Notice Something New

I used to play a game with myself while waiting to get picked up from school. I spent a lot of time in the same small spaces. Pre-smartphone (what am I saying? Pre-Internet) this meant reading or doing homework or simply sitting. Staring. I don’t recall exactly when, but at some point I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed before in months and months of sitting in that very space. More than 20 years away from that moment, I don’t have even a foggy recollection of what that first thing I noticed was. I do recall that it occurred to me… ‘I don’t know this place as well as I thought I did.’ So I started trying to notice new things. This extended reasonably quickly into connected spaces and poking around, opening doors and generally being curious about my environment.


I ended up studying architecture in school (a surprise to no one) and loved it. That curiosity about and observation of the physical environment has served me well as a game developer and level designer. Studying architecture deepened that appreciation and a love of the physicial environment, built and natural, is something I enjoy sharing with my students. (that reminds me, I do need to cut some slides still from my ‘history of western architecture’ lecture… AHEM)

It struck me during one of my level design classes when I was talking to individuals and giving feedback to them on terrains they were constructing that, in general, folks who enjoyed the outdoors and hiked made better terrains.

This may seem so obvious as to be not worth stating, but it is important to set up what followed.

A class hike. Outside.

There is a famous ridge in Los Angeles. It’s called the Cahuenga Ridge. It’s got other names but I like seeing and saying ‘Cahuenga.’ Cahuenga. Cahuenga. Cahuenga. (I say: kuh-HWHANG-uh) You might recognize it:


The trailhead to hike up to the sign is, no joke, ten minutes from the Los Angeles Film School (where I teach a Level Design course). I used to live in close walking distance to this trailhead and — shame on me — never did the hike while I lived there.

And so, the idea struck. If my students are going to be modelling nature, they should see some nature while it’s relevant to them and in the context of mining it for inspiration.

In 2015, we did two class hikes. The trail we use leads up the west side of the ridge, VERY up, for about 0.75 miles to ‘The Wisdom Tree.’

The radio towers on the right hand side are right by the Hollywood sign.

On the ascents (when I wasn’t gasping for breath like a geriatric ox) we discussed the erosion patterns (or, as I like to call it ‘the story of water’), how the shape of the trail has emotional impact, lines of sight, plant life, the history of the site that we could piece together, how birds are total cheaters and what those strange tents were (still not sure, they’re part of a vinyard).

We didn’t have a great turnout for those two hikes, two students on each trip. But it was a good time and in 2016, I’m throwing the doors wide to LAFS students and my USC students.


So far, there haven’t been enough hikes or enough hikers to tell if it’s had any sort of impact on the levels the students make. This hike, while beneficial, isn’t for credit or even extra credit. It’s rather an extension of that philosophy of absorption, observation and curiosity. We do a similar ‘hike’ in the class around the building and talk about construction details and the ‘story’ embedded in the environment. Plus, it’s fun!

I’m looking forward to this.



Rings are ridiculously fun, by the by. And, yes, I’ll be careful, Mom (and Sven and Alex).
Rings are ridiculously fun, by the by. And, yes, I’ll be careful, Mom (and Sven and Alex).

After I had decided to start this exercise adventure but before rings came into the picture, there was a brief time where building some sort of structure in the back yard was under consideration. I ended up getting some rings – they’re so versatile, and I’ll have… wow… YEARS of work exploring what can be done with them – but that notion of designing and building still appeals to me.

In class the other day students were working diligently on their prototypes and in that little lull I decided to reach back to my architecture roots and model something for construction in my current game engine of choice, Unity. Past and present collide! The object of my efforts: the exercise structure described here by Calisthenic Movement’s Alex (El Eggs).

In the video above, a commenter asked about getting the structure’s dimensions in Imperial units. I did some conversions and pretty quickly realized that the 80x100cm beams didn’t map well to typical Imperial lumber dimensions. Deciding that 4” x 4” would work (which is really 3-1/2” x 3-1/2”), I set out to see just how different a metric build would be from an Imperial build. The answer: Not Much. There are differences, but they’re slight. The screenshots below are both from the Imperial build.


The Imperial dimensions shown were rounded up to the nearest 1/8” in most cases. I think there’s a missing beam in the materials list in the video. It’s either the one that is set perpendicular to the base to anchor the brace for the high bar upright beam OR the brace for the inner parallel bar upright beam. When I positioned the 80x100x900 beam to brace the parallel bar upright beam it seemed long, so I decided that the 80x100x900 beam was part of the base (shown above) and added a slightly shorter beam to the list, 80x100x800 (4” x 4” x 2’7-1/2”), to brace the parallel bar upright beam.

What I Learned

ONE I found the process of building this and manipulating it in 3D enlightening. It helped me to understand the video and the structure a lot better. Fitting the pieces together was a logic puzzle. For example: Alex calls out the 100cm beam specifically, so the placement of that beam was certain. The placement of others had to be matched up with how many there were and what role they played. It wasn’t a super challenging puzzle, but it was fun to piece it all together.

I have a much better grasp on what I would want out of a structure like this should I ever design one. And I have a good start on a mock up for it. 🙂 I feel confident that I could design one to my own specifications.

Overall, this structure is pretty straightforward and versatile; the most complex areas are the bar for working on the human flag and the offset interior brace (shown below).

TWO The overall structure described has some critical dimensions related to customizing it to your needs:

  • Your personal dimensions:
    • Height of the parallel bar uprights: 80x100x1050 (4” x 4” 3’5-1/4”)
    • Height of the high bar uprights: 100x120x2200 (4” x 6” x 7’2-5/8”)
    • Width of the spacer between the parallel bar uprights: 80x100x400 (4” x 4” x 1’3-3/4”)
  • Your space:
    • Length of the base beams: 80x100x3000 (4” x 4” x 9’10-1/8”)
    • Width of the base beams: 80x100x1120 (4” x 4” x 3’8-1/8”)
    • Extra width of the perpendicular base beam: 80x100x900 (4” x 4” x 2’11-3/4”)


THREE Unity out of the box is not great for precise architectural work. Particularly with Imperial units. These, once converted from metric to find the appropriate lumber size, were REconverted to metric to make entering the sizes into Unity easier. This wasn’t that much easier, particularly, because some of the X, Y and Z positions ended up being to the thousandths in Unity units. It was incredibly fiddly and – ultimately – I ended up eyeballing some of the abutments.


I have a ‘playable’ version of this available. If you want to take a look around this for yourself, drop me a line at the contact page and be sure to specify if you use Mac or Windows.

List of Boards/Planks (metric and Imperial)

  • 80x100x3000 (2) – base
  • 4″x4″x9’10-1/8″
  • 80x100x1100 (4) – braces
  • 4″x4″x3’7-1/4″
  • 80x100x1050 (3) – parallel bar uprights
  • 4″x4″x3’5-1/4″
  • 80x100x1800 (1) – parallel bar upright
  • 4″x4″x5’11”
  • 80x100x400 (7) – braces
  • 4″x4″x1’3-3/4″
  • 80x100x1000 (1) – brace/bar
  • 4″x4″x3’3-3/8″
  • 80x100x1120 (2) – base
  • 4″x4″x3’8-1/8″
  • 100x120x2200 (2) – high bar uprights
  • 4″x4″x7’2-5/8″
  • 80x100x900 (1) – base
  • 4″x4″x2’11-3/4″
  • 20x100x1350 (1- base end cap
  • 1″x4″x 4’5-1/8″
  • 80x100x800 (1) – brace (added)
  • 4″x4″x2’7-1/2″




Beacons on the Critical Path

I started an exercise program today. There are two guys in Germany, Alex (aka El Eggs) and Sven, who run an outfit called Calisthenic Movement. Here’s the video that blew my mind and made me a fan of bodyweight exercise. There’s flash a plenty in this — all those flips, come on! — but what I like about these guys is they aren’t promoting the flash, but a focus on form and quality of movement over reps and speed and the idea that the world is your gym and playground. As a level designer, I already view the world this way. These guys make that a reality. Really, though, it’s this video (and this) that made me fans of Sven and Alex themselves. They do what they do with a sense of fun. I appreciate that. It resonates.

Creative * Strong * Healthy

I don’t have any illusions about getting to that level — it’s not really a goal — right now I’m focused on just doing it at all. Something. Anything. It’s been twenty years since I did anything resembling regular exercise.

Isn’t this supposed to be about game development? Ostensibly. Today’s post is about balance. And finding a path. A critical path, if you will. 🙂

I’ve had a bit of a wakeup call. Usually that’s in the form of some sort of cardiac episode. Not for me, thankfully. Mine was less immediately terrifying, but chilling all the same.

Let’s back up a bit.

My father is a strange man.

Not ‘eccentric’ charming strange. It’s not that. He’s not good with people particularly. Not a lot of empathy. I think that’s what attracted him to computers long ago. He got involved with them through the military in the mid-seventies and after that we always had one in our home. As of this writing, I’m 40 years old. I’m probably one of the oldest people that you know that doesn’t remember not having a computer in the house.

When I was growing up, my father was always tickled and delighted that I enjoyed using the computer. Regaling people with my typing tutor prowess: ‘She doesn’t know what a semi-colon is, but she knows where it is.’ It was one of his favorite old saws to trot out. Proud Papa. So, this man who didn’t really connect well with people shared his love of computers with his children. My brother and I spent many an hour bonding over text adventures where I served the function of Map and Journal (my function now obsolete with all of those actions ably handled by games themselves these days — get off my lawn you kids!), gunner in space combat, hitting the spacebar at the command to ‘fire!’, talking about games, thinking about games. Good times.

(SIDE NOTE) I never once — ever — remember either one of my parents suggesting to me in any way that these endeavors and interests were not appropriate for me because of my gender. If it entered their thoughts, it never left their mouths. And so it never entered my mind either. So, thanks Mom and Dad. <3

I shared my father’s passion for these magical devices that allowed me to do wondrous things. I didn’t really get into coding as many now-game-developers did in this era (the 80’s). My interest in that would come much later. My game development was focused largely on analog games (READ: D&D). Creating worlds and telling stories with my friends.

Also in this time, one of my favorite birthday traditions was trekking to the computer store and picking out a game. I’m not sure how it started. But I distinctly recall the anxious trips to the store. The choosing. OH, THE CHOOSING. The trip home, carefully unboxing the game and reading the manual though I always got carsick. I did it anyway. The stacks of floppy disks I had to format as a ‘chore’ before I would be allowed to install the game. OH, THE ANTICIPATION!

A stand out game in this tradition was “Sid Meier’s Pirates!” If you showed me a quarter of a treasure map from that game today, I’d probably still be able to tell you where to dig. Many hours of bonding over this game too, with dear friends who became even more so over our shared enjoyment. Thanks for “Pirates!,” Sid Meier.

How many times was I in this position? Lots.

All this, these wonderful experiences, lead directly to me becoming a game developer when the opportunity presented itself in 1999. I got introduced to Sid Meier at my first E3 the following year. I shook his hand and thanked him. Tried not to babble. Probably did. Totally star struck.

So, thanks again, Dad (and Mom!). I have a career that I love in no small part because of the passion you shared and the support all through the years.

Back to the exercise program. How is this related? It’s not a happy thing.

In his advancing years, my father has become very feeble. He can barely get up without assistance. I wish I could say his mind is bright and vibrant. It is not. He is withdrawn into a very small world limited by his mobility and a small experiential world limited by his declining mentation and inability to connect meaningfully with people. It is painful to see. My mother is an angel. His personal angel. And while this is very sad, he does seem content.

And this… this is the wakeup call. At 40, my father was still fit. Running and exercising. Running circles around me. My 40 is not even close to that. I’m already feeble. Stiff. Feeling my age. Already entering a stage of sad calculus where if I need to do something that puts me on the ground, I give it thought. It’s not good. And if I want something more for myself than that very real, very sad decline my father has shown me, I have to do something about it.

So. He shared his passion for computers that lead me to a career that I love. And now, his beacon is fading, but it can still show me the path. This time… it is the way not to go. That’s valuable too. Thanks, Dad. And thanks, Mom.

Today’s workout was simple. Thirty minutes. About 10 minutes of warmup. And then 20 minutes of exercises. As predicted, the warm up was what really took it out of me. I’m looking forward to improvement there. Alex had some suggestions for how to make the program I got from them even more basic. For a few weeks, I’ll do a fixed number of reps (rather than as many as I can do), to build up some fundamental strength. I hemmed and hawed over what sort of gear to get… install bars? What bars? Parallel bars? Could I build some? I know people who could knock that out in an afternoon. I spent (wasted) two weeks ‘shopping.’ Eventually I got fed up with myself and wrote the CM guys. El Eggs suggested adjustable rings as the most versatile single bit of gear, so I went with that. They’re on the way. In the meantime…

The workout:

* 10 minute warm up that included knee lifts, jumping jacks, a variety of plank arm switches and more. [EDIT: I’m adding putting on a sports bra as one of the warm up exercises… jeezaloo]

* Very Inclined Pushups. VIPs. 😀 Even so modified, when I got my elbows tucked and pointing back, wow. I could really feel the difference. (I started out pretty sloppy)

* Arch Up. Though I didn’t do a fixed number, these seemed easy, which makes me feel like I must be doing them improperly.

* Squats. I banged out 10 of these. Feet flat. Back (mostly) straight. I did not anticipate that holding my arms out would be the most taxing bit of this exercise. Again, perhaps I’m doing it improperly? Also… hubris. Squats 10-15 were harder. 16-20 were very hard.

* Plank. Target duration: 30s. <– AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAA. My best time was 12s. Holy smokes, I did not anticipate this being the hardest of the exercises. AT ALL.

I can feel the efforts now. Soreness. I’m not totally wiped, which is good. I have 6 hours of class to kick off in … a little over an hour. It already feels like progress. We’ll see how things feel tomorrow. I bet it will be difficult. I decided, a bit on my own, to do two days of this light program, a rest day and two more days on. It is probably too often as out of shape as I am, but I want to get into the rhythm of getting up and doing something healthy every day. If it becomes taxing, I can scale it back even more or take a walk up the hill to the pond. I don’t want to overdo, so I’m on the alert. Injury is not an option.


Step 1: Start — COMPLETE.

2016 Game Development Goals

I tell my students every term that their blogs are a great place to showcase their passion for games and game development. I tell them that every term and here sits my own blog. Empty. Neglected. FORGOTTEN.

photo by Ed Stecki

So, befitting the start of a new year, I had my students in Game Design 2 (howdy, y’all!) draft three SMART game development goals for 2016. I joined them in this goal-setting and here are mine:



Reboot my blog with a post a month for the entirety of 2016. This goal is totally fruit of the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ business I was rocking with my students. AND NEVER-YOU-MIND THAT THIS POST IS IN THE TWILIGHT DAYS OF JANUARY. January is January.



In 2016, play six games that having not played usually elicits this comment: YOU HAVE TO PLAY THIS GAME.

  • Dark Souls
  • Castle Crashers
  • Kingdom Hearts
  • Thomas Was Alone
  • Shadow of the Colossus
  • Earthbound
  • Bonus game: Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

I know, I know. A goal for playing games. Come on. There are a ton of games out there! And I want to play a lot more than I have time to play — so I’m picking these out as a focus.

I am starting with Thomas Was Alone and Castle Crashers because I own them. And because I suspect they’ll take the least time to complete in the first few months of 2016 which are going to be packed. I’m giving myself about 2 months per game and will hopefully play through even more than these. Games that aren’t on the list, but could be: Heavy Rain, Hotline Miami, Dead Space, Braid, Chrono Trigger, Journey. AND MUCH MORE.



Actually make Namesies in a Hatsy! This is a party game that is a lot of fun, but a chore to set up. It’s PERFECT for an app to handle scoring and serving names and timers.

For those of you who haven’t played this game, you might know it as Celebrity or Salad Bowl. Each player picks the names of 5 people. They can be living, dead, fictional, historical, personal acquaintances, anyone. The players are divided into two groups and take turns getting their teammates to guess the names as fast as possible. Play proceeds in rounds with the way clues are given changing in each round. Round 1 is a free-for-all you can give clues any way you like save rhyming the Namesy. Round 2 is charades. Round 3 is single word clues. None of these elements are difficult to solve, though it might get dicey to involve a phone in a game that can get… vigorous.

It is a game that needs to exist and I want a playable version of it by the end of Q2.

Twenty Sixteen is going to be a great year!