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Game developers need exercise too - Part I

Add Comment! By John Graham on October 21st, 2009

Since David assembled the Wolfire team about a year ago, he has encouraged us to balance out our long hours spent hunched over our computers with some vigorous exercise. He has peer-pressured us to get gym memberships, rewarded gym attendance with protein shakes and, because of David, I even ended up attending my first Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes.

It contradicts the "game developer stereotype" but there are actually quite a few indie developers who believe in staying in shape. The most glaring example of an in-shape game developer is Dan Tabar from Data Realms.

Dan was forced to publicly reveal his six pack at GDC after he won his second IGF award and thereby lost a bet with Kyle Gabler.

Since I don't have a six pack, I wanted to ask Dan how he finds time to both keep in shape and keep working hard on his cool project Cortex Command. Here's what he said:

How do you make time to code and workout?

A fun, intensive physical activity doesnt have to take more than an hour of the day, including warm-up. That shouldnt interfere with the amount of actual in-zone coding that you can squeeze in. If you do that 4-5 times a week for a few months, youll soon find yourself in great shape. If youre doing it right and focus on the fun and not the physiological results, they will come as a pleasant surprise. This assumes youre not drinking a ton of calories through soda and eat reasonably healthy.

Are you sacrificing coding time by working out, or does working out make you more productive?

See above! In general, I dont see my primary task in life to be working on code, but to have the best life I can, while I can. Making games is part of it, but so is doing all kinds of fun physical activities. Balance, baby.

What does your typical workout schedule look like for the week?

A mix of different things throughout the week, currently:
Monday: Crossfit WoD (workout of the day), dodgeball open gym
Tues: Rest day, usually
Wed&Thurs: Crossfit WoD or one-on-one boxing training or hike/terrainrunning up and down a local hill
Friday: Rest day, perhaps out dancing or running in the evening
Sat: Crossfit WoD or longer hike or mountain bike/unicycle ride
Sun: Leading our dodgeball team Hand Grenade to glory in the local league

What seems to give you the most results in the least amount of time?

Doing something really intensive for 30mins-1h definitely works. You should be drenched in sweat by the end of it, or youre not doing it intensely enough. Did I mention it has to always be fun though? You should be motivated by the fun factor to put in the necessary exertion without even thinking about it.

Can effective workouts be fun?

In a sense, they have to be. To me, working out is not about working out. Its about having fun and maximizing my own total quality of life. I think the trick to being effortlessly and consistently active in the long term is to find something anything physical that you want to do primarily because its fun and stimulating. Then, that it also happens to be a great workout should be considered a welcome side effect, or you will struggle with motivation like all those who try to hit the gym after new years. To me, conventional gyms with rows of machines are dead boring unless theres something else going on there, like group activities etc. Just heading in with headphones on and not saying a peep to anyone while treading along on some mechanical contraption is not what I consider a good time.

In fact, we experience fun as a reward signal that were doing something important and good for our survival and replication, as far as our evolutionary wiring is concerned. Doing things in a group, being social, learning and applying anything challenging, playing and simulated fighting, etc. Its all tied to being a better survivor both individually and for the species. Theres obviously a whole rant on how this applies to game design, but what Im getting at is that it also applies heavily to leading a healthy lifestyle.

Do you have any advice to other developers that are considering incorporating a workout program into their schedule?

For starters, find something fun that gets you excited just thinking about it. It can be totally oddball like learning unicycling, playing hackeysack, dodgeball, or any martial arts. As long as it gets you real sweaty in 20 mins and you dont want to stop doing it once you start, its a keeper. Try to get your friends excited and involved too.

A specific thing my local indie gamedev posse and I have gotten into is this: Find your nearest and oldest Crossfit affiliate gym and take them up on the free first session they usually offer. The huge difference between a CF and the conventional gym experience is a) youre doing something different every time, as directed by a trained and certified instructor, and b) youre doing things in a mixed co-ed group, often under fun and competitive circumstances. Everyone can get into it since all the exercises are scaled or modified up/down to fit the individual, even though youre working out as a group. Oh, and Im not in any way affiliated with Crossfit, Im just an avid fan and patron at crossfitsouthwest.com!


Thanks again Dan for taking the time to answer my questions. I've tried the "run up and down a local hill" exercise and while it was great training for football, it's very painful and not too fun. An intense game of dodge ball on the other hand sounds awesome (we might have to challenge Dan's team to a game sometime, I think the Flashbang guys are also on team Hand Grenade). I'll have to look into this Crossfit stuff a bit more, I believe a CF gym was used to help the actors get in shape for the movie 300. Has anyone else discovered fun, time-efficient ways to stay in shape?