Friday, January 30, 2015

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Meg McReynolds, quite possibly the most cogent explanation of the United States I've ever read: Which of the 11 American nations do you live in?

This is a fascinating and somewhat bizarre story: 11 Secret Weapons Developed By Japan During World War 2. All I know is that "Fukuryi Suicide Attack Suits" may well be the greatest band name I've ever heard. And as an offshoot of that link, here's a link that's equally interesting: How the U.S. Cracked Japan's 'Purple Encryption Machine' at the Dawn of World War II.

I don't know if this breaks your heart, but it breaks mine (there are some great pictures of past ads in this article): SkyMall, Purveyor of Garden Yetis, Files for Bankruptcy.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is wildly entertaining: These 16 historical selfies show vanity is timeless.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is a mesmerizing video: Undeveloped World War II Film Discovered. Next, and this is entirely charming, it's Korean girls taste American snacks. This is terrific: Time and Again - 15 Countries In 4 Minutes (2014 Time Lapse).

From Sirius, and this is quite amazing: Spider spins electrically charged silk. Next, and this is fascinating, it's Astronomers Caught Some of Space's Most Mysterious Radio Bursts in Real Time.

From Geoffrey Engelstein, and this is remarkable: Kickers are Forever.

From Scott Gould, and surely, this is a record: One Ball and 3 Injured. What a game of Cricket!!

From J.R. Parnell, and this is excellent: The Original Concept Art From “Back To The Future Part II” Is Awesome.

From Steven Davis, and this is mind-blowing: Scientists Develop Hydrophobic Metal That Causes Water to Bounce.

From DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, who says this is the best action sports video ever: One of those days 2 - Candide Thovex.

Closing out this week, and this article is fascinating: We're in a Technological Arms Race with Bears for Our Food.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sunless Sea

Sunless Sea has already been available via Early Access on Steam, but it reaches version 1.0 on February 6.

I've been playing it for a few weeks, and it is a deeply atmospheric, unusual experience. Here's the description from the Steam page:
Take the helm of your steamship and set sail for the unknown! Sunless Sea is a game of discovery, loneliness and frequent death, set in the award-winning Victorian Gothic universe of Fallen London.

What strikes me most is how carefully this game has been crafted. It is beautifully constructed, and if it were a physical good, it would be handmade. 

I don't want to give you any spoilers, because the game is quite unique, but it is absolutely worth large amounts of your time.

Gridiron Solitaire #151: Title Screen

Fredrik is on fire this week, so have a look at the new splash screen for Gridiron Solitaire:


That's not final (and the slogan is just a placeholder), but man, I like how that looks. And how did I not even think of a league needing a branding slogan? Of course the GFL needs a slogan, just like it needs a logo.

The question is whether the slogan should play it straight (like Fredrik's), or if it should reference the solitaire aspect ("Champions, one card at a time", as a silly example). Regardless, I'm working on a slogan now.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Gridiron Solitaire #150 (starting a new number sequence here): Stuff

Example one of stuff:


As part of the "sexifying" of Gridiron Solitaire, Fredrik is redesigning the interface screens. The reason this looks so staggeringly better than the original is because I designed the originals. We both want to move the game from the 1950s-era nostalgia into more recent times, and this is an example of the more streamlined look.

Here's a second example:


Note the cohesion between the two screens--very, very nice. There's also going to be a tab to move to a second screen where custom weather profiles and a few other new features can be selected.

I don't know how other people make games, but I tend to to have a process where I find the weakest thing  and try to make it better. So on the in-game screen, I felt at one point that the event messages were the weakest part of the game, and I spent a week improving them. A few months ago, the team history page was the weakest area of the game, so the team museum concept was born.

I've repeated that cycle dozens of times, and right now, there's no question that next on the list are the interface screens and the card decks. And it's fun. I'm going to enjoy playing the game even more when this is done, and I'm hoping everyone else will, too.

Putting in the new interface screens, for me, is going to be much less complicated than coding new functionality. Mostly, I'll be repositioning elements against the new background screen, and that's much less work than starting from scratch.

Work on the scoreboard/in-game changes are still proceeding. I'd like to drop this as a content stun-bomb reward, though, so I want to deploy it all at once. That means I have a little time to prepare as Fredrik continues to work through the interface screens. Plus, there are only three or four final card poses for the new deck (out of thirteen), and that will be part of the new content, so there's a bit more time there.

In the meantime, I'm going to use Unity for "Hockey Superstar Adventure!" Lots of support available online, plus there's a plug-in for Visual Studio (which is huge for me, because I am very familiar with Visual Studio now).

That's going to be a second ton of work, but after doing GS, I'm dumb enough to assume that a ton of work is just work, one ounce at a time.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Velocity

Chris emailed me yesterday in reference to my post about teaching hockey positioning to younger kids and basically said, "Hey stupid! You're a programmer! Why not make it an app?"

Gee, that's actually a great idea.

This is going to sound stupid, but I kind of forget that I know how to program. Even though I made a game, it still feels like something that other people do, not me.

This would be perfect, though, for several reasons.

Coaches teaching positioning to young kids is frustrating and time-consuming. However, those same kids are doing wildly complicated things in Minecraft. I see seven and eight-year-olds playing Minecraft on tablets all the time at the rink while their siblings are playing hockey. So young kids are certainly capable of understanding complexity, if it's presented properly.

Also, trying to teach five kids positioning at one time is incredibly difficult. Focusing on one kid at a time is much easier, with a higher chance for success. And the app can stress that learning how to play a position makes hockey much more fun to play with friends, because everyone is working together.

If you create a game that teaches hockey positioning and sneaks in good lessons about teamwork, then boom. Trojan horse for the win.

Plus, in addition to helping kids better enjoy a game that they love, which would make me very happy, this app would have to be on mobile devices, because that's primarily what kids use. So it forces me off VB.NET (even though I don't want to leave) and onto a development platform that compiles to a variety of operating systems. That would be hugely useful for the espionage game or whatever else I wanted to try in the future.

I've been thinking about this virtually nonstop today, and I fleshed out some framework. It would be a game called "Superstar Hockey Adventures!", and it would have a visual style reminiscent of the old Humongous games (Putt-Putt, Backyard Football, etc.).

The basic premise would be that when you choose a position, you become a citizen of a city (Centerville, for example). The mayor of the town is happy to help you get acquainted with all the things you can do in Centerville, so that you can enjoy your time there as much as possible.

After learning the city limits of your town, you get to learn about its various neighborhoods, and who lives there. Eventually, no matter where the puck is, you know what neighborhood you belong in and why.

The five cities (positions) make up a state. And when you start a game, you can add the names of your friends, so that you're all traveling together. You're on a hockey team in a state, playing with your friends.

When you master one level, you go to another state (actually, scratch that--you go to another country). You have a little passport, and every time you go somewhere new, your passport gets a new stamp.

As you progress, your hockey team gets better and better. At the last level, you're "playing" at the World Championships. And if you understand all your positional responsibilities, you win the world championships and get a special certificate of achievement to print out.

I know this is just a skeleton, but I like the level progression and the rewards. And I think kids would like it, too.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Correction

I just realized that dividing the positional zone into two areas, with one area have 2X situations and the other 1X, is not the most effective.

The effective way is to decide, up front, what the total number of areas will eventually be for a single positional. So let's position X has 10 possible positional areas (which is responsibility at a very detailed level, eventually). So when you divide into two positional areas, the new area would be only 10% of the total possible situations. You're biting off a very little chunk of space and defining a few very specific situations where the player should be in that little space.

That's much easier to learn, and it's easier to design drills around as well. It's like Simon Says--the coach puts the puck or players into a particular situation, and they decide whether to jump into the small, new area.

So you have a big space initially, and players skate around in that space all the time. Then you take little chunks of that space and become more specific, building gradually into a more complex understanding of the entire space.

Input (yours)

I've discovered over the last couple of years that the travel hockey program in our community has a problem, and even if you're not interested in hockey, I think you might find the processes involved interesting.

So bring a snack. Have a seat. Nice to have you here.

The problem, at its core level: in many situations during a game, kids don't know where to be on the ice.

That seems like a simple problem, and a simple fix, right? It's not.

Here's why.

Our program, at the House level, teaches using the ADM (American Development Model). This model works quite well for teaching skills, and I think it's a very strong teaching method.

However, when kids want to go from playing House to playing travel, they don't understand very much about positioning, because the ADM focuses on skills, not tactics.

That's an oversimplification of more complex issues, but the bottom line is that on any travel team we have, probably 5 kids on the team have a good understanding of positioning, 5 have somewhat of a grasp, and 5 are downright confused.

That doesn't mean that the kids are never in the right place. The problem is not starting out in the right position at the beginning of a play. It's staying in position and reacting to what's happening with the puck/other players to adjust their position accordingly.

I've seen coaches try to instruct players on positioning, but it tends to be very rigid and only covers a few possible situations out of many, and it almost entirely focuses on memorization, not understanding at a conceptual level. And it is so specific and memorization-heavy that kids have a difficult time mastering it.

I don't learn well that way, either, and so I thought there must be a better way to package the information.

When I try to understand how different sports work, I always come back to one idea: space. Most team sports, and many individual ones, are fundamentally about creating or controlling space.

Hockey certainly works like that. The entire game revolves around the control of space, and it seems like it would be a useful way to explain to a young person as the basic concept for his position: on defense, you move to increase your control of space; on offense, you move to create space.

Too simple? Yes. As a concept, though, it seems like an acceptable starting point.

Second step. If you consider defense, offense, and the transitional states (defense to offense, offense to defense) as four separate situations, then it would be useful to start with one situation. Since kids love to score, let's start with offense (as the father of a goalie, it's hard for me not to start with defense, though).

Here's the concept. Every position in offensive situations has a movement range that covers 95% (at least) of the possible situations. Some of these movement ranges overlap with other players (because there are so many possible situations), but every player has a defined range.

So for the first time a young player has positioning explained to him (I mean very young, like seven years old), he just learns his movement range for his position. When you play position X, you are going to skate in this area on the ice.

It doesn't matter if he's in the wrong place in specific situations (he learns that later)--the only initial objective is that the player be inside the general movement range for their position.

That seems very doable, even for a young kid. In fact, he should be able to learn his positional movement range on both offense and defense. The transitional states are more complicated and less intuitive, so those can come later.

Three months or so after you introduce the concept of a positional range, you tell the player that his big island of space is going to split into two pieces, and why. So instead of just skating inside one big area, his big area is now two smaller areas, and he needs to understand the situations for each area.
[Aside: It's a very rock-paper-scissors approach, though, because in any situation, the player should either go to the puck, the man, or into space.

It doesn't even have to be those three, but it needs to be a rock-paper-scissors kind of format, because trying to remember more than three things is a pain for almost everyone. So if a kid knows that, at any moment, he should be doing one of three things, at least he's narrowed down the possibilities.]

Back to positional areas. The two areas don't have to be equally sized--in fact, they probably won't be. For future purposes, one area should have 1X situations where the player should be there, while the second area should have 2X the situations.

See how this works? Three months later, that second area with 2X the situations is going to be divided into two pieces. Now, there are three possible areas inside the player's positional area, with an equal number of situations requiring his presence in each.

This kind of incremental approach seems like an easier way for kids to learn, even if they're older. And teaching this way seems like it would create a more fundamental conceptual understanding than simple memorization.

Okay, so what I really want here is your input. Is this a reasonable way to teach? Are the building blocks small enough that they would be easily understood? Or is there some reason that this just won't work or doesn't make sense?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday Links!

From Rob Funk, and this is fantastic: Have We Found Alien Life? Microbes That Eat and Breathe Electricity Have Forced Scientists to Reimagine How Life Works--On This Planet and Others.

From Simon Jones, and this is a great read: The curious case of the sweaty nipples.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is fascinating: Education plus ideology exaggerates rejection of reality. Next, and this is remarkable, it's Raspberry Pi Engine Control with Real-Time Adaptive Extreme Learning Machine (Linux). This next link is fascinating, believe it or not: Example of an economics exam from Harvard University in 1953. One more, and it's breathtaking: Clear Roof Breathes New Life Into Historic Spanish Church.

Speaking of breathtaking, have a look at this link from Matt Kreuch: Zoomable Andromeda Galaxy. Also, and all I can say is "Wear a cage, people!", it's Blood, Sweat and Teeth: Wild Nights with an NHL Dentist.

From J.R. Parnell, and these are entirely wonderful: 15 Creative Long Exposures Capture a World Unseen. Also, and this is fantastic data visualization: NYC Taxis: A Day in the Life.

This is a terrific article from a very unique perspective: Silk Road Mom Learns Sad Truth About Son.

From DQ VB.NET And Extreme Weather Advisor Garret Remple: Don't leave your car, professor says.

From Jonathan Arnold, and I have no words:
Oregon Was Founded as a Racist Utopia.

A bevy of excellent links from C. Lee. First, it's How Books Became a Critical Part of the Fight to Win World War II. Next, and I now have the book referenced in this article (but haven't read it yet): Did Civil War Soldiers Have PTSD? Next, and it's whimsical (and true): Parachuting Beavers Into Idaho's Wilderness? Yes, It Really Happened. Lastly, and bean cookers can celebrate, it's Don't soak your dried beans! Now even the cool kids agree.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

HoloLens: There Can Be Only One Answer

Eli 13.5 and Gloria watched the HoloLens demo last night, then Eli went upstairs to play a little Just Cause 2.

"We are required by law to get one of these the day it's released," I said to Gloria.

"How much does it cost?" she asked.

"HOW MUCH DO WE HAVE?" I answered.

Today, I was driving Eli home from his off-ice workout, and I was telling him the story of the conversation I had with his mom last night. "So when she asked me 'How much does it cost?' I answered"--

"HOW MUCH DO WE HAVE?" he said. No, he didn't hear me answering Gloria last night.

Oh, and

Sorry, there's a funny bug report story, but the post ran so long anyway that I'm going to save it until next week--that's why it wasn't included.

Gridiron Solitaire Number Unknown: Scoreboards and Bug Reports

I think we've almost reached the point of agreeing on the new scoreboard, and I thought you guys might be interested in the process.

Have a look at Fredrik's first image:


We started lobbing ideas back and forth. I focused on the announcer first, wanting to lower his position by having the text ticker start next to his body. Plus, I wanted Fredrik to try extending the second layer of the scoreboard horizontally to that there would be a larger difference in height between the scoreboard tiers. Here was the next iteration:


That was heading in a good direction, but the scoreboard width of the second tier wasn't working. So Fredrik lowered the height of that tier, added the video board (since it will now be displayed all the time instead of sharing the space for text messages), and here's the result:


I thought about this particular image. I liked it, but something was nagging at me. Phil, one of my favorite beta testers, looked at the image and suggested different scoreboards for different stadiums. That's a great idea, but object placement would kill me, so I started thinking about how it would be possible to customize the scoreboard.

I went to look at some stadium pictures on the web and I quickly realized something important: the unique identifying mark of most scoreboards is a top tier above the data where the stadium or team name is displayed.

Well, duh. Why didn't I think of that before?


When the video board is added, it will display flush with the top of the field. And that custom border at the top is going to be unique for each stadium. There's enough room up there to do all kinds of cool things, and it's going to be a separate visual element, so it's easy to change without changing the scoreboard element itself.

That may not exactly be how it's going to look, but it's close. I'm still trying to figure out if I could incorporate the home team's primary colors into the scoreboard itself (easy to do, technically, but would it mess up the display of data in combination with certain colors? That would be a big problem with some of the more garish colors). So that's still in process.

One more thing. Fredrik sent me a card redesign, and it is drop-dead sexy. Have a look:


Yes, I totally love that look. Twelve more to go!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Project HoloLens

The Internet has lost its collective mind over this today: Project HoloLens: Our Exclusive Hands-On With Microsoft’s Holographic Goggles.

I would try to explain what this product does, but I can't, because when I watched the video, my brain exploded. So while I'm trying to clean up the mess, you need to hit the link and go take a look for yourself.

Cooler than the Oculus Rift? Incredibly, yes. Next next gen? Yes.

When will it actually be finished? Sorry, that appears to be unknown, although demo units are supposed to be available at the Windows 10 launch later this year.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Electronic Arts and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Service Day...

This was sent to me by someone who wishes to remain anonymous.

It is epic.

Here's the set-up: around Thanksgiving, A. Nonymous tried to purchase something through Origin. His credit card was declined for no apparent reason, and his band verified that they had not declined the purchase.

Easy to sort out, eh? Well, read this. Wonder why people don't want to buy games from big companies? Welcome to Exhibit A.

Please: names have been replaced with "XXXXX" and "-------".
*****
Hey Bill,
I had to share this with you.  I have had 6 back and forths with EA about this issue of my not being able to make a purchase since I last emailed you.  I have been struggling to resolve it and will click on the "contact me by phone" link and wait for a call 4 hours later and pray that it resolves my issue.

On the 10th I got this email:
My name is --------- and I am a specialist here with EA, I would firstly like to apologize again for the length of time you have been waiting for a reply from our team regarding your issue. We greatly appreciate your considerable patience and understanding. It has been a pleasure speaking with you thus far. 

I am a huge gamer myself XXXXX so I understand when problems like this occur it is extremely inconvenient. You are through to the correct department anyway XXXXXX so rest assured I will do everything I can to explain what the situation is with your account.

We have reviewed your transaction history and thank you once more for providing this valuable information for us on your initial contact. We understand your anxiety and worry when this occurred. We understand payment problems can be stressful so I can assure you we will do our very best to explain the situation to you.

From reviewing and investigating your transaction history, it would appear your most recent transaction(s) has been rejected by your card issuer/bank. We would advise contacting them for further assistance before re-attempting any other potential purchase. We do not have the precise information as to why this payment may been rejected hence advising contacting the card issuer.

I am sorry to bring this negative news to you today. I am a huge gamer myself so I understand your frustration with this matter. I have been playing games for years thus I completely empathize with firstly any billing problem occurring and secondly the fact that you cannot purchase a game you obviously wish to play. I cannot apologize enough again for the considerable time you have been waiting for my reply -----, I hope this reaches you safely. I do hope this is helpful and will put your mind at ease. Please contact us again if there is anything else we can do to help you going forward. Again thank you for your patience and understanding. All the very best in the future and I hope you continue to enjoy our games.

First of all I never talked to this dude.  Second of all he says that the transactions were rejected by my bank... my bank claims that's not true as do my other credit cards that I've tried to use.  So he closes the account and says essentially "Sorry, it's not me, it's you."

So on the 12th(!!!!!) I talked to someone that my issue had been "escalated" to who said they were reaching out to the proper people to solve it and they would be in touch with me.  so 3 days later I get this email:
Hello! My name is ------ and I will be the Specialist assisting you today. I wanted to start by thanking you for your patience and apologizing for the wait time that you have experienced thus far. Just so you are aware, once I accepted ownership of your case, all of your responses will jump to the front of my personal queue, so the dialogue between us will be much quicker than the amount of time it has taken to get to your case.

Now let’s get started. From my understanding and after reviewing the case notes and previous correspondence, you are having problems placing an order in our system. I am a gamer myself and I completely get your frustration. I hate running into these types of issues when I’m trying to get my game on, but know that I am here to help and intend on doing so!

I would like to begin by asking you if the issue persists. Sometimes, these issues work themselves out but if not, please let me know and I will personally run this down and get it figured out for you. 

Anyway, thanks again for taking the time to reach out and like I said, I am confident that we can get to the bottom of this for you; I would just ask that you be patient with us while we work through everything.

Finally, I wanted to make sure that you had all the resources you could need for any future issues. We have an extensive knowledgebase full of troubleshooting and general knowledge located at help.ea.com as well as Answers HQ. Answers HQ brings all of the EA community together to offer support to each other and I’ve personally even found a lot of solutions that we use based on how awesomely supportive our community is. You can find it at answers.ea.com. I know these don't help with the current situation but I just wanted to make sure you had them for any possible future needs.

Hope to hear from you soon,
--------
EA Games Specialist

So many wonderful things about this.  The first is that this guy has taken ownership of my case but I haven't talked to him when I've tried to reach out since.  Second of all their solution is to just plug in your card again and see if it magically works!  Thank you magic wand. I love that they suggest that I just use their online forums which are useless and full of people with the exact same problem and no solutions.  Good going EA.

The very best most special part is the signature "Hope to hear from you soon," because there is no method to contact the guy in the email.  If you reply to the email it goes to a generic ea email and you get an email saying no one will see it.  No phone # attached... nothing.

So finally today, after encountering this issue around Thanksgiving... I waited to get called back after 4 hours of hitting the "call me" button I get a phone call.  That guy can't help me but he'll bounce me to someone who can... and then I get put on hold...and the phone disconnects.  I just started laughing.  But a miracle occurred and a woman from EA called me right away and when I told her what happened she just laughed a little sadly about their systems and she ended up telling me exactly what the issue is, gave me XYZ (which I've been trying to purchase for months) for free and then afterwards sent me her email.  She said she'd get it sorted in 24 hours and let me know and if there is anything she can do to contact her personally.

It only took 3 months to get in touch with someone who could help me.  A miracle.

God I wish their games were on Steam.
******
Isn't that great? Canned customer support e-mails (that aren't even grammatically correct), total disconnect between the issue and actual reality, and a 5-minute problem that has taken (at this point) two months to resolve (and it may not be resolved yet--let's not celebrate prematurely).


Well, I Certainly Hope So


Monday, January 19, 2015

The kicker

It's always a running joke about me that I am better than normal at most things, but not great at anything.

One of those things, surprisingly, was kicking a football.

When I was in high school, I went through a few weeks where I really enjoyed taking a football and kicking tee out to the football field and seeing how far I could kick a field goal.

I wasn't particularly interested in kicking as a skill; I just wanted to know the maximum distance I could kick a field goal.

I found out on a lovely fall day, with no tailwind. 48 yards. I can still remember the feeling of the ball exploding off my foot, and how that ball was in the air forever before it came down, just over the crossbar. I didn't really care about kicking after that, because I knew I could never kick a football harder.

Eli 13.5 enjoys kicking, too, so we go out occasionally when we want to do something relaxing.

With very little practice, he can make 35 yard field goals, and I'm expecting that by this time next year, he'll have made one from 45.

Today, I kicked a few. It's never felt right, trying to kick as an old man, but today the ball felt good coming off my foot. I made one from 30 into a headwind, but just barely.

"So if headwind is costing me 2 1/2 yards, which seems reasonable," I said, "then if I come out and kick with a slight tailwind, the net gain compared to a headwind would be 5 yards, which means I can still make a 35 yard field goal."

"That's a lot of circumstances, dad," Eli said, laughing.

He'll make a 49-yarder some day, but I still have the big foot for now. Historically speaking.

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