Sunday, June 21, 2020

Hard Lads as an important failure

This post “spoils” what happens in my new game Hard Lads. If you care about spoilers, you should play it before reading. It takes about 5 minutes to play once, and maybe 20 minutes to play it to 100%.

In 2015, a phone video of young muscular White British men hitting each other with a chair went viral. Why make a game about this meme now? Some might characterize all my output derisively as "meme games", which is fine, but personally I’ve tried to avoid doing it on purpose. First, my games themselves should strive to be the original meme, and not merely a fan reproduction. Second, many memes are steeped in internet gamer culture, the only circle jerk I want to avoid.

However. I think British Lads Hit Each Other With Chair is one of those classic internet videos that merits special attention. It does so much in a single minute, and it's not about video games at all. So that’s why I made Hard Lads.

Friday, May 29, 2020

The powerful presence of non-presence in "Out For Delivery" by Yuxin Gao, Lillyan Ling, Gus Boehling

"Out For Delivery is a 42 minute playable documentary shot with a 360-degree camera. The slice-of-life experience follows a food delivery courier in Beijing on January 23, 2020, the day before Lunar New Year, and the day Wuhan shut down due to COVID-19."
This is one of the few 360-movie experiences that really works.

In the past, I've criticized the VR empathy machine complex and its cynical use of Syrian refugees to sell VR kits, but Out For Delivery wisely sidesteps the VR ecosystem. Without the restrictions imposed by the head-mounted format, such as a stationary camera (a bumpy moving camera makes VR viewers sick) or impatience (VR demos demand constant engagement), the designer and filmmaker Yuxin Gao is free to focus on the actual subject at hand. The camera moves freely, cuts freely, lingers freely. The result is the most difficult aesthetic to achieve in art: honesty.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Tactics games in 2020: game design notes about Horizon's Gate and Gears Tactics

I finished playing two 2020 RPG tactics games recently: Horizon's Gate and Gears Tactics. I've also written at length about Invisible Inc before. I clearly want to make a tactics game someday? Anyway here's my design analysis and thoughts.

NOTE: This post has a lot of mechanics / game design spoilers, but no story spoilers.

NOTE 2: This isn't me trying to prescribe what "good tactics design" is for everyone. I'm just trying to articulate my own personal tastes and rationales.

Horizon's Gate

Horizon's Gate is a retro pixel art open world sailing game about exploring towns and dungeons, buying low and selling high, and getting into battles where you push and pull and surround. It's very good and you should play it. If you don't have much time, you can probably stop after like 5 hours.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

fy_iceworld feature for RPS

Hey all. Hope everyone's been doing OK. Remember level design? That's still important, right?

Anyway, I wrote a 2 part feature on fy_iceworld for Rock Paper Shotgun. Part 1 interviewed working level designers about their takes on fy_iceworld, while part 2 will cover my nerdy forensic investigation into who actually made fy_iceworld.

It should be a fun and diverting read, perhaps a useful distraction in these weird times. Thanks to my editor Graham Smith for taking this weird pitch and graciously proofreading it.

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.