the website of owen byron roberts


computer artist
Being a computer artist can be a drag.

some thoughts on making art
Last month I was in Catskill, New York, at the Catwalk artist residency, where I lived alone in a three bedroom house located across a large property from the main house for the residency and worked on a new art project.

I finally got around to publishing my new game Endlessness in the Apple Store a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been meaning to reflect on it a bit, but the semester started and I have been busy getting read for classes. I’m really excited to be teaching a new Game Design course this semester at BMCC, it’s a special topics class, which means it’s not a regular class but one that I made up from scratch, which seems to be uncommon at BMCC. Anyway, I’m reading the first set of student blogs reacting to the first reading and prompt, and it’s leading me to reflect on my own work, so I’m doing this at the same time.

I don't necessarily think that the concept of "gamification" in "real life" is bad, but I've always been a little skeptical of the idea because it's sort of the opposite of what I've always valued in video games. Recently I've been thinking of the idea of "lifification" in video games and the ways that game feedback systems can be analogous for human interaction in relationships.

Refresh removed from Apple store
Back in January I got an email from Apple about the first app I published, called Refresh by Owen Ribbit (I added "by Owen Ribbit" because Refresh was taken), was going to be removed because it hadn't been updated since it was first published in early 2014. I would have 30 days to upload a new build.

new buildings
Rebuilding the buildings in "god is a ghost" to get better proportions for the player and npcs, now they look less like weird new hip architecture and more like section 8 housing:

new layout for hwyv
I redesigned the hwyv sequencer layout in a way that I think represents time and what's happening in the program more accurately, using horizontal channels instead of vertical.  Recorded a screen shot of a bit of performance using samples from the John Cage work Six Melodies that I plan to eventually use as background music in my new game.

animation tool
I turned the drawing tool for my new app into an animation tool.  It's a bit idiosyncratic, and geared towards the type of animation I want to use in the app, but it's online and could be used with some guidance.

canvas drawing
I've been slowly working on a new app.  I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around what it will be but I am starting to try to incorporate content from a novel that I started writing back in 2010 and have worked on on and off since then.  I think something that early apps were missing was a longer story with real, complex characters.  But it's tricky to add so much text into a game or interactive context.

HWVY controller done, sort of
Finally got something working for the non-butt version of my HWYV sequencer (this is the butt version).  There were several bad design ideas before I decided to 3d print it.  It took 3 prints but I got something close enough to hold the circuit and strong enough to work with the force sensing resistor.  A unintended benefit of the 3d print is that the platform is a little flexible so its actually a more responsive surface than earlier wood prototypes.

Toenail Swim is in the Apple Store
I made an art app/game thing over the last year called Toenail Swim which is now in the Apple Store.  It will run on iPhone or iPad, probably cooler on iPad, and remember to wear headphones.  The game is free, I wasn't as happy with this one, but wanted to finish it because I put a lot of work into it, but I don't want to charge a dollar or whatever for it.  Android version should be out soon.

ISEA 2015
Back in August I took my app Getting To Know You in a new virtual reality implementation (using Google Cardboard) to the ISEA 2015 conference in Vancouver.  It was a really nice trip although it came in the middle of a bunch of other stuff I was doing, like preparing to come to Shanghai, seeing my family and finishing up other work.  It was the first conference of that kind that I have been to and I was concerned that I would be too anti-social and weirded out to get much out of it, but I ended up having some great conversations with people and getting really good feedback on my app.

water color notebook
I made a new notebook out of the leftover paper from the Something Ave. Messages paintings I did for the opening. I had a bunch leftover so I made a 15 page 5 x 7 notebook with a stab bound cover using the board from some old mixed media notebooks. Turned out okay, but realized the paper is way too thick to make a good stab bound book, probably going to be hard to actually use past page 3 or so, though I guess I could cut the pages out as I go.

more makerbot
I 3D printed an enclosure for an audio synth that I made for some workshops last year.  The first three to print the base failed for various reasons but overall it was relatively easy.  This was the precursor to designing an enclosure for my new digital interface design for the HWVY music stuff.

We have a Replicator 2 at the Tech Crafts office that hasn't really been used for a year.  I've been designing and interface for my voice effects synth for the Booger Bus and other animations, but it's a bit tricky and isn't ready to print yet, so I printed a scene from the GTKY app to see how it would come out and just to get the MakerBot going.

mac key font
I made a font that looks like the Mac keyboard to use for demo posts for my class blogs.  I had been wanting to use something like that for a while to give key commands for using Photoshop and other programs in my intro classes.  There were a few already existing, but I didn't like the aesthetic of any of them, I wanted something where key character or phrase was the negative space so I could change the color of the key rather than the character, like this:

bitpim with samsung sch-u410
Recently I wanted to hack into my old flip phone, a Samsung SCH-u410, to set up a slide show to install at the faculty show at BMCC.  I discovered BitPim after some Googling and then ordered a USB cable from Newegg to connect with the phone.  BitPim didn't support this specific phone, but I was able to get it recognized by selecting a similar phone model in preferences.

reading app
Recently I finished a cataloging app that I've been developing in my spare time for most of this semester.  For a long time I've written notes about books I'm reading, as well as art, games, comics, movies and other things in notebooks, Google Docs, spreadsheets, all over the place.  Some of this is organized but most of it is not and even the organized stuff isn't easy to look at.

something ave released today
Update: Something Ave. was removed from the Apple and Google Play stores this year due to new requirements. I'm hosting it as a website for the time being until I have time to update the submissions. It's available at

frail shells
This game Frail Shells that I found recently is really cool.  It's one of the few games I've played that uses a sort of unconventional structure (without ruining it, it starts as a  first person shooter that is hilariously difficult, and turns into something much more thoughtful).  The basic idea behind it is very simple and might even seem corny if it wasn't done so straight forward.  I find the problem with games that aren't action packed or fun the way we expect them to be is that at a certain point you get that nothing else is going to "happen" so once you've understood the gimmick of the non-game or unconventional game there isn't much reason to keep going.  Not much "happens" in Frail Shells but I was really interested to find out how it would end or if it would end, partly because it never oversells itself as a "meaningful" game or something like that.

new 555 synth for booger bus voices
Last weekend I made a modification of the circuit from this workshop that I did last winter, using an FSR instead of the second potentiometer, to make a little 555 synth to use for the voices of the characters in Booger Bus.  I want to build a nice wood encasing for it, but I'll probably need more time to get some tools and stuff for the new shop.

thoughts on gamer gate / eron gjoni
A lot of the time I completely miss news stories or events that I would theoretically be interested in knowing about but am too busy with work or whatever else to read enough to really get what's going on.  I was totally confused by "gamergate" earlier this fall and never really attempted to understand it until recently, when I read a bunch of posts about it.  I'm not super interested in the gamergate phenomenon, but I found Eron Gjoni's "The Zoe Post" to be really fascinating in the way that I enjoy reading other things in this vein like fan fiction or even Eliot Rodger's manifesto, which I wrote about earlier this year.

new Unsubmit/Submit test print
Tycho and I printed some of the designs Mimi and I cut out back in August/September and they looked much better than the tests we tried.  I'm getting excited about the project again, which has had many bumps since Mimi and I first started talking about it back in like February or March.  The ink is still drying, so I haven't bound the test book, but I'm excited to see what it will look like.

Last week I read Violence by Slavoj Zizek.  An insight that stood out to me was his analysis of the torture at Abu Ghraib, which was described by George Bush at the time and others in the government as the result of a few perverted individuals who were disobeying the command chain (or something).  Zizek points out that actions and habits are the result of the social climate of individuals and makes comparisons between the (particularly theatrical/performative and recorded) scenes of torture we saw on TV and in newspapers and American hazing rituals and even performance art.

banff week 3
The third week of Banff unfortunately involved a couple of days lost to getting sick and to installing Toenail Swim and Getting to Know You in the Philosopher's Knoll Gallery.  It may have been for the best though, because the project I started working on in week 3, which is currently titled Vagina Head, wasn't really going anywhere.  I had started a sketch, just a test, and the effect of the lines moving and 3d animation combined was much less cool than I had imagined, and once I realized that, I didn't have much of a plot either, and I kind of stagnated.  Here's a still from the test app though:

banff week 2
I spent most of my second week at Banff working on a game currently title "Getting To Know You."  

banff week 1
My updates about my time at Banff are coming a few days after the fact because I was a little too focused on the work I was producing to write anything reflective about it, which is often the case. It's unfortunate because one of the things I was hoping to get out of the Banff experience was time to think about my work without the pressure of producing that I usually feel while in New York. I did take some time to think and write about what I want to do as an artist and how my work is either taking me in that direction or not, and I think I had some insights into my own process but I spent most of my time, as usual, working pretty obsessively writing code and drawing to try to get my projects into a finished state. I did make some cool work, and though I still feel I'm not quite where I will eventually be as an artist, I think these projects represent steps in the right direction.

my twisted world
I read all of Eliot Rodger's manifesto, "My Twisted World Story of Eliot Rodger by Eliot Rodger." The full title says something about the way the story is written. Before I write about that, I think many people who I mentioned I was reading it to were surprised or put off, asking why I would do that. I also wouldn't even bring it up sometimes when someone asked what I was reading. I felt self-conscious reading it on the subway, similar to how I felt self-conscious reading American Psycho, though that was a paperback and this was a document I read on my phone. I can't really explain why I felt fine reading and found it to be kind of page turner despite the amateur writing. I don't know if it makes me morbid or not.

new zine
Made a new little zine based on the cellular automata algorithm used to generate the maze in maze3d.  It's a poem about trying to fall asleep.  You can see the digital version here.  Eventually the grid will settle into a maze like series of lines but as long as the letters are flashing around you can read the whole poem.

website for J. Kathleen White
I launched a site for the artist J. Kathleen White yesterday.  I've been working with Kathleen for almost a year now to create video, ebooks and this website.  It's been really fun to see and read her work.

Giant steps limited edition flyer
Shaun put together a flyer for our show last night w drawings by Hal, Shaun and I, and a story by nick on the back. Mine is the the little comic at the bottom with two shapes talking to each other in emojis. I make little comics like this all the time in the margins of notebooks and stuff.

The death of a sentence
I made a little zine last week, adapting the program I wrote for Ann and my "Fingers" piece to do single character substitutions instead of double.  The text ends up being pretty funny, and I illustrated it with some simple cat drawings.  Not really sure what I think about it but it was fun.

Finally found time to finish this game I started working on last year at ITP.  I added some new characters (look for them in some videos and games in the future) and finished the maze generating algorithm.  The maze generating algorithm is based on the Game of Life algorithm, a variation of the cellular automata program that creates more lines rather than the basic shapes seen in Game of Life.  I've been playing around with different modifications to make patterns that look likes mazes and icons.  Eventually want to use this create characters as well as the maze.

CAC recap
I've been meaning to write a bit about my time at Contemporary Artists Center at Woodside, where I recently did a two week residency since I had a lot of catching up to do to get ready for the semester.  I applied to CAC last fall during a barrage of residency applications and was excited when I got the acceptance email and then stressed because I had to cancel a workshop and some other things to make time.  But I had been thinking all semester about needing time to dedicate to my own work and this was a great opportunity.

maker projects round up
Here's a collection of some of the projects I worked on during my time at the Intel store with Maker Education Initiative.

maker ed audio synth workshop
I'm on the way back from a great experience at the artists residency at Contemporary Artists Center at Woodside in Troy NY, and finally getting a chance to write a recap of the workshop that I led at Intel on January 2nd.

cupcake video game
Today at the Intel store there was a cupcake making event, and so I got help from a few kids who came through the story, Mohammed, Milo, Noah and Alex to make a little game using the Makey Makey.  Here's a work video of our work:

teaching design
This fall I began teaching at The College of New Jersey as an adjunct. ¬†I didn't see myself going into teaching until midway through my experience getting a masters at NYU, when I started thinking about careers beyond freelancing and being an artist. ¬†The College of New Jersey job happened pretty randomly‚ÄĒI wasn't getting called back from the majority of jobs I applied for and was scrambling to get a some teaching work at the Borough of Manhattan Community College where many ITP alums start out. ¬†There are a lot of things that are inconvenient about the TCNJ job, mostly the location and resulting commute, but I am also pretty lucky to be teaching at competitive four year school in a an art program.

recent animation tool progress
Started working on my new app/fiction/animation project and added some features to the animation tool I started last semester: