Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lisa’s Favorite Games of 2013

And now the games post as promised. Keep in mind, this isn’t “Games I thought were the best out of all games of 2013,” because I did not play all the games. I thought Antichamber was brilliant, but I only spectated that one. And these aren’t necessarily the artsiest-fartsiest of games, or the games with the best design. Rather, this is more of a list of “Games that consumed me in 2013,” or games that was antsy to get off work and get home so I could play some more. Here they are in order played.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch


This game ended up being exactly what I hoped it would be. It had that whimsical, wondrous JRPG-from-my-childhood feel that I have been missing for so long, and I was startled to realize that a lot of that feeling merely comes from the presence of a world map. It was beautiful, and a world that I wanted to spend time in. I didn’t really get into the monster-collecting aspect of it, and stuck with a core group and strategy for the better part of the game, led by MonGod, the tankiest of tanks. I loved the combat in this game, which was active while still retaining something of that menu-based combat feel that I loved in JRPGs of old. If not for Nick’s fatigue of coaching boss battles, I would have plowed through all the post-end-of-game quests. I will do any quest that is framed as helping someone out, so the frequent-buyer style stamp cards were incredibly compelling for me. I wanted to help ALL THE PEOPLE.




I had seen this game at Indiecade the year prior, and it won me over instantly with its aesthetic and the fact that you can transform from luchador to chicken. This is a fantastic metroid-vania style brawler, and the art and animation is delightful. The theming was spot on and the music did that weird mariachi-electronica mashup that just worked so well for the game. It had some ups and downs in co-op: the brawling was a great 2-player experience, but the exploring and platforming aspects felt better in single player. I loved how many elegant design solutions showed up, especially for combining get-to-new-places abilities with specific combat needs (the different colored shields). Also you can transform into a chicken. The only bummer in this game for me was the tired old damsel-in-distress trope. I kept waiting for them to throw a clever twist on it, but they never did :( Alas, can’t have everything.


Animal Crossing: New Leaf


It had been a long, long time since I bought a console specifically for a single game, but the indirect peer pressure of friends posting about their villages was too much, and before long the 3DS and Animal Crossing were mine all mine. I really liked how they toned down the guilt-tripping in this game compared to previous iterations. This made me much more excited to return to my village after a small absence, rather than being terrified of the berating I would receive at the hands of my villagers. I’ve never been much for decorating house, but I do love to help run errands for my villagers, and I did manage to find all the fossils. The Halloween event was super fun, and I still feel guilty about caving and becoming another exploitive beetle farmer. I think this game consumed me so well because it fit right into my daily routine. After work every day I would take Mr. Davis for a walk for an hour, and it was the perfect time frame for checking in, digging up my fossils, watering my plants, and taking care of day-to-day town maintenance. Surprisingly, even though it was seeing other people post about this game that compelled me to buy it, I never visited a single other person’s village.


Papers, Please


Oh, man. This game, you guys, this game. I feel like I’ve gushed enough about how much I love this game already, so I’ll just do a short recap. I loved how simple the actual mechanic was, and how complex they were able to make it without needing much more input. It made it incredibly accessible while still having the potential for a lot of depth. I loved how many ethical dilemmas I faced playing this game, and how they just showed up without any face-rubbing or drama, but were simple but still stirring. I love how intensely I cared about the wellbeing of my family, who were nothing more than names on a screen (and perhaps that is why they became so important to me, because my imagination filled in all the meat). This was also an incredibly intense, at times stressful co-op experience. I’m actually not sure if I could have handled the later levels alone. If you have yet to play this game, please give it a try. For me.


Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

File:The Legend of Zelda A Link Between Worlds NA cover.jpg

Buying a 3DS for Animal Crossing suddenly made me realize that I got to be excited about the release of this game! A Link to the Past is tied for my all-time favorite Zelda, and I have fond memories of how much of an impression that game had on my life, so I was very excited about the idea that this game would take place in the same world. A Link Between Worlds was like coming home, the perfect balance of nostalgia factor and fresh new content and mechanics. It also made really good use of the 3D feature, with all of its clever puzzles that had to do with verticality in the top-down world. The pacing was delightful, and even when I perceived solutions to puzzles very quickly, the discovery was still intoxicating. I did a lot of the completionist stuff purely because I wanted to spend as much time as possible in the world, and was depressed to have finished it.

2013 Review

This year was full of many adventures and exciting times. I feel kind of like it was a ramp-up, and that 2014 might explode…but for good or for awesome? Only time will tell. Here’s a few memories from 2013.



At work, we finally revealed the project that I’d been working on since Resistance 3 shipped, that being Sunset Overdrive. It felt great to be able to share the trailer with the world, and I worked on many things for the first half of the year, both exciting and challenging. However, during the summer, I made a transition to working on something else that was more of a process experiment. I will be able to talk about that in more detail, soon, but the second half of 2013 was incredibly refreshing and fulfilling, work-wise. I continue to be ever grateful for Insomniac and my job as a game designer. Meanwhile, I’ve turned up the networking knob a bit for 2013, partially under the encouragement of Nick, and have been more active in reaching out and connecting with my fellow game devs, through the internet or Game Dev Drinkups or whathaveyou.



Mr. Davis has had some ups and downs this year. He had to have some teeth pulled at the very beginning of the year, and then had a frightening bout with pancreatitis which has unfortunately turned into a chronic condition. However, in his normal day-to-day life he remains happy, and continues to be a valued source of unconditional love in my life.



Nick and I moved in together this year! So far it has been wonderful, and Mr. Davis is also happy about the arrangement. Meanwhile, I feel like I’ve had a lot of insights this year, and forged deeper bonds with friends and mentors. Whenever I review it in my mind I feel an overflowing of love and gratitude, and I’d like to take part of 2014 to express these feelings in a more overt way. Financially, I continue to plug away at the student loan, and if all goes as planned, it should be gone by the end of 2014! Hobby-wise, playing League of Legends and watching e-sports has only been on the rise. As far as games played, I’ll save my top 5 games of 2013 for another post.


Side Projects

I got involved in more out-of-work projects this year, including a few game jams and my first solo Ludum Dare. I also buckled down and participated in National Novel Writing Month, which is something I’d always meant to do but put off. Not only was I successful, but I opened some manner of portal in my brain and a giant story is trying to squeeze its way out. I have been honestly surprised at how consuming the experience has been. 2014 will see it out into the world. In other side projects, I made an effort to work more non-fiction into my reading rotation, and feel like I’ve absorbed all kinds of interesting new bits of knowledge as a result. Mentoring continues to be a part of my time, both through Game Mentor Online and through connecting directly with students via my various alma maters, as is photography at the animal shelter.



This year I felt like I was more successful than ever with consistently riding my bike to work. Nick and I also established a frequent hiking habit which has been beneficial. And ever since moving into the new apartment, I have been walking a lot more on a regular basis. I feel really good about myself right now, but have an antsy urge to get harder/better/faster/stronger, just because. I think it is a desire to channel the blossoming of energy that I’ve felt grow inside of me this year, possibly as a result of all the side projects.


I have a sensation that 2014 is going to be full of creative energy and positive relationships, and I am excited and curious and wiggling with anticipation for whatever surprises it may have in store for me.

Monday, November 11, 2013

PH 2013 Beats

And now, a brief overview of my favorite beats from this year’s Project Horseshoe.


1. Things were already looking up on the trip to the conference at our layover in Las Vegas. I put $1 into a slot for funsies, and after a long interval of incomprehensible flashing lights, I got $15 back. This was used to purchase a victory sandwich.

2. We played Two-Truths-And-A-Lie and I managed to fool someone into thinking I had been a magician instead of a synchronized swimmer at one time in my life (the other truth was Glassblower).

3. Had wonderful conversations the first evening, which sparked that first insight about spontaneous shared experiences.

4. Next morning at breakfast, had folks play a prototype I’ve been working on and got a pile of wonderfully helpful feedback

5. Pitched the spontaneous shared experiences idea for a workgroup topic the next day and it got chosen! Many interesting conversations followed!

6. Topped the evening off with many exciting rounds of Artemis. My favorite job is Comms, where I constantly pester the Science officer for the latest gossip concerning enemy ship captains, such that I may insult them more effectively.

7. Did field research with my workgroup the next day, which involved trolling another workgroup with a cow puppet on a stick.

8. Epic potato gun battle at lunch! (no no no, this kind of potato gun, not the dangerous kind)

9. Delightful workgroup presentations that night, mine may or may not have involved a “spontaneous” appearance by G.O.B. Bluth.

10. Had the most epic stories that night playing Once Upon a Time. I love that game SO MUCH!

11. After discovering a  potato in the hood of my jacket, I took revenge on the wrong person. Whoops.


Tl;dr: A good time was had by all! The only downside is a case of classic con crud. I blame the communal M&M jar.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Spontaneous Shared Experiences in Games

So, last night at Project Horseshoe a series of interesting thoughts flittered by that I wanted to capture down. A group of us were talking about mastery, autonomy, and relatedness in games and the relatedness category struck me to share a recent observation. Some time ago my brother posted on Facebook a thread that started a conversation about spontaneous shared experiences in public transportation, and sadness for people who missed out on them in a primarily “car” society. The story was about how on a bus ride, a bright yellow maple leaf managed to drift in through an open window, and everyone on the bus stopped what they were doing to watch it. Then, talk about how delightful it was to make that spontaneous connection. Another story was about a man bringing a bag of potatoes on a train and spilling them, and everyone in the car was suddenly running around, chasing wayward potatoes and laughing.

This got me thinking about how this phenomenon shows up in multiplayer games. It’s not the same as, say, an event in World of Warcraft where everyone on the realm gathers together in one place to participate in it (something like the holiday bosses). Rather, it’s more when people are together going about their own ways, and something surprising happens at that moment to just that group of people, so that they somehow instinctively know that only they experienced it, and so it brings them close together for a moment.

An example that I extracted from my memory was a particular game of League of Legends I’d played some time ago. Now, here is an already-shared experience happening within a designed context, because we are two teams playing against one another to win. Someone on my team was playing Shen (a character who can teleport to another of his teammates anywhere on the map) and their team had a Warwick (a character who can teleport a short distance onto an enemy player, latch onto them and more or less stun them and deal damage). Warwick and Shen were off on one side of the map, and Warwick was chasing down Shen, who was low on health, to get in range for the kill. In a desperate attempt to save himself, Shen did his teleport move, which has a long (in the context of a fast paced game) animation it must perform before he actually teleports. At the very, very last moment of the animation, Warwick got within range to do HIS short teleport ability, and jumped to Shen at the EXACT moment he teleported. This meant that, through a bug, Warwick teleported along with Shen right into the middle of our team, where we of course obliterated him.

The chat lit up on both teams:


“OMG what just happened!”

“That was amaaaaaaaaaazing!’

And on and on. Even poor Warwick was laughing. It felt hilarious and wonderful, and I still remember that moment out of the hundreds of League of Legends games I have played, and tell that story to people. It was as though we all knew in that moment that we’d be telling the story of what happened to friends for years to come, and it made me feel like I had a special connection to this group of mostly strangers for a passing moment.

So, what made that moment feel so good? What made it work so perfectly? I’m going to try and break it down a little:

1. Surprise. Since it was a bug, it definitely was unexpected, and so surprised everyone.

2. Logical context. The bug made perfect sense within the context of how everyone understood the rules of these two players’ moves. Of course it made sense that  if Warwick teleported onto Shen right as he teleported away, that Warwick would come along for the ride. We all knew it wasn’t supposed to happen, but what did happen made logical sense in a kind of extra layer of narrative we had for how those abilities worked. If the bug had been something unrelated to the relationship between these two abilities, like if Warwick scaled really big randomly or got stuck in his ult animation loop or exploded spontaneously, it would have been surprising, but not as delightful as what really happened.

3. Reversal. One moment Shen is in dire straits, surely about to die, and then suddenly in the act of the killing blow, it is Warwick who finds himself in an impossible situation (stranded alone on the other side of the map in the middle of the entire enemy team). Humans love a good reversal.

4. No designed intent. Because this was obviously a bug, everyone knew they were witnessing a moment that had not been “designed” for them, which somehow made it feel more authentic, and more worth remembering and sharing. If I’d been together with a group of people and witnessed a random event that had been designed into the game, I might feel surprise and delight, but I don’t think I’d feel that same shared connection with the other people who had also witnessed it.

Okay, so these spontaneous shared experiences in games are wonderful things, but can we design for them? Can we create systems that have opportunities for these things to occur that do not feel like a designed event? (Preferably but not introducing a game with bugs in it) I think when players recognize something as the result of an intentional design, it goes less from spontaneous delight and more to excavation – can the thing be dug up and cataloged away – another valid experience but not exactly the kind I need to recreate.

Do the spontaneous shared connections need to require all of these elements? No, I don’t think so. Some other stories we shared contained no reversal, for example, but shared commiseration. I don’t think this is a blueprint for what these must be, just a dissection of one in particular.

Food for thought.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Blue Light Dreams

Now and again, I have a weird sleep issue that I call “Blue Light Dreams.” It goes like this:


1. I’ll be having a dream which I usually don’t remember

2. I’ll wake up with sudden urgency and start carrying out some task of great importance that my mind is convinced is 100% real. This can be something like “the tunnel in the ceiling is open, now is our chance to get through!” and will end up with me literally standing up on the bed and hoisting up Davis so we can climb through the nonexistent tunnel in the ceiling that I’m scrambling to find.

3. A few moments later I’ll realize that I’ve woken from a dream and whatever I’ve just been acting out is actually ridiculous. Davis usually makes his confused “Mrrr?” sound.

4. 99% of the time these outbursts involve me seeing a blue light. Like in the previous example, I will have seen a bright blue light in the corner of the ceiling which is the signal that the tunnel is open. This looks like a reflection off the wall of a bright blue LED.

5. My brain will make up an excuse as to what the blue light was to get me to go back to sleep, but it’s always something that doesn’t make any sense when I go back and think about it. It’ll be like “oh it was just my clock” (my clock has a green light and usually is dimmed) or…and this is my favorite… “oh it was just the indiglo from my watch” (noting that I have not owned a watch, let alone a watch with indiglo, since high school). But in this state the excited part of my brain accepts whatever excuse the other part has come up with for the time being.

I hate when these Blue Light Dreams happen, because when I settle down from them, I get really anxious and distressed. I’m definitely awake when they happen, but I’m doing something just completely bonkers-crazy and absolutely thinking it is real. It’s like a brief little glimpse into what being a madman is like, and it scares me (I just had one now, and I can’t get back to sleep, which is why I’m up late writing this post). The blue light part is weird but consistent, and it has become a false reminder. Like I wake up and see a blue light and it reminds me that this is a familiar situation. But instead of reminding me “hey you just woke up from a dream, remember?” it’s more like “there’s the blue light! It’s a sign! You have to get up and figure out what it’s for RIGHT NOW and it’s VERY URGENT and DON’T FORGET TO GRAB THE CAT.”

Then, at the moment I should be thinking like a normal person again, I do another weirdly crazy thing – the made up excuse that doesn’t make any sense and the calm acceptance of the excuse as reality.

I’m really not sure what’s going on with these incidents – I’m certainly awake when they occur, and though I often act out with great energy I don’t do anything violent, and at most disturb Davis from sleep by grabbing him and picking him up suddenly. They seem harmless other than the fact that they make me feel like a crazy person, which is scary and distressing. And then sometimes it makes it so I can’t get back to sleep.

Stupid Blue Light Dreams. Does this happen to any of you?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

My Favorite Ludum Dare 27 Games

I’m not sure if I’ll reach my goal of playing at least 100 games from Ludum Dare 27, but I’m getting pretty close. All the same, I figured it would be a good time to give a shout out to some of my favorite games that I’ve come across so far. Here they are!

Keg Quest (Jam Entry)

I thought this game pulled off the whole “simultaneous actions performed asynchronously” mechanic in a brilliant way. I had seen several other games that played around with a similar thing, but Keg Quest framed it in a way that was easy to work out the puzzle through trial and error and then easily reset everything to “perform” correctly once you had mentally solved the puzzle.


The Exploratite Mitae (Jam Entry)

This was a great moody piece. The mechanic is simple enough to be represented without UI, so they were able to focus on the beautiful art and use that to convey all the critical game information. I think the storytelling moments in this game are absolutely fantastic, especially (SPOILERS) the moment at the end when you start encountering dead mites near the surface. If you had just reached the top without them it would have been kind of frustrating, but that tiny detail gave juuuust enough of a foreshadowing moment that reaching the surface nailed that sense of despair.


ONEMOC: 1 MINUTE OF COLORS (48 hour comp)

I thought the mechanic in this one was very clever (and very simple). It wasn’t quite like anything I’d encountered before, though something about the “walking” feeling from square to square reminded me a little bit of InnerCube. The interface for how the desired color changed over time merged with a timer bar was really nice.


The Ones You Love (48 hour comp)

This was like a fast-form adventure game. I enjoyed it because it had nice puzzle and story elements without all the extra fuss you have to deal with in a standard adventure game (I’m not normally a fan of point-and-click adventures). Like, there is still trial and error with things, but the framing around 10 seconds really makes it efficient and fun. Plus it’s a nice, touching story.

So, there you have it, my favorite 4 of LD27. Even still, I’ve played a ton of other games that have done impressive work, so fantastic job, everybody!

Lastly, if you want to check out my own 48 hour compo entry, 10 Second Dragon Feeder, you can view it here:

Thanks All!

Monday, August 26, 2013

My First Ludum Dare - Postmortem

Though this was my very first Ludum Dare, and the solo competition at that, I feel like it went really well for me! (My entry can be found here) I ended the weekend happy with my game and with a nice mental tiredness that was not crippling exhaustion. I'm going to write about my process and the things I think helped make this Ludum Dare a pleasant and successful experience...

1. Preparation.
By this I mean knowing your tools and your process and feeling comfortable with them ahead of time. Since I am a professional game designer, some of this was just built-in experience by this point, but I've also been recently doing a lot of rapid prototyping at work so I was already in the "make stuff really fast" mindset before the weekend began. I think this just comes with making lots of stuff over time.

2. Rest
Back in grad school I participated in a 48 hour game jam for the XO laptop, and I approached it with the whole "stay awake as long as possible" attitude that I'd done for similar marathons in the past (24 hour comic challenge, 24 hour play festival, etc). It did a terrible number on my health and I swore off game jams at the time, but I've been re-introducing them to my life and just taking a more reasonable approach. One thing I've always admired about LD is its emphasis on being reasonable with pacing, but I was nervous to try the solo competition. I did it anyway!
This weekend I got a full 8 hours of sleep both nights, and during the day took ample breaks for food, walking my cat, and just getting away from the computer. This was a big help, because the real person doing all the work is subconscious brain, and I needed to get out of her hair on occasion to let her solve all the hard problems I ran into.

3. Planning
Though the majority of working time is spent making the game logic and creating assets, I found it really helpful to set aside time to do some planning, which is why you occasionally see workflowy popping up in my timelapse video. This planning was nothing too extensive, but doing things like outlining the structure and screen flow of the game would help me spot transitions I would need early on that I hadn't thought about (or allocated time for).
I would also jot out a rough schedule, and revise it after each break. This helped me keep in scope and know when I should take a break from iterating on game structure or bug fixing to write a song. I tried to keep this very lenient with a lot of open room, which worked out as I spent a lot of unplanned time on Saturday night addressing a physics issue that I had not anticipated.
Also, just listing out to-do action items for stuff like "sound effects needed" helped me churn through asset creation without wasting a lot of time figuring out what I needed to do next. So it may not seem intuitive to spend precious work minutes writing out a next-actions list, but I found that it helped me be more efficient on a whole over the entire weekend.

4. Let your Problems Dictate your Design
On Saturday night I ran into an issue with physics syncing. I'd wanted the "preview" mode of my game to simulate the same way each time on any machine, so it would be more of a plan-and-place puzzle. but the pausing and restarting of time was making the play-through part inaccurate and making it framerate dependent caused other issues. I spent a lot of time figuring out how to record the simulation and do playback and how to stop playback and begin recording again when you placed an object on the screen, etc. It was going to be complicated.
After a good night's sleep, I realized a much easier path would just be to change my design intent. The preview would just show a general possibility of how the ball would behave, and the goal of your placing objects would be to react to what was happening in the moment. I think it ended up being a better choice in the end, too, since one level can potentially play out a different way twice in a row. A friend of mine described it as akin to "turn-based pinball."
I was able to use the simulation recording work I'd done the previous night to do a simple replay (which had its own bugs) so no work was wasted and I was able to move on from a complicated problem to finish off the game.

5. Music Composition for Noobs
By far the most daunting part of the compo for me was creating my own music. I can code, I can draw, I can spam the "random" button in sfxr until I find something I like, and I design for a living...but music? I've never written a song in my life! Fortunately I got some fast, noobish composition tips beforehand.
Step 1: Pick a chord, any chord A-G. Look it up on the internet to find out what the notes are in the chord.
Step 2: Lay out those notes in music program of choice (I used LMMS).
Step 3: Grab the notes and reorder them and spread them all around, just keep the notes themselves the same
Step 4: Hit play. Hey that kind of sounds like it could be a thing! Adjust until it's a thing.
Step 5: Layer on top of a base track of just 1 or 2 of the notes repeating. Add in a few more layers of the same process. Pull things all around until the timing sounds like it's something.
Step 6. Put the song in your game and turn the volume down super low so even if your song is terrible, it won't be too distracting. Success!

Closing Thoughts
Again, I was really happy with what I was able to accomplish this weekend. I felt challenged and the tiredness of good mental exertion. I was even confronted with an unexpected and difficult problem during the course of my work and was able to conquer it. Overall, a fine experience!
I think my biggest thing is that I get very caught up in tuning game feedback at the expense of making more elaborate art that I know is within my abilities. I don't think that's necessarily a terrible thing, though.
Will I do Ludum Dare again? Most likely!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Another Risotto

Tonight I made some “let’s see what I have in the kitchen/garden” risotto that was different enough from my last risotto recipe to warrant its own post. A note on the butter: I bought some butter from the farmer’s market that was “European style,” which the vendor explained meant it had more fat in it. It’s pretty freakin tasty. Anyway…


  • 1-2 Tablespoons of butter or olive oil or a combination
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1-2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2/3 cup white wine
  • 2 cups rice
  • 6 Tablespoons butter
  • A few tablespoons of shredded havarti cheese
  • A few small, fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste



  1. Heat oil/butter in a large pot
  2. Toss onion, carrots, garlic, and pepper and cook for 5 minutes on med-high heat, stirring occasionally
  3. Add basil, parsley, and thyme and stir to coat
  4. Add rice and cook until it starts to brown, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn
  5. Add wine and cook until absorbed by rice
  6. Add stock 1 cup at a time and stir until absorbed by rice before adding next cup
  7. Remove the pot from heat, add the rest of the butter and shred in the havarti cheese (not too much, just a bit for flavor)
  8. Toss in fresh tomatoes

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Grasshopper Hunting

Davis and I have developed a ridiculous new nighttime routine. It begins when we hear the chirping of the nocturnal, basil-eating grasshopper just outside the patio door. Davis runs to the door and I scoop him up and take him out on the patio. There we scout the garden and the neighboring bushes, waiting for the next chirp or waggling of antennae to give away the basil-eater’s position. Then comes the ridiculous part. The grasshopper is revealed! Davis bats frantically with his paws while I wield him this way and that, lifting him and aiming him towards the fluttering grasshopper as it darts about, trying to escape.

Davis seems to understand that the grasshopper is located too high for him to get from the ground, and so is perfectly fine being hoisted all around through the air while he tries to catch the culprit with his paws and teeth. The neighbors may think us crazy, but so far we have managed to capture one grasshopper with this method (it was subsequently brought into the apartment and devoured – I’m usually a live-and-let-live kind of person with bugs, but grasshoppers that eat my basil are a different story).

Friday, May 17, 2013

A strange sensation of awareness

I experienced a somewhat bizarre sensation tonight on my bike ride home from Nick’s.
I was riding through the empty library parking lot just before my apartment, and I looked left and right before crossing the entrance like I always do. Now, whenever I look left and right before crossing a street, I always try very hard to remember to intentionally look forward as well.
This comes from a Kempo swim clinic I used to go to years ago, where we were taught stealth swimming among other things. You do a sort of slow, exaggerated freestyle stroke and llean left and right as you do so to scan your surroundings. My soke always emphasized to pay attention and look forward while doing this as well, because it was easy to scan to either side and completely block out was directly in front of you. A handy skill for combat swimming to notice the archer directly in front of you, but also for crossing the street so you don’t block out the car coming straight ahead while repeating the childhood mantra of “left, right, left again”
ANYway, as I was doing my safety scan, something about the openness and emptiness of the lot made me lean very far around and scan everything around me. It felt really odd, like looking across a panoramic picture. It was as though I suddenly felt aware of the fact that the world existed 360 degrees around me, that there was so much more outside the cone of my forward vision that I never really thought about before. This sounds ridiculous when you break it down like this, because of course I’m “aware” of the world at large (I was spending a lot of time today playing GeoGuessr, afterall), but that kind of awareness is like a slightly abstract mental construct I carry around in my head. Being suddenly physically aware of the total space around me felt different, slightly alarming, but altogether pleasing.
I’m assuming this sensation is a goal people try to achieve when being “mindful of their surroundings” in a meditative sense, and I just somehow tripped and stumbled into it. I suppose I have an experience target to shoot for now!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Lentil Curry


I made one of those “whatever I have in the kitchen” curries tonight, and it turned out pretty tasty! I’m attempting to reconstruct it here, but I might be off on things like spice amounts. I do remember it being pretty mild, so if you want more punch, add more spice. It was also a relatively dry curry, so if you like yours more “saucy,” add more liquid (stock, water, cream, or even crushed tomatoes might be tasty). You can also use vegetable or chicken stock instead of beef, I just have a ton of beef stock that I’m trying to use up.


  • 1 cup dried lentils
  • 2-3 cups water
  • 1 potato, diced
  • A few leaves of kale, chopped
  • olive oil
  • 1 small-medium onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • grated ginger
  • a handful of spinach leaves, chopped
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp amchur/dried mango powder
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsps garam masala
  • 2 tsps tandoori masala
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • salt to taste
  • rice for serving


  1. Add lentils and water to a saucepan, bring to a boil
  2. Add potato and kale to lentils, reduce heat, partially cover with lid and simmer for 15 minutes
  3. Strain lentils and return to pan, set aside
  4. In another pot, heat up some oil, then add onion, garlic, carrots, spinach, and ginger. Cook for about 5 minutes on medium high heat
  5. Add spices and stir, coating all the vegetables. Cook for about a minute or so more until fragrant
  6. Add lentil mixture to the pot and stir
  7. Add stock and stir, then cover partially and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes (give or take)
  8. Salt to taste, add more spices if needed.
  9. Serve on rice.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

On Jurassic Park

Nick and I went and saw Jurassic Park 3D tonight, and I'm happy to say that it's still an awesome movie! I don't think 3D really added anything to it, but neither did it take anything away, so wins all around. Watching it did make me ponder the influence that movie had on my life, which I think ended up being more significant than I ever realized.

One thing was made clear as I watched the film tonight: there are synapses in my brain that are entirely devoted to the mental storage of that movie. I seriously watched that thing so many times as a child that I'm surprised the VHS tape didn't wear out (though admittedly after a time I started just fast forwarding to the T-rex scene and watching it from there on out). Every scene, every line, every inflection and sound effect is burned into my memory with perfect clarity. And yet, I still get all excited at the right places, in spite of the fact I know precisely what's going to happen (as Nick said, maybe if I hope really hard this time he'll get off the fence in time!)

I'm not sure the moment as a child that I became aware that the movie was coming and that I was insanely excited about it, but before that happened a friend of mine recommended the book, which I loved, because dinosaurs, obviously. As a brief aside, reading the book nowadays is still a pleasure, but a bit amusing. It's one of those sci fi books that completely missed the mark on a future prediction, in this case tracking technology (they kept track of the dinosaurs by using video cameras and automatic silhouette detection. Meanwhile, RFID chips...).

So I read the book and of course the velociraptors were my favorite and I got a big Jurassic Park poster for my door and drew pictures of raptors and played pretend-dinosaurs with my friend (I was always a raptor, and Taylor was a dilophosaurus, and we wrote a song about dilophosaurs which I can't recall in entirety but I think it contained the lyric "We are dilophosaurs, spit, spit, spit...") and we were always hiding in the roods and then jumping over the creek as we fled from the T-rex.

And then game the video game, the SNES/Genesis one, and OBVIOUSLY I only played as the raptor because who would want to play as boring old Grant anyway? I got to the boss (who was Grant) several times as the raptor, but could never beat him. He had a gun! What was I supposed to do! Mostly, though, I just played through the first level as the raptor because it was safe enough for me to "roleplay" as a dinosaur in a fashion.

And THEN, when I was doing synchronized swimming, Taylor and I decided to do our routine to Jurassic Park music. We spent all that time cutting the music just so for our duet. We picked headpieces with curved, spikey bits that reminded us of raptor claws. I'd like to say that I remember the routine by heart, but I am sad to say that I only remember the first two moves, which were back arm strokes to the opening chords.

I think one of my favorite things tonight was seeing all the little kids in the audience, some of them obviously seeing the movie for the first time, and seeing how they reacted. I wonder if any of them will go home and write enthusiastic folk songs about their favorite dino species...I'd like to think so.

EDIT: I had a sudden moment of clarity where I remembered the entire dilophosaurus song:
We are dilophosaurs, yay, yay, yay,
We let out a lethal spray.
We will spit on you and you'll go blind
And then we'll eat you, rind by rind.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Bike Commute Sensations

I’ve been thinking recently about my bike ride to work, mostly after listening to this awesome podcast a friend made about commuter biking. My sister-in-law is interviewed in it, and talks about how biking made her feel more integrated with her community, because of how she commonly experienced it with all of her senses. I was thinking about this on my own ride to work this morning, and pondering what my favorite sensations are during my commute. So here they are!


There are several groups of naturalized parrots that live along Brighton where I ride, and each morning they’re always flying overhead, cawing and squawking. It feels like riding through some kind of jungle. I also love hearing crows cawing and trilling, mostly because they sound so different from the crows back in Kentucky. At night on the ride home, I love listening to the chirping crickets, though it occasionally makes me homesick for the summer katydids back home.


The world smells wonderful right now because all the flowers are blooming, so that’s a bonus. However, I must admit that my favorite bike commute scents are on the way home from work, when I pass by the homes of families cooking dinner. I feel like I’m riding through invisible wafts of mid-preparation meal scents, and I always try and guess what’s for dinner tonight at this house or that. There’s one place in particular, and I haven’t pinpointed it, that seems to frequently cook over a wood fire. The downside is that I’m usually ravenous by the time I get home.


Burbank is a great place for a bike commute. You get that mild SoCal temperature most days and it’s blissfully flat. One day recently, though, I got caught in a mild rain on my ride home. I was surprised at how peaceful the experience was, and how gentle the rain was as it fell on my skin. I think that when in a car, even light rains can seem much more noisy and foreboding than they actually are when you are outside in them.


Most of my ride takes place on Brighton, which is a quiet neighborhood street one block over from Buena Vista. I love seeing all the different styles of houses and how they keep their gardens. My favorites are the ones with proper desert yards filled with pebbles and yucca and cacti. I’m also still delighted by the common sight of citrus trees in front yards, limbs heavy and drooping with ripe fruit. I really do live in a beautiful place.

So, has my bike commute made me feel more connected to my community? Maybe! It certainly has made me appreciate the beauty I get to experience every day, and what a lovely place Burbank can be.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Perception and Reality

If you are a facebook friend of mine, you'll know that earlier today I found what I thought to be a snake outside, and in my attempts to identify it, eventually realized that it was just a long, skinny lizard with tiny legs that I hadn't seen. The incident gave me pause to think about how interpret our entire reality through the filter of our minds, and sometimes that filter can just break on us.

In my example, I wasn't even the one to find the lizard. Davis was sniffing around and went rigid, then began to stalk something under the bush. I held him in and looked intently, trying to see what he could see, trying to force my mind to pick a pattern up in the brush to see through the camouflage that I assumed was there. Eventually I plucked out a patch of dried skin, connected it to a skinny scaley tail, and followed the body all the way to a head sitting still and watching back.

"Oh, it's a little snake, shedding its skin," I thought, pulling Davis's leash taut to interrupt his stalk, "but what kind of snake is it? Its head looks weird..." I continued to sit and watch intently, looking at the head and flicking through my internal catalog of snakes. I thought that its eyes were very small for a snake, it was a lizardy-looking face. I swept back and forth across its body, looking at the patterns on its scales, but nothing looked familiar. I took Davis in, got my camera to snap some close photos of the thing, then started looking up on the internet and trying to identify it.

I looked through all the common california snakes, asked my social network for ID help, but to no avail. After a fairly long time, looking at that weird head...that lizard-like head...I blinked and suddenly it all snapped into place.  I instead looked up common California lizards, saw a more familiar scale pattern in a photo of a Southern Alligator Lizard, then looked back at my own photo. In the blink of an eye, the reality of my static photo changed.

The legs. They were *right there.* It was a lizard, not a snake, and the legs were right there in my own photo that I had taken and been studying intently. I'm sure anyone who saw me post the photo was probably thinking "Lisa, what's wrong with you? That's a lizard, it has legs!"

But at the time that my mind was in snake-id mode, my mind filtered them out. It turned them into debris and mulch and dismissed them to background noise as I instead laser-focused on its head. I was already too deep down the "snake" tree thinking about species that my mind didn't even consider checking the other top level "types of reptile" branches, even when I thought and even wrote "Its face looks kind of like a lizard." Even then my mind did not make the connection!

It's a little unsettling when something like this happens because it reminds me that even when our little brain filters are doing the best they can to process the world, sometimes they just don't work right. And that's all we have to go on. The only thing standing between us and the world is how our mind processes it, and you don't really have a way of knowing that your brain-filter is broken until after it finally kicks in and slides reality into place.

It's kind of like temporarily sliding into the brain of a madman, and that's terrifying, because you discover that being mad apparently feels completely normal.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Walk musings

When Mr. Davis and I go on our walks, we sometimes spend most of it standing idly next to parked vehicles while Davis sniffs them. He has a fascination for license plates and bumpers, and will drain away the minutes sniffing and sniffing with deep intensity. Then we’ll move on to the next car and he’ll repeat the process. I thought this might have been a quirk particular to Davis, but when leaving work tonight I noticed one of the local feral cats strolling through the parking lot doing the same thing. The kitty was so intently sniffing a license plate that it didn’t even notice my approach, which is unusual for the ferals since they tend to be wary and keep away from people.

What is it that they are smelling? What is so compelling a scent that gets stuck to car bumpers? Squished bugs, perhaps? Do dogs do this? Mysterious.

Meanwhile, I’ve started using the time on our walks to practice standing with good posture. It is…difficult. I’ve found that when I stand upright without slouching and hold the position for any length of time that it becomes painful to breath. Maybe this will get better with time and when my back muscles strengthen, depending on if I can keep this up.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cats and Dental Issues and Pain

Mr. Davis had to have 3 teeth pulled today. He’s doing fine right now – he’d ripped the bandage from the catheter off of his paw before we even got home, and he’s currently grooming with vigor. The story goes like this:

Davis had seemed a little off for the past couple of months, but in tiny ways that I didn’t give too much notice to. One day last week after his breakfast, I noticed that his jaw was popping oddly when he licked his lips or yawned, and I caught him pawing at his face once or twice. I brought him into the vet that morning to get him checked out, and while his jaw seemed fine and nothing appeared out of order, the vet decided to do a thorough mouth exam (because Mr. Davis is so well-behaved about having vet hands all up in his grill. It’s really amazing!)

They found a localized spot of pain at one tooth, but nothing was visible on the surface that would cause it. The only way to see if there were lesions in the root of the tooth was to do an x-ray that would require Davis to go under anesthesia. I decided to go ahead and do it because:

1. Any sort of dental issue in cats can be really, really serious

2. Lesions in cat teeth are actually pretty common, so there was a good chance he would need the extraction

2. He was due for a cleaning this year anyway, so I already had a good chunk of that money saved up, and since that also requires anesthesia I got it all done at once (plus apparently it was Pet Dental Month, so, yay discounts?)

After I’d scheduled the cleaning/potential extraction, I started to think about the minor “off” things I’d seen in Davis and wondered if they were actually pain symptoms. More on that later.

So it wound up that there were lesions in 2 bottom teeth, and they also took out a top tooth that had shown the beginnings of issues during his last cleaning and was in “keep an eye on it” mode for the past 2 years and had also developed a lesion. They found a lot of infection at the lower extraction site, so it is a very good thing I had this taken care of now (they also did a deep cleaning on the other side of his mouth to try and clear up anything that might lead to the same problem).

Now, as for the issue of pain in cats, anyone who’s ever owned a cat probably knows that it’s very difficult to tell if kitty is in pain. They are solitary predators, and so in the wild any revealing of a problem or weakness makes them vulnerable to attack. They are naturally predisposed to be stoic.

To see what I mean, just look up “symptoms of pain in cats". You’ll get stuff like:

  • Is more active than usual
  • Is more lethargic than usual
  • Craves attention
  • Wants to be left alone

They may as well say “behaves as a cat behaves.” You have to be sharp eyed and very in tune with your kitty to notice something is amiss, and sometimes even then you miss stuff.

So, here are things that I had considered “off” about Davis that may or may not have been symptoms of his dental pain.

  • Would often stop in the middle of walking and crouch down. I thought that the abruptness in this was always odd, but I thought maybe he was just offering a trick (it’s the way he lays down for the “lay down” command)
  • Yawned a lot. This one’s weird, right? Cats yawn. But I recall thinking a couple of weeks ago, “Davis sure does yawn a lot”
  • Went on shorter walks. I usually allocate an hour a day for walking Davis, but I noticed that for the past month or so, he was only going out for 15 or 20 minutes before heading back in. I’d thought this was because he’s a SoCal cat and maybe he didn’t like the “cold,” but could it have been a pain symptom?
  • Was not as enthusiastic about breakfast in the mornings. He’d still eat, he just wouldn’t gobble everything down all at once. He’d eat a few bites, go do something else, and finish up a little at a time later. He only really did this for breakfast.

As to whether those were pain symptoms, I have no way of really knowing. I guess I’ll see if he still does them after he recovers from his extractions.

My biggest clue that he was in pain, though, was how quickly he learned what pain medicine was. When I’d first taken him in, the vet gave me some pain medicine for him for the weekend until his surgery. It was just a small amount of liquid in a syringe that I’d squirt in his mouth.

The first time I gave it to him he resisted, as cats do when you try to shove anything in their mouth. But the second time, when Davis saw me carrying the syringe, he ran up to me and meowed, like he was about to get a treat. Did he really so quickly make the connection between the syringe and pain relief?

Anyway, I guess the lesson learned is that you shouldn’t take any sort of dental issue lightly in cats, and that they’re really tricky about pain. Send Davis kitty prayers for a speedy recovery and no post-op infection, and I’ll give him lots of snuggles and love. He’s already meowing to go out on his walk, though, so he must already be on the mend!

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Design of Everyday Things

This is one of those books that has been on my “recommended design-related reading” list for ages. It is extremely relevant to designers of any field, game designers included, mainly in the realm of the importance of usability. Aspiring game designers, read this book!

It’s pretty interesting to read now through the lens of the future (the original was written in 1988) and seeing how the author’s predictions about the future have come true. Basically he longed for the iPhone. Thinking about electronics now compared to those of the late 80s, I wonder how many designers “grew up” on this book and came into design with usability as a priority.

Anyway, much of it was reiterating what I had learned about playtesting through other means, while providing a more systematic framework for thinking about usable design. Every time I use a public restroom now I consider whether the automatic faucets have been “playtested,” and I feel like I appreciate a well designed object much more when I run into one. I also finally learned what those weird little gates are in stairwells that lead to the basement level.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Books Post

I'd been pretty good before about writing entries on books I'd recently read, but that sort of fell behind. Thus, a huge backlog entry of books I've read since my last book post!

War and Peace
I thought I'd give this a go after Anna Karenina, since it was big and meaty and kept my brain occupied for a long span of time. His books are very strange in their plot arcs. It's just one thing happening after another and after another. I believe I enjoyed it in an idle way of sitting back and watching people go about their lives.

Red Dragon
This was a bit of a whim and I can't remember what inspired me to read it. It gave me weird psychological nightmares, which has never really happened to me with a thriller or horror book before. Anthony Hopkins of course obeys the mental image of Hannibal Lector now and forever. I wonder how authors feel when that happens to their books?

Far from the Madding Crowd
Like Snow Fox before, this was a "randomly plucked from the shelves" title, and a pretty interesting read. At first it started out as a love story, then I realized it was turning into a love triangle, then it surprised me by taking it even further and turning into some manner of love quadrangle. The setting imagery was pretty nice. I approve.

Joust Series
I started reading Mercedes Lackey stuff only recently, which surprised me because I would have loved this stuff in high school. The Joust series is about dragon riders, and much of the books are occupied in the care and feeding of jousting dragons. These books are delightful, but kind of mild in conflict. There were always cases where I'd get nervous because they were perfect for the author to pull some cruel reversal, but she never did. That's okay, really, it made for a stress-free read.

The Lady in the Tower
A historical fiction book on Anne Boleyn, which I picked up because I think I reached her in some wikipedia link-clicking vortex I was engaged in one evening. Man, Henry VIII was a jerkface.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
For a long time my only frame of reference for this book was when it appeared as a gag in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, getting a pack of dogs excitedly rushing off to Brooklyn to find the tree. This book is AMAZING and I recommend it for anyone. Because of the time frame and the setting, there were a lot of parallels to what I'd read of the childhood of Harpo Marx in his autobiography (one of my favorite books), so a lot of the customs and scenes seemed familiar to me.

A Paradise Built in Hell
My brother recommended this to me, and I went in expecting a big downer, as it is a study in the behavior of groups after large scale disasters. Much to my surprise, however, a lot of it debunks the common perception that normal people turn into savage looting mobs. Normal people actually tend to behave quite altruistically, and can even experience a sense of joy in spite of being in the midst of a disaster due to the communities that and sense of belonging that form up around them. The trending behavior of power holders in these situations, however...

A Song of Ice and Fire
Yeah, I'm deep in the midst of this series. I never realized that I could be so entranced by the vivid details of political intrigue, yet here I am!

Man in the Iron Mask
I was really surprised at how good The Three Musketeers was the first time I read it. But man, this one is just a huge downer. Also it has no resemblance to the movie whatsoever, in case you were wondering.

I read this because the other Neal Stephenson book that someone recommended to me wasn't at the library. Reading this book sometimes felt like taking a college course, due to all the specialized fictional vernacular, but I loved it. I loved the idea of a monastic society based on math, and the story unfolded into something bigger and more spectacular than I'd been expecting. It kept me hooked the whole way through

Snow Crash
Since I enjoyed Anathem so much, Nick lent me this (I never did get around to reading the original Neal Stephenson recommendation that got me to the library, and I don't remember which book it was at this point). I loved the context and the conflict in this book, and it was fun to see how the future evolved from the time this was written. Some of it was in the right direction, other aspects were a bit of a miss (no one expected smart phones in the 90s!)

So there you go! I hope to do these a little more frequently in the future, to avoid huge backlog posts like this one.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

2012 Review

2013 is already ramping up, so I’d better get my wrap-up post under way! 2012 was a busy and exciting time at work, and though I can’t talk about specifics as my project is still super secret, I will say that I feel I’ve stretched out my feelers into new responsibilities, and thus learned lots of new and exciting things and brushed up on a few older skills that were lying dormant.

I also got more involved with the next generation of game developers in a couple of different ways. I started volunteering as a mentor for Game Mentor Online, and have had a wonderful experience with that. I also did some traveling and “educating the youth” visits throughout the year. I find I really do enjoy helping someone find their path and teaching them what I can, just in small sessions or with one person at a time :) This trend will likely continue – I’ve picked up a second mentee through GMO this year and am scheduled to talk to some girl scouts about working in games in February.

2012 Marked my 10th year of blogging, which boggled my mind somewhat! To celebrate, I started up my daily doodle blog, which I’m not sure counts since there is no writing involved and everything is scheduled months in advance. All the same, it was a thing. In spite of the anniversary year, my blog was pretty quiet in 2012, filled with recipes more than anything else. I’ll see if I can remedy that for 2013, and I’m also contemplating moving to Wordpress from Blogger. Still undecided.

Last year was also my start as a volunteer with Sante D’or, which is the shelter where I adopted Mr. Davis. I’d wanted to get involved in volunteering somewhere for awhile, and had been keeping up with the group on Facebook, so I dove right in and started visiting the shelter regularly to photograph the residents. The experience benefited me twofold – I love to help snuggle and care for all the shelter kitties, and I feel it’s also helped me improve my photography skills.

Not too shabby for my first year as a “for reals” adult (according to little kid Lisa, 30 was a grown-up). 2013 has many ambitions of its own, so onward!