Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Links!

From Daniel Wilhite, and this is some disturbing news about our old adversary kudzu:Invasive kudzu drives carbon out of the soil, into the atmosphere.

From Dave Schroeder, and this is a fascinating economics read: The Rise and Fall of Professional Bowling.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is mind-blowing: Thousands of leaked KGB files are now open to the public. Also, and this is stunning, it's Saharan remains may be evidence of first race war, 13,000 years ago.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is quite mesmerizing: She Takes A Photo: 6.5 Years.

From Scott Gould, and this is excellent: Watch How This Supermarket Got People To Buy Their Rubbish…

From Sirius, and this is quite beautiful: The first 1000 digits of pi.

From Rob, and this is best viewed on a PC: THEN & NOW: Watch Detroit change before your very eyes.

From Marc Klein, and this is a terrific read: The Surprisingly Savvy Weird Al Internet Machine. Also, and I've known about this for years, it's What playfulness can do for you: research discovers the many benefits of being a goofball.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, and this is such a moving story: Teenage son discovers his deceased father's ghost car in Xbox rally game.

From Meg Lawrence, and man, this is so beautiful: Permanent Link to This 144-Year-Old Wisteria In Japan Looks Like A Pink Sky.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is an entirely wonderful idea: Rejected (Disney) Princesses.

From Matthew Teets, and this was a noble endeavor: My 14-Hour Search for the End of TGI Friday's Endless Appetizers.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

David Braben

David Braben said something extremely interesting in an interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun. He was asked about Star Citizen in relation to Elite: Dangerous, and this is what he said:
What’s great, actually, is that the more good games come out – especially in this – we’re moving the focus of the industry. If you look at the focus of our industry five years ago, it was on first-person shooters. Because there was conspicuous success from Call of Duty, we got Battlefield, loads of others, some of which were good, some of which were less good, and two of them have won out really strongly. I think what this now is doing is showing that there’s a latent demand for space games, and the more the merrier. 

Braben is absolutely correct when he references a latent demand for space games. There is a lot of latent demand in my study, at least, because I find the possibilities in space games infinitely more interesting.

I believe he's also correct when he talks about moving the focus of the industry. Corridor shooters are so inherently limited that they have seriously damaged, particularly on consoles, the quality and creativity levels of AAA games. Thank you, Activision.

Of course, because of that gigantic blockage, indie gaming has flourished beyond anyone's wildest expectations.

All I know is that the day Elite: Dangerous gets released, I will put on an Oculus Rift headset, and I may never leave.


Well, this is interesting.

Imogen Heap is part of a group who has developed a generative music app that will be available for purchase shortly. Here's how it works:
The Run-Time app generates a one-of-a-kind soundtrack for your run by recording ambient sound (your footsteps, your breathing, perhaps the chirping birds or honking cars in the background) and layering them onto an existing electronic track. Then, as you run, the app plays the song, adjusting the beats per minute so the music will automatically change tempo to match your running pace.

More details here.

I don't know if this app will actually be any good, but it does make me think about the future. Ten years from now, I see everyone walking around with headphones, listening to the soundtrack of their own life, which is generated as they simply live. I see music becoming more focused on a generative process via apps than something that is band-based. Transitive, like almost everything else is becoming. I don't like that idea, but I can see it happening.

In a more now sense, though, I find this kind of app as an exercise companion pretty irresistible. If it supported Bluetooth, I could theoretically use it when I swim. Borderline trance music seems like it would be highly conducive to extending exercise.

The fittest I've ever been in my life, though, was when I was listening to All Things Considered on headphones while I swam. The shows lasted an hour, and they were so engaging that I almost forgot I was exercising at all. So maybe I'm not the dreamy trance exercise guy after all.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Literary Nature of Texts

We went to a water park on Sunday, a near-apocalypse for me. I swim many laps in water, but I do not "ride" things, as a rule. There were many, many people in this park, and most of them were wearing bathing suits that exposed a highly unattractive amount of flesh.

If aliens had a live camera feed of this park, they would be immediately persuaded not to invade.

My texts below are in bold. John's are italicized.

...surviving Schitterbaun* right now
*not its actual spelling

Be sure to have a minimum of 4-5 funnel cakes. Local statute requirement.

I'm in hell. Can't unsee the human flesh.

They likely did their part to adhere to Comal County Resolution 2013-36 (aka The Funnel Cake Statute), so be sure you do the same. Permanent county residency can be ordered by the court for repeat offenders, so we've never been willing to risk it and just chown down on funnel cakes as we should. I can still taste them...sugar-coated misery and despair.

You, sir, are the Hemingway of theme park descriptions.

"I can still taste them...sugar-coated misery and despair." That is absolutely magnificent.

Tony Dungy and Dog Whistle Politics

Tony Dungy, a highly intelligent ex-football coach who is well-respected and has a problem with homosexuals and their "lifestyle", gave an interview recently in which he said he wouldn't draft Michael Sam (ex-Missouri football player, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and openly homosexual) because it would be a "distraction".

A definition: Dog-whistle politics is political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup. The phrase is only used as a pejorative, because of the inherently deceptive nature of the practice and because the dog-whistle messages are frequently themselves distasteful, for example by empathizing with racist or revolutionary attitudes. It is an analogy to a dog whistle, whose high-frequency whistle is heard by dogs, but is inaudible to humans.

Tony Dungy, who is African-American, was a college quarterback at Minnesota. He never had a chance to play quarterback in the NFL, because black athletes were only considered "effective" in certain positions at the time (1976). Having a black quarterback would have been a huge distraction--all the media coverage, all the questions.

Do you know why it took so long for the color barrier to be broken in some American team sports? Well, based on what club owners said at the time, it was because drafting a Negro player would be too much of a "distraction".

Renting houses to African-American families in all-white neighborhoods? Sorry, it's not you, it's just that you would be a distraction in all-white neighborhood. Nothing personal, mind you.

"Distraction" is a magic word. It means not being fair because fair would be too inconvenient. It's a dog whistle.

Michael Sam's prospects as an NFL player can be challenged because his speed may not be considered adequate (although if you look at this list of former SEC Defensive Players of the Year, it's difficult to imagine that he couldn't contribute to a team), but a "distraction"?

That's just sad.

Even better, Tony Dungy was the leader of the Michael Vick Redemption Tour after Vick was released from prison. Vick was convicted of participating in an interstate dogfighting ring (the details were absolutely brutal). Michael Vick wasn't a distraction?

I will say it's encouraging that Dungy is getting so much flack over his comments. That's a start.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Golf Club

I tried out a recent build of The Golf Club a few days ago, and I was impressed. Everything plays more smoothly, the game looks better (believe it or not), and I only had one beef.


For some reason, and this was a curse with recent versions of Tiger Woods as well, there's a distinct lack of proportionality between how far your golfer takes the club back to putt and how far a real golfer would take the club back on a real-world putt. It's much further in the game, and that makes putting feel quite wooden, not ultra-precise as it should be.

Like I said, there are quite a few golf games that have this problem. But some games have done it perfectly (Headgate's PGA Championship 2000 and several of their Tiger Woods versions come to mind), so it's certainly doable.

The game has been submitted to Sony and Microsoft for certification, and you can already buy "early access" (near-final, at this point) on Steam. If you enjoy golf games, I would highly recommend it, with the putting caveat.

Moon Stuff and Whatnot

I heard something astonishing about the first walk on the moon yesterday. On the Dan Patrick Show, it was mentioned that the U.S. television broadcast of the moon walk got a 93% share.

All three major networks at the time (CBS, NBC, ABC) were broadcasting the feed simultaneously, and there was no cable television at the time, so the size of that number is not surprising. What is surprising, though, is that 7% of the televisions were tuned to UHF stations and watching something else at the time.

Seriously,  7% people? Too busy watching Mr. Ed reruns to see someone walk on the moon? Staggering.

My fondness for Buzz Aldrin's Race into Space is well-documented. It's also well documented that I have high hopes for Buzz Aldrin's Space Program Manager, which has been in development for a while now. Owen Faraday of the indispensable Pocket Tactics noted yesterday that Slitherine has announced an official release date: October 31. Owen's post is here, and he also noted that the game is basically coming out on everything (iOS, Android, and PC).

Can't wait.

Now, moving on to the "whatnot" category, I had an enormous amount of fun a few years ago with a game called Triple Town. Finally, Spry Fox's next game is ready for release, and it's called Road Not Taken. Here's a description:
Road Not Taken is a roguelike puzzle game about surviving life’s surprises. You play as a ranger adventuring through a vast, unforgiving forest in the aftermath of a brutal winter storm, rescuing children who have lost their way. Procedurally-generated levels deliver a limitless supply of possibilities to explore and challenges to overcome. Your actions will influence not only your own story, but that of the villagers you hope to befriend and the town you call home.

Okay, that sounds like 100% in to me (7% greater than 93%, by the way). August 5 on Steam and PlayStation 4, and coming to Vita this fall. Game site: Road Not Taken.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire # 114: Team History Progress

The new Team History Museum has made considerable progress in the last week. Here's a screenshot:

That's obviously still rough, but quite a few changes have taken place. You can see full texturing on the individual season books now. Those player portraits are placeholders, but you can get a general look at what the wall of honor is supposed to look like. Plus, I'm going to do a dynamic layout so that depending on the number of players on the wall of honor, the size and location of their portraits will change.

Also, instead of the individual season books leading nowhere, they're actually hooked up to some data now. Not all fields are working, and there is a ton left to do, but you can see the preliminary season display layout below:

Basically, on the left you have teams season stats, and on the right you have career totals for your currently active, named players. You can see that the player panel layout is sloppy right now, and the portraits are placeholders, but you can see the basic concept.

And yes, I am actually calculating a quarterback's QBR using the official NFL formula.

I'd like to include a few simple graphs (like run-pass ratio), but I don't think I have enough room.

Those little footballs for navigation are going to be replaced with little books with arrows on them, so that you can go from season to season without going back to the bookshelf.

My target is to have this in the hands of the testers, fully functional, by August 1. That may be a bit ambitious, but that's the schedule.

In terms of ambition, I noticed something interesting this week. The Wall of Honor is quite a rabbit hole, because you can go into so much detail and make it so elaborate with selection criteria and displaying all kinds of statistics. The problem, though, is that it's not time efficient at all, because players will only be inducted if they have exceptional careers, and that will take multiple seasons (probably 4+) to happen. I'm putting in a ton of fun time working on this one feature, but in the larger scheme of things, it's not very important. So to hopefully finish a version of this by the end of the month, I'm going to delay the Wall of Honor portraits and coding until the basic version is complete. That basic version will have the enhanced season display, the bookshelf, and Gridiron Bowl trophy display.

And a security guard. Don't forget about him.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Links!

From Scott Gould and this is stunning: On The Roofs: Hong Kong.

From C. Lee, and this is a tremendous story: Japanese baseball hopeful makes a pitch for glory. Also, and this is thought-provoking, it's 5 Reasons Conspiracy Theories Are Destroying the World.

From Chris Penn says, and this is an excellent way to spend part of an afternoon, watching these short films: James Brown Stars in "Beat the Devil", One of 8 Films in the Pioneering BMW Film Series, "The Hire" (2002).

From Sirius, and this is quite amazing: The Changyuraptor yangi: A 125-million-years-old flying dinosaur with four wings. Also, and this entirely baffles me: Blackest is the new black: Scientists develop a material so dark that you can't see it...

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is an ongoing release of videos:Weird Al's Latest Album, Mandatory Fun.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is a brilliant, brilliant essay: The 3 Scariest Words A Boy Can Hear. Also (and this link is from her husband), and this is a great bit of SEC history, it's Before the creation of SEC football media days, there were the Skywriters.

From Michael Gilbert, and everyone will want to read this: The world's most beloved loser: Globetrotters legend Red Klotz (of Margate) passes at 93.

from Jonathan Arnold, and this is a fascinating story: Busy NYC Restaurant Solves Major Mystery by Reviewing Old Surveillance.

From Craig Miller, and this is just crazy: Holy Carp! Watch These Planes Bomb Lakes With Live Fish.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this guy qualifies for the Badass Hall of Fame: Robert Smalls.

From Michael M., and this is absolutely amazing: America’s Pink Tower of Oz: A Mysterious Marble Marvel.

From Tim Steffes, and this is a fantastic read: Where Online Services Go When They Die: Rebuilding Prodigy, one screen at a time.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Well, I Sort Of Expected That

Here's a headline I just saw over at NBC News:
Malaysia Airline Jet Was Built Not To Crash, Expert Says

Wait, aren't all jets built not to crash? I would think that a list of design priorities for all airplanes would include "not crashing" in the very first tier. It should be tightly coupled with "fly".

Early Access (your comments)

Matt Solomon had a very thoughtful perspective on this:
As games increasingly move to services, and for games that aren't heavily narrative focused, early access going to be a very prevalent thing. The idea of a game being complete before it launches is not going to make a ton of sense. Look at how much Minecraft has changed despite coming out of beta, or how, even though your own Gridiron Solitaire is a proper launched title, it's still getting significant feature updates months after release.

Even though Early Access is in an even rougher state, launch is no longer a guarantee of completeness. You don't get to play the 'full' game unless you play it for months as it evolves, or you wait a very long time in some cases. 

There's more of a demand for engagement from both the player and the developer under this model, and that has its positives and negatives. It can be a bit exhausting, and it makes it harder to have a lot of diverse interests at the same time. It's a very different way of interacting with games. I don't think it's going to be the only way things get made, but because it stimulates a much stronger sense of buy in and community, it's an important way of making things.

The Lightbender

Jeremy Gordon (DQ reader) sent me a book a few weeks ago. His book.

I didn't know what to expect.

What I absolutely didn't expect was for the book to be wonderful. It's a science fiction novel for young adults, and it's one of the most imaginative, thoughtful works of fiction I've read in a long time. It's just a damned good story, and I read the entire book in two days.

What makes this so special? Well, for one, it's warm. There's a feeling of warmth that pervades the entire book, and it's a pleasure. The writing style is airy and expansive, which is very unique to this genre. The writing style is also supple, and deft. I was continually surprised by the cleverness of the narrative.

Well, that's enough. No spoilers. You should just read the damn thing. Here's the Amazon link: The Lightbender.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Star Citizen, Elite: Dangerous, Kickstarter, and Steam Early Access

There's an excellent interview over at RPS with David Braben, legendary developer of the Elite series.

What struck me throughout the interview was how relaxed Braben was with the progress of development and the current state of the game. Everything I've heard from people who have played the beta has been stellar. Well, more than stellar, really--everyone is out of their mind over this game.

There's nothing I'd rather play, so this is very good news for me. Appointment gaming, as soon as it's released, and I don't do that very often anymore.

What impresses me most about this project is that with a budget of roughly $3 million, the game--while still hugely ambitious--seems to fit inside its budget.

It's an old rule of project management: if you want to finish a project sooner, you basically have two options. You can either increase resources, or you can reduce scope. This project has done neither, and still seems to be entirely under control, which is incredibly impressive.

That interview made me think about Star Citizen.

Star Citizen is Chris Roberts' (Wing Commander) epic space opera, now crowdfunded to the tune of over $48 million. Incredible!

I also think, in this case, that $48 million is a curse.

There are pages of stretch goals. The original plan for the game must have expanded to almost comic proportions, given the influx of funding. Managing that expansion could be far more difficult than producing the original game.

Chris Roberts may be a genius as a designer and a developer. But now he also needs to be a genius in project management, and that's an entirely different skill set.

I'm quite certain that Elite: Dangerous is going to be fantastic. I would be stunned if Star Citizen is as well.

Insert your own segue here. I don't really have one.

I think Steam Early Access is a tremendous way for developers to get additional funding for their mostly-completed game, as well as getting essential feedback from a much larger player base than a traditional beta test can provide.

Conceptually, I love the idea.

In practice, it drives me nuts. Every week I see something I want to play that just got released--but it's an Early Access alpha, and it won't be done for another six to nine months.


I want to play game X, but I want to play the full version. I probably won't play it for months, seeing additional base content and bug fixes added as it slowly nears its release version.

All those Early Access games are just sitting on the Steam store, taunting me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Eli 12.11

Sorry for the late start. Hockey tryouts.

In October of 2012, I wrote this: Eli 11.2 is now 4'11 3/4" tall. 75 lbs. 20/10 vision. Reaction time of a superhero.

In twenty-one months, quite a lot has changed. For one, he's taller than Gloria now.

He's 5'5 1/2. 100 pounds. Still has 20/10 vision. Still has the reaction time of a superhero.

That's almost six inches in height in less than two years.

Remember how he went to rock gym camp every summer? He still does, and now he's climbing V3 bouldering routes. If you're wondering how hard that is, just have a look at the video below. He's either upside down are climbing at an inverted angle for a minute, which is how long it takes to climb the entire route (note: the beginning of this is dark, so you might want to full-screen for a better view).

I don't know how many twelve-year-olds can do that, but I know it's not many.

It's also been a long time since you've seen a hockey video. Here's a coach (someone he works with quite a bit, who is also a very cool guy) shooting on him.

I'll have more next week, but he's been working his butt off this summer, trying to get quicker and stronger, and it's working. We've gone off the grid down here, to a degree, but it seems like our approach is having a positive effect.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire #113: The Evolution of Team History

Let's look at the old Team History Screen:

You can click on the image for a larger view.

I just simmed through a season to generate some data, so you'll see that all the "played" stat categories are empty. You can get a general idea of how the design works, though: one card for each season, and a card for Franchise History. So you get up to five seasons plus the Franchise History card on the same screen.

I've always liked that screen. The problem, though, is that I want to track more stats, and I want to tie stats to player names as well as to teams, so if I want to do all of that, I need a much bigger display area for each season.

Plus, somehow this design just feels insubstantial. There's no sense of place, is there? The user might have played all 15 games of their season, and all they get is this card?

Yes, redesigning this screen would be a lot of work, but I'd be rewarding the people who spend the most time with the game. To me, that's exactly what I should be doing.

I started discussing this with Fredrik, and I'm going to show you the evolution of the idea, and where we are now.

First, I mentioned to Fredrik that I wanted a "book" for each season (so the bookshelves fill up with season books over the years), and a place to display championship trophies. Plus I thought it would be funny to have a character in the room who aged over time. Fredrik sent back this:

He added a window so that the passing of seasons could be shown. That's a wonderful idea that blew me away.

I wanted a place to display the team name, and that wasn't in the first sketch. Plus--and I can't remember which one of us suggested this--we decided on having portraits of the players were were the best in franchise history (and they'll be selectable, with a pop-up to show you their career stats). So here's version two:

I wanted a bigger window. I wanted a big, expansive feeling in the room.

We went back and forth through a few more iterations, repositioning elements, then reached here:

Okay, I like the size of that window, and I like how it opens up the room. Unfortunately, I realized that I wouldn't be able to accurately identify the correct weather profile for every team, because the user could use cities that weren't in the weather database. Showing a snow background for a city where it doesn't snow, or even fall foliage for a city in Arizona, would totally break the immersion. In the future, there may be 12-15 weather profiles assignable to a user-customized team, but that doesn't exist yet, so the window had to go. Arghh.

I felt like after this last sketch that we were really going sideways, or even backwards. So we decided to set priorities for what was most important to display, then build the sketch with those priorities in mind.

After at least ten sketches in total, Fredrik sent me this:

Here's how this works (and some colors might change, or elements, but this is the basic final design:
In the background, team color/name will be striped at the top and bottom of the inset portion of the wall. In-between, the best players in Franchise history will have their portraits displayed. So the top/bottom team colors act as a frame for the player portraits, which I really like. I wanted the team name and colors to have a strong branding identity on this screen, and I think this design will accomplish that.

There's also going to be a pedestal on the left side of the room, with the Franchise record book on the pedestal (and a spotlight shining softly on the book).

I'm still not sure about the white table--that color or design might change--but that's where the trophies go.

We're still in the big middle of this, so it's like moving into a room where everything is in disarray. But in Visual Studio, I'm adding elements, and here's where I am now:

I know what you're thinking: holy crap, that's a mess. And you'd be right, but remember, I'm just moving in to the room. Here's what still has to be done
1. Third row of ten books aligned, and the temporary texture added. Replace with final textures when available.
2. Decide on the trophy display area. Right now, I have a layout where no matter how many championships are won, the display of those trophies is symmetrical, but I'm still not satisifed.
3. The little red book on the table is moving to its own pedestal.
4. I like the basic idea of the team name and colors, but man, that looks terrible. I have to come up with some kind of gradient or texture to make the colors less harsh. I think it's the right concept, but not the right execution yet.
5. Those yellow rectangles are placeholders for individual player portraits, which have to be added.
6. Security guard needs to be added.

Of course, when this is all visually correct, it's only half done, because I have to do the code-behind. Surprisingly, though, the code-behind isn't going to be brutal. I've already done some of these things in the existing code.

What I really like about this new screen is the high level of interactivity. You can select a season, or a player, or franchise records. You can dive into some serious data, and there's a much stronger sense of history as your franchise ages. There's going to be a nice sense of the progression of time. It will be a nice reward for the people who spend the most time with the game.

It's still quite a ways (probably three weeks) from being complete and ready for testing, but I wanted you guys to get a sense for how iterative the process is when working with a new idea like this. Fredrik is unbelievably skilled in generating sketches and incorporating feedback, and it always winds up being considerably better than my original idea, thanks to him.

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