So… yeah. It’s been a while.

It's been almost ten months since I posted anything in my journal. You might think a lot has happened in that time. Well you’d be wrong. Loser.

Posted on 31 October, 2023

Nevertheless, the whole point of me starting this journal was to log my observations and experiences of life in general, not just the most significant events.

When mental degradation starts to seep in (some would argue this process has already begun – to which I have no retort) and I use this journal to relive better times, I know the little things will be just as important as the large.

So, without further ado and with a half-hearted promise that more regular writings will find their way onto this ‘ere Webby McSiteface soon, here’s what 2023 has thus far comprised.

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I am now burdened by the gift of fatherhood

Mini us – in summary

The year began with the arrival of Anna and I’s first-born – Maddox William John Edwards.

Adapting to fatherhood has been fun. The horror stories you hear about lack of sleep, constant paranoia as to where and how they are, and being covered in various bodily fluids are all largely true. Even when I’m staying down in Oxford or travelling with work, my nights are interrupted by awakening at the times he usually asks for a feed. There’s no switching off, but it’s well good fun overall and the drawbacks are of precious little consequence to the sheer volume of pros that come with being responsible for a little person.

Right, and what pros might those be?

Quantifying the benefits is no easy task and I think that’s one of the reasons why some of peoples cautions regarding parenthood tend to leave a more lasting impression. I don’t need to be a parent to reliably imagine what it’s like to be covered in piss, vomit and to not be getting any sleep. I have lived sufficient comparable experiences to theorise with confidence what my disposition to such will be. Conversely, there are no experiences comparable to the good parts of parenthood. I have nothing by which to make an educated guess as to how the benefits will manifest or the impact they’ll have. I believed that before I was a parent and I’m doubling down now.

So yeah, it’s pretty hard work – but show me anything worthwhile that isn’t hard work and I’ll show you a case study in low standards, and expectations. We all have our own value systems and decide what is important to us. As much as I see the appeal in dying alone after a lifetime of servitude to jobs that could replace you in the blink of an eye, it just doesn’t scratch quite the same itch.

I absolutely make all the above statement completely aware of the fact that we’re very much in the ‘honeymoon’ phase of this whole thing. There’s a very good chance that I will feel very differently soon enough and emplore anyone considering parenthood save their sanity… and bank account… and hairline… and carpets… and spare time… and sense of hope for the future… and sleep patterns… and literally anything else that brings them joy – and just not bother.

Cool. Sounds ‘great’. Where is the name from?

Both Anna and I loved Porthmadog (North Wales) and the surrounding areas as children. This shared fondness existed long before we even met, has continued into adulthood and is also one of the few things we actually have in common. Or at least, that we don’t entirely disagree on. The town is named after William Madocks, who was responsible for the harbor there and we thought the name had a nice ring to it.

There’s also Madoc ab Owain Gwynedd, a Welsh Prince (yes, we really like Wales) and Voyager who was alleged by some to have discovered America long before that Chris bloke. Furthermore, the name ‘Maddox’ means ‘Son of Madoc’ (a warrior featured in a 7th century Welsh poem, I believe) and symbolises good fortune.

And of course – there’s a great white shark named Maddox, too. He was tagged in Gansbaai, South Africa (the town I still consider home) on May 9th 2012 and migrated all the way to Mozambique.

Viewed in context, the name crosses many topics of value for Anna and I but realistically – it just sounds cool.

Will there be more Maddox-related stories on your journal?

It’s highly unlikely I will make extensive mention of him on here, beyond occasional references to ‘the spawn’. Anna posts some photos on socials every now and again. I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the phenomenon of people plastering photos of their children across the web, super regularly. Once again – to each their own, but with how frequently these sites are hacked and increasing concerns over data ownership, and protection (particularly in response to the growth of AI), I’m not super comfortable about sharing the finer details of his existence with anyone outside our trusted circles.

Plus, there’ll be plenty of opportunity for the mass media and intellectual cancer that is social media to destroy his capacity for critical thought, rationality and self-awareness yet. We don’t need to rush these things.

I’ve included a few images below which will likely represent the extent of his online presence for a good while, yet.

To everyone who has visited, sent their wishes, pestered us just as we were about to fall asleep, made irritating noises in the spawn’s direction and generally demonstrated the standard complete lapse of sanity that occurs when a new life enters the world – thanks. If that appears insincere… well, that’s your problem. I’m a parent now and I’ve got much better things to worry about, like making them the vessel of compensation for all my failed life ambitions.

See? Parenthood – bossing it already.

The road to the burden of child

Maddox’s arrival concluded almost four years of false starts and near-death experiences. The latter exclusively on Anna’s part. If you think I’m joking because there’s no way a caring, thoughtful partner would speak so casually about almost losing his other half under somewhat traumatising circumstances – guess again. Indifference is my method of coping and if you judge me for it, you’re a bigot and I don’t have to listen to you.

If that sounds delusional, ludicrous and narcissistic – welcome to what passes for an argument (and a ‘strong personality’) in 2023.

It’s not something to dwell on now, but suffice it to say that the road to parenthood was paved in all manner of proverbial Lego bricks, sticky old sweets and upward facing three-pronged plugs. Anna and I have often spoken about the potential cathartic and outreach benefits of sharing this journey in more detail. We found it to be a somewhat isolating experience with precious little in the way of first-hand, brutally honest accounts online. Anna likes the idea of using our experience to give reassurance and insight to others. I on the other hand aren’t too bothered, but that’s because she’s the nice person in our relationship and I lean on imaginary societal pressures of conformance to avoid acknowledging and taking accountability for my flaws. Remember – 2023.

But I should be more like her. Everyone should. So perhaps in the new year this is something we’ll share a bit more detail on.

I am now a Master of sharks

In July I graduated with a Master of Science (by research) in Computing Science, from Staffordshire University. Does that technically make me a master of sharks? No. Will that stop me proclaiming such to every new person I meet? No. Should I really have grown up by now? No – you are.

You might remember that I requested volunteers to play the game I was building as part of the Masters, toward the end of last year. I didn’t manage to finish the core functionality until mid January and then I started writing up the final thesis the day our spawn arrived. Pretty much every sentence committed to the final submission was written with him on my chest or knee. Some might call that a bonding experience, others a cautionary tale in leaving way too much to the last minute.

Since I managed to take very little time off work, spend every other available second in my boy’s company and secure a distinction – I call it winning.

David 'Ed' Edwards Masters Thesis

Some page snippets from my final Thesis

Mate, that took a while.

What’s more important from a personal perspective, is that this meant I finally delivered on a promise I made myself back in 2009 – that I would at some point combine my interest in shark research with games design. It’s not quite ‘traveling to the moon’ as far as ambitions go, but goals are goals.

Is the game what I envisaged back then? In principle, yes. You are a shark, you hunt seals and the environment in which this take place is very loosely based on actual locations wherein such takes place. But the mechanics were stripped down considerably and the artistic style was as rudimentary as you could possibly expect. In fairness, such is standard affair once you get into the actual meat of ‘designing’ any sort of experience and iterating as your assumptions are challenged, and goal posts shifted.

I’ve mentioned the game a couple of times before and put a small project page for the entire project on my work page. If you’d like to learn more, please give that page a read. If that’s not nearly enough information, then I suggest you please visit…

A screenshot from the main menu of my game prototype ‘shark’

The Shark Dev

As much as anything else, I’d planned for my Masters to become a springboard for a more frequent output of projects involving shark research and games design. I have a ton of ideas and some initial prototypes in their very early stages, some of which are games and others are more simulations, or artistic interpretations of shark-related… well, stuff. One of these in particular I am especially excited about, as I’m co-developing with ex-Staffs colleage Tom Vine and we’ve already got some interesting content underway.

I likewise plan to eventually make the game built for my Masters publicly available. So keep your eyes peeled for that.

However, sharing said projects via my journal just doesn’t seem appropriate. I’d prefer to have a dedicated spot on the web to share and talk about this stuff than have them fight for attention alongside everything else on here. Likewise, when the unthinkable happens and someone does have an interest in this stuff, they don’t necessarily want to wade through pages of nonsense about Siberia, Doom and the other random cack I appear to insist on having an opinion on.

Yep, I done a logo.

I’m therefore launching a new site called The Shark Dev, which is a play on both ‘The Sharkman’ (an inaccurate term given that there’s literally billions of them) and ‘game dev’. See what I did there? I’m told that’s called being creative… or lazy… the two are so often completely interchangeable. I guess the difference is down to whether or not you get paid.

Keen eyed visitors to this site may ask “What does this mean for Akulabyte?” – we’ll talk about that later. At the moment The Shark Dev is little more than a landing page with some links and an Instagram – because even the most antisocial of us need to be social. I do plan to be launching a proper site with a bit more content later in the year, most likely once I return from…

White Sharks Global

Port Lincoln, Australia – where I will be travelling to to attend the White Sharks Global Conference. I will be sharing my aforementioned Masters project and giving people the opportunity to play and discus the game with me directly.

I’m pretty chuffed about this. When we published Gauging the Threat (over ten bloody years ago now!) I quite enjoyed sitting across from real scientists, listening to them present and explain their work. I decided that I’d like to give this a go myself, at a shark conference at some point in the future. Specifically, with a project of my own rather than simply riding on the hard work of far smarter people than me – which is basically what my entire shark ‘career’ has been up until this point.

I’ll likely talk about the conference itself a little bit on here, but if you are absolutely desperate for some insights into how this event goes, I would politely ask that you please follow The Shark Dev on Instagram. Cool stuff will almost certainly follow.

Photo by Andrew Fox

Work stuff

Life in games and VFX is not without considerable pressure

My job has gradually intensified over the last eighteen months. In a good way, I hasten to add – certainly where Vicon is concerned. We’ve had a ton of really interesting projects on the go and there’s lots of new faces across a variety of disciplines at the company, meaning everyone is benefitting from the mix of fresh perspectives.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, more broadley speaking. Truth be told, the market I manage Product for (Games and VFX) has had a rough year. There’s been thousands of layoffs in the games industry alone and the ongoing writers, and actors strikes have been absolutely battering VFX houses. We don’t even need to approach the subject of AI’s impact on people’s livelihoods.

It’s likely not something I should go into a ton of detail on, regarding my personal perspective. Suffice it to say, a lot of incredibly competent (I say competent quite deliberately because – sorry to burst anyone’s bubble – creative and technical ability is not a question of talent) artists and designers have been affected by these issues.

I think that’s worth acknowledging these folks, even if the mainstream media disagrees.

We’ve been making cool stuff

For my part, this year saw the tenth point release of our VFX package, Shogun. This was great to work on if for no other reason, than we focused a considerable amount of attention on some fudamentals of motion capture for VFX. After a couple of years so heavily dominated by the topic of Virtual Production (which certainly isn’t declining in significance), looking at improvements we could make to how we capture people has been a welcome change.

Upon writing this, I realise that I’ve actually gone into precious little detail previously about what motion capture is, what virtual production is and what I even do. I will probably try to do something about that early next year.

I emphasise – probably.

In slightly more relatable news, the job has also involved a considerable amount of travel. I forget if I mentioned my trips to Vancouver, Texas and Seol toward the end of last year – all of which were mega. South Korea was especially enjoyable and I can’t speak highly enough of just how inviting I found the people to be.

This year, the big hitters were GDC 2023 and SIGGRAPH 2023. GDC (The Game Developers Conference) is always a massive bookmark in the diary for the industry, with some of the biggest announcements related to games and games tech often being saved for it. It’s likewise a conference I’ve always wanted to visit out of my own personal interest.

SIGGRAPH is of similar significance and from a company perspective, was a fairly big deal this year. Vicon announced our move into markerless motion capture – which again, probably doesn’t sound like a big deal without any context – and hosted our biggest booth yet. We likewise intensified our presentation output, going from the two talks I gave per day at GDC to six (plus a workshop) at SIGGRAPH.

It’s impossible to say any more on what was shown and how much fun the events were without digressing onto an unquantifiable number of tangents. Suffice it to say, 2023 has been an extremely demanding year professionally and one that I’ve taken immense pleasure in learning how to adapt to. If 2024 kicks off the way this year is ending, good things are certainly ahead.

Sleep? Absolutely not. But good things – certainly!

Creative projects

This has actually been a pretty sweet year for freelancing, too. Somehow.

There haven’t been a whole ton of projects, as the aforementioned Masters and arrival of spawn have kept me busy outside of work, pretty consistently. What time has existed between those things I’ve mainly invested in trying to improve my health and taking very minor steps forward with some music and animation projects. And building shark games. That being said, the freelancing work I have undertaken has been tremendous fun.

We launched a new website for The Spode Museum Trust… which is about all I can talk about. The rest are design, web and illustration projects that aren’t set to go live until the new year. I actually hadn’t thought about that until writing this sentence. My work page has had a bit of an update to include some projects I’d otherwise forgotten about and some prototype work. Besides that, everything else is pretty much under wraps until January at the earliest.

One project I suppose I can talk about is for the Flint Mill. I forget if I mentioned that I became a Trustee for The Cheddleton Flint Mill Trust just over a year ago. I’ll get into more detail about why, what the Mill is, its historical uses and our family’s connection to it at a later date.

From a creative perspective, I plan to create a digital museum for the Flint Mill over the course of next year. It will be similar to the likes of Searching For Shakespeare with an emphasis on 3D data that can be interacted with, and I have begun the process of generating content for this. Tom Vine (with whom I worked at Staffordshire University and on a number of game/realtime prototypes, like Breach) kindly assisted on behalf of the University, using the Faro Focus S70 to generate a laser scan of the location, seen below.

I’m using this as a bit of an excuse to play around with digitisation again and plan to give gaussian splatting a go in the new year. “Ed, what in the seven hells is gaussian splatting?”  – you’ll have to wait and see. That’ll actually happen much sooner rather than later, if I can squeeze enough pennies together to upgrade my PC before December.

Laser scan of the Cheddleton Flint Mill

Laser scan of Cheddleton Flint Mill

So yeah, a rather quiet year

Overall, 2o23 has been one of those ‘quality’ over ‘quantity’ sort of years. Not a ridiculous amount of stuff has happened, but that which has taken place has been of immense value. Much of that value has honestly just come from the reflection that’s been instigated. I hit forty next year and as tends to happen with each decade that passes, I’m increasingly cognicent of how many are left.

You might have also noticed yet another website change to the design here, placing increased emphasis on my journal and making the main Work section into more of an art dump. This reflects my decreasing emphasis on using this website as a professional portfolio and really just more of a place where I store bits of stuff. The Shark Dev reflects what will be an ongoing process of specialisation, in terms of the entities I use to present and discuss my work.

Oh, I actually have two Conversations basically completed and ready to go with a freelance artist/illustrator and marine tour guide, they just need some tweaks and content to go with them. I’d like to think that will all be done before the year’s end, but… we’ll see.

There’s still two months to go and plenty that can happen in that time. If it does, I sort of almost kind promise to actually share those updates a little more promptly.