The Setup: Tom Armitage – Game designer @ Hide and Seek

Thanks to the awesome folks @ UsesThis – we are continuing our interviews of awesome designers, developers, and technologists.  Here’s another great one:

Tom Armitage

Game designer, technologist (Hide and Seek)

Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m a game designer and technologist at Hide and Seek. Prior to this, I was a creative technologist at Berg for two years. I design games and make stuff on the internet. I run a blog called Infovore, where I write about design, technology, culture, and games. I like making toys on the web – most notably on Twitter, where amongst other things, I gave London’s Tower Bridge an account.

What hardware are you using?

2.4ghz 13” Macbook Pro, one of the last Core 2 Duos, 4gb ram, 500gb hard disk. I would have loved an i5, but this suits me just fine – it was more important to get it when I did, rather than spend another six months waiting for a 13” i5.

At work and home I use the same monitor – a Benq E2220HD. It’s nothing fancy – just a 22”, 1080p TN panel – but I like the way its panel looks, and I like that it has two HDMI sockets as well as a USB hub: means I can plug consoles into it at work, and makes for fewer cables when I dock the laptop. I’m very much a one-computer person. I’ve tried juggling multiple computers before, and it just drove me mad, and still would even with tools like Dropbox. One computer, one inbox, everything’s a lot simpler.

I use a cabled Apple keyboard at work and home, because I really like the feel of the low-profile keyboards, but also because I use the numeric pad a lot. For pointing, a Logitech VX Nano travels back and forth with me. I recently got a Wacom Bamboo tablet, which has changed my life in Lightroom and other graphics programs – super comfortable, very natural. I wouldn’t go back to using a mouse for those tasks for the world.

I’ve got a 1 Terabyte external FireWire 800 drive for storing the remainder of my Lightroom library, big media, that sort of thing. I also mirror my internal drive about once a week to an external USB drive. That’s my backup policy: a bootable mirror, and enough other stuff in the cloud (via Gmail, version control, Dropbox and similar).

I have an iPhone 4. It’s very good. I’m annoyed I had to upgrade my iPhone 3G which was effectively end-of-lifed in the last iOS update (and both very slow and afflicted with some nasty bugs – which won’t ever be fixed now). But the new phone is great, and its camera is superb.

Things that are not quite so computer-related: a Nikon D90 and a bag of interesting (and less interesting) lenses. A Yashica Electro 35 for shooting film.

And under the TV: most modern games consoles, although I don’t own aPS3, and won’t be buying any new consoles – 3DSVita, etc – in the forseeable future.

And what software?

You know all the stuff people who make stuff on the web use on OSX? I use that. Browsers, NetNewsWireiTunesTextmate, things like Office andiWorkAdium, and Twitter.

It’s the diversions from the norm that are interesting. I like Mailplane for mail, because it handles multiple accounts well and has lovely keyboard shortcuts.MarsEdit makes posting to blogs easy.

I’m currently moving to MacVim for writing code, and after an initial learning curve, I’m really liking it.

For longer writing – articles, big blog posts, fiction (whisper it quietly) – I adoreScrivener. I’m a very structural writer; I plan in chunks, re-organise, and only finally yank disparate threads together – so its corkboard metaphor fits my brain nicely. It’s a great app, and makes it lovely to watch your work come together.

I do 95% of everything to do with my photographs in Lightroom, which I’ve used since 1.0. Again, it totally fits my brain, in terms of how I process images: roughly what you could do in a real-world darkroom, if you had a bit more patience than me. I like its cataloguing and support for multiple drives, and the fact that most things I do to picture are now in a single application. I don’t think I’m going to give it up anytime soon.

I use Launchbar as a launcher. I was a Quicksilver diehard for years, but really, the stability (or lack of it) got to me. Launchbar is now very good indeed, and because it’s paid for, at least I know I can expect support. I don’t just use it as a spotlight replacement; I really like the noun/verb syntax Quicksilver had and Launchbar implements to a degree.

Backup is handled by cloning my drive with Superduper. I can’t recommend Superduper enough; it’s unsexy, but swift, well-designed, and nothing beats a bootable clone for disaster recovery, really.

In the menu bar: Bowtie for putting songs on my desktop; Stay for handling screen layouts as I change monitors; Dropbox, of course. Skitch is very handy for quickly flinging images up to the web, with minor edits – useful for previewing photos, or discussing screengrabs. Fantastical tells me the date, and shows me calendars in a nice manner.

I use Things across both Mac and iPhone for task management, which I’m not very good at.

In the shell: macports for package management, mainly because it’s what I’ve used for a while, and I don’t quite have the energy to change just yet (though were I starting again, I’d probably be on homebrew). git, everywhere, for version control, and thus github for storing code.

The usual swiss-army knife stuff in the shell, mainlygrep/awk/xargs/curl/wget/lessRuby is my primary language, and I use it for everything from websites (in Rails) to tiny command-line toys and utilities. I’m known to write in lots of other things, but Ruby is my native tongue now, and it’s what I return to whenever I have a problem I need to solve. It’s Good Enough, which is what I care about.

What would be your dream setup?

Not far off this one, really. Perhaps a slightly quicker processor and nicer graphics card. I like the 13” form factor, but am too attached to both ports and optical media to go to a Macbook Air. Seriously: I still buy music on CDs. So my main wish would be some way of fitting a small SSD for the OS and Appsalongside a larger drive for storage, on a 13” Macbook Pro. That’d be lovely.

Otherwise: a nice IPS monitor, backup I didn’t have to think about, and wireless sync with my phone. And I don’t want anything I carry to get anyheavier.

Oh, and a Pilot Vanishing Point – other than losing them, I adore fountain pens, and a propelling one would be cracking.

But, short of crazy future-tech, I’m hitting the point where I have everything I need.



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