Wednesday 31 December 2014

Obligatory New Year's Post - 2014 edition

Right, so: 2014 is about up, and it's been a blast. I thought I'd try and bash out some words like I did last year. It's quite interesting looking back at what I wrote last time around - I definitely did achieve most of the resolutions I set out for myself, and failed on a few too, but either way the direction everything has gone in this year caught me by surprise as much as anyone (this is definitely a good thing).

That little baby I mentioned last year has morphed into a funny little toddler:

I made a resolution to keep him at the top of everything I do, and to be honest he's barged into that position for us anyway. Hurricane Isaac has made our lives loud, stressful, messy and unpredictable - but, when he's not freaking out and trashing the joint, he's an absolute delight. It's been amazing watching him change from a little gurgling lump into an ever-curious constantly-wriggling mentalist. I have no idea what he's going to change into next, but I assume it'll be loud and destructive and never ever boring.

At work I've been busy for a big portion of the year building CBeebies Storytime - I don't want to talk too much about BBC stuff on here, but what I can certainly say is that it's been an amazing experience getting my hands dirty to build the things, and then seeing it do so well. Pushing the big shiny button to put it live to bazillions of people was definitely A Very Scary Thing, but the response has been super positive and people are really digging it - including my son, which is really effective as validation we're doing a good job, although not so good when he's playing it in bed at 6am... it's also been all over telly too, and the advert is great. This is the adults version, and there's a lovely kids one too:

Last year I also made a resolution to talk more, and this one I have definitely nailed. I've had the chance to speak at quite a few things this year, and it's always something I really jump at - not just because I enjoy waffling about the stuff I'm passionate about, but also as it's a great chance to put myself into close proximity to some of the most outrageously clever and inspiring people ever, and learn tons from them. The biggest event I did this year was undoubtedly Reasons To Be Creative in Brighton. I managed to grab a spot on the infamous Elevator Pitch session this year, and did a lightning fast live-coding demo to hundreds of people on the main stage at the Brighton Dome. From the other side of the stage it looked like this:

The whole thing was terrifying and completely exhilarating, and I was humbled and honoured that the crowd ended up picking me as one of the three winners! Awwww yiss. This means I'll be going back next year as a full speaker, which I'm insanely excited about already. More on it all here, including a video of the whole thing.

Last year I also briefly mentioned that I was planning to kick off a games development crash-course at Madlab, which I'm pleased to say has come into fruition and is going well. It's officially titled Gamedev101:

The course comes in a beginner and an intermediate version, using Stencyl and Haxe to teach complete beginners how to make their own awesome videogames. So far I've only taught the beginner's one (plus a few trial runs at things like the Stockport Creative Festival beforehand), and it was really awesome to see so many beginners come out of it with proper game dev skills they can build on. The next round starts in Feb, where I'll start teaching the longer and more involved course (using Haxe) as well as the beginner's one again.

My personal work in general is where easily the most seismic shift has occurred for me - 90% of my work this year has been completely unrelated to videogames, and has moved into livecoding and performance work. This seems fairly odd at first, but actually it's arisen through me taking a logic leap from rapid prototyping into full-on livecoding. It's something I'd been messing with (at best) for a couple of years, but has since become something I've discovered is enormously satisfying to work with, and really scratches the itch for the kind of creative freedom of experimentation that I've been getting from doing so many rapid-fire game jams and projects.

I'd been noodling with Cyril and various other environments for a while, and had some real success creating live-coded audio reactive visuals over long periods of experimentation. This was all going well, at which point I had a completely unexpected opportunity to drop some live visuals at the Manchester Algorave. I'd never done anything live before, but... I said YES, and it was awesome:

...this in turn led on to doing live visuals at the Manchester Girl Geeks Noise Party...

...which then led to me playing some experimental noise with Davydd Pattinson as KYOJIN...

...and at the same time I was asked to do live visuals for the SuperByte Festival:

My work in this area has come on in leaps and bounds, mostly due to having to get decent at it in order to not embarrass myself too badly in front of hundreds of people. It's also been awesome in terms of getting to speak to (and watch) a bunch of really talented people doing amazing things with code - getting to swap ideas and techniques with a whole new crowd of creatives is a really excellent thing, hugely inspiring.

It's snowballed a bit more too: I've had a whole bunch of enquiries, and three things already nailed down for next year (one of which is proper massive but I can't say much more about it yet!). I've also started putting this work out as bitrituals, mostly as I didn't want my real name stuck on posters, and also as everyone likes an edgy pseudonym, right? Of the stuff I'm definitely playing, the only one that's actually been announced is Analogue Trash's ATF2015 - and how friggin' cool is the poster? Amazing stuff, can't wait to play this:

I've also had an exciting opportunity pop up via the Cornerhouse, which is currently on-going. I can't say too much about it yet, but we've been given an exciting chance to build something for them to mark their closure next year. This one is going to be big and special, and actually a physical thing too, which is a departure from the norm for me - variety is the spice of life though! Lots more on this next year when it starts to take shape.

So: in the name of balance, there's a whole bunch of stuff I DIDN'T do this year. The giant lack of videogames is the big one, but that's totally OK by me - everything that's happened this year has arisen from me saying "yes" to things and worrying about the details later, which has taken me down creative paths I had no idea even existed - and that's a fun place to be. I've never been happy sitting comfortably and doing the same thing over and over, and I'm really enjoying the unpredictability and flexibility of what I'm doing at the moment - it's been a long time since I've felt this sort of burning desire to keep exploring something, and I can't wait to see what else pops up. Videogames: you're still my number one, I swear - I'm just doing other things right now. I'll be back though, I promise, we're still cool.

Another thing I didn't do this year is stick to my "actually finish things" resolution - I got a lot of things done, but for everything I finished there's two or three things I started and then bailed on, or talked about a lot and then never started. This is mildly frustrating sometimes, but to be honest I'm satisfied that some things fell by the wayside in the name of doing other constructive work, so on balance I'm OK with it I think.

So for next year? Oh man. Well, firstly I'm not falling into the same trap as last year and trying to bite off more than I can chew. Three different people described me as a 'workaholic' in the last few months alone, and that's totally not the case - I'm just super into what I'm working on at the moment, I'm having so much fun! It doesn't feel like work anyway. Anyway, I think that taking on tons of things really starts to get a bit much, and so I'm going to try and be very careful about picking and choosing my projects in the coming year.

In terms of actual focus, I'll be working on the Cornerhouse gig and Gamedev101 for the next month or two, and then (this is the important part...) I'm starting nothing else and would like to really really focus on my live work, both technically and creatively. For example, right now almost all my visuals are live-coded on the fly, which has been great for the experimental output and things like chiptune events, but I'm now being asked more and more to play more traditional style events. For this reason I really want to start incorporating more video and generative content into the mix too, so I'm totally flexible - keeping the live-coding work as a really prominent part of my stuff, but just adding texture and depth to the proceedings too. As part of this focus I really want to start contributing more meaningfully to the software I use: particularly Cyril, which has been my weapon of choice for the last few things. I've added to the documentation and contributed bits and pieces to the codebase, but I want to really ramp up what I do with my tools as well as my use of them. Sharing is caring, and this is a good chance to shore up my openFrameworks know-how too.

TL;DR - I said "yes" to a ton of things, unexpectedly spent my year doing live performance work instead of making videogames (but that's OK!), I took on probably a tad too much, next year I'll be more focused and big things are planned.

Happy new year, folks. :)

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