much like everything else.

Income

If the first quarter turned out well enough, the second quarter was a snowball of awful. In April I had negative income. Due to the PayPal dispute, I had all of the payments from DERP removed from my account, leaving me with a negative PayPal balance. I invoiced GameTextures for a decent amount and was paid by Drexel, but it wasn’t enough to balance out that loss. May and June I was only paid by Drexel and since I was teaching two classes, I was losing money every month.

%difference in income vs. historical averages: -71%

That’s right, this past quarter wasn’t a decrease of 5% or 10%. That’s understandable almost expected when freelancing. -71% is a number that highlights a structural flaw and bad approach to business. Yes, I got screwed over, but I had a role in that as well, and I was responsible for NOT having alternative options available. A lot of the failure of this quarter was out of my hands, but I had enough control that I should have been able to recover better.

Onward and Upward

Well, my freelance days are over for the time being. DreamLine has started and while the commute can be brutal in the evenings (as mentioned before), it’s well worth the extra security. As a nice benefit, I’m using tools that I love to use while at work and the people I work with are pretty cool. I’m looking forward to finding better ways to get home a bit earlier and optimize my life so I maximize the time I do have.

While I’m doing that, I am continuing to work on my personal art in the form of sell-able asset packs. A small amount of pocket change every month or two is always appreciated. And you never know, perhaps I can lay a small ground work for a re-focused freelance business (or some other type of business) in the future.

Along those same lines, I’ve been noticing a trend of quality AAA artists to offer ‘mentor-ships’ for a month. They usually run a few hundred dollars and are aimed at already employed artists looking to boost their skills. I’m considering opening myself up to that, but with a slightly different focus. I would probably charge a little less but look to mentor artists who are at the beginning of their careers. I’d be looking for students who are about to enter college, feel their college course work doesn’t address their career goals, or have just graduated. Additionally, I think I could offer these services locally as well as in a remote position. I’m going to wait until I settle in at DreamLine before I decide on this. I liked teaching at Drexel and want to continue to share my knowledge but it does need to be done in a way that fits with my current schedule.

Onward and upward as they say.

-Dan

E3 2018-Most Anticipated

General / 11 June 2018

The last few posts I’ve written for this blog could be classified as downers. Freelance challenges, career changes, and general professional frustration have been front and center in my writings. Happily though, it’s E3 time! E3 is here to deliver a lot of pomp and fanfare to the games industry and get us all hyped for the fall and beyond.

I’ve done a few different E3 blogs before. For this year, I’m going to write a few blurbs about what I’m excited for and why. I’m not planning to dive deep into the conferences or review each and every publisher’s line up. I’ll leave that to others. I want to write about what I think is cool. So, without further adieu and in no particular order, here are the games I’m most excited for!

Game Title (Expected Platform of Purchase, expected release year): Blurb

  • Anthem (PC or PS4 in 2019): I’m more curious about Anthem than anything else. Visually, it looks incredible. Deep sci-fi, Iron Man suits, guns, I really want to check it out. It is multiplayer centric and will be one of those Destiny style games, which I tend to be a bit lukewarm on. Destiny was fun but all I ever cared about was shooting stuff with my brother. I literally have no idea what the game is actually about. That’s the hang up I have with Anthem. Will I care about the story in this game, or will it just be a game where I get to be Iron Man with 3 friends?
  • Madden (PC or PS4 this year): This is less about being all hyped about Madden and more about just keeping my eye on it. If this version of Madden reviews well, I might pick it up. I tend to buy Madden every other year and I skipped 2018. Low on the list though, but keeping my eye on it.
  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (PC, 2019): I am not a “Souls-Like” fan. They have fantastic art, especially Bloodbourne, but I find them tedious and difficult. I only have so much time to play games, I don’t want to spend hours trying to beat the first boss. Git Guud you say? Get a life I say. Sekiro has my attention through fantastic design and samurai like combat. It’s as if it took an anime from my teen years, Rurouni Kenshin, and mashed it together with Bloodbourne to create something new and exciting. I know that Sucker Punch’s new game is similar in setting, but I don’t think it’s such a fantastical take on this era of Japan. This leaves me to be very interested in what FromSoftware is going to do.
  • Kingdom Hearts 3 (PS4 in 2019): I won’t like, that trailer looked like it was missing sounds, had early cuts of voice over, and generally felt like a mess. Visually, it was stunning to see real time graphics that look like they belong in a Pixar film. I’ve seen enough combat demos from KH3 to know that it’ll probably play just fine. Am I concerned about the story and voice work? A bit. But I’ll still buy this game.
  • Metro: Exodus (PC in 2019): I’m definitely going to have to build a new rig for some of these games. I’ve always enjoyed the Metro games and expect I’ll do the same here. Not much else to add other than early 2019 is going to be just PACKED with games.
  • Dying Light 2 (PC in …): Dying Light was an excellent game that was released early on in this generation of consoles. I’m a bit surprised it took this long for a sequel, but it looks like they’re going to make it worth the wait. I’m not as pumped for this game as I am for many others (KH3, Fallout 76, Sony First Party, maybe Rage) but much like the first Dying Light, it’ll all be in the release date. Stick it in the early or mid summer, and I’ll be playing it.
  • Cyberpunk 2077 (PC in 2020. I’m guessing): I love CDProjket and their games. The Witcher 3 is probably one of my favorite games of all time, and the series as a whole is right up there too. Based on the trailer, I expect Cyberpunk to carry on the strong traditions and design choices that CDProjket has established while being in a wholly new and unique world (to me anyway). I do question how CDPR will handle shooting, but I have faith. Can’t wait for this one.
  • Rage 2 (PC in 2019): I am one of the few people who enjoyed the shooting of the first Rage. I never finished it, it was paced poorly and there wasn’t quite enough there to keep me going, but the character and enemy design was top notch and the world had potential. It seems that Rage 2 is going to try and tap into that potential. With cool powers, faster gunplay, neon colors, and a lightly Mad Max: Fury Road feel to it, I’m more than ready to give Rage another shot. Plus…I mean…Andrew W.K.
  • Fallout 76 (probably PS4 in 2018): I love the Bethesda Fallout games. The bugs, the story, the choices, I love it all. The most recent one was one of my favorites. I thought the story was pretty solid and while a lot of game reviewers didn’t think the visuals were up to par, I didn’t really care. Fallout 76 looks to be a great addition to the series. I want to play multi-player with my brother (hence the PS4) in this game more than anything. Between settlement building, hunting for nukes, questing, and exploring a vast open land in the Shenandoah Valley, I don’t see how I can be disappointed with this game.
  • Elder Scrolls: Blades (mobile in 2018): I’m more interested in Blades from a technical perspective than a full on gaming perspective. I just don’t play on my phone much. But, I do have a new long commute coming in a week, so perhaps Blades will be perfect for that once I beat every Vita game known to man.
  • The Last of Us: Part II (PS4 in, I’m guessing, late 2019): The demo they showed was definitely scripted in parts, but the ideas were the real takeaway. Larger vertical environments, group focused encounters, the ability to use vegetation as hiding spots, playing as Ellie, and the general quality of the work all blew me away. The trailer was well put together too, with a focus on the quiet, semi normal moments that lead into the incredibly graphic violence. It feels as if Naughty Dog is going a bit Tarintino-esque with the sequel (Part II makes me think of Kill Bill) and I’m ok with it. This is easily one of the games I’m most looking forward to.
  • Death Stranding (PS4 in, I’d say 2020): I don’t know what the fuck this game is about, but I’m all in. It looks like some insane mix of Metal Gear, Shadow of The Colossus, and…Alien or something. Hideo Kojima, never change.
  • Waitin’ for Nintendo

As usual, there were a number of games announced that didn’t have release dates, most notably Cyberpunk, DOOM, Elder Scrolls 6 and Starfield. I’m choosing to omit them, except for Cyberpunk. DOOM, ES6 and Starfield are games that are pretty far out with no release dates, and I think the latter two are probably coming to PS4 and PS5 in 2022 or something like that. I didn’t omit Cyberpunk because I can see that game making a fall 2019 date, and they had a trailer that was LEGIT. Good God, it was so good.

I also want to mention why Wolfenstein: Youngblood isn’t on this list. I have been a big fan of the recent Wolfenstein games, but I’m still a bit burnt out from WolfII. I want a bit more time to build back up to Wolfenstein, and something about Youngblood’s trailer just didn’t seem to work for me. I can’t say I’m jazzed about it being co-op either.

What about Sony’s other games, Ghost of Tsushima, Spider-Man, and Days Gone (which had a minor presence)? Ghost is interesting looking and speaks to my younger, teenage self, but I just don’t feel overly excited for it yet. Spider-Man I’ll probably pick up. I’m a big fan of the wall crawler. It is coming later this year and while I’ll get it, it’s again another title that I can’t find myself getting all pumped up for. I’m excited for Days Gone. I worked with a lot of the people on that team and I very much want to support their newest title. It looks pretty cool, and I’m a sucker for games that take place in areas I use to live. Most of it’s latest coverage came in the form of a Game Informer spotlight during the month of May instead of E3. Additonally, it was pushed back to February 2019 earlier this year. With it not being a larger focus at E3, I have to say I’m a little concerned Sony is overlooking it.

All that’s left is Nintendo at noon!

Dan

Time for A Change

General / 07 June 2018

The Start

I started Journey of A Games Artist in 2010 to chronicle my professional and personal journey as I searched for game jobs. It was an outlet for my growth as an artist both personally and professionally. Over the years, it’s tone shifted from “bright, chippy new kid” to “semi-professional” to “lets talk unemployment” and for the last half decade “freelance story time”. The next phase in this blog, and thus my life, is at hand.

I started freelancing full time in 2013-2014 after I was let go from WB. It was something I was forced into. During that time, the Boston area was awash in development talent from the closure of Irrational Games and 38 Studios, as well as the earlier closure of Tencent’s Boston office. I was still a bit of a junior artist then and while there were opportunities on the west coast, I didn’t have the money to make that move. In hindsight it was probably a move I could have pulled off, but I know I am not the kind of person to do that without a job lined up and boy oh boy jobs weren’t lining up. The industry was in a holding pattern as studios were waiting to see how the next generation of consoles would do. Jobs were few and far between for a non senior artist on the east coast like myself.

That’s when I started picking up freelance work. I started to find regular work with Arch Virtual in 2014, which snowballed into Motion Logic Studios, which rolled into Hangman Digital, and the ball kept rolling from there. I wasn’t making a ton of money but after choosing to move in with Kelsey and cutting a few costs I was doing OK, better than I expected in fact. Frankly, my standard of living went up on roughly the same amount of money I made while working at WB during that time.

It’s now 2018. I’ve contributed to a number of game and non-game projects in my nearly 5 years as a freelance artist. I’ve been able to work in some amazing places, namely New York City and Austin, Texas. I got to work with some big name clients  and amazing teams like Boss Key, Psyop, Vayner Media, and Bluepoint Games. Through Motion Logic Studios I may have contributed to dozens of games I don’t even know about. I don’t have any more student debt and I own a home with Kelsey, who’s now my fiancee. Freelancing has been good to me.

Until recently.

2018 has been slow. A month of slowness happens, but sustained inability for me to grab clients is rare. My regular clients have less modeling work than in the past. New prospective clients either can’t afford me, or won’t meet me half way on pay (and we’re talking significant rate cuts too). Teaching at the University has been taking more and more time for no increase in pay or any sort of full time teaching offer. This creates a feedback loop where I can’t work enough hours a week for most clients, so I lose opportunities, which means I’m more reliant on Drexel and the piece meal freelance projects I get once and a while (which then feeds back to Drexel). It has become unsustainable for any further growth.

In order to make any sort of freelancing work in 2018, I’d need to be home less and in other states more. This model is what provided me with the gains I had with my income in 2016 and 2017. I already spent a lot of those years in other cities and states. While I do still have that flexibility, I don’t really want to constantly be maintaining two different lives every 6 months or so.

Additionally, from what I’ve seen, the highest of high end freelancers are doing OK, but they seem to have a career pattern as well. I’ve noticed that high end artists get in the freelance market for a few years and then move on to building their own studios or going back to the corporate world. Tor Frick, who worked on Wolfenstein and a number of other huge AAA games and was a well known artist in the freelance and AAA space has gone on to form his own studio with a few others in Sweden. He’s the most recent example of high end artists moving on from freelance.

I’ve prided myself on following the flow of life and adjusting course based on my perception of events. In 2013, freelance was where to start. I got in before a lot of others did and was able to sustain my lifestyle. In 2016, I got the opportunity to work in New York and from that, the chance to work in Austin, the Traveling Contractor Extraordinaire. Now, in 2018, events dictate that its time to move on. First it was general slowness, then Drexel pulled classes and asked me to teach stuff I had no interest in, and finally the cluster fuckery I had with DERP (DERP is my name for a client experience I will write about in the future).

Also, if you follow the news, the economy is pretty solid. Why not try and take advantage of that before the hammer comes down in the form a recession and inflation caused, in part, because of tariffs? I might as well try to strike while the iron is hot.

The Change

As of June 18th, I will be working at DreamLine in Warminster, PA as a 3D Artist. I will start as a contractor for two months and then transition to a full time. I will be exiting the Freelance market. While my taxes will consider these two months as part of my freelance business, I am considering it the start of a new professional chapter an will not be tracking my time.

The Why

I’m exiting this market because it is no longer serving me well. My cash flow has become wildly unpredictable and it is making it hard to make actual progress. I want to spend more time here at home instead of in another state or country for along period of time. I have a wedding to prepare for. I’d like to not have to split my efforts up between 3 or 4 different jobs, giving non of them my all, just to make a buck.

I’ve also never been an employee, outside of shitty college jobs. I’m pretty well versed in 401K plans and how they work, but I’ve never had the opportunity to take advantage of one. Decent insurance that your employer helps pay for? Sign me up, especially with premiums set to rise steeply this year.

I’d be lying if I said I was a bit sad to not be working in games for the foreseeable future, but I’m all about learning and moving forward. I’ll pick up new skills here and will transfer them back to games, if I ever transition back to that industry.

That’s the thing, Games and Entertainment really don’t take care of the workers in the trenches. Games are a hit based business where you need to do well right out of the gate or have a plan in place for micro-transactions to sustain the studio. That means you can survive on a long tail or a front end surge, but banking on both is usually rare (but obviously not impossible). For VFX, it’s about how low you can bid on a project from Disney and still make a profit. This is why contracts and short term work is the norm there. They have the thinnest of margins and your 401K cost isn’t something they want to stomach.

I’m not sure there is true stability in working in a game studio, especially one that isn’t owned by you. I would like to consider starting a studio in Philly one day, but I’m definitely not there yet in many, many ways.

The Changes, Specifically 

No more gym at 4pm.

My schedule is going to be under construction for a bit. I’m commuting by train to Warminster so I’ll be waking up a 4:30 AM. This seems to be the best way I can fit in my hobbies: weight training, making art, and gaming. Over the course of my interview process (as well as meeting a small VR firm in Southampton) I got a feel for what the commute will be like. I noticed that I am just not in the mood for much after I get back. I need to get everything done early in the morning.  For the first week or two I wouldn’t be surprised for this to be a pretty rough adjustment period. It’ll be worth it if I can continue to enjoy life. Here’s the current plan:

  • 4:30 Wake Up Time
  • 4:50 Head to the gym (3 or 4x a week)
  • 5:05/10-6:00 Weights
  • 6:00 Head Home
  • 6:15-7:20 Usual Morning stuff (Breakfast, Shower, etc)
  • 7:20 Leave for Work
  • 9:15 Get to work (Bus to subway to Regional Rail)
  • 6:00 (ish) Head home
  • 8:00 (ish) Home
  • 9:30 Bed

I’m noodling with my exact fitness schedule, but I’m considering 3 visits on the weekday and one visit on the weekend for my big, core lifts (bench/squat/dead). This is more to do with how I function in the morning physically (it takes a while for my body to warm up) than the duration I’ll have in the gym. It also will let me have two days during the week where I can focus on personal projects or asset kits and writing.

That’s right, I’ll continue to work on asset kits and personal art while I’m working. This has been a huge failing of mine over the course of my career. I start working somewhere and I let my personal projects tail off. I can’t do that again, and I think DreamLine will be the place I finally fix that. I don’t expect my creative itch to be fully scratched there, so I’ll have more motivation than in the past to find time to continue to build my skills and work on my own projects.

My commute itself is long, but with the bus system up to the Market/Frankford Line, I think I can cut the morning leave time down nicely. On the train itself I’ll have plenty of time to write, watch tv, or play Vita. I’ll get time to do a lot on the train every day, just not much digital art.

You can look forward to me writing about these shifts and my experiences with them too.

What about the blog and the business of me?

What does this mean for Journey of A Games Artist and myself? The biggest changes will be the end of any personal freelance related posts. I will do a Q2 report on schedule, and one or two different posts related to freelancing, but other than that my posts, as they relate to my freelancing experience, will be winding down.

The blog itself will see a minor re-brand. I’m no longer just a games artist, and in a way I haven’t been for years. Many of my old freelance clients or jobs haven’t been for video games. It’s high time I change the brand to something that is more in line with who I am now, as an artist, professional, and person. I would continue to expect posts about my art, be they works in progress, project outlines, post mortems, and the like. That won’t change. There will be some full time work posts as well, probably after benefits packages and insurance become available (usually there is a period where you must work 90 days or so in order to be eligible for the companies’ benefit package).

I’ve always wanted to work more on asset kits and my own projects, even when I’m working on awesome projects like Shadow or Uncharted. It might not seem like it, and perhaps I won’t agree in a year, but the freedom to worry about only a single job seems like a great way to let me work on my own assets, portfolio pieces, and game ideas more. I’ve been planing a “rose3d.com re-work” for a while that centers around my assets, services, and teaching talents. For the moment I don’t think I’ll be pursuing that re-work as I settle into my role at DreamLine. Once I’m set, I’ll figure out the best way to position the site re-work as well as my self for the future.

I have an awesome kit I will be working on soon. I’m targeting SketchFab’s store first, then I will be porting it to Unreal (and perhaps other platforms) in the near future. Stay tuned for that.

It was Time for a Change

If you read my previous blog, you’ll know that I see all of this as a chance to do something new and to grow as a person. What I have been doing hasn’t worked as well as in the past, and I have no interest in burning through my small savings before the next big contract shows up at my door.

I need a break from teaching in a large, structured setting. I need stability. I need something new.

I consider this a risk. Working on-site for a non gaming company isn’t what I expected I’d be doing in my early 30’s and terrifies me. “What if this is a version of 84 Lumber, except that I’m sitting at a desk” is what runs through my head from time to time. That’s how I felt about teaching when I started too, but I ended up discovering I really enjoyed it. I hope that DreamLine, and all the new self imposed insanity that will be coming with it, works out as well as teaching did.

Except for that whole no pay raises and no benefits thing.

Dan

Radical Honesty

General / 04 June 2018

Usually my first blog after wrapping a personal project is a Post Mortem on that project. I wrapped up The Park Bench: A Diorama roughly two weeks ago and I plan to do a very in-depth Post Mortem as well as some small tutorials that focus on my use of GameTextures assets. I’d expect those tutorials to be hosted over on the official GameTextures blog once they’re ready.

That is not what this post is. Today I will be sharing some recent trials and tribulations; and how it is bringing forth personal growth and great discomfort. I think this blog post is a part of that growth. In doing some reading on the idea of the “Shadow Self” (Carl Jung), I came across a few videos that delve into that idea. A few of them were by the controversial Psychologist Jordan Peterson. One video I found fascinating is where a reader or viewer asks him about how to “confront your shadow”. After a minute or two of his trademark rambling, Peterson distills his thought on “confronting the shadow” to a simple phrase: Radical Honesty.

Radical Honesty it is. Last month (and a little bit of April too) was a cesspool of varied emotion, and this entire year has been a constant stream of bright lights that reveal themselves to be freight trains. I wrote to start the year that I didn’t know what 2018 would bring, but that it would be a year of choice. All I had to do was execute. I wasn’t necessarily wrong. I made a few choices alright; most of them have backfired and caused me financial pain, incredible stress, immense anger, and a sense of insecurity in my place in this professional world.

Choice 1: Chasing Money

I don’t believe chasing money is a bad thing. It shouldn’t be your primary motivation for any decision you make if you can help it, but it should be an important factor. Statistically, as a graduate of the class of 2009, I’m going to have a lower net worth than many of those who graduated college just a few years later, in say 2011. When you factor in my family and their general lack of financial literacy and rather iffy financial well being (lower middle class), it makes it easy to understand how I can drift into some poor decisions when money is involved.

When I closed 2017, I did some work for a foreign client I will call DERP. DERP paid, and the project was cool, but it was obvious DERP didn’t really know what they were doing. I figured that I’d be done with DERP after that.

January rolled around and DERP needed a new artist. So they reached out to me. Or I them, I’m not positive. Either way, DERP had a number of red flags that came up from from my prior work with them. I was also privy to some information from a fellow freelancer for DERP, so I figured that I’d ignore the red flags and work with DERP on their project. I wasn’t getting paid my usual rate, but if all worked out it’d be a decent rate for an indie title.

The biggest problem when working with DERP; DERP requested we have no contract as they were “hurt before”. I have never worked without a contract before, but as DERP seemed well funded and the project and team were cool, I ignored this.

I plan to tell the full story one day, but the short version is that DERP and I had a falling out, and in all fairness I was also a bit to blame. Using their “financiers”, they filed a PayPal dispute and easily won despite clear evidence provided by me. This has caused me to have a negative PayPal balance that, if I wish to continue to use their services (and avoid bill collectors), need to pay off. It’s a fairly substantial sum of money for a freelancer like myself, and it’s going to hurt when I finally decide to pay.

I haven’t paid yet, partly because I’m just as angry at PayPal as I have been with DERP.

I ended up working out a deal with DERP to finish up some work I was in the middle of doing in exchange for being paid roughly 2/3 of what I owe PayPal. The problem, is that I’m no longer motivated to work on this project. I have to force myself to drudge through and wrap it up. Due to this entire situation and the transition I’m attempting partly due to it, I haven’t even had much time to wrap it up. There isn’t much work left to do on it, but there also isn’t any motivation to squeeze it in to my free time.

The worst thing though, is that this ordeal with DERP and PayPal has left me angry, bitter, and defeated.

Choice 2: The Life Raft

I started teaching at Drexel in 2015 in part because my freelance business wasn’t doing well enough to sustain me in Philadelphia. While cheaper than Boston, the increase in cost associated with more expensive rent and splitting utilities with less people meant I was feeling the pinch pretty badly. I saw teaching as a way to earn some extra money, and hey, maybe I’d like it. As it turned out, I did.

I really do enjoy teaching overall, and Rob and Nick at Drexel are very cool guys who let me have a decent degree of freedom with my classes because of my experience.

When I returned to teaching in the fall of 2017 it was an incredibly stressful quarter. Overview of Gaming, a class I taught before, was fine. But GMAP 421, a Unity game art class, became mostly focused on teaching the basics of Unity from an artist’s perspective. I also had to teach a fair bit about general 3d modeling and texturing for games to these students all over again. I put a lot of work into it and wrote the class from the ground up for students that wanted to learn about game art. That took a lot of time.

This only expanded in the winter. I taught three ANIM 140 classes, which are introductions to 3d modeling and texturing, on 3 different days of the week. My travel time to Drexel from my old apartment was probably 20 minutes total. Today, that can range from 30 if I hit the trains right to over an hour in the evenings. Winter 2018 was a long quarter with freshmen students who, as always, struggle through their first quarter of 3d modeling. I spent far more energy and far more time answering emails and staying after classes during that quarter than I ever did before. Perhaps this is because many of my students find me approachable and knowledgeable on the subject. I genuinely want to make sure these students graduate with  the skills needed so they can get jobs right away. Because of that, I spend a lot of time being available to them.

For the current quarter, I was to teach 3 classes again. However, as an adjunct, Drexel staff always have priority for classes (even if I’m more qualified as an instructor). A scheduling snafu caused me to have a class bumped from my schedule, costing me $1000 a month. While theoretically I can spend more time on my own work, I continue to spend a lot of time answering emails, staying late at the school, and continuing my commute than I would like.

Spring will give way to summer soon, and while un-confirmed due to potential job opportunities, I’m slated to teach 3 classes. Two of these classes I’ve not taught before and one needs significant updates. One of them, a motion capture class, is going to be brand new subject material to me. I’ve never worked with mo-cap before and I have barely any experience animating. The good news is that I have been getting help and some training from Nick, and I will attend his class before I teach mine so we can maintain consistency. The bad news is that, if I’m being radically honest, I don’t want to teach this class at all. I’m doing it because it’s the only way to hit a cash flow amount that lets me pretend I’m comfortable.

Teaching, and by extension Drexel, has become a bit of a life raft for me. It allows me to pay my bills and have some cash while I can freelance and try to save (in ideal circumstances). If I was forced to rely only on freelancing like I did in Boston, I’d find myself in bad spots more often than not. On the other side of the coin, Drexel takes up a lot of my time and makes it hard to carry clients full time. I’m always juggling student grades and time versus my own, and while I made it work before, I’ve lost out on remote jobs in recent history in part because of my commitments to the University.

Drexel has become a trap for me. It keeps me afloat financially and lets me help students grow, but it ties me down every quarter with the time commitment it requires. I am not compensated appropriately for my experience nor my class reviews, and I will never be considered for a professorship because I have a lowly Bachelor’s Degree and Academia is one of the most self fellating sectors in existence.

Why stay somewhere if I have no potential to grow?

Choice 3: Philadelphia

Elliott Hulse, a YouTube fitness guru and psudo-philosopher, has a rather interesting saying that has started really sticking with me the last month or so as this series of events has unfolded. “You don’t make the right decision, you make the decision right.” The gist of the phrase is that there are times when there are no right decisions, you just have to choose a path and make it work. For instance, do you take a job that offers you $2 million dollars a year but you never see your family, or do you take a job that lets you work from home but you’re only making $50,000 a year. Each choice clearly has pros and cons and some people will put more value on providing money for the family instead of providing their presence, or vice versa. The point is, you have to choose and them make that choice work.

I’ve more or less been doing that in Philly.

My brother and I argue about location and career stuff all the time. We disagree on many points, but he is not wrong when he says that Philadelphia is NOT a location that is conducive to my career. I knew that when I made the choice to follow my fiancee down from Boston.  So, “how have I made this decision right” from a career perspective.

If I look back at my time in Philadelphia, from 2015 to now, the honest answer is…that I made it right by not being here.

“How does that work” you may wonder. The easiest explanation for this sentiment is that 2016 and 2017 were my best years of work ever. My income increased year over year by substantial margins while I was working on new and challenging projects, both AAA games and VR”ish” experiences. The main driver of that was self employed income, although Drexel was helpful as well. The majority of 2016 and 2017 income was earned out of state in New York City and Austin, Texas respectively. I made quite a lot of money compared to my previous years during both periods, and it’s no coincidence that I wasn’t home during that time. Philadelphia doesn’t have many game studios, it doesn’t have Manhattan money, it doesn’t have offices for top tier creative agencies, and Gary Vee doesn’t live here.

I have been working like hell to make Philadelphia right. I thought I had been doing a great job of that. Now I see that I’ve been fooling myself. If I’m doing good work and making great money, but I’m not physically here in my home with my fiancee, am I really making this work in a sustainable fashion?

Forty Six and Two Just a Head of Me

That is a handful of the questions I’ve been having to ask myself. It’s been tough. I’m not one to sit idly by and wallow in my despair, at least not long term. This time around, I’ve taken the tactic to examine my own weakness and attempt to be radically honest and clear in my thoughts and intentions. Again, this was inspired by the idea of the “Shadow Self” by Carl Jung, and the reason I even thought to look there was because of the Tool Song Forty Six and Two. I heard it for the first time in probably a year or two last month and it’s lyrics just clicked, and I needed to know more about it’s subject matter.

I need to step through and confront my personal weaknesses and come out the other side a new me. The last time I did a version of this, I was in therapy for a year learning to deal with chronic personal negativity (I’m optimistic by nature, except for myself #Rosecurse). This time, it’s about examining my career and no longer letting it define me. At the same time, it’s about accepting my current reality.

  • The past experience with DERP, as well as the general slowness I’ve experienced since returning from Bluepoint, are pushing me in the direction of wanting to exit the freelance/contract world.
    • Along the same lines, I’m ready to have stability. I’d also like to not have to leave home for months at a time to make money. I genuinely love Philadelphia. I’m finally growing a friend network here. I want that network to grow, and I want a professional network to start growing too.
  • I’m ready to take a break from teaching so much. It can be exhausting, and I put far too much of myself into teaching my classes. Part of that is my honest want for my students to succeed more than I have thus far. Part of that…is that I think I want to be liked. I need to get over that. I get anxious when I feel I’ve made someone upset with me, but with my students that shouldn’t be an issue at all. I need to find a balance between accommodating their situations while exercising discipline.
    • With Drexel, the life raft needs to become a fun way to earn some extra cash. As it is now, which is a part time job with full time hours, it’s becoming a hinderance. Additionally, Adjuncts aren’t paid according to professional or teaching experience and I’m done with that. I should be paid more than a fresh graduate. Any adjunct with experience should.
  • I’m going to continue to try to “make Philadelphia right”. Part of that process is an interview I wrapped up at DreamLine last week, and reaching out to local production and VR companies in the area. I plan to create more in-depth asset kits and explore the current trend of offering mentorships via Gumroad or other store fronts (perhaps my own site) as well. There are options that abound in this day in age and while I have hit a pretty fucking hard bump in my career, I haven’t lost all hope.
    • While working in New York isn’t ideal in this context, New York does have more opportunities for someone like myself than Philadelphia does, and those opportunities are also being explored. Is it making Philly right? Probably not. It is however much better than if I had stayed in Boston.
  • I’m taking this time as well to meditate more and try to step away. It’s difficult when I still have various different types of work to do, but I can tell this is as much a self care issue as it is the fuckery of life.

I need to also mention my fiancee, Kelsey. She has been incredibly supportive during this time. She’s seen the stress, anger, and frustration first hand. I’m not easy to be with sometimes, with my general financial instability, occasional moodiness, moments of stubborn determination, and fear of bees. The last month has kicked some of those elements up to 11, and she’s been there to help me brainstorm, laugh my ass off, or just be reassured that everything will be ok.

Coming Out the Other Side

This, hasn’t happened yet. I’m still in the weeds, though I feel like I’m starting to emerge. I need a few more days of ‘self care’ (I hate the term even though it’s quite important) and for my potential employment situations to clear up. Once that’s done, I’ll know where I’m headed in the near term. In time, you will too.

It’s all just ahead of me.

 

One Goal Down: Asset Stores

General / 16 April 2018

Original Content

At the end of every year, usually the last few weeks of November, I sit down to write out my goals for the upcoming year. I’ve been doing this now for a few years and I’ve found it to be quite helpful when framing what a year is going to look like. 2017 was easy to map out (it was structured around Bluepoint) while 2018 has been a bit more of a freelancer’s gamble (structured around teaching and building my own brand up again). 2016’s goals revolved around being re-invigorated to do what I’m doing and the feeling of it being a big year. The past two years and what has been 2018 so far have all had different feels and goals associated with them with one exception: Content Creation.

I’ve been wanting to make my own content and sell it for a while now. First it was Project NONA, a love letter to my grandmother. That was derailed by client work and a project scope that was FAR too big for the time. After that I settled on asset packs. With Unreal having a Marketplace and the Unity Asset Store having existed for years, I figured I could work to gain a passive income through selling assets. Much like project NONA, any pack I conceived seemed to be derailed by client work or poor planning.

The more I think about it, the more I have been planning poorly.

I’ve been working on a version of my recently released Pots and Pans Pack for the past three years or so. At first, it was a full kitchen pack with such a large number of assets it was going to be a pain to finish. I had pots, pans, 4 different kinds of utensils, protein powder…it was far too large. When I went to New York for work in 2016, that killed any momentum that version of the pack had. 2017 saw me not get started on anything as I focused on Shadow of The Colossus. It wasn’t until January of 2018, when I was in a period of little client work, that I was able to re-focus my efforts on my original content. I started working on the pack again this time simplified down to the essentials; pots and pans that would come packaged together along with a spatula and spoon. I was almost derailed again by client work (a client I’m still working with) and my own experimentation.

How can experimentation derail a simple asset pack you may ask? Why, by over complicating the workflow I say! Prior to Unreal 4.19, you had to set up Material Functions and Blending in a somewhat more complicated way. In addition, I was really hooked on the soon dead ParagonParagon drove Unreal forward with amazing rendering features and cutting edge workflows. The material workflow (demoed below) is probably a large portion of the basis of the new experimental Material Layering Workflow.

Seriously, this is just an awesome video to watch over and over.

In an attempt to mimic and learn the way that Epic was handling a large library of shared materials, I tried to set up my pots and pans to use a Scorch, Grime, and Scratch mask to drive blending. Each asset would call an Aluminum, Rubber, Plastic, Non Stick, and Paint material and a series of masks would drive the details. I managed to get it somewhat working in the engine too. It was after this initial success that I had to focus more on other efforts and it turned out to be a good thing.

My current client project is a VR game. I want my Pots and Pans Kit to be available to all platforms, including VR. As I’ve been working on this project, I’ve had to keep optimization in mind. As I thought more about my asset pack, I realized that while cool, my workflow would be difficult to make sell-able. With 5 materials being driven by three 4096×4096 masks along with a few normal and roughness maps per each material, these pots and pans wouldn’t be useful in anything but a high end game or visualization project. They’d practically be useless in VR. So I decided to go back and re-work them.

https://www.unrealengine.com/marketplace/pots-and-pans-kit

My final asset kit release shares a single material and 4K Texture Set for the entire kit, except for glass which is either the more expensive refraction based material or a simpler dither opacity material. The main pots and pans material DOES retain the ability to change paint color, as well as to enable or disable Scorch, Grime, and Scratch masking. The user has the option to adjust the roughness and color of those three layers. This was a holdover from my previous workflow experiment, and it gives this kit an amazing amount of flexibility. If you need clean pans-it’s right there. Is this a world gone mad? Turn on a few masks and tweak a few colors and you’re done.

It took a while to get this release out. Epic has a fairly smooth process for approval in place, although it can take a few weeks for your asset to get reviewed. Once they see it though, they are quick about giving you feedback and making sure you fix any mistakes regarding the submission.

I did it! I met a goal of mine for 2018. I’m not done though. I have other personal environments in the works and I plan to pack up what I can and release them as kits too.

Everyone has a Store

While I was out at GDC this past year, I attended the Gnomon and ArtStation Party. Besides having a good time finally meeting my buddy Rogelio and meeting his bad ass coworker Brad (dude’s an amazing character artist) and randomly bumping into old Turbine Co-Workers (shout out to Chonny and Anthony) I learned that ArtStation is currently at work on a Marketplace of it’s own. Currently in closed Alpha for a handful of sellers, ArtStation will allow artists to sell any range of art, from prints to 3D models to tutorials and more. You can find out more in the March issue of the ArtStation Magazine.  From what I can tell, it’s set up to be as artist friendly in payouts as possible while still being profitable for the site. I definitely want to be on this marketplace when it launches, which served as extra motivation to wrap up my current assets.

Do you know what is live and available to myself and others right now? Sketchfab’s store front.

I’ve been an off and on Sketchfab user for years. Early on the viewer was cool but limited, and it was hard to use proper PBR maps. I had a few test models up there but didn’t do much with them. I checked them out again two years ago and the viewer improved. It was easier for me to upload PBR models and embed the Sketchfab Viewer into various websites like LinkedIn and Polycount. I had a few standalone assets that I shifted between Sketchfab and Marmoset Viewer, and found that Marmoset gave me slightly better visual results. Still, I liked using Sketchfab . In 2016 while I was working in Manhattan I swung by their office. I had met Alban before (good dude) and it was great to reconnect with him and try out Tilt Brush and Sketchfab in VR. It was great!

I still don’t have a ton of models up there, but I’m working on it.

Sketchfab launched their store at the start of 2018, and I didn’t know about it until sometime in February. I didn’t think much of it…but as I went to GDC and saw that ArtStation was getting in on the Marketplace Game, I went back to see how Sketchfab handled their store. It all seemed pretty standard and the Sketchfab Viewer is so good now that it’s easy for me to display my work properly.

So, I uploaded a few more models I had ready from some Work in Progress Environments or older projects and set up my store: sketchfab.com/rose3d/store. Sketchfab has a very easy approval process, and they give you access to a sellers only forum so they can get feedback and constantly improve the store. In addition, they link directly to PayPal which I think is pretty great. When you sell a model, you have money immediately.

You’ll notice my Pots and Pans Kit is A) here B) a bit more money and C) white on Sketchfab. I’m using Sketchfab to sell source assets, FBX files and raw TGA files. Unreal uploads everything in .uasset format. This is great for their specific projects and how assets are transferred, but if you want my assets but don’t use Unreal or Unity, you can grab them from Sketchfab and tweak them yourself for whatever application you’re using.

The White color is that way so it’s easy to define shader color in Unreal, by the way.

Next Steps 

So here I am, a content manufacturer (for tax reasons) making content that’s being sold on multiple store fronts. I plan to expand this aspect of my business too. So what am I to do? I have a few ideas.

  1. Add to or re-work my personal portfolio site to focus more on my asset packs and business and less on my full portfolio. I’ve wanted to use ArtStation as my main portfolio site for a few years now (I always send both links to prospective clients or job opportunities) and with the launches of my assets, it may be worth it to finally make that shift. This means that Rose3D will become more focused on my assets, my blog, and my services.
  2. Crank out more content in a timely manner. A simple pack shouldn’t take three months to get out, and my current diorama has been in some form of production for a year. If I’m having to continuously provide content, it needs to be a core tenant of my business. This means more time paid to it.
  3. Leverage the strengths of each platform. I know Unreal very well (from the environment art side) and can craft assets specifically for that platform. I can then take those assets and break them down a bit more for Sketchfab, since it’s strength is the ability to offer full source assets. I’m not sure what ArtStation offers yet, but I know it’s strength is it’s social aspect.
  4. Learn how to write Ad copy and join Instagram.
    1. Ok, I don’t really want to join Instagram. I’m happy with Facebook (personal mostly), LinkedIn, and Twitter. But as someone who is in a very visual medium, it might be worth it to look at how Instagram can be used to showcase my work.
    2. Ad copy is a bit of a joke, but I do need to craft tweets and posts that focus on selling my work.

I’m really excited about selling my own content. I may not see 100% of the revenue, but I’m happy to support the platforms that are making it possible for me to sell work directly to consumers. It serves as strong motivation to keep working on personal art-not just for the fun-but also for the potential it has to improve my business.

Dan

PS: In case you missed it, you can purchase my Unreal Pots and Pans Kit here. If you’re interested in browsing what’s currently for sale on my Sketchfab store, it’s sketchfab.com/rose3d/store. Thank you for you patronage!

 

Q1 2018 Quarterly Report (January-March)

General / 30 March 2018

Back on Schedule

Last year I split my quarterlies into halves. This was done because I had two distinct periods of work last year: Bluepoint and Non-Bluepoint. Now that I’m back in Philly and back on my usual schedule, I’m back to reporting quarterly as I was before. Mostly. My quarterly blog posts tended to run a bit late. I would often write them a week or a few weeks after a quarter would end. Not so this year. For 2018, I will be writing reports at the end of March, June, September, and December. This follows nicely with the quarters of my business and with the quarters as they relate to Drexel. I know that most businesses off-set Q1 and Q4 and shift everything else around those dates (typically for tax reasons), but I have the freedom to align my quarters with how my year actually flows.

GDC and Me

If you’re curious about the big picture and big takeaways I had from GDC, check out my GDC Blog I posted yesterday. On the smaller scale, GDC reignited my want to focus on my own content.

Unreal Marketplace, the Unity Asset Store, Turbosquid, Sketchfab, and now even Artstation…digital marketplaces are everywhere and I have been sitting out of those markets for too long. It’s long been a goal of mine to get content live and start selling it. Well now, at long last, I am. Today, the last day of Q1, I submitted my Pots and Pans Asset Pack to the Unreal Marketplace for approval. If approved, it probably won’t be live until the end of April, so I’m not actually selling yet. But my part of the process (pending any corrections) is complete. This has been a goal for years and now all I have to do is wait for Epic to approve my content.

But that’s not all. I plan to make a wide variety of source assets (FBX, TGA) available for purchase via Sketchfab’s Store as well. Once Artstation opens up their Marketplace to all (it’s currently in closed Alpha), I’ll put content there too. I have enough models and kits that I can re-purpose a few of them to be part of a pack, and I can sell them online at all of these store fronts.

My goal isn’t to pump out kit after kit…I’m a solo artist with teaching and contract work to do as well. My goal is the re-purpose what I have for Sketchfab and Artstation, and to prepare a second Unreal Kit for release later this year. With a bit of social marketing, I hope to have a small drip of income from these kits, and from them I hope to add to my overall business bucket. (Unity Marketplace kits will be on a special basis, as most of my art is geared towards the Unreal Engine anyway. Hard to create fancy shaders in Unity currently).

Other Q1 Happenings

Other than GDC and FINALLY getting my first kit submitted for approval on the Unreal Store, Quarter 1 was busy. Drexel took up a lot of time during the entire quarter. I re-worked portions of my class to better focus on modeling and texturing fundamentals (WORTH IT). It ended up eating up quite a bit of time.

In January, I signed a work order to create a level for the Early Access VR game Shadowcore. Not long after I started, I was asked to polish up an existing level, which I went in and significantly improved the look of. That pushed the original work order from a due date of March to a rough due date of Mid-May. (If you’re interested in it, do check out Shadowcore. Just know it’s Early Access and that comes with a HOST of issues. Don’t expect Shadow of The Colossus levels of polish).

That mostly rounds out what I spent Q1 on. I did a little bit of writing for GameTextures and I finished up my Pots and Pans kit, but most of my time was spent on Shadowcore and teaching at Drexel.

Task Tracking

  • Hours Worked (Total Working Time): 468.54
  • Billable Hours: 388.96
  • Average Efficiency: 82.9%

Income

Anything from this year is, more than likely, NOT going to match up with what I did at Bluepoint Games last year. So instead of comparing year over year results like I have previously, I’m going to compare my quarterly income with my historical averages from 2014-2016, excluding 2017. Until another contract on the scale of Bluepoint happens, it’s an outlier.

% difference in income vs. historical averages: +27%

An incredibly strong January and a solid March led the way to my strongest open to a year yet, Bluepoint excluded. This is due to how I negotiated my work on Shadowcore, as well as handling a full class load at Drexel.

Looking Ahead

Q2 2018 is going to be a quarter that hearkens back to my days of hustling in Boston.

Initially, I was set to teach a full class load again at Drexel. However, at the last second AFTER my adjunct contract was signed, they pulled one of my classes and gave it to a full time professor. I became a casualty of University Regulations. I still have two classes, but 30% of my expected income for the quarter needs to be made up.

The silver lining in all of this is that I can focus less on the University and more on my own business. I’ve been working some crunchy hours on Shadowcore, and that has to stop for a myriad of reasons. So I’ll be introducing “Dan Friday’s” to the mix. Much like Epic Games or Google, Friday will be the day where I work on MY OWN PROJECTS. This will keep me moving forward on my own content and goals related to that. Additionally, I’ll be working the Gametextures Blog back into my rotation of paid work. When I get crunchy, the blog tends to be the first to go. They have a few big things cooking over there, and the Blog needs to get back to doing what it does best: talkin’ about the industry.

I’ll reach out to some old contacts as well and ask if they have any small bits of work I can jump on to fill in some gaps…in addition to fishing for larger contracts.

Speaking of larger contracts, I will have to make a concerted effort in April and May to try and find large contracts for the summer, as Drexel is often in a slow period during that time.

This quarter is going to be busy.