Work

Objective: To create meaningful interactions that change the way people think, act, and play. You want your product to leave a lasting impression on your customers. And I want to provoke in them a sense of wonder and curiosity. Through the use of a broad array of tools including vision documents, user flows, wireframes, experiential walkthroughs, interactive prototypes, user testing, and narrative development materials, I can help your teams create unforgettable experiences. Let’s work together to make awesome things.

User Experience Design

Rock Band Rivals Expansion Pack

 

Released a year after Rock Band 4’s launch, the Rivals Expansion delivered a slate of new features, a completely overhauled shell, and a host of UI/UX enhancements the game’s community had been requesting for months. This paid expansion was universally praised by the press and the Rock Band community.

Rockudrama

In this all-new campaign mode, players step in front of the camera as a documentary film crew chronicles the twists and turns of their band’s legendary career. In addition to several new mechanics that put players’ skills to the test, the band’s performance impacts the story, ensuring that no two playthroughs are exactly the same. 
What I did: Design leadership, UX design, narrative development, video editing

Rivals

In Rivals mode, players form crews of up to ten friends in order to compete in dynamic, weekly, themed challenges for placement in the coveted Bloodstone Tier. This asynchronous online feature greatly expands the game’s lifespan, gives players endless reasons to replay the songs in their music library, and gives players a sense of camaraderie and community previously missing from the game.
What I did: Design leadership, UX design

Rock Band 4 Live Service Feature Design

Harmonix released Rock Band 4 on October 6th, 2015, stating that it would be continuously enhanced as an ongoing live service for the duration of the current console generation.

As lead designer on the live service, I’ve worked intensively with my teams to develop exciting new features and restore community-requested legacy functionality.

Brutal Mode

In this all-new game mode, designed and tuned to provide an enticing challenge for our most expert fans, the gems turn invisible partway down the “note highway,” forcing players to rely on memory and timing in their pursuit of a ‘Crimson Star’ score. Destructoid called this new mode “the best thing to happen to Rock Band in years.”
What I did: Design leadership, playtesting

Leaderboard Ladder

This subtle but hugely motivating feature allows players to see the precise moment during gameplay when they’ve beaten the score of one of their console friends, and when they’ve surpassed their own previous high score.
What I did: Design leadership, UX design, prototyping, playtesting

Full Combo Recognition

A ‘Full Combo’ is achieved in Rock Band when a player manages to hit every single note in a song. This rare accomplishment has long been celebrated in the Rock Band community, but until the first live service update of Rock Band 4, no title in the franchise has ever recognized the achievement in-game.
What I did: Design leadership

Activity Feed + Taunt System

This feature allows players to challenge console friends to beat their high scores with a cheeky taunt that appears on their opponent’s Main Menu screen the next time they boot up the game.
What I did: Design leadership, UX design

Auto-Kick

Rock Band’s broad appeal to gamers and otherwise non-gamers alike has been key to its enduring popularity over the years. It’s the kind of pick-up-and-play casual experience that brings friends and family together. But before the introduction of the Auto-Kick feature — which allows drummers to play songs without the use of the kick pedal — the game was unplayable for people with mobility challenges. For me, this is the most significant feature we’ve implemented since the launch of the game.
What I did: Design leadership, UX design

Rock Band 4 DLC Store Design

I led the design of a totally revamped storefront for downloadable song content in Rock Band 4. With a catalog of nearly 2,000 playable tracks, which many players browse using an instrument controller optimized for gameplay but not for fluid screen navigation, the Rock Band DLC Store posed many unique design challenges.
What I did: Design leadership, UX design

In addition to creating the most fluid and usable of all the iterations of the store, our team implemented new features such as wishlist functionality, text search, and dynamic, server-delivered content lists that has allowed the publishing team to update store content on the fly.

A fan-created video walkthrough of the store

This enhanced store experience resulted in over one million sales in the first month of Rock Band 4's release.

Tutorial Design and Implementation, Chroma

I led a small team on the development of the onboarding experience for the game Chroma, a first-person shooter where music is the player’s weapon and the song is their battlefield. My team developed a level in Unreal Engine that teaches players all of the fundamental skills necessary to enter a Chroma match while introducing them to key aspects of the game’s narrative.

The game required players to move and fire in sync with the soundtrack music, which made the tutorial both essential to the optimal player experience and challenging to execute successfully.

The game required players to move and fire in sync with the soundtrack music, which made the tutorial both essential to the optimal player experience and challenging to execute successfully.

We iterated extensively to develop tutorial challenges that would motivate and teach players without frustrating them.

We iterated extensively to develop tutorial challenges that would motivate and teach players without frustrating them.

In the course of the game’s brief open beta period, the tutorial had a staggeringly successful 94% completion rate.
What I did: UX design, level design, event scripting, narrative development

Shell and Metagame Experience, Fantasia

Acted as Product Owner for the shell experience of Fantasia: Music Evolved. Led a team of engineers, artists, audio designers, and QA technicians to provide a seamless and elegant UI flow that reflects the vision of the groundbreaking Disney film on which the game is based.

I made it a personal goal on this project to condense my design specification for a particular feature down to a single page so that artists and engineers could quickly and easily digest the content and provide feedback.

I made it a personal goal on this project to condense my design specification for a particular feature down to a single page so that artists and engineers could quickly and easily digest the content and provide feedback.

Yen Sid’s workshop is an interactive space where players can access all modes of gameplay. Designing an environment that responds fluidly to gestural input from young players with developing motor skills and proprioceptive abilities required lots of careful planning, prototyping, and iteration.

Yen Sid’s workshop is an interactive space where players can access all modes of gameplay. Designing an environment that responds fluidly to gestural input from young players with developing motor skills and proprioceptive abilities required lots of careful planning, prototyping, and iteration.

An early map of the metagame experience.

A top-down view of an early iteration of player progress through the realms of Fantasia.

This illustration charts metagame progress for three common player types.

At the peak of development, there were roughly 90 people working on Fantasia. These one-page maps of the entire metagame experience helped facilitate discussions across feature teams, which were otherwise working in relative isolation from one another.
What I did: Product ownership, UX design, narrative design

Game Engine Design Lead, Forge

Led the design of the video game engine on which Harmonix shipped the award-winning games Fantasia: Music Evolved and Dance Central Spotlight. Crafted the overall user experience of the engine, which involved interface design, workflow design, user experience testing, visual and UI design, and production planning.
What I did: Design leadership, UX design

User Experience Design Lead, Rock Band Network Content Development Pipeline

UGC Pipeline Narrative Comic (PDF)

Led the design and implementation of the Rock Band Network Creators Club, a peer-reviewed authoring pipeline that enabled independent game developers to author and submit Rock Band gameplay tracks for sale in the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. Worked closely with a team of engineers, QA techs, and Microsoft’s contravention team to create a web interface where Rock Band fans could download, playtest, and provide feedback on authored tracks.
What I did: Design leadership, UX design

User Experience Design Lead, Rock Band 3 Game/Website Integration

Led a team of engineers, artists, and QA technicians in the development of a feature for Rock Band 3 that allowed players to challenge one another to setlist battles online, participate in those battles in the game, and then view and share the results with friends online. This challenging project required facilitating communication between the web and game design teams, and involved the integration of several systems that had previously been isolated from one another.
What I did: Design leadership, UX design

Writing

Author, The Silent History, an interactive novel for iOS; also available in print

Collaborated with another fiction writer, an editor, and an application designer to create The Silent History, a groundbreaking novel written and designed specifically for iOS devices.

The novel tells the story of a generation of children born without the ability to speak or understand language, and it is presented as an oral history complete with testimonials from those impacted by the effects of Silence as well as field reports – eyewitness accounts that are accessible only in the geographic location in which they occurred.

In this way, we were able to map a fictional world on top of the real world in an experience that Wired called, “entirely revolutionary.

Collaborated with editor Eli Horowitz on the story and worldbuilding for a digital/print experience entitled The Pickle Index, a dystopian comedy about a forlorn circus troupe falsely accused of fomenting terror. The Pickle Index is a social narrative experience told in ten days. It can be read in print or on an iOS device, or a combination of the two. Readers are invited to take on the role of citizens of the repressive regime in which the characters live, and they can communicate with one another via an underground network brought to life vividly on their phone or tablet.

Full Metal Jhacket: Stories, University of Michigan Press, 2015

Two boys discover that the title of their stop-motion animated film about Vietnam has been taken by director Stanley Kubrick. A 150 year-old woman on the run from the government is tracked down by the company who extended her life. A military contractor carrying his robot son in a gym bag struggles to find his way out of the Nigerian delta during a bloody civil war. The wife of an up-and-coming politician grieves his infidelity by prowling rooftops with a sniper rifle. Full Metal Jhacket delivers a disturbing new set of stories that plunges us into a lonely heartland of misfits, outcasts, and would-be assassins who lurk in the shadows, searching for connection and meaning in all the wrong places.

Super Flat Times: Stories, Back Bay Books, 2003

From the jacket copy: “With a heightened sense of the boundless possibility and lurking doom that Orwell and Huxley once envisioned, Matthew Derby's stories provide a glimpse into an intricately imagined world: a world in which clouds are treated with behavioral serum, children are handicapped by their ability to float, and all food (including Popsicles) is made of meat.”

Game Narrative

I have been involved with narrative development on many Harmonix titles including Rock Band 4, Fantasia: Music Evolved, Chroma, and several unannounced projects. This process has included story and character development, scriptwriting, storyboarding, animatic creation, voiceover direction, and in-game implementation of dialogue.

Video Production

Video is a powerful medium for communicating design and narrative concepts, for demonstrating product features, and of course, for generating excitement about games in development.

A City Sleeps Trailer

This musical twin-stick shooter was Harmonix’s first foray into PC-only gameplay. Its shoestring budget meant that marketing resources were scarce. I was asked to create this trailer in three days, from concepting/storyboarding to rendering the final video. I had only a set of static, 2D art assets to work with, as well as the stems from the game’s original soundtrack.

Fantasia “Storytime Reel”

I edited this montage of gameplay footage for a keynote speech Harmonix’s Creative Director gave at a game conference. Disney was impressed enough with the results that they released it publicly as a teaser for the game

Forge Sizzle Reels

Once our brand new engine was released to the company, we released new features every month, and these quick video montages highlighting the new material were shown at company meetings to excite and energize the teams.

Editorial

Served as the Interviews Editor for The Believer magazine, 2003-2007

Curated music CD for annual Believer Music issue, 2004 - 2007

Served as editor for 3rd Bed Press, 2000 – 2004

Published Stories in the Worst Way (reprint), by Gary Lutz, and Motorman (reprint) by David Ohle

Teaching

Columbia University

  • Afrofuturism Master Class, Fall 2003

Brown University

  • Intro to Creative Writing, 1999-2003
  • Intro to Hypertext, 2000

Speaking Engagements

‘Nuff Said: Comics as Design Documentation

  • Game Developers Conference, Spring 2014
  • Turbine Brown Bag Design series, Spring 2014

Making The Silent History

  • Brown University, Writers on Writing series, Fall 2013
  • RISD, Locally Made series, Fall 2013
  • Yale, Spring 2013
  • Parsons School of Design, Spring 2013