FaceStation Gaming was a series of Flash games I worked on with the Center for Autism Research in Philadelphia. The games were designed to help treat prosopagnosia in children with autism. Prosopagnosia, or face blindness, was thought to be one of the root causes of the social disabilities many people with autism experience. The FaceStation games challenged players to identify faces and rewarded them with exciting gameplay in an attempt to re-train their visual processing centers.
My primary contribution to FaceStation Gaming was a Peggle clone called The Adventures of Pennsylvania Jones. I designed, programmed, and provided most of the art and sound for the game. The game itself rewarded players for properly matching the identities or emotions of the face in the pachinko launcher with a set of colorful gems on the left side of the screen. For any given shot, the pegs of the matching color were worth additional bonus points. The goal was to reward players for making the proper matches, but also allow them to enjoy the chaos of a great Peggle shot even if they didn’t make the right match.
I also provided art, sound, and design support for most of the other games in the series, including Train Zoom, a match 3/tower defense inspired game, and Dr Face’s Potion Shop, a juicy physics-based matching game.
My first proper games industry job was with Zynga in their Baltimore studio, working on FrontierVille. For the first 8 months, I worked in a content development “pod” where we created new features for the game on a bi-weekly cycle. Our pod was one of 3, and we each worked semi-independently under the guidance of the game’s project management team. It was a fast-paced (and sometimes chaotic) process that required a lot of coordination between separate engineering teams to run smoothly. Despite its intensity, I enjoyed the work and learned a lot about developing for and managing a live service/game.
Eventually, I was asked to join the pre-production team for “Pioneer Trail”, a large expansion for FrontierVille. The design of Pioneer Trail was very different from FrontierVille, both from a gameplay and engineering perspective. I was part of the initial engineering team that figured out how to create a seamless transition from FrontierVille’s game architecture to the new Pioneer Trail architecture. When Pioneer Trail launched, it was so successful, the company decided to subsume all of FrontierVille and its content into the Pioneer Trail expansion. Pioneer Trail ran for another 3 years until shutting down in 2015.
MindSnacks was a popular language learning app for iOS. I helped contribute in lots of ways to MindSnacks’s development (including an absurd amount of project management), but my favorite contribution was the design of the “metagame”. The MindSnacks apps (one for each of Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Mandarin, Japanese, and German, as well as a US Geography app) were essentially collections of flash-card-esque minigames that could be played in short chunks. My goal with the metagame (i.e. the game-like experience within the app outside of the minigames) was to drive players to play different minigames, and generally stay with the app after typical drop-off points. To that end, I created over 80 different “quests” that challenged players to play the minigames in different ways, and balanced the various rewards for those quests to keep players on a steady cadence of success. I had a blast writing all of the wonderfully punny quest text.
I built the website for Lauder Management with my good friend Justin McDavid. Justin handled the design of the frontend while I implemented it using a customized version of Bootstrap. The project also featured a custom backend that allowed Lauder employees to edit and manage their listings with ease. I was responsible for the implementation of that backend. We made extensive use of the Advanced Custom Fields WordPress plugin, and created several custom editors to provide Lauder Management with an easy-to-use CMS.
Fastbrain was a prototype game that I created for a client out of UC Davis. The client was looking to create a game that relied on some of their research to help treat individuals with certain cognitive disorders. We worked together to design mechanics that were faithful to the treatments they had already developed, but were still fun and engaging. Eventually, that client and I translated the mechanics from this prototype into virtual reality, and created the foundation for Cognivive.
One of the more fun challenges I faced in creating Fastbrain was designing the game’s calibration feature. In order for the therapeutic aspect to be effective, the game needed to understand how much of a player’s vision an object would take up. The so-called “angular size” of an object is a function of its physical size and its distance from the viewer. Since Fastbrain was designed to be played on a screen of any size, by a player sitting an unknown distance away from it, we needed a clever way to determine those data points. The solution came from the field of anthropometrics. A typical human’s arm length is closely related to the size of their hands and their fingers. For the average person, if they hold up their thumb at full arm’s length, their thumb subtends about 2 degrees of visual angle. Using this fact, we designed a brief calibration scene where we asked the player to make that thumbs up gesture and resize a game object until it was just hidden by their thumb. From there, we were able to determine exactly what the “angular size” of every object in the game was.
Terra was a browser-based game I worked on with Funomena. It was designed in collaboration with educational researchers from UC Davis, with the goal of encouraging young adults to exercise more. The game followed a young interstellar explorer who was tasked with finding and establishing a colony on a remote planet where humanity might re-home. Players could progress faster in the game by exercising with a FitBit tracker and uploading their steps every day.
I really enjoyed this project, especially the beautiful art and world-building done by artist Glenn Hernandez. I still like the concept of an exercise companion game, too. I would love the chance to revisit the idea some day.
I contributed significantly to the design of the control scheme for Vicarious Surgical’s Vera surgical robot. As part of my design tools, I developed a simulation of the Vera robot in Unity. This simulation allowed me to experiment with new control ideas without risking expensive hardware or engineering time. I wrote a bit more about the process on my UX portfolio site.
I created this video as a promotion for Cognivive, a digital therapeutics startup I cofounded in 2017. This was shot in Unity and features an early prototype of one of our products. The video was created with Cinemachine and AVPro tools, and was shot in one take. I was able to nail the one-take using the Timeline feature in Unity. First, I added the final audio to the timeline, and using that I created a Cinemachine sequence to achieve the framing and camera motion I wanted. Then, I annotated the timeline with audio markers to give me timing queues as I acted out the scene. As the timeline played back, I knew when I needed to teleport or interact with an object as the virtual camera captured my movement. Once the video was recorded, I simply replaced the video audio with the original audio I had added to the timeline.
Another video I made to help promote Cognivive, the digital therapeutics company I started in 2017. This was an explainer video I made to help educate potential customers in the sporting world on how we could benefit their athletes. The entire video was shot and scripted in Unity, using assets from the store and Mixamo. I really loved making this one. The process felt like one big kit-bash, and I really enjoyed adding a lot of little details and characterizations.