Living the Dream

My first week as a professional game developer has been pretty awesome. Here are some of the things I have done:

  • Made the main character able to jump
  • Made a medpack
  • Made a time bomb
  • Built a tower
  • Build a fort
  • Built a children’s hospital
  • Blew up a children’s hospital with a rocket launcher

    If you have some time this weekend, we just deployed a new version of ROBLOX with a zany multiplayer arena game to the website, you should try it out.

    If you have less time, you should click on the link below to see a short movie I made. I call it “Time Bomb: A Short Story”.

    A Tower
    A Man
    A Timebomb

    How will it end?

    Short Movie

    DivX 6 encoding


    My Stanford webspace is going to expire in October at the latest, so I have migrated all my stuff to personal webhosting.

    More and more, I’ve become increasingly uneasy with using my real name online. My main concern is identity theft – I keep a blog that is easily found by searching my name, and while I am aware that my blog is a public forum, some personal information inevitably ends up being posted here. Another issue is the googling of potential employees by potential employers. I think the stuff associated with myself online would make employers want to hire me, but you do lose some control of that personal info by making it public (and cached by Google forever). A third thing that makes me uneasy is the thought of various 3rd parties, including the government, retailers, and sentient malicious super computers spidering the web to extract data and maintain tabs on me personally.

    In the past, I have always slapped my name on anything I put up online, because in the off-chance that it becomes recognizable, it’s good to have name recognition. After some consideration, I’ve decided to continue this practice as there have definitely been times in the past when being associated with my website (and all the various projects hosted therein) has opened doors. So after being worried about privacy issues to the point of adopting a pseudonym, I have swung the other way and registered

    I got a pretty sweet hosting package from StartLogic with more space and bandwidth that I will ever need. I’ve been working on pruning my Stanford site down and moving it over here. I’ve also been working on and getting that ready to go for when we have a demo video and a redistributable. Some have recently questioned the wisdom is registering two domain names that no one will ever be able to spell.

    Euclidean Crisis Google count: 9

    Cosmic Encounter

    I lugged Cosmic Encounter around for all my college years and I finally got to play it on Friday with Brendan, Jo, Eric Sun, Carol, and Daniel. There’s a bit of a learning curve, so if we were going to do it again, I might take the Flares out of the deck. Still, I think everyone had fun.

    Cosmic Encounter is similar to Settlers of Catan and is the spiritual ancestor of Magic: The Gathering. Everyone plays a different alien race trying to conquer the universe. The game is different every time since there are 40 different races and each has a unique power that alters the rules of the game.

    We played the out-of-print Mayfair edition. Avalon Hill has put out a schlocky new version that is not the same.


    Gainfully Employed!

    This was a great week on the job hunting front. Jo got a job offer from Volkswagen – they want her to work in the Palo Alto lab on hybrids, fuel cells, biodiesel, and other green stuff – which is pretty much exactly what she was looking to do. I accepted a job offer at ROBLOX, a really cool computer game startup. I have been writing videogames since I was eight, but I never thought that I would end up working as a professional game developer. This position at ROBLOX, however, seems like a ridiculously good fit for me. They are building online games that involve worlds made out of virtual Lego blocks (by which I mean “generic toy building blocks”). Players enter game environments where everything is made out of small bricks and every brick is physically simulated – meaning the entire world is destructible.

    There’s an alpha version of the ROBLOX game client on the company website, which I’ve been having some fun with today. Currently the game has two modes. You can visit the sandbox environments that other players have made, or you can enter the experimental multiplayer third person shooter game and run around a large level lobbing rockets at other people.

    Today I made a ten minute visit to “arkitect’s Place” and took some screenshots.

    This office building is made out of 2500 individual bricks (!!!)

    Being an intrepid explorer, I enter the building and start climbing up the stairs

    Eventually, I make it to the top of the building

    From where I am standing, I use my rocket launcher to fire a rocket at the roof. This causes pieces to fly everywhere. One hits me and I fall off!

    Playing with the rocket launcher is a lot of fun. I just blasted the front of the office building.

    The ROBLOX engine does an incredible job with the game physics. I’m running on a cruddy 4-year old laptop and I get a reasonable framerate in this level. Anyone who has any experience with physics engines such as ODE or Tokamak will appreciate how hard it is to simulate a stack of bricks, let alone an entire office building. 2500 rigid bodies is a lot for my machine – in some of my other projects Tokamak and ODE both top out at around 400 for realtime simulation. Even more incredible is how well ROBLOX handles physics in multi-user environments.

    My friend behind me lost his arm somewhere. Whoops.

    I decide to go exploring in the rubble of the office building. I can’t quite get up the stairs.

    I try to blast the debris out of my way, but it doesn’t work out like I had planned.

    * * *

    I start work on Tuesday. I think it’s going to be awesome.

    Not Quite Gods

    Where else but Stanford can one amble out at twilight for a walk and come across a two-time Pulitzer prize winner giving a talk on the importance of History? Joanna and I were taking a stroll last night and we came across of bunch of high-ranking university people having an event in the quad. The Sad Grad Students were lit up and they were serving drinks in the courtyard. As we were wandering around, somebody at the podium mentioned that David McCullough was going to be speaking after dinner. Having just read 1776 (hardcover copies selling for less than $9 on and enjoying it immensely, I was very interested in hearing him speak, so we hung around for an hour while the distinguished guests ate dinner.

    Digression – Everyone who has any interest at all in American History should read 1776. My high school textbooks made it sound like the US was predestined to win the War of Independence, when, in fact nothing could be further from the truth. (Providence, with a capital “P” is a character in many books which does a great disservice to the founders by waving away their accomplishments, great by human standards, and claiming “God willed it so, and so it was”) Having read 1776, one comes to better appreciate the fragility of the present. Not only that, it is an excellent read. My main complaint is that it ends (not surprisingly) at the very beginning of 1777 and I have not been able to find a good history that finishes the story (1777-1783) – can anyone recommend one?

    McCullough’s talk was great and totally made it worth waiting to hear him speak. The main thrust of his speech was that most students – even those at supposedly high-ranking universities – are largely ignorant of American History, and that something should be done about that. He told an anecdote from a time when he was teaching an advanced undergraduate “honors” seminar at Harvard – to a bunch of kids majoring in History. The first day of class, to kickstart discussion, he asked, “Who knows who George C. Marshall is?” Nobody knew the answer.

    As a computer science major, I am often inclined to discount fuzzy subjects as being largely irrelevant. This is not to say they cannot be engaging – I do, after all, have a minor in Classical Literature. So when McCullough first started quoting statistics to support that notion that more time should be spent studying history in schools, I was dubious that there was actually a problem. Certainly from my own experience at Stanford, I often had the feeling that the people majoring in fuzzy subjects had it a lot easier (they did) and that they should be forced to have basic literacy in pure science, mathematics, and computer science. On the other side, people majoring in various sorts of engineering had to take IHUM, PWR, and five GERs consisting of the area 3 and 4 classes – classes focusing on fuzzy stuff. That’s a lot. With a year of Latin or Greek, every engineer could graduate with a double major in Classics (almost).

    However, McCullough told a very convincing story about the leaders of the American Revolution being shaped and strengthened by their fluency in Classical History. He told us about the darkest days of the American Revolution, the darkest days of American History, in the year of 1776 when George Washington and his rabble in arms escaped narrow defeat on several occasions. He told us how at one point, the continental army, the hope of America, consisted of three thousand desperate men, arrayed against the forces of Britain – the only superpower of the 18th century. He told us of how the continental congress fled the impending capture of Philadelphia, vesting absolute power of the state in the hands of George Washington. He told us how King George III once commented that if Washington relinquished that power at the conclusion of the war, then he would be the greatest man to ever live. I said McCullough’s story involved Classical History and it did – he thesis was that the colonies were able to muster such great men as Washington, Knox, Greene, Jefferson, Adams, and others because those men understood the Greek notion of History as a play, with each man to play his part. The script, of course, is improvised, but actors in a play are conscious of their character’s motivations, strengths, and goals. Thus it is hard to turn aside in despair when it would be out of character. He gave us a Greek saying by Heraclitus, which I like, so I will repeat here: “Character is destiny”.

    So at the end of the night, I was not so sure that I really needed that bunch of introductory physics classes I had to take to complete my CS major. Perhaps McCullough is right.

    * * *

    For anyone who has read this far, I just came across a clip from the Daily Show of David McCullough being interviewed (link below).

    Jon: You and I are both historians and authors, to some extent.

    Jon: You chose to fill your history book with “facts”.

    David: Yes.

    Jon: Interesting choice, tell me why.

    Daily Show Clip

    Evil Robot Revisited

    My evil robot auction from February is still up on eBay. I imagine that the page will expire soon. It’s interesting to see that even though it has be defunct now for nearly half a year, it still gets several hundred hits a month.

    Evil Killer Robot Auction Views: 3416

    Oh my crazy antics…

    Jetset Life

    I spent the last week and a half in LA (shout out to Microsoft for the plane ticket). Almost as soon as I got there, I drove down to Laguna beach in Orange County with Joanna, Mommypuff, Gogo, Roger, Matthew, Lori, and Sascha. We stayed at the Surf & Sand, which is a lovely hotel with a great view of the ocean.

    Before we left, Jo’s Mommypuff served us an excellent dinner at her apartment that included cold duck barf. Roger loved it.

    Have turtles, will travel.

    Pretty beach. Summer air. Ocean sounds.

    It has always been my experience that swimming in the Pacific is a bone-chillingly cold affair, this time we rented wetsuits (and borrowed some from Roger). Not only was the wetsuit great for staying warm, I found that it made me pleasantly buoyant. I had lots of fun floating on my back, pretending to be a dead body washing up onto shore. There was one day that the waves were really fierce – some were about 12 feet tall. A crashing wall of water twice your size is a daunting thing, though I had fun watching other people getting owned (I got owned quite a few times as well).

    Dinner at French 75, very fancy. It’s the kind of place you go to eat when you want to feel like a robber baron.

    Nice picture.

    View from the hotel at night.

    Joanna’s mom took pictures of me while I was sleeping, which I found to be a little creepy.

    Seattle, Site 17, and the Empire

    Last Monday I flew to Seattle to interview for software development positions at the Empire. Over the course of two days, I interviewed with the DirectX team, the Halo 2 Vista port team, and Microsoft Games Studios. Game programming is not something I ever thought I would do for a living, since the industry is notorious for overworking poor schlubs who are willing to work 18 hour days for next to nothing as long as they are realizing their lifelong dream of being a game developer. Still, it could happen.

    I was kindof disappointed at my MS interviews. I thought that MS had a reputation for asking ridiculous questions during their interviews (of the brainteaser variety), but I actually spent most of my time demoing Euclidean Crisis for people. The programming questions that people did ask were pretty mundane. “Here’s a tree with some nodes, write code to do such and such a thing recursively…” I’m pretty suspicious of any job that they ask you more coding questions than algorithm questions during the interview. Clearly, the less design and more grunt coding a job entails, the more interested the potential employer is in knowing whether you can dehydrate a bitpacked trie using a recursion (which makes no sense to begin with).

    I found that the above ad slogan for Vista and Office 2007 really made me think. In particular, I was wondering whether its purpose was to sell these MS products or to defame them.

    One night I hung out with Doug, Henry, Blackman, Texan Dave Kent, Jasmine, and Michael – it was totally sweet. Doug & Co. live in a really bizarre apartment. The building itself is called “Site 17″ and its brand-new. However, it takes the artistic direction that could be called “Direlique” (a la Zoolander), being internally and externally decorated to look like an abandoned industrial building. So there are exposed concrete walls and steel girders and a character actor in the hallway of the first floor pretending to be a bum. I’m kidding about the character actor.

    The conversation naturally turned, at some point, to mankind’s greatest game of wits: Rock, Paper, Scissors. We played a couple of rounds of RPS 25, but found that the game was unbalanced because it was too fun to make the sponge gesture.

    Rounding out my Seattle trip, I had lunch with Jasmine the day I left at a Mexican place that served up burritos the size of a large baby. I mention this mainly because I thought the that donkey they gave us to mark our table was cute/ridiculous.

    Microsoft was nice enough to fly me down to LA instead of back to SFO, so I’ve been hanging out down here with Jo, driving around and trying to not get carjacked.