About Research Creative Teaching Service
Credits Awards Innovation Consulting

Creative Statement

I am a designer of games and experiences. My creative work has ranged from professional game development to independent studio work, consulting, and personal projects.

In 2016 I founded my independent game studio Astire Games LLC. At the time I was also working full time for a AAA game company, so my studio work took place in the evenings and on weekends.

I published my first game by myself that year - Slapdash Bones, a mobile dice game where you shake your phone to roll the dice. After going through the process alone, I decided for my second project to bring in some friends as collaborators. We published Cat Cave on Android and iOS one month later.

My indie studio grew to include interns and contractors and we began taking on client work. I left my AAA job to manage my growing studio and team. Since then we’ve published 4 other games and worked on several client projects.

My studio remains active during the summer and winter breaks between classes when I have more time to devote to it, and I continue to hire interns. My studio is committed to improving diversity in the industry through creating experiences for new and underrepresented developers.

As a non-binary gamer, I have often struggled with games that force me to choose between playing a male character or hypersexualized female character. Even games with elaborate character customization usually miss the mark, still requiring me to choose 'male' or 'female' right at the start.

In my game Cosmos Arena, you can choose your character, but they are inside a space suit with no gender or race identifiers. Through the names and voices, we hoped to imply that the characters are non-white with she/they pronouns, aiming to change how people instinctively think about playable characters.

One of the reasons I initially created my studio was to explore unique uses for novel hardware. I believe that when developing a digital experience it is important to consider what the physical platform has to offer, and to develop in a way as to take full advantage of the platform’s capabilities.

This exploration has not always resulted in published products, however I have built a number of small creative and tech demos in this pursuit, some of which have won awards for innovation. These projects have included work for VR, AR, holographic technology, eye-tracking, hand and body tracking, the Virtuix omnidirectional treadmill, and fully audio-based games (no visuals).

Published Game Credits


Litterbug! – Honorable Mention, Climate Jam 2020

Litterbug! was built during IndieCade's Climate Jam. It is a mobile game where the user drags items to the correct bins - trash, recycling, or compost. It is meant to raise awareness for the consequences of putting waste in the wrong bins, and to inform players of better practices. I created all assets for this project from scratch, including all art, sound, and code. Built using Unity, Maya, and Photoshop.

Stealth – Audience Choice Award, Pittsburgh Global Game Jam 2013

Stealth had no visuals, it used the PS Move controllers and speakers to create the experience for up to 8 players. Audio cues and the colored lights on the PS Move controllers informed the players of how fast they could move and who was the "target" and players would lose by moving too fast or being captured. Created by a 5-person team.

Sundown Arcadia (Gear VR) – Most Innovative Award, Intel Showcase, Austin Game Conf. 2016

Sundown Arcadia was built for the Gear VR headset for the Samsung phones. This game used no buttons or controllers, instead the user interacted completely by gaze. The player played as a forest spirit with the goal of collecting resources to craft protective items to keep your forest safe from invaders. All assets purchased from the Unity Asset Store.

Innovative, Unusual, and Exploratory Projects

I've developed several tech demos for either game jams or personal curiosity. These were never meant to become full games, just an exploration on what technology has to offer.

Pirate Jam: 7 Games in 7 Days

In the spring of 2019 I had the opportunity to participate in the Pirate Jam - a game jam that takes place on a boat off the coast of Thailand and lasts 7 days.

I set out to create one game each day of the event. Each of these was made in a period of approximately 12 hours (sometimes less) - I did not pull any all-nighters.

The theme for this jam was Chaos, and both my approach and the things that I made were chaotic in nature.

All art and sound assets purchased from the Unity Asset Store.

Sky Pirates is a simple game of bumper cars where the "cars" are pirate ships flying in the air. Bump against the other ships to push them around, and try to push them to the docking zone to "dock" them.

Chaos6 is a chaotic 6-player Android game where all 6 players use one phone at the same time. Each player is assigned a color, and the goal is to tap that color as many times as you can, but each time you tap it it moves somewhere else on the screen. Dodge the tapping fingers of your enemies to find the new location!

Fishotic includes similar multiplayer chaos with two players typing on the same keyboard. There are fish trapped in nets and you have to type the correct letter to release your fish before your enemy releases all of theirs.

ChARtic was my only AR experiment of the week. In ChARtic you use ARcore on an Android phone to place a tiny ship into the real world. Once you place your ship enemies will spawn, and you have to tap to fire cannon balls at them. The cannon balls use physics and have a delay timer, so you have to think ahead and anticipate where the enemy ship is going to end up.

Jellyfish Creator is not a game so much as an interactive screen saver. Different keys on the keyboard are mapped to different colors and styles of particles, and they spawn wherever your mouse is on the screen.

Captain Chaos used the multiplayer system Air Console where players use their phones to connect to one main screen. Each player has two buttons, a green and a blue, and the goal is to match the pattern on the big screen. But the trick is none of the players know which block they control on the screen, so they have to work together to solve the puzzle.

Chaos Harbor was the final and most ambitious project. This is an 8-player online multiplayer game. Each player controls a ship, and their goal is to dock in their designated docking area in the harbour without sustaining too much damage. This was inspired by an event that happened that day where we had to navigate a crowded harbour to dock our boat.

Bonus: Unchaos was not one of the 7 games but was a relaxing animation of a butterfly circling a tree, to help wind down from all the chaos of the week.

Green Thumb

Green Thumb was a game jam creation that used the Leap Motion. I wanted to create an experience that requires the precision and dexterity of our hands in order to fully take advantage of the Leap Motion's capabilities. So I made a gardening simulator where you actually pull the plants slowly out from the ground to "help" them grow. Don't pull too fast!

One Sunday Afternoon

One Sunday Afternoon is a virtual art installation for Google Cardboard VR. This was a collaboration with Yuliya Lanina and Chris Ozley. Yuliya hand-painted and animated 2D characters and Chris composed 3D music and sound effects. I integrated the art and sound in Unity and scripted the interactions, and built it for Google Cardboard and WebGL. You can download the Android version to use with a Cardboard headset, or play it in a web browser.

This project is part of a live event for the Wild Flower Center in Austin as well as other invited exhibits.

Slapdash Bones

Though Slapdash Bones ended up being a published game, it started out as an experiment. I wanted to test the ability to use a phone's accelerometer and gyroscope to affect in-game physics, and I simultaneously wanted to explore a pass-and-play multiplayer style where 2-4 players take turns playing on one phone by passing it back and forth.

Good Times AR

I had the opportunity to participate in an AR jam hosted by Google, and my team decided to take kind of a whacky approach. We created a game with ARCore that used multiple surfaces over a large area to set up several minigrames to create a carnival. Some of the minigames needed to be on a wall while others needed to be on a floor or tables. Download for Android

Hop the Fence

Created for the z-Space Semiholographic Tablet, this game allows the user to use special tracked glasses and a stylus to interact with a holographic world. The player can use bubbles and carrots to move rabbits around on floating islands to protect them from foxes. Read more about our creative process in our Design Document. I served as Lead Designer on this 7-person project.

You can also see our earliest prototype demonstrating our experimentation with mechanics.

Omnidirectional Treadmill

While working as a technical designer for Virtuix in 2014, I developed demos to showcase the Omni at events such as E3, GDC, and SXSW. Since this Omni was not yet available for purchase, I had the opportunity to be one of the first people to design an experience for it.

At the time, most people expected the Omni to be used exclusively with First-Person Shooters, but I experimented with different options like a virtual tour where you take pictures, which are saved for you to view afterwards. I also tried an option for using the Omni in a non-VR experience, using only the front half of the treadmill and having the user controll a 3rd-Person character on a big screen.

Since this hardware was still in development, I also worked with the electrical and mechanical engineers to coordinate translating the output from the Omni to usable input for a game engine, and I made the first iteration of the SDK to allow other developers to make games for it.

During one of the projects I created, I turned an unusual bug into a core feature - I accidentally made a character controller where your speed on the Omni added upward velocity, meaning if you ran fast you could get up in the air and fly above the world.

Re-Pear Shop

I created this VR game for the Google Daydream during GGJ 2020. This was an experiment with using the Daydream pointer for physics-based interactions.

Webz of War

In addition to the research discussed in my publications section, this project also involved an unusual hardware exploration that resulted in a physical installation. We combined input from two Wii Fit Balance Boards and a Kinnect to make full-body immersive gameplay.

We showcase this installation at a local festival in Pittsburgh and also set it up on display at the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center in Washington D.C.

Freaky Fotobooth

This unique take on a photobooth was an interactive art installation that debuted at IndieCade 2017 and went on to show at subsequent events in 2018 including Juegos Rancheros and That Party. It was also an invited exhibit at The Getty in LA and Outside the Lens at YoMo.

Read more about How Freaky Fotobooth Works

Cosmos Arena

Cosmos Arena is a local multiplayer game for up to 4 players sharing one screen. This game is neither cooperative nor competitive, instead allowing the players to choose how they want to play through socializing outside of the game.


My longest running consulting contract was for Fabulingua, a Spanish Language learning app for kids. I worked with the founders to create their first prototype of interactive stories, which they used to pitch to VCs and led to the project being successfully funded for $680K. While working with them, I also developed the pipeline which they use for generating new content for their app.

The initial prototype involved art, audio, writing, animation, and interactivity. I worked with several subcontractors and managed the overall process and budget, as well as personally handling the majority of work on animation and interactivity.

Other smaller contracts I’ve done included consulting work for Flying Car Games, SubVRsive, and Part Time Evil.

©2020 MJ Johns. All Rights Reserved.