Home Office Ergonomics for Game Development (2020)

Hi! I’m Melos Han-Tani (https://twitter.com/han_tani). I’ve been making indie games as a hobbyist and professional for almost a decade (Anodyne 1+ 2, Even the Ocean, All Our Asias).

Some friends have been talking about and asking about ergonomics – it’s something I’ve been taking fairly seriously since my mid-20s and making investments in that, I think, are far cheaper than the cost of later medication or physical therapy. So I’m going to go over my current set-up!

Let me just preface this by saying that obviously, all of this costs money and it’s not about shaming anyone if they can’t afford something. Some of this can be solved by workarounds (I used to use old package boxes or books as a footrest), but anything you can get here will help. Because I work full-time and rely on game development for my income, I’ve invested into the higher end of equipment, but even making adjustments with cheaper choices can do wonders for physical health.

Context for my work: I have a home office and work about 40-60 hours a week, though I’m probably at my computer in some way a lot more than that. I program, which is typing-intensive, and write music and design games, which are very mouse and keystroke intensive. If you do something like illustration this may not be as useful.

I’m in my late 20s and have dealt with wrist RSI as well as neck/back strain in the past (which are more or less gone under the right circumstances). I can’t play clicking or button press intensive PC games without a controller, I can’t use a regular mouse for longer than 15 minutes. This is partially from using computers too much over my life, but also years of bad posture growing up, and also sports strain (I was a competitive bowler in grade school, which puts a lot of strain on your body if you’re not buff enough (which I was not.))

Breaks/Exercise

Nothing in this article will be that useful if you work for 2+ hour stints without getting up, stretching, or drinking water. Find some stretches that work for you, in particular, the wrist, shoulders, arms, upper back, eyes, jaw, neck. Try to plan your day so that you can get up at least once an hour (30 minutes is best).

Exercise helps. You should try to stretch your entire body or get a little bit of cardio before working at a computer each day. This doesn’t have to be running a mile, but just enough that you’re ready for the strain of working at a computer.

It helps to learn to identify tension in your body – there are lots of physical therapy or massage videos you can watch. Things like muscle tension can lead to various types of other pain in parts of the body that might not even be the things that are tense.

If you can, light muscle workouts can help build a strong core which makes it easier to have good posture.

Posture

Good posture is knowledge and practice, and good equipment lets you achieve that posture. But good equipment won’t help much if you’re not using them with proper posture.

Eye and Neck

If you work at a monitor, generally you want to make sure that when sitting upright, you don’t have to tilt your head up or down to see your screen. (This basically rules out laptops!) The rule of thumb is your resting eye angle should hit the center of the screen, but depending on the work you do this can be higher or lower, or even left or right. You may need to adjust your software or monitor to achieve this angle (some software may focus your eyes on the left side of the screen, etc)

Typing/arms

Your form with typing matters: don’t slump your wrists while typing. Rest your hands on your thighs when not typing, or off to the side in a neutral hand position. From your elbow to your fingers, your forearm should be straight – you don’t want upwards wrist tilt (like a waiter holding a big serving plate). I think a little downwards is okay, but to the extent that a loose wrist will tilt from gravity. I try to keep my wrist flat.

You want a little bit of tenting for your keyboard as it accommodates the natural rotation of the wrist more. Most good keyboards let you customize this. I use a fairly gentle tilt of a few degrees – find what works best for you.

The Best Ergonomic Keyboard for 2020 | Reviews by Wirecutter
Tenting

The angle your forearm and upper arm form a the elbow is important for typing: about 90-110 degrees is good. The angle your upper arm and spine form is important, too – roughly parallel to 10 degrees is best (the idea being, you don’t want your elbows shooting behind your back, nor do you want to be reaching out uncomfortably towards your keyboard).

This illustration shows a pretty good forearm-upper arm angle, as well as a good upper arm-torso angle. The Spine to seat angle might be a bit too far back though.

CUergo: Neutral Posture Typing

There’s even more! How much your forearms are rotated inwards in order to type matters! But more on that in the keyboard section.

Sitting

As far as your torso-to-thigh angle – I alternate between sitting up straight closer to the edge of my seat, and sitting up with my chair supporting me (slightly at an angle like the above illustration). Generally you don’t want to let your upper back slump forward, nor your neck to tilt downward or extend forward. Your neck should be parallel with your torso in most cases.

I’m not sure about the ideal upper leg to lower leg angle. I find anywhere from 90 degrees and up to be pretty good, as long as I can achieve the proper foot angle and upper body posture.

Feet

Lastly, your feet: they should rest flat on the ground comfortably without your thighs angling up too much (indicating a too short chair), or without the feeling that you have to extend your legs to reach the ground (too high of a chair). This is hard if you’re short (like me). You might need a footrest if you’re short (actually I recommend one either way, but you likely will need one if you’re short because most desks and chairs are designed for average heights, and you won’t be able to achieve the proper angles otherwise).

One more note on posture

Move around a little! It’s good to not just sit in one position all day, which is why adjustable footrests and sliding chairs are good. Good posture doesn’t have to be one position – it can vary a little.

Don’t feel like you have to follow these exactly: if something is causing strain or lasting pain then it might not work for you.

Say no to laptops!

I can’t stress enough that if you are a professional working with computers significantly, stop using a laptop ASAP and switch to at minimum, an external keyboard and external monitor. As much as whatever marketing speak might want you to believe, laptops are not designed for 40-60+ hour workweeks. If you’re in your teens or 20s and feel healthy still, you’re increasing the risk of eventual RSI, eye, and neck issues with hunching over the screen and the cramped, repetitive motions your hands have to do on a cramped laptop keyboard or tiny touchpad.

This, of course, could be mitigated depending on your childhood history and entertainment preferences. If you grew up playing tons of computer games or hanging out online, OR, if you do either of those now – those are risk factors. Someone who grew up mostly ‘offline’ and doesn’t use the computer much outside of work, might be able to use a laptop for longer. But I honestly wouldn’t recommend anyone use a laptop if they can avoid it.

Again, you don’t need to buy a desktop computer (I’ve never owned one) – just get a monitor and external keyboard. More on those later.

Equipment

Chair – I use an Okamura Baron Chair. These go for over $1,000 new, but I found mine for around $400 used (depends on condition). The neck rest is not really needed as you shouldn’t be leaning back while working.

I believe this is a ‘soft mesh’ type chair. While this is vastly my preference over other types, there are some disadvantages to keep in mind (See https://www.btod.com/blog/mesh-office-chair-problems/ ). In particular, if you weigh a lot (I’m quite light and short), that may lead to the seat or back cushion distorting over a long time. However I’ve been using mine full-time for nearly a year and have not had any lower back pain since from when I used cushioned chairs. I find cushioned chairs make me sink in too much and focus pressure on the wrong places.

オカムラ okamura バロン Baron チェア エクストラハイバック 可動 ...

Always try to test a chair before buying, keeping in mind your height. Some chairs may not go low enough, some armrests may be too high.

My Baron chair lets me adjust how far the seat goes forward, as well as the obvious like height, or how far back the back of the seat will tilt. You can also adjust resistance of the back. The armrests can also be replaced with adjustable (rotateable and raisable) armrests, which is great – I actually don’t have these on my chair, but it would help a bunch as my elbows have to tilt outwards to rest on the armrest, and the armrest is about 1 cm too high.

Desk

I use an motorized sitting/standing desk which can be programmed to various heights. I try to stand an hour or two a day, it especially helps when I need to stay awake. But the main use is that it prevents you from having to sit all day which can lead to soreness. However if you take breaks and don’t overwork, not having the standing option isn’t a huge deal.

Because I’m short, I need a desk with a height of 60 cm, so that I can use my footrest and still have the correct typing angles. The vast majority of adjustable desks do not go this low, so I bought the Flexispot, which is about $400 and is motorized and very sturdy! Not to mention big.

Feet Pad

I don’t use this, but if you’re on your feet a lot you might want a ergonomic pad to stand on. I stand in comfy slippers, which let me stand for roughly an hour before wanting to sit down. (Standing can be just as bad as sitting, which is why motorized desks are great since you can alternate easily.)

Footrest

I use a BORDERLESS foot cushion (about $100). I know that sentence sounds absurd, but it has foam with just the right amount of give, and the taller side has a good curvature for your feet. It doesn’t slide around easily, has a washable cover, and can be pushed forward or closer depending how you’d like to rest your legs.

You can likely be okay with cheaper – anything with a curved end to it is good. (The shallower end of this cushion is for reclining which I never do)

[BORDERLESS] choose footrest FOOT CUSHION (foot cushion) color & 張地素材 among three kinds: Charcoal gray / cappuccino brown /PU leather black (toeboard desk work foot pillow office home combined use)

Monitor

You don’t need anything fancy, but if you don’t use a blue-light reduction tool (like Flux) you should download that. Depending on your needs you might want glasses or a monitor that can help reduce blue light further. You can find a good monitor new for about $100-$150. Some monitors have fancy features but I think if you take breaks for your eyes you’ll be fine.

I have a 1080P ASUS monitor – the monitor should be big enough to be easy to read but not too big that you have to move your head to read far parts of the screen. 1440P or 4K are fine (clearer to read) too, just make sure your computer’s GPU can handle it (looking at you, my 2013 MacBook that thought trying to output 4K was a good idea).

It’s worth mentioning that if you use a multi monitor set-up, try to keep stuff you only occasionally need to reference off to the side. You definitely don’t want to have your neck tilted for hours while working. (I use my laptop as a 2nd screen, and put stuff like notes there.)

With that in mind, you’ll probably need to stack your monitor on some books or boxes to achieve the proper eye to screen angle. There are expensive stands and stuff that can do this and let you adjust your monitor as needed. I’ve never owned one, but I do generally need a slightly higher monitor height when standing so I’ve considered it.

Mouse

Use trackball mice. Trackpads on a laptop simply aren’t designed for any long term, serious work, and regular mice will eventually destroy your wrists or fingers because of the wrist movement required.

Trackball mice let you minimize movement by only requiring a ball be rotated to control the mouse cursor.

There are many trackball mice out there: experiment at a store to find what works well for you and your needs. If your RSI is not as far along, you may be able to use a mouse that you move with your thumb, or ones with huge trackballs. But for me I have to use a Trackman Marble.

I’ve used a Trackman Marble with my left hand for years, which runs about $60. Note that there are only four buttons and it’s only feasible to use three of them at a time. I use the tiny one for double-click, then the big left/right for left and right click. HOWEVER:

Logitech Trackman Marble Trackball | Staples.ca

Mouse emulation

Lots of clicking is pretty bad for your wrists. I used to use NeatMouse for mouse emulation – letting my keyboard simulate clicks. For example, I might have 8,9 and 0 be left/middle/right click.

Nowadays I do this with remappable keyboards (more on that soon).

Also, depending on your work, you might be interested in auto-click software – software that clicks for you when you stop moving the mouse.

Note that some games are hard to play with trackball mice.

Keyboard

Keyboards come in various ‘ranks’, but I’ll just start with the best.

Ergodox EZ

PC作業は能力を最も発揮できる姿勢で。左右に分割でき、キーの配列を ...

About $300-400 depending on features. I’ve used the Ergodox EZ for a little over 2 years and it’s the best keyboard I’ve ever used. My only complaint is that it could use one more row of keys.

the Ergodox EZ is fully remappable, meaning you can use a software tool to flash the keyboard and upload your own key bindings to it. This means you could make every key type “A” if you wanted to. Practically speaking, it means you can move around keys to where you need them to be.

It also has a concept of “layers” – with one keystroke, you can set the keyboard to an entirely different set of keys, either until you untoggle it, or until you release a key. For example, I have a hold-toggle layer that I use to zoom in and out of a scene in Unity (a game editor software). I also have a press-toggle layer that I use for mapping J, K and L to mouse clicks, and WASD to mouse movement.

I also have keys mapped to Alt+tab or Ctrl+tab macros. The Ergodox can do a lot. I also map the keys near my thumbs to mouse clicks as well.

The Ergodox is also, well, ergonomic. It’s fully split meaning you can move the halves around, so you can move it so that you shoulders are resting natural and open. There are keys rotated to work well with your thumbs. Keys are arranged straight (vs. offset like a regular keyboard), so your fingers extend more naturally to reach keys. It takes a few weeks to get used to, but is great.

You can also tent the keyboard slightly (I use a tenting of a few degrees). You can also give it lights (I don’t use these) , or a wrist rest (I don’t use these as my wrists slump – I rest my wrists on my thighs or at my sides when standing.)

You can also customize the key switches to your preference, for comfortable key feedback (which may affect wrist/finger fatigue). I use MX Cherry Brown.

Alternative keyboards

If you don’t want or can’t afford the Ergodox, there are plenty of alternatives. However, the majority of keyboards are NOT programmable and so you’re limited to the manufacturer’s design. Split keyboards are better than non-split in all cases, but it’s best to get ‘true’ split keyboards (where it’s two halves). Keyboards with tenting are better than none, but you need a ‘true split’ keyboard to adjust the tenting to your body’s preference.

For one, any standard external keyboard (with a USB plug) is better than a laptop keyboard, simply because you can then elevate the laptop or move it away from you.

Here are some okay cheaper alternatives:

The Periboard is about $60 – it’s a great ‘starter’ ergonomic keyboard. As you might notice, it’s gigantic – you pretty much need to use a left hand mouse with this or you’re going to be reaching too far to the right.

Amazon.com: Perixx Periboard-512 Ergonomic Split Keyboard ...

The Sculpt is pretty good, too:

Microsoft Wireless Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard - Newegg.com

Beyond that things tend to go into the mid to high $100s. I would say if you’re looking at that range you’re better off saving for the Ergodox – it’ll last longer and it does about everything you might need.

Computer Gloves

I used to use SoftFlex computer gloves (I’m not sure if the maker is still selling them) for years, but rarely do nowadays as most of my wrist pain has been alleviated by my chair, keyboard and desk investments. To be honest computer gloves feel hard to recommend and probably depend on your situation a lot more than other stuff I’ve talked about.

SoftFlex computer gloves will redirect pressure away from certain nerves to reduce RSI / carpal tunnel /etc pain.

But with my current setup, if I take breaks and stretch the wrists and type properly, I almost never experience RSI pain unless I was also playing videogames the same day, or doing a particularly intensive repetitive task like level design (involving lots of repeated or held keystrokes etc).

SoftFlex Computer Gloves - CMT Journal

End

In total, my equipment runs about $1500. That is a lot of money, but it feels reasonable to me as an investment into my future health in terms of concrete results. I plan to use this equipment to create games for years, so I want to make sure to buy stuff that will last. In any case, keep in mind that most of that cost is my choice of desk/keyboard/chair.

Well that’s about it! If you have questions leave them here or reach out to me on Twitter. https://twitter.com/han_tani

New name!

I mentioned this in a previous post, but I decided to change my first name for art purposes. I’ve been thinking about this on and off for a year or so, and I felt like “Sean” wasn’t doing a great job representing my work, and decided to choose the name “Melos”, based on Melody/music, thinking about my lifetime of being around music-making, analysis, or creation, and its influence on my work/approach to making stuff.

(That and it has great SEO… heh heh heh. “When naming something, do it for the art, then for the SEO” – that’s a Melos Motto (“MM” for short.))

Pronouns are still he/him/his. Last name still Han-Tani (I added the hyphen though, on this round of Name Revisions). Ugh, I need to update so much stuff and my Twitter handle. I’ll do it eventually…

It’s pronounced with two syllables, the ‘me’ from ‘men’ and ‘los’, where ‘os’ is from the ‘oas’ of ‘roast’.  It sounds like Meh-Loas.

 

Coincidentally it’s the name of a protagonist from an Osamu Dazai short story (“Run, Melos”, which I’ve never read), which gave its name to the Wednesday Campanella song “Melos” (which I don’t really like – though it’s a good band generally). But any first name is bound to be used elsewhere, and if there are any problems I can always use “Melos2”.Coincidentally I decided to do this BEFORE we got that IGF nom for Anodyne 2! But then we got nominated and they make you pick what name you want announced at the ceremony which kind of pushed me.This is more nervewracking than changing a last name, because like, you have to hear it in person a lot. I remember when changing my last name to Han-Tani and introducing myself in front of classes in 2016 when I started teaching… but then it stuck. But I’ll probably get used to that quickly. Also I was inspired by friends/writers/activists who have changed their names for various reasons, as well as some Japanese artists I’ve met who don’t use their birth names and just go by a single name.

Anyways that’s it! Happy new decade. We’re also changing Analgesic Productions to “M&M Productions” and pivoting into candy (just kidding (the joke is that Melos and Marina statr with M))

Wow Anodyne 2 Got Nominated For IGF 2020’s Grand Prize!!

OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE FROM ANALGESIC PRODUCTIONS PRESS DIVISION

-FOR IMMEDIATE PUBLICATION-

 

Hello. I am pleased to announce we were nominated for the Grand Prize at the 2020 IGF!

Wow, that’s amazing! Seriously Marina and I weren’t expecting that at all. We usually submit to the IGF for fun, not expecting much. Anodyne 2 was pretty good, so I thought we’d maybe get an HM in one of the categories but this blew our expectations out of the water. Thanks for all the judges and jury who played our game, and, based on some blog posts I’ve been seeing – fought for it as well. When it comes to our unconventional ways of game design, we really need our players, fans, community – to help us out in getting others to check out our work.

It’s somewhat fitting that we only got a nominee in the Grand Prize category – as Anodyne 2 really is the sum of its parts, something you have to experience in full. For all the 99% of players who played through the game and have been saying so much nice stuff about it: thank you! We’re really glad you played and seriously it’s great to be seeing all these comments every day.

To the 1% who quit before Dustbound Village and decided to review the game anyways for some reason: you’re probably at least halfway through, so please finish the game!

Anodyne 2 can’t be coherently judged without finishing it. Sorry but it’s true. Despite what some formalists might say, you can’t have a well-formed opinion of Anodyne 2 without finishing it. We’ve taken surreal spaces, multiple storytelling tones, classic gameplay textures, contemporary themes, a bunch of subversions, and mashed it together into our new genre: The Analgesic Productions Game. You have to play all of an Analgesic Productions game to understand it! If you can play 50 hours of Death Stranding or 100 hours of Skyrim or 100 hours of whatever, you can get through 8 hours of (the very streamlined) Anodyne 2.

If you didn’t know, we do have a history of submission to the IGF. Anodyne 1 received an HM in the student category back in 2013. Even the Ocean… did not receive anything! Oh well! According to our download stats from then, a lot of judges played it though, so perhaps it was divisive. Divisiveness is interesting…

All Our Asias got a HM in Nuovo in 2019’s IGF. That was really nice to see.

But we play to win and now it’s our time to win!! Hahahahahahaha! Just kidding. Or…?

More seriously, we do really believe in the quality and uniqueness of Anodyne 2 and it’s exciting to see it recognized in this way. It’s not just Marina and I who are thrilled, but also the community of players, supporters, who enjoyed playing the game.

It would be cool to win, but it would also be cool to see it go to a game like Eliza, which was one of my favorite games in 2019. Or A Short Hike or Mutazione, neither of which I have been able to play yet (though I’ve had my eye on Mutazione for a while!)

Also, like, just putting it out there, but… nothing personal to the dev teams! but! it would be pretty cool to see Anodyne 2 beat a game like Goose Game (1m+ copies sold!) or Slay the Spire (1.5m+ copies sold, lol!). Anodyne 2 hasn’t even sold 1% as much as either of those games. Lol! Imagine what we would do with that money! We’d scale, IPO, and make a battle royale early access randomly generated roguelike zelda-like dating sim! (I lied: we would give it away to other developers, small independent games writing outlets, and grassroots organizations. I would also keep some of it to fund my Caloriemate, peanut butter, and Magic: The Gathering habits)

But it’s cool to see our game alongside those other names nonetheless. We’re honored to have our name up there and I hope I can judge the IGF in future years to try to get the next generation’s amazing games up there as well.

See you all at the IGF!!!!

 

(And if you noticed the new name – I’m considering a new online/artist name – Melos (based on Melody, music-related) – from now on, but don’t worry about what you call me in person just yet! Sean or Melos is fine.)

Sean’s Some Games of the Decade 2010s

Here’s some games of the decade! I probably should mention some more console and flash games from early in the decade, but… this will do, I guess. It’s not exhaustive, just some highlights I can remember.

Detention – Investigates the White Terror period of Taiwanese history through horror, thinking about Taiwan’s struggles of modernization and the ways its citizens might reflect on its history. I’ve seen a few other games dealing with similar topics, and I hope in the 2020s we see more games that can act as historical texts or reflections in some way. Also shout out to Devotion, which I haven’t played yet, but on watching a playthrough seems well-written with an interesting mechanic of recontextualizing a single space. Also I need to bring up Devotion’s relation to China, and how that game was taken down for criticizing China’s president. (The specifics are unknown, but China’s political situation is obviously one of the underlying causes, regardless of the specific machinations of how the game takedown occurred.) I can only hope Red Candle Games (the creators of these two games, based in Taiwan) are okay after. Also, the One China myth perpetuated by China and its desire to re-absorb the independent Taiwan, has resonances with that entire situation. But, moving on…

Oikospiel – A formally memorable 3D game that inspired me to think about all the strange spatial possibilities of games intertwined with novel storytelling formats. And, is a pro-unionizing story, too, on top of all the interesting sound and art design! This was inspiring for me in a lot of ways, pushing me to really try out 3D for the first time. I think a year after playing I released All Our Asias, then more recently, Anodyne 2. I also loved the camera angles and various types of 3rd person control there were.

Facets – Other than mind-diving being a favorite trope, Facets illustrates the expressive possibilities of JRPGs made with prefab assets, depicting the unraveling reaches of a mind. And its battle design is tight, showing the expressive potential of systems that often get ahistorically written off as grindy or “old”. There’s so much depth to a small kit of tools, which inspires me to really push a simple-feeling system to its limits (right now we’re designing a intimidating (for us) game with jrpg-esque mechanics.) There’s even a cool post about how these battles were made in Facets!

Subway Adventure – A grab bag of 3D spaces connected via subways, the motions of waiting, boarding, and getting off trains and wandering stations (with their evocative names), the ways they disturbingly parallel real life and the circulation of people. While playing, this game really takes me to a weird place with my relation to transit and just moving around to different zones. Bodies moving in large numbers. Makes me think about tourism and wandering – what can you actually do as a tourist other than just stare and gawk? Why travel? Why does tourism exist, what’s the history… etc. Well, other than that, formally this is just a cool 3D game, too. Each station has some unique theme to it and a mini-treasure hunt.

Mouse Corp https://thecatamites.itch.io/mouse-corp– I like a lot of thecatamites’s games but picked this because its saturated 3D environment and abstract political story and mechanical play on open world grindy games have stuck with me despite me only playing it once years ago. The way the atmosphere changes as stuff passes to night, or the strange 3D creatures lurking the overworld – there’s a lot to love here on top of the narrative aspects.

Knytt Underground – Dark, lush, calm, mysterious, memorable. In some ways, a 2D ‘open world’ platformer. Some goals, but they feel like tactile texture so you can enjoy the collaborative soundtrack and art style. A very unified feeling game, left an impression on me when I played it in 2012.

LUCAH – Extremely unified ambience to everything and I love seeing that level of control from a development team. Also the action is good. The narrative/atmosphere is just loose enough where you can still make out its themes, but also lets you involve yourself in the process of unpacking the ideas around religion, gender, etc…

Lacuna III – rook (acclaimed musical artist!) also makes videogames! Framed as an emulation of a gifted ROM from one person to another, Lacuna III has a really strong, oppressive atmosphere and intimate-feeling narrative that form a cool pairing. It’s like if Link to the Past’s Dark World was good hahahahah

Fishing Minigame 2 – Takes the twist of NieR Automata’s multiple endings, but uses a single screen and a clever re-use of JRPG name entries to let you gain layers of understanding to the game’s characters, granting depth to what’s usually a random distraction in JRPGs (the “fishing minigame”). The creator’s other works are all great ideas expressed via RPG Maker.

Corporate Games

NieR (2010) – A multifaceted interpretation of the Ocarina of Time archetype. Its graphical/gameplay ‘shortcomings’ make it much stronger and argue against the excesses of the decade’s AAA games (despite being a bit excessive itself.) I can’t pick one great thing – the dream-like, over-exposed bloom saturating the grassy hills and shores? Song of the Ancients? Sense of hope/desolation in its overworld? “Weiss, you dumbass?” The factory and seashore town song? The Forest VN section? One thing’s for sure… if your game doesn’t have prose text on black fades, it should.

Attack of the Friday Monsters – I’m less into the slathered layers of nostalgia here, more into the light elements of fantasy imbued into a childhood community. Using a simple card game as texture, the small (and beautiful) Japanese town’s fixed locations gain a lot of life/meaning (following in footsteps of games like My Summer Vacation, love-de-lic games, etc). I always think about this game a little as a designer, but haven’t found quite the right idea to borrow from its structure yet.

Dark Souls – I did a photography project on these games! Learned a lot about 3D space and how you begin to remember it by walking across the same paths over and over. While I haven’t made any games that involve the idea of repeatedly visiting a space and seeing it change, there are still a lot of great spatial ideas you can learn from playing the slow-paced Souls series. I like Dark Souls 2 the most visually, but they’re all pretty good. (Demon’s too.)

Anodyne 2 Musical Influences: an incomplete list

I’m indebted to countless musical artists for Anodyne 2’s OST, but in particular I have to primarily highlight Susumu Hirasawa and Rei Harakami, and then all the Videogame OSTs on here. Then comes all the other songs. This is most of the songs I remember actively listening to during the game’s development, it doesn’t include things that are more ‘permanent’ influences (like romantic-era piano composers, shostakovich string quartets, etc…). If I dig through my Youtube playlists I can probably find more, but 70-80 or so artists and their albums/songs seems like enough for now!

As a side note, I don’t use streaming services. How I’ll find music is either searching for references for a given song, random browsing through my Soundcloud feed or peoples’ likes, Bandcamp articles/browsing, or by chance from friends on Discord or Twitter. Then if it’s useful I’ll have it on rotation with a few other songs until I think I’ve understood it well enough, then I might buy it and put it in my mp3s folder.

(Spoilers for Anodyne 2): Some of these songs I referenced heavily (Kelly Chen’s song for the groove in “Fashion Storm”, Pleasure System’s song for “Thousand Thousand Layer…”, 33EMYBW’s song for the Nanobot fight, Antimonesia for the Attic level, Tempura Kidz for “sparkle sparkle..”, Perfect Blue song for the Gargoyle Chase, Rei Harakami’s “Pone” for the chords in Dustbound Village, probably more).

Anyways, enjoy, please research these artists and give them your money!! (And give me money too, via bandcamp, maybe.. https://htch.bandcamp.com/album/anodyne-2-return-to-dust )

Also… a note on music influences – sometimes one of these might sound like a song in a game but actually I listened to the song after writing the Anodyne 2 song. Music is odd…

Susumu Hirasawa – pretty much everything, esp: Tamashii no Furusato (i borrowed the idea of blending pentatonic melodies with regular scales), Garden where the Solutions are Found (listened to this one a LOT), Gemini 2, Solar Ray 2, Millenium Actress OST, Parade, Technique of Relief, Philosopher’s Propeller, Hansen 108,Siren,  Holy Delay (one of the best loops, before the vocals kick in), Paranoia Agent OST, “Indra”, work as “Shun”, Landscapes #1

Kaku P Model, esp antimonesia, kai = kai

Rei Harakami – Lust (one of my favorite albums), “Pone”

Mondo Grosso – “Hello Do You Copy”, “Labyrinth”, “Solitary”, “Late night blue”

33EMYBW – Golem“Ship of Theseus” (I recommend this artist and the label this was published on, lots of interesting club music)

Kelly Chen – Hua Hua Yu Zou

Sega Bodega – 3310

Wednesday Campanella – “Aladdin”, “Gala” (KOM-I? Kenmochi Hidefumi reading this? Want to have a song in a video game? Contact me hello@analgesic.productions )

Utada Hikaru – Fantome track 1 4 9 10

Kirby Super Star, Dream Land 3 OST

Joe Hisaishi – Kaiju no kodomo OST

Pleasure Systems – “heirloom

Teruo Nakano – “現象界パレット”, “eardrum”

Kaiba OST

Perfect Blue OST , esp “Uchida’s Theme”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1Dy0Zfw6Qs

999 OST – “Digital Root”, “senary game

magicalmushie – “musica universalis”

Nicolo Telesca – Lucah OST

Toe – “two moons”

Phantasy Star III Main Theme (LIVE, 1990)

包美聖 – 小茉莉Little Jasmine (by Mei-Sheng Bao)

Sean Han Tani (…that’s me!)

no. 9 – “left the wind’, “tomorrow land”, “Will”, most of their work etc

Forever Kingdom OST – “forgotten valley”

yukari – “marginal man”

P-model: “colors”, “eisei alone”, big body, “Chevron”, much more.. (Eisei alone I listened to a LOT)

“every other beat missing” music meme

Opoona OST – at tokione

Travis Bickle  – “Get a Job”

SMT Soul Hackers OST – Tenkai Airport (Reality)

Travis Strikes Again OST – Seeming Sad

Jun Miyake – “Para Media”

Kikuo – “red moon”, “Blue cave’, “Yume miru kikai ningyo’ (i recommend all of kikuo’s work)

sparite – “exoticism

SMT IV OST, esp: Kagome Tower, Naraku Dungeon, Tokyo Overworld, Blasted Tokyo

Breath of Fire V OST, esp “Power Supply Building” and “Lifeline”

Hiroshi Yoshimura – Flora 1987

Maple Story OST (First few years)

Daoko – “Iya”, some other songs off that album

Rimi Natsukawa – 島唄 (shima uta)

Kinesthetiac – “Rat Park”, “Tomb”

Meytel – “Kireinakisetsu”, “わたしのみらいに関係ない

Lamp – “Symphony

kuchiroro – 00-00-00

neotenomie – ‘other‘, prism stalker OST , other songs..

ilkae/zebra – “Clocks”

Tempura kidz/pc music – I like it

serpentwithfeet – “bless ur heart”

Kohl – “The inquisition”

Family Basik – “music for absentees”

Parks Burton – Pare (highly recommended, I also did a remix for htis)

dj girl – “Fast Track

Sword of Mana OST (GBA)

Contact OST (NDS)

A.G. Cook in general

Threads of Fate OST

Saga Frontier II OST (Masashi Hamauzu more generally)

Tatsuyuki Maeda, Tatsuya Kousaki – Astal OST – “Crystal Palace”

Fryd: “hellbeast” (I can’t find this one anymore)

Gazelle Twin 

Rook 

Sayohimebou – “RGB”

Dragon Quest II Symphonic Suite – “Endless World”, various other songs from Dragon Quest, like 8’s overworld

SMT Nocturne OST – Shinjuku Medical Center (Post Conception)

Ulrich Schnauss – A Strangely Isolated Placeblumenthal and other songs

ThommazK – Dandara OST

June Chikuma – Les Archives (Bomberman Hero composer!)

Sonsofu – “Overlapping Particles”

OH HEEJUNG – Yop

FFX OST (The remastered is good too)

FFXIII, FFXIII-2 OST

Mitsuto Suzuki – Neurovision

Fumie Kumatani – PSO 2 OST – Jungle

Interview – The Body and Spirit in Anodyne 2

This interview of me originally appeared on Ludica mag. I answered in English and the interview was translated to Italian. https://www.ludicamag.com/il-corpo-e-lo-spirito-in-anodyne-2-return-to-dust/

I’ve reproduced my original English answers below.

Ludica Mag: The first Anodyne was a Zelda-like RPG (being it based on puzzle-solving) a bit extrovert (like Undertale) and a bit weird (like Lisa). (Do you agree with this description?) Anodyne 2 is a very different game: how did you work to expand the original concept in this direction?

Sean: I think Anodyne 1 is a game that, despite its flaws, has a very unique atmosphere that very few games have come close to replicating. What we borrowed from Anodyne 1 was symbolism through the dust, a generally fantastical and at times tense atmosphere, and the general surreal juxtaposition of the game’s levels. In Anodyne 2, we combined this surrealism with a story conceit: the areas are so vastly different, because they are the interiors of characters. We aimed to keep that surreal, whimsical feel, but make the game far more communicative with the player on a narrative level.

L: Playing Anodyne 2, I find it a very original gaming experience. How did you ‘give birth’ to this story about the dust, the vacuum cleaner, a 3D world that contains 2D worlds that sometimes contains other 2D lower-res worlds? It’s something at the same time viscerally bodily (since Nova physically enters the 3D bodies to access the 2D worlds), powerfully metaphorical (everybody has its interior life) and very speculative, as imagining other dimensions can be (from the 2D world of Flatland to the 26 dimensions of the Bosonic String Theory!).

S: Marina had a prototype of a platformer where you shifted between 3 sizes. Dust came from Anodyne 1, Vacuum Cleaner came from an ‘evolution’ of Anodyne 1’s broom. We generally like to find some sort of ‘traditional’ game mechanic that makes the game interesting enough in a tactile way to pull the player through the game’s story, and vacuuming/sucking worked (a bit inspired by Kirby.)

From there we brainstormed certain ideas we wanted to explore with the Anodyne series’ surreal landscapes – eventually we came to the idea of putting the ‘action’ into 2D and the exploration into 3D – thus taking advantages of the efficiencies of both visual formats. 3D is easier to quickly make a vast feeling world, 2D is easier to create little one-off action sequences or dungeons.

At the same time, we came up with the story themes we were interested in – the trappings of religious or familial structure, the power of communities, and used that to build the core story of The Center and Nova, exploring the island, etc. The ‘shrinking’ idea ended up being a great way not only to tie the process of ‘cleaning’ into the main story, but a fun way to create self-contained substories that were also interesting on their own.

LM: There’s lot of existential /metaphysical /religious (C Psalmist!) references in this game. Many NPCs wonder about their place in the world, their past lives, and their destiny. I’d like to hear more on this topic.

S: For the NPCs you clean we generally started with the thematic framework of: early NPCs would have very ‘straightforward’ cleanings, though they wouldn’t quite be fixed of their problems. Blue Vale NPCs would be more complicated… cleaning wouldn’t change much of anything. As the game goes on we wanted to draw more complications with the idea that ‘fixing’ someone can be something that’s straightforward.

The general existential tone and quirky NPCs is a tonal choice we use for the Anodyne series – it fits into the vastly diverse landscapes and levels.

The religious ideas mainly come from Marina, partly from her background of being raised Christian, the various literature she read growing up, and extensive experience with the Bible. Generally Anodyne 2 deals a lot with considering how to deal with your life under certain social structures, and ‘religion’ is a common one to think about. There’s also the general notion of control with The Center, or corporate working life with C Visionary.

L: The 3D world has a graphic that reminds me of the first PlayStation games. This is interesting (on Ludica there’s an old article that invites the developers to keep exploring the aesthetic of polygons in the first 3D games, comparing them to the brutalist architecture and its exposure of structural elements), so I’d like to ask a) the reason of this choice and b) how you designed the world (also with which development tools) and c) if you were inspired by any particular game.

S: a) We think it looks good, and it’s also faster to make. It also works well with the surreal setting we have – it’s easier to convince people they’re in a fantastical place, as their brain has to do the job of filling in some details. It’s like how a visual novel screen can be really, really tense and immersive… just with words and a single image! Other reasons: art and level design workflows with HD art quickly become too hard for small teams, and also, it’s a lot easier to make a visually unique game with ‘lo-fi’ art.

b) The world was designed based on the story’s needs – as Nova becomes more complicated of a character, the world and levels almost seem to fall apart and break logic in the Outer Sands. Cleaning becomes a much more morally dubious affair. Earlier in the story, when Nova has a simple mission and thought process, the levels are almost too straightforward (Cenote).

For making them, Unity and Blender. 3D worlds I’d sometimes block out in Unity, or sketch on paper, then Marina would create the final 3D area using tools or whatever, adding decoration. Same with 2D areas, but using tilemap systems. We’d always have visual moodboards/discussion of the area before Marina created final art or I created music.

c) We were inspired by many games for small aspects (e.g. some visual ideas borrowed from Panzer Dragoon Saga, Shadow of the Colossus. Some game ideas from 2D zeldas, Kirby. Story tone ideas from Nier, LUCAH), but of course for the more innovative ideas (streamlining a game across a 3D world, designing how exactly 2D/3D works) we had to innovate and figure that out ourselves. Our inspirations list is quite large and spans not just film, literature or games, but also experiences in real life communities or friend groups, etc. So, I would say there isn’t one influence that takes precedence over the other. We tend to use influences more like moodboards, vs. worshipping/paying homage to one platonic ideal game.

L: What about the choice to insert some meta content in the form of commentaries and prototypes?

S: It’s good for developers to be transparent about how games are made, so I always look for nice ways to fit unused content into a game. The way some developers want to create this perfect, 1 hour condensed experience with no flaws is a little odd to me – games are imperfect and a sort of taped-together medium… I think it’s important to reveal how humans are behind each game.

In our case, Metaclean framework also gave an opportunity to enhance the story ideas of C Visionary and motivation. I also want to explore the idea of ‘canon’ existing in works like games… to suggest the idea of there being a ‘grey canon’ where certain parts of the game are both true and not true. A bit of the extra areas like no such scene goes into this – the idea that you can choose to read some of the extra areas as ‘canon’, or not. While obviously I want to include a ‘canon’ story, I do think there are interesting thematic things you can do by including story elements that don’t cleanly fit in, leaving some room for interpretation. I don’t always like doing that with games, but it does work in some cases like Anodyne 2. A game is a bizarre, bizarre thing. There are so many aspects that are never explained or make sense in games. Why can Nova double jump? Where do those coins go? So it feels natural to extend those questions to the written story itself.

L: The meta game content also refers to the need to contain the budget, and now I’m dreaming of what this game – which is really great as it is – would have been if you had unlimited funds. There’s something important that you could not develop?

S: Something I think about a lot is my philosophy of releasing games. Is it better to release two games in a decade, or 10? I believe it’s 10. Or 20. I think art that takes forever to come out is inherently flawed, it presupposes that there are fixed truths to the world that can be spoken at any point in time and hold power, if the developer only spends enough time and money on it. A game that takes 5 years to come out – certainly it might be ‘good’, but there will be an inherent mismatch between the social situation of its release period, and its development. That is, if the developer is even thinking about these things, which often they are not.

Er, that is to say: If we hire a person, they can 1. help us make the game bigger in the same amount of time. Or, they can 2. help us make the same-sized game faster. I don’t think #1 makes sense. Anodyne 2 would overstay its welcome. If the game had a structure/pacing which was longer, maybe #1 would make sense. But I like 8-10 hour games.

#2 is a valid use. If we had unlimited funds, surely we could make Anodyne 2 sized games faster. Yet… they would be fundamentally different, shifted by the bigger team of 3 or 4. Of course, Marina and I could completely direct this new team member, but it feels better to let them contribute equally. There’s also a danger with more labor, and it’s that you won’t be making as many interesting design compromises or simplifications. A lot of our game’s unique identities come from us working as two and needing to simplify and strip things down, vs. just ‘okay’-ing everything because you have the labor to do it.

So, I think that potentially I might one day entertain working with 3 or 4 people, but not soon. We don’t have the money, and seeking funding makes life just a bit more complicated than I’d like. It creates higher sales goals, too, which compromise the decisions we can make with the game. I’m happy if people can make interesting games with teams of 3 or 4 or more, but it doesn’t seem the right path for us now.

L: The soundtrack is beautiful and is perfect for the scenarios it accompanies: how did you work on the music of Anodyne 2?

S: I made it with Ableton Live. I usually use Ableton’s built-in synthesizers to create my own instruments, or sample manipulation, which is how I achieve a unique sound. There’s a lot of factors I consider when making a song, but generally I think about what aspects of the visuals, the story, the gameplay – of a certain level – that I can enhance with the music. Then I draw upon my knowledge of music to try and find reference songs that have aspects of them that would fit my goals, and I borrow from those references and mix them and come up with a new idea. Sometimes this is as little as a 4-second percussion sound in a song, or sometimes it’s as big as a chord progression… what can be useful is often unexpected, so it’s important to listen to a lot more music than just Chrono Trigger, haha. I try to draw in a lot of influences. I think fans understand that, but my music rarely gets praised via awards or blog posts or whatever, even though it’s better than a lot of music that does win awards! Oh well, that’s okay – I’ll just keep making good music… hahaha!

“Persona”: splitting myself into two on Twitter

“Are you writing those tweets?”

This was roughly a question someone asked me the other day about my @sean_htch twitter account (where you may have clicked through to this essay). And it’s a good question – if you have met me in person, you’ll know that the stuff I tweet on ‘main’ (@sean_htch) feels a bit distant from talking to me in person. The part of me represented there, perhaps, feels

  • Obsessed with Zelda, especially Link’s Awakening? Does Sean continuously play Link’s Awakening?
  • Wow, this person really loves the PSX, N64, etc
  • Can’t stop talking about their upcoming game Anodyne 2.
  • They are always positive!

Now, of course, that’s very much an exaggeration of some facets of my personality. I enjoy Zelda games as well as old 3D games, but they’re just one of many interests. They just happen to be the best way to immediately convey some of the appeal of Anodyne 2/Anodyne. I do care about Anodyne 2 a lot, as it’s my job, but I care about other things as well. I experience a wide range of emotions. (That was a weird sentence to write.)

If you’ve followed @sean_htch for over a year, you may have noticed that tweets are far less frequent, but when I do tweet, there’s a lot of engagement. That’s all intentional! Here’s why.

This is a graph of my follower count from Feb 2016 to March 2019. The graph continues to the left. In fact, if you follow it to Feb. 2014, followers are at 1700, meaning, more or less, follower count was flat or gently sloping for many years.

I worked on the game Even the Ocean for 3.5 years from 2013 to 2016, so you can see how that corresponds with a nearly flat line on the graph! In the middle of 2018, I decided “something needs to change” about how I approach Twitter. It’s a useful tool for promoting my work and I felt I wasn’t using it optimally. So I changed things and, happily, have had some positive results!

Splitting the Self

Ah… dramatic subheading…

Last year, I asked myself: do my followers, likely who know me through my games, need to hear every little opinion or life thing about me, like that the grocery store near me hasn’t restocked on cookie dough in a month, and that the price of a chicken rice plate at my favorite fast casual restaurant went up $0.50 and it’s ridiculous to charge more money for rice than for a pita wrap?

Well, the answer is no. It didn’t feel healthy to have thousands of people hearing my frivolous tweets. It’s good to have tweets less people see, it’s also good to have parts of you that only offline friends see.

Also, my follower count was more or less flatlined for years, and if I want to stay in this business, I need to stop letting my personal life weigh down my professional work. So as a compromise between locked accounts and mains, I made a ‘sub’. (I know a few other game developers who have done this.)

It’s at @han_tani, and it’s just me using Twitter as a non-professional, i.e. how I’d use twitter if I wasn’t working in games.

Splitting myself into two lets me be more focused.

On my main, I can make decisions that are good for my career as a game designer – I can hyperfocus on making tweets that I know fans of my work will enjoy seeing and sharing. I can tweet important news about my work like console ports. I can share posts like this with a larger audience.

And, I can still do this while having the pleasure of complaining about Tide Pods smelling too strongly on my sub account.

Be a Nintendo

Around August or September last year I started working with The Indie Bros. for assistance with promoting and outreach with Anodyne 2. One useful advice I got was on “being a Nintendo” on Twitter.

Essentially, a “Nintendo” will keep their tweets hyperfocused on getting fans interested in their current work. If there are ever memes or jokes, they always relate to the game. No threads, no arguments, etc. Hearing this sentence made it clear the idea of keeping my main’s presence “all signal, no noise”. Now, I don’t tweet anything unless it contributes to the goal of

  • Promoting Anodyne 2 or something I’m working on
  • Promoting something that helps my company’s stability (console ports, etc)

I will occasionally retweet friends’ work, but I do it less than I wish I could! (FWIW, I do retweet lots of stuff on my sub).

Another counterpoint I always was thinking was “what about using my platform for promoting good things (social justice, etc!)” and that is a fair point! But there are various people with accounts that do a great job at this, and it’s their account’s focus. I feel if I want to do concrete justice actions, I’m better off doing something local – donating to local orgs, or joining a political community, etc.

That is to say, I feel that using Twitter for a career means you need to have a single focus – something the account is known for. And it’s hard for that to be “being yourself,” as everyone is multifaceted.

Being Yourself

As an indie dev, you have a unique advantage, and that is, you can still keep your account as being ‘you’ (in the sense that my main Twitter is Sean, not my company Analgesic Productions). I still think that accounts that are a single person are more attractive than a company, which feels impersonal. (this is basically a fact, given how many fast food twitters now act like they’re a person).

Of course, running a main that’s ‘yourself’, there’s a temptation to tweet more ‘normal’ stuff about your life – but again, that’s what the sub account is for! If you’re a smaller indie, don’t fall into the temptation of trying to show your cool game *and* your cool lunch, no matter how delicious.

The 10-year question

Something I like to think about with curating my online self is – will this curated self successfully age? What should my strategy with Twitter be *now* so that I can still get engagement in 10 years? I asked myself this because near the end of Even the Ocean’s development, I was barely getting much interest in the game itself.

Other questions: how can I frame my tweets so that they’re both appealing but also there’s obviously enough of a weird/experimental edge so that when I make a less commercial game (think All Our Asias), I can still get people interested? Those are all things worth thinking about if you are going to use Twitter for the purposes of a career. I’d like for Marina Kittaka and I to be able to stay in games and work together!

Well, those questions are too complicated for me to fully finish by my 11 AM deadline, so I’ll stop here. I also want to talk about composing tweets that people like to interact with, visual hooks, various strategies with tweets, and how tweeting is essentially grinding out visibility and increasing the chances of ‘lucky tweets’ or journalists/video makers seeing your game, etc, but that’ll be another day.