All posts by Luke

Norway…

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Norway… I have a really weird relationship with this country. Well, I imagine that I have a minimal relationship with the country as a whole, I get to experience an isolated sliver of it, just the game development part and then only for a few days a year for the past year. But… Norway. This year’s trip was especially epic.

So it all started Tuesday with a 5am alarm call for a flight to Norway, followed by a 20 minute dash across AMS trying to make a connecting flight. I’m not a sprinter. I’m not a jogger for fucks sake, but I did it.

Wednesday I was booked to speak at the Høgskollen I Bergen which seems to be roughly analogous to community college. It was a new set discussing advances in Game AI from the last month, contrasting Destiny with LotR: Shadows or Mordor and digging into me ideas about how SoM might work under the hood. Standing room only! It was a fairly small room, maybe a 40 seater, but there were people sat on the steps. Great times.

That evening I saw Ste Curran present his session “Killing the Games Industry” which is… something. It’s stayed with me and I don’t know. I’d never considered what games culture would look like as it invade performance arts, but now I think I know. I think Ste’s session was almost Beat Poetry about games? Or… something? Decide for yourself in the same session from another event. Well worth a watch!

Thursday I had a slow start to the day, dealt with emails and then headed out to get lunch as part of the Konsoll conference which was the reason I was in Norway to begin with. They’d moved where the lunch was being held, so I was fumbling around a bit til I ran into James Portnow (of Extra Credits and Games4Good fame). He waved me over despite being in a deep conversation – thankfully we’d had chance to catch up a couple of nights before when I’d first arrived in town. “You’re at the thing tonight?” I asked. “Which thing? I’m at my thing.” I had no idea that there were going to be multiple things. “hey I know,” he said “why don’t you join me?”

But first I headed into the conference with the intention of working on my slides. No sooner had I sat down, got my laptop out and connected to the wireless than a message popped up “Hi Luke I don’t know if you remember me I’m with the BBC….”. An interview request. I swear I thought I was being punked. They wanted to arrange an on-camera discussion of all the ongoing harassment within the industry, which since I was abroad I wasn’t able to do. They also asked me to appear on a BBC World Service program with a short interview clip (starting from 20:30). I was nervous – as a rule directors of the IGDA aren’t really supposed to make statements on behalf of the organisation or do press, but the timing was such that I couldn’t get clearance in time, but I decided that it was too good an opportunity for us to pas up.

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So back to Thursday night, where I gate crashed a fireside chat James was having with a local journalist and teacher to discuss the games medium. I was a bit uncomfortable and felt like I was going to be intruding but the whole night turned into a really surreal adventure as things got progressively stranger. I think everyone had a good time, I think we made some good points. I know James did, I hope I did. It certainly generated some great discussion afterwards especially around the concepts of adaptive difficulty, which James and I have very different takes on.

Then on to the conference party where many of the speakers had offered their time as part of a charity auction. The bidding for me didn’t go as high as I had hoped (in large part due to very poor self-promotion on my part), but the winner wanted to turn my offer of mentoring and tutoring in AI into something his whole class could benefit from, so this past Wednesday I sat down and did a marathon session of over 4 hours dropping as much knowledge as I could on a group of students in Oslo. Much fun was had!

Friday morning, and my last day at the conference. I was second up to give a lecture, following the absolutely wonderful Emmy Jonassen a Boston-based marketing consultant. Bit of a tough spot – Emmy does great talks and I was working out some new material for the first time. I got some laughs and there was an engaging Q&A afterwards that ran the gamut from the leadership content I had discussed in the talk to the IGDA Scholars program and the IGDA Foundation. I wasn’t happy with the material – honestly I think that set needs four or five more trials before its going to be really worked out, but it seemed well received so it goes in the “win” column.

I just had time to come out of my lecture, grab a quick bite at the conference-provided lunch and check out of my hotel before I went into my workshop. I’d agreed to do a long session deep-diving on all things Game AI. In part this was because I wasn’t doing a lecture on Game AI this year so as compensation I’d said I’d do a long “Ask Me Anything” style session so that I could give meaningful advice and insight rather than just trying to package up some of my brain for them into an hour that may or may not have had relevance. Some great questions came up.

And then to the airport. I shared a taxi out with Anna Marsh of Lady Shotgun / Tckty Boom Games, a friend from my time at Chartboost University. I’d missed her session at the conference due to my workshop so it was great to catch up on how things were going for her team. It was rare to be at Bergen airport both sober and not hungover, but I guess that’s what a Friday afternoon flight does to you.

Then back to the real world, having spent time with old friends and made a bunch of new ones. Konsoll has been very good to me over the years.

Norway… I love that place.

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.