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I should write a retrospective.

I’m more than halfway done but I still haven’t decided what my favorite games are. Hopefully, I’ll do that soon. This week I’m battling a rather nasty bug, but I’m still making progress.

See, proof.
See, proof.

It’s an RPG system I’ve built from scratch and I thought it would be fun to make a playable version of this video. It’ll be up an playable soon.

I LIED. The prototype still isn’t completed. Instead I decided to go off and make a start up. We secured a bit of funding and placed second in a state-wide competition, so that’s cool I suppose. The retrospective is complete, though.

Making a 2d game (Part 1)

I decided that I should probably look up some tutorials about making 2d games specifically in unity. I’ve made 2d games before in Java/python/Javascript/C# but in those games I usually generate the areas with maps of ints with each int corresponding to a specific tile. After you write the engine, generating maps is easy, but you can’t necessarily visualize it without some sort of map editor tool. Since unity has an awesome looking editor, I decided to check out how games made in unity use the editor to their advantage and learned some cool stuff. These posts serve as a way to reflect on the stuff I’ve learned and as a reference for later.

Tiles are created as prefabs.
In my previous approaches I’ve created a single plane to act as the ground and then generated objects on top of the plane. When programing in Java etc, this saved resources and helped to reduce the number of objects generated. However, it seems like unity is ok with generating a prefab for each tile on the screen. I’m not sure how light-weight the prefabs are, but, considering there were a lot of objects in my last project, the number of prefabs doesn’t seem to bog unity down too much so I’m going to try out this system and see how it goes.

Snap to grid feature.
This is the coolest feature I’ve seen in unity for a 2d game. When clicking on a prefab select Edit>SnapToGrid and it will show a dialogue box that lets you customize how the prefab will try to line up with the grid underneath. After that is selected, holding control will allow prefabs to snap to the next available space when moving them around. Using this approach I was able to create a small map very quickly. Looks like using this system will save a lot of time when creating tile-based maps.

Using game objects to organize.
Looks like empty game objects are used to hold all tiles related to maps. We did some of this in my last project, and it certainly worked, but I wasn’t sure if it was standard practice in unity.

Orthogonal camera.
Used this feature in previous implementations. makes sense for a 2d game, but I’d like to mess with the perspective camera to get a more picture book-y feel for a game like “The Woods”.

On academic writing.

I’ve heard the saying that the only people that will read your thesis are your advisor and your mom. While I love my mom and really respect my advisor, this just doesn’t do it for me. I, like many academics, want my work to be read.

Whenever I get frustrated with something I try to do a bit of research on it to pinpoint why it’s bothering me. It also helps me think about how I can address my frustration so that I’m not just stewing. In my review, I saw a trend: academic writing seems to be inaccessible.

First, there’s the actual restriction on academic articles, paywalls. With a paywall, an academic journal can refuse to show you an article unless you have a subscription, or pay by the article. For example here’s an article about videogames and neuroscience that I wanted to read:

Only 51$ for 24 hours!
Only 51$ for 24 hours!

For a broke college student, this is a lot of money. Especially if you’re doing a lit review which would require several sources. All is not lost, though, because most universities give free access for their students. Unfortunately, not everyone is a student. Actually, only 39% of 18 to 24 year-olds are in college (and that’s across all disciplines). Point being, the majority of the population needs to pay a lot of money to stay up to date with research… and that’s not happening.

Even if you manage to get ahold of an academic article, there seems to be an art to deciphering them. A quick google search of academic writing, and bad academic writing, reveals tons of people complaining about the language and style used in academic articles.

academic writing 2

academic writing 1

It’s not that academics CAN’T write, but that most feel pressure to write in academise. I’m currently reading a book titled “Writing for the social sciences” and have found it immensely helpful (link at the bottom). The advice given in this book is to write plainly, and to make your writing accessible. The problem is it generally doesn’t sound smart, and, as shallow as this seems, people may not hold it in high regard.
Look at that! It sounds so smart! I think.

It’s no wonder that wikipedia is so popular. It addresses both of these issues. It’s accessible, and it’s readable (for the most part). Still worried about errors in an editable encyclopedia? you might want to take a look at this Nature article.

So, how can we address this issue? That’s a difficult question, I have some theories but they may only work for myself. While I was at Stanford I noticed that almost every assignment was accompanied with some sort of presentation or media. Most stanford classes urged their students to create some product that people could actually use when conducting research. I’ve gathered a few examples of what this means.

Have an elevator pitch.
You’ve probably heard of this concept, but if you haven’t you should be familiar with it. An elevator pitch is “is a short summary used to quickly and simply define a person, profession, product, service, organization or event and its value proposition.” In other words, pretend you’re in an elevator and have to describe your work before the person you’re talking to gets off. I know this is hard to do you’ve probably spent YEARS working on your project and summarizing this is intimidating. But, I have seen several researchers scare off potential audiences because they don’t have a concise answer to the question “What do you do?” Plus, you can use this pitch at family get togethers.

Don’t say, show.
Vsauce is making some of the coolest science videos on the internet right now. Take a moment to check out this video. Did you notice how many views that video has? At this moment… 1,776,571. The video cuts to the cool part of the study, gives a short synopsis, and provides a link to the actual paper. That’s freaking cool. It’s like a movie trailer for a research study. Now, I’m not saying you should have production values on par with this video, but, if you want viewers, it doesn’t hurt to polish it a bit.

Have some sort of presence on the internet.
Having an online presence helps to get your work out there and makes it more visible. Some of the coolest interactions that I’ve had come out of tweets and blog posts I’ve written. It does require some upkeep, but keep in mind you’re a few keystrokes from sharing your ideas with others.

If you want more people to read your work, I suggest you try out some of these methods and reflect on how you learn about new studies outside of journal articles.

Build a website using dropbox

I recently ran across a lifehacker article that detailed how to use your dropbox as a server for a small website. I thought it was awesome and fit well with a previous post, so I thought it was worth posting it here as reference. If anyone has tried this, leave a comment about your experience.

The Nintendo World Store is Awesome

Recently, I went to New York and found myself at the Nintendo World Store. In short, it was awesome, but not necessarily because of the stuff that was being sold. Don’t get me wrong, they have lots of cool stuff that you can’t get anywhere else (I picked up some Mario Bros. Pixel Playing cards). The coolest thing about that place: The staff.

The Nintendo world staff was great! After talking to them for a bit you can tell they love games. In fact, they have a really cool display on the second floor made up of memorabilia donated by the staff. The display has stuff from Pokemon, Fire emblem, Earthbound and tons of other games. However, the highlight for me was being able to use a hylian shield! (It was heavy!) I wanted to buy it, but it cost 80 rupees.

Meaningful Failure

I will be hosting a roundtable at Meaningful Play. Information about it can be found here.

In short, I think failure is very productive, but how do we leverage that failure for the benefit of players? I’m actually looking at the effect of failure on people’s perceptions of themselves as well. Right now I’m looking at self efficacy, but I know that this can also manifest as labels and learning disabilities. There is a great article by Ray McDermott that I’ve been citing showing these effects:

Failure has transformed from simply not succeeding to something that determines the opportunities available to students. Failure becomes a label by which a student’s mental faculties are assessed. In its most malicious form, a failure can even manifests itself as a learning disability. At this point it has devastating effects on how the student views themselves, and how society views the student (McDermott, Goldman, & Varenne, 2006). With so much at stake it is no surprise that students do not wish to fail.

That’s actually exactly why I think failure is interesting. You can learn so much from it, yet it can also be quite devastating.

Thoughts about Failure? Leave them in the comments.

Making a blog from scratch for 20$ using dreamhost.

Every so often I get a request to help with some techy stuff. To be completely honest, I love doing this kinda stuff because I like to make things. I also like to see things other people create things. Helping people to get blogs up seems to fill both of these needs. So, without further delay, how to build a website form scratch for 20$.

First, find a domain that you like:

A domain is a web address that people type into their browser to get to your site. These generally cost about 10$ and can be registered for about a year before they need to be renewed. I like Dreamhost ( and have my domains there. You can do the same, or use any other domain service to buy your domain. Be creative and try to think of an address that people will remember. Sometimes, the name you want won’t be available so try a lot of different variations.


Now that you have a Domain, it’s time to decide where you would like to host your content. In other words, you’ll be renting a computer from a server to hold the content that you put up (in this case, your blog). You can use your own computer to host a website, but that’s a little more complicated, and I won’t go into it for this post. Again, for hosting I use Dreamhost which clocks in at 9$/month. Dreamhost provides unlimited bandwidth, allows you to host multiple websites for free, and maintains the computers for you (which I think is helpful if you can’t maintain a server yourself).

Once you’ve done both of the above, using your same account, you can now install your blog. For this step we’ll use wordpress ( and Dreamhost’s installer.

Log into your dreamhost panel and click on the domain link on the side.


This should show your domain(s) and whether or not they are being hosted. Click on “add hosting” under the actions column and it should take you to another screen that looks like this:

Lots of information here, but don’t worry about that for now. Right now, just click on “Fully host domain”. The quick version of what you’re doing here is: you’re telling dreamhost to make a folder on their computer so that when people go to your domain they’ll see the stuff in that folder. In the future I might go into putting stuff into these folders using FTP, but for now we’ll just install wordpress.

Installing wordpress:

Almost done. Next, click on “goodies” and then “one-click installs”  while logged into your dreamhost account. This will take you to a page that lists a lot of services you can install on your site (this includes wordpress).

Click on the wordpress link and it’ll take you to the install page.


Click on custom installation and then select your domain from the dropdown menu. Dreamhost should now send you an email saying it’s installing wordpress and will notify you when your site is ready. Once you get the “Finished installing” email from dreamhost, follow the directions to set up an admin account. You can now post things onto your blog!

That’s it. You’re done. You can now go to the web address you bought and start sharing your thoughts. If you have any questions, or want to show off your new site, leave a comment.


Joystiq Score: 4/5
Gamespot Score: 8.5/10
Common Sense Media rating 5/5, Ages 11+

By now you’ve probably heard of this award winning title by the Indie company Supergiant games, but if you haven’t this game is definitely worth a look. Bastion is an Action RPG set in a post apocalyptic world. By assuming the role of a protagonist, known only as “the kid”, players must make their way through a shattered land in order to restore it to its former state. Aside from being a solid game over all, Bastion excels at telling an immersive story generated in part by the payer’s actions. Given the emphasis most educational games place on narrative to convey educational goals, Bastion gives us a model of turning otherwise linear stories into dynamic experiences. By paying attention to the player’s actions, and providing realtime feedback in the form of narration, bastion strikes a balance between designed experience and player agency that is sometimes lacking in games of the same genre. Bastion is a must for any researcher, or practitioner, interested in the role of story in games. Bastion is available for Mac, PC, Xbox, and can even be played in the chrome web browser.

I need to start posting more.

I feel like I need to start posting more. There are a lot of cool things i’m currently taking part in (developing /studying games, drawing, writing), and so little time to just reflect on what I’ve done. So here’s the deal. I’m going to try to write one new post a week on what i’m doing. Simple right? Sure… until I get self conscious and delete this post.