American Pie

On Thursday, it was announced that the final weekly downloadable song for Rock Band would be Don McClean’s “American Pie.”

I don’t have stories from working on Rock Band. I have stories about not working on Rock Band. Back in 2006, I was working for the Activision studio Vicarious Visions. Among other things, we did a lot of the Nintendo Wii and DS development for Activision titles headed elsewhere.

I had a number of old friends and colleagues at Harmonix, and the previous year they had come out with Guitar Hero, to huge success. So, when Activision acquired Red Octane (Guitar Hero’s publisher) I indulged myself in some hope that I might get to work with those guys. That, of course, was not fated to happen that way.

I did end up working on the fringes of Guitar Hero. In addition to managing the design group at VV during most of the Guitar Hero years there, I was producer on the team that prototyped Mii Freestyle Mode in Guitar Hero World Tour, and did design on another prototype that never made it. I remember a lot of animosity among fans between Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and I expect some developers must have felt that way too. But all I ever percieved personally was responsibility. I had accidentally ended up with the people who were in charge of Harmonix’s baby, and I wanted to take good care of it. Let it be done well, and let someone else worry about sibling rivalry.

Fast forward to today. I am working with those old friends now, at Harmonix. I’m not working on Rock Band, and never did. But my involvement with carrying their baton was one of the things that gave me the mad confidence to be here. And just as when Activision closed down their music business, the end of new Rock Band content at Harmonix has got me looking back on these stories that put me where I am today.

Why does anybody choose a life in entertainment? The song goes “I knew, if I had my chance, that I could make those people dance, and maybe they’d be happy for a while.” When I go home at the end of the day, all I can hope is that I’ve done something to bring people some joy.

So, bye bye. Harmonix isn’t telling yet what we’re offering people next. But maybe they’ll be happy with it, for a while.

Flash Point: Urban Structures Strategy

Flash Point: Fire Rescue is a new cooperative boardgame by Kevin Lanzing. Players take on the role of firefighters, and must collaborate to rescue trapped victims from a burning building. The Urban Structures expansion provides a new double-sided game board, including the High Rise, the most challenging building in the game. Having pulled out a victory on this board after a couple of false starts, I posted my strategy as an article on, which I’m cross-posting in its entirety here: Continue reading Flash Point: Urban Structures Strategy

Topics Too Small to Blog About

I’ve been reading The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design. I’ve been tie-dying shirts. I’ve been experimenting with GameMaker for the Mac, getting test libraries compiling in XCode, and making a simple version of Space Invaders in Scratch.

No single one of these things has turned into a project that was quite enough to write about. Either that, or I’m just having trouble writing lately. Could be both!

Boardgame Print Shop Adds Boards

As a print shop for boardgames, The Game Crafter has always had a fairly gaping hole in their service. They didn’t do boards. Yes, you read that right. Not what you would probably call boards, anyway. But that changed yesterday, with the addition of 18-inch quad-fold boards to their catalog.

I could pretend that I just whipped up a full-size Salta board today, but I won’t. This move was announced some time ago, so I had most of the graphic design ready to pull the trigger on.

Nothing to See Here…

I’m breaking with convention and not doing a Salta Champ update this week. Not that I haven’t worked on it, but it’s largely been refactoring my mostly-C code into proper C++. Which, aside from introducing a few (pleasantly few) typos that I’ve had to track down, isn’t too exciting from the outside.

It has been a good exercise, though, working yet more muscles that I hadn’t had a chance to stretch in a while.

Wind-up Knight In-App Purchases Synthesize Old and New

A couple of months ago, I briefly previewed Wind-Up Knight, the new action game for Android (and soon, iOS) by Robot Invader. Well, it came out about a week ago, and the only reason I didn’t mention it then was that I didn’t really have anything to say. I didn’t expect that the first thing I’d have to say would be about their business model, which is really interesting. Continue reading Wind-up Knight In-App Purchases Synthesize Old and New

Emergent Behavior

Here’s an entertaining failure case in my late-game pathfinding AI. As I’ve mentioned, after a certain point, the AI switches from a straight minimax strategy (carefully considering its moves vs. possible counter-moves) to a Djikstra’s Algorithm pathfinder with limited minimax elements. Which is to say, it tries to find ways to rearrange its own pieces to create clear paths to park its highest-priority pieces. Continue reading Emergent Behavior

Game Designer's Journal