5 Step Guide to Becoming a Code Ninja!

How to Become a Code Ninja

So you want to be a code ninja?

Let’s face it – who doesn’t want to be a code ninja? According to a recent Stack Overflow survey, 10% of developers identified themselves as ninjas! Funnily enough, more than 7% self-identified as rockstars!

That is kinda true, coders have become like rockstars, creating disruptive and innovative technologies in every sector.

For “normal” people, what coders do is like a black art and that is why I think many developers embrace this image and joke around saying that they are ninjas!

It’s like a funny concept in the developer world. It has even become embedded in the ninja definition!

Ninja noun

a person skilled in the Japanese art of ninjutsu.

 

informal definition

a person who excels in a particular skill or activity.

“the courses vary—you don’t have to be a computer ninja to apply”

Let’s jump in!

Follow my  5 step guide to becoming a code ninja!

How to Become a Code Ninja?

Step #1

Read my best programming language guide.

Step #2

Come up with an idea for a mini project. Keep the scope small and manageable.

It’s best to go for a smaller project that you can see yourself finish in a few days rather than a large project that you may fail to complete.

Keep it small and fresh.

If you are stuck for ideas, just start making a web page around a topic you are passionate about.

Pick a hobby or something you enjoy and code around it.

Step #3

Choose your language! Don’t overthink this step, just go with a language that feels right, you can always learn a new language in the future.

If you are unsure, start learning HTML because it’s ideal for beginners. No special tools are required.

All you need is a text editor and a web browser and heaps of motivation!

Step #4

Allocate a full weekend for your ninja training.

Yes a full weekend.

I know you have stuff to do but trust me you will need a full weekend to get started.

Clear your schedule.

Forget your chores.

Cleaning, cooking and laundry can wait.

Forget socialising.

You are gonna become a code ninja!

Step #5

Take an online course for your language of choice.

Start learning and working on your mini project right away.

Hack away at your code until you get results.

Feel the burn but take regular breaks. Take a break every 45 minutes or so, stay well hydrated. You may become engrossed!

By Sunday aim to have something to show for efforts.

It will be amazing.

Let me know how you get on!

Starting Your Own Game Development Studio – One Year On

Wall West Studio

Wow has it been that long? It’s been almost a year since I started my own independent game development studio.

I‘ve learned a lot in one year and wanted to sum it up in this blog post and throw in a few tips along the way. Not that I’m an expert after one year, far from it, but hopefully new indie game developers will find this useful and encouraging. Some tips may come as a bit of a surprise!

Humble Beginnings – Starting Out

It wasn’t really a planned decision to start my own studio, it sort of just evolved. I have been into video games since my teenage years and it was gaming that got me started as a young programmer back in the 1990s.

After graduating from university, I did what most people do. I went and got a job. It wasn’t in the gaming industry either. I started out as a junior developer for an IT consultancy. I enjoyed it, a lot! So much so that as my career progressed, 11 years flew by and I found myself as a freelance contractor writing financial algorithms for one of the largest Hedge Funds in Europe. To enable me to freelance, I setup my own company, called it Wall West and hired an accountant. After my contract finished last April, I decided to take a short break to take stock and decide on what other things I might want to do with my life. The question of passion was a pertinent one. I was passionate about programming I was sure of that, but what else?

After graduating from university, I did what most people do.

I went and got a job.

I enjoyed helping other coders develop their skills as part of previous roles, so I decided to start my own Code Academy to run code bootcamp courses and offer private tuition classes. While I waited for a few students to sign up, I thought I’d make a casual iOS game because I had some free time. I enjoyed that creative process more than expected and churned out 3 games in rapid fire succession. They weren’t amazing games, but I learnt a lot from the process and tried to raise the complexity and quality with each new title. I wanted to make better games and learn more about the gaming industry, so that’s how Wall West started. I like to say it was started on 1st April 2015.

I am now working on our latest game – Ghost Dash: Scared Of The Dark. I tried to get really creative with the look and feel of the game, to give it a certain type of atmosphere, an adventurous style of game play with a mystical back story.

So What Have I Learnt Over The Last Year?

I’ve learnt a lot over the past year and here are my top tips for those thinking of starting their own game studio. So in no particular order…

Plan Your Finances

If you are planning to keep your day job and keep game development as a hobby you can skip this one. However if you are going to be making games as your main “job” then it pays to understand your finances. No pun intended. Even game developers need to eat and pay rent!

Start with what’s coming in and what’s going out each month. That’s your cash flow and it’s the most important thing. Even if you have savings, without a healthy cash flow that leaves you positive at the end of each month, you will eventually go into the red. Next, look where can you trim costs. And trim them. Making cut-backs will buy you more time. More game development time! Once you understand your monthly flows, take your savings into account and calculate your survival period.

Making cut-backs will buy you more time.

More game development time!

At this stage you should have a pretty good idea whether you can sustain yourself and for what period. If it looks bad, don’t worry, you need to get creative and work part-time or freelance or look for investors or consider crowd funding. There are options! The main aim is to understand your finances from the start and make informed decisions about how you will run your game studio.

Get A Cleaner

This goes totally against trimming costs, but you will be busy making games and getting a cleaner is one of those things that won’t cost a lot but will keep your home ticking over nicely. When you are working on games, time flies out the window and things can get pretty messy. Getting a cleaner will buy you a lot of time.

Have A Weekly Routine

When you start to plan out your first few games, there will be 1000 things to consider and you will want to work on everything at once. Then things will get overwhelming and you will burn out. In the worst case scanario, you won’t finish your game! So some planning is required but even with a project plan it’s good to have a weekly routine.

It doesn’t have to be complicated, I split each day into a morning and afternoon work session. 2 days a week I focus on my Code Academy and 2 days a week on game development, Friday’s I keep free to work on whatever I want. Friday mornings I also reserve for checking out other games, blogs and news.

Have A Monthly Routine

Hell, have a month-end process. On the first day of each month it’s a good time to take a step back, check where you are and do a bit of housekeeping. Typically this will involve:

  • Updating and reviewing your finances
  • Checking you app/website stats
  • Checking your app/website revenues
  • Checking your project plan and progress
  • Planning what needs to change next month and evolving your plans based on the information gathered from the above!
  • Finally, making backups of your work!

Get A Good Accountant (but later)

Once you get going and start to generate revenue you will need a good accountant. A good accountant should take all the stress out from keeping your books in order and paying your taxes on time. It will save you so much time and maintain your focus on making great games.

Look Out For Grants

Keep an eye out for grants. Governments and large corporations tend to support indie game developers to stimulate growth in the video games industry. Keep an eye out for such opportunities and apply for them actively. It will take time, but if you get the right grants, then it could make the difference between staying afloat during that lean early period.

Celebrate Early Wins

I remember when my first in-app purchase came through. I celebrated with a bottle of champagne! Sure it was only £0.79 and Apple was going to keep 30% of that but it was my first ever in-app purchase. It was income that my game generated and it felt awesome! It’s important to take a step back and celebrate early gains and give yourself a pat on the back every now and again. It will keep your motivation high in the long run.

Consider Other Income Streams

I know I have talked about finance a lot and that may not be very “indie” but whatever. The bottom line is unless your studio is making money, it’s not sustainable and you cannot continue creating games.

Consider other income streams; it could be offering development services to other studios who have more funding or running promotions on your website. It’s something worth considering.

Work Away From Home At Least Once A Week

If you are fortunate enough to have an office filled with fellow indie game developers, artists, PR and marketing people then great – skip this point. However if you are like me and your home is your office, then you will be spending far too much time in there! Make sure to get out and work somewhere else at least once a week. It could be a coffee shop, local library or co-working space.

I tend to pop down to Google Campus and work there for a bit. While I’m there I’ll try attend an event or talk. The sort of energy you get from being surrounded by other creative entrepreneurial people is unbeatable. The buzz you will get from it, will keep you working on your game with double the excitement!

Submit Your Game To Festivals

Start to keep an eye out for upcoming game festivals and submit your game to them! Even if your game is in alpha, if there is something to show then show it and get feedback! Even if a game festival mentions your game as a notable submission, it will create tons of awareness and anticipation for your game.

Attend Game Festivals and Any Other Related Events and Talks

Get out there and see what everyone is getting up to! You might get some inspiration or meet some like-minded people. It may also give you an opportunity to network with other indie game developers. Trade tips and get feedback on your work. Some of the best advice I got early on was from attending events and chatting with other guys that have been in the industry for many years!

Get People To Play Your Game

As soon as you have something to play, get someone you know who is into games to play it and get feedback! Ideally do this in person and watch how they play and what they do. Try avoiding explaining too much and helping them. See what questions they ask about the user interface, controls and game play. Watch their reactions and make notes. Use the feedback to refine your game. The more people you do this with the better the end product will be! Additionally they may get excited for your finished game and this will motivate you more! They may even tell their friends about it.

Marketing Your Game Is More Important Than Actually Creating It

People often ignore marketing or leave it until the last-minute. I’m not a marketing expert but now I spend 50% of my time creating a game and 50% “trying” to market it. I haven’t really cracked the marketing bit, so it’s mostly trying out different things and seeing what works.

Any Press Is Good Press

Getting press is super hard! When you start out no one wants to write about you and your game. After 1 year, no one wants to write about you and your game.

Don’t wait for IGN, Gamasutra, Rock, Paper, Shotgun and PewDiePie to knock at your indie door and come round for tea and biscuits!

However a few glimmers of light might shine through in the form of a small blog or site asking to do an interview with them or run a feature about your game. A little known YouTuber might ask for an alpha build. Do it!

Don’t wait for IGN, Gamasutra, Rock, Paper, Shotgun and PewDiePie to knock at your indie door and come round for tea and biscuits! Work with anyone and everyone when it comes to press.

Even if your content generates some critique, so be it! While you are at it create a proper press kit with all your game info, art and videos in one place.

Monetisation Strategy Is Key To Long Term Success

So you have a great idea for a game and set straight to work on it. Wrong! You need to consider monetisation upfront and factor it into the design of your game. If your monetisation strategy is to run advertisements then you will need to design the screen so a banner can fit at the bottom or if you are going to run full screen ads you will need to consider natural breaks in the game flow where this can be done. If your game is free with in-app purchases then there needs to be an incentive to purchase those. If you plan to charge for your game, what’s a sweet pricing point?

Bottom line is monetisation needs to be thought about upfront otherwise your studio cannot grow and create bigger and better titles.

Review In-game Analytics But Only Once A Month

Once you release your game, keep an eye out on in-game analytics but only do this once a month. It can be tempting to check analytics every day. But it can also be damaging to your motivation. If you wake up and see that you had 5 game installs overnight that will create a bad feeling for the day.

Instead, look forward to checking your analytics at the end of the month. That anticipation requires discipline but will also create a sense of excitement and allow you to focus on refining your game, publishing updates, writing blog posts and approaching review sites. This will in-turn generate interest and downloads.

Store Optimisation

Whatever platform you publish your game on, there will be ways to optimise it and help it be more visible to potential gamers! I currently only publish to iOS, so App Store Optimisation is something that I need to consider heavily when releasing a game. This means ensuring the icon, title, description, screenshots, keywords are all the very best quality they can be, helping my game standout and ultimately helping gamers to find it.

The first 2 games I published were a flop and not doing App Store optimisation step was partly to blame. As it happens, they were also pretty bad games but that’s beside the point! My 3rd game I spent a week on the optimisation alone and the result? I get around 50% conversion rate between app page views and downloads, whereas the first 2 games hovered around 10-15%!

Polish And Then Polish Again. Repeat.

Keep polishing your game to make it better and better. Make sure it’s in the best state it can be before you release it. Polish the art work, polish the user interface, polish your promotional materials.

That day one launch is the most important, so if it’s not up to scratch hold the release back. While you polish it you can continue to build anticipation by releasing screenshots, videos etc to social media and your blog to build anticipation.

Know Your Weaknesses And Outsource Them!

This took me a while to understand. I know I am a decent programmer but creating art and music assets requires a different talent altogether. I can create art assets but they will be nothing compared to a proper game art designer. I know my weaknesses and I outsource art and music tasks. Video editing is another weakness that I want to consider outsourcing next.

It may cost you a bit but it will allow you to focus on developing the game and the end product will look more refined.

Reddit Can Be Annoying But Can Also Be Awesome

Reddit. I have a love/hate relationship with Reddit. It’s such a great site and lots of itchy fingers ready to check out a new game. But you can easily fall on the wrong side of the moderators, so it pays to play by the rules! I do enjoy using the site and it’s one of the best resources I have found to get discussion going on games, blog posts and even connect with people.

Keep Publishing

Once your game is ready, publish it. It may seem obvious but once you have worked on something for so long it’s hard to remain objective and look at it with fresh eyes. You may have a moment of doubt where you think your game sucks. That’s fine. Publish it anyway! As long as it’s the best it can be, publish it. No one knows what the next big game will be.

Remember the creative process broadly goes like this!

  1. My game is awesome!
  2. This is hard and there’s a lot to do
  3. This is s***
  4. Hmm people might like it?
  5. My game is awesome!

The Right Tools For The Job

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Forget about building your own game engine, forget about resizing art in Paint, forget about building custom analytics. If there is a tool that does what you need and it’s free, save time and use it!

Closing Remarks

Game development is amazing, creating and publishing your game has never been easier but the market is also highly competitive. There are a lot of factors to consider and work on to make your game a success but it can be done!

Understanding your finances, planning, getting into a good routine, working consistently, networking, investing time in the “boring stuff” (marketing, optimisation etc) and using the right tools will go a long way to increase your chances of success. Good luck to you.

I have learnt a lot from year 1 and hope that year 2 will bring more learning, great experiences and ultimately creating better games!

Comments And Suggestions?

Hopefully you enjoyed this article and can relate to it! If you have any additional tips then let me know by commenting on this post or get in touch directly!

This article is also published and featured on Gamasutra.

 

George: Scared Of The Dark – Build Progress

George: Scared Of The Dark

Build progress of our new game George: Scared Of The Dark.

George: Scared Of The Dark is out now on App Store!

Download on the App Store

DESCRIPTION

Join George on his epic adventure!

George: Scared Of The Dark is a classic platformer adventure that follows George the Ghost as he sets out on his quest to battle his fear of the dark across an uncharted, and at times, eerie world.

A ghost who is afraid of the dark? Yikes! Help George conquer his fear in this charming platform game. Overcome 10 unique challenges, guided by a mysterious spirit and guide George to safety. Jump into the instantly fun game play and watch the story unravel. Discover the lighthouse and find out who lives in the small cottage.

Can you help George before his fear gets the best of him?

– Play through 10 procedurally generated levels
– Each level is different every time!
– Master 3 power-up abilities
– Unlock 3 additional characters
– Intuitive touch and swipe controls
– Heartwarming story about conquering fears with a unique ending

Make no mistake, despite its cute appearance, this is a challenging game.
There is no easy mode.
It’s do or die.
You have been warned…

RELEASE

EXCLUSIVE ON IOS – 19th JULY 2016

MOTIVATION AND CONCEPT

I wanted to create a game that was more than just a casual mobile game. I wanted it have more depth, mystery and story. In particular, I wanted the game to feel atmospheric, for the player to be temporarily immersed into the magic of the game world. At it’s core, I wanted it to have a central theme of overcoming challenges and conquering fears.

LINKS

Check out the game homepage and Press Kit!

BUILD LOG

25 // SEP // 2016
  • Been a while since the last update! The game has been out for about 2 months now and it has been exciting to see people playing and enjoying it!
  • Currently working on a Halloween expansion level called “Light The Way” which will be an infinite runner level with lots of skulls to collect and a unique game play mechanic! Oh did I mention, the expansion will be free? It will be free!
  • A few bug fixes will also go into version 4.0 including improved controls and smoother camera tracking!
  • Version 4.0 will be out on Halloween – 31/10/2016
  • The game is also currently on 50% off sale for just $0.99!
  • I’m also thinking of creating a George: Scared Of The Dark iMessage sticker pack for Halloween, so stay tuned!
Light The Way
Light The Way
29 // JUL // 2016
  • George got a fair bit of press during launch week and here are some top mentions!

“The best platformer on mobile?”
– PocketGamer

“Buy George: Scared of the Dark. I dare you.”
– Snappzilla

“In a scary way it’s kinda like Guitar Hero!”
– Review Fix

“Charming visuals… with some brutal difficultly”
– Pookybox

“You’re gonna die a lot”
– HeyPoorPlayer

“Doesn’t leave much room to breathe”
– Bit Cultures

“A lot more challenging than it looks”
– Gamemob

“This is a challenging platformer — even by console standards”
– Invision Community

“An ending you will never expect”
– Fanboynation

“Surprisingly difficult”
Gamecry

“We could say it’s do or die…”
– Gaming Cypher

“There is no easy mode”
– Fangirlnation

“Spooky-yet-beautiful”
– Horror World

“Delivers a spooky adventure!”
– Bio Game Girl

“Challenging, fun, with a captivating plot”
– Download3K

“Addictive due to it’s relatively unforgiving difficult”
– GameReviewsAU

“Overall: 8/10”
– Squackle

“You won’t be disappointed.”
– TheAppTimes

“New and original gameplay experience”
– iPhoneItalia

“One of the most enjoyable indie games this season”
– Game Princess

19 // JUL // 2016
16 // JUL // 2016
  • It’s really nice when a game is finished, everything gets wrapped up and is ready to be released into the wild!
  • The release date got pushed back by one day to 19th July
  • The game will be shown at Radius Game Festival in Vienna on 23rd July!
  • Overall I’m very happy with the final product and hope players will enjoy this game!
  • And the very first gameplay video appeared on YouTube which was super cool! Check it out!

23 // JUN // 2016
  • The game is FINISHED!
  • The website is FINISHED!
  • The trailer is FINISHED!
  • The presskit is FINISHED!
  • Everything is FINISHED!
  • We have a release date of 18th July to give time for some final testing and launch preparation!
  • If you have followed this build then thank you!
  • The game was selected to showcase at Intel Buzz Workshop which went really well and everyone enjoyed playing it!
  • The game was also selected to showcase at Radius Game Festival Vienna in July so this will be a great opportunity to show it in it’s final state just after launch!
  • So stay tuned and check it out on the App Store on release day!
Tap To Start Adventure
Tap To Start Adventure
15 // JUN // 2016
  • Been a while since the last update! Over a month actually!
  • Massive push to get everything finalised and release the game at the moment.
  • All the loose ends are pretty much done and latest build of the game is currently being tested.
  • Looks like a mid July release so stay tuned!

George: Scared Of The Dark

29 // APR // 2016
  • Focus has been mainly on polish and getting the game ready for launch.
  • There have also been a few major changes!
  • After much deliberation I decided to make the game premium and not free. The reason for that is I didn’t want the game cluttered with adverts and forceful in-app purchases. This is also most likely the only chance I will get this year to release a premium game and experiment with that side of the market! It will be priced towards the lower end of the price range so hopefully won’t put anyone off who has been looking forward to playing it! Fingers crossed!
  • I also decided to hold the bonus level back for now and release it later to give more time to refine it. Probably in time for Halloween!
  • Another big change is  that I decided to rename the game to make it more character focussed! The new name is George: Scared Of The Dark. With a new name I also decided to change the game icon to feature George.
  • Changing a game name is hard because the name has been used all over the place already! So I cannot really change it everywhere now, so it will only be changed in the key places – the App Store, blog, home page, press kit etc.
  • I also published a new release trailer (but it uses the old name – doh!) – I will need to change it later but you can check it out below!
  • Additionally there is an iOS preview trailer and screenshots which will be used on the App Store app page. Check it all out below!
  • It looks like an early July release at the moment so stay tuned!
New Icon
New Icon!
App Store Screenshot 1
App Store Screenshot 1
App Store Screenshot 2
App Store Screenshot 2
App Store Screenshot 3
App Store Screenshot 3
App Store Screenshot 4
App Store Screenshot 4
App Store Screenshot 5
App Store Screenshot 5

22 // APR // 2016
  • The first full alpha build of the game is finally ready and it feels like a massive weight has been lifted! After over 4 months of hard work it has come together and the game is looking great!
  • I’ve shown the game to a few indie game developers and feedback has been positive!
  • 19 achievements have been added too.
  • Focus will now shift to testing, getting feedback, bug fixes and polishing everything off.
  • I also did a lot of work on camera smoothing to make sure the camera follows George naturally and without jitter.
  • A few pics as usual!
  • Happy Friday guys!
Ghost Dash Screenshot
Hello!
Ghost Dash Screenshot
…EXCEPT YOU
Ghost Dash Screenshot
Achievements
Ghost Dash Screenshot
Alpha testing!
15 // APR // 2016
  • Good progress this week!
  • All 10 game levels are now complete and ready to go!
  • I’m going to work on the bonus level next week.
  • Shaders unfortunately run really slow on older devices so I had to pull them out.
  • Added 3 unlockable in-game characters. One will be community designed – see below for competition!
  • I felt some power-ups were not really necessary, so I have trimmed them down to “Jumper”, “Overshield” and “Fireborn”.
  • “Fireborn” looks really cool leaving a trail of destruction behind you!
  • The game is looking great and game play is really fun, so I am looking forward to getting it out there.
  • I’m running a competition for an in-game character with some great prizes, check it out here!
  • As usual here are  a few screenshots!
Ghost Dash Screenshot
Working hard creating Ghost Dash!
Ghost Dash Screenshot
Look Out!
Ghost Dash Screenshot
Up We Go!
Ghost Dash Screenshot
Fireborn!
08 // APR // 2016
  • It’s been a busy week!
  • Been collecting more early feedback and making further incremental improvements
  • The final level, level 10, is now complete. It’s quite a barren level with creepy grey platforms, huge jumps to leap across and really cool pumpkin heads!
  • Spent some time experimenting with shaders and lighting/shadow effects. Lighting is tricky in a 2D game so I am keeping it to a minimum.
  • I am also reviewing the final scope for the game and making a few changes. I am looking to cut some of the power-ups in the final game because some of them just do not feel necessary any more. I may add some playable extra characters however!
  • Also submitted the game to BitSummit!
  • As usual here are some screenshots!

Ghost Dash Screenshot

Ghost Dash Screenshot

Ghost Dash Screenshot

Ghost Dash Screenshot

Ghost Dash Screenshot

01 // APR // 2016
  • This week has been mostly about getting feedback and making improvements!
  • Controls are now more natural and responsive
  • Split out tutorial into a separate shorter level
  • Finished level 9 which is a level where bats chase George! It’s SO hard but really funny and keeps you on the edge of your seat!
  • Spent today playing around with shaders in SpriteKit, a powerful feature but very fiddly! Check out the magnetic storm and the sunrise effects in the last two images. The great thing is about using shaders is that the performance overheads are very low for great effects!
  • Finally, here are a few screenshots!

Ghost Dash Screenshot

Ghost Dash Screenshot

Ghost Dash Screenshot

Ghost Dash Screenshot

Ghost Dash Screenshot

Ghost Dash Screenshot

25 // MAR // 2016
  • Game is currently in alpha and I’m getting some early feedback from a few players!
  • Levels 1 to 6 are now fully complete pending difficulty balancing
  • We have released a new trailer – check it out below!
  • Plus a few screenshots!
  • On TIGSource? We have a devlog!
  • Submitted game to IndieCade festival!
  • And… the best feedback for the game so far?

I like how they added the mysterious and creepy music along with the funny graphics.

Ghost Dash Screenshot

Ghost Dash Screenshot

Ghost Dash Screenshot

Ghost Dash

Ghost Dash Screenshot

Continue to part 2