I joined Kabam as Sr Director of Engineering in late 2015, having successfully negotiated an acquisition of my Rogue Rocket team. I am in charge of the SF studio's engineering group, initially running Star Wars: Uprising, but now prototyping an innovative new game concept.
I co-founded Rogue Rocket Games LLC with Nick Bruty in 2011. Our goal was to bring our creativity and high level of execution to digital download spaces with smaller but inventive and fun games. While largely mobile, we ventured into other spaces such as Steam, Windows App Store, and Mac.
Prior to that, I had joined Planet Moon Studios in 2004 because I was drawn to its incredibly creative roots, and memorable games that combined at the time cutting edge action and hilarious stories. The studio always had a feeling of a tight knit team that not only wanted to make great games, but enjoyed each others' company and approached it with simultaneous professionalism and irreverence.
I got my start as a technical lead here, taking over engineering teams for several games projects over my time there, and participating in the company leadership team to help craft strategies and operational decisions.
But in the beginning, I was very lucky to land a programming job at LucasArts as my first job out of college in 1999. It set the tone and trajectory of my career in many ways, as well as connected me to people who are now all over the industry doing a huge variety of interesting things.
I like to refer to the incarnation of the company during my tenure as "Gen 3 Lucas." This was during the transition into 3d accelerated gaming, and finding its voice in the evolving space. I intentionally tried to stay on teams working on original IP games because that's where my heart was at, though one of the best games I worked on here was Star Wars: Republic Commando. It was on this game that I worked for Christian Lassonde, who has since been my long time valued mentor and friend, to whom I'm incredibly grateful.
I took over the engineering team for Star Wars: Uprising when my team from Rogue Rocket was added to Kabam in San Francisco. The game had received critical acclaim and Apple featuring, but was struggling to find operational health. It was quite challenging to come in over a team I was unfamiliar with but was able to make traction in improving communication and team coherence while I could. I was also able to lead an effort to shrink the game down to a < 100mb core game app for better distribution efficiency, with a secondary cloud download and help the company collect critically valuable data related to download behavior that was useful across all mobile games. Ultimately, the company shifted focus and this game was sunset.
My time after was spent helping the company with various management challenges related to preparing the company for sale, as well as co-leading a prototyping effort for a new game concept.
Gunpowder is probably the "best" game we made at Rogue Rocket in terms of creativity and quality. We remain very proud of this game. It was originally a game concept we came up with and successfully signed with Microsoft as a publisher as an early launch window title for Windows 8 App Store. Unfortunately, the Windows App Store audience never really materialized into a healthy economy.
Fortunately, the team we worked with at Microsoft was very supportive and we were able to make a deal that allowd us to bring it independently to iOS, Amazon App Store, and Steam
We also were selected as a July 2015 iOS Best New Games Featured in UK and Dutch App Stores, and most recently as one of the top family friendly games on the Mac App Store.
I wrote a blog article about how this game came to be on Gamasutra, which you can find here.
First Wonder is a spiritual successor of Giants: Citizen Kabuto and MDK, straight from the mind of my Rogue Rocket co-founder Nick Bruty, the original creator of both those classic games. We aimed to pivot towards high quality indie action gaming through crowdfunding to achieve greater control of our own financing and ultimately to create and deliver games to a community of gamers who love our style of game.
Unfortunately, we weren't able to reach our goals, but we did produce a pretty cool little concept demo built in Unreal 4 that many people found pretty cool that we've now made available on a request basis on Steam.
Through this experience, we also learned a ton about things like influencer networks (like Twitch), presentation, and marketing. And though engaging in these areas, found ourselves connecting to a ton of interesting people that we wouldn't have otherwise.
My Amazing Story was the most exciting original IP game I've had the pleasure of working with. This one was conjured at Planet Moon by the founders, including but not limited to Bob Stevenson and Nick Bruty.
It was a truly innovative concept, making a game filled with wonder and magical moments to draw in family players of disparate game maturity.
Ultimately, the effort was cancelled by our publisher, Microsoft, as the shifting tides receded away from our game just prior to the release of the original Kinect.
In fact, it was most likely it would not have been possible to share anything about it at all, but somewhere along the way, pieces of unreleased material leaked onto the Internet, much of which I found collected here. The team was heartbroken to see it die on the vine, but this is a tragedy many game developers must face in their career.
I was the lead programmer on this game. But one of my highlights of this project was coming up with a game mechanic concept I call "seamless splitscreen", where the two co-op players are free to travel apart from each other and the camera seamlessly bifurcates the camera into two to track them, only to again seamlessly re-merge when they come back together. It worked beautifully, and was a couple years before Traveler's Tales developer a similar concept in their wonderful Lego property games. I later brought this concept to Disney's Tangled, which is nearly the same implementation that I'm pretty proud of in terms of contributing to the design of the product.
The last game I worked on at LucasArts, Republic Commando is still regarded as one of the best Star Wars games that gamers remember. I was on the multiplayer team and did a lot of work on multiplayer game modes and connectivity. Here I worked for Christian Lassonde, who has become a long time friend and mentor for me ever since. I'm extremely grateful for my time on this team, and much of the ideas I base my approach to leadership on stem from this time
The first game I ever worked on, Escape from Monkey Island was also on my first job after graduating from UC Berkeley. It was a ton of work but some of the most fun times in my career. The team was hilarious and great to work with, and I'm still friends with many of them more than 15 years later. In addition to programming, I was able to write some game dialog and jokes as well as design some incidental gameplay.
The game was nominated that year for best adventure game of the year at GDC.
At the surface, Infected may seem like a relatively simple action shooter on the PSP with some fun combo mechanics, but under the hood there was some incredible ambition behind it that the guys at Planet Moon came up with. The thought was that the PSP was going to be huge, and people would be connecting with each other socially to play. The game aimed to reward a winner by "infecting" the losers with their "virus" and you could watch your "virus" spread across the real world through PSP's.
While this idea was ahead of its time, now that we see the prevalence of social connectivity on mobile, we did have this working from a tech perspective. I worked on the live multiplayer features and managed an external team that built the backend services to support the infection features.
While running Rogue Rocket, I became intrigued by how many casino games seemed to breaking into the top 100 grossing games lists. I didn't understand it at all, and I decided I needed to. As a creative studio, it wasn't compatible with our spirit or mandate to simply make another casino game, but it occurred to me that mixing casino concepts with a match-3 game might be a winning combination for the target audiences.
The result is Jackpot Gems, which has been the game from our studio that has shown the best metrics in retention and LTV. 3 years after release, players still avidly play, despite minimal to no updates in the last year due to our move to Kabam.
Given different circumstances and better capitalization, I believe Jackpot Gems could have been a strong contender for top grossing spots long term.
As lead programmer, I helped build an all new Afterburner PSP exclusive installment of the classic SEGA IP. The game included streaming levels, frenetic Afterburner worthy game mechanics and levels, and multiplayer modes, While a relatively simple game, we embraced the pure fun of the jets-focused IP and had a blast with the game.
This game concept was my design that we pitched around while at Rogue Rocket. Published by Big Fish Games, the idea was to create a mobile game that was a cross between skillful heist movies like Ocean's 11 and the time-management task game concepts in Diner Dash.
While the core concepts proved to be quite fun, it was difficult to play on smaller devices, and the original budget didn't afford us enough resources to build out the metagame, so in the end this game only saw soft launch. During this period, we did enjoy positive player reaction, and there's a lot of really fun game concepts presented.
Tangled is a puzzle platformer for Wii we built for Disney, and was signed based on the strength of the My Amazing Story prototypes we had been building for Microsoft. I was lead programmer on this game, and the thing I was happiest about was that it included the seamless split screen mechanic concept that I had come up with on My Amazing Story. While we weren't allowed to make it quite to the vision we would have preferred, the game looked quite good for a Wii game at the time, and my team did some incredible work getting Rapunzel's long hair to flow across the level using several technologies from Havok in an unusual way.
Originally a warm-up tiny game as our first mobile game at Rogue Rocket, it became a surprise hit and we peaked at #7 of all US free apps. It was simply meant to introduce some new game mechanic dimensions to the clever touch-perfect gameplay pioneered by Fruit Ninja. The original version was built by Nick and myself in 1 month, simply to prove to ourselves we could do it.
Dead on Delivery was a self funded game that was an experimental product at Rogue Rocket that wanted to see if we could marry some equipment collection mechanics to a relatively simple portrait mode mobile action game. The result was that we ended up with a game that was super engaging, but for too small of a target audience. Everybody either bounced out of the tutorial or first couple levels, or played everything through. Ultimately it was a great little experiment that successfully reused some code from previous projects, and gave us a measurable result.
A polished and fun trivia game for Wii we made at Planet Moon, Smarty Pants was also notable for being the first non-Nintendo published game to be allowed to use Mii's to represent the players. I worked on this aspect directly and was an interesting view into how Nintendo viewed the IP protection they felt was key to the Miis.
Smarty Pants remains one of the most successful games that we made at Planet Moon as well, with small residual royalty checks still coming in many years later.
Throne Together (or as we lovingly liked to refer to it internally at Rogue Rocket, "Ugly Castle") is a puzzle game with a novel extension of Tetris-like mechanics that you use to build teetering castles. Unbalancing the weight would cause base structures to crack and break. The concept was something I came up with and prototyped before signing with Microsoft on a publishing deal for their Windows Phone and Windows App Store platforms. I still feel the concept is pretty novel and would like to revisit it again some day in a different context.
The mobile incarnation of mobile is an indirect extension of the Infected IP from the Planet Moon PSP game I worked on. We inherited the IP when we started Rogue Rocket and this was our first game that we pitched to and got signed with Glu Mobile. It was an evolution of tower defense games, but with the same idea of infected people through PvP play. The core game was really fun and the real time play on mobile with the backend services was challenging, but ultimately the approach to free to play that we adopted from Glu during that time period didn't work out in this type of game. As our first foray into mobile free to play, it served as an excellent starting point for the studio and educated us a lot into future endeavors.
The LucasArts sequel to the beloved original adventure game never made it to market. However, it's said that its cancellation was delayed because what we were building was so damn good and they gave it additional consideration, ultimately buckling under the weight of the belief that adventure games had no market validity any longer.
Much of the team I worked with on this game went on to be founding members of Telltale Games, where they've used the same core concepts to become the kings of modern adventure gaming for the last decade. I worked under Kevin Bruner as an engineer on this project who is still the CEO of Telltale today.
I've probably never worked harder on a project than on RTX at LucasArts. For a while I did a long series of 90-120 hr work weeks. Unfortunately, this didn't result in a great game, but in the end I learned an enormous amount on my second professional game project. Lead programmer Eric Johnston had enough faith in me to give me ownership over the AI and visual FX systems for the entire game. While in retrospect, this was way more work than 1 engineer probably should tackle on his own, it was really quite fun and educational, and I'm grateful that Eric allowed me to tackle it.
It's also nice that despite a scathing review, Gamespot took a sentence to call out a positive note on my work:
"... to their credit, the enemies in the game are pretty good about taking cover when coming under fire" -- Gamespot 2003