Where Is Gigi?!? Welcome to Irvine, California

It’s been almost a year. It’s been a long time. A lot has happened.

After my daughter passed in Jan 2015, I shut down. All three facets of my life were shattered: my family, my happiness, and my work. For my family, I put in countless hours keeping it alive. For my happiness, the only thing to do was allow time to pass. For my work, well, that was a different story.

See, I worked for a military contractor. Yes, it’s true that I built training games for them. Twelve years of graphics, visualizations, and training games. It’s also true that while working there, I was involved in discussions, proposals, and projects that focused on the military. Aka fighting. Aka war. Aka death. And I’d had enough of death. So, as a family, we made a promise – wait 12 months, let the raw emotions heal a little, and then decide about our future.

It was impossibly hard. One day at a time, until a week would pass, and eventually, it would be another month. Struggles, depression, and also sometimes, small bits of happiness. Finally, it was Jan 2016. And in truth, I had done a bit of healing. I had begun to re-define what it meant to be husband and father. I had begun exercising, planning trips, and even podcasting – all of which helped to bring back some happiness. And yet, then there was work. Work did not make me happy. Even after 12 months, walking into work felt like a betrayal of the gifts of gratitude that my Make-A-Wish daughter gifted me. So we made our decision. Which led to another problem.

Turns out, Virginia is not a hotbed for gaming. In fact, when I searched LinkedIn for game development jobs in Virginia, the number of results was a big, fat, goose-egg – aka zero! Our only choice was to move far, far away – leaving behind everything we had built for 40+ years! Our home, friends, and connections in the community would be gone.

In the U.S., there’s only a handful of hot-spots for game development. Places like Seattle, Raleigh/Durham, Austin, San Francisco, and of course, the LA area. So, we pulled out the maps, began visualizing our future, and looked for a fit. That’s when I came across something surprising.

Do you know what the 2nd most played mobile game in the world is? I didn’t. Sure, I could have guessed that Candy Crush was number one. Second though? Hmmm… Well, it turns out that the #2 mobile game in the world is Solitaire! Which is both surprising and also, maybe makes a little sense. After all, solitaire is casual, ever-green, and time honored. A game spanning generations. And the company that makes the most popular solitaire was in Irvine, California – which happens to be one of the best places to live in the country! So, I sharpened up my resume, recorded some interview videos, and went for it.

The details of getting the job are a topic for another day. Suffice to say that I interviewed, landed the job, and moved out to Irvine, to take a job as Technical Director for the Solitaire suite at MobilityWare in April 2016. And once I started the process, time began moving really, really fast. I stayed in a bunch of AirBnB’s, got my family moved out here, and went all-in at work. Time flew! And now, somehow, it’s already Feb, 2017. I love my job, my family is together, and I’m relearning what it means to find happiness in a world without my daughter.

I am telling this story for all of you who have been so patient. “Where’s Gigi?”, “When’s the next episode?” and even, “How come these apps are still broken?” Losing my daughter, rebuilding my life, and transitioning to this new job has taken all of my energy. And it still does, even now. The good news is that I’m fully engaged with my life – I’m living. I can’t say what the future holds for podcasting, Gigi games, and Indy development.

I can only say that life is short. My daughter taught me to be grateful, no matter what. And that’s what I’m doing, each day, on my way home from work. Instead of a gratitude bridge, I now have a gratitude stop-light. Because my commute is only 8 minutes.

I’m grateful for my job, my son, and my wife. And I’m still trying, improving, and repeating.

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021 : To Purple Cow or Not to Purple Cow? That is the Question

(Some information was lost. Someone keeps hacking the site. Apologies, I think)

So he asked, “Are you still a fan of the Purple Cow?” Game dev students were asking the same question, from Virginia to Detroit. It’s a simple question, without a simple answer. This episode gets zen on Purple Cows, via three of my heroes: Will Wright, Jonathan Blow, and Ira Glass.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YouTube!

  • Purple Cow
  • What about Not Original?
  • Originality is Hard
  • The Bubble – New Ideas

The Game Design Zen Podcast is the intersection of games, life, and the pursuit of excellence. It is the #1 resource for Game developers, artists, and designers including the art, science, and business of developing better games. Level up to zen!

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020 : How Do You Do It? Three Tips for Getting Things Done

(Why do people hack educational podcasts? I cannot imagine)

Years ago, my boss asked, “How do you get all that stuff done?” Then, last week, my friend asked a similar question. And I realized, I didn’t have an answer. So I thought about it – podcasts, an indie business, and a family, on top of a full-time job. This episode is the answer – three tips for getting things done.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YouTube!

  • Focus (3:00)
  • Quality of Work (7:15)
  • Habits (19:40)

The Game Design Zen Podcast is the intersection of games, life, and the pursuit of excellence. It is the #1 resource for Game developers, artists, and designers including the art, science, and business of developing better games. Level up to zen!

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19 : Breaking My Own Rule! On Steam, Greenlight, and Overcoming Fear

I broke my own rule! A few weeks ago, I shared a project I was working on, before it was really ready. And after that, I kept putting off creating the video that I needed to get my project on Steam. Week after week, I did nothing, because I was afraid. This episode is about overcoming fear.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YouTube!

  • Breaking My Own Rule (00:35)
  • Getting onto Steam Greenlight
  • Overcoming Fear!
  • Topic – Start With Something Small (05:30)
    • From A to B, via Z
    • The Path – Little Steps
    • The Power of Community
  • Topic – Set A Hard Deadline (14:20)
    • Let’s Ride Bikes
    • From Closet to Bedroom
  • Zen Moment (21:10)
    • Success Begets Success

Great Marriage!The Game Design Zen Podcast is the intersection of games, life, and the pursuit of excellence. It is the #1 resource for Game developers, artists, and designers including the art, science, and business of developing better games. Level up to zen!

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Quest Complete! A Visual Guide for Flow and Simplicity in Games (aka Flow Space)

(The full PDF is here)

I was stumped. The educators in the room were all staring up at me, waiting for me to finish my sentence. Unfortunately, my mind had blanked. I could not recall the ingredients of Flow. In that moment, it didn’t matter that I had taught game design dozens of times, to hundreds of learners all across the country. All that mattered was that flow was just a list of four ingredients – raw text. With neither an acronym, nor a visual aid to guide me, I could not bring them to mind.

Quest Accepted

That moment began my quest. I needed a better way to think about Flow. So, I spent more than two years researching, tinkering, and getting feedback on some new ideas. And finally, today, I am ready. I’m presenting the answer to my quest in a new paper for Modsim World Conference 2016.

The full paper is here: Flow Space – A Visual Guide for Flow and Simplicity in Games.

It’s not a particularly long paper, coming in under 9 pages. And even so, if you’re like me, you’d still prefer to see a cliff-notes version. So, here’s the basics.

Flow

Flow is “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter” (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi). It is often described as the optimal human experience of engagement. And, what’s really cool about Flow is that there’s a recipe for it. The recipe has four ingredients:

  1. Clear Tasks
  2. Immediate Feedback
  3. Balanced Difficulty
  4. Minimal Distractions

What’s less cool is that this recipe is not very easy to remember. Even after a decade of using the recipe, I still got to a point in a conversation where I couldn’t pull up the four ingredients. And maybe, it wasn’t my fault.

Ever heard of working memory? That’s the idea that we can typically only remember 4-7 things. It’s part of cognitive load theory and it explains what happened to me in the presentation. I was fully engaged in what I was doing, listening to each of the attendees, trying to get them all to participate. So that when the conversation swung back to flow, all of a sudden, I couldn’t remember the four ingredients. The ingredients had been swapped out to make room for other cool stuff! And, this is what often happens when we’re designing games – there are schedules, trade offs, and all the stuff that goes into the product! That’s why we need a picture, maybe something like this:

FS_1_Flow_v2

That’s what I came up with. Well, to be honest, it wasn’t the first idea I came up with. Though I’m happy with, it now. Especially considering the great feedback I’ve gotten from game development students, educators, and fellow designers. I love how this simple picture helps people focus on just one thing – they recall the image with the three circles and the triangle, and then, they can generally fill in the rest.

I found the answer to my quest!

Simplicity

And even so, I was already in this crazy frame of mind where I was thinking about diagrams, recipes, and tenets of game design. So, I turned my attention to one of my favorite topics – Simplicity.

Now simplicity is a funny word. It’s kind of vague, and also, kind of powerful. Which is probably why Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Which is pretty heavy stuff.

And what kind of stinks about simplicity is that there really isn’t a practical definition for what simplicity means in games. I mean, sure, “I know it when I see it”, except that’s not very useful. Fortunately, as I said, simplicity is one of my favorite topics. It’s something I’ve been researching for almost 5 years. And, after failing to find a recipe that already existed, I decided to create my own. So, here’s my recipe.

  1. Core
  2. Limited Choice
  3. Intuitive
  4. Player’s Perspective

Even if it’s not a perfect recipe, at least it’s a place to start the conversation. And, in the spirit of simplicity, the ingredients spell an acronym, CLIP. Which helps remind me to clip things that don’t fit. Cute – right?

Now CLIP only takes a single slot, so I rarely have trouble remembering the ingredients, no matter how involved I am in what I’m doing. Even so, I wanted to put simplicity in a diagram too. And even more important, I wanted the pictures of simplicity and flow to be as related as the concepts themselves are. And then, finally, on a long-drive back from Pennsylvania, I came up with this.

Simplicity

 

Sure, it’s not quite as cool as the Flow picture, and even so, there’s something about it that kind of works. I particularly like how similar it is to the Flow diagram – the shapes, style, and colors. And, because they are so similar, I could now combine the two diagrams into one picture, like this.

FS_3_Flow_Space_v3

Tada! I call it Flow Space – a Visual Guide for Flow and Simplicity in Games. And, that’s the cliff notes. If you want the details, or just have 20 minutes to kill, then you might enjoy the full paper too.

Quest Complete!

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