2019 – A Recap

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I’ve been mostly radio silent ever since coming to the US, but it’s beyond time I posted something on my own website so here we go.

2019 has been a really wild ride and so much has happened that it’s hard to even keep track. I don’t even remember the start of the year honestly.

  • I do remember that GDC was the most intense experience it’s ever been this year – and this is not a conference that is known for being relaxing at the best of times. This year I gave four sessions, two each on Monday and Tuesday, and it was candidly too many. I had a pretty intense allergic reaction to something on the last day of GDC and I think I probably don’t want to push myself this hard again… In 2020, I’ve intentionally not submitted any talks for GDC or committed to many obligations (tho watch this space for me making a couple of GDC-related announcements potentially). I’m going to take this year as a tourist and enjoy my friends and family being in town for the conference and stress a lot less.
  • In April we formalized a transition with Zynga’s Central Data Organization, and I transitioned from leading the Central Analytics group to founding a Skunkworks-style unit focused on the intersection of AI and computational creativity, which we’ve called the Applied AI group. I got to handpick a couple of absolute rockstars to join me on this journey and if you’ve not heard the names Yang Wen and Johnathan Pagnutti before, expect to be hearing them a lot soon, especially if you’re anywhere near me in 2020.
  • In May I went down to San Diego for vacation to present at the Chief Analytics Officers and Influencers Summit (another four-sessions-in-one-conference appearance). The event itself was great and my sessions seemed well received, but I fell fairly in love with San Diego. It’s a place I definitely want to revisit, and staying at the beach for the best part of ten days was a much needed break. It gave me chance to decompress and think hard about a few things and I made a bunch of lifestyle decisions on this trip that have turned out to have had a major impact on my life
    • Reading – I’d fallen out of the habit of reading, but on this trip I recommitted to taking time to read, at first short form articles from sites like Reddit and Medium but then I decided to get back to books. In 2019, I read 38 books total (separate post on this coming up), which feels like a decent pace given I started about halfway through the year. In general it’s been a mix of business books (mostly management-oriented things and biographies), as well as a bunch of dog training books (more on this below) and a decent amount of Star Wars fiction – which is actually pretty good even in the new canon.
    • Morning – After a lot of introspection, I decided to become a morning person. I’ll probably put together a whole separate post on this as well, because nothing has I think changed my life or made me more productive than making this flip. Setting my alarm for 6am every morning, regardless of my schedule has been freeing in some ways – though I regularly let Alexa play music at me for an hour while I collect myself. But having a reasonably consistent ritual in a morning has been really helpful for centering me and making me more productive, and that process of discovery started on the same vacation. I’m grateful to Brie Code for helping me to navigate a lot of this stuff.
    • Dieting – On this trip I also decided it was time to get serious about dieting. I’ve been vaguely doing a low carb diet for a few years, but I decided to get serious about capital-K Keto and see what happened. The results have been frankly astonishing. I’ve dropped over 30lbs since this decision, and I’m a “Healthy” weight BMI-wise for the first time I’ve ever been aware of. It’s been a challenge, but I’ve had a great support network with my team letting me pick lunch venues that made my diet easy, and folks like Aleissia Laidacker and Bernard Kim helping me keep going and giving me pointers.
    • Moving – Finally, this trip I decided that I needed to find a new apartment. With the new workload at Zynga, I realized that a core part of my self-care was going to be not having little things annoy me. My old apartment was in a not great location, was not exactly what I wanted in a few ways and generally a little sub-optimal. It also didn’t allow pets, and for a while now I’ve been thinking that I’d like to have a dog – and what better time to do that than while working at one of the best dog-friendly companies in the industry. So it was time to find a new place to live!
  • I also went to speak at the Game AI Summer School in May which was a terrific experience. I delivered a whole-morning workshop on building a simple analytics tech stack inside of Unity for collecting telemetry events and going on to visualize and analyze them. It was great to get to participate in this event, as well as reconnect with former colleagues and peers, and start to meet the next generation of Game AI professionals who are coming up.
  • It took a month or two, but July saw me move into a new apartment – an incredible sky palace. It’s right by the Moscone Center, so mega convenient for GDC, the landlord was happy to allow a small dog. It has sweeping glass walls overlooking the entire city from the 22nd floor of a tower block, a rooftop with a grill, and a big balcony that I’ve been taking
  • Stuff happened in between – I went to the Foundations of Digital Games conference as a sponsor, got to take a fantastic vacation with people I love deeply – and see two of them get married during it, as well as take a trip up to Toronto to visit baby Eli, but the big thing that happened at the end of the year was the arrival of Jaina. My little furball has proven to be a constant source of joy and frustration. We’ve been together for less than three weeks as the year ends, but it feels like a lifetime already. I’m looking forward to facing 2020 with my little sidekick under my feet, making everything quite a bit more complicated :D

Coming to America

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I found this old post that I wrote as I was digging through Evernote. Since I haven’t posted since a week or two after I wrote it, I figured why not use it to try to restart the blog?

It’s 1pm. Or 2pm. Or maybe it’s 5am. It depends whether you’re counting from where the flight started, the trip started or it will end. I guess I’m somewhere in the Atlantic. Maybe over Greenland. I could start the video screen but that would be hassle.

I’ve had a lot to drink. Too much you could say, though that would be a judgemental value system over what are simple facts. Vincent had gone to sleep. My chatty seat-mate from hell turned friend, his demeanor would be soul destroying if it weren’t so charming. An elderly Swiss banker (retired) he’s going to California for love. In a way so am I. He offered to share his sleeping pills with me. I’ve seen that movie. No thanks.

But when the nice lady from KLM offered me a post dinner cognac, to wash down the multiple red wines, I didn’t bat an eye. What a strange double standard. Guardians of the Galaxy is on the entertainment system. I want to watch it but not the shitty edit they’ll have here, and not on the postage stamp sized screen I have. It won’t even tilt to an optimal viewing angle.

There’s still 8 hours left. We’ve been in the air for an eternity – technically only 3 hours. It feels like more. I barely remember a time before this existence.

There was a delay at Amsterdam. Fog. We were late leaving and delayed landing and as a result I ran (ok fuck you – I walked with purpose) across AMS like a man possessed (but relatively sure it wasn’t his fault if he missed the flight). I made it in time for a random check. Both of my last trips to America have involved random checks which… doesn’t seem so random does it. Laptops? Out. Kindles? Out. IPads? Out. Then the one that threw me: cables and everything electrical. “We’re going to be here a while.” I said to the guy.

But I cleared it. And now I’m sat with my buddy Vincent with another 8 hours to go.

The Church has this notion of purgatory. It’s not that terrible the way they describe. Maybe if they reframed it as a long haul plane ride, they might encourage more people to hedge their bets.

But soon I’ll be in San Francisco. I can almost taste it.

Addendum – there’s a woman a few rows down whose shirt proudly proclaims “Partier”. The expression on her face – constant for the last few hours – suggests otherwise. You take your humour where you can get it on these gigs.

A Note on Networks and Biz Dev

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Email 25th April

Subject: Re: Audio Production

Hi Luke,

I understand that you’re the founder of Robot Overlord and was wondering if you ever outsource your audio work for projects you develop? :)

We, specialises in providing music for interactive media. We like working with indie developers and always try to understand what you or the clients want in terms of audio and bring them there. We have a few tracks on our website which you could have a listen to:

Out of curiosity, do you currently have a project that might need audio? It would be great if you could tell us more about it and see how we can help you.

I do look forward to your email. Have a lovely day. :)

Kind regards,

Email 7th June

Subject: Follow up

Hi Luke,

I sent you an email on the 25th of April and was wondering if you received it? :)

Looking forward to your response.

Kind regards,

LinkedIn 31st October

Hi Luke,

Thanks for the add. I actually sent you an email on the 25th of April but didn’t receive a reply, hence I thought it would be best to connect with you on LinkedIn.

I was wondering if you received it? I sent it to: luke@robotoverlord.co.uk


Please if you ever think about doing this, take a long hard look at yourself and ask if you want to be this industry’s equivalent of a double glazing salesman. I don’t enjoy getting random cold-call syle emails, but they’re a fact of life. The follow up is less common, but come on – the LinkedIn stalking? This isn’t how you effectively network or do bizdev. You want me to hire you? Get to a place where my influencers are saying nice things to me about you. Meet me in person and be a human fricking being instead of immediately going on the pitch. Don’t act like a corporate drone selling corporate crap. Don’t expect me to care about your thing anything remotely close to the level you do. You’re not entitled to my time just because you sent me an email.

You’re coming off as needy and desperate and clueless. To quote Greg Behrendt “he’s just not that into you”.

Recent Articles and Sessions

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By the time you read this (yes I’m queuing up a bunch of posts from the past), I will hopefully be trying to find my feet in the wonderful Golden State. I figured I’d take the time to throw some links and videos out for sessions and articles I’ve been working on over the past 6 months and not really promoted here.

I wrote two pieces for Full Indie UK’s column at PocketGamer.biz:

In the first I talked about the work we’d been doing on Easy Money trying to use Player Profiling and data analysis to allow us to generate levels tailored specifically to individual player tastes. Alas I’ve had to leave this project in the capable hands of Verena Riedl to complete due to my move.

More recently I wrote about analytics and drew parallels between the way I see many teams approach analytics problems and the Ludic Fallacy presented by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book The Black Swan. An absolutely essential book for anyone with a mind for any kind of data analysis or AI.

I’ve also been running the IGDA’s webinar series for Artificial Intelligence which takes place on the second Wednesday of every month. This has altered between me arranging for a speaker to present something and occasionally jumping in and doing the session myself. Two recent ones, covering a basic Unity-based approach to different aspects of AI are embedded below. You should check out all the webinar videos, including some by some very prominent industry names.

Unity and Procedural Content Generation

Unity and NPC Control Systems

“Go West, young man”

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Things have been crazy. The week I spent in Norway was an extreme example of this, but its not THAT abnormal for the way things have been moving since I last wrote a life update. Frankly it would be almost impossible to summarise everything that has happened in that time. I’ve been privileged to do some truly amazing things this year.

The really big ones are:

  • In April I was elected to be the new Chair of the IGDA Foundation, which is the charitable sister organisation of the IGDA. It has a slightly different aim, and a slightly different structure, but this has given me a whole new set of challenges to tackle as I try to make the industry better.
  • In July I interviewed the “father” of the Xbox, Ed Fries at an event in Dundee that we’d arranged for IGDA Scotland. A true honour to sit next to a living legend of our industry and get to ask him questions.
  • I completed my PhD thesis in October which has been an extensive uphill struggle.
  • Next week I will be starting my first grown-up job at Zynga Inc in San Francisco California. I should be packing the last of my things now instead of writing this.

It’s taken a lot to get to a place where I can leave the UK. The interview process after being approached for this position was rigorous, but the timing was just about right, and it was the motivation I needed to get my thesis finished. The visa process was pretty rigorous but in the end the US Government has decided that I am an “Individual with Extraordinary Ability in the Sciences“. Unfortunately it has meant having to close up Robot Overlord Games, but it’s a good trade.

And with the thesis gone, the major thing I was supposed to write is out of the way and I can hopefully get back to blogging a bit more regularly.

It’s going to take a lot of work to settle in to life in San Francisco, but I can’t begin to describe how much I’m looking forward to it! It’s time for me to go West!