It’s the obligatory, mid-year “How is it already mid-year?” post

The last update I wrote was right at the end of December. It seems that almost half a year has already passed and I've made bugger all mention of what I've been doing with it. Again.

Posted on 23 May, 2024

So this is not the first, nor is it likely to be the last “Oh bugger, I haven’t written anything for a while” entry to end up on here. I’ve logged on a few times throughout 2024 to share updates on a couple of projects, but I barely get more than a sentence in before thinking ‘this time would be better spent actually working on said project’.

Now, you might tempted to ask “Don’t you miss the times before The Spawn arrived and you had more free time?”. Absolutely not. Even taking him out of the equation, what’s been great this last eight or so months has been a recalibration in my valuation of time. With so little of it to spare, what’s available gets spent more insightfully. I am far more conscious of what measurable benefit comes from whatever action I choose to invest my time into.

Essentially, I’ve drawn the conclusion that free time is a myth. No time is free. All of it has a cost and an outcome for that cost. All time is invested into something at the expense of not being invested into something else. As a legitimately great man once said – there are no solutions. There are only trade offs’. That’s true, whether you’re investing time into doom scrolling through YouTube at the expense of just starting that project you’ve planned to for years – or vice versa.

Unfortunately for my website – the time spent updating represents a lower value proposition than updating the things I would walk about.

That being said, as I reminded myself quite recently – there will come a time when doing anything is increasingly difficult. These entries will be mementos I live vicariously through, meaning the value proposition isn’t necessarily lower, as much as it is lower only in the short term. I could argue that infact, that the value of these mementos will be of considerably higher value than that of the projects they capture over the course of my lifetime. ‘Delayed gratification’ I believe is the formal term. Future me will thank present me for making the effort now, even if present me doesn’t get anything out of it.

Or he’ll just read it and ask “What’s this shit? What an absolute waste of both our time you utter loser. What a bellend”.

Such is life.

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Sandi and the Salty Sea Dogs are here!

Life ambition achieved – I’ve illustrated a kids book!

And yes, of course it’s about sharks. Well… sort of.

You might remember the Shark Free Chips campaign I provided some illustrations for a few years back. This project was led by South African legends Chris and Monique Fallows, whose ecotourism company Apex Predators have been bringing people to the countries incredible marine life for years.

Back in early 2021, Monique got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in illustrating a kids book she was working on. ‘Sandi and the Salty Sea Dogs’ was to share the adventures of Chris and Monique’s three dogs, as they journey to sea with the couple and experience its wonders alongside them.

Illustration? Marine wildlife? Dogs, you say? Clearly I didn’t take much convincing.

The book officially launched last month with my copies arriving in a week and I can’t speak highly enough of the work Monique has done on this. Projects like these rarely happen over night but its certainly not uncommon for creators to lose motivation as time goes on. The amount of story, photography and how it’s all been balanced alongside my illustrations is an absolute treat.

As far as the illustrations themselves are concerned, this was a ton of fun. I think I created eight in total, some of which are chopped and changed for parts of the book such as the front cover. The designer did a great job of making them all work contextually alongside the photographs and text.

I enthusiastically encourage you to please visit their official website, to learn more about Sandi and The Salty Sea dogs.

 

The front cover of Sandi and the Salty Sea Dogs

Shark games are underway

At the start of the year, Tom Vine and I performed something of a hard reset on the game prototype we’d been working on. It had promise, but ultimately the scope of unknowns we’d given ourselves to work through was in vast excess of the time we both have available. I took some time over Christmas to reflect on what I’d learned during my Masters and at White Sharks Global, with a view to arriving at a concept that would enable us to achieve our ambitions while still practical.

We met in January to discuss this concept and also a framework we could use to guide our development. This framework currently comprises two key principles:

Get it shippable

We decided that every task, challenge or goal we set ourselves has to measurably move us one step closer to the game being ready to ship. We qualify ship as meaning that it’s playable by an audience without us needing to explain how it works. If an item we’ve identified does not achieve this, then its goal is too vague and should be broken down into smaller tasks through which it can be done.

It’s not about rushing us to an end goal at the expense of the gameplay being good (after all, if the gameplay isn’t good – it isn’t shippable), so much as ensuring that the decisions we make are guided by the ultimate need to make something ‘good enough’ to share with people. As much as anything else, as time moves on it should also mean that if things outside our control happen and we need to drop the project at any given point, we are always as close as we could possibly be to having something ready to stick in a box and ship.

You might say its our Minimum Viable Product, but that suggests the existence of a larger framework that is guiding us to something in particular, something we have already defined. That’s what we were doing last year – defining the goal as a series of technical deliverables – and we failed to find the game in it for well over six months. The technical deliverables are now writing themselves as a result of the goal being defined by something else entirely; focusing on the fun.

Focus on the fun

A major emphasis on what we’re doing is the consistency with natural law. We’re not interested in controlling super-powered monsters that just so happen to look vaguely like sharks – we’re interested in investing the player into life as a great white shark. The same goes for seals and the environment we’re sharing. We’re drawing inspiration and building our systems around these animals ecosystem and interactions.

But system simulation is a complicated thing, particularly when you want to define testable, repeatable gameplay cycles within that system. Previously, we did a good job of collating all the things we wanted to simulate and had the groundwork for how they would work together to structure the gameplay – but that’s only 10% of the work. It takes a long time to flesh that stuff out and motivation/focus can be difficult to maintain during that process. We don’t have time on our side, so we’ve taken the approach of ‘focusing on the fun’ to drive our development efforts.

‘Focus on the fun’ means making the gameplay work and be fun at a rudimentary level. This happens before we then ask “Cool, that works – what’s the next thing that exists in these animals’ world that we can simulate? What can we simulate that would depth and/or variety to what is already a ‘fun’ game loop?”. If the gameplay isn’t fun with very basic assets and minimal complexity, no amount of that other stuff will make a difference.

If you’re wondering “But Ed, how do you define fun?” I’ll let this guy do it:

Shippable fun = shark game

I pitched a basic gameplay loop to Tom that we could pursue inline with these values and within less than a month, we’d made more progress that we had in the previous seven. Basic though it was, we had a game that was engaging, repeatable, accessible and most importantly, worked within the creative framework we’d already set ourselves in respect of honouring nature. We then wanted to get that working as a Multiplayer game over Steam, which is now fully functional and will facilitate us hosting some play sessions with folks based ‘anywhere’. That was very much Tom’s focus the last couple of months and he bossed the hell out of it, while I’ve been more focused on establishing the art direction for the game.

The art style is very much in its infancy, but we have a direction in mind and I am busy exploring this in both 2D and 3D on the iPad. Honestly, Procreate and Nomad Sculpt have been absolute godsends, enabling me to bodge ideas together when I’m sat on the bus or train. The days of sitting behind my PC, uninterupted for hours on end to model in Maya or design in Photoshop are long behind me, so these tools have helped us make progress at a much faster rate.

So yeah – we have a prototype powered by Unreal Engine 5 that works over Steam and is firmly routed in our design philosophy. Everything else is somewhat scattered but the developments we’re making now are gradually puling them into the same place. We are targeting a public demo within the next few months and I’ll be sharing some invites via my Journal for anyone who wants to give it a try (PC players only for now, sorry!).

I’m currently working on a dedicated website for The Shark Dev, but it’s still a few weeks from completion so if you’re interested in seeing more in the meantime, please follow on instagram.com/thesharkdev.

New Professional Website(s)

My primary website (the one you’re looking at now) has changed a lot over years. More often than not, this was due to boredom or ill-discipline; rushing to incorporate new ideas which ultimately die out soon after. It’s also because getting the balance right of presenting all my interests in one place while not inherently diluting the impact of each is… tricky. The same goes for balancing the personal tone and content of my journal with that of a professional portfolio. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say it’s something I’ve never gotten right.

Because of that, I’ve decided to break all my areas of interest and regular(ish) output into separate entities. I’m going to drop the portfolio element of this website and focus it completely on the Journal, with the content of the portfolio being dispersed across these new entities. The Shark Dev is the first that’ll be going online, capturing all my shark research and overlapping game design. Dedicated homepages for my illustration, design services and animated stories (more on that later… much, much later, probably) will follow.

I still want and require a point of convergence for all of these. Something that puts all these outputs into one place and contextualises them from a professional perspective, alongside my professional experiences. That site now exists by the name of DEDED (David Ed Edwards, incase it wasn’t obvious) and resides over at www.deded.co.uk.

Like I say – The Shark Dev will be up next and I am very much planning to get one of either my design business, or illustration portfolios up next.

My new website – deded.co.uk!

White Horse Half Marathon Logo

Alongside everything else, I’ve found a bit of time here and there to work on some freelance design projects.

One in particular I am insanely excited by, even if it is consuming every waking moment of my existence not already occupied by demands of the spawn. This one is a couple of months away from being shareable, but it’s sufficiently badass that I (probably) won’t forget to write a journal update for it for over half a year.

One I can talk about is the 2024 logo for the White Horse Half Marathon, an event which runs (whey! See what I did there?) every April.

A colleague at work is an Event Director for the race, which is a rural course running through the villages of the Vale of the white horse. Since 2021, I’ve given a helping hand with turning the logo (usually created by one of the community) into a mug design, enjoyed by everyone who attends the race.

This year was a little different as I was requested to also design the logo itself. It seemed a missed opportunity not to include the Uffington White Horse, considering that is where its name comes from. The approach I took was to depict it in the negative space between the shapes resembling shattered and broken pottery, and tools. This was a nod to the late Bronze Age/early Iron Age time which it is theorised the Horse was created during.

Anyhow, it seemed to go down well with the race attendees and since its the first piece of design work I’ve completed this year, I felt compelled to make a song and dance about it.

This is me – singing and dancing about it.

White Horse Half Marathon Logo

Other stuff

GDC 2024

My first conference of the year was GDC2024 with work, which was just as busy, fun and laden with exciting games industry updates as 2023 was. We really invested in showcasing a variety of content at our booth this year, hosting talks from representatives from EA, Lux Machina and more. It was a really good show and we enjoyed some great feedback to the new product features we shared. Here’s a summary for those who are interested in all things motion capture:

Motion capture and more motion capture

One of my big goals at work this year was to increase the regularity and consistency of our product updates. We don’t need to get into the how’s, whys and challenges of this – but we have released two versions since December which have gone down very well with the customer base, with more planned for the rest of the year. I’m never too sure what I can or can’t say about work jazz, so here’s a video which captures our latest release.

More shark creative work and science

There’s actually quite a lot of sharky work going on at the moment, outside of the game development. I’m writing up one of my masters modules into a publication that’s coming together painfully slowly, but should hopefully be a neat little project. A few pieces of creative work have spun up as a result of White Sharks Global 2023 which I really wish I could share more on, but certainly by the end of the year they should be in a shareable state. I’m also contributing some small inputs to a couple of research and student projects, all of which I’ll likely share more about via The Shark Dev once that’s actually running consistently.

Thanks

Before writing this update, I decided to check my Mailchimp stats to get a sense of how many people actually pay attention to my posts.

To my surprise, the average number is more than one!

So yeah, to those who haven’t yet unsubscribed and are regular readers – thanks! This is ultimately an exercise in complete self indulgence, but knowing the content is of such a standard that it hasn’t repelled absolutely everyone is quite reassuring.

See you in another six months!