Arrival – Films sur Google Play

How it’s taken me this long to finally watch Arrival I’ll never know. I’m a huge fan of Ted Chiang’s writing, and Denis Villeneuve’s work (Dune 1&2 + BR2049).

I thought the movie was brilliant. Took a really neat story, and for me, many of the decisions they made improved things. Not that they’re necessarily better than the OG, just that they’re better for the medium than a more literal translation of the book. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. I don’t want to write much more just because I don’t want to spoil it – but man, the end (even though I recalled it from the story a while before the revelation) was just one of those things that sat with me for hours afterwards.

Pressure and Meta

One of the things I find incredibly challenging as a parent is knowing how hard to “push” my kids. As the child of a fairly traditional “Asian Mom”, who was under immense pressure throughout my childhood to “excel”, I hated everything about it. I hated music, I hated most sports, I hated school. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties when I realized that I didn’t hate all those things, I hated the pressure I felt, and the constant criticism and pummeling of my self-esteem that it all meant.

So with the kids, this is something I genuinely struggle with.

This morning, something came up, and I responded in a way that felt more like “my parents” and not “what I want to do”, and I struggled with that internally for a while, and then just talked to my older son specifically about *why* I responded the way I did, the specific pressure and difficulty of trying to walk this fine line of “push so that you butt up against your comfort zone and learn new things,” and “let you discover things that you love and build skill on your own”.

It was one of the first times that I’ve had this “meta” conversation about parenting with J – that it wasn’t the conversation about the actual thing, but the conversation about the pressure I felt as a parent and how difficult it was to navigate. And then we talked about what *he* wanted, and what his motivations were, and we reached a genuinely great conclusion.

And it reminded me of a time when our game, Fleck, was really struggling to stand on its own. At the time, I didn’t know whether to put on a brave face and power through it with positivity, or whether to have the frank discussion about the state of the game & the business side of things. The same kind of “meta” conversation about the game with the team.

I was shocked. People *wanted* that insight – they wanted to contribute at that level, and they responded incredibly well to an honest, open talk about vulnerability, the struggles we faced, etc. Everyone *knew* things weren’t peachy-keen, but I’d been told that the leader needs to be positive, help folks get through obstacles, etc.

I think the lesson I take from this is that in general, folks don’t mind the meta conversation. You don’t have to “play the game” and hope to get the right results with all the mechanics hidden away behind the scenes. If folks know how the machine works, you can all play the game together.

Apple Vision Pro

The Apple Vision Pro is a weird duck. As a piece of technology, it’s extraordinary – the pass through is great, the hand/pinch gesture sensitivity is great, the hardware feels nice and is (mostly) comfortable. The big thing for me is the forward-heaviness of it, which is almost instantly mitigated by just tucking the battery into the rear strap. I get that they wanted strap options, and that they want you to comfortably rest your head while using the headset, but a well-designed counterweight strap would make this a LOT more comfortable with almost no downside. I don’t get why Apple didn’t learn this lesson. It’s not weight that matters in a VR/AR headset – it’s where the center of balance is. If you put the weight directly over the neck, it can be much heavier, and still totally comfortable. The big problem is forward-heavy headsets exert pressure on your cheeks that eventually becomes intolerable. But I can hold that same weight easily on the top of my head for hours. So that’s weird.

I’m struggling a bit to figure out what this is for, to be honest. I’m trying it with a keyboard and trackpad to use as a general computing device (writing this post, even) – and for that, it’s nice. But with limited battery life, and as delicate as it is, it can’t compare with a laptop. As a home-use device, it’s also weird – at home there’s usually people around, and “shutting them out” with the headset feels awkward and isolating – even with the pass through. The eyes on the outside of the device are so utterly bizarre in practice I’m kind of baffled that they released it this way. Cutting the external display would have saved weight and allowed the device to be quite a bit thinner, and that definitely would have been a trade off I’d have made. Vs. how the eyes are *supposed* to look, maybe it’s better – but as it is currently, it’s almost zero value.

I think the biggest thing for me is this emphasizes how important robust object recognition and tracking is for a device like this. I need to be able to “attach” virtual objects to real objects and have them move in total lockstep. Apple tries to do this a bit with the Magic Keyboard and a little virtual widget they attach to it, and it’s neat to see the widget track the keyboard in space, but there’s a significant delay, and the object locking is quite … imprecise. That said, it’s a hell of a lot better than anything else trying to do the same thing I’ve seen.

There’s also some weirdness to VisionOS, and I’m sure this kind of thing will be improved as time goes on – but I find that I want apps to “snap to object/surface” by default. I don’t want random windows floating in midair most of the time – I want them to snap to cabinet doors, or wall surfaces, or to lock to my (physical) desk top. Being able to “pull” windows off of physical objects would be necessary, and being able to have them float in space is obviously a must – but by *default*, I want windows to snap to objects and be tied to physical things.

Still – the pass through makes “doing things” in the Vision Pro WAY more comfortable than in VR, or even with the Quest 2’s low-fi B&W pass through. I can look at my phone, or a clock, or see someone approach – and all those things make AVP feel way less isolating than any headset I’ve tried before. But there are a LOT of straightforward improvements that are almost certain to come, and the gen-3 version of this thing will be incredible. I’m still struggling to think of something to make for AVP – for the most part, my personal lack of understanding about how object-recognition might work on a platform like this hamstrings my understanding of what’s possible. I should probably dive into the SDK’s documentation or something. But the other big thing is, “How are users going to use this platform?” And that’s something I still don’t really have an answer for.

This is definitely an interesting platform. It’s incredible tech. It’s just that I can’t easily imagine when I would naturally put this thing on and dedicate time to be in AVP, vs. using a laptop or iPad, and having unfettered access to reality. I think it’s clear that that’s the end goal – that this pass through solution is a placeholder. But this is an interesting start, and it’s nice to see what feels like a significantly different take, with a very different focus, on AR/VR that’s not Meta. If that’s literally all the AVP accomplishes, it’ll still be worth it.

RIP, Laralyn

I recently read that Laralyn McWilliams passed away. I only met her online – we had a small number of chats something on the order of a decade ago, and I’d loosely followed her on various channels since, and … dammit.

Go poke her profile page and check out her history. She was an absolute titan of the game industry, and among many other things that would define anyone’s career, she led the design of Full Spectrum Warrior, which was such a discombobulatingly novel take on something that looked like it should be a cliche that I’m still genuinely dazzled that they pulled it off.

But the thing I wish I could have expressed my gratitude toward her for was her kindness. The times we chatted, she’d reached out because she saw me going through a hard time. There was absolutely no reason she should have cared, but she did.

Every single thing I ever saw from her in the ensuing decade, whether it was about teaching or talking about game design, about her constant and unrelenting health challenges – the level of positivity and kindness and thoughtfulness she put into every exchange she ever had with *anyone I ever saw* was … It was astonishing. And it wasn’t some facade of perfection. You could see the struggle. And the optimism. And the bravery.

And dammit – it’s so cliche to talk about folks having health challenges as being brave. But facing down terrible odds, and wanting to continue to help others, to continue to create things, and in the face of everything, never giving in to nihilism and cynicism and self-absorption? If that’s not brave, I don’t know what bravery is.

She’s always going to be someone whose outlook and resilience and positivity I will strive to emulate. I’m gutted for her friends and family, and for the game industry as a whole.

RIP, and thank you.

A Few Books

A few books I’ve been reading:

Eric Nehrlich’s You Have a Choice – I’ve been reading this since years before he started writing it, in his various blog posts, newsletters, and talking with him in person. We’ve been friends since my college days, and over the last 20 years, he’s grown tremendously, in every way, as a person. Professionally, personally – but the biggest thing is that he took concrete steps to create the life he wanted, and the biggest, hardest thing he had to do (IMO) was realize he could define his own direction. In his book, he talks about that process, and he’s helped dozens (hundreds?) of people take similar steps. The book isn’t just refined because he’s done it himself. It’s because he’s also taken these lessons and already applied them to the people he coaches. So the book is great. But it’s worth putting in there that *he* is also great. His ideas are deeply explored and considered, are based on a wealth and breadth of experience, and his desire to help other people is genuine. If you’re finding yourself “succeeding”, but still kinda miserable or frazzled, this is *the* book for you.

Wagner James Au’s Making a Metavese That Matters – for all the garbage hype around Meta’s foray in the metaverse (and the absurd investor FOMO whiplash freakout and faceplant), this is a book written by someone that *cares* deeply about the metaverse, and has for longer than most of the people claiming to be “metaverse experts” have been aware of its existence. His writing is personal, and interesting and even if you’ve been metaverse-aware since Snow Crash and Second Life, this is a more definitive chronicle of its development than I’ve seen anywhere else. Like Eric’s book above, what drew me to this was its authenticity and depth. In a field that’s full of snake-oil salesmen, this is a book with real knowledge and wisdom.

Kim Nordstrom’s dn UMOP dn – Oh, wait. it’s Up Down Up. I met Kim through Paul Tozour (whose book The Four Swords is worth a read if you’re interested in diving into what seems like a satirical exaggeration/parody of the game industry’s worst tendencies, but to someone who’s seen it all, reads more like an account of any random Tuesday) a while back, and I had a chance to read an early copy of the book. Been going through the print version as well, and it’s a great read. He interviews a *gazillion* folks who’ve built & led successful (and not successful) game companies, and consolidates their collective experience into a book that I wish was mandatory reading for folks starting game studios. It’s obviously not a formula for success, but the point of it is all these interviews land on a number of recurring points, and seeing the echoes of the same sounds in all the stories begins to show you the shape of what it’s like to run a successful team. Having been through that wringer, it’s a book I wish I had before I’d started out, and I hope it’ll save new founders from a lot of pain.

The Obvious Solutions

In sixth grade, I watched a show on PBS about MIT’s 2.007 robot competition, and I knew that was what I was going to try do in college.

I wanted the challenge of solving some problem, building a machine to do it, and compete using both my wits and my engineering skill. And in 1997, I got to take the class and live out a childhood dream.

I love building things with my hands. I don’t do it as often as I’d like these days, but I find that that’s when I feel like my mind and body are fully engaged. Part of the challenge is figuring out the rules – what to build, and then executing in real time during the competition.

The year I took the class, the design of the competition… was terrible.

The goal was to get balls into your bin. They fell from a “waterfall” mechanism that triggered a few moments after the competition. There was a ramp from the starting position near the waterfall and your bin down to a central arena where the balls would land.

The problem with the rules is that there was one very clear, very obvious solution. An arm that would extend and redirect the balls directly into your bin was the clear answer, and the winner would simply be the person who built the fastest, most robust arm that couldn’t be deflected out of position.

That was it. The best strategy by far required zero human interaction – in fact, human interaction would make it *worse*. If you wanted to build the most robust arm, that’d take all your material and space. You’d build the strongest, fastest arm you could, and hope that you could beat everyone else to the punch. If someone built a stronger, faster arm, you were screwed, but here’s the thing – if you built *literally anything else* you were even more screwed.

I didn’t build an arm.

I decided that even though the rules had a clear solution, this isn’t what I wanted out of the competition. I wanted to build an RC robot that relied on my control, that gave me options and flexibility, where I could construct a strategy on the fly and do interesting things. So I built a little bulldozer thing with skids and wheels that could Hoover up balls into a front cage, dump them into a hopper in the back, and then the hopper could extend up from the central arena and dump balls into the bin. I could theoretically use the extending hopper to also block anyone else from dumping balls into the bin. It was really maneuverable and quite fast. I practiced any strategy I could think of over and over again.

But I knew that if I went up against even a marginally competent extending arm, I’d lose.

I don’t have strong memories of the competition or its results. I think the winner in the end was an extending arm. As for me, despite hours and hours of practice, the thing that undid me in the end was a small screw protruded from the bottom of the machine, and in what felt like one-in-a-zillion odds, when I turned off the ramp into the central arena one round, that screw caught on the ramp and “beached” the machine.

I was proud of that machine, though. Aside from the protruding screw, a mistake that was easily fixable with iteration, it was a fairly robust, well-built, flexible machine. It did what I’d hoped it would do, and I got to play the competition the way I wanted to.

And I think that there are really strong parallels to my professional career.

When I look at mobile gaming, there are lots of people who “build the arm”. They look at the current winning strategy, and think they can build the best arm.

I *hate* building arms. I’ve never done it. I’ve never believed that the next hit looks exactly like an iteration of the last hit. I’ve never wanted to work on solved problems. My focus has always been on making things that are flexible, and “broad” re: strategic options, and have attempted to wield that breadth in interesting ways.

And it’s weird – until this afternoon, I never realized *how* strong the parallel was between my experience with 2.007 and the rest of my career.

But I think that “strategic weirdness” is why I love working with a broad range of multidisciplinary people. It’s why I love working on new things. It’s why I hate the kind of “iterate until optimal” business model of highly derivative games.

Back at a job long ago, we made a bingo game, under some amount of pressure from the company that’d acquired our team. The obvious thing they wanted us to do was ape the leading bingo game, and they’d market it aggressively and hope to do something. I kept kicking the can down the road, until one day we figured out how to do something interesting with powerups in bingo, where teams could collectively bring powerups to the game, and trigger them in fun, synergistic ways.

It was a system that created a huge potential for interesting gameplay, because it wasn’t just about *your* powerups and what they’d do for your cards, it was what you could do for the *other* players on your team. It made bingo a wild cooperative team game, and the results were delightful.

The game didn’t succeed in the end. I believe it still could have, given the “possibility space” of the system we’d created. The company basically said, “Welp, dislodging players from (whatever game was winning the bingo category at the time) is too expensive.” And while I think we’d have gotten to a point where we’d have a better game and those costs would have come down, they decided to pull the plug (there’s a lot I’d say here about judgment and necessary courage, but…)

But to me, the point is that fighting the winning bingo game with a clone of the winning bingo game was a sure fire recipe for disaster. It’d have been trying to “build a better arm” when the arm you’re fighting has 100x your budget, 100x your size & weight, and is *already deployed*.

We didn’t have an option to build a better arm. We could only build something new. And I think there are some situations and companies that are foundationally only about “building arms”. They’re not for me, and never will be.

Work is many things, and depending on circumstance, you can’t always think this way. What I have is a luxury. But work, to me, is about the joy of creation, and building things with other people. The most joy comes not from building arms, but from building new weird shit with strategic breadth and the possibility of wielding that breadth in shocking and interesting ways.

And it’s weird that I’d already known that back in 1997 when building a robot for a class.


Too Much is Too Much

I have too many interests.

I want to spend time:

  • Making a game
  • Simracing
  • Making music
  • Spending time with the kids
  • Boardgaming
  • Videogaming
  • Reading comic books & Sci-Fi
  • Wingfoiling
  • Biking
  • Paddleboarding
  • Archerying
  • Drawing
  • Playing old games I never got around to on what are now “retro” platforms
  • Cooking
  • Organizing and fixing stuff up around the house
  • Making pottery
  • Swimming
  • Writing (Resume stuff, novel, leadership/game design book)
  • Blacksmithing
  • Learning arbitrary new stuff
  • Getting in better shape

I mean, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. And I know that everyone’s got a huge variety of hobbies. And one thing that’s different, is that more than most people, I have time.

I don’t take that for granted at all. But what it causes is this kind of persistent analysis paralysis and inability to focus on one thing and go deep to the degree that’s necessary for me to improve at anything. And sometimes, worse, that analysis paralysis prevents me from doing ANY of these things out of a weird kind of FOMO that I might pick something and then have an opportunity to do something better.

And I think that served me alright when the kids were small, or time was more scarce. But now, I have a bit of time where I could “go deep”, and find myself constantly pulled in different directions. There’s another bad impulse, which is, “I’ll do this when I have it all set up “right”.” Which sometimes is “the right gear”, which is almost always the incorrect impulse. Do the thing, get better to the point where you’re limited by the gear, then change the gear. But “new gear” feels like progress, and it often serves as a proxy for real progress. This is bad, and I’ve come to be better at recognizing it in myself.

But in any case, the thing is, it’s too much. That whole list of shit above? No one could be great at all that stuff. No one could even be competent at most of that stuff simultaneously. It’s just too much. Getting good at any two or three of those things would be the work of a lifetime.

I love getting “competent” at things, though, and I like that I’ve had the opportunity to dabble in a LOT of things, and become … not “fluent”, but maybe “conversant” in a ton of weird shit. But I would like to get better at a few things – probably making music (though narrowing it down between guitar and generalized music production is hard), and getting in better shape are the two things that I’d like to focus on the most that aren’t “explicitly spend time with friends and family”.

Maybe that’s just the goal in 2024. To figure out how to put the rest of things *aside* for a year, and just focus on those two things.


Definitely a mixed year. My aunt passed away. My dad had a bone infection that needed surgery, and is likely going to need to move into an assisted living facility in 2024 due to his cognitive decline, and my mom getting older & being less physically able to take care of him full-time, plus the six years of accumulated stress. We had a life-changing trip to Korea & Japan. We went to both Maui (Spring Break) and Oahu (Winter Break). The kids are great. We had some touch-up work done on the house. Most of the day to day stuff was great. We got to see friends, play games, have a lot of great food. J&K are growing up quickly. 2023 felt like an “Oh, shit – time is going FAST” year, as both kids grew up a lot this year, I think.

J’s been making some really impressive games. K’s reading ALL the manga with a kind of rabid aggression I didn’t expect. Both are finding their social circles and spending more time with friends.

For 2024, my resolutions are pretty simple, and mostly a recap of 2023’s, which I largely failed at:

* More exercise, less junk eating. Goal weight is again <210.
* Make something start to finish. This will likely be a VR ARPG (think Diablo-lite) that takes place around the player. Not a first-person game, but more of a Moss-like “diorama” experience. I’ve been less and less interested in 1st person VR, TBH.
* Do a revision of the resume book and actually try to sell it. This will be a more or less complete rewrite but with a solid example and a kind of work-flow that the reader can follow along with. Same basic ideas & content, but largely different structure.
* Be helpful in a way that I find enjoyable. I’ve found I’m not a huge fan of 1:1 mentoring for individuals. Doesn’t feel impactful enough. But through Christy, we had some chances this year to talk to groups of entrepreneurs about our experience, and both of those events were really satisfying. I also had a chance to connect with some early entrepreneurs, and some of that has been genuinely rewarding as well. So, more of that, and less 1:1 stuff. Try to submit to some speaking engagements re: team culture & product dev stuff.

So yeah. 2024. More conscious engagement, less “do the default”. More exercise, more winging, more focused projects. But I don’t expect it to be *radically* different – just challenging some things I “feel into” in 2023, that ended up being habits I don’t want to continue.


Had the front of the house repainted. They’re almost done – front door & crawlspace doors and one window in the back that needed some help left to go. Basically got the front and the right side of the house redone, back and left left as-is.

A handful of years ago, we had a neighbor repaint the front trim, but the paint he used was really not durable, and he did a pretty sloppy job. I’ve always been a little annoyed with it, even though the sentiment behind giving our friend & neighbor some work before he moved away – I don’t regret that at all.

But so last winter, we had a little water leak during the absolute worst storm we’ve had in ages. So there’s some stuff in the front that needed touching up – stucco was cracking, and a lot of wood was exposed to the point where there was significant dryrot in the stair “caps” – the wooden bits where you might put your hands.

So all that got fixed and then painted. We hired a “name-brand” company to do it, and indeed it was about 3x the cost of the neighbor doing it, but the quality is WAY better.

Because we were only doing two sides, changing color was a no-go, or we’d have to have repainted the eaves all the way around the house.  So it’s weird to have spent $$$$, and have it sort of feel like a no-op, but it’s also kind of like it went backwards in time by a decade, so that’s alright. :smile:

Funny thing is, a few weeks ago, we also spent a bunch of money to get one of our cars essentially mostly re-painted. Turns out BMW’s clearcoat just breaks apart after a while, and the car was looking really bad – broken clearcoat all over the hood, trunk, roof, and then little holes all over the doors and fenders. So we took that in, had everything essentially totally repainted. And then last week, one of the few little bits that *wasn’t* resprayed just broke. So I have to get that fixed eventually. But for the most part, the car is good again – got new paint, and then went in for service so it’s good inside and out. And the other car got new tires.

So it’s basically like we just spent enough to have bought a bunch of new stuff, but instead spent it maintaining old stuff. Which I feel alright about. Keeping the house and cars in good, safe, working order so that they’ll last us as long as possible is more cost-effective and environmentally-conscious in the long run.