2016 Update

Posted by on Dec 4, 2016 in Blog | 37 comments

2016 has been a pretty crappy year, but it wasn’t crappy for Turbo Button. I’ve updated the site with links to three new talks (from Vision Summit, GDC, and Oculus Connect) and two new game releases (Adventure Time and Floor Plan).

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Oculus Connect Talk

Posted by on Nov 4, 2015 in Feature | 2 comments

I recently spoke at Oculus Connect about the development of Turbo Button’s first game, Adventure Time: Magic Man’s Head Games. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vZ8SfXOlpI

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Making a Change

Posted by on Dec 19, 2014 in Blog | 2 comments

Today is my last day at Magic Pixel Games, and my first day as a independent developer.

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Data from “A Night at the Roculus”

Posted by on Nov 17, 2014 in Blog, My Games | 2 comments

A collection of hardware data from Night at the Roculus installs.

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What I Listened To: 2013 Edition

Posted by on Jan 6, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments

This is normally when I put together a big list of games I played in the previous year, but while I’m working on that, I thought I’d share some of my favorite songs from last year, in pseudo-particular order. I get my music recommendations from some combination of friends, random bands that I get to see, Sirius XM Alt Nation radio, and Spotify. The songs are embedded below, but here’s a link to a Spotify playlist with them all too. Cage The Elephant – “Come A Little Closer” I wasn’t a big fan of their new full length on the whole, but “Come A Little Closer” hits all the right notes for me as a follow up to some of my favorite songs of theirs, like Back Against the Wall and Aberdeen. It’s something I would want to play in Rock Band all the time if that was still a thing. Two Door Cinema Club – “Changing of the Seasons” This song excites me as much as the their original 2010 album. I need to try to see them in concert sometime soon in LA. Young the Giant – “It’s About Time” I always liked Young the Giant, but this song hit late in the year and I’ve been listening to it ever since. I’m a big fan of the upbeat tempo, compared to what I’m used to hearing from them…I think it actually suits the vocals better than something like “Apartment.” New Politics – “Harlem” One of my guilty pleasure songs from the year. Don’t have much more to say than that. >_> Imagine Dragons – “Demons” Imagine Dragons exploded in popularity this year – I can’t turn on my TV without hearing “Radioactive” on a commercial. So while “Demons” hasn’t been ignored, it certainly hasn’t gotten the respect it deserved being on the same album. This is the only one between the two that has stayed on my playlists. Fitz and The Tantrums – “The Walker” It’s a happy song, and the world needs more happy songs. I gained extra appreciation for it when I found out the song’s lyrics are actually about a homeless guy who aimlessly walks around Silver Lake at night, because writing a song about that is a very LA thing to do. Cold War Kids – “Miracle Mile” I liked CWK’s last effort (“Mine is Yours”) quite a lot more than most people, and Miracle Mile reminds me most of it out of all the tracks on the new album. I’m glad this one has proven to be more popular for them. Capital Cities – “Safe & Sound” Yet another band you can’t turn on a radio without hearing now. I turned down about a dozen opportunities to see Capital Cities this year and regret not going. NONONO – “Pumpin Blood” In the same vein as “The Walker” above on this list, it’s a very upbeat song. I whistle along to this in the car way too much. American Authors – “Believer” I wasn’t sure whether to include “Believer” or “Best Day Of My Life” on the list from American Authors, and then realized I’d played “Believer” about twice as much because I don’t hear it on the radio anymore. It’s a damn good song that I hope doesn’t get lost. Bastille...

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What I Played: 2012 Edition

Posted by on Apr 4, 2013 in Blog, Feature | 1 comment

So remember when I said I would have this writeup finished back at the end of January? Yeah, that didn’t happen. But it’s finished now! I find that my responsibilities and opportunities as a full time developer have made me write less not because I don’t want to, but because I’m around developers all the time and talking about these kind of things scratches the same itch. I’m at work on a postmortem for Stick to It, the recently released iOS game I worked on at Magic Pixel, and a couple deconstructions that have been in the oven for far too long. But back to the point – here’s the list of all the games I played in 2012. “Played” in this sense means I gave them more than a couple hours (where applicable) or in many cases completed them entirely. This console generation has gone on for so long that I’m still catching up on some of the hidden gems I missed in previous years, and I know not all of these games are new for everyone. I hope this list will give other people a good overview of my gaming habits (and background), but more than that, I hope I might tip someone off to something they might not have otherwise played. 10000000 (iOS) 10000000 is a dungeon-crawling puzzle RPG with a very unfortunate name, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun for the few hours it lasts. The game is a constant grind where you go on short runs, earn resources, and upgrade your character to go on slightly longer runs – like any number of early 2000s flash games – but this particular implementation of the match-three puzzle mechanic grabbed me. The icons matched on the bottom half of the screen determine what attacks or spells you use against monsters on the top half of the screen. I don’t think I’ve gone back to the game at all since hitting the score goal indicated in the title. Assassin’s Creed Revelations (Xbox 360) Another Assassin’s Creed game, another opportunity for me to run around and clear a bunch of dots off of a map. The epic moments in Revelations were easily the best of the series so far, even if Constantinople wasn’t the best venue. The other two games in the Ezio trilogy were worthwhile and this one is too. It’s full of fun acrobatic sequences, fun collect-a-thons, and nonsensical pseudo history to push the series’ trademark mindfuck/bullshit-as-we-go story along to its inevitable disappointing end. Speaking of which… Assassin’s Creed III (Xbox 360) After all that went right since Assassin’s Creed II, I am completely baffled at how Ubisoft pushed Assassin’s Creed III out the door in the state it’s in. It’s a beautiful game that the developers are afraid to let you play, lest you encounter the numerous bugs around everyone corner. The cutscenes are fantastic and far too frequent, movement through the world is a joy in the wilderness areas but a chore in the cities, where the guards seem to be alerted at random. Kirk Hamilton wrote a great piece on the game’s ending that matched my experience almost exactly. The production value is nowhere near the bar set by the other games in the series – from the menus, to the UI, to the...

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2012 Recap

Posted by on Jan 14, 2013 in Blog | 1 comment

I went to write my “What I Played” post for 2012 and realized I hadn’t made a post on here since the last annual “What I Played” post. I need to get better about updating this thing. I did a lot last year in games: I participated in my third Global Game Jam in January with a bunch of my friends from college, and we made a game called BLARF. I hosted the What Would Molydeux game jam in LA for Magic Pixel Games, and had an awesome time. I participated in my first Ludum Dare competition, making a “game” called Pluto’s Revenge by myself over a weekend. I used Stencyl, so don’t worry – it’s still not “real” programming. I attended GDC 2012, E3 2012, PAX Prime 2012, and Indiecade 2012. I also moderated and spoke on a panel with some friends at PAX Prime, the first time I’ve gotten a chance to do that. It was a ton of fun! I participated in an internal game jam at Magic Pixel Games and had a title for iOS get greenlit. I’ve been working hard with a great team and it’s coming out next month, so expect another post! I started a website called “KickAssist” at Magic Pixel Games, where we give money to indie game projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. You can read about it here! There are some awesome things in the works at Magic Pixel Games for 2013, and I look forward to sharing them with you soon! In hope of motivating myself to write more, I’ve redesigned my website with a minimalist theme and put the focus on the content. It’s also much friendlier for reading on tablets. The annual “What I’ve Played” post should be up later this week. Until...

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What I Played: 2011 Edition

Posted by on Jan 27, 2012 in Blog, Feature, Now Playing | 4 comments

I’m a little later than usual getting my “year in review” list up this month. 2011 was my first year working full time in the games industry, and I expected the idea of “making games means playing less games” to apply. It didn’t apply all that much in the end – maybe I played games for less time, but I still played a lot of different ones. If this is your first time reading one of these lists, let me preface it like I always do: I’m not an expert critic, and this is mostly an exercise for me to analyze my own gaming habits. I share it publicly so my peers can better frame my background and biases as a designer/producer/geek. With that, onward! Anomaly Warzone Earth (PC) Nifty take on “tower offense.” The formula grew a bit stale for me on PC because I felt like I didn’t have enough to do while I was waiting for my troops to reach the towers, but that might feel better on the iOS version where touching and panning is a bit more action-heavy than dragging a mouse. Atom Zombie Smasher (PC) The first of many Humble Indie Bundle pickups on this list, Atom Zombie Smasher is a charming top-down defense game. The presentation value sells the experience, much like in Firemint’s Flight Control. It’s a fun time-waster, worth the price of admission, but it doesn’t bring anything new to the genre so I don’t think I learned much from it as a designer. Barkley: Shut Up & Jam Gaiden (PC) Fantastic indie RPG that took me way too long to get around to playing. It’s absolutely hilarious from start to finish and features a battle system that rivals the Paper Mario games. You don’t have to be a sports fan to appreciate an epic drama in which the events of Space Jam are considered canonical. Batman: Arkham City (PC) It’s like Arkham Asylum, but more Batman-ier in all the right ways. Arkham City was probably my “game of the year” in terms of moment-to-moment joy while playing it. Again, like Saboteur and Assassin’s Creed, it gave me a map with a ton of dots on it, and I couldn’t rest until I had found them all. My only recommendation is to play it on console instead of PC – it’s quite buggy and isn’t worth futzing with the broken DX11 and Games for Windows Live features. BIT.TRIP.RUNNER (PC) This is really a rhythm game disguised as a “run forever” game. It’s one of the most unforgiving runners out there – the levels aren’t procedurally generated,  so if you screw up, you end up replaying the same stretches over and over again. It can get frustrating, but not in a terrible way. I intend to go back to it at some point. Cave Story+ (PC) This very loosely fits “HD remake”  criteria, but on the flip side, it’s the first opportunity to pay money for one of the best indie games ever made. I played the original Cave Story a while back and this version feels a bit more playable. It’s up there with other classic sidescrollers like Super Metroid and Mega Man in my book. Is there enough to warrant a playthrough if you’ve already played the original? Hard to say. Child of Eden (Xbox 360 / Kinect)...

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Why I Can’t Finish Skyward Sword

Posted by on Dec 21, 2011 in Now Playing | 4 comments

Skyward Sword’s biggest fans and many members of the press believe that the motion controls make the game what it is – you have to put extra thought into every sword swipe and the 1:1 connection makes it feel more personal than any Zelda game before it. I have a very different opinion. I really wanted to like it, but Skyward Sword will be the first Zelda game I don’t finish. Here’s my attempt to articulate my problems with the game. Good implementations of motion controls make you feel more connected to the activity you’re doing through a series of smoke and mirrors. Dance Central, for instance, is really just a game of Simon Says that makes you feel awesome. You see the dancers on stage doing crazy routines, and when the game says you did well, you think you look as cool as the dancers. In reality, the game was just looking at an approximation of your movements, and if you were close, it’ll give you positive feedback. Anyone who has played Dance Central in a party setting knows that the game usually tells people they look better than they actually do. That’s part of the fun, though, and it isn’t a bad design. It is distinctly different from other dancing games before it and shows the promise of its platform. Wii Sports before it was even a well-designed game. Even if it was mostly waggle, it enabled players to mimic real bowling or boxing motions and get better results than they would in real life. They weren’t accurate, but they offered a very different experience compared to everything in the genre before it. Guitar Hero didn’t make its name with motion controllers, but still achieved success by offering a new way to play music games that allowed players to feel like they were living out a fantasy. All of these games had their critics. Some professional musicians hated Guitar Hero. I recall Pearl Jam’s singer performing one of his songs in Rock Band on a talk show and getting a failing grade. Some people felt like it trivialized learning an actual instrument, while others embraced it as a fun alternative. Wii Sports is slammed by people who really do play tennis, golf, and baseball all the time as being a completely inaccurate simulation. Even Dance Central is criticized by really good dancers – it requires you to follow a really rigid set of movements if you’re going to get the best scores on harder difficulties, but being rigid makes you look like an idiot if you’re actually dancing. People who have precedents for an experience judge motion controls that attempt to recreate those experiences by those precedents. Skyward Sword has a precedent – every Zelda game before it – so when motion controls make it harder for me to kill enemies that I’ve encountered throughout Zelda games my entire life, I’m going to react negatively. I’ve heard that “every enemy is like a puzzle” – well, yes, it certainly is. It’s a puzzle to figure out how to make the controller do what you want it to do so that you can get on to the actual puzzles in the dungeons. I’ve managed to beat two of the dungeons and a couple sidequests, and the hardest enemy...

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Game Deconstruction: The Saboteur

Posted by on Apr 21, 2011 in Decon | 1 comment

The Saboteur is an open-world action adventure game set in the Nazi-occupied Paris of World War II. It was released late last year to mixed reviews and lackluster sales under the shadow of Assassin’s Creed II and the dozens of other holiday releases that had actual marketing budgets. Some players say it’s unfinished and buggy, which is pretty much on the mark – Pandemic was shut down before the game’s launch, so it went out the door without the extra layer of polish that makes good games great. I picked it up with low expectations, and came away 60 hours later thoroughly impressed. Players willing to look beyond the problems can still find a satisfying experience inside – not to say they should because it has a lot of problems, but it shouldn’t be completely dismissed either. It’s a good candidate for a deconstruction because the unpolished mechanics strewn throughout the game are representative of amazing ideas that remain unexplored by other open world games. The Saboteur Developer: Pandemic Studios Publisher: Electronic Arts Genre: Open World / Stealth Action Metacritic: 72 Price: $59.99 on release, $19.99 at the time of writing The bulk of Saboteur’s gameplay consists of destroying targets that weaken the Nazi presence in the city such as observation towers, armored vehicles, and artillery encampments. The sheer number of targets around the city is unprecedented – looking at a map of them at the beginning is nothing short of intimidating. Some players might be turned off by the breadth of things to do, but it reinforces the setting by making the French Resistance feel smaller than any sort of dialog could. Story missions are strewn throughout the game and do everything you’d expect in an open world game. They’ll take place in one-off, linear levels, but most of the time they’re just about navigating from point A to point B on the world map, occasionally blowing something up along the way. There’s nothing particularly bad about this system, but nothing great either. The defining characteristic of Saboteur is its stealth gameplay. Players are tasked with sneaking into bases and planting bombs over and over again. It’s a big system, so let’s break it down: The game’s map is divided into three types of areas: “normal zones,” “suspicion zones,” and “restricted zones.” In normal zones, Sean can walk around right in front of Nazi officers without them minding. These are the areas where the people of Paris are out on the streets. In suspicion zones (indicated by yellow on the map), enemies will slowly become suspicious when they see Sean. In restricted zones (indicated by red on the map), enemies will almost instantly trigger an alert when they see Sean. Alerts follow the GTA system of escaping the highlighted area on the minimap. The area’s size doubles with each alert level. After alert level three (of five), “fight back” points appear on the map that act as a sort of last-stand where NPCs assist the player at an intersection to fend off Nazis from all sides. After eliminating enough enemies, the alert phase ends. There are also hiding spots throughout the city that can be used to end the lower alert levels, such as brothels and bathrooms. The player’s suspicion level is indicated by a yellow ring around...

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