Quiet around here

05 January 2014

I write here a bit less these days. Mainly, I’m writing weeknotes and doing work over at my professional site.

Work has gone well, this past year. I covered that in yearnotes at the other place. Lots of things to be proud of: art, engineering, design, and even some time off.

We launched Contributoria, the community-backed journalism site I’ve been working on.

I continue to tinker and work away: some hardware for work, making connected objects; some hardware at home, building noisy effects pedals; various bits of software I still haven’t written up, including endless episodes of Friends and a version of me that lives in New York.

No, things are no less strange than normal.

But otherwise, I keep beavering away, writing when there’s a chance, tinkering for a living, and getting on. As such, it’s more links-than-prose here, but that’s OK, I think: trust me when I say it’s for the good reason. I’m hoping to exercise my games-brain again in 2014, and to make some more music, and all manner of things shall be very well.

I thought it was worth checking in, though, because lots of stuff is happening, and it’s all good. Just not always stuff I write about here. Onwards!


11 May 2011

Been quiet around here lately.

Sorry about that; blame new jobs, bank holidays, product launches and the bit where I bust my arm up somewhat badly.

All soon-to-be rectified with a steady trickle of a few underwhelming pieces of content, though. Onwards!

The next step on the journey

21 February 2011

Two years ago, I joined Berg – or Schulze & Webb, as it was still called then. I was the first employee not called Schulze or Webb.

Looking back, February 2009 seems like an age away, when it’s only two years. And yet: so much has happened at the company in that time; just being in the studio to experience that work, those people, those moments, has been a privilege.

Sad news: towards the end of this month, I’m leaving. Sad because the studio stereo is always playing good tunes, the work is great, the people – and let’s face it, not “people”, but “my friends” – are genuinely brilliant. I am not leaving because things are bad; I am leaving when things are, by anyone’s standards, great.

I’m going to be joining Hide & Seek. My job title will be game designer. It’s a company brimful with great work, great clients, and brilliant people.

If you know me, or have read this site for a while – and have followed the links, the posts, the ramblings, the talks, my interests – then I’m sure you’ll understand exactly why I’m taking this step. It’s a great opportunity, with a small, growing, exciting company, that taps right into my passions, and asks me to put my money where my mouth is. It’s designing games in their broadest and best sense: digital, physical, table, street, paper, plastic. The whole, wonderful, broad church.

In his enormously kind post on the Berg site, Matt quite rightly talks about the way we take culture into the world as we travel between destinations. I’m excited about what Hide & Seek are going to teach me, what I’ll learn every day; I’m also excited by what’s in my travelbag to take to them – my strange mishmash of code and technology and design and books and writing. Who knows what’ll happen when we put the whole shebang together, but I have a feeling it’ll be good.

And so, happysad for the past but looking to the future – in a manner that feels like there should be a German portmanteau for it – this is the next step on the journey.

I know that I shall miss everyone at Berg dreadfully, and I shall watch them all fondly, eagerly, from afar, excited for their future. I hope it is as brilliant as it deserves to be.


All in all: well, that was better than 2009.

There was masses of output at BERG. The most sizable work for me was the launch of Schooloscope, which has been my main focus for the year. But! I also had hands in Dimensions/howbigreally.com, a new company website, a geriatric chatbot, a tiny part of the colossal team effort that was Mag+, and all manner of other things that you can’t link to because, really, they were just the being-in-a-room-ness. And then all the amazing work I had less to do with – Michel Thomas, Making Future Magic, Penki, the Media Surfaces films. Brilliant.

What else that wasn’t work?

Noticings closed, which I’m sad about but don’t regret; the site required more maintenance than we’d have liked, and people got understandably annoyed when their images didn’t always score. But: the game is still afoot; it’s a game you can play without a website scoring you, and I’m going to write something in the next few days about some of the ideas and influences that went into it that aren’t so visible.

I’ve dialled back speaking at conferences for a variety of reasons in the past years, but went to Interesting North to talk about Things Rules Do. In the end, I was very satisfied indeed with it. It’s a better talk than a piece of writing, but I’m going to have the transcript complete soon (I promise), as I’d very much like to share it.

I made a Twitter bot to take a joke to its logical conclusion. It became absurdly popular. It’s not been working for a while (and, sadly, I think I know why), but at the time, it very much hit a bunch of things I wanted to do on the head – mainly making jokes through software. Somebody complained that kanyejordan’s output should be edited so that only the really funny messages were posted. I disagree thoroughly (and not just because it’d be more work for me). The point of mechanized satire is that you make the system it works on completely transparent: in this case, that you add “Liz Lemon, ” to the start of every message. That means some are hilarious, and some are nonsensical. It also means you never forget that this is humour being made by a stupid computer; the fact that so much of its output is so funny is even more entertaining when the simplicity of the code behind it – the complete lack of anything resembling intelligence – is made clear.

I didn’t quite write enough, but as ever, will be working on that this year: primarily by overcoming my fear of textareas and structure and planning and perfection and instead just starting typing and see what happens. Which is what I did today.


I went on holiday to Wales – hiking in the Brecon beacons – and I still haven’t properly processed the photos, which is why it looks like I disappeared for a week. It was great – lots of reading, sitting, fresh air, going up hills and staring at the sky. The weather wasn’t great, but there were still a few glorious days, and it was a much-need holiday. Lessons learned for this year: I need to take more holidays. (I had a moment of being scared and depressed about my photography in general, which is one of several reasons I have a little backlog of pictures. I shall get them up asap. In the meantime, here’s a nice picture of a waterfall).

That holiday was enabled by my big significant achievement of 2010: learning to drive.


I had started learning when I was 18, and then a bunch of things – university, moving to London – happened, and I never really got around to finishing learning. So, whilst I knew how to operate a car, I’d forgotten almost everything. In January, I bit the bullet, and threw money at the problem. After I passed, I also ended up buying a car. Which might sound daft, but really: I can’t rent a car until I’ve had a license for a year, and I’d quite like to drive now, and I use it just about enough to make sense, although I’m aware it’s a slight luxury. But: it’s lead to trips to the seaside, and a holiday touring the Brecon Beacons, and giving friends lifts, and trips back to the Cotswolds without horrendous train delays, and so alltold it’s been a marvellous boost. It’s also an way to feel one more notch along the (admittedly irrelevant) “being a grownup” track; imaginary nonsense that I still manage to feel I’m doing badly at. Might sound mundane to have learned to drive at 27, but it’s turned out to be marvellous. As I’ve said many times before, it has genuinely changed the shape of the map – indeed, the shape of the country – for me.

And then: a smattering of weddings, a funeral, some fine parties, and a whole bunch of books and other media, which I’ll be writing about in a separate post.

2010. It was a pretty good year – not remarkable, but in comparison to 2009 it deserves many, many gold stars. And, in the best way: just enough momentum to push me over into 2011. Some plans, some ideas; now I just need to keep going. What’s to come: more writing, more making, more reflection, and some more trips to the swimming pool. I am not going to commit to more than that – but it’s enough to be thinking about for now.

Happy New Year.

Words appearing elsewhere

29 November 2010

Just a quick note to mention some words of mine that have appeared elsewhere.

Firstly, my Game Dev Story piece was republished over at Gamasutra. Thanks to Simon Carless for getting in touch about that; some nice comments, and a little more awareness around a bunch of things I’m ruminating quite hard on at the moment.

And secondly, I was interviewed – along with real games developers Nels Anderson and Manveer Heir – in this piece from Gamespot Australia’s Laura Parker. The articles starts by looking at Limbo (which I must admit, I am not as enamoured of as many) and going on to look at what “mainstream” games development can learn from what’s going on in the indie sector right now. My input mainly came around following some of my writing on games literacy. It’s a really strong article, and I’m sorry that it got buried on the staff blog, because it deserves a much wider audience, and I hope Laura continues to push this kind of feature writing.

That’s all for now. I’m currently writing up my talk from Interesting North which is, as usual, taking longer than expected. I mainly write longhand, but it’s amazing how long expanding on notes that say “now explain this” takes. I should have a transcript complete this week.

Quick catch-up

19 September 2010

It’s been a bit quiet around here; the usual churn of links, but not much writing. Apologies. It’s been quiet busy at work, what with Dimensions launching as I got back from holiday, and then watching my colleagues set the marvellous Making Future Magic wild.

There’s lots of great stuff coming out of the studio right now. That makes me happy.

Holiday was good: a week walking and recharging in the Brecon Beacons. It did not feel long enough, but it was very beautiful. I’m somewhat behind on processing my holiday photographs, but should have them done soon. I have not done the Brecons much justice, but they were beautiful to walk amongst.

I haven’t been tinkering with much outside work, although I have been overhauling the back-end of this website in interesting ways. I think that’s nearly finished now, so it’ll be live soon.

There is some writing to come, I think: certainly something on emergent narrative in Red Dead Redemption that’s been kicking around a bit too long, and perhaps something on Exposure at the Tate Modern, parts of which rankled me in very specific ways. Now I’ve promised you those, I have to deliver them, right?

Today I turned 28. I bought a kite.

Off Reservation

07 August 2010

In about an hour, I’m jumping in my little car with hiking kit, camera gear, and a stack of books. I’m off to a little village in the Brecon Beacons for a week of walking, eating, reading, and recharging.

So: off-grid, by and large, for a week. Can’t wait. Crossing many fingers about the weather. See you soon.

I made a book.

Specifically: I made a book of photographs from my week hiking in Cyprus. I’ve wanted to make a book of some of my photography for a while now, but not really had anything that hung together well enough to devote a large number of pages to.

The magic of print-on-demand is that, really, that shouldn’t matter: you can slap a bunch of images together, hit print, and get a book back. But I felt if I was going to make a book, it should feel book-ish. So: it would need a degree of focus, enough material to make a decent length, and it ought to look like somebody took some care over it.

I was very pleased with many of my pictures from Cyprus, and there was certainly enough of them to make a decent book. But I decided to give it a bit of focus. I stripped out people pictures (because really, they’re not of interest to anyone other than the group walking, and they’re not my best portraits). I stripped out pictures of food. The focus was to be the environment around Kyrenia, as experienced on foot: a lot of landscape, some pictures of walking, some architectural/indoors shots, and a set of pictures from Kyrenia Harbour. One chapter per hike; an extra chapter from the harbour.

That would be enough for a 70-80 page book, 10×8 landscape.

I went with Blurb, mainly because I liked their tool for making books (BookSmart) the most. I’m not much cop with InDesign, and this wasn’t the project to be learning it on. BookSmart was nice because, unlike so many other print-on-demand publishers’ tools, it wasn’t a laggy, overcomplex browser-based tool written in Flash. It was a native application to download, meaning I could work locally.

It turned out to be just fine. Its templating engine is good, although it doesn’t let you spread contents across pages – some cunning workarounds are necessary to make double-page spreads, although it’s totally possibly with some work.

I spent some extra time on doing my best to make it not look thrown together: starting chapters on right-hand pages, aligning photographs identically wherever possible, printing a few proofs to double-check it all. And then, when I was pretty sure I couldn’t do much else, I hit print.

I’m very happy with the results. It’s a set of photographs I’m pleased with, and seeing them displayed like this makes me proud of the consistency and quality. I’m also pleased with the book: the double-page spreads were obviously tricky, but by and large, everything has come out well, and the imagewrap cover is very good. My only disappointments are with some text-sizing – I could have made a few bits of text much smaller and better line-spaced. And the quality is great, all things considered: I went for Blurb’s premium quality paper stock, because, you know, if I’m going to spend £20+ on a book, the extra £2 is worth it for pictures that I care about. That worked well.

It’s also great to see images first seen on screen, and then as small prints, in book form. And: it really does feel like I book. That’s the most satisfying part – that I achieved my goal with it. I’m now thinking about what other photographic projects might turn into books.

And, finally: I’m making it available to buy. I doubt anyone will buy it – it’s just some pictures I took one holiday and grouped together – but Blurb essentially makes it a one-click operation to make the book available to others. And so I thought I may as well, and we’ll see what happens. If you’re interested, it’s available here.

One more thing ticked off my todo in 2010 list. What’s next?

So that was 2009

10 February 2010

I’ve had an item in Things for about 40 days now. It says

end of year blog post

and every time I see it, I lock up, and fail to write it. And, somehow, this stops me writing anything else; it feels like my writing is a queue, and I need to write one thing to feel like I can write any of the rest. So many times I’ve had a thought in the shower, or washing up, about a tiny paragraph I could write, something to say here… and then I fail to, because something’s in the way. That something is a post where I write about 2009.

It’s traditional, I suppose, for me to write something at the beginning of the year, and this year I just failed to; no idea why. Time passed, caught up in the whirlwind that is Scenario 4 , and soon it was February. And I still feel like I hadn’t wrapped up 2009.

So now, on the tenth of February 2009 – fourteen years after Gary Kasparov lost at chess to a computer for the first time, twenty years after the first version of Photoshop was released – I’m finally overcoming my hump. Writing about last year, putting the past behind me, so I can start writing about this year.

I don’t even need hindsight to say that I really could do without a year like 2009 for quite a while. For starters, I moved house twice, which was at least once more per year than I’d be comfortable with. All manner of strain, all manner of upheaval; not the cheeriest of years.

But there was so much good stuff. Much fun with lots of friends, old and new. Lots of walking; I must have been on a decent hike every other month, on average. A week hiking in Cyprus, which was magical. Just over a year ago – a year and four days today, in fact – I started at BERG (then Schulze & Webb), and that was definitely the right move. Such great colleagues, so much good work, a studio I look forward to returning to each week; it’s been a great anchor amidst the rest of the rollercoaster.

And, in the end, we – we being I – made it through. Here I am. Everything is alright; so much is good.

And I’ve written this down – however insubstantial it may be – which means I can start posting again. I’ve been writing longer and longer comments on my delicious links, and whilst that’s nice and all, I really thing I ought to start writing more and more short posts here, and leave Delicious for links. I now see the appeal of Tumblr, but for now, we’ll keep things arranged like this. And: this’ll be easier knowing there’s nothing in the way.

A tick in a box. Now it’s properly 2010. Onwards!