Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Matthew Humphries, and I’m a freelance video game designer and technology blogger. I both write for and edit the website Geek.com on a daily basis. On the game design side, I handle a range of tasks: Creating initial game design overviews, fleshing out ideas into full design documents, story creation, script writing, gameplay reviews, prototype implementation and consultation on projects already in full production.
What’s a typical day like for you?
A typical day for me starts at 6 a.m. with a good breakfast while watching the news away from my computer. I then get up-to-date with all the technology news that’s popped up on my RSS and Twitter feeds overnight, before spending time filtering out the important stuff that needs covering that day, pushing it out to our writers and then writing up any stories that need to be made live on the site as quickly as possible. As I live in the UK and work for a U.S. website I have the advantage of being awake several hours before our main audience.
I try to finish up writing by 1 p.m., break for a 30-minute lunch and then move on to any design projects I have in progress for the afternoon. This work is quite varied: One day I might be creating a flowchart mapping out decision scenarios for the latest level in a game; the next, I might be writing the conversations key characters have during a cutscene, or producing top-down level maps, character designs, or playing the latest build of a new iPhone game and supplying feedback to a team.
I usually finish up contract work by 6 p.m., take a break to eat and relax until 9 p.m., then take some time to work on my own game projects. Although I don’t consider it a core part of my work, I have also been known to create the odd website for small business clients who don’t have the funds to hire a company to put one together for them.
What gear and software do you use, and why?
My main computer is a Windows 7 Intel Core 2 Duo desktop machine that I built myself. It’s hooked up to two 24-inch monitors, which gives me a huge productivity boost due to the added screen real estate and ability to use one screen as a reference area while I work on the other. I also have an 11-inch Compaq netbook running Windows XP, which has a 5-hour battery life and is easy to carry when visiting clients. Importantly, it’s also powerful enough to run builds of games due to the Nvidia ION graphics chipset Compaq kindly decided to ship it with. Finally I have a Windows XP nettop hooked up to a little 17-inch monitor for times when I don’t want any of the distractions of my main machine, and the netbook is unsuitable due to its small screen.
I use Google Docs when writing away from my main desktop machine. For design work I rely on OpenOffice.org as it’s completely free, but has very competent text document, spreadsheet and drawing/presentations capabilities. My flowchart creation is done in an application called Dia, and drawing/animation tasks are handled by Inkscape. Google Docs is growing by leaps and bounds, however, and I can see it being a complete replacement for OpenOffice.org and Dia before too long.
Gameplay prototyping requires a tool that allows for the quick creation of playable demos. In this regard I have found nothing better than Game Maker due to its simplicity, and at around $20 it’s a very cheap solution, too.
Other software I rely on includes:
- Firefox is my browser of choice, due to its large array of useful add-ons. My favorites include: LastPass, Download Statusbar, Gmail Notifier, WOT and FaviconizeTab.
- Pidgin for IM management across multiple accounts.
- Skype for chatting with clients from all over the world.
- TweetDeck for Twitter stream management. It’s quite a resource hog due to its use of Adobe AIR, but does the job of managing Twitter very well.
- Google Reader is the best RSS feed management I have found, and its built-in language translation is a killer feature.
- Paint.NET for image editing. It’s free, simple and fast.
- Avira Premium Security Suite as an all-in-one Window security solution. It’s worth paying for security and peace of mind when it comes to PC security.
- Screamer Radio for listening to online radio and helping me get through the day uninterrupted.
- Instapaper for saving web pages I really need to read later.
- Notepad++ for code and script writing as it supports just about every language, as well as being free to use.
- Sumatra PDF is a very lightweight alternative to Acrobat Reader that I highly recommend.
- Secunia PSI ensures all of my installed software is up-to-date without me having to go check each one manually.
What’s your favorite web working tip?
I’ve already mentioned the productivity gains I saw from having a second display hooked up to my machine. So much time can be wasted minimizing and maximizing windows, especially when you need to reference several documents. Two large screens, or even three if your machine can take it, make you a faster worker. I also find this works well if you mainly use a laptop: Hook up a larger screen if you can.
My other big tip is to always have paper and pen handy, and to make sure you use them every day. I use a small recycled paper notepad for writing down my to-do list every night before I go to bed. I also make notes throughout the day as writing stuff down really helps me to remember it. Writing every day has another couple of advantages, too. If you work on a PC all day it’s much harder to write if you haven’t for a few weeks, so it helps keep your hand used to using a pen. The other big advantage I find is it can help stave off RSI. By switching from holding your mouse to writing every so often you are giving your hand and lower arm a break. I’ve got no medical evidence to back this claim up, but it works for me.
If you would like to be profiled on WWD, get in touch with me at simon (at) gigaom (dot) com.
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