All posts by Thomas

A former New Yorker, now in the Midwest - raising 2 boys and trying to break into game / VR development before I get too old and curmudgeonly to care about anything other than where my cane is...

Exhausting marketing

Ugh – arms are aching

So – in my quest to create marketing materials – I create a LOT of work for myself. I’m currently working on a Team Fortress 2 styled ‘Meet the Team’ videos, and if you haven’t seen them, they are an absolute gem:

Now, since my game isn’t as nearly violent or frenetic, I also figured the pace might be a bit slower. And since my ‘team’ is my family, I need to reflect each a bit closer to their personalities. Hence, my “special musical guests” are my niece & nephew and since the early days of my project, they’ve enthusiastically geeked to my work, I wanted to give them a bit more pizzazz on their videos, especially since my nephew like special effects.

They had previously shot some footage for a ‘Meet the Playtester’ video and had a nice stable video of my nephew being chased by a sword twirling niece. Which I thought I’d goose up by masking them and dropping the shot in a gritty city environment from some of the Blender experiments I’ve been working on (namely the amazing Ian Hubert’s Lazy Tutorials)

The biggest hurdle is the masking.

Ugh – arms are aching

According to most Blender tutorials, it’s best to mask parts of the body instead of the whole thing – meaning I’d be going through the same 6 seconds of footage masking out arms, bodies, heads and legs on 2 people moving. A lot.

And since they were running, the computer had a tough time interpolating keyframes on each node and I was going through all 186 frames, one at a time, to make adjustments.

Masking is a pain

I DID try the AI route using RunwayML and was massively impressed with how it did – you simply click areas you want masked and the AI did the rest. It did have trouble with the swords my niece was swinging, and it blanked a couple of frames, which I could never quite get right. Between that and the free version only outputting 720p I opted to do it by hand, the hard way. Until I either get funding or can justify the $150 subscription to upgrade.

All told, it was a LOT of effort to get 6 seconds on what will eventually be a TikTok video – but the kids were impressed, and I like taking their creative efforts and combining it with my own.

I’m just gonna greenscreen them both next time and save myself the back ache.

CGI back alley
Made with old photos I took in NYC


So, in the few moments I get here and there, I try and read what I can; usually in the pickup line at kiddo’s school.

Lately, I’ve been deepdiving into UX / UI – while I ‘can’ do graphic design, I’m much more of a get the idea out and its done. It also feels like the biggest weakness because it usually has no pizzazz or style.

screenshot of 'Go Booper Go!'
Old, boring UI

In my random bits of knowledge – I kept feeling like my mobile game just wasn’t good enough – it was distracting me. And it didn’t help that my neighbor’s little boy had a bit of trouble figuring out the gameplay. That smacks of poor design.

So – back to the sketchbook. Or sketchbooks, as it were.

My little art director has filled dozens of 18″x24″ newsprint pads, and still draws a lot to this day. So I dove into them, looking for anything that might be a better fit than the clock I had been using.

a multicolored bar red on the left, green on the right. Drawn in crayon
My lil art director thinks of everything

A slider bar! That is a lot easier to read – and I could put it right under Booper, so the player wouldn’t have to take their eyes off the action! Plus it frames the player and the play area nicely, and I could move the completed word counter right underneath the letter boxes. Much neater!

gif of timer bar
So. Much. Better.

I might just be getting the hang of this dev stuff.

Side Projects

or: How AI failed me, but Unity came shining through.

Coming from a art back ground, I get the odd commission here and there – it helps buy things for my game dev journey.

My mother-in-law came to me with a request: she had a dream about a cabin on the beach, it was very peaceful and relaxing; and she’d very much like it if I painted it for her.

Being eager to try AI art generation, I sat down with her and had her describe as much as she could in exacting detail. And we spent the better part of an afternoon feeding prompts into my local install of Automatic 1111 and seeing what it would spit out.

She ‘liked’ what she saw, but felt it was ‘too resort-like’ and ‘too plastic-y’; not keeping with the humble esthetic she’d dreamed about. After a few more tries with negative prompts, we had to call it quits to feed kiddos and take a break from her growing frustration with the process.

About a week later, she texted me- excited she had found a photo in the paper that was more true to the dream and brought it to the next family gathering:

small image of a cabin

It was small, and printed in that obnoxious half-tone process newspapers use, which made it low resolution. And very grainy.

So- hello Google Reverse image search. Found a better version and started Photoshopping things with a renewed energy. Found different images that she liked and started editing them together. Added filters and adjustment layers, tweaking things left and right.

And she still wasn’t thrilled with the result:

a Cabin on a beach
I think this was the best version done on Photoshop

What it boiled down to was this: the cabin image was just too flat and two dimensional to really get the ‘look’ she was after. Since it was too flat – I felt I must make it 3D.

round and round we go

Taking a cue from Ian Hubert’s Lazy Tutorials – I took the photos I found and began modeling. The tut in reference is:

its only a minute and SO worth the watch!

So after some tinkering, I got the cabin in Unity and sat down with Ma to sculpt out the terrain, adding a few free assets, such as rocks, along the way. She was super impressed with how quickly we could iterate changes, move things around and tinker with the various settings to make it look ‘right’.

image of 3d cabinin Unity ediot
After tinkering, I got my model in Unity!

Once we got it looking the way she wanted, I started showing off, adding wind effects to the trees, I cribbed some seagull sounds off some video I filmed at the beach last year and looped some surf sounds as well. Once she liked the look of everything, I took a screenshot of it and said, “Ok, this is what I’ll use for the reference for your painting!”

final image of cabin on the beach
hopefully I can paint something good enough to match this!

Suffice to say – this was the most involved project I’ve ever attempted for a painting – usually its sitting the subject with some lights and taking a few dozen photos until I get the mood and feeling I’m looking for. Having tried 3 vastly different approaches, I’m thrilled that I have so many tools at my disposal in order to create. At the same time, tis also daunting, far better artists than I have been silenced by the sheer scope and volume of what they can create with…

Post Script:


So my initial attempt at painting it didn’t work out quite as planned. In my race to get the final underway, I grabbed a non-permanent ink and it bled like crazy as I was putting down my first washes.

watercolor painting of cabin on beach
looks like I’ll be doing this again

I did go back and try to mitigate some of the bleeding – but it looks like I’ll have to take another run at it.

Just let me go work on my game for a bit, first.

New year, new beer

After a very rough holiday season, I’m finally back to a place of dev.

Back on Nov. 1st, my wife had the honor of being laid off from the same job that laid me off back in 2006, via a conference call, and right before the holiday season. To her credit, instead of spending a month of depressive TV watching and sleeping, she dove right into job hunting and (luckily) found a job doing the same thing, and for the same pay.

Its mine all mine, once more!

Which means that for the FIRST TIME in over 2 years and 10 months, I am alone in the house, not tending to kids (who went back to school this week) not playing tech for a person on each floor of the house who needs to access work or school, not providing snack, meals, beverages or clean up duty to said people on each floor. I can just sit. And work.

my cat

Except for this fuzzball, who senses the house is empty and is clinging to me as if I were the last chopper out of Saigon.

It is a bit daunting, now I have zero excuse – time to finish the GDD, publish the mobile game and get seriously working on the game – before May sneaks up on me and I’m stuck with two kiddos once again.

I do have ONE resolution this year – I want to show my game a either Games4Change’s XR 4 Change expo, or perhaps the Interactive pavilion at Tribeca; either way – its been too long since I’ve been home and I long to roam the streets of NYC, see friends I haven’t seen in years and visit some fave watering holes – plus suck up a ton of reference photos for painting my city grungy paintings.

Time to get moving.