Thursday, July 11, 2013

Accurate "Red Cave" lyrics by Yeasayer

One of the most amazing songs I've been listening to recently is "Red Cave" by Yeasayer.

But I've found every single lyric site on the internet has inaccurate words, and the official Yeasayer web-site is devoid of lyrics.

Between the album version and live versions on YouTube, I derived the following:

(part 1)

I went out past the willow and the well
Caught my breath upon the hill
At the edge of her domain

And I went down
And further
And when I got up,
I'm at the red cave

And with that sound
As if I had been put under a spell
She led me to her whirlpool
Warm despite a winter's day

(part 2)

Mary's house in the hollow of the
White hazel rapid whirlpool
And the church of her red cave

(part 3)

I'm so blessed to
Have spent that time
With my family and the friends
I love with my short life I have met
So many people I deeply care for

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Falling Behind, Climbing Up

I've been fascinated with Steve Jobs for years; his speaking techniques, his ability to save a company from the brink of bankruptcy, his push for quality design in consumer products, etc....  From reading his biography and watching YouTube videos of him I've become both inspired and frustrated.

The inspiration stems from what he was able to accomplish over the course of his life.  The frustration stems from the comparison of what I have done in my professional life.

In 3rd grade, Gilman, taught us to program, and it was at this time I decided I wanted to make unique, fun games for a living.  This was validated in middle school where we had a rule:  no one could play video games except for ones created by students.  For a few weeks, there was little, if any, game playing.  The most proficient kids were building ascii mad lib games.  Unsatisfied, I knew enough from coding at home to put together a real-time, graphics-based, action game.   I remember looking at the class one day and every single student had my game up on their computer.  Because of that, the teachers almost changed the rule to "No games at all!"

In high school I learned the joy of compiled Applesoft BASIC (thanks to Kevin "Frostbyte" McCormick introducing me to Beagle Bros. software) which gave me a x10 speed increase.  Study halls were spent doing level design instead of studying.  The payoff: after school, again seeing every single computer in the lab with my game up on it.

Then college happened, I learned Turbo Pascal & C++, but games were never finished.  Half the time Bill and I would be making demos, or be too excited about the compiler and test-driver we were writing at our day jobs to have time or energy to finish games at home.

That was over 10 years ago.

Today I'm making AAA games for a living.  I'm teach games at a University on the weekends.  I've rebooted the Baltimore IGDA chapter.  I'm participating in Game Jams.  I've started a monthly Game Developer Podcast. I'm not satisfied...

Despite all my activities and accomplishments, I feel I could be doing something bigger.  I don't know what that entails, but I do have a "dream project" in mind for the past decade that I've been hesitant to start.  Its' the one project I won't pitch at my day job (without right of first refusal) because too much of myself is poured into it.  Perhaps it's time to climb the mountain.

... also I want kids.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Game Industry: How to break in

Speaking to Game Developers at a Baltimore IGDA in Firaxis's old office

For about 5 years now I've been giving talks to students from middle school to post-college about game design and programming. These talks have been at schools, industry events, and sometimes small gatherings at coffee shops. I'm reminded of the mysterious nature of how to break into the game industry every time I participate in these conversations. I hope by posting a few thoughts here, it will help budding game developers on their journey.

Where to find game developers:
The International Game Developer's Association (IGDA) is a global organization that helps connect local game developers to each other as well as to the broader community. If you cannot find a local chapter; the national IGDA can direct you to the closest one. Alternatively, if devoid of a local chapter, you can work with national to establish one in your own area.
Industry related conferences are another great place to find developers. The Game Developer's Conference (GDC) is the single best place to meet people in the industry as well as learn the latest techniques and tools for making games. Besides the main GDC in San Francisco, there are now also satellite conferences in China, Texas, and Europe.

When attending a social function, do NOT...
  1. Ask what the developer is working on; instead ask if their title is announced
  2. Ask if the studio is hiring; they'll likely redirect you to their web-site
  3. Hand a developer a resume; it will be thrown away shortly after
  4. Be afraid to talk about your game ideas; chances of them being "stolen" are slim

But do...
  1. Have a business card with your name, e-mail, phone, and aspiring title (e.g., "Character Artist").
  2. Take an interest in the developer as a fellow human being; a fellow geek, artist, etc... and not just your connection to the industry
Any one of these points could be expanded to a few paragraphs, with personal stories.  If you are local, and want the detailed skinny; hit me up for coffee and I'll give it.  The short is, that unless a developer has explicitly made it clear they are looking for talent to hire, they are at the event to meet friends and/or give back to the community with their knowledge. They are not there to recruit. It's for this reason that at Big Huge Game's annual art reviews they make it clear they are not hiring artists, just giving feedback to help students and indies.

Business cards are key because they offers some form of contact, are less bulky and less formal than a resume, and are frequently handed out amongst game developers.

If you plan to be a programmer in the industry, make sure you have at least one (if not a few) games coded.  This could be a maze game, dungeon crawler, or even just pong with lots of twists, but it needs to actually exist (and work) to show you have a passion for games and not just a desire with little follow through.

When I was working full-time outside of the industry, I took on Nehe's OpenGL Open Source Zelda project.  While incomplete, it did have enough features to be worthy of showing perspective game employers, and did help me land my first game job working at Breakaway Games on C&C3:Kanes Wrath.

For artists, having art in a game is helpful and should be done in tandem with creating a stellar portfolio. (If you want to be a concept artist, you better kick ass at drawing the human figure to proportion; no flat art!)

The Non-Technical
Designers, and artists who are not technically savvy have many options today in terms of programs to help them make games with minimal programming. Game Maker, Phrogram, and Scratch are just a few of the dozens of game making solutions out there for non-programmers.

The best situation is where you can gather a few people together and make a game that pulls on everyone's specialities. Whether it be for a Game Jam, a contest like the Independent Games Festival (IGF), or just for the sake of making a game, it does create a strong impression to a prospective employeer when you've made a game within a team environment.

Prototype! If you can code, that's a bonus, but paper-prototyping is available to all. Just grab paper, some dice, some checker pieces, some glass beads from the bowl in your bathroom holding a candle, and let your imagination go wild.

It is also good to jot down game ideas as they come to you. I keep a "black book" of game ideas; and some of my geekier coding thoughts. When I have the inspiration and time, I turn them into prototypes. For the prototypes that turn out well, I'll be able to create a full featured game.

Some selections from my black book...


Final words
If you want to be a game developer; make games!

Continuing to push ahead on a game when that initial drive wears off is what separates a game developer from a want-to-be game developer.  Each time you overcome a "boring hurdle" you're overcoming adversity that send many back to just playing games.

Don't get me wrong: keep playing games too.  But know you'll have to cut back your time in Team Fortress 2, Minecraft and other fun distractions if you are going to bring your imagination alive for others to enjoy.

It also doesn't hurt to read Gamasutra, Game Developer magazine, as well as blogs & twitter feeds of existing developers.  Keeping abreast of what's happening in the gamedev industry will give you more small talk during the lunch portion of an interview as well as allows you to make more intelligent remarks.

Good luck!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Praise vs. Brown nosing

Like many IT sectors, in the game industry there are frequent periods of "crunch". During these times dinner is ordered and many stay late into the night. Tonight wasn't so bad with over 12 hours at work (minus 1 hour of playing "Heros Of Newerth" at lunch.) During a group dinner there was some chatter about a lead designer at Firaxis and I made comment how I admired his ability to take criticism without attacking the (sometimes rabid) colleague.

In the middle I was cut off and told, "Tronster stop brown-nosing he's not even here."

It was said half joking, but all half-jokes have (half-)truths. And now I've been pondering the difference between positive praise for colleagues vs superiors on the reporting chain.

From the various jobs I've had, it seems many people are content to be quiet until they are irritated or disappointed in someone else. The truly stellar manager's I've had, would be sure to raise praises of individuals on their team (to directors) when good deeds or accomplishments occurred.

While I passively witnessed this occurrence at jobs, it wasn't until I joined the Conference Associate (CA) program at GDC that I was made consciously aware of what was going on. It took 2-3 years of "bragging" about fellow CAs (a routine encouraged to get gold stars by each others names) before the concept solidified.

Now I look for opportunities to be sure to let others know the positive aspects of what's going on amongst my team and colleagues; I just need to be more careful to keep my praise curt when talking about those above me.

Social rules... one day I'll get them down.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

GDC'09 Recap

Last week was the annual Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco. I paid for my own way working as a Conference Associate (CA); Firaxis was nice enough to let me attend the conference for the week. Already details from the week are sliding away from me, thank goodness for photos, twitter, and friends with better memories.

Highlights of the conference were:
  • Attending Epic's tech semi-private tech talk on upcoming Unreal 3 features

  • Attending my first Sony party

  • Participating in the first FlashSIG meeting

  • Hanging out with old CA friends during the night

  • Seeing many familiar faces from Baltimore make the journey too.

  • Helping the flight attendents hand out food on the trip home.

Proposed improvements:
  • Adobe having Flash representatives at the conference.

  • More techno at parties. (Sony was banging... and it has live techno.)

  • Bringing back suite night.

I'm now evaluating a plan to get the photos up on the web. Once they go up, so will all my previous photos too.

EDIT: GDC'09 photos are up on Picasa.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


During my senior year in high school I had the opportunity to put together my own "Senior Page" for the yearbook. Four photos were used; one of them was of me wearing my Photon gear. I loved playing laser tag in high school; I still play today.

This evening I played XP Lasersport in Owings Mills with a bunch of friends. We lucked out and got to play a few "tournament rule" games for the 2nd half of our gaming. The tourament rules allow for a quicker game, require more team work, and are incredibly fun. Special modes (called CHIPS) allow a player to re-"ENERGIZE" teammates, "DE-ACTIVATE" an enemy with one shot, and go invisible with "STEALTH". I don't know if I can ever go back to playing "public rule" games.

If you're near northern Baltimore, MD, I highly recommend getting a group of friends together and checking it out.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Rant on user interfaces of consumer devices

Today I'm starting to clean out my many old drafts that never quite made it to posts. This one is based on a draft started in February 2007...

Until recently I felt as if every manufacturer of consumer devices had an agenda to gratuitously brand their product trumpting all considerations on Human Interface Design (HID). My irritation in their poor product designs were only matched in my sadness of consumers complacency to live with such shoddiness. If only enough consumers complained about about the lack-of usability, it might send a signal to the manufacturers on what they should be caring most about.

Thank goodness Apple, and a few others are stepping up to the plate, spending R&D cash to make a better product.

Below are just a few examples of products I purchased and have had to endure...

Verizon branded Razr

ISSUE: The Razr has both hardware and UI-based buttons positioned poorly. One example is an internet button that cannot be removed from interface; when its (accidently) hit a web-browser starts. A user has to wait 5-10 seconds for browser to start up before it can be exited, and is "charged" for transfering data.

PROPOSED SOLUTION: Allow users to remove (or disable) button from menu, speed up start-up time of browser, and do not connect nor charge users who do not purchase data plans.

MY SOLUTION: When my contract was up, bought an iPhone 3G. I paid more for the phone, and more for the monthly fee... but it integrates so well with my life I have no regrets. Also I'm finding that it works so well that I don't need another MP3 player, and no longer need to buy Franklin Covey refills. After 10 years, I'm going to stop using my 1/2 page planner. Thank you Apple for making my planner fit in my pocket.

Alpine CDA-9847 Car Stereo

ISSUE: The interface to set radio and head-unit options is clunky. The interface for interacting with and attached iPod is awful. While my first MP3 player, a "Diamond Rio 500", was convenient for playing MP3s, the iPod mini was the first MP3 player I owned that had an intuitive interface I could tweak without looking at while running. The interface on the Alpine CDA-9847 is so poorly constructed that it is dangerous to change songs on a connected iPod unless fully stopped, or a passenger is DJing.

PROPOSED SOLUTION: Perform usability tests with the unit and provide a firmware update that remaps the controls to one that allow a driver to effortlessly change song, artist, or album. If a firmware update cannot be performed, at least do this for future models.

MY SOLUTION: Since my average drive is 10 minutes, on weekdays, I can live with the shortcomings of this head unit. I'll add usability to my checklist when I am ready for an upgrade. I had originally selected this Alpine head unit because it was one of the few that could switch from one CD-written MP3 to another without a 0.5 second - 2 second pause. (I remember not finding a single Pioneer unit that didn't have this unbearable pause and being told by a phone-based customer-service rep that it was impossible to remove the delay.) Now any delays, on CD tracks written with MP3s, is not that big of a deal; a look-free user interface for a driver is paramount. The only thing more important is making sure the head unit works with properly with my car's stereo amplifier.

This ranting is long so I'll hold off talking about keyboards or operating systems. My parting observation: companies that offer a better user interface tend to have more attractive products. My attractive products can demand a higher price and tend to be in higher demand.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Games and games

While the project I'm working on at Firaxis hasn't been announced (I cannot talk about it), I can blab about the game a group of us are working on for the Independent Games Festival (IGF) deadline in November.

Right now 2 artists, and 2 other programmers (besides me) are working on an action / arcade, casual, game in Actionscript 3. This is being done under Geek House Games in our nights and weekends. Currently we're porting over some previous work in Actionscript 2 and have found the transition to be highly beneficial. There are many great libraries and code snippest in AS3 out there.

It looks like we'll be using APE for physics, and are evaluating FLiNT for particles. While I already had written a simple collide system for sprites and an allocator for particles; leveraging existing systems should provide us with more robust, mature, and feature rich code. That leaves more time to work on the game itself.

Now all we need is to find a Flash sound system, with a good license, and we'll be 75% of the way there.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Quick video game life updates

As of May 1st, I am now working at Firaxis Games; leaving Breakaway Games. I was sad to be leaving such an awesome team of people, but the transition has been smooth... and I'm now meeting many new people who are also of the awesome caliber.

We have a Baltimore IGDA meeting coming up in 2 weeks, and as the newly elected chair, I'm doing my best to grow the chapter in terms of membership and activities. I have an awesome team on the local board, with many great ideas, and time to follow through with them. While only regular meetings are in place, we are looking at what it would take to throw a "Childsplay"-like benefit this year, as well as a Game Jam next year. And finally there is the goal of building the network between local studios and schools.

Speaking of local studios, I still am running Geek House Games. We're a lean team of industry vets, working on a Flash-based game for this years IGF competition. Once we take time away from working on the game, to update the web-site, I hope to be blogging more about this endeavor.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Music music music

It's been awhile since I've had a chance to compose some techno. I realize that a few of my current pieces aren't indexed on the web; perhaps because I link to the through a Flash page. To fix all that, I make some direct links to the MP3s available here. Enjoy:

Ashes Remain Remixed

O Brother Remix

31st Birthday Mashup (C1 mix)

Between making video games, I hope I get a chance to do some more in the future... I miss the dance-outlet!