GDC Talk, Portals, and World 002 WIP

The GDC talks from this year have finally been uploaded to the vault. Some of the talks you need a vault membership in order to access.

Fortunately, my talk, “Level Design in Impossible Geometry” is up on the vault for free.

level design with impossible geometry


It covers my approach to designing levels in Manifold Garden, and goes into detail of what impossible geometry is. I explain how to image world-wrapping in 3D, and the talk also has some general guidelines that I’ve found to be useful when working with really confusing geometry.


We finally have portals working in the game now! Well, technically, I had portals about 2 years ago, but the system has been completely overhauled. It ties together with level loading, so is an incredibly complex system. David has been working on it for the past several months. It’s still not complete yet, and there’s still a lot of problems, but it’s really awesome that a basic version is now in place.

This is a significant milestone because portals are the glue that hold the levels together. I’ve mentioned this before, but in the game, there are no loading screens (aside from the first one), and no level select menu. The entire world of the game is seamlessly connected. However, up until now, because portals were not in place, each area had to be tested separately. I could not test for puzzles that took place over multiple levels. I could test for intra-area puzzles, but not inter-area puzzles. Now, with basic portal functions, we can start testing the game as one continuous flow, which is very important.

To connect the portals, David made a great tool, the portal path maker:

portal path maker

Each node is a level, and inside the node is the portals that are contained in the level.

To connect two portals together, I simply need to click on one, and then click on another. The lines show the connections between the portals, which is very useful.

Portal design:

The first version of the portal looked like this:

Portal Going Through

It was similar to the way the portals are in Portal. Stepping through it took you from one world to another.

However, I didn’t really like the way this looked. Looking into the portal, if the other side was a room similar in size to the room you’re currently in, the perspective didn’t look to be that different.

Plus, there is the issue of the edge detection shader picking up the edges of the render texture:


Note that the other side of the portal has the shadow all screwed up. This is apparently a problem on Unity’s end when doing with the particular view matrix being used here. Supposedly it will be fixed in Unity 5.5, so going to wait to upgrade to that.

Here is the new portal design:

portal going through wormhole

The black zebra stripes were initially placed there to deal with the edge detection issue. The black material covers up the edges due to the render texture, and makes it feel seamless. The stripes also really stand out – the pattern is never seen anywhere else, and it’s a very striking effect when walking down the tunnel. Plus, the tunnel view really enhances the difference in perspective of the portal when looking through it, the sense that there is this other world and the geometry is bizarre.

Right now the tunnel is actually it’s own separate scene, but I think we can make it an area in the same scene (just far enough away that the player can see it), so that the portal into it is an intra-level portal, as opposed to an inter-level portal. It may give us more breathing room in terms of loading and unloading levels.

Loading Percentage

loading percentage

Another really cool feature that David added is that the levels are now enabled or disabled in piecemeal, instead of either being completely on or off.

In the above picture, you are in World_001. On the other side of the portal is World_031. You can see that both levels are loaded in 100%. Both levels are actually in same spot, but the colliders for World_031 don’t get switched on until you cross over, and it is on a different camera layer.

As you step near a portal, the level on the other side gets loaded in. Right now, the condition for loading in the level is when you’re 20 units away from a portal, but this can be tweaked according to each situation.

Wold_002 Work In Progress Pics

Here are some images of the level I’m currently working on:

ManifoldGarden_2016-04-09_14-26-35 ManifoldGarden_2016-04-09_14-28-03 ManifoldGarden_2016-04-09_14-29-03 ManifoldGarden_2016-04-09_14-31-16 ManifoldGarden_2016-04-09_18-37-05 ManifoldGarden_2016-04-09_18-37-21 ManifoldGarden_2016-04-09_18-38-26

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Spent the last few days staring at spreadsheets until my eyeballs felt like they were going to bleed.

Finally sent off the docs to my accountant to file taxes, so that takes a huge weight of my shoulders.

Now I can get back to actual game development!

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GDC Post-Mortem


Finally back from GDC and fully recovered. I didn’t get the GDC flu that seemed to be quite popular this year, but I was incredibly exhausted the first few days back.

Lots to report on since the last update (about a month ago! I really need to get better at updating this devlog. Just been super busy).


This year’s GDC was very different for me. It’s my third time going. The previous years, I wasn’t showing the game or giving a talk, so GDC was more about meeting other developers and hanging out in Yerba Buena Park. This year, I was showing Manifold Garden at the Day of the Devs exhibit and also giving a talk as part of the level design workshop. It was a ton of work to prepare for both, and during the week of GDC, I had very little time to do anything else. However, both were incredibly positive experiences and I’m very grateful to have been given the opportunity to do both.

Day of the Devs

This year, Double Fine and iam8bit organized an exhibition of several games at GDC called Day of the Devs. It was a fantastic venue – right at the bottom of the escalators in Moscone North. It was a prime location for showing the game, as it was right by the registration area, and you basically passed by it on the way to the expo floor.

It was an absolutely fantastic group of games to be a part of:

  • Below by Capy Games
  • David OReilly Game 2 by David OReilly
  • Headlander from Double Fine Productions
  • Day of the Tentacle Remastered by Double Fine Productions
  • SUPERHYPERCUBE by Kokoromi
  • Return of the Obra Dinn by Lucas Pope
  • Dreams by Media Molecule
  • Bound from Plastic
  • Hob by Runic Games
  • ARENA GODS by Supertype
  • Manifold Garden by William Chyr
  • Severed by DrinkBox Studios
  • Line Wobbler by Robin Baumgarten
  • Rez Infinite by Monstars + Resonair

It was a real honor to be a part of this, and I’m so thankful to Double Fine and iam8bit for this opportunity.

manifoldgarden_dayofthedevs1 manifoldgarden_dayofthedevs2

It was my first time showing a game at GDC, and it was great to have a home base where you can chill. In the past, I pretty much just wandered around the convention center. This year, it was really nice to have a comfortable place to sit and chill, and invite people to come and hang out.

On Monday, Double Fine also organized an event at the Alamo Drafthouse Theater and San Francisco. They rented out the entire theater, and each of the devs showing their games got to go up on the stage to present for 20 minutes. It was incredible seeing all of the games on the big screen with the sound system.

Here’s a pic of Lucas Pope showing how the rendering works in Return of the Obra Dinn (it’s quite dark so you can’t actually see Lucas in the pic). The game looked fantastic on the big screen.


Level Design Workshop


This year, I was also invited to give a 30 minute talk as part of the level design workshop. It was actually quite a lot of work to prepare for this, but Joel Burgess, the organizer of the event, made the whole process very smooth. We had to have rough drafts of the talk in several months before GDC, and this meant that when GDC snuck up, I wasn’t caught unprepared and actually had a really strong presentation to work with. I also had a mentor, Liz England, who gave me feedback on the various versions which was very helpful.

One thing I did that I found very useful was to record myself giving the talk, and then sending it to people for feedback. This works much better than just sending someone slides, because they don’t know how you plan to use those images to deliver your talk, and it gives them much better sense of your pacing. Liz and Joel both gave me really good feedback based on my video recordings.

I also gave a practice talk at the local Chicago Unity meetup, and also did a dry run on my twitch stream (which seemed quite popular – had around 50 viewers that day, when normally I have 20).

Anyway, if you ever plan on giving a talk at GDC, definitely know that it will mean a lot of work to prepare. Start making your slides early (as in, around October), practice a lot, and record yourself giving the talk.

By the time I went on stage, I actually didn’t feel nervous at all, and the talk went very well. It was also great the the Day of the Devs exhibit was right outside the room where I gave the talk, so I was able to point people to check it out. This was useful as Manifold Garden wasn’t out yet, but it allowed people to experience the game.

Here are my slides for the talk:


GDC Summary 

All in all, GDC was very busy this year, but very positive. Showing Manifold Garden at Day of the Devs was an incredibly positive experience. A lot of people I talked to were familiar with the game and seemed excited about it. It was such a great feeling to tell people I’m working on “Manifold Garden”, and to see them get excited. And when people didn’t seem to know the name, I’d show them a picture, and they’d say something like “oh ya, I’ve totally seen this game before”.

The most common reception I got from people was that they had seen a lot of beautiful pics of the game on twitter, and had no idea what the game was about, but were still excited.

I know it’s important not to base feelings on what others are saying, and certainly the crowd at GDC is part of a small bubble of developers, but it was nevertheless a big confidence boost. Some of you might remember two years ago, when I showed the game at PSX in Las Vegas (this was back when it was still known as Relativity), nobody knew about the game and I was super bummed out by that experience. It was almost the complete opposite experience this time around, so it felt super rewarding.

It was also great to catch up with friends in the little free time that I did have. The indie hostel as always was a highlight:


There was also an “impossible lunch” meeting. A bunch of guys from UsTwo, the makers of Monument Valley, proposed that devs working on games with impossible geometry meet up for lunch. There was Steve Swink (Scale), Albert Shi (Museum of Simulation Technology), and Marc Ten Bosch (Miegakure), amongst many others.

Henry Segerman, a mathematician, also joined us, and showed us a bunch of beautiful 3D prints of mathematical objects that had made.

In this one, for example, by shining a light through the orb, a grid pattern is projected on the surface below.


It was pretty funny to see all of us at the table playing with all of these objects and looking totally amazed.

Anyway, GDC was great. I got a big dose of inspiration, and am ready to continue tackling Manifold Garden.

Oh, and here’s a picture of me taken at the iam8bit 80′s booth. I stopped by on the last day while it was closing down, and Jon from iam8bit convinced me to jump in last minute for a photo.  So glad I did.


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GDC Talk and Day of the Devs

manifold garden GDC

GDC is going to be really busy for me this year. I’ll be giving a talk for the first time, as part of the Level Design workshop, and also, I found out last week that Manifold Garden will be on exhibit as part of “Day of the Devs’!

GDC Talk

My talk is going to be part of the Level Design Workshop, and will be on Tuesday, March 15th, at 3:00pm, in Room 130 in North Hall. This is the day before the main conference starts.

[url+]Here’s the official page on the GDC website[/url], if you’re using the scheduler and want to add it to that.

level design workshop

I’m really looking forward to this, as GDC talks, and especially the level design talks, have been very helpful for me as a designer.

It’s cool to finally have an opportunity to give back.

I’ll be talking a lot about what it’s like to work with weird geometry in Manifold Garden, different problems I’ve faced, and various techniques I’ve discovered which have been helpful.

Day of the Devs


Also, super pleased to announce that Manifold Garden will be playable at GDC as part of Double Fine and iam8bit’s ‘Day of the Devs’ exhibition.

I still find it pretty hard to believe that Manifold Garden will be a part of this. The list of games they’re showing is fantastic:

  • Below by Capy Games
  • David OReilly Game 2 by David OReilly
  • Headlander from Double Fine Productions
  • Day of the Tentacle Remastered by Double Fine Productions
  • SUPERHYPERCUBE by Kokoromi
  • Return of the Obra Dinn by Lucas Pope
  • Dreams by Media Molecule
  • Bound from Plastic
  • Hob by Runic Games
  • ARENA GODS by Supertype
  • Manifold Garden by William Chyr
  • Severed by DrinkBox Studios
  • Line Wobbler by Robin Baumgarten
  • Rez Infinite by Monstars + Resonair

GDC is going to be pretty crazy this year. If you’re going, definitely let me know. It would be great to meet up!

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Temple Level

It’s a been a while since my last update here. February has been a really busy month.

Been working on a level which I’m calling the “Temple” for now. It’s inspired by Walter Netsch’s Behavioral Science Building on the UIC campus:


and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple:


With Netsch’s piece, what inspires me the most is the varying levels of elevation, and the way the building’s profile expands and contracts. It feels incredibly distinctive to me.

With Wright’s piece, I really like the use of columns, and the almost fractal like feel of the building – the larger columns on the outsider corners, then smaller versions in the middle, then smaller blocks on the columns themselves.

Someone on one of my dev streams pointed out the irony (?) of making a level based on the Unity Temple while using the Unity Engine…

Here are some pics of the level building process:

ManifoldGarden_2016_02_04-15_31_09 1216x684 ManifoldGarden_2016_02_04-23_58_13 1588x893 ManifoldGarden_2016_02_05-14_36_00 1589x894 ManifoldGarden_2016_02_05-15_20_33 1589x894 ManifoldGarden_2016_02_09-17_11_56 1826x1027 ManifoldGarden_2016_02_09-18_44_21 1826x1027 ManifoldGarden_2016_02_10-13_22_33 1589x894 ManifoldGarden_2016_02_11-01_15_07 1589x894 ManifoldGarden_2016_02_14-21_33_48 1324x745 ManifoldGarden_2016_02_14-22_06_29 1324x745 ManifoldGarden_2016_02_16-00_46_37 1589x894






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Dark Mode and Portals

In dark mode, the growth process is reversed. When you bring the dark mode box to the dark mode tree, it shrinks down into the seed it grew from.

Tree Growth Inverse


Also, David has started working on portals. We’re no longer using the system I set up about 2 years ago, but instead going with building something from ground up to work with all the other mechanics.


Now you’re thinking with portals!

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