Monday, December 28, 2015
Where Have We Been Since July? Back from the Trial of Fire Known as 2015
Where Have We Been?
Ok, we have to come clear with some things. It has been months since our last blogs posts. With the prior post about supporting Kenneos on Patreon, we have come back from almost near silence since our last post in July! Ironically, that blog post was about how not to make your job define you yet it was indeed my new job (and book) that caused the "hiatus". It wasn't a true hiatus as I simply didn't have the time to do much of anything these past few months (and I'm actually not out of the woods yet).
So, what have I/we been doing? Where the hell is the anime store? Why are you using a picture of Saitama from One Punch Man as the header?
To explain, back in June of this year something finally happened and (I believe) we mentioned in our last post. Basically I got a developer position with a major NYC studio. For years I was working as a very very underpaid web developer for a semi-local camera store...nearly 9 years to the day that I finally left. I used that job's mundane monotony to of course revive the site from stagnation that started in 2004 by starting this blog, running the anime business and beginning my own independent development work with our (seemingly forever unfinished) Tenshi-Oni game. The camera job hardly let me do anything development wise, Hurricane Sandy wiped out my anime figure business's momentum and like Saitama here in episode 1, I was searching for work for a long time, stuck in a sad state of loss and numbness. I had some programming jobs and even some well known game companies turn the other way either due to antiquated code tests or simply because of insane prerequisites. Nearly 5+ years of time wasting, hope raising daily emails from practically useless spam-like IT recruiters did nothing. My success as a business owner and skills in various fields that outdo most college grads meant nothing to them... and for some time, it was killing me.
It was back in April of this year that things started to finally break the status quo. I got an interesting email from the good people over at Packt Publishing. They wanted me to write a programming book centered on IOS game development and in April I began the tough work of writing a programming book. Not too long after that, I was emailed form the co-owner of that studio I mentioned before. They were looking for Unity developers to join their team. Interestingly enough, in November of 2014, shortly after publishing PikiPop, I taught myself Unity development. My past code-centric training that began in 2001 with C++ made knowing Unity a breeze and I was confident I could have been of help to that studio. It was that last blog post in July when I was already in the thick of things, working on projects for things such as The Late Show with Steven Colbert and some big business that oddly wanted boring boardroom garbage in VR apps.
There was a major problem with all of this that I couldn't mention until today...and that was the ridiculous hell that position put me through. Here I was finally leaving that camera store web job, excited about what this could be for my future as a developer and for what the move could be for the site as well...and at the same time I'm writing a 200+ page IOS game dev book. Problem was, this place didn't tell me my salary up front...something very sneaky; even more so when it's a studio with a shit ton of money and celebrity clients. I ignored this red flag due to my years of struggling to get out of my past position and the heart break of what Hurricane Sandy did to the anime business that could have broke me free much sooner. To the dismay of family and friends who warned me of the cryptic salary and expectations, I dove in and started that new position at the very start of June.
It goes without saying that with my book and this new job, my time for what remains of the store and this site was hampered. I was working 5 days a week in NYC from about 9:00am until 6:00pm with a train that takes 2 hours to get to and from NYC. My work day started at 6:45am and didn't end until about 9:00pm...and even then my bosses (all 4 of them) had me do work for them until 1 am from home. Most weekends was me also working all day, doing web tasks that nobody seemed to know how to do with projects that weren't even my own. I traded 1 depressingly computer illiterate boss for 4 horrendously developer illiterate & (mostly) computer illiterate bosses (half of them being bipolar). I was put into a place of great pressure to perform, but at times oddly was given some great tools to work with (ie: they gave my personal Unity account full pro benefits) Every day was both a kiss and a slap in the face. It took almost two weeks in before I found my salary..and it wasn't even close to the ~$60K that junior Unity devs make...it was half. I was making almost exact to the previous camera job. Ok, they did pay for my $400 monthly train ride and paid for lunch... but I always felt like I was being guilt tripped into it; yet people from MTV events and social media people at the place would just leech off the hours and relax while I struggled doing everything from web design to helping other people code their projects. Add this and the fact that they were having an unpaid intern work 30+ hours a week on development projects and at times calling developers "crazy and you can see the motivation to that post I made in July about not making your job your identity. That post was my realization that I jumped into a trap.
Not too long after that post, I began my own project...an insanely over exaggerated, rushed timeline app for a major diamond dealer. It was utter hell, given 6 weeks to work on an app solely (well, originally by myself) with ever changing features for a client that didn't even know what an app was, while still being told to assist my coworker 40 hours a week. It was enough to make a person go mad. After the app eventually went past the deadline (was really only given 3 weeks to focus on it) I got some extra time on it, with lovely bipolar scolding about how worthless I am to boot.
Thing is, I was doing stuff with Unity that nobody did before in time frames that would make any legit developer's head spin. In reality, like Saitama here, I went through a trial by fire. Out of it I realized I was indeed a legit programmer; able to solve problems that most programmers would throw the towel in for. I also physically got stronger. Despite the emotional distraught that job did (got nervous breakdowns that I haven't seen since I worked as a manager at Friendly's while in college 10+ years ago), I was physically getting stronger from the walking and train rides to and from NYC. The horrible work environment was uncovering the programmer I truly am and molded my physical body back to my high school age. Emotionally, the work was taking its toll and the client was making me see first hand some of the truth in some preconceived notions I had about NYC and what that city would deem as "successful" in certain "high ranking" individuals. I was seeing NYC through eyes that sees nothing but garbage, stupidity and evil that is the real NYC and the real New York/Long Island workplace.
To the shock of many who didn't know my struggles, I quit that job...with the true colors of my past employer quickly showing in light of me finally standing up for myself. As a business owner, author of a programming book and a fully realized programmer, it was my time to finally end the nearly 20 years of being a door mat by employers. One would think that I would be happy to be free... but it was only a brief time of relief as the realization of the debt I still faced (and still do) was now looking at me straight in the face now. What remains of my anime figure business and this site was not enough to survive. So,in a panic I applied for a retail job at a Costco near my apartment and even managed to begin the training stages of a consultancy job I found through Flexjobs.com. One week out of that last NYC job I was now having to wait for the processes of two jobs to come through and feel the grief of returning the the horrors of retail/food after a decade of being away from it. At the same time we were losing my fiancee's grandmother to the complications of heart disease and age; soon to be the 4th grandparent we've lost since November of 2013. As one can guess, things have not been great up to this point. Yet, despite the despair and fear, I felt a sense of calm and a feeling that all will be ok now that now I'm free from the employers that bound me and hindered me from my goals all these years.... or maybe... I finally cracked. It was what happened next that took me by surprise.
The week after I quit that NYC studio didn't give me time to rest nor did it grant me the ability to grieve over the fact that the woman who gave us an apartment to live in, my fiancee's grandmother, was on her death bed. Recruiters were ruthless now that I came from a developer position. The change to Unity last November was a blessing as it oddly gave me more credibility than my C++ and iOS native coding experience (skills that are more advanced than Unity honestly). IT recruiters were on me like flies on shit and I was on the phone hours on end. I wanted to reboot the store and my own projects but was in the full time job known as ferrying IT recruiters and going through, again, mostly time wasting pre-interviews and questionieers. I was on the verge of getting two low paid jobs (Costco and that social media consultancy) but they too had me wait and go through hoops.
Then, amongst all of the emails, Linkedin posts and calls was one LinkedIn message from a studio in NYC. This wasn't some recruiter but one of the heads of the company. Granted... this was the same scenario as what got me the job at that hellish the studio I quit; a company head messaging me directly on Linkedin. Understandably, I was a bit hesitant at first. I did the routine I have become so accustomed to, scheduling a call and preparing to tell my job situation now with the caveat of the recent Unity dev hell I went through. To my surprise, the manager was really nice and they were a studio really looking for my exact skills, skills I came to learn are almost nowhere to be found...the ability to make non-game features / APIs in Unity (since Unity is a game engine). That development hell made me a rare commodity in the programming world. I found out from this person that I was ranked as the #1 person in the NYC area on LinkedIn for Unity development; my constant phone calls and emails were the result of this. He hired me on the spot, at 2x the pay I was making at that last studio with the ability to work from home some days and via contract. In other words, I'm still my own business owner but get to help a studio, a studio who this past month I've come to see really likes me and is just an amazing group of people to work with. I work with other devs and for the first time in the 17 years I first started working a job, I felt like I am actually appreciated for my work and skills. The hours up until x-mas eve were in some cases (due to the project) even worse than my last studio job... but I didn't care. It makes me tear up in happiness thinking about it. My first job was as a baseball umpire at 15 for my baseball league..I was told I didn't have what it takes. My next job was a toy stocker at Kay Bee Toys during the x-mas of 2000 when the PS2 was launched...I was never told that I was seasonal. The following role was that horrid job at Friendly's in April of 2001, the job that I found first hand how horrible people from my town were. I was call a retard by people, treated like garbage and worked to the bone while in college. In college I was doing computer science mainly with the goal to make videogames...I was told I was an idiot for not wanting to do CS for what it "really is for". The hatred for the job at Friendly's made me join a network marketing group that I worked my ass off...only to come out as the only person willing to put in work and ending up $40,000 in debt. After Friendly's I got a job at Office Max... and was told I was stupid by customers who thought I was "on speed" because I drink one energy drink in the day instead of the 10 cups of coffee most do. I left Office Max to work at an eBay consignment job...that soon went out of business (though it did help the start of the anime store). The next job in the summer of 2006 was that camera store "web dev" job... a job I was told I was useless in as well and got stuck in until June of this year. Then finally that studio in NYC in June... where I was told I was a useless programmer.
As one can see, I've been stepped on for many years and now, now it's finally time I stand amidst the ruins of the past. Not only has this job finally give me a sense of confidence and an eagerness to improve myself, it also helped start something that now finally is happening...the marriage to my other half who's been here since the site started in March/April of 2002. On x-mas eve of 2007 I proposed to her but we stand still not married thanks to the myriad of events that tried to prevent it. Now, we stand here with that date, September 10th, 2016. The papers have been signed and we are getting ready for the wedding that should have happened so long ago. I'm hoping this new studio will last for at least all of next year but even then., I know we will continue to stand stronger than ever before.
With this, it is now time to get back to the anime store, my voice acting and oh yes..the Tenshi-Oni game...
Where is the anime store?
In the middle of my development hell chaos there was a change in security measures for online stores and retail in general in the US. Many of you probably got those surprise credit cards in the mail with the chips on them...yep, that security measure. Well, we had to update the SSL of the site for the additional safety of the customers. Granted, we don't keep any payment information on the store. All of that is done on the site of Paypal, Amazon and Bitpay. So the store was automatically taken down in absence of a new early enforced SSL certificate. We got it back but the database connect is still off. So, as we speak the anime store is still down but once we tidy up the SSL and reconnect the database (something we couldn't even focus on in the few months it's been down), the store will be back up. In the mean time we will soon (I know, it's after x-mas) have a bunch of our new and old stock on the store on our Ebay and Amazon branches in the mean time. The store is not gone and we have a number of really great figures on hand we need to move out before we even think of doing any more preorders, pre-orders going forward that unfortunately will have to have deposits due to a number of customers abusing our generous no-deposit preorders we've been doing since 2007 :-/.
It's the game that both won't ever die nor ever seem to come to life in a completed form. It started in 2003 and almost became a full game on iOS back in 2012. So many music artists in particular gave us music to use for the game... a number of people have waited and have gotten nothing in return. I have promised Tenshi-Oni for many years and it is killing me that it keeps being stuck in limbo.
I'll use this to announce that in secret I've been rebuilding Tenshi-Oni in Unity. With a combination of my vastly improved skills as a developer and the tools I have as a Unity pro developer... Tenshi Oni is back in production and it is planned to be greater than it ever was, being a "living AMV" 2.5D-side scrolling slashing bullet hell. If any of you are following our other site, Anime.fm....you will get a hint of what we have on the development block. I know I have sometimes bashed Kickstarter and other crowd funding platforms, but to help make this as close to looking like a AAA title as possible, I will make a prototype/tech demo as soon as possible and that will be used to promote a crowd funding campaign. I want all artists who have helped us thus far (and others we plan to contract along the way) to get compensated in what can be a really great game if my vision is brought to the numerous platforms Unity can export to. AMVs were what got this site on the map back when internet fame wasn't even a thing and it could be AMVs that inspire a major part of the gameplay in this game. After working in production studios as one of the lead developer in numerous current gen projects, I could very well make Tenshi-Oni something far beyond the amateur iOS build it was a few years ago.
I don't want to jinx myself again with that game so we will only post new Tenshi-Oni status when there is more to show...but it is being reworked into Unity. Like Saitama, it was through the pain of extensive training that has brought us back from the brink.
Here's to a bright new future in 2016. It had a long time coming.