I’m going through the BART turnstile and look up — and who is it but Mattias Lehman, an old friend who recently left Riot games to work as an activist in the Sunrise Movement. We talk and catch up. He’s amazing and working to directly make the world better (did I mention he has a Patreon?).
I look down. I see my light-blue button-up collared shirt as I commute into San Fransisco for my web development day job. I haven’t done any serious work on my projects for several months, ever since the grant didn’t go through. I feel like I’ve gotten complacent.
I’ve had some mental health challenges this year, and taking it slow has been good for me (especially after trying to cope by throwing myself into a pit of the aforementioned grant-writing work). But there was something about hearing what he’s done that made me feel like it was time to kick back into gear.
So I take a look at Crescent Loom. How does it make me feel? Overwhelmed. There’s so much it’s trying to do. My abilities have already been pushed to their limits. There’s two solutions for this: get more resources, or scale back. The grant was an attempt to get help, and didn’t work.
One option left: cut down the scope. Significantly.
Action Potential Explorer
What’s the smallest thing CL could be to start living out in the world? I listed the things it illustrates well: the propagation of action potentials, contralateral movement, how ion channels produce a neuron’s behavior, temporal vs spatial summation, how small networks of neurons are enough to make an animal move….
A common theme when I’ve talked to biology teachers is that teaching action potentials is hard. Students memorize its shape, maybe something about ion channels opening and closing, and then move on with their lives. I decided that this area was the best overlap between what CL illustrates and what’s needed in the world.
That very night, I hashed out a design for the Crescent Loom Action Potential Explorer. It cuts out most of the game; no creature creation, no editing of brains. Just a pre-made creature that you can poke and prod at, including the ability to toggle ion channels on and off to illustrate what they do. And instead of an in-game tutorial (which takes a lot of dev work), I’m going to guide students/teachers through the simulation using a website-based guidebook they can have open in another window/tab.
My goal is to finish this up as something to live-in-the-world by the end of the year.
However! Because life doesn’t care whether your busy for when it throws you curveballs, right in the middle of this redesign, I had a very special experience while attending the XOXO conference in Portland.
It was groundbreaking enough for me that I dropped everything to make a short narrative game about what happened. I finished it just in time for Coming Out Day this month — instead of saying more, I am ABSOLUTELY DELIGHTED to now share it with you:
It takes about 20 minutes, works in-browser, and headphones are recommended.