Thursday, March 12, 2020

Living in interesting times

Hello all. It's 2020. The world feels... different. Hopefully you're all doing OK!

A recap of what I've been up to --

In these days of social distancing, remote classes, and quarantines, I taught my class about streaming on Twitch... by streaming the class on Twitch. Some writeups:

I'm also getting into Quake 1 mapping. The modern tools are great, the video tutorials are on point, and the community is lovely. Come join us. I recommend Andrew Yoder's comprehensive guide for getting started.

Until next time...
-- R

Monday, November 11, 2019

Practical primer to using Unity Timeline / Playables

I recently used Unity Timeline to do cutscenes in a game. Once you figure out how to use it, it works great, but that learning curve of expectations and setup is pretty annoying.

To review: Timeline is a sequencing tool. It's good for higher-level logic where you need to coordinate a bunch of objects at once. For many games, that usually means choreographing cutscenes or sequences. Many different engines and toolsets have sequencer tools and they all generally have the same workflow -- you make tracks and you put actions on those tracks. (see also: UDK Matinee, UE4 Sequencer, Source 1 Faceposer, Witcher 3's cinematic tool)

Note that Timeline is not an animation tool, it's higher level than that. Think of it like a movie director, it coordinates animation, audio, characters, and FX together, but doesn't actually make or process those assets.

In this intro workflow post, I'll start with SETUP TIMELINE, then SETUP DIRECTOR and MAKE CUTSCENES and CONTROL THE DIRECTOR VIA C# SCRIPT, and lastly how to MAKE CUSTOM TIMELINE TRACKS.

Monday, November 4, 2019


Before I attended A MAZE (2016 / 2018 / 2019), I had never met any game developers from Africa. I had attended so many GDCs, but it didn't matter. Imagine an entire continent, more or less shut out of an entire industry! The game industry often pretends it is "democratizing" the means of game development, but the obvious truth is that the "global" game industry still concentrates much of its money and prestige on North America / Western Europe / Japan. (China is a big market, but there is still no major prestigious international video game trade show held there yet.)

That's why community institutions like A MAZE are so vital. While A MAZE runs a flagship festival in Berlin, they also regularly host pop-up events outside of the typical video game industry hemispheres. In the past, they have run events in Croatia, Romania, Palestine, Russia, South Africa, Kosovo, Cuba, and Ukraine. For 2020, they are aiming to run an event in Nairobi. Do you think GDC gives a shit about Nairobi?

When GDC rolls around every year, so many people lament that there isn't an alternative event -- something to pull people and power away from GDC, away from the institutional inequality plaguing games -- well, today is your lucky day, maybe you'll get to do something about it. A MAZE is one of those alternatives that seeks to pull influence away from GDC -- to provide a noncommercial platform to support game developers and marginalized artists from around the world -- and it needs your help.

Back in September, the city of Berlin denied funding to A MAZE. While A MAZE still retains other public funding sources, this particular setback threatens a lot of their plans. They need to crowdfund the rest of the money to secure the future of the festival, and the future of an alternative away from the overwhelming commercial focus of GDC. This isn't to say that commercial games / AAA are necessarily bad, but it is clear that everyone else in games need their own support systems too. A healthy artform needs a healthy diverse ecosystem of many different motives and tendencies; a monoculture will doom us all.

So for 2020, A MAZE is running a Kickstarter. (Note: Kickstarter corporate is currently in the middle of an anti-union intimidation campaign. But so far, workers have not called for a boycott. As we continue to use KS, we should also use the opportunity to pressure their leadership to cease its anti-worker interference.)

If you have money to spare this year, please consider supporting A MAZE. If you don't have the money, OK, but at least consider writing about them or posting about what A MAZE means to you and others.


Monday, September 23, 2019

The streaming life

This year I'm investing a lot more of my time and energy into streaming. For better or worse.

First, I'm continuing my Level With Me project, where I play through games and offer level design commentary by flying around, staring at walls, and nitpicking lighting. To ease myself in from my summer hiatus, I am playing something "easy" that I know pretty well -- I'm streaming fan-unfavorite Half-Life 2: Episode One, broadcasting every Wednesday 2-3pm EST at

Second, I'm leading a new streaming initiative at NYU Game Center: our new weekly streaming show Game Center Live premiered on September 19th! As an academic department studying game design, it feels foolish to ignore streaming as the dominant discourse in games culture, so that's why we're running this experiment as a weird cross between a high school yearbook class and college radio for the 21st century. We'll cover school announcements and showcase student work, but we'll also discuss the week's game industry news and host special guests. We plan to broadcast every Thursday 1-3pm EST at

So although I'm blogging much less than before, you can still catch the same ol' Robert with the same great taste. I'll just be talking at you through a screen.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Borderlands The Pre-Sequel as Australian industry elegy

We played Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (essentially, Borderlands 2.5) on co-op mode, and yep it's a Borderlands game.

You run around and shoot monsters, they sometimes drop procedurally generated guns, and you sell most of those trash guns to get useless money, and you gradually get slightly better guns with slightly different effects. It works OK, but it still hasn't aged very well. The Borderlands series' long-time reliance on many small modifiers and +1.2% bonuses feels even more desperate in 2019, especially when we live in a golden age of indie deckbuilder games where the numbers actually matter.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Hedera and brief notes on ivy aesthetics

This actually happened weeks ago, but I just realized I never posted anything here about it: I built a 3D ivy painting tool called Hedera. Each time you paint ivy, the Hedera "AI" will grow and simulate an approximation of real-life ivy behavior, clinging to surfaces and climbing towards the sun. It's pretty magical to watch in action.

Much of the core technique is based on Thomas Luft's C++ code from 2006 and a much more recent C# port from 2016 by Weng Xiao Yi, but I found both of their implementations to be very bare-bones proof of concepts intended more for engineers and less for artists, with little concern for workflow or usability. Most of my work focused on front-end user experience stuff -- making the simulation more predictable, conceptualizing a layer-like planting system, optimizing the procedural mesh generation, and getting it to play nice with the Unity Editor's arcane IMGUI and file serialization rules. I definitely learned a lot about tool-making.

ivy mesh wireframes / process from "Crysis 3 - Ivy" by Tom Deerberg
3D ivy meshes, like most video game foliage, were traditionally a very expensive photorealistic detail intended to evoke high production value and thus skilled craftsmanship. It is my hope that my tool lowers the barrier for covering 3D worlds in detailed ivy, thus decimating this value system in game art. Let ivy be worthless!

Perhaps when we stop oohing-and-aahing at the fidelity of game ivy and demystify its creation, then we can finally appreciate a more subtle and artistic use of ivy. As I've argued before, many indie game devs often have a (misguided) knee-jerk reaction against realism, but I think realist aesthetics have an important role to play in any visual culture.

Monday, July 8, 2019

On climate crisis games, for Rock Paper Shotgun

As part of previously announced shifts for this blog, I'm going to start pitching my longer design articles to various outlets instead of posting it here.

The first of these articles is now up -- it's a piece about various climate crisis games and how they play with the idea of environmental apocalypse. I also define a rough taxonomy of different climate crisis game subgenres, like flood games, ice age survival sims, and world sims.

As we all grapple with the ramifications of climate change, it's important for us to imagine stories and worlds about it, because this is how we process life as a society. If you look back at art and media in the 60s and 70s, you'll see a lot of "space age" art and aesthetic, obsessed with rocket ships and moon colonies, essentially giving birth to alien invasion stories and space opera. I think we're in the first half of a similar "green age" wave of environmentalism across art and culture, and there's already a lot of emerging genres and traditions here.

You can read it all over on Rock Paper Shotgun. Thanks to Brendan Caldwell for thoughtful edits.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Interview(s) with Mashable for Pride Month

Last month I ranted to Jess Joho (for Mashable) about sex games and the industry, and I also did a nice and awkward video interview (also for Mashable) filmed in the lovely Wonderville indie arcade bar in Brooklyn.

If you want to see me squirm, then maybe check out the video -- but whatever you do, definitely check out Wonderville if you're ever in New York City. It has one of those rare and coveted Killer Queen cabinets set to freeplay, it has an amazing Soviet flight sim cabinet where you destroy America (with real vector display), and it's also currently the home of the first queer community arcade cabinet The DreamboxXx for which I contributed my queer brawler defense game Dream Hard.

Happy pride, and have a good summer everyone!