Artist Angela Washko to join UCLA Game Lab as Research Fellow

Posted on March 14th, 2022 by David Elliot

Angela Washko, artist and Associate Professor of Art at Carnegie Mellon University—and a longtime friend of the UCLA Game Lab—will join us as a Research Fellow this spring quarter (May 17-June 9). Washko will be working in the UCLA Game Lab and is scheduled to give a talk at UCLA on May 18. She also will be developing her latest game, titled Mother, Player.

“Mother, Player is an experimental narrative video game featuring pregnancy and early motherhood stories from artists during the global pandemic,” Washko said. “As a series of hand-drawn and animated interactive vignettes written in dialogue with artist mothers, the videogame presents parenting stories from lockdown with a focus on the distinctive challenges and poignant moments intersectional artist-parents have faced during this time.”

Grant support for Mother, Player’s development comes from Creative Capital, a nonprofit organization funding new, creative work across a variety of arts technologies and practices.

Washko has worked with the UCLA Game Lab in the past as a speaker and exhibiting artist, with her projects Womanhouse (Or How to be a Virtuous Woman) and The Game: The Game (a continuation of Washko’s BANGED project) appearing in our 2017 UCLA Game Art Festival. UCLA Game Lab is looking forward to welcoming Washko back to UCLA.

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Black Lives Matter!

Posted on June 9th, 2020 by David Elliot

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Black Lives Matter!

Posted on June 9th, 2020 by David Elliot

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Registration Open!

Posted on February 26th, 2020 by David Elliot

Come to UCLA to create your own games, get a glimpse of college life & earn college credit! Enroll today!

Announcing our 2018-2019 Undergraduate Fellows!

Posted on April 5th, 2019 by David Elliot

The UCLA Game Lab is excited to announce our 2018-2019 Undergraduate Design and Development Research Fellows! This is our first year awarding The Undergraduate Design and Development Research Fellowship, giving students the opportunity and funding to create team-based game projects at the Game Lab in a focused, supportive, and well-resourced environment. Congratulations to our Fellowship recipients: Esther Abosch (Design Media Arts, Senior), Wenrui Zhang (Design Media Arts, Junior), Marisa Ling (Design Media Arts, Senior) , Farhan Alam (Computer Science, Senior), Eugene Wang (Mathematics of Computation, Senior), Judy Apple Kim (Cognitive Science, Senior), Kerry Lee (Design Media Arts, Senior), Jocelyn Favela (Chicanx Studies, Senior), Hajar Azzam (Design Media Arts, Junior), Regina Wang (Computer Science & Engineering, Freshman), Jumo Yang (Design Media Arts, Senior), Nikki Woo (Electrical Engineering, Sophmore), and Andrew Kim (Design Engineering (Independent Major), Senior)!

Below are the projects they are creating for the Undergraduate Design and Development Research Fellowship:

Esther Abosch & Wenrui Zhang
Esther and Wenrui are creating a farming simulator adventure game called Idyll which examines 19th-century romantic individualism and the grand American narrative. Inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, the works of Washington Irving, and various American tall tales, Idyll has players tending to a small cabin and plot of land, using natural resources to craft all they need to survive. However, if played in an isolationist manner, the game becomes small and claustrophobic. In order to advance storylines and unlock new maps, recipes, flora, and fauna, the player must interact with others and maintain relationships.

Marisa Ling, Farhan Alam, & Eugene Wang
Marisa, Farhan, and Eugene are creating Tuple, a two-player local co-op game in which players complete puzzles and progress through a 2D platforming environment. A custom stretch controller, each end held by one player, conjoins the players in physical space. Stretch and movement of the controller corresponds to the virtual depiction of the players in digital space.

Although the players are conjoined physically and virtually, each has a set of independent controls that they must use cooperatively in order to advance through challenges.

Judy Kim, Kerry Lee & Jocelyn Favela
Judy, Kerry, and Jocelyn are creating a dating-simulation game that explores how thoughts and perceptions of others are filtered through our individual perspectives and experiences. The game will offer players the opportunity to “date” endearing, compelling characters presented through nuanced animations of mannerisms and expressions. Romancing a character will result in unpredictable, uncontrollable changes in the appearance of the character as players spend time learning more about them. The player’s relationships with characters may fall apart when characters suddenly “change,” or when a character’s true nature is revealed, causing a charming animation to warp and shift to something new and less attractive. Not a straightforward dating sim, the game asks if the idea of a person’s “true” nature is just an illusion, citing the player’s individual perspective and experiences as a filter which changes their perception of others.

Hajar Azzam & Regina Wang
Hajar and Regina are creating Bayt Beaut, a virtual reality role-playing game, which explores the dynamics of Arab families by unfolding complicated layers of love, protection, and pride. See the world through the eyes of Nawar, the game’s female protagonist, as she matures and makes important life decisions under the scrutiny of her endearing family. By living through various stages in Narwar’s life and engaging in conversations with family members, the game ultimately challenges Arab stereotypes and addresses gender bias by putting the western views of the oppression of Arab women into perspective. Visually, the game art reimagines a traditional Arab Salon, or living room, in the style of 1980’s anime.

Jumo Yang & Nikki Woo
Jumo and Nikki are creating The Plane Ride, a long-flight passenger simulator that emphasizes the survival aspects of gameplay. Players may choose their character, what items to take, and what actions to execute. Players are able to move their chairs, the window shades, and their luggage.

Andrew Kim
Andrew is creating a large robotic tennis ball that can navigate around a tennis court on its own. The robotic tennis ball is durable, portable, wireless, and rechargeable. Fun and functional, the project will combine commercially available spherical toy robots with iconographic tennis objects, such as a tennis ball and a target cone, into one incredible device.

These projects will be completed by Summer 2019. Keep following the Game Lab blog for updates on each project!

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Eddo Stern Interview about the UCLA Game Lab

Posted on March 22nd, 2018 by David Elliot

Eddo Stern (ES) interviewed by David O’Grady (DO)

Eddo Stern is the founder and director of the UCLA GAME LAB, and Professor of Design Media Arts at UCLA.

David O’Grady is a Visiting Lecturer at California State University – Long Beach and a PhD Candidate in Cinema Media Studies at UCLA.

  • Screenshot of Whisk'ry Business, designed by Alex Rickett and John Brumley

DO: What is the game lab’s role or mission?

ES: The Lab’s core role is to contribute to the culture of art and games. Internally the lab supports UCLA students and faculty from a diverse range of disciplines though mentoring, technical and conceptual support, and by providing a broad set of material and intellectual resources.

The lab consciously seeks to reach out beyond the academic boundaries of UCLA to the world at large. Many university labs or Centers operate without a focus on cultivating a public profile, as they are centered primarily on supporting faculty and graduate student research, with perhaps strong corporate relationships for funding support. But at The UCLA Game Lab, I seek to emphasize the public facing side of things though the Game Festival we organize at the Hammer Museum and the many other co-located and co-curated exhibitions and events around the U.S. and the world, working with dozens of partner institutions. The lab also operates its own high school summer Institute program which helps bring young and ambitious new students to UCLA and help to raise our visibility in LA and beyond; Community service is a vital dimension to the lab’s outreach as well, and the lab offers an intern program for underrepresented high school students and free curriculum consulting to Los Angeles Unified School District. The lab of course remains dedicated to developing game artists and game education, providing technical and promotional support for our students, as well as supporting an artist in residence program, extensive alumni and media networks, and a robust public lecture and workshop series.

  • Wearable silicone controller designed by Sara Haas and Lilyan Kris for their project Phantasm Atlas

DO: What makes it a laboratory?

ES: I would say two central practices make the UCLA Game lab a laboratory.

First, is the experimental approach to human interactions in the lab. The lab attempts to be non-hierarchical in the sense that all the projects and folks in the lab are regarded as free creative agents and are encouraged to explore their own directions conceptually, technically, politically and artistically. This approach leads to many student initiated projects and collaborations. The lab goes out of its way to recruit “game skeptics”, people who are not already “in love” with games and the common discourse about games, but who often bring a fresh and critical perspective to games.

  • Original version of Objectif by Aliah M. Darke

We also pay a lot of attention to promoting cultural diversity and a politics of inclusion, generosity and sensitivity. Additionally, the introjection of our artists in residence, high school interns, visiting scholars and faculty, and the many random weekly visitors to the lab offer many unpredictable opportunities for creative discussions and interactions.

The second principle is the lab’s concerted effort to challenge and critique the tacitly accepted definitions and production methodologies surrounding games. This open-ended, inherently experimental approach to making and thinking about games leads to many new investigatory approaches to game design, game technology, game aesthetics, game distribution, and game scholarship.

The results of these experimentations can be seen in the eclecticism, energy and originality of the many game projects created in the lab, as well as in the diversity of the interdisciplinary research output of the lab.

  • Custom game controllers with living cacti for Nick Crockett's game Sneaky Cactus

DO: What are the challenges of balancing or integrating technology with art in making games?

ES: I think integrating game technology with game art is one of the great challenges of making and teaching games today. The emergence of digital games has been a revolutionary force that has changed games dramatically, and we likely would not be having this discussion if it wasn’t for digital games (we could be discussing sports and parlor games…). And as is evident in the parallel tensions that exists in the relationships between media arts and “fine” arts, between traditional and electronic music, between drawing and 3D animation; those same tensions that exist universally in almost every corner of society well beyond the arts.

  • Screenshot of Ascension made by Garrett Johnson

The influence of new technology is profound and requires a nuanced position. Fortunately, the unique positioning of the UCLA Game Lab in a Design and Media Arts Department, in a top raked School of Arts and Architecture, in a globally connected research university in very helpful in engaging this challenge in a sophisticated and nuanced way.

My approach to this challenge is to focus first and foremost on the conceptual and formal vision of the work, and only then move on to consider technological mastery or virtuosity. But admittedly, the lab is schizophrenic in this area in that the practices and relationships to technology embraced in the lab are simultaneously those of the Technophile and those of the Luddite.

But the lab is very advanced across a wide range of technologies. For example, we build and design integrated circuits from scratch, develop low-level open source software tools for game developers. We also hack, augment, and expand commercial software and hardware to be used in new ways, and we use technically sophisticated commercial tools and techniques, such as motion capture; 3D scanning and printing; image and sound processing; AI algorithms; 3D modeling, rigging and animation; computer graphics and network programming; and many other technically sophisticated game-related tools and skills.

  • Screenshot of Classroom Aquatic, designed by Eric Cappello, Adeline Ducker, Mickey Goese, Remy Karns, Heather Penn and Mike Saltveit

On the other hand, the lab embraces the hand-made object, the written word, the one-of-a-kind object, the analog, the expressionistic, the idiosyncratic, the glitchy, the soft, the messy, the accidental. We embrace both the idiosyncrasy of the amateur and the production values of a master craftsperson.

I think this gets at the meat and potatoes of my role and the values of the lab, which cultivate the process of negotiating the embrace of new technologies, while focusing on making good art – and sharing this sensibility with students so they can develop their own intuition towards using technology in their work. To develop the strongest work in this area, one needs to allow for time and opportunity to explore new technology, but also retain an uncompromising culture of artistic critique and rigor. I think this is what we are trying to foster at the UCLA Game Lab!

  • Screenshot of Mark Essen's keyboard-based flying game Tickleplane

DO: What is the lab’s particular or unique contribution to game making and game education?

ES: The lab is unique in its devotion to serious and rigorous game making and education from a fine art / media arts perspective. Additionally, our lab has a unique focus on exploring how games and game culture integrate and crossbreed with other media such as film, theater, animation, literature, sculpture and installation, hardware engineering, industrial and graphic design, sound art, and conceptual art. And finally, the mix of students brought together in the lab is truly special, as it includes students coming from a vast array of disciplines and fields, who often share a mutual interest in studying game making, game engineering and game theory.

DO: What compelled you to found the lab?

ES: I have always been a strong believer in the “lab” model over the “studio” model for creative practice. Labs are social in nature – and for a multidisciplinary, creative area such as games, the social component is vital. When I was a graduate student at CalArts I loved working in the integrated media lab, which later led me to found the arts and games co-operative C-LEVEL in LA’s Chinatown.

I also knew that my particular ideas for game-making culture, and what game-making education could be at UCLA, would best be served by building an agile institution to create an alternative model for games and art education—a place that would be distinguished from the more common institutions that prepare students for work in the game industry or focus primarily on social, educational, and “serious” games.

  • Workshop UCLA Game Lab + HEAD Media Design. Organised by Swissnex & GameCulture. Photo by Douglas Edric Stanley

DO: Has your vision for the lab changed/altered/grown since its founding? Has the lab experience refined your own thoughts about game art/practice/education?

ES: Yes, I’ve recently been focusing on emphasizing the importance of craft as an essential component of game making. Developing craft is essential alongside other values that are important. By “craft” here I mean mostly the cultivation of a rigorous technique applied to game design, developing game aesthetics and the programming aspect of games. Currently, I am working with Tyler Stefanich, our lab manager, and other faculty and students to figure out how the lab can nurture the gamemaking craft(s) without replicating the established pipelines used to develop and design games.

Also, more broadly, I am looking to possibly expand the scope and focus of the lab in a more radical way beyond games. I am very compelled by Roger Caillois’ ideas about how games belong to a broader set of cultural practices. At the moment, this future plan is still classified as “top secret”, so I won’t elaborate further – but stay tuned!

DO: Is the lab currently experimenting with VR/AR/Mixed Reality in order to ascertain its aesthetic potential (and pitfalls) for game art?

ES: Definitely. We have students and artists in residence working on a variety of VR/AR projects, and we’re exploring the visual possibilities and interactive challenges of these media.

  • Ashtray for Lauren Mahon's controversial pro-smoking game Puff

DO: As you mentioned, the UCLA Game Lab also produces a Game Art Festival at a Los Angeles museum on a semi-regular basis. Why is this kind of exhibition so vital in an era when games can so readily be downloaded and played privately or online?

ES: The decision to produce a large-scale festival in a public space not traditionally associated with games as an artistic practice is key. It reflects the lab’s mission and agenda to expose new audiences to new games.

But there are several specific reasons why we put on the festival the way we do: the first reason has to do with the cultural value of games. To be frank, games suffer from an image problem in the arts community and in the culture at large. They are looked down on as low-brow, mass entertainment—perhaps appreciated for its technical sophistication, but deemed intellectually vacuous. So, in the most un-subtle of terms, hosting our festival in well-established and respected cultural institutions compels the skeptics to at least take a new look at games. The second reason is that, while it is true that games can be a satisfying solitary experience, their cultural value as a relational mediation of human interaction is just as profound. Showing games in a public space allows for formal experiments of social and physical scale as well as increased attention and sensibility to materiality and allows intersections with other artistic practices and media: games presented on stage; large-scale collaborative games; game workshops; games as film, sculpture, book or manuscript; and many other kinds of games that expand the scope of what game-playing means in a way that downloaded games and/or solitary play simply don’t allow.

  • Sofia Staab-Gulbenkian posing with cards for her game Sandswitch, made in collaboration with Hsinyu Lin and Lilyan Kris

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Arcade Cocktail Cabinets

Posted on February 17th, 2018 by David Elliot

Created for the Popup Arcade Extravaganza hosted by Fundamental LA’s Restore Arts LA initiative, the Arcade Cocktail Cabinets have become some of the most shown objects created by the Game Lab. They feature glass tops that protect the computer and monitor housed inside of the cabinet from drink and food spills. The modular controllers can be removed and switched from the cabinet’s sides to allow for a customizable play experience.

Interview with Lee Tusman

Posted on February 16th, 2018 by David Elliot

Today we interview Lee Tusman about his thesis project, a digital tool and artspace designed for online collaboration in three-dimensions and inspired by warehouse artist culture and DIY.

Lee Tusman is a new media artist and curator interested in the application of the radical ethos of collectives and DIY culture to the creation of, aesthetics, and open-source distribution methods of digital culture. His artistic output includes interactive media, video art, net art, experimental videogames, sound art, websites, twitter bots and micro-power radio stations. He enjoys working collaboratively in collectives, on nomadic projects and in ephemeral spaces.

Your project Messlife is described as inspired by “the tradition of warehouse art spaces and alternative venues”. What did you think those spaces offer that is missing from online spaces?

I’m thinking most specifically of the DIY collectively-organized art spaces that have been an important part of my life. What I love about these places is their constant reinvention and their refusal to fit within categories or disciplines. If people are familiar with this particular scene or community they might think most specifically about stereotypical noise music shows, and yes, these are a part of those spaces, as well as art exhibits, but the spaces I’ve been a part of have also held artist wrestling matches, DIY robot battles between robots built by children versus adults, hip hop karaoke nights, battles between invasive noxious weeds, and a ‘biennial’ that ran on a budget bus between several cities, and hundreds of more events or activities.

The nature of these spaces is that an alternative community forms, and that new ideas are proposed and held, or just spontaneously develop. I find them more exciting than traditional straightforward gallery schedules with their staid monthly exhibition opening and polite wine and cheese. In most gallery spaces, the purpose is to show art, sell it, and to ‘progress’ along some invisible line of stature until one has won the art game. In museums, which can be thought of as sites to serve art objects and to serve communities in a didactic or educational role, the particular role of the institution is often static and bounded by specific categories such as education, curatorial, Thursday night concert, kids’ programming, professional talk, etc. I’m really mostly interested in spaces that don’t conform to these categories and subvert them. That’s where the most exciting parts of art and community live for me.

So online communities are lacking the inventiveness and freedom these spaces provide?

I find these categories online as well. I’ve been active on the internet since I was young and online in the early 90s. In that era, I felt a certain freewheeling anarchy and openness, and a particular DIY feel. I created pages on Geocities, which had you choose a neighborhood and street I believe, which generated your URL, in order to create a feeling of community around topics. Myspace was the first social media I joined, in 2004, and I remember the Myspace editor which let you easily customize your page with images, music, fonts and colors, and the ability to choose friends and interact in a group. But the kinds of interaction and possibilities felt very limited and still does. Where is the online equivalent of those multi-disciplinary category-defying DIY spaces today? Is it in a Slack channel? A Dropbox folder? I do find some examples, such as the DIY videogame community on the forums of Glorious Trainwrecks, or the constant reuse and digital trash on (recently closed) Messlife grew out of conversations with people from DIY spaces as well as an attempt to interpret how they could function digitally in online 3d space.

Messlife seems to exist somewhere between an interactive space, a game, and an art project itself. How did you choose the kinds of interactivity that users are allowed in

At first, I looked to Second Life and Minecraft as online spaces. These are virtual environments that allow a ton of personalized creation to occur. They could be described as game-like environments, but they are generally not used to play a game. Instead, the emphasis is on building structures and sometimes some form of online ‘hanging out’ or chatting. I thought about using one of these spaces to build a new smaller DIY community using the tools of that particular world. What would an online squat look like? I spent time looking at how artist communities inhabit the space and the kinds of community and tools are present on these platforms. Ultimately, in the spirit of DIY I decided to make my own new space and to find others that may want to build it and shape it with me. I had lots of ideas for what could potentially be done in the space such as collaborative building and creating of the environment itself, as well as having a space that makes it easy to perform or create audio. I also had a very small timeline for completion, and had to rely on my own skills and skills and interest of friends that could help create it. Messlife was built with help from lots of friends at UCLA GameLab and Design Media Arts, as well as with networking and lead engineering with John Bruneau who I got to know through Babycastles in New York City. Each step of the way in building it I got people to try it out and give feedback and tried to integrate that feedback or allow people to modify the code or digital objects.

I wanted to make a space that allowed you to quickly jam or spawn objects, which could be considered art or junk or both. And I wanted to make a tool or platform that de-emphasized individual action and instead emphasized working collaboratively. This influenced the creation of a shared image-bank, an open world, and the ability to quickly create huge objects with a simple click on an image from the shared image bank. Over time I’d like to add other ways to build things and to perform or act or meet in the space.. I’d also like to build out a way for people to propose events that could be held in the space such as concerts, talks, exhibits, and more.

As a space, Messlife is much freer than most digital environments with three-dimensionality. How did you think of embodiment when you were developing Messlife?

I had a lot of questions myself on what form a player or participant would take. Should you be able to design a character or avatar, or a simple icon? I was hesitant to implement this because I didn’t want the emphasis to be too strongly individualistic. I wanted there to be a sense of collective work and effort. In the end, I created a compromise: you could use any image from the shared image bank and that would wrap around a simple 3d shape that would represent you. Images could be easily changed at any time. You can also change the camera view to be a top-down world view, and in that view you see everything and lose yourself in the entire scene. It transforms the space into a complex and flattened work of digital art with a view of what has been made together, and I find that exciting.

  • Messlife screenshot

You also describe Messlife as “a free (as in radical) software project”. How do you contrast this to other software projects that are described as “free” in a layman sense?

To be honest, I made this phrase up because it seemed to capture the spirit of what I’m trying to build. Messlife is an attempt at building a radical utopian environment for collaborative building, hanging out, and visually jamming. The code is also freely available online, and anyone could fork it and make their own version(s).

You cite Brandon Avery Joyce and the Philadelphia Institute for Advanced Study as influencers on messlife. Can you say more about that?

Brandon started The South Philly Athenaeum, a collective DIY art space that existed from 2004 – 2005 in Philadelphia and lives on through an online archive with images, concert and event listings, articles, journal entries, and documentation of its eviction. Over its year of existence there were concerts, art shows, philosophy discussions, film screenings and festivals, a discussion about Andy Kaufman, a rollerblading event, a japanese comics event, a haunted house, and a superbowl party, among numerous other events, happenings and spontaneous convergences. I asked him about collaborating on a project. My initial impulse was to build a 3D recreation of The South Philly Athenaeum, a type of time-based interactive 3D documentary, with Joyce as tour guide. Part of Brandon’s motivation for participating in DIY spaces is their ability to create a compounding of energy through a critical mass of participation. We talked about what that looks like or could look like online. Joyce references skateboarding as an enviable form of organization as it takes many asynchronous forms and the splintering and rejoining of groupings, leading to multiple diverse outcomes over time. Joyce was also interested in the possibility of piggybacking off another online tool or community, almost like squatting, by having a group of people appropriate a forum or other online space already in existence, or creating a new type of group or organization. From out of these conversations the idea of Messlife as a starting experiment began to grow. (excerpts from Messlife, A Virtual DIY Artspace).

  • Installation of Messlife
    Installation of Messlife

What kind of art practices do you see taking place inside of Messlife? Has anyone attempted to use Messlife for projects that you were not directly involved in?

Now is the time for me to get the word out. I’ve had a number of people (friends and word of mouth) contact me about hosting events in the space. It will be presented at Artopia at the end of August, and will serve as a space during the next iteration of The Wrong Biennial.

Are there any aspects of messlife that you would like to see grow?

My hope is for an organic community to grow within and shape the future of this online space.

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SAVE THE DATE: 2017 UCLA Game Art Festival
Tuesday, November 14

Posted on September 15th, 2017 by David Elliot

Let’s play! The UCLA Game Art Festival is returning for its fifth gaming extravaganza at the Hammer Museum for one night only, 7-10:00 p.m., Tuesday, November 14. Join us for an exciting and eclectic evening of new games and game art, live performance, music, and much more! Stay tuned to the UCLA Game Lab on the web or on Facebook for more details.

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Tuesday, November 14

Interview with Amanda Stojanov

Posted on July 17th, 2017 by David Elliot

Today we interview Amanda Stojanov, media artist, designer and recent MFA graduate of Design | Media Arts about her thesis exhibit work in Delete Me.

Stojanov’s work is centered around creating interactive video/animation, sculpture, and narratives that interrogate gender identity, agency / body politics, and visibility in virtual spaces. The subjects of her work focus on sci-fi narratives and world-building themes around gender expression and transformation.

In your art practice you investigate gender identity, agency, and the body in virtual space. VR and many other technology companies and communities skews white, hetero male. Do you see part of your art practice as examining context and privileges, or do you have other goals for your work?

My goals are to examine and bring awareness to specific subjective experiences. When a technology and the media produced from it are skewed to cater to or represent a certain experience I want to respond to that and create a dialogue around a different yet equally important experience. Another goal I have in my work is to explore my own experience, wants, and desires through art and making and using technologies that I haven’t used before or are still new to me.

  • Wearing oculus headset

Your installation /ˌfeməˈninədē/ feels immersive. It’s large, the audio pulls you in, and you’re surrounded on 3 sides by this dynamic work. It’s a piece you can walk into with multiple people, yet when you put headphones on it feels very solo. Your other installation work Untitled [interior] ep.1 runs on Oculus Rift and can only can be experienced solo. How do you approach making a work that can only be experienced by a single person at a time?

  • Untitled - VR artwork

For these two pieces I thought a lot about duration and repetition. In /ˌfeməˈninədē/ there is a beginning and end that is clear in the audio. The visuals are less clear. At any point you can walk into the space and experience the scale and immersiveness of the work. For Untitled [interior] people.1 I created a loop that has as little visual cues of a beginning and end as possible. I wanted the space to feel immersive and open ended. The audio reflects the same values as the visuals. The viewer decides how long they view it without any stakes of not understanding or missing out. It is meant to be a space to pause inside of.

In Untitled [interior] ep.1, what feeling are you creating for the viewer?

Calmness, a feeling of being inside of something with a membrane. A body or a natural part of the earth.

Are there other artists or designers that may be references for your work or that you recommend readers look into?

Francesca Woodman, Hannah Black, Diana Thater, Tabita Rezaire, Princess Nokia…

Thank you.


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Interview with Lander

Posted on July 5th, 2017 by David Elliot

Over the past few weeks we’ve been interviewing UCLA’s Design | Media Arts Department grads about their thesis work in the exhibition Delete Me at The New Wight Gallery. Many of these works are not explicitly games but use game engines, feature game art or installation, or in other ways are engaging with the vocabulary or tools of games in the creation of new media artworks.

What is your own relationship to gamer culture? Are there aspects of game culture you are referencing or appropriating within your work?

I’m interested in gamer culture because I have always enjoyed games. The fact that games have now eclipsed the movie industry in revenue makes exploring the effect of games on broader culture an obviously worthwhile pursuit. I’m not a hardcore gamer by any means, but I try to play something new once a month and I read a lot about games and game design. The process of making games and the systems thinking that game creating and game playing employ are fascinating to me. I find that making art with and about and through these tools is incredibly engaging.

I poke fun at the unhealthy junk food consumption of gamers but it’s also self-deprecating. Mt. Dew has been a staple of my diet since I was a kid growing up in Nebraska.

In RUMEN8 THE END, I adopted a blocky voxel art style, ubiquitous in the past several years because of Minecraft. It is very “now.” Appropriating the style is not meant as a sign of high regard but rather to create content that both speaks in a specifically game oriented language and which is easily accessible to a broad audience. It is a lowest common denominator sort of thing. The simulated world I created inside the bull was inspired by Hieronymus Bosch’s quirky not quite realistic humans. I wanted to find a contemporary equivalent that also read immediately as “virtual.” It also seems like Minecraft elicits an idea of creative labor in its style of gaming. A player is expected to generate content and become part of the system in ways that parallel the demands of late capitalism, the “subject” of RUMEN8. Implicating the viewer of the work in the ideology was my intention.

How would you describe your medium?

My primary medium has been installation in the last couple of years, but previously I explored painting, drawing, game design and many other more focused mediums. The great thing about installation art is that it is so resistant to the formalist concerns that seem to dominate discussions of more focused mediums. Now I have a tremendous appreciation for what formalism has made apparent to us. This drilling down into what makes each type of media unique is great. I attempt to bring my awareness of those unique qualities to bear when I include different types of media in my installation work. For example, I was very interested in exploring and exposing the expressive qualities of plywood, crack filler foam and layers of paint in RUMEN8 THE END. I resisted the idea of using these materials to simulate welded metal surfaces although that possibility was quite apparent as I was working. It was important to reveal the material qualities rather than to create an illusion. The primary goal of RUMEN8 THE END was to expose the underlying reality of an ideological illusion. I think it would have muddied the waters to trick the audience regarding my materials. Formalism suited me in this circumstance so I used it as a tool. I think of “Installation Art” as the medium that allows me to use every other media type most freely. Still I’m always trying to claw my way to a new meta position from which to consider the formal qualities of the sub mediums and of my primary medium, installation art, and to push the limits of installation’s expressive potential.

In your work Rumen8 THE END, the viewer must kneel and place their head through a toilet seat (embedded with coins) in the side of an Apis bull, symbolic of wall street. Eye trackers detect your eye movement and guide the movement on-screen of a symbolic story, that is then projected out the back of the bull onto a screen, to the amusement of onlookers. You reference Hieronymus Bosch in your description of the work. Can you talk about some of the ways Rumen8 references or creates a contemporary macabre hellscape?

There is a complex apparatus at work in RUMEN8 THE END in which the viewer must submit and play the fool to interact with the system and allow others to view that interaction on the projection screen. It is mostly playful and humorous but there is an element of abusiveness as well. Bosch’s influence can be seen in many aspects of RUMEN8 THE END. His humor is apparent all throughout the Garden of Earthly Delights painting which was a direct inspiration for me. He depicts hundreds of naked little people engaged in all sorts of bizarre behaviors with each other and their environment. He has a streak of scatological humor that shows itself again and again. A famous example is the musical score tattooed on the buttocks of a character which is being read by a chorus of singers. Another character stares into the mirrored ass of a demon to see herself. Other unfortunates have plants and flutes projecting from their asses. Yet, his painting was a very serious work of contemplative religious art. I tried to capture a similar paradoxical vibe in RUMEN8 THE END.

There are numerous scatological jokes as well as an eschatological theme that springs from ideas of the end of history and the end of art. I wouldn’t call the virtual world of my work a “hellscape.” It is rather a funhouse mirror depiction of the world in which we live now and the ideology we are more and more referring to as “Late Capitalism.” There is a clear hierarchy visible in this world with apocalyptic, violence and poverty ridden spaces at the bottom and a clean white museum space at the top. There are residential, park, commercial, industrial and other types of spaces in between. The idea is that this symbol of capitalism, the bull, is inhabited by this troubling simulation of what the ideology really creates. It is a “hellscape” for many of the inhabitants but certainly not for all.

In this work, you have mentioned economist Francis Fukuyama, often considered one of the ‘fathers’ of modern neoconservatism. What interests you in Fukuyama’s writing? What are ways that your work examines Fukuyama’s writing and outlook?

Fukuyama is most famous for his book, The End of History and the Last Man. To generalize, it stated that liberal capitalism would necessarily be the final ideology for the globalized world, that it would best meet the needs of humankind. What intrigues me about Fukuyama’s 1990’s political philosophy was the idea that history had reached its zenith, that no new major shifts in ideology would ever occur. RUMEN8 THE END, is a response to this idea of “the end of history” but it also considers the apocalyptic sense of the phrase. It depicts the bull as kneeling rather than charging as its Wall Street counterpart does. The Rumen8 bull seems to be in the Tercio de Muerte of a bullfight, bleeding and awaiting a final blow before expiring. The bull looks weathered and beleaguered and shows signs of past eras, tattoos of late seventies muscle car decals and ragged pin-striping, an eagle and diamond link it to the ancient Egyptian Apis bull cult. It can be argued that bits of the Apis mythology remain with us even today. The brush with which its many coats of paint have been applied hangs ruined and limp from the end of the bull’s own tail. This capitalist idol is overburdened by excess, yet it lingers on. Sadly, we lack the clearly imagined future, a new ideology, for which the killing blow might justifiably be struck.

Slowly rotating white rods, and plain 3d-game-like cubes appear as leitmotifs within Knicker Twister. Mountain Dew cans, dipped toys and neon-colored energy drink fluids reappear in your works. How do these icons work within your larger body of work?

I am not attempting to create a strict and static symbolic language with these objects but to allow them to evolve in relation to each other and to the themes I am exploring. Each object resonates in multivalent ways in the various pieces of my art. Many of the objects speak of early childhood to my mind, which, if one believes the psychological experts, determines so very much about each of us. The objects have something to do with indoctrination for me. The simple geometries also reference 3D computer modeling and the virtual worlds that are more and more an influence on the youth. The pumps pushing liquids in endless loops feel like habits and reference biology. The neon colors, caffeinated and sugary contents suggest something unnatural and unhealthy.

These few objects have become signature materials for me in the past two years and their recurrence and evolutions reveal my interest in continually re-examining the possibilities of mundane things, basically trash, to express moods, ideas and complex relationships with each other and the viewer that exist outside the control of written and verbal language.

What is your relationship as artist to your audience? Is there a goal in antagonizing or wielding power over your audience in this installation work?

I’m not interested in wielding power. I definitely do antagonize and frustrate my audience just like good puzzles and games frustrate their players because that builds tension that transforms into a sense of satisfaction and catharsis when the obstacles are eventually overcome. Being a game designer has very much informed my art practice.

One of my favorite art related research projects studied peoples’ responses to abstract color field paintings. The researches produced this great diagram that showed how the viewer when frustrated is faced again and again with the choice of reinforcing their own ego and deciding the art is “bad” or submitting to the artwork. If an artwork is engaging enough a viewer will continue to submit to the aesthetic or affective experience, to tolerate the frustrating aspects of the art and eventually find a new relationship to it which provides them with an expanded sense of art in general and a new mastery of their own perceptions.

In RUMEN8 THE END, I ask the viewer to physically place themselves in a submissive position, just as the Bull is kneeling in submission. I want them to identify with the bull, or to be identified with it by other viewers if they are not so self-aware. The participant is invited to stick his or her face in a toilet seat. Kneeling on a pet pee pad is uncomfortable and the toilet seat is awkward and heavy on top of the viewer’s head. It is very intentionally designed to make the viewer feel the cost of engagement but the reward of the virtual world and the playfulness and humor involved temper that greatly.

Knicker Twister is far less demanding but it’s symbolic opacity presents a different sort of frustration. The scale, movement and chaos of the work is meant to generate a feeling of overwhelm in the viewer that might be considered antagonistic. However, I think the overall pleasant aesthetic allows a viewer to process the experience intuitively and with an embodied cognition that is rewarding.

Photos from Lander and Lander’s website.

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Interview with Alex Rickett and Theo Triantafyllidis of Gecko Ridemption

Posted on June 21st, 2017 by David Elliot

This week we interview Design | Media Arts alums Alex Rickett and Theo Triantafyllidis, who recently completed their online multiplayer game Gecko Ridemption now presented online for Adult Swim.

The world of Gecko Ridemption feels rich. It has its own vocabulary: Sport Balls, Puke Force and Layzer Juice. Why did you choose geckos? What is ridemption?

Alex: The game is loosely based on Theo’s previous project Le Petit Architecte which had a similar Katamari Damacy influenced chucking of items, sticking together. That title was controlled with a regular humanoid first person controller, and you could only stand on the structure you built, and couldn’t stick/or hang from it. We were excited about enabling players to engage with their structures more fully, less encumbered by pedestrian humanoid physics. This led us to thinking of geckos, which can stick to virtually any surface. If you could place as a gecko, you could crawl all over crazy, snaky gravity-unfriendly structure.

Theo: I’d like to add that our intention as creators of “gecko ridemption” was to be able to see the world through the beautiful yellow eyes of the gecko. The gecko is a creature of great, near divine importance to us. It is also a well known fact that geckos hate human sports, so we created a sport that they could finally enjoy, thus the ridemption. The visual language we developed for the game was also tailored for the artistic taste of these fascinating reptiles. After extensive experiments we discovered that high RGB values have a pleasing effect on the gecko vertical iris and increases their eye-licking to keep them moist. As a result we picked a brutally saturated color palette and used intense amounts of confetti that would make any gecko autotomize.

  • Gecko Ridemption screenshot

So I was surprised how this became something like a sports game, or I guess a capture-the-flag type game. I’m interested in how you determined the form of the game.

Alex: We were also surprised! Le Petit Architecte was a single player game, and did have an implicit goal (trying to reach as high as possible), it was open ended, and this goal, or “rules” of the game are offered gently without any kind of time limit or urgency. That project did an excellent job of negotiating a mix of open-endedness and freedom, while also offering a judicious amount of structure. Our goal was to realize a similar synthesis for Gecko Ridemption as well. We experimented with and considered many systems, and non-systems that would guide players to engage with the most fun, expressive possibilities of the game’s mechanical/visual systems. At the same time, Adult Swim especially emphasized that the game needed to be understood quickly, and be experienced within a brief time duration. The conventional points, rules, and timers are good at facilitating all this.

Theo: We made “gecko ridemption” to push the limits of gecko gameplay, to give geckos the freedom to create beautiful sculptures with sports gear and then be able to slide and slither their sleek adhesive bodies on them. Being able to zap footballs with lazers, apparently the ultimate gecko fantasy, was something a few of them specifically requested.

Gecko Ridemption is a chaotic game, but it has a really good tutorial. Have you made tutorials for other games previously? How did you determine what to put in the tutorial and how it should work?

Alex: I have made them before, but this is by far the most involved tutorial I’ve made. Deciding what to put in wasn’t complicated, because we put everything in. Also, given that it’s a somewhat challenging game to control and the rules are non self-evident, we felt it was important to have a tutorial where you perform all the actions. We also felt that because the matches are competitive, time-limited, and generally stressful, having a safer, more relaxed zone in which to play and build also felt important.

Theo: Tutorials are an art form on their own. We were trying to avoid making one for a while, since we knew that it would become an important part of experiencing “Gecko Ridemption” and thus take up a lot of the development time. We saw this as an opportunity to make a level that is a more relaxing and comfortable free play area, as Alex said. In the main game, distant, shouting spectators and the cage that surrounds the arena are there to condemn gecko captivity, reptile blood sports and the relationship between the sport industry and contemporary politics. Our tutorial is a safe space where geckos can freely shed their virtual skins for a greater cause without any of them really being harmed.

  • Gecko Ridemption screenshot

What’s it like to work with Adult Swim? Was there a design spec or other guidelines they gave you? Can you talk about the working relationship a bit?

Alex: They asked to us come up with a pitch based on Theo’s existing project Le Petit Architecte but with the added wrinkle of networked multiplayer. We would give them demo builds and they would give feedback, and request changes. The vast majority of their input was to help reign in the scope, and to reduce friction, and increase clarity in the play experience. Most of their requests were related to controls, camera, UI, tutorial, maintainability. I think this pressure was helpful, and I think our players have a much clearer sense of what’s going on in the game, than if we were left to our own devices. Aside from one gameplay concession (originally, you had to rapidly press a key to take a ball, making capturing more exciting, and unpredictable), but other than this, they gave us a great deal of latitude.

Theo: For me this dialogue was important in creating the game. We enjoyed having complete creative freedom laying out all the important gameplay, aesthetic and structural aspects of the game. The feedback mostly came in the form of revisions that focused on making the game accessible to a broader audience mostly in terms of having clear objectives and a usable interface. The challenging part, given the context of Adult Swim’s “etchetera” page, was that our game had to work both as a 2-minute-attention-span-web-toy and a complex multiplayer game with layers of strategy and replay value.

The game feels like its own artistic world but it’s also a fun competitive game. Have you played other games that work similarly? I’m interested in how you’re responding to those, or ignoring or massively tweaking other games.

Alex: Hmmm… Though I haven’t played it extensively myself, Splatoon for Wii U was a useful reference. It was later in our own development, but I read an interview with those developers, and they went through a very similar process, of starting with the play-mechanics, and gradually building the rules world, and story around that.

Theo: Although very different in its artistic intentions and gameplay, I really enjoyed playing “BroForce”. It has a great combination of humor, irony, engaging gameplay and great game feel. The same team recently developed “genital jousting”, which I am currently looking for players to play with!


Gecko Ridemption is free to play on Adult Swim’s website.

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Interview with Rui Hu

Posted on June 20th, 2017 by David Elliot

Today we interview Rui Hu, artist and recent MFA graduate of Design | Media Arts about his thesis exhibit work in Delete Me. Rui Hu is a Los Angeles-based artist working primarily with digitally mediated images and objects. His work often grows out of dissecting certain systems or categories, and often invites and engages with the tension between form, fiction, and language.

What are some of the themes that interested you in approaching creating this new body of work?

I’m thinking about how the digital space entangles with our physical world. Internet subcultures in general are interesting for me, but I’m looking especially at the part where they catch attention by making an impact on people, physical objects and places. For the references in the work, there is an investigation report of school shooters spending an entire chapter talking about video games, a former lawyer devoting his career trying to bring down certain video game companies, cops arresting the wrong person based on a re-routed IP address, and anonymous chatroom users gathering in masks to protest Scientology, etc. These events that shows the infiltration from the virtual to the physical space are particularly interesting to me.

Are you making fun of games and game culture?

I have not been a super active gamer myself, mostly due to outside constraints such as not being allowed by parents as a kid, not owning a console, or not having enough time. But I really like video games and game culture in general. I would play youtube videos of game reviews or playthroughs when I’m working, or read game-related articles on my phone when I’m on the toilet. And yes, there might be a little bit of making-fun of video games and game culture in my work, not in a hostile way, but more like a comedian making fun of themselves and their friends.

  • Rui Hu - Room 2
    Rui Hu - Room 2

Are you implicated in the negative associations of gamer culture as well through your artwork?

Yes. There are items in the work that are often associated with the stereotypical negative image of gamers, such as instant noodle and monster drink. Some of the works also deal with the entanglement of violent video games and real-world violence. These are all non-conclusive issues, and I hope that the images function as complex, layered collections pointing to different areas of activity and discussion.

Who does the Gumby-like figure represent to you?

First of all they are anonymous figures. They are the people sitting in front of the screen and you can only see their back. They are represented by a made-up username, or simply “Anonymous”. They’re faceless and nameless, tired and hurt. They are stripped down to only having a human shape and flesh tone. But they are also part of myself and ourselves.

  • Rui Hu – Room 5

How did you choose the soundtrack for your work?

The soundtrack for the game piece, Room No.2, A First-person View, is the song “Hey You” from Pink Floyd’s album The Wall. I took out most of the vocal so the players mostly only hear the instrument. In the game environment, there are large screens showing the lyrics of the song on top of cut scenes from video games, so it is almost like a Karaoke room. The band and the album have been my favourite, but I chose this song particularly because I felt a parallel between the content of the song and my work, even though there is a gap of almost 40 years in between. The music talks about a metaphorical wall that encloses the character and he can never break free from it. It is about loneliness and separation. In this game piece of mine, the player is literally trapped in a big room built with gigantic keyboards and computer screens as its wall. It is as if the game is broken and the player can never find a way to finish the current level, forever stuck in a world of violence and destruction.

  • Rui Hu - Room 5
    Rui Hu - Room 1

The works are each titled Room and a number? This makes me think about levels in a game or rooms in a RPG. Does each work sits as its own room in that context?

Yes! The word “room” has many meanings for me. It can be a level in an RPG, or a room in an escape-room type of game. I was also thinking about a physical room, the bedroom or the gaming room of a gamer, which often features certain unique decorations. And yes, in this series of image, each one sits as its own room, and they are also interconnected just like an apartment or any other building. Each room is an arrangement of objects and imagery constructed around one of a few specific character, stories, or topics. However, although with “room” as title, the image does not represent a coherent 3D spatial environment that the viewer can imagine entering. Instead, each “room” is sometimes spatial, sometimes flattened. It is a metaphorical room, an associative collection and a forensic experience with specific character, stories, or topics.

Photos from Rui Hu. You can see more of Hu’s work at his website.

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A workshop and talk with
Ju Row Farr of Blast Theory

Posted on March 6th, 2017 by David Elliot

Last week the UCLA GameLab and UCLA Design | Media Arts was pleased to welcome Ju Row Farr from Blast Theory for 2 days of talks and workshop. Blast Theory is a UK-based art group that creates work combining interactive media, digital broadcast and live performance. Their singular works are based around audience participation and immersive experience. Many of their works combine live action with use of phones or other communication technology.

  • Ju Row Farr of Blast Theory

  • First play test of our internet streaming protoype.
  • Detail view of playtest

Blast Theory was formed by 3 artists in 1991. Their works can be considered a type of “pervasive game” in their meshing of in-game experiences with the physical world. For example in their work “A Machine To See With” the participant steps into a world preparing to commit a bank heist. Blast Theory describes this work as “a film where you play the lead.” It was commissioned from the Sundance Film Festival, 01 San Jose Biennial and the Banff New Media Institute. Participants were guided via a phone call made to their cell phone throughout the experience. After entering your cell phone number in a website, several days later one receives a phone call from an automated voice number telling you where to go in the city. Once at that location you receive additional calls guiding you through the city, connecting you with a partner in the planned heist, and mentally preparing you for the crime and aftermath.

Farr’s talk at UCLA described Blast Theory’s 26 year history of their work, from their early pieces to more recent work such as their 2016 immersive theater piece Operation Black Antler, which implicated players in a world of undercover surveillance and creating a false identity within a secretive protest group.

  • Playtest #2 inside the Charles E Young Library

On Friday, Farr returned to the GameLab to lead a daylong workshop on live streaming games and audience interaction. Participants in the workshop, made up of UCLA graduate and undergraduate students and several visitors from CalTech studied game mechanics for a game based on the folk games Tag/Capture The Flag. Using a streaming phone app, Bambuser, we formed teams and selected a secret “shooter” for each team. The shooter used their phones and attempted to discover the covert shooter from other teams and to “capture” them with their camera. From this entry point a series of iterations were developed.

In the afternoon, we discussed the mechanics of the game, interaction between live and online players, and asymmetrical rules and modes of interaction. This discussion led to the prototyping of two further games. In the first, students created an interactive asymmetrical hide-and-seek team game to be held (quietly!) in a university library. Each team had a single operator hidden covertly somewhere in the research library with a laptop. This laptop received a live stream of all of the players on that team scattered throughout the floor of the library. The operator was the “flag” or goal. If a team captured the operator/flag, they won the game. If someone was tagged by an enemy they became frozen in the spot and could only be unfrozen by someone on their own team physically untagging them. The operator used their streams as a central command, communicating to their team the likely location of rival teammates, where frozen teammates were, and where they believed the enemy operator was located.

The second prototyped game was an interactive story, combining mechanics of pictionary with the use of a streaming camera. In this game each round one person would select a sentence and then use the streaming camera to remotely capture footage to communicate that sentence and idea. This was livestreamed back to the GameLab room so that players there attempted to figure out the sentence being communicated. The results were poetic, beautiful little works – combining the feel of an experimental art film with a poetry reading and live action videogame!

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Ju Row Farr of Blast Theory

An interview with Miller Klitsner, creator of Bravo Drive

Posted on February 1st, 2017 by David Elliot

Bravo Drive is an installation by Miller Klitsner currently on view in the exhibition Machinic Unconscious. We interviewed him about his installation.

GameLab: As I played Bravo Drive, I was struck by the slow unfolding of the world and of the way that the music was so tightly integrated. In fact the physical car radio buttons and knobs impact the visuals and play of Bravo Drive in a direct visceral way that I have not experienced in driving games before. For so many people, selecting a soundtrack for driving in a city sets the mood and creates a personal experience. What were some of the choices you made when deciding what controls would exist in Bravo Drive?

Klitsner: My original idea behind bravo drive developed from a combination of two separate ideas I had thought of previously. Originally, Bravo Drive had nothing to do with cars. It was going to be an interface placed at a podium (like that of a conductor) and the visuals were going to be a muted section of a film. The interface was only going to control the tempo, intensity, and mood of the music for the film. This would place the person interacting with the podium in a performative position. They would be doing a live scoring of the film.

GameLab: Bravo Drive emerged when I started to consider what the subject matter of the film would be. I remembered a documentary idea I had about observing the behavior of cars as anthropomorphized entities. That became a jumping off point for the visuals, and the controls themselves came naturally as I changed the installation from a podium to a dashboard to go with the subject of the film.

Klitsner: My intention with the controls was to create a metaphor between how we interact with music (specifically in relation to a narrative) and how we interact with cars. The controls of the car literally translate to controls of the cinematography and film’s score. While the radio mainly controls the audio, the mirror controls and steering wheel affect the cinematography. The gas and break as well as the radio’s tuner allow the performer to direct the pace and mood of both the music and the events going on on screen. These choices all revolved around the idea that as we drive in the real world, we curate the music around us and control the scene in front of us. My goal was to make an exaggeration of this notion and turn a car into the interface for a film director, the passengers becoming the audience. The driver is taking them on an audio-visual journey, and they define that journey in part by what scenes they choose to show, as well as by what music they choose to play to accompany the journey. The driver is making artistic decisions with the tools in front of them.

GameLab: When approaching the physical installation of Bravo Drive, one sees the guts of a car with seating and dash but missing the sleek, sexy exterior of a fiberglass frame. How does the physical installation of the car affect a player’s (driver’s?) experience of Bravo Drive?

Klitsner: Part of the subject matter of Bravo Drive is how we perceive cars and anthropomorphize them while dehumanizing the people within them. I wanted to invite people into the car. I wanted them to also feel the expansive space of being in a movie theatre. I also wanted to differentiate the device from the cars on-screen. The cars on-screen are meant be a visual representation of how we view other cars and their exteriors as the avatar or identity of the driver within them. As for the physical interface, I wanted it to feel like you were inside of a car that had been stripped down and repurposed for a new task. It has no wheels, and is not meant to take you anywhere physically. It is has been melded with a movie theatre, and instead it takes you on a filmic, musical journey.

GameLab: There are a number of articles written in the past year about games or experiences termed walking simulators, such as Proteus, which are often open exploratory worlds that convey a mood but may not have clear goals, enemies or win and lose states. Does Bravo Drive fit into this genre or lineage?

Klitsner: I never intended for it to come off as a walking simulator, although much of the definition of walking simulator applies. For some, Bravo Drive is more of an exploration game not just of the world on the screen but also the interface itself. However, the purpose of the experience is for one person to be the driver and perform the experience for their passive passenger audience.

GameLab: I think you chose to call Bravo Drive an interactive experience as opposed to a game. How does Bravo Drive respond to or work against a more typical driving game, even an openworld exploratory one with tightly integrated music, such as Grand Theft Auto?

Klitsner: As it is a work in progress, I can see how it has not quite been defined yet, but the idea is that you are not driving within the world on the screen. You are controlling the events and artistic elements on screen as a director might with a film, and so it is more of an interface for a performance.

GameLab: Is there a particular mood or space you are trying to conjure with Bravo Drive? Is there an aspect of meditation to your work?

Klitsner: I wanted to create a theatrical environment. The passengers are meant to feel like they are sitting in a dark movie theatre, where the driver is the director of the film. I wanted to meld this feeling with being on a road trip as well, which has similar associations. If you are driving at night, then it’s even more similar. Both in the movie theatre (or just watching a movie at home on the couch) and in the car, you are on a journey in a shared, possibly cozy space with other people. In this way, both road trips and watching film can be intimate shared experiences. I think part of this intimacy in this piece comes from the lack of verbal communication that also occurs in these shared experiences of driving and movie-watching, as well as the darkness of the room.

GameLab: I am now picturing myself driving on LA Freeways and I am wondering, is there an aspect of the sublime in Bravo Drive, or maybe a dystopia?

Klitsner: Yes to both! My original idea that turned into the content on screen was a documentary about cars. This documentary was to consist of footage of cars being observed in the way one might film herds of buffalo with grandiose music playing in the background. I was also imagining dystopic moments in the film in which we observe how we anthropomorphize cars (and thus dehumanize the actual people inside them) leading to unparalleled anger while driving. Seemingly perfectly decent people can become monsters when so many walls of identity are created when everyone’s faces are behind the darkened glaring windows of their vehicles….

Depending on what music you choose to turn the radio to, the mood and lighting changes, and you may find yourself looking at a car stuck sideways in a parking lot. It is up to you to interpret these audio-visual experiences, and it is also up to you to create them.

GameLab: What audio was selected or created for Bravo Drive?

Klitsner: I worked with my friend Cole Brossus to create them. We started with some loops of existing music and he augmented them to have more intensity as you pressed on the gas pedal

GameLab: Thank you.

Bravo Drive is part of the exhibition Machinic Unconscious at the New Wight Gallery, UCLA Broad Art Center through February 2.

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Augmented Reality Bodybuilding
with Jeremy Bailey

Posted on January 19th, 2017 by David Elliot

In December, UCLA GameLab was pleased to welcome Famous New Media Artist Jeremy Bailey to the lab for a workshop in constructing augmented reality projects and performance.

Jeremy is a Toronto-based artist that has been creating experimental performances online for a decade. He is known for his web-based performances on YouTube. Like many others using this medium as a platform for expression, the camera is directed at him, but his body is augmented with 3d forms that enhance, distort or skew his appearance almost like a social sculpture gone awry.

  • AR Bodybuilding - face tracking

As VR and AR are increasingly cited as the latest must-use technology by large technology companies and social networks, Jeremy’s approach differs from much other work in this area as his pieces are uniquely uncanny, idiosyncratic works that are highly personal and lampooning of technology. At UCLA he led a workshop titled AR Bodybuilding. Jeremy presented many of the tools he works with, including the visual programming language and environment Max by Cycling ’74 with the Computer Vision for Jitter library, the Syphon library and ofxFaceTracker.

  • AR Bodybuilidng - unicorn

Members of the GameLab work with a variety of tools but many had not used Max before and were excited for an introduction to this visual programming language. Students experimented with these tools, creating a unicorn horn augmentation and adding other objects to modify and augment their own body. Beards seemed to confuse the camera at times but plenty of unicorn-beasts sprang into existence.

  • AR Bodybuilding - workshop

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with Jeremy Bailey

An Interview With
The Creators of Phantasm Atlas

Posted on December 26th, 2016 by David Elliot

We recently interviewed Lilyan Kris and Sara Haas to talk about their new project, Phantasm Atlas.

What was the original impetus for making a wearable fantastical game about the body?

We’re both obsessed with the strangeness of our bodies, of the way that we simultaneously ignore and are hyper-aware of our physical forms. We’re both interested in maps/diagrams and the false concept of “objectively” rendering anything, especially something as conceptually and historically loaded as the human body.

Do you think of Phantasm Atlas as a game or interactive experience? I’m wondering how calling this a game may affect how it’s received and who your audience is.

We think of it as an interactive experience and a meditation. Calling it a game sets people up to expect a scoring system and the possibility of winning or losing. Instead, we hope the experience encourages people to reimagine their bodies as a method of working through harmful ideas about what the body “should” be. This includes size, gender presentation, skin imperfections, and a variety of other “shoulds” that plague us.

I think it’s interesting that the imagery feels body-like and the controller is worn on one’s own body but also it feels a little like your arm with the controller is like an alien appendage. What was the feeling you were exploring here?

We wanted to explore both the familiarity and strangeness of our bodies. The wearable reflects our feelings of estrangement from our bodies. It’s both a close fitting second skin and an out-of-place appendage. Sometimes, your body feels like a home. Other times, it feels like a costume.

Being asked to hit this extension of your body – or actually you use the word “bop” – made me also think about self-flagellation and being ashamed or disconnected from one’s own body but also about trying to be kind to one’s own body. Was this something you were thinking about?

We both have conflicted relationships with our bodies. We find that in the same day we might be kind and unkind to our bodies in multiple cycles, whether we realize it or not. “Bopping” once feels innocuous, but repetitively bopping is potentially damaging or self-punishing. On a wearable that lights up, it’s whimsical. On a bare arm, it could leave a bruise.

What’s been the biggest challenges when working on this project?

For Sara, learning to fabricate a polished silicone form that accommodates the electronics and fit multiple arm sizes was challenging. There was a lot of trial and error casting silicone in our bathtub. Lilyan had made projects with Arduino before, but this was her first time working with Unity and writing code in C#. It was a process to figure out how to get Uniduino (Arduino to Unity plugin) to make vibration sensors affect 3D objects in Unity and illuminate the pods.

What are some ways you’d like to extend the project in the future?

We’d like to collect more input from people’s bodies (pulse, blood pressure, body temperature, etc) and use those variables to customize their Phantasm Atlas experience. People were already worried that we were doing this, so that tells us it’s a great idea.

Are there other artists, designers or other makers that inspired this work or that you recommend looking into?

We were inspired by a wide range of creators, including Zeitguised, Ernesto Neto, Neri Oxman, Iris Van Herpen, Behnaz Farahi’s Carress of the Gaze, and Philip Beesley. Some other inspirations include The Fantastic Voyage movie, vintage bodily anatomy books, and fictional maps.

What are you up to next?

We’re interested in creating a generative project that pulls people’s body data to create individualized artifacts.


Check out the websites of Lilyan Kris and Sara Haas to see more of their work.

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The Creators of Phantasm Atlas

Meet Isla Hansen: UCLA Game Lab Artist in Residence

Posted on December 21st, 2015 by David Elliot

Artist Isla Hansen strives to create interactive media works that are as inviting as possible—even irresistible, as one of her pieces at November’s UCLA Game Art Festival proved. Titled Long Reliever, the sculpture uses a Nintendo Wiimote affixed to a moving armature that replicates the rudimentary motions of an endless game of Wii baseball. Essentially, Hansen built a machine to play itself. But that didn’t stop festival attendees from trying to get involved.

“People wanted to play that like a game, but it wasn’t that kind of work,” Hansen said. “They eventually broke it!”

Such compelling approachability is a hallmark of Hansen’s work, which mixes interactive technologies with the participant’s own body to re-enact forms of popular media, play, and industrial systems of production. Hansen, a New York-based artist, received her MFA in 2015 at Carnegie Mellon University and was awarded a 2015 Dedalus Foundation fellowship. She has spent this past fall in the UCLA Game Lab as an Artist in Residence, a program that promotes in-depth exchanges between UCLA-based game-makers and visiting artists.

Hansen sat down at a campus café for an interview, delayed by fixing a flat tire on her bicycle—an example of the technological dependency that brings people both pleasure and frustration, a tension Hansen’s projects explore.

“Every piece of technology is developed in relation to us,” Hansen noted. “But there’s a myth, a narrative, about how well our relationship with technology is actually working. Technology’s narrative is about tracking us, fixing us, replacing our bodies. My work is a response to the conflation of technology and the body. I’m playfully trying to pick apart that narrative.”

Although Hansen’s art reveals our complex and confounding relationships with technology, she employs soft materials, bright colors and stagecraft wizardry to make her interactive works unthreatening, even enticing. Hansen credits her experience with interactive installations at children’s museums and science museums—in particular, her residency at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh—as highly influential in her user-friendly approach to art. “Watching children interact with installations is highly instructive for an interactive artist,” Hansen said. “I want to tap into this mode of playful viewing, in which audiences of any age can approach art and access it through tactile experience, humor, and spectacle.”

Hansen’s Rube Goldberg-like installations often transmute the commercial hype of new gadgets and devices into spectacles of technology to reveal the power—and problems—of technology as an embodied medium. One of her recent projects, The Lachrymator (2015), contemplates the relationship between the industries of filmmaking and food production, using the eye-irritating chemical released by chopped onions to explore how human physiological reactions—such as tears—can be “manufactured” by industrialized technology.

“I created this tyrannical, Ikea-store-inspired navigable space that compels people to move past a series of essentially bad, cinematic special effects—all while performers chop onions,” Hansen explained. “The installation critiques the clichéd mechanisms of narrative used by both Hollywood storytellers and now the food industry alike. In movies, it’s not the stories themselves that really make you cry—it’s the visual effects, the music, the construction of the medium that’s so manipulative. In my piece, what makes you cry as you watch the film is that I’ve just asked you to stick your face in a food processor filled with onions.”

It was while earning her MFA at Carnegie Mellon University that Hansen reached out to Eddo Stern, UCLA Game Lab director and DMA professor, to be on her thesis committee. Stern’s work explores the uneasy boundary between physical bodies and simulated worlds, tackling themes that resonate with Hansen’s preoccupations.

“After getting to know Isla and her work, I wanted to invite her to collaborate with us at the game lab,” Stern said. “The performative aspects and the critical humor in her pieces were a great fit for our lab and our annual festival in particular. It was wonderful to see the new works that she created for the festival stage.”

Hansen’s stage project Cos-Mo Cap Astrodome America typifies her de-constructed, technologically mediated, yet readily accessible approach. For this installation, performers on-stage donned motion-capture suits and used their arms to move their virtual astronaut legs through outer space as displayed on a giant screen projection. The satirical video introducing the game and the performance itself make at least one lesson about technology quite clear: whatever sense of transcendence technology can deliver—such as the feeling of walking in space—we also remain inexorably tethered to the bewildering burden of imperfect technologies.

Hansen enjoyed developing the project at the UCLA Game Lab, and she was very much at home during her tenure. “I feel like an outsider to games and the game industry,” Hansen said. “Knowing that Eddo ran the game lab put me at ease. Everyone here is wacky in the best sense—I walked into a roomful of people like me. And the festival was a great experience.”

Now concluding her residency at the lab, Hansen will return to Brooklyn to develop her next project: a performance piece involving a local woman’s basketball team. Hansen is planning a live event, replete with costumes, small orchestra and half-time performances in order to explore an allegory about nature versus technology, using a basketball game as the medium.

“I’m always trying to make something that can be experienced on two levels,” Hansen said. “Superficially, it’s something entertaining and visually stunning. But underneath the surface lies a critique of the very thing you think you’re enjoying. Ideally, that’s what my work is all about.”



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2015 Game Art Festival

Posted on November 4th, 2015 by David Elliot

UCLA Game Lab returns to
Northern Spark art festival

Posted on June 5th, 2015 by David Elliot

Northern Spark, an annual, all-night art festival in Minneapolis, reignites June 13 for its fifth anniversary, featuring more than 80 projects exhibited throughout the city. The UCLA Game Lab is excited to participate in the festival again this year as both partner and exhibitor, with dozens of game art projects presented for play. Please join us if you can!

Attendees will find the lab’s entries grouped into two exhibitions: the UCLA Game Lab’s “Game Bar” (Orchestra Hall, Target Atrium) and “Big Phoney Games” (Peavy Plaza). In addition, UCLA Game Lab director Eddo Stern will showcase the current iteration of his latest work, Vietnam Romance (Peavy Plaza). Every exhibition and game will be open all night long for sleep-deprived, gameplay fun!

UCLA Game Lab projects in exhibition:

Game Bar

The Game Bar offers many game varietals and Fulton Brewery libations alike. Witness and engage with games across platforms and formats—enter virtual realities, projection installations and performances; sit down for a board game; or pick up a deck of cards designed to question racial bias. The arcade offerings feature faculty, award-winning alums, and up-and-coming students. Test the limits of how games can be everything from a spectator sport to a full-body virtual experience. Game Bar features the following games:

  • Classroom Aquatic (Eric Cappello, Adeline Ducker, Mickey Goese, Remy Karns, Heather Penn, Mike Saltveit)Test your slyness and don a virtual reality headset to successfully cheat as a student in a school of dolphins.
  • Nidhogg (Mark Essen)Ultimate two-player showdown of fast-paced fencing and melee attacks.
  • Exit Palette (Stephen Ou and Stefan Wojciechowski)A puzzle-platform game based on ryb subtractive color theory. Explore, mix, and go for the exit!
  • Poliphony (Heather Penn, Joshua Nuernberger, Trevor Wilson)After landing on a strange but peaceful planet you learn that your are equipped with the tools to talk to the creatures residing there.
  • Toward the Sun (Philip Scott)Explore Neo-Miami in a dystopian future where predictive data has replaced currency.
  • Apoptosis (Kristyn Solie)Explore the easily blurred lines of reality and delusion prompted by a psychotic break.
  • CyberCruiser 2.0 created by kyttenjanae (Kristyn Solie)Part space-explorer, part virtual roller coaster. Submerse yourself in the mysterious narrative surrounding this retro-future universe.
  • Space ‘Invader’ (Kristen Sadakane)A pointed colonial narrative parodies the classical space invaders game.
  • Whisk’ry Business (Alex Rickett and John Brumley)Change the sweater patterns of three hapless humans to match the cats that they occasionally pet.
  • Cryptoid Blues (Adeline Ducker and Steven Amrhein)—Your typical 8 foot 7 elusive male yeti.
  • Black Friday (Nick Crockett)Battle for gifts and yuletide glory in a gruesome christmas-shopping spectacle.
  • Rotato Chipz (Alex Rickett)Pong Meets Space Invaders in the retro two-person shoot ‘em up inspired by Clu Clu Land and Power Stone Wars.
  • House Goldenstern (Eddo Stern and Jon Haddock)A game of pinball that deploys profile portraits to win.
  • Guattari Hero (John Brumley)—An experimental economic rhythm simulation of consumer experience through’s related item feature.
  • Cruise Control (Eddo Stern)Control Tom Cruise as he rides his motorcycle and sustain the longest wheelie possible.
  • Cosmicat Crunchies (Peter Lu, Alex Rickett, and Sean Soria)A bullet hell eat-em-up you can play with your face.
  • Perfect Woman (Lea Schonfeilder and Peter Lu)Starting at the child stage, mimic poses in front of a kinect and craft the narrative of a “perfect” woman’s life.

Big Phoney Games

UCLA Game Lab artists are exhibiting several games made for the HappyFunTimes platform—an open-source, browser environment that allows up to 50 people to play together via WiFi-connected mobile phones on a shared screen. Developed by Gregg Tavares, game-making veteran and UCLA Game Lab Artist in Residence, HappyFunTimes was the catalyst for the following games in exhibition:

  • Nuclear Family (Nick Crockett, Adeline Ducker, and Tyler Stefanich)—Spy on your enemies to learn their secrets, stockpile nukes, and make strategic use of limited defense systems to destroy your enemies while keeping your nation safe. Protecting yourself isn’t enough though, as deadly fallout can spread from neighboring countries. Can anyone win an unwinnable war? For 5-12 players.
  • Savvy Chopper (Alex Rickett and John Brumley)—In this game of hats, fruit, and George Costanza (not a misprint), eight players will pair off and work in tandem to pilot up to four fruit-shaped helicopters. Your cargo is a series of hats of various shapes and sizes, which players must airlift and drop on various George heads as they appear across the screen. Hats off to the team that puts the most hats on George.
  • Capture the Flag (Philip Scott and Mattias Russo-Larsson)—A surreal spin on a videogame mainstay, this version features an exaggeratedly contoured landscape navigated by players’ giant, head-shaped avatars. Butting heads—and headbutts—are par for the course.
  • In Inc. I Trust (Nick Crockett and Tyler Stefanich)—The trust exercises found at corporate retreats are simulated in this game, in which players can engage in trust falls, ropes-course exercises, role playing, and other recreations of upper management.

Also in exhibition is Eddo Stern’s latest game art project, Vietnam Romance (with Steve Amrhein, Nick Crockett, and Jessica Hutchins). An interactive work for screen and stage, Vietnam Romance employs public video gaming for direct engagement with the sublimated consequences of America’s “first televised war.” Hand-painted and scanned artwork gives the game’s settings and props an illustrative, cardboard-cutout style, and the soundtrack—MIDI chip-tune versions of the war era’s recognizable music—critiques the distortions our collective memories and cultural artifacts of Vietnam have become.

Northern Spark is presented by Northern, a nonprofit arts organization with the mission to transform our sense of what’s possible in public space. The UCLA Game Lab fosters the production of experimental computer games and other game forms.

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Northern Spark art festival

Transforming Hollywood 6

Posted on May 6th, 2015 by David Elliot

Join the UCLA Game Lab at the annual Transforming Hollywood conference this Friday (5/8) at UCLA. The focus of the conference this year is VR/AR, and we’ll have a number of VR games available to play throughout the day. We’ll be set up in front of the Melnitz lobby, next door to Broad. For conference details visit the website here.




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Meet Gregg Tavares,
UCLA Game Lab Artist in Residence

Posted on January 22nd, 2015 by David Elliot


Game designer and industry veteran Gregg Tavares is our newest UCLA Game Lab artist in residence. Tavares has worked on some of the most popular videogames ever made, including Centipede, Crash Team Racing, Jak and Daxter, LocoRoco, Afro Samurai, as well as the cult favorite, M.C. Kids.

Tavares left the game industry for a stint at Google to work on the company’s development team for WebGL, an application programming interface (API) for creating real-time 3D graphics in a browser window. Though he has since left the company, he continues to work on on WebGL and share his knowledge with others. Tavares spent so much time giving advice and answering questions on sites like Stack Overflow, he decided to make his own tutorial site, “It’s fun to share and help others with their projects,” Tavares said. “Whenever I see bad practices in coding or design, I want to show people how to do it right.”

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Tavares’ desire to share his wealth of knowledge and expertise with others is what prompted Eddo Stern, game lab director, to invite Tavares to the lab. “His approach to learning about technology is very much in line with the game lab,” Stern said. “We are both very committed to the open source movement and to developing free tools for people to use.”

Stern first met Tavares in Tokyo, Japan this past spring at an indie game meetup. After discussing their work and mutual interest in developing and teaching experimental games, Tavares mentioned he was planning to come to Los Angeles in the fall. An artist in residency at the UCLA Game Lab was the next logical step.

issue2For Tavares, a career in videogame development began as a hobby in high school with other friends who were fascinated by computer programming. In the pre-Internet era, Tavares would copy code line for line out of magazines like Compute! From there he began tweaking and modifying existing programs, a method Tavares credits for helping him develop a deep understanding of code. “When we copying code out of magazines, you really got an understanding for how every little thing worked,” Tavares said. “To this day, I can look at someone’s code and often tell right away if they’re going to run into problems down the road. It’s good to have a solid foundation.”

As online networks emerged, Tavares engaged with an ever-expanding community of programmers. Now, as a experienced game design professional, Tavares continues to not only provide advice online, but also release game projects. His latest project, HappyFunTimes, is a software library of social or party-style games that combine a browser environment with mobile interfaces connected by Wi-Fi. As a result, more than 50 people can play together on the same network, just by using their mobile phones. In the spirit of open source, anyone can develop games for HappyFunTimes and create apps without going through the approval process for Apple’s App Store.

At a recent UCLA Game Lab game jab, Tavares demonstrated several HappyFunTimes titles and discussed some of the technical aspects for making Wi-Fi mobile games. “Your smartphone ends up being a smart controller,” Tavares told the group of about 25 students from across the campus who attended the jam. “And with just one machine running the actual game, it makes games relatively easy to create.”

Stern sees significant development potential for this “communal” type of play. “Because mobile gaming in general seems to encourage solitary, isolated gameplay, it’s interesting to see how HappyFunTimes as a platform uses mobile gaming for cooperative or competitive social games.” Stern said. “This has great potential in the context of game festivals that are bringing games into public spaces.”

Exploring new control schemes, interfaces and environments for gameplay is part of what enticed Tavares to become an artist in residence at the game lab, which encourages and supports experimentation with game contexts, genres, and aesthetics. Although Tavares shares the concerns many other game designers have with the myopia of mainstream videogames and the current domination of certain game genres, such as “freemium” titles and Massive Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs), he remains hopeful about the gaming landscape overall. “I’m excited about the accessibility of programming these days and the decreasing barriers of entry for anyone wanting to make games,” Tavares said. “It’s a fascinating time to work with all the new technology for making novel videogame experiences.”

For more information on HappyFunTimes check it out on the Unity Asset Store or Github

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UCLA Game Lab Artist in Residence

Remembering Ralph Baer, father of the videogame

Posted on December 13th, 2014 by David Elliot

Ralph H. Baer, inventor of the Magnavox Odyssey, the first home videogame system, died December 6. Although Baer didn’t create the first videogame, he invented something more important: videogaming as a mainstream medium. Perhaps this would have happened anyway, with the personal computer bringing games and other amusements from the research lab into the home office and living room by the 1980s, but Baer intuited that screens and interfaces didn’t have to wait for integrated circuits or software. Television technology was sufficient to give people screen-based agency in the service of play–but it would take Baer’s insight to blend play and technological know-how into a new cultural object and activity. Recall that, in 1972, most people had no concept of what a videogame was–the name “videogame” hadn’t even been coined yet. Most people at the time still saw the TV set as a fragile, impenetrable device–an appliance that could only receive airwaves from afar, not generate self-controlled images. To remediate TV into a playable device, Magnavox took the unusual step of demonstrating the Odyssey within television’s own ludic context–the game show–as poof of concept. Even Rod Serling(!) played Odyssey Tennis before a befuddled group of panelists on “I’ve Got a Secret” in fall 1972 (skip to about 15:40 for the Serling/Odyssey segment).

For various technical and industrial reasons, Baer’s vision for the Odyssey was never fully realized–the system would prove more intriguing than entertaining–but history shows that the Odyssey triumphed as a “demo” of the medium’s potential. The New York Times obituary for Baer quotes videogame historian Keith Feinstein, who called the Odyssey “the beginning of a revolution in thought.” This is no hyperbole; Baer changed the way we relate to media forever. Baer foresaw that we could enter the screen and take control within its spatiotemporal frame. The screen no longer was just for “reading” representations; we could make (and destroy) our own worlds in there. We’ve been turning knobs and pushing buttons in the name of play ever since. Baer’s gift to culture–like many gifts–has been both celebrated and abused over the last five decades. Let’s hope that the future of videogaming–as a medium, as an industry, as an art form–embraces the inclusivity, diversity, and creativity that Baer had in mind when he and two other engineers decided to mock-up a hare-brained idea: a TV paddle game that most anyone could play.

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Play is a subversive act: UCLA Game Lab featured in Mediascape

Posted on December 6th, 2014 by David Elliot

The UCLA Game Lab is profiled in the latest issue of Mediascape, UCLA’s Journal of Cinema and Media Studies. The article by David O’Grady, UCLA Game Lab researcher and PhD candidate in Cinema and Media Studies, contemplates how the concept of adaptation—as a biological and cultural imperative—informs game design and play. A number of our game lab designers and their games appear in the article, including Vietnam Romance, Classroom Aquatic, Perfect Woman, Objectif, and many others. Check out the complete article at Mediascape.

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Former Game Lab Resident Lea Schönfelder interviewed by MOCAtv

Posted on October 20th, 2014 by David Elliot

Lea Schönfelder talks about her game Ute, where a woman shakes up traditional gender roles with her quest to sleep with as many men as she can.

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MocaTV covers the Game Lab in their Art In Video Games series!

Posted on July 23rd, 2014 by David Elliot

Our director Eddo Stern shares his thoughts on the creative renaissance happening in games, also featured are award-winning game designers (and Game Lab alums!) Mark Essen and Lea Schonfelder!

Check it out!

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Guest Lecturer: MIT Prof. Nick Montfort – This Fri. (1/17), 12-2p, in YRL

Posted on January 15th, 2014 by David Elliot

Video game professor and interactive fiction writer Nick Montfort of MIT will discuss “Ten Cases of Computational Poetics” this Friday, January 17, from 12-2p, in the YRL “Digital Hub” (first floor past the lobby and back behind the pods at the north end of the library). The talk is presented by M/ELT.

With reference to ten quite different projects, Professor Montfort will discuss how programming models of literary art have been essential to many of his individual and collaborative projects. This type of literary computing can be done by motivated individuals or by small groups of collaborators, as he will show by demonstrating several small-scale and even offhand projects. He will also describe some larger-scale projects, including the story generator Slant. He will read from a few of these projects in his poetry voice.

Speaker bio: Nick Montfort develops literary generators and other computational art and poetry. He has participated in dozens of literary and academic collaborations. He is associate professor of digital media at MIT and faculty advisor for the Electronic Literature Organization, whose Electronic Literature Collection Volume 1he co-edited. Montfort wrote the book of poems Riddle & Bind and co-wrote 2002. The MIT Press has published four of Montfort’s collaborative and individually-authored books: The New Media Reader, Twisty Little Passages, Racing the Beam, and most recently 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10, a collaboration with nine other authors that Montfort organized. Visit him at his website:

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Up in the clouds and down in the streets of Grand Theft Auto V

Posted on October 24th, 2013 by David Elliot

I’ve been endlessly driving through the streets of Los Santos née Los Angeles, trying to complete the main storyline of Grand Theft Auto V, the latest title in the “let’s print money” franchise by Rockstar Games (to the tune of a billion Washingtons in just three days after release). Players, too, can make it rain (virtually) at the Vanilla Unicorn, a strip club one eventually acquires. But in my experience of game play thus far (both stand-alone and online), the most vexing return on my investment has not been financial but existential.


Whether toggling among one of three playable personas in the stand-alone version—or waiting for glitches to resolve in the online game—players will spend a disconcerting amount of time disembodied, floating in the clouds above Los Santos (a visually stunning vantage point giving credence to the cliché that Los Angeles is most beautiful at a far remove). Eventually, the player falls back to Earth and into the waiting arms of a camera position behind one of three playable characters. Once re-embodied, beauty surrenders to the franchise’s beloved, street-level brutalities and a sandbox of crimes just begging to be committed. But glitches in the first two weeks of online play—and the fragmented nature of trying to control three different characters—makes playing-at-being in the world of Los Santos a spasmodic existence.

When not floating above the city in a literalized metaphor of cloud computing with a dodgy connection, players must endure the most earthbound feature of GTA this fifth time around: the cutscene scripting. Playing as Franklin, the sympathetic, “street” (aka, African American) avatar, one’s ears are thrashed with a torrent of hackneyed N-bombs delivered by Franklin’s childhood friend, Lamar, and his buddy, Stretch. These scenes stray into parody through repetition: perhaps the most transgressive and yet selectively re-appropriated word in modern American culture is hammered into meaninglessness by hyperbolic excess. If GTA V proves nothing else, it is almost possible to build an entire sentence out of N-word subjects, verbs, and objects.


Taking offense on racism grounds seems like an overkill response; it’s the sheer banality of Franklin’s discourse—whether parodic or sincere—that drags me down. (Online, players often adopt the slang of the game, thereby extending its diegesis into a performative register broadcast through their headsets. This is a curious—and sometimes irritating—form of harmonic resonance, a kind of sympathetic behavior. More pessimistically, it may also just be the way some people relate to each other IRL—a thought that makes Franklin’s reflexive N-bombing more creditable, I suppose.)

While Franklin struggles to escape the streets of digital Compton, the Franklin I play remains trapped by his characterization (caricature may be more precise). Coherent, cohesive play is already in peril in GTA V, whether by dint of technology or intent of design. And yet I’ve little choice but to pull the plug on Franklin preemptively whenever possible—and switch to Michael or Trevor, the other two playable characters—rather than endure the tired verbal spew he both gives and gets. But mostly, I pity the guy; Franklin’s poorly authored essence thwarts his very existence at my hands. My Franklin aspires to better than what the game designers have imposed upon him. If only we could transcend our respective positions–his on the street, mine in the clouds–GTA V would be as good as it looks from a distance.

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Colloquium on Games and Gamification

Posted on October 24th, 2013 by David Elliot

When: This Friday October 25th, 10:00am-6:00pm
Where: Young Research Library, UCLA
What: A colloquium about Games and Gamification, featuring Edward Castranova, Eddo Stern, Susan Lohman and more.


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Trace the USC Institute for Creative Technologies – Nov. 1

Posted on October 24th, 2013 by David Elliot

Please join Incendiary Traces as we tour, draw, and otherwise trace (literally and metaphorically) the USC Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT). A post-tour discussion will follow.

Friday, November. 1, 2013

Established in 1999, the USC ICT is a University Affiliated Research Center working in collaboration with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. It specializes in artificial intelligence, graphics, virtual reality and narrative immersive techniques and technologies to address problems facing service members, students and society. It brings film and game industry artists together with computer and social scientists to study and develop immersive media for military training and other fields.

During our visit, we are scheduled to meet with ICT Director of Advanced Prototypes Todd Richmond and tour the facility. Included are about 2-3 hours drawing on site and an opportunity to get immersed in an interactive counter IED training environment. Modeled on southern Afghanistan, the game terrain plays a key role in training military personnel in detecting, assessing, and managing IED threat situations.

1:00-5:00 pm: Tour and drawing at ICT
5:00-6:00pm: Discussion at a location TBD

NOTE: There are limited spots available for this event. Please RSVP by October 25 to Further details will follow your response.

Incendiary Traces is a loosely collective exploration of the role of landscape imagery in international conflict through public on-site drawing events, research and publication of related materials by diverse contributors. It was initiated in 2011 by Los Angeles-based artist Hillary Mushkin. For more information visit

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Unity printing workshop in Silverlake Nov 2-3

Posted on October 21st, 2013 by David Elliot

A free workshop in hosted by my Friends at Somewhere Something. Its a great warehouse space divided into units located near Silverlake.

18 seats available  based on the space that we have available –  contact Jose Sanchez <> to rsvp

The workshop will cover introduction to Unity3D – a gaming platform, and how to create in-game objects and export them to 3D printing or fabrication.

Its a 2 day workshop; 2-3 November. 

See flyer below:


Screen shot 2013-10-21 at 8.56.54 AM

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Game Installation ‘Interference’ At Track 16 Gallery

Posted on October 2nd, 2013 by David Elliot

Interference is an immersive interactive game installation by architect Nathalie Pozzi and game designer Eric Zimmerman. Combining strategic and social elements, the game is played by stealing from other players. Five suspended, super-thin steel walls dotted with organic patterns resembling cell tissues act as vertical game boards. The twist is that each turn you must steal a piece from another game going on between other players. While each game takes place in a local area of one of the walls, the games themselves can move across the walls – and games even collide with each other as they drift across the walls’ surfaces. Interference encourages players to negotiate, argue, and scheme with and against each other, across physical space, social space, and the spaces between games.

Track 16 Gallery
3571 Hayden Avenue
Culver City, CA 90232
Opening Reception Wednesday, October 2, 8:30 – 10:30pm

Interference will be open to the public the following dates:
5 October, noon-4pm; 6 October, noon-6pm; 12 October, noon-6pm; 19 October, noon-6pm, 26 October noon-6pm. 

Official exhibition link

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Church of Play

Posted on October 1st, 2013 by David Elliot

The UCLA GameLab is pleased to announce a workshop series on Religion Design conducted by Adam Rafinski, open for all UCLA students.

The Church of Play (CoP) is an experiment in establishing a spiritual community of players and game designers that investigate the relationship between spirituality and play. This reality game offers you the possibility to develop, play and communicate your own rituals and spiritual ideology.

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CoP is a secret organization that worships play.  In contrast to other spiritual movements, members of CoP are highly skilled in reflecting upon their practice while enacting them. Also CoP strongly encourages its members to constantly iterate on the design of their beliefs and practices. Don’t miss out the unique opportunity to participate in the birth of this new global movement!


For the first time in LA, CoP is offering an intensive seminar. Students will develop and playtest prototypes of own rituals and spiritual practices. Ultimately they will learn how to initialize themselves.

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The workshop series consists of an open introduction and two closed sessions. The first session is focusing on Games of Chance and the second on Games of Ecstasy. Please note that the workshop itself is structured as a game, which involves elements such as role-playing. In order to prevent yourself from discrimination, we highly encourage you to not speak to anybody about your decision to participate in this workshop. To participate in the game, please come to the open Introduction, in disguise if you like, to learn more about CoP and the workshop. Participants that show themselves worthy through their playfulness and designs will be able to join CoP.


Introduction: Monday, 7th of October : 6-8pm – Broad Art Center 5240

Games of Chance: Wednesday, 9th of October : 6-9pm – Location is a secret

Games of Ecstasy: Friday, 11th of October : 6-9pm – Location is a secret


Participants that show themselves worthy through their playfulness and designs will be able to join CoP. To sign up, please send a short statement on why you wish to participate to by Sunday, the 6th of October.

Mail Attachment copy

Attention IndieCade participants:

CoP is also looking for volunteers to help designing and running a Manifestation at IndieCade on Friday, the 4th of October from 5:30-7:00pm in Culver City. This will involve at least one additional meet-up on Wednesday, the 2nd and/or Thursday, the 3rd of October.  If you would like to become a Guardian of Play for our Manifestation please email us:


Adam Rafinski is a conceptual and performance artist, curator, educator and reality game designer from Germany. His work focuses on the aesthetics of digital culture, augmented play, spirituality and games, as well as playfulness in culture and art. He graduated from the University of Art and Design (HfG) Karlsruhe in Germany with a MA in Art Theory and Media Philosophy. After completing his degrees, Adam founded the GameLab Karlsruhe, a label for Art Games and Pervasive Games at the Institute for Postdigital Narratives in the HfG and curated diverse shows. He was also a research assistant at the ZKM (Center for Art and Media) Karlsruhe and developed the curatorial concept of “zkm_gameplay” for the Media Museum: the first exhibition platform dedicated to contemporary play culture and digital media. Currently he continues his work on reality games in the course of the Digital Media program at Georgia Tech, works as a research assistant for the department, and is the manager of the Experimental Game Lab and the Emergent Game Group.

The Aesthetics of Games and the Pleasure of Governance

Posted on June 7th, 2013 by David Elliot

C. Thi Nguyen (Utah Valley University) and Jonathan Gingerich will be delivering a talk on the aesthetics of board games and video games titled “The Aesthetics of Games and the Pleasure of Governance.” The talk will be today (June 7) at 3:00 in the UCLA Department of Philosophy, Dodd Hall 399, and they would welcome the attendance of anyone interested in game design or the aesthetics of games.

In this talk, they will attempt to provide a partial answer to the question: what makes a game a good game? They will begin by describing a common view of games in the literature on game aesthetics: that texts provide a good metaphor for games and that the aesthetic quality of games as games depends largely on representational or narrative features of games. They will argue that this text-metaphor view of games does not capture some of the most important aesthetic features of games. They will suggest that the text-metaphor view should be supplemented with a different view: that governments provide a good metaphor for games and that the aesthetic quality of games depends largely on how they guide and structure choices that their players make. They will develop our argument by showing how our theoretical framework provides for an attractive and intuitive aesthetic evaluation of a complex, multiplayer board games using Michel Foucault’s account of techniques of government that he calls “apparatuses of security.”

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“Playing” Mexican in Guacamelee!

Posted on April 22nd, 2013 by David Elliot

Mainstream videogames often shy away from interpretative ambiguity, finding commercial safety—and ludic economy—in well-worn generic personas and dramatic milieus. Terrorists, monsters, aliens, Nazis—these are the culturally uncomplicated enemies who, in stereotypical scenarios and archetypal narrative arcs, must be slain by the solitary hero (i.e., the player) on a quest to save the princess/community/world.

But what happens when a videogame uses people, places and contexts that aren’t so culturally clear-cut or historically remote? This is often the space in which indie and art-project videogames operate, offering through simulation various interpretations of real-life people, issues and events. When big-budget games do attempt to play with ongoing social conflicts, or with aspects of race, gender, class and other complex cultural representations, they do so at great financial risk and critical punishment. Certain titles justifiably earn our scorn for their cultural callowness: consider the first-person shooter Call of Juarez: The Cartel (Ubisoft, 2011), a game that twists the real horrors of cartel violence and human trafficking on the Mexican border into a racist, clichéd, fear-mongering narrative about white slavery. For a stirring takedown of the game—and remarkable analysis of the drug war in Ciudad Juárez—see the compelling Extra Credits review.

Bad-faith media objects abound, but perhaps the more challenging case for analysis would be a mainstream videogame that attempts to honestly—but humorously—replicate cultural tropes for playful purposes. For example, I’ve been playing Guacamelee! (2012), a Mexican-themed, platform-style game now available for download on the PlayStation Network. As the assistant editor of Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies published at UCLA, I’m keenly attuned to issues of Chicano representation, and I was eager to play a mainstream game in which a Mexican milieu, regardless of abstraction and superficiality, permeates a game’s aesthetics.

To begin with the play experience, Guacamelee! is a delight: its stylized-yet-evocative Southwestern visual treatment, inventive level design, and clever reworking of traditional platformer mechanics, make it a stand-out among the recent waves of “Metroidvania”-style games. In terms of tone, the game literally plays for laughs: your avatar, Juan Aguacate (“John Avocado”) dons a lucha libre mask, bestowing him with the wrestling skills necessary to battle Day of the Dead-themed skeletons and earn health enhancements from candy carts—powers necessary to help save El Presidente’s kidnapped daughter from the evil Carlos Calaca. My favorite trophy so far sums up the game’s vibe: “We built this city on Guac and roll.”

What playing a game in which punching piñatas releases showers of gold coins means in a larger cultural context becomes a curious question. Chicano videogame blogger Jorge Albor played Guacamelee! and penned a fascinating, nuanced essay about his thoughts (also reposted at Kotaku) on the game’s use of Mexican iconography, popular culture, and mythology.

Albor’s response to the game’s appropriations is caught between the pleasures of the game and uncertainty about its cultural implications. However, he does take exception with the game’s employment of the controversial, mythological figure X’tabay:

X’tabay is a particularly strange inclusion in the game. The female villain, temporary lover to Calaca, is the first boss players face in the game. The foundational lore of X’tabay is rooted in the story of a succubus-like goddess or demon. While this mythology is particularly old, the figure of a traitorous and lustful woman has a long and sordid history in Mexican culture. Most notably, Malinche, a real woman who was blamed for many years for ultimate conquest of Mexico, remains a powerful icon that carries with it X’tabay’s connotations of sexism in Mexican culture. The cultural significance of Malinche is immense and deeply contested. Not surprisingly, Malinchista is still used as an insult against those who stray too far from Mexican culture.

An important research point here for game designers: some cultural borrowings—no matter how remote—may still resonate deeply, and more adversely, than others. Albor concludes, however, that taking offense may not even be the most productive frame for his response. “Am I offended? I don’t know. That’s the wrong question to ask. Reactions to cultural portrayals are deeply personal. We are better off asking what does the game do right? What does the game do wrong? And is the game made with care?”

In the light of these productive questions, Guacamelee! proves compelling because, for the most part, the Canadian videogame studio behind the game (Drinkbox) did much “right” in terms of tone and selection. But for me, a lingering question remains: as an Anglo, what are the implications of playing a Mexican character? To experience alterity—without resorting to oppressive exoticism, cynical stereotypes, or false identification—is one of the great pleasures of videogaming in particular, and play in general. One hopes that to play “the other” can lead in some small way to multicultural curiosity, appreciation and even understanding. That’s perhaps a lot to ask of a joyful lark such as Guacamelee!, but the broad shoulders of Juan Aguacate can probably handle it.

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UCLA Game Lab Visits Swissnex SF

Posted on April 13th, 2013 by David Elliot

As residents of the Game Lab, we were honored when swissnex SF invited us to display our work in the Game Gazer exhibition. We spent a wonderful week in San Francisco and got to meet a variety of talented Swiss students exploring the games medium in interesting ways. The exhibit coincided with GDC and featured a wide range of technology and media…

Photo by Myleen Hollero

There were books, iPhones made of wood, iPad games, point and click adventures, tabletop games and digital paintings which responded to facial expressions.

Photo by Myleen Hollero

Become Captain, by Camille Morizot, had users fold their own paper boats and battle in water, while the playing field was projected on its surface. It was great to see projects combine technology and basic media in such an interesting way.

Photo by Myleen Hollero

The opening itself was sophisticated and well attended. The audience was particularly receptive and engaged with the works on display.

Photo by Myleen Hollero

The arcade backpack made its rounds and was a hit with everyone!

Photo by Myleen Hollero

And of course, situated at the entrance, Chris Reilly’s soon to be classic Talk Therapy attracted passersby and maybe some strange looks as players yelled their way to glory.

All in all it was a wonderful opportunity to see what other students are doing to blend art, games, technology and the interactive experience. We left swissnex San Francisco feeling refreshed and inspired. Good times!

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See Dog Nose Knows at Art|Sci LASER tonight

Posted on February 21st, 2013 by David Elliot

Start: 21 Feb 2013 7:00 pm

Dog Nose Knows is a board game designed by Game Lab resident Adeline Ducker, exploring the scents of view. Come test this new game and learn about the canine sensory experience!

LASER (Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous) are monthly evening salons showcasing movers and shakers in art and science.

More info on the event can be found here:

DNK flier.preview

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Pointing and clicking on Curious Rituals

Posted on February 19th, 2013 by David Elliot

“Haunted” interfaces, sensor tricking, and cell trances are just a few of the gadget-enabled gestures cataloged in the fascinating online publication Curious Rituals: Gestural Interaction in the Digital Everyday. Produced by researchers working last summer at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA—Nicolas Nova, Katherine Miyake, Nancy Kwon, and Walton Chiu, along with Dan Hill and Julian Bleecker—this recent work investigates the pervasive—but often overlooked—gestures and behaviors that emerge from our co-habitation with electronic devices, such as waggling a dying remote in front of a TV, or rapidly inserting and ejecting wonky DVDs as an “obsessive fix.”

The impetus for the project in part is the cultural misperception that digital devices and their interfaces somehow render users passive, even paralyzed. As one of the researchers frames in the introduction to Curious Rituals, casual use of the term “digital” often neglects its original definition—manual manipulation:

The hidden assumption behind the use of such an adjective is that these digital artifacts are not very engaging from a physical standpoint. That is, people sit at their desks with their laptops; couch potatoes play games on their sofas; commuters stare at their smartphones in their smart-phone with blue-glow faces. But is this clichéd version of the everyday life true? Are we really so immobile when using the vast panoply of digital apparatuses? (7)

As Curious Rituals confirms, digital interfaces are digital in the fullest sense, providing affordances for physical behaviors and actions that may come from other contexts—such as “pinching” a touch screen—or simply emerge from human adaptation—such as hip-checking a security door or turn-style to scan an ID tag in one’s pocket. Some devices even encourage sympathetic or “useless” body movements and behaviors for which the interface has no use—what the researchers call “haunted” interfaces.

Video game designers and players likely recognize this phenomenon from observing “excessive” player actions: ducking, twisting, turning, and other spontaneous reactions in the heat of game play—“inputs” that non-motion-sensitive interfaces in particular would find inscrutable. But this surfeit of bodily interaction has its uses; according to the authors, observations of player movements influenced the design of the latest generation of touch and motion-control interfaces. As the array of current video game controllers attests, one interface’s “ghost” can become another’s “embodied” resident.

Beyond the scope of the Curious Rituals project, however, lurks another ghost: interfaces and gestures that, through obsolescence, have become lost or replaced. TV side-slapping as a “naïve fix” for horizontal and vertical hold, for example, went into decline with cable, but the gesture was both an expression of skillful finesse and a cultural icon of media frustration. More recently, the iPod click wheel has become an endangered interface, now only appearing in the “classic” line. The loss is acutely felt (and eloquently mourned by fan communities), as the click wheel expertly paired the orbiting thumb with the security of cradling the device with the rest of the hand. The largest barrier to device adoption/adaptation may have nothing to do with learning new interface schemas and their attendant gestures—ultimately, forming new habits—but rather having to someday (all too soon) let them go.

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Game challenges ideals of beauty

Posted on February 15th, 2013 by David Elliot

Aliah Magdalena Darke was interviewed today in the Daily Bruin on her game “Objectif”.

The card game “Objectif” is less about entertainment and more about creating a space to discuss racial biases, conceptions of beauty and objectification.

Check it out here:

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The pin-up origins of computer art

Posted on February 6th, 2013 by David Elliot

A recent article in The Atlantic documents what may be the earliest-known example of computer-generated art. Likely inspired by the image of a calendar pin-up “girl,” a technician working with the military in the 1950s used punch cards to program a vector-traced outline of a semi-naked woman Read more on “The pin-up origins of computer art” »

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Posted on January 30th, 2013 by David Elliot

In conjunction with Game Room, the Hammer will be presenting a talk with Jonathan Blow and Heather Chaplin on February 6 2013, 07:30pm in the Billy Wilder Theater. This event is free and open to the public (parking $3) More info can be found here:

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Happening now! Play games at DMA Undergraduate Exhibition

Posted on January 23rd, 2013 by David Elliot

If you’ve taken a look at the games section of our site you may have seen some really cool table games and wondered how you could play them. Well today is your lucky day because the DMA Undergraduate Exhibition has several of those games on display and ready to play. There are also a number of computer games being shown as well.

Games on display at the show are the following:

The show, UV/UG DMA Undergraduate Exhibition, is up now in the New Wight Gallery at the Broad Art Center. More info about the show can be found here:

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Daily Bruin has an article on Game Room

Posted on December 4th, 2012 by David Elliot

Theres a write up on the current Hammer show Game Room on the Daily Bruin:

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Game Room at the Hammer

Posted on December 3rd, 2012 by David Elliot

Eddo Stern and Noa Kaplan exhibiting in Game Room show the Hammer Museum:


December 1, 2012 – February 17, 2013

Hammer Museum


The Hammer Museum’s lobby gallery will be transformed into Game Room from December 1, 2012 through February 17, 2013. The structure and aesthetics of games have long captured the imaginations of artists, inspiring works by Yoko Ono, Gabriel Orozco, Maurizio Cattelan, and countless others in the last half century alone. Human interaction, so central to game play, is a vital component of these artworks, which include an all-white chess set, an oval-shaped billiards table, and foosball for twenty. The advent of digital games has not only cracked open a new visual vernacular but has also created a shift in the dynamic of engagement: though players may be separated by continents, they are connected by the Internet. Or they may simply play alone. The look, the feel, and even the solitude of these electronic games have inevitably played out in the work of contemporary artists, but Game Roompurposely returns to an earlier tradition. Each piece included is multiplayer, analog, and intended to be handled by visitors.


The participating artists in Game Room explore a variety of concerns, such as Noa P. Kaplan’s investigation of food production and consumption systems and Sarah Bay Williams’s simultaneously sweet and aggressive confrontation of loss. Jakob PencaMarek Plichta, and Till Wittwer harness human movement to create a mechanical-looking conveyance procedure, while Alexis Smith unfurls a layered version of Americana. Eddo Stern, also engaged in the realm of digital games, addresses head-on the detachment that electronic games can create head-on. And,Samara Smith’s place-related game, tailored to Westwood, calibrates players to their physical surroundings. Collectively the artworks represent a game ethos of a bygone time, reverting to the tactile and grounded in face-to-face interaction.


Subsidized, Noa P. Kaplan, 2012

Moneymakingworkshop, Eddo Stern, 2012

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Daily Bruin write up on our CoD tournament

Posted on December 3rd, 2012 by David Elliot

Tony Huang has a nice write up on the Call of Duty tournament that we had with USC last Saturday. You can check it out here:

They also have a video up here:

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Girly game progress

Posted on November 26th, 2012 by David Elliot

Peter Lu and Lea Schönfelder are collaborating on a new kinect questionare / adventure game, here’s a video of work in progress:

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NVIDIA Care Package

Posted on November 20th, 2012 by David Elliot

NVIDIA was nice enough to send us a care pacage in preparation with our upcoming competition with USC

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We’re competing in the NVIDIA GeForce GTX Call of Duty Black Ops II Rivalries

Posted on November 16th, 2012 by David Elliot

The UCLA Game Lab has been invited to participate in the first ever NVIDIA GeForce GTX Call of Duty Black Ops II Rivalries competition.

We will face off against USC in a head to head 4v4 TDM competition on December 1st and we are competing for home field advantage on the NVIDIA GeForce Facebook page. We need you to rally and vote for our school to gain home field advantage.Please send all your friends and family to the NVIDIA GeForce Facebook page ( and vote for us daily to help us ensure home field advantage.

A lot is at stake here; the winner of the Call of Duty Rivalries competition will win generous hardware donations from NVIDIA to our Design Media Arts department and get a chance for an expense paid trip to the grand finals at NVIDIA’s headquarters in Santa Clara, California.

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Game Design and Development Major

Posted on October 29th, 2012 by David Elliot

I created and graduated with an Independent Major called “Game Design and Development” from the Arts and Architecture department. My goal in creating the major was to learn as much as I could about the various facets of game development — from the design and art to the more technical aspects of programming. While the Design | Media Arts department offers courses in languages like processing and javascript, it isn’t rigorous in its exercises. This is evident in the lack of of strong programmers in the department, in the same way that the CS department lacks students with strong visual development skill.

For me, the major was a success. While I missed out on a few classes I really would have liked to take because I divided myself between several departments, I learned enough across the board to feel confident in my abilities to learn independently if I ever find that I need to know something more. However, I can’t recommend this path for anyone who just wants to make games.

The courses I chose involved a lot of math and computer science courses that not everyone might be comfortable with. Before committing to the major, I had taken Mathematics 31B to 33B and Computer Science 31, competing with Math, Engineering, Computer Science, and other South campus majors, as you’d be doing in the more difficult upper division courses. After doing very well in these courses, I was certain I could succeed in any other technical courses I might choose for my curriculum. So to reiterate — it’s very important to make sure that one feels they’re confident and capable of competing in South Campus classes by taking several before following through with this kind independent major.

The following are the courses the that I included in my custom curriculum and which ones I found to be the most beneficial



  • 152B – Interactive Media 2 (Arduino Hardware class)
  • 156 series – 3D Modelling
  • 157 series – Gaming (focus on Game Design and how to make something fun)
  • 161A – Creative Internet
  • 199 – Directed Research


  • 115A – Linear Algebra (Lower division class would probably suffice)
  • 180 – Combinatorics

Computer Science:

  • 161 – Artificial Intelligence
  • 174A – Intro to Computer Graphics

Theater Film and Television

  • Animation A and B courses

Courses that were not offered at convenient times:
CS174B,C – Computer Graphics / Animation Courses


From the design the department, the 3D Modeling course was very helpful in that it taught how to create 3D objects using the Maya software, which can be imported into a game engine. Overall it’s good for learning the tools to create art assets so games have something more complicated and interesting than cubes for graphics. You also learn about some of the more complicated topics involved with 3D modelling, such as normal mapping, UV mapping, animation, and others.

The gaming courses, of course, were very relevant. They focused on how to make a fun interaction and make something that was enjoyable to play. The second gaming class goes over how to use the Unity 3D game engine to make games.

The Interactive Media Arduino class was interesting, but less important when it comes to developing typical games. However, we’ve had some people use the Arduino to create custom controllers or unique interactions, so it depends on what you want to do. I’m not sure if this course will be offered again, though.

Creative Internet 161A was a filler course because I couldn’t get a more relevant one, and the 199 Directed Research I used for personal game development.


From the CS department, the most beneficial class was the CS174A intro to graphics OpenGL class. After the class I understood most cheats used in creating detailed real-time graphics in games. While it might be unlikely that someone will have to program for graphics at such a low level, understanding how this worked made using higher level 3D engines, like Unity, easier. This class is a must if building your own 3D engine, though.

The CS161 AI class focused less on directly game-related topics than I expected. It was a fascinating class, but some of the computer learning topics were less relevant. The portion that focused on different search techniques could be used for character or game ai, path finding, and other related applications, though.

I wish I had been able to take the remaining 174B and C classes to round out my understanding of programming for graphics. I also should have taken a class that covered multicore/threaded programming, though all of these can be learned independently outside of classes.


Linear algebra 115A has been pretty important when it comes to 3D programming, as well as graphics programming. There’s a lot of applications for it in general.

Combinatorics 180 could be important as well. There’s a lot that can be abstracted into graphs, such as path finding waypoints. The graphs, if I recall correctly, were also covered to an extent in the CS161 AI class, so the more important topics in this course may be covered elsewhere, but I know this is important for programming in general.

If these classes are overly technical or complex, the Design | Media Arts major can still offer a relatively diverse range of skills, especially if one goes out of their way to take some of the less rigorous programming classes from the Mathematics department, such as the PIC series. This curriculum is really for those who want to know about all facets of the game development process, both technical and artistic. However, if someone is interested solely in the artistic or technical portions, then the D|MA or CS departments alone can offer an adequate experience.

Being an independent major also means you have priority in no department. I had to get professor permission for every class, even in the design department. This, of course, made enrolling in classes very stressful, as I often didn’t know what I was taking until the end of second week every quarter. What this also means, though, is that enrolling in other department’s classes doesn’t get much easier. If you have a solid idea of which classes you want to take, I think it is possible to take the classes that I mentioned, prereqs included, by remaining in the design department if you start very early, though creating a major frees up some units for other classes.

If you’re still interested in making a major, the process involves naming it, finding a professor to endorse you, and writing a paper justifying your decision to make an independent major. To graduate, you have to turn in a final project or paper that combines what you learned throughout your classes as an independent major.

– Garrett Johnson

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Daily Bruin interviews Garrett Johnson

Posted on October 29th, 2012 by David Elliot

This summer the Daily Bruin did an interview on Garrett Johnson to find out more about his independent major in game design. You can read about it here: Fourth-year Garrett Johnson will graduate with an independent degree in game design and development

If you’re interested in doing something like this Garrett has done a write up on his experience detailing the courses he took on our website here:

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Game Lab field trip to Chung King Restaurant

Posted on October 26th, 2012 by David Elliot

I just got back from a lunch time field trip to Chung King Restaurant with eleven of my fellow Game Lab people. It’s quite a trek from UCLA all the way out to San Gabriel but if you like Schezwan food it’s worth it. Most recommended dishes:

  • Kung Pow Shrimp
  • Mapo Tofu
  • Special Flavored Porkchop

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Melrose Trading Post LARP Day 2

Posted on October 16th, 2012 by David Elliot

Aaaah! MTPL:D2 or, Melrose Trading Post Larp: Day 2 was a smashing success! We changed up the story a bit and introduced our newest member, Terrence.

Terrence is an orphaned red monkey who was born without bones. But what he lacks skeletally, he makes up for cardiacally! Which is to say, he’s got a lot of heart. Despite his condition, Terrence spent most of his life and energy crafting pompoms and other works of art during his years at the orphanage. So touched we were by his indomitable spirit, we gave Terrence a day out to experience the world. The Melrose Trading Post was the perfect venue to introduce our little monkey to society.

After setting up his booth, Terrence set out to fulfill his bucket list. With the help of Trading Post patrons, Terrence was able to make art, hear his first joke, and even defeat a dragon! By way of thanks, each helper received a handcrafted pompom. A great time was had by all.

Thanks to Mastadon Mesa for rescuing Terrence from that orphanage. And an extra special thanks to all the H.I.P.S.T.E.R.S who supported us in Helping Inexperienced Poor Sad Terrence Effortlessly Reintegrate into Society – it was a blast!

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Melrose Trading Post LARP Day 1

Posted on October 9th, 2012 by David Elliot

We made it through our first day at the Melrose Trading Post. We’ve learned a few things from it and plan to make improvements based on what we have learned for next Sunday. Our boot was looking pretty sweet but it was missing some much needed signage. I think we just barely made the bar in the costumery department but the patrons have set that pretty high so we might need to kick it up a notch to make ourselves really noticed next Sunday. What we were most lacking though was the theatrical energy. I hope to recruit some students from the Theater department this week to compensate for that deficiency. Also we broke one of the fundamental pillars of LARP design: “All Are Participants” We really thought it would be a good idea to break this rule but in hindsight I think maybe we must first master the rules before we break them.

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Arcade Backpack @ Indiecade

Posted on October 9th, 2012 by David Elliot

Here’s some pics of our Arcade Backpack at Indiecade this past weekend…

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Eddo Stern and Mark Essen speaking at Indiecade

Posted on October 5th, 2012 by David Elliot

IndieCade //Form + Code: Games Edition

Using last year’s successful IndieCade panel “Form + Code” as a springboard, Andy Nealen convenes a group of developers from the world of artgames to talk about projects where code and form are inextricably linked. Join us for a richly interactive session of audience questions and comments, and a discussion that ranges from procedural generation of content to the expressivity of finely-tuned control mechanics and the aesthetics of gameplay.

Speakers: Jason Rohrer  •  Mark Essen  •  Eddo Stern
Moderator: Andy Nealen

When: Saturday October 6th 3-4 pm

Where: Foshay Conference Hall , Culver City

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Creative Coding for Mobile Devices Workshop

Posted on October 5th, 2012 by David Elliot

If you’re on UCLA Campus October 8, 2012, 6:00 pm and want to learn how to build sensor based Android and apps using processing be sure to check out this workshop:

Creative Coding for Mobile Devices Workshop with Daniel Sauter Build Sensor Based Android and Apps Using Processing

From the event page:

This workshop is an introduction to Processing for Android, and specifically the creative potential of the hardware features built into Android devices shipped today.

We’ll create a series of projects using motion and position sensors, the touch screen panel, geolocation and compass, front and back cameras, WiFi networking, peer-to-peer networking using Bluetooth and WiFi Direct, databases, and 3D scenes on the Android. The workshop will utilize Processing 2.0b, Android SDK, and the Ketai Library for Processing. A basic understanding of programming and access to an Android device are recommended.

Daniel Sauter is an artist who creates interactive installations and site-specific interventions dealing with the cultural and social implications of emerging technologies. He is an Associate Professor of New Media Arts at the University of Illinois at Chicago, School of Art and Design, organizer of the Mobile Processing Conference in Chicago, and author of Rapid Android Development: Build Rich, Sensor-Based Applications with Processing (Pragmatic, 2012).

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LARP Design Workshop Day 1

Posted on October 3rd, 2012 by David Elliot

Day 1 of the LARP Design Workshop turned out a smashing success. Twenty UCLA students turned out to make costumes, design characters, play make-believe and eat sugary junk food. A good time was had by all. Below are some snapshots from the night. Day two of the event will be held this Thursday October 4th from 6pm – 9pm. More info is found here:

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Starting to build our LARP

Posted on September 27th, 2012 by David Elliot

Here’s some in progress pics of our new LARP. We still don’t know what it’s about because we’re waiting for our LARP workshop to decide that part. For now we’re just making crazy costumes and pom poms. I’m sure they’ll be useful somehow. 🙂

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Upcoming Events

Posted on September 26th, 2012 by David Elliot


September 27th at 6pm in the UCLA Game Lab

Join us for a visit with Chris Solarski, author of the forthcoming book “Drawing Basics and Video Game Art”


October 1st at 6pm in the UCLA Game Lab

The Game Lab is proud to present “The Game of Sunken Places”, a educational meta LARP designed by Live Game Labs.


October 2nd and 4th at 6pm in the UCLA Game Lab

Help us design a LARP to play at the melrose


October 11th at 6pm in the UCLA Game Lab

Intro to game design with Unity with Brad Nelson, creator of upcoming brawler, Lone Wolf


October 25th from 6 – 9pm

Help us make the most boring topic into a sensational audio play!


November 3rd 10 a.m. to 2 p.m in the Powell Library

UCLA Game Lab with team up with UCLA Powell Library to celibrate International Gaming Day. Visit the Powell Library to play numerious games made by UCLA Game Lab residents!

More info coming soon…

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reDiscover Center is Awesome!

Posted on September 20th, 2012 by David Elliot

In preparation for our upcoming LARP workshop, we took a field trip out to the reDiscover Center in Culver City. The director Mary Beth Trautwein met us there to show us around. reDiscover takes discarded materials donated by businesses and reuses them for art and education. What this means is that they have a warehouse of random materials in large quantities. Awesome!

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Game Lab people in the Encyclopedia of Video Games!

Posted on September 10th, 2012 by David Elliot

Game Lab researchers David O’Grady and Harrison Gish, both PhD students dissertating on video games in Cinema and Media Studies at UCLA, are published in the new Encyclopedia of Video Games (2012, ABC-CLIO). O’Grady and Gish contributed about a half-dozen entries on a variety of video game subjects, from interfaces to key faces in the industry. The encyclopedia is intended to serve researchers, designers, and others as an essential general reference for all aspects of the field. Congratulations guys!

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Testing out the SLAB

Posted on August 31st, 2012 by David Elliot

Here’s a couple of shots of Mark and Garrett testing out the SLAB. Read more about it here: The SLAB

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Custom Printed Playing Cards

Posted on August 27th, 2012 by David Elliot

If you’re working on a card game and would like to get some professional looking results give printerstudio a try. They can do custom printed playing cards on demand, which means a minimum order of one deck. The prices are very affordable (starting at $7.99 per deck) and turn around time is as fast as 5 days. We’re going to give them a try with Aliah’s new game: Objective. Maybe she’ll write a review of their service once she gets them back.

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SEGA Visit

Posted on August 14th, 2012 by David Elliot

Mr. Hiroshi Yagi, Mr. Yasuhiro Kondo, and Mr. Mori Akihiro from SEGA Japan’s R&D department stopped by the UCLA Game Lab for a vist and a little show and tell. The Daily Bruin has a little write up with more details:

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Random Mechanic Mixer

Posted on August 13th, 2012 by David Elliot

Ever dream of getting rich on the App store? The Random Mechanic Mixer by Al Sweigart may give you a little boost towards making that dream a reality. Now all you need to do is find a way to automate the implementation and submission of apps and you’ll be well on your way to sumitting hundreds of games each month. At least one of them should be a hit!

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Toronto After Darkcade – Call For Entries

Posted on July 31st, 2012 by David Elliot

Toronto After Dark: Horror, Sci-Fi, Action & Cult Film Festival is thrilled to announce its very first Call for VIDEO GAME Entries! The selected games will feature at the 7th Annual Toronto After Dark, this October 18-26, 2012 in the Darkcade, an exciting new addition to the festival, co-presented by videogame arts organization Hand Eye Society.

For the Darkcade, Toronto After Dark seeks this year’s most unique and thrilling indie videogames that fall within the festival’s genre mandate i.e. HORROR, SCI-FI, ACTION and CULT games.  With over 10,000 fans and 100 members of press and industry in attendance at Toronto After Dark annually, the selected games can look forward to considerable exposure as The Darkcade will be a key part of this year’s nightly social events.

The games will also be eligible for the fest’s widely respected Audience Choice Award, in the new category of Best Independent Videogame.  A variety of different game formats will be accepted from now until the Final Entry Deadline of Sept. 7. For complete entry details or to submit your game now visit:

For more information about the Toronto After Dark Film Festival please visit:

Darkcade Inquiries: Alex Bethke,
Film Festival Inquiries: Adam Lopez,

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SEGA Product R&D Dept. to visit UCLA Game Lab

Posted on July 27th, 2012 by David Elliot

Members of the SEGA Corporation, Product R&D Dept. will be visiting the UCLA Game Lab on Monday August 6th at 2:00pm to present their work and answer questions about working in the Arcade Game industry. This is a great oppertunity for both game designers and media artists alike. Anyone interested in attending feel free to drop in!

For those who are not already familiar, the modern Japanese arcade is something much larger and more diverse than any western arcade that has ever existed. Here’s a interesting documentary that does a good job of explaining:

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Pics from our night at the Skirball

Posted on July 18th, 2012 by David Elliot

Here’s some pictures from the show we participated in at the Skirball Cultural Center. We had a lot of fun showing off student made games and telling people about the Game Lab. There was a ton of stuff to do and some really excellent music. Also, our Arcade Backpack was a smash hit!

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Check us out at the Skirball Cultural Center tonight!

Posted on July 13th, 2012 by David Elliot

Come out to the Skirball Cultural Center tonight and play some UCLA Game Lab games:

Also Sea Wolf and Geographer will be playing. Here’s more info:

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New Levitation Suits

Posted on July 13th, 2012 by David Elliot

Check out our new levitation suits. Pretty revolutionary:

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Arcade Backpack at SUPER TETRICIDE

Posted on June 25th, 2012 by David Elliot

We were invited to show off our Arcade Backpack at Home Room’s latest show, SUPER TETRICIDE.

Here’s the description from their event page:

a new generation of gamers embracing games and interactive media as an art form moving beyond a commercial product. The influence of video games is branching out, prompting individuals to work in a more interactive way even within the sphere of traditional media. By increasing exposure to interactive media we hope to forge connections between communities of game designers and fine artists while blurring the distinction between the two.

Here’s some pics of people enjoying the backpack:

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Game Lab intern mentioned in UCLA Today

Posted on June 22nd, 2012 by David Elliot

First off, congratulations our UCLA Community High School intern, Jonathan Bae, for getting into UCLA this fall. We’re all really proud of him and he deserves it for all his hard work and effort. Looks like we’re going to have to upgrade him from lowly intern to full-time Game Lab resident 🙂

Secondly, here’s a write-up in the UCLA Today that features Jonathan and two of his classmates who were also accepted to UCLA this fall:

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Game Lab Arcade Backpack at E3

Posted on June 7th, 2012 by David Elliot

Here’s a pic of Game Lab worker Steven Amrhein schlepping the Arcade Backpack at E3. Those of you lucky enough to spot him there had the chance to play Flywrench by Messhof or Cyptoid Blues by Nautilus People

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Eddo Stern showing at YoungProjects

Posted on June 7th, 2012 by David Elliot

The World is Down
Ten Works by Eddo Stern

Opening Thursday, June 14, 7-10:00 pm
@Pacific Design Center (Second Fl #B230)
8687 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90069


At the heart of Stern’s practice is a crucial engagement with today’s digital culture and an astute eye for formal experimentation. His large-scale installations, sculptures, interactive works and performance pieces often explore the uneasy connections between physical existence and electronic simulation, with a special focus on the ways in which violence and fantasy operate within culture at large. Yet it is his unique approach to experimental game production, game art and machinima films in particular that has established him as a true pioneer.

Stern’s work has shown at the Museo Reina Sofia, The Walker Art Center, The New Museum, The Hammer Museum, The Tate Gallery Liverpool, The Haifa Museum of Art, and many other institutions. He was born in Tel Aviv and is currently the Director of the UCLA Game Lab and an Associate Professor at UCLA’s Design | Media Arts Department.

The World is Down will feature some of Stern’s key works from the past five years, along with three recently completed projects.

Works in the Exhibition


Darkgame 3.0 (2012) is a fully interactive 3D rendered video game installation, with customized controllers, headset and software. The gameplay is based upon the experience of communication and conflict under stress of sensory deprivation and sense isolation. During the game the player is equipped with a custom-made haptic head gear that applies different sensations to the viewer’s head during play. Thus, as the player navigates through a 3D world of physical sensations, his or her senses are slowly taken away until the headgear provides the only connection between the game and other players over the internet. (note v 3.0 is a single player version only)


GOLDSTATION Eddo Stern 2011 copy

Goldstation (2012) is an interactive video game installation where the player controls five passengers afloat on a gold asteroid as they try to collect more of the precious metal. Goldstation’s keywords: bluework, whitework, Goldenwork; sweat & gold, dust & space; pickaxe, cauldron, bellows & ingots; survival of the fittest & progress to the right.


MELF (Serge) Eddo Stern2
MELF; Tsunami (Baghdad Love Shack); Man, Woman, Dragon (World of Warcraft reduction); and One with the Lotus (with Steven Seagal) (2007-09) are kinetic sculptures based on traditional notions of shadow puppetry, where light sources project moving imagery onto walls. Yet each work pulls its references from a variety of sources, from pop culture to international news.



Fake Portal (2012) This sculpture features a collage of found imagery showing tunnels, wormholes, voids, and flythroughs – the iconic abstractions of science fiction and computer culture’s spatial aesthetics; A clichéd metaphor for timeless and endless transcendence.



Emoticon (2007) A single channel projection featuring the visage of a female subject made of emoticons. “No one knows what its like Behind Blue eyes”



Best Flamewar Ever (Squire Rexz vs. The King of Bards) (2007) A 3D computer animation diptych presented as an installation. This piece recreats an online flame war dealing with the degrees of expertise needed to play the computer fantasy game Everquest. The specific points of contention may appear recondite at first glance, but gradually the unfolding narrative acquires an unexpected pathos and reveals a glimpse into the shifting codes of masculinity.


Vietnam Romance

Vietnam Romance (2003) A “Machinima“ film displayed in site specific installation made for the gallery. This piece was compiled out of sources available exclusively from computer desktop environments. A remix of the Vietnam War experience with a MIDI soundtrack and computer game clips, Vietnam Romance is a tour of nostalgia for romantics and deathmatch veterans. …Feel the Nam, the elephant grass, the red clay, the Cong, the rain, Feel the Nam



Darkgame Sensor Prototypes (2008 – 2010) A collection of Darkgame haptic sensor prototypes designed for feeling the 3D game environment, which also act as sculptures.



$10 when using the Pacific Design Center’s Parking Structure (enter off Melrose)
Or try some of the city lots:
Across the street: West Hollywood Library (enter from Robertson only) 625 N. San Vicente Blvd. WeHo, 90069 $3 per hour.
Three blocks away: Le Peer Lot (Between Santa Monica/Melrose, Robertson and Almont) 623 N L Peer WeHo, 90069 $3 per hour
Five blocks: The Beverly Center at San Vicente/Beverly and La Cienega Blvds. $1 for four hours.

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Write up of Eddo Sterns work in LA Weekly

Posted on June 7th, 2012 by David Elliot

Check out a nice write up on Eddo Sterns work in the LA Weekly:
“Eddo Stern’s Experimental Video Games Merge Art With Online Role-Playing and Virtual Reality”

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UCLA Game Art Festival featured on UCLA Today

Posted on May 16th, 2012 by David Elliot

Judy Lin has a write up on the UCLA Game Art Festival at UCLA Today. Check it out here:

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UCLA Game Art Festival mentioned in L.A. Weekly

Posted on May 12th, 2012 by David Elliot

Lenika Cruz has a write up of the 2012 UCLA Game Art Festival in L.A. Weekly’s Art & Technology blog. Check it out here:

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Game Art Festival previewed in Daily Bruin

Posted on May 9th, 2012 by David Elliot

Matthew Overstreet has a preview of our upcoming Game Art Festival. Be sure to come down to the Hammer tonight and read the story here:

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Flatland ARG!!! Featured in the Daily Bruin

Posted on May 1st, 2012 by David Elliot

Colin Reid has a write up on our work in progress, Flatland ARG!!! Read the story here:

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Chip Tune concert mentioned in Daily Bruin

Posted on April 24th, 2012 by David Elliot

Colin Reid has an article in the Daily Bruin on our upcoming Chiptune concert. Read it here:

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Week 5.5 – Exploring Unity and Primitives

Posted on April 6th, 2012 by David Elliot

Intern Joshua Cho from UCLA-CS here!

This week was spent applying some of what I’ve learned on digital-tutors about Unity. I spent some time working on building some “architecture” using primitive shapes on Unity. I applied knowledge of navigating the UI and incorporating use of some hotkeys in order to move shapes, rotate them, duplicate them, and other simple tools. However using them all together took some time to position everything correctly. At the beginning I just played around and thought of some random things to do, but towards the end I thought of making a tower. Hopefully I will be able to finish the tower and add more to the scene. If I were to finish this scene I would add colliders and physics to everything to see how the tower would topple over. Here are some pics!


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Week 5 – Bouncy Animals and Unity Mesh Creator

Posted on April 5th, 2012 by David Elliot

Bouncy Animals is a new game in progress involving the use of large bouncy balls covered by fabric animal skins and textures. The current direction that the Game Lab is leaning towards is that of a Mario Cart-Wii combination-esque game where the bouncy balls act as the “joystick” critical to maneuverance and mobility. On a four-split screen, players can steer left to right by leaning towards the respective direction and bounce to accelerate. But because there were only the physical aspects of this new game, we were only able to test out the bouncy balls wrapped by a turtle or rhino skin.

The skins themselves are made of fabric, just about the same material that your bed or pillow covers are made of. Or maybe they aren’t. Nonetheless, they cover well over half the surface area of the bouncy ball and are secured by zippers at the rear end. They are for the most part lightweight, if you exclude the weight of the head of each skin that is. Because the heads weigh significantly more, the bouncy animals enjoy having thier noses and faces pressed to the ground and refuse to stay leveled unless propped upwards while resting upon a large ring.

While riding the bouncy animals themselves, the zippers located at the rear end tend to unzip due to the compression by landing or initiating a bounce. This would cause a temporary expansion to the circumference, and in turn slowly to undos the zipper. But, it be better that the zippers unzipped rather than popping off the skin itself. Additionally, the seams of the skins may loosen and rip by the same circumstances that the zipper undergoes. There is currently plans of repair and reinforcement to the animal skins.

In addition to this, we have been able to use a tool called the Unity Mesh Creator. For our Pachinko game project, we decided to try using the Unity Mesh Creator to make 2D images into a 3D mesh. We looked up Pokemon sprites to use as our 2D images and exported them to Unity as .png files. The mesh creator did the rest as we imported the pictures into the mesh creator, turning our 2D Pikachu for instance into a mesh. We could then play around and give our mesh a rigidbody and let it bounce in Unity. Before we knew it, we had Voltorbs bouncing around our game using the Unity Mesh Creator.

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Week 4 – Testing Pachinko and Voxatron

Posted on March 28th, 2012 by David Elliot

Interns Jonathan and Joshua return once more with some random game testing.

Last week, we forgot to mention that we were able to play-test Mark Essen’s prototype Pachinko game. In the current state of the game, it’s very generic aesthetically, but the systems involved that make the game what it is work perfectly fine. Much like how one would chance his luck on the slots of Vegas, Essen’s Pachinko game functions almost entirely alike. The player initially starts with 25 credits, and every play always deducts 5 credits from the player. There are three slot reels that rapidly spin downwards, which seemingly get progressively faster up to a certain point if the player takes too long to cast a reel. Clicking on the screen causes a reel to stop, beginning from left, to middle, to right. Pictures on each of the reels denote the possible credit score if the player manages to get two or three in a row. If the player achieves two or three in a row, a payout is given, causing a stream of coins to pour from the mouth of the machine. Stubs, which actively move around until all three rolls have been cast, will cause falling coins to bounce off in a different direction, and may possibly cause them to hit the floating 2x multiplier box near the bottom of the screen. Coins that fall into the box are worth 2 credits, while those that don’t are worth 1 credit. The game ends when the player is unable to pay the 5 credits needed to play again. However, pressing the ‘M’ key will award the player with 25 coins if needed, serving as a reset after losing.

And just recently, we tried out this other game under the title ‘Voxatron’, a 3D shooting game using models constructed out of small 1×1 dimension cubes, similar to that of Minecraft or your typical Lego products. Actually, you could imagine a shooting game made out of Legos. With robots and weird creatures. For being constructed out of cubic primitives, it is aesthetically appealing and easy on the eyes. It has a tilted HUD to give perspective of the digital spaces, allowing you to see that it’s clearly 3D even though the models would seem to derive from a 2D aspect. Space is to jump, directional arrow keys to move, and X or C is to shoot. Holding the shoot button also locks your direction, so you are able to strafe, backpedal and proceed as you shoot on the move. Fortunately, unlike in some games, backpedaling does not penalize you in any way since all movements are treated as moving forward in the desired direction.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the game to control for us was the key mapping of the in-game character. Because movement is based on the directional arrow keys, which for most boards are towards the right, and shoot is mapped to the X and C keys, it can handicap players who are used to using the WASD keys for movement, due to the location of the keys. This causes a hindrance of in-game performance with the unfamiliarity of the mapping.

That’s all there is for now. We’ll be returning to work on the final project based on Pachinko once again.

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Internship Week 3 – Processing and Scripting

Posted on March 23rd, 2012 by David Elliot

In the past few days, we’ve spent time observing scripts in C# and JavaScript, learning about some of the basic albeit keystone terminology utilized in scripting languages. Below are a few of the terms covered for the week.

Int; short for integer.
Float; a non-whole number, a decimal.
String; an object, may contain characters.
Var; short for variable, can contain data.
Array; a list, can contain data.
Flow of control; order of command execution.
If/Then/Else; conditional statement, leading to ‘something’.
Operators; mathematical operation signs and symbols (e.g. ==, >=, ect.)

We’re beginning to delve into Processing as well, an open source language specializing in image creation, so that we can further understand scripting in general. Practice began by drawing examples from the program itself and analyzing the code imbedded in each instance. We were asked to create a maze-based game through Processing, but ran out of time through practice before we could get any work on it. A working project of it may be finished by next week, and will be included in the next upcoming week.

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Internship Week 2 – Beginning Development

Posted on March 14th, 2012 by David Elliot

Game Lab interns Joshua and Jonathan back for week 2 with a confirmed concept to work with. The basic idea is to create a functional game that primarily utilizes physics due to its simplicity of implementation. Included in this post is an array of image references and a rough demonstrative model.

Read more on “Internship Week 2 – Beginning Development” »

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Paolo Pedercini will present Molleindustria

Posted on March 12th, 2012 by David Elliot

March 13, 2012 at 6pm
UCLA Broad Art Center EDA

Paolo Pedercini will present Molleindustria, a project exploring the intersection of ideology and electronic entertainment. Since 2003 Molleindustria released experimental video games dealing with unusual themes such as sex, religion, labor and ecology.

Sponsored by the UCLA Game Lab
Parking directions:

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Internship Week 1 – Introduction, Maya, Goals

Posted on March 8th, 2012 by David Elliot

Game Lab interns Jonathan and Joshua here this week, and a couple things have changed since the previous year. We’ll begin with a little new and re-introduction.

Jonathan: I’m a returning Game Lab intern for round two, and this time I’m looking forward to working on something, anything that would be a step up from the previous year. I don’t have any exact plans on the end project which will be a game created through Unity and Maya, so anything for the most part is up for discussion between me and Joshua.

Joshua: I am a new intern here at the Game Lab, and I was previously interning in a research lab also in UCLA. I’m looking forward to learning some new things, and excited to learn to use these programs. Hopefully Jonathan and I will be able to make a great game and learn a lot about Unity and Maya.

Former intern Justin will not be here this time around due to personal aspirations. Joshua will take his place for the current term.

To start off the first week, we have been spending time watching tutorials on using Maya to get a feel for the UI and modelling. We know that Maya in general takes years to master, but we should have, by the time the internship is over, learned a couple of tricks here and there and have the skill required to generate a prototype game. There is no consensus as of now for what the game will be, but within the next few weeks, there should be a confirmed concept to work on.

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Unity Mesh Creator Workshop on Thursday

Posted on February 27th, 2012 by David Elliot

Join us on Thursday, where Jonathan Cecil will lead a workshop on creating meshes in Unity. 12pm, snacks and learning! The Unity Mesh Creator is a tool that allows you to easily and automatically convert 2D images into 3D models. Super Simple Super Awesome! More info on the Unity Mesh Creator can be found here:

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Game Lab hosts playtest of Foursquare

Posted on February 13th, 2012 by David Elliot

The Game Lab hosted a playtest last Thursday (2/2) for David O’Grady’s card/die-game prototype of Foursquare (the popular children’s playground game, not the social media app). Playtesters Chris Reilly, Aliah Darke, Sean Soria and Jennifer Porst graciously volunteered their time to throw down slammies, warheads, and other trick shots in an effort to knock various classmate-avatars out of the game–and earn the most bragging rights in the third-grade class!

David used the playtest to gather useful feedback on the game’s core mechanics, which require players to balance basic skill shots, rules manipulation (the server gets to “call” certain trick shots and rule variations), and social leverage to win the game. Players can yell out “That’s mean!” if they are the victim of a nasty trick shot, which allows all the players to get involved in deciding who is really out. The players provided crucial feedback to help improve the pace of the game, enhance the stakes for knocking out a player, and streamline the scoring rules.

This feedback will be reflected in the next iteration of card-based prototyping, and then the project will move into video game development. David is still assessing whether the game mechanics lend themselves to a mobile media platform or a Kinect-based interface. In the meantime, David is taking the prototype to Albuquerque, where he will talk about game development and playtest Foursquare with video game academics at the PCA/ACA regional conference (2/8-11).

If you would like to check out Foursquare, please contact David at, who will happily set up a time to play in the Game Lab.

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Posted on February 13th, 2012 by David Elliot

Submissions Now Open for the Fifth-Annual IndieCade Festival

Submit Your Game & Spread the Word! Independent developers of interactive games from around the world are invited to submit games of all types, from tabletop to text-based, alternate reality to action-adventure, roguelike to real-time strategy, to genres not yet explored!

A diverse jury of art leaders, industry luminaries, and academics will review all entries and select finalists whose games will be featured at the 2012 IndieCade Festival. Finalists will be considered for 12 awards, with winners honored at a formal Red Carpet Awards ceremony; as well during the festival with a celebration of audience and gamemaker choice awards.

All teams who submit a game will receive a festival pass and will be eligible to attend IndieXchange, a daylong on-site event offering practical master classes in how to develop the business side of independent games, as well as networking opportunities with fellow gamemakers, publishers, arts leaders, and potential funders.

For more information and to submit your game, please visit

We hope you will spread the word to independent game developers of all stripes. Indiecade invites independent game artists, creators, and designers from around the world to submit interactive media – from art to commercial, ARG to abstract, mind-bending to mobile, serious to shooter – for consideration. We encourage works-in-progress. Please explore our website for the descriptions and success stories of past IndieCade finalists.
IndieCade 2012 Information:

The fifth-annual IndieCade International Festival of Independent Games will be held October 4-7, 2012, in Los Angeles. The festival includes a Red Carpet Awards; a must-attend professional conference; the IndieXchange meeting series; an open-to-the-public GameWalk of finalist games; a continuous schedule of big games and night games; and other events. IndieCade is a traditional walking festival that occupies multiple theater, gallery, and restaurant venues and spills into the streets.

About IndieCade: IndieCade promotes independent game development globally through a series of events highlighting the rich, diverse, artistic, and culturally significant contributions of independent game developers. IndieCade’s programs are designed to bring visibility to and facilitate the production of new works within the emerging indie game community. IndieCade was formed by Creative Media Collaborative, an alliance of industry producers and leaders founded in 2005.



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Play testing David O’Grady’s Foursquare card game

Posted on February 1st, 2012 by David Elliot

If you’re around the Game Lab tomorrow at noon be sure to stop by and help us play test David O’Grady’s card game and have some pizza!

David O’Grady would like to playtest a card-game protoype of Foursquare (the playground game, not the social media application). To do so, he is looking for four playtesters for about an hour or so. David will be looking for feedback on game mechanics, strategy, game layers (basic play, meta-rules, and social effects), and anticipated issues in adapting the prototype into a possible iPhone/iPad video game.

When: Thursday, February 2nd, at noon in the Game Lab. Pizza will be provided!

About Foursquare: Foursquare is a playground game in which four players–one in each of four squares–hit a red rubber ball until a player is out, rotating up to the server square (the “4” square). Basic mechanics are a bit like playing volleyball “on the ground,” slapping a bouncing ball into an opponent’s square until someone misses. However, the richness of the game is found in more strategic shot making (calling special “knockout” shouts, for example) and in the social consequences of how one plays the game (playing “mean,” winning and/or losing “friends”). For more on the playground game (and adult league variants), please see:

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E-mail Fantasy Game

Posted on January 10th, 2012 by David Elliot

Jeffrey Scudder at Yale University recently developed a fantasy game played exclusively via e-mail. He is looking for people outside of his school community who would be interested in participating. Want to try it out? Visit to play the game.

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Interview with Eddo Stern

Posted on January 5th, 2012 by David Elliot

This is a brief interview from May 19, 2010 with Professor Eddo Stern, conducted by Vanessa Goh, a UCLA student. Eddo Stern is a professor of Design | Media Arts at UCLA who specializes in gaming and is the director of the UCLA Game Lab.

* * * * *

What first inspired you to go into game design? When did you decide to make it your career?

I decided to go into this field when I realized I should do in life what I love doing most. In the beginning gaming and art were separated in my mind. I tried combining my hobbies with work. On a day to day account I probably enjoy games more than I enjoy art. I treat game design as another artistic medium, and I enjoy exploring the possibilities as a creative form.

Besides teaching game design here at UCLA, do you have a secondary job that involves games? Do you work for any companies? What is your specific job? Are you freelance?

I work more on art pieces and independent cinema and I’d also consider myself an indie game designer (though I could be more prolific…). I got my start in the industry at a VR company called Interface Technologies. I worked as a programmer for a few years in the 90s. After that I realized I might as well be making my own games rather than creating Virtual Reality software. It turned me off to the industry. I didn’t like the 9-5 job much. Good games were created by very small teams, not huge companies. Big companies predetermine and constrain many of the creative aspects of game design. In independent design you have more freedom. In the industry you have to work with different constraints. Game design is much like film direction, script writing, or theater direction – you are in control of many variables.

What is unique about what you do? What do you contribute to the field?

I make art that involves unpredictable physical interfaces. I make games about difficult topics such as torture, political assassination, nostalgia for war, and religion. I believe that you can make games about serious issues, but they don’t have to be dry, educational objects. Instead they can be compelling and emotional but still deal with something real – and they don’t necessarily have to be a war game to do this. Society allows us to deal with issues in film that you can’t in gaming. It’s usually inappropriate to make a game about a certain topic such as 9/11 or Columbine. I never wanted the projects to be controversial; it just comes with the work. When you point to something by exaggeration it opens it up to misunderstanding. I made a game based on a film I’ve made called Vietnam Romance. It engulfs you in the romance of the war and makes it a beautiful romantic experience – the game is simultaneously a critique and an exaggeration.

What kind of formal education or technical knowledge do you need? Any other skills that come in handy?

An independent game developer has to have a variety of skills: a visual sensibility, technical proficiency, experience with modes of play, and a good ability to focus.

An industry game designer is more of a dramaturge or person who adapts a text or some form into another form, much like a creative translator.

The process of game design involves having an idea and designing a functioning system around it that other people can exist within. It usually involves reverse engineering another system. You have to utilize a lot of aspects such as visual sensibility, psychological analysis, formal logic, probability, A.I., literature, art, design, and communications. You must also be an expert on systems. Engineers can be really good game designers if they are creative.

What do you like least about your field?

Distribution models imposed by the consoles, setting a high monetary bar, controlling content, centralized control and effectively excluding a lot of creative and risk-taking creators.

Does this field financially sustain you?

It may if I was doing it without teaching.


I didn’t study game design in school. I studied math, philosophy, and art.

Who has helped/inspired you the most?

My inspiration comes from gaming and other fields such as art, film, and literature.

What have you had to sacrifice for your career?

Probably money.

What do you think the future holds for this profession?

Gaming is becoming more popular and also a more sophisticated and nuanced form. It’s certainly headed in the right direction. Someday people will be studying game design as widely as they study film, and just as richly.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to go into your field? Best course of action?

Make your own games rather than to try and go to work for a company. People will pay attention to your individual projects. Create the opportunity to work on your own games. In school classes are good, but keep a pet project going that you put a good year into to really show ‘em what you can do. Keep focused on your project. This will be your big creation. Also, if you can, take a different range of classes such as psychology, statistics, logistics, probability, engineering, and writing (for script writing).

* * * * *

See Eddo Stern’s work here.

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Fourty Hours; Ten Weeks

Posted on December 14th, 2011 by David Elliot


This is the intern duo Justin and Jonathan here for one last blog post. As you may or may not remember or know, we are seniors hailing from your friendly neighborhood UCLA Community Schools, built upon what used to be the Ambassador Hotel in Koreatown, Los Angeles. We are here for a recap of everything we’ve done in this internship at the UCLA Game Lab. It’s been 10 weeks already, yet we’ve only been at the Game Lab for 40 hours, give or take. Over the course of this time we have learned several aspects about game design. We’d like to take this opportunity to share our experience as a whole in the time we have been here with the rest of you.

We remember the first time we came to the Game Lab — one of the first few things we did that day was navigating the interface of game-making engine ‘Unity’. At first, we were just merely experimenting with the assets of the program, and it wasn’t until later that we came to better understand its various complexities. After learning the ropes of Unity, our new-found knowledge led us to being able to modify simple, prototype games. In our learning process, we attended the Unity/Game Maker workshops (hosted by Peter Lu and Mark Essen respectively), covering topics we didn’t go over before. Other than learning how to create real games from the design engines, we play-tested Peter Lu’s ‘Burn & Turn’ and Mark Essen’s ‘Dog Fights’. Congratulations to Peter Lu for the release of the game in addition to the many positive reviews it received! Both Jonathan and I are planning on buying the ‘Burn & Turn’ from the App Store and the Android Market to promote it. ‘Dog Fights’ is still in the beta phase, and whether it will be released sooner or later is out of our knowledge.

“What’s up Jonathan?!,” Justin says as he chases Jonathan and snipes him from behind with a flurry of pixelated missiles. The blocks of letters that read ‘REPAIR’ hover over Jonathan’s purple digital plane as it descends to the black abyss below. He frantically types ‘REPAIR’ as an attempt to recover from the shot, but is dumbfounded by the lonesome floating ‘R’ still clutching its vile talons onto the smoking aircraft. He panics as he is hellbent on recovery, mashing the ‘R’ button to no end. But even that proves to be futile as his plane finally crashes to the cold ground, the last ‘R’ nailing the coffin shut once and for all.

“Wow” is all he manages to say as he awaits his next respawn period. “I could have sworn I hit ‘R’ a million times there.”

Not only have we tested two games in their beta phase, but we also tried out games from Pirate Kart, a large package of games made in 48 hours by many game developers. A grand majority of the games were flat out random, such as ‘Pac-Man Without A Purpose,’ while some were fun, like ‘Metal Spawn,’ complete with decent graphics and smooth gameplay. As a rule of the thumb, we also had to learn a bit about Photoshop to see how exactly the graphics and user interfaces are integrated into these games. While using Photoshop, we also developed art assets for our own prototype games. Justin used photoshop to make game pieces for his mixture of Stoplight and Telephone. Meanwhile Jonthan used photoshop to develop concept art for his sword-fighting game. Even with all of these activities, we of course reflected these experiences and processes through blog posts. We always have something to write about on a week to week basis, whether it is a review for any of the games we’ve been testing, or even about obstacles we ran into and overcame while using Unity. It is through these blog posts that allows us to voice our input and learn from our mistakes, whether they are minor or major.

Again, it’s been 10 weeks which sadly went by faster than we expected them to. We’d like to give a thank you to all the members of the Game Lab for having us; you guys have been awesome. We’d also like to give special thanks to David Elliot, our mentor and supervisor in the internship; Peter Lu, for assisting us with our problems and allowing us to test his now-released game; and Mark Essen, for generously taking time out of his class for an interview and also allowing us to test his game that is currently still in development. We wish to come back to the Game Lab in the near future and hopefully, one day be full-fledged members.

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Unity Workshop Aftermath

Posted on December 7th, 2011 by David Elliot

Hey everyone, this is Jonathan and I’m going to go over the events that took place in the Unity Workshop. I had also participated in the workshop, although it was unfortunate that Justin was unable to attend the event. My version of the Angry Turds 3 template can be found at the end of the post as an example of what users created, covering all aspects except particle effects.

Read more on “Unity Workshop Aftermath” »

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Posted on December 7th, 2011 by David Elliot


call for original visual browser-based artworks that make creative use of canvas / WebGL / HTML5 geekery!

This Saturday WORM is hosting the ‘LGRU Networked Graphics DEMOPARTY’, an event in the context of the ‘Libre Graphics Research Unit’; a traveling lab where new ideas for creative tools are developed.

More info here:

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Unity Workshop Preview

Posted on December 2nd, 2011 by David Elliot

For those who are interested in the Unity Workshop tomorrow,

Peter Lu will be leading the Unity Workshop from 12-5 PM, and within those hours participants can expect to create their own game similar to the iPhone applications. For example, Lu’s ‘Angry Turds 3’ test project is a 3D descendent of the popular Angry Birds application, created through the Unity game engine. In a span of 30 minutes, we were able to experiment with the parameters of objects  included in the ‘Angry Turds 3’ project, including the addition of 3D objects such as a big orange cat, cylinders, platforms, ammunition and Abraham Lincoln himself. Even being new to Unity, we were able to figure out how to interact newly created objects with the game environment. This means that beginners or veterans to Unity and/or game design in general will still be able learn and create a fully functional, prototype game through the workshop.

Read more on “Unity Workshop Preview” »

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Game Maker Workshop – 2D Games Made Easy

Posted on November 30th, 2011 by David Elliot

Friday, December 9, 5:30pm – ?
Broad 4230

Get a crash course in Game Maker, a simple game design engine perfect for beginners yet able to produce more complex games as well. Make a game without writing a line of code.
Led by Mark Essen.

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Mary Flanagan livestream at Game Lab Karlsruhe

Posted on November 29th, 2011 by David Elliot

The GameLab of the Institute for Postdigitale Narrative of the
University of Arts and Design, Karlsruhe invites you to:

Mary Flanagan, media artist and game studies scholar, is holding a talk
on November 30th, 8:00 pm at the University of Arts and Design,
Karlsruhe (Germany). Subject of her talk: “Playful Systems”

The talk will be streamed live and available here:

Mary Flanagan is a media artist and one of the most acclaimed game
studies scholars. She combines creative praxis with cultural research in
her scientific work.

She has written more than 20 critical essays and chapters on the subject
of digital art, cyberculture, gaming, and responsible design. Her last
book, Critical Play was very well received by the game studies
community. Her central thesis in this book examines how games can
question established cultural rules and by doing so enable a bigger and
much richer field of game play experiences.

Besides her interdisciplinary research activities, she is well known for
her ongoing pioneering contributions to the field of digital art. Her
artwork ranges from game based systems to computer viruses, embodied
interfaces to interactive texts.


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Arcade Cabinet 2.0

Posted on November 29th, 2011 by David Elliot

Hey everybody, remember our fancy arcade cabinet from the first annual game carnival? We were running Mark Essen’s The Thrill of Combat, Peter Lu’s Roulette, and a few other games. This year we’ve decided to update the cabinet with some new features. We installed fans in the front and back compartments of the cabinet and we’re building a door for the front to better access the hardware (previously Peter would crawl inside the machine to plug stuff in).

Peter made these great router guides on the laser cutter for routing out the fan holes. The fans are recessed halfway through the wooden panels.

Here’s the hole for the door – we’re still deciding on the best mount that doesn’t disrupt the front surface of the cabinet.

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Unity Workshop – Let’s Make a Fortune!

Posted on November 28th, 2011 by David Elliot

Friday, December 2, 12pm-5pm
Broad 4230

Get a crash course in Unity, the popular game design engine! Designed for those with OR without experience – come build your skills from the ground up, or tackle more difficult problems and meet other designers. Or even make a completely new game in five hours!
Led by Peter Lu.

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Interview with the Game Lab

Posted on November 23rd, 2011 by David Elliot

Earlier today, interns Jonathan and Justin interviewed Game Lab members Peter Lu and Mark Essen. Below are the questions and answers of the interview.

Read more on “Interview with the Game Lab” »

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Burn & Turn

Posted on November 17th, 2011 by David Elliot

Burn & Turn by Robot Bear is officially released. Do check out our intern’s thorough review of the game

Burn & Turn is an arcade action game that is a the classic knight in shining armor saving damsel in distress turned on its head. In Burn & Turn you play the dragon and capture the princesses while defending your tower from knights and other medieval fan fare. Traders will drop powerups that stack and combine for “devastating effects” as you can see in the trailer. Give it a go. Burn & Turn is available on all major mobile platforms and soon to be available on PC, MAC and linux. Buy it or try it at

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Buttonmashing to the Max (Updated: 11.16.11)

Posted on November 16th, 2011 by David Elliot

UPDATE (11.16.11)

Messoff’s Dog Fights game expanded to a multiplayer game so now it you can have dog fights between you and your friends, so as long as you can hook up (an) additional keyboard(s) to your computer.  The game seems to run faster and smoother. Jonathan and myself spent a good twenty minutes blowing each other up. The controls are much more fluid and less of a hassle, so performing backflips and defensive maneuvers  are much easier than before. The repair system is still in place, and additionally, slows your fall as you try to repair.

“However, if you are like Jonathan, you would chase your opponent down even though they are on fire and keep spamming the space bar and not give them a chance to recover. >_<*” -Justin

“It’s pretty cheap of your opponent when they abuse the edges of the screen, since they cut out the ammunition from appearing on the other side of the screen, much like a wall, and therefore make your opponent that much harder to kill.” -Jonathan

Read more on “Buttonmashing to the Max (Updated: 11.16.11)” »

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Nondescript Sword-Fighting Game — A-Not-So-Complete-Game-Compendium

Posted on November 9th, 2011 by David Elliot

Recommended Number of Players: 4+
Design by Jonathan H. Bae
A work in progress…


Table of Contents
1. Abstract
2. The Grid
3. Players and Spectators (NYI)
4. Game Objectives and Modes

I. Deathmatch
II. Capture the Flag
III. Command and Conquer

5. Game Mechanics (WIP)

I. Rounds

  • IA. Preparation Phase
  • IB. Active Battle Phase
  • IC. Grid Placement

II. Points (NYI)
III. Events (NYI)
IV. Objects (NYI)
V. Line of Sight (NYI)
VI. Fog of War (NYI)
VII. Player-Controlled Mechanics (NYI)

  • VIIA. Movement
  • VIIB. Life
  • VIIC. Damage and Defense
  • VIID. Experience
  • VIIE. Upgrades
  • VIIF. Weapons
  • VIIG. Cooldowns
  • VIIH. Respawning
  • VIIII. Perks

Read more on “Nondescript Sword-Fighting Game — A-Not-So-Complete-Game-Compendium” »

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Posted on November 9th, 2011 by David Elliot

STOPPHONE (Not final name)
By Justin Rabanales


Table of Contents
I. Introduction
II. Materials
III. How to Play/Rules
IV. Points
V. What are points for?


1. Introduction
In this game of Stoplight and Telephone, One can use their drawing, communication and charade skills to try to deliver a given message to their team mates. However, sending the message is harder than one would expect. The players cannot directly say the word in which they are told to send to their team, but have to give hints!

Read more on “StopPhone” »

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From Simple to Complex

Posted on October 21st, 2011 by David Elliot

Hey everyone, this is the intern-duo from UCLA Community Schools once again and for this week, we have been asked to come up with a simple concept of a game and to expand on that idea. One of the games is a mix of Stoplight and telephone and the other involves the use of ‘sticks’ as weapons. Here’s what we conjured up in an hour’s worth of work. Read more on “From Simple to Complex” »

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“Tower & Defense” — Only You Can Set Wildfires!

Posted on October 12th, 2011 by David Elliot

Hello, this is Justin Rabanales and Jonathan Bae and we are interns at the UCLA Game Lab. We both come from the UCLA Community Schools located at the RFK ambassador site and have been interested in the Game Lab due to our love for games. The both of us have been leading a gaming career from as early as 5 years old, and have been playing games since. Our interests in video games varies from FPS to MMO, RTS to RPG, such as Crackdown, Gears, World of Warcraft and Startcraft. Being former hardcore gaming players, today we have participated in the testing phase for Peter Lu’s upcoming tower defense game, Tower & Defense (working title, subject to change) and have been asked to provide feedback. In this review we will be answering a questionaire and outlining our thoughts about this game in the making, from balance to game mechanics. Read more on ““Tower & Defense” — Only You Can Set Wildfires!” »

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October 4: Howard Marks, Co-Founder of Activision to discuss new project incubator for students at UCLA

Posted on October 1st, 2011 by David Elliot

Please join Howard Marks, well known entrepreneur, investor and visionary at an exclusive event at Melnitz Hall 1422 on October 4th at 6:15P.

Howard was the co-founder of Activision, founder of Acclaim Games and most recently Gamzee.

(Recent interview about Gamzee:

He will be talking about his new rapid incubator built to help UCLA students become successful entrepreneurs.  His new incubator is launching November 1st.  Be the first to find out about this new existing opportunity!

RSVP requested at:

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Adam Rafinski from Game Lab Karlsruhe and ZKM will be giving a talk at 5:00pm Tuesday

Posted on September 26th, 2011 by David Elliot

Adam Rafinski from Game Lab Karlsruhe and ZKM will be giving a talk and showing work from Germany
TOMORROW – Tuesday September 27, 2011 at  5:00pm
UCLA Game Lab on the 3rd floor

The GameLab Karlsruhe is a label for media art dealing with the medium of digital games and contemporary play culture. Based at the Institut for Postdigital Narration in the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design (HfG) in Germany, it focuses on artistic strategies dealing with computer games as material (Game Art) and promotes subversive game-playing strategies for contemporary art projects (Pervasive Games). The label gained attention through the provocative Serious Game “1378(km)” and their recent works on the extended definition of game-play. On Tuesday, the 27th of September at 5:00 pm Adam Rafinski, co-founder and head of the label, is going to discuss the methods and artistic research efforts, as well as present projects of GameLab Karlsruhe.


Adam Rafinski (* 1983 Chorzów, Poland) is a researcher, media philosopher, performance artist and curator. His work focuses on the aesthetics of digital culture, the role and embodiment of the subject, playfulness in culture and art, the extended definition of game-playing and the issue of presence in performance art. Since 2010 he has been a lecturer at the Media Art Department and Institute for Postdigital Narratives of the HfG and co-founder of their GameLab. He conducts classes on digital games and the culture of play. Furthermore he is working as a curator and research assistent for the Center for Art and Media (ZKM) Karlsruhe.

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Eddo Stern presents “Wizard Takes All” at the Orange Show in Houston, TX

Posted on September 17th, 2011 by David Elliot

Eddo Stern presents “Wizard Takes All” a game/theater/rockshow commissioned by the Aurora Picture Show for the Media Archeology Festival IN HOUSTON TEXAS
(with live game soundtrax by Eric “The Apprentice” Parren “)

Saturday September 17, 8-10PM

AT The Orange Show for Visionary Art, 2402 Munger Street, Houston, TX


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Summer Institute 2011 | Game Design

Posted on August 23rd, 2011 by David Elliot

Each June and July, the D|MA Summer Institute brings high school students to the UCLA campus to take classes in a variety of design-related fields. The Institute’s game design course is sponsored by the Game Lab and taught by Game Lab members.

In the span of one short week, students discuss good game design principles, begin learning the Unity environment, design their game, find or produce art assets, and finally create a finished, playable game, which other students play and offer feedback on. This is a valuable experience both for the students, who learning the process of game design and developing college-level skills, and the teachers, who are high level undergrads or graduate students getting the experience of teaching design, programming, and development skills.

Check out these videos of the student-created games:

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Game Lab Denizens at Indidecade sponsored mobile 3d game jam

Posted on August 20th, 2011 by David Elliot

Rob Manual has written a short article on Indiecade’s game jam that happened a few weeks back. Note the photos of game lab member Peter Lu (choking down on some Gamer Grub no less) as well as David Leonard in the included photographs. Several interesting projects including Miikl made by members of the game lab as well as some interesting guys from Stupid Fun Club (Will Wrights Berkeley based think tank). Finalists will be making their way to Indiecade in October for the FINAL JUDGEMENT. Click here to read the article.

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Student-Made Games from Week B of Summer Institute 2011

Posted on August 3rd, 2011 by David Elliot

Check out this video of the games made by the high school students in the second week of the DMA Summer Institute’s Game Design class, sponsored by the Game Lab. The same as last week, in only one week students both learned the Unity engine and created their games. Did you miss the games from Week A

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Student-Made Games from Week A of Summer Institute 2011

Posted on July 29th, 2011 by David Elliot

Check out this video of the games made by the high school students in the D|MA Summer Institute’s Game Design class, sponsored by the Game Lab. Students learned the Unity engine then designed and produced these games all in the span of one short week. Check back later for the games produced in Week B.

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Classical Sorting Algorithms Implemented in Hungarian Folk Dance

Posted on July 25th, 2011 by David Elliot

This dance group decided to implement classical sorting algorithms through Hungarian Folk Dance (incredibly inefficient and their particular implementation only has 8 bytes of memory but entertaining nonetheless) for your general edification. They’ve implemented classics like merge-sort, quick-sort and shell sort (a turtle free version of the favourite bubble sort). Check them out here.

Of course, if you’d like to read more into sorting algorithms whether for game design or just general knowledge we highly recommend reading through the Wikipedia page on sorting algorithms, particularly spaghetti sort (linear time complexity!) and stooge sort (worse than bubble sort but it’s funny!).

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Fantastic Arcade 2011 accepting submissions (Deadline August 1)

Posted on July 7th, 2011 by David Elliot


Fantasic Arcade games festival taking place in Austin this summer September 22-29 is accepting submissions – submit your game here!

Fantastic Arcade is looking specifically for games that will fit in to the larger context of the FantasticFest matrix of Genres – sci-fi, fantasy, heist, spy, western, horror, and monster !!

Link to arcade page and last year’s game trailers here

Here’s the official blurb:

“Fantastic Arcade fuses the world of independent film and independent gaming. We bring together artists and professionals who are telling stories and creating experiences in film, games and online entertainment simultaneously. At Fantastic Arcade, we showcase a curated selection of brand new independent games as well as a larger sampling of important groundbreaking independent games from the last couple of years.

Attendees are invited to play the games as well as interact with the game developers via panels and nightly parties and happy hours. We also feature both panels with independent filmmakers side by side with game developers and intimate demo sessions by independent game developers. Lastly, we feel that video games rightfully belong side by side with shorts and feature films at Fantastic Fest. The artistic merit of these games will be honored with both audience awards and a juried competition.”


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Eddo Stern talks at TEDxUCLA

Posted on June 17th, 2011 by David Elliot

Eddo Stern will be speaking tomorrow at the TEDxUCLA conference.

TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.

Eddo Stern is a UCLA Professor, Design Media Arts; Director UCLA Game Lab
Questions about the nature of play and our relationship to games as they accompany us on our path through life. With stops along the journey at Patty-cake, Club Penguin, Dodgeball, The Legend of Zelda : Ocarina of Time, Spin the Bottle, Mortal Kombat, Beer Pong, Solitaire, Scrabble, Farmville, Shuffleboard, Golf, and Bingo Online!

If you’re around be sure to check it out. More info can be found here:

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Walter Langelaar at UCLA: Video

Posted on May 31st, 2011 by David Elliot

On March 3, our artist in residence spoke about his work and the work of his collective. You can watch video of his talk here.

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Visually Directing the Player

Posted on May 31st, 2011 by David Elliot

(This article was originally written for in November 2009 and has been edited for this version. The game in the article, Boryokudan Rue, has since been renamed to Gemini Rue, Visit

There are few things more enlightening about what is really wrong with a game than play-testing, and if you’re lucky, physical play-testing with a real, breathing person. The creator of a game always views things in a certain lens that skews the true perception of what’s going on, what’s needed, and what’s really visible to the player. For instance, in some of the play-tests I’ve had, I would run into a recurrent problem about the player’s visual direction–I want the player to go a certain way, open a certain door, or go down a certain ramp–but what’s the obvious direction for me is not the obvious direction for the player.

This doesn’t mean that the player is mentally impaired or “bad at video games.” On the contrary, one philosophy that I try to abide by in game-design is that there are no bad players–only bad designers. If a player feels stupid, cheated, or frustrated, it shouldn’t be the player’s fault. It should be the designer’s responsibility to prevent the player from feeling this way, and in order to do this, there exists the much beloved activity of play-testing.

There are many problems that arise out of a good play-test, but I’m going to focus on the aforementioned one of “visual direction,” to guide the player a specific way.

First, what is “visual direction?” I would define it as using visual elements on screen to give the player a specific direction to reinforce her gameplay goals. For example, a giant arrow pointing down a hallway telling the player to go this way, not that way.

Why do we need visual direction in games? Sure, there’s some fun in being thrown into a non-linear situation with no direction or hint as to which way to proceed, but oftentimes the player needs a reinforcement of her goals, a reminder of what she should be doing. If I’m presented with a choice of three random doors, one of which continues on the correct path, the other two on the wrong path to my doom, I don’t want to recurrently guess which way to go and end up spending half my time going the wrong way only to turn around and try to find the correct path again. By using visual direction (a cue hinting the player which way to go) to restrict non-linearity, you decrease the amount of time that a player is lost and confused, and increase the amount of time that the player is pursuing her goals, arguably creating a more enjoyable experience for her.

Why use visual direction instead of directly telling the player what to do? So you may ask, why not just out-right state to the player, “Go to this screen. Open this door. Exit this hallway”? The answer is because you want the player to feel like she has solved something, that she was the one who discovered the solution, not was told it. It’s the same principle in any Zelda game when you realize that the little eye on the monster’s back is glowing and that is the key to defeating him. You weren’t told directly that this was the solution, but you inferred it by the game’s visual direction.

In some scenes in Boryokudan Rue (minor spoilers below), my current project, I wanted the player to do many things: interact with a cord on the ground, exit a screen to the right, go down a ramp to an adjacent room, etc. But many times the player would totally miss these items on the screen and be lost for several minutes before even realizing those elements existed. To solve these problems, I proposed the following solutions:

1) Lighting Cues
The first visual feature I adapted to help guide the player is lighting. Negatively, nothing is more visually confusing than a monotonous wash of colors that blend into each other. With this, the player cannot tell what is going on, what is where, or what he has to do. One easy way to combat this and direct the player’s eyes to a certain spot is by using lighting cues to contrast with the rest of the background.

In this screen, which occurs during the latter half of the game, I had several goals. First, I wanted to develop the player’s sense of a journey by making visible the city in the distance, a location that he had visited earlier. This is to provide him with a visual reward for all the progress he had made. Second, I wished to present the player’s next location, an abandoned “warehouse” (spoiler alert!), seen on the right. However, as the scene exists above, it could still be improved by directing the player more efficiently.

Originally the only light source was the lamp on the left, which highlighted the player’s entrance. However, the direction as to where to go from here is slightly ambiguous because the rest of the background is somewhat monotonous in color and value, although there is only one visible exit. To accentuate the player’s direction, I added a spotlight over the door.

This contrasted the right side of the environment with its dark surroundings, directing the player to go to the door rather than anywhere else. Through lighting, the game prevents the player from wandering around unnecessarily and gets him back to their goals more efficiently.

2) Hotspots
The second feature, although being text, is a hotspot indicator. This involves directly stating to the player that yes, this is an element of the background you will need to interact with, and yes it is there. Many games use this feature to indicate exits on a screen with an arrow of some sorts, but in my case I just used a label.

This environment, which is explored during the introduction of the game, is meant to illustrate the city life of New Pittsburg. The windows suggest the city’s inhabitants who are cooped up inside, the presence of the vendor gives life to the scene, and the moody lighting indicates further action beyond the immediate side-street. I made the major sources of light indicative of the key gameplay elements in the background: the shopkeeper’s hut, the red door, and the back alley (I also have the windows lighted up, which in retrospect, I’m not sure is a good idea since it attracts attention away from everything else). However, this area had the problem of unidentifiable exits, one of which was harder to spot than the others.

Some players did not realize that you could walk behind the shopkeeper into an alley in order to gain access to an additional area. Since I already added a secondary red light source coming from the alley (which failed to attract enough attention), I created an additional hotspot label, “Back Alley” on top of it to tell the players that they could go down this way. This directly communicates to the player that the alley was a feature of the game by giving her feedback every time she moved the mouse over the alley. Thus, this use of a hotspot helped solved the problem of the player missing the exit.

3) Animation
Sometimes using both lighting and hotspots isn’t enough for a player to figure out that he needs to interact with something. In this case, a third useful element is animation. This could involve flickering a light on or off, rain dripping out of a leak, or dust particles floating in the air. Motion draws attention to itself and subsequently the objects contained in or near the motion.

The following screen is in a dark and moody room, which I utilized to create fewer, more important swabs of light. These important swabs of light would direct the player’s attention to the parts of the screen that mattered. In this spot I wanted players to pick up a cord on the ground in order to solve a puzzle. However, even with the additional lighting the cord would still be missed by players.

What I then did was create a particle animation that recycled in the light, drawing further attention to that area. This was just a simple animation of dust pixels falling, but it stood out from the rest of the screen because of its dynamic nature in contrast to the static background, drawing the player’s attention to it. This animation was just one more step to help the player concentrate on the puzzle, rather than spending his time looking for it instead.

4) Contextual Trails
The last item to guide the player visually is something I will call, for sake of convenience, “contextual trails.” This last image illustrates a small ramp that players needed to access to continue, but due to its somewhat tangential location on the screen, players would continually miss it. I tried lighting, hotspots, and all that good stuff, but I eventually realized there was a much simpler solution.

My solution: blood. When all else fails, blood can solve any problem. Add blood to a scene, lead it down a path, and the player will be helpless but to follow it. And it doesn’t have to be blood either–it can be footsteps, water, or anything that leaves a trail. Blood just happens to come with the added narrative weight of tension (you are in danger!), conflict (somebody killed him!), and history (there was a past here!), which inadvertently enhances the atmosphere. Visually indicating that someone else in the game has already walked this path is probably the most surefire way to move the player without directly telling her to do so.

Visual indicators are a great way of leading the player to her goals without being overbearing. Without this, players may feel lost or spend unnecessary time wandering around rather than actually playing the game. Visual direction is meant to maximize the time that players spend involved in the gameplay, rather than looking for the gameplay itself.
However, there are many other things you can do visually that also communicate to the player, but in a different way. You can shake the screen to increase tension, telling the player to hurry up on her merry way; you can flash the screen red to indicate that she is pressed for time; you can animate lights failing to indicate the worn-down condition of the environment—so much can be done visually in games to communicate to the player and enhance the atmosphere that cannot be done with text.
Games are all about providing absorbing experiences, and visual direction is just one way to enhance that. I’m sure there are many more ideas that are out there and I’d love to hear and discuss them. It’s important to utilize every aspect, visual or otherwise, to continually communicate with the player in order to provide a better gaming experience.

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UCLA Game Lab Reel

Posted on May 17th, 2011 by David Elliot

See our first reel of UCLA game work! And don’t forget about the Intermural Game Carnival on May 19th at UCLA!

Featured work (click for more information):

Tube Monkey (Monica Harvancik, Peter Lu, Max Chang)
Battle (David Elliott)
Pipedreamz (Mark Essen)
Blinky-Chanty Box (Richard Caceres, Madeline Gallagher)
Steampunk Hangman (Adeline Ducker)
Material Girl (Abraham Roh, Keiko Sakurai)
Hull Loss (Nova Jiang)
Deiti II (Gleb Denisov, Pinar Yoldas, Alex Schleider)
Knights of Cydonia (Steven Amrhein, Zev Solomon)
Cube3(David Elliott, Peter Lu)
Gemini Rue (Joshua Nuernberger, Nathan Allen Pinard)
Binary Glove (Pete Hawkes)
Flatland (Eddo Stern)
Roulette (Peter Lu)
American Boy (Adeline Ducker, Mikal Salveit)
Jabberwocky (Gleb Denisov, Jasleen Singh)
Binary Hangman (Ben Mandiberg)
Cave (Peter Lu)
Corporate Ladder (David Elliott)
Monkey Soup (Steven Amrhein, Adeline Ducker, Joe Tsai)
Darkgame (Eddo Stern)
Body Hack (Erik Siu)
Rhythm Game (George Michael Brower)
Bangman S&M Euro Rave (Eric Parren)
Turbo Turbo Turbo (Mark Essen)
Cosmic Cardinal Catching (Cindy Fangway, Matt Miller)
Tealeaf Dancer (Gleb Denisov, Steven Wilson)

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1st Annual Intermural Game Carnival

Posted on May 11th, 2011 by David Elliot

Come one, come all, to the first annual Intermural Game Carnival!
Presented by the UCLA Game Lab, this year’s event showcases student game projects from several southern California schools – UCLA, USC, and UCI – with plans to expand in coming years. A night of fun, food, games, and art, this event is a great place to meet game designers and artists from other schools and see their work!
Click here to see the event page.

Thursday May 19, 2011, 5:00pm – 9:00pm
Experimental Digital Arts space (EDA), on the first floor of the Broad Arts Center (UCLA North Campus)

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Interview with Cactusquid

Posted on April 20th, 2011 by David Elliot

Jonatan Söderström, an award-winning game designer better known as Cactus of, is known for his frenetic working style – he tends to work very intensely on one project for a relatively short time before moving on to the next. His method usually results in short and very unpredictable games, combining throwback 8-bit style and simplicity with wild experimentation in narrative and game expectations.
Here Cactus tells us about his background, his goals, and his thoughts on the current state of independent game design.

* * * * *

Was game design your first creative outlet?

No, I think the first creative outlet for me was drawing stuff as a kid, from random pictures to short comics. Nothing memorable, though. Then I moved on to music, and I tried doing a short film in high school. Music was a lot of fun, but it was hard to get any attention since music attracts a lot of different people, and in a lot of ways music isn’t even about being creative but rather about getting attention. By that I mean that a lot of musicians are more interested in bragging about their technical skills (kind of like a sport), to get laid or for other social reasons, and not really because they want to create.

I’m the same when it comes to games, to a big extent. I make games because I want people to give me their attention, but at the same time I do have creative visions and urges that are satisfied by what I do.

You’ve said in the past that you seek out entertainment that is alien to you, that makes you feel weird or puts you in someone else’s head. What kind of effects do you hope to create for players of your own games?

Pretty much the same effects you mentioned. But I haven’t been doing a very good job of it. I do make games that are kind of strange, but largely in a very superficial way. They have a weird element, but that element is often not explored to any bigger extent, and not as much in focus as I would’ve actually preferred.

You’re a very prolific creator and some of your shorter games get overlooked. How do you feel that games like Space Fuck, Stench Mechanics, Stallions in America, and This is Infinity, which all do something very unique, fit into your whole body of work? Or are these games just individual experiments?

Out of those games, I think This is Infinity is the strongest title. But again, I failed in all of these to create a truly compelling experience. I should’ve spent more time with Stench Mechanics to give it a good story, but I decided to release the competition version, which was made in just two days and left both “puzzles” and the story to be mediocre at best. Stallions in America I made in six hours, and I think the context in which the game took place could’ve been made a lot more interesting if I had developed some kind of actual significance to it. Space Fuck is pretty naive and probably didn’t have much more potential beyond what I did with it. I could’ve spent some time to actually make it feel right, as that is the only place where it fails.

You mentioned in another interview a while ago that you wished there were more games with sophisticated stories targeted towards adults. Are you seeing that anywhere today?

To be completely honest, no. The only games I’ve played that have had intellectually stimulating stories for me were La La Land 2 & 3. They weren’t exactly intelligent games, but they shocked me and changed my view on games forever. In both games you are forced through a sequence of events that you have no actual possibility of affecting at all, but they would be extremely ineffective if you weren’t the one prodding the character on the screen to move and make the choices that he in no way can escape anyhow.

There are other games where the creator puts rather standard gameplay concepts into interesting contexts or infuses clever plots, though. I think the short text blurbs in Flywrench in between planets really give the game something special, and Space Funeral has this amazing atmosphere that comes from the character traits, environment, music and nature of the dialogue.

I think a lot of independent game designers right now are underestimating the power of context. Many people who make games think that gameplay is the only thing important when it comes to games. But that is simply not true.

There are many examples that show this, for instance Harpooned by monoRAIL, a pretty normal shoot ‘em up that made it onto the national news because it was put into the context of whaling. Personally, I don’t find this very interesting, but it’s nonetheless an accomplishment. I think you can employ similar tactics to make the player find more personal interest in the game, which is seen in a lot of mainstream games. However, these themes and contexts are usually very broad, so that they can catch the attention of millions of people.

What I want to see is smaller games catering to niche audiences, so that instead of creating a game that a lot of people can find something to like in, you create a game that a fewer amount of people will find truly compelling in a life altering way.

Basically, what is more interesting: pushing a button if you are told that it will score you a point in the game you’re playing, or that it will cause someone to die? Both actions are the same, and both results are illusions, so why do they feel so different?

* * * * *

Play the games at

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Interview with Scott Stoddard

Posted on April 19th, 2011 by David Elliot

Scott Stoddard is a game designer with several Flash titles to his name, but he was propelled to popularity with his Robot Unicorn Attack, which boasts an incredible number of plays and a devoted fan community. Before his lecture and workshop at UCLA on February 17 and 18, Scott tells us about Robot Unicorn‘s development and how he measures a game’s success.

* * * * *

How did you become a game designer?

I was into traditional art growing up, then got into computer animation as I was finishing high school. I planned on going into movies, but in college I learned Flash at a part time job and started making games. I fell in love with the experience of interacting with my creations. From there I got a day job making console games while I continued developing indie flash games on the side.

What other games have you made aside from Robot Unicorn Attack?

Besides Robot Unicorn, the most popular have been Mad Shark, Capoeira Fighter 3, and Guardians of Altarris.

Mad sharks, cyborg livestock, Capoeira fighters, robot unicorns? Where do you draw inspiration for your games?

My games are inspired by things I’m passionate about. I’ve loved sharks since I was a little kid, and I’d always wondered what it would be like to be a shark. Mad Shark lets you do that. I learned Capoeira in college while I was studying animation, and combined it with my love for the Street Fighter games to do my own take on the fighting genre.

And of course I’ve loved video games since I was a kid. Many of my games are riffs off games I played on my Nintendo and Super Nintendo.

Do you collaborate with others when you design and build games?

The original kernel is usually mine, but I’ve had great help from friends, especially my painter and gamer friend Adam Ford, musician friend Ethan Halvorsen, and talented artists / writers Trent and Melissa Halvorsen. Having good talented friends with great taste in games is a must for any developer.

Why Robot Unicorn Attack? Where did the idea originate?

I had a two month window to wrap up freelance work before starting with ChAIR Entertainment (creators of Shadow Complex and Infinity Blade). Adult Swim wanted me to fit in one last game, and I wanted to try out some game play ideas inspired by Adam Atomic’s Canabalt and a talk I had just heard on flow theory.

The art was inspired by my fetish for so-bad-it’s-good fantasy art. Robot unicorns are a sorely underutilized icon, and rainbows really do make everything better.

How did you get permission to use the Eraser song?

Working with Adult Swim has its perks. They handled the business side and costs for licensing the song. From what I’ve read Erasure has added lots of new fans because of the game, so I think they’re glad they let us use the song.

Why do you think Robot Unicorn Attack is so popular?

The concept is so out there, I think people sort of felt like it was a badge of honor to be the first to tell their friends about this ridiculous game. Then I think the gameplay was fun enough to keep people coming back.

I think it also walks that fine line, combining edginess of Adult Swim humor that appeals to teens, without being too offensive for younger audiences.

What do you consider a successful game?

One that I like to play. With my own games, when I get past the prototype stage, if I find myself playing the game more than making it, I know I’ve got something good.

What are you working on now and can we expect from Scott Stoddard in the future?

I’m fully committed to my awesome team at ChAIR Entertainment for the foreseeable future. We’re just wrapping up the final updates on Infinity Blade for iPhone, and after that… if it’s with ChAIR, I’m sure it will be something that’s loads of fun to play.

What do you think games will be like 10 years from now?

Commercially and technology-wise, the iPhone phenomenon has a lot of momentum right now. HD wireless streaming is right around the corner, and I wouldn’t be surprised if within a few generations your phone becomes your console for mobile play, and if at home you were streaming games right to your TV.

Artistically, I think games are still very young. I think art matters if it affects how we live and changes the choices we make, like the best movies and books do. I hope that games are able to get to that point where they can add more meaningful substance to the basic entertainment that they tend to be now. I hope I can someday make a game that accomplishes that.

* * * * *

Get more information on Scott Stoddard’s lecture and workshop at UCLA here.

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Walk Cycles

Posted on April 19th, 2011 by David Elliot

When drawing your first walking animation, it’s easy to be intimidated by the frequent use of Eadweard Muybridge’s photo montages in many animation books.

Getting a believable looking walking animation for a game character is pretty simple though, especially at low resolution. Mario’s walk cycle from the original Super Mario Bros., for example, was only 3 frames.

It’s actually missing a lot of what we think of as key points. The right leg never makes contact with the ground, and the left leg never extends forward. If a walk cycle covers one leg’s complete cycle from extension to contact to trailing to raising we really only have the first half of an animation here, but it works in the context of the game. Everything in SMB is choppy and goofy, and the action is too quick for the player to really notice… and come on, they didn’t have the memory to store a million frames anyway.  You do.

So here’s one way to do a super smooth walk cycle called “Budget Rotoscoping”:
Find an existing sprite out there in the world from your favorite game. I forget what game this is from but it’s a pretty cool gladiator animation.

8 frames looped, a decent length if your game is super small format or low framerate; but if it appears as big as I’ve blown it up here, running in a 60fps game it looks pretty choppy.

THIS IS AN OK LOOK FOR ROBOTS (but not people)

The first thing to do is abstract away all the detail and make it easier for us to work on the motion of the sprite quickly. Make the guy entirely one color, then smash him down to 25-50%.
(I’ve blown all the sprites up to the original size for the purposes on analysis but you should work on them at their smaller scale)

Here it is in motion:

Now to smooth out the animation. First we’ll double the frame count so there’s two of each frame. What was originally frame 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 is now 1,1,2,2,3,3,4,4,5,5,6,6,7,7,8,8; so 16 frames total. To smooth out the animation just edit every duplicate frame so that it transitions between its neighboring frames. It’s pretty simple work and doesn’t have to be super precise yet, as long as every limb changes a little bit per frame it’ll probably look ok.

and in motion–

My gif exporter wont let me change the framerate but the above animation should be running twice as fast.

Now we have to think about how the sprite is going to be used in a game. Since the character will be moving at a constant rate (or at least have the animation speed change based on horizontal speed) we need to make sure the feet wont slide across the ground unrealistically. You can see in the animation below that we still have some problems in this area.

The animation speed vs ground speed is matched pretty well but there are some frames that hold the foot position on the ground too long. This is called “slippage”– when the character looks like he’s rollerskating. I went back into the animation and shifted the entire position of the figure in the frame during these moments of slippage. Some surrounding frames had to be adjusted because of this. It’s looking pretty smooth now.

Now we can work on the look of it. Separate all the limbs by coloring them differently, then smooth out shapes and add details. I gave the guy boots first, then gloves, and finally a hat. I also made him rotate his head and body a little more naturally with his stride. Partially this was a function of working from a silhouette which forced me to imagine the placement of each limb for each frame. I ended up changing a lot of different pieces along the way. If you make a practice of constantly flipping between frames you’ll get a feel for what needs adjusting.

and in (slow) motion:

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Posted on April 13th, 2011 by David Elliot

Did you miss Scott Stoddard’s lecture on February 17 about his use of flow theory in the development of his incredibly popular game, Robot Unicorn Attack? Never fear: you can watch the video of his presentation here.

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Gemini Rue Published

Posted on March 30th, 2011 by David Elliot

The IGF award nominee Gemini Rue has finally been published by Wadjet Eye Games and is available for purchase.

Azriel Odin, ex-assassin, arrives on the rain-drenched planet of Barracus to find someone. When things go horribly wrong, he can only seek help from the very criminals he used to work for.

Meanwhile, across the galaxy, a man called Delta-Six wakes up in a hospital with no memory. Without knowing where to turn or who to trust, he vows to escape before he loses his identity completely.

As fate brings these two men closer together, we discover a world where life is cheap, identities are bought and sold, and a simple quest for redemption can change the fate of a whole galaxy.

Gemini Rue is a neo-noir, full length point ‘n click adventure game, encompassing a dual narrative. Gemini Rue features traditional adventure game elements, such as puzzle-solving, dialog systems, and more, but also incorporates more unorthodox features, including an action system, and an investigations system.

I had the privilege of beta testing the game and the features added since then are quite impressive including voice acting and new character portraits. We are real excited that this game has finally been released.

Help support our indy developers and try out this fantastic game! Buy the game here.

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Nidhogg wins Nuovo Award at IGF!

Posted on March 21st, 2011 by David Elliot

Game Lab artist-in-residence Mark Essen’s game Nidhogg, nominated for several awards at the 2011 Independent Games Festival, won this year’s Nuovo Award, given for “abstract, short-form, and unconventional game development.”

See more of Mark’s work here.

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IndieCade 2011 Submissions Now Open

Posted on March 21st, 2011 by David Elliot


//IndieCade 2011 Submissions Now Open

IndieCade was established to create vibrant festivals and showcases dedicated to independent games and open to the public. It is our goal to showcase exciting and innovative new work, host productive networking environments, hold important discussions, and have a lot of fun.

IndieCade invites independent game artists and designers from around the world to submit interactive media of all types. Work-in-progress is encouraged.

A diverse jury of industry leaders will select entries for finalists and top awards at the IndieCade 2011 Festival. All entries for the Festival will also receive consideration for presentation at additional IndieCade showcases.

Gamemakers and their teams are supplied with passes to all the events they are selected and all related IndieCade social events. It is IndieCade’s ultimate goal to bring the eye of the public and industry to your games.


//Submission Processing Deadlines and Fees

Submissions open March 1, 2011 and close May 31, 2011. Late submissions will be accepted until June 15, 2011 with an additional fee.

IndieCade is an independent organization. All submission fees are used specifically and entirely to cover the costs associated with processing your submission.

Early Submissions March 1 – March 31, 2011: The early submission processing fee is $35.

Standard Submissions April 1 – May 31, 2011: The standard submission processing fee $45.

Late Submissions June 1 – 15, 2011: Submissions Close May 31, 2011, however late submissions will be accepted from June 1 – June 15, 2011 for a $70 processing fee.

If you have a discount code you may apply only one code per entry.

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Roll your own OS, a workshop with Walter Langelaar

Posted on March 16th, 2011 by David Elliot

Since Walter’s lecture where he talked about the Wi-Fi hacking workshops that he runs in Europe, we had a huge demand for one here. We’re real excited to announce that Walter will be running his notorious Why-Fi workshop before he leaves his residency here. Workshop is TOMORROW, get more info here.

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UCLA Game Lab presents Clinton Keith Game Development with SCRUM Workshop

Posted on March 8th, 2011 by David Elliot

Scrum is an iterative, incremental framework for agile software development. Clinton Keith combines his experience as both video game developer and Agile practitioner to apply Scrum philosophy to the unique challenges of video game development. Blizzard, Lucas Arts, Apple, and EA, are just some of his myriad well known clients.

From Wikipedia:

Scrum is a process skeleton that contains sets of practices and predefined roles. The main roles in Scrum are:

  1. the “ScrumMaster”, who maintains the processes (typically in lieu of a project manager)
  2. the “Product Owner”, who represents the stakeholders and the business
  3. the “Team”, a cross-functional group of about 7 people who do the actual analysis, design, implementation, testing, etc.

During each “sprint”, typically a two to four week period (with the length being decided by the team), the team creates a potentially shippable product increment (for example, working and tested software). The set of features that go into a sprint come from the product “backlog”, which is a prioritized set of high level requirements of work to be done. Which backlog items go into the sprint is determined during the sprint planning meeting. During this meeting, the Product Owner informs the team of the items in the product backlog that he or she wants completed. The team then determines how much of this they can commit to complete during the next sprint, and records this in the sprint backlog.[6] During a sprint, no one is allowed to change the sprint backlog, which means that the requirementsare frozen for that sprint. Development is timeboxed such that the sprint must end on time; if requirements are not completed for any reason they are left out and returned to the product backlog. After a sprint is completed, the team demonstrates how to use the software.

Scrum enables the creation of self-organizing teams by encouraging co-location of all team members, and verbal communication between all team members and disciplines in the project.


Clinton Keith will be giving a workshop on game development with SCRUM this Thursday in the UCLA Game Lab. Spaces are limited, RSVP today.

Check out the event page here:

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Artist in Residence Lecture: Walter Langelaar

Posted on February 28th, 2011 by David Elliot

Walter Langelaar is a Dutch artist who lives and works in Rotterdam and Berlin. Currently working in the field of post-interactive sculpture, he deploys dedicated machines into a variety of gallery, festival and party circuits. His working interested include open source game engines, bot AI and neural networks, and “strange loops” through virtual and physical realities. He works with a wide variety of media including computer games, hacked electronic devices, software, video, sculpture and performance.

online at:

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Nidhogg at GDC – Tournament and Afterparty

Posted on February 25th, 2011 by David Elliot

Nidhogg, a game by Game Lab artist-in-residence Mark Essen, has been nominated for the Excellence in Design, Nuovo, and Grand Prize awards at this year’s Game Developers Conference. Are you going to be in San Francisco for the conference? Be sure to make it to the Nidhogg tournament and afterparty on March 2.

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Game-Movie Nightz: “Double Dragon”

Posted on February 24th, 2011 by David Elliot

Come help us kick off our game movie series with Double Dragon, the under-appreciated 1994 film adaptation of the classic game. Snacks! Fun! Roundhouse kicks!

Monday, February 28, 5 PM
Broad Art Center – EDA

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Scott Stoddard in the Daily Bruin

Posted on February 16th, 2011 by David Elliot

The Game Lab lecture and workshop with Scott Stoddard were featured in the Daily Bruin. Check out the full story.

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Interview with Cactusquid

Posted on February 3rd, 2011 by David Elliot

Visit the Game Lab site to read an interview with Cactus, prolific designer of games dabbling in the bizarre, the absurd, the experimental, the amazing.

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Coordinate Quest

Posted on February 2nd, 2011 by David Elliot

Tonight at 6 is Coordinate Quest, a game by Tom Sennet whom you might remember as the quirky developer behind games like Tom Sennet, Procrastinator and the perhaps slightly more interesting but no less ridiculous RunMan: Race Around the World.

The goal is to assemble a team and coordinate together to find all the MACGUFFIN MUFFINS before anyone else. Upon finding all muffins, each team can email Tom Sennet with the coordinates for ETERNAL GLORY. Alas, finding these muffins is no easy task, Tom explains, “it’s not merely a matter of walking around to find these muffins. There are obstacles – obstacles which can only be overcome by skill, cunning, and coordination.” Check out the full description of the game here, and once you have your team assembled, sign up here.

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So Many Rooms!

Posted on February 2nd, 2011 by David Elliot

After two days, Global Game Jam is over!

Some guys you might recognize organized “So Many Rooms” as part of the Global Game Jam. The premise is to implement their flash api (templates interfacing this api with flashpunk and flixel were also provided) and create a one room game. When the game ends, it automatically transitions to the next. Players can also hit Return to skip to the next game. All games are controlled only with the arrows keys, z and x. Over 30 rooms were submitted! The games themselves as you might imagine offer a wide range of gameplay. Some generic, some unique, some downright weird. It’s particularly interesting to experience the second level of gameplay that is created with the additional option of skipping games. I also found myself wishing I could go back to previous games that abruptly ended for whatever (arbitrary) reason.

You can play the games over at So Many Rooms.

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Call for Game Papers on wikicfp

Posted on February 2nd, 2011 by David Elliot

Wiki calls for papers is a searchable directory of open calls for paper. There’s a fairly large “Game” category on the site as well so if you have a paper on games you want to submit, mosey on over to see if one of the calls fits your paper.

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Cube 3

Posted on January 29th, 2011 by David Elliot

Cube 3 is a mobile puzzle game made as a collaboration by several members of the Game Lab.

Cube 3 is a competitive puzzle game reminiscent of tic-tac-toe. The game is played on a 3×3 cube and the winning conditions of the game are the same as tic tac toe.  The trick is that while you can tilt the device around to look at all 6 sides, you can only play on the “top” face of the cube. At the end of your turn, you must rotate the cube to an adjacent face by flicking it in the desired direction. The next player can only play on that face. We feel the game is intellectually challenging but not so much so to be a completely confusing. The interface is designed to take advantage of the mobile platform giving the digital game a sense of existing in physical space. A large effort was put into creating a physical copy of the game as well. The physical cube is made from silicone cast in a complex milled three part mold.

Cube 3 is available for phones running iOS or Android. Get it from the official site here

Also be sure to check out the trailerfor the game made by several students from UCLA’s school of Theater Film and Television.

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Upcoming Lecture by Mark Cerny

Posted on November 18th, 2010 by David Elliot

On Tuesday, November 30, the Game Lab is partnering with the International Game Developers Association to host a lecture by Mark Cerny. Mark Cerny is an important figure in the American video game industry, having worked on classic titles like Marble Madness and Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and now owning Cerny Games and working as a consultant in the industry.

Lecture description:

Video games have changed at a dizzying pace over the last decades, and not just in team size and budget. What is a “good” game? What constitutes “best” practices? What was true yesterday is not necessarily true tomorrow! Mark will speak on the history of the
videogame industry — at least the parts he’s seen personally — and how it informs the future.

This event takes place on Tuesday, November 30, at 6:30pm in the EDA (Experimental Design Arts) in the Broad Center at UCLA.

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Preserving Videogame Culture

Posted on October 12th, 2010 by David Elliot

On November 12-14, the UCLA Film and Television Archive is holding a symposium entitled “Reimagining the Archive: Remapping and Remixing Traditional Modes in the Digital Era.”

We’re especially interested in the panel “Saving the Game: New Approaches to Preserving Videogame Culture.” This panel includes scholars from Stanford, UT Austin, the University of Arizona, and Arizona State University, and will explore archiving of pre-release documentation and versions, collecting user-created game artifacts (such as machinima) that reflect the culture surrounding games, and even rethinking entire concepts and methods of videogame and culture archives.

This panel takes place in the James Bridges Theater at 3:30 on Saturday, November 13.  See the full schedule of events here.

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It’s Official – UCLA Game Lab website is now UP

Posted on October 8th, 2010 by David Elliot

Assuming you did not just come from the Game Lab site, CLICK HERE to check it out.

Coinciding with Indiecade, we are happy to announce that the UCLA Game Lab site as well as the blog are now officially public.  We’re working hard on producing and adding content on the main site and keeping this blog updated, so please do visit again.  And if you are around Culver City, be sure to head on over to Indiecade where you might just bump into one of us.

Expect much more from us soon.

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Posted on September 4th, 2010 by David Elliot

This weekend LOVE by Eskil Steenberg is free to download and play.

We’re very excited to give this game a try.  LOVE is the devoted work of one person, and in this MMO the motive is to collaborate with other players against a common enemy. The game has a vast manipulatable landscape to build structures on and looks just darn fantastic. Grab the game over at

By the way, we don’t just LOVE Steenberg for his game but he also has some really inspiring views on creative design from a technical standpoint. Check out his lecture on the technology and motivation behind LOVE. It’s better than any TED talk I’ve seen.

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D|MA Summer Institute 2010 Week 1 Games

Posted on June 26th, 2010 by David Elliot

Every year, the UCLA department of Design|Media Arts hosts several one week summer camp sessions – in the fields of graphic design, web, video, and of course, gaming – for older high school students. In past years, gaming has been taught by David Elliot, our current Game Lab manager, but this year gaming is being taught by Jonathan Cecil with TA Peter Lu. This year, Week 1 has a record enrollment of 13 students. These students had just one week to design and create a Flash based platformer. Check out all of the interesting project here. Also expect an upcoming interview with Joseph Midgett, one of our outstanding students.

Be sure to check out the Summer Institute home page. This site has all links to past Summer Institute projects as well as this year’s.

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Interview with Eddo Stern

Posted on June 10th, 2010 by David Elliot

This is a brief interview with professor Eddo Stern, conducted by Vanessa Goh, a UCLA student. Eddo Stern is a professor of Design|Media Arts at UCLA who specializes in gaming and is the director of the new UCLA Game Lab. Read more on “Interview with Eddo Stern” »

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