About jdfristrom (twitter: @happionlabs)

My biggest bragging right: I was a programmer, technical director and designer (and the second employee) at Treyarch, instrumental in helping it grow to the juggernaut it is today, but of all I did there I'm most proud of inventing the dynamic, physical swinging system in Spider-Man 2...loved even by Zero Punctuation! Spider-Man 2 has made a lot of top-games lists and was nominated for Excellence in Gameplay Engineering by the AIAS.

After Treyarch I was partner, technical director, and designer at Torpex Games where, with help from Richard Garfield, I invented the game Schizoid--"The Most Co-Op Game Ever"--available on Xbox Live Arcade. Schizoid was in the PAX 10 and nominated for both Best Original Game and Best Co-Op in the XBLA awards.

I also wrote the "Manager in A Strange Land" column for Gamasutra and I think I hold the world record for writing game development post-mortems in Gamasutra and *Game Developer* magazine. I was also on the committee for the IGDA Leadership Forum for several years.


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Orchammer 1944 – calling it done!

Posted by (twitter: @happionlabs)
Monday, July 29th, 2013 11:51 am

Made a couple last little fixes this morning and here it is!


Nazi Elves are exterminating us Orcs. We must fight back! No sleep till Berlin!

It’s a pretty fast-paced survival RTS – more and more creeps beset you as you find loot caches and build units – how long can you last, and how many of them can you take with you? As you improve your score, more units become available to you.

The current world champion is Mark Nau with 1251 total score.


Orchammer1944, last day. Tired.

Posted by (twitter: @happionlabs)
Sunday, July 28th, 2013 9:45 am

Coffee’s not working yet. Kids are annoying the wife and she’s gone on strike. Have a headache. Didn’t get enough sleep.

Going to try to get in something of a macro-game in today, something I’ve never done on a week-long prototype before, but game design genius Mark Nau sent me a doc with his ideas for it so I’m going to give it a stab.

Title screen:


Omaha beach:



Gratuitous blood splatter:



And, for posterity, here’s Mark’s notes on the macro game. We’ll see how much I can get done today –

The moving parts

1)      The game is divided into “levels” which are pass/fail challenges. Passing a level makes the next level available for play. Completed levels can be freely replayed.

2)      While playing a level, the player earns a level score which increments as he marches toward completion. For example, every time an enemy unit is killed.

3)      When a player completes a level challenge for the first time, he is awarded XP equal to his level score. No XP is awarded for failing a level.

4)      While replaying a level, the player has a way of voluntarily dynamically ramping up the difficulty of the level. For example, a “BRING IT” button that releases extra enemies every time it is clicked.

5)      When a re-played level is successfully passed, the player gets XP equal to the DIFFERENCE between the score he just got and his PRIOR high score on that level. In other words, you can’t just grind away at a level over and over to earn XP. You have to elevate your success, and you get rewarded by the amount you improved on your prior best attempt.

6)      The player can cash in XP for upgrades and perks that make his position stronger and therefore easier to complete levels.


1)      Each level should have its own cosmetic and/or gameplay “theme” that the player will use as a hook to remember that level and give it weight and identity. This can be as simple as unique colors for each level. This helps the player get a solid sense of revisiting places where he was once weak but is now strong.

2)      The level difficulty should be paced so that by the third level or so, the player is feeling some pressure to re-visit earlier levels in order to mine XP and make it easier/possible to clear the 3rd/4thlevel. Later levels should be difficulty tuned with the assumption that the player has almost fully optimized the amount of XP mining he can do on earlier levels.

3)      The UI should be very clear about displaying the player’s high-water mark on a level in as many places as possible. On the level select map, while the player is playing the level, and on the post-match screen. The post-match screen should make it very clear that the XP reward is based on exceeding the player’s prior high-score for that level.

4) The XP expenditure screen should give the player the option of clearing all his upgrades and refunding his XP to re-spend as he wishes. This keeps him from getting permanently stuck due to bad decisions.



Day 6: got a name and a theme – ORCHAMMER 1944

Posted by (twitter: @happionlabs)
Saturday, July 27th, 2013 9:47 am

So, those blue-eyed, blond-hair elvish with their crazy ideas about a master race – they want to exterminate us orcs! We need to fight back with our hammers, rifles, tanks, etcetera. That’s right, you play nazi-killing orcs. I’m going to put blood and swastikas in and get banned in Germany.
I’m streamed 90% of my work this week, and am going to start streaming again presently – http://twitch.tv/happionlabs


Day 4 of 7drts

Posted by (twitter: @happionlabs)
Thursday, July 25th, 2013 11:10 am




So, it’s a game – a fast paced survival RTS where you harvest loot drops & build towers and tanks and stuff all under an increasing onslaught of enemy creeps…it’s in some grey area between RTS and Tower Defense, I guess. I’m going to start working on the look soon and welcome feedback on my ideas: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.577301005642203.1073741829.393963410642631&type=1

I’m going to start streaming my Day 4 work presently (http://twitch.tv/happionlabs) – but I’m sure you’re all too busy with your own games to watch.

Some of the stuff in this thread looks awesome! I’m intimidated.

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