The Insight: On The Work of Andrew Yoon

In which the writer, a creative director and Circle contributor who knew Andrew Yoon for many years, remembers her friend in a tribute to his work.

By Robin Yang

My first glimpse into Andrew’s creativity was during a holiday party he hosted back in 2011. We were feasting on some gigantic hunk of lamb leg and talking about this cat lady video. One thing led to another, and we ended up brainstorming a game we affectionately called “Pussy Petter”. The short of it was “Fruit Ninja meets Pokemon, but with Kittens and Double-Entendres.” We talked about building this game for months, jotting down mechanics, laughing over ludicrous (but addictive) free-to-play elements, creating a pitch deck, even outlining a canine-based sequel.

I met Andrew when he was a game journalist, specifically when we both worked at the corporate behemoth AOL as editors. And while he’s always unabashedly loved games, what I remember the most about talking to Andrew in recent years is how badly he wanted to design them, too.

When he left Shacknews last year, we talked about finally starting a studio and making “Pussy Petter” happen. He registered a domain and put up some placeholder information and bios. I regrettably dragged my feet, and Little Box Games never got off the ground.

Yet Andrew was undeterred. Board games started to pique his interest, and later that year he successfully completed a Kickstarter for Divorce! The Game. I’m sure many people who were lucky enough to get a personal demo remember how much he loved talking about the design process and its challenges, how curious he was about player feedback and iterating the rules over time, and creating a game that was whimsical and cheeky. The last time I talked to him about it, he was building a Valentines’ Day launch strategy.  After all, who could pass up a tagline like “This Valentines Day, Get Divorced!”?

Not one to take a break, Andrew made two other games while waiting for the physical copies of Divorce! to make their way across the ocean from the production factory (they’re still en-route). He attended GXDev’s inaugural game jam, and 24 hours later, he’d not only made a new group of friends, but they’d built an adorable game from scratch together (you can play Cactus Seeking Hug here). Oh, and they also won an award for it.

And of course, when the Global Game Jam rolled around just two weekends later, Andrew was there. He single-handedly made A Conversation, which he talks about in this Chiu Station podcast. Big spoiler alerts for the game’s ending are in there, so here are some of my favorite parts, in his words:

The theme was “So what do we do now?” I took that as, let’s make players feel helpless. Give them the feeling of doing something, and then change the rules on them and have them think like – “What do I do now?”

I was mostly inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock movie, Rear Window. I like that idea of voyeurism, where you can see but do nothing.

Once I had that idea, it turned into a game where you’re talking with a chat bot. I have to be clear – I don’t have that much programming experience. I can’t do art. How do I make a game by myself without real programming? So I thought, okay well, I could do a text-based adventure, like Zork.

I wanted players to engage with a chat bot. If you haven’t played those classic text adventure games, usually the way you talk to computers is through commands – go east, or pick up item, or say such and such, and I didn’t want players to feel like they were talking to a robot, I wanted them to feel like they were talking to a human.

Is it broken? Of course it is. I think the only way you really learn is through experience.

A Conversation is an unusually surreal game to play right now, because Andrew wrote all of the responses for the bot, and it’s also unclear what the ‘real’ ending is. As far as I know, Bennett Foddy was the only one who successfully beat the game, as Andrew proudly told us over BBQ dinner last week. What a mystery he left for us to solve.

One last memory.

Andrew and I were sitting in my living room just weeks ago debating whether or not to play Star Fox 64 for like, the tenth time that day. I’m not joking. He loved the game, its memorable one-liners, branching story structure and glorious boss battles. Instead of hitting ‘Press Start’ that one last time, we ended up debating for hours whether or not Nintendo should remake it as a four-player co-op game in HD. We fought over how we’d tackle splitting up each characters’ roles so that it could be engaging for all four players, dissected various missions for ways to improve them and strategized game balancing so that each player had a unique but equally compelling experience.

Of many things I’m sad about, a big one is that we won’t get to play all the games that were surely knocking around in his head.

RIP, Andrew. I’ll miss being the Falco to your Fox.Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 12.02.26 PM

 

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