By Dennis

VR Data Visualization

As a part of my research on educational games, I deal with a lot of in-game data trying to figure out what players are doing. This is really helpful for iterative design because the collected data can point out things like where players quit, how long players play, and what parts of a game are interesting. This information is super helpful when you’re tweaking levels, or making changes to gameplay.

A type of analysis I like to use as a first pass visualization is a heatmap. There’s a great article about heatmaps over on Gamasutra that does a good job of showing how this analysis can guide game design. The featured image (above) is a heatmap visualization of data gathered from the game Fair Play. The bright red spots show areas where players gathered most and the blue spots indicate less activity. I have a paper coming out soon about some of my findings from running this type of analysis on Fair Play, and I’ll make sure to upload it once it’s available.

Sometimes 2d heatmaps don’t tell the whole story. If the game itself isn’t 2d, some information like height might be discarded. Once I became familiar with the google cardboard API I created a 3d version of the heatmap so that I could view the data for several angles at once. The demo worked well and I was happy to see the particles appear on the level. Compared to the usual 2d rendering, this version felt much more intuitive. Plus, it made the level look like a magic snow globe which was really cool. The response has been positive so far, and I might make the demo available for download if people are interested.

Once I showed the demo to my friends over at the Complex Play Lab we started to brainstorm other data sets we might be able ti visualize in a similar way. Matthew whipped up a data set with 3 clusters, and I started to code something that would generate these dots in a virtual reality headset. This resulted in the following visualization:

3d Data Visualization

Like the Fair Play demo, this app allowed us to view the data from several angles in real-time which gave a better sense of how close the clusters were to one another. This was really exciting because a couple of years ago (while I was working with the Epistemic Games Group) we had trouble visualizing multi-dimensional data using 2d visualizations. By adding another dimension we got a much better feel of the data, at least for a first pass.

I like to think this counts as part of my game a week, cause it’s cool, but, let’s be real, it isn’t. I’ll get back to that soon!

Visioneers Design Challenege

For the 3rd year in a row I helped out with the Visioneers Design Challenge, and it was great!

Visioneer Design Challenge is a statewide learning program and competition for high school and middle school students interested in design arts connecting with professional designers in each field. 3 Years ago, Ryan, Amanda, Arnie and I volunteered to run a challenge that introduced game design principles. The challenge consists of two activities, a long term challenge to create a game using gamemaker, and a short-term one day game jam. The attendance for the first year was average, I think we had about 15 students or so. Flash-forward to today where we had 57 kids sign up. Yeah… I think it’s gotten a bit popular.

The day long challenge is intense. We have about 6 hours to create, playtest, and judge games. Every year we wonder if we’ll run out of time, but every year we end up with a collection of new games made by students that have never made games before.

Game-A-Week #32 J’Accuse

Recently I had the pleasure of attending the wedding reception of some close friends. During that time, a group of us stumbled across a copy of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. Inside the old wooden box, there were a ton of questions each written on a card the size of an apples to apples card. After reading a few and having a chuckle about how outdated they were, we naturally gravitated towards turning it into a game.

We had a few rounds of playtesting and eventually landed on a format that was some-what amusing: use the cards as accusatory, or defensive, statements towards other players. For example, if you had the card “At times I feel like smashing things” you would then use that as a base to accuse another player for some transgression “At times I feel like smashing things, RYAN!” The accused would then be able to respond with an inventory card they were holding adding “, ok?!” to the end of it.

Example of gameplay:

Arnie has the cards “I have had very peculiar and strange experiences”, and “I have had periods of days, weeks, or months when I couldn’t take care of things because I couldn’t ‘get going'”.
Ryan has the cards “At times I feel like smashing things” and “My sex life is satisfactory”

Ryan decides to accuse Arnie and says “My sex life is satisfactory, ARNIE!”

Arnie then decides to defend this out-of context association with “I have had periods of days, weeks, or months when I couldn’t take care of things because I couldn’t ‘get going’, OK!?”

The round then ends and a winner is chosen by the number of laughs they received.

The game felt very much like “whose line is it anyway” and provided a good amount of entertainment. Will we play it again? Probably not, but it was good at the time.

Game A week #30 ech.OS

Play, ech.OS in the twiny jam!

When reading Neuromancer, one of the things that stayed with me was Gibson’s description of Dixie Flatline’s saved consciousness. The consciousness was saved as ROM (Read only memory) which meant that while it could interact with the protagonist, and offer advice, it could never generate new associations or memories. If the unit was ever reset, or if the unit lost power, the consciousness would return to the state it was in when it was first created. Creepy.

Do not read the following if you still want to solve the login puzzle.


Here are the credentials.

Password: not forgotten

The password is case sensitive so that might have gotten some people. I’d love to hear your interpretations of the game, so please comment with them.

Game A Week #29 Extinction Event

Play Extinction Event

Sometimes making a game is easy, other times I don’t really have a good idea of what I want to make. This game is a result of not having an idea. Rather than trying to brainstorm ideas on paper, I decided to make a toy in unity and see what ideas followed as a result.

My first toy was an Ocean wave sim where objects floated around. It was interesting to watch, but difficult to control and I didn’t really have a mechanic that I was digging. The second toy was a gravity sim recycled from my previous game Mental Block. The basic idea was to move a ball around with gravity points that players could turn on and off. The toy was fun, so I decided work on it some more.

Game A Week #28 1/2

Night Watch 3d!

At GDC I was lucky enough to play around with google cardboard, and loved it. I had been eying an Oculus devkit, but didn’t pull the trigger because of the cost. But at $20 I had no excuse to delay vr dev on cardboard. Google has a really helpful page about developing in unity which sped up the progress.

After a couple hours of hacking I was able to create a 3d version of my last game Night Watch. To be fair, I designed Night Watch with cardboard in mind, so I didn’t have to modify the gameplay much, but the process of porting was much easier than I expected. The most difficult part of the process was recreating the GUI to work with the stereo cameras. I wasn’t able to use the CardboardGUI script provided, so I ended up using Unity’s new 3d UI system. There are some parts of the game that are still buggy (the game loop doesn’t restart correctly in the cardboard version when you die), but It’s almost to the point where I can put it up on the Android App Store. I’ll update this post when that happens.

Game A Week #28 Night Watch

Play Night Watch!

This was a fun one. I’ve been thinking about games that only use gyroscopic controls, and Night Watch came out of that brainstorm. I tried to think of reasons why you wouldn’t be able to move and I thought of being scared stiff, or being dared to not move for a specific period of time. My mind then drifted to old shows like “Are you Afraid of the Dark?” and being dared to stay in a cemetery by yourself at midnight. That idea then spawned the flashlight mechanic to fend off the ghosts.
There were a lot of cool technical things I had to do in this project, like figure out how to make the ghosts vulnerable to the flashlight, all while keeping in mind that I’ll port this to google cardboard as soon as possible. Google’s provided code uses raycasting, but I thought it would be too expensive for each ghost to be making this call during the update cycle (are those calls still costly? I have no idea, but I bet they are). The solution I came up with was to create a hitbox that enabled/disabled when the flashlight toggles.
NightWatch Unity Editor
I also tried to make sound a bigger part of the experience because I felt 3d sound would play a bigger role in vr. As a player, you can tell if the ghosts are approaching and from where because you hear them and orient yourself without light. I felt like this made the game too easy so I added some random sound makers to occasionally mislead players.

Since the initial release, I’ve gone back and updated the game to focus on the gamefeel. I tried to think about actually being in the graveyard and what I could do to foster that feeling. One of the coolest additions (I’m totally biased on this) was adding a heartbeat that slowly grew louder as your flashlight’s battery decreased. I felt like this really helped to build the atmosphere because it kept with the metaphor of the flashlight providing safety. When you know you have a full battery you feel safe, but as the battery decreases and time goes on you start to freak out. I also added an exploding animation for the ghosts, but I’m not quite happy with it. I feel like it makes too much of a commotion, and I should probably replace it with a more gradual fade out (A shader that turns a mesh to dust, or has them dissolve might work better here). The addition did seem to resonate with players, though, so maybe I’ll keep it.

I’ve successfully ported the game to google cardboard, so keep an eye open for that release.

I’ve uploaded the game to gamejolt, so if you want an achievement for making it to 1am, or want to support me with some ad revenue feel free to play it here.

Game A Week

This challenge started innocently enough, with a tweet from Ana wondering if anyone would like to take on the GameAWeek challenge. Because of that tweet, and awesome group formed comprised of Melissa, Mark, and James. Since then our group has made a lot of games, and even presented those games at a conference!

it just so happens that I’m at the midpoint with game #27. Time to do a bit of reflection about the games I’ve made at this point, while pointing out some of my favorite. I’ll be the first to admit that some of these games are really rough, but that’s the point of the game a week challenge. Each week I get to dig into an idea, try something new, or learn a new system and every week I get a little bit better. Another bonus of the challenge is being pleasantly surprised by what you’re able to do with the given constraints. Of the twenty six or so games I’ve made, I think these are my favorites:

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 3.56.30 PM
Time Enough To Travel
Time enough to travel was my first real attempt at making a point and click adventure from the ground up. I was feeling pressure from the time constraints of the game a week challenge and decided to draw on that feeling of time slipping away. I also had a lot of fun coming up with the sparse bits of writing (when am I ever going to get the chance to say the player died of bee stings like the dude from the movie ‘my girl’ again?). Plus, people liked to play it, so that’s always a good sign.
Read more about Time Enough to Travel
Play it!

I loved doing the art for intrigue. I always wanted to do something that had a Edward Gorey-esque style to it. I also love logic puzzles, so it was a no brainier to combine the two for a mystery game. It’s also the only game a week game that I’ve made a sequel for.
Read about it!
Play it!

mental block
Mental Block
I really like the flexibility of this game. Mental Block is a gravity based puzzle game where all objects on the screen move at once and you control where gravity is pointing (up, down, left, right). The rooms were fun to make because they’re all written as text files that are interpreted by the game loader. If i could make a change to this game, I’d try to add a twitter component so that players could tweet levels to one another.
Play it!

Hello, universe
Hello, Universe
Hello, Universe was the first game a week game that I entered into a game jam. The theme was “Space Cowboy” and I tried to think of a cool way to mix the western tropes with some more modern tech. I decided on making a game where, after a hard day of work, you sent messages to star clusters using morse code. The game was difficult but had a cool ‘a-ha!’ moment when you made contact with the first star cluster. It placed at #21 just shy of the top twenty. It was also the first of my games to get a ‘let’s play’, so that’s cool.
Play it!
Let’s Play

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 7.41.54 PM
Amazing is one of those games that only a mother could love. If there’s any game on this list that really needs a remake, it’s this one. I like the mechanic and it gets really difficult after a while. With more polish, I think this game could really shine.
Read more about it here
Play it!

I also really liked Ask the Fireflies, but it’s a bit less game-y and more atmospheric.

Intelligence Crisis: Codename MACBETH

Best Business game awardAdaptive force award

Game Description:
In MACBETH, players, called “analysts,” are presented with a fictional scenario of an impending terrorist attack, and their task is to figure out who the suspect is, where the attack will occur, and what method of attack will be used. MACBETH is a turn-based game, where a human participant plays cooperatively with two non-playable characters (NPCs). In any one turn, analysts are able to gather two pieces of information about the suspect, location, and/or weapon from a combination of intel sources. After gathering information, the human player can generate a hypothesis or aid another analyst (an NPC) if they have information proving or disproving the other analyst’s current hypothesis. Throughout the game, analysts learn about the cognitive biases, and receive implicit and/or explicit feedback (based on condition) encouraging them to delay making a hypothesis, seek disconfirming information that can be used to disprove their hypothesis, and offer alternative hypotheses in their efforts to mitigate confirmation bias.

macbethMap macbethHub

Lead Game Designer / Game Prototype Designer.


  • 2014 Best Business Game – Intelligence Crisis: Codename MACBETH Serious Games Showcase.
  • 2014 Best Adaptive Force Game – Intelligence Crisis: Codename MACBETH Serious Games Showcase.

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Fair Play

Player's Choice

Game Description:
Fair Play was created as a way to address issues of implicit bias in a safe environment. In Fair Play, the player assumes the role of Jamal, a new graduate student. Along the way, the player is face with bias scenarios, which they must address in order to successfully make it through their first year. It was our hope that, through gameplay, players will be exposed to various anti-bias strategies, which they will incorporate into their daily lives.

fairplay_logo fp

fairplay1 fp3 fp4

Play Now!
Mac PC

Lead Game Designer, Programmer, Writer, Producer.


  • 2012 People’s Choice Award, Fair Play, awarded at Meaningful Play 2012 Conference Game Exhibition, East Lansing, MI, October 18-20.


Team members: Sarah Chu, Belinda Gutierrez, John karczewski, Adam Wiens, Erin Robinson, Jake Ruesch, Allison Salmon, Greg Vaughan.