I was very fortunate to be able to travel to San Francisco to attend the annual Game Developer Conference. It was a wonderful opportunity to catch up with some old friends as well as make some new ones.
One of the highlights was the “Comedy Roast” at the ODC Theater on Thursday, the 23rd of March. There, I got to pitch Ashta in front of a panel of angel investors and comedians, which was a lot of fun. After the show, there was some great networking followed by a fantastic Mexican dinner.
The networking continued at the speed dating sessions at the GDC the following day. It was intense but I met so many interesting people there that it was well worth the effort.
Earlier in the week, I already had an opportunity to present Ashta to a wonderful crowd at the European Games Showcase. In between meetings and sessions, I managed to catch up with my fellow delegates for a succession of breakfasts and lunches.
My deepest gratitude goes to the people behind Kreativ-Transfer, who, through their generous contribution, made this journey possible. Many thanks also to our funders from the Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg and the Federal Games Fund as well as Leonard and Harvey for being such awesome hosts and for making me feel welcome and comfortable.
I am very excited to announce that I will deliver my favourite talk “Meditation for Game Developers” at the wonderful Develop:Brighton conference this year. If you happen to be in Brighton at the end of October or are planning on going, it would be lovely to see you there. My talk is on Wednesday the 27th of October at 6pm.
I will talk about mental health, which is a topic that is rarely discussed but it has now become more important than ever, especially in the games industry.. I will share with you my experience of building a regular yoga and meditation practice whilst managing a busy game studio. I will talk about how it impacted my own life and how it helped me navigate my own project from financing through to release.
Running a business is risky and we face doubts on a daily basis. Will I get investment for my project? Will I be able to ship the game in time and will people like it? Yoga and meditation can help you stay positive and productive in the face of these challenges.
I will share my own journey with you and show you examples from my asana, meditation and breathing practices. I will also give simple, practical tips on how you can build your own practice. It’s a topic I am excited about and I love to share because it has worked for me and I hope it will work for you too.
You will learn how to:
Develop mental resilience to help you navigate tricky business challenges.
Build your own yoga and meditation routine that works for you.
Use short breathing exercises to help deal with stress and anxiety.
Who is this talk aimed at?
This talk is aimed at a general audience and entertaining for most people. I approach it from my own experience as a producer but in a way that’s easily relatable for others and anyone who has been through a crunch will be able to identify with the topic.
Recently, I was invited to Cologne as a delegate of the fabulous Game Mixer programme. At the previous edition, which took place in November 2017 in Johannesburg, I already talked a little bit about Ashta and there seemed to be a lot of interest in the topic of Yoga and meditation. Specifically, what exactly I do every morning at an ungodly hour.
So this year, I prepared a little presentation on my own meditation practice, which started ten years ago. In many ways, I am still at the beginning of what looks like a life-long journey but I have learned a few things along the way, which I love to share.
Many people experience stress for one reason or another. For example, I used to feel that nothing I did was ever enough. My accomplishments were quickly followed by a feeling that I still hadn’t arrived and that in spite of my successes, there was something lacking.
Of course, this begs a few questions like “what is a success” and “what is it I want” neither of which I was able to answer. Instead, I would simply pursue new goals. But achieving them always left an empty space, which was invariably filled with the next project.
I know this type of behaviour is not uncommon especially among people in the entertainment industry. For many years, it left me stranded in a hamster wheel, chasing a promise of fulfilment that never arrived but often led me into exhaustion and disillusionment.
Yoga, meditation and other little routines and exercises I practice throughout the day have helped me overcome these feelings. They might not work for everyone as they have for me but it may be helpful for some to share my process so they can build on it or find out what works best for them. Here is roughly what my typical day looks like right now:
3.15 – 3.20 am: rise and shine
3.20 – 3.50 am: shower and bathroom routine
3.50 – 4.15 am: get dressed and cycle to the gym
4.20 – 5.50 am: asana practice
5.50 – 6.10 am: cycle home
6.10 – 6.50 am: pranayama
6.50 – 7.05 am: meditation
7.05 – 8.00 am: breakfast
8.00 – 12.00 pm: creative work (if I’m lucky)
12.00 – 1.00 pm: lunch
1.00 – 4.00 pm: administrative work (and procrastination of the same)
4.00 – 5.00 pm: light creative work and exercise
5.00 – 6.00 pm: dinner
6.00 – 9.00 pm: leisure time
9.00 – 3.15 am: sleep –> REPEAT
Depending on my current circumstances, the timing of the routine might shift but the durations remain the same. The reason why I do what to some might appear an excessively lengthy routine because for me, it is the foundation of happiness which is one of my ongoing projects.
I realise that this is a tricky schedule to maintain and I sometimes deviate from it; especially when I am travelling or during time of illness or injury. Also, you have to keep in mind that I have been doing this practice in one form or another for over ten years and in the beginning, my schedule wasn’t anywhere near what it is today. If you want to start exploring your own practice, my advice to you would be to find a good teacher and not to rush it. The key to a successful and sustainable practice is consistency, not speed or acrobatic ability. I am happy to share what I have learned so please feel free to reach out with any questions you might have.
Intelligence agencies, politicians and businesses are using psychological profiling to target individuals with messages on social media with the aim of swaying public opinion and persuading people to behave in ways that suits them. Often, these messages are not based in fact but designed to provoke emotional responses that serve the agenda of the poster.
The fact that people are susceptible to these kinds of messages shows how easily we can be persuaded of half truths and falsehoods. This has been successfully exploited by the advertising industry for many years but never to such dramatic effect as we have seen over the last two years.
Photos and videos are often used to assert validity but widespread access to image editing technology means that it will become increasingly harder to tell whether they have been altered. We live in a world with abundant opinions and information but limited means of judging their quality.
A recent study on information literacy revealed that the majority of school children cannot tell the difference between a news item and an advertisement. Another asserts that false messages are more likely to be believed than true ones.
But how can we maintain democratic principles if we are unable to make informed decisions? One way to address the problem is by teaching media literacy in schools. Three years ago, I was interviewed on that topic. I am reposting an abridged English translation below. The original German text can be found here.
Why should we still be learning when there is the internet?
The Internet offers knowledge for everyone. A massive library of content with aisles and aisles of shelves that multiply every second. The problem is no longer availability, but the sheer abundance of information. It is therefore less about finding, but more about learning to evaluate the quality of what there is. Therein lie both possibilities and problems and media literacy should be considered in this context. However, I would like to concretise this term, because studies such as ICILS 2013 [International Computer and Information Literacy Study, editor’s note] show that students must, above all, gain information literacy, which requires like many areas of life reflecting on the own real and digital environment.
So, should we remove textbooks from the classrooms?
One thing is certain: Despite this development, the textbook is still in the classroom is still the undisputed number one source of information. Textbooks are products of professional editorial work and the tasks are adapted to these materials. Once printed however, they can no longer be extended or updated and because the world continues to move, students often feel disconnected from the content.
This often causes young people to feel misunderstood not taken seriously by educational institutions. “What do I have to learn that for,” they often ask. This does not mean that textbooks are obsolete – on the contrary. There is much to be said for the haptic experience of the book. The printed word is not only a valuable cultural asset but they are also reliable. They still work, if the power fails or the computer doesn’t cooperate. I see digital content as a supplement not a substitute to analogue content.
From your point of view, what does this mean for teaching?
There is often a gap between school and the reality of life. The more technology permeates society, the greater this gap becomes. Our task is to continuously assess the objects and methods of learning; to test and compare them with the reality our children are exposed to. The extensive factual knowledge that pupils commit to short-term memory year after year like sizes, names, dates for example can be recalled in seconds, and often more reliably with the use of technology. But the subject of learning should not be limited to the use of computers, but must include the connection between the individual pieces of information. The context is key to understanding the meaning and evaluating the quality of information.
Learning with media and in context – how does it work?
I believe that children – and incidentally also adults – learn best when learning is embedded in an exciting context. In other words, we learn best when we are interested. An original story is a highly motivating context. People love good stories. Why should we not use this passion that is deeply rooted in us? There are many digital offerings that teach children how to handle media correctly; many of which are also fun to use but probably because work at the computer is still considered an exception and therefore partly is not perceived as ‘real’ teaching. Offers that use media in a considered and targeted way are still few and far in between. If children have spend an entire lesson watching a film or using software and at the end can’t tell what it was all about, then what was the purpose of the exercise? There is a lack of products that take content seriously: this is the starting point for the idea of the real world game and its first incarnation “Professor S.”.
I believe that story telling can be a powerful driver of our intellectual development because by creating stories we not only learn to recognise a good yarn but the research that goes into spinning our own helps us to develop critical thinking. One of the most useful skills I learned during my education is the ability to judge the quality of information. Like all things worth having, it doesn’t come over night and requires exercise which is why the sooner we start to teach these skills the better our world will be for all of us.
Last week, we were invited by UKIE to present Ashta at the Games Funding Conference in Liverpool. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet people developing, financing and distributing games in the UK and also a wonderful chance to introduce the youngest member of our team to a vital aspect of game development: presenting ideas.
Carmen joined LUDINC for a work experience as part of her International Baccalaureate. She wanted to spend time with us because she especially loves working with children. I was happy to have Carmen with me not just because she did a fantastic job but also because I value her curiosity and unique point of view.
Most new titles that are released are a testament to the fact that a large number of games are still made for male consumers. Our industry needs fresh perspectives and diversity to continue to thrive which is why I would love to see more young women in games. If you are currently considering a career in games I would like to hear from you.
Today marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter for our company. We have closed our offices in Berlin and found a new home in the city of Bristol in the beautiful south west of England. Why did we leave our beloved Berlin? There are a number of reasons but everything began with Professor S.:
When Professor S. made its debut, it received widespread acclaim and awards both nationally and internationally. Schools and teachers loved the idea and our growth in German primary schools is testament to that. However, we noticed that teachers were often struggling with ageing computers and poor internet connections.
In order to improve the situation, we formed a partnership with Open-Mesh in the US to provide low cost WIFI solutions and improve connectivity in the schools. Still, many schools were struggling to finance and maintain those solutions. But help was at hand: Johanna Wanka, Germany’s minister for education and research announced a five billion euro package to kickstart digital education in Germany.
Sadly, in the summer of 2017 it became clear that no concrete provisions were made inside the government to secure adequate funding for the initiative and support from the ministry quickly fizzled out. Even though most people agree that progress in digital education needs to be made and Angela Merkel has shown renewed support earlier this year, small companies like ours struggle to survive in a climate of political uncertainty.
But there is a more fundamental, philosophical reason underlying our decision to move to England. In the United States and the United Kingdom, it is easier to create innovations because there is an understanding that to make something new one has to take risks. While in continental Europe – Germany and France in particular – there is a perception that risk is something to be avoided.
Both positions have merit in that the former creates a frequently booming industry based on new ideas while the latter creates an economically more stable environment resting on the foundations of tried and tested concepts.
It is easy to see that LUDINC, as an innovator in education technology would thrive in a climate where entrepreneurship is encouraged and nurtured. Clearly, there are more advantages to being here and I will say more about those in later posts.
Naturally, we will continue to provide our German customers with the same great products and services they have come to expect from us and we look forward to doing the same for our new friends and partners in the UK.
Today we are celebrating a milestone at LudInc and I am very happy to share fantastic news with you: Thanks to our partner Westermann, Professor S. now has a full page feature in the brand new Westermann print catalogue, which is distributed to over 13,000 primary schools in all of Germany.
Every federal region has its own catalogue and Professor S. is featured in every one of them. But this marks only the start of a much larger distribution effort which will continue with the didacta trade fair for education. Professor S. is already played in 70 schools all over Germany and we are set to grow in 2017.
If you are at the didacta please join me on the 17th of February at 10 am for my talk “The Mobile Natives – How Children Learn in the World of New Media”. I will share my experience from developing Professor S. inside primary schools in Berlin. Professor S. is recognised as one of the most innovative and exciting teaching games available today and I can’t wait to show it to you. If you don’t know Professor S. here is a video that explains how it works:
This is a hard question which is why I have decided to start a list, which I will update from time to time to see which of the songs and albums actually survive over time. I haven’t included any new music because during the first few years my opinion of it often changes. My self imposed rule is: to qualify as an all time favourite, I first have to like the music for a few years. So here are some of my current favourite albums and songs in no particular order. Where possible, I have included a Youtube link to the track which may or may not work in your country. Feel free to leave any and all of your favourite music in the comments.
Last week I was in Sheffield for the Children’s Media Conference. I was invited to talk about Professor S. as part of a panel called “Innovation in Education”, of which there is a very nice summary report here.
The event was very well organised and it had a cosy and welcoming feel to it. It was encouraging to see how many great projects were presented there. I only stayed for a day but I saw plenty of interesting talks and also made some great contacts.
The keynote speech that evening by cartoonist Chris Riddell was very entertaining. He took us on a journey through his career, working method and his opinions about the recent referendum, which unsurprisingly also featured prominently in the talk about European financing the following morning.
Although Creative Europe says in a recent statement that there will be no substantial changes until 2017, the mood among UK producers was sombre. After all, it will be hard to finance future british stories without EU support.
As a UK citizen living in Germany, I am personally affected by the changes that may come out of the referendum. Moreover, I am sad to see the country I call my home now ever more distant.
In recent years my world has shrunk through affordable air travel, free video calls and freedom of movement. Communication is easier than ever in part because English has become a common global language. As a result, I have friends from all over the world who also socialise and do business globally.
In my mind, physical borders have already lost in importance and I doubt I would miss them if they disappeared tomorrow. After all, we all share one planet and would therefore benefit from sharing resources and growing understanding and tolerance more than we would stand to loose from distancing ourselves from our fellow human beings.
The film industry in particular benefits from the free movement of people and ideas and many projects would be difficult to realise without drawing on talent from other countries.
Time will tell how this decision will affect us in the long run but I have no doubt that interesting times lie ahead.
I am staying at a friend’s place at the moment. She has a piano so I get to play it from time to time. I have forgotten a lot of the tunes I used to play but I remember a few. I started learning instruments when I was 4. My mum and I had moved into a commune in the country side. The people there had a band and played a lot of shows at music festivals and local venues. My very first public performance was at one of those shows. Someone gave me a drum and told me to play along with the band – from that moment on, I was hooked.
The keyboard player in the band offered to give me piano lessons, which I happily accepted. A couple of years later, I started playing guitar. Later, I picked up bass guitar and also the drums. I would often switch between different instruments and go through long cycles of favouring one instrument over the others.
Over the years, I have played in a lot of different bands. I also love improvising and I would often get together with other musicians to play whatever came into our heads. One of our practise rooms was inside an old box van which we used to take out into the country side to play in a field or forest. There was a generator inside the van that powered the amplifiers and even a little cooker to make cups of tea during the breaks.
Sadly, no recordings survive from the “van sessions” – at least none that I know of.
My first enduring band project was called “Camp Blackfoot“, which was a punk / jazz / rock band that existed between 1996 and 2001. We did one tour of France and Italy and released on album called “Critical Seed vs. the Spartan Society”. I played bass on all but one song but I also play lead and rhythm guitar on some of the tracks under the pseudonym “Lex Fontaine”. You can listen to the epic opening track “Exorcismo Di Paulo” here:
Between working on Camp Blackfoot and studying, I made a scarce living playing in different Jazz bands among which was a saxophone and guitar duo with the fabulously talented Alex Ward. We played pubs, cafes, hotel bars, golf clubs, shopping streets – you name it. Here is a track from our original demo – the beautiful “Goodbye Porkpie Hat”:
After Camp Blackfoot came a new band called “Vin Mariani”. We never progressed past the song-writing stage but our demo recordings survive. Below, you can listen to one of our tracks called “Art Rat” which I co-wrote with Nich Eglin and Luigi Cibrario. On this track, I play bass, lead guitar and keyboard.
The demise of Vin Mariani was followed by two years of musical inactivity during which I worked for Harley-Davidson, who had just opened their European headquarters in Oxford. Working for Harley-Davidson was an interesting experience which I might describe in a different post. Suffice it to say, that I was not cut out for a corporate career so I decided to start writing music for film. It all started with this demo:
In my next post I might entertain you with more stories from my career as a film composer.