Battre le fer pendant qu’il est chaud

Personal

It has been a little over three years since I first launched this site and wrote my first blog entry. Many things have happened since that time. Going to Hamburg, Germany to present a Global Game Jam game that I worked on, attending my first GDC, worked with the Getty Villa on an interactive experience, graduating from RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology), and getting into the University of Southern California Interactive Media Graduate Program. It has been a long journey and this site has been a reflection of that going through many iterations. Along with the launch of the redesign site, I have finally purchase a domain using my name. The “wordpress” has finally been truncated and now moving forward to achieve a more professional status.

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There were many changes and experiences in this past year from graduating RIT to starting my first year at USC. One of the biggest changes was just location. Moving from the winter wonderland of Henrietta (outskirts of Rochester, NY) to the sunny, almost perfect weather of Los Angeles required some adjustment. One of my favorite aspects of RIT was its location in a fairly forest fill location with walking paths and just walking back from class at night to look up and the ability to see the stars clearly. Of course I cannot forget the snow. The snow can be a little inconvenient especially going to and from class but the crisp cold air and walking though the slush was such an adventure. It is nice the weather in LA is consistent but over time it becomes dreary and “boring.” Just having rain or snow adds some spice to the day even if it maybe annoying.

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The first year at USC has been great. Went to my first college football game, visiting Riot Games, “parkouring” off school buildings and attended many campus events. The football games at USC are out of this world. I have never been to an event with such enthusiastic fans in an extremely packed stadium. Growing up in a non-strong football environment, this felt like a movie. I found it to be a valuable experience as it will help me to understand how people experience events like these. What I find interesting is how the viewers consider themselves participants even though they are not playing on the field. I hope to bring this emotion and passions into video games where players feel personally invested in the game and bring that experience out in the world.

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The event that really made me understood the type of school USC was an event “A Conversation with Dennis Wixon.” Dennis Wixon worked at Microsoft as a User Research Manager creating methods like RITE (Rapid Iterative Testing and Evaluation) and TRUE (Tracking Real-time User Experience) that has been applied to the Halo franchise. The event was held in one of the main theater rooms in the School of Cinematic Arts complex. Being seated in the first row along with my fellow classmates felt surreal with the only light shining down at the two gentlemen in the front of the theater, focused on the conversation with Dennis Wixon and his work at Microsoft. It felt similar to being on a TV set watching an anchor reporting the latest news, however this based off of how I would imagine on being on a TV set since I never actually been to one.

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After the insightful talk about Mr. Wixon’s work and NUI, there was a nice reception afterwards. The chest high tables draped in red with ceramic pots willed with ornate yellow flowers. In the center of the hall there was a tall flower vase on a long table with tray of hors d’oeuvres organized neatly on the silver platter. At the front were large HD televisions showcasing student work with the Microsoft Kinect sensor and a look at how some are tackling interface design issues with controller free input. I would attend events similar in style throughout the year hosted by the school. There is an air of regal and refinement that I never truly have experience at an event host by a higher education institution.

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Of course attending USC was not just for the interesting events but for its curriculum in Interactive Media. The fall semester consisted of four classes: Survey of Interactive Media, Design for Interactive Media, Experiments in Interactivity I and Cinematic Arts Seminar. The former three classes looked into various topics of interactive media while the latter was a seminar attempting to have students connecting with each other within the School of Cinematic Arts. With so many divisions from screenwriting to production, it has been difficult for SCA to have all its divisions mix.

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I found the seminar quite useful as not being a non Los Angeles Native. The objective of the course was not only to mix the divisions of SCA but to enable students to experience LA which are known as “excursions.” By attending these excursions posted on the course website, a student can accrue points which are redeemed at the end of the semester for prizes. I used this opportunity to visit The Museum of Jurassic Technology, Hammer Museum, a talk by Chip Kid and one of the most amazing excursions, a tour of the bowels of Riot Games, the makers of the popular multiplayer online arena battle game League of Legends.

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In addition to the excursions, there were four main sessions taught by professors from the different divisions in SCA. The first session started off with Microtalks with each representative from the various departments give a five minute talk about their research. The other sessions looked at how media is being used for social change and a look at transmedia in building a dynamic, multi-0authored spatial story. The fourth and final session was one of my favorite ones where it looked at how new technology was shaping the entertainment (in particularly film) of tomorrow. They showed off some of James Cameron experimentation in higher frame rates (40-65) and 3D in films. The higher frame rates made the 3D more engaging since it reduces to eliminated to motion blur normally seen in standard 24 fps films. There was also a demo of non-3D 4k film demo by the renowned RED digital cinema manufacturer. From the demo, the picture was crisp and looked super-lifelike. The amount of detailed project (and recorded) by 4k equipment was quite astounding. In the back of my mind, I was thinking when games will get to 4k visual fidelity (while currently we are still trying to reach 1080p).

Survey of Interactive Media is a little similar to the seminar class but formatted as a lecture with a mix of production, animation and writing students. The class analyzed a variety of topics from otaku culture, contemporary computing, technology being integrated in the world around us and world building. To complement the many readings, class time was taken to show films such as Until the End of the World: Director’s Cut Edition, eXistenZ and Densha Otoko (Train Man). Many of them I found obscure and a little plebeian but gave me new insight of media and its evolutions over the years especially when interactivity is being introduced.

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Experiments in Interactivity was a really interesting class. It started off with a look at still images and motion pictures. One of the first assignments was to create a small film and use some of the cinematography techniques that we have learned from the readings. Being in the cinema school, the class had access to a wide range of equipment that professional filmmakers used such as a professional grade Sony Digital video recorder, microphone boom and lights with filters. It was a nice little introduction on the type of equipment used to create professional looking films. I created a Black and White and “Noiresque” film about a detective attempting to find a loved one titled “The Request“. Later on this film evolved into an interactive narrative using web technologies. The viewer had some control of the detective and the direction of the narrative. Extra footage needed to be shot to allow multiple paths of the narrative to pan out.

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This lead to our navigable space assignment created in Unity. I really enjoyed adventure games and wanted to recreate the sense of wonder in exploring an unknown land. The player starts off on top of a snowy mountain that they can walk down. The only sense of direction is light that are strategically placed next to the points of interests (POI). Using the Unity built in terrain tool, I attempt to model the landscape to give each POI a special attribute, either it was a forest, dessert, plan or on a hill. It was my first attempt to craft the land as it was its own character with its own personality. I spent a long time on it and was happy with the results. I hope to go back to it to refine it more and make the audio experience more special.

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The final class to round up the fall semester in 2012 was Design for Interactive Media. This class tackled the meat and potatoes of designing games. It was also my first experience being exposed to the process of physical prototyping. I created two physical prototypes, “Sky Pirates” and “Technology Titans“. Sky Pirates was created by taking the Up the River formula and tweak it in a way that makes it a different game. After hours of deliberation the team decided that the movement of the island was a crucial part of the game and wanted it to make it integral. The board layout of Sky Pirates was ever changing and altered the strategies of the players when events occurred. The first playtest was interesting to watch as everything happen exactly the opposite what we wanted to occur but it was a good learning experience.

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Technology Titan was created to tackle the theme of important issues in the world. It looked into the health of the environment and the process of technology. Everything we used is mined from the Earth and this process takes a toll on the planet’s health. How willing were the players to sacrifice the planet in order to advance their technologies? Technology Titan is in an interesting place. The mechanic is accessible but the theme tends to lean towards a more mature audience which creates an interesting paradox. It is something that requires more play testing and audience analysis.

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The final project was in collaboration with our Experiments in Interactivity I class where the team had to create a recombinant narrative digital game. This proved to be a difficult task as the team had trouble in figuring out exactly was is “recombinant narrative.”  The approach we took was the player decides how much narrative they would like to receive in the order they like. “Chronocomplex: The Apartment Lost in Time” follows a ghost in this apartment complex and tries to discover who it is and its relationship with the tenants. In the end, the game had a lot of content and proved to be an interesting narrative experience.

Returning from a restful winter recess, the spring semester began and I was excited what it held for me. The spring semester comprised of Fundamentals of 3D Character Animation, Introduction to Interactive Writing, Experiments in Interactivity II, Interactive Media Seminar and Experimental Game Topics. The combination of these courses made this semester a more game design heavy than the previous semester which was more a larger look at different media and mediums.

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Being a fan of Pixar films and 3D animation in general, I decided to use my free elective to learn more about how to animate in 3D space. I had previous 3D modeling experience during a summer camp at the School of Visual Arts but never really learned how to animate them. We started simple with a bouncing ball which later turned into a walk cycle. Eventually we got to animate the whole body and facial expression. The professor even invited really cool people from Dreamworks to talk about their animation process and a voice actor that taught us the intricacy that goes into just the voice. It really gave me a different perspective in the work that goes into creating these characters in animated films.

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Experiments in Interactivity II moved beyond film and digital media with more of a focus in hardware. The first couple weeks were spent learning the programming language Processing, which is a little similar to Java. Processing is used to program the hardware known as Ardunio. With a little bit of Electrical Engineering knowledge, the Ardunio will become the brain of a custom controller of a game that we will create. The final project the team that I was on created the Light Up Musical Motion Ball (LUMMB). It is basically a digital version of Hot-Potato. The accelerometer detects when the device is in the air and there is a timer counting down. When it reaches zero, a loud buzzer will sound and the person holding the device is out. We originally wanted to work with X-Bees, wireless transmitters, but they proved difficult to work with. The code seems correct but the hardware was just not communicating with each other. It also proved to be quite expensive but it was a great learning experience. I really enjoyed working with hardware and just seeing what goes into creating custom devices, I hope to continue to make my own in the future.

Interactive Media seminar is a light class. Speakers from different industries come and discuss with us about what they are doing and the future they envision. We had guest from Zynga, Qualcomm, Nasdaq OMX, Coincident and Two Bit Circus. There were also guests who were just independent and ran their own business. Topics ranged from transmedia, interactive wiring, user experience design, taking criticism and interactive television. Some talks even brought some heated debate! It was interesting have a look at a world of technologies outside of games that are being implemented in the living room and at amusement parks.

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Experimental Game Topics was a new class offered this year and taught by the game designer of the Uncharted Series, Richard Lemarchand. I had no idea to what to expect from this course but left with a deeper understanding of crafting engaging and unique experiences with interactive media. The first assignment was to create a physical game using two novel themes such as “the food chain” to “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.” My partner and I decided on creating a game revolving around shame and migration. From many brainstorming sessions and figuring out what to do with the materials given to us we crafted a board game.

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One of the materials in our possession was aluminum foil. With this material, we decided players create their own game piece adding an element of personal touch.  This piece is placed on the board and each player draws a card from the Shame Deck at the start of the round. The Shame action starts of simple and easy to execute that slowly becomes more and more difficult to do. There is the migration of the player across the board and through their state of mind, either shaming themselves or others through their actions. It was an interesting experiment in incorporating these themes into a physical game.

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The following three assignments were digital games created by myself with the first two having only two weeks to development time. The first digital prototype revolved around Emotional Intelligence. In this game you played as a little block in this black and white town trying to make connections and friends. There is a counter on top of the avatar’s head indicating how many friends have been made. Over time these friends will disappear and the town will become empty. I was trying to make a statement about social networking and how it has enabled us to connect with friends. However over time if one does not keep connections with these friends, they will fade away. It is one thing to click the add friend button and another to share and converse with that friend to build that relationship. The original game concept was to play on the idea of loneliness and isolation. This first experimental game build upon that idea related to something that most of us do every day.

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The second experimental game was a test for me to create an audio visual experience based on a quote that I chose. The player is a flame in a dark room. They can navigate the space with the arrow keys and space bar. As they navigate the space, the flame will collide with objects in the black room lighting up and emitting a ring. The first couple levels have the objects and rings in place with their color randomized. Later levels have more types of objects and rings that are randomly place. It was a test for me to give the player a sense of the space and where they were without actually showing anything in the background. All they could see was their flame character and a few seconds of an object they had collided with. The next step I wanted to take this project was spatial sounds to really immerse the player.

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The third and final experimental game is more of a narrative focus game that touches on the nostalgia of games past. The game is based off the song “The Loveliest Night of the Year” by Mario Lanza. It is a point and click adventure game made in Adventure Game Studio with pixel art. The player starts off in front of a white house and through the exploration of this empty house to discover who they are and the inhabitants of the home. I wanted to try to create an experience where the narrative is told through discovery and looking at objects without dialogue or person to person conversation. I was happy through many playtest sessions that the playtester got the core of the story and really enjoyed exploring the house.

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The final class for this spring semester was Introduction to Interactive Writing taught by Maureen McHugh and Sean Stewart. This was one of my favorite classes of this semester as I got to unleash my creative writing abilities. The first assignment was to take two ideas and write a short story with it. The second assignment was to place two characters in a scene where one has to work to hide a secret. Without thinking about it, this story would lay the foundation to the next six stories that are tied to the same timeline. Even my fellow classmates got into the story and it kind of became a thing for the class especially when we created a scavenger hunt game for Maureen and Sean. The class incorporated various aspect of my story in the experience. However it also helps me developed my creative writing which lead to our final assignment. It was to write a design document for a game. Serendipty is a narrative focus game starring a young girl finding out who she is and what see needs to do. I enjoyed crafting the world for this game as I did with the Ziegler Series.

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With my first year at USC coming to a close, I looked to the summer. It started off with a celebration of a friend’s birthday at the wonderful Knott’s Berry Farm. It was a great way to start the summer and escape campus. Then i am 8 bit gallery launched and got to see so many awesome art work inspired by video games that I grew up with. The start of the Electronic Entertainment Expo followed and craziness ensued. This was my first E3 ever and it was a surreal experience. Games, people and free stuff everywhere. I was able to hands on with a couple of up can coming games that will be launched for the next generation of entertainment consoles. It was also really neat to see some of the independent developers showing off their games and many of them are fun to experience.

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I ended that week by attending The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddess which was an awesome concert. Two full hours of orchestrated music from The Legend of Zelda series. I was really happy that they decided to do a tour again since I was unable to attend their first run. The new School of Cinematic Arts building dedicated to Interactive Media was launched also! Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Don Mattrick talked about the future of entertainment. It was interesting to hear about their perspective on the direction of the entertainment industry.

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The summer rounded off with SPACE! The Gallery Show, an art exhibit showcasing art influenced by space, a friend’s birthday party, the 4th celebration and my family coming to visit. For a week I taught paper folding at the LA Makerspace Summer camp which was great fun. Next to us was the Minecraft camp. The kids were creating all sorts of cool stuff with that game. I even got to 3D print out a mini Winterfell.

With the launch of this new site, I hope to be taking my work to the next level. There are many exciting things that are happening in my second year at USC that I hope to share about in the future. If you have gotten this far in this post thank you!

“To hit the iron while it’s hot.”

Memory Log 08-24-2013CE Recorded Complete.

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