Geometry 1/13/2014

Something that I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with is my affinity for random geometric problems (e.g. staring at a half-covered design on a random pizza box and realizing that the lines of the “pizza slices” do not intersect at the center of the arc in which they lie).

Today, I was pondering over the toroidal map type in Civilization. The game still plays on a planar rectangular projection of the map, but how much distortion should there really be?

I’m going to assume that the width of the map is the maximum latitudinal circumference around the outside, and therefore I am interested in how much narrower the “poles” should really be to meet each other on the inside of the torus.

My initial condition therefore is that [map width] = 2 * pi * ([major radius] + [minor radius]) and that [map height] = 2 * pi * [minor radius].

I am interested in the minimum latitudinal circumference, described by 2 * pi * ([major radius] – [minor radius]).

After some very basic algebra, the conclusion is that the poles should be only as wide as [map width] – 2 * [map height], a significant result! The distortion is quite severe for maps of appreciable height!

If a toroidal Civ map was twice as wide as it was tall, the poles would all still come to a single point, which is not much actual space for units and cities placed up there. Though, if we had to play on Civ maps where distance was physically accurate given the 3D shape of the world, it’d probably be even more confusing to keep track of.


A not actually very informative scan from my scribbles

SxSW 2013


I’ve just returned from South by Southwest; it was interestingly awesome.

There’s a lot on my mind – from films I really liked to new developments  and terms I’ve learned about – but I wanted to write a bit about what I heard/saw related to producing.

The MEIM program invited the ETC students who were also at SxSW to join them for breakfast panels that they had arranged, and it was very interesting to learn about the areas that they focus on.  MEIM students were interested in film development, production, marketing, acquisition, distribution.  There were definitely many other aspects of producing in there that I was not familiar with and I realized that I really was interested in the physical production, and felt uncomfortable with a lot of the other stuff due to lack of familiarity.  They all seem like things that a good producer should know about, and I wonder if what I’m interested in is the whole production career path or just line producing.

I also participated in the Production/Producers mentor sessions and spoke with Brian Yang and Yvoone Boudreaux.  The sessions were only 10 min. long so it was very introductory but I hope to speak with them more later this semester.  Otherwise, the time I did spend with them was very encouraging.

Finally, something that I thought was very interesting was a music panel that I sat in on despite not having a music badge (it wasn’t very full so the door volunteer didn’t mind).  In this panel, the speakers talked about the difficulties of producing music scores for film and television, specifically the trials and tribulations of having to work to a client’s demands and not on your music as pure, expressive art.  They mentioned things such as clients tend to not know what they want or only realize it when they hear what you’ve begun to make and moreover the importance of communicating as much information as possible; on top of that, they also talked about constant revision.  I thought this was all very fascinating because these types of issues are things that I’ve already had first-hand experience with at the ETC, and it was interesting to hear artists talk about it as something that can be unexpected to their preferred work flow in music.

In the end, I wish I had spoken to even more people at SxSW.  At the same time, my mind is still overwhelmed with all the events that were occurring and all the panels, films, and parties that I did attend, and I am still reflecting on this experience.  Perhaps I will write more when I have thought about it even more.

Conversation #3

On January 30, I spoke with another ETC 2010 alumna currently at Electronic Arts:  Theresa Chen, Features Producer/Assistant Producer 2 on the Sims 3 Expansion Pack team.  Her background was as an artist/designer before discovering her knack for producing.

Her summary was that the “producer is there to make sure the rest of the team can do the project.”

From my own work on ETC projects, I can empathize with this statement on a ground level of getting the project done.  I haven’t really yet had to market a product to executives or deal with monetary budgets, myself, since at the ETC, projects and teams are decided for you, and you are mostly involved with execution/completion.  The project-based academics have been very helpful for me, but I am also becoming more aware of what I haven’t captured in my own experiences.

When talking about producer responsibilities, Theresa mentioned “being a generalist that wears different hats” and warned about the dangers of the term “an ideas guy.

I really sympathize with both these statements, and I feel like I’ve begun to see the subtleties as well.  The producer must be a generalist in that they must speak the language of as many roles as possible, but they must also be able to admit how much they cannot completely know; moreover, we aren’t the guys with all the ideas but we must be able to champion whatever the vision of the project is.

Something that came up with my conversation with Theresa as well is that producing is an “experience-driven role.”  It’s hard to point out the soft-skills that a good producer develops over time, and that may be strongly contributing to why it’s been so hard to pin down what producing is in general.

Conversation #4

On January 31, 2013, I spoke with Michael Nixon, a Freelance Producer who was once my roommate back in 2009-2010 at NYU.  He studied writing for television back in those days, but as is the way with life, he has found himself as a producer for webseries and webcasts.  It was great to catch up with him, and he was very helpful at elucidating some of the gaps in my knowledge about producing in film and television.

One of the neatest facts he shared was about how closely coordinated a crew on a live production needs to be:  Throughout the whole production, without the ability to cut, the crew needs to be able to communicate without distracting the performers, possibly even without talking.  I’ve seen plenty of bloopers where everyone keeps it together until a serious flub or a director yells cut, but I’ve never thought about having to keep going.  It’s all the stressful improvisation of a live performance combined with the stressful technology of a film shoot.  Woohoo!

As to producing, speaking with Michael was also just as neat.  He was the first non-ETCer I’ve spoken to, and thus, I found his explanations framed with a refreshingly novel perspective.

He described producing as “taking a bunch of disparate elements and making something out of it,” somewhat analogous to being a chef, or in his own experience, as having to take boxes of equipment & miscellanea and turning them in to a set.

I like this summary in addition to the other ones I’ve been getting.  While it is a less task or goal-oriented description, it captures a different essence of producing:  The struggling creative who has dared to take on the challenge of making something happen – a stage that perhaps most ideas which pass through someone’s mind rarely reach.  Or perhaps I’m reading too much in to it.

His definition of producing adds a lot to my pool of responses, and I’m beginning to see the nuances, some of which might confound my original goal of discovering the “essence of producing”.  As I’ve been putting it, producing seems to be something that is defined by experience and not by semantics.  I think Michael summed it up best though with “Everyone has their own opinion.  In some instance they are correct.  There’s no ‘right’ answer.”  As he referred to it, producing is “Entertainment’s Rubik’s Cube.”

Surviving Film

Today, I’m going to look at “Industry Survival Tips” from “The Complete Film Production Handbook.” On first pass, it is clear that this chapter doesn’t line up exactly with any from the “The Game Producer’s Handbook.”  While the chapter in the Game Producer’s Handbook is more centered on the role and responsibilities of the “titled” producer, this chapter in the Film Production Handbook is more about working effectively in the film industry in general.  Despite the inexact comparison, there is valuable information that I want to reflect upon.

This chapter also contains a good amount of numbered and bullet-ed lists of advice.  However, it is more industry-focused.  Common themes include networking and being aware of harsh realities of finding work.  Again, advice that I wouldn’t say is only film producing specific.

However, I will say that it surprises me how many times networking is mentioned in this chapter.  The line that I think is the most insightful is actually “Those in positions of hiring want to work with their friends and the people they like.”  It’s not hard to notice that certain directors often work with certain actors or certain groups of actors work together a lot, and I’m sure if someone went through and looked in depth at movie credits, even more people actually work together very often. There was a small section specifically about good work habits for producers, which again was very similar to that in the Game Producer’s Handbook.  Some tips I thought were particularly meaningful to my own experience (as things I’ve learned the value of or am still struggling with):

  • “Anticipate the needs of others.”
  • “You don’t have to know everything – you just have to know where to find everything you need to know.”
  • “Make time for the other things in your life that are important to you. It’s easy to lose sight of priorities.”

The other big theme besides networking that I’ve known about but hit close to home to see mentioned in the book was that of being passionate and well-informed.  My roommate is probably one of the most well-informed people at my program – in regards to gaming, animation, sports, entertainment in general.  I really look up to him, and sometimes though I just don’t know how he finds the time during the day to keep up with all this news.  Sometimes I feel like I get home from a long day, read about something interesting, and he already knew it yesterday.  It’s something I’m concerned about because passion and enthusiasm are states of mind, but if I don’t know things, I just don’t know things.  My personality and work style aren’t the same as my roommate but I’m interested in what I can do to adapt.

It seems that surviving in film is not too much different from being an efficient producer in gaming, but I think it’ll be easier to probe for specific answers through interviews, which I have also conducted seven-and-a-half so far.  I’ve got a backlog of interview notes that I need to transcribe here, but look forward to at least one every week.

Game Producing Effectively

So, as I mentioned in my previous post, I want to take a look at the chapters I had intended to read together separately as well.  In this post, I will be looking at “Habits of Highly Effective Producers” from “The Game Producer’s Handbook.”

The chapter starts off with an alphabetical list of good habits.  Admittedly, this list reads very generically, and is really good advice to anyone in any role (is there a job position where one should not “Demonstrate Professionalism” or “Meet Commitments”?).  For someone new to producing or looking at it from the outside, this advice doesn’t translate well into a tangible to do list.  However, as someone who’s produced for a little over a year now, I see what people say about producing being a very individual practice.  For myself, some of these suggestions translate into past anecdotes and specific practices I’ve adopted, but I wouldn’t be able to say that I’ve figured out the “right” way to go about everything.

Nonetheless, the latter half of the chapter does get in to more specific practices.

The first one is “Daily Delta Reporting” or what we refer to as “Dailies” at the ETC.  It is the practice of every team member reporting (either to the whole team or to management) about what specifically they worked on that day and what states those things are in, whether it be done or in trouble.  This is a staple of producing and I couldn’t imagine ending a day without knowing what happened.  It is very similar to “Dailies” in film where the crew looks at what was recorded that day.  However, film dailies are specifically a look at the collective product and how individual contributions appear in it, while game development dailies are just individual reports (there may not always be a collective product at the end of the day).

The second one is about asking clarifying questions.  This sections seems the most oddly specific, especially since being a producer in an academic setting means I’ve never had to deal with questions like “when a team member is unhappy with a raise.”  However, I really appreciate this section for giving very specific examples of how to frame questions about sensitive issues – usually in logical or resolution-oriented ways.

Further along, “Always Follow Up in Writing” is a good one.  It turns out that it isn’t just in legal situations where having exact events and responsible parties in writing is useful.  Law involves the practice of communicating very specifically, and producing also requires that – albeit probably to a not-as-exacting standard.

In “Scheduling and Rescheduling,” Dan Irish mentions specifically that he uses MS Project and Excel for schedule, a nice specific fact.

“Knowing What You Don’t Know” was a nice section to see near the end as well.  This is a fundamental problem that plagues my mind:  As the producer, I both want to defer to the expertise of those who know better than I, but I also want to know what they are talking about in detail.  I think one of the core things about being a producer is about being in control enough to know who better to put in control.

Overall, I found this chapter very relate-able since my primary experience at the ETC is also in game-production.  Maybe I’ll find out that production is not much different across industries other than the industry knowledge.