Category Archives: General

And now this…

My wife is a huge fan of the Road Runner, and used to collect just about anything with him in it. Like a dream, I remember leafing through her old comics and seeing this. Finally, we found the proof… The Road Runner once purchased a shotgun. This raises so many questions.

Unity Escalation

It’s been a while since I’ve last updated, and in the interim I’ve toyed with a number of different game mechanics, from vehicle combat to a simple artillery system, all of which have helped me slowly get back into programming.  C# is definitely less hardcore than what I dealt with 10 years ago, but paired with all the Unity features it puts me right at the level of complexity I’m after…  I can gloss over noodley trivialities like building dynamic lists or parsing input files and get right to gameplay.

But developing in Unity can have something of a…  “momentum” to it, and despite my vow make small finishable stuff, recently I’ve kept putting time into a single project.  I wanted to keep things ugly so as to not limit my ability to create gameplay, but thanks to that damn asset store and a few bucks it was just so easy to get some assets and start to make things looking pretty good.  On the upside, having better art inspired me fictionally and prodded me to do a bit more worldbuilding.  While I do still need to get some fundamental gameplay hooked up and purge the few remaining test sprites that I don’t own, it’s coming along all right in the meantime:

Back In It

Depth Graph

After a week or so in my old stomping grounds of Madison, Wisconsin, I’ve returned from GLS.  It was an intersting show, with lots of folks with interesting stuff to stay.  It was also great to see some old friends, talk some shop and reminisce. 

Certainly my favorite thing at the conference is my former Raven cohort Nathan McKenzie’s presentation of some great, fun-looking games that also have some incredible potential to teach as well.  Nathan is preaching a philosophy (which I fully agree with) that instead of trying to make the existing, must-maligned “learning games” into fun experiences, we should instead consider making fantastic games that apply learning to existing play patterns that demand learning from the audience already (such as memorization of real spanish words rather than game-fiction terms like “Bulbasaur”).  His two demos were really cool to see.

By popular(?) demand, below are the slides for my GLS presentation, “Combating the Curse of More: Focusing Your Game”.  It was a bit different than most of the heady topics discussed at the show, but it seemed to go over well for those that were looking for more of a “dev” point of view.  An overview of the talk seems to have popped up on Gamasutra as well.

This week also marks the start of a new role as Lead Designer at Hidden Path Entertainment in Bellevue (Seattle-area).  Once again, I’m diving into some new, exciting stuff with some incredibly talented and capable people…  I’m utterly excited to see where this path (ha, a pun) will lead.

Click on the Banana to get the file.

I am a banana!

More Talk Powerpoint


It’s been a pretty scattered summer for me so far…  Lots going on but some weird lulls in between.  Most recently I found out that I’m going back to my hometown of Madison, WI to attend the Games+Learning+Society Conference on July 10-11.  It’s not a huge GDC-type affair, but a show in its fourth year put on by people from the University of Wisconsin…  In my last year at Raven my friend and cohort Nathan McKenzie introduced me to incredibly smart UW folks like Constance Steinkuehler, Kurt Squire, and Jim Gee, who as I’d said before, exposed me to a refreshing outlook on games.  It’ll be great to see them again.


I’ll be giving a short talk on scope, vision and just good game design practices, which you know I’ve been thinking about a lot lately…  It’s the first talk like this I’ve given and hopefully there will be a lot I can offer the attendees.  There’s an interesting mix of academics and development people, and while my talk isn’t as heady as some, I’ve been told that there is a lot of interest in more traditional game development issues.  In the end, the goal of a lot of these people is not to wrap a bad game around education (as has been done in the past), but to create great games that have educational merit.  I think it’s a fantastic objective that is still underestimated by the game industry.

Anyway, wish me luck!

Everquest the Return: Kickin’ it old School

Wayback timeMy wife and I entered the wayback machine this past weekend…  After a six-year hiatus we cracked open our dusty copies of Everquest and had fun playing it for the afternoon.  Yeah, not WOW, and not the bland-by-comparison Everquest 2, but good ol’ completely-cryptic-interface, 1999-graphics-by-way-of-2001 garden variety Everquest.  The Everquest that was a patchwork of every fantasy trapping and mechanic that the staff could think of before ship.  The Everquest that was as unforgiving and sometimes infuriating as being kicked in the gut…

Yep, we played that Everquest, thanks to a loan of some updated discs from Dave Webb.  After some extensive guesswork, we managed to remember our old accounts and were pleasantly surprised to see most of our characters still hanging around.  And we had 21 days of free playtime to boot (no doubt thanks to some “come back to EQ” promotion at some point).  Nice. Thanks Sony!

Our experience playing it was very “Everquest”.  The very first moment Sandi logged on with her beloved character Celestiel, she was struck dead by a long wandering dark elf guard.  We hadn’t left the game six years ago in a completely hot zone, but we had become complacent about the amount of risk that existed in that world. 

Everquest 1, once pretty, now showing its age

I remember back in the Raven days spending every Monday night playing EQ with Jersey” Jim Hughes, Rick Johnson, Matt Pinkston, Chris Foster and Jeremy Statz among others…  We spent a solid six or more depressing months with this ritual, ultimately barely reaching level 20 for our efforts.  We’d get home from work and start playing around 8, struggling to find each other.  Sometimes somebody was on the other continent, and we had to wait the 30-40 minutes for them to take the boat over.  We’d find our hunting spot and set up camp, and do great for a while…  until a wandering monster or a player-led train finally got the drop on us and we perished, losing half the experience we’d gained in the previous hour. 

After one fairly successful evening before we finally broke it up, Jersey was heard to say “I actually had fun tonight”.  We were amused, then in shock, in the realization that we were paying to play this game when 75% of the time we just walked away angry.  But who was listening to us…  Everquest was making Ferraris full of loot at the time, and apparently the crazy nutball addicts were happy…  Incidentally, we had one of those addicts (who I won’t name) at Raven.  I remember when they first released the command that tallied the total number of days played.  This dude bragged that he had over a month online.  I stopped for a second and pointed out “Dude!  The game’s only been out for three months!”  Yes, along with work (10+ hour-a-day crunch time even) and sleeping, he was still averaging over eight hours a day playing.  That’s probably not that amazing nowadays that “online addiction” is starting to go mainstream, but Jesus, that was insane back then.

Back to Sandi and I.  Once we gt our bearings and we figured out the new HUD map that helped us navigate, we did pretty well.  And we did have fun.  There was something special there that has been diminished with the iterative MMO’s that we had played since, from DAOC, to WOW, to LOTRO.  What was it…?  Ha!  I was going to write it today, but I got too wrapped up telling my war stories, sorry!  I’ll hit it up with some meat next post.

Alive and Kickin’

All right enough of this…  I miss the whole blog thing.  SurrealGameDesign was a great chance for me to collect all my various thoughts and collect them into (hopefully) a compelling or at least comprehensible package.  It was healthy as a designer and kept me sharp.  I pretty much starved this blog at the time so that I could maintain SGD, but it was worth it.

While eventually things got complicated enough that I couldn’t keep it going, I consider the blog an overall successful venture.  Last summer, I was growing frustrated with the lack of exposure that Surreal had in the game industry, since it had not been visible to the public since The Suffering: Ties that Bind shipped in September 2005.  I knew also that our new game would not be announced until early this year.  If anything, it made recruitment difficult, which makes it tough to build the best department I possibly could.  In addition, I was encouraging my designers to broaden their horizons by playing and talking about new types of games.  The blog’s mission was to both build outside awareness of the culture at Surreal, but also to build a team spirit and grow the perspectives of the design department at large.

By late fall, SGD was getting some great momentum, with several thousand visits a day and some notice from some cooler mainstream-y places like N’Gai Croal’s Levelup blog and Stephen Totilo’s Multiplayer blog.  Not bad for a studio with no visibility for two years and an unannounced game on its plate.  It might be resurrected in some form in the future, but for now I’ve archived the contents at a site called GamesGoneFeral.

So moving forward, this is the place that I’ll come to talk about my current efforts, and reveal perspectives on my past (and perhaps even my future).  Some of my compatriots have also carved out their own corners of the internet, as can be evidenced in the Surreal Network on the sidebar.  We’ll be responding to each other and encouraging others to join the (loosely organized) fold.  We’ll see where all this leads, but regardless, it’ll be a journey worth taking.

Why yes, we DO play Team Fortress 2…

We sit in the aftermath of Surreal’s big TF2 LAN showdown. At the studio we’ve been getting pretty competitive in our matches of Team Fortress 2. Discussions on strategies such as where to place sentry turrets, and how to cap the middle point of Granary are common fare in the offices. However, in the past few weeks it got more and more difficult to squeeze in matches at lunch as we approached last Friday’s big milestone, so we planned a LAN blowout for the day after. Leading up to the big day we had a competition to choose two captains, who each proceeded to forge a team in the fires of Mount Doom. We were destined to meet on the field of battle, and on Saturday, November 10, the milestone was in the can and it was on.


Teams consisted of Laser Jesus, led by Dan Osborn, versus JSM, led by Gameplay Programmer Austin McGee. No, I won’t explain the team names. 🙂


The official matches were played from 4PM to 11PM, with lingering skirmishes continuing into the wee hours. The results had JSM take the win home, with five victories out of six:

  • Well: Laser Jesus 0, JSM 2
  • Granary: Laser Jesus 1, JSM 2
  • Dustbowl: Laser Jesus 1, JSM 1 (Tie)
  • 2Fort: Laser Jesus 0, JSM 2
  • Hydro: Laser Jesus 0, JSM 2
  • Gravel Pit: Laser Jesus 1, JSM 3

Surreal TF2 Steam LogoThis is all a warm-up, though, because across the Seattle area, the TF2 showdown has crossed studio boundaries in the Valve-hosted TF2 Studio Rumble 2007. So far Surreal has defeated two contenders, and unless Zombie pulls out an upset tonight, we’ll be going up against the dreaded forces of Valve itself next week. Wish us luck!

I put up a “Games We Play” page for this sort of thing if you want any details on our teams.



Getting Set UpDistributed Power SystemThe MazeGamer FuelNeed beer… Lots and lots of beer.JSM Gearing UpLaser Jesus Gearing UpDeep Strategy SessionLaser Jesus Laying PlansIt’s On!Bring itFinal Score

PAX Day Friday!

Surreal sent the entire company to PAX (the Penny Arcade Expo) on Friday…  It was conveniently located in downtown Seattle this year, at the Washington State Convention Center, not too far away.  A few of us actually found a reason to take the semi-famous-but-usually-useless Seattle Monorail (it only travels end-to-end from the Space Needle to downtown, not very far).  The rest of us found that it wasn’t that far of a walk… and we were able to stop at Shorty’s for a dog in the process!

Some of the guys have some impressions that will be posted shortly.