JP's Story

My independent game work stretches back many years. Here's my story: how early creative exploration led to a professional career, and how that's intertwined with my independent work ever since.

1994-96 1997-98 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
solo work
My first Doom level, from July of 1994. Pretty terrible! Gotta start somewhere. Chess players. Everyone who had a ray tracer back in the day was required to make a scene like this. 3D Studio render of 'the green things', architectural feature in the Oakridge upper school commons.
Motion Graphics class(?) assignment A Day with Mr. Spoon Melancolia
The Commons Night as Day: Twilight demo Night as Day: Babylon World's Fair poster
CTF-Might (unreleased) CTF-Might (unreleased)
DM-ScreamingVoid DM-ScreamingVoid
Quake 3 version of Clokwerk Teraverse - early puls burst FX in a test space
DM-Clokwerk GO UI mockup AXON - Flash game and learning exercise
Teraverse SOLO.RUN level rough Early version of trails effect in tutorial world. Burst FX and score system
Chess 3 Arena DM-Naked1 editor shot
We & the Beests prototype Purity early environment test
Purity shot 1 Purity shot 3 Purity shot 2
sfxplorer experiment Arcadia Demade in SLADE Doom map editor
Arcadia Demade - Langford's office Popular prototype
Floq processing sketch
EDSCII Spacebase summer 2012 PETSCII prototype
Manuel Calavera poetry twitter bot
Ultima IV map viewer GL redux Playscii mockup
Playscii Art Mode Playscii Game Mode Endless Ladder Climbing 2 title screen
In the beginning, I was a kid tinkering in a bedroom in Texas. Two tools, scavenged from floppy disks - a Doom level editor and a 3D modeling program - gave me the means to create worlds. I was hooked, and a year after seeing "Toy Story" I headed to university thinking I would be a 3D animator. At the Savannah College of Art and Design, I forged some lasting friendships and learned to express myself visually. Still thinking I wanted to make 3D short films, I made two animated shorts over weekends and holidays. Games were never too far out of the picture, but I didn't see a career for myself there yet. After playing a series of formative games, I realized that making games was my deepest passion. I released a Half-Life deathmatch map to strong reviews and began working on the portfolio piece that landed me my first professional game development job. On the side, I was quickly learning to design levels in the first generation Unreal Engine, knowing I'd need to for my next projects at Human Head. I was pretty busy with work this year, but managed to release a DM map for Unreal Tournament on the side. I started tinkering with UnrealScript, making gameplay-altering mutators for Unreal Tournament. I soon realized that learning to program would be a huge boon to my game design pursuits. Now living in the Boston area, I devoted myself full-time to learning to program, but still had a few mapping projects kicking around. By this point though, dedicated 3D artists were starting to outpace what I could do as an all-in-one level designer, and modeling and texturing gradually faded from my skill set. I was okay with that though: programming had given me wings in an exciting new space. I soon had a clear idea of the game I wanted to make, an abstract FPS based on trickjumping and dueling called Teraverse. The basic gameplay and level design came quickly and easily, but I hit some snags: as a still-inexperienced programmer I didn't understand Unreal's network programming model, and the Unreal Engine 2 Runtime changed its terms of use to disallow making games with it. Disappointed but eager to learn more, I got another studio job. I worked on a series of "Naked Maps" for UT2004, pure gameplay spaces without the bother of decoration or theme. I also developed Chess 3 Arena, a game design mash-up in which two players move pieces that alter the playfield of an 8v8 Quake 3 CTF match. Crunching on Bioshock was draining, and I never stopped itching for other creative outlets. Using PyGame I created a prototype for "We & the Beests", a 2-player cooperative "roguelike-like" (long before the term existed, of course) with procedural planets. I also began to revive my abandoned Teraverse project with a new art style and name - Purity - using the recently open-sourced Quake 3 engine. As Bioshock 2 took shape during daytime hours, I spent most evenings of 2008 working on Purity to meet the IGF 2008 submission deadline. Soon after, it became clear that 2009 wouldn't leave me with the energy to work on both Bio2 and Purity, so I reluctantly set the latter aside. Selling the house in Boston at a loss because of the global economic crisis was a real financial setback, pushing independent status years out of reach. I didn't stop making things on the side entirely, and soon after Bio2 shipped I rediscovered my love for Doom level design and began work on Arcadia Demade. As the day job began to wear on me, I threw myself into solo work: a prototype for what might someday become THEN, then extended work on Popular which culminated in my abandoning the project but not without having learned several valuable things. An extraordinarily difficult year marked by divorce and looming uncertainty. By the end I'd landed safely in San Francisco with a new, healthier sense of purpose. I made this sketch in processing to celebrate surviving 2011. Captivated by the look and history of ASCII art, I created an ASCII paint program called EDSCII. I had no idea then that it would form a significant part of my future plans today! I also created an ASCII prototype for what became my Spacebase DF-9 pitch to Double Fine. Most of my energy during 2013 went towards the day job as project lead on Spacebase, though I did start tinkering with twitter bots and made the Unreal 1 Tourism mod. I created several twitter bots and began to lay plans for Playscii, a rewrite of EDSCII that would serve as the tech base for my first solo games. Laid off at the end of the year, I was at a crossroads... but I had a plan, for a game and a tool that would help me make it. I took Playscii from a few colored triangles to an art and game tool with which I could ship Endless Ladder Climbing 2. I also created WADbot and the Game Tourism resource.
professional work
Blair Witch town Blair Witch cemetery Blair Witch ravine
DM-IceCavern AR-Cathedral Sphere test space for Prey
Dead Man's Hand - forest Dead Man's Hand - mines level Dead Man's Hand - boomtown level
Zoo Tycon 2 - walkway system test Zoo Tycon 2 - terrain and water system
Bioshock - Arcadia - earliest known draft Bioshock - Hephaestus lighting and scripting Bioshock - Arcadia - first art space
Arcadia - Entrance Arcadia tea garden
Bio2 level building shot from Bio2 announce demo
Bio2 level feedback Bio2 level building
XCOM Route 66 map
XCOM Nuclear Site map Puddlejumper
The Cave - Scientist level schematic The Cave - Scientist rough level geo The Cave - Scientist level
Spacebase by user Aleph Red Spacebase by user Onty
Busy Spacebase Grelnash storyline for Alpha 6
My first project at Human Head Studios was level design on "Blair Witch, Volume II: The Legend of Coffin Rock", which used the Resident Evil-esque Nocturne engine. In these days, level design meant environment art just as much as game design or scripting. Having to be so versatile felt great, but I still had a lot to learn... I produced 5 multiplayer maps for Rune: Halls of Valhalla. For a few months after I worked on Prey, creating an unusual UT test level that got wallwalking onto the game's feature list. 2002 was spent designing levels for the wild west FPS Dead Man's Hand. Towards the end I started to burn out, and a few months into the next year I quit to move across the country with my girlfriend. I worked at Blue Fang Games on some Zoo Tycoon 2 expansions, but by the end of the year I'd moved on to an incredible opportunity: working at Irrational on Bioshock. Working on Bioshock was a challenging but deeply rewarding and educational experience. My level design, storytelling, and general game design chops advanced considerably in a short time. I was surprised by and proud of the reception for Bioshock, but playing games like Jason Rohrer's "Passage" and seeing Jon Blow's "Design Reboot" talk reaffirmed my belief that the big budget action game business was not the best way to make the games I most wanted to make. I began thinking about what would be required for me to make the leap to being an independent game creator, in what would soon become a booming renaissance. I helped build the amazing group of people that became 2K Marin and, as lead level designer, taught a team of talented designers how to make a Bioshock. Another tough crunch to produce another Bioshock game. Challenging but deeply educational. I began to feel like a veteran, and grew ever more eager to do the kind of boundary-pushing work I was seeing out of small teams. Working on the troubled project that eventually released as XCOM: The Bureau, it was heartbreaking to watch the fantastic team we'd built for Bio2 slowly come apart. In my search to escape 2K, I interviewed at Valve and created puddlejumper as a design test for thatgamecompany. Eventually I ended up at Double Fine, working as lead designer on The Cave under the guidance of adventure game legend Ron Gilbert. As designer on The Cave, I helped design all the puzzles, built all the rough geometry in Maya, and then wired up gameplay with Lua scripting. At the end of 2012, my Amnesia Fortnight pitch for Spacebase DF-9 was selected by voters and turned into a prototype during a two-week studio-wide game jam. Starting in March, our small team took Spacebase DF-9 from a prototype to a full-fledged game, releasing on Steam Early Access that October. Sales and reception were strong, paying back Indie Fund's initial investment in the first two weeks. As the Spacebase team shrank from small to tiny, we worked hard to keep releasing exciting updates, eventually ending at the 1.0 release in October. A month later, an unrelated business emergency forced DF to lay me off along with 11 other people.