Adam “Atomic” Saltsman has wise words for anyone trying to break into game design: “Be your own first critic, all the time. That sounds negative, but it’s not about pessimism at all; it’s about seeing your work clearly through the eyes of others, and being dedicated to making your game what it deserves to be.”
By following this advice, Adam has created wildly successful games like Canabalt and Hundreds, among others. (I take no responsibility for how you spend the rest of your day after clicking those links.) I caught up with Mr. Atomic to find out his favourite gadgets, current reading list, best time-savers, and more.
Location: Austin, TX
Current gig: Game Maker
Current computer: iMac
Current mobile device: iPhone 4
One word that best describes how you work: Inconsistently
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
A Moleskine 5×8 squared notebook and 0.7mm Pentel P207 mechanical pencil are my favourite things for taking notes, doing level design, sketching out creatures, blocking out APIs, keeping track of details on calls — pretty much everything. I need a water bottle and my wrist brace at all times. As far as computer stuff goes, I am hugely dependent on my Wacom tablet, and despite its flaws, I am very glad that OS X exists.
What’s your workspace like?
I have a big flat table-style desk with a bunch of crap on it, a cheap office chair, and a lot of bookshelves. I like having things like playing cards, dice, and tokens handy for prototyping, and there are a lot of framed prints on the wall, mostly for inspiration. I have a sweet Allosaurus figurine too.
What’s your best time-saving trick?
So this advice is written from a place of remarkable privilege and opportunity, but the worst time sink in the world is giving yourself too much time for work. Force yourself to stop work at a reasonable time, leave some tasks unfinished for the next day when you can. Having a life is as simple as spending less of your day pretending to be productive.
What’s your favourite to-do list manager?
I use Remember The Milk in Dashboard widget form to track stuff with hard dates and times, and I run a single Taskpaper file with a tab for each project (usually 3-5 at any given time, for better or for worse).
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?
Probably the bread machine. It makes really, really good bread.
What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Oh man. Does not showering count? That’s a clutch timesaver for me. Ummm. I dunno — I mean, generally my approach to housekeeping is it’s always easier to clean up one mess right when you make it. Two messes is harder, three messes is a catastrophe, and it’s all downhill from there. Of course we have kids now so this all matters much more and simultaneously much less.
What are you currently reading?
Propaganda by Edward Bernays, and Harlot’s Ghost by Norman Mailer. Hopefully digging into Charterhouse of Parma and Roadside Picnic soon though!
What do you listen to while you work?
I have 50 hours or so of EDM/ambient/film-score type music that is nice for programming, but on art days This American Life, Radiolab, The Moth, and that sort of thing are second to none.
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
I guess I feel like both? So, in a way, neither, too.
Pictured above: Adam on stage at Game City 7.
What’s your sleep routine like?
Our kids do a pretty good job of waking us up when the sun comes up. When I really have it together I’m in bed by 11pm, I think.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see ______ answer these same questions.
Alejandro Jodorowsky. Also Slavoj Zizek. And maybe Russell Brand.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t take that shitty but high paying job on the other side of the country.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander is a great book.
We’ve asked a handful of heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Every week we’ll feature a new guest and the gadgets, apps, tips and tricks that keep them going. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.
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