Ten New Year’s Game Dev Resolutions for 2018

As the Earth begins another journey ’round the Sun, it’s time for the annual tradition of resolving to accomplish a list of goals for improving one’s life. With this being a game development blog, here my list of career-related New Year’s resolutions that I have compiled for your reading pleasure but have no realistic expectations of actually accomplishing this year more than any previous year I’ve made such lists.

Here we go!

  1. Expand My Social Media Reach: Creating a brand for yourself has become an essential step in managing your career, and social media is a terrific way to build, craft and enhance your brand, as well as bring attention to your accomplishments and connect better with new and existing contacts.  Now, I’m very good at regularly posting to Twitter and am pretty good at writing a weekly blog update (although I’ll let you in on a secret — when I miss a week, I’ll often write that week’s blog later and then backdate it). However, I do need to take greater advantage of image-based ones like Snapchat and Instagram, because I hear that’s what all the kid’s use.
  2. Add Videos To My YouTube Channel: I started a YouTube channel a couple of years ago and began creating a series of videos about Gamification.  Unfortunately, my PC blew up and it took all the video I had recorded with it, along with my favorite video editing program.  What I need to do is bite the bullet and get a new computer (my MacBook Air is on its last legs too) and better recording equipment, because I’ve also been meaning to create a new series of Boy Scout Game Design Merit Badge videos.
  3. Spotlight More Student Work: Last year I began covering more of my student’s in my blog posts, as well as posting Facebook videos of their project presentations at the our monthly Los Angeles Film School Game Fair. However, I’d like to make these spotlights more of a formal element of the classwork to give them a broader audience for creating games.
  4. Attend More Game Industry Events: I manage to attend E3 and IndieCade every year, the Game Developers Conference about every two years, and the USC GamePipe Lab every semester, not to mention the International Game Developer Association events in which I participate, but there are many more venues in which I can meet more people, learn new things, and find inspiration.
  5. Speak at More Conferences:  Later this month I’ll be leading an ageism panel at Casual Connect, and in September I’ll be a guest at a The Prisoner convention to talk about the Apple II game I developed based on the show.  But that’s not enough.  Noah Falstein once told me that the way he got clients for his game design consulting business was by speaking at conferences, and if I want to increase my consulting business, I need to do the same.
  6. Play More Video Games. I’ve always found it difficult to find time for doing things by and for myself, so unless I’m doing specific research or have been asked by someone to play a video game with them, I have a hard time setting aside a dozen hours or so to play a video game just for enjoyment.  However, if I don’t do just that, I won’t be staying current in my field.  So, I just need a way to justify it — perhaps by writing game reviews.
  7. Play More Tabletop Games. I learned about game design from playing tabletop games throughout my childhood, and now I use tabletop games for teaching my students about game mechanics, since it is so much easier to “look under the hood” and create prototypes for tabletop games than it is with video games.  I do need to play a broader variety of these games, but fortunately, their social nature makes it a lot easier for me to play tabletop games than single-player video games.  I recently joined a Board Game Meet-Up in Hollywood that meets very frequently, and on both Thanksgiving and Christmas, we played board games as a family after dinner.  Now with the holiday over, I need to make more opportunities to play games with my family.
  8. Read More Game Design Books: I rely heavily on Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop and Jesse Schell’s The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses in my classroom, but there are so many other great game design books out there that give new perspectives and insights.  I am particularly looking forward to reading Mike Seller’s new book, Advanced Game Design: A Systems Approach.
  9. Become more active: As a game developer and teacher, I tend to sit in front of my computer or my classroom all day long, but continuing to do so will eventually have a negative effect on my posture and health. Last year we got a dog that liked to take long walks, and so I got into the habit of walking him around the neighborhood every day.  Unfortunately, he became destructive when left alone while we were at work, and so we had to return him to the rescue shelter were we originally found him. However, I’ve kept in to the habit of taking an hour-long walk each morning, but I need to challenge my heart and muscles a bit more, and so I resolved to turn some of those walks into hikes in the hills around my home.
  10. Stop procrastinating: The biggest barrier that keeps most people from reaching their goals is the desire to do something fun instead of working hard. Once you get used to procrastinating it’s difficult to snap yourself out of it, so you’ll need to put in a lot of work to change this bad habit. Unfortunately, I put this one on my list every year, but somehow I never get around to addressing it.  Maybe this year, I will!

So, how about you?  What are some of the New Year’s Resolutions you recommend for game developers?





What Will Amazon’s New “Lord of the Rings” Television Series Be About?

Normally I write only about games in this blog, but given how obsessively I’ve written about Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films during their development, I just had to write a post about today’s surprising announcement that Amazon today has acquired the global television rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings with a multi-season commitment to produce a television series in cooperation with New Line Cinema, HarperCollins, and the Tolkien Estate and Trust.

What makes news surprising is the support and involvement of the Tolkien Estate. J.R.R. Tolkien had reluctantly sold the film rights to his epic fantasy novel to United Artists in 1969, because he needed the money. Originally he felt strongly that his epic fantasy should not be filmed: “You can’t cramp narrative into dramatic form. It would be easier to film The Odyssey. Much less happens in it. Only a few storms.”

It proved to be a difficult work to adapt. The Beatles considered developing The Lord of the Rings into a film project and approached Stanley Kubrick as a potential director; however, Kubrick turned down the offer due to the difficulties involve. Animator Ralph Bakshi produced the first part of what was to be a two-part animated feature film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings in 1978, but he could not secure financing for a second part. The remainder of the story was eventually made as an animated television special, The Return of the King, by Rankin-Bass for ABC two years later.

Bakshi’s animated adaptation inspired New Zealand director Peter Jackson to develop a Lord of the Rings project, and he and his partner Fran Walsh teamed up with Miramax Films now-disgraced studio head Harvey Weinstein to negotiate with Saul Zaentz, who had held the film rights to the book since the early 1970s. Jackson eventually pitched the project to New Line Cinema, which agreed to finance the project as three films. The rest is cinematic history: Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films went on to earn almost $3 billion in cumulative worldwide box office receipts and a total of 17 Academy Awards, including a “Best Picture” Oscar for The Return of the King.

However, Christopher Tolkien, J.R.R Tolkien’s last surviving son and the editor of his father’s posthumously published works The Silmarillion and the 12-volume History of Middle Earth is not impressed with the film’s financial and critical success. He is, in fact, extremely critical of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings. In a 2012 interview with the French newspaper La Monde, he said, “”They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25. And it seems that The Hobbit will be the same kind of film.” In fact, The Hobbit adaptation was worse, by Christopher’s measure.

Christopher has been proactive in safeguarding his father’s legacy. The Tolkien estate and publisher HarperCollins filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros. in 2012 over the digital exploitation of Lord of the Rings characters for slot machines and other games, alleging that the studio never had rights to license characters for these purposes. The studio countersued, claiming that the estate cost it millions of dollars in license fees from merchandising when it filed a legal challenge. After a five-year battle,the two parties had resolved their differences “amicably.”

While the settlement term’s were not announced, it appears now that this television production is part of the deal.  How could this be possible, when Christopher Tolkien has been so critical of adaptations of his father works?  Well, Christopher retired as Director of the Tolkien Estate on August 31st of this year, and it seems that his replacement is much more welcoming to adaptations.

Things are now so amiable between the party that the Tolkien Estate is enthusiastically supporting the television show. “We are delighted that Amazon, with its longstanding commitment to literature, is the home of the first-ever multi-season television series for ‘The Lord of the Rings,’” said Matt Galsor, a representative for the Tolkien Estate and Trust and HarperCollins. “Sharon and the team at Amazon Studios have exceptional ideas to bring to the screen previously unexplored stories based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s original writings.”

So, what does “previously unexplored stories” mean? Some Tolkien fans are hoping that the series will be based on The Silmarillion, for which the Tolkien Estate has not before released the film rights and therefore has not previously been told on screen. However, the news reports specifically state that The Silmarillion will not be adapted for this project, and that the series was explicitly said to be a prequel to The Fellowship of the Rings and not The Lord of the Rings, which suggests to me that it takes place in the Third Age and not earlier Ages chronicled in The Silmarillion.

My guess is that the series will take place in Middle-earth between the events of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring. During this time period, the following events occurred in Middle-earth:

  • 2942: Sauron returns to Mordor after having been driven from Dol Guldur by the White Council
  • 2944: Gollum sets out from the Misty Mountains in search of his lost Precious. Bard completes the rebuilding of Dale, and is made its King.
  • 2948: Birth of Théoden, later King of Rohan.
  • 2951: Elrond reveals Aragorn’s ancestry to him. The first meeting of Aragorn and Arwen, in the woods of Rivendell. He goes series of great ventures throughout Middle-earth in many lands and under many guises, becoming the greatest traveller and huntsman of the age. Also, Sauron begins rebuilding Barad-dûr, and the Nazgûl reclaim Dol Guldur.
  • 2953: Saruman claims Isengard as his own and begins to fortify it.
  • 2954: Mount Doom erupts, causing the last remaining people of Ithilien to flee across the Anduin.
  • 2956: Gandalf and Aragorn meet for the first time.
  • 2957: Aragorn enters the service of Thengel of Rohan, under the alias of Thorongil.
  • 2968: Frodo Baggins is born in the Shire.
  • 2976: Denethor, future Steward of Gondor, weds Finduilas, daughter of Adrahil of Dol Amroth.
  • 2977: Bard the Bowman dies and is succeeded as King of Dale by his son Bain. Adrahil become Prince of Dol Amroth.
  • 2978: Boromir is born to Denethor II of Gondor, and Théodred is born to Théoden of Rohan.
  • 2980: Sam Gamgee is born. Gollum first encounters Shelob in the Ephel Dúath on Mordor’s western border.
  • 2982: Merry Brandybuck is born.
  • 2983: Faramir is born to Denethor II.
  • 2989: Frodo becomes Bilbo’s heir and moves from Buckland to Bag End.
  • 2990: Pippin Took is born.
  • 2991: Éomer of Rohan is born.
  • 2994: Balin’s attempt to recolonize Moria ends in disaster. Balin himself, and the Dwarves of his company, are all slain.
  • 2995: Éowyn of Rohan is born.
  • 3000: Saruman uses the Orthanc-stone for the first time. He comes under the power of Sauron, and abandons his allegiance to the White Council.
  • 3001: Beginning to suspect that Bilbo’s Magic Ring may be Sauron’s One Ring, Gandalf and Aragorn begin to search for Gollum. Aragorn eventually captures him, but after leaving him in the custody of the Elves of Mirkwood, Gollum escapes.

Given these events, I think the television series will mainly focus on the individual travels of Gandalf and Aragorn, beginning in 2951, when Aragon learns his heritage and falls in love with Arwen. Given the immortality and long-lives of the various characters, the different seasons of the series make long jumps of time between major events in the timeline, possibly with the last season ending with Saruman’s treachery.

I think the series will also allow for minor events, such as Bilbo’s visits with the Elves (and perhaps Tom Bombadil as well), the Rangers of the North’s efforts to keep the inhabitants of the Shire safe from evil creatures, Gollum’s misdeeds as he searches for the Ring, as well as minor skirmishes fought in Lothlorien.

Of course, this means that a lot of new material will need to be written, as these are “previously unexplored stories” — never written about in any detail by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Will it be any good? That depends on the creative team involved and how well they stay true to the established Middle-earth continuity. At this point, it doesn’t look like Peter Jackson will be involved, which is either good or bad, depending on how you feel about the films.

I cannot help to be interested and cautiously optimistic. New stories set in Middle-earth are inevitable, either before the copyright on The Lord of the Rings expires in 2044, or after. But with the Tolkien Estate’s involvement, I have some hope that the television series will at least attempt to remain faithful to Tolkien’s universe.