Uses This

A collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done.

A picture of Laura Hall

Laura Hall

Artist, writer, puzzle and game designer

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Laura E. Hall -- I'm an artist, writer, puzzle-maker, and environmental narrative designer living in Portland, Oregon. Along with my producer, Nora Ryan, I run Timberview Productions, a company building immersive games and interactive experiences. These run the gamut from intimate, narrative-guided puzzle adventures to massive online events streamed for players around the world. Our new location, Meridian Adventure Co., is opening in Portland later this year.

I’m a proud board member of the PDX non-profit Portland Indie Game Squad and the Enthusiasm Collective, a pay-what-you-can workspace for artists and activists.

I’m also a writer and speaker. I focus primarily on the intersections between arts, culture, and technology, especially in gaming. I’m currently exploring the topics of environmental narrative design, Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), the future of virtual reality, and the magical potential of real-world physical gameplay. I wrote Katamari Damacy for Boss Fight Books, out soon.

As an artist, I love creating ephemera-based stories, environmental narratives, scavenger hunts, and mysteries.

What hardware do you use?

I use a MacBook Air and an iPhone 6, plus a Windows PC setup at home for playing games and VR (mostly HTC Vive). I have a Nikon D5100 and a little Canon EOS 60D for snapshots, although I mostly use my iPhone for photos now. I recently got a Fujifilm instax mini 9 and love playing with it. I have a Kindle Paperwhite and am getting back into the habit of reading a book a week.

For designing and brainstorming, I use a double-sided whiteboard and set of colored Expo markers. Everything that goes onto the whiteboard is in service of some work product, be it a talk, a brief, or a design, so we take photos and archive them but happily I rarely need to reference them. I'm always grateful they exist when I do, though.

I use a red Moleskine notebook for note-taking and lists. Until I started using Moleskines (about 5 years ago) I never managed to fill a journal. Now I go through a few a year.

Whenever I find a pen or pencil I really like the feel of, I buy them in bulk. Right now I like InkJoy 300RT ballpoint pens, but I also like writing with whatever pens I pick up at the bank or doctor’s office. I use Pentel Click mechanical pencils and Tombow Fudenosuke brush pens for drawings and diagrams. Sharpies and index cards are indispensable for prototyping game ideas.

There's a lot of tech that goes into the escape rooms we create. We use Raspberry Pis, Arduinos, Android devices, and Macs, plus cameras for monitoring gameplay. The escape rooms also use mechanical components like switches and electromagnets.

For the escape room game buildouts, we use typical workshop and woodworking tools, plywood, and foam board, plus whatever other materials are necessary to create a specific atmosphere.

It's like crafting a theater set, in that it has to look and feel right, but not be too real. As an example, a real office is probably pretty boring, with fluorescent lights and cubicles and random piles of paper. So we have to craft something that feels like an office, but one you’d see in a movie, or come across in an adventure. It also has to be pretty indestructible, because so many people are going to be interacting with it.

And what software?

Our company uses Asana, G Suite, and Slack for just about everything. We use weekly kanban boards and set up capture boxes so that nothing ever falls through the cracks, supplemented with weekly meetings to set goals and work through projects or backlog tasks.

We use OmniGraffle for outlining story and user flows, plus Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator for graphic design and layouts, and SketchUp for 3D modeling.

What would be your dream setup?

I'd love to have a massive workshop with loads of fancy and expensive specialty tools (plus a budget to pay those specialists), attached to a bustling shared community workspace that's open to all, within which I have a private office with a door I can close for concentration.