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The Last of Us Part 2 [Game]

Overview

Game Designer / Gameplay Scripter
Developed by Naughty Dog
Published by Sony Interactive Entertainment


 

This game probably doesn’t need a set up, but just in case, this is the sequel to The Last of Us, one of the biggest Playstation games to be released.

I was brought on as a Game Designer / Gameplay Scripter and tasked with scripting together various levels, interfacing with AI, scripting combat encounters, setting up gameplay and scripted sequences, and more. Later on I worked heavily on accessibility features throughout the game

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Dot Matrix Dodger – [Game]

Overview

Mobile Bullet hell Dodger Game
Programmer
Designer
Creator
Download on Google Play


Dot Matrix Dodger started as an experimental personal prototype and morphed into what it is now; a fast-paced, bullet-hell game that uses the accelerometer and gyroscope on your mobile phone as the input for movement.

Inspired by games like Super Hexagon and Super Stardust, the game was built from scratch by myself using Unity, building the enemy behavior systems, spawning system, wave system, object pooling, and visual design/UI.

 

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Circular Reasoning – [Game]

Overview

A student project turned published board game
Main Designer/Creator
Published by Breaking Games
Buy at Breaking Games or Amazon
Featured at IndieCade 2014
Selected for the 2016 Mensa Select Award


 

What started as a student project soon became a professional venture that’s been featured at IndieCade and is now professionally published and purchasable online at Breaking Games. The game has been featured at IndieCade, PAX South, PAX East, and various other locations around the US as part of Breaking Games’ touring.

Inspired by the rules of Chess and Checkers, Circular Reasoning is a strategy game where two to four players attempt to get all three of their tokens, a Circle, Triangle, and Square, to the center of the board. To do so they must think ahead as the gateways that allow them to traverse closer and closer to the center rotate concentrically around the board depending on the state it is in. It is easy to pick up, but difficult to master as one more can change the positioning of the gateways, change how your opponents move and change the outcome of the game.

In The News

Torchlight 2 – Increments [Blog]

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STEAM Page

Developed by Runic Games


Games like Torchlight 2 are the popcorn of games. Boot it up and enjoy the gibs fly and before you know it 5 hours have passed and you notice your eyes hurt because you haven’t taken your eyes off the screen since then.

It’s this light buildup of tiny increments as the game progresses, the breadcrumbs of progress that makes these sorts of games so addictive yet at the same time rarely leave a lasting imprint on me.

It basically becomes he Sorites paradox; when does the pile of incremental stat upgrades, percentages, and various colors of loot plastered on my body become a heap of character growth and progress? At what point do I feel like I’m not just getting a slight boost in my weapon DPS and instead feel like I’ve become a sufficiently powerful character compared to my starting position?

This micro-increment system that you see in a lot of RPGs is often the fuel that the game relies on to keep the players engaged, and I’m all for that to an extent. The question becomes how fine a grain of increment does the game need before progression feels tedious or reveals too much of its hand and makes its Skinner Box-ness obvious?

I’ve been having a similar feeling while playing through Fallout 4 (thoughts coming soon), where so much of the loot, particularly the armor, offer incremental improvements in certain stats, but at the same time clashes with the upgrading/mod system to slow down loot assessment to a crawl as I try to figure out if a weapon upgrade or armor mod will adjust the stats to be just slightly better than what I have now.

Back to Torchlight 2, and I find this “microcrement” (coining new terms is always the sign of a intellectual, of course) to weave itself into the skill and ability systems. I always find myself defaulting to upgrading a skill I have already invested in rather than spending a valuable skill point on an ability that sounds cool but messes with the groove I’ve already gotten into when the default/basic abilities I started with. I don’t want to divide my heap of stat increases into a pile of unfamiliar territory.

Yes, there is respecing, but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? One can’t reliably test out abilities and build without having another system in place to revert everything. Considering one can’t reliably respec outside the town hub, you’d be stuck with an ability you’re not familiar with or optimized for until you get back. Moreover, the microcrements encourage you to deep dive into an ability rather than have a breadth of options, so respecing only becomes useful when wanting to completely overhaul a build mid-game rather than waste time and currency trying out a single ability before reverting it.

I’m reminded again of this study (and I have no idea if it was a legitimate study, but bera with me) where two groups of people ate chicken wings. One group ate their food and had their plates and leftovers cleaned off while eating, and the other had their leftovers remain. The group who had their tables bussed ended up eating about 30% more food than the group that kept their leftovers.

Likewise, I think it’d be interesting to see how games can make players feel good, feel full, with less content. When people see the progress they’ve made, rather than tossing away evidence of the struggle, it puts the progress into perspective. Snapshots of early character levels with low-level gear, comparisons between higher and lower-level abilities, small things that indicate the heap of progress rather than a pile of increments.

Games like to get players to the end, all powerful destination, but rarely do they let us look back and see how far we’ve come.

Invisible Inc. – Retro Futuristic Retro [Blog]

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Steam Page

Developed by Klei Entertainment

(Based on the Base Game, no DLC)

It’s been a while since I lost played a turn based/tactical style of game, and I’m glad Invisible Inc. was there to break that gap. A sleek presentation bundled with solid gameplay and a retro-futuristic/future-noir aesthetic that meshes perfectly with the whole experience.

There’s something about the sort of retro-y futuristic style that appeals to me on a deeper level. A common way to think about genres like steampunk, cyberpunk, and the like is to ask “what if the [X] era never stopped?” and expand history from there and it’s a fascinating thought experiment. However, Invisible Inc strikes to me as a less extending a previous era in history and more “what if the current era decided to move back to those eras?” In this way the entire aesthetic of the game, from trench coats to revolvers, the peeking mechanics, stealth system, corporations, all of this come together to make this beautiful and sleek mix of a future that has retrograded overtime to the past rather than one based on the past and developed further.

Many mechanics in games are placed in as necessities or capitulation to genre or the bottom line, which, while not necessarily a bad thing, often leads to dissonance. Here, though, most everything makes sense within the world and the game. Needing a new vault key every time one is used is one example. Of course the key would be a one time use, passwords change, the world is submerged in technology that keeps track of every little metric.

This feeling, perhaps an intentional theme, that you are always at the mercy of technology, makes this game feel particularly grounded nowadays when it might have felt more fantastical in the past. You are always dependent the technology you have at your disposal, both in game and in real life, and sometimes the tech is on cooldown at an inconvenient time.

As I said, though, I’m not quite sure if these themes were intentional or not, or at the very least as developed as I am making them out to be. This is based on the original game without DLC or mods, so it might have been improved on that front, but with how short the campaign can be, and the fairly abrupt ending, I get the sense that they didn’t have quite enough time or resources to fully flesh out the story/world as much as they would have liked. The love for the world and the characters ooze into the character bios (and wonderful voice-overs on said backstory) and all the little things like agent conversations at the beginning of missions, but these are all little hints towards a much bigger world that I wish we got more of.

But, then again, always better to leave them wanting more than getting less.

Sincerely,

~Tomer Braff

Cibele – Developer Intimacy [Blog]

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STEAM Page

Developed by Nina Freeman

It’s rare for a game, indie or otherwise, to be so intimate in any aspect. Personal, sure, developers often pour their heart and soul into their projects and that often shows. But that’s it, they show their efforts, the external end result of their years long project. Rarely does that effort produce intimacy, as if the developers themselves are opening internally rather than the external result they produced. Maybe in bits and spurts here and there, but those intimate moments are usually reserved for either huge gut-punches/twists in the story, or for 4th-wall breaks where the developer knowingly winks at the player.

Cibele is the first game in recent memory that doesn’t shy away from that intimacy, both in what I’ve described and in the subject matter itself.  Though it is simple and short, it manages to seep into your mind and develop that intimacy remarkably quickly.

You’d think that exploring a desktop, fake or not,  would make one feel voyeuristic, icky even. But digging through Freeman’s folders, peeking at pictures of friends and family, stumbling on racy images sent to her online lover, and reading archived blog posts of hers feels almost inviting. It’s not shown as sneaking around Freeman’s computer when she isn’t looking, folders aren’t named “DO NOT OPEN” or other foreboding names like you’d see in other games.

Everything is as if you are Freeman herself, browsing her computer, logging on to play a round of Valtameri (the in-game MMO Freeman and her lover play online together) before bed. These files are deliberately, and most importantly willingly, placed in the game by Freeman as if she is welcoming the player to explore her life. It’s this willingness to be open and vulnerable to the player that I find incredibly brave and compelling.

It’s a bravery I wish I had at times. A bravery to just go out and do something, even if it may be viewed as out of the ordinary or “too personal” or something to that effect. Since graduating I’ve been wanting to do something, specifically in making a youtube video of some kind, but I keep putting it aside and demotivating myself because of thoughts like “it’s too personal” and “it’s not original”. Maybe I can take something away from Freeman and just say fuck it and do it anyway.

Sincerely,

~Tomer Braff

Thomas Was Alone – Puzzles with Platformers [Blog]

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STEAM Page

Released: November 12, 2012

Finally getting around to clearing out some of my STEAM backlog, first starting with Night In The Woods and now going through Thomas Was Alone, a puzzle platformer made by Mike Bithel.

This is one of those games that I remember hearing all about over the years, cited for everything indie related from how to make appealing programmer art to how even simple game ideas can be enormously successful. It’s one of those indie games that everyone played and loved and I always felt like I was missing out because I never got around to playing it until now.

While I can understand why people loved this game, in all honesty Thomas Was Alone didn’t quite “do it” for me. I enjoyed the visuals and the narration, Danny Wallace is an excellent orator, but if I took anything away from the game it was a realization/understanding of my own tastes in games. I don’t tend to play puzzle or platformer games, and Thomas Was Alone, being a combination of those genres, showed me why that is.

I tend to quickly lose interest in a puzzle game because the main mechanics and tricks are all laid out relatively soon and the novelty wears out fairly quickly. The challenge of them tends to be in rearranging those mechanics in unfamiliar environments, and puzzle games tend to approach the solving mechanics in two main ways;

  1. Linearly – the puzzle has actions that must be done in order (I.E. hit the switch with this character then move the next character etc…)
  2. Open – the puzzle can be completed in most any method so long as certain keypoints are done.

Most puzzle games probably incorporate a bit of both types. It’s difficult to explain without visuals (maybe I’ll add them in later), but for example, in Thomas Was Alone, some levels are essentially split into two or three “sections” where you have to hit certain switches in order, but can complete those “sections” with their respective characters.

When a puzzle is more linear, like Steven’s Sausage Rollwhere most every action needs to be done in a particular order, what tends to happen is I’ll breeze through a large section of it, seeing a good portion of what the game has to offer, and then hit a brick wall where I’m already burned out from the game’s mechanics and want to move on.

With a more open-ish puzzle, the solution tends to be immediately obvious and the main challenge is supposed to be in figuring out how to combine the mechanics to achieve that solution. Often times, though, how to combine those mechanics still ends up being a “linear” and at that point it becomes a slow slog for me to just get everything in place. With Thomas, you control multiple characters, and each character has their own traits and abilities, and the most tedious parts of the game were the levels where the goal is on the other side of the map and the main challenge is to slowly get every single rectangle in place, which is even slower for the rectangles that can’t maneuver as easily as the others. It feels less like I’m solving a puzzle and more like I’m taking extra, unecessary steps to get from point A to point B.

Bah, I’m probably not making as much sense as I could. But this has gotten me thinking on puzzle game design and how I might approach it with my lukewarm feelings towards puzzle games. Maybe I’ll figure out some mechanics, try to puzzle my way through to making something out of it. Research into that stuff.

Sincerely,

~Tomer Braff

Night In The Woods – Living Experiences [Blog]

Official Website

Steam Page

I didn’t like Night in the Woods as much as I had hoped when I first finished it. It didn’t help that I was spoiled about some of its story before I got around to it (don’t worry, there won’t be any spoilers in this post), but there was something about it that felt a bit off for me.

After mulling it over a bit and watching a few analysis videos for other people’s takes on the game, I grew to like the game a bit more and appreciate some of its subtleties I missed, and with that I think I figured out what exactly felt off for me about the game.

Night in the Woods is a game created from and for a very specific perspective; small town, poor to lower-middle class, teenage angst, existential dread on one’s future, all that kind of stuff. To be clear, it’s perfectly fine for a game to focus on different perspectives, and if anything I’d love to see different perspectives come into games and game development. It’s just in this particular case it took a bit of time before I could really internalize what the game was trying to show me.

I’ve grown up in Dallas for pretty much all my life, and Dallas is nowhere near the definition of a “small town”. I’ve been fairly well taken care of my whole life, growing up in a middle class home, only working out of wanting to work rather than out of necessity. I’m even done with college debt-free since I got a tuition scholarship and my father helped pay for the rent. I’m super privileged to say the least. I don’t really know that feeling of coming home after being gone for a long time from college because UTD is 5 minutes away from my house. I don’t know that close-knit community feeling of having a history with your neighbors because Dallas is so frickin’ huge and there’s not really a “neighborhood culture” to connect with unless you really try.

That’s not to say I haven’t had my struggles. In fact, I’d say out of everything in the game, Mae and Bea are the two things in this game that I deeply connected with because of their more internal struggles that line up with mine.

It took me a while to really “figure out” Mae, but towards the end of the game when more about her is revealed (again, no spoilers), I started to realize the little things throughout the game that I connected with. Mae berating herself in the mirror on her appearance, her anxiety about college, and a tinge of self-loathing, self-destructive behavior, and inability to pick up on the queues to know when to shut up (gosh dangit Mae) are all things that I’ve dealt with, and still deal with.

With Bea it’s a bit more nuanced.  Again, I’m lucky in that I’ve always been fairly well taken care of so I’ve never been anywhere close to her situation, but I’ve known a few people in similar situations, and the feeling of putting immense pressure on yourself to succeed, the feeling of wanting something so bad but not knowing what to do about it, feeling stuck in a rut, a hole that you can’t get out of no matter what you do – that’s very true for me. And I’ll fully admit, after I finished the game, I felt compelled and went to visit my mother at the cemetery to check up on everything.

So, overall, I think this game is something that needs to simmer in your mind before you can figure out if you liked it or not. It’s not something that you’re going to feel for weeks on end like a punch to the gutt, but it is something that sticks in the back of your mind, something that comes up every now and then when you’re looking to think of something. Luckily for me it came at a pretty convenient time when I wanted to be thinking about these things.

Sincerely,

~Tomer Braff

P.S. Yes I ship Maebea. I am fully convinced the devs made their names like that for the express purpose of making the ship that much easier to make.

So long and thanks for all the fish

Welp, the time has come. Four years, two degrees, one crazy dude who decided it was a good idea to go for two degrees in four years.

It’s been a heck of a ride to say the least. So many ups, so many downs, so many side to sides.

With graduation comes new beginnings and all that, so I need to start adulting more. Taking care of myself, giving myself consistent schedules and deadlines for self-imposed challenges and whatnot.

I’m forcing myself to wake up at 8:00 in the morning because I have to be an adult now. Wish me luck.

I’m going to make an effort to blog more about games, movies, ideas, anything that really comes to mind to keep this website active. I’ll be posting some of my code from previous projects, going through them and explaining my thought process at the time and how I would improve them now.

I’m looking into making a few YouTube videos because why not. The main ideas right now are tutorial videos on things like basic computer science/programming, tips and tricks for certain programs, but not in a boring slide-show-y kind of way, more in a skit/fun, energetic kind of way. Like, a guide for idiots by an idiot.

I’m going to make an effort to physically write things out, whether that be scripts for a video, a game concept, diagramming out a programming idea/flow I have, or whatever. I find that physically writing out my thought process is much more satisfying than doing so digitally, which is why I’m also interested in maybe getting a tablet or something that would let me get the best of both worlds.

Most importantly, though, I’ll be applying for jobs. Lots of them. Basically anyone who is willing to hear me out. I’ve reached out to some developers, mostly locally, for advice on setting up portfolios, showing off my skills, and generally what I should do to keep myself practiced in what the industry demands.

Some advice my friend gave me yesterday that he got from one of the main developers behind Age of Empires 2 (that lucky SOB) was “Apply for a thousand jobs. Eventually, one of them will get back to you.” It’s oddly comforting.

So, if any of you HR people or company people are here because of an application from me, hey. What’sup? Hope you’re enjoying the site and the content I’ve made over the years. Don’t be shy to email me back, even if it’s a rejection, any bit of feedback helps no matter how big or small or nitpicky.

Regardless of all that, I think I’ll take a tiny day or two break. Play a game or two that’s in my ginormous back catalog of games, because lord knows I deserve it.

Sincerely,

~Tomer Braff

Wrapping Up

School is wrapping up soon. Classes are going to end by the end of the month while the graduation ceremony will be in early May. Basically at this point I’m just waiting to graduate.

I’ve been applying to a bunch of jobs, really any job that seems interesting and will accept my resume. In complete honesty I have no idea what I’m planning or hoping for, but I’d at least like to move out of the city, go someplace new.

Unfortunately I haven’t been working on personal projects for a while. I am hoping to continue a project from one of my classes this semester involving swinging around on a grappling hook in first person. I’m hoping that once I graduate I’ll have much more motivation and energy to actually work on things. School really exhausts me, even when it’s not too involving.

Either way, the next few months should be interesting.

Sincerely,

~Tomer Braff