The Setup

Interview

What do people use to get stuff done?

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Tamas Kemenczy

Tamas Kemenczy

Game designer (Kentucky Route Zero), web developer (Pitchfork)

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Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Tamas Kemenczy, an artist, indie game designer and web developer based in Chicago. Right now I'm collaborating with Jake Elliott on Kentucky Route Zero, a Cardboard Computer game, as well as working as a developer for Pitchfork, most recently working on the Bat for Lashes cover story. I also work on a homebrew Arduino VGA synthesizer for Arcanebolt, a video/noise project.

What hardware do you use?

For my workhorse game dev setup, I sit on an old creaky farm chair in front of an Apple 27" Cinema Display, driven by a 2010 11" Macbook Air with 2GB of RAM and a Nvidia Geforce 320M graphics card. I'm not in any rush to upgrade for the moment, and I don't mind the lower ceiling - I like to know that what I'm working on runs on somewhat more modest hardware. My tattered pair of Sony MDR-7506 headphones are a classic and they have good audio response.

I do testing on a few other laptops sitting around: A 2011 13" MacBook Pro, an older 2009 MacBook Pro, a Lenovo Thinkpad T60p, Lenovo 13" Thinkpad Edge, and a Lenovo IdeaPad V570.

On input devices: I use an old school optical 3-button/wheel mouse and an Apple Wireless Keyboard with the caps lock remapped to control. While I depend on a multitouch trackpad/Magic Mouse for day-to-day use, I find that it's just a bit too fuzzy and error-prone for the production tools I use. So the hard-wired buttons are an essential haptic.

For Arcanebolt, I use a Lenovo Thinkpad Edge running some bygone version of Ubuntu for flashing the Arduino boards. During performances we use an old XT keyboard that talks to the board. We use an obsolete Magnavox CRT screen to display the Arduino-generated VGA images, and on occasion an old IBM CRT as well. Old naive monitors like that are much more responsive to weird and corrupt video signals!

And what software?

Emacs is home sweet home and I use it across the board for development and pretty much anything text-related. Menlo is the monospace/programming font that I can't do without, it makes all the right changes to Bistream Vera Sans Mono. For general scripting I use Python or Javascript, and Bash to tie it all together. I like the webkit flavor of browsers, Safari or Chrome. OS X generally has bash/Emacs-style key bindings which is really helpful, and although I don't really spend too much time with the built-in OS apps and features (other than Messages), Spotlight, Quick Look and the suite of screenshot commands are wonderful. I jot down text snippets with Gist.

Blender is my jam for computer graphics - fullscreened on that 27" display with the Elsyiun skin. I view Blender as the Emacs of its domain and the extensibility via the Python API is indispensable. For a tool that I spend so much time in, the UI hits the mark. I lug around a number of Python scripts for my Blender/Unity workflow (mainly for working with obsolete vertex-based coloring and line art), and I've found myself tweaking the FBX exporter too. I also love the idea of using Blender as a headless, general purpose command-line renderer that uses Python for scripting. Gimp/X11 does the job for image/texture editing and I fire up Grapher occasionally to help visualize curves and filters for various shaders and procedural graphics.

Kentucky Route Zero is being developed in Unity Pro and we're using Mono/C# for game components. We've set up the Unity project for external revision control and use GitHub for code storage and issue tracking, and I use a Tumblr to document my thought process and keep track of inspiring media for the game's art direction. I often end up with with long email chains talking through various game mechanics and possibilities so I guess Gmail could count towards a project management tool. I find HTML/Javascript/CSS a great low-overhead prototyping environment to fallback on.

For my Arcanebolt-related work, I use a custom Makefile, avr-gcc and avrdude to compile Arduino projects via Ubuntu. This way I can comfortably work in Emacs instead of the bundled Arduino IDE (creature of habit). GNU screen comes in handy for reading back serial output from the board.

What would be your dream setup?

The setup I have right now does the trick. I used to have back problems from hunching over a laptop screen for long periods of time - getting a nice external monitor really helped, so I'm still coasting on that! Come to think of it, I'd love a portable display that was bright enought to easily see outdoors. It would be wonderful on a rooftop deck, or a porch.