2014 in review

Someone told me lists are fun, which made me think of GOTY-ing my 2014, but this was just the beginning. Here is my 2014 from several perspectives that are important to me.

Books

I read. Some people close to me claim that I read too much. Here are some memorable books I discovered in 2014, out of the ~50 I finished.

1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

An autobiographic book written by the astronaut that turned space into a Twitter and YouTube sensation, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth is a book about science, dedicating yourself to a lifelong dream, and finding out, in the darkness of space, that we are nothing but a speck of dust. Hadfield went to space to learn that you don’t have to go to space to experiment the vastness of our Universe – you just have to look inside you and around you, and do the best you possibly can. This book was a wonderful lesson to me, an eye opener towards humbleness, hard work and dedication, and especially towards loving those around you. Bonus is, of course, a detailed, intricate inside picture of the everyday life on the ISS.

2. WOOL (8 books) and Sand (3 books) series by Hugh Howley, and Hugh Howley in general.

What if a handful of powerful people decided to destroy the world and save a selected few in several huge bunkers built underground?

What if this world would be conquered by sand?

These are 2 dystopian series by Hugh Howley, the first self published author who made it notably big on his own, and has been actively sharing his experiences and lessons freely, in the hopes of helping other independent writers to self publish their works. Howley is an inspiration to me, because it proves the value of giving, helping,  sharing, a value that’s far beyond money. And in this very spirit, not only does Howley make a notable, sustained effort to educate on self publishing (do check his blog), but he is also very open towards the authors inspired by his worlds, and does an active job in promoting the best fan fiction.

3. The Warrior Chronicles (7 books) by Bernard Cornwell

Hungry for more Abercrombie and unable to find a satisfactory new gritty kind of anti hero fantasy, I stumbled upon Cornwell, who artfully proves that we don’t have to invent new worlds to fantasise about bravery, intrigue and wisdom – we just need to study or history.

The Warrior Chronicles centers on Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a fictional Saxon raised by the Danes who tried to take over the not yet formed England during the 9th and 10th centuries. In this series, we get to know Albert the Great and his children, Æthelflæd and Edward, all of whom played a crucial role in forming England. We also get a wonderfully detailed side by side comparison of Christianity and Æsir, and how much of an impact religion had in our history.

4. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gillbert

Darwin was not the only one with an interest on evolutionary theory in the 19th century, but he was the first one to publish a compelling study that revolutionized the world as known during that time.  Gillbert’s book focuses on a fictional scientist who stumbles upon the very same natural selection theory, but in a remarkable, different way. This scientist happens to be a lady, and in her pursuit of The Signature of All Things, we read a captivating story of love, loss, privilege and relentless dedication to science.

Gillbet wrote Eat, Pray, Love, and suffered the good and bad consequences of a worldwide success. This book is, in my opinion, far better and more captivating.

5. The Way, My Way by Bill Bennett

Camino de Santiago is a major Christian pilgrimage route spawning some 700 kilometres from St. Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in North-western Spain. The Way, My Way by Bill Bennett is one of the many books describing the experiences on this famous route, one that made us really fantasize and plan various pilgrimages.

Can you walk 700 kilometres?  Bill Bennett did, and he transformed himself during this one month walk, both physically and especially spiritually. In his book, he details his experiences in a nice, gentle tone, and what amazed me is his emphasis on human interaction and how important this becomes, even for a lone soul like him, during the uncertainty of a very taxing trip.

The Way, My Way constituted just another extremely good argument for us to plan pilgrimages. There is no better way to get to know a piece of land than by walking, and we have experienced that with joy and awe around Källby, and plan to extend this feeling not on the way to Santiago, but around Kungsleden and around the numerous pilgrim trails in Västra Götaland.

 

I did not read The Martian by Andy Weir last year, but that book worth mentioning every time.

 

Games

I play. I play less than I read. Some people think I play too little, but 2014 was a fairly good year from this perspective. Here are some memorable games that I played in 2014, and was not involved in any way with their development. AND they are not Minecraft, World of Warcraft (incl Draenor) or any TES game. Because those 3 are forever and ever and ever.

1. Lifeless Planet by Stage 2 Studios

This is one of the first projects to be successfully funded on Kickstarter, earning a whooping 17k dollars, double the amount originally requested.

Lifeless Planet is like an extremely good SciFi book that makes you discover the story yourself. It’s a fairly simple platformer in terms of gameplay, but wonderfully executed from any possible perspective you can think of. This is a story driven game, with a story so well told through level design, sound, gameplay elements, that it made me dream about it long after I finished it.

2. This War of Mine by 11 bit studios

So many games allowed us to experience war from the perspective of a (usually blood-lusty) soldier, yet so few stop to ponder the consequences of war, especially for those who used to live there.

This War of Mine, a game based on experiences of people who actually lived through  the Siege of Sarajevo, makes you care about the survivor victims of war. “For soldiers, war is about victory. For us, it was about getting food”. I cried while playing this game. I think and hope most people did.

3. Banished by Shining Rock Software

A “city builder of sorts”, Banished is a game that grants you the task of caring for a group of exiles about to settle in a whole new land. It’s not easy, and it took a while to me to get over the rather spartan, programmer designed UI, but I guess there’s something about building games that resonates with my desire of caring and creating while playing, as opposed to killing and destroying.

But Banished is hard, because keeping a group of settlers alive and thriving in a medieval, very scarce type of scenario, is really a race for survival rather than a pleasant exercise in civic architecture. You must build, otherwise your people will die of cold, you must cultivate or else they’ll die of hunger, and it turns out that, while we can very well live without many of the luxuries we are so accustomed to, we still do have a consistent list of needs that are crucial for our survival. Especially when winter is coming.

4. Gone Home by The Fullbright Company

I felt professionally responsible to play Gone Home, a completely non violent game that many claimed it changed the way we perceive what video games are. It’s an interesting experience that I did not quite get personally, but I think that was mainly because I did not lived through the kind of adolescence this game portrays – so I could not relate to the problems it raised.

Many argued if Gone Home is a game at all. I believe it is, and if I were to label it I’d call it a puzzle, kind of a nice one as it makes you explore and find secrets about your family in your very own home. It made me think about my quests to find my Christmas gifts when I was little, or to discover all sorts of goodies that my parents tried to keep me from devouring. The game provides a nice insight into a normal life of a normal family, the kind of normal we all think about as special, dramatic – all families have secrets and problems.

But for best enjoyment of Gone Home, I do believe you should be born and raised in the US, preferably in a conservative and fairly rich family (who else can have such a huge house, I wonder). I did not have the kind of adolescence depicted in the game, and the very real issues it bravely raises were never real issues to me. While I can’t say I enjoyed Gone Home a lot, it was definitely an experience worth having.

5. Game Dev Tycoon by Greenheart Games

Did you know? In order to make money with a game, all you need to do is to pick several design elements, click a button, wait for the game to be done, and launch. You can start doing this from your very own garage (I wonder how many people named their studio Garage Games 😀 ), and the more games you generate, the higher the chances of creating a success that will allow you to bring your studio to new heights, and hire people. If that sounds hard, don’t worry as you have several handy market studies that tell you precisely what sells right now.

Game Dev Tycoon is a simplistic but fun approach towards game development. It pictures this ordeal as a rather easy one, but I cannot imagine how else to make a game about… game development. It’s really a business simulation and I guess it does a good job at that – you must think about the business and marketing side as well, which is something that, in reality, many studios don’t do or do far too late.

I played the legit version of Game Dev Tycoon, but there is also a deliberately craked one out there, uploaded by the creators on purpose, and that one has a catch: your games are pirated, and you are made well aware that a studio cannot survive if players are willing to steal rather than pay for your games.

Oh! 2014 was also the year when I had memorable fun playing on Mobile devices. The games responsible for that occurrence were The Room and Card City Nights.

 

Travel

We hoped we’d travel in 2014, but due to getting fired since the company I was working for went bankrupt, that did not happen. We did however did our part in exploring some places, and here are the notable ones.

1. Tiveden

Trolls, elves and dragons DO exist, but you have to know where to find them. One special place they like to dwell in is Tiveden, a Swedish primeval forest that used to be a hiding place for outlaws and pagans. Border between the Swedes and Geats  in Viking ages, Tiveden is a mystical place that bears the name of the old god Tyr, the one who upheld the law and heroic glory.

This forest lies in the middle of Sweden, about half way between Stockholm and Göteborg, and has been an inspiration to John Bauer’s fantastical art – just the briefest of visits will immediately reveal why. About 13 square kilometers of Tiveden are protected as a national park, where you can hike on several trails and where you are not allowed to venture on unbeaten paths. The reason is indeed to protect the forest, but most importantly, to protect yourself. Tiveden is known to make people disappear, as it is a wild great forest where old rituals took place, where old gods dwelled and where magic thrives.

2. Stockholm

Most people like cities; I don’t. Which is why, three years into living in Sweden, we did not visit Stockholm until we absolutely had to – and this happened last year. We had to renew our passports so we turned our visit to the Romanian Embassy into a two days cityscape with three main objectives: discover the Mojang offices, visit Fotografiska and experience Skansen. Except these 3 must haves, we spent the remaining time just walking around and discovering what this big city has to offer.

Despite my obsession against cities, I have to admit that Stockholm is beautiful. Built on an archipelago and across 14 islands, the city features amazing, extremely well kept architecture that integrates beautifully with this rather restrictive geography. The old part of the town (Gamla Stan) is bohemian and offers numerous unique experiences, such as Medieval themed restaurants where everything – from the way the waiters dress and speak to the kind of food you can order and the cutlery you use – stays true to the thematic, making you feel extremely inappropriately dressed 🙂 But the most beautiful part of Stockholm is its green heart, Skansen, an entire island dedicated to nature and animals and where there are no residential areas.

3. Göteborg

While I don’t like cities, there is one exception which is Göteborg. This is the most peaceful, bohemian, pleasant city I ever experienced, probably because every opportunity was taken to cultivate green and to maintain and beautify everything. Every building in Göteborg is perfect, every street is clean and inviting, and every little corner prides itself with its mini garden, so wherever you look, you get that small, cosy town feeling even though you are in the second largest Swedish city.

There are so many great places to visit in Göteborg, which, amongst other things, is the unofficial world wide capital of rock (featuring several excellent concert halls, bars and pubs). There is Liseberg, a huge amusement park that turns into a fairytale Christmas fair in the winter; there is the Botanical Gardens spawning over 175 hectares and allowing you to admire over 16000 kinds of plants, including 1500 types of orchids and an entire Japanese garden. There is the Universeum with its warm, tropical settings where animals roam freely and it’s huge sharks that can swim right above your head if you just stay in the transparent tunnel. There’s the Haga district, an old, romantic jewel with very special shops and cuisine; and much more.

4. Camping on the West Coast

Last year we finally spent several days on the Swedish West Coast, specifically near Smögen, a small, picturesque fishing town on the shores of the North Sea. We spent those days in a typical Swedish manner, meaning, we went camping in one of the many places around that area. It was an interesting experience which we will never do again :).

The Swedish way of camping is… special. Due to allemansrätten which is the freedom to roam everywhere as long as you don’t disturb, litter or destroy, you can set your tent pretty much everywhere in Sweden, yet many prefer designated camping places for which you pay. This results in rather crowded areas where you have several dozen neighbours in the middle of nature, and where some go to great lengths to turn camping into an art. You can see real camping palaces with carpets, lavish coaches and even flowers by the door and windows.

On top of that, going to the beach on the West Coast is a special experience in itself. The North Sea is not really meant for bathing and there are few places with shallow water that’s not guarded by imposing, sharp rocks. These few places become targets to those camping sites, so you get to have a very large area with thousands of campers fighting for 10 meters of shallow water shore.

The West Coast is a wild rare beauty that takes effort to discover. I’d dare say this effort includes staying away from civilized settlements, and dare venture on the rocky, special kind of landscape to find your very own sunbathing spot.

5. Beaches – the sweet water version

In Sweden, the big lakes Vänern  and Vättern look much more like the sea compared to the North Sea itself. This is coming from a Romanian who lived in Italy and to whom a beach is a long stretch of land that has sand and a relatively gentle slope as you go in the water.

Vänern has many hidden beaches of all sorts: grass rocks, sand or all-in-one. Unlike Vättern which is smaller and very deep, Vänern is  large – the third biggest lake in Europe – and shallow, which means that in warm summer days, bathing is not only possible, but great! And since we have benefited from a very warm summer with temperatures occasionally exceeding 30 degrees C,  we spent many summer holidays going to the nearby beach in the morning, during lunch and in the evening.

 

Life

Sometimes a year passes by uneventfully, and you look back and can’t quite point out the main events. This was not the case in 2014, a very good year to learn that happiness takes a lot of effort and that optimism pays off.

1. Got fired

Sadly getting fired is a very common story in the video game industry. You read about layoffs and bankruptcies often, and you have friends who go through or have gone through that. But until it happens to you, you don’t quite expect it.

I knew the company I was working for was not doing great, but I did not expect the CEO to announce us one day that we went bankrupt. Approximately 50 people lost their job  that day, amongst which many were consultants who were not a priority in getting their due payments. Luckily, getting fired in Sweden is not a dramatic event, as you have fail safes and income insurances that pay 80% of your salary for about 7 months of unemployment, plus other benefits. I stressed, cried, decided to keep my head up and thought heavily that if you do nothing, nothing happens. So I did…

2. Started a company

Indeed, I am the proud owner, aka CEO, aka VD (Verkställande direktör) of a one man consultancy business soon to be called Game Garden (I have yet to book the name, and the website is WIP). I have a small office in Gothia Science Park, a state financed initiative that hosts cca. 80 companies out of which about 20 are game studios. The main services I provide are production & project management, marketing and PR for game studios.

3. Got the best client in the world

It is a studio I fancied way before moving to Sweden, called Ludosity, and they made ittle Dew, Bob Came In Pieces, Card City Nights, and many other games. If you haven’t played them yet, it’s about time!

4. Got hired at my Dream Job

What you dream of the most comes when least expected, I guess. Albeit temporarily, I got hired by Gothia Innovation AB to help the newly formed game studios with production, project management, marketing and PR, and to act as a communicator for Gothia and a programme the world will hear about a lot, called Sweden Game Arena.

5. Moved to Skövde

Skövde is one of those amazing places you never really hear about. It’s a jewel of a small city, with some 53000 inhabitants, that hosts more than 20 game studios, including Ludosity, Stunlock Studios, Coffee Stain Studios and Paradox South. It also has a game oriented university, plus multiple programmes dedicated to game dev. Everyone here lives and breathes game dev; chances are high to meet some game devs if you just go to a bar, or take a walk. It is the perfect place for us, especially now that we both work here.

We’ve been planning to move to Game City Skövde since 2012. Sweden is amazing from a whole bunch of perspectives, but finding rental, especially as foreigners and especially in popular places, is a challenge. If you want to rent an apartment in a given municipality, you commonly subscribe to a queue system and earn a point per day. Your priority in renting is based on the amount of points you have earned. For us, it took almost precisely 2 years to qualify, so you can imagine the joy when we were finally invited to visit an apartment. And in November, we orchestrated a very successful one day move (another Swedish rental story here) and here we are 🙂