Sep 252016

slide1Here it is, in all its mathy glory: Gritty Systems Design for Retention.

I barely pulled off getting this one done in time. I knew what I wanted the shape of it to be, largely prompted by some of the design choices I saw in Pokemon Go. But I also knew it would involve an awful lot of spreadsheet work and an awful lot of graphs. And I wanted to make those graphs real, not just sketches, so that people could walk through the math and see how it worked.

So — I had notes, but then worked from 10pm to 3am the night before, and then from 9am to 2pm the day it was supposed to be delivered. I don’t recommend cutting it quite this close (the talk was at 4:45, so I finished with not quite three hours to spare).

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MusicThe Sunday Song: World Trade Center

 Posted by (Visited 2676 times)  Music
Sep 112016

I wrote this in the days immediately after 9/11. I recorded it onto a 4 track cassette recorder, basically live, then overdubbed some harmony vocals I was hearing in my head.

It’s a sketch. It’s way way long. It’s tentative. Pretty sure the whole thing is all sped up slightly, so if I sound a little chipmunk-like, that’s why.

Somehow, it’s always felt like recording it again would lose the immediacy. So I never have, and I fact I just about never play it. But if there’s a day to post it, it’s probably today.

The stories in the song are all true.

Aug 152016

agc2016logo-547x286I’ve mentioned it a fair amount of Twitter and Facebook, but I wanted to call attention to it here again, for those who still follow such antiquated things as blogs! I’ll be speaking at the newly revived Austin Game Conference, taking place in Austin of course, on Sept. 21 and 22.

For those of you who fondly remember the various incarnations of game conferences in Austin — this event is going to recapture that vibe, I think. The advisory board is pretty much the same crew of folks who curated all those excellent conferences for a decade, starting back in 2003.

My topic:

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Game talkA Poke-roundup

 Posted by (Visited 3243 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , , ,
Jul 192016

My piece on how “AR is an MMO” traveled far and wide this week. Among the appearances:

There’s probably more to come — I was asked about interviews by several outlets this week, and actually said yes to at least one, as I recall.

If you’re looking for more to read from a game-design specific angle, I recommend

Also, you may recall I mentioned that alternate client views is common in MMOs? Well, here’s your global map of where all the Pokemon are. If you can get in — it’s overloading with traffic.

Game talkI really did mean “MMO”

 Posted by (Visited 3763 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , , ,
Jul 142016

A lot of people, as I expected, have focused on the semantics of whether or not “AR is an MMO.” Mostly, they say “well, you really mean ‘it’s like an MMO.'”

It isn’t really “like.” It actually “is.” I think people fall into the trap of thinking that the physical trumps the virtual, but that’s not the case. The virtual trumps the physical, or as Marc Andreessen puts it, software swallows everything.

Think of it this way: the phrase “geotagging” suggests that we are applying a small bit of virtual to the real. But that’s not what is happening at all. What’s actually happening is that we are building a truly massive digital world, and attaching a tiny piece of real to it, via a DB entry with a coordinate.

Currently, there are a zillion databases that hold this sort of data, siloed from one another, but the big project that Google and others have been engaged in for quite some time is to unify them. Amazon’s ASIN is a great example of one such scheme to unify “template IDs” for as many object types as they can. Put another way: the single largest database of “object types” in the world is Amazon’s, and to build it, they basically cloned the existing UPC and ISBN and other such similar databases, plus some, and unified them. They created a metaobject type that became the parent object type, only they own the address space.

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Game talkAR is an MMO

 Posted by (Visited 8608 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , , , ,
Jul 112016


I’ve said this before, but in the wake of the viral success of Pokémon GO, it needs to be said again. Augmented reality is just a virtual world, an MMO, a MUD even, with all of the same design issues, plus a few new ones.

The goggles fallacy

I asked a high-powered Silicon Valley exec about the ethical implications of social VR and AR. Their response was “what ethical implications?”

To some, particularly vets of online worlds of various stripes, this may seem obvious. But most days, it feels like the average person working in social VR, AR, and the like, is ignorant of this. It’s evident in the very large pile of past lessons they are failing to heed in their designs.

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May 232016

Slide2I spent last week up in the mountains around Banff, Canada, with a spectacular group of people, as we talked about “computational modeling of games.” This was a workshop held at the Banff International Research Station, or BIRS, and organized by Andy Nealen of NYU and Michael Mateas of UC Santa Cruz. As you may be able to tell from the title, it was moderately mathy, though I was assured by several of those there that it was dramatically less so than an actual mathematician would expect, and certainly less so than the other workshops in the series!

I was asked to give a “seed talk” on the question of “the limits of formalism.” The questions Michael and Andy asked me to answer were

What leverage does a formalist approach to game design give you? What might it leave out? What are the broad contours of the landscape of formalist game design theories? What intellectual commitments are formalist game designers making? What are the biggest holes in our current understanding of formalist approaches to game design?

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May 022016

ChDzrYSW4AE9pVn.jpg largeI just got back from a week in Helsinki, Finland. I was there to run some game design workshops at Next Games, and do a lecture for them as part of an event they were hosting.

The request was for a talk of a similar shape to the one I gave at GDC: looking back over the history of games over the last couple of decades, identifying some cycles and trends, and discussing the ways in which those cycles were carrying us back again towards familiar territory. In particular, a huge topic of discussion all week, with many separate people from many different companies, was the way in which mobile gaming is discovering that the games need to be more social, more like games as a service; and more and more they find they must draw lessons from MMOs.

This isn’t that dissimilar to what I have been saying about social VR, either, and of course mobile is going to collide with AR given enough technological advances and time. So that was the skeleton of the talk.

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Mar 212016

flashbackwardstageI hear video will be up in a few weeks, but in the meantime, here are the slides and the text for the little five minute talk I gave at GDC as part of the FlashBackward keynote.

For some reason, I felt the pressure on this talk much more than usual. Five minutes is not a lot of time, and I had a lot I wanted to say. This resulted in fifty slides. There were, all told, four hours of rehearsals, although I only attended two of them. The animations on my slides were lost along the way, and when I did my runthroughs, I botched it both times. By the time I gave the talk, my hands were shaking and I had trouble pressing the button on the clicker to advance slides with my thumb. I had to set it down and press it with my index finger. But by all accounts I nailed it, so…

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Game talkMailbagReadingBooks on writing

 Posted by (Visited 3382 times)  Game talk, Mailbag, Reading  Tagged with: , ,
Mar 052016


I watched the recording of your lecture “Teaching to fish.”

At the end you recommend books for the different subjects, and you said that a lot of people start with Joseph Campbell, but that there are a lot more, interesting books, out there.

Do you have any books to recommend about creative writing?

 — Christoffer Lundberg

Sure. Starting most broadly, the top recommendation is to read. Read a lot. And read widely, not just in one sort of fiction. I could rattle off a host of recommendations, but there’s probably no point — there’s a huge universe of well-written books out there to look at as models and inspiration. So let’s move on to craft books instead.

To start, though it may be a tough hill to climb, you could go back to Aristotle’s Poetics.1 The amount of terminology and best practices that we still get from this book is hard to overstate. For general writing books, among many others I like John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. They perhaps tend a little more literary than others. I am tempted to also mention Babette Deutsch’s A Poetry Handbook, even if you don’t plan to write verse, because anyone who wants to master cadences of language, and the use of techniques of rhythm, assonance, and the like, would benefit from poetic training. Continue reading »

  1. All books in this post are Amazon Affiliate links, just so you know. That means I get paid a tiny bit if you buy them from here.