The Animal Farm

April 25th, 2010
April 25th, 2010

Games as Art - A Minor Comment

The argument over whether games are art has erupted yet again. A coworker of mine said it best - “it’s such a pointless debate.” Art is ill defined. No side’s attempt at defining it is going to satisfy the other side’s, and thus you’re left with an argument without any common ground for what is actually being argued.

There is, however, one point which I think most of the combatants miss:

Every medium is flooded with garbage. Every single one. If you looked at a sampling of any form of “art” - writing, painting, film, or games - mathematically there’s a good chance that you wouldn’t call anything in your sample “art.” It’s just statistically unlikely that if you picked 100 paintings, one of them will be a Rembrandt (or even worth mention). So why anyone is paying serious attention to someone whose sample size is so incredibly low as to be farcical is beyond me.

Oh, and I have a new car.

April 18th, 2010

RIP Jocelyn

It is with a heavy heart and moist tear-ducts that I bid goodbye to Jocelyn, my first car. A humble 92 Ford Temp, she has treated me kindly for the last eight years, never faltering in her loyalty and resilience despite her age. She met a swift but unfortunately gruesome end on Highway 54, when her innards (exhaust system) spilled into the road, scraping along the concrete in a flashy “last stand” of sparks and clangs.

She is currently resting in the Copper Mill apartment complex, exhaust system held in place with a hastily attached clothes hanger that a stranger graciously offered. Her muffler sits in my trunk, likely its final resting place lest butchers toss it in some scrap yard.

How do you properly send off a car that has so much history? My desire is to light her on fire and send her barreling over a cliff-side in proper style, but cliff-sides are hard to find and I suspect the police might take issue with my homage. In all likelihood, some somber men will take her off into the sunset, and I will salute her while whispering my final goodbyes.

RIP Jocelyn, 1992 - 2010

April 13th, 2010

What [Board Games] I’m Playing

For those unfamiliar, every Tuesday I play board games with a gathering of people. We go through a lot of games, and I haven’t talked about board games in some time, so here are the highlights:

The Stars are Right
This is a newer game by Steve Jackson games, which is apparently a pretty Cthulhu obsessed company. The premise is that there is a series of tiles forming a night sky, and you need to use powers to rearrange that sky, creating formations necessary to summon monsters. It’s a short game (30 min-1 hour) with a simple rule set. The first play-through is actually a little rough because there’s a lot more visually going on than most games, but once you get the hang of it it’s fast and fun.

Every game store I’ve been to is invariably filled with a ton of train games. Clippers is a train game, but instead of trains you have boats. You make connections, you try to block the connections of your opponents, you spend money to empower how you make connections. It’s a simple formula, but once you start playing it’s pretty fun.

Dominion, Last Night on Earth, Catan, and Carcassonne
These get the most play. They’re fairly light-weight, easy to learn, and fun. I’ve talked about them before so I won’t go into them again, but they’re all solid offerings.

Puerto Rico and Agricola
There’s a bit of a learning curve to each of these games, and they can be a bit long. They’re basically the epitome of Euro game - players choose different stages, collect resources, and spend those resources to gain other types of resources/victory points. Puerto Rico and Agricola are both popular classics - they’re deep strategically, not excessively hard, and are pretty fun. Plus they allow for lots of inside jokes. I’m more of an Agricola guy than a Puerto Rico.

Dead Lands
I’m mentioning this one because I’m genuinely unhappy with the purchase. I looked at the rules manual, looked at it a couple more times, saw a giant list that needed to be memorized or constantly referred to, looked at the rules a couple more times, and then slide the game under the table. It may not be as hard as I make it out to be - it probably isn’t - but initial impressions aren’t good.

Chaos in the Old Wold and Small World
Two Risk-likes that are both very entertaining in their own way. Chaos in the Old War puts you in the role of one of four gods, and how you must play is very much impacted by the god you have. There’s a lot here, but it was a surprisingly simple game to learn. Small World is charming and quirky, but I get the impression it’s a bit more luck-oriented and not quite as in depth.

There are other games that get thrown out, and some of those I’ve only played a few times, but those are the ones that have left a standing impression. I just filed my taxes, so I’ll probably be picking up a few new games this weekend. :-)

And while I’m on the topic of board games, here’s an open letter to Lock ‘n Load Games:
I ordered your game, “All Things Zombie,” over a month ago. When I ordered it, you then notified me it would be a week before you even received it to ship it out. Then you notified me it would take between 3-4 weeks to actually ship the game. I have yet to get my copy. I was excited about your game, but that excitement has faded. It’s been replaced by a bitterness toward your company. If you couldn’t deliver your merchandise in a timely fashion, you should have let me know this before I handed over my money. This is unprofessional and speaks poorly on you, and I won’t purchase another game from you site.

If I say I’m not going to put a tagline at the end of my post, does that then become the tagline?

April 9th, 2010

Notice the New Banners?

They’re on the right. I decided it was time to actually advertise Word Duelist and See the Light here.

Moving on.

See the Light update is done. I haven’t had a weekend free to give it the full testing treatment, but that’s all that’s holding it back (though I may have to add a cheat so that wimpy testers can get through all the levels). Unfortunately this weekend won’t be free either.

I got an XP virtual machine (using VirtualBox) setup for work stuff. It runs really, really well. Pretty much seamlessly, though I haven’t tried to do anything graphically intensive. When I switch to fullscreen I sometimes forget that XP isn’t my native operating system.

There’s something exciting on the horizon - and by that I mean almost upon you with little chance of being canceled. I don’t want to spoil it, but it should be around in a week or so.

I’m moving. Did I not mention that? Only about 15 minutes away - I don’t even think my zipcode is changing - but it’ll be closer to work. I’m loathe to give up my current place, but I wasn’t really given a choice, and the long drive each day is killing me. I will miss you downtown Chapel Hill. Oh, I will miss you.

So how about that Steam Powered board gameprototype, ‘eh? It actually hasn’t moved since our last batch of images. I still want to work on it, but given how my weekends have been otherwise occupied, it hasn’t really been an option. I think I’m going to shift to an entirely computer-driven mechanism for prototyping and transfer final images to pieces instead of cutting out a bunch of things for Laura to sketch on. I managed to scrounge together some pretty sturdy pieces for game tiles which will be off the - let’s bring this one back - heezy.

What have I been otherwise occupied with? Yea, I can’t talk about it. Work stuff. But pretty soon it’s going to get exciting up in here; exciting as in I’ll be directly involved (and have a major function) in a crazy-awesome project. Believe me, the moment they lift my gag order, you won’t stop hearing about it. The *very moment.*

But for now, I’m tired. I know I’ve lifted your spirits with hopes and promises of what is to come, but you’ll just have to wait until I get some rest.

…with a background in tactical espionage and amateur magic.

April 5th, 2010

The iPad Really *Is* Just a Big iTouch

That’s all I wanted to say.

Yes, I’m speaking from experience.

April 3rd, 2010

Lies = Love

How can you not love a coffee shop that plays, “Tell Me Lies, Tell me Sweet Little Lies?”

Let’s briefly continue my war against XCode/Objective-C/iPhone:
(1) The Find feature is broken. Half the time I use it, it does absolutely nothing. Sometimes a little menu bar indicates that things were found, but I was never taken to them. I try scrolling to the top of the file, and sometimes that helps, but sometimes it doesn’t.

(2) Frameworks and libraries lie. Sometimes you can find a framework in the frameworks list but will then be greeted by a “Framework not found” error during compilation. Sometimes you can add a library to your target settings, but unless you actually bring it in via the visual navigator it doesn’t actually get linked. Sometimes. Which is a word you never really want to deal with.

(3) It’s impossible to Google a large majority of the classes. As I said in my last post, I expect to see a class reference at the very top of my search, not ten pages worth of forums with people having problems. This isn’t helped by the fact that many of the frameworks use words so common (Carbon, Cocoa) that you have to carefully craft your search or risk visiting a fifth grade science website.

(4) Objective-C is old. So why is it that class inspection hasn’t evolved one bit? I am incessantly irritated by not being able to dig into classes to hunt down problems.

(5) REFERENCING A NIL (NULL) OBJECT IS A BUG. In Objective-C, it just does nothing. I’ve hopped back and forth on this one. Letting referencing a nil object fail silently has uses that seem enticing at first - if you don’t want a feature, you simply don’t create the object (doubly useful when coupled with Interface Builder, where you just don’t add/hook up the interface item). But then you go to implement something and wonder why things aren’t working, and there’s nothing to indicate that objects haven’t been created. I’ve heard there’s a way to turn on warnings for this, but when you’re dealing with a legacy codebase that utilizes this quirk, that’s not particularly useful. At any rate, I’d much rather receive an error and code-guard anything where I wanted nil references to behave myself.

(6) Instruments lies. When your program goes down because of a memory issue and Instruments still says you’re using the same amount of memory you started with, you know you’re dealing with a bold-faced liar. I’ve looked right at memory leaks that didn’t show up in Instruments.

(7) Profiling (or at least the profiling guide I saw) suggests you build for Debug to do your profiling. You know what changes the performance characteristics of a program? Building for Debug. How are you supposed to get meaningful profiling results when you’re running against a build that doesn’t reflect the characteristics of your final package? I am, however, prepared to be shown wrong on this point.

(8) Changing the image of a UIView is pretty slow. What happens during animations? Heyooooo, the image changes pretty frequently. UIView may not be the best bet for animating sprites - OpenGL ES may be the better option here. I’m still going to complain, because a supported feature like this shouldn’t be so bloody slow.

(9) You know what a horrible idea is? Universal iPhone/iPad applications. I’m sure it sounds great on paper being able to take the same app across devices, until you realize you’re also taking the same assets across devices. I’m sure users will naively accept downloading 400 MB of data for an iPhone game when 80-90% of that data is made up of images only used on the iPad, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

Hm, that’s not nearly as brief as I intended. I actually intended to post about other things tonight, but I got carried away. It’s easy when there’s so much to get carried away over.

One day in the not-too-distant future I’ll give you a real post, sans Apple bashing.


Dramatic flourish!

April 2nd, 2010

Mac Sucks. Yea, I Said It.

During my college years, I would constantly criticize Ricky for using a Mac. I didn’t really have any basis for this - I had no reason to dislike a Mac - I just wanted to patronize him for using the most pretentious operating system in the free world. When I was told I would be using one for work, I kept a relatively open mind. I knew there would be a learning curve and some of my mental metaphors would require adjusting, but I was prepared to give love a chance.

Two months in, I’m ready to hate Mac in earnest.

I’m not going to go into too much detail (as I’ve said, I’m saving the full-blown anti-Mac campaign until I’m really prepared) but here’s a friendly bullet list of some of the things that grate on my nerves constantly:

(1) Searching for information is a pain. I find it mind-boggling how hard it is to figure out how to do things via Google. Simple things along with developer things. When I type in a class name, I should get a class reference, not 10 pages of forum posts only marginally linking to that class.
(2) Instability like crazy. XCode and Safari both crash on me regularly.
(3) Everything is so very, very slow. Just *shutting down* Safari takes on the order of minutes. There’s a Core 2 Duo and plenty of RAM in my machine. I should click an app and it should be gone.
(4) Despite being able to install Windows on a Mac, it’s actually a violation of the Mac EULA to install OSX on Windows. I’m not concerned with how they justify this, it’s garbage.
(5) Windows/Linux programs very often do not convert well. Gimp is a pain to use with its borked mouse focus, and keeping Perforce in check is a struggle. We could blame the developers of those programs for this, but I’m not going to. If moving Mac programs to another platform had this same discrepancy I’d call it a wash, but since you can’t actually find most Mac-native programs elsewhere…
(6) The Finder can either be very nice or very, very ugly. I managed to get in one mode where copying and pasting a file would actually put the file at the root directory, not the directory I had open. Why such an abominable thing exists is beyond me, but after some playing I found another mode that didn’t have this issue.
(7) 3-key shortcuts are way more common than they should be, and don’t get me started on 4-key shortcuts. There are things I don’t want to do with my fingers. It doesn’t help that the system insists on representing all its keys with pretty little pictures that are never going to establish themselves in my head.
(8) The community seems so woefully married to flaws. Whenever someone describes the install process (open a dmg, drag the application to the Applications directory) as “really quite intuitive” I smirk a little. It’s easy enough, but it’s still stupid. I’ve read too many posts that tell me how very nice XCode is.

I liken Mac to the abandoned child of Linux and Windows. It’s not as powerful/flexible as Linux, and it’s not nearly as user-friendly as Windows, but people feel like it’s got something to offer because it has shiny window transitions and hip commercials.

I’m sure Ricky can respond to some of these points, and he should feel free. At the end of the day, he’s still using the most pretentious operating system in the world.

Match… THREE!