All posts by Luke

So Much Stuff!

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So what’s new in Luke-land? Well right now, I’m sat in California getting some much needed R&R and visiting an old friend. I’ve actually been out here for most of March already working, which has been a really interesting experience.

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For the first 2 weeks, I was at Chartboost University, a program run by the ad platform company Chartboost. We had submitted our application in January and were really excited when we heard that we had been accepted! So myself and Verena (who is now working with me on projects at Robot Overlord Games) packed our bags, polished up Easy Money and headed to San Francisco.

The CBU program is effectively a 7 day bootcamp where some of the sharpest games industry folks from the Bay Area dropped as much wisdom on us as they could. We learnt a lot about the business of games and especially free to play. It also allowed us a really great opportunity to work together in person. Verena is based in Austria, so we rarely see each other, and for two weeks we tried to make the most of it. The game has progressed a lot in that time, Verena’s new art assets are going in and we tweaked a lot of other stuff. More importantly, we agreed a lot about what we are going to do going forwards.


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After CBU wrapped up, onwards to GDC! It was my first year attending the conference as an IGDA Board member, my second year as the Scholars Coordinator and my second year as a speaker. There’s way too much to remember and try to process about this past week. I went to some amazing parties, met some excellent people and had some great meetings. I’m feeling super energised and enthusiastic. That said, I can’t wait for sessions to go online as I was way too busy to make it to many – in fact aside from sessions I was speaking at or running, I made it to just one, which was the Microtalks session. I was walk/talking with someone headed to it, and since I was at the door and so many of my friends were taking part in it, I decided to sit in.

The past few weeks have been incredible. I’ve learnt a lot, met so many awesome people and I’m feeling really positive about the projects I’m working on. Hopefully I’ll have some great stuff to show you all soon!

A Return to Productivity?

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One of the reasons that you won’t have seen much from me lately is that I have been suffering pretty badly from hand/wrist/arm problems. That is obviously a pretty severe issue for someone like me who pretty much lives with his hands attached to a keyboard. I work on my computer, I socialise on my computer and I relax on my computer, so as this has gotten progressively worse I’ve had to make a lot of lifestyle changes.

First to go were strategy games – if it meant extra mouse and keyboard time, it got cut and almost exclusively I have been playing controller-enabled games. You may also have noticed that my blog promiscuity has gone way down – this is part of it too, especially when you consider that I have a lot of ‘Real Work’ to do and only so many keystrokes a day before the pain sets in. Lately, even my posts to social media have been dropping and I’ve been spending more and more time watching TV – I’ve almost exhausted the list of what I’m prepared to watch on Netflix

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been looking hard into what I can do to overcome this. Various options have been considered, and I’m still reasonably serious (or at least thinking seriously) about a Kinesis Advantage keyboard (which puts return, backspace etc as buttons to be used by your thumb) as well as an electric sit/stand desk to give complete flexibility to control my sitting posture.

The first step however has been to pick up a Livescribe 3 smart pen. This means that right now I am writing this in a notebook, and my pen strokes are being sent by Bluetooth to my iPad. From there, the software does text recognition to extract actual words as digital text and all I need to do then is some minor corrections to get what I want out of it.

7BF1486E-867E-4C37-BF90-933DF7002A83I’ve been using it for about 2 hours now, which in the scheme of things is not much but this is the second post I’ve written and because I am using a totally different grip and set of motions, I could (and maybe will) do a whole lot more today – very different from if I had tried to type this out.

That said, there’s already a few bugbears coming to light The most notable of which is the ability to export data out of the app. It is quite happy to perform the hand writing recognition to get your writing into text, but when it is exported out of the app, it does so as a PDF – there doesn’t seem to be a way to get the text out directly (short of editing each piece of text and copying it by hand, for each piece of text it thinks you have written). This feels like a serious weakness – but one I can no doubt work around though I shouldn’t have to. The second problem is that the way it records text isn’t configurable, so it decides what constitutes a paragraph break. This is an issue for me because I like to write double spaced whichthe software can’t follow. There also doesn’t seem to be good provision for grouping pages of writing together, so this post will be stored as four consecutive pages rather than grouped together as a single entity, which will probably get awkward as the number of things written grows.

Ultimately though, I’m being sort of nitpicky. The fact that I can write words on a notepad and have them appear on a screen is pretty much magic and it’s hopefully going to see my productivity go back up as a result.

Redshirt

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Doing contract AI work for Redshirt, a game developed by Mitu Khandaker was a great experience. The game is now available for purchase on Steam, GOG and direct from the developer. Redshirt has received some really positive reactions from players and press alike, and I’m very proud to have been involved in the project.

The Integrated Influence Architecture

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The cornerstone of my research, the Integrated Influence Architecture (or I2A) is an endeavour to marry long-term deliberative reasoning with quick and easily calculated reactive reasoning. These two paradigms of AI have traditionally been at opposite ends of the spectrum, but they both had their advantages. As we move towards thinking about our NPCs being smarter, we need them to act in rational and realistic manners that respect their long term plans, but we need to do that using as little processor time as possible.

Cliques, Conferences and Bithell

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Over the last couple of months I’ve really enjoyed listening to / talking on the Internet with Mike Bithell. He’s an insightful bloke, and there’s a legitimate reason Thomas Was Alone got the praise it did – it’s fantastic.

Mike recently wrote a quick post about the nature of cliques and how as a conference attendee, he’d been at a party and had an experience (before his game came out) trying to interact with well known people. If you haven’t read it, go do that and come back because I’m not going to recap it for you here.

There are times at events where I just want to spend time with the people I love because we live on different sides of the planet and conferences are the only time we get together. I remember one incident in particular where I’d just finished a conversation up with a random, caught my friends eye and suggested we get some lunch. A voice behind me said “yeah let’s go find something to eat!” and suddenly my conversation in a hallway turned into a group lunch date, with my internal voice screaming for the next hour “FUCK OFF WHY ARE YOU INTRUDING ON THE ONLY OPPORTUNITY I HAVE TO HANG OUT WITH MY BEST FRIEND ALL YEAR”.

I get the situation Mike’s describing, and I get the desire to be reasonably brusque and give people short shrift when they do approach you. There’s a part of me that wishes I was more like that, but as many of you know, I’m fairly approachable and try to give people time, which is why my inbox looks like a game of Missile Command that’s just hit the tipping point of achievability, but that’s another story.

However, dismissing cliques as just old friends catching up is also not the full story. The problem (if you look at it this way) with cliques is that they give people on the inside advantages that are harder to get on the outside. I’m part of cliques, I’m not going to deny I’m not and I’ll go further out of my way for someone who’s part of the same group. A friend of a friend needs some AI advice? Chances are I’ll figure out how to work time free when I’m slammed. This is the way things have always worked – people are more likely to go out of their way for friends or as a favour for a mutual friend. I know I do, and I know that when I have a job needs doing, I’m more likely to ask someone I respect but also who I’ve worked with or for to do it – and that just becomes a cycle of reinforcement.

Which is all well and good until you start to factor things like press into the clique, because then access to coverage becomes something that is easier for the haves than it is for the have-nots. I don’t want to pick on Mike because he seems like a genuinely lovely bloke, but the level of coverage that his new game Volume got at just first announcement was disproportionate to what a no-name indie would have received, so there’s some X factor (remember when you could use that term and not be referencing a shit talent show?) at play.

Mike’s made derogatory reference to the idea that there’s some sort of indie illuminati before and in real “organised entity” terms I’m sure that he’s right. But there is a “clique” of successful indies for whom success will from now on be that much easier because they’re known, because they have 15,000 twitter followers, because they can reach out and ask a question and get an answer. In effect it’s a clique of people who for whatever reason got lucky that one time, whose game stood out and was noticed and achieved acclaim – and in some ways that’s a lovely meritocracy but in other ways it’s a hideously self-reinforcing thing that requires an incredible jackpot to break into.

We can’t deny that cliques exist, and I’m not going to tell you I have never benefitted from them because I have. I’m privileged enough to have associated with some of the smartest up-and-comers in the industry through the IGDA and particularly the Scholars program, and many of those have become lifelong friends and collaborators. There’s more to cliques than “old friends who want to hang out” and it’s important to recognise that.

Also, it’s worth pointing out that a lot of the indies, rallied by Zoe Quinn, are offering themselves up as approachable and willing to talk about projects and offer support to developers. I’m happy to add my name to that list, tho this is already something I do pretty extensively through the IGDA and GameMentorOnline. I’m always happy to talk about games though and many people take advantage of that, so feel free to contact me and I’ll always do my best to reply!

Finally, as a side note, Mike’s taking a lot of shit for his post it seems and people need to knock that off. I’ve said before, I’ll say again, he seems like a properly decent chap but putting a post like that based on a personal experience takes guts, and kudos to him for putting it out there, even if it is only one perspective. There’s no excuse for being a dick (and I say that as someone who in his younger years was a professional Angry Internet Dick).