All posts by Fletcher

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...

Recap of Oculus Connect 5

What can I say, getting up at 4:15 in the AM, guzzling a cup of coffee and driving to the airport isn’t all that its cracked up to be. Check in was uneventful – and other than being scanned in what looked like a Star Trek transporter, my flights were uneventful. Coming in for a landing, I looked out over San Jose and this alien landscape of desert mountain ans sparse vegetation – different from anywhere I’ve been before.

Since check in wasn’t until 3, I screwed around in the San Jose airport, checking e-mails and eating crappy pizza. The ride into town was quick and easy, and my driver liked pointing out the various offices, over here is Adobe, there is Microsoft and we chatted about the VR conference (he had only tried Google Cardboard) Since the convention center was across the street from the hotel, I wandered around for a bit taking in the sights – grabbed a few pix of palm trees and exhaustedly wandered into the hotel, and was able to snag an early check in.

dunno why – I just think it was neat looking

After a brief, failed, attempt at a nap, I showered, changed and went to the registration, got my badge and headed down to the opening reception, nibbled on snacks; chatted with other devs and carbo loaded on several ales to help power me through the rest of the night. I had to force myself to stop accepting every tray of food being offered to me, so I could at least have some of the Start Program members dinner. Which, if I didn’t start wending my way there; I was going to miss it.

Which really wasn’t going to happen, since other people leaving all had Oculus Start hoodies, easy enough to follow them to a banquet room, set up with tables and more free appetizers and ales for all. Ate and chatted some more, until Jim the Grim found me and led me back to the table where Dark_Muppeteer was. We ate, drank and talked like we were already old buddies, all of us impressed with how swank Oculus had set us up.

Dark_Muppeteer & Jim The Grim

About half way through beers and figuring out which presentations we’d attend, I suddenly felt the weight of being up for 20 hours and the extra ale percolating through my system didn’t help – a bade my fellow VRTK’ers a good evening and proceeded to flop out for a good long time.

Next AM, up early, coffee, email and got to the convention center just as people were starting to mill about, waiting for the doors to open.

taken about 15 minutes before the doors opened at 8.

Breakfast was a pretty fancy affair, long tables set out with steam trays, offering dietary options for every taste:

catering for 2000 ain’t easy

Dark showed up a little later and we ate and chatted until people started queuing up for the Keynote address, and filed in with the rest of the VR enthusiasts. I was impressed with the sheer size of the room, and that they had 19 screens set up, of various sizes, with the OC5 logo pulsing around, giving the auditorium an electric feel.

courtesy of Jim the Grim

The Quest announcement was exciting, kinda bridging the Go and its portability and the 6 DoF of the Rift. I kinda figured we weren’t getting them, because I took a pre-emptive look under my seat – which was sadly barren. The rest of the speeches were a bit of corporate rah-rah fluff, but still; it was hard to deny the enthusiasm they had for their new product, and Dark & I wondered if a farm equipment convention would muster the same excitement.

After the keynote, I sat in on a chat about using Medium and Quill for prototyping, but it ran for only half an hour and seemed more like a live advertorial for the programs, rather than actual usable instruction on things like reducing polycount, UVs or texturing. Other programs were far more informative – like the Fireside Chat with John Carmack.

Dark & I met up and as we were seated, we ended up near a very excited gent, who told us of his adventures tracking down an original 3.5″ floppy of Doom, that he hoped he could get autographed. I swore right then and there if I get to do this again, I’m bringing my original Quake CD for Carmack and Abrash to sign…

The man, myth & legend

The day was packed with more lectures and boxed lunches and strolling around looking at stuff until my feet were sore.  I had planned to join Dark & his wife for dinner at an Indian place they had heard of, so I asked him to text me later so I could join them and headed back to the hotel.

There I saw the oddest thing… coming out of an alley between the hotel and The Bowers Institute was Palmer Luckey, with a couple of hanger on-ers chatting with him, like he was some sort of sleazy VR dealer followed by junkies looking for a fix. It was so odd, I totally forgot to get a photo, and had to resist the urge to scream insults about meme factories at him.

Back at the hotel, I didn’t want to lay down – thinking that if I fell asleep, I’d never rouse myself for dinner – so I opted for liquid carbs in the lobby bar. Sipping my ale, I noticed a bunch of devs approaching the front desk and asking where the dev dinner was. ‘Whoops,’ I thought to myself, ‘better follow these chaps and see what’s up.’ Trailing them, I soon found myself in a conference room with a huge buffet table set up, a bar at the end and tables everywhere loaded with computers, VR rigs, peripherals of every kind and people checking out demos. I wish I had known about this.

The 2nd day had a fairly similar start – breakfast with the VRTK gents and hanging out until the keynote – this time delivered by Carmack, which was interesting because after a while; Dark & I sorta looked at each other like, ‘wasn’t this in his fireside chat?’ – and we realized that he was touching on the same topics (almost in the same exact order, too)

We split up and I ran back to the hotel to grab my stuff and check out – a little sad that this was the first step in this trip coming to its conclusion. In order to lighten the mood a bit, I decided I was going to dive into some VR. First up: Face Your Fears 2.

I enjoyed the Quest – it was lighter than I had anticipated, the controllers felt pretty similar to the Touch and it felt pretty liberating to not be tied down to a box with a cord. I impressed the demo helper because I didn’t scream, yelp  or freak out – he seemed amused that I actually laughed at some of the jump scares (to be fair, I play a lot of them and can almost anticipate when a jump scare is coming, and I was laughing at just how predictable their timing was with them) – as my day progressed I kept seeing this:

was amazed to see this man out here for hours just talking to people

Carmack was always talking to people, always seemed to have something positive to say and was just at it for hours. If they made him the face of VR; they could not think of a better tempered, more enthusiastic person to be its representative.

As I wandered about (after grabbing a box lunch) I just so happened to be outside this lecture as it was starting (it was on my ‘to do’ list, but had been debating to do more VR demos) and it was one of the better ones:

When this was done, I found a quiet spot to call my kids, since they were getting ready for bed and my time was coming to an end. Told them I would see them soon (after a bit of GDEX!) and went to the closing reception with Dark & Jim. We shared ales; ate and generally agreed that if the opportunity arises next year –

Fletcher & Jim
The Finns staying with Jim, Dark & Fletcher

we will be back. I bade them farewell and went to my Oculus Office Hours meeting and discussed my game, getting the feeling that people are having problems passing the store and getting stuck in ‘keys’- basically hanging out in limbo giving free keys until get get enough positive votes to be put into the store proper.

My last look at CA before heading back home

My leaving was a bit sad, but still filled with promise, as I made some new friends at the airport (damn, those Oculus Start hoodies were everywhere ) and as I took off, I wondered about the future, my family, my game and the promise of exciting days to come.

Warning: Crazy Week Ahead

So, I’m busy packing. Polishing my demo. Getting my PC exhibition worthy. Polishing my demo. Getting the house clean. Polishing screwing up my demo. Printing up biz cards. Reinstalling working version of my demo…

I’m leaving in a day to drive down to my bro-in-law’s house. Spend the night. Get up at an ungodly hour to get to the airport. Fly to San Jose for Oculus Connect 5 and be wowed with the 1st major hardware convention I’ve ever been to. I’ll be meeting people I’ve only ever shared the joy & heartache of VR dev’ing with online (as well as a hefty dose of snark) and I’ll have a chance to sit down with actual Oculus people to get their input on my game.

I’ll also get a chance to see some conferences on a bunch of topics that I’m hoping will help me in the year ahead. Now is the time to start actually making the game and I hope these lectures will provide the impetus to get me cranking on it.

The I fly back and get ready for GDEX.

I will have ONE day to turn it around and get back into my time zone, rest up, catch up with the world before I drive into Columbus to set up my booth (sharing it this year, curious about what its like to have more devs to chat with) and get into my ‘game show / boy scout / ever helpful salesman’ mode.

And have my family join me for #1 son’s 8th Birthday party. I’m hoping to bring him into GDEX for a bit, show off our game and take him on a tour for a bit. I think he’d dig it.

It’s the hap-happiest season of all…

Back to school! Both of the kids! 6 hours of no one asking for treats, can we go outside, screaming at his brother over which inane YouTube video to watch.

And time to seriously crank out some progress on my game. This summer I’ve felt like anytime I so much as breathe in the general direction of my computer, 10 things pop up that demand my attention.

And now we are ONE month from heading out to San Jose and Oculus Connect 5 and then GDEX, the day after I get back. Need to finish the demo, polish it; have the neighbors kids come over and playtest it while the dads & I guzzle beers and then tighten up all the mistakes the kids will invariably find.

Then pack.

Part of what I’m working on is the level that will have 2 main quests and maybe some mini-quests on the side. Deliver 4 piece of mail for a dude in a castle who wants a party and help a sad girl get an ice cream cone from the mean machine that spits them halfway across the level.

Keep your fingers crossed that I can get it done in time.


only just added it (knockback force) and I get knocked into the stratosphere
and kiddo needs me
story of my (dev) life – just as progress might be made… interuption
forget everything I’m doing
come back later only to see fragements of what I was doing
try and piece it back toghether”

Straight dialogue copied from a conversation on the Playmaker Slack channel.

Since the ending of summer camp, I’ve been with both kiddos full time until the 21st of August. So instead of non-stop running around for summer camp, speech therapy, swim lessons, social camp and some weird need for my wife to visit with ever other 2nd cousin each weekend, I am now dealing with 2 boys (5 & 7) with too much energy, too little to do and an abundance of ‘irritate the $#~!+ outta daddy’ syndrome. It doesn’t help that the youngest has been repeatedly getting up at 6AM and thusly cutting into what little dev time I have.

Add to this pressure – Oculus sent an invite to Oculus Connect 5, pay for the conference, 2 nights hotel and a dev dinner. I just have to get there basically. Which means I NEED to have a tip-top demo that I can show off to the best in the VR biz and then fly home – turn around a day later – and drive to Columbus to show my game at GDEX again.

Which means every time I step near a computer, kids wake up from the deepest sleep, cats suddenly need to be petted like they are getting put to sleep in 5 minutes, every drinking and gaming buddy I’ve ever spent 5 minutes with seems to feel like its the most vital thing in the world to catch up.


In the meantime – I AM kinda, sorta plugging away at things – feel like the boss level isn’t going in the direction I want, and the wife isn’t the biggest fan of ‘fights’ in games – so I’m working on a racing challenge:

Get an ice cream cone back to a sad little girl before it melts.

Here is an initial test of the idea:

In addition to that – I’m thinking about adding achievements to the game, in the form of hidden objects:

What’s in the box!?!?

June 5th, I get a spammy looking email saying that I have a fed-ex package scheduled to be delivered in 5 days.

For some reason, I just couldn’t quite relegate it to the ‘delete’ folder.  I did a bit of poking around and it looked like it originated from Oculus. Then other people in different dev forums said they were getting emails too. Then Oculus sent out a tease of a tweet:

Hmm. This could be interesting. I eagerly kept my eye on the tracking, waiting for the morning it said ‘On Vehicle For Delivery’ -at which point I would camp out on my front porch glider; old man style, yelling at kids to get off my lawn until the Fed Ex guy drove up and I’d start running around in circles like Calvin when he finally got his propeller beanie.

Except – that’s when I noticed it was being delivered to another state.

The address was correct, except – it was going to California.

I ran circles, except now it was in a panic. I scanned all over Oculus’ site to see if there was someone I could contact about this and see if something could be done. No one seemed to have any helpful advice on the forums, Slack channels or any other VR related site. Until I remembered an email I got asking about my t-shirt size.

I scanned through my email – I’m a digital packrat, terabytes of old data with multiple copies just lying around everywhere and my inbox is no different. And lo & behold – an Oculus email, with an actual person instead of a automated response. Frantically I fore off a message in hopes that some one can help.

their reply:

Oh my,

I’ll see what we can do on Monday AM with Fedex.
So with nervous anticipation,  I waited (expecting my box to look like it had been dragged through the jungle by the time I got it) and as the days ticked down, the Fed Ex updates slowly got closer to my hearth & home. And then it came.
looks like everything got here ok


I seriously felt like a kid opening the darn thing.

Have a nice whiskey that will go in this once the game is shipped

Each little bit was better than the last.

want to try and port my game to this

And now my next phase of dev work can begin. I’m hoping I can get my game ported to the Go so I can have 2 headsets running in Sept. when I make my way back to GDEX.

Summertime, and the livin’ AIN’T easy

So, dev work has slowed to a  c r a w l  now that kiddos are out for summer break. Which means instead of having to drag them out of bed, throw something akin to clothing on them, forcing breakfast-like items into them and hustling them out the door, they now gleefully awaken at the first chirp of those psychotic birds every morning.

I kid you not, on Memorial Day, having stayed up late to watch Game 7 (and admittedly having an ale or 3 too many) I was greeted by the sounds of my youngest playing with some abomination of toys that chattered obnoxiously in the tune of a British Train.

At 5:50 in the damn AM.

No amount of coaxing, cajoling, pleading or offers to pay for cars, education, stupidly expensive toys could coax the wee lad back to his bed so I dragged him to the furthest part of the house slapped a tablet loaded with games in his hands and collapsed on a couch hoping we didn’t wake any of the others. Yeah, I suck as a parent but I was exhausted and could not think straight.

and its been like that since.

My dev time is in the early hours, when the household is asleep and the cat provides a fairly quiet wake-up service by jumping on my hear (or other sensitive parts) demanding food. I’ll fire up the coffee, check emails and guzzle a cup until I can think in a somewhat logical manner and plug away on my game until people need to get up and go to school or work. Until now. Now they CAN’T WAIT to leap out of bed and demand food, entertainment, attention, and an increasing need to square off against each other in ThunderDome style matches to see who can wake up people in the furthest county possible.

September can not get here soon enough.

Oculus tweeted this little teaser

And sure enough – I got a shipping notice with hints that I’d be getting one soon. Until I saw that its slated to be delivered in CALIFORNIA.

I just can’t get a break, it seems.

Ups & Downs

So, with the advent of SUMMER VACATION, I’ve been feeling a bit stressed as I realize: no more day hours in which to dev.

So if I wanna dev – gotta lose more sleep / get up earlier.

Not the sort of thing I find particularly cheery. It also seems in those dismal grey hours, when the only time I can squeeze in any work on the game – these are the exact days that kids seem to intuit my lack of dev time and fill it with early rising, diaper changes, nightmares and sudden needs of sippy cups as if somehow the 12 gallons they drank an hour aqo had zero effect on their thirst.

It was in this dark time that I saw a couple of glimmers of hope:

Come September – BOTH kids will be in school full time, 5 days a week / 6 hours a day. I just need to bear down and get through the summer. I also happened to see this little tidbit on the GDEX Facebook page: (click to enlarge)

I’m SO humbled that I was remembered!

And right after that – I saw a mention from the Cleveland Game Co-Op leader that mentioned me and my setup from last year:

and a nice shout out too!

I guess things aren’t as dismal as they seem.

BIG (or: A Brief History of Me and My Long Journey to Become A Game Dev)

Remember that scene in “BIG” where Tom Hanks character is playing the game (as an adult) that he had struggled with since the beginning of the movie? And how he finally beats it and has all sorts of revelations about being a kid in a grownup body? Been feeling like that a lot lately.

I started being interested in game dev back in 1979, when a buddy of mine got an Atari 800, and eagerly demoed it for us geeky wretches who didn’t have parents rich enough for such toys. What little I knew about computers was relegated to snippets of code I had gleaned from magazines such as:

10 Print Hello

20 goto 10

Which I was eager to show off; and was met with less enthusiasm than one might expect. After being shown all kinds of cool tricks with PEEK and POKE statements, we were shown the latest and greatest games modern computing had to offer (freshly loaded off cassette tape, of course!) And of course I’m blown away by how much better the graphics are over our Atari 2600. I’m completely sucked in by how much better looking everything is – even on a Magnavox 15 inch TV. Sadly the demo was over far too soon, (and I wouldn’t touch a computer again for a couple of years) I raced home and grabbed some grid paper and started drawing sprites in anticipation of my game designing future.

Man, I wish I had those sketches now.

Anyway – the next time I’d seriously delve into anything like that (other than programming a BASIC version of draw in my high school computer lab on a TRS 80 Model III) would be when my dad got a AT&T clone of the IBM PC AT – and a copy of BASIC. I dove into trying to draw stuff on the screen in 320×240 resolution and managed to get some interesting things on screen by using a few calculations and simple plotting of what my math spit out. My dad took my program to his job and showed it off; his boss told me as soon  as I graduated MIT or Cal-Tech, I’d have a job. I had gotten to a point where I couldn’t quite get what I was looking for unless I started using a high & mighty concept called ‘arrays’. The BASIC manual that came with our computer only touched on it, referring me to the all knowing BASIC compendium, which I begged my dad to find, but no one at his job seemed to know anything about.

Well, it’d be another decade before I touched a computer again.

After various jobs, misadventures in Atlantic City and tragic love affairs, I fled the doomed NJ coast for the wilds of NYC and dreams of becoming an artist, starting with attending Parson’s School of Design. And with it, came access to the brand new computer lab, and the Mac & Photoshop. I only got the barest amount of time on the computer, because the entire school (faculty & staff included) wanted time on these wondrous new machines and then my money ran out and I had to (again) put aside my dreams of graphics and games.

ahh, the good ol’ days

It wasn’t until ’97 when I FINALLY got my hands on my own computer: a 66mhz, 40MB hard drive PC clone running Windows 3.1. My good buddy David D. hooked me up with a copies of Photoshop and a 3D modeling  / animation program called Truespace. I dove into both programs and read whatever books I could on both. I found out fairly quickly that Photoshop could easily get me jobs, whereas 3D stuff was a harder nut to crack. I also re-discovered video games and LOVED Quake LAN matches over parallel port connections.

Then I discovered a program that allowed me to modify the game (in CompUSA of all places)

Since I was already making money off of Photoshop and knew the program pretty well, I thought I’d try combining my love of art and games and try to become a truly ‘hand-painted’ texture artist. While I had some mixed successes – I still wanted more and started tinkering with other game engines:

Doom 3 art city

So I played with different things, tried different approaches and it wasn’t until I got my DK2 and picked up Unity that i truly started to find my calling. And it was Playmaker that saved me, because any attempt at coding completely befuddled my right-brained thinking, and having something not work because of a mis-placed semicolon was beyond frustrating.

And now we’ve come full circle – as I contemplate adding random elements in a structured format (like distributing my coins for the money quest) I’m trying to find a way of organizing them in logical sequences. It wasn’t until I started describing my problem on the Playmaker Slack channel that it hit me: I need an array. I FINALLY UNDERSTAND WHAT AN ARRAY IS.

And now I can melt the wizard.


Questing, questing the night away

So, in my long term goals of getting a wet bar put in the office, kids that behave, and a wife that gives unsolicited foot rubs; there IS the small matter of having a full fledged, 3 level demo done by the time GDEX rolls around in September.

I have come to realize that constantly polishing the same level I have made is making what I have smoother and shinier, but doesn’t do much to get to that end goal of having s o m e t h i n g done. And for that, I need something more than just bouncing around my flower level until the player gets to the top. And as serendipity seems to just flow from my child’s fingertips (I wonder if that’s his mutant superpower) he drew the whole range of coins, pennies, dimes – he even got a Half Dollar, too!

fun with pennies and kaboings

So, now the fun part of it: making things; pasting them around the level and playing it until I think its kinda fun. My neighbors have a couple of kids who are willing playtesters, so I’ll have the dads over for some home brewed ales while we watch the kids play and wait for their verdict.

And as always, my art director / inspiration is finding it equally fun to make assets and asks daily to ‘do some animation’ – this is one of his latest entries. Now its up to me to figure out how I can use it.

We jammin and I hope the jam is gonna last…

So, my first ever game jam is DONE.

The Playmaker Game Jam was an interesting way to try new things,  practice skills and see just how much I could punish myself by being glued to a desk like I haven’t done in years.

I’ve never done a jam before, so I went in with zero expectations – Friday came and it was announced that the themes would be:

Last Resort – or – Not a Hero

OK – now what the #$%^ do I do with THAT?

First thing that popped into my head was to do a pun or play on words with ‘last resort’ – some sort of oasis at the end of the world kinda tickled the back of my brain. (and apparently every other person in the jam felt similarly too) So, in that spirit, I was drawn to the idea of ‘its the Last Resort in a world gone to ruin’. I didn’t want to delve into a backstory too much, just give the idea that the world went to shit and the player was pretty much one of the last people.

Copyright: Bill Watterson

So, in that spirit, I fired up Oculus Medium and started sculpting out an island on which to set the stage. I kinda liked the idea that the center was this insurmountable mountain that would force the player to run around it, either from enemies or to complete tasks. I decided to carve out a cave in case I wanted something creepy, or have a hidden place to have the player discover.

While I had Medium open, I also made a couple of ‘palm’ trees. The pre-made stamps are pretty awesome at getting something prototyped quickly. While I was looking through the stamps, I saw a rat skull one an decided ‘THIS is my monster head!’ So a slapped a couple of arms (also stamps) and exported it as a .fbx into Blender, added a quick rig and had the thing crawling relatively quick. So went my first day – which was still mostly filled with my normal day-to-day routine of taking care of the boys, feeding a household and refraining from strangling my neurotic, overly needy cat.

The second day was a mad dash of getting the kids thru swim lessons and packed up so they could spend the night with mommy at grandma’s house, leaving me to strap myself down to my desk and crank out a game. I braced myself with a shot of Jamesons – which helped get in a certain creative mood while recording dialogue.

Once that was done, I started slapping things together, throwing a basic 1st person character controller on my island and taking a walk around. Once I see my ‘set’, I can start decorating and planning out how I want it to look. I start making simple trigger areas to set bits of dialogue into play and and added sound FX. At this point its late in the afternoon, stomach is growling and I have a hankering for Thai an a cold ale. The rest of my day is spent trying to get the timings right, making sure that triggering one voice-over zone doesn’t allow for a second one to start playing.

The next day is sheer crunch time: my monster spawning isn’t working the way I want. I thought I’d use an action called ‘get random vector 3 inside a sphere’ to get a location to spawn a monster in an area define over my level, wait and repeat. Since there’s no way to kill them, the player would need to keep on their toes to avoid the critters until they overran the island. Sadly I kept getting obscure errors about my prefab monsters and problems with nav mesh navigation. Grr. I hastily slap a static spawn point on the level and on to the next problem – PEOPLE.

she doesn’t look haggard enough

I originally got into game dev because I wanted to create stories with believable characters and of course dove into it head first without the slightest clue about animation systems, an it was right when Unity was switching from legacy animation to the Mecanim system – always a fun time to learn something new. At least it gave me the basic knowledge to slap a character into the scene and give it a idle animation…

And the rest of my time is spent in sheer panic mode: when they say ‘keep your scope small’ – they ain’t kiding. I didn’t even get half of what I wanted done, especially the parts I had thought up to challenge myself and learn something new.  It did provide a nice break from my current project and give me new directions to move towards – it also confirmed that I need to spend some of my time just soaking up game design theory and hone my Playmaker skills.

All in all – I’d do it again in a heartbeat.