Thursday, December 29, 2016

Entrepreneurship, Success, and Impostor Syndrome (and Failure)

A note before reading this post:

I wanted to write an "end of year" post about all of the cool things I got to do this year, but as I started to write it I was filled with doubt...I didn't feel like my accomplishments were worth writing about, or that they should even be labeled as "accomplishments" at all.

So I decided to make this post a combination of my year in review and a look at Impostor Syndrome:

“The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.” – Tina Fey

Most of my blog includes what I consider to be useful information to the reader, however this post will focus much more on me and my work. I believe that anytime you write something you should consider what value it brings to the reader, so...why should you invest your time to reading about my personal thoughts? Well, first I hope this helps anyone else struggling with the same doubts and fears to know they are not alone, and second it may give you some ideas and inspiration for things you can go out and do. Most likely, everything I did this year is within your reach!

Entrepreneurship, Success, and Impostor Syndrome (and Failure)

Lately I've been tormented with feelings of doubt and uncertainty surrounding my startup ventures as an Indie Dev. In spite of the fact that I started a studio, released a couple of games, and hired a small part-time team, I still don't really feel like an entrepreneur, or even like an indie dev. Is Astire Games even a real studio? Is it a real startup? Am I really a founder? As a hypochondriac, I know with certainty that I have just about any syndrome I read about, but this was particularly true when I learned about Impostor Syndrome. No doubt in my mind, I have Impostor Syndrome.

Impostor Syndrome, for those who don't know, is the nagging feeling that no matter what you accomplish somehow you are faking it, and soon everyone will find out you are a fraud. Even as I reread the description of Impostor Syndrome, I began to wonder if I am even allowed to have it, because the prerequisite to Impostor Syndrome is having accomplished something. What have I even accomplished that would allow me to doubt those accomplishments?!?

I'm sure there are people out there who feel successful, but I am not one of them. There are three possible reasons for this - 1. because I am actually not successful, 2. because I have extremely high standards for success, or 3. because even though I have accomplishments that meet my criteria for success I am in denial of those accomplishments. As a person committed to reason and logic, I am willing to objectively assess the second two possibilities, even though my instinct is to believe the first one.

So, I am going to list out all of the good things that happened in my life in 2016 (in terms of my career) which I would consider accomplishments, or evidence of success, because the only way to objectively assess anything is with evidence. Towards the end, I also want to talk about learning from failure (and some heartbreaking failures I experienced this year and what I learned from it).

Successes of 2016

1. Founded Astire Games
This was just some paperwork and $20 for the DBA, however it felt really good to give a name to the company I was trying to start. The reason I consider this an accomplishment is because it was the first time I really committed to my goal of founding a studio. I said "I am doing this!" and then I signed the papers.

2. Moderated a VR panel at PAX South
I'd had a handful of friends speak on panels at conferences the previous year, and I was envious of their opportunity and bravery, so this year I submitted a VR panel to the PAX South conference and it was accepted in January. That was my first time moderating a panel, and my first time speaking at a major conference in my field (I had previously given a talk at Games for Health, but it was quite a small conference - but a good experience none-the-less). The VR panel was an amazing opportunity and I learned a lot from the experience - how to pick questions based on the audience, the importance of having extra questions separate from the core questions, and how to make sure all of the panelists have topics they are particularly interested in. It also gave me the confidence I needed to keep going out and giving talks.

3. Shipped Slapdash Bones for Android
This was my first self-published title and the first release of Astire Games. Though it was a small mobile game, it gave me the confidence to say "yes, I can publish my own games." It also resulted in Astire Games becoming a register Android developer on Google Play. The process to become a Google Play developer was not particularly complicated, it just took some time and focus to set everything up, and it felt really good when I was done.

4. Shipped Cat Cave for Android
My second self-published title and release of Astire Games, and the first game from Astire to be developed by a team! I rallied some friends - an Artist, Sound Designer, and Programmer - and set about organizing design documents and task lists, setting up version control, and monitoring the quality and giving feedback (as well as all of the level design, Unity integration, and a fair amount of gameplay programming). A lot went into this game, and when it was released I did a big push for promoting on social media, which was a learning experience in itself.

5. Guest lecturer at the DSGA
One of my alma maters, the DSGA at UT, invited me back as a speaker. This was pretty cool because I was actually invited by the students. They had very few non-male speakers throughout the year, so the students set out to find some in the last couple of months (although I do not identify as female, I am gender non-binary so I do identify as "non-male").

6. Accepted to Oculus Launch Pad
I submitted a game concept (very early idea that led to Sundown Arcadia) to the Oculus Launch Pad diversity summit and was accepted. They flew us all out to Facebook HQ for some hands-on training and to give us free hardware (a Gear VR complete with controller and Samsung phone).

7. Panelist on a VR panel at the Texas Women in Games Con
One of my panelists from PAX South recommended me as a speaker on a panel he was moderating. It was similar content, but exciting to hear new perspectives and to have a turn as a panelist instead of a moderator.

8. Shipped Cat Cave for iOS
I decided it was time to go cross-platform and start releasing my mobile games for iOS. Becoming a registered Apple developer was far more complicated (and more expensive) than becoming a Google Play developer, but it allowed me to reach a much larger audience with my game.

9. Cat Cave was reviewed by several Game Reviewers
The first time a game review site approached me and asked about writing a review for Cat Cave, I was over-the-moon with excitement. We ended up getting 3 reviews published on review sites and one video review on Youtube.

10. Left my AAA day-job to run Astire Games full-time
You might be wondering why this is an accomplishment. Well, it takes a lot of courage, confidence, and energy to leave a reasonably well-paying job doing something you enjoy, and it is very scary to leave that job and jump into the unknown. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and I still don't!

11. Ran a 2-week summer camp for high school kids learning to make games
This was probably my proudest moment in 2016. I had to assemble the curriculum, plan lectures and assignments, and decide how best to approach a topic I am familiar with for an age group I am not familiar with. And then running the camp day-to-day: 8 hours a day for two weeks, watching them create amazing content, taking them to lunch, playing games, trying to keep cliques from forming...It was an incredible and exciting challenge. Then at the end watching them show their games to their parents!

12. Hired contractors to work on Cosmos Arena
My first time paying people to work on my game! Granted, not very much. But still, it was a cool process, and it gave me a chance to step back a little and watch the work come together without being overbearing on every aspect of the project.

13. Was the featured speaker at a Unity Women in Gaming workshop
I was flattered when Unity told me they were coming to Austin to give a workshop and asked if I would like to be the featured speaker. The workshop was for current college students who want to work in games, so I prepared a talk on the different areas within Game Design, and how designers work together and with other disciplines (design is the least-defined discipline in game development).

14. Moderated a VR panel at PAX West
This was the same panel I moderated at PAX South, but for a much larger and more prestigious conference.

15. Sundown Arcadia accepted to the Austin Game Conference Intel Showcase
Intel had an online submission form for indie games, and I submitted my Gear VR game Sundown Arcadia. I was one of the 10 selected to pitch and present a game at the Austin Game Conference.

16. Sundown Arcadia awarded "Most Innovative" by Intel Showcase judges
Of the 10 games pitched at the Austin Games Conference, Sundown Arcadia was one of the 4 chosen for awards. The award it won was for "Most Innovative" because it was completely gaze-based. It also led to me forming a relationship with the Tobii Eye Tracker team, who wanted me to port my game to their platform.

17. Nominated as a faculty "All Star" at the Art Institute where I teach
Every quarter the Art Institute holds nominations for "All Star" students and faculty, and I was honored to be nominated as a Faculty All Star for the Summer Quarter.

18. Pitched Sundown Arcadia to Oculus and Sony reps at IndieCade
I was lucky enough to get an Indie Xchange pass to IndieCade from a friend who wasn't able to go, and that gave me the opportunity to set up meetings with publishers. Oculus and Sony both had reps there, so I set up a meeting with each of them and I got 5 minutes to pitch them my game. It was very intimidating!

19. Credited on two shipped AAA titles (COD: MWR and Mafia III)
In my time at Certain Affinity I worked on two different AAA titles, and both shipped around October this year. Scrolling through the credits and seeing my name really made me feel like my hard work was worth it.

20. Speaker at Unite LA on Interface Design
My first major conference solo talk, and also one of the best talks I think I've ever given. You can watch it here.

21. Hired a team of interns
A few weeks ago I announced to my students that I would be running a small internship program as part of Astire Games, and would publish any reasonably high-quality work created by those interns. Over the past couple of weeks I have been accepting resumes and portfolios, and the review process was pretty tough. I discovered that it was fairly easy to judge artists and designers by their portfolios, but for scripters I needed a little more to work with, so I made a simple scripting test. After reviewing all of the applicants, I selected a team of 6 interns who will start working in January. One thing I felt was really important after reviewing the applicants was giving feedback to the ones I did not choose - this is not very common of job applications, but since many of them are my students I want them to improve on their job application process.

Failures of 2016

Without evil, there can be no good. We do not recognize our happiness until we have felt sadness. And so, to appreciate success we must acknowledge our failures.

1. Cat Cave downloads did not meet expectations
I went into the Cat Cave release with high hopes, and figured that since I went through rigorous social media promotion I could hope to get at least a thousand day-one downloads. Cat Cave total downloads to-date hovers just below 400 (including both Android and iOS). Lesson learned - promotion is not enough to get your game out there. Sadly, I still don't know what is the right approach here. Make a better game I guess?

2. Panels rejected for GDC
After my successes with other VR Panels I thought I would have a good chance to get a VR panel in to the biggest game conference - GDC. That did not pan out, in fact we didn't even make it to the second round of reviews. In case the VR section of GDC was too saturated, I submitted two other talks in other areas, and both of those were rejected as well. I do not think my talks are not high enough quality for GDC, but I do think I need to re-evaluate how I approach the submission process.

3. Not selected (or even reviewed) for Oculus Launch Pad scholarship
This was quite a disappointment since my Sundown Arcadia pitch was doing so well at other places. The Oculus Launch Pad I mentioned earlier offered a scholarship to fund full development of a few of the games in the Launch Pad. There was a complication with my submission - I joined a roller derby over the summer and had a bad injury just a few days before the submission deadline which made it impossible for me to use my right arm (I could not even hold a mouse). I asked for an extension so I could record my video and type up my submission (my playable demo was nearly done at that point, I just needed to finish the submission). They granted my extension, I submitted, I was told it had been included in the submissions for judging, and I thought no more about it for a couple of months. They had some change of staff before announcing the winners, and I decided to ask about my submission. The new people told me that since my submission was late they had removed it from consideration and it had not been reviewed. I told them about the extension, but they either did not believe me or did not think I deserved an extension, because they said they would still not be reviewing it. What I learned from this - don't trust anyone. Just kidding, what I really learned was to get things like that in writing because of the likelihood someone else won't believe it (I also learned that Facebook messenger does not count as "in writing").

4. Unable to find Client Work
I have a handful of contractors working off-and-on with Astire Games, and I would really like to get a client contract project going so that I can have work for my contractors that I can actually pay them for. I've applied quite a few places on Upwork and Unity Connect and have also been asking around people I know in the industry, but so far nothing has panned out.

A Year in Review

2016 was probably my most successful year in terms of my career. The failures I had I believe I can work on and do better next year when I try again. The only real way to fail is to stop trying. Teaching is going well, Astire Games is going strong, and beginning in 2017 I plan to form an LLC. I also think 2017 will be the year I start looking for investors in my studio.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Interface Design and Unusual Platforms, Part 3

This is the third and final installment of Interface Design and Unusual Platforms. If you haven't read the first two, please start here.

The first two posts were about the incredible variety of hardware available, and how each one provides a unique source of input from the user. In all of my design work I like to start with answering the question "what is unique about this hardware, and what can I do with it that I couldn't do with any other hardware?"

This post will be focused on what I would argue are the two most common pieces of "unusual" hardware - mobile and VR - and how we as designers need to step away from the mindset of designing for mouse and keyboard.

Not long ago I played a VR hangman game where the user would fill in the hangman letters using a digital keyboard floating out in space, and would reach out with their motion-tracked controller to "click" on the keys using the trigger on the controller. There are many VR experiences that attempted to have the player "click" on things in the world, however this interface fell victim to using BOTH a mouse input and a keyboard input. Now I'm not sure if hangman is the best use of VR, but I am certain there is a better option out there than having the player click on letters from a digital keyboard.

On the complete other end of the spectrum is a game called Fantastic Contraption, which was popular many years ago but recently ported to VR. In this game, every action you can take is about the physical space around you - switching between tools and items happens by reach with the motion-tracked controller to various parts of your body, and this makes it easy to remember where things are - "this tool is always behind my right shoulder." Fantastic Contraption also has an adorable "living" menu in the form of a cat that follows you around in the game. Have a look for yourself:

Another thing to keep in mind with VR is that almost any kind if input from the user's hand has the risk of feeling unnatural. If you are using the motion-tracked controller to place a digital hand over something and then pull the trigger to pick it up, many users feel unnatural because the shape and texture of the object they see does not match the shape and texture they feel in their hand.

One of my games addressed this by not using hands at all - every interaction is completely gaze-based. Not only does this eliminate the unnatural feeling, but it also plays on a common human fantasy of being able to alter the world with your mind - staring at things to make them explode. You can see the demo video:

Mobile games have faced similar mouse-and-keyboard tendencies, and have also come up with some inventive alternatives.

One of the first issues that comes to mind for me is when a game has the user tap on something to select it, and then tap somewhere else to move it there. This is a common interaction with a mouse, but on a touch screen it makes so much more sense to drag it across the screen to the new location, because that is how we would move things in real life.

Another issue on mobile which isn't a problem with mouse-and-keyboard is that if something is on the top-left corner (or top-right corner for left-handed users) then the user's hand will be completely blocking the screen when they try to touch it.

Some of the more intuitive interactions include the two-finger pinch and stretch to zoom in and out, which I believe may have been genius when it was first used. And that one must have taken a fair amount of pondering, because there is no comparable interaction with the mouse and keyboard - it was completely unique to the touch-screen.

Most interactions where you swipe across the screen are also fairly intuitive, especially when you swipe towards the edge of the screen to throw something away. There is a VR equivalent to this which you can see in Job Simulator where the user throws objects toward the edge of the space to discard them.

I think that part of the reason why we end up stuck in the situation of defaulting to mouse-and-keyboard controls is because the majority of games are developed on a computer using the mouse and keyboard regardless of what platform it will end up on, and sometimes it takes a while before the developer is able to test on the target platform, and by that time the developer may have already gotten comfortable with the controls so it is intuitive for them and they don't notice the problem. We might see this improve somewhat when VR developers can start developing their games while inside VR, a solution some of the bigger game engines are releasing.

So, next time you are developing for anything other than mouse-and-keyboard, here is a challenge for you. Before you make any interactions or think about any kind of input, first think about what things are going to happen in the game - what is the in-game player going to do - then imagine yourself using the target hardware, or go and use it with nothing running, and imagine making those in-game interactions. Go ahead and pick up a blank phone or put on a dark VR headset, and close your eyes, and feel the interaction with the hardware.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave thoughts and suggestions in the comments - especially if you have examples of interesting interfaces for interesting hardware (both good and bad). Also subscribe and follow :)

Interface Design and Unusual Platforms, Part 2

This is a continuation of part 1, and I would recommend reading that first for some background info.

My last post left off with the Wii Fit Balance Board and Kinect for a game played on hoverboards battling giant robot spiders. How can I possibly top that?

Well, up next is the Leap Motion (not to be confused for AR company Magic LEAP) - it bears some similarity to the Kinect in terms of hardware, but it is used to track your hands with great detail...every movement of every finger mapped to a skeleton!

I entered a Leap Motion Game Jam to get a free Leap Motion (one of the best ways to get free hardware!). As always I started with the question of "what makes this hardware unique and what can I do with it that I couldn't do with any other hardware?"

Other games have tried to simulate gardening and farming, but their shortcoming is that growing plants really involves working with your hands, something hard to replicate in video games using a keyboard or controller. The Leap Motion is unique in that it allows you to use your hands with the full range of dexterity we have in real life. So I made a garden simulator. It’s important to remember though that digital experiences do not need to perfectly match their real-world inspiration, sometimes it can be more fun to do something weird. So I took a weird twist on gardening - the player's interaction is to literally pinch and pull the plant upward to make it grow. Then you can dip your hand in a water bucket to sprinkle the plant with water to make it bloom. But beware! If you pull the plant to quickly you will pull it right out of the ground!

I ended up making this game in about 24 hours, because I procrastinated until the very last moment to get started. Here is a gameplay video. This one you can also download from if you have a Leap Motion and want to test it out!

Of course I'm going to get to Virtual Reality, but one more thing before I do - Augmented Reality. I haven't actually made anything for Augmented Reality yet, but this stuff is crazy cool. It basically covers any way hardware can be used to alter your experience of real physical space, including overlays with AR glasses, digital displays on top of real-world camera usually using a phone, and of course projections like this one:

This is a height-map projector, it projects a different color based on how close the surface is to the projector. I had a chance to play with one of these recently, and it's great - you can play with the sand with your hands and build mountains and valleys and lakes, and the colors update in real time as you play. 

AR Games very commonly refer to two different types of games - Augmented Reality, which I was just explaining as being digitally overlayed on the real world, and Alternate Reality - which is like a parallel universe with the same global coordinates as our universe, but is instead inhabited by Pokemon. 

Okay, so now we can finally get to Virtual Reality, I'm sure that's what you're all here for. I'd like to take this opportunity to draw a distinction between Head-Mounted Display (HMD), Head Tracking, and full VR headsets.

A Head-Mounted Display is like a monitor attached to your face - it's pretty cool that it lets you get up close and personal, but the limitations without head-tracking means you are looking at a fairly stationary display.

Head-tracking is similar to other forms of motion tracking (hand-tracking, body-tracking, motion-tracked controllers...). Head-tracking does what you'd expect - it tracks the motion of your head and then uses that data for something useful in the experience. zSpace, which I mentioned earlier, utilizes head-tracking to create the illusion of a holographic display, though the glasses are clear so you are still seeing the real world when you look through.

A full VR headset combines head-tracking with a head-mounted display to allow you to move your head around and experience a virtual world as if you were embedded in it.

Virtual Reality offers some pretty amazing opportunities for developers, because it is very unique from the traditional gaming experience. Moving your head around in physical space is so completely different from using a mouse to pan your view on a 2D monitor, and stepping forward with your feet (in room-scale VR) is quite different from using WASD to update your position in the digital space.

In some sense we should be thinking about the interface for VR the way we think about the interface for mobile.

It took a while for developers to realize some amazing things about the touch-screen interface. In the early days people thought about touch-screens in terms of mouse-and-keyboard controls, where buttons on the screen would be clicked on with a mouse they would instead be "tapped" on with a finger for the touch screen. But touch-screens offered a really incredible advantage over mouse-and-keyboard, which we discovered when we learned that toddlers could intuitively interact with a touch-screen, long before they could use a mouse. Part of this obviously comes from dexterity, but I think there is another key reason for this in that moving a mouse has a disconnect between your action and the result you see - you move a physical object around on a surface, and then you see a result happen on a separate physical object which is the computer screen. With a touch-screen there is not disconnect, the thing you are touching is the thing that displays the result of your touch, so it is much more intuitive to understand the relation between your action and the result. 

VR offers a similar solution for navigation, where we previously used a mouse and WASD to navigate a space, now we can use our head and body, which is a much more intuitive translation.

In part 3 of this segment I will get into the meat of my presentation - how can we stop thinking about the mouse and keyboard when we design for mobile and VR (and mobile VR)?

Continue to part 3.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Interface Design and Unusual Platforms, Part 1

I'm going to do something a little bit different today. In a couple of weeks I'll be going to Unite LA (the big Unity3D conference) as a speaker, and my talk is on Interface Design for Mobile and VR (and other unusual platforms). I've been trying to work on my talk, but I keep finding myself with writer's block, and I think I find it easier to blog that to assemble a presentation, so I'm going to jot down my ideas here. Feedback is welcome :)

I'd like to start off with an overview of unusual hardware, and specifically give some examples of how I've designed for some of them. Then I will move on to talking specifically about designing interfaces.

In no particular order, here is a list of all of the variety of hardware I can think of (and I have developed on each of them): Mouse, keyboard, gamepad, motion-tracking controller, head-tracking, touch-screen, Kinect, Wii balance board, heartrate, 3D stylus (zSpace), 360 treadmill, Leap Motion. You may notice that some of these are a type of hardware, whereas others are a specific brand. That is because I am lazy, and also some types of input are recognized more for one brand than for the type of input. Think of it like saying "Kleenex" instead of "facial tissue". People know what you mean.

Mouse, keyboard, and gamepad are probably the most common input people think of when they think of game development, so I am not going to talk about those. As I talk about each of the other types of hardware, I want to emphasize that my intention with design is to answer this question: "What is unique about this hardware that no other hardware can do?"

Let's start with the zSpace, the one you are most likely to have never heard of.

The zSpace is a semiholographic display tablet with a 3D stylus, and special glasses that has markers on them to allow the display to be projected toward you, giving a full 3D effect. Without actually using one, it can be very hard to imagine, so you will just have to trust me that when you use it everything you see looks completely real. Not "real" in the sense that it is photorealistic, somethings are very stylized, but real in the sense that you believe you could reach out and pick it up, like a toy.

When I was first presented with this device I had a team of artists and programmers working with me, and the only direction we were given is "this device is used for tools, education, training, and medical applications, see if you can use it to make a game." And so we set out. We began by orienting ourselves to the hardware, using the existing apps, then building some prototypes. We were looking for "fun" in the interactions, but we were also looking at what made it really unique, and very quickly we discovered both in the form of "drawing" 3D shapes using the 3D stylus. In particular, drawing spheres was very satisfying and enjoyable. So how can you make a game about drawing spheres? In parallel with our experiments, we had also been brainstorming game concepts, and had mostly sittled around the idea of having floating islands (to make full use of the 3D effect) that had bunnies on them, and the bunnies were being hunted by foxes. So as the player, your goal was to keep the bunnies safe. We tied this to our sphere-drawing mechanic by having the player draw bubbles around the bunnies to make them float up out of harm's way, and they would float over fenced in safe-zones where foxes couldn't reach them (there was also a small random chance of the bubbles blowing away in a wind gust, to add anticipation). In addition to bubble drawing, the player could also use the stylus to pick up items - a carrot to lure the bunnies, a stick to pop bubbles, and a fan to move bubbles around. In the end it was pretty enjoyable, but there was one thing to represent the stylus in the 3D world in a meaningful way? That answer came from one of our artists, who decided to make a pair of chopsticks. It did the trick of trying all of our interactions together. See it in action here.

Next up: 360 Treadmill. This is in essence a treadmill where you can walk in any direction while staying in place.

A couple of years ago I worked as a developer for Virtuix Omni, one of the first of such devices. What makes this hardware unique is pretty obvious, the input is which way and how fast the player is walking. It is actually similar to input from a joystick on a gamepad, so it translates fairly well to most first-person experiences. The big difference is that you are physically walking, and it is usually accompanied by a VR headset, so it gives you full immersion into your experience. My first thought, which a lot of other developers have also thought for VR, was virtual tourism. I think it is a bit more compelling on the Omni than in seated VR because the Omni lets you walk around the virtual destination. I did try to set mine apart a bit by thinking about what we usually do when we travel - we take pictures. So I made a virtual tour of Amsterdam where the only interactions are walking and taking pictures, and those pictures (screenshots, in this case) are saved to your computer so you have them to keep when you return from your virtual tour. You can check it out here.

Now for a real treat: the Wii Fit Balance Board!

The Balance Board is a pressure sensor (or multiple pressure sensors?) that can very accurately tell which way you are leaning. When you first stand on the board it asks you to stand still (that's right, the board talks to you) while it calibrates to your weight. After that it can tell any direction you lean based on where you are putting pressure. If you pick up one foot and step forward or backward, it know which foot and if you stepped forward or backward with it (based on the foot still on the board placing more pressure on the toe or heel). I have tried unsuccessfully to trick it, it's a pretty smart board!

While in grad school I was assigned to a team working with the U.S. military to design a fitness game. Obviously a mouse and keyboard was not going to work for this, so we set out to try all of the hardware we could find that was used for fitness games. We experimented with phones, PS Moves, and devices that track biometric feedback, before settling on a bizarre combination - we decided to pair the Balance Board with a Kinect to track both shifting weight and also upper-body movement. Oh yeah, and we added in a heart rate monitor :D

Here's how the game worked - we used used two balance boards so that two players could control hover boards in the game by leaning to steer. With their arms they could reach out to collect things or punch to "fire" a projectile (a ball of plasma that would come rocketing out of your fist). We also strapped heart rate monitors onto the players, partly because we needed the data, but we also decided to add a gameplay element around them. When the players step onto the balance board we took an initial heart rate reading, then as the game progressed and a player's heart rate went up we would make that player's plasma balls bigger and more damaging. The game was cooperative, so the two players worked together to fight off giant robot spiders, but at the end we gave them a score that combined how many spiders they kills and how many items they picked up. A fascinating thing happened when we added the heart rate effect - it actually evened out the scores between players who were more fit and less fit. Since we were taking an initial reading and tracking increase, players who were already in good shape had to work harder to get the positive effect. We found through testing that this leveling of the playing field made the game more fun for everyone. Want to see a gameplay video? Of course you do.

I really want to tell you about the rest of the hardware, but this post is now fairly long and I need a break, so I will continue in part two! Also, this seems to have done the trick to beat my writer's block!

Don't forget to subscribe and follow!

Continue to part 2.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

IndieCade Festival

Over the weekend I had the fantastic opportunity to hang out at the IndieCade Festival for Independent Game Developers. IndieCade is one of my favorite game dev events because it is really focused on Indies - it showcases the best indie games in development (or recently released), it offers indie devs a chance to network with each other and with potential publishers, and it has a great lineup of talks targeting the most useful information for development as an indie studio.

There were four talks I found particularly useful - the first was called "So you want to start a game company? Corporate Formation and IP Strategy" and was led by Jonathan Pearce. I've been operating Astire Games as a Sole Proprietor with a DBA (I hope...), but I have run into some limiting factors by not being incorporated (most notably I've been trying to become a Sony developer, and as far as I can tell you need confirmation of your corporate entity). Anyway, I've had a lot of concerns and questions about forming an LLC versus an Inc, issues with IP and with paying employees (or offering rev share), the potential for incorporating in a different state, and deep-seated fears about legal issues arising in my entrepreneurial endeavors. Jonathan's talk was both inspiring and informative, and laid to rest some of my biggest concerns, though I still have some more decisions to make - I am completely on-the-fence about what state to incorporate in.

The second talk I attended was actually a workshop called "Paper Prototyping" and was run by several experienced educators, one of whom I spent some time talking to - Michael Annetta (sadly I do not recall the names of the others involved). This two-hour session took us on the ins and outs of developing a game idea from scratch, and although a lot of it was stuff I already knew, it was awesome to see it from a new perspective and it gave me some great ideas for better ways to teach design and prototyping (as you know, I teach level design, UI design, and rapid prototyping at the Art Institute). This workshop was also very active and I made some new friends that I continued to see throughout the rest of the festival.

On the second day I finally ended up at a VR talk called "Non Photoreal VR" about the visual design side of VR, dealing with performance issues, and tricks for making an environment feel "more 3D" using parallax, lighting, and fog.

The last talk I attended was by a friend of mine - Chris DeLeon (@ChrisDeLeon) - called "Starting Meetups that Make Games." In his talk, Chris gave some background on his experience running several different game developer meetups/clubs where participants would form teams and create and publish games in their spare time (often either students or folks working in a non-game field, or game developers who want to try a different discipline outside of their normal job). Two of the biggest problems facing game dev students when they graduate are 1.) not having a shipped title and 2.) not having experience working in a cross-discipline team. As we learned in this talk, a game dev meetup can help solve both of these problems.

I was inspired by Chris' talk to set into motion something I have been considering for a while - I want to give my students at the Art Institute (as well as students at the other colleges in Austin) a chance to get some hands-on work in an interdisciplinary group on a game that will ship. This is now one of my top-most priorities - I have always been passionate about the idea of improving education, and now here is something very tangible that I am very capable of contributing.

Aside from the four fabulous talks, IndieCade also offered me one other tremendous opportunity. IndieXChange (one of the IndieCade tracks) offers something called "Speed Dating" where developers get five minutes to meet with a publisher and pitch their idea, then can follow up afterward with those publishers. I was lucky enough to get to meet with reps from Sony and a rep from Oculus, and discuss my VR project Sundown Arcadia. It was an exhilarating experience - I always love an opportunity to talk up my games, and having an avid audience of publishers listening was quite thrilling.

One of the best parts about IndieCade, in my opinion, is the quality of the connections being made. At your average game dev conference you walk away with a big stack of business cards of people you are probable not going to contact. I left IndieCade with just seven business cards, but I have a very specific follow-up email for each one of them.

Between the superb talks, the phenomenal pitch opportunity, and the unique networking connection, I would call my IndieCade experience a success!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Cosmos Arena

If you are an indie dev, you understand the struggle of sticking to one project. For the past few months I've been juggling two projects, one you know is my VR game Sundown Arcadia, but the second is a multiplayer PC game in the vein of Smash Bros, Rayman, and Waking Mars. It is a 4 Player platformer battle arena based on an alien planet in space, where players choose to play cooperatively or competitively...each level has to be "won" by destroying the alien generator at the top, but players can kill each other and you can either win together as a team, or you can kill your team and win alone.

Right now we have the basic character and movement (floaty jumps with a jet pack), a simple obstacle (alien plant trap), the ability to shoot teammates, multiplayer controller input, and the win condition. It's exciting to see it coming into a playable form! This is the largest team I've formed for one of my projects, we have a character artist, environment artist, two programmers, and a sound designer. Gameplay videos coming soon!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Awarded "Most Innovative" for Sundown Arcadia

A few weeks ago I named my project Sundown Arcadia and began working on it a bit more seriously. Since then I've begun presenting it and talking about it publicly at every opportunity, starting with taking it to local game dev events and getting playtesters, then submitting it to the Launch Pad Diversity Scholarship, and finally pitching it at the Intel Game Dev Showcase at the Austin Game Conference where it was awarded "Most Innovative" by the judges.

I've also had a couple of opportunities to speak to other VR developers about the direction I am going with it. At PAX West I moderated a panel titled "The Reality of Virtual Reality" which drew a great crowd of VR enthusiasts and developers, and I had a chance to talk to some of them after the panel to get input.

What I'm really trying to do with Sundown Arcadia is make something that is a fairly unique experience and takes advantage of what the hardware has to offer. In that spirit, the game is entirely gaze-based - the player stares at what she wants to do as her primary (and only) form of interacting with the world. This does a couple of interesting things. 1. VR developers often squabble over the best approaches to using the player's hands in the game - what controllers to use (mouse, gamepad, motion-controller), how to represent the player's hands in the game, and how the player uses their hands to solution is to not use hands at all. 2. Using your eyes to alter the world is a form of fantasy-fulfillment - many people, especially kids, long for mind-control: stare at something to make it explode, focus on an object to move it through the air, alter or combine objects through the power of will.

Winning the award for "most Innovative" was a great honor, but it was also the validation I need to show that the direction I am taking this really is unique and interesting and something people would like to have in a full game experience (currently it exists in a brief 2-3 minute proof-of-concept prototype).

Currently I am working on bringing Sundown Arcadia to the next stage of development: I'm working to bring in a few team members (programmer, designer, sound designer, artist), and I'm taking that proof-of-concept and fleshing out the gameplay elements (adding enemies, obstacles, challenges, tools, and additional mechanics).

Monday, August 8, 2016

VR Pitch

As I mentioned in a post at the start of Summer, I attended an event in May called Oculus Launch Pad, which focused on trying to bring more diverse developers into the VR space. The Oculus Launch Pad is offering a scholarship for those of us who participated, and the scholarship winner is chosen based on a pitch and demo. For the Summer of 2016 my main focus is putting together a killer pitch and demo to submit to the program. To that end, I've been working on a little VR prototype that I would like to tell you about.

The idea is a VR hidden object game. Much like a traditional hidden object game, the player is given a list of items to find and then presented with a scene where those items fit in.

The big difference from a traditional hidden object game is that the player is completely immersed in the scene, and looks around in a 3D 360 degree environment, rather than staring at a 2D screen. The other big difference is the method by which items are "found". In a traditional hidden object game the player taps or clicks on the items, and there is often no penalty for mis-clicking on the wrong items.
In this game, every object can be interacted with, and the method of interacting is to stare at the object...until it explodes! This plays off the common fantasy of being able to control/alter your own environment using only your mind.

To score points the player must explode the correct items, but points are lost of the player explodes the wrong items.

I started working on this at the beginning of the Summer, but I fell behind in the month of July - but for a good cause! I spent July running a Game Dev camp for high school kids. The camp, plus my regular part-time teaching job, had me teaching over 60 hours a week! It was insanity, but it was amazing, and seeing the kids' projects when they were done was a very proud moment for me since most of them came to the camp with no development experience at all. 

But now I am back and ready to go on full-swing with my VR project. Last week I spent setting up my Unity project, finding and purchasing an Art Asset pack, and playing around with particle systems (this will be a big part of my demo). Screenshot time!

So far I've just being messing with the art and particles for visuals - my next step will be to see how much art the GearVR can handle (mobile devices usually have some pretty hard limits on lighting, shadows, particles, texture resolutions, etc). We'll see how it goes!

Side note: I'm so glad my previous post had the list of steps for getting a build from Unity onto the GearVR, because I have completely forgotten the process! Hooray for forward thinking ~

As always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Cat Cave Reviews Are In!

Over the past couple of weeks we've been in contact with some game review sites, and three of them have decided to publish reviews on Cat Cave! It has been a very exciting and gratifying experience, and we are thrilled with the overall positivity of the reviews.

The first Cat Cave review came from a wonderful community called Woodbangers Entertainment. At the time when they reached out to me, I had been thinking of giving up - the download numbers weren't there and continuously releasing updates for 0 downloads seemed hopeless. This review (and the downloads that followed it) gave me the motivation to push onward and make another release.

Not long after that, a very nice second Cat Cave review came in from Appliv (they were technically the first to contact me, but the second to publish the review). I was also very excited to see that, while they were at it, Appliv also published a review of our first game Slapdash Bones.

Just this morning a third Cat Cave review came in from Orange Bison. Unfortunately there is an error in this review saying Cat Cave is only available on Android, however it is available for both Android and iOS (as you all know!). Very happy to have the review none-the-less, and this review came with some helpful suggestions for improvement!

As a developer this has been my first experience with having my games formally and publicly reviewed. I know that getting reviewers to write about your games is one of the big hurdles as an indie developer, and from what I've heard is one of the most important ways to boost downloads. We'll see how that goes!

As always thanks for reading, and please download Cat Cave on Android or iOS!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Cat Cave Update is Live!

Cat Cave update is live for Android, and will be soon for iOS (currently in review by Apple). Check it out, and feel free to respond with feedback!


Want to get updates when we release new games? Sign up for our mailing list! We will only email you with info on our newly released and upcoming games :)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Cat Cave Update

I'm excited to say that we will be making an update to Cat Cave to address some bugs that have been reported and add some more polish items. We are also working on getting some reviewers to take a look at it. I want to extend a "thank you" in advance to Appliv who have reached out to me to offer to do a review of Cat Cave on their website. I will be posting a direct link to the review when it's live :)

Thanks again to everyone who has helped us out by testing and reporting bugs! Check back soon, our update should be available early next week!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Oculus Launch Pad

Last month I had the opportunity to attend an event at Facebook Headquarters called Oculus Launch Pad. This event was intended to promote diversity in the field of VR, and it met those intentions quite well. The program hosted 100 people for a day-long boot camp as a deep dive into developing games, apps, and film for virtual reality. I, along with 99 others who all came from diverse backgrounds and varying ages, genders, races, ethnicities, orientations, etc, spent a fantastic day learning about the technical side of putting a game on the GearVR, tips and tricks for designing "comfortable" VR content, how to keep a project on track and finish on time, and the importance of story and immersion in the VR world. The day concluded with a Q&A with Palmer Lucky and a networking mixer for all of the participants to get to know each other and learn about everyone's interests and projects.

On the technical side, it was great to have an opportunity to go through the process of getting an application from Unity onto the GearVR. I'm outlining the process here for anyone else who may be interested in making something for GearVR:

1. Get the latest version of Unity, and during the initial download be sure to check the box for "Android" from the list of development platforms (if you already downloaded Unity and don't have the Android package you will need to go back to the Unity downloader to get it).

2. Visit the Oculus developer website and download the Oculus SDK and Oculus Unity Utilities, and import the Oculus Unity Utilities package to your Unity project

3. Download and install the Android SDK. It will launch a download manager where you can select different versions. you can download as many versions as you like, but you will at least need API level 19. When you select download, you will need to agree to the terms and whatnot, but it is not super clear from the prompt you need to select "agree" for each of the download items in your selected list, so if you have two items selected you will need to scroll to the bottom to "agree" for the second one.

4. Create an OSIG for your device. This one is a little complicated, here are the details

  • Put your Android Galaxy device into debug mode (go to settings > device and tap the build number a bunch of times)
  • On your Android device go to Developer Settings and check the box for "USB Debugging" then plug it in to your computer
  • Open Command Prompt (or Terminal on a Mac)
  • d. Navigate to the Android SDK Tools folder (use 'cd' to change directories, 'cd ..' takes you up a directory, 'cd Directory_Name' takes you down into specified directory)
  • Use the command 'adb devices' and it will give you a list of IDs for connected devices (you will probably only have one) - if you have trouble with this step you may need to update the drivers on your computer
  • Copy your device ID, then go to and enter the ID
  • Download the osig file generated by the Oculus website and copy it into the following directory inside your Unity project - Assets/pluggins/Android/assets
  •  Note that you will need a separate OSIG file for each device you want to test on; you can have as many OSIG files in the assets directory as needed

5. In Unity go to File > Build Settings. Be sure to add the scene you want to build to the list of scenes.

6. Select 'Android' from the list of platforms, then click "Player Settings" at the bottom. You can also hit "Build" right now to check if your SDK is setup properly, it will let you know if it cannot find the Android SDK (it may also prompt you to download the latest JDK which are also needed to run the Android SDK).

7. In the player settings panel which should have opened on the right side of the screen, scroll down to other settings and check the box "Enable VR", then scroll down to "Other Settings" and fill in the bundle identifier (you can use whatever company and product name you want but you need the company and product name at the top to match).

8. Sign your application - under "Publish Settings" check the box for "create new keystore" then click browse and name your keystore file, then give it a password (be sure to remember this password). Then set an alias and password for this keystore (it can be the same password or a different one).

9. Be sure your Android device is still plugged in and the screen is on, then hit "Build and Run" and the game will automatically deploy to the phone.

10. Unplug the phone from the computer. It should prompt you to put it in the GearVR, but if it does not then find your newly made build (it probably has the Unity logo right now) and run it, then when it prompts you put it in the GearVR.

I hope this is helpful to anyone trying to get started in GearVR development.  Feel free to respond with questions if you have any trouble with these steps :)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Making of Cat Cave

Cat Cave was my second self-published title, but it was actually a lot of first for me. It was my first endless runner. It was my first 2D game. It was the first time I formed a team to work on one of my ideas (I found an artist, a sound designer, and a second programmer). It was the first time I attempted a port to iOS. And the second release of Cat Cave was the first time I took promotion really seriously.

I've learned a lot from the games I have released so far, but I think the most valuable thing I have learned is you can never do too much work when it's something you care about. As a single cat mamma, I have no human children, and no husband (or wife) to take care of, so my games are really like my children - I look forward to leaving work in the evenings so I can go home and spend time with them. And I feel guilty any time I have a spare moment that I choose not to spend with them.

To some this may seem like an unhealthy obsession, but for me the things I make are the strongest justification for my existence.

In total, I estimate that I invested around 120 hours into the development of Cat Cave. I wish I had kept more thorough track, but I believe the breakdown went something like this:
  • First Release
    • Development - 30 hours
    • Project Management - 10 hours
    • Promotion - 10 hours
  • Second Release (Major Update)
    • iOS Port - 15 hours
    • Development - 15 hours
    • Project Management (including running beta test) - 10 hours
    • Promotion - 30 hours
Another valuable lesson I learned is the importance of building hype. Don't release your game the day it is finished. And don't wait until it is finished to start talking about it. Talk about it all the time while you are making it. Pick a tentative release date far in the future. When you finish your game, get everything confirmed, and get it approved by all of the powers that be, THEN confirm your release date at least several days in advance. Then you must WAIT. Don't do anything to break the game. Don't do anything to put it in jeopardy on whatever platform you publish to. Don't let your anxious fans convince you to release it early. Just wait. And keep talking about it.

Speaking of which, here are the download links for Cat Cave, which is now available on Google Play and iTunes!


Thanks for playing!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Marketing vs Promoting

In my opinion, the biggest difference between an indie developer and a large game company is the marketing budget. Most indie developers cannot afford to distribute ads the way Blizzard or Riot can. So how do indies get the word out?

While talking to a fellow developer recently, I asked him how he promoted his game and he said "I didn't. We didn't run any ads or anything." This was an interesting break in communication for me, because in my mind if you don't promote your game at all you get 0 me, promoting a game doesn't just mean running ads, it means all of the little things you do to make your game known to the world. Every Facebook or Twitter post, every friend you tell, every developer forum you post in for help or advice, and ESPECIALLY everyone you ask to beta test your game - all of those things are how you promote a game without penny in your marketing budget.

So what can you do to maximize your promotion without investing in marketing? That seems to be the big question these days. I can't go more than a few days without seeing a Twitter post about "HERE IS THE KEY YOU NEED SO YOU CAN DO SELF PROMOTION RIGHT" followed by a link to buy some book or online course. Well I'm here to tell you there is no "key" to self promotion.

I heard someone say recently that the reason big AAA games are sometimes "canned" right at the end of 3 years of a development cycle is because the cost of marketing is equal to or greater than the cost of development. That's pretty crazy. So if you are making a game by yourself, your development has no cost except the time you are investing in it, and you obviously don't have a AAA budget for marketing, what is there to do? If we compare to the AAA model where the marketing budget is equal to the development budget, it makes sense then that the correlation for indie dev is a time investment. You invest an equal amount of time in promotion that you invest in development. That may seem like a staggering amount of time, but think of all the things you can do with that time.

Some self-promotion strategies:

  • Start a dev log describing your development process, challenges you overcome, advice for new-comers
  • Start a dev stream where you record your development sessions to share with the world
  • Become active on Social Media - leverage Twitter and Facebook to get a following of people interested in your ideas and your progress, a support system that is prepared to give you feedback and cheer on your success
  • Connect with streamers and reviewers and try to find some that may be interested in reviewing your game
  • Become active on a relevant subreddit (in the reddit community, self-promotion is frowned upon unless you are an active contributor who is genuinely interested in the conversation)
  • Run a beta test - there is probably no better way to get people interested in your game before release than to ask them to play it before it is available

Sunday, April 17, 2016

DevLog: Porting to iOS

So far my experience with porting to iOS has been more frustrating than expected. I had heard from other developers that Unity Cloud Build eliminates the need for a Mac during iOS development in Unity, but sadly that is not true.

Here is what I have done and learned so far (and my information may not be complete yet).

Step 1: Apple Developer Account. It costs $100/year and is required to do basically any sort of iOS development.

Step 2: Cert and Keychain...This was the first step where I needed a Mac. Once you have an Apple Developer Account, you will need a Certification. To get that you send a Certificate Signing Request (csr) from a Mac, and receive a file back. You can do either a Development Certificate or a Distribution Certificate (this whole step was very confusing, and I don't actually know how I did it but I must've done it right because things worked). Next you need a Keychain. Again this step made no sense to me, but the Apple Developer Portal gave me a file, I ran it on  Mac and it turned into a different kind of file (3 files in fact), I then selected 2 of those files and exported them to a .p12 file. All of this made no sense to me, but seemed to work.

Step 3: Build the thing. If you have a Mac that can do things, you can probably just make your Unity iOS build and do xCode things to it. I went the route of Unity Cloud Build (I cannot use my Mac for development as it is 8 years old and doesn't run most software, including xCode). Unity Cloud Build will require the .p12 from the previous step as well as a .mobileprovision file which you get during the Certification process. That's why this is step 3 (I totally tried to do this as step 2, but failed miserably).

Step 4: TestFlight. It's possible that if I had made a Development Certificate I could have somehow manually put my builds onto an iPhone, but since I knew I would be distributing this app I just made a Distribution Certificate (it was also not clear in the instructions why I would choose one over the other). If you make a Distribution Certificate you will need to deploy your app via TestFlight. This is where things got tricky. Unity Cloud Build gave me a .ipa file, but .ipa files cannot be simply uploaded through the Apple Developer page, so I needed either xCode or Application Loader to put up my .ipa (there seems to be no way around this). As mentioned, my very old Mac will not run most programs, so when I got to this step I had to go find a friend with a decent Mac to upload my .ipa to TestFlight. Once on TestFlight it seems fairly easy to distribute to internal and external testers, but it seems this upload step will be necessary every time I want to test a new build (unless I go back and make a Development Certificate and figure out how to manually install .ipa files).

The challenge of these steps was compounded by the face that I don't actually own any iOS device.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Tips and Tricks for Posting Links to Your Site on Social Media

Ever wonder how you can choose which image shows up in the thumbnail for Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter? If you are posting a link your your own website, it is up to you how the thumbnail appears, but it takes a bit of work to really get it going.

First, sites like Facebook and Reddit use a thing called Open Graph protocol to search through your html to grab the info that will post as a thumbnail. To enable Open Graph protocol on your website, swap out your <html> tag for <html prefix="og:">. Next, use Meta tags to set the specific information you want to use. For Facebook and Reddit, the most important of these is the image.

These are the meta tags you will most likely need:
<meta property="og:title" content="YourTitle" />
<meta property="og:type" content="website" />
<meta property="og:url" content="http://YourWebsiteURL" />
<meta property="og:image" content="http://YourImageURL" />
<meta property="og:image:width" content="YourImageWidth" />
<meta property="og:image:height" content="YourImageHeight" />
<meta property="og:image:type" content="image/jpeg" />

Anything that starts with "Your..." should be filled in by you :)  There seems to be a minimum size on the image, which I found out through trial and error but could not find documentation on (it worked for me once I got above 500x300). These meta tags go BETWEEN your <head> tags.

Once you have filled those in and uploaded your site, you can test using this debugging tool (so you don't have to keep making actual Facebook posts to test)  -

Since Reddit and Facebook use the same protocol, testing it for Facebook should mean it will also work for Reddit.

Now for will need another set of meta tags (Twitter does not use the Open Graph protocol to grab info, Twitter has their own custom "cards"). Here are the Twitter meta tags for Google Play (the ones for iOS are similar):

<meta name="twitter:card" content="app">
<meta name="twitter:site" content="@YourTwitterHandle">
<meta name="twitter:description" content="Your Description.">
<meta name="twitter:app:country" content="US">
<meta name="twitter:app:name:googleplay" content="Your App Title">
<meta name="twitter:app:id:googleplay" content="com.YourCompanyName.YourAppName">
<meta name="twitter:app:url:googleplay" content="http://YourAppURLOnePlayStore">

So when I was all done filling this in for Slapdash Bones, here's what I had:

<html prefix="og:">
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8" />
<link rel="stylesheet" href="sbd.css" type="text/css" media="screen" />
    <meta charset="utf-8" />
    <title>Slapdash Bones</title>
<meta property="og:title" content="Slapdash Bones" />
<meta property="og:type" content="website" />
<meta property="og:url" content="" />
<meta property="og:image" content="" />
<meta property="og:image:width" content="770" />
<meta property="og:image:height" content="600" />
<meta property="og:image:type" content="image/jpeg" />
<meta name="twitter:card" content="app">
<meta name="twitter:site" content="@moarKitties">
<meta name="twitter:description" content="Slapdash Bones is a multiplayer dice game for 2-4 players on one phone or tablet.">
<meta name="twitter:app:country" content="US">
<meta name="twitter:app:name:googleplay" content="Slapdash Bones">
<meta name="twitter:app:id:googleplay" content="com.Astire.Slapdash_Bones">
<meta name="twitter:app:url:googleplay" content="">

And this is what it looks like on Twitter -
And on Facebook -

A Game a Month

I made a new years resolution this year to develop release one game per month for the entire 2016. This resolution came about because for far too long I've felt that I am skilled and capable in game development, yet I have nothing tangible to show for it. I want to be a successful developer, yet I have nothing that proves I deserve success. So 2016 is meant to be the year that changes. 

I work full-time in AAA, and I teach as an Adjunct faculty two nights a week, but I still have around 20 productive hours throughout the week available to use, and I have been pouring those hours into side projects. So far this year I have developed and released 4 games, with another well on the way. 

What have I learned from this process up to this point? For one, promoting a game without a marketing budget is very VERY difficult, though not impossible. Second, a month is actually a pretty long time to make a game, but not long enough to polish a game...I feel like I could easily make 2-3 functioning games each month, but I am attempting to polish the games I release, so I get a game working and then I try to start polishing, and then I get to my release date and I have to forgo the rest of the polish in order to continue to meet my milestones. The third thing I'm learning is very obvious, but I had not previously ever published/released a game on my own, so I am learning a lot about publishing to different platforms. Publishing to Android turned out to be easier than expected, as did publishing for web, but publishing to iOS is shaping up to be quite a challenge. I'm also hoping to start making releases for PC, but maintaining all of these projects cross-platform is a lot of work!

Anyway, here are the games I've released in 2016! I hope you like them, and please share :)

January - Slapdash Bones: A multiplayer dice game, players take turns rolling dice on one phone/tablet.
Available on Google Play -

February - Cat Cave: An endless runner, keep the cat safe as she runs through a treacherous cave! Leader-board allows you to compete with friends.
Available on Google Play -

March - Color Bounce: A physics/color puzzle. I made and released this in 12 hours start to finish (from the moment I decided "I'm gonna make this!" until the moment I released it, there is no tutorial but I bet you can figure it out).
Available on Google Play: and web: (does not work on Chrome)

Bonus - Ice Breakout: a breakout clone with some snazzy juice. I'm actually a little bit ahead of my goal right now because I decided to follow a tutorial on making HTML5 games, and ended up making this available online:

April's game will be for Google Cardboard, and I hope to have ported the others to iOS and PC in the next few weeks. Thanks for playing!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Stress of Publishing Your Own Games: Part 1

Whoops, so much for two posts a week! Well this post is just a little rant about stress. Working for other companies has always given me some level of stress, so I though if I work for myself that would no longer happen, but I was definitely wrong. When I decided to start publishing my own games, I wanted to release under a "company" name instead of my own name, so I filed a DBA. Sounds simple, but I spent over two hours on the State of Texas government website trying to figure out how to do it, somehow managed to get charged a dollar in the process, and never found an answer. That dollar ended up being very difficult to pay because they gave no information on how to make a payment. Eventually I found a downloadable form on the County Clerk's website (much easier to use that the State of Texas website), but that form needed to be notarized and brought in to the Clerk's office in person. So I did those things, ended up sitting in their office for about an hour, found out their systems were down, so I just dropped off my form with the fee and hoped for the best. They were supposed to send me a copy of the form once it was processed/accepted, but I never got that, so maybe it wasn't accepted? Maybe I'll never know? But just today I received in the mail a notice from the Texas Labor Law stating that I needed to send them $84 and post some sign in my office where all of my employees can see. Since I don't have an office or employees, and I don't even have a copy of my DBA so I expect I don't even have a company, I am really not sure what to do in this situation. I don't even know how they found me since I have no evidence my DBA was approved, and I've done no other official "business" as Astire Games (the name I chose for my company). I guess I'll just ignore it and hope for the best. Yay stress! Yay bureaucracy!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

I'm Back!

Wow, it has been a while! I'm ready to start blogging again, and I have a lot to talk about now.

This first post will be to get up-to-date and explain my plan for continuing this blog. So here's what went down:

I graduated with my Master's degree in Entertainment Technology and went to work for a Virtual Reality company where I made small VR demos for the Oculus Rift. It was a great experience, but the team was small and the company was hardware-focused, so it was not giving me the opportunities I was looking for.

In 2014 I moved to Austin and attended the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy to obtain a Certificate of Leadership and Management (in the hopes of moving into more of a lead role on a larger team). During and after completing the certificate I did freelance design and gameplay programming for a couple of different companies targeting mobile apps.

At the end of last summer I landed a job at Certain Affinity (a AAA game developer working on FPS games) as a Systems Designer/Gameplay Scripter.

So currently I am working a day job making games, and by night I work on my own games under the indie name Astire Games -

Whew, now that's out of the way, on to new things!

What I want to do with this blog: I'd like to keep discussing design ideas and issues and solutions as those ideas progress into full-fledged games. I'm also interested in sharing insights as I learn them, and not just about game design - also technical challenges and hardware, web development, start-up and small business topics, and how to market a game (what I'm learning right now!) plus, hopefully, starting a team.

Thanks for reading! Current goal: 2 posts a week!