Game Design Overview


A quick note: I make no claims to the sensitivity or awareness of the authors – some are fantastic, some could use some work, and all points between. All of these books have been quite helpful in my quest to understand more about the illusive discipline called game design. Enjoy. sdc


Fundamentals of Game Design, 3rd Edition, Ernest Adams
An Architectural Approach To Level Design, Christopher W. Trotten
Level Design: Concept, Theory and Practice, Rudolf Kremers
Game Narrative Toolbox, Tobias Heussner, Toiya Kristen Finley, Jennifer Brandes Hepler, Ann Lemay
Players Making Decisions, Zack Hiwiller
Beyond Game Design, Chris Bateman (editor)


Rules of Play, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman
How to Do Things with Videogames, Ian Bogost
Unit Operations, Ian Bogost
Persuasive Games, Ian Bogost
Extra Lives, Tom Bissell
Half-Real, Jasper Juul
How Games Move Us, Katherine Isbister


Indie Game: The Movie (film), James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot
Indie Game: Life After (film), James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot
Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, Anna Anthropy
The State of Play, Linus Larsson and Daniel Goldberg (editors)
Embed with Games, Cara Ellison
Developer’s Dilemma, Casey O’Donnell
This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, Whitney Phillips


What Is Your Quest?, Anastasia Salter
Dungeons and Dreamers, Brad King and John Borland
Replay, Tristan Donovan


No Bullshit Math and Physics, Ivan Savov
3D Math Primer for Graphics and Game Development, Fletcher Dunn and Ian Parberry
Game Programming Algorithms and Techniques, Sanjay Madhav
Game Coding Complete, 4th Edition, Mike McShaffry and David “Rez” Graham
Game Engine Architecture, Jason Gregory


Writing Interactive Fiction with Twine, Melissa Ford
Unity in Action, Joseph Hocking


A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, Winifred Phillips

The Music Industry and the Death of Cowboy Economics


Yesterday, I was back to working my way out of the cold-that-wouldn’t-die, so I took the night off and watched this documentary about Jared Leto’s band (yes I know) 30 Seconds to Mars, and the fight they had with their label a while back. If you can stomach yet another rock band documentary, there’s useful information in the film about how the economics of the music industry works, both historically and in the present climate.

When I woke up this morning, the cold was better, which means “yay writing”, so here I am, butt in the chair, typing. What came to me today is how much the challenge facing musicians in general, and bands in particular, centers around how to not have our desires exploited by money-grubbing parasites, while also not succumbing to an ineffectual suppression of our needs to have an audience, to make a sustainable living from our work, to create. I don’t mean to criticize Leto’s decisions here — if anything, the impression that I got from the documentary was that he did the best he could, given the enormously shitty situation he and his bandmates found himself in — but my long-term goal for years now has been sustainability, not global superstardom, the occasional fantasy notwithstanding. If that means not having a career in any significant way, I’d rather go that route and do the best I can, rather than find myself entangled or back-shelved (or worse) for years in the likely-fleeting hope that I can eventually do international tours and such.

Meanwhile, the Eye-of-Sauron-like hold the increasingly-less-major labels have over a slowly diminishing land of would-be rock stars carries on. (If I recall, there was a segment in the doc where someone from OK Go referred to the labels as a cyclops, casting its amalgamated singular eye in the direction of anybody who is trying to Make It.) While most of us indie types are working to figure out fair and sustainable ways to collaborate with listeners and audiences, the music industry is doubling down on their already-shady practices through things such as 360 deals. (If the old model was pure Nixon-era quasi-neoliberalism, the new one is pure plutocratic mercantilist Dubya.) Given this, cowboy economics dominate still. EMI gets bought out, nearly tanks during the last crash, gets swallowed up by Citibank, gets sold again. Companies such as Amazon and Uber force (or attempt to force) their way to the top, frequently through shady dealings of their own. The afore-mentioned 360 deal is viewed critically if not despised outright, save for the people profiting from it. The clear answer seems to be to put your own work out there independently — but to do so successfully means that you have to have people working on promotion and marketing to such a degree that your project, in effect if not literally, becomes a corporation in order to stay afloat. Which means being a boss, which means, well, meh. Back in the day, my long-term goal was to eventually start something like Righteous Babe, and work hard to turn it into a co-op, if not starting it that way from the beginning. Things have changed a lot in the indie music world since then, but on the other hand, Ani’s still around, which given the nature of the music business, is no small thing. In a way, such an enterprise is still my goal, but like I said, things continue to change, and it’s not clear to me that single-minded clarity of intent is necessarily my friend here, in a climate where things are changing daily. “Embrace chaos” seems to be the norm, and much more in an “or else” sort of way than the typical TED talk one.

Regardless, the old economic models of the culture industry are dying, and new ones have yet to coalesce to the degree that they become viable. What is clear is that the industry practices that exploited consumers and creators alike are on their last legs; what emerges to replace that remains to be seen. It’s my “hope” that a more radical economics can flourish, not only in a deepening of mass economic power, but also, via approaches that empower creators to have sustainable relationships to their endeavors, both as working artists and as working people in general. Loosely-formed networks, and more tightly-joined collectives come to mind, as well as forms of mutual listening and engagement that view creators and consumers as partners, rather than potential adversaries being jointly exploited by typically faceless corporate entities, casting a pallor over the land called creativity, while most of us just want to get by.

That all said, workers within the culture industry are not without our critics, both from the right and the left. I don’t care one bit about what the right thinks regarding how I practice my craft. I do care about what the left thinks, though; given my years of work within a variety of movements in the U.S., at times I care a bit too much, but so it goes. Artists in general have a complicated relationship with mainstream mores and values — sometimes criticizing them, sometimes having complicated relationships with them, sometimes upholding them. If getting signed (or the equivalent) represents being part of the petit bourgeoisie within the culture industry, it comes with economic restriction so byzantine that discussing participation in the industry in doctrinaire Marxist terms becomes pointless, in the vast majority of cases. Not to mention that most musicians aren’t signed, and even if they are, signing with a major can represent the start of massive problems, not the ending of them, as the situation with 30 Seconds to Mars clearly shows. Dismissing the cultural industry as a whole as being elitist not only misses the point, it glosses over an entire range of labor practices and cultural realities that are critical to understanding the world we live in. How do you measure class standing — and by definition, revolutionary potential, or the lack thereof — within an economic structure that trades massive contractual debt in exchange for what are fairly fundamental needs for creative professionals? It’s my view that all too often, assertions from the radical left about the backward-if-not-collaborationist nature of making art as a living suffer from a lack of analysis of how the culture industry works, and to be blunt, the heavy lifting around all that from Adorno onwards is on the ones doing the asserting, regardless of ideology.

Media Creation as Research


First things first: I’m a musician, a writer, an interdisciplinary artist. As much as my head wants to be a full-time street activist yet again (read: typically broke, frequently in jail, almost always at risk, positives notwithstanding), the reality is that the process of making art across multiple disciplines as a critically engaged practice is more than enough, both in the “real world” and within the confines of academia alike.

Some of the things on my mind of late:

  • What does it mean to make art in a serious fashion anymore?
  • What does a liberated definition of cultural ownership (aka intellectual property) look like?
  • Why is it so incredibly difficult to find a range of texts exploring this in a contemporary fashion?
  • Why is it that some of the best books on the subject were written decades ago?
  • In terms of privilege, why is it that when someone contemporary does get work published in this regard, they’re frequently white?
  • Who are my contemporaries who are taking the process of making art as a form of research seriously? Do they teach? Do they not teach? If so, where? If so, why? What obstacles and forms of institutional support and encouragement are they encountering? Do they work independently of performance-based programs and/or practitioners?
  • Should I ditch the entire idea, and live in a van full time? While I have seriously thought about this – free to cheaper rent, the ability to be anywhere, perform anywhere, teach anywhere – the package as a whole is not quite as tempting as I originally thought it might be, fond-and-sometimes-contentious memories of touring notwithstanding.

Books that are presently helping me through this process:

  • The Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, Anna Anthropy
  • Decomposition: A Music Manifesto, Andrew Durkin
  • Creative Life, Bob Ostertag
  • Writings on Music, 1965 – 2000, Steve Reich

In the “to read” queue:

  • Lust for Life: On the Writings of Kathy Acker
  • Meta/Data, Mark Amerika
  • The Most Radical Gesture, Sadie Plant
  • Art and Technics, Lewis Mumford
  • Dialectics of Enlightenment, Max Horkheimer and Theodore Adorno

People whose work is providing inspiration:

  • Don DeLillo
  • Anna Deavere Smith
  • Steve Reich
  • Bob Ostertag
  • Tuxedo Moon
  • Janelle Monae
  • Matmos
  • Kathy Acker
  • Julio Cortazar

Books and essays that have helped me in the past:

  • Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Empire, Gregory Sholette
  • A Room of One’s Own (essay), Virginia Woolf
  • Theory of the Dérive (essay), Guy Debord
  • The Waves, Virginia Woolf
  • Sleeping with the Dictionary, Harryette Mullen
  • Mercurochrome, Wanda Coleman
  • The California Poem, Eleni Sikelianos
  • Iduna, kari edwards
  • The Sonnets, Ted Berrigan
  • Kindred, Octavia Butler

“Living the artist’s life” books (for insights regarding my creative process and workflow):

  • The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp
  • The Renaissance Soul, Margaret Lobenstine
  • Creating a Life Worth Living, Carol Lloyd

More thoughts and such as I process this through a bit more. <3 and shout-out to @codemesh, @librarianshipwreck and @tinyfist for thoughts, recommendations and support.

The Interactive Multimedia That Was (Where I’m At, Part 2)


The re-emergence of new media — as an art form and an industry, via whatever name is being floated around at the moment (Transmedia, Creative Coding, so on) seems to be upon us. While I’m increasingly excited about this, I also remember the rather bizarre Silicon-Valley-Meets-Blockbuster-Filmmaking sorts of Big Ideas that were afoot back in the mid-to-late 1990s. I checked out around the time Apple reps started singing the praises of Disney (ironically enough), and shortly thereafter, wound up doing writing and performance art for several years. Prior to that, my scrappy-activist-since-my-preteens self was quite serious about making a go of it, along the lines of Voyager; while the suits and marketing types typically cast blank smiles full of super-white teeth (or just scoffed outright) at the idea of doing socially conscious media, it was a thing. Until the zero-billion-dollar-industry-that-could decided to cash in on the zero part of that formula and die a quick death thereafter, I was determined that it become my thing as well.

Now, though? I’m hopeful, to be honest. Hollywood is widely viewed as the way NOT to go, and overall, there’s a healthier degree of skepticism about the more egregious forms of monopolistic capitalism….sort of. Still, the possibilities surrounding doing cross-discipline work are better now than ever, and the tools continue to get cheaper overall. Further, the media-as-liberation sentiments that drove many of us back in the day are still quite active (obviously), if not expanding on them in ways both significant and unanticipated. Not to mention that the practice of multidisciplinary work is frequently assumed as part of internet-based content creation, at least in part; the idea of naming these sorts of practices beyond “I make things on/for the internet” is somewhat past-rooted in and of itself. So, we’ll see.

Where I’m at, late 2014 edition


Note: I wrote this mostly for my own head, as well as those close to me and/or involved in my ongoing projects. Enjoy.

Happy Thanksgiving/Thanks-For-Nothing/Buy-Nothing-Ferguson-Day eve. It’s that dreadful-as-in-dread-filled time of the year again, but I’m coping, close to happy, even.

Save for Twitter, my budding firebrand-as-public-persona self has been on hiatus for a while now. The last time I was on tour was spring of 2010. (Note the stylish use of scarf, and the ample side-eye at life in general.) At the end of the tour, I realized after talking it over with my tour mates that I needed to up my music producing skills. I had things in my head, my hands, my heart, and while I could make all those things real, they weren’t quite cooked. This, while the global economy was in triage, no less.

Further, on a day-to-day level, I was beginning to realize the very cheap apartment I scored was coming with a price to the tune of gentrifying neighbors (who somehow couldn’t understand why running their car near my front door to the point of near-asphyxiation was a bad idea) and deleterious fuckery overall. So I moved. All well, all good. A slow process, but I was putting together the pieces.

Then in 2012? My mom died.

Somehow, I managed to transmute the expected year-of-flaming-incoherent-grief into something useful, beyond the required process that grief itself entails. I found a school to learn music technology at, without moving to NYC or LA and shelling out ten grand for a certificate whose main utility is teaching things I was teaching myself + industry connections. Which as always, means “maybe, industry connections” which means being the usual oblong peg in the obtuse hole I always am, so, erm, fuck it. I’ll just balance self-learning, public college learning, and being a grieving emotional train wreck the way I do, thank you very much. I completed the bulk of the core curriculum work in my program (enough to get myself an AA degree if I needed it, which I don’t at this point in my life, thankfully). I got a new place, focused on the work, slowly worked my way through the process, and settled in.

Which brings things to the present. Contemporary music production makes sense now, and in keeping, I remastered some tracks I did in 2013, and re-released them for free. I’m still in a toxic (and much more expensive) apartment counties away from my old neighborhood, but I can at least regulate the toxicity – the creeping black stuff is just in the drain, see? it’s no longer bubbling up at random in the kitchen sink, clean it out, and we’re good – and writing is coming along nicely. So, what’s next?

I need to figure out if grad school (again) is an option. I got my MFA in writing back in 2005, and everything that’s available seems like a major-yet-temporary step backwards into undergraduate work (English, Performance Studies, Music Composition), or a somewhat far afield step forwards (same + Music Improvisation + very expensive private MFA programs). It does feel like there’s some sort of there there though, so I’m persisting in shopping around. Graduate work in Music Technology is a possibility, but I’m working to stay focused on creative and theoretical work, more than slogging through production-level work yet again. The better I get at all of this, the more uncomfortable multitasking through someone else’s ideas on multiple deadlines becomes. #nerdproblems Also, Technocultural Studies is starting to emerge as a discipline, and things going well, may work its way into graduate programs. So, work-in-progress.

Creatively, I’m closing in on what the proper balance between music, writing and performance is for me. Songwriting has been getting the short shrift for a while now, but is slowly coming into focus. Page-based poetry appears to be working towards prose, although it remains to be seen how much of that translates into writing novels and short stories (again), or how much of it is part of writing free verse in the 21st century. As a musician, I seem to have a decent balance going, although I’m working my way through understanding how much my work is around being a producer, how much it’s around being a composer, and if those sorts of distinctions are even relevant to what I do anymore.

There’s also my ongoing complicated relationship with technology. I worked as a tech writer for years, and burned out on that. Looked into interactive multimedia, then the entire industry collapsed in on itself. Walked on tech overall after the dot-com bust, performed, lived, shared, got by. Was making headway with becoming a tech editor, then the economy tanked — again. Eventually managed to get a gig doing ePub technical production, which I hated, mostly because of the deadline pressures and the Mad Men-like culture around some corners of the publishing industry. It’s not much of a stretch to say that the industry and myself aren’t a fit — and yet, the desire to design things with code keeps coming up. I think where I’m at with tech is that I’m a creative sort of nerd – give me a problem that’s artistic in nature, and what were mind-numbing, soul-deadening problems around programming and development suddenly become balanced and workable. Unfortunately, creative coding is barely even an industry at present, but that is changing. Slow, patient progress on this front, but progress nonetheless.

Last but not least, there’s activism. Throughout most of the last decade, I juggled (and frequently combined) performance work, writing and street activism in a number of ways. As non-profits moved into that sphere, doing that work started to become less of a fit, in the same ways that working with the ACLU wasn’t a fit. I’m not a mainstream, polite resistance sort of girl; the only reason I was able to persist in the corporate tech world for as long as I did is that I made myself indispensable, or at the very least, the most profitable hire on the list. (I can’t honestly say I’m proud of this, but I did what I could, and after a lot of angst, got out.) If I’m ever going to do that sort of thing again, my place is in the streets. No more collective houses though, they damp my vibe.

All in all, it’s still a time of transition, but it appears to be coming to a collective point of resolution. Here’s to 2015, and whatever it may bring. Onward.

Decolonizing Coding


Disclosure: My interests in this area are not just in multilingual, multi-dialectic linguistic approaches, they also are tied to the need for the effective utilization of programming languages as creative tools. I think the desire for artists to want to control the underlying means whereby they make digital-based art is natural and healthy – unfortunately, the existing modalities for this sort of exploration is linked to learning how to “think like a developer”, or settling for languages that have limited scope and usability in real-world contexts. To no small degree, JavaScript alleviates at least some of this problem, but the underlying nature of programming in general still persists. It’s as if a budding musician says “I want to learn to play the Bassoon,” and their instructor replies. “Good, so it shall be – but first, let me tell you about auto mechanics.” Much of my life’s work (for better or worse) has included bypassing or alleviating this problem, especially in relation to making music (and to some degree, video and design work) with computers. As a mixed-race artist, I welcome the possibility of collaboration towards more creative, increasingly decolonized, and highly engaged control of both the ends, and means, of production in this regard.

Why aren’t there more non-English programming languages? By this, I am referring to languages that reflect the semantics of different cultures, not just implementation of a computer language’s syntax in different languages. While internationalization of keywords is both relevant and important to ongoing efforts to decolonize development, what I am referring to is related, yet separate. The approach I’m proposing is based on hybridizing of languages, rather than implementation of other hegemonic language bases. The reasons for this are several, including potentially harder to hack code (which could also carry with it the cost of being harder to decipher overall), forms of code that semantically map to different modalities of thinking, as well as non-hegemonic semantics that encourage creativity in the development process in heretofore under-explored fashions. If the internet is a set of free-floating nations, with their own languages, customs and rules – there needs to be languages – and dialects of languages — that reflect this.

One guide of how this could take shape semantically is JavaScript. JavaScript doesn’t read like your typical programming language, because it’s not. In JS, almost everything is an object. Further, JS is not a high-level power tools workshop sort of language, like C or even Java (well, sort of) – it’s a quirky scripting language written under pressure, that turned out to be able to do almost anything.

The reason this is relevant to multi-lingual, multi-dialect code is that JS mirrors many of the potentialities of forms of coding that move past English for their underlying semantic structure. While JS is English-based, it’s also a peculiar dialect within the range of computer languages out there – as noted above, this has turned out to be a much greater asset than liability, and further, the need to address an ever-widening range of problems has led to hundreds of libraries, which form a range of dialects. I view it as one possible inspiration among several that happens to have a very robust history, especially in its still-active post-DHTML era.

s/o to @codemesh for lighting a fire about this.

Demonizing El Sistema


(Source) Read the comments to get more background, much of which reflects my sentiments. (I know saying “my thoughts are in the comments” is rarely a good place to start anything, but in this case, it’s valid and relevant.)

It’s widely known that conductors, as well as classical music pedagogues in general, have their fair share of stern-if-not-cruel taskmasters. I have experienced teachers lecture, berate, yell, throw fits, curse students out, and in one particularly salient case, had a conductor close the key lid of a piano while I was playing through a fake book with a friend, before rehearsal. (“We don’t play that kind of music here.”) It’s never been a shining example of egalitarian learning, and most players, if not virtually all players, know this.

Overall, laying this at the feet of El Sistema is highly suspect. If you’re going to criticize these sorts of practices, criticize the nature of the system itself — but doing that would require examining not only the sometimes-if-not-frequently strict practices in this regard overall, but the economic and authoritarian nature of classical music in general. Not to mention the professional station (and possible book-promoting motivations) of the author himself, which carries with it its own forms of at least potential ironies.

I also wonder about the politics involved here, but the author’s comments are framed so heavily around playing whack-a-mole with a scattering of sources in near-ad-hominem fashion, I can’t really get a read on it, past a possible subtext. The author appears to be a scholar around musics in Cuba, and the sociocultural aspects therein, for what it’s worth.

Music and the body (outline)


practice and discipline

– rooted in colonialist practices (kings, courts, patrons)
– embodied imperialism via creative pedagogy and some types of training (the stern teacher)
– instruments as autoamputational machines + mechanisms of control

the disappearing piano

– tied to emergence of post-industrialism
– piano as signifier as wealth (in other words, furniture, not instrument)
– digital pianos
– sampling as threat to the instrument, which may disappear it altogether
– otoh, the piano as stored in the body via practice remains, although unclear for how long
– synthesizers
– controllers (including mini controllers)
– as space/resources become more scarce, and music becomes more tied to the body, the piano becomes smaller, more virtual

synthesizers, real and virtual
– democratizing, neoliberalizing or both?
— understanding of tone, but lack of understanding of programmability
– as containers/carriers of consumerism
– as both pro- and anti-labor devices

further reading

– benjamin (The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility)
– adorno (negative dialectics, dialectics of enlightenment)
– deleuze and music
– mcluhan (autoamputation)

open to non-white guy suggestions for further reading