The Animal Farm

October 30th, 2009

Wal-Mart Starts Selling Coffins

“But an industry spokesman said it was not gravely concerned about Wal-Mart’s move because he said the firm could not offer bereaved families the human touch.”

Bless BBC News.

October 21st, 2009

Borderlands

Borderlands is…

Well…

It’s…

It’s Fallout 3.

It’s different, to be sure. The emphasis is more on shooting and less on stats. You have a class-based skill tree instead of a list of perks. There’s no VATS, obviously. But at the end of the day you’re a man searching a wasteland for quests, branching out and making friends/enemies, gaining experience and leveling up, and just doing that RPG-ing that the kids love so much.

So what does Borderlands bring to the equation? Multiplayer for a start. I haven’t had an opportunity to try it yet, but four player co-op is a considerable selling point. Vehicles. Oh, how arduous it was slowly walking through the wastes of DC. In Borderlands I have a tank; it moves fast and it blows things up; I call it Peacemaker and we eat ice cream together. That last bit is fabricated, but if I could eat ice cream with an inanimate object I would choose to eat it with a tank named Peacemaker.

Moving on.

Qualitatively, Borderlands is up there. It’s highlighted as having near-infinite weapons, but so far most of them follow the same core with some different stats; it’s more of an iterative upgrade than a brand new weapon. The main storyline is your typical western RPG storyline (read: there isn’t any). A ton of disjoint quests, fun in their own right, but if there’s actually a bigger narrative there it’s taking its time. Lots to tinker with. And challenge. Fallout 3’s difficulty curve fell apart when you had a shotgun big enough; you walked into a room, hit the VATS button, and watched heads explode. Borderlands has enemies that keep you on the move, shooting and stressing and wondering if that big dog actually just wiped out all your health in three attacks.

I won’t say Borderlands is better than Fallout. It’s a different experience, similar enough to draw considerable parallels but different enough to make them both worthy investments to the game collection. It’s certainly fun and stylish and well executed.

And it has four player co-op.

One man. One night. Five peanut butter sandwiches. This is his story.

October 19th, 2009

Big Bang Theory

I don’t normally watch the show, but I did tonight.  I just wanted to point out that Wil Wheaton was wearing a Fruit F***** tee shirt on tonight’s episode.  I laughed.

Zach

October 18th, 2009

Reminiscing on the 72HGDC

I ran the 72 Hour Game Development Competition between 2004 and 2008, covering over 8 competitions and spawning well over 100 games. My recent free time has left me contemplating kicking another one off (I probably won’t), but I’ve also been going back over the experience in general.

For the uninitiated, the competition encouraged teams of up to three people to create a game in three days. The game would follow a theme that everyone voted on, and at the end “winners” were determined via peer voting.

You would be amazed at what a focused group can accomplish in three days.

I won’t go through all the teams or point at all the high quality entries, but I think The GameDev Guys perfectly illustrate the capacity for quality and creativity under pressure. This was a team that consistently made stellar games, games which you might confuse for professional indie games.

Games weren’t the only product of the competition. There were “fake trailers” and songs and jokes; people had a lot of fun with the community. It was also a great opportunity for networking. I met fantastic artists and engineers and musicians. Some I’d never work with again. Some who could do the impossible and I wouldn’t hesitate to work with them given the chance.

So why am I not running another one? Well, it’s a lot of work. More so since the site was obliterated by spammers. There are time constraints on people that used to help out. Even I still have time constraints. The time it would take to create a site and get things ready is not insignificant. It’s worth it, but just not an investment I’ve been willing to make for a while.

This post is meandering and babbly; Just thinking back…

Can we please play Last Night on Earth?

October 17th, 2009

Morgantown Wrap Up

It’s been almost two weeks since I left NC for my vacation in Morgantown, WV - a place which is by no rights a vacation resort, but which is home to a friend and thus good enough for me. Here are some observations:

Last Night on Earth is surprisingly popular. I always knew it was fun, I’ve been trying to push for it more at game night, but I’m always charmed by how quickly people take to it. John has been repeatedly requesting sessions since I broke it out.

The sorry state of tile map editors is inexcusable. I worked on mine part time for less than a week and have something pretty usable (and preferable to the current offerings). Granted, mine satisfies a smaller subset of requirements - it doesn’t support isometric or hexagonal games - but I can make the maps I need quickly and easily.

Applying for jobs is a job in itself. Every company has its own quirks. Some want cover letters (which must be hand tailored to the job), some don’t. Some want you to fill out an application which virtually mirrors your resume. Some require you go through recruiters. Some want a portfolio.

Cranium is an infuriating game. My win/loss ration is something like 1/6.

We have a film script! A first draft, and it still needs heavy, heavy work, but it’s a full script with a full idea. It’s about an incompetent magician and his conflict with his evil twin. I don’t want to spoil it, but there’s some gold in there to be mined.

I’m heading home Sunday, and hopefully at that point I’ll be more productive.

Izzle.

October 6th, 2009

Gripes with AT&T

First of all, I apologize for what you are about to be reading.  I really didn’t want to post this when it happened because it was rather petty, and honestly, I wasn’t all that mad about it.  After last night, however, I feel the need to post about it.  Plus, I don’t post often enough, so this helps that.

tl;dr: AT&T wasted a few hours of my life with their inability to hire competent employees.

As most of you know, Morgan and I switched over to iPhones when the 3GS came out back in June.  For a brief period, about 3 days, I had a local cell phone number because the preorder-and-sign-a-contract portion of AT&T’s site wouldn’t let me port my PA number.  When Morgan bought her iPhone a few days later,  I ported my old number over and we combined accounts into one family plan.  All was well.

Well, about a month ago Morgan comes home from work and shows me this letter from a collections agency saying we owe AT&T 300 some odd dollars in unpaid charges.  It isn’t really the money that aggrivated me, it was that I pay the bill early every month.  I have never missed a cell phone (or any) bill payment.  So I call the collections agency, they give me the AT&T account number, I see that it is different from the one on our web account, and I call AT&T.  After an hour or so I get this as the official story; When I ported my number, the clerk at the store canceled my old account and created a new one, causing an early termination fee on that old account.  He then left the activation charges on the old account AND put new ones on the new account.  He then didn’t tell me any of this and said Morgan and I were good to go, just use our new cell phone numbers to log in online.

It turns out that while you use your cell phone number to access your account, there is an account number that truly identifies your service.  A number that is only accessible on A) your account website, or B) your phone bill that is mailed to you.  I don’t get paper bills since I pay everything online.  I no longer had this number and had no reason to remember it, so as far as I was concerned that account was dead.

At any rate, the AT&T representative told me she would take care of it and I should be getting a text message in a couple weeks telling me the new bill cost for that account (3 days of prorated  service).  I was cool with that and hung up, satisfied.  We called the collections agency representative back and she said she would call us in about a month if she had heard nothing from AT&T before then.  She called last night (awesome of her to go through with that, by the way).

I call AT&T back, tell the representative what is up, she looks up this old account and tells me she is a little confused by what is going on and asks if she can put me on hold to verify some stuff.  About 25 minutes later she comes back on and tells me she understands what is going on, but that there is also a missing iPhone unit somewhere in all of this.  Basically when the store clerk canceled my account he also forgot to do whatever he had to do to note that I just had a sim-card switch, not an entire new phone(also, it isn’t like the AT&T store even had iPhone 3GSs that day to give me a replacement anyway).  I gave her the number of the place I did the porting and she called them.  After about 15 more minutes of hold she tells me that she was able to verify that I did not exchange phones and that I am in the clear, her manager would remove the charges and she would call me the next day to confirm with me that they are indeed gone.  I then asked her to call the collections agency representative for me so my credit would be unaffected, as I’ve supposedly had this outstanding bill for nigh on 30 days with them.  She conference called in with me still on the line (which was also really awesome of her), and cleared everything up.  So I am pretty sure I am in the clear.

So because someone didn’t follow proper line-porting/account-merging procedures, we almost took a credit hit (which is bad because we are trying to save for a house, and our credit right now is really awesome), and I had to deal with AT&T/a collections agency for basically  4 hours.  It was not cool.

Also, I wanted to note they all three of the women I talked to (the two AT&T representatives and the collections agency representative) we very, very helpful and friendly.  It probably didn’t hurt that I am very patient and always make sure to remember that it isn’t the current-person-I-am-dealing-with’s fault.  Basically its just that one guy I am annoyed with.  It really aggrivates me that because someone didn’t do their job right, I almost had to take a credit hit, which is pretty annoying to come back from.

Zach

Rediculous: verb, to diculous again.

October 3rd, 2009

Tile Map Editors Suck

I was hoping to hit the ground running, but I’ve been sidetracked trying to find a tile map editor that doesn’t suck. Here are some basic requirements which seem pretty obvious to me:

(1) A nice, clean interface. Layer and brush management shouldn’t be tucked away in a file menu, Mappy.
(2) The ability to have multiple tilesets. I want images during editing that I don’t want during play. Having to stuff them all in a single tileset is counter productive.
(3) The ability to load up a single image to use as a tileset without breaking it up into multiple images. Most have this in some form, luckily.
(4) Why the hell would people want pixel by pixel scrolling for an editor? At least give me the option.
(5) Export to a sensible format or allow me to choose my format. Don’t export to an eff-ing ZIP file! This forces me to have a ZIP loader or create a post export step that I don’t want to have to do.
(6) Export the tiles sensibly. Numbers according to where the tile is in the image. As a programmer, I might rely on this to determine what is a wall versus what isn’t.
(7) Projects! It’s such a great timesaver, being able to bunch up all your maps into one project and rapidly switch between them.
(8) Zoom. Seriously. I don’t want to need to scroll if I can get away without it.
(9) Brushes. ’nuff said.
(10) Stop using Java for editors. Using Swing should be a felony.

Unfortunately, every map editor I’ve found has been missing sweeping chunks from that list. And those are only the things that came off the top of my head - nothing requiring serious usability tests, just basic functionality. For such a popular 2D map editing technique, I’m shocked that good tools just aren’t out there. It takes less than 3 days

I’m hoping to avoid it in the short term, but sometime in the future I’m going to have to sit down and make something to fix these issues.

I know you need to find what you feel you left behind

October 2nd, 2009

Late Morning Update

“But Brian,” I hear you saying, “people with jobs don’t have time to give late morning updates on a Friday.”

Well, funny you should mention that, Person. Because I don’t have a job any longer. I was laid off yesterday, and I wasn’t alone.

The details aren’t really appropriate for public consumption, but I was let go on good terms and bear no hard feelings against Emergent or those involved in the decision. I’m rather fond of all the people there and wish the remaining staff well.

You can probably tell by the way I started this update that I’m not particularly torn up over here. I’m not especially happy, mind you, but this gives me some time to do some things I’ve been wanting to do. I have enough money stashed away to survive a while jobless, which is good considering I’m tied to a lease until May. Of course, I do intend to look for other employment, but realistically I don’t expect to find anything for at least a few months.

In the meantime, I’ve got tons of time to explore the casual games I’ve been wanting to put together. I likely won’t make living money off those, but having at least a small revenue stream would be nice. I put together a list last night of games I could put together over the order of weeks-months. And Word Duelist is in its final throes (all that’s left is the art). So keep an eye on the XBox Indie Games channel.

It’s also a good opportunity to start visiting people. I was intending on taking a vacation soon; this has simply moved my timeline forward. I haven’t decided yet whether I’m going to go see Ricky this Sunday (it’s an awfully long drive), but odds are better than average.

So yea. That’s the update. Not good news, but I can work with it.

So long, and good night.

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