Made it through a whole year of these notes, and that hasn’t convinced me to stop so here you are: a reflection on January 2022.
At the start of the year, I splurge a bit on games via the Steam Holiday Sale and dedicate some of my spare time to them. This year was no different, and so far I’ve spent time with Nuts1, Near Death, The First Tree, and Pillars of Eternity2.
I’m a sucker for a FPS puzzler with a gimmick. The gimmick of this one is that you place cameras during the day to observe the movement patterns of squirrels at night, and this directs you during the day to find things in the environment. It’s short and really fun.
A FPS survival & crafting game, but instead of attempting to survive against zombies or other eldritch horrors, the threat here is the weather on a decommissioned antarctic base. I played it because it was the next game by the team that made The Novelist, a game I really enjoyed, so even though it wasn’t the kind of game I’d usually play (because I’m not into jump-scares and stress), I gave it a go. I’m glad I did as it’s quite short, and even if it’s not the best example of the genre, I found it fresh and innovative.
The First Tree
A walking-simulator / 3D platformer / find-em-up. You play as a fox and explore a polygonal wilderness to slowly uncover the backstory of the narrator who is revealing a dream he just woke up from to his partner. I picked this up because I enjoyed both the Shelter games and from the trailer I watched thought it looked similar. It’s not, and unfortunately it doesn’t quite work as any of the three genres it mashes together, although there is a nice twist in the ending, and the stylised aesthetic is really nice.
Pillars of Eternity
It’s big and sprawling and I haven’t finished it. It’s exactly what it promises to be, so if an isometric CRPG in a D&D mould is something you think you’d like, you won’t go wrong. If you’re not sure, then I wouldn’t really suggest it. I’m enjoying it so far; the world building and lore of the game is impressive and it plays well enough. Even though it’s a CRPG there’s scope to avoid fights in most situations if you’d rather lean on the RP rather than the C.
Like all RPGs it suffers from throwing you in to character creation as the very first thing you do. I think this is probably ok for a classic D&D fantasy game where you can expect players to understand the systems before coming in, but something like this where the system is new, and it has non-standard character races and classes then it feels baffling to be asked to choose all this stuff before starting. In the end I went with a wood-elf ranger class for my main character and did some mild min-maxing of stats not because I felt a particular affinity to these choices, but because I felt like I could understand them. I would like to play an RPG where these character decisions are made part of the first few hours of the game, an extended tutorial that lets you decide, by your in-game actions, what kind of character you’re going to play. Such games do exist, but they’re few and far between, and the default is for RPGs to expect you to be really into the accountancy of the systems.
In a fit of Dadness I took the opportunity during a rare in-person visit to our local big Morrisons to upgrade to a 1kg tub of Lurpak instead of our usual 500g tub. It was marginally cheaper, but also I hoped it would mean we could break the weekly cycle of needing to buy spread. Miraculously, like some sort of buttery cornucopia it seemed to last forever, and after a week I praised myself for making this choice. After two weeks I was cock-a-whoop as it still wasn’t done. In the end it lasted 2 weeks and 3 days. Of course, this just meant we had to buy a tub mid-week when there was no chance of visiting a large store, so now we’re locked into a mid-week 500g tub purchase, which is arguably worse than before. 2022 gives and 2022 takes away.
The last frontier of toilet training is the night-time wee. We’ve been trying on and off with R for about a year and we’d go for week-long streaks of dry beds, then we’d break the streak with a wet bed, sometimes for several nights in a row. When you have to wash some sheets, a duvet, and a blanket every day for a week you really get behind on your normal laundry. Around New Year time R was adamant she didn’t want to wear a nappy to bed any more so we started doing dreamwees with her. We put R to bed as normal, but when we go to bed later we take R to the toilet and sit her down to wee while she’s half asleep. So far it’s working wonders. Except for the nights where we go in too late and she’s already wet the bed. It’s not clear if we’ve just trained her to wee at about ten thirty wether she’s on the toilet or not 🤔. But we’ve definitely had long streaks of dry nights with this approach. As with everything to do with bringing up a child, it’s impossible to know if the trade-off we’ve made is right or wrong.
Work has had a different flavour so far this year. I’m spending a lot more time looking forwards and thinking about the future, which is a nice change from constantly looking backwards to think about how things have gone.
This year we’re gearing up for a big round of fundraising, and on the assumption this goes well, we’ve been thinking about what we do with the avalanche of money. One way I’ve been involved in this is taking part in some workshops to think about what we could build and how to advance the product. These were fun and refreshing, not just because of the “anything goes” remit3, but because I don’t usually get to feel so close to the product, focussing as I do on career progression for my reports. Something I hadn’t realised I missed.
The other thing we’ve been spending a lot of time on this month is thinking about the shape of the engineering organisation at the end of the year. We’re aiming to double the team and this brings a lot of challenges. It’s not clear what an ideal team looks like, but we have some hints from how we run teams at the moment. Our teams are quite lean, so if someone is long-term ill, or leaves, a team can suddenly feel very under-staffed, and if more than one such event happens we have to take some hard calls on team organisation. The team may not be viable anymore, but what does that mean for the work the team was doing - everyone is doing something important, so if the team goes away, where does the work go, and how do we manage that without disrupting the remaining teams. We want to avoid that, so we know that we don’t want to double the organisation by just doubling what we have in terms or team makeup and structure across teams. It’s not immediately obvious what that looks like. We also have to know what the company wants to do - if it wants to build out 10 different big features then we have to structure our teams to support that, and that’s structure would be different if the company instead wanted to focus on 5 features.
One thing we definitely want is more EMs, both full time like me4 and part-time who still have delivery duties on teams. We want our EMs to be closer to teams in this new world, although we’re not sure what exactly that looks like. I spend some time closely associated with a team in the last few months of 2021 to act as a guide through some particular challenges they were having. Without a clear remit of how my role complemented the role of the TL and PO on the team it did sometimes feel like I was a spare wheel. We’ve drawn up a complex RASCI chart for all the things and it’s clearer now what all our duties should have been. It’ll be a change switching some of my time over to a product focus again, rather than being solely focussed on people. But I’m looking forward to it, as I think it’ll give me some of the work with a faster feedback loop that I sorely miss, and direct involvement in shipping things that actually make a difference to our user’s lives. After all, that’s why I joined the company, and as much as I enjoy helping my reports grow and seeing the impact they have on our user’s lives, I can’t deny that I want to have a direct impact, not a puppet-master’s impact.
Not (yet) looking backward
At the start of the month, having quickly written up my December notes I started thinking about writing up a note to cover the whole of 2021. I struggled to think what it would be like though. 2020 was easy because it was the first one, but I have 12 fairly detailed notes on 2021, so what would a 2021 full recap look like? I’m still not sure. Obviously I have some distance on everything now so can pull some threads together that I couldn’t see in the moment. But maybe I don’t, yet, have enough distance to do that.
Even though I’m now writing my notes on Jan, which would seem like a clear line I haven’t fully committed to not doing 2021 notes. When I started this blog I wasn’t sure what cadence I was going to write in so didn’t want to rely on the naming scheme to maintain order. If I decided to write some week notes, or fortnight notes then I wanted them to slot in seamlessly with my year and month notes. All my notes have a
canonical_order attribute in the frontmatter. The 2020 note has
canonical_order: 1, the January 2021 has
canonical_order: 2, and so-on up to the December 2021 note which has
canonical_order: 13. This note, for January 2022, has
canonical_order: 15, leaving me space for
canonical_order: 14. If I decide to go back and write a note for all of 2021, I can slot it in where it belongs. If I don’t, well, that gap in the numbering is just my little secret.
I’m back in my rhythm and feeling good about running again, so this number should have been higher, but we came down with fairly grim colds and I just didn’t feel up to it for the last couple of weeks of the month. I forced myself to go for a run on the 30th though and it was tough.
I think I’ll try to sign up for a half-marathon this year. Ideally before summer and somewhere local. One of the Runthrough ones would be ideal, buuut, I just don’t fancy doing laps over that distance. I’ve done 3 or 4 laps for a 10k with them and that can be boring enough, so 8 laps for a half-marathon would be a real struggle.
4 of these were me finishing up the Jason Aaron Thor run I started in Dec. The first arc is really good, then there’s an event (Original Sin) to get through which isn’t very good, but sets up a new and interesting status quo (Jane Forster Thor) which is pretty good. After this there’s a slow build throughout towards another event (War of the Realms), which, inevitably, resets the status quo, unfortunately, it’s also, not very good. There’s a strong story running through the whole run, but side-tracks into two large events kinda derail things. I suspect the problem is the storytelling mode of modern crossover events is just not one that lends itself to stories being told well. Every issue of the main story has several dangling threads that are picked up in other books, and you’re left wondering if you should read them or not to get the most out of the story. The ones I did pick up on didn’t really add much to the main story. Some were almost entirely self-contained, but others really read like deleted scenes. Do I regret reading it? No, not really, I’ve certainly read worse comics, but I did remind me that while I prefer my comics to exist in a shared universe, I do want them to be relatively self-contained. Crossovers are fine. Crossover events not so much.