Hi everyone. Time has been flying by. I originally planned to take most of 2022 off as a sabbatical, but work got busy at the end of 2021 and I figured best to klap it. Now, I can’t believe we’re almost at the end of 2023. It’s making me feel a little emotionally overwhelmed, as if I’ve lost the past 2 years and I’m behind on everything. I’m not sure how to catch up or where to start.
I’ve been trying to get back into doing things just for fun. With my commercial work I often find myself thinking about if the work will get approval from others, what the new work sets up for audience expectations, if it fits within the established guidelines – basically trying to do whatever will create the least problems to avoid needing to redo it loads of times. This avoidant mindset can hinder freeform creativity and lead to more questions than progress. As a result, my creative output has decreased a lot this year. However, during coffee up in town I sometimes make an effort to kick back and create comics without overthinking and just enjoy the process. Here are a few examples:
Yo yo yo, some amazing news! The show I co-created and directed the pilot for ‘Twende’ is now live on African streaming platform Showmax! I bowed out of the S1 development and production due to the demands of Nifty League. I wouldn’t have been able to do both, so luckily my talented buddy Greig Cameron agreed to helm the director’s role of the entire first season, and I believe has did an excellent job. I’m so looking forward to seeing what my co-creators Kayla, Charlie and Reagan, and producers Sam and Hélène at Braintrust, and all the talented animators, artists, background artists at Minds Eye Creative, and Greig and head writer Sheldon Bengston and all the voice artists and everybody else who’s been involved have made! Mega props to the entire team. Long may Twende continue entertaining people and providing a new type of gentle hero. A whole lounge of us on Boxing Day watched the Twende in Space episode where the Internet goes down, most animals freak out but Twende is content living in the moment. It’s superb.
Bru & Boegie
Bru & Boegie, ma boiz. I haven’t been able to complete my Meteorite film project this year like I’d hoped. But I’m still chipping away at it although time between work sessions keeps growing. My talented buddy Martinus Van Tee kindly recorded pretty much all the voices for nearly all the characters (excluding Bru & Boegie which I recorded) and I’ve edited in the takes I like. I plan to release a teaser trailer first and then work on the production in smaller parts. Been trying to learn TVPaint to use for production on this one. This year, I’ve had a bad habit of not finishing projects, from small things like not finishing books or games to larger things like this, and even almost not posting this before the end of the year. I also have a mini-short Bru & Boegie episode’s voice recorded that I want to try do on Procreate Dreams for iPad. And another film idea I’d like to complete.
Shoh. What a year it’s been! Since we launched in September 2021 I’ve been more or less fully focused on our company and project ‘Nifty Smashers‘. It’s hard to sum up everything that’s happened, because it’s been a lot.
Overall I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity, to the 2 original founders Snarfy and NiftyAndy for initially reaching out to me and bringing me on, and for the remarkable early success of the project. I was going to deliver a short talk about Nifty League and the challenges of Web3 (after all, ‘knowledge not shared is knowledge wasted’) at ‘Playtopia’ in Cape Town recently, but I got super FOMO for a music gig I was going to miss out on playing, so I stayed in Plett and played The Surfer’s Ball in the band ‘Whiskey for Tea’ instead. It was a great evening.
I feel thankful for a successful project mint launch and excited about the game we’ve been developing for a year that’s about to get its imminent marketing push; it has a lot of potential. We’ve tested the initial marketing ads and they’re performing extremely well, now we just have to fix some gameplay retention issues.
Web3 is a new space for me, I’ve stood back a lot and observed and have some thoughts:
- Hive-mind is very powerful and also very dangerous when critical thinking gets ignored.
- A person needs to have their own voice (I’m still finding mine) to survive. I mean that figuratively; a person doesn’t need a loud voice, but needs to be able to think for oneself and voice one’s own opinion. Outsourcing one’s thinking and decision-making is a bad idea.
- It’s a mistake to confuse confidence with competence. There are a lot of try-hard confident yet incompetent chancers in Web3.
- There is a miasma of noise. A person needs to learn how to focus and say ‘no’ repeatedly.
- Just because it’s a new space doesn’t mean basic business practices and physics don’t apply.
- It’s been an interesting insight into human nature’s bottomless pit of desire. As soon as we delivered something, many people immediately wanted the next thing. The ego’s unquenchable thirst is not unique to Web3 but I do find it more pronounced. I do sometimes wonder if many in the space prefer the tease compared to actually getting the thing.
- Nobody (especially not the early agencies we employed) really know what the Web3 gaming audience is made up of. There’s a lot of anonymity in the crypto space which probably makes data collection difficult. Anecdotally, I personally feel there are way more speculators than gamers which makes a purely Web3 game difficult to scale with player numbers. Many speculator investors want number to go up, not necessarily to play games.
- Many people seem to be running their own agenda and many have hidden agendas and hiding behind the veil of ‘community’, plenty people desperate for short-term benefits that’d hurt us in the long run. It can be exhausting and difficult to not get cynical. There are some people who seem genuinely nice, and many of these people have remained in our community and are essentially the backbone of our Nifty League community.
While we’re currently in a really good space full of potential and major upside as we start launching our upgraded mobile game and onboarding a whole slew of new players, it’s also been a challenging last 2 years. It’s tempting to sugarcoat everything like many Web3 projects do by only sharing the good news, but instead we’ve found more success and sustainability with ever-increasing transparency as we move towards the end goal of being a decentralised company. I have vague lingering anger around a couple things which have eventually translated into healthy learning experiences – difficult and incompetent people we worked with who wasted a lot of my and our time, some of whom we should have let go earlier or not given too much time and energy to, and some service agencies who delivered terrible work at high cost that we shouldn’t have engaged with. Our company had a lot of energy behind us at launch and we were rapidly expanding while the space was rapidly contracting (crashing), which led to a lot of pain and forced some important pivotal decisions. We invested in efforts that might have worked exceptionally well had the bull run continued, but instead turned out to be damp squibs. Mostly I’m upset at myself that I didn’t come down harder on these things with more responsibility sooner. My angst is also about much wasted time and effort we put into projects that didn’t really matter, high effort projects that didn’t move the needle. Thankfully, we reduced costs, course-corrected and are now on a good track; we’re lean and mean and operating more like a proper business. I used to have a lot of patience and could subvert my internal red-flag-o-meter to see where things would go, but now don’t have much patience for meaningless busywork, and learned that staying silent and hoping for the best does nobody any favours. Being well-liked is not a priority. Web3 (or maybe just marketing?) can be a weird space full of extreme Dunning-Kruger characters and irritating marketing buzzwords but I also know the space holds great potential for gaming, and we and the community are at the forefront of that. We’ve spent the last 2 years laying down impressive foundations, seeds that hold the opportunity to start building an empire. We’ll have to prove ourselves first before many doors start opening, and that underdog drive of wanting to prove the naysayers wrong is a powerful motivator.
Nifty League is gradually moving towards becoming a decentralised company. We’ll be sharing a lot of our code as open source. We’re obligated to launch our DAO by September next year – 3 years from when we started. We’ve been working publicly (‘building in the open’) since the start which has seen its own share of challenges. Not everyone likes seeing – or not everyone should see – how the sausage is made. Though it can sometimes take the wind out of our sails showing early work that’s still in exploratory stages, there’s been value in sharing our day-to-day progress with the community, warts and all. Community’s become like an extension of and part of the company. Invested in our success, they’ve provided invaluable feedback and support throughout, particularly with many dedicated community members alpha testing our mobile game week in and week out. While there’s pros and cons to ‘building in the open’ I still prefer that anyone is able to jump into our Discord at any time and share their criticisms, support, complaints, judgements, praise, scorn, ideas and suggestions with the core team directly and without filters, and have been surprised at many people’s keen level of interest and engagement and willingness to share ideas in a collaborative way. I used to be surprised at hearing anecdotes about how the videogame industry was rough and burned people out, but now I kind of get it – it’s not for sissies. Some days making videogames seems more about trying to fix problems like software bugs and crashes than anything else. I find the videogame audience quite different to the animation audience. Many gamers are intimately involved. Some people watch every move. The release process is also a lot different – once an animation film is done, it’s DONE. Maybe there’s some marketing to do. But with games, especially with a multiplayer component and AI bots being iterated and tested live, it breaks regularly and needs fixing. I wonder if animation or films will go the same route with creators being able to iterate on a film and keep improving it as they get audience feedback? Probably.
We upgraded from a 2D version of Nifty Smashers to a 3D version. With the close collaboration of a commissioned studio we converted hundreds of existing and new digital wearables, items and weapons (hats, shoes, sunglasses, weapons, shirts etc.) from 2D to 3D, and this upgrade makes it easier for us to create new character animations; we no longer need to create many individual 2D sprites for each piece of clothing as the 3D assets automatically move with the 3D characters’ bones. This upgrade also opens the door for a 3D Battle Royale game that’s currently being built, and we’re exploring the Niftyverse side of the project with a free-roaming 3D camera. In general it future-proofs the project more and makes it more accessible for other studios to hopefully come on board and develop games for the platform, which is the ultimate goal of the company. Going 3D was an important decision and somewhat challenging conversion, but it’s already starting to pay off.
Having a Nifty League crypto token has been interesting. In brief, we have an on-chain token called NFTL, and we’re likely going to use NFTL for governance of our DAO. Last year, people quickly started (incorrectly) linking the token price to sentiment of the company, especially when we had Play & Earn where players could earn our token which negatively affected the token price. What resulted was an impossible cycle of trying to maintain a healthy token price by maintaining good sentiment by announcing, working on and delivering exciting new projects and rewarding engaged gamers at an unsustainably fast rate. Unintuitively, the more successful we were with delivering, the more we seemed to be punished with news traders ‘buying the rumour and selling the news’. The token price would increase as we got closer to a new product launch and then would crash afterwards with sell-offs. The ‘tokenomics’ seemed backwards, almost like the project had to take off at huge scale and with a lot of fanfare for Play & Earn to work, but we were still trying to upgrade and fix our core product at the same time and we didn’t have enough sinks (ways for people to spend their NFTL within our ecosystem) so the market funnel was busted and people ended up off-ramping the token for fiat, diluting our market cap. This rinse-and-repeat cycle of being a slave to our token was hugely distracting from our main project goals and I’m pleased we realised the fools errand of chasing that short-term dragon and switched focus (or ‘pivoted’) to creating something more sustainable and meaningful, and decoupled the project somewhat from the token. In addition, the entire crypto market was seeing a major crash that affected us too, that led people to equate that with negative sentiment about the project. It was a difficult time for many projects which I’m sure caused founders to step back and reassess. Since then, the tide seems to have turned a bit, and in Web3, ‘when number go up, people = happy’.
We decided that it would be in everyone’s best interests to pivot away from a purely Web3-focused game and start seeking out a more traditional Web2 audience – specifically mobile (phone) game players which has a way lower barrier to entry. An NFT gathers value when there are other people that want that NFT. The current Web3 audience is limited and it’s often an echo chamber. Additionally, the Google Play and Apple mobile marketplaces don’t like cryptocurrencies AT ALL so we’d be super limited trying to launch an NFT mobile game. So, it all made sense to appeal to a more traditional gaming audience and hopefully, if they get more into the game, they may be inclined to discover why some Degens look super cool and why they have unique items and go down the NFT rabbit-hole if they want to get one. Hopefully when the various mobile stores start permitting use of cryptocurrencies within a game, we might allow NFTL to be used as an actual in-game currency, and have a fully Web3 enabled traditional Web2 game that seamlessly introduces Web2 players to Web3.
I travelled to Europe with my Mom. I’ve always wanted to go to Greece, and with how fast time is moving, we decided to just go for it. We had a great time; visited Paris, Prague (to surprise my bro for his Prague gig, he’s completed 2 International Tours during the second half of 2022, Europe and North America, both to mostly sold out shows), Todi outside Rome to visit my Mom’s bridesmaid, Rome, Athens, and then Santorini and Paros. It was great getting to hang out with my Mom over a month, we even did the Santorini to Oia hike which is 13km, impressive going for me Ma, incredibly memorable times. I also went to France earlier in the year for the Annecy International Animation Festival but I didn’t/couldn’t get festival accreditation, so didn’t actually attend the festival. However, the main attraction for me is the town itself and hanging out with old friends. It was probably one of my best Annecy’s.
Read some goodies, most recently and notably ‘The Dalai Lama’s Cat‘, a gift from my Mom. What a sweet book! I’m still paused on ‘I Am Pilgrim‘ and ‘Melville’s Moby-Dick: An American Nekyia‘ by Jungian analysts Edward F Edinger. I’ve never read Moby-Dick but it doesn’t matter as Edinger writes so well. It’s a Jungian look at the story and author, lent to me by my Mom who is deep into Jung. Ultimately didn’t read too much but listened to a bunch of audiobooks:
In the last 2 years I’ve discovered the joys of Audible audiobooks. I got a monthly subscription and listened to a bunch of books on money and finance. They were all useful. In recent memory the books that I’ve loved are more focused on games:
- Jason Schreier’s 2 books, ‘Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made‘ and ‘Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry‘. Jason was a reporter at Kotaku. I thoroughly enjoyed both books and couldn’t remember which one was which, but that both were excellent. Amazing inside stories about the challenges of gamedev and the business around it.
- ‘Sid Meier’s Memoir!: A Life in Computer Games‘ was superb. I didn’t even really play or even really like Sid Meier’s games, but it was still a fascinating memoir. I started listening to it again as soon as it ended.
- ‘Doom Guy: Life in First Person‘ by John Romero, the guy who started id software who gave us Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake… still listening to it, it’s 17 hours. Fascinating and narrated by himself, so cool. The 90s was a great time for gaming, my halcyon gaming days.
Played some games this year, notably:
- ‘Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom‘ I enjoyed a lot on Switch until I started seeing way too many TOTK videos on Facebook and Insta and it killed the joy of discovery for me. I ended up deleting my Instagram account (I don’t miss it one bit) and deleting the Facebook app off my phone. Haven’t touched the game in ages but I did enjoy it a lot while I was playing it, got a good number of hours in. I avoided all spoilers leading up to playing it so when I landed in the underground abyss and needed to shoot light arrows to light up the pitch blackness it really struck fear into me, just that alone was a memorable videogame experience.
- ‘Super Mario Wonder‘ on Switch. Great game. Finished it, didn’t 100%, easy playing and moreish. Don’t feel the need to play it any more.
- ‘Super Mario RPG remake‘ on Switch. What a great, quirky, weird RPG. I dig it, still playing it. So full of charm and funny humour that’s right up my alley. I never played the original, Nintendo didn’t have much of a footprint in South Africa when I was growing up. But I’m pleased Nintendo’s remaking/remastering some of their games. Similarly I enjoyed ‘Zelda: Link’s Awakening‘ remake on Switch some years ago, has similar vibes.
- ‘GOW: Ragnarok‘. Wow. Really excellent game. Was actually more around end of 2022 but still.
I’ve got Spider-Man 2, Alan Wake 2 and Baldur’s Gate 3 on PS5 but am struggling to play them, probably because my TV’s too far away from the couch and positioned a little too high up so it’s not the most comfortable setup. Might get the PS Portal when it lands in South Africa so I can play them in bed. Bought some other PS and Switch games but nothing really memorable.
It’s been an interesting year full of blessings. Much love and here’s to a good 2024. AYYY YOOO PEACE.