Shahid’s 2012

An awful lot happened in 2012 for me. Much of it I can’t talk about, because believe it or not, there are still parts of my life I like to keep private. (I know, I’m a reactionary Luddite!) Here’s what I can talk about. You can do an awful lot in a year if you put your mind to it.

There’s a lot more behind the scenes that I can probably talk about in 2013, the seeds of which were sown in 2012. It’s been a hell of a ride. So please join me in sharing some of my year’s highlights.

I saw the launch of the best handheld gaming console in history, universally adored by everyone who has one. The PlayStation Vita.

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I beat the top table tennis player in our company. Once. He’s simply unbeatable, but I managed it. (He has beaten me a hundred times since, but I don’t care, I have my victory.)

From being unfit, unhealthy and obese in 2011, I became healthy, fitter and half-decent at table tennis, eventually topping the company Table Tennis Ladder. Trust me, for a guy who was too fat to pick up a ball in 2011 to being the guy who beat the champion who picked up the balls for him because the fat guy was too fat and unfit to pick up the ball in 2012 was no mean feat. No mean feat at all. 

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In one memorable match in a semi-final, I came from two games to nothing down to win 3-2 and go on to win the department final.

I went to GDC in San Francisco for the first time in a decade.

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I spoke with lots of developers there and started to finalise my plan.

I was moved into Business Development and got to set up a team called “Strategic Content” that has dramatically helped to change the way that Sony deals with developers, having put together a pitch for a huge programme with my team that got the backing of executive management. This has been the toughest, most demanding, most rewarding job I’ve ever done. I have a great team, a great boss and a great management structure. I’m not just saying this, it’s a fact. The results speak for themselves. There’s no way you can do as much as I’ve done in a year if you’re not absolutely flying at your job. It doesn’t sap energy. It gives you energy. I’ve had fewer sick days this year than at any time in my 30 years in the games industry. 

If you want to know what I’m like to work with, don’t ask me, ask my colleagues and business partners, who have my respect and gratitude.

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I ate a whole lobster for the first time

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I ate a beef bacon buttie for the first time. (Halal of course)

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I bought a Raspberry Pi and left it in the cupboard all year as punishment.

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My daughters got great grades in their exams.

My eldest got into one of the top universities in the country.

My youngest got told that she’s Oxbridge material (insha’Allah) and one of the top 1% in the country for English.

My wife, Brent’s Artist of the Year since 2011, continued to create fantastic art work and had some successful events, especially The Other Art Fair.
 
We had two great Eid parties with close friends and family.
 
I finished the Chimera remake for Mac and for PC – in my own time. In C++. Old school.
 
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 (Image above from my Spectrum original courtesy of @sokurah)
 
Chimera got featured by indiegames.com (I cannot tell you how much of a buzz this gave me!)
 
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I got interviewed by Retro Gamer for issue 111, and also for the Ultimate special edition 109
 
After they found one of my pictures of my beloved Palomino Blackwing 602 pencil on Instagram, I got interviewed by pencils.com
 
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I got interviewed by Ant Sharwood for a Murdoch web site! (Ant’s a great guy and the interview was too kind)
 
I wrote some pretty good blog material, including the widely read piece One Nation Under Gold.
 
My Mo Farah tweet retweeted over 500 times and got RTd by Jonathan Freedland
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I signed over 30 titles for PSM in record time, including Super Crate Box, Rebel, Fuel Tiracas and many others and helped make the PSM launch a success. (It would have been impossible without my colleagues, particularly Lorenzo, the PSM Master!)
 
I started signing loads of PS Vita titles (I wish I could mention them, but that honour should go to the parties creating the games)
 
I learned to play an acoustic fretless bass, which I now do pretty well
 
I visited San Francisco, Barcelona, Madrid, Köln, Brighton and leafy Tunbridge Wells.
 
One of my tweets got favourited by my favourite San Franciscan, Tim Ferriss
 
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Flew a plane for the first time at the Goodwood off-site, where I also got to drop a bomb out of the window. Joked with the pilot that I was probably the worst Muslim bomber of all time. (It was a grapefruit, and it was very funny at the time)
 
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Gave a well received presentation at Shoreditch House for TIGA. (OK, it was a great presentation)
 
Challenged my gamer colleague at Super Crate Box and more than doubled his original score, getting 306
 
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Broke 2000 followers on Twitter (without really trying to get followers to be frank, but it’s a nice landmark all the same.)
 
Improved my relationship (and Sony’s) with the independent games community through being honest, frank, supportive and willing to move quickly and to change.
 
Bought s ScanSnap scanner and started to dematerialise my physical stuff, thousands of documents now digitised.
 
Got BT Infinity 2 broadband and now get a solid 70Mbps down and 15Mbps up

Got an iPad 3 Retina, bought with 2 mins of battery left on my iPad in a Starbucks outside GDC in San Francisco after hitting refresh for an hour.

Got an iPhone 5

Got an Accu-Chek Mobile (it’s a blood testing kit for my diabetes and it’s really cool)

Got a Samsung Laser Printer (it was cheap as chips, but so cool)

Read a shit-ton of books, I mean an absolute shit-ton. I’ve lost count. Amazon loves me.

In the year of Netflix:
Watched Dexter from the start
Watched Breaking Bad from the start 
 
I visited a Masonic Lodge to watch a Facebook event, and I wasn’t sure which of those two made me feel dirtier. (Just kidding)

I donated an enormous pile of books (over a hundred), recognising that most of my reading is now done on iPad and Kindle. I still have hundreds of physical books left, despite now getting rid of close to 500.
 
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Managed to stay at the flat we’re in for another year by offering a voluntary rent increase of 7% in addition to a £150 one-off write-off. That was a win. A major win. I’ll tell you why in 2013.
 
Had a guitar lesson on Skype from Maneli Jamal, one of the best guitarists in the world.
 
Exchanged emails with Gareth Pearson, another simply amazing guitarist and like Maneli, a lovely guy.
 
Read the War of Art and exchanged emails with its author Steven Pressfield, a lovely guy. (Notice a trend?)
 
Learned that you can reach out to people and they will respond as long as you’re not a douche.
 
I bought over a hundred games on Steam.
 
I bought over a hundred games on iOS.
 
I got dozens of PlayStation games.
 
I played very few of any of them.
 
I took some nice photos.
 
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Set up Beyond the Final Boss with Mike Bithell and Byron Atkinson-Jones, to show kids who are getting bullied that if we can win, then can too. We plan on making this count in 2013. The racist bullies and neighbours who with the protection of the police terrorised me and my family for years when I was a youngster and for so long made me dread every waking and sleeping moment, well, they failed. And how.
 
 
There are two words I’ll leave this Gregorian year with.

الحمد لله

and 

Beyond the Final Boss

I’ve exchanged a series of tweets tonight with fellow video games industry figures Mike Bithell and Byron Atkinson-Jones. To my amazement, if not surprise, both Mike and Byron were bullied as kids. It looks like they’ve had the last laugh.

That’s incredibly powerful. Isn’t it?

Kids are still getting bullied today, and whilst racism (including Islamophobia and antisemitism) and homophobia were often triggers for bullying in the past, mostly, bullies pick targets and then carry on driving the dagger home, ruining lives. Even today, it seems that the lives of some children are destroyed by bullying. So whilst schools have been by and large much better at handling bullying in recent years, survivors of bullying know just how rough things can be regardless of any and all preventative measures.

What struck me about the conversation with Mike and Byron is that we all felt helpless and without wishing to speak for them, I know that for a long time I carried that pain with me. I’ve overcome it now, but am sensitive to the pain in others. Not everyone recovers. Not everyone survives. There is a silver lining to this cloud. Some of us don’t just survive, some of us become winners, leading amazing lives, charmed lives, blessed lives, way beyond the dark nightmares of our childhood when we didn’t see a way through the wall of hatred we’d have our lives smashed against by our fellow pupils on a daily basis; when there seemed to be no escape.

We made it through and we won and it’s our world now.

Yesterday, a guy in Selfridges was being aggressive towards me and wanted me out of the way. I stood up to him and raised my voice to match his, without becoming rude, or matching his aggression. I took the moral high ground, asserted myself and felt good about doing that. The younger me might not have been able to do that.

It’s possible to survive bullying, it’s possible to win despite it. We think that’s a powerful message to give to youngsters, so we’re going to get together to start talking about how to do this. We could do YouTube videos to begin with, and we could present to schools. I think we need to move past the idea that you can just “survive” bullying. To show vulnerable young people real, living examples of people who can thrive despite having endured bullying is a hugely empowering message and I think it’s one we need to get out. Video games are now the epitome of cool, as valid an art form as music and film. Those who are successful in this field can serve as very useful examples to the next generation.

If you’re interested in supporting our agenda, drop me a line (shahid@shhd.org) and I’ll add you to our mail list. Soon we will have a web site / Facebook page / YouTube channel and all that jazz.

I feel like video games, an industry in which I’ve had the privilege of serving for over 30 years now gave me a new lease of life beyond the pain I knew as a child.

Here’s some of Mike’s story:

I was bullied for most of my secondary school years. I was pretty much the lowest rung in my school, mainly because of nerdiness I think, but I was also a bit overweight, at least at the start. Mine wasn’t nearly as bad as many.. I remember constant verbal abuse and name calling, and getting beaten up by groups. I was also regularly locked in cupboards. My head of year’s response was to tell me to avoid populated areas of my school. Dickhead.

 

Two things shifted it.

 

The physical stuff was first, I hit six foot two at about 14, and gangs of bullies quickly learned that trying to hit me was a bad idea. I’m not violent, so I still got the verbal stuff, name calling, being told I was a loser. I never lashed out so was perceived as weak and targetted.

 

Year 11 was the big one. I remember it being over night, but it probably wasn’t. Male power ceased to be about strength or macho supremacy, it became about how often girls laughed at your jokes. Being the weird one who’d had to cultivate a sense of humour as a coping strategy suddenly made me OK. I was still a nerd, but from that point on those who didn’t like me just avoided me. Very preferable.

 

Now for Byron’s story. Some of you who went through some of what he went through will know the pain he felt when he was recounting these experiences in abbreviated form. Byron is a hero for me. I want other kids who are bullied today to know that they can get to where Byron is today, where Mike is today, where some of you who are reading this from the video games business are today and hold on by their fingernails to the hope that while the pain never completely goes away, hope and joy and camaraderie and self-respect and joy and mutual respect can eclipse it.

My Father was in the Army so every couple of years I would find myself at a new school (9 in total) and in each one of those schools there was a core group of bullies that made other kids lives hell, I realise that now but at the time it felt like they were singling me out. Each time the form of bullying would be different.

In one school I went through my entire time there being called ‘Gay’ I didn’t know what it meant but they kept at it and any kind of names intended to hurt do so if said enough and all the other kids who didn’t want to be picked on would join in out of fear for themselves.
 
We moved back to the UK (Wales) and in the school there one of the bullies took great delight in physical harm. One time he and his friend pretended to be friendly, got me to climb a tree and then spent what felt like a lifetime throwing stones at me, I couldn’t get out or down from the tree and in all this time my house was in line of sight and I remember just wishing my mother would come out to rescue me. He would also sneak up on me at school and push me down stairs and kick me in the genitals. It got so bad that I eventually spoke to a teacher about it, they took me to the headmaster and he then threatened to cane me for telling stories.
 
In one school I was bullied by a teacher, this was in Germany in an Army run school. I was given special math lessons, just myself and him. If I got something wrong he would hit me hard on the head.
 
Part of living in NATO headquarters meant having to go to a weekly boarding school some distance from home. At home my best friend was Charles, the son of an American soldier and he was black. I’d never encountered racism before and it never even occurred to me that there was a difference. Only british kids were sent to the boarding school because the high-school was based on the American education system which was vastly different from the UK one which meant Charles didn’t come with me. My first week there a gang of older kids asked us younger ones if we knew any black people and me not knowing any different said yes, my best friend. They proceeded to beat me up until I renounced him and all black people – which I refused to do. Eventually even older kids who were my neighbours at home found us and stepped in to save me. This had a profound affect on me, I feel more comfortable around non-whites than I do whites, which I suppose makes me a little racist now? It was at this same boarding school that another kid held a knife to my throat and threatened to stab me.
 
Thing is I just wasn’t an aggressive kid, my parents realised I was being bullied and tried to do something about it. The schools were powerless and if the teachers said anything then the bullying go worse. The answer was to try and toughen me up and at that time it meant sending me to learn Martial arts and I did a lot. Did it toughen me up – not really but it did teach me how to get myself out of situations and a knowledge that if I needed to do some damage, I could. I just refused to lower myself to the level of the bullies, I refused to do to them what they did to me which to them seemed like I was afraid so they kept on. I think this introspection saved me but at the same time makes me want to stand up now and tell kids going through this how to deal with it.
 
I have more stories like this.. as I mentioned on Twitter, I was born in Hong Kong so that made me a Chink to some kids, being raised in Germany made me a Kraut to others and having Welsh parents made me a sheep shagger to all the rest.
 
I would be bloody hard for me but as I said, if you get something moving about this then I will stand up and tell my story.
 

Write to me at shahid@shhd.org if you want to:

  • Be kept up to date on our activities
  • Take part in meetings
  • Be prepared to discuss your experience in a YouTube video
  • Contribute your time or skills to help us get the message out
  • Talk to kids at school (I can help arrange this, starting in London)
  • Stand alongside the likes of Mike and Byron

We are determined to make a difference. I know that recounting the pain is difficult, so I don’t expect everyone to do it. It’s not where I think we should focus anyway. The focus should be on what lies beyond the pain and perhaps how our experiences helped make us what we are today. I know this is painful for many. You don’t need to jump in straight away, but let the group give you strength. You’re not alone.

 

***

Mike Bithell 

Mike is a game designer. He’s worked in games development for 5 years. Mike’s designed games for console, PC and web. He’s also fiddled with mobile, but has yet to make anything of value. Probably best known for Thomas Was Alone, a pretentious indie platformer for Mac and PC. He spends far too much time on twitter.

Twitter: @mikebithell

Byron Atkinson-Jones

Byron has been making games on and off for 20 years, working for companies like Lionhead studios, EA and indie legends Introversion and PomPom. Byron now runs his own small company called Xiotex Studios where he continues to make games. You can find him on twitter as @xiotex where he mostly goes on about his obsession with Nando’s and game making.

Relaxation Allergy

This year has been one of the most successful in my life on several fronts. I've been operating at maximum speed and accomplishing more than I thought possible.

So now I'm five days into my Christmas holidays and realise that I don't actually enjoy having nothing to do. I don't enjoy not having some structure, even to creativity. I've found that creativity switches on when you give it some time every single day. That passion appears when you summon it, not when you wait for it. That fulfilment comes from effort, not from relaxation.

So tomorrow I'm going to get busy.

 

Instagone

Stops Here

You’ve all heard the news about Instagram, that they’re about to set loose some particularly nasty licence conditions. Many of the users are up in arms, and so they should be.

I’m not surprised. Facebook bought them. Mark Zuckerberg and I don’t share the same view on data privacy. He has what one might call “progressive views”. I stopped using Instagram, sadly, when Facebook bought them. I’ve since started using Facebook again. Hypocrite? No. I just made a simple adjustment. I now behave as if Facebook was a public arena. I post nothing, and say nothing, that I wouldn’t want my worst enemies to repeat.

With the news on the licence terms changing for Instagram, and with the recent improvement of the iPhone Flickr app (it’s not great, but it’s usable), I decided to take some conclusive steps.

  • I used instaport.me to download all my Instagram pics as a .zip file. This didn’t take long.
  • I uploaded the files to my Amazon S3 repository for long-term safekeeping.
  • I backed up my files locally.
  • I backed the files up to the cloud via CrashPlan.
  • I uploaded all my photos to Flickr and started to rename them.
  • I deleted my Instagram account, permanently.

You can find my photos here:

And my Flickr profile here:

Goodbye to an Old Friend

 

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I’ve finally had it with Simplenote sync. 

I’ve been using Simplenote for several years, and have gladly paid the subscription fee for the Pro version two years running. At $19.99 a year, that’s a lot to pay for an app that doesn’t provide much that the likes of IA Writer doesn’t. The latter doesn’t feature tags, or the brilliant search mechanism that Notational Velocity on the Mac made so popular, but that’s fine. I can still use Notational Velocity with Dropbox sync.

The great thing about Simplenote sync was that it was instant. If you think Dropbox is fast, you haven’t experienced the wonder of making a change on a Mac and knowing that the changes are already on your handheld before you’ve had a chance to pick it up to check.

Right now I’m sitting through a Simlpenote Dropbox duplication sync and watching duplicates of files appear over and over. NVAlt, a popular fork of Notational Velocity, also seems to be having problems with Simplenote sync of late and I think Brett Terpstra has pretty much given up on it. When Michael Schechter of A Better Mess wrote this, I decided to clip it and come back to it later to finally kick the Simplenote habit, which I did today.

Of course, given my “one-more-go” nature, I decided I’d have another look at the Simplenote Dropbox sync to see if I could get it to work. I copied my notes into a new Dropbox folder, pointed Simplenote at it and watched as it duplicated everything religiously and I got notification after notification of files being added to Dropbox. Enough is enough.

So, given the issues with the sync, and given that this was the only real benefit of Simplenote, and despite the fact that my subscription is paid until august 2013, I’m going to have to say a sad goodbye to the longest lived piece of 3rd party software on my iPhone.