Over the seven years I've been making games,
I've only ever shared a handful of projects online -- the rest are simply finished, and promptly stuffed in a dark closet down the innards of my hard drive. I always have some silly excuse for not sharing, but it seems to usually boil down to my being too lazy -- or too afraid -- to show the fruits of my labor.
I really would like to share more, though, and so today I'm breaking the cycle. Over thirty gifs and thirty short descriptions, I'm going to introduce pretty much every video game I've made. The order will be chronological, so while we'll get to my recent work -- some of which I'm quite proud of -- we'll be starting with my rougher "early attempts." I have excluded certain scraps that never got finished, but if you look just below I think you'll see that I'm willing to dredge up some pretty scrappy stuff!
Let's get started.
MIDDLE SCHOOL (2008-2009):
My first game! A simple maze shooter featuring a flying triangle, winged eyeballs, jellyfish, and a giant mechanical whale. Deeply imbued with the sense of humor I had in middle school -- for, uh, better or for worse.
A platformer with a risk-reward mechanic based on seeking out dangerous paths to pick up collectibles. I made Glass well before I started playtesting my work on anyone other than myself, and it shows -- this game is brutally, irrationally difficult!
HIGH SCHOOL (2009-2013):
#3: RUTHLESS STAPLERFISH: MOLLUSK'S LAMENT
After a handful of ~4 week projects, I sunk almost two years of my life into this crap! RSFML is a genre-defying game about helping a clam filter algae, and battling an army of aquatic office supplies. There are also some side-scrolling shooter sections where you shrink down and enter the clam's innards, I guess because of reasons?
Frankly, this game is an undertested, overscoped mess -- the story is bizarre, the controls are unintuitive, and the humor ranges from silly, to sophomoric, to just plain rude. Still, it hold a warm place in my heart as my personal turning point, the first project where I got ambitious and started taking my work seriously.
#4: All in Your Head
My first "emotionally expressive" game, All in your Head is a heavy-handed metaphor about the difference between self-perceived and actual failure. Even more than my other kiddie games, this one's a bit of a time capsule for me -- I was an angsty little guy!
A tiny, very stupid game where you get points from rolling your face across the keyboard. Made in ~3 hours with my old high school buds. Depending on the state of your keyboard, this one can be pretty unhygenic to play!
#6: Funky Truck Ascension
A shoot-em-up that I developed on-and-off over a couple years. Notably, it uses accelerative movement physics as opposed to the classic shmup "stop-and-start" variety, making gameplay a little more hectic. Content-wise, this thing's pretty much packed to the gills -- there's a bunch of power-ups, secrets out the whazoo, and even a SNES-style "Music Test" screen! This thing was my baby for so, so long.
#7: Mr. Chen's Gravity Adventure
A little two-body physics sim that I made as a parting gift for my high school physics teacher, the eponymous Mr. Chen. When I showed it to him, he seemed about 80% flattered, and 20% hella freaked out.
COLLEGE: FRESHMAN YEAR (2013-2014):
#8: My First Act of Love
My entry into the "My first X" game jam of my freshman year, My First Act of Love is a game about thinking you're doing something good... when you're actually doing something pretty darn bad.
I felt a little ashamed after making this, to be honest -- the theme and overall cynicism is just a little too much for me. Bizarrely, showing off MFAoL is the way I ended up meeting most of current-day friends -- which frankly tells you all you need to know about their taste in humans.
#9: Unfinished Barber Game
A weird little dealie where you play as a tiny barber dashing around the top of someone's head, beating up tangles and split ends. It was never finished, but I think it got to a nice enough state that it's worth including.
The first big team project I worked on at USC -- or really ever. Miralab is a stupidly, stupidly beautiful game about exploring an underwater ecosystem as an immortal jellyfish. Players solve AI-based puzzles, and chill with some pretty-looking fish along the way!
You can find out more about the project, and my wonderful teammates, at www.miralabgame.com
#11: Brain Tumor Lawyer
Brain Tumor Lawyer is a game jam game about a lawyer trying to deliver their closing argument without letting a tumor influence the speech.
The game is cute, and occasionally pretty funny -- but looking back I do regret the theming; I think there's a way to execute on these mechanics without making light of such a serious condition!
A simple puzzle game I made with my pal Andrea Cao about being a matchmaking fairy in the forest. Created for Andrea's writing assignment, where the prompt was to do something based on A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Caldera is a tiny ecosystem game that's way more ecosystem than game. You play as a lingering spirit, who watches little prairie dogs bounce around and go about their business. You can follow them through their day, or if you so choose, take possession of their bodies and control them! Unfortunately, little freshman Brendan bit off way more than he could chew with Caldera, leaving it tragically overscoped and unfinished.
#14: Damage Control
Damage Control is a neato puzzle game about rearranging a modular spaceship to minimize damage from incoming space torpedoes. This one still sort of feels like it has potential, but I'm not sure how much interesting design space there actually is in the mechanic.
#15: True Blue
True Blue is platformer I made with my pals -- Charles Hankins, Steven Li, and Brady Thomas -- for a 24 hour QUILTBAG game jam during our freshman year. It has this nice little message about how faking 'normality' to fit in can be exhausting, which it deploys with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
COLLEGE: SOPHOMORE YEAR (2014-2015):
#16: MEGA's Non-Interactive Flyers ("Shitposters")
As a board member of the student organization MEGA, I pioneered the practice of advertising our events through weird, procedural-but-not-interactive Unity projects that I'd put all around the screens of the USC Games building. The duty of making these later succeeded to my good pal Kevin Wong, who eventually coined the wonderful turn-of-phrase "shitposter."
#17: Squirrel Love
A two-player competitive rodent-mating experience, made in 24 hours for a MEGA game jam. Two squirrels are having a playful little mating ritual, where they take turns trying to chase each other down and pounce.
ElemenTerra is a virtual reality world-building game, where you play as a nature spirit tasked with sculpting earth, growing plants, and providing a home for tiny creatures. This was another big team game; at the start, my job was to create week-long Unity prototypes to flesh out the core mechanics. Later on, I became the main behavior programmer for the humanoid AIs, the "Taopi" -- aka my tiny little babies.
At writing time, ElemenTerra is still in development -- check it out at www.ElementerraVR.com
#19: Spit it Out
Spit it Out is a narrative-driven speech impediment simulator, where players use their keyboard to maintain a steady rhythm of syllable delivery. Pretty much the Dark Souls of Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.
#20: Possum Adventure
M A G N U M
O P U S
#21: The Prinsse's Demands
An installation experience about taking care of The Prinsse, a royal little brat. The player has to do whatever she says, whether it's delivering a kiss, a piggyback ride, or some other demeaning task. Fail to please her, and you might just lose your head!
A 2-player, 3-screen experience set in a submarine. One player is the captain, who drives the sub from a front-camera perspective and views data readouts on a separate terminal screen. The other player is the periscope operator, who wears a VR HMD on their face to swivel around and search for life deep in an underwater cave. Submersive still sounds freakin' cool to me, but a combination of technological limits and critical overscoping sunk the project right to the bottom of the ocean (get it?).
#23: Great Dismal
Great Dismal was a pitch candidate for a USC Games Capstone project ('AGP') put together by myself and a few friends -- Sean Wejebe, Eric Nelson, Funkster Scerbak, and Max. The game was to be a "cooperative historical fiction," centered around Adowa and Ime -- two escaped slaves hidden away in the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina. Gameplay revolves around an asymmetric role system, which divides crafting and foraging duties between two players.
Great Dismal eventually got axed by the AGP judges, so what you see above is just prototype footage. Looking back, I feel a weird mixture of nostalgia and cringe-y regret about the project -- there was a lot we were doing right, but also a lot I wasn't so sure about. I have more thoughts, but I'll save those for a later write-up.
COLLEGE: JUNIOR YEAR (2015-PRESENT):
#24: Planet Zoom
A children's tablet experience about looking at the world more closely, using some neato zoom-and-rotate mechanics. Created as an internal-use prototype, over the 8 weeks I interned at PBS Kids Digital.
The best part of the experience was getting to playtest on target-audience 4-7 year-olds, which frankly was just a dream -- if you ever get the chance to test video games on tiny babies, take it!
GrassDancer is a 3D action game about a starving insect, barely hanging on in a world that wants to eat them. In terms of scope and execution, GrassDancer is probably my most complete work to date; the game features thousands of physically simulated blades of grass, a robust 3D camera that does some good work, and hella polish in the way of sound, particles, screenshake, motion blur, and controller vibration. I already miss working on GrassDancer, and hope one day to build it out to a full experience.
#26: Hummingbird Gardener
An Unreal Engine / C++ game about a hummingbird flying around and and planting a little zen garden. The game itself turned out pretty alright, but working on it was frankly a huge drag -- after doing so much with GrassDancer and hitting my Unity stride, making a game in C++ felt like stitching a blanket with oven mitts on.
It was a good learning experience in the end, though, and my teammates Christiane Snyder and Chloe Lister were the best.
#27: Apple Train
Shovel coal into the furnace to keep a train moving on its journey. Various apples join you at each stop -- Safety Apple, Dream Apple, Ghost Apple, and the rest -- each of which holds a precious memory. The apples fade yellow as time marches on, and the memories within become dull and degraded.
#28: Salty Sleepover
A non-digital sleepover game about provoking insecurity, jealousy, and paranoia between friends. Salty Sleepover was made in a week for USC's Experimental Games Workshop class, for the prompt of setting out to make a 'Bad Game.' In this case, I chose to define a 'bad game' as one that makes you feel worse walking away from it than you did going in -- the result was a mean-spirited, friendship-ruining experience that I don't particularly wish upon anybody.
#29: Cave Slug
A tiny experience about a soft-body slug squeezing their way through the narrow corridors of a cave complex. Expect to see more of these 'lil slugs soon. Also expect to see 'SLUG DAD' on the vanity plate of my sports car, once I hit it big as a game developer.
A short experience about interpersonal relationships, banality, intimacy, and suffocation. My most recent piece of work, but frankly far from my best. The whole "Heavy-handed metaphor told through monocolored squares that represent people" is just a little passe at this point.
And That's a Wrap!
Thanks for hangin' in there, reader! For me, the best part of delving into the 'ol backlog was seeing some of the earlier stuff again. It may not be as pretty or as complete as my recent work -- most of it is pretty damn rough -- but it reminds me of how I got started, and more importantly why I got started.
There are so many nice memories wrapped up in the like of Ruthless Staplerfish; I remember being a tiny nerd-child, my face lit only by the glow of a monitor in the darkness of my mother's laundry room. I was so excited to be making these tiny little worlds, so thrilled when I finally got some piece of functionality to work. It was a bunch of fun, my favorite thing to do in the world! While I know the dev I get to do today is better and more interesting, sometimes I long for that time; the time where I could just hole up in a room, work on cute little things, and not have to worry about showing them off or whether they were any good.
That's all for now, folks. I'll see you around!