I am proud to share the final result of the promotional work I have been doing that espouses the beliefs I have regarding my views as a game developer (both designer and programmer); as well as, demonstrating my potential as a Creative Director.

I reached out to John over a year ago (man how time flies) when he was still worried about making it past episode 10, and now I am proud to be guest #31! There was a lot of approval that had to be done by my current employer but I’m happy to be past the red-tape and able to share my views with the world on this platform!


In this episode of ‘Out of Play Area’, I touch on the different types of games (social, board/card, video), how I was the first person ON EARTH to know we found scientific proof there once was water on Mars, the future of AI and quantum computing!

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How The West Was Won (an analysis of AI as applied to gaming), part 1

I might be slightly biased since my current focus for the past few years has been on Artificial Intelligence, but it seems like, in this past year, there were many more AI talks at major gaming conferences than in the past (most were restricted to AI summits but now there seemed to be an AI talk pretty much every hour).

China is already beating us on any kind of ML (Machine Learning) tech advancements, so we’ll be playing catch-up for the foreseeable future.

That said, some of the particular systems I’ve personally been working on over the past few years offer really innovative ways of handling ML (such as doing designer-authored behavior trees/branches/group behaviors and/or using ML for selection/balancing/difficulty) and I’d love to delve deeper into that realm and make some similar use-cases for future products.

However, Tencent/Wukong AI is probably the craziest/most advanced AI, driven by deep learning/imitation learning I’ve seen, and let me explain why…but first some context.

What Is AI? (a brief overview for those not in the field)


Artificial intelligence (AI) plays an increasingly central role in this transformation. In recent years, AI has come roaring out of research laboratories to become ubiquitous and ambient in our personal lives, so much so that many consumers do not realize they use products and applications that contain AI on a daily basis.

Timeline showing from the invention of AI up until Alpha GO
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The Chinese Room

(No this is not a post about ‘Dear Esther’ or ‘Everybody Has Gone To Rapture’, but please go check out those awesome games after first reading this.)

Imagine a hallway containing a room.

Inside there is a man named ‘John’ he is not allowed out and no one is allowed in.

He has been completely isolated for some time provided food and water through a contactless delivery system.

A woman who works at the lab has now recently been instructed to begin periodically communicating with John by slipping him notes under his door.

She has not been told anything else. She does not know who is in the room or why. …One morning after, she begins following this instruction.

John wakes up to a note in his room.

He is both immediately curious and hopeful of what it might say; however, to great disappointment when he picks it up to read it he finds that it is written in Chinese, a language he does not know at all.

John quickly notices that now also placed in his room are boxes full of papers pencils and erasers as well as books containing comprehensive instructions for how to appropriately respond in Chinese to statements and questions the woman might write.

In the books, John can locate and match the symbols the woman writes and then write the relevant corresponding symbols that the book provides: facilitating a conversation.

At first john is confused but, desperate for social interaction, he soon engages with the woman writing back notes according to the book’s instructions.

As time passes the woman begins to like and then fall for John (believing she is communicating with a charismatic man who was fluent in Chinese); of course however, John has no idea what he is saying…

This experiment, referred to as “The Chinese Room”, we find the following question being asked, “What does it mean to be intelligent?”

With the advent and rapid development of digital computing and artificial intelligence the question concerning when, or if, a machine could be considered intelligent, able to think and possess an understanding, is only becoming increasingly relevant.

If John can convince the woman he is intelligent or fluent in Chinese based on what he outputs from the room, but can do so without ever actually understanding Chinese and what he is saying, then the output of John’s behavior is not sufficient in qualifying him as intelligent, or in this case, possessing an actual understanding of what he is saying; and so likewise, if a computer program can follow syntactic rules well enough to provide an output that can convince a person that it is thinking and fully understanding: that does not necessarily mean the same.

It is this experiment challenges the philosophical positions known as functionalism and computationalism.

Functionalism arguing that mental states are to be identified by what they do rather than by what they are made of; and computationalism arguing that the mind is an information processing system and consciousness is merely a form of computation.

According to the Chinese rooms proposition, however, for intelligence of mind to actually exist there needs to be understanding, which is inevitably always missing from a digital computer.

This poses the question though, “What constitutes understanding?”

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“I’m a problem solver…that’s just, you know…what I do…” – Every Game Designer Ever

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When I say kick it, you kick it with a tasty groove! (Using MIDI controllers to tune video games)

For years, sound/lighting have known that in order to be able to discover and capture the “magic” of their various mediums, having real-time feedback is key and it’s almost asinine that as an industry that sees so clearly how important real-time feedback is for our games, the standard process for scripting and balancing by stopping, adjusting, building and running is anything but real-time.

“Ideas are very important to me. I think that bringing ideas into the world is one of the most important things that people do. And I think that great ideas, in the form of great art, stories, inventions, scientific theories, these things take on lives of their own, which give meaning to our lives as people. So, I think a lot about how people create ideas and how ideas grow. And in particular, what sorts of tools create a healthy environment for ideas to grow.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years making creative tools, using creative tools, thinking about them a lot, and here’s something I’ve come to believe: Creators need an immediate connection to what they’re creating. That’s my principle. Creators need an immediate connection to what they create. And what I mean by that is when you’re making something, if you make a change, or you make a decision, you need to see the effect of that immediately. There can’t be a delay, and there can’t be anything hidden.”

– Bret Victor (Inventing on Principle)

MIDI Controller In UE5
Back in 2012 at Lucas Arts, we created our own interface to be able to live tune various settings by binding the value ranges to various midi controls. The person I worked on this with, @John Ballantyne (Cloud Chamber), currently works over in the other building at 2K as a Technology Directory but after we made this he went to go work for Epic and while there, helped to develop this functionality into Unreal directly.It’s somewhat buried in the UE5 documents but is now available in beta for anyone designers/artists/engineers/directors that want to try it out.

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Some People Say That I’m a Dreamer. Well, I’m not the only one….

While the past few years have hardly been easy on anyone, and it’s easy to get bogged down by the negativity that encompasses that, we must also remember that only through great trials and strife can we truly and genuinely appreciate the opportunities we have each day to keep on living and sharing this beautiful world together.

Over the past week, I have been working with the team at Take Two Interactive and specifically with Hangar 13 to produce what we refer to as “Dream Week”, an opportunity for people to remember why we all love to do what we do, in particular video games, but the same logic is hopefully valid in any industry where the people who work in it are there by choice and not necessity.

(All names and logos ere the property of Hangar 13™/2K Games™. However, anything written here on my personal website represents my own, sole, sometimes poorly-formed opinions and is not to be re-distributed without explicit written permission).

For anyone not familiar with Hangar 13, their games are published by 2K Games/Take-Two Interactive and the studio is known for their work on the Mafia franchise and have over 400+ employees in over half-a-dozen different countries/regions around the world. That said, the studio has done an excellent job of maintaining a feeling of cohesion and consistently delivers great games with compelling narrative and gameplay that have won many awards for their willingness to make bold statements but also cater to their loyal fanbase.

Peoples’ passion can take many forms. For some it was using the time to catch up on all the games they had missed while fervently trying to keep their task-completion rates high on previous milestones, for others it was a quiet time of reflection to spend, as they do most days, with their loved ones and families but without having to sacrifice precious time spent with either.

For me personally, the week was spent empowering people and offering them the opportunities to learn and grow both along-side and together-with their piers; however, as is the nature with many gamers, several wanted to compete in a week-long game jam making more games; however, games that show their identity and that they can call entirely their own. A call for assistance was dispatched and as a person familiar with many areas of tools, gameplay, and engineering who has previously taught at universities, where we had done several jams in the past, I was more-than-obliged to help.

(I doubt anyone picked up on it but the banner I made for the event was intentionally inverted colors from our normal logo to hint that it would be a foil/contrast to the normal work people do during the year.)

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Life, Liberty and The Pursuit Of Video Games

All opinions expressed are solely my own and do not represent those of my employer or any other organizations.

In a recent discussion, the topic was broached regarding violence in video games and opinions regarding whether acts against specific minorities or otherwise marginalized groups should be allowed. The argument being that such acts perpetuate a mentality that promotes or rewards such behavior and as such, should be banned from sale or distribution.

While I in no way condone acts of violence to ANYONE let alone against marginalized groups, I do have to say that I stand by the idea that it should not be up to the judiciary of the government to enact laws making them the sole arbiters or what is decent or appropriate for sale or consumption.

Explicit Content

In July 2005, in an attempt to protect minors from the dangerous impact of certain video games, the State of Illinois enacted Public Act 94-0135, the Illinois Sexually Explicit Video Game Law, which was comprised of the Violent Video Game Law (VVGL) and the Sexually Explicit Video Game Law (SEVGL).

The day after enactment, the plaintiffs filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, facially challenging the constitutionality of both the VVGL and the SEVGL. The plaintiffs are associations representing video game manufacturers and retailers. The defendants are the Governor of Illinois, the Illinois Attorney General, and the State’s Attorney for Cook County (collectively, “the State”). The plaintiffs are all participants in the video game industry’s ratings system-the Entertainment Software Rating Board (“ESRB”), which rates games on the basis of the maturity/age for which the game is appropriate. At the outset of the litigation the plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction and the defendants moved to dismiss. The motion to dismiss was denied.

Breakdown of the current ESRB system used by the gaming industry for self-regulation (outside government oversight)
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A Look Forward and A Look Back

I can’t express how much I am enjoying my position as Lead AI and Encounter Designer at Hangar 13. We are doing some really exciting work that is utilizing many of the latest advancements in AI and I am looking for even more ways to include them in our designs.

“In general, games pose interesting and complex problems for the implementation of intelligent agents and are a popular domain in the study of artificial intelligence. In fact, games have been at the center of some of the most well-known achievements in artificial intelligence. From classical board games such as chess, checkers, backgammon and Go, to video games such as Dota 2 and StarCraft II, artificial intelligence research has devised computer programs that can play at the level of a human master and even at a human world champion level. Planning and learning, two well-known and successful paradigms of artificial intelligence, have greatly contributed to these achievements. Although representing distinct approaches, planning and learning try to solve similar problems and share some similarities. They can even complement each other. This has led to research on methodologies to combine the strengths of both approaches to derive better solutions.” A Survey of Planning and Learning in Games (2020)

While I can’t discuss our current project while it is still in development, I can say that I’ve been documenting the process and am excited to share it when we can.

Until then, here’s a photo from back when I presented the research we were doing in the astrophysics laboratory at the University of Alabama. I’ve often talked about the work I did in the astrophysics lab but I’ve never written it down before so I thought I’d share all about that experience!

Ben Retan presenting research on "The Formation of an Interstellar Dust Analog"
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Success Story @ GDC

I am honored and privileged to have been a member of the Conference Associates program at Games Developers’ Conference for over 11 years. I started when I was still in college and it has been an invaluable community of highly creative and talented individuals who posses both skill and kindness that have helped me along my journey within my career.

This past year at the conference, I arranged to give a speech to some of my fellow associates prior to our volunteer shifts and wanted to share this heartfelt video with you all.

Nothing but love to my fellow CAs and all the staff and UBM that help us put on a great show for the boss! (the attendees)

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Ben Retan Demo Reel 2018

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