My new YouTube channel

For those of you coming here for updates, most of the “action” is over at my new YouTube channel. I post videos every Monday talking about new projects, old projects, my creative process, and lots of other things. It’s fun, so check it out.

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I’m back

I haven’t updated in almost two years, but I’m going to start posting again. I’m not sure the best way to do this after such a long hiatus, so here’s a quick recap: I spent 14 months in Stockholm. I had a mostly great time, but there were rocky moments as well. Some of the most difficult of my life, in fact. I worked hard. I shipped my first AAA game – Overkill’s The Walking Dead. The public reception was mixed, but I had a great time working on it. If you’re going to work at a video game studio, Sweden is one of the best places to do it. We had minimal crunch, and the people were phenomenal. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. I was initially hired as a writer, which meant writing levels, quests, dialogue, etc. But after about six months I began helping with the in-game cinematics.

Before entering the games industry, I’d worked for a few years in film (I even went to film school), but never got anywhere. Sure, I’d written some feature screenplays, directed some shorts, and even helped make a feature film (one of Kylo Ren’s first, I might add). But I never had any huge successes. I mostly spun my wheels, dreaming of the day someone would give me $1,000,000 to make a film. Alas, that day never came.

I had more success in games. When I didn’t have to wait for someone’s permission, and could make something and put it out myself, I discovered that there were people who connected with my work. This gave me confidence. And so I stuck with it. Ironically, it was working in games that inspired my move back to film.

Like I said, on Overkill’s The Walking Dead I started working on the in-game cinematics. At first my input was small. But gradually it become larger, until eventually I was directing them. This told me something. I’d gotten a dream job – writing at a video game studio – but was most energized to be working on cinematics. I just wasn’t done with film.

So when the game shipped, I left Starbreeze, Sweden, and Europe. I’m back in America now. Los Angeles, specifically. And I’m back to making films. This time with a gusto that feels unbreakable. It helps to have had a little success, and to know that I’ve got an audience out there. That audience might not be huge, but it’s there. And it’s smart, and it’s excited by things which are cool and experimental and different. I make my stuff for them (meaning you, probably), and nobody can stop me.

That doesn’t mean I’m done with games. I imagine my career will be a constant exploration, an unfolding of possibilities. There are so many things I want to make, and experimentation and learning are just too much fun. I have no interest in defining myself. I’ll simply make what I feel inspired to make.

In a few weeks I’ll be finished with a new screenplay for a feature film. It’s called The Three Books of One, and I think it’s going to be great. It’s the deepest, richest thing I’ve ever written. A few weeks ago I finished a short film called As Big As My Broken Heart. It’s a story about best friends and broken hearts, and I’m thrilled with how it turned out, especially because we shot it only six weeks after I moved to LA. I’ve been submitting to festivals, and hope to be able to share more soon. I’m also prepping another short film that I wrote called Eight Little Lines. It should be a fun one. The creative machine is churning, y’all.

As Big As My Broken Heart

As Big As My Broken Heart

As Big As My Broken Heart

As Big As My Broken Heart

I’ve been in LA for four months now. I imagine I’ll stay for a while. There are few places in the world as dense with creativity. I’m also ready to build more of a permanent home. It was a blast living abroad, but after a while the sense of adventure transformed into a feeling of disconnection. I missed my home. I missed America. It’s not a trendy thing to say, but I love this country. It’s far from perfect, but living away for so many years made me realize all the great things about it that I’d taken for granted. The people, the energy, the multiculturalism. It’s a weird time for sure, but I won’t get into that. Overall, I’m excited to be back, and I feel inspired every day. I hope you’re doing well.


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December 2017

Starbreeze – The past month and a half has been eventful. I started my job at Starbreeze Studios, working as a writer on Overkill’s The Walking Dead. Just a few weeks in and we released the first official trailer, which is a cinematic featuring one of the game’s playable characters. Unfortunately, as those cinematics take a long time to produce, I had nothing to do with it, but it was still fun to be there when it launched.

The company is great, as are the people, and it’s hard to beat Swedish employee rights, which ensure eight hour work days, compensated overtime (very much not the norm in the game’s industry), and five weeks paid vacation.

I’ve already written a bunch of cool stuff, the details of which, of course, I can’t yet share. As the game progresses though, and more details about the game become public, there will  hopefully be lots to share. I’d also, at some point, like to write a bit more about what the job of writing for an AAA game actually entails. It’s surprising that when you google “what does a game writer do,” there’s not much substantial info out there. I think a series of articles on the subject would be interesting to developers, aspiring game writers, and gamers.

Finland’s 100th – At the beginning of December I flew to Helsinki to celebrate Finland’s 100th anniversery. Most people are surprised to hear that Finland has only been an independent nation for one-hundred years. Before independence, Finland did exist, but under the flag of either Sweden or Russia. Finland was sort of passed back and forth between the two before Russia gave them independence in 1917, though they tried to take them back some years later. To celebrate Finland’s 100th, tuxes were rented, and fancy parties were attended. Finland is not known for sobriety, but on that night, there wasn’t a sober Suomalainen in sight.

Happy 100th!

Bucket Detective –  It’s 29% off for Steam’s Winter Sale. If some how you haven’t yet gotten it (what are you doing reading this but not playing my games??!), check it out. Gearbox just listed it as one of the five best indie games of 2017, so don’t miss out…

Other Projects – I’ve got several cool projects in the works, but I’d rather not mention specifics. Hopefully in the next few months I’ll be ready to discuss more. For now, my job at Starbreeze is taking most of my time, but rest assured there’s more stuff on the way…

2017 – Since it’s the end of the year, I guess I’m supposed to make a list of my favorite games, movies, whatever of the year. I usually play/watch things when I feel like it, and not when they come out, so a lot of these aren’t from 2017, but here are some things I enjoyed in 2017:


Dark Souls: I still haven’t beaten it (it’s a hard game, if you haven’t heard), but 60 hours in and it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played. The brilliant level design, the insanely original art direction, the minimalistic storytelling, and of course, the ground-breaking, challenging, constantly evolving gameplay, all come together to create a game unlike any I’ve ever played.

Ticket: Came out in 2016, but I didn’t play it until later. It’s a very cool, very difficult indie platformer packed full of interesting ideas. Level to level, I never knew quite what to expect. The game didn’t get anywhere near the coverage it deserved (I barely remember seeing it reviewed anywhere), which is a shame because it’s more interesting than 99% of games out there.

Omegaland: Another cool, weird, experimental platformer. This one is a solo effort by the writer behind The Talos Principle.

Overwatch: Blizzard has basically improved the good parts of Team Fortress 2 and removed the bad parts to create one of the most balanced, engaging multiplayer games I’ve ever played. If you’re ever feeling full of yourself, try competitive play and get destroyed by a clan of shit-talking twelve year olds.


Mother! – An intense, unpredictable movie about unwanted house guests. I’m not normally a Darren Aronofsky fan. I often find his movies pretentious and overly serious, but Mother! was fun and hilarious. Probably my favorite film of the year.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer – A brilliant film by one of my favorite filmmakers. It starts as a slow, unexplainably tense exploration of the friendship between a grown man and a teenage boy before becoming overtly sinister and going places I never expected.

Bring Me Roger Stone – Probably the most depressing documentary I’ve ever seen. It profiles Roger Stone, the man who is a champion of literally everything worth hating about politics. He’s the self-proclaimed “King of dirty tricks” and one of the inventors of the modern lobbyist. Whether you identify as right, left, or center, you’ll find plenty to despise about Roger Stone.

Accidental Courtesy – To restore your faith in humanity after the previous film, watch this documentary about a black musician named Daryl Davis whose hobby is befriending members of the KKK. Instead of berating/lecturing them, he offers them legitimate friendship. As you might expect, he’s the first black friend that most of these KKK guys have ever had, and as a result, many of them eventually leave the Klan. Davis estimates he’s been responsible for 50-60 Klan members quitting. Through his conversations, Davis humanizes the Klan members, showing how they’re mostly just fearful and ignorant, not evil.


Harry Potter: Books 1-7 by J.K. Rowling – I somehow had never finished the series, so in April I decided to go back and read them all. Legitimately one of the best, most fun series I’ve ever read.

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder – Broken into twenty short essays, the book discusses what political tyranny is and gives simple ways to oppose it. Takes only around two hours to read, so I highly recommend it.

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson – Ben Franklin began his career as a writer and printer, before becoming the most famous American scientist, and later entering politics to help America win independence. Besides being a highly accomplished polymath, Franklin loved people and had an enthusiastic, fun-loving spirit. If you’re curious about Ben Franklin, but don’t have the patience to read this massive tome, check out his much shorter Autobiography.

Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright – The title is a bit misleading, as it’s not so much a book about spirituality as it is about neuroscience and psychology. Wright explains how, when viewed from the perspective of natural selection, mindfulness meditation is the key to seeing reality a bit more clearly.

Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev – Tells the story of Soviet-born, UK-raised Peter Pomerantsev as he returns to modern Russia to witness how it’s changed since the fall of the Soviet Union. Pomerantsev works as a reality TV producer, and as a result is exposed to a variety of strange and interesting experiences – from a gold digger training school to a cult frequented by super models.

Flow my Tears the Policeman said by Philip K Dick – Another great book by my favorite fiction author. Tells the story of a famous TV host, who, after being attacked by an ex-girlfriend, wakes up to find that nobody knows him. As a result, he’s forced into the underground world of students and criminals to discover why his identity has been lost. Like much of Dick’s work, it’s one part noir, one part science fiction, and one part what the fuck.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year y’all!


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What I’ve Been Doing – October 2017

Stockholm – Today marks my fourth morning in Stockholm, and it’s bizarre to realize that my Finland days are, for now, behind me. A little more than two years ago I left my job in Santa Monica, California, and moved to Finland to begin school. I knew exactly zero people in Finland, and had only one friend on the entire Eastern hemisphere of Earth. I’d have to build an entirely new life from scratch. It was simultaneously daunting and exhilarating.

I was depressed, off and on, for a long time after arriving in Finland. For weeks I had no home, staying instead in a hostel where I’d regularly have my sleep interrupted by herds of screaming tourists. On days when I didn’t commute an hour each way to school, I’d huddle under the covers of my rickety bunk bed, watching Netflix and eating ice cream candy bars like a proper Bridget Jones. But over time I found friends, girls, an apartment, and the numerous other bits that taken by themselves are small, but taken together form a life.

A week ago, my girlfriend and I held a Halloween-themed going away party. It was surreal to see how many people came, to realize that nearly all of them were friends I’d made in the last two years. People that in a short time had, really, become my life. They were people with which I’d made games, road tripped to the Northern peak of Finland (and thus, to the Northern tip of the world), camped at summer cottages, and explored the bars and parties of Helsinki.

But, unfortunately, nothing is permanent. And maybe it shouldn’t be. In the last two years, I’ve grown more as a person than I’ve grown in my entire adult life. So much of that growth was the result of the difficulty of coming somewhere new, somewhere so drastically different than the places I’d known before, and being forced to build a new life. So, while I’m sad to say goodbye to Finland, I view my move to Stockholm as the next opportunity for growth. I view Stockholm as a new home waiting to be filled with friends and adventures.

And no, it’s not really goodbye to Finland. I’ll visit in December for a party celebrating Finland’s 100 years of independence. And, of course, I’ll stay in touch with most of these friends for a very long time. Besides, I don’t really believe in goodbyes. Until you die, of course. The big goodbye… But until then, it’s “see you later, Suomi.”

The Defender of Knowledge – Currently, the game’s text is being translated into Finnish, so the final game will be available in both English and Finnish. And we’re in the process of dealing with the various App Store and Google Play Store requirements so the game can be hosted there. But other than that, TDoK is basically done! We showed the final-ish game to the people that hired us, and they seemed happy with it.

I too am happy with how it turned out. I’d never made a mobile game before, and it was super fun and only whet my appetite to make more. I see a lot of potential for cool, weird interactive storytelling with mobile games, which is something I haven’t seen a ton of (granted, I’m mobile games ignorant, so I’m sure there are some good ones). A mobile device allows for much more simple, and thus much more accessible, player input. My mom will never be able a game on PC, but she can probably play a mobile game. A mobile device also allows a much more relaxed experience, where the player can recline on their couch in the same way they’d experience a book. I think it’s unfortunate that the mobile games market has been dominated by essentially shallow gaming experiences, when there’s nothing inherently shallow about mobile games. But I digress…

If all goes according to schedule, TDoK will arrive on the App Store and the Google Play Store at the end of November. At that point, it will be playable by anyone, though it won’t be relevant to anyone outside of Aalto University, as it’s an educational game which teaches about the University’s library facilities. But if you, dear reader, want to know how to register for your Aalto University library card, do check out The Defender of Knowledge!

The Walking Dead – Tomorrow I start my first day as a writer on Overkill’s The Walking Dead. What a long way I’ve come… It feels like just yesterday I was working in QA, doing basically the same job as thirty other people, wanting desperately to contribute something more meaningful. And now, here I am, helping to write a AAA game being made by 80+ people, with a budget of who knows how many millions of dollars. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am.

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What I’ve Been Doing – September 2017

I’m sitting in my office on a gray Sunday afternoon, wind and rain beating on the windows, a cup of tea in my hand. Bucket Detective is 28% off for the next couple of days. Get it while it’s hot:

How To Destroy A Startup – At the end of August we finished and delivered the educational game we were hired to make. It’s called “How To Destroy A Startup” and is a game to teach intellectual property rights law. I’ve been working sporadically on HTDAS since August 2016, so it’s nice to see it finally shipped. Overall, I think the game turned out well, especially given that it was made by two people. It was originally meant to only be used by Aalto University, but now it seems there are a few other universities and organizations interested in hosting the game, so that’s nice.

The Defender of Knowledge – After finishing HTDAS I started full time on another educational I was hired to make. This one is called “The Defender of Knowledge” and is a game to familiarize students with the library facilities available at Aalto University, the University at which I study. It’ll be used in a mandatory course taken by all first year bachelor students, so we’ll have several hundred, if not thousands, of players each year. The prompt we were given was that this course is Aalto University’s “most boring course” and could we create a game to make the course less boring?

Work in progress, don’t judge 😉

TDOF is a mobile game for iOS and Android (the first mobile game I’ve ever made) and an action game (the first action game I’ve made in a long time), so it’s been a great learning experience. In TDOF, you play as a student at Aalto University who must stop the “soldiers of ignorance” from destroying the university’s library. It’s a platformer where you jump and attack, modeled after games like PostKnight and Super Mario Run. As you progress through the various levels, you learn about the tools and facilities available to you as a student. You also collect coins and can buy pets, weapons, armor, and even new hair (you heard me) to enhance/customize your character. The core elements of the game (the levels, mechanics, and learning content) are done, and we’re in the polish phase, making everything “work” and I’m putting in as much art as I can before we deliver it at the end of October.

Overkill’s The Walking Dead – At the beginning of September I accepted an offer to be a writer on the new The Walking Dead game being made by Starbreeze Studios. Though I’ve enjoyed working freelance for the past fourteen months, it’s time for me to make this move. Making educational games has been great. I’ve had the flexibility to set my own hours and to work from wherever I wanted. In doing a variety of jobs (art, level design, and writing), the work never got stale, and I’ve learned a huge amount about drawing, animation, design, and even team management that I hadn’t known before. But with flexibility and variety comes sacrifices.

For one, I’ve felt the need to specialize and refine my skills. Both in my personal projects (the static speaks my name, Bucket Detective, etc) and in my freelance work, I’ve spread myself thin. Cultivating skills in art, design, programming, and writing has been valuable, and has made me much more hire-able. It’s also allowed me to see exactly which of those skills I wanted to further develop, and which of those I should leave to “the professionals.” Though I love drawing and animating and designing game mechanics, a nagging voice kept telling me that those weren’t the areas in which I was meant to specialize. That if I wanted to take my work to the next level, I should focus on the area at which I’m the best and the most interested.

And writing for The Walking Dead will allow me to do just that. I’ll focus on writing and storytelling and instead work alongside artists, programmers, and designers who are top of their field, each of us using our work to elevate the work of the others.

There’s a ton I want to share about the new job, but of course, working for an AAA studio comes with much stricter privacy requirements than my own projects, where I can post whatever/whenever I feel like. I also haven’t actually started yet, so there’s a lot about the job I simply don’t know.

concept art i found online, which I assume is real?

I can, however, share details about the game which are already public: Overkill’s The Walking Dead is a co-operative multiplayer first-person shooter. It’s by the same developers who made Payday 2 and Dead By Daylight, so it’s a genre they know how to do well. It’s scheduled to come out in about a year and will be available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. I can’t express how excited ten year old Jesse is to be working on a game coming out on a console. That alone is worth it.

If you want to know more about the game, there’s more info here:

I know that writing for video games is something a lot of people want to do, so I’ll share whatever of the job/process I’m able to. If you have questions, let me know (my email is in the About page). It might be a while until I can answer them, both because of NDAs and because I haven’t yet started, but if you let me know the topics you’re curious about, I’ll look out for an opportunity to discuss them.

Goodbye, Nancy – I made a recording of a short story I wrote called “Goodbye, Nancy.” Douglas Lamb then made some amazing music for it, and I recorded a video of me walking the distorted streets of Helsinki. For what it is, I think it turned out well. It’s on YouTube if you want to check it out. (Don’t worry, there won’t be a crowd. Only 38 people have watched it so far.)

The Short Fiction Challenge – To push myself to write and release faster, I gave myself a “short fiction challenge” where I would write, polish, and publish one new short story a week. The idea wasn’t to write something great, but simply to write and complete something. It was a great exercise, and I think the stories turned out okay. In general I’m not a huge fan of short stories, because I prefer longer stories like books and movies, but I think the stories I wrote had some interesting ideas in them, or at least seeds of ideas. If you want to read them, hover over the Writings tab at the top of my site and click on any of the stories which have SFC next to them.

After three weeks of writing, however, I had to stop. It was around the third week that I found out about my new job, which meant I had to put my time and energy into shipping two games, writing my thesis, and graduating before moving to Stockholm in November. So far, one game is done, but the rest of my tasks remain, along with me actually moving from Helsinki to Stockholm. ;-0

Ok, that’s it. I’m off to read and clean my apartment and play Overwatch, which, if you haven’t played yet, is amazing. Like, so, so amazing.


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What I’ve been doing – July (and half of August)

Augmented Reality – I’ve been working with Lauri Rustanius on some cool augmented reality demos. He’s been working with ARKit, which is a yet to be publicly released framework for iPhone. It allows a much higher quality of Augmented Reality, where you can actually root objects to a point in space, which the mobile phone user can navigate to with a high degree of fidelity. To see what I mean, check out some of the things we’ve been working on:

I’ve been contributing in more of a narrative design and writing capacity, which has been really fun. We both have a lot of ideas for cool AR projects – puzzle games, horror games, detective games, and a fantasy MMO. One of Lauri’s videos (the portal/door video I posted above) got a lot of attention, which has gotten him a ton of meetings with investors. Hopefully he’ll get funding and we’ll have the resources to make something even bigger.

How To Destroy A Startup – The people who hired us to make the educational game to teach IP law have been very happy with what we’ve delivered so far, and they want to expand and polish the game even more. They’ve applied for more funding, and if we get it, I’ll likely be working on this game for at least a few more months, which would be fun.

As part of the investor pitch, I made a rough, work in progress trailer, which you can see below:

The Defender of Knowledge – I’ve been hired to develop another educational game, this one for a course on using the tools of Aalto University’s library. Like the other educational game, I’m doing the writing, design, and art, and am working with a programmer who is doing the rest. At some point we’ll need a sound designer and a musician, but for now it’s just the two of us.

It’s a 2D runner-style platformer for iPhone and Android phones. In it, you run, jump over/attack bad guys, and collect coins to buy various things. The game is still early in development, and though we have the core game and levels almost fully built, the art is atrocious, so I’ll refrain from posting screenshots yet.

Short Story Challenge – For the past six weeks, I’ve been writing one short story a week. In an effort to push myself to write more, and get more comfortable with creating and releasing quickly, I’m going to start releasing new stories. They definitely won’t all be good, but that’s sort of the point. Keeping the stories locked on my hard drive doesn’t teach me much, and it’s also not very fun. I’ll use the short story challenge to experiment with a variety of styles and themes, so the stories from week to week may look and feel drastically different.

I recorded one of my stories (Goodbye, Nancy) and sent it off to a composer to write music for it. If it turns out well, I’ll release it, and maybe do that with other stories as well. Next time, I won’t narrate it myself, but have a friend/actor do it, because I really am a terrible actor. Doing this made me appreciate how hard it actually is to record an audio book. To play multiple characters within a single paragraph, and move seamlessly between descriptive text and dialogue. Anyway, I’ll figure out a good time to regularly release stories for the short story challenge, and start releasing once a week. Monday probably makes the most sense.

Northern Finland – My girlfriend and I took a road trip to the northern tip of Finland, about an hour outside of Utsjoki. Her family has a summer cottage there, in a town that’s so small, last year only one person graduated from high school. It was incredibly beautiful and incredibly desolate, like the peaceful, human-less aftermath of World War 3. We had a great time – reading, playing card games, playing chess, hauling water from the nearby stream (the house has no plumbing), and fleeing clouds of mosquitos.

OKAY! I should get back to work on the IPR game. As the oppressive shadow of Bucket Detective slowly recedes into the distance, I find myself more and more inspired with new creative projects. I haven’t even mentioned everything I’m working on, but I’ll save that for another post!


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What I’ve Been Doing – June 2017

HOW TO DESTROY A STARTUP – At the beginning of June, I started working full time. My job is doing design/writing/art on two educational games for two different clients. One is an educational game to teach intellectual property law. I was hired by an organization called the Software Business Lab to make a game to go along with an IP law course they’ll teach this Fall.

The pitch they gave us was that IP law is boring and nobody wants to learn it, even the people that need to learn it, and they wanted us to make a game that makes it even slightly more fun to learn. Their target audience is programmers, designers, artists, and pretty much anyone doing freelance creative work or starting a business.

Their initial idea was to have a game where you help a company get their IP rights in order. Patents not properly filed? Fix it! Company logo violating another company’s trademark? Fix it!

But to me this sounded completely boring. We were supposed to be making this topic fun, but if the game was a simulation of what you’d do in real life, I didn’t see how it would work.

My idea was to do the opposite. Our game, titled How To Destroy A Startup, has you playing as a lawyer who has infiltrated a company with the goal of destroying it. Long ago, your father was screwed out of a business deal by a Steve Jobs like entrepreneur, but now you’ve tricked your way into his company and are out for revenge. Using your legal skills, you infringe trademarks, nullify employee contracts, and mis-file patents.

Because the premise of the game is so absurd, it lets us get away with a lot of weird and funny stuff. And coincidentally, weird and funny is more memorable than dry and boring.

At this point we’re about 60% done with the game. We’ve implemented three of the four-five total quests, which cover the areas of trademarks, employee contracts, and patents. Still to be added is a copyright quest, and potentially a quest on design rights.

Surprisingly, the game has been getting a great response. The people that hired us to make the game are so excited by it, that since January we’ve been presenting the game almost once a month, to teachers, to business people, to lawyers, patent clerks. It turns out there’s a lot of desire for a game on this subject.

It’s been nice that I’ve been able to move from personal projects directly into full time, paid design/writing work. I realize that in many ways I lucked into this, and I hope that after these jobs are finished, I’m able to keep it going.

WRITING – Every day, before work, I write for at least 30 minutes. It feels great to be writing regularly again, without a purpose other than to have fun and make something I find interesting. It’s what I needed after spending one and a half years creatively shackled to Bucket Detective.

For now I’m focusing on flash fiction, stories that are less than 1000 words, but still fully contained stories. I’ve always struggled with writing short pieces. Most of my ideas come in the form of feature films or novels. But really, if you can’t write short, you can’t write at all. And it’s incredible how powerful your writing becomes when you’re forced to write short.

I posted the first of my flash fiction pieces, a story called Goodbye, Nancy, and I hope to post more soon. Ideally, I’ll get to the point where I produce one solid piece of solid flash fiction per week.

If you want to be alerted when I post a new story, sign up for my mailing list, which you can find on the bottom of my About page, and I’ll send you an email whenever I release something new. I’ll post the stories on twitter as well, but I know that tweets are easily lost into the vast ether of the internet.

MY BIRTHDAY – My family visited me in Finland, and we took a trip to Norway for my birthday. I turned thirty-one overlooking the fjords in a Norwegian town called Flåm. It was great.

THE END – Okay, I’m off to eat birthday cake and watch Okja with my girlfriend. Cyyaaa!

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What I’ve Been Doing – May 2017

AMAZE FEST – At the end of April I flew to Berlin to show Bucket Detective at AMAZE Fest. The festival was great and was the perfect balance between being well run and having a soul. We demoed for four days and had, at least, twenty people play the game from start to finish. The game was in competition in the narrative category. We didn’t win (Orwell won in that category), but as they say, it was cool just to be nominated. If you get a chance to check out AMAZE, either as a developer or not, I recommend it.

NO GAMES FOR A WHILE – For now it doesn’t look like my next personal project will be a game. Yes, there are still games I want to make, and I’d be surprised if I never make another game, but my focus has shifted. I do think that interactive storytelling has a huge potential, and it’s an area I still want to be involved in, but I only have so much time.

Bucket Detective development showed me this more starkly than ever before. Six months into development, practically ever quest, puzzle, character, and story element had been codified into a 25+ page design document. It then took more than a year to implement, and most of that was, honestly, painful and painfully slow. If I had a bigger team or funding, it would have been faster and more fun.

And even with a team, making a game takes for fucking ever. Especially the kind of games I make, where each each puzzle, each art asset, and each line of dialogue is derived from the story and needs to be unique and handmade. Rogue-likes are popular for a variety of reasons, but one reason is that they are able to be made by small teams, relatively quickly, and played by players for a potentially infinite amount of time. That’s not to say that making rogue-likes are easy (it’s actually incredibly hard to make a good rogue-like), just that they are a type of game that is perfect for small teams. The original Binding of Isaac, for instance, was made by two people in three months.

When developing my games, working on the story is always my favorite part – from creating the world, to scripting cutscenes, to coming up with bizarre book titles. So for now, I’m going to focus on writing stories. At the moment that means writing short stories and novels, which will allow me to focus on what I’m most interested in, and also what I think I’m best at.

That’s not to say that I’m leaving games. Maybe there’s an interactive novel or a story-focused game in my future. And I’ll continue to work in games as a career, because it really is a fun and thriving industry to be involved in. It’s just that I’m going to be focusing more singularly on stories, instead of trying to be a writer/designer/artist/project manager.

NEW STEAM ART – While skimming through our Steam stats I noticed that our clickthrough rate from the front page was very low. What this means is that when Steam users see Bucket Detective advertised on the front page, the percentage that click on it is very small. Like less than 1%. As someone who hates clickbait, I’m reluctant to market anything in a way that feels clickbaity, but honestly, our Steam marketing art was terrible. I used that art because it was our titlescreen art, but advertising the game using a pale blue wall speckled with barely readable post-it notes was a bad idea. So after a few months of uncatchy art, I reached out to Kitt Byrne, who did our cutscene art, and asked her to make us something. We sent design ideas back and forth for a few days, and what we ended up with is amazing. Not only is it way more eye-catching, but it’s far more representative of the game’s tone and content.

Which would you rather play?

OUR FIRST SALE – A few weeks ago we had our first sale on Steam. For one week the game was discounted at 25% off, and it was a huge success. That’s not to say we sold millions, but the game had it’s most successful week since launch. It’s funny that a game which costs $3.99 would have a “huge week” by knocking $1 off its price tag, but such is the Steam economy. It seems that in the eyes of Steam customers, simply being on sale is more attractive than a non-discounted game at a reasonable price. If I were to release Bucket Detective all over, I would price the game higher, then expect the majority of my sales to come during discounted periods. It’s strange, but when has the economy of the internet ever been rational…

THESIS – I’ve been working (slowly) on my thesis, which will be a post-mortem style analysis of Bucket Detective. The idea is to have a breakdown of the process of making the game, from design to production to burn out to release, that is useful to someone who who wants to make and release their first game. Whether it will actually be useful, or will merely fulfill the final requirement for me to graduate, is to be seen.

WORK – Next week I start working full time. I feel lucky to have five months of full time work already set up, especially when the work isn’t totally terrible (I’ll be designing two different educational games). This post is already long, so maybe I’ll talk more about my job, and my interest in educational games, in another post.


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What I’ve been doing – March/April 2017

I find that after releasing a game, there is an adrenaline rush of fulfillment that makes me want to immediately release something else. It’s incredibly fun putting a game out into the world – watching people play it, seeing reviews come in, and even just absolving yourself of the responsibility to keep working on the thing. Just a few days after pushing the final(ish) patches for Bucket Detective, I began searching for my next project. I wanted to make another game, a bigger one, or so I thought. I made a bunch of paper prototypes and even built a digital one with a programmer friend of mine. It was a weird, experimental shooter, which you can see a screenshot of below.

I quickly realized, however, that I wasn’t ready to jump back into making games. There’s the ideal self and the self as you really are, and the divide is a killer. I needed time AWAY from making games, or at least away from my own games, so I decided not to pressure myself into working on anything I didn’t want to work on.

I’m in my final semester of a game design masters program, so lately a lot of my time has gone to that. I’ve been writing my thesis (a post-mortem analysis of Bucket Detective) and taking my final annoying required courses (professional legal skills, academic writing, Finnish, etc). On top of that I’ve been looking for jobs. I put together a portfolio of work done in the past few years which I felt was professionally presentable (this unfortunately left out a ton of student projects).

I’ve applied for a ton of level and mission design jobs and have had a few interviews and done some design tests. Luckily I’m employed full time making educational games until the end of October, so I have flexibility in finding a cool job. For the moment I’m looking for jobs in Finland, Sweden, and Los Angeles. I used to live in LA and currently live in Finland. If I don’t go back to the United States I’d like to stay in the Nordic region, because as far as I can tell, these countries are the future. Free education, free healthcare, huge tech industries, a big art scene, and everyone speaks English fluently. But I digress…

I had hoped Bucket Detective would make enough money that I could support myself, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. At first I was bummed, but I’m actually looking at it as a gift. Trying to make art and trying to make money… they just don’t mix. And after going through the process of Bucket Detective, I realized I’m actually not that interested to turn my personal projects into a source of income. I make things because I like to make them and I like the freedom to make whatever feels interesting to me in a given moment. If I were paying my bills with the games I make, that freedom would be diminished. Having a job, a guaranteed source of income, means that my projects will be a success even if they make no money. And luckily, it seems I’ll be working in games, albeit on other people’s games, so the work will still be interesting and allow me to deepen my craft. Maybe this is a way of deluding myself, but hey, constructive delusions are the secret to happiness.

Lately, I’ve gotten back into writing. I sketched an outline for a feature film. I’ve written random bits of a novel and a few half-baked short stories. I also have a cool game I’ve done rough designs for – a game which I imagine will be the thing I make after I get over my game development burn out. For now I’m content to experiment and focus on making things for fun. No big projects. No commitments or expectations.

Oh, and Bucket Detective will be in competition at AMAZE Fest in Berlin. I’ve never been, but it’s supposed to be one of the best indie game festivals in the world. I’ll be going with a bunch of friends, as well as the character artist/animator on the game. We’ll have a booth to show the game, so if you’re in Berlin from April 26-29, come check it out! (


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What I’ve been doing – February 2017

When I say “[such and such time period] was a blur,” it’s usually an exaggeration. But really, February was a blur.

On February 16th we released Bucket Detective. I came up with the idea for the game in April 2015 and started working on it around August 2015. Pushing the button to release was a strange mix of emotions. It felt simultaneously anti-climactic and like an incredible weight had been lifted. I’d never released a project on which I’d worked for as long, both in terms of hours (in the thousands?) and in the overall duration (almost two years).

Up until February 16th, Bucket Detective had been, at different times: an idea, a prototype, a cobbled together but somewhat functional game, and a complete game in need of polish. And more than anything, up until that point, Bucket Detective had been mine. But by pushing that button, Bucket Detective was no longer mine. It belonged to everyone else. While I archive the project files and move onto new things, everyone else begins to experience it for the first time. And honestly I’m not even sure what that means, just that it’s a strange experience to take something so personal and private and release it into the world, saying, “here, look at this.”

hanging with the Bucket Detective team on the night of the release!

a blurry apparition dropping dry ice into buckets

When you release a game, you obviously want it to be well received from an artistic perspective (do people like the game? do people UNDERSTAND the game? are people moved by the ideas you presented in the ways you wanted them to be moved?). But what’s funny about releasing a game, because it’s as much a technical achievement as a creative one, is that mostly you just want the game to fucking work.

In the days leading up to release, I tested the game on as as many machines as I could, and given the less than inspiring performance on some machines, I worried the game might run poorly on on mid/lower end computers. I talked about this in the in-game audio commentary, but I’ll touch on it again here.

For a variety of reasons (mostly attributed to newbie mistakes made by me), the game is quite performance heavy. From not using texture atlases, to not using baked lighting, to having game objects not properly grouped together, the game requires a more powerful machine than it should. Luckily, it seems that the game runs well for most players. Though we’ve had some bugs, we haven’t had a single complaint of sluggish performance.

We’ve had a few crash bugs (which we’ve mostly fixed) and a few strange movement bugs (which seem to be caused by faulty game controller drivers, not Unity or our game), but overall the game runs fine!

A few words on some of our bugs…

After release, we discovered a bug that occurs when players alt-tab out of the game, then return to the game, while in either windowed mode or while using two monitors, which causes the cursor to appear outside the screen or on the second monitor. At the time, however, we didn’t know what was causing it, and there was a particularly stressful moment when our FIRST Let’s Player got the bug. It was the night of release and I started watching his Let’s Play, excited to see the game played by a “real player” for the first time. Within four minutes he had gotten the bug, so I dropped everything and ran to my programmer’s apartment and we spent the next 24 hours fixing various bugs (there was, sadly, more than just that one bug).

Another bug was that I had the wrong date on the first “Quest Card” prompt and two of the Gwen notes. In the birth room Gwen Box narration it says that the genderless child was born after a seven month pregnancy. Originally, I had it written as a nine month pregnancy, so the date of David Davids’ appearance was still written as nine months, not seven months, after the baby’s conception. This was something that absolutely nobody noticed and that we got fixed within 24 hours, but if you watch some of the very first Let’s Plays, you can see the original, incorrect date (you can also see that other, much more painful to watch, mouse cursor bug at around 4 minutes).

Ok, so back to what we were doing BEFORE release…

Mostly it was a ton of bug testing/fixing, performance testing, and fixing super small things: misaligned seams, handwriting the gwen notes, tweaking a few lights. One of the major things to complete, though, was music.

Music is incredibly important in defining the feel of a game, especially a game like Bucket Detective that relies so heavily on mood. Music provides a context for the emotions/ideas you experience in the game. For example, we have the intro cutscene that is sort of funny/goofy, but we use music that creates a sense of dread, creating an interesting contrast. Because I use music in this way, it’s important that before we start making music, the other elements of the game are set in stone. So, music was one of the last things we did for the game. I’d argue that I even started a bit later than I should have on the music, because it ended up that we were pretty much waiting for just the music to finish before we released the game.

For the last two weeks of development I was emailing with Shawn Jones (my composer) almost daily, sending him notes about what did and didn’t work for me. I’ve not seen how other developers work with their composers, but I have to believe I’m on the far end of the annoying spectrum. After Shawn got the general melody/feel of the music right, I must have sent him fifteen rounds of feedback with notes like “can you soften the piano key at 1 min 23 seconds?” and “am I crazy or is the tempo misaligned from  45-50 seconds??” Shawn, however, was very patient, and the music turned out great and does exactly what I wanted.

At the same time, we were implementing the rest of the sound effects, and once the music was done, we mixed the final audio. Mixing audio involves separating all sounds into related groups (carpeted footsteps, wood floor footsteps, and stair footsteps are put under a footsteps group, etc), then balancing those sound groups in relation to each other. If your sound designer is good (ours is) the sounds in each sound group will be the same volume, so you basically just have to tweak levels from an artistic perspective (and not a “shit, this all sounds terrible” perspective).

For special situations, there were tricks we used to make the sounds work together properly. For example, our Gwen Boxes play audio in a variety of scenes, some with background music and some without. To make the Gwen Boxes audible whatever the circumstances, we used a technique called “ducking”, which is a built in Unity feature, to lower the volume of background music whenever a Gwen Box is played.

Ok, now back to release…

Once we released (and fixed the most obvious bugs), I spent a few days in bed or on the couch watching dozens and dozens of Let’s Plays of the game. It was a strange feeling, seeing all these people play the game, and for a few days I got a bit obsessive about it.

One interesting thing I observed is that almost everyone (among Let’s Players) used the default, lower quality graphics settings. This might have been because they didn’t feel they had a computer that could handle the higher graphics settings, but I actually think that, as the developers, we over-estimated how much time a player would take to investigate (or even just already be familiar with) the graphics options we provided. Players don’t want to toggle on/off v-sync, anti-aliasing, realtime shadows, to see how the game looks/performs. They simply know the approximate power of their computer and want to push a button that matches the quality of their system so they can start playing.

For the next game I’ll provide a more simple “low, medium, high” graphics quality button at the start of the game, then allow players to tweak individual quality settings if they want. This is something Unity provides by default, but something we chose not to use, thinking it would feel cleaner.

that’s a lot of chaos to sift through when you just wanna play a game

So, how has the game been received?

Well, it’s a complicated answer… On the one hand, players have mostly enjoyed the game. We’ve had a number of glowing, enthusiastic player reviews, and the game currently has a 90% positive rating on Steam. Players are also enjoying the developer commentary, which I was pleasantly surprised to hear. Since the commentary is focused on craft/technical aspects of game development, and is not an explanation of “where the ideas come from,” I suspected it would only be interesting to people who also want to make games. But no, many Steam reviews specifically mention how much they enjoyed the commentary. Given how easy it is to implement relative to the difficulty of everything else in game development, I’m surprised more games don’t do it.

kind words about Bucket Detective

Buy! Buy! Buy!


As for press reviews of the game… they’re a bit mixed, which is to be expected, because it is obviously not a game for everyone. Most Let’s Plays have been positive, or at least vaguely positive/confused/intrigued. There are a few Let’s Players that very much didn’t enjoy the game, but when you read the comments, there are several (although they are vastly outnumbered) viewer comments defending all the things that the Let’s Player disliked, didn’t understand, mis-interpreted, or whatever.

To be clear, I’m not saying that anyone who didn’t like the game actually misunderstood the game, just that it’s great to see players write beautifully articulated comments about core elements of the game which I find important – the satire, the explorations of misogyny, the tragedy buried within the humor, etc. Among players that like Bucket Detective, they definitely “get” it.

Though the game has been well-received by most people who have played it, the honest truth is that it hasn’t yet sold enough to support me full time. I’m hoping/expecting the game to get more press, since there are a few big press outlets that gave glowing reviews to ‘the static speaks my name’ and which seem interested to write about Bucket Detective, but for now haven’t covered it. It’s hard to predict what will happen, but as I finish up graduate school, it seems that getting a fulltime job is in my near future.

That doesn’t mean I’ll stop making games (obviously), just that making my own games will have to remain a side project. Which, in a way, is nice, because it means there is no pressure to make things that sell. I can continue to make games which are 100% the games I want to make/play.

So, going forward! I’m excited to get back to playing games that AREN’T Bucket Detective. I want to finish playing Dark Souls and a bunch of other games. I’m also excited to start working on new projects. I have a ton of game ideas in genres I’ve never worked in. I’m hoping soon to start building prototypes, doing game jams, making small 2-4 week projects, collaborating with new people, and generally just being creative again.

Here. we. go.

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