New Policy: Kind and Honest Reviews

Hi folks!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what direction I’d like this blog to go in.

Originally, I’d intended it as a place where I could write down my thoughts as they came up, and to be happy about my favorite things– such as games. Nothing wrong with that, and it’s basically been what I’ve done. A few more personal pieces here or there, but generally happy reviews about games that I care about, and games (or people) that I feel should be promoted for one reason or another.

I figured that I could do this because hey, it’s my blog, I can write whatever I want!

However… as my readership has grown somewhat, and I’ve been asked to review more games, I believe I need to take more responsibility for what I write and put out in the world. I may only be a humble blogger and not some fancy schmancy journalist, but I care about these issues.

So, after speaking with a few friends of mine, I’d like to make a few things clear:

I’m going to do my best to be honest with my reviews!

Honest and kind.

I will only offer a glowing review if I truly feel that it’s warranted. If I have been asked to review something, I will do my best to point out potential pitfalls or shortcomings alongside the good qualities. It’s what I was trained to do as a scientist, and what I should continue to do as far as journalistic integrity. It’s also, I believe, the only way to move forward in an ethical and truthful manner. And, in a very practical manner, it’s also the only way to make reviews that actually mean something.

Will I go out of my way to bash a game? Certainly not. Will I still gush about games that I love? Most likely yes. But what I will also try to do is be honest when I can, and also kind. I recognize that games are a medium that people pour their hearts into. They really do become a lot like children.

No game is perfect, even if I love them. Even my favorites sometimes find ways to irritate me. There are always mechanics I wish were in place, but aren’t. Or the myriad of different ways that a story could have gone, if only ABC had been changed. And why oh why did they decide to design feature XYZ like that? It ruins everything! Aaaaargh!

And you know what? That’s perfectly okay! That’s also what makes games great! Truly respecting them and giving them the best chances means sometimes we’ve gotta have a little of the good with the bad.

It’s a little like human emotions in general. Expecting a person to be always happy and upbeat isn’t realistic. We all have our good days and our bad days. And if I’m being completely frank, the experiment where you manipulate your emotions to try to be happy all the time? Been there, done that. It doesn’t work.

Over the long term, the only thing that constant positivity accomplishes is that it makes you feel guilty for your natural and negative emotions. Or worse, it makes you brittle because you’re no longer experiencing a proper range of emotions. The good bleeds into the bad and you end up in a state of apathy.  Emotions, while not pleasant, exist for a reason. Negative emotions warn us that a situation isn’t a good one, they alert us when we need to make changes, and they can galvanize us to action when we’d otherwise be passive. They also help us make rational decisions.

What does work, on the other hand, is self-compassion paired with honest self-reflection. At least in my experience, I find this to be true, and it’s one of the ways by which I choose to live my life.

In conclusion…

Faking emotion is a bad idea for mental health. Faking positivity for the sake of a good review is also bad. Ergo, I will endeavor to provide kind and fair reviews that take this reality into account.

That is all! 😛


#1ReasonToBe and (In)accessibility at GDC

One of the best talks that I went to at GDC this year was Rami Ismail‘s talk entitled 1ReasonToBe (#1ReasonToBe).

It’s a little over an hour, but I highly encourage you to watch it if you ever get a chance. If you really don’t have time, here’s another take on the talk from Venture Beat (written by Stephanie Chan).

Let me tell you a little about why and what the talk is about.

At GDC, whenever we would walk by a specific corridor between the North and South Moscone Center, we were greeted by this giant display. It was this big map of the world and, on it, we were encouraged to take out a small red sticker and then to paste it on the map to indicate where we had come from that day. Laura and I thought it would be fun. She added hers to Ireland, and I added mine to San Diego.

Later that week, my friend Laura and I would enter the hall, sit down, and wait for Rami’s talk to start. I didn’t know what to expect. Being a newbie to GDC, I’d never been to any of Rami’s talks before. And then it started.

One of the very first slides we were greeted by, is this image here:


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This is not a map of the world.



“If this looks a little like an amorphous blob, it is because it is… Who can guess in like 3 seconds what this is?”

Lots of audience members murmured about, listening to him speak.

“This is not a map of the world.”

(I figured he was just being a bit snarky or pedantic at this point, but I stuck with it)

“It IS a map of the world. It’s supposed to be a map of the world… but really, it’s sort of a vague outline of the U.S., with a little blob of Europe, some spots in China and Japan… and a little in maybe the far South of America.”

“But apparently, that’s it.”

“The reality is that this isn’t where people make games.”


“This is the map of the people who can come to GDC.”

(And this is the point where it strikes home to me.)


I’m transcribing some of this because the opening statements are part of what made this talk really amazing.

Long story short, though, this talk resonated with me.

I’m sitting in that audience and I am fully aware that I almost wasn’t sitting there.

I came to GDC by a combination of luck and by generosity. My friend Laura and I both applied for the same scholarship and we both made the effort to attend. We both had the financial ability to do so, and the support of friends and family. Laura especially had to fly all the way over from Ireland to be able to be there. I, on the other hand, only had to convince my parents that it was worth taking the RV to San Francisco. San Diego to San Francisco doesn’t seem like a huge journey, but for me without a job at the time, I’m not sure what I would’ve done. Without their help, I’m not sure I could have afforded the hotel in SF for a whole week. Plus transportation costs. Plus living expenses. It would have been a major financial stressor, and perhaps not even worth it. But I was determined to make it to GDC, and I did. It was luck and generosity.

And then I got to thinking even more: there were a lot of voices in the audience of that #1ReasonToBe talk and at GDC, but they were didn’t make up a complete group of game creators. I knew of at least several game developers on Twitter alone who had wanted to be able to attend GDC but were not able to. One of which is a friend of mine from Snail Hill Games. Hello if you’re reading this! I thought of you at GDC. I’m so sorry you weren’t able to attend. 😦 I’m sure you would have gotten a lot out of the convention!

In essence, though, without going into too many details about the talk (because I’m going to assume that you will watch it), 1ReasonToBe is all about the voices in game development that you don’t hear or see at events like GDC, and it’s about recognizing that creators come from all sorts of amazing and diverse backgrounds.

Throughout the course of the talk, we heard from some absolutely amazing game creators and creative professionals. People like Matthieu Rabehaja who had flown in from faraway places like Madagascar to be there at GDC. Others who were trying to develop games in places with little to no support.

And you know what?

They were the lucky ones that actually got through. So many of the creators that were invited had their visas denied. They simply were not able to attend. Perhaps they come from a war-torn country, perhaps they lack the financial resources, or perhaps it’s simply a matter of a very picky and unlucky visa process. I don’t know the exact circumstances.

However, what I can say is that game development is an amazing community and that we are stronger when we support our diversity. One of the awesome things about game engines like Unity or Godot is that they are opening the world of game creation up to creators from all walks of life. As a gamer, this is so exciting! I honestly hope that more creators are able to join the fray. We need diverse games now more than ever.


There was also a thread that was recently brought to my attention on Twitter regarding inaccessibility at GDC.

Please check out @cherryrae‘s thread here. It’s several tweets long (you’ll have to click through), but well worth the read! I am reposting the thread here with permission.

Basically, though, what Cherry is talking about is the fact that at GDC, so many of the booths were not even wheelchair accessible! Part of it had to do with the way that GDC is set up– the booths get put together in a flurry of activity on Monday and Tuesday before the Expo starts. It’s a time crunch to get everything assembled. With regards to the organization of the event, I totally get what an organizational nightmare it must be to get so many people to cooperate. One of my friend’s does event planning. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to handle a crowd of 30,000 people.

However, considering the amazing creativity and innovation from the world of game developers, surely we can come up with a solution to help GDC to become more friendly to wheelchair users. Change is totally possible if we keep the dialogue going.

And when dialogues like that stay open, we all win.

To me, I see this as an issue that, not only is GDC difficult to attend from a financial standpoint, it’s also difficult to access if you have any sort of disability. I can imagine that there are certainly autistic game developers who would have trouble dealing with the incredibly loud and crowded conference halls, or game developers with anxiety. Again, it means that the voices that you hear at places like GDC are only the ones that belong to people who were able to attend and participate.

Perhaps some of these issues are simply structural ones, and I understand. The decision to even hold the conference in San Francisco is one that I’ve heard debated, as it is a very expensive city to live in and visit. But short of making large changes, perhaps there are small things we can do to make a difference. Perhaps events like the Not GDC un(conference) hashtag can be helpful in these cases, to allow people networking and communication opportunities even if they can’t physically be there. Perhaps more large conferences can also pop up in less expensive cities. I don’t really know what the answer is. But regardless, I feel that these issues are too important for me to ignore and the least that I can do is try to shine some light on it.

Why do these voices even matter? Heck, why does diversity even matter?

These are questions I’m not going to attempt to answer in this post as I’m sure it will spiral out of control. I don’t have a short and concise answer. I want to say “IT JUST IS”, even if a compelling argument that does not make. But what I can say is that diversity opens up so many wonderful possibilities creatively. We need stories and art and dev teams that won’t just regurgitate up tired ideas. We need different perspectives to breathe life into our work. It’s not just practical and good for art and business, it’s also the right thing to do. Games are for everyone, so why shouldn’t our creators, games, and communities reflect that reality? We can do this!

So with that, I’ll just say thanks to everyone who helped make it possible for me to attend GDC. Thank you to Brandon Sheffield for organizing the scholarship. Thank you to Rami and to Cherry for respectively bringing attention to the voices still missing from the discussion, and the difficulties that still exist to make GDC an accessible and welcoming event. Thank you to the many wonderful folks that I met at GDC who, like me, were able to be there. I’m so grateful that I was able to make some good friends and connections while I was there. And thank you very much to the folks who weren’t able to be there at GDC, but wanted to. I hope that I’ll be able to pay these many kindnesses forward in the future!

And most of all here’s to a world where we listen to the voices that are missing just as much as to the voices who we hear.

Thanks for reading!

Light the Pyre: Dark fantasy meets Dodgeball meets Oregon Trail

Apologies for the rather direct and basic title, but I started playing Pyre today. First impressions? You really ought to play it! I’m not even that far into it, and I’m already singing its praises!


Some beautiful promotional art from Pyre


A quick head’s up: This post may contain minor spoilers. As usual, I will try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but I also want to talk about the main features. I will avoid talking about the narrative beyond very basic generalities, and most of the information I will give can be found out within the first hour or two of gameplay. So even if there are spoilers, they won’t affect later gameplay. 🙂 Also, despite the dark fantasy setting, this game is rated E for Everyone. But if you don’t think this game is for you, feel free to skip this entry!

So without further ado…


Pyre is the most recent game produced by Supergiant Games as of 2018 when I’m writing this. Supergiant Games is an indie game studio located in San Francisco, CA.  Previously, Supergiant Games has produced two other titles called Bastion and Transistor. I haven’t played the other two, but I may look into them after I finish with Pyre.

Pyre was released back in the summer of 2017 and yes, I’m a bit late to the party. It’s already won a number of awards and has received high praise from a number of sites like IGN, GameSpot, and Polygon. However, I feel like that’s all the more reason to write about it now that the hype has died down a bit! It could still use the attention. 🙂 Most indie studios suffer from not enough recognition for what they do!

Here’s an official gameplay trailer:

Quick Overview

You play as an exile, a Reader to be specific, and your job is to help your team complete all of the Rites so that you can escape purgatory.

Briefly, Pyre is a mix of Oregon Trail meets dark fantasy meets dodgeball + tag. Yup, that’s right! It’s a little difficult to nail down in a specific genre. One half of the game is a pretty classic adventure game, with a point-and-click narrative design and a main map to explore. The Rites make up the other half of the game where you compete in 3 vs 3 game matches, the goal of which is to douse the other team’s pyre. The ultimate goal is that your team wins all of its matches so that it can be free from purgatory and gain salvation.



A scene from one of the Rites



Among the best features are the game’s soundtrack, the art, and the character designs. The art and design of the main map are also really beautiful. I can also point to a number of bonus features like the ability to pick gender-neutral pronouns, which is cool!

So let’s get into the details!

Splash Screen

The first screen you are greeted with in Pyre is the splash screen where you are to pick between Campaign Mode vs Versus Mode. I haven’t had the opportunity to try out Versus Mode yet (I’m assuming it’s their multiplayer option– and yep, that appears to be a correct assumption). For this review, I’ll speak only about the Campaign Mode.


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Main Menu- choose between campaign or versus mode

Main Menu Options and Difficulty Settings

When you start a new campaign, you’ll be greeted by various options including difficulty settings, the opposition to use HurryText (which speeds up the text), subtitles, and aim assist. I decided to start the game in Standard Mode, but the game makes it clear that you can change the difficulty level at any time. Some of the achievements are gated behind the difficulty levels (aka there are some achievements which can only be earned on Standard difficulty or higher), but that seems to be the only apparent difference. At some point, I would like to test out the various difficulty settings to see what changes. I’m also curious about the auto-aim feature. But for now, I’ll just say that these options exist. 🙂

Gender-Neutral Pronouns

There are also a number of Options which can influence the main settings of the game once you start your campaign. This includes brightness, cursor speed, music volume, SFX volume, voice volume, and a few others. Of interest is also the ability to choose masculine, feminine, or gender-neutral pronouns. A little bit of inclusivity goes a long way in my book!


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Other menu options including gender-neutral pronouns


The Caravan and UI

When you start the game, you will begin at a caravan. A few wandering Exiles find you and nurse you back to health. Without going into too many spoilers, they become your new allies. Together, you will travel around a world that is akin to purgatory. Along the way, you’ll pick up more friends and more people will join your team. You’ll also need to make a number of decisions on how to run your campaign.

One aspect of Pyre that I learned about while researching for this article is that there is no Game Over screen. It’s a branching narrative choices-matter type of story, but you can’t actually lose. I’m making the assumption that you probably don’t want to lose at the Rites, but at least it isn’t a game ender. 😉 The story will still go on. When I get further along in the game, I may try messing with this and seeing just what happens when you do consistently fail, but for now, I’m going to assume that Plot Happens. I’m sensing a lot of good replay value from Pyre.

Optional Information via Tooltips

OK, so moving on, let’s get to the dialogue options. There are a few features that I found cool. One of the main ones is the tooltips for unknown words.

In a lot of games I’ve seen, and especially in the world of fantasy writing, there’s a desire to invent entirely new people, places, factions, and words. This can make for some really great worldbuilding and immersive storytelling. The problem? You have to find a non-intrusive way of introducing the reader to these relevant details. In a lot of novels and things, this takes place in the form of the dreaded “info dump”, which can quickly bore readers who aren’t interested.

What Pyre does is that it allows you to hover-over any relevant people or places and find out additional information. You don’t have to do this if you want, it’s totally optional, but it’s also quite helpful. If you’re like me and tend to forget who a character was ten seconds after meeting them, this feature is for you!


Anytime there is an unknown word, you can hover over it to learn more!


You are a Reader

As you wake up, the members of the caravan let you know that you are a Reader. I’m still figuring out exactly what that means, but effectively, you’re the one that reads the stars and determines the direction that the team members will go. You’re also the only one that can read the Book of Rites, from what I can gather. As you explore the game, more pages from the Book of Rites opens up. They’re quite interesting to read, though so far it seems to be also an entirely optional feature. The book sure does get shiny, mind you, so you probably will want to click it and read it anyhow!

The caravan serves as your main hub or home base. You can interact with various objects in the caravan, speak with your fellow exiles, read pages from the Book of Rites, access your team’s status and equipment, and later on, you can also participate in various special events for rewards & practice. Despite being super cool looking on the inside, you can do fun atmospheric things like blow out candles, clean up cobwebs, and poke the imps. I liked these added details. Oh yeah, and the game also has a sense of humor!


The inside of the caravan


As a Reader, you are able to pick the destination of the next Rite. You do so via a constellation map. Which constellation you choose seems to be fixed (still testing this), but what changes is the route by which you get there. Along the way, you must make various designs about which direction your team should go, and what they should do. For example, early on I was given the choice to go foraging, to mentor a companion, or to study alone. Each theoretically provided different bonuses, but you are only able to pick one. This is part of the “choices matter” aspect of the game.

The maps work in a similar manner. Due to the excellent writing, there have been many moments where the game “remembered” my choices and would bring to mind an earlier decision that I’d made. It means that the plot is very streamlined and immersive.  It also means that the writers and programmers had to do a lot of extra work on the back end to get this working properly.



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One of the many choices you must make along the way – which way will you pick?



The main maps themselves where you explore via caravan are also quite beautiful. Even though this is technically purgatory and not supposed to be nice looking (at least according to my mere mortal sensibilities), I found them absolutely stunning. Honestly, just take a look at the use of colors and lighting. I personally find it quite bright and welcoming. It’s a pleasure to explore this world!

Name Options and Voice-Overs

Whenever there is full-blown narration, it’s in English (or whatever language you pick). However, when characters speak in the game, there are sound effects/vocals as if they are actually talking. It usually consists of short phrases in what I’m assuming is gibberish. However, there are a few parts that change based on the emotion of the speaker and whether it’s a question or a definitive statement. It’s an atmospheric effect, but a fairly good one. It’s been used in a fair number of fantasy or sci-fi games as a low budget technique to avoid having to use full voice acting. An added bonus is that it makes the games easy to translate since characters will still say the same thing no matter the language used– you only need to change the text, which is much more straightforward.

And… this is maybe a minor thing, but early on, there’s a choice to name one of your new teammates. The best part? The voice-overs will actually call her by the name you pick. So in my case, I wanted her to be called Xae, and the voices actually started calling her that. Coooool! It’s details like this that I get really excited about! There’s also a few other details like the shopkeepers humming to themselves. 😛


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I decided the stowaway girl should be called Xae.


The Characters

You are introduced to several characters at the beginning. Each character has their own individual backstory. Although it’s not much of a spoiler, every one of them has committed some sort of crime to end up in purgatory. As the game progresses, you learn more about what that means and how they ended up where they did. Each character has their own individual level system. Over time, they gain various skills and traits. They also have the ability to equip various items, which will influence their stats. A little more on this soon.


Edwyn’s character page, shows his attributes, current skills, and equipment


The Nightwings

I would describe the Rites as a cross between dodge-ball and tag. You win when you extinguish your rival’s pyre, and you lose when they extinguish yours. You put our their pyre by scoring what are effectively “goals” using the orb, which serves as a ball. There are four main stats: Glory, Quickness, Presence, and Hope. You must use your teammates and their abilities in order to best your opponents and help the Nightwings to victory. The Nightwings are your teammates, by the way!


Briefly, glory determines how much your enemy’s pyre is extinguished when you transport the Orb to their pyre. So if the enemy’s pyre starts off with 100 points, and you have 20 Glory, then each time you reach the goal using that character, the enemy’s pyre will drop by 20, equalling 80. Other items may affect it, but that’s the gist. Each time a character scores a “goal”, they are temporarily removed from battle until the next turn.


Presence is a passive aura ability that circles each player. If you look at the image below, you’ll see a glow around each character except the orb bearer. The orb bearer loses their aura when you pick up the orb. If an enemy steps into that radius, they will instantly drop the orb; the same applies to you. Auras can also combine to create what is effectively a barrier. However, simply barricading yourself at the pyre isn’t a surefire way to win as, alas, the orb can be thrown. 😛 You can also get knocked out, which will also destroy your aura.


Pretty self-explanatory, but quickness affects your character’s movement screen across the playing field of the Rites. Rukey, one of the team’s exiles, has a very high Speed stat and can make it across very quickly.


Hope affects how quickly your characters respawn when hit with an enemy attack. Players respawn back at their respective pyres.

Charge Abilities & Enemy Attacks

Although not exactly a “stat”, each character also has a specific attack that they can use. The most powerful is a charge ability which you can hold down a button or key to use. It strikes enemies within a line in front of your character. The width of each attack is different for each character. When an enemy is hit by this attack, they will be knocked out.


General Play

You take control of one character at a time and can switch between one of three characters. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses (based partially on their attributes like Hope, Glory, etc.) and you must use these to your advantage. There are also a number of character specific options which can be made use of. Likewise, some of the choices that you make during the map portion of your game can affect the outcomes of the Rites. For example, your characters can receive various buffs and debuffs or equip special items which change their attributes. There are also times when specific characters must be used during the Rites due to Plot Reasons.


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Victory for the Nightwings!


Overall, I found the battle system not too difficult to get used to. Some parts were definitely more challenging (and it does seem to grow harder the farther along I progress), but at least in Normal mode, it doesn’t seem too bad. I’d be really nervous to crank up the difficulty levels!

The Music

One aspect of the game that I found really cool is the music and soundtrack. It reminded me a little of some of the music from the Diablo games. It provides an additional level of atmosphere. Check out the soundtrack here. It’s available for digital download. 🙂

The Art

It’s gorgeous and really well done. One of the strong points is its attention to detail, ranging from the character art to the UI elements. It all fits together to create a really complex visual experience. 3D elements are lovingly arranged in with 2D ones with some excellent uses of toon shading and well done from a techncial standpoint. IT’S LOVELY. Enough said!


The art is gorgeous, the narrative elements are wonderful, the soundtrack is amazing… oh, and the characters are also super cool and likable. I’m specifically not getting into them even though they are some of the best aspects of the game. SERIOUSLY. They are really cool! Overall? I’m really excited! So, if you’re in for a fun game and don’t mind the dark fantasy elements, give Pyre a try! It’s worth warming up to! 😛

Thanks to all of the designers whose hard work went into making this game! If you get a chance, be sure to tell them thanks! I’m sure that they’d appreciate it!


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The credits page for Pyre



Some final promotion art 🙂


Final Notes:  Supergiant Games has a very open policy about blog posts and Let’s Plays. It’s yet another reason to support the studio. All images were either taken from the promotional materials or screen capped from the actual game by yours truly.

Pyre is available on Steam as well as on PlayStation Store. As of this blog post, it currently costs $19.99.

That’s all for now! Thanks for reading!



Affirmation by Laura Fagan

Let’s talk about my new friend Laura!

Laura is an amazing and talented game developer that hails from Ireland.  Apart from being a genuinely nice person, Laura is super knowledgeable about game design, research, writing, and all things internet-related. Laura is a Master’s student studying Creative Digital Media. Laura is also a freelance writer and runs a blog called Should You Care? that covers a wide variety of topics such as technology, gaming, food, health, and fitness. So be sure to check out Laura’s other work out if you get a chance! 🙂

Laura and I met for the first time when I was at GDC this year and have quickly become good friends! I honestly feel like I’ve known Laura for at least several years and it’s a great feeling knowing that I’ve found another close friend. Too bad Ireland is so far away! The day after the conference ended, a small group of us (my parents, a friend of the family, Laura, and myself) decided to go sight-seeing. We visited the Golden Gate Park and had a fun time checking out the Conservatory of Flowers and the Japanese Tea Garden.  These are all lovely areas if you haven’t visited!  I highly recommend them if you are ever in the San Francisco area.

But, without further ado, let’s talk about Affirmation!

Affirmation is an emotionally complex visual novel that packs a lot of content into a relatively short space time wise. The entire game can be finished in under 10-15 minutes, but the choices and decisions will stay with the reader for hours after and will invite plenty of thought and commentary.

Here’s the description from the page:

This is a gentle tale about people trying to regain something. And it is a tale of battle.
You choices will decide how their journey progresses and if they begin to change little by little…

Affirmation follows the story of two main characters Dave and Lyns. Without getting too much into any spoilers, I’ll just say that both main characters struggle with different aspects of life. Affirmation puts you into both of their life situations and asks you to make choices about what they should or should not do.

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You can choose to play as either Dave or Lyns.

The story is told through a series of dialogue boxes, cell phone text messages, and photographs. There are also some sound effects and music in the background, which serve to immerse the reader in the narrative. There are also various mental attribute “stats”. The main stats are Stress, Mental, and Social and they will change depending on the narrative and with the player’s choices.

What’s fascinating and quite genius about the way that Affirmation is set up is that it turns certain everyday decisions that may not be “choices” for most people into something conscious and deliberate. Life is often made up of these invisible decisions and we don’t always realize how much of them we take for granted until they are made obvious to us. For example, a person may not realize how far away a handicap parking spot is until they need to use such services.

It’s a subtle reminder that we never quite know what other people are going through or the effort that is required.

Too often, when people speak of disabilities or the like, they forget the multitude of decisions that must be made in order to achieve a “normal” life. For example, someone with a chronic illness might have to manage their medications and health status in addition to other aspects of life. A seemingly simple decision such as going out for a coffee might not be so simple. It would need to be weighed against the current severity of their symptoms or side-effects. Likewise, sometimes they may not have enough energy to function at full speed and may need to take more breaks or rest. The baseline of what constitutes a ‘good’ day or ‘success’ in these situations is different. Sometimes, simply getting out of bed is enough. While they may be small, they are victories nevertheless.

What Affirmation gently reminds us of is that life is a series of decisions and choices that we must each make day to day. Some days we will make good ones (or the “expected” ones), and other days not so much. Some days will be harder than others. But with the support of understanding friends and family, hopefully, we can aim for a better future for everyone. Even if life seems impossible today, tomorrow is a new day. It’s okay to keep starting over. It’s okay to keep going.

And… that’s the gist of what I got out of Affirmation. Thanks for reading! 🙂

splash screen
Quote from Michael Jordan: You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.

Affirmation is available to play for free on To learn more about the project, please reach out to Laura on Twitter @mslaurafagan. Be sure to check it out and leave some feedback! I’m sure Laura would really appreciate it! 🙂

GDC Was A Blur

Hi folks,

So I went in with the full intention to write all about GDC and I still will! However, it was a bit more intense than I thought it’d be and I ended up getting pretty tired after! I also was about a week later in returning home than I thought since I was traveling. 🙂

Long story short, I still need to sort through some materials, and I’m also changing my plans around slightly. I won’t be covering every aspect of what I did, and instead, I’ll be focusing on some of the awesome games that I played or learned about while at GDC.

So, stay tuned!



gdc paraphenelia

GDC ’18 Day 1!

I was super nervous when I got to GDC this morning, but it turned out quite fun! My original plan was to just pick up my badge and get my bearings a bit, but it turned out to be a little busier (and more fun)! Hurray for that! Who wants a boring day, right?!


GDC 2018!



I met up with some folks from Twitter / EKU who had just finished with the Train Jam. Even though I’m decidedly not on the East Coast, it just sounds like so much fun! According to one my friends, though, you might want to bring along some snacks/meals from home and/or a sleeping mat! They have sleeper cars which cost a bit extra, but otherwise, you’ll be stuck in a chair. 🙂

One of the first booths we checked out was the Ubisoft booth, where they had a demo for Far Cry 5. I am not so familiar with the Far Cry series, but I got to learn a lot about it today and it seems pretty awesome. From what I saw, one of the big features is that it is open-world.  There was also a pretty nifty opening scene where you ride in a plane.  It looked like there was a ton of cool customization options as well for your character as well as weaponry. Fishing, hunting, etc were available, as well as quests. The environments were also quite beautiful to explore. I also learned that the folks at Ubisoft are planning to make a level editor for Far Cry 5, which should allow players some freedom to make their own maps. Not sure of the details, but it sounded like a neat feature.

Next up, we visited the Indie MegaBooth where they were demo’ing some more games. We didn’t hang around too long, but there were a few that were full on VR and others that were more traditional titles. I found one game called Skye by Puny Astronaut that looked really interesting. You play as a flying dragon and you get to explore the world. What was neat was that it is a 2D game with a 3D background/setting (2D+?) so you are locked in one plane while you explore. It seems like a good title if you’re looking for relaxing low-stress gameplay. It made for some very nifty scenery. Take-away: it’s amazing how much indie games have grown up!

Next up we visited the Amazon GameOn booth. What GameOn is effectively is an API for game developers that allows them to put together leaderboards and host tournaments. There are also features that allow you to effectively filter the eligible players within a certain radius based upon your current GPS signal, meaning that you can be sure that the players are actually at the event in question. It’s a pretty nifty piece of tech and what’s nice is that it allows game developers to focus on other perhaps more improtant parts of the pipeline process (like, y’know, actually designing the game! 😛 ). But anyway, the GameOn people were hosting a series of mini tournaments with a number of games. We downloaded a game called Tummy Slide by Umbrella Games which had adorably cute graphics. You play as a penguin and you have to brave oil slicks, jumps, spikes, and a number of hazards to see if you can collect the most purple gems.


Tummy Slide


At the GameOn booth, I got a little goodie bag with two Amazon Echo Buttons. I don’t have an Amazon Echo, but apparently there are some gadgets being developed with Alexa that would allow playing simple games like Trivial Pursuit. I’ll test it out if I get a chance in the future, but for now, I guess they make good paperweights. 🙂 The box was cool though and it was kind of Amazon to include batteries!


Amazon Echo Buttons


Finally, we visited the Xbox booth which was in a different building. There we test played two games Dead Ahead: Zombie Warfare and Pig Eat Ball. Pig Eat Ball was especially fun and you play as a little piggie. Your goal is to eat as many balls as possible. There’s a single player mode and a multiplayer mode. Something cool that I learned from one of the folks from Dead Ahead: Zombie Warfare is that they have an in-game forum powered by KTplay which is a nifty idea because you don’t have to go to a separate browser in order to chat with people. It pairs with Unity, in case folks are interested.

At the Xbox booth, I picked up a nifty USB hub!


ID @ Xbox USB Hub


Thanks to Nick, Lacey, and Morris for hanging out with me for the day! 😀


Awesome peoples!


Aaaaand, that’s all for today! Will write more when I get a chance! Cheers!


There and back again: My 12 year hiatus from game development

Content Warning: This is a long entry and a very personal one. I’ll be talking about mental health and my own personal & professional journey. Some parts will get a bit darker, even though it ends well. Skip this one if you’re not in the mood. 🙂


During my college years, I must have seemed perfectly poised to become a game developer.

In fact, I was a game creator and that was who I was. I’d been taking classes from the Interactive Media department at USC, one of the first programs of its kind. I was fresh out of a number of fancy Computer Science classes. I had a browser-based RPG game that I was working on with a friend called Chapter Fain. We had just enrolled our first 50 players in alpha testing and people seemed to be enjoying it. I was really proud of it. I was also gaming on a regular basis and I had friends and pen pals that I was writing to from all over the world.

The year was 2006 and the timing was ripe for innovation and for new titles. Everything seemed just right.

But then, something happened.

I suffered a major crisis of the heart.

Seemingly without explanation, I began to withdraw from social media. I stopped showing up on chat programs like AIM and MSN, I stopped responding to e-mails and to messages. I quit many of the games that I’d been happily playing before. I let a project that I cared about fall by the wayside. I “ghosted” many of my online friends and effectively disappeared from their lives. I ran away from my life as it was.

I didn’t have an answer then, but maybe I can start to unravel that puzzle now, some 12 years later.

To the folks that I withdrew from, I’m sorry. It was nothing that you did wrong.


I want to say that the crisis all began with a bad breakup around 2006, which did happen. I had come out of a toxic relationship around that time and I was trying to make sense of who I was. However, the truth is that the problems started much earlier. I’ll see if I can walk through some of the memories.

Growing up, gaming was something that was not well supported. Early on, it was something fun for my dad and me to enjoy. We liked playing Mario Brothers together. My babysitter also used to play with me. We had a lot of fun taking turns.

However, all wasn’t happy all the time.

Being female and not a guy, I often felt wrong and out of place for liking what I did. An early memory of mine is of a group of neighborhood boys getting together and playing Super Mario Brothers 2, the one with Princess Peach, and remembering that I really wanted to play. You could pick up turnips and carrots and it just looked like a lot of fun. However, because I was a girl, I knew that there was no way that they’d let me play.  It made me sad.

As a middle schooler, I continued to play games. I often played by myself, but I gladly welcomed friends over when I had the chance. Over the summer, friends of mine and I would come over and we’d play games like Spyro or Croc. Maybe Frogger if we wanted to do a multiplayer game. It would usually just be myself and one other person, though, and they would usually just watch. I was okay with that, since having two sets of eyes was better than one. There were some good times there… and also hello to the metal sharks of Spyro. You were very mean to us! 😛 But we remember you fondly!

I rarely shared my gaming habit with anyone outside of close friends, and the reasoning was simple. I knew keenly that gaming wasn’t something meant for people like me. Or at least, that’s how I felt. So in order to enjoy it, it had to be secret. No one could know about it. I also felt a lot of shame for not being into more “normal” interests. I sometimes had trouble connecting with my peer group, who seemed more concerned with fashion or boys or gossip. I didn’t understand it, being a true geek at heart. I was much more at home reading science fiction or fantasy than I was in other situations. I was extremely shy and I didn’t make friends easily.

In high school, after my best friend transferred schools, I retreated to online and virtual worlds, where I was better understood and where I felt more at home. These geeky interests would offer much comfort and solace. They also got me through many difficult times. I will forever be grateful for games for this. It was escapist media for sure, but escapism also makes a lot of sense when bad things are happening in your “real life”. Games offered a sense of stability in otherwise turbulent times.  At some point, my mom urges me to write to a game creator at a big company (I no longer remember who but I believe it was someone at Insomniac Games). I explain that I love everything to do with game making and am interested in all aspects of music, writing, art, etc. He replies that I’d do well to look into smaller studios. They have a better mix of people who aren’t as specialized. I am excited. It is one of the first times I think of an actual career doing the things I love.

However, there are still many hurdles to overcome. One thing that I am still stuck with is the sense that gaming is bad and wrong and that I should always minimize the time spent pursuing those interests.

Growing up, gaming was frequently made out to be the villain by the adults around me. My dad would yell at me if I spent too much time on the computer or console. I’m well aware that this wasn’t a problem unique to my household. One of my friend’s mothers would take away her keyboard each night so that she wouldn’t play too many games. Another friend’s family sent them to an intervention of sorts for game addiction. Games were rarely treated as positive outlets for creativity. They were problems. Problems to be eliminated.

Yes, true game addiction does happen, and people should seek treatment for it. However, I think a lot of addiction stems from other major life circumstances. It’s rarely just the games. It’s everything else in a person’s life, too.

Flash forward to college and I am just starting to find myself and make sense of life beyond my parent’s home. However, this rite of passage is a lot more difficult than I thought. I am living on my own for the first time in a dormitory and I choose my major as computer science. I choose this major because I am on the computer so often and because I’d like to one day make games. Games are what I love.

However, within the first year of being away from home, problems began to arise.

In freshman year, during my second semester, I am forced to drop my Calculus class. Having never gotten anything below an A or B before, I feel like my world is coming to an end. I had made the mistake of not studying hard enough on a test and there wasn’t enough time in the semester to make it up.  I am forced to drop the class. I do this with the intent to retake it later. I keep this a secret from my parents and from my friends and family as I was afraid they will think less of me. I felt foolish and stupid.

In my second year, I make another mistake academically and accidentally enroll in two computer science classes, one of which was the prerequisite for the other. I don’t know how this happened. I was also enrolled concurrently in a physics class at the time. I drop the physics class on the day after the drop date because I felt too overwhelmed with my other classes. I am sad. I add another failure to my list.

Thinking that I needed a change, I change majors, this time to Interactive Media, which was the game design major at the time and a new program being developed. I began eying this program when it was first being introduced and I feel excited that I can switch. Maybe this time everything will work out better.

My schedule changed, and instead of all science classes, I soon found myself enrolled in film and design classes. I even enrolled in an animation class. Unfortunately, these didn’t do much to improve my sense of self. In the course of an entire semester class of film studies, we watched movies that were almost all depressing.  (I kid you not, the first movie we saw was about a busload of children going off a cliff and a small town dealing with the emotional aftermath. Oh so very happy! The rest of the semester did not get any better.)

My interactive media classes were indeed fun, and I remember designing a short 2D game with a rocket ship. It was cool seeing the sprite move across the screen and knowing I’d coded that. I also created a board game with some classmates which I greatly enjoyed. One of my professors was big into Second Life at the time and we also learned how to make a simple 3D interactive puzzle/maze game there too.

But still, there were doubts. I also would remember my dad telling me that I should be studying hard sciences, not art, as these subjects were more valuable. Was I on the wrong path? How could I continue when I kept running into roadblocks? The doubts begin to show themselves again and I feel bad again. I feel like I am letting people down.

Having been the only female member of my Interactive Media classes at the time, I feel alone again and out of place. It’s not so much sexism as just the stress of feeling like I didn’t belong. Was there really a future waiting for me in tech and in gaming? Even though I kept telling my classmates that I wanted to own my own game company, or work in game development, a sort of cognitive dissonance began to take hold. I begin to have serious doubts about myself and I don’t know what to do with them or how to address them.

In 2005, I attend E3 for the first and only time. There, I get to play an early version of Okami and also a new Sonic game, among others. I am really excited about Okami especially because it was a very original play style at the time– you could draw with a brush!!

E3 is a great experience and I am learning a lot about the many types of games that exist.

Still, I feel out of place.  The year 2006 rolls around, all of these experiences have begun to catch up to me.

I decide to switch majors again. I give the excuse that I’m worried about graduating on time. The truth is that I feel out of place. EALC, my new major, was not my first choice, but it worked out. Being the one set of classes (languages) that had never posed any difficulty for me (and because I had already tested out of the language requirement), I switched majors from Interactive Media to East Asian Languages and Cultures. I then do my best to finish up studies in computer science so that I could at least have a minor in the subject. So that my time studying for those classes isn’t wasted.

Getting a minor involved taking a few more computer science classes. One of the classes that I took during this time was Computer Graphics, taught by an awesome professor who I still speak to. Thank you!!! Having already switched majors, I felt out of place there, but I was still really excited to be there. Some of that enthusiasm still showed through and my CG class was exciting on so many levels.


There were also a few particularly shining moments, like in the summer of 2007 when I went with my then Computer Graphics professor to SIGGRAPH. It was an amazing experience to see so much technology on display. I got to see some of the very first 3D printers, an early prototype of an e-reader/e-ink device, and some really neat student posters about rendering complex fluids like honey.  I also got to meet what was effectively the entire lighting team at Dreamworks. They seemed really awesome! I wish I had been able to take advantage of all of these amazing opportunities at the time.

Unfortunately, even these really great experiences did nothing to ease my sense of failure at the time. I still felt like a fraud for having switched majors in the first place. I felt like I wasn’t smart enough to be in computer science. I felt like I didn’t belong. I felt like I was fooling everyone into thinking that I was somehow more capable than I was. It felt like people would quickly abandon me as a lost cause if I ever opened up about it.

Emotionally, I became very brittle. At some point, I forgot how to cry. It was as if I just forgot how to feel anything for awhile.   It seemed that there was nothing left for me to do but to give up. I had all the of the dreams and aspirations and passion of a game developer, but not the resiliency nor emotional maturity to back it up. I wasn’t ready yet.

Life went on. In 2008, I took a health class. Health became something of a side obsession of mine, and I found that I was very interested in learning what combination of factors helped people to be healthy. I encouraged people around me to eat well and exercise.  This would set me off on a new trajectory. Feeling as though I lacked other options, I decided I would try things the “conventional” way. Truly, I was at least somewhat curious about the subjects like biology that I hadn’t really covered before.

I decided I would become a doctor like my father. My dad was really excited. My mom was upset at me because she thought I was just trying to make dad happy.

I was just trying to not feel like a failure.

My plan was to take a year ‘off’ in Japan, a place that I’d wanted to spend time in since I was little. After some careful negotiating, I took an extra year as an undergraduate student and made it happen and thus got to spend a year at Waseda University. I joined an English-Japanese language exchange club called Paddy and did my best to keep busy. I made some good friends and told everyone I’d be studying to become a doctor. While in Japan, I applied to post-baccalaureate premedical programs.

Over the winter break, I found out that I’d been accepted at Columbia University in New York City. It was a two-year program and from there they had a high acceptance rate into medical school. I finished my year up at Japan and then when I got back I prepared for NYC. At Columbia, I volunteered and took classes in biology, chemistry, and mathematics. In 2011, I finally retook that physics class that I’d dropped in 2005, and even began to tutor my fellow classmates. It was still challenging, but I found that I enjoyed the subject.

I tried hard to push my “art” and creative side away, but it would pop up with a vengeance that surprised me. Ironically, trying to suppress my creativity meant that I actually produced more art than before. I sometimes found doodles in the margins of my notes, for example, and I occasionally found myself obsessively creating Blender 3D models between classes. The big hope was that when I eventually became a doctor, I’d have the money and time to pursue what I really wanted. Maybe, just maybe, sometime after residency, I’d be able to squeeze in some of the “living” that I so desperately wanted to do. I would bargain with myself so that I could have a few moments of art time. Simple decision making also became difficult at this point, and I had trouble ordering items from a restaurant menu.

This should have been telling that I maybe wasn’t on the right track, but it wasn’t.

In 2012, when I was finishing up at Columbia, another unexpected turn would happen when my father was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. As a result, I located a summer job near home as a lab technician. This allowed me to be close to home and near my parents. I felt like they needed me to be close. So with a heavy heart, I returned home to Redlands. Even though he would later go into remission, the situation was definitely tense, and it was shocking to see how much weight he had lost during chemotherapy. Sometime after I came back to Redlands, I quit making art and drawing. The negative self-talk had gotten too bad.

The first round of applications to medical school since I left New York went out and I was not accepted. I had applied late, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. It was possible that they had picked up on my lack of enthusiasm, though I’ll never know for sure. I got one interview, but that’s it.

I added another knock in my life’s list of failures, and I continued on.

Eventually, I turned that summer job into a degree program, at the encouragement of one of my professors. There was also an offer of a possible MD/ Ph.D. program which seemed exciting. It meant free tuition. Hence, I enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Loma Linda University, where I would find myself for the next few years.

It was at Loma Linda that my actual healing journey began, though I wouldn’t realize it at first.

The key to unlocking that inner potential again came as a result of my hitting what I would call my own personal rock bottom. Several years passed at Loma Linda and I wasn’t sure what I was doing there. My first year there I had announced to my professors that I was quitting. However, as I was still thinking of medical school at the time, they convinced me to continue. I’m glad in retrospect that they did.

The program was not an especially good fit for me. While I was at least somewhat interested in health sciences, I didn’t find myself as enthusiastic or devoted as my classmates. They all seemed to have a sense of purpose. There were times when I became quite jealous of their apparent sense of peace.  My anxiety levels increased and sometimes I didn’t want to leave the house.

However, perhaps because I felt like I had everything to lose, I worked hard. I excelled at what I did, especially within the confines of the lab, even if my heart wasn’t in it.

Continuing my quest to be accepted to medical school, I decided to apply again. This time, after a series of interviews at various schools back East, I was accepted to Temple University for their incoming medical school class.

I could finally become a doctor! My life’s dream, realized!


Instead of being overjoyed at this possibility, however, I found myself slipping further and further into a depression. After a few difficult days of consideration, I realized that I needed more time to decide. I wrote to the medical school and told them I needed to postpone my acceptance for a year to finish my research. This is true, but not the full story.

With each passing day of trying to be cheerful and happy, I felt myself slide further and further into a cycle that I wasn’t sure I could get out of. I took up knitting and began to do so obsessively. I made hats and scarves and anything else I could think of. At nights, I would cry and not know why. At classes, I would smile and pretend nothing was wrong.

At some point during this mess, I even gave up playing games altogether, something I’d never done at any other point in my life.  I was certain that if I just stayed “offline” and existed in the real world more fully, then I would magically become healthier and happier. I convinced myself of the narrative that life was simply better without games. I existed just for work and study. I could play and have fun later. I had swallowed the rhetoric that games were bad and wrong and that they couldn’t be part of a good and healthy life. They were something to be squashed down and minimized.

When I thought things couldn’t be much worse and that I was so wretched and unlovable and messed up that I’d never unravel the puzzle, that’s when I started therapy. To be honest, I did not think it would work for me. I was actually quite convinced that it wouldn’t. But somehow, it did. I found the right person to help me and began going to weekly sessions.

Therapy wasn’t a magic bullet. Far from it. It actually required a lot of effort from me. Still, though, I owe my life to it and it really changed my trajectory.

Out came so much of the grief that I’d bottled up inside of myself. Out came the emotional turmoil and negative thinking.

I was finally able to recognize my struggles as what they were. Temporary. Transient. Very human. Faults, sure, but not permanent ones. Besides, they were MY faults and no one else’s. I realized too that I’d been living someone else’s life, and that I had gotten off track. I had thought I was safe. After all…

  • If your life is not your own, no one can blame you.
  • If you never put yourself out there, no one can hurt you.
  • If you never let people know the real you, they can’t hurt you.
  • If you never venture anything, you can never lose anything.

Or so I thought.

However, this way of living is not the road to lasting happiness. Quite the opposite. If you never live your life, never stick your neck out, you will end up with way more regrets. It’s way better to make decisions and to live with the consequences than to give up your sense of agency to others and let others decide for you.

Hitting rock bottom showed me what I didn’t want out of life. Though I wasn’t happy about it at the time, I am now so grateful that I had this opportunity.

Probably one of the most important tools or lessons that I learned from therapy and from this journey was the gift of self-compassion. I define self-compassion as the ability to forgive myself for any perceived faults or transgressions but almost most importantly, the ability to be honest to myself and to stop lying to myself… to stop participating in self-deception… and also, to stop denying the truth which was that I love games. Always have, always will. To me, games are much more than just some passing fancy. They are what I want to devote my time and energy to.

It was at this point, too, that I began to truly understand just what it means to have a “growth” mentality, rather than just paying lip service to it. I was too much of a perfectionist before in my life and any little flaw or mistake meant that my whole world was crashing down.

I am a different person now. I am more mature and more centered than ever before. Mistakes are no longer threatening to me. They are merely what happens as we practice and improve. In fact, if you aren’t making mistakes, chances are you aren’t challenging yourself enough. You really ought to be making mistakes if you want to actually grow.

After this breakthrough in therapy, I worked hard to create a niche for myself at the lab. I turned down the offer at medical school, finally realizing it wasn’t where I needed to be. Even though I was not highly invested emotionally in what I was doing at the lab, I found that I had a talent for the work that I was doing. I was really good at troubleshooting. I was really good at managing projects. I was a good mentor. I cared about the people at the lab.

In my spare time, I started making art again. I picked up programming. I even started playing the piano again, all of which I’d abandoned by the wayside years earlier. Healing was slow, but it did happen.

Healing from perfectionism also meant healing from a lot of toxic thoughts. Instead of trying to crush myself or force myself to be a certain way, it meant internalizing a different message– Mainly, that it’s okay to be imperfect. It’s okay to fail and keep trying.

“It’s the idea that you don’t have to be perfect to be lovable or to be loved.”

It’s about creating an environment where imperfection isn’t just accepted but is celebrated, because it means we’re human.” – Rasmussen

The truth is that, for most of my life, I found it easier to pursue something that I didn’t like rather than to pursue something that I cared about and felt passionate about. The reason is that because the subjects I was passionate about were too precious and dear to me. If people never saw the real me, how could they hurt me? I didn’t want to be hurt anymore. I’d had enough of that and I couldn’t handle it. Hiding away seemed the only reasonable response.

Medicine and the biological sciences weren’t easy by any means, and it was doubly so not easy when they are your passion or when you haven’t been studying them your whole life. However, thanks to being a quick study and a fast learner, I did well. While I don’t want to continue pursuing medicine in the future, I am nevertheless very glad that I had the chance to study as a Ph.D. student. Having been in that program did wonders for my sense of self-determination and self-esteem. I am also glad that I was able to learn how science and research works in a laboratory setting. It’s certainly way more challenging than I thought it would be. I can understand why people would want to devote their lives to it. It’s a truly honorable and important calling. I just learned that it isn’t MY calling. I care deeply about other people, and it’s because of this that I know that I will find other ways to help them… ways that are more in line with who I am and who I want to be.

Even though the Ph.D. program was not a great fit for me, I will forever be grateful to the people there at LLU. My labmates and my classmates were incredibly supportive of me, especially as I began to pick up the pieces and find myself again. I also had a REALLY great and awesome PI/boss. So thank you, everyone. I continue to be very appreciative of your wisdom. I am glad that you convinced me to continue and to finish my Ph.D. program. I am happy that I didn’t quit, even though I could have. I decided to stick it out and I’m glad.



Looking back, here’s what I can say.

While it’s true that never putting yourself out there can mean you’ll never be hurt, it also denies you the chance to live up to your full potential. There is so much that you miss out on. You never let your true light or potential shine through. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say. The cost of not trying is too great. Fail, but try again. Be creative.

So to anyone out there who might be reading, DON’T GIVE UP! I believe in you and you can do this! And if you ever need a pep talk, please please contact me. I’ll do my best to prop you up. Or if I can’t help you, I’ll do my best to help you find someone who can help. Seriously!

The truth as I see it now is that I am a game developer, a scientist, and a programmer. I am a creative person. I am an artist. I am smart enough. I am good enough. I will work hard and these are the subjects that I am my most passionate about. I will fight for them and I am proud of who I am.


So this is my official “I’m back” message. I took a break from game development for almost 12 years, and now I’m ready to take another crack at this “follow your passion” business. This time, I’m here to stay. 🙂