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

Cheers,

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!


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.