Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Radiator Blog: (belated) Sixth Year Anniversary

In keeping with tradition, I do a round-up of this blog's "notable" posts from the past year, and offer a bit of reflective commentary. This year, it arrives about a month late, because I forgot. (Oops.) As always, past years' roundups are accessible here.

For 2015, I promised myself I was going to blog more regularly than in 2014. I started pretty strong for the first half of the year, but then my output began plummeting toward the end. (Oh well.) Here's to a bloggier 2016!


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Sex games, part 2: sex as gesture / sex as poking

This post is part of a series about "sex games."

There were so many games about sexual poking that I had to give them their own category. I mean, poking is a very distinctive gesture. It's a very brief moment with a very small surface area, but we place so much significance on it anyway.

Early Facebook was witness to "poking wars" where Facebook friends exchanged pokes with each other -- but you couldn't just poke anyone, right? There was just something so so wrong about parents poking their children on Facebook. Instead, poking seemed tailor-made for situations like when you poked that cute boy from your biology class, and then he poked you back, and now you have to decide What All This Means. ("Well, he waited two whole days before poking back, so I guess he hates me?")

Poking is immature, yet also tantalizingly ambiguous and demure. It's the stuff that meet cutes are made of. But the sex-poking games I'm going to discuss now? They're still immature, utterly rolling around in their immaturity and silliness, but they are definitely not ambiguous -- instead they are gratuitous and deliberate gestures all at once, like some exaggerated caricatures of poking.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Sex games, part 1: sex as bodies

This post is part of a series about "sex games", based on a talk I gave at GaymerX3.
(CONTENT WARNING: these posts have sexual images and content.)

One definition of sex that I'm going to use here is "a negotiation between bodies." The shape and form of that negotiation will obviously vary, but so can the shape and form of the bodies themselves. Which bodies do we sexualize, and which do we de-sexualize? And if we are sexualizing a body, is it with the body's consent and knowledge?

To a certain extent, every game in this entire blog post series is about bodies. Just because I put a game in this category doesn't mean it doesn't belong in other categories. I selected these games based on the story I could tell around them, and in this post the story is about how these different games think about bodies. Because bodies are made of carbon and water, but they're also made of ideas.

Let's start with the amazing game that inspired the name of my talk ("That One Time I Repeatedly Gave Birth to Fully Grown Wolves, and Other Gay Sex Games That We Deserve") ...

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sex Games, part 0: the sex games awaken

This post is part of a series adapted from my talk at GaymerX. No, I don't know when the video recording will be uploaded, sorry.

So, let's talk sex games. As a possible "GAYmer" at GaymerX, maybe you're thinking of games like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, or hot Ryu, or Mario and Luigi, or maybe even some games like Fallout which have specific game systems that support gay roleplaying.

These are OK, I guess, but none of these games are primarily about sex. In fact, they are mostly about jumping around and killing shit... which isn't bad, but it's not gay sex. Now, where am I going with this?...

Thursday, December 3, 2015

"That One Time I Repeatedly Gave Birth to Fully Grown Wolves, and Other Gay Sex Games That We Deserve" at GX3 on December 12 in San Jose, California

I'll be in San Jose next week for GX3, a video game expo, to deliver a talk entitled "That One Time I Repeatedly Gave Birth to Fully Grown Wolves, and Other Gay Sex Games That We Deserve" about my recent gay sex video games as well as many other peoples' gay sex games.

The talk is motivated a lot by my experience as an independent game developer who sees countless players plead for more diversity from the triple-A game industry. Mainstream representation is important, but why limit your support only to the mainstream? Also, my industrial peers are good at many things, but gayness is definitely not one of those things, so why should people look to them for artistic leadership on this? Answer: they shouldn't, but they might because they're not aware there's an alternative...

You don't have to beg for gay scraps. You don't even have to settle for a game with a gay side dish, with some token gays sprinkled on top -- real people are already making real games where gayness is the center-stage MAIN ATTRACTION, and these games exist right now in the present, not in some distant future dream utopia.

In my talk, I'll be talking about 20+ different games that think about sexuality outside of a standard cis-hetero-monogamous-missionary paradigm. If you follow me or my peers, you'll probably be familiar with some of them -- but I'm betting I'll discuss at least a few hidden gems you'll have never seen before -- and to the majority of the GX3 audience, I'm guessing a lot of these games will be mind-blowing.

See you there, and feel free to say hey.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

That's why they call it the Diamond City Blues

WARNING: This post "spoils" an early quest in Fallout 4 and a later quest in Fallout 3.

The "Diamond City Blues" quest, one of the better quests of Fallout 4, begins at an upper-class bar in Diamond City. Most of the bar patrons are snooty rich one-percenter caricatures who will categorically refuse to talk to poor people like you, even though you're richer than God and they literally sleep on filthy mattresses in trash shacks, so you basically kind of hate these people from the beginning.

Over at the bar counter, a woman is drinking to forget her unhappy marriage, while the grizzled bartender-owner dude implies he's having an affair with her. Suddenly, her weak jealous husband tries to confront the two but he ends up getting humiliated.

When you run into the jealous husband again, outside of the bar, he wants to hire you to help confront the bartender. So you go back to the bar...

Monday, November 9, 2015

"Rinse and Repeat" technical post-partum / how to do over-complicated wet skin shower shader effects in Unity

This is a technical overview of how I built certain parts of Rinse and Repeat. It spoils the game, so you should probably play it first if you care about stuff like that.

Rinse and Repeat took about 1-2 months to make. For these sex games, my development process can basically be summarized as "art first" -- my very first in-engine prototypes are usually about establishing mood and texture, and setting up the character you'll be staring at, and these are by far the most important parts of the game.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The limits of a conceptual VR student game; and what would a "better" game about 9/11 look like?

The internet has been abuzz about "8:46", "a narrative driven experience designed for virtual reality, which makes you embody an office worker in the North Tower of the World Trade Center during the 9/11 events."

The game itself suffers from a lot of problems. If I were to ignore the politics, there's plenty of production values to critique -- the characters have blobby sculpts, inconsistent lighting, and stilted voice acting -- the particles are really really awkward -- and the one thing I like is the floorplan, especially the cramped corner office you begin in, which feels like a pretty authentic detail of old NYC office buildings.

But who are we kidding, this game is totally a political work, and it is much more generous to the developers to interpret it that way. Most people are just going to talk about this game instead of actually playing it, which is OK, and that's what compels me to write about it: I think this is a very flawed conceptual work, and I want to talk about why that is.

(1) TECHNOLOGY. Using virtual reality was not a good idea for this project, especially in this early generation of VR where it is mostly positioned as a nascent platform and consumer market that desperately needs to prove itself. Anything using VR in these early years is, inherently, saying, "look at me, I'm using VR!"

That's an OK thing to say, but it centers the technology instead of what you're saying with the technology, which is probably not what you want to do for a 9/11 game that's supposedly about respect for the dead rather than how this cool new peripheral? To be clear, I think you could make a game that powerfully critiques Western attitudes toward the dead and who is allowed to talk about the dead; I don't think this is that game.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

"Psycho-material geographies" of 3D spaces, and The Beginner's Guide by Davey Wreden et al

This post gives vague conceptual SPOILERS for The Beginner's Guide, and spoils a few specific moments. You really shouldn't worry about it, I mostly just talk about me in this.

I was one of the people who secretly played The Beginner's Guide long before its public release. Why was I given access, and not someone else? Well, that's kind of what the game's about: a "Davey" who is talking through his relationship with another designer named Coda. Who did Coda want to play their games?

In her own excellent post about TBG, Emily Short argues that the game has a very spare "personality-light" kind of style compared to what Short regards as more distinctive contemporary experimental designers like "Stephen Lavelle, Michael Brough, Pippin Barr, [... or] Robert Yang." That shout out (thanks!) is what stirred my memory...

I remember playing this seven months ago (back when it was simply codenamed "The Author") and suddenly thinking... wait, is Coda supposed to be me?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Radiator 1 notes, memories, and regrets.

NOTE: This post talks about Radiator 1, and spoils much of what happens in it.

I've cleaned up and re-released an old single player Source Engine mod of mine called Radiator. It is free, and anyone with a Steam account (Windows, OSX, or Linux) should be able to play it.

It consists of three standalone chapters -- Polaris, Handle With Care, and Much Madness -- the first two chapters were released in 2009 on-schedule, but the third chapter has lingered unreleased for the past 6 years. Each passing year I've threatened to actually finish it, and today, I've finally made good on my threat.

What suddenly changed now? Well, I actually haven't finished Much Madness exactly... what changed was more my attitude. It proved difficult impossible to "finish" a game that I designed and wrote 6 years ago, from a very different time in my life. I don't have access to those moods or sensibilities anymore! So instead, I'm just going to release it in its pretty rough state, and accept how incomplete and unpolished it feels.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tips for implementing / coding an in-game options or pause menu functionality in Unity


I recently implemented an in-game options menu in Unity. Mine looks something like the thing above. A surprising amount of the required functionality is already implemented in Unity, you just have to write some code to hook into it. In the cases when Unity didn't already have a static variable for a particular setting, like mouse sensitivity or menu language, then I'd implement my own static variable that worked with a specific PlayerPrefs key.

Anyway, here's a bunch of workflow / specific API calls that I found very useful when I did it...

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Not a manifesto; on game development as cultural work

So I've made quite a few sex games that have "gone viral" over the past year, and I'd like to talk a little bit about my experiences / practices. I would hesitate to apply these ideas to anyone else's situation, but it's what works for me, so here it goes:

Games are primarily conceptual / performance art; games are culture; it's more important to witness a game than to play it.

Most people haven't played most games. Conversations about games often start with "oh yeah I've heard about it" or "I haven't played that yet." Thinking about the vast intergalactic politics of EVE Online is so much more interesting than trying to play it, and watching high-level Starcraft play is much more interesting than drilling on a specific build yourself.

To "consume" a game, it is no longer necessary to play it. Rather, the most important thing about a game is that it exists, because that means you can think about it. (Or maybe, games don't even have to exist? Consider the endless press previews and unreleased games that engross so many people. These are purely hypothetical games that are often better than playing the actual finished product.)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

On my games being twice banned by Twitch

My newest game, Rinse and Repeat, was banned from all broadcast on Twitch about 4 days after it was released. It joins my previous game, Cobra Club, which was banned shortly after its release as well. I am currently one of the most banned developers on Twitch.

On one hand, it is extremely validating as an artist to be acknowledged as "dangerous" -- thanks, Twitch. On the other hand, the Twitch policy about sex and nudity is shitty and I'm going to complain about why I hate it and feel it's unfair, and also really unhealthy for video games as an artform.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

NO QUARTER, 9 October 2015 in Brooklyn, NY

this amazing poster is by the incomparable Eleanor Davis
No Quarter is an annual games exhibition in NYC that commissions original works from designers. This year, I am stepping up as curator, and we will be featuring some exciting new games by Nina Freeman, Ramsey Nasser, Loren Schmidt, and Leah Gilliam.

Come join us on October 9th from 7-11 PM in DUMBO, Brooklyn at The Dumbo Loft, 155 Water Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201

If you'll be around New York at that time, please RSVP so I can get NYU to buy us even more beer. Thanks and see you there!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Rinse and Repeat as cup runneth over

This is a post detailing my process and intent in making Rinse and Repeat. It discusses in detail how some of the game systems work and what happens in the end, and IT SPOILS THE GAME. You are heavily encouraged to play the game and draw your own conclusions before reading what I think.


It started with Le1f's music video for "Soda." In it, two hunks spray themselves with gushing fluids, suggestively shooting up from the bottom of the frame.

The scene begins as a sort of aggressive competition of machismo and staring down each other, but then one hunk can't help but submit and opens his mouth to try to swallow some of the frothy fluid. I think what makes this "funny-sexy" is how the soda gets everywhere and how messy it seems. It's pretty brilliant and got me thinking about how sexy a fluid dynamics simulation can be, and how I could put such technology to use.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Attend the 2015 Queerness And Games Conference at UC Berkeley, October 17-18

QGCon 2015 at UC Berkeley has just put up their list of speakers and sessions. If you'll be around the Bay Area that weekend (in about a month!) then I highly recommend attending, it's a compelling mix of game developers and academic theorists, and there's no other games conference quite like it. Here's some interesting-sounding sessions:
  • “Soft-Skinned, Hard-Coded: Straight/White/Washing in Video Games”
  • “Witches and Wardrobes: Femme Play in Games and the Development of Be Witching”
  • “Games of Death: Playing Bruce Lee”
  • “Sex Appeal, Shirtless Men, and Social Justice: Diversity in Desire and Fanservice in Games”
  • “Queer Avatar Construction Leads to Homonormative Play”
  • “Affection Games in a World That Needs Them”
  • “Masculinity in Late Final Fantasy”
  • “Infinite Play in Games of Love, Sex and Romance”
  • “Degamification”
  • “Writing and Selling Queer Bots: Sext Adventure Design Post Mortem”
  • (... and so many more!)
Registration is free and open to the public, and they also accept donations in the form of "sponsor tickets" -- please support the communities and institutions you want to see in games!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Scripting the Unity Editor to automatically build to Windows / OSX / Linux and packaging the files in ZIP files.

I'm getting ready to release my next gay sex game, which means a lot of builds and testing. This game, in particular, has a lot of particular framework and infrastructure that involves copying over specific files directly into the built data folder. I don't want to have to copy over the files manually over and over, so I bit the bullet and decided to write an editor script that automatically does all this stuff for me, for all 3 desktop platforms that I'm targeting. This is really nice because it saves me a lot of time when making builds, and it also makes it more the whole process more foolproof since it prevents me from forgetting any files -- Unity is automated to include them for me!

Here are the main snippets + explanations of those parts of the pipeline, with the full script at the end of this post...

Thursday, August 27, 2015

On "The Loch" and anti-busybody small open world games

The Loch is a 2013 Scottish fishing RPG by Mitch Alexander. In it, you "fight" fish in turn-based JRPG battles symbolizing the experience of fishing. There's a variety of biomes to explore, each with different species of fish to catch, and it all takes place over a series of days with variable weather / variable NPC behaviors based on the weather.

It's pretty rough around the edges, partly due to short development time constraints (it was originally made for a 7 day Fishing Game jam) and partly due to the limitations of reskinning RPG Maker. There's very little tutorializing, and many core interactions don't feel very intuitive. No one really tells you you're supposed to go all the way south to advance to the next day and heal up, or that you have to equip X and then use skill Y to do Z... in this way, it departs a great deal from typical JRPG or RPGMaker game conventions.

But that departure from convention is also refreshing. Though "open world" carries connotations of large expensive 3D worlds, I'd like to expand the bounds of that genre and discuss The Loch as a "small open world" game. What marks an open world game is the repeated traversal of a space, and reflecting on how that space (or the player) changes over time. In this case, the world is a small Scottish lakeside village where everyone speaks in charming accents and encourages you to kick back and slow down.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Game Development Studies reading list, Fall 2015

In the vein of "Platform Studies" or "Code Studies", we might consider a "Game Development Studies" ("Console Studies?") -- a field of research investigating the technical and material aspects of video games, from early prototypes to production code to distribution. How have various processes of game development changed over time? How does that influence what games are, or how they are perceived?

Here are six books that, I think, do much of that work:

Thursday, August 20, 2015

"Pillow Talk" keynote with Naomi Clark and Nina Freeman, at Indiecade 2015, October 22-25 in Culver City, CA

Me and fellow designers Naomi Clark and Nina Freeman will be running a keynote session at Indiecade 2015 tentatively called "Pillow Talk" -- in it, we'll be discussing relationships and intimacy in games. (Press release is here.) If you'll be around, come over and say hey, even if I'll mostly be busy stuffing as many free burgers as possible into my pockets at the Sony party.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Massive Chalice as pre-apocalyptic existential game industry dread

(SPOILER WARNING: this post has some not-really-that-important spoilers for Massive Chalice.)

Massive Chalice is a pretty OK game -- it's an XCOM with a much better base-building / squad-management component, where you can also convert squad members into resources -- collective XP buffs, faster upgrade times, bigger numbers. The same song and dance as any strategy game, but it also tries much more new stuff than the average strategy game. You breed your squad members like Pokemon, and when they age out of battles, you recycle them for new breeding stock or upgrades. It's an ideal commercial indie project, 50% old "solved" systems and 50% new systems.

So it's jarring to me that it averaged 6/10s 7/10s from games press (and probably not super-great sales) considering how much it tries to do and with relative success at it, this is at least an 8-out-of-10er, but I can also understand why gamers would look at this and think "it looks cheap." Here are all the checkboxes that Massive Chalice refuses to tick:

Friday, August 14, 2015

"Bodies, I Have In Mind" at ZEAL

My piece for Aevee Bee's micro-games-e-zine ZEAL is out. It's called "Bodies, I Have In Mind", and it's about my body, other people's bodies, video game bodies, gay marriage, physics, and a bit of Ovid quotation for good measure.

It actually took a pretty long time to write, because when I write about games I usually maintain some distance and don't include too much of my personal life, so it was challenging (but fun) for me to try to change my usual mode. I hope it's not too terrible of a read.

If you like my writing for ZEAL, and want to support more work like it by diverse authors, then please consider donating to the ZEAL Patreon, which commissions this work.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

"That One Time I Repeatedly Gave Birth to Fully Grown Wolves, and Other Gay Sex Games That We Deserve" at GX3, 12 December 2015 in San Jose, CA

Hello! My "Boss of Honor" keynote talk at upcoming gay game convention GX3 is called "That One Time I Repeatedly Gave Birth to Fully Grown Wolves, and Other Gay Sex Games That We Deserve" -- in it, I will be talking about my gay sex games (hopefully I'll be done with 2 more by December) and connecting it with a rich history of other gay sex games.

The implication is that we shouldn't beg for crumbs from the AAA industry in hopes that they'll allow "us" the occasional cutscene or NPC or crumb of representation... the games we want to see already exist, and they are made by queer artists that the community needs to support.

If you're interested in hearing about this stuff, come see me in San Jose on the Saturday of GX3.

(And if you're interested in repeatedly giving birth to fully grown wolves, play Eva Problems' excellent "Sabbat.")

Monday, August 10, 2015

The molten rituals of Hylics

Hylics, by Mason Linderoth, is one of the best RPGs made in the last decade. Imagine a game finely distilled so as to consist solely of the weird funk of Earthbound plus some David Cronenberg technoflesh plus the young dread of Gumby... and when you've completely imagined that, now look in your weathered dusty hands to find the freshest nugget you've ever seen.

You should make it your duty to play it, and it's (refreshingly) short for an RPG at 2-3 hours, so go to it. (WARNING 1: SPOILERS FOLLOW. WARNING 2: LOTS OF HYLICS GIFS...)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A game is a brain is a forest

I just read this article about how plants are intelligent. It's a classic philosophical problem. Is a brain in a jar any different from a plant, and what exactly is intelligence or consciousness? Recent articles about how "plants talk to each other using an internet of fungus" are in vogue with recent thinking that corporations are dystopian artificial intelligences that have enslaved human society, or that we have to generally decentralize human-ness in human thought. The argument here is that self-sustaining complexity, usually in a network structure that resembles a brain (not that mere human brains are so great or whatever) must produce similar effects, so a brain is at least as complex as the internet or a forest or global capitalism.

Once something becomes boring, it is no longer complex because you have reduced it to boredom. So maybe another word for self-sustainingly complex is "interesting"... and, well, I think good games are interesting. Maybe a game is like an internet, or a brain, or a forest, or some shit?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

PSA: free (and COMPLETE) photorealistic 3D character workflow from Mixamo

Mixamo got bought out by Adobe... as part of the merge, they've turned off all their billing systems... which means almost everything they have is now free.

"Fuse" is their (free) character modeling / texturing / creation tool that is miles ahead of the old Autodesk Character Generator -- from there, you send the character mesh out to their Auto-Rigger cloud service (also free) with 60+ bone skeletons and facial blend shape support -- and with every (free) account you register, you get 20 (free) animations, and you can potentially make unlimited free accounts. This is a complete character art solution from mesh to skin weights to rigging to animation, for free. It's pretty impressive, and you can easily make a game that looks like a prestige AAA FPS from late 2013. (These assets don't have the accuracy of photoscanned models or DX11 procedural hair, but they're very well crafted.)

Tentatively, they're going to shutdown this infrastructure on December 31, 2015 (I think, according to a cryptic e-mail I got a few months ago) when they've finalized more of the merge with Adobe, so make sure you grab as much stuff as possible while you can.

To celebrate, look at the brunch hunk I made in Fuse (above) and exported out to Unity. Again, it's pretty high resolution stuff with no restrictions. Make use of it for your games while you can.

I'm documenting this resource as a "PSA" because making the tools of photorealism accessible and widespread helps (a) sabotage game industry machinery that privileges fidelity as something valuable, (b) re-contextualizes realism as a stylistic choice rather than a "default" marketing tactic.

Have fun!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

When failure sneaks into stealth games

The last moment of my last Invisible Inc run on "Expert Plus"; don't read the game text if you don't want spoilers
I'm facing my last obstacle on the last mission on the hardest difficulty of Invisible Inc. The past 5-7 hours of this campaign, and last 30-or-so hours of play over the last few weeks, have all led to this moment. There's a dozen alerted guards between me and victory... can I make it, or will I fuck it all up?

The last time I was this engaged by a stealth game, it was the first time I played Thief 1 (1998) in 2002... a pirated version I downloaded off Kazaa, with all the cutscenes, music, and voice-over removed to save on file size. What was left was the most avant-garde game I had ever played, a world of footsteps and silence. Between then and now -- Splinter Cells were okay but not my bag, Thief 3 was a sea of mediocrity with a single shining jewel, Dishonored was okay I guess, those bits in The Last of Us quickly wear out their welcome, and Thief 4 was rather unfortunate -- "stealth" has felt a little dead for the last 13 years.

If we look back at the systems design theory behind Thief 1, we can figure out who murdered stealth.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Some recent exhibitions

Some recent sightings of some sex games out in the wild... approach with caution.

Hurt Me Plenty at Two5Six in New York City. (May 2015)

Stick Shift at "Play Spectacular" at the Wellcome Collection in London. Curated by Holly Gramazio. (July 2015)

Succulent and Cobra Club in the back of a U-Haul box truck (and Stick Shift, in the driver's seat!) at Lost Horizon Night Market in Brooklyn (Bushwick). Curated by Stephen Clark + Babycastles. (July 2015)

Thanks to all the curators and events for having me! There's also a few more shows / appearances lined-up, so keep your eyes peeled...

Monday, July 6, 2015

Stick Shift has been Greenlit on Steam!

Thanks to all your support, Stick Shift has been greenlit for distribution on Steam! The gamers have spoken!!! Now to do this giant mess of paperwork and to figure out how to navigate the Steamworks infrastructure! (... Steamworks being a popular North American gay bathhouse chain, of course)

There is currently no ETA for this release. I've never implemented Steam infrastructure in a game before. I also want to bundle some extra games with this game, and it'll take some time to figure out any permissions / get the systems to play nicely with each other instead of deleting each others data.

Any ideas on what the game's name on Steam should be? I'm thinking: "Stick Shift GOTY Edition"

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Lighting theory for 3D games, part 4: how to light a game world in a game engine

This is part of a series on how I approach game lighting, from a more general and conceptual perspective. I build most of my examples in Unity, but this is meant to be generally applicable to any 3D game engine, most of which have similar lighting tools.

We started by thinking about light from a cultural and conceptual lens in part one. In part two, we treated light more instrumentally in terms of level design and readability. Then in part three, we surveyed the three-point lighting method for use in games. But none of this theory matters if we can't actually achieve it within the semi-hard constraints of computer graphics.

Lighting is traditionally one of the slower or "expensive" things to calculate and render in a game engine. Consider the science of visible light: countless photons at different wavelengths bouncing around at unimaginable speeds that somehow enter your eye. To do any of this at a reasonable framerate, game engines must strategically simplify light calculations in specific ways, and then hope players don't notice the inconsistencies. It is "fridge logic" -- we want the player to nod along, as long as it "looks right."

Okay, so how do 3D game engines generally do lighting?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

"Immersion Phallicy" at Reverse Shot

Brendan Keogh did a lovely write-up of my recent work for Reverse Shot, an online magazine at the Museum of the Moving Image.
Yang, on the other hand, crafts characters that are so perfectly imperfect as to fall square into the uncanny valley, that space where the more realistic an animated character or robot looks, the more those slight imperfections stand out. Yang’s men are disturbing in their uncanniness. Visually, his games explore the visual depths of uncanny male bodies that other video games deliberately avoid. There’s the slight gut and unshaved snail-trail on the naked character in front of his bathroom mirror in Cobra Club. There’s the way the character of Stick Shift bites his bottom lip and lets his eyes roll back as he moves up his car’s shaft and through his car’s gears. It makes the games unsettling, uncomfortable, and disturbing on a very visceral and intimate level. It makes the games sexual without necessarily being sexy.
Read the full essay here. Thanks for the thoughtful words, Bren-Bren!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Stick Shift on Greenlight

I've put Stick Shift on Greenlight. Because why not? I thought it would be a good fit for Steam because it's probably the most game-y of my recent sex games, with the exception of Cobra Club -- though Cobra Club has been unilaterally banned from Twitch.TV so I doubt Steam will allow for dicks, unfortunately.

Please YES it if you want to help me wreck Steam. Thanks.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Videogames for Humans, edited by Merritt Kopas

The first reaction most people had was, "it's bigger than I expected." 575 pages to be exact. But that obfuscates the actual format of Videogames for Humans: 27 different close readings / commentaries on short stories.

What those most people actually meant was that they had no idea that 575 pages of thought on Twine was possible, that they're surprised Twine is this big or that it is worth preserving on a tree carcass.

Preserving! In order to preserve something, it has to be more or less "over", and Merritt Kopas has a lot of feelings and anxiety about how Twine will be remembered. In the introduction, she confesses, "late 2012 and early 2013 was an extraordinarily exciting period for me [...] the 'queer games scene' covered by videogame outlets might not have been as cohesive as some accounts supposed, but for a little under a year, it definitely felt real,"

... then later she argues, "but I don't want Videogames for Humans to be seen as the capstone of the 'Twine revolution,' a kind of historical record of some interesting work done in the early 2010s."

So then, this book is partly an attempt to correct or amend a prior history... but not with more history. It wants to break a cycle.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Queerness and Games Conference 2015, call for proposals, due by July 1

The good folks at QGCon at UC Berkeley need YOUR session proposals for their third year running. I participated in the first year it ran, 2013, and I enjoyed the mix of scholarly rigor and casual atmosphere, there a pleasant mix of academics and not-academics that's very refreshing.

You can be a super academic-y academic and present a paper, or you can talk about a game you made, or discuss a specific games community you're part of, or even relate your personal experience with games and/or run a workshop. They're pretty accommodating and welcoming and supportive, even if you've never given a talk before. It's also pretty unique, there's really no other conference on the circuit that even tries to approach these topics.

I highly recommend submitting a proposal by July 1st, especially if you live around the Bay Area or along the west coast, it's just a short trip over.

Here's an excerpt of the call:

Friday, June 12, 2015

Pain Festival

As a palette cleanser from the last four sex games, I've been remaking my favorite of Alan Hazelden's Puzzlescript suite, "Mirror Isles", with my own art and narrative. It's been refreshing to have the design of something already figured out, and for the past two weeks I've just been pumping out art and code.

The game has come together surprisingly quick. I'm not sure if it's commercial or anything yet, I guess me and Alan will have to talk about that at some point, but for now I'm enjoying this as a craft exercise void of any marketing concerns.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Local level design, and a history / future of level design

Right-side modified from “Unscaping the Goat” (Ed Byrne, Level Design in a Day @ GDC 2011)
This is adapted from my GDC 2015 talk "Level Design Histories and Futures" and resembles a similar but much shorter talk I gave at Different Games 2015. By "level" it means "level in a 3D character-based game", which is what the industry means by the word.

The "level designer" is a AAA game industry invention, an artificial separation between "form" (game design) and "content" (level design). The idea is that your game is so big, and has so much stuff, that you need a dedicated person to think about the "content" like that, and pump it all out. This made level designers upset, since they were a chokepoint in the game production process and everyone blamed them if the game was shit. To try to bypass this scapegoating, level design has changed over the past decade or two, from something vague / loosely defined, to something fairly specific / hyperspecialized.

What is the shape of this level design, what did it used to be, and what else could it be in the future?

But first, let's talk about chairs.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cobra Club as ouroboros

This is a post detailing my process and intent in making Cobra Club. It has SPOILERS; if you care about that kind of thing, then you should probably play the game first.

(Again, SPOILER WARNING is in effect. Last chance!...)

Cobra Club is a photo studio game about taking dick pics. Ideally, lots of them. As you take dick pics, you also chat with NPCs and potentially share / swap dick pics. It breaks with my previous three gay sex games (Hurt Me Plenty, Succulent, Stick Shift) in that there's little control of the character himself, there's a complex interface, and there is no visual innuendo. In this game, a dick is a dick.

But it's not just a dick, it's your dick!... Well, kind of. To me, that ambiguity is what elevates it slightly above a mere dick pic generator.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Pardon the interruption

Haven't had time to write lately -- it's finals week here in New York City, so it's been pretty busy with grading and making sure students turn things in. If you happen to be in the area this month though, I encourage you to check out the student shows at two of the departments where I teach:
  • Parsons School for Design MFADT Show Reception. Monday, May 18 at 6 pm. 6 East 16th St, 12th Floor, around Union Square. Wide variety of technological / conceptual / commercial projects, from experimental VR installations to new apps to future fashion to performance.
  • NYU Game Center Student Show. Thursday, May 21 at 6 PM. 2 Metrotech Center, 8th Floor, around Downtown Brooklyn. All kinds of board games / physical games / digital games, mostly by the MFA students, but with a few undergraduate projects on display too.
See you around maybe.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Lighting theory for 3D games, part 3: the heresy of three-point lighting

This is part of a series on how I approach game lighting. Part 1 was about light fixtures, and part 2 is about light as a formal material.

In part one, we began by thinking about light culturally -- light has meant different things to different people across history, and you must consider that meaning when lighting your spaces. But in part two, we observed that much of our everyday relationship to light is more immediate and less intellectualized, that we often use light to help us do things. Theoretical frameworks about light help us articulate what we think the light is doing.

One of the most common theoretical frameworks for lighting is the three-point lighting system, used mainly in photography and film. As I argued in part 2, one of light's most important jobs is to allow you to read the surface or topology of an object. The three point system helps us formalize light source in terms of how to "read" an object. (I also argue that it has some serious weaknesses for 3D video games, but we'll get to that in a minute.)

It's called "three point" because there's at least three light sources involved:

Friday, April 24, 2015

"Succulent" technical overview / behind the scenes

This is a high level discussion of how I achieved certain effects in Succulent using Unity. It spoils the game, so I recommend you play it and/or read my artist's statement.

To the game engine, the popsicle (or "ice lolly" or corn dog) in Succulent is the main director for the entire scene. It is essentially a psychic telekinetic popsicle that dictates music playback, effects, and character animations... The popsicle is god. Love the popsicle.

To many developers, the most obvious straightforward way to achieve this popsicle-sucking interaction would've been to create a hand / arm controller, and then parent the popsicle to the dude's hand. But this "direct" way would've been the wrong way; this game is about popsicles, not about hands. Tuning the hand and arm movements necessary to pilot it into his mouth -- it would've been painful and unnecessary. (This is why it's important to have a fairly solid concept before you start coding something. The concept and design will affect how you code it!)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Embarrassed silence

I'm stealing the first three paragraphs of Pippin Barr's lovely post: (see also -- Emily Short's take)
A post called Minimum Sustainable Success by Dan Cook has been doing the rounds on Twitter recently and so I read it because people were saying it was good. And it is pretty good, especially if you’re a bit games+money minded – as I am not. It’s a hard look at how you might address and perhaps even mitigate some of the enormous risks and problems involved in getting into the making-a-living end of our beloved videogames.

In there, Dan brings up the “supportive spouse or family” category of game developers and points out that people don’t often “admit” to being in this one, with the idea being that it’s a bit embarrassing, and that it should be talked about more to add perspective to this crazy thing called “how the hell am I supposed to make the games I love and also live at the same time?”

Fortunately I have no shame, and so I’m writing this to represent one data point of the “supportive spouse” crew. Are we legion? I don’t know. I’m definitely one of us, anyway. Hi, here’s my life story (of privilege).
Like Pippin, I have a very supportive and awesome spouse. His name is Eddie.

In addition to currently making more money than I could ever hope to make as a part-time adjunct academic, he is a better Unity programmer than me and taught me a lot of what I know today. He also has really good design instincts; he had the idea to make the cooldown in Hurt Me Plenty go into several weeks, and he also picked-out the music used in Stick Shift. And right now, I'm making him write the server code for my upcoming dick pic game because I don't feel like doing it. (LOL.)

Friday, April 10, 2015

"Stick Shift" technical tricks / backstage Unity peek

This is a high level discussion of how I achieved certain effects in Stick Shift. It spoils the game, so I recommend you play it and/or read my artist's statement.

The "car" in Stick Shift is actually (a) two different cars, one for each camera, and (b) neither car actually moves, ever.

When you want to create an illusion of motion, or at least have something read as motion, then you generally have two options in games: move the object around the world, or move the world around the object. Because I wanted to focus on the gestures in the drivers seat, it didn't make sense to actually simulate a road. A scrolling panoramic image of a city street, blurred and stretched horizontally, would give enough of an impression of motion.

Friday, April 3, 2015

"Stick Shift" as activist autoerotica

This is a post detailing my process and intent in making Stick Shift. It has SPOILERS; if you care about that kind of thing, then you should probably play the game first.

(Again, SPOILER WARNING is in effect. Last chance!)

Stick Shift is an autoerotic night-driving game about pleasuring your gay car. It is the last of my recent erotic gay sex game trilogy, alongside its sisters Hurt Me Plenty and Succulent. I also feel like it is a fitting book-end to the past two games, incorporating themes and ideas from both.

Over the past two months, the game has changed quite a bit. Originally, I started from Paolo Pedercini's suggestion to riff off Andy Warhol's film Blow Job (1964).

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Implementing real-world real-time stamina / energy cooldown timers in Unity C#

In Hurt Me Plenty, I implemented "real-world" cooldown timers, which persist even if the player restarts the program. The cooldown period elapses in "real world" time, not in game time.

This resembles stamina delays in many popular free-to-play games, but it also connects with the design tradition of using real world system clocks to dictate game logic -- maybe certain Pokemon emerge at real world night, or you witness events that correspond with real world holidays, or perhaps you can even kill a boss NPC by setting your console's system clock forward by a week.

Much like the implementations referenced above, mine is quite weak and vulnerable to circumvention and cheating: I simply save a system timestamp in the game's PlayerPrefs, and then check that saved timestamp upon loading the game. If the difference between the current system time and the saved timestamp is less than zero, then the time has fully elapsed and the game continues.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Level With Me, vol. 1 re-release (v1.1)

I have updated my old experimental Portal 2 mod "Level With Me" to work with current versions of Portal 2. This mostly involved repackaging a menu file and rebuilding the sound cache. Assuming you have Portal 2 installed, you can download and play this collaborative interview / playable journalism project at the page.

  • Remember to feel free to stop playing the first chapter at any time.
  • Previous posts / notes are here.
  • Interview subjects were: Dan Pinchbeck (The Chinese Room), Jack Monahan (Stellar Jockeys), Brendon Chung (Blendo Games), Magnar Jenssen (Avalanche Studios / Valve), Davey Wreden (Galactic Cafe), Ed Key (Twisted Tree Games), Richard Perrin (Locked Door Puzzle)
TECHNICAL SOURCE ENGINE NERD NOTES: It was fun trying to figure out how to update everything; Valve updated every Source game to use .VPK v2, except Portal 2, so it was pretty much impossible to find the old VPK.exe compile utility. Luckily, I had a hunch that Alien Swarm hadn't been updated since forever, and I turned out to be correct. (For anyone who googles for this post, you can grab the one from the Alien Swarm SDK, or download the old v1 VPK.exe here. Make sure you place it in a \bin\ folder with a tier0.dll, and then you can just drag-and-drop folders onto it or a shortcut, etc.)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lighting theory for 3D games, part 2: a formal approach to light design, and light as depth

Here's how I generally, theoretically, approach lighting in my games and game worlds. Part 2 is about light and function, mostly for level design.

In part 1, I talked about how different light sources have different connotations to the viewer, and these meanings are culturally constructed. In New York City today, an antique Edison bulb connotes trendy bourgeois expense, but 50 years ago it might've been merely eccentric, and 150 years ago it would've been a thrilling phenomenological novelty.

But people rarely intellectualize lighting this way, in, like, your own bedroom. In your daily middle class Western life you don't usually agonize over the existential quandaries of electricity, you just flip the light switch without looking. When in familiar places, we experience light as a resource or tool and take it for granted. So much of our everyday relationship with light concerns its functionality and what it enables us to do.

Monday, March 16, 2015

#altgames is the no-fault divorce that indie games needs

I'm cautious. I've been watching #altgames from a distance. Quite a few years ago, Jim Rossignol said I was supposed to be part of an "alt mod" scene, but by then I was tapering off most of my work as a modder so I'm not sure if such a community ever really materialized anyway. I generally don't like labels with "alt" in them since the alt-ernative can be said to be anything, but I do like what TJ Thomas said at Indiecade East, and I like a lot of games that are "altgames", and I think much of my work shares whatever those altgames sensibilities are... so there's probably some kind of consensus, we just have to keep articulating it?

In my GDC 2015 diary, I confessed I felt disconnected from fellow indies who were concerned with running small businesses and contract negotiations. No one wants a civil war over what "indie" really means, or a witch hunt over who is authentically "indie" or whatever. We all have different relationships with games and that's okay as long as you're not promoting hate speech or something. At the same time, it's ridiculous to pretend that I'm not bored out of my mind during countless GDC conversation(s) lingering on advertising revenues and Indie Fund deals and sales figures, and then people get visibly annoyed with me when I don't say anything and check my phone instead. Where is the way out?

This morning, Zoe Quinn's altgames manifesto at Offworld really crystallized this for me:

#altgames can be the no-fault divorce that we need where we don't blame each other, where we even stay friends with contemporary indie games. We can still have dinner parties and share custody of the kids! However, we also have very different goals and concerns, so let's try not being married anymore, and maybe we'll all be happier for it.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

"Local Level Design" at Different Games 2015, April 3-4 in Brooklyn, New York

"American Corinthian" via
Paolo Pedercini
In about 3 weeks at Different Games 2015 in Brooklyn, I'll be speaking about "local level design", a practice of level design that I setup in opposition to industrial AAA level design methods and procedural level design. Local level design is level design concerned with player community, sustainability, and context; it rejects a top-down formalism that demands game levels exist as territories with strategic affordances orchestrated by an architect, and it sidesteps a technological imperative to engineer and articulate a fixed grammar that a game engine must understand. Instead, local level design is highly conceptual, to the extent that few people actually play these levels at all.

If you'll be around the New York City area in the beginning of April, come hangout at Different Games, and perhaps see me talk! Or if you can't, but still want to support the conference, then know that they do accept donations.

Details and stuff (but no schedule yet) are at their website. See you there maybe!

Monday, March 9, 2015

GDC 2015 dispatches / minutiae

Here are some thoughts I thought during GDC 2015.
  • Virtual reality: I didn't get to try Valve's fancy new thing that requires everyone to clear out a mini-holodeck in their apartment, but I was pleasantly surprised by Google Cardboard. I tried it once before, and disliked it, but I tried it again and now I think it's not bad as a VR solution. I appreciate the transparency and "honesty of materials" -- it is basically a cardboard box that holds a phone to your face, it doesn't try to pretend to be something else, while still delivering on the all-important affordance of VR headset as elaborate blindfold.
  • Phony war: The big technical news of free engine access for Unity 5, Unreal 4, and Source 2 were inflated non-announcements. They've been practically giving away Unity and Unreal for a while now; 90% of Unity feature-set is free, and Unreal only required you to subscribe for a month and then you could cancel it and keep it... and the details and workflow for Source 2 aren't public yet, other than a requirement to offer first look rights to Valve or something? So again I think there's no real story here, other than positioning these engines as the new "big three" versus Unreal, CryEngine, and idTech trinities of yore. 
  • Generations: This year, quite a few NYU students attended GDC for the first time, and I felt some modicum of responsibility. For better or worse, a lot of young people invest GDC week with a lot of emotions, and it's really important that community elders (ugh, am I one of those? let's hope not) are there to help nurture their spirits. Things like the annual Wild Rumpus party or Lost Levels or Richard Lemarchand's GDC Feet tour are about articulating and performing considerate attitudes toward games and play, to imagine this culture as something shared and owned by everyone. A lot of teaching game development is about emotional education -- to deal with people saying difficult things about your work, the ability to absorb success or absorb your disappointment and not let it crush you... so please, I beg you, think of the children!
  • Biz-culture: In contrast to what I just said in the previous bullet, I also sensed an increasingly fractured community. There's a steadily widening gulf between a games space deeply concerned with sales figures and how to negotiate with platform holders, and a games space striving to reject the existing market system and formulate alternatives. We are increasingly talking past each other, so I think a lot of "indie love" politics is about plastering over these divides and avoiding difficult arguments that we probably can't avoid forever. Films like GameLoading are about doing the work of uniting disparate artistic approaches and communities as a movement, but sometimes it smells more like a possibly empty "Radio for Change" gesture, and I wonder when the coalitions will start dissolving and we all realize we actually don't have much in common. But maybe being a family means pretending everything is going to be ok? Let's do it for the kids.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

GDC 2015 dance card

Hello. Here's some of my GDC plans. See you blog readers at some of them! Don't be afraid to say hey.
  • MONDAY: I fly-in and arrive in San Francisco.
  • TUESDAY: Level Design In a Day track. I'll be on-duty in the panel all day, then I'm presenting my talk at the very end of the track at 5 PM
  • WEDNESDAY: I'll be spending much of my time at #LostLevels, and then hanging out at the annual Wild Rumpus party. This is pretty much the only time at GDC where I dance; everywhere else, the music is undanceable or the nerds refuse to dance.
  • THURSDAY: I'll probably visit Alcatraz; there's an Ai Weiwei exhibition currently going on. I'm also looking forward to the Adventure Design minitalks later that night.
  • FRIDAY: I'll go to a talk or two maybe? Also might flee Moscone and just take a nice walk around Land's End / Sutro Baths. I guess I'll see what I feel like.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hurt Me Plenty, patched to RC5 + now with Linux build

I've updated my spanking game Hurt Me Plenty to version RC5... by removing the Leap Motion support which seemed to be crashing for certain users. Thanks to all the people who e-mailed me to report the crash / sorry for any inconvenience.

If you want to play the game with a Leap Motion, download version RC4; if you don't have a Leap Motion or you were having problems playing before, then download version RC5.

I also updated the in-game graphics with an actual mouse graphic, so it should also be easier to play / figure out what you're supposed to do. Oh and I finally did a Linux build, it's x86 / x86_64 universal.

Game is available for "pay what you want" here:

Friday, February 20, 2015

Radiator University, Fall 2015 catalog (excerpts)

In this class, we will analyze a variety of escape narratives, from stage magicians to US slave narratives to feminist memoirs to prison break films to the modern war refugee story, to articulate a robust "aesthetic of escape." When is escape possible and honorable, and when is escape futile or cowardly? From this cultural survey, we will conceptualize and construct a real-life "escape room" puzzle installation that attempts to invoke and honor this long and complex tradition of escapism in its materials, environmental storytelling, construction process, and puzzle design. (2 credits, Sao Paulo campus.)
Prerequisites: ARCH 211 History of Prisons, CENG 200 Intro to Plumbing Electrical and HVAC.

Using a combination of 3D scanning, motion capture, and virtual reality technologies, we will literally attempt to recreate a scene from Hamlet on a "holodeck." In doing so, we will also critique the rhetoric of immersion that permeates popular fantasies about virtual reality and narrative, and align it with contemporary interpretations of Hamlet. For instance, in Shakespeare's time, the ghost-revenge plot was already a well-established trope -- thus, one could argue that Hamlet is essentially a self-aware character who knows he is in a cliched video game, and wonders whether he can transcend the military-entertainment complex's demand for graphic violence. (3 credits, Spring semester only.)
Prerequisites: ENGL 314 Elizabethan Literature, HTECH 100 Intro to Holographic Interfaces, at least 1 semester in any Melee Combatives lab.

The Stanford Prison Experiment was a notorious battery of mandated sadism that masqueraded as a scientific exploration of human nature. Using similar terms, we will attempt to build and perform a model "Stanford University" within our existing university, replete with its own facilities, students, faculty, and administrators. In the best case scenario, basic legal and ethical concerns for humane treatment of human test subjects will prevent us from running the experiment at all, thus implying that Stanford University itself is an oppressive institution barely distinguishable from a supposedly artificial and isolated prison. (no-credit pass-nopass only, Fall semester only.)
Prerequisites: CENG 395 Escaping a Room of One's Own

Previous semesters are available here: Fall 2014, Spring 2013

Esteemed alumni: have you recently thought about making a large donation to Radiator University? All donations to...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

We are drugs; speculative dev tools and psychedelic hologram futures.

This post is adapted from a talk I gave at Indiecade East 2015, where the theater was way too small for the crowd, so not many people got to see the talk... sorry / oh well. Here's basically what I said:

Our story begins on October 8th, 2014, on a very special episode of the Late Show with David Letterman. He was ending that episode with a musical guest from Japan -- a holographic vocaloid named Hatsune Miku. Pay attention to Letterman's barely-veiled incredulity as he introduces her. He can't believe the words coming out of his mouth:

But what really makes this moment is the ending, after the performance. Letterman doesn't even know what to say, and he knows he doesn't know what to say. The experience was completely overwhelming, so Letterman has to somehow pivot back to interpret it for his audience (mostly moms and dads from Milwaukee) and all he can muster is a facile comparison to "being on Willie Nelson's bus." (Willie Nelson, if you're not familiar, is a celebrity notorious for his drug use, among other things.)

The meaning is both clear and agreeable: Hatsune Miku is drugs.

Friday, February 13, 2015

How to make stuff look at stuff / demystifying turns and rotations, and working with quaternions in Unity C#

Julia set fractal thing of a quaternion function... I actually don't really know what that means, but it's pretty.
This is kind of a blog post more for my Unity students, but I figure other people on the internet might find it useful -- let's demystify working with rotations in Unity, and explore some useful techniques for doing so.

There are 2.75 ways to store rotations in Unity: (1) quaternions and (2) euler angles (directional vectors are the 0.5, and some math functions secretly take radians instead of degrees, that's the 0.25)...

Euler angles are the typical 0-360 degree system taught in most junior high / high school geometry classes, while radians are in "units of pi" and represent the curvature of a circle. Then there's quaternions, which are scary 4 dimensional representations of a rotation that you may have never heard of / can barely spell! Fortunately, you don't need to know quaternion math in order to work with rotations, Unity will handle conversions for you.

Okay, so first let's explore a most common problem: how do you make stuff look at stuff in Unity?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Upcoming talk: "Level Design Histories and Futures" at Level Design In A Day, GDC 2015

I'll be presenting a talk on "Level Design Histories and Futures" at the Level Design In A Day track at GDC 2015, alongside other stuff by Clint Hocking, Joel Burgess, Steve Gaynor, David Pittman, Forrest Dowling, Nels Anderson, Jake Rodkin, Kate Craig, Brendon Chung, and Liz England. It's a huge honor to be associated with these people.

My talk is about level editor histories, the level designer as an industry role, level design as modernist formalism, and what a postmodern sustainable level design practice might look like. I'm kind of serving as the theory-heavy talk this year, right at the end of Tuesday at 5 PM, so I'm going to try to synthesize a lot of the previous talks together and propose some frameworks to digest them... and um I hope I'll see some blog readers there / I hope you'll still be awake at that hour!

If you can't make it to GDC, I'll try to put up the slides afterward, and I'm sure it'll be streamed or recorded or something.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Teaching game development... in public!

I remember one time in design school when a guest critic called out my classmate's project, a website to facilitate bartering. The critic balked at the idea of imposing specific procedures on how people should conduct a trade, and he talked about how the parents of Park Slope, Brooklyn shift several million tons of used toys using a very active Yahoo Groups (the class gasped in horror)... sometimes all a user wants is a message board.

So I'm one of those \Blackboard / "enterprise-class courseware learning platform" skeptics. If you've had the good fortune of never having to use one, they look like the image above, usually some really bloated outdated web portal thing with 50 different "learning modules" that 90% of university classes never use unless they're forced by the department.

As an instructor, I don't want to "setup an assignment" by digging through three different layers of menu screens! Sometimes all a user wants is a message board.

This semester, I'm running my game development courses on GitHub, Steam Community, and Tumblr. All three provide some semblance of message board functionality, so they're all suitable for teaching. Here's how I'm doing it:

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lighting design theory for 3D games, part 1: light sources and fixtures

Contemporary Jewish Museum (San Francisco, California)
Here's how I generally, theoretically, approach lighting in my games and game worlds. Part 1 is about the general concept of lighting design.

Mood is the most important end result of your lighting. The "functional school" of game lighting, which maintains that lighting exists primarily to make a space readable so that the player can navigate it and shoot people -- can be useful in my eyes but only so far as that gameplay is tactical violence, and when that violence can support evoking a mood. The rest of the time, some designers often seem content to light their spaces like a furniture catalog, or even leave it as a total after-thought. Lights can do more than show-off your normal maps and show where to walk to trigger the next cutscene, okay?

So let's begin: lighting design is a discipline that has existed since the beginning of sunlight.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"We Are Drugs: On New Indie Game Dev Tools for Psychedelic Hologram Futures" @ IndieCade East 2015

Salvador Dali, "Modern Rhapsody"
I'm giving a talk in, like, 3 weeks at IndieCade East 2015 in New York City. I'm going to be talking about art / art-making as a drug, and I'm going to show a clip of Hatsune Miku, and hopefully I'll be coherent and insightful and entertaining? And if you can't splurge for the full weekend pass, then I'd recommend at least attending on Saturday -- not because that's when my talk is! -- but rather because that's when the notorious Night Games takes place. Get your tickets sooner than later, I think there's some kind of "early bird" discount? Either way, see you around in a few weeks!