I am an NPC, and every NPC should have a backstory. This is mine.
Games and AI for every person
I make games, and tools to help other people make games!
My interest in making games began when I was young, and it has continued to this day. To me, games represent an opportunity to explore new worlds, to illuminate and critique the systems and structures of real life, to escape and relax, and to gently challenge yourself.
Games, like any art form, can be beautiful, they can have deep meaning to their designers and players. They can be political, they can be rebellious. They can be comforting, they can be uplifting. I want games to be all of those things, and I want to help designers and players -- especially those of marginalized identities and different abilities -- to realize their unique visions for games of all sorts.
I want to see more new genres, more games that defy genre categorization entirely. And yes, I still want to see yet another realistic FPS. But I also want to see many "anti-FPS" games, games that critique the entire genre, the idea of shooting as a solution to every problem, the very concept of the first-person viewpoint.
To build more inclusive, experimental, rich games, we will need advances in the underlying technology. I believe that we will especially need to expand the possibilities of practical, designer-controllable artificial intelligence (AI) and procedural content generation (PCG). With more responsive, flexible, intelligent agents, and game worlds to match, designers will have more options for bringing their visions to life.
I want to contribute to this potential. I want to help build games, and tools for others to build games, that are accessible, that respect their designers and players and respond with intelligence to their needs and goals.
I am an academic, but also a game developer
From 2012 to 2017, I worked as a gameplay engineer at Turbine, Inc., a division of WB Games[1:1]. I wrote gameplay, AI, and PCG code for several shipped games. While at Turbine, I learned the processes, difficulties, and possibilities of large-company game development. I now feel comfortable quickly learning new game engines and languages, working in extremely complex codebases with years of history, building systems and features that will impact thousands of players, and collaborating with large teams to support designers and artists with tools and engineering input. My first priority was, and remains, to make real things that are useful to game designers and players.
In fall 2017, I returned to academia as a Ph.D. student at Northeastern University. I joined the Game User Interaction and Intelligence Lab (GUII Lab), under Dr. Magy Seif El-Nasr. My purpose in returning to academia was to more deeply explore the AI and PCG research space. I wanted to look several years ahead and build forward-looking (but still practical) techniques, tools, and games, in collaboration with designers and artists who have unique perspectives.
Nonetheless, I remain a game developer (in an expansive meaning of the word; I am also interested in computational art and media beyond the strict "game" space). Even if research places part of my focus on longer-term, more theoretical questions, I never want to stray too far from creating experiences for players. For instance, one of my first academic projects is a hands-on tool for designers to evolve and test new NPC behavior in Unreal Engine.
That means that I am actively seeking collaborations and opportunities (both inside and outside academia) to build games as part of, and around, my Ph.D. research work. If you are looking to create something new, something that relies on intelligent and creative computational techniques, something that pushes the boundaries of NPC behavior, computational creativity, procedural content generation, or weird interactive art -- especially if you are from a marginalized group -- please feel free to drop me a line.
I am an NPC, and my backstory is still being written. I hope it can intersect with yours!