Archive for the ‘My News’ Category

Good Press About Our Game Design Presentation

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

The presentation that Nick Newhard and I did at the Vancouver Game Design Expo got good press (hmm direct link seems to show a blank page but you can see the article if you scroll down on this page).

Quote: “ was a pitch-perfect primer to game development. Light-hearted enough to appeal to gaming neophytes yet substantial enough to show that games development is a serious discipline and a justifiable investment for education”. Cool! 🙂

You can read my full blog post about the presentation here.

I made it to Vancouver!

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

A while ago I wrote a blog post about my imminent move from the UK to Canada to work for Big Fish Games. Well it all went to plan and I’m here! In fact I’ve been here for a month now. I was really busy preparing for the move in October/November and then once I arrived here there was a lot of stuff to sort out (including getting a North American PSU for my PC), which is why there has been a conspicuous absence of blog posts.

Before the Move

Moving house normally entails quite a lot of work and I can say for sure that moving continent requires even more work! We are renting our house out in England but in order to do that we needed to embark on a considerable program of home improvements including electrics, plumbing, building work, carpentry, gardening, painting and new carpets! This was all going on whilst I was working on my game and Helen was sorting out all of our stuff to either a) store, b) ship to Canada, c) give away/freecycle, d) sell, or e) throw out. This took AGES, it’s amazing how much clutter you can accumulate – but it was great to have a massive clean out. I even sold my beloved Subaru Impreza Turbo 2000 for a low price to some lucky dude.

We haven’t shipped much stuff over here because we like the idea of having a fresh start – but I did ship two of my guitars and my PC 🙂 We also shipped our cat, Suki, over too. Shipping a cat costs a *lot* of money when combined with various vet’s bills for injecting and microchipping, but we love her. In fact the guy who picked the cat up said “Is she a pedigree cat?”, but we said “no, just an ordinary moggie.”

The journey

We stayed at Helen’s parents’ house the night before our journey because our house was totally empty! Then we got up very early and got a taxi to Heathrow airport. The flight was straightforward although it was 10 hours long. Conan and I just watched a ton of movies (like Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull) simultaneously so we could enjoy the same moments together. When we arrived my new colleague, Sumi, picked us up from the airport and took us to our temporary accommodation in Kitsilano, which is a really nice area in West Vancouver that has nice big wooden houses and tree-lined streets, and is close to some great shops. The kids promptly fell asleep and we soon followed.

Big Fish Games

I went to my new office a couple of days after arriving and had to set up my own PC because the IT guy from Seattle who was going to do it got turned away at the border because he mentioned the “w” word … “work” … to the border guards.

The Big Fish Games office is on Mainland Street in the middle of Yaletown. It’s a pretty neat place with loads of restaurants and shops around and it looks great at night when all the lights come on. I have got a desk in the corner and have a great view out two massive windows.

We been going to lots of networking events to spread the word about our company because we are recruiting “Casual” game programmers and artists. We are finding that Vancouver is very console game-oriented and so it’s a challenge to find people who really know about casual games. I’ve even bought an iPhone to find out all about it. In fact it’s a great device with GPS, google maps, email, Internet, iPod, games and more – I totally recommend it.

At the end of November I went to Seattle for three days for several meetings including the Big Fish Games “all hands meeting” which was very illuminating and fun. Big Fish Games is doing very well even in this recession. It was great to put a face to the many names I had been conversing with via email. Seattle’s a pretty neat place too.

At the moment I’m finishing off my current game and then I will be working with the designers in Seattle to come up with a new game design in January/February, plus we’ll also ramp up the recruiting then.

Here’s some photos of my colleague Sumi and my desk in the corner, and the view out of one of my windows:

officeoffice view


Everyone seems friendly in Vancouver and the city is beautiful. It’s surrounded by the sea, mountains and woodlands. This was a factor in moving here because we lived in the countryside in England and were only a mile from the sea. The weather here is pretty much the same as England in that it’s raining a lot and is pretty cold 🙂

We’ve found a superb new house to rent which we are moving into this weekend. It’s in a great area called Point Grey. Conan has been going to school this week and Callum has been going to a pre-school. Helen will start doing freelance science writing again soon to help bolster the coffers as Vancouver is pretty expensive to live in.

So far we’ve been ice skating a couple of times, been bowling, been shopping, been out for walks, eaten some unhealthy but great tasting meals in a local diner. Also I bought us an XBox 360, which is pretty damn neat, so that I can checkout the XBox Live Arcade stuff (I feel it’s my duty as a game designer ;-)). Helen has taken the boys out to do more cool things, such as visiting the aquarium, whilst I’ve been at work – I’m jealous! I’ve even found an orthodontist to continue the brace work that I started in England just before we moved.

Next year I plan to start up my own Aikido class but meanwhile I’m visiting a Ki Aikido class on Granville island who have made me feel welcome. Plus I’ve been running a lot just to get from A to B (and to escape the rain) – running is good fun whilst listening to The Best of Scorpions and AC/DC’s Black Ice, which are two recent purchases.

Why did we move?

Because Helen and I both worked at home and just needed a PC and the Internet to do our jobs, we realised that we could actually live anywhere. So we discussed moving to somewhere warmer, such as Spain, Portugal, France or Italy, for a while to just try it out. Thus when I received the offer of employment in Vancouver from Big Fish Games, we weren’t too shocked at the idea – we thought it would be a great life experience, especially as we had heard so many great things about Vancouver. Also my casual game programming career was going well and I saw it as a good opportunity to work at the forefront of the industry with some very skilled people in order to learn more and have great fun.

Basically if an amazing sounding opportunity comes up in your life, I’d recommend not immediately dismissing it because it seems too radical or impractical. Instead think about how you could grow as a person by taking the opportunity, and if it sounds good, go for it! No obstacle is too big if you want something enough. Also sometimes you can just try something out for the experience. It’s worth remembering that you can always change your situation again in the future if you want.

I got my 2nd Dan Black Belt in Aikido

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

On Sat 20th Sept 2008 I successfully graded for my 2nd Dan Black Belt in Aikido.

Several members of Bridport Aikido Club, including myself, travelled up to Oldham (near Manchester) on Friday. The journey is 255 miles but it took us 8 hours due to bad traffic. We then did two and a half hours of training with Sensei Kolesnikov, the 6th dan principal of the school. Then the others went for an Indian meal but I didn’t want to do that because I wanted my guts to be in good form for the grading the day after. So I had spaghetti al pomodoro and some mineral water at an Italian restaurant with my good friend Georg who was going for his 1st dan on Saturday – he flew over from Austria specially to do his grading.

I had a relaxing bath and went over the moves in my head and visualised a positive outcome to each section of the grading and saw Sensei Kolesnikov saying “Jake Birkett – 2nd Dan” at the end of the grading. I find this sort of thing is good for building confidence and banishing negative self-defeating thoughts. Lots of sports-people do it.

I had a good night’s sleep in a cheap hotel in Manchester, ate some museli and toast and had a cup of Clipper organic decaff tea that Georg had bought. Then we got the bus to the dojo.

It was a long day which started with a one and half hour training session in the morning followed by a light lunch of fruit and nuts. Then I had to kneel down in the baking sun for 4 hours (the dojo has big windows) whilst other people graded. Then I did my grading which included 32 mind and body ki tests, about 50 different attacks/defences, knife defences, sword defences, sword and jo (spear) katas, and continuous attack by 5 black belts at once. The grading went very well; I didn’t make any mistakes (that I know of ;-))

Then the results were announced and I took part in a two hour high grade course. Finally (after a bit of Sat Nav generated chaos) we finally arrived at the social meal in a Chinese Buffet restaurant in Manchester whereupon I ate like a horse. This was followed by a poor night’s sleep on the floor at a friend’s flat in Manchester (I let my students have the comfy beds), another three hour high grade course on Sunday, and then a six hour drive home.

It was quite tiring, and my legs ached from all the kneeling, but it feels very good to have passed. I’ve been training for 2nd dan for 6 years for since my 1st black belt which took 5 years to obtain – so that’s 11 years in total. I don’t have to do any more gradings now because 3rd dan and higher are awarded as honorary ranks depending on how long you’ve trained for and what you do for the organisation.

Here’s a good pic of me defending from a knife stab to the throat:

Knife To Throat