Patrick Ascolese on Video Game Entrepreneurship, Pricing Structure, and Virtual Reality Game Design

Patrick Ascolese

Patrick Ascolese is the Founder of Dark Arts Software, a Seattle-based independent virtual reality, gaming, and technology studio. Before his current venture, he lent his expertise as an AR/VR Design Consultant at Meta for nearly a year, where he contributed to the development of its upcoming AR headsets. Patrick began his career at Microsoft over 20 years ago, where he worked as a software development engineer and software designer for Xbox 360 Emulation and Kinect, respectively. He departed Microsoft in 2011 to work at Camouflaj, where he was a founding partner, and left the company after Meta acquired it.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Patrick Ascolese teases an upcoming video game reveal
  • Challenges that video game developers experience
  • Patrick discusses Unity’s new pricing structure
  • Obtaining funding for a startup
  • What is trending in the video game industry?
  • Success factors of a video game
  • Advice for aspiring video game developers and entrepreneurs
  • Patrick reflects on the people who have impacted his career trajectory

In this episode…

Virtual reality games have become highly successful than traditional video games due to their immersive and engaging nature. However, as a game developer, there are intricacies of VR that need addressing before fully committing to producing these types of products.

Seasoned gaming software developer and designer Patrick Ascolese explains that the formula for a successful video game, such as a VR game, is a product that is simple, fun, and interactive. However, many game developers underestimate the complexity of designing VR products, which require 3D software. Whether you are an aspiring video game developer or gaming entrepreneur committed to creating VR material, Patrick suggests hiring engineers with solid knowledge of physics, game loops, and memory management.

In this episode of the Here’s Waldo Podcast with Lizzie Mintus, Patrick Ascolese, Founder of Dark Arts Software, discusses video game startups. Patrick shares the challenges that video game developers experience, what is trending in the gaming industry, and advice for aspiring video game professionals and entrepreneurs.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

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This episode is brought to you by Here’s Waldo Recruiting, a boutique recruitment firm specializing in the video game industry that prioritizes quality over quantity and values transparency, communication, and diversity. We partner with companies, creatives, and programmers to understand the why behind their needs and provide a white-glove experience that ensures a win-win outcome.

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Episode Transcript

Welcome to the Here's Waldo podcast, where we sit down with top visionaries and creatives in the video game industry. Together we'll unravel their journeys and learn more about the path they're forging ahead. Now, let's get started with the show.

Lizzie Mintus: I'm Lizzie Mintus, founder and CEO of Here's Waldo Recruiting, a boutique video game recruitment firm. This is the Here's Waldo podcast. In every episode, we dive deep into conversations with creatives, founders, and executives about what it takes to be successful. You can expect to hear valuable lessons from their journey and get a glimpse into the future of the industry.

This episode is brought to you by Here's Waldo Recruiting, a boutique recruitment firm for the video game industry. We value quality over quantity, transparency, communication, and diversity. We partner with companies, creatives, and programmers to understand the why behind their needs. We provide a white glove experience that ensures a win outcome.

Today, we have Patrick Ascolese with us. I tried to recruit Patrick when I first started recruiting and we've kept in touch close to seven years later. Patrick has been in games and immersive tech since 2001. He founded Dark Arts Software, which is almost 10 years old. He's building a cool VR game and has some cool tech that is patent pending. Hopefully we can dive into a little bit more.

He started his career with nearly a decade at Microsoft, on Xbox, Kinect, and PC and Xbox games, and he consulted on HoloLens. He left Microsoft to start Camouflage in 2011. He exited after their success with Iron Man VR and Camouflage went on to sell to Meta.

He later worked on Vulcan's Holodome project and on a Pokemon game you've never heard of that 10 million people played. Let's get started. Thanks for being here after all these years, full circle.

Can you share a small overview about what you're working on currently at Dark Arts?

Patrick Ascolese: Yeah, so without going into too many details, I'm building a unique VR game that will be initially targeting the Oculus Quest 2, just given that it is the primary market.

It's an active, visceral VR game with a music angle. I don't think people will be surprised at what it is when they play it, but I do think they'll be surprised at how well it works, and why nobody had done it before. I think you are one of the lucky few who've tried it. What do you think? Do you think you would agree with that?

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, I'm excited for you to be able to talk to it more. Definitely. It has some familiar aspects with a twist. We can say that, right?

Patrick Ascolese: Oh yeah. There have been around with all under NDA, but there's a good probably 50 people that have played it now, if not more. So I'm close to the reveal. A few more IP things to tidy up and then I'm ready to go.

Lizzie Mintus: I love it and I'm so happy you're having a lot of external people's feedback. I just talked to this major studio, which I won't name, but nobody outside of their company has played their game and they're set to ship in the next year.

 I can't even really hear that. That gives me a lot of anxiety.

Patrick Ascolese: Sometimes the big companies have large staff and they can float through friends and family. But yeah, I feel like you have to go outside the walls.

Lizzie Mintus: It was no one outside of the studio. Alarming stuff. Good for you.

What inspired you to start this new venture?

Patrick Ascolese: I knew I wanted to do VR. I've been always trying to do cutting edge tech stuff. That's why I did Kinect and worked on various projects like that. HoloLens, AR, VR. I got really into VR. And when the freedom to start my own studio without just consulting. Dark Arts has been around a while, but I primarily consulted in MacDowell.

With the ability to build a studio, I had a couple game ideas in mind. I have some zombies and other game ideas that I was noodling on.

So I have some experience in the particular area that the game that I'm building is focused on. And one day it just hit me like a bolt of lightning that I have to do this. That was about 18 months ago, I'd say. I started researching candidates and it just hit me, I have to do this. And I got really lucky. I found a video on YouTube that was a really good way to demonstrate, it was completely unrelated to VR, to gaming, to anything, to demonstrate to somebody like what I wanted this thing to feel like.

So I started digging for animators, because it's a primarily a character animation problem that I was facing at its core. I started interviewing candidates from DigiPen, put out jobs on various websites, like LinkedIn, Work with Indies, and ultimately found an animator who was also technical. That was what I was looking for. Someone who was more technical, than Disney quality animation content creation. And we just got started.

The team has grown its peak. I had seven. I'm at five right now. I had an intern and somebody I brought in to do the user research. So we've been cranking for more than a year and I've been on this project full time in my mind. And we have the demo. It's ready. We had a show with a lot of people. It's ready to go out and get a capital or publishing for it.

It hit me, Lizzie. The answer is I knew I had to do it.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, you're a very entrepreneurial person. There is no doubt in my mind. You're gonna start something.

Patrick Ascolese: When this game hit me, I'm surprised it hasn't been done before. Because there's other games in similar genres. But this one could only be done in VR. And to be fair, there is a experience out there that is a bit of a dabble. But given my particular background with

I have a lot of animation experience, right? I know how to make things work on these mobile devices. The Quest two is a mobile headset. I know a lot about like the activity that you're doing just through happenstance throughout the past 15 years. So I think it was also being lucky enough to end up with the financial freedom to pull it off. It's sort of a lucky break that it occurred to me to even do this in the first place. I had other damn ideas that I was ready to go on, but they never really tickled me the way that this one did.

Lizzie Mintus: So you think there's an aspect of luck? You believe in luck?

Patrick Ascolese: I don't know that I believe in it as like a concept, as a thing that is active, but I do think that a probability is real. Sometimes the unexpected is what happens, right? So I think the thing that I'm most lucky of is having this particular background to be able to do this was to actually come up with the idea.

That's where the lucky part was. I could be nine months into a zombie shooter or some other VR game. Some exercise game, some other kind of music game. There's all kinds of experiences out there that I'm interested in building, but this one is the one that this is the only one that I knew I had to.

Lizzie Mintus: I like that you feel compelled. I always feel like the harder you work, the luckier you get. There are random people that you meet that change your life.

What's been the biggest challenge that you've had to overcome in this new venture? And how did you navigate it? What did you learn?

Patrick Ascolese: I Still have lots of challenges ahead of me. The biggest ones... I think probably it's my own enthusiasm can get ahead of like how fast I'm going. I've been saying I was gonna get a funding deal, for probably the past six months and I haven't even started trying, right?

And that confuses people sometimes when I talk to them. I thought you were gonna show it. I thought you were gonna have done this and that. It's hard to say. I've just done so much.

Keeping it separated from my regular life is a challenge. It was important that I got an office like outside of the house so that I could have space to do this. This is VR. I have a bunch of stuff. I've got a bunch of equipment. I'm loud. I just needed to be able to put it down too. If I didn't, if it was in my house, I would never stop.

So moving to an office offsite, getting a team set up to actually take on work was another thing. Not having the financial freedom before to hire people in any kind of way that was enough to get stuff done. I would just work all the time.

Being able to step back a bit. I really was hard, but I've done it like I can't do everything. I can't be everywhere and I have to sleep. Be healthy.

Lizzie Mintus: Entrepreneur problem. I always work out at night. This is my other priority. I was just on my work Jack. You know when you are so into it and in this good flow. It's 11:30PM, I need to stop.

Patrick Ascolese: I wake up at 5:30 and 6 a.m. Every day ready to go because I want to go in.

Lizzie Mintus: Oh, I love it. But I don't love 5:30 to 6 a.m. for anything. Like sometimes my kids wake me up. There's a grouchy fox that sits on a bed. There's a meme about it.

That's me for the first hour. I'm working on it, but I do this on this night.

Patrick Ascolese: But my kids are a little older. They've stopped getting up early. I get up early. That'll might change. I don't like that I wake up early. I just do, but I'm ready to go.

Lizzie Mintus: I am. I think I'm going to try and, I'm going to try and do some experiments and see if I can get in that.

In theory, if you can get all your important stuff done in the morning, then you're doing it.

Patrick Ascolese: It didn't happen on purpose. It was like when I turned 42 or something, it just started.

Lizzie Mintus: Maybe I need to turn 42.

Patrick Ascolese: Sooner or later.

Lizzie Mintus: One of these days. I can say you're working in Unity.

Tell me about your thoughts on the new pricing structure.

Patrick Ascolese: I do have to admit, I haven't looked into it since they decided to redo the whole thing. I didn't feel that it was as bad as I think it got made out to be. I think maybe the packaging was a big mess.

I probably spend more time on websites like Reddit than I should. A lot of the commentators on there are really not professionalists. They might just be dabblers and they're very vocal.

I read the whole post. I actually went and then did the numbers. On the lucky chance that this game generates 10 million in revenue, I think I'd pay them $36,000, is what I calculated. Which to me, seems worth it.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, how much is it going to cost you to build what they give you?

Patrick Ascolese: Hundreds of millions of dollars. I got involved with Unity when it was Unity 3. I love Unity, by the way. No comment on management. I love what Unity is where they came from. And I was fortunate to meet the founders when the company was still small and growing.

When I still worked at Microsoft, the very last project that I ever was on before I quit was called XNA Game Studio. And that was Microsoft's attempt at what they considered like an indie game platform. All it really was, and it was great, don't get me wrong, was just a C# sharp version of Microsoft's graphics programming language called Direct X, the Xbox, it's the Direct Xbox.

Direct X is extremely complicated. You have to do all this setup work to draw objects in code. Then if you want to write shaders, which I'm sure you've heard about, you have to go do that. But now it's in C#, which while it's an easier language to learn than C++, which was the old DirectX model, it's still a complex programming language. It just doesn't have a lot of the pit falls or power, frankly, that C++ had. So suddenly you get an easier, a slightly easier way to array graphic from scratch.

 I go to GDC in 2010 or something, and I sit in it all day, it might have been a few days, Unity bootcamp, I'd heard about it.

C # based, GUI, excellent engine, snap, plug and play, and you could write C #, but you could do it in this really easy way. I came back and I said, so this is like 2001, right? Buy this company, buy Unity. They're amazing. Like we don't have a product anymore. We're done, right?

And that's not like a bad thing, but it just is the case, like that 10x better product is available. And nobody listened because it's Microsoft and I was a programmer. So I sat around and didn't work because I knew there was no point. And I got put on that. I wasn't asked to be put on.

We should connect and then they got some new VP and they just started moving us around based on our resumes or what we knew how to do. So I got put on that because I know a lot about low level code and graphics. And then, I was depressed, not happy working there.

I'd started talking to this guy named Ryan Payton. We got connected through another co worker. He was like a designer. He was thinking about leaving to do a studio. I was interested in leaving to do a studio. I was just bummed about working. I'd been there almost a decade.

And I had been applying for Italian citizenship, so I qualified for dual citizenship, and one day I'm at home lying in bed. I think I had a sinus infection, and I go to check the mailbox, and my Italian citizenship had come in. And it was like, I'm quitting and moving to Italy.

So Ryan asked, do you still want to work on this? And I said yes. So I started working on our game idea during that whole transition of travel to Italy. Sold the house, do everything. Wasn't sure if I was coming back. To tie it back in, we were looking at Unity and Unreal at that point.

Unreal was a completely different thing than it is today. It was still like a very power extremely powerful graphics oriented engine, but from a user perspective, it was much more complex. Ryan and I are talking, hey, here's our goals for this game, we want it to be a mobile game, we want it to be triple A quality.

We want it to have really high quality facial animation. I started investigating Unity and Unreal. If I go with Unity, it's like a little bit of an unknown because they're new. But it was Unity 3. It looks like I can just do this. I just need an artist. I can do all the coding, everything on my own.

And then on the Unreal side, I was looking at it. I'm like, I need at least two, if not three. Like at least mid level engineers, if I use that at the time. So we go with Unity and here we are 10 years later, just about every product I've worked on since I left Microsoft, the exception of one was built on Unity. Throughout the process, because we were close to them, I got to meet them all at various events and they were extremely supportive. The original guys, like a lot of them are gone because of going public.

It was a really amazing experience. And I don't think that the general public of new and up and coming, even gaming professionals, understands like how incredibly difficult it is to write anything that draws 3D stuff on the screen from scratch.

It is incredibly difficult. Let alone physics, a game loop. memory management, audio, everything else that it does. If you go on a Reddit group about graphics and people will spend six months to get a get an object loaded in and animated, with lighting. And these guys know what they're doing, right?

So I suspect that Unity, and I don't know Unreal as well, so I can't comment, but I suspect that Unity may be one of, if not the most complex, singular pieces of software that has ever been created. So besides Windows and some like operating systems, I would not be surprised that it's like the singular most complex piece of software available when you plug everything in the gateway.

It's huge. And I know Unreal is similar. I just don't know with as much depth. I can't quantify. But at least in terms of publicly available stuff, bigger than three S max and Z brush, and these other art tools that we all use blender, those things are very small. It does so many things. I think the company is worth tens, if not hundreds of billions of dollars at this point, right?

Probably tens of billions, right? They're public. The idea that they're nickel and diming is interesting to me. I think the packaging was bad. I think that's the case of the messaging. But you can't make a game from scratch without them, unless you have your own engine or you're going to go spend millions upon millions of dollars. So you either need to license a different one, have an internal one, professional or Indy. It doesn't matter.

The true truth is that a lot of deep wells have been dug using Unity, and most of the wells are empty and dry. There's a few big success stories that have cashed in a big way. And that Unity has really fueled a lot of the success of, given that they've created all the tools.

So you want to create your vision for your game, you need their toolbox. To be fair, their stock has collapsed. And so their ability to borrow money to pay payroll as they exploded in headcount. Like what do we want to do? Do we want them to lay those people off or do we want the people that are actually making money using their software to pay up a little bit more. I think that's reasonable.

Maybe I'm wrong and it's $300,000 that I would've to pay on if my game made 10 million. Maybe I'm off by a factor of 10. Still, that's one high end engineer from Google that I could steal. You know what I mean?

The price, I don't want to talk about the old pricing model because I know they've changed it. It's not accurate anymore, but I think they are bowing to the will of the publicity, which is what they should do, They should because it came out really bad. But if you weren't making a lot of money and also had moved a lot of copies, you don't pay them.

You can move a lot of copies for free. You don't pay in the old model. You make a lot of money. If you don't sell 200,000 units, no matter how much money you make, you don't pay. It has to be both.

And it's after that, that it starts. That was how it worked. There's a lot more detail, but I won't go into the minutiae.

Lizzie Mintus: I feel like I have a different perspective sometimes as a business owner. Do you want all these people laid off? Do you want to increase the price?

Do you want to lay off nobody and have the whole company shut down? I always think about that when people complain. But those are sometimes unpopular opinions.

Patrick Ascolese: I'm not gonna comment on my opinions on their management because I'm familiar with some of them. But there was a general opinion out there that maybe they're out of touch with the vast majority of the people using the product. Probably could have done a better job explaining to them that it wasn't going to affect them because most of the people don't actually get affected. They just dropped it and they did all these things that people perceived as underhanded and sneaky. I think that's their fault, the true truth is it wasn't really going to hurt anybody.

They did it in a way that mattered materially.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. It does make sense to pay for this tool that costs so much and everybody is changing their pricing to some degree.

Okay. Tell me more about Camouflage. So you met Ryan and how did you come up with the initial idea? I know you raised money on Kickstarter, which was probably unique at the time, right?

Early days, how you funded, how you grew your team.

Patrick Ascolese: I had a mentor at Microsoft. Microsoft had a mentor program. He was my mentor earlier, but we were still friends, and he knew I was interested in doing studio. He connected me to Ryan. And the whole story I already told: I'm gonna quit, go to Italy so I can focus.

We didn't really know what was gonna happen. We actually had another game idea before The Republic came out. That was smaller but unique. Both games were Ryan's idea from a concept standpoint. The other game, I don't know if I can tell exactly what it was, but it was a Japanese inspired story. Neat gameplay, but a lot simpler, like top down kind of puzzly. And we were targeting phone. And then a sort of bigger idea was this stealth dystopian world. And this idea resonated with me.

We're still at Microsoft. I quit. I do the Italy thing. I'm working on it as we're like traveling around Sicily on the side. It's so hard to get internet there. That place is second world, as far as I'm concerned. It's beautiful. They have everything. It just doesn't really work properly.

We're meeting every day. It's going great. We hire another DigiPen master student who was Brazilian. I think he was living in Redmond at the time. I can't remember if he was back in Brazil because I was in Italy. But anyway, he was the first person we hired and so like day to day we're working remotely like I do with my team now, right?

I've got some of my teams in Italy, some of my teams in Massachusetts. After a while, we decided we want to do this other project that's bigger. That's when I really had that Unity versus Unreal talk. We had this high quality facial animation goals.

We wanted to go to the phone and that was a big thing. Unity was really all about the phone because they were a Mac product. Unity was only available on Mac up until about the time we were. I'm working late nights trying to build it.

 It's the stealth thing when the story really tickled me. You're looking through the computer through the cameras in this facility where this woman is trapped. She's communicating with you. So while you're telling her where to go, the theory is that you're just not a puppet like she would be in most games. Like you're not controlling her with the controller. You're saying, Hey, there's a guard around the corner.

My way of describing it is that people watch that scene in the Matrix where Neo is still Mr. Anderson sitting in his cube and he gets the call from Morpheus and they're coming. Go now, go into the next cube. It's that sort of idea. And I thought that was a really cool idea.

So we went ahead and built it. Ryan put in the all the money I think he had ever made from his time at Microsoft and before. I was doing it for sweat. I was like, my paycheck would be this much if I went to Microsoft.

So that's how much unit I'm gonna buy with it. We had a little bit of investment from like his dad and another fella who Ryan had known before. So that's how we got it started.

That was just enough to get going and hire like a small team. We knew we needed more money. Ryan did all of the financing, publicity. But the Kickstarter, we thought was our golden ticket because it's no real strings attached.

We asked for $500 grand. We got it in the last 24 hours. It was the most insane, stressful 30 days of my life. And there's been a few stressful 30 day periods.

We were the biggest comeback ever at the time, because we got it in the last day. It was like $200 grand, in less than a week, and we landed with $555,000 and change. We had some pretty lofty promises for our backer rewards.

We were going to do custom phone cases all this. Here's where some of the disagreements begin. I was like we got the money. Buy the phone cases so we know how much we have left. It didn't happen.

We started staffing a team of 25 over the next years. I came back from Italy. Eventually as the project went along, we had to ship it as episodes. It's too big to ship the whole thing. The game mechanics were basically all done. And the first episode, chapter, whatever we called it was almost done.

It wasn't in the can yet. There was stuff to do and I was very much of the opinion, let's ship it as a beta, like Minecraft. Minecraft had been. And recently started that sort of trend. There wasn't early access or any of this stuff yet. It was you finish, you ship. And I was like, Ryan, we need to go.

We don't have good use of research. We had some, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying good enough. If we can get this thing into Canada, do whatever. I know that it's not done, but we really don't know if it's good. So we disagreed on that. That was a hard stop for me at that point.

There were other things too, but there was some day to day process stuff that I just fundamentally disagreed with, in terms of staffing, management of sprints and where the buck stops in certain areas.

I know what I know and I know what I don't know. But I did insist on some stuff that he just didn't want to agree with me on. And I was like I'm insisting. The game came out that December few months after I left. It was well reviewed. But I just didn't think it needed a bow. That's basically what happened from the time I left. It got a bow, right? It got like a nice fancy main menu that it didn't have and a credit scene and all this that I just didn't personally think was where we should have spent our time. I think every penny left should have gone to marketing.

I'm not a marketing guy and couldn't really help. I thought that's what mattered a lot. Instead the game came out before the trailer. That's okay.

And the truth is, I think for me, I needed to go with my gut and not grin and bear it, right?

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, that's who you are.

Patrick Ascolese: Yeah. I can be wrong. But I just fundamentally disagreed so much with it that I couldn't. And if we weren't going to come to a place of accordance, then it's okay.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, you learn a lot from past experience.

Patrick Ascolese: Totally the best thing I ever did in my career. I love Microsoft, don't get me wrong but you can't play the game and be an engineer there. That's just not the standard operating way. It's hard to be a doer and have a voice there. So I'm really glad I did it.

Lizzie Mintus: I'm glad you left too. I can't even think about working at a big company. I know I'm just not that person.

Patrick Ascolese: Maybe your company will get big and then what are you going to do?

Lizzie Mintus: That will be okay. That's different.

Patrick Ascolese: Yeah, me too. I feel the same.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. Definitely have some similarities. What trends do you see in the gaming industry right now? And how do you want to weave those into what you're doing?

Patrick Ascolese: I am a little bit disconnected from what I would call a traditional gaming right now. I really focus on the VR and AR stuff. I haven't played Starfield, but like I'm following along and like I watch my brother in law play it.

The XR AR VR world is having a little bit of a resurgence in interest. I can't figure out why exactly. I know there's things like Apple is playing along. Just because they're in, people are excited again.

Also, I do think that it's just been a slow growth into maturity. There are a bunch of studios now that have actually made money and make good games. It's starting to mature the way that the console industry has and the PC gaming industry has.

It's not mature. It's maturing. It's like a... 16 year old who has good days and bad days. It could drive, but you don't really want to be in the passenger seat necessarily. I have been a believer the whole time.

We were lucky when I went to Presence Labs, which was another VR startup that I went to after Camouflage. This is 2015, 2016, our game moved over a million times. It was free. We had in app purchase. But that was just coming on and wasn't enough to float the company for the founder's own personal interest.

There were no controllers yet. It was like a snap in Samsung phone, and all you could do is tap this one button. When they got controllers, they only rotated, they didn't move. To get it back to the maturing sort of train, as much as I'm glad that Meta Facebook is involved here because they're a big player with big money, I think they have a long way to go in terms of understanding sort of the market that they're trying to build, as opposed to just throwing stuff at the wall and making it gamer focused.

Valve and HTC, if it wasn't for them, I don't think the Oculus product would be very good. And I know it's not even called Oculus, which I don't think is weird because it's such a great name for what it actually is. But I think, they didn't get that it wasn't going to be just seated experiences for a while.

That's why their initial product was a sit down at a desk, like a little thing that looked at it. And then, valve and HTC came out with the one where you put the sensors on the wall and you can walk around and be completely free.

 That really changed their minds. And the truth is that wireless, and I know this from watching Carmack talk at like the Oculus Connect stuff. He talked about it. They he thought wireless VR was a thing and that's why they focused on that Samsung Gear VR. That moved five or six million units, way more than the desktop one ever did.

Now, yes, you snapped it into a phone that was commercially available and popular, but you were never gonna get near that with the desktop versions when they were still $600 bucks and you needed a thousand dollars computer and you were stuck in your chair because they thought you were gonna play space games that made you sick.

Lizzie Mintus: They do make you sick.

Patrick Ascolese: Turns out when your inner ear isn't connected to your visual, you don't feel good. But when you're walking around yourself for most of the population, it's okay. There's other challenges with the way that the depth works in the visuals. But for the most part, if you're in control of your locomotion, it's very comfortable.

If we move you, that is when you are uncomfortable. So I think a bunch of this came from the direction of the original founder, Homer Luckey. They were involved with Valve and HTC. They were involved with Valve at the beginning before the Facebook buyout. There was a lot of co development of VR before that Facebook acquisition happened.

You saw that split and I think it was good. The fact that HTC and Valve continued in a divergent path than Oculus made both things better. If it wasn't for HTC, I don't think that the Oculus product would have been as good. But I do think they nailed it on wireless. They are the reason why you don't need to have a wire or sensors anymore. And that is a game changer.

I think with Apple in the picture, people are interested in it again. I look at the quest three, which is about to come out. I'm like, cool, but what game, what app, what experience, what utility, what is the thing that makes me want it over the old one?

And obviously it's a better product, but I don't feel the need to get one for home yet. I like the idea of things I could build with it. It's moving the ball. It's continuing to show interest. But they might end up damaging their old hardware offering because my assumption is they have a bazillion quest twos and warehouses or coming out of factories in China that they need to sell. Is it going to hurt selling those because this one's there? And if so, if there isn't like a game that's going to draw me to the next one, why do I go get it? Why do I spend $500?

Lizzie Mintus: Maybe they're about to announce it.

Patrick Ascolese: Maybe I missed it. I'm so busy, I miss stuff. I could be embarrassed. It's you don't know about this game? I know it comes with Asgard's Wrath 2. Which it's fine.

Lizzie Mintus: Okay, I don't know either. But maybe we both don't know.

We'll find out soon.

Patrick Ascolese: Somebody knows what they're building. Yeah, absolutely. It's hard to move a new device of any sort without a killer app, period. It's just hard. We've seen that over and over. Lots of consoles have come out without a bunch of games available or you've seen that one you need the Super Mario, the Halo, right?

Sony's got a whole bucket full of IP. But when there isn't one there, when the thing comes out, it's hard to move them when they cost $500 bucks.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, they could also maybe do it like a FOMO play. Switch was sold out for a long time. You couldn't get a PS5 forever. And I feel like that's such an interesting strategy.

Patrick Ascolese: By the way, those are all legitimate shortages. None of those shortages are ever fake. They're all legitimate.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, that's true. But when you think about- Our listeners are probably not into designer handbags, but you think about what Hermes does or what Chanel does. You could have X per year. You don't have it. You have to go through these different things to get it, but this is an insane marketing strategy.

Patrick Ascolese: You're right.

Lizzie Mintus: Shortages were real, but maybe a false shortage will happen.

Patrick Ascolese: So there is a uptick in publicity when things are not available. I think the difference is that the supply chain for an extremely cutting edge piece of electronics equipment is much tighter than it is for leather or even leather handbags, right?

Lizzie Mintus: Totally.

Patrick Ascolese: So in those industries, the difference is that you need to build in scarcity to make it valuable, whereas, when we worked on the Xbox 360, I remember my mom was reading a front page article in New York Times that was like, Xbox 360 unavailable. Literally, there just weren't enough microchips. There were not enough parts. They were failing too often, coming off the line. We could not make them fast enough.

 They were such a huge demand, and that's the same thing that happened with the PlayStation 5. That happened during the Microchip shortage. This is why you couldn't get a car, right? It's why you couldn't get a car that was under 70 grand that used to be 30 grand, right?

Lizzie Mintus: Wild times.

Patrick Ascolese: It's that stuff. But it does build buzz, absolutely. But, to be fair, the PlayStation 5 had a bunch of awesome launchers, the new Dark Souls remake, it had Spider Man, even some of them were older games that got remade.

Switch Nintendo is such an interesting one because they go up and down like crazy. If they have IP, as long as they build, even the one that flopped the Wii U, if there had been like a Zelda game or a new Mario game out of the gate, it would have sold even if the machine was crummy.

They've shown that before with the GameCube had one of the big Zelda titles, but aside from that, nothing really happened very much on it. The Wii U, I don't know what ever happened. I don't know that it. I don't know that they sold almost any of it.

Lizzie Mintus: You'll have to reddit that one tonight.

Patrick Ascolese: Yeah, now this is going to be in my brain.

Lizzie Mintus: I have planted a seed for you. Yes. Let me know what you find out.

What do you think the recipe for a really successful game is, and do you think that this Pokemon game that sold 10 million copies sold it because of some specific aspect, or is that aspect just because it's Pokemon?

Patrick Ascolese: It was free, and it was Pokemon. And it was on phones. Nintendo, contrary to popular belief, does not outright own Pokemon, but because they own 51 percent of The Game Freak company, which owns Pokemon, they had always locked it to Nintendo's hardware.

And then when the phone thing finally happened, Pokemon was interested in moving over there. Basically that title, my understanding, it was called Camp Pokemon. And it's funny, just the other day, YouTube was like, the Pokemon game you never played. Somebody made a video about it. So basically, the recipe for that was simple, fun gameplay, nothing complicated. This was not a deep book. This was a get you in to the Pokemon world if you're a kid who hasn't experienced it before. That was their goal. But the recipe there was Pokemon. Let's be fair. It could have been terrible. It would have been downloaded a million, probably the same number of times, right?

Free and Pokemon and on your phone. It was a precursor to Pokemon Go. Technically was the second Pokemon game on a phone because very shortly before we shipped it, a different Pokemon game shipped there. I'm like a card based one, but it was like a bunch of mini games on an island. It was called Camp Pokemon.

And the whole theory was. From my understanding, I don't work at Pokemon, and I do not represent in any way what they actually were thinking. My understanding was, they were like, we think our audience is aging out. It's like primarily over 30, and we need to introduce, and it's complex. It's deep, we have to know a lot, and they wanted to introduce a younger audience.

Kids who get their hands on their parents phone. It's just mini games and it teaches you when I get it wrong, like plant beats, water beats. There's plant and water and certain like things about Pokemons; little games that you learn these like very basic sort of underpinning features.

That was the goal. The goal was to build something there to introduce a new audience as the older audience stopped participating. And then we did this little game of the flick where you like flick a ball, similar to what's in Pokemon go. It was more like a carnival game. Like you're flicking them at Pokemon.

Turns out when Pokemon Go came out that 40 year olds will walk around the streets and people's backyards with their phones out. The other audience wasn't aging out, they thought they might. So they were covering all bases.

Lizzie Mintus: That was one of the best times in life. I love to people watch. People watching is my top activity. And Pokemon Go brought people who never go really out of their homes outside.

Patrick Ascolese: Totally.

Lizzie Mintus: And I remember going to Cal Anderson Park in Seattle. That's like my heaven. I hope there's another Pokemon Go. And the stories of people trespassing. It's amazing.

Patrick Ascolese: It's funny when I was at that previous VR company where we did the Gear VR game Groover. We had a previous idea to do like a geolocation based VR app. I went to a skin developer conference, but I was on the expo floor trying to get Niantic's attention because they made this previous game called Ingress, which is similar. They had all this tech, and all these maps and everything, and they're back in.

On behalf of our owner at the time, I was there meeting them and trying to talk to them. And they just never responded. Lo and behold, it's because they were focused on Pokemon Go. They were not interested in us. They had this big thing going. So it could happen again. I know they tried to do a Harry Potter one.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, I didn't hear anything about that, which is interesting. People love Harry Potter.

Patrick Ascolese: Totally. Niantic is doing cool stuff. And the Pokémon Company International over in Bilby, they're growing it. My kids are starting to get into Pokémon. They're six, nine, and one of them came home with Pokémon cards the other day.

Lizzie Mintus: Wow, you tell them that you made the game?

Patrick Ascolese: I do, and I can't even show it to them. I can show them a YouTube video. But it's not around anymore. I think they pulled it because it was free. Why support something when Pokemon Go is just crushing it, also, I'm guessing that it could cause some confusion in the app store. Which one is the one that I download for my kid?

Lizzie Mintus: Totally. What advice would you give to somebody that wants to start their own company, VR, or not?

Patrick Ascolese: Don't use Unity. Just write something from scratch. Okay, good advice. Six years from now, you'll have a really poor graphics engine. Somebody that wants to start VR specifically, or just gaming?

Lizzie Mintus: You tell me, and this is an open ended question.

Answer as you see best.

Patrick Ascolese: Don't reinvent the wheel, use the tools for sure. I'll start with that. If you have an idea, do everything you can to get to the idea. Paint the picture for whoever's helping you clear enough that they can build your vision or if you're hiring, be careful. I'm assuming, you either going to do it all yourself or you can get helpers one way or the other.

If you have a really solid idea, though, that's my number one advice, there's so many ways to skip over a lot of the hard stuff that we used to have to do to execute on the vision doesn't mean you don't need technical people and depth, but to get it just to prove it. Get there as quickly as possible.

The way you structure your relationships with the people you work with is incredibly important. 50 50 is a bad idea, like 49 51 is a better idea than 50 50, right? You don't want to get killed by paper cuts. If you bring multiple people in to work on the project with you that are, sweating, now I'm talking business stuff, that are sweating their equity.

Lizzie Mintus: Equity. Yeah.

Patrick Ascolese: It has to all be vested, right? Like they can't just get 12%, 15%, 33% if you have three people and then decide they're done in two months or a year and walk away with everything. Structure that stuff. Have it written down.

 I guess I will say, before you really try to do anything on the business side, I would ask, are you ready to really go for it. You're going to bring in other people. You do need some of this stuff written down. You need a lawyer to make sure there's stuff between you.

On the design and the tech side, the fun stuff. A proper vision with somebody who can actually lead it, doesn't mean they have to be anybody's boss, but you've got to have a way to have a tiebreaker to propel it forward. It can't be that's somebody who just is the boss and they get to decide, but if it's going to be more shared than that, you have to have some kind of a process owner relationship.

There's no, what is the best game idea? If you have a good idea, you should try to build it. And if you can't build it, but you think you have a good idea, be sure to respect the fact that being able to build it and prove that it's good is generally considered inherently more valuable than a bunch of them, like a good idea, because the good idea isn't what took a lot of work, it isn't what took a lot of training, it isn't what took a lot of like years of sweat.

 There are those random few people out there that are these idea people. But 9 times out of 10, 99 times out of a hundred, they have created stuff on their own from scratch. They weren't just charismatic and people got behind them. They proved their metal beforehand. So you see a lot of people say, I want to get into games, I want to do gaming, but I'm the idea guy. My game idea, this and that. That is a hard sell. So if you're a young fold and wants to get into the field, learn something. Programming, art, animation, even audio. They don't get enough love, but it's super important.

Lizzie Mintus: It's very hard to find if you want to become an audio engineer. That is a very valuable skill set. And there are not many of them.

Patrick Ascolese: Yeah, the tricky part with audio is if you want to make games, it's usually not at the beginning. It's usually down the road. But if you want in and you're a musical person, it's a good way to have the best of both worlds. And in certain kinds of genres, it really matters a lot.

 I think that's my advice, is you're going to work hard. Don't reinvent the wheel. The tools are there. It's not even a toolbox anymore. You have access to a workshop. With everything you could ever imagine to build these games.

And when I was coming up, I'm fortunate to have them come along after I had. Unreal was there. Microsoft's different companies have their own engines, but they were various levels of clunky and inaccessible unless you work there. You have a good game idea, you should be able to make a little bit of a sense of it with the tools that are available.

Lizzie Mintus: Godot's getting bigger and bigger too.

Patrick Ascolese: Yeah, it is. And I think they're riding a little bit of that Unity wave.

Lizzie Mintus: 100%. Oh, yeah.

Patrick Ascolese: Good for them. I think the competition is good. What Unreal's doing in like the cinematic space is incredible. They're like, we don't have to only make games. I haven't played with Godot, but I keep hearing a bunch of good stuff about it. I'm just too far along and I can't distract myself.

Lizzie Mintus: Totally. Yeah, perhaps in the future though. I think Unreal might back them.

Patrick Ascolese: They back a lot of people. They just did a bunch of layouts. I was surprised to hear that.

Lizzie Mintus: Many companies hired a lot of people throughout the pandemic. A lot of people. But I think it's a good lesson that you can never be sure. You can never really be safe. And if you get a really extraordinary job, Epic's a wonderful company. Unity is a wonderful company. They did layoffs too..

But appreciate that moment and don't expect that it will last forever.

Patrick Ascolese: Exactly. And it's more true than it's ever been in the 20 plus years I've been doing it. I was at Microsoft during the first time they ever laid anyone off ever. I wouldn't be surprised if they've done 10 rounds of layoffs since then total. It seemed like they were never gonna have to lay anyone off ever.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, you never really know. I think the days of staying at a big company forever. For the new generation, they're not staying somewhere forever. It's very different. I'm so different. Some reset was needed. It is very sad for a lot of people. There's a lot of tragedy, but through downturn comes opportunity.

And I know personally, a lot of people are about to start a new studio, do something different, take the tools they learn from all these big companies and make something incredible. So there's some excitement with it too.

Patrick Ascolese: Absolutely. It's, it really can fuel creativity. Some of those companies for all the things they do that are awesome, they do have a harder time taking those risks and trying stuff.

Lizzie Mintus: Naturally, as you get bigger, that's just what happens. Definitely, I think a lot of people have new opportunities. I'm excited.

Is there any other teasers you want to share with us about your game?

Patrick Ascolese: I'll talk about it a little bit. I'll talk about the other stuff we've got going on too, real quick.

So we've got some rendering technology that's being patented, which we're not using in anything yet. But basically at its core allows for a richer set of tune rendering in VR. So VR has some challenges with the way that things get drawn because it's the two eyes separately getting a different image. And that has led to a shift in some of the core tech you have to do to do certain effects. So on a PC, I can put you in Spider Man or on a console, to make it look like you're in a Spider Man comic. Any animated Spider Man comic is alive on the screen in front.

You're in a cartoon. Cuphead, for example. I think that's painted, but there's effects where you can just do these kinds of incredible shadings. Particles, various other things like that are hard in VR. So we have this tech that we built that kind of allows you to make the player feel more immersed in a sort of, not specifically, but like in a painted world, for example. And do those proper edges and black kind of like highlights that in comic books and in various cartoon movies and movies with special effects like that.

It also turns out that it helps with people that wear glasses to some extent. It's not a complete solution, but one of the challenges with VR is the fact that you are looking, even though the world has depth because it's two images.

Your eyes have to cross that the converge or diverge to focus on something that's close or far. At the end of the day, there's still a physical lens on the other side of a physical screen on the other side of that lens. That is the focal distance. So we have some stuff that helps a little bit with that.

The same technology that I, came up with for this comic book rendering, turns out to also have some application. So that's actually what we're patenting. It's not necessarily something that could work in every type of experience. But there's a lot of experiences that could benefit from it potentially.

Essentially as a usability feature. I'm not banking the company on it. The idea was to make a comic book renderer. Then that just turned out, we thought we could make the glasses better. So yeah, that's getting patented. It's not used in the current game they're building at all.

The game, which you are now getting the scoop on. So congratulations, Lizzie. Hopefully you have 8 million listeners or viewers to share this with. I am building a dance game in VR and what makes it unique and different and new and novel is that you're dancing with a partner and you can physically interact with that partner. So there's been lots of dance games and there's Dance Revolution and there's Dance Central and there's half a dozen other ones.

Generally speaking, you mirror a character on the screen. And some kind of sensor detects that you do the right move, you mirror them. Or in Dance Revolution, there's modern versions of it now, where you're just literally jumping on a giant controller and pushing giant buttons.

So what we've got here now is. This game where you have a partner whose hands are physically in yours, and your hands are physically in theirs, or on various parts of their body dancing with them. And you can turn them and push them and pull them and do moves. So it started out as a salsa simulator because I know salsa dancing.

They said, I know graphics and animation and dynamic animation. So animating it in real time as opposed to all just can clips. Like I said, when I decided I needed to do this, it like was like a bolt of lightning. I know all these things. So started as a salsa simulator, and it has evolved.

I never intended the game to be a salsa simulator, but it made sense to use salsa as the first dance. It's also the world's most popular partner dance. So it's more popular than tango and bachata and swing. Across the world, it's the most widely known and in the U. S. as well.

And it's the one I happen to know the best. I probably would have went with a different one if I knew it better, if I knew swing better. But the point is, I hired this animator in Italy and we started going for it. And, months and months of just trying stuff, and eventually partnered with a friend of mine who is an art director at a video game studio is also a dancer and is also sponsored by various by a specific motion capture company. And she had access to mocap suit. So I borrowed that to do a bunch of shoots to collect data to animate the character with.

Even before that, there's been some ML advancements. So there are these tools like class and there's another one where you can dance in front of a camera. You don't even need a green screen and you send it up to the cloud. And as a single person, now you can just do dance moves, and you get back an animated character skeleton. Just like you would use in a game when you would hand animator, you would get from a mocap before.

I hired a professional dancer in the area. That guy's really great. He's a teacher, wins all kinds of awards, to come to my old office. And he did the follow moves as if he was the follower, but without a partner. And then he would do the lead moves and he would he had a sweater, like a long sleeve shirt. Whenever he was the lead, I think I had him have the long sleeves on so I can just look at the video and know, it's a follow up. This is a lead uploaded. To hold his body is the right way and collected all that and got some animations and put it in and started going.

Got a character model that was just a basic mannequin. A thing is a friend of mine who's her model, the same person, the art director. And we eventually got it working after like just tons of trial and error.

So this is me directing. I'm like, listen, you can tell him my animator. I'm going to pay for you to take salsa classes. Buy him salsa classes because he was in Italy. We talk for an hour. His day's over, right? Like we'll tomorrow do this, try that. We tried all kinds of things, all kinds of machine learning, all kinds of various techniques. Eventually, we just body checked it into working through just hammering and retrying.

And at a certain point I was ready to grow the team. My first hire after animator in Italy was a woman in Massachusetts. She's a tech artist, but she does all the concept art. She's also a regular artist, like a traditional artist and can cook. So she does all the concepts.

She did the first environment. So we have an environment like a dance hall. She did just she's like my logo refresh. She did a bunch of the effects that are in there. A little bit of the code here and there. Some of the loading and unloading kind of underpinnings.

 So after that, things are starting to move along. Starting to look good. Got a character. We have a character you dance with now. and put some songs in some music that we just chose. It was all unlicensed. So this is what the main reason why I haven't shown it yet. It's all been behind closed doors.

It's a full experience. Now you can get in there. This partner walks up to you. She looks great. The environment looks great. We did a bunch of voiceover with a woman. I used to be in a band with has a great voice. She's the voice of this character. So once we got the dancing working, it was like, now we go, right?

Get a dynamic dress that, when she twirls, spins, does all that. And built a couple of little special effects. I don't know if you've seen it yet, because I really wanted to be more than just a dance simulator. I wanted to have that sort of video game pizzazz that you get in fighting games and other games.

 There's a whole array of special moves and things that we're gonna build in as well. There's combos and rewards.

We have a three minute experience where, you dance, this partner who approaches you, offers you her hand, you take it, and you're the leader. And you're spinning her and controlling the dance, and she will prompt you to do things if you don't and it's every single person I've put in it, as far as I could tell, has smiled, and I really think it's gonna work.

The demo is good. The demo is clear as day. Can see what I'm trying to sell you here. You can see all these different visions for how it could go being a dance teacher game, like super dance, dance revolution type experience with a partner.

Learning how to dance, arcade mode, challenge mode, exercise mode, all these things will be available.

Lizzie Mintus: I like it.

Patrick Ascolese: So that's what's happening. It's been really cool and I'm really excited and I can't wait to start showing it to the public soon.

I have a couple more things that need to get buttoned up. I'd be willing to start showing it off. From a legal perspective. I just want to make sure everything in there is mine. No music that's unlicensed. That's the only thing left. Once that's done, I've got a song that's being written. Once that's in, we'll start really showing it to people.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. You'll have people knocking down your door.

Patrick Ascolese: I sure hope so.

Lizzie Mintus: That's all you have to do.

Patrick Ascolese: That's all you have to do. Yeah, that's it. That's simple. It's not simple. It'll take a while. But I do think there's going to be an appetite for this. I do think that VR is not about being something that you're not.

There is room for that. VR is about enhancing what you are. Call of Duty, Halo, every Fantasy game ever, Grand Theft Auto, Cyberpunk, Starfield, you are this super human or you're magical.

You could just do these things that humans can't do. And the sort of metaverse that we envision that's being sold to us by Meta and some of these other companies, what they're actually selling us the matrix or the metaverse from some of these novels. Ready player one. And we're just not there with VR headsets. We're very far from that stuff. That's when like you're jacked in and all of your senses are controlled by the computer, right? What we have now though is we have a really good visual, audio, and controllers that can tell systems that can tell where you are physically, but you're not a soldier.

You can't do a barrel. You can't dive across the floor and throw yourself into cover when you're getting attacked by some wild monster, soldier, or something. It's not what it is. So those games don't work as well as they do in a council where you press a button. So that's why I like this idea of dancing and other sort of simulators like that.

Everybody can do this. Anybody who has their general capacity to be upright and moving around can go to a wedding and have fun spinning a partner. So we can take that to the next level.

There is some advancement into the sort of more rich VR that's happening in location based VR. Sandbox VR is doing really cool stuff where you can go become a zombie hunter or do Star Trek. They're going to do Squid Game where you wear those haptic packs. It's more intense and they have a good setup for it. You have a lot more space. You're physically co-located with other people, which is really cool.

But still, it's a far cry from being able to jump over a wall, fire a rocket launcher, and jump 15 feet in the air and not vomit. Same with the spaceship simulators. They're really hard to do.

Lizzie Mintus: They're so hard. That was my first VR experience and I had to take it off of my head and sit down on the ground.

Patrick Ascolese: Yeah, I do VR all day and I hate all of the spaceship simulators. I'd much rather play a space game on my Xbox where like I can control the ship but I don't feel like crap doing it. You know what I mean?

Lizzie Mintus: Transporting is a pass for me. Even the holodome that you worked on, I remember you demoed it for me, and there was a certain scene where you were moving out of your control. I had to close my eyes for a while.

Patrick Ascolese: Given the rumbling in the floor, is still tested way better than moving people in a VR headset with no haptic in their body. Still a lot of people didn't like it. And there were a lot of scenes I didn't like. We worked really hard on the zombie. Keep it smooth. But yeah, it's true. There are people who can't play console games either. You get car sick sitting in the backseat, looking at your phone. You probably can't play a first person shooter.

Lizzie Mintus: I hadn't thought about that. Yeah, it's a sensitivity thing for sure. VR is definitely not for you.

Patrick Ascolese: Totally. If you can't read your book or be on your phone in the car. You're probably not wired for your body to enjoy that experience unfortunately.

Lizzie Mintus: l Perhaps in the future, they'll figure something out.

I have one last question before I ask it. I want to point people to your website, dark arts software. com. The last question is who has made the biggest impact on your career or what people or multiple people, a person, and what's the best advice they've given you?

Patrick Ascolese: You didn't prep me for that one. I think I'm gonna have a couple. This is a long time ago. I had some managers and mentors early in my career at Microsoft. A few of them. Geez, I feel weird saying their names without them knowing it's coming.

There's a bunch. I don't want to be on the B team. If I'm not good enough to be on the A team, I at least want to be here.

Lizzie Mintus: For sure.

Patrick Ascolese: So my originally, Microsoft had a mentor program and I would say, from a biggest impact, I don't know, but my original mentor was this guy named Luis Villegas Smith. He's like Bungie's CTO or something now.

He was my mentor when I was in my first year at Microsoft. Now we only hung out for a little bit, but I feel like I got pushed in the right direction there, technically.

I think people who have had impact, like Ryan Peyton had a big impact.

The guy that connected us was one of my mentors. His name was Aaron Nichols. This is like years ago.

But then when I left Microsoft. I connected with some other people there too who were super bright doers. In terms of like critical moments, it wasn't like the depth of time we spent together. It was connection, learn to this, learn that.

Going to Vulcan. was huge. So I did a bunch of stuff like I, I did the Camouflage thing. I went back to Microsoft for a contract, did contracts for other people. But I think getting exposed to Paul Allen before he passed away was, I only met him a few times, really changed my perspective of my own trajectory and what it could be.

 I remember sitting in this meeting where, and again, he wouldn't have remembered me if he ran me over with the Maybach later in the day, right? But he was like, you're all killers. You guys are all killers. I know you guys are going to do cool stuff. And it was like, all of a sudden, the veil of imposter syndrome just disappeared.

That feeling of should I really be here, went away. And he didn't get to see much of the stuff that I built, a little bit, the whole team. But it was this feeling of trust from somebody who like changed the world.

And I think a lot of people that worked at Vulcan got that sense. This guy did change the world. He wrote the code that is Windows.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah.

Patrick Ascolese: That was a big moment for me. That short time I was there, being given the agency to like, take that holodeck thing from a video player to an interactive thing. Get it on the market, right? I think probably him more than the other folks, because the scope was so huge that, I remember I had done a design for this. You played the zombie game, right? Or did you only see the hologram?

Lizzie Mintus: No, I only saw the hologram, no zombie game.

Patrick Ascolese: Okay. So the zombie game, we did a lot of work to get rid of that, like sickness that you probably experienced.

But anyway, I had done a bunch of game design docs. One was a robot shooter. The Boston Dynamics robots was like that. It was like, we're going to build the robot game. Why are we doing robots? Robots are easier to render. They aren't as hard as skin and deforming characters. It just gives us a better opportunity to make a lot of them.

 They were like, but Paul wants a zombie shooter. All right, we're building a zombie shooter instead. Same general kind of like design, I had been fighting my whole career to get listened to, including Camouflage that I was a big owner at and started, to get taken seriously in a lot of ways. And I feel like that was the first time I was like, maybe I do have something and I'm not just like hoping people listen. You know what I mean?

Lizzie Mintus: Big

Patrick Ascolese: confidence booster.

Yeah, it really was. I've always had a pretty low fear factor. I'm pretty risk tolerant, but that was the moment that for me in my career that stands out. We took the Hololens to the Ted conference, the real one and like all these super important people went into it.

It was the next level. You know what I mean? That changed things for me in my mind. I've been lucky with the people I've encountered. Microsoft does this thing called Neo where like the new employee orientation, the first day, I don't know if they still do it, but Bill Gates was our executive speaker that day.

It was kind of neat. And I'ce been exposed to people that have done a lot, but I never sat in a meeting with him, like never really talked to him in any way. That's good luck, right? The Hololens thing really hit me the most, I think.

Lizzie Mintus: I used to have all the new interns go to Bill's house. My friend was a recruiter back in the day. I remember. Early Microsoft stories.

Patrick Ascolese: I remember that. One thing that I feel sad that I didn't do when I worked at Vulcan. He has this sports facility at his house in Mercer Island. And one of the bennies was you could just go . And apparently you would just go to this QFC parking lot in Mercer Island. A van would get you. And take you over there. Go play tennis. I didn't do it. A bunch of my friends have done it.

But yeah, they're this whole next like echelon of influence and things they've done. And when they trust you to do something or they believe that the teams they've hired can do stuff, it doesn't feel like that boss that's hammering you to just deliver. It's different.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. You're inspired for sure. I just listened to the guy who caught the Four Star General who caught Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden, and he told the story and it was wild. But at the end, what's the biggest meaning in your life? And he said, being with my friends and family. Just the most simple things that matters.

And that was pretty wild. But I guess once you've done like some of the craziest things in the world, that is what matters.

Patrick Ascolese: But I do think like those moments where they stand out as these sort of touchstone moments like a change. I would take you know being broken just having to hang out with my family tomorrow or we're given the choice of just crunch and just doing crazy stuff all the time. I get that.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, you have to follow your passion though. You're doing the thing that you love and that's really important.

Patrick Ascolese: And I definitely, work more than probably the average person.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, but that's okay.

Patrick Ascolese: It's quality over quantity like you said at the beginning.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, I was talking to my friend Zach this week and he said, we were just talking about work life balance.

He said he loves to work 60 hours. That's truly what he likes to do. And for him, that would be a 10 out of 10 work life balance. But for some other people, they look and they say, no, that is my nightmare. So everyone has a different threshold.

Patrick Ascolese: Totally.

Lizzie Mintus: We've been talking to Patrick Ascalese. Am I doing it right?

Patrick Ascolese: That's correct. In Italy, it would be Ascalese. We're in America.

Lizzie Mintus: We've had a Dark Arts Software and formerly Camouflage. Patrick, where can people go to contact you or learn more about you?

Patrick Ascolese: Dark arts software. com. I've got a contact on there. It's there's two S's because it's arts, then software.

I know a lot of people missed that second S. Sorry, Dark Arts wasn't available. The coms page on there is fine, linkedIn. Probably the company page is better. Yeah.

Lizzie Mintus: Thanks so much.

Patrick Ascolese: You got it. Thank you, Lizzie.

Thanks so much for listening to the show this week. To catch all the latest from His Waldo, you can follow us on LinkedIn. Be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes. We'll see you next time.

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