Bored at Work?

Do you dread going to work every day?

Once in a while, you can expect to need a little extra effort to roll out of bed and into the morning commute. If that’s a daily occurrence, maybe something is wrong.

Are you stuck doing the same things over and over? Some uninspired pencil pushing? Or pressing on a keyboard?

Do you daydream through mandatory meetings that don’t really need you to be there?

Do you get tired of answering all of these questions?

Okay, sorry about that. It think you get the point. Sometimes the things you have to do to get by are not that exciting. You still have to do them, or something like them. Keeping a steady job has a value to it — the paycheck, to be literal.

After years of playing it safe, maybe you have found yourself a little bit stuck. The routine is not so bad. It’s just not what you imagined you’d be doing when you were a kid.

I have been lucky in my career. Then again, I have also had a low tolerance for boring, repetitive, “safe” work. My favorite move has been to join a start-up, or begin one of my own, and see how it goes.

There’s one thing that start-ups are not, and that’s boring. There’s another thing that they’re not, and that’s safe. Or stable. So I spent many years bouncing from one to the next. For me, it was fun and exciting.

I am certain it would scare the pants off of most normal people. I am not judging, just saying that my tastes may be a little on the risky side when it comes to working.

Anyone who has been following this blog knows that I left the safety of my long-time employer, Guidewire, in December. It was a great run of 11 years, and it got waaaaay too safe for my tastes.

That’s just how big companies are because they have to be or they would go out of business.

Guidewire is doing really well, at the opposite end of the “going out of business” spectrum. For that, I am grateful. Their continued success is funding my start-up, albeit indirectly.

(I own stock that I earned while I worked there. Just spelling it out in case anyone missed it. Sometime start-ups pay off in more ways than job satisfaction.)

So here I am, at it again, at the cusp of launching a new start-up. You might think that I already have with StoryTime and this blog. However, until now, I have been taking it easy, not worrying too much about how this is going to pay the bills and put my kids through college.

Now it’s time to get serious.

For the past few weeks I have been working on a course called Design a Game. It’s for anyone who wants to break free of the doldrums at their regular job. Rather than give up the safety and comfort of the steady paycheck, sign up for my course, and put that spare time to good use. Start of a hobby creating games. I’ll show you how.

Anyone interested? If you want to learn more about it, check out this page. You’ll find everything you’d want to know about the course to get started living the dream of being a game designer.

It’s for beginners. Everyone has to start somewhere.

And it’s also my big start at creating courses and helping people get more out of life, without the risk.

Fun stuff.


What Have I Been Up To?

If you are wondering why I have been quiet, now you can see for yourself. I have begun production of my first training course, called Design a Game. Today I posted my first video. This is the introduction.

Check out the video.

The course is targeted at beginner, anyone who is unsure how to start creating games. I aim to have the whole thing ready by July.

For now, see if this is something you might like. If so, make sure you are signed up to my newsletter.

Or just watch to see what a dork I am.


Another On-schedule Release

A couple of weeks ago, I scheduled the release of StoryTime that went out yesterday afternoon. The latest includes a means for authors to publish their story-games, completing the story-creation arch, so to speak.

Getting this done required the usual moments of despair, grind through difficult and tedious bits, and adjustments to scope. The original plan included publishing and a review process so that I can keep an eye on what people are sharing. Ever ambitious.

Within a few days, I realized that publishing on its own was plenty of work for two weeks, so I decided to skip the review process for now. Whatever people publish will be out there instantaneously. I’d be happy if anyone tries it. Blocking my brave early adopters is not a priority. Also, I have ways to turn off specific story-games if I need to, say, if someone violates my reasonable terms of authorship.

Scope always finds a way to expand. This release was no exception. Even after deferring one of the two major features, I found plenty of ways to do more than I originally thought about. For example, I implemented a neat trick for storing code look-ups that I learned from one of the best DBAs I ever met back in the early 2000s.

I could have had a separate table for each type of code: e.g., content ratings, genre, status codes, and so on. Instead, I have just one self-referential table with separate views for each type. That standardizes the data for look-ups (code, display name, sort order) and allows me to have a single method in the API to access any type of code.

In layman’s terms, I did a little extra work now to make things simpler overall and save myself a lot of work later, assuming I continue to work on this project. These trade-offs presume future work. Otherwise, I improved the parts no one else can see for nothing.

By the last days, having a deadline saved me once again. In my growing fatigue and scramble to get things in, I was tempted more than once to fix this or that non-critical problem. I pulled myself back with a gentle reminder of my fast approaching deadline.

Here’s a summary of how I manage on-time releases:

  1. Plan somewhat ambitiously, expecting to adjust scope once I get into it.
  2. Counteract the panic that I’ll never finish by focusing on the most important next step.
  3. Finish that step, while considering which of the least important parts should be deferred.
  4. Allow myself the chance to pick up a few improvements that are in the path of what I am working on.
  5. Build things in a way that is backward compatible with what’s running.
    • Ideally, releasing is only a matter of a quick database backup and deployment through my environments.
  6. Keep the release process simple.
    • I release to “staging” first to find problems that don’t show up in my development environment.
    • Once I have fixed all of the critical problems in staging, I click the button to promote the code to production. Takes about 2 seconds.
  7. Send a notice to my subscribers. Then sit back, take a deep breath, and bask in the warm feeling of accomplishment.

So there you have it. Alright, that’s enough of how the sausage is made. Go play StoryTime. Write and publish your own story-games. Then you can share your game with your friends. It’s fun. You’ll see.

Fair warning: The user experience needs some serious improvements. Start with a small story, and try not to get too frustrated. Send me feedback about it using the Contact form in the game or on this website.

In other news…

Are you a software developer? You might want to subscribe to the Insider Newsletter. I’ll be creating some training materials next. My course ideas include:

  • How to Design an Online Game—from game concept to system design; good for people working on non-gaming apps, too.
  • Building an Online Game—everything you need to know to build modern web-based systems.
  • StoryTime Walk-through—where I share how StoryTime was designed and written.

If you are interested in any of these or have some other interests, let me know using the Contact form.


What’s Next for Happy Spirit Games

Spring is the time for planting. California gets a head start, since most of us have a milder climate than, say, Upstate New York where I grew up.

My grandfather had quite a green thumb. Every year, he carefully planned and planted his garden. The effort started while things were still frozen outside. He might get some tomato plants going using those little starter pods.

These things.


You put these in a plastic tray with a quarter inch (about a centimeter) of water, and they puff up. It’s kind of fun to watch them “grow.” Once they’ve expanded, you stick seeds in them, one per pod. The tray goes under a lamp or in sunny window (if you have one), and before you know it, you’ve got a bunch of tiny plants growing.

Then around the end of May, things have usually warmed enough that you can move the plants into the ground.

Like I said, in California, things warm up sooner than that. My seeds went directly into the ground. The rain we’ve had over the last week or two was enough to get my seeds started. Now I have little shoots of beans, sugar peas, carrots, radishes and pumpkins poking out.

Now watch while I turn this into a metaphor. Do you see what’s coming?

I have been preparing the Happy Spirit Games garden bed since December. First, I’ve been writing to you faithfully, at least once a week, often twice. I hope that’s kept you at least mildly entertained.

Second, I have been building out the StoryTime gaming system for choose-your-adventure style games. The next release is literally days away. Just a few final adjustments, and authors will be able to publish their stories.

I have at least one active author who will appreciate being able to publish. Keep working on that story, Dad.

So, now that it is spring, the time has come to plant some seeds. Happy Spirit Games is meant to be more than a hobby. I intend to turn this into a business, and that means I need to sell something.

Well, no one would pay to play StoryTime. That’s not realistic at this point. Someday people will be handing me fistfuls of twenties, but not yet.

Instead, I will sell my expertise in the form of online courses. I have a few ideas in the works.

  • How to Design an Online Game
  • How to Develop a Gaming System
  • Build Your Own Game
  • Hands-on Software Development: Level Up Your Skills on a Real Code Base

I plan to have the first course ready by June if not sooner.

I am also thinking of producing a few videos where I upgrade some part of StoryTime while you watch. Coders might like that. Everyone else might rather find a good game to play.

Do you know anyone who might be interested in what’s coming? I’d love to bounce my ideas off of people would are keen on learning. That way, I can be sure to cover what people really want to know, not just what I think they’d want to know.

By the way, I spent some time today on this website. Well, you’re on it, so look around.

You can subscribe to the Insider’s Newsletter. Check out the page even if you’re already signed up. You’ll like it.

And you can use my new contact page to send me a note. I look forward to hearing from you.

1st Quarter Progress Report

Today is the last business day of the month and of the first quarter of 2018. That means it is time for a quick look at what I’ve managed to do so far on my “time off.”

My dream of creating StoryTime for real is almost realized. This is the first-generation, baseline level of StoryTime, which is all I would have expected to produce by myself given three or so months. At this point, people can play story-games, establish an account, and create their own story-games. That’s all working today.

In the next two weeks, players will be able to publish and share their stories. That’s the last step in establishing the basis for the game. Once writers can realize their dreams of creating online worlds of their own, it’s game-on for StoryTime.

In corporate-speak, Happy Spirit Games had a great quarter and is poised for success.

Now the big question is what to do next.


Irrational Optimism

Today I did something rational. I looked at what I have accomplished since I left my previous employer in December.

  • Launched the StoryTime Reader with an original story-game, The Mission.
  • Got 11 responses to the player’s survey.
  • Completed 4 minor releases: authentication, administration, API and UI enhancements, and the Writing Desk
  • Posted 26 times to this blog (now 27)
  • Signed up 14 subscribers to my newsletter.
  • Published 3 newsletters.
  • Updated the Happy Spirit Games website.

Maybe a few other odds and ends. I had hoped to be a little further along. StoryTime players can create their own games now, but publishing is not yet available. That’s okay. I never thought I would be done by now. Close enough for horseshoes.

From the player’s survey, I gleaned a few insights. People want longer stories than The Mission with more intricate plot lines. The Mission is intentionally very short to be sure that my very early adopters could make it through in one sitting. So it’s good to know that people want more.

People also want pictures. Yeah, I know. While a good interactive fiction story gets you to keep reading, just like a page-turner of a novel, the eye candy is essential to draw people in and jump-start the imagination.

The third insight is that it’s easy for people to miss the nuances of a story-game. I wrote The Mission using a somewhat vague style, attempting to keep things a little mysterious until the end. Many who only played once did not understand the basic premise. Some took things too literally. Others didn’t have enough context to make sense of it.

You could say that was due to poor writing. In fact, someone did. After my son played, I asked him a couple of thought-provoking questions which showed that he also missed some of the key aspects. By asking, that made him curious enough to play again and look beneath the literal meanings of words to see what is really happening in the story. I won’t tell you here—spoilers.

The point is that some well-phrased questions at the various endings can raise the value of the experience. Comprehension becomes part of the game play when players are aware that the story is also a bit of a puzzle to solve.

So I learned some things. Add that to the list of accomplishments.

  • Learned some things.

Then I thought about what to accomplish next. The short list for the upcoming six weeks looks like:

  • Release StoryTime v1.5 with publishing.
  • Design a course on how to create an online game.
  • Grow the audience to 500 or more people.

I can do the first two, no problem. That last one looks hard. To get a sense of who already plays these games and where I might find people who want to create their own, I peeked at some of StoryTime’s competition.

Here’s where being rational gets the better of me.

I already knew that the StoryTime has more than a few competitors. Still, ignorance is bliss. Not knowing what else is out there means I am not blatantly copying (not sure whether that is a virtue), and I get a kind of pioneering excitement by pretending I am the first.

It’s also irrational to remain ignorant.

A few companies, such as Choice of Games, are doing well at this and making money. Choice has been going for 8+ years, proof that a commercial effort can work, and also way ahead of me. Simultaneously heartening and discouraging.

Many of the systems for interactive fiction are free, powered by hobbyists. Many have been abandoned, sometimes with parting words from their creators. “All is lost. We have abandoned hope. There be no profits here.”

Let me know if anyone wants this…

Not exactly the best marketing effort.

When you see that someone has gone into the dark forest that you are about to enter never to return, how does that make you feel? A fool keeps charging in. The rational person looks for another path.

Today I found a system that is just like StoryTime but more complete, with a graph of the chapters that shows how they’re connected. It’s all online and easy to get started. But when I tried to plunk in The Mission, I couldn’t get past the first scene. The story was gone. Hmm. Might be a training issue. The documentation says it should work.

So I checked the blog, and the last post was in 2015, saying something like “2.0 beta — improvements coming soon…” I can see the first release in December of 2014 and a steady stream of releases until about June. Like it’s me on an alternate timeline from three years ago. Elsewhere on the site, I see that the creator moved on to writing and selling two story-games and pretty much abandoned the tools for authors.

It already exists. Bad. It’s better than mine. Worse. It was given up for dead. Awful.

Ugh. Demotivating. Being rational makes me depressed.

So forget it. I’m going back to being irrationally optimistic. Tomorrow I will get back to work on StoryTime and enable publishing within the next two weeks. Or maybe in three.

Call me foolish. Someday I’ll get this to work out while others are sitting around being smugly rational. Or I will have learned a lot trying.

Now where am I going to find 500 readers?


Want to Create Your Own Games?

I have an easy way to start creating your own online games. Play StoryTime, the premier game by Happy Spirit Games.

As of yesterday, StoryTime sports a brand new Writing Desk feature that allows you to create your own stories. Write scenes and build signposts. It’s easy. It’s fun. The quickest way to get it is to try it.

Yesterday I posted instructions on how to get started.

Here’s a little sample of a story-game I created in about 10 minutes.


It’s simple and it wouldn’t take long to play. Like I said, I only spent 10 minutes on it.

Imagine what you could do in your spare time. You could create an entire game world with twists and turns, full of adventure.

At the moment, StoryTime games are based on writing. Someday I will give you a way to add images. For now, focus on the power of your words.

Try it now. I know you have 10 minutes. Once you start thinking about it, you won’t want to stop until you have created a masterpiece.

Play StoryTime.

And remember to click Save to preserve your work. Auto-save is coming, along with a lot more features.

Tell me what else you wish it would do. Leave a comment below or send a message using the Contact page.

Finally, sign up for the Happy Spirit Games newsletter to get insider news and early notifications.

Have fun!