Obligatory Thanksgiving Post

This Thanksgiving was probably the most awesome it’s been in a long time. As per tradition, I’ll now force the internet to read all that I’m thankful for.

First and foremost, I am thankful for my family. Part of the thing I love about Thanksgiving is how gratifying the routine is. I can always count on some of the same things happening every year, and that in itself is a very relaxing foothold for me while I bumble through life. My dad always ends up carving the turkey against his will, I always pick off pieces while he’s carving because I’m generally so hungry I can’t wait, my brother always scolds me for it, my entire family always stands in the kitchen to socialize (even though there’s plenty of other room in the house) and gets in the way of the cooks. So on and so on. This year it was delightful to watch my mom and aunts and cousins play Wii sports. Everyone always seems so happy to be there. I know that there are plenty of people who are not blessed with a family that gets along as well as mine, so I try to remain thankful for that and not take it for granted.

Next up, predictably, are friends. Ah, to come home and see the Tuesday Night Ballers and fall into blissful routine. To have such a core of friends, even though we are a bit scattered at the moment, is a true blessing, and when we all come together in the same place I believe magic occurs. I am thankful for each of you.

I am also thankful for the ETC. This program is amazing, and perfect, and everything I hoped it would be and more. The people here are so devoted, to the work and to each other, and it’s an explosion of creativity and knowledge that I scoop up and try to keep hold of. I am extremely fortunate to be here, and I intend to acknowledge that. Thank you collective entity that is the ETC!

A few more specific thankful shout-outs: First is Jesse Schell, my BVW professor. I am ever so thankful to have him about, not only because he’s an awesome teacher, but because he’s helped me out on an individual basis time and time again. I mean, sure, sometimes I’m terrified he’s going to melt me with his laser eyes, but he hasn’t yet, and has been nothing but encouraging and helpful and devoted to me and all the students. What a blessing for us to be granted slivers of his time. Thank you Jesse!

Then there’s Andy Jih. Hi Andy! Andy is the head TA for BVW, and has taken me under his wing in times of need. He can apparently read minds. Or at least, he is perceptive enough to notice that in a time of high stress and emotional frailty, the one thing I need in the world is someone to talk for 4 hours over a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. I look up to him a lot, and next year I want to be able to help some lonely, unsure first-year in the same way he’s helped me. Thank you Andy!

I could go on and on about a thousand or more things, but I’ll leave it to those for now. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday!

Portfolio site

Phew! I finally got my portfolio site up. After polling advice from many different people in terms of a domain name, I decided to go with Drew’s advice, which was just to keep wertle.com and make the front end my portfolio site.

Drew’s reasoning was that wertle.com is quirky enough to be distinct (important with a common name like mine) but short enough to be easy to remember. Plus, it means I don’t have to wrangle another domain name.

Worry not, the personal site is still there, it’s just in the back.

The portfolio site isn’t as polished as I’d like, but all the content is there. I just needed to put it up because it’s time to stop dawdling (companies are already starting to scour the ETC website to look over us). Next I need to add the XO Game Jam result under projects.

Yay, it’s nice to check something off my to-do list before making the drive back to Kentucky.

XO Game Jam

(This is cross posted to my mailing list, because I figure not a lot of people are on both)

One of the second year projects here at the ETC is XO Games. This was a student-pitched project to design and build games for the XO laptop for the One Laptop Per Child project. The group decided to hold a Game Jam this past weekend, which is somewhat of a “design and build a video game in 40 hours” marathon, in order to test out the documentation they’ve been creating over the course of the semester.

I decided that this would be a brilliant opportunity to drag some of my non-ETC friends into the ETC experience. Ever since beginning this program, I’ve often thought about how so many of my talented friends would do so well in it, and wished I could share the experience with them. The Game Jam gave me an opportunity to share a sliver of that experience, and so after some healthy peer pressure, I convinced Will, Brendan, and Kyle to come up and participate.

Last Friday, 10 teams of 40 or so people met up at the ETC for the start of the event. The project group talked about the XO laptop and OLPC, and some of the quirks for designing for the laptop, and started us in with a “Hello World” assignment. If you’ve never seen the XO, it is quite amazing! It’s very tiny, amazingly rugged and power efficient, and yet the screen resolution is better than the monitor I’m using right now. The idea is that these affordable laptops will be distributed to children in developing nations as educational tools, and to give them access to computing technology. In many situations, a child may have to travel to the only nearest power supply to charge the laptop, so the battery life on these things is pretty hard core.

After our initial program, my team ventured off to do some brainstorming. Since the XO is going to be distributed world-wide, we wanted our game to use very little to no language. We eventually decided on a pixel-hunt inspired adventure game, where you can click on objects in a scene to trigger events. However, only certain events (and only when clicked in proper timing) will advance the story.

40 rigorous hours later, we came up with “Cake Town,” which I suppose can be called a rough prototype for a game. It only has two levels, and doesn’t have as many interactive scene elements as we’d wanted, and it can still be broken if you try hard enough.

Still, Will’s art and Kyle’s sound design is amazing, and I’m still incredibly impressed that Brendan was able to program the thing to work having had little to no experience with the tools we had to use to make the game (Python and PyGame). You can download it here if you would like to take a look. It’s about a 10MB download (size efficiency was something we struggled with, though the bundle download for the XO is only 2 MB. Still, for a dial-up speed situation, that’s even a bit much).

As for my role, in true producer fashion I jumped in wherever I was needed. This included figuring out the tedious steps for creating an activity bundle out of our game for the XO, helping Will with layout coloring, getting Kyle into the ETC’s sound booth so he could record Will’s voice acting, and eventually helping Brendan with the programming in the last stages. It was an adventure, for sure.

The games that other teams came up with were all amazing. On Sunday we had school children play and judge our game, and there were some prizes for the winners. My favorite thing about this Game Jam was that there were teams comprised entirely of beginners (like ours) and also teams comprised of people who actually work in the game industry. Everyone at the jam helped one another, and it was a good community experience. And of course, it was great to see my friends from home, and give them a glimpse of the sort of stuff I get to do at the ETC. You should check our the Jam’s photo blog if you have the time.

The downside to all this, however, is that I apparently do NOT handle sleep deprivation like I used to. I am quite sick, and my biological clock is completely confused (hence my writing this update at 3:30 in the morning). I’m hoping that Thanksgiving Break will help me get things back in order.

Happy Happy Crash

Today we presented our Round 4 worlds for BVW. They were all amazing, and all very well received! But I have been suffering a common course after every BVW presentation.

That is, the weekend before, and especially the night before when we’re scrambling to meet the deadline, I get on this huuuuuuuuuge energy high. It was especially high last night, because our world was SO AWESOME and I was so excited about it. Then the day of presentation, I’m all excited and giggly. Then everyone presents, and it’s awesome! Like, every single world was awesome, there weren’t really any duds.

And then it happens. All the worlds have shown, the class is over, and I drop down off my energy high. And goodness, what a crash! The minute I walk out the door I am depressed and on the verge of tears, and it is purely a result of my body trying to normalize itself. Still, how stressful!

Jesse told me that many professional actors are chronically depressed for the same reason, because of the highs and drop-offs in energy level scheduled around performances (D Flo, do you find this to be the case?)

I said “how do I fix it?!?” But Jesse just smiled knowingly and slipped out a door. Drat! That means it’s one of those stupid “life lessons” things, doesn’t it? Grumble grumble!

Many of you know that I am terrible at taking care of myself in times of emotional stress. What should I do to avoid being dreadfully depressed after the BVW show??