Six Month’s Worth of Updates, News, and Games

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It’s been six months since I’ve updated this blog, so I thought I’d make a mini-post about my decision to leave Microsoft, plus a bunch of updates on the major things that I’ve been up to lately:

1) Leaving Microsoft, Freelancing as a Unity developer

A few weeks ago I left my job at Microsoft to focus on game development full time. Lots of people who make this jump go “full indie” by starting their own studio, but I decided to freelance instead, which frees me up to work on a per-project basis. Specifically, I’m specializing in gameplay programming, which is more focused on implementing mechanics, prototyping ideas rapidly, and iterating on current implementations to make sure they actually feel right when played. It really seems like the most natural role for someone like me who is both super technical and super design-oriented. You can check out my full portfolio at: http://livio.delacruz.tech

So why did I leave Microsoft? Whenever I tell other game developers that I worked as a program manager for an enterprise IT product called Azure Active Directory, they tend to assume that I was miserable there. According to stereotypes, people who make this kind of career jump usually hate their current jobs, or their passion for games is so extreme that it becomes a reason to hate their current jobs. However, I actually really enjoyed my years at Microsoft. I got to work with and learn from some awesomely smart people who are super passionate about what they do. Of course, my main career goals are in the games industry, but I’m not the kind of person who indulges in self-inflicted misery just because “it’s not games!”

I initially applied for the program manager role (which kinda resembles the “product manager” role in other companies) because the list of required skills had a ton of overlap with those for a game designer, skills that I wanted to learn. It also just looked like it’d be really fun since it was a technical, producer-like, entrepreneurial kind of job that had me designing features, talking to customers, prioritizing requirements, communicating and coordinating efforts across the team, studying the market and competitors, landing on implementation details with devs, and generally doing whatever it takes to make our product better. It was pretty awesome.

I pretty much got exactly what I was looking for. I was super motivated to learn and grow, and my understanding of the “manager” skill set changed dramatically. However, I eventually realized that my pursuit towards mastery was driven more by professionalism than actual passion for the skill set itself. I didn’t really want to specialize in program management, and I had a super strong itch to get back into programming full time. This realization was when I realized that it was time for me to move on, and now here I am trying to make a living out of making games. 🙂

2) Global Game Jam 2016

Back in January, I participated in Global Game Jam, and the theme this year was “ritual.” I teamed up with my friend Mary to make Kung Fu Wizard Battle, which is best described as a Wii game where your Android phone is the controller and a webpage on a desktop/laptop is your screen. The webpage shows you a spell to perform, and the player who successfully casts their spell first, by doing all of the required gestures, wins the round.

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Unfortunately we took the server down last month, because we didn’t want to keep paying for it. We did get a chance to showcase the game at two demo events, each time getting great responses from the audience. Some links: source code, APK file, submission page.

3) Game Developers Conference

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As usual, I went to GDC, and as usual, I traveled with the UA GameDev Club, the club that I started back when I was in school. The conference was super packed this year with all of the hype surrounding virtual reality.

While I was there, I attended the IGDA general meeting as well as several roundtables, and after continuing some of those conversations, two weeks ago I become a volunteer to help revive the IGDA Student SIG. We haven’t made any formal announcements yet, but stay tuned!

4) UA GameDev Club Spring Game Jam

I couldn’t participate in Ludum Dare 35 in April, but I spent the weekend before remotely participating in a game jam organized by the UA GameDev Club. The theme for this event was “train,” presumably chosen as a nod to the awesomeness of Train Jam.

I live-tweeted my progress on this thread, basing my idea from a joke in Steven Universe.

I tried a bunch of different ways to make the idea work, but overall I wasn’t really liking the core idea of a flying train. It felt like the most natural way to make the idea work was to essentially make Snake but in 3D, but I really didn’t want to make that for some reason. Maybe that direction was too obvious or too simple. I kinda gave up on the idea and started using the premise as an excuse to throw in random features in Unity. Not all prototypes work out, so I let myself get side-tracked with practicing shaders, rather than following through with an idea that I didn’t believe in.

5) Seattle VR Hackathon

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Also in April was the Seattle VR Hackathon. I teamed up with a bunch of cool people to make Double Double Dragon. It’s feels like text adventure game but in virtual reality (powered by Unity and Google Cardboard) and with voice input instead of text (powered by AWS, the Alexa Skills Kit, and Amazon Echo). Links: source code, APK file.

Fun fact: you can kinda tell that the above gif wasn’t actually recorded in VR because of the unnatural head movements. Rather than going through the trouble of figuring out how to record videos off of an Android device, I tried to make a more “authentic” recording by using Lego to mount a webcam to the phone. Unfortunately, the resulting recording was hideous.

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This was seriously a high-quality hackathon. Very well organized, great food, great location, good sponsors. You should definitely consider attending their next hackathon if you get the chance.

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6) Power of Play Conference

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I actually got to attend Power of Play this year. 😮 Lots of good talks and sessions, lot of speculation and counter-speculation about VR, but mostly great networking. In particular, the Twitch panel was incredibly valuable and informative. Fun fact: the former mayor of Bellevue was there.

7) HoloLens Hackathon

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I was super lucky to be able to attend the first ever HoloLens Hackathon. I thought the Seattle VR Hackathon was super well run, but Microsoft threw the most professional and well funded hackathon I’ve seen yet. The event was held inside a film studio, with better food, even more security, and in-person help from the HoloLens development team. Every team got two HoloLens headsets to work with.

Our team made a mockup for a retail app that lets users browse fashion products, and preview holograms of those products before buying. The biggest hurdle with developing for HoloLens is getting yourself to stop thinking in terms of virtual reality and to start thinking about augmented reality. You have to remember that the user is in the “real world” and that you can’t create “big” experiences that take up much of the users’ surroundings. You have to think of your UX as supplementing the real world, something that adds to whatever space the user is currently in.

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Thanks for reading.

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