Gordon Parker Rios, Principal Scientist on Gaming

Hi, I’m Gordon Rios and I’m a Principal Scientist working for Pandora Radio here in Oakland, California. My family and I live in San Francisco and I work across the bay in Oakland. At Pandora, I was a founding member of the data science group, now comprised of over 40 scientists working in six teams across all major areas of data science. My own particular focus is playlist recommendation and listener engagement.

San Francisco is amazing. Our family love the people, culture, and politics of the city. I’m from this area but have lived in various other parts of Silicon Valley as well as abroad in Ireland and the Netherlands. We loved living in Cork, Ireland, where I was a Marie Curie Research Fellow at the world famous University College Cork (George Boole, famously was first Professor of Mathematics there).

Outside of my work, I really love writing A.I. for complex computer games (strategy boardgames and roleplaying games.)

Above: Gordon explains the game Conan from Monolith to his son Alex

I find this to be an enduring passion of mine. I’ve worked on games with my eldest son Conlan, (most of it under his game company, Offworld Games) for over ten years now. I work on the games under the management of my son who is the lead programmer and game director for all of our titles.

I’ve been programming small games for many years, however, I never developed full titles that could be published. It was my son’s idea to do bigger games and publish. It’s his company so I just get to work on some of the fun bits.

We usually license a well-known board game and redevelop for a video game format. This provides two key challenges:

The first challenge is developing the game experience to be truly easy while opening up global multiplayer access to broaden the reach and audience of the game.

The second challenge is creating a reasonably challenging set of A.I. opponents that players can use to develop good basic skills with the game before joining other players from around the world.

Working on complex computer games is both a challenge and something that I do for fun. My active work building systems based on ML and practicing data science is enormously demanding and challenging, often high stakes, work.

Offworld Games is a small team of folks who love making games; the challenges are often more around good software engineering (i.e. “get it right; make it clear and extensible, choose good techniques,” etc.) along with the fun of bringing an A.I. system to life.

I used to play a lot of video games during different periods of life but over recent years I mostly play board games. I played simulation games, notably F15 Strike Eagle, Elite, Nobunaga’s Revenge and Pirates, onto role-playing game titles such as Drakkhen, Wizardry, Bards Tale, Mechwarrior, Diablo, and finally, I dabbled a bit with first person shooter games like Doom, Quake, and Quake II.

Gaming is more popular now than it was when I was growing up. There are some great games, but mostly at this point, I enjoy watching my sons play and ghosting along with them – the new controllers are just too tricky and the mouse is too tough on my wrists.

I would say honestly my favorite tablet game is our last title: Reiner Knizia’s The Confrontation, which is a port of his popular title (though without the LOTR theme unfortunately). It’s got a reasonable A.I. in a sophisticated yet super accessible format (technically, it’s a stratego-type variant). My children are grown and they like games like Overwatch, The Last of Us, Destiny, League of Legends, etc.

I’m always drawn to some of the retro games (I mentioned some previously) and my son has done a couple of homage games but I think that making games, both physical and computerized, is undergoing so much change that it’s best to try the new ones.

For boardgames and role-playing games, you have only to play Isaac Childres’ Gloomhaven to see how much of a revolution there is going on. To see why computer games (playing or ghost playing) are such a hotbed of innovation for machine learning, see The Last of Us with its groundbreaking companion A.I., or AlphaGo which actually beat the world champion Go player.

I believe that having a creative outlet outside of my work is of benefit to my technology career. It takes the pressure off me to always take on the technical components of any project and allows me to take on less glorious tasks and work to make sure the project succeeds in delivering value to the company.

If I could do one fun thing every weekend, it would be what I’m doing now with games, but after that, I would go for a nice swim in the Mediterranean and enjoy a quiet pint at a beach side café watching futbol.

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