Life

A Desire to Create

Crayola Lincoln Logs

A Desire to Create.

If you are like me, you spend your days with images of what can be in your head. You see things morphing into newer things. You find the possibilities of what can be created anew exhilarating. The missing imagination in mundane everyday things not only bores you, it infuriates you. You know it can be made better; they can all be, and you find it difficult to stop wanting to build, to shape, to create.

And you feel the most alive when you do, as if it’s the only thing that you are meant to do, and the only thing you are truly capable of doing.

When you see wonderful inspiring works, your mind wonders what else can be created from ideas, materials, and styles rooted in the work. You see the world in colors and sounds and movements, and thoughts and ideas and ideologies and meanings.

To create is not just to create but to express, to identify, to communicate, and to listen.

And to you, to create is not just to express, to identify, to communicate, or to listen. To create is to be.

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Business, Life, Technology

Things I Learned in an English Village

DSC00418

Due to an unforeseen event, I am staying in a village in the heart of England for an extended period of time. For someone who has lived in big cities primarily, the village life is new to me. The buzzing streets and rush hour traffic jams are replaced by endless green fields, horses on the road, and farm/wild animals. A different way of life, and plenty of lessons for the technology-obsessed me: 

  • Location-based social network: everybody knows everybody, and there’s no secret in the village. News of the accident (see first link above) spread from the local pub to everyone in the village. Word-of-mouth in its truest form. The benefit of knowing everyone is that there’s a built-in reputation system as well – you know who to trust to be a genuine news source, and who are the gossipers. The close-knit hyper-personal network is one that’s hard to emulate – the more local it is, the more personal it gets, a challenge all location-based mobile social networks have to overcome.  
  • Farmville in the garden: real-life trees and flowers have a calming effect. I didn’t get to click on icons to pick up rewards or coins, but the benefits are immediate and obvious to my senses – something one day biometric devices will probably be able to measure, and eventually come to the same result that we are better off spending time close to nature (and we all enjoy gardening – a creative activity of putting in efforts, growing a product, and seeing the blossoming results.) The social game aspect is also in place. You invite neighbors to your garden, which gives you a spirit booster. When you leave home for a vacation, the neighbors come around and help you water the flowers – keep ing them from withering. The game session is a lot longer – months/years as opposed to seconds, but you get to play a lot longer without constantly inserting coins. Can social games be designed to strengthen friendship and player loyalty via longer play sessions? 
  • UX at charity shops: used goods are donated to charity shops, where they are cleaned up, categorized, and sold, with proceeds going to charity. The practice exists elsewhere, but the charity shops in the English countryside are nicely decorated and present themselves as boutique stores – which helps with the public’s perception of these shops, and there’s no taboo in buying used clothes and goods. Instead of feeling cheap when shopping at a used good store, you are proud to support local charities and the UX reenforces that with a nice decor and information about the charities you are supporting. A good UX can dramatically change consumer perception and behavior. 
  • To create and to gift: People make chutney, cordial, pies, cakes…etc. (and often give fruit and veg from each other’s gardens), to gift to each other. They don’t do it for money, they do it for fun – the joy is in the making and the learning. Give your users ways to express themselves creatively, to gift their work, and to learn to get better at making things. Additionally, the gifting culture contributes to building a strong local social network (see first point). User-generated-content systems can benefit from focusing on both creative tools and a positive gifting culture to encourage more creative activities.
  • Remember life: A baby pigeon fell out of a tree in the garden last week, and injured its wing. We tried feeding it food and water, but the inevitable still happened. On the day it died, an adult pigeon sat on the lawn near the body for an entire day, as if it were mourning. Seeing the adult pigeon sitting there made my heart sink. No amount of technical advancement should stop you from remembering life – friends, family, love. Treat users as humans and remember at the end of the day what matters most.

And it’s time to water the neighbor’s garden again. I might try picking some tomatoes while I’m there, and learn to make ketchup. 

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Business, Life

Sometimes, All We Need is a Pair of Wooden Sticks

We work with technology.

We love our smartphones and tablets and thin light air-inspired laptops.

We love the shiny new app that makes everything faster, easier, cheaper, and more stable, more secure, more intuitive.

We love the new features with the upcoming version that promises to automate everything we don't want to do, to turn us effortlessly into amazing artists, photographers, programmers, designers, to create things magically with a click of a button.

We love technology – everything new and exciting and trendy and next-gen.

So we can't stop reading about technology. We can't stop wanting to know more about the next great tool that's gonna make our lives easier. We can't stop downloading and installing and toying with trials version of apps that do the same thing differently. We can't stop comparing and debating which feature from one app is better than the rest but lacks the time-saving features from that app and that other app. We can't stop signing up for new web services that connects to all our social networks and devices and APIs and clouds and storage space and computing power to help us product management better, business strategy better, brainstorming better, saving money better, presentation better, social media marketing web3.0 mobile smart competition user-friendliness wow factor better. We can't stop reading reviews, and we can't stop arguing with ourselves in the comments.

We can't stop. We can't stop shopping for tools. We can't stop shopping for tools to actually quiet down and use them.

Shopping for the sharpest sword doesn't make us great swordsmen. Reading about beautiful products we can create with new tools doesn't make us great craftsmen. Watching new announcements from tool makers doesn't make us better creators.

Tools are meant to be practiced, not browsed or toyed with. Great tools help tremendously. But if we want to be great at using tools instead of being great at finding them, sometimes we just need to pick one and get going with it.

Sometimes, all we need is a simple pair of wooden sticks to get the job done.

Black chopsticks

 

 

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Games, Life, Unity3D

Community, Happiness, and The Selfish Reason to Start the Unity3D User Group

A little more than a year ago, I started the Unity3D User Group in Seattle (link). And I must first admit that the reason I started the group was rather selfish. 

Seattle Unity3D User Group  Seattle WA  Meetup

Let me start the story from the very beginning. After I left Sony and started Studio Pepwuper in early 2010, I soon realized a big problem I hadn’t considered before making the leap – that I was no longer in a herd.

I was working alone for 99% of the time – just me and the trusted laptop. It never bothered me that I wasn’t working with anyone else. I wanted to do everything myself and learn the ins-and-outs of every aspect of making an iPhone game and building a business around making games. I was excited, focused, single-minded. 

Than I hit a wall. About three months in, I became really grumpy. Work started feel tiresome. I was still psyched about the game and the learning and the future, but it was getting harder and harder for me to go on when I sat down on my desk facing the screen.

I felt tired, and I couldn’t figure out why as I was still enjoying the work. Until one day Laura said to me “you talk about the birds in the garden an awful lot” – I didn’t have a consistent social group, and the birds became my closes colleagues because I often looked into the garden from the desk I worked at. 

I was lonely at work. I didn’t interact with people who were working with the same tools, who spoke the same language, who were going through the same challenges and obstacles. I had been active in online forums and chatroom for game developer (and got to know some really talented developers). But I didn’t have any face-to-face interaction with humans. I didn’t have a community.

And having a community, I later learned (from this documentary), is a key ingredient to Happiness. Humans are social animals. We hunt in groups. We get energy from each other. We seek comradeship. And the long stretch of not having company drained my energy.

So when we moved to Seattle, one of the first things I did was looking for a group of people who were in my shoes. I started the group to find people with similar aspirations and interests, people who I can talk about Unity and game development with, ask questions to, so that I don’t have to feel so alone on this journey.

It’s been a wonderful year with the group, and I appreciate everyone who shows up at the gatherings (especially when the weather isn’t cooperating).

I always come away happy and inspired after each event. For those of us who work with technology and computers all day, we tend to forget the human side of the equation. But for your own happiness (and the sanity of those around you), don’t ignore our innate desire of belonging to a social group and Find Your Herd! 

p.s. Game development communities in Seattle:

Seattle Unity3D User Group

 

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Life

Moving, and Moving to Seattle

Dog in Packed Car(My dog in the uber packed car when we drove up to Seattle from LA)

I was going through all the drafts I’d written for this blog, and found this post I started in December 2011. Laura and I had just moved from Los Angeles to Seattle the month before. Everything was new, exciting, exotic. We were in love with the city (and we still are) and we didn’t even notice the rain despite the fact that it was the fall going into the winter.

(Dec’11) My wife and I moved to Seattle a month ago. The move surprised many friends. Why did you guys move to Seattle? it’s hard for us to answer the question why we moved because honestly, we moved to Seattle because we wanted to move to Seattle. We had the idea in September, left LA at the end of October, and arrived in Seattle on November 1st.

The number of people assuming us moving for jobs is surprisingly high. In fact, 95% of the time this is the first follow up question after the initial question – is it for a job? People assume we moved for jobs. Well, more people should move for reasons outside of career. You should move to a new city because of the city, because you want to experience what it’s like to live there. You should move to a new city to have a different perspective, to make new friends, to learn a new culture, to meet new challenges, to enjoy extended traveling. Move proactively.

Of course it’s risky to leave your comfort zone, to leave what you know works behind. Adapting to a new environment can be a lot of work. Finding new friends, learning new customs, being an outsider…etc none of this is easy. But moving is well worth the effort (while you still can), provided you follow this simple rule:

Don’t move to a place because it is comfortable (comfort breeds boredom). Move to a place that inspires you, a place that helps you get a little closer to where you want to be.

My family moved quite a bit when I was growing up. We moved to Taipei from a small town in the middle of Taiwan when I went to middle school. We moved three times in Taipei. When I turned 18, I moved to Michigan, then LA, then San Francisco, back to LA, then Tokyo. Each move helped me get to the next stage in life, and each move enabled me to expand my world little by little.

I don’t know what’s in store for me in Seattle yet, but I can’t wait to see more.

I’ve always enjoyed moving to a new place. Despite the huge amount of time and energy required to pack, uproot, and physically move everything you have to a new location, moving has two extremely valuable benefits – it stimulates and cleanses. I’ve talked about how moving stimulates in the draft above. Let’s talk about how moving cleanses. 

Moving Cleanses

We go through life accumulating stuff – stuff we need, stuff we want, and stuff that somehow just landed in our hands. Even when I knew I wasn’t going to stay in the same city after a short summer internship, I managed to pack the small and empty apartment full of stuff within 10 weeks. I moved around often so I always try to avoid buying things I don’t need, but despite my best effort, it’s hard not to accumulate stuff.

The reason? It’s a lot easier to get new things, than to get rid of them.

A lot of it has to do with nostalgia. We place meanings onto things. Old worn-out shoes that’s been to the Great Wall with me? Saved in a box under the bed. Sunny (my dog)’s first collar? Kept in his toy box (just in case he misses the smell of it). Concert tickets, movie stubs? We need boxes to keep them all safe and accessible.

The thing is, we don’t actually like having these things. What we really like, is the idea of having these things. We want what they do for us – allowing us to re-experience a moment in our memory, taking us back to that exact moment.

My suggestion? Take pictures of them, keep them virtually available on your harddrive, and throw most of them away. The pictures will be enough to remind you of your happy memories, and you are more likely to actually see them again since they are on your computer instead of under the bed collecting dust.

We also make impulse purchase decisions and accumulate things we don’t necessarily need. It’s not easy to stop doing this, and to be honest, the guilty pleasure of buying a small something-something to make your week is a pleasure worth having. But having too many of these takes up too much physical space in your home, as well as mental space above your neck.

Moving forces you to think twice about what to keep, and what not to keep, especially if you are moving into a smaller space, or a more crowded area. When you don’t have a lot of room, you start to focus on the essentials – things that are important for your personal life, professional life, and overall happiness. Everything else? Donate and recycle. 

Wrapping Up

The flooding of the Nile has been providing a natural cycle of life for centuries. It washes away all that’s stale and fertilizes new beginnings. In more than one way, moving is the same and gives ways to new beginnings. Will I move every other year? I won’t do it just for the sake of moving, but when the right city shows up on our radar, I can’t promise we won’t be tempted to do this all over again. 

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Life

Happiness is a State of Mind

zen tourism

I saw this question on Quora – “Epiphany: What is the most profound epiphany you ever had?

I don’t have epiphanies very often, so I had to share the one that jumps to mind and add my two cents to this question.  

Here’s my answer:

“Happiness is a state of mind. ”

Six years ago, I was in Kyoto on a consulting trip. You can’t not visit temples when in Kyoto, so I found myself in a temple with a zen garden that’s supposedly world famous.

I stared at the zen garden – sands and rocks and short trees – for a good while along with a dozen other tourists who also spent 1000 yen to come in the temple and to take off their shoes and to look at this garden.

“I am not really getting it. ” I thought to myself.

But I stayed and my mind started to wonder. Naturally, I started thinking about projects and things that stressed me. My eyes were still on the rocks and sands and short trees, but my mind was going back to the real world. And I started to feel less and less “zen” right in the zen garden.

Then suddenly this sentence came into my head out of nowhere like someone just beamed this thought through my skull into my brain with a laser.

“Happiness is a state of mind. ”

It’s so obvious. Happiness is, after all, a state of mind, literally. But I also at that moment realized that if its merely a state of My own mind, I have total control over it!

It was a random moment in my life that I keep coming back to. Maybe it’s the zen garden that did its magic, or the fact that I was severely jet lagged. But it’s been one of the most powerful statement for me and I try to remind myself of it whenever I am less than happy.

Originally posted on quora.com (http://www.quora.com/Epiphany/What-is-the-most-profound-epiphany-you-ever-had/answer/Brandon-Wu)

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Games, Life

What is Indie?

“What is indie?” the younger boy asked.

“Indie means you have to work harder.” the older brother answered.

Arcade Boat 2011

I watched a Japanese film called I Wish in July. It’s a story about two little brothers trying to re-unite their separated parents – an uplifting film that made me smile.

In the film, the dad of the two kids was a singer/guitarist in a small band that had just published an indie album. The boys didn’t really understand the meaning of indie, and had the conversation quoted above. 

We place romantic connotations to the world indie. We proudly call Studio Pepwuper an indie game studio, participate in the local indie community in Seattle, and pre-ordered Indie Game: The Movie months in advance. 

But what is indie? 

It’s hard to create a definition that everyone can agree on to determine who is indie and who is not. Can we define it with financial structure – studios with corporate financiers (publishers, investors) do not apply? We’d be excluding some of the so-called best indie studios this way. Is it determined by the size of the company? The location? The age? Is it how the developers define their lifestyles? No matter how we try to define it, we can find examples of brilliant indie studios that sit right outside of our definition. 

A universally agreed definition of indie somehow seems too mainstream or corporate or un-indie-like. It lacks the independent thinking the indies adore. 

In fact, independent thinking is the only common ground for everyone who considers themselves indies. The indie spirit is to be different, to embrace the creative freedom of being independent from restrains and restrictions and expectations and deadlines and milestones and hierarchies and corporate politics…etc

Then, is the indie spirit stemmed from… the escape of responsibilities? 

Quite the opposite. 

Being indie doesn’t mean we are free from responsibilities. Being indie means we are 100% responsible for everything – every decision and mistake we make. There is no one else to blame.

We can no longer blame corporate politics for project delays. We can no longer blame marketing department for interfering with production. We can no longer blame financiers for shifting their focus to the next cash cow. Because, well, we are the politics and the marketing and the financiers ourselves. If anything isn’t going the way we’d planned, we have only ourselves to blame. 

True independence comes from 100% responsibility. I read that from somewhere a few years ago right before I started the studio, and I jotted it down and put it on the About page.

Our responsibilities define us as indies.

“Indie means you have to work harder.” The little boy in the film is right after all. 

 

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