It feels as if I never left.

The feeling when I got this time after coming back from overseas is a bit different. There is still a surreal/dreamy feeling, but it is lesser than before. This time, I felt just right at home, felt very comfortable, as if nothing ever happened, as if I never left. It felt as if the first 5 months of the year disappeared into thin air, or got compressed so fast that I didn’t feel anything. It felt like this is my home and I am here, and I want to be here (and I want to eat the food here). I think the degree of looking forward to home and how boring Pittsburgh is affects as well.

In contrast, when I went for exchange 2 years ago and came back, it felt very surreal, and my room felt weird and alien. I felt like I went to another distant world, got used to living there, and came back to this strange place called Singapore. Sitting on the MRT felt strange. Lying on my bed felt different.

The second time when I went for internship last year, there was also a similar surreal feeling. But it was less intensified as the period I left was shorter. But there was still a slight alien feeling to be back home after living in another city.

It’s about routines, going to a new place, adapting to a new routine, and then getting used to it. After that, change happens. Perhaps I am having fun with change. Change is constant.

Last few weeks in Pittsburgh

It was a long proess to try to get an internship in Singapore. I was rejected by Microsoft twice and finally found a place in Burpple and hence can return home. In the meantime, I was trying to explore every possible inch of Pittsburgh until there was no where else to go haha.

One of the more exotic places to go was Fallingwater, which is a famous house museum built by a famous architect over a a stream and waterfall. The architecture as interesting with many cantilever structures, but I think the one hour tour wasn’t worth the $20 admission fee. Compared to the other house museum The Frick which I visited earlier, the Frick was more interesting as the house is older (about 100 years) and has many Victorian era stuff, including a Orchestron, which is like a giant mini orchestra device consisting of organ, many brass pipes, a triangle, a few flute pipes and a few drum pieces. Feed it with a ticker tape like roll of scores, and it magically starts playing. It is amazing to watch the machine play, like an ancient live jukebox, better than your mp3 player lol.

After Fallingwater, we drove to Laurel Caverns, passing by Ohiopyle Falls (which is NOT in Ohio). Laurel Caverns is a place which I found on the Fallingwater website under nearby attractions. After visiting it, I think it is more interesting than Fallingwater! It was a one hour $11 tour through a system of natural caves inside a mountain. The tour guide is a funny little old guy who kept using the words “folks” and “gee” along the way. The caves are artificially lighted, and due to the rock features and the orange lighting, some parts of it look similar to grand canyon. We also saw some boy scouts hiking inside, and there were also rappelling and rock climbing opportunities in the cave. One of the more “ETC moments” was when they switched of all the lights and then the lights danced to the tune of “Hallelujah” from Handel’s Messiah. It was pretty cool.

Over the past four days, I rented a zipcar to drive 1.5 hours to Youngstown, OH for a Miracles, Signs and Wonders conference with Jesus Culture and Georgian Banov, Patricia King and Lance Wallnau. The church was Victory Christian Center, which is an aog megachurch in the middle of nowhere. The highlight was of course Jesus Culture, it was my first time experiencing life worship with Kim Walker and Chris. They are very good at dragging a song into a very long spontaneous free worship, and will never get tired of singing the same refrain over and over again. That’s why most of their songs have simple choruses that just keep repeating. They sound longwinded on the CD, but better experienced live. Georgian is a funny guy who preaches the new covenant based on being co-cruxified, co-buried and co-risen with Christ. There was an amazing emotional moment when he asked people on stage to reenact the co-cruxification, with someone wrapping you in his arms. Patricia King preaches that we are the righteousness of God too, while Lance Wallnau is more of Christ in the marketplace preaching. I was alone most of the time, as Joel only joined me for one evening. I made friends with one or two ladies sitting beside me.

In between, I went for lunch in Youngstown which is a small university town. Yelp led me to a nice ribs place (Charlie Staples) and an awesome pasta place. (MVR), and the Chick-fil-a chain, which is the best chicken burger with their own honey mustard sauce. I also found a traditional Diary Queen in the middle of nowhere near the church, which is not labelled as DQ which is usually the case. Their blizzards (like McFlurry) is super awesome!

On the last evening with the car, I drove to McConnell Mills State Park because I wanted to hike and experience a bit of nature. It was a small river with a mill and a dam, and various trails around. I actually got a bit off-trail and was a bit lost, but managed to find my way back. I also helped a African American familly unto one of the trails as they didn’t know the rocks were part of the path, and to follow the blue markers painted on the trees.

On the second last day before I flew, we went to Kennywood Amusement Park, which is pretty old (since 1890). It is actually pretty good and impressive for something in Pittsburgh and it opens till 10pm at night. We took all 6 roller coasters they have, taking about one hour to queue for each one. There were like 3 traditional wooden based ones, 2 thrilling ones, one of which has like a 10-storey drop, and an indoor one. There was also rocking house called Noah’s Ark lol. On the way home, as the parking lot is up the hill, you can take a romantic ski lift ride up. Pretty cool.

And so now I’m finally flying home, typing this on board an A380 for the first time. It is pretty fat, and has like a stairs at the back to the upper deck. I wonder why the colour combination of the seats are brown and gold instead of the usual blue and purple for SQ.

What’s next?

CMU ETC First Semester Reflections, BVW Festival

And so finally the first semester of my experience in CMU ETC is finally over. Time flies and it seems like 5 years ago when the first round of Building Virtual Worlds (BVW) arrived. It’s probably the most tiring and most hours worked of any semester I have ever experience so far, and much more tough than any semester in NUS, and the most number of hours I have spent in school. Fortunately, I did not find the need to sleepover yet. After all, school’s only a 20 minute walk away so it’s nice to be able to walk home at 2am to a bed.

Last week, we had the BVW Spring Festival. It was THE ETC event of the semester, where there is an open house, and guests get to play the worlds that we built for Round 5 which lasted 4 weeks (pitch + interim + tech final + deco). It was the most amazing thing to be involved in because it involved both technical work in building a game, as well as art and craft work in terms of decoration. My team decided to re-pitch RaillyTricky, the game we created for the jamodrum during the lighting round, and recreated it with an additional portion of depot cargo loading. 2 players would load cargo unto the train using joysticks, and then the trains will spawn on the jamodrum world. I was thrilled as I love trains, and this was a recreation of the iOS-style train games (kind of) unto the jamodrum. We had many hurdles along the way in terms of brainstorming, track layout, gameplay mechanics, and we eventually figured it out. It is also amazing how the depot loading game got totally revamped in the last week from 2 players competing to 2 players collaborating. The jamodrum layout also became much more beautiful and polished as compared to the lighting round as the 3D Modeler and I did pump up the graphics to Appaloosa cartoon-themed.

In the last week, we stayed up to midnight/1am/2am almost every day to do the Wild West-themed deco and programming. Sam and Sakar was great in creating wooden stuff such as the Saloon door, Railroad crossing signs, railroad tracks, and 3 standing building facades. Steph helped to paint them, and Mara did awesome paper mache cacti, and I helped out with misc printing of stuff for the deco. It was somewhat like rag-and-flag, as each team spends a considerable amount of money to decorate the room just for one day, and then after that half the things are thrown away. What a pity, wished we can show the world to more people across more days.

On the day itself, we had many guests, of which the guest-of-honour was  Jason Vandenberghe from Ubisoft, a pretty cool guy. He went around and played all our games and gave us feedback. The thing that he said to us was that gamers’ comfort is very important – user feedback of what’s happening to the controls will cause either enjoyment or frustration to the game. Our game is probably the best use of the jamodrum, if only we can fix the user feedback when they turn the wheel and/or lock it. Because currently, the game is very frustrating as the trains keep crushing, even though you think you have control of the junction. It’s the HCI – human-computer interface gap user interface problem again.

On the whole, it was a success for all the groups as all the guests enjoyed the games (and the fudge!). Our world is probably the most tedious to decorate as compared to the others. It was sad as we tear down the stuff the next day (reminds me of rag again). I wish there was more chance to bond with the other groups and play their games.


Here’s a summary of some new things I have learnt this semester:

  • Teamwork and feedback. Making games is a head fake, as Randy would say. Teamwork is the real deal, after working with 7 different teams throughout the whole semester and receiving peer evaluation feedback at the end, I learnt a lot about myself, my own working styles, and how I interact with others. (Apparently, 3 people asked me to smile more, contrary to the fact that other people have said in the past before that I never stopped smiling. Perhaps I had more stress here which caused me to smile less.)
  • Interest Curves. A term which, oddly, isn’t on Wikipedia. Interest curve, or the climatic arch of a story plot, lies beneath any entertainment tech: stories, films, games, apps, museum installations etc. [How was the interest curve for Avengers? Peaking!]
  • Kill your babies. Usually the first few ideas of a brainstorming session ain’t the best ideas because they are the most common ones people thought of before. Also, don’t hold on to your own idea too tightly.
  • Surface Pleasures. (courtesy of Ralph). Things which add visual and graphical interest to a piece.
  • Naive users and playtesting. Naive users are people who don’t play games, who don’t use computers, who don’t know how to use a joystick. Test, test and test. After testing with at least 10 groups of people who played your game, using think aloud or otherwise, you will know what works and what doesn’t. Also, don’t assume that Naive users know the lingo you put into the language of the game.
  • Theatre in games: How is games similar to theatre? They let the player assume the role of an actor in the game, being able to immerse in a fantasy world and act out all the roles possible to the player. Now everyone can be an actor, not just in the theatre. Hence the poetics of Aristotle do apply in games too!
  • Improvising. Both in improvisational acting as well as in brainstorming.