Sunday, September 22, 2013

When they finally found good beer, and indulged liberally.


First things first. Chris is out of the hospital, he is recovering at home. However given his current state of health he will not be coming to Estonia. Tyler will be taking his place instead. Chris will help Retora from the states, & hopefully he makes a full recovery soon!

Week two was a hectic start. Day one there was a top secret seminar with Scott Foe. We had actually gone out to watch football with Scott the night before, so we were in on the secret seminar.

And then they moved it up three hours…

So needless to say we were very surprised when we showed up 30 minutes into the talk, thinking we’d have plenty of time to hang out beforehand. It was a really great talk that I actually was sworn to secrecy about, and while I doubt Scott is reading my blog I don’t want to make enemies.

This event really sets the tone, there are so many things going on that you have to check the calendar constantly. Between secret talks, new mentors showing up, & last minute parties you never know what’s coming next. It’s both frustrating and exciting.

Tuesday & Wednesday were filled with mentor meetings and seminars. There were some really smart & helpful mentors this week. We got great feedback from user experience designers, talked monetization & user retention, and learned about publishing with Rovio (they make this thing called Angry Birds).

One of the biggest surprises about this program is what it really is about. We thought there was a little bit of training, some pitch practice, & most of our time would go towards making a game. Well, surprise! I haven’t written a single line of code for Kateas yet. We spend so many hours of the day networking & prepping for new mentors, it’s very unexpected.

On the topic of the game we have been doing a lot of planning. I have shifted from the idea of mobile games as a product towards mobile games as a service. It’s a subtle, but important distinction. You have to think about re-engaging players, providing value over the lifetime of the product, and constantly testing your changes.

Zak has been extremely busy with mentor management & pitch practice, so unfortunately there isn't an art update to show you. However if he can’t make the time this week, I’ll lock him in a box until art comes out. We've generally discussed the direction we want to go, so now it’s just about nailing it down visually. I think it’s going to be very cool and hopefully it surprises a few people.

So let's talk networking. It is done in bars & pubs. You talk to people. It’s all very strange to those introverted types. Thankfully I have Zak. Anyone who has met Zak knows he is, a friendly guy to say the least. Together we are… I think ridiculous is an appropriate term. If you don’t believe me, wait until you see pictures from the photo-shoot (yea, that happened). Using our ridiculous tag-team abilities, and some hilarious stories from our respective pasts (you know who you are) we have no problem making quick friends. This usually involves a fair bit of drinking, and the local favorite pub ‘Must Puudel’ (which means Black Poodle obviously) has been visited numerous times.

Now. The event of utmost importance. We found the best beer in Estonia. Valmiermuiža. It’s actually Latvian, but believe us, it’s the best thing in this country. We found this beer in some local pubs, and we also found it at a small festival we happened upon in Old Town today.

Old Town Tallinn is well, old. Very old. Probably older than my grand-parents even (seriously!). The whole thing is enclosed in the original city walls and it’s a fantastic place to get lost in. From group events to just hanging out with new contacts, we are probably in Old Town 4 nights a week, networking obviously. A quick bus ride & a short walk is all that separates us between 2013 and the 13th century.

The main square in Old Town

A strange seat

An awesome seat.

A rainy street in Tallinn

Walking in the streets!

A typical Sunday afternoon?

No one said life was only hardships right ;)

Looking forward this next week is a little lighter on mentors (only six as opposed to ten). Hopefully this means we get the new prototype up and running, there are play-testers coming at the end of the week. I might let Zak write next weeks blog, but he also might be locked in a box arting so we’ll see!


PS: Meet Sally. The Australian Cow living in Old Town.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The one where they meet a squirrel & several other nutty characters

Let’s start with the big news first. Zak & I made it to Tallinn, however Chris is still in Phoenix. The night before the flight he got incredibly sick, he had to go to the hospital. We are still waiting on test results to determine what the cause was, so there will be more updates soon. No one wants to get sick and miss a flight, but I think we are all happy it happened at home rather than on the flight to Iceland. Zak & I hope you make a full recovery soon Chris, we can’t wait for you to join us!

 Room for Chris!

So I’m sure many of you are curious as to how we got here. I will explain. No it is too much, I will sum up. We started flying on Friday, there was a joyous reunion in Reykjavik! We got lost in the Helsinki airport. We ate Reindeer for breakfast & then almost missed our ferry to Tallinn. A few bus rides & 1 broken piece of luggage later, we arrived at our flat in J. Sütiste tee.

The flat is small & cozy. We have everything we need & it even came with a squirrel on the balcony who we have named Frank. He likes to spy on me and eat the flowers. Its strange that this is now our home for a while, it will take getting used to for sure.

Now as for what we are doing in Tallinn. A typical day goes like so.

8:30 - Wake up. Shower. Eggs.
9:15 - Walk to the office. Talk about the day ahead, & last nights beer.
10:00 - Mentor Madness
1:00 - Break for Lunch. Talk about meetings, & future beers.
1:30 - Work time or Mentor Seminar.
6:00 - Leave and get dinner nearby.
7:00 - Return to the office with beers & motivation
7:15 - Work. Drink beers.
12:00 - Walk home. Talk about tomorrow.

That’s Monday to Friday. The details change here & there, but looking at the schedule for the next two months, you can safely assume that’s our norm.

Reading all of this I realize some of you probably need some context. Why am I blogging about Europe? Where the hell is Tallinn? And what is Mentor Madness??? So again, it’s a long story but I will sum up as best I can.

In January of this year I started working for Retora Games (you can check us out, you are probably on our site right now…).Tyler, the CEO, applied to a technology accelerator program after meeting someone at a conference. The gist of technology accelerators is, they give you money & training, you give them a piece of your company. And then you go off and do great things. Everyone is happy. Somehow, we got selected by this one. Tyler came to me & asked if I wanted to go live in Estonia for 3 months to make a video game. Anyone who knows me should be able to guess my reaction to this.

Now that brings us to Tallinn. We are going to get training, meet a ton of people, and oh yea. Finally finish Kateas. If you haven’t heard of it, well don’t worry you will.

Lets talk Mentor Madness for a minute shall we. Imagine you are given a list of 5 names and told tomorrow you will have a 20 minute meeting with each of people attached to those names. So you do some research, find out these people are not only interesting but generally really impressive. There have been marketers, veteran game developers, people who have been through the accelerator, & even an advisor to the Prime Minister of Estonia. It’s called Mentor Madness for a reason. You jump from meeting to meeting, asking questions, showing off your game, talking about the team. It never stops, thankfully Zak takes notes very well.

So far the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive about the game & about the team. There are loads of things we weren’t prepared for on the business side, and I’m glad we started learning them now. The sheer amount of numbers & acronyms I’ve jammed into my head in the past week makes me think I’m in college again. Using this feedback we have started revamping the game, hopefully by next week we have something cool to show everyone. For now I will say the old kateas you knew & loved will still be there, but it’s going to have a shiny new wrapper.

The people here are fantastic. Our accelerator company is running alongside another tech startup team, & there have been a few collaborative events. One involved cake, and lengthy discussions about how pie is really better. The other involved traveling around nearby Estonia, there may or may not have been a waterfall involved. Afterwards everyone got drinks at some local bars, it’s been nothing but fun.

 Its been ok...

Looking forward. The next week has three mentor days, an indie game developers conference, and possibly a game jam. Hopefully by the next blog post I will unveil something about the new game, and I will do a more focused piece about working in the office, fear not.

We are super excited to be here. Every day has been incredibly busy. All I can say is I love it & I hope you enjoy hearing about our European exploits!


PS: Meet Frank.