Friday, April 28, 2017

Friday Links!

From Steven Davis, and Bill Gates has always impressed me in that he actually helps people with some of his billions: Neglected No More. Also, and this should win you a bet someday, it's Unbelievable Carpentry Trick. These are just amazing: Wild New Anamorphic Sculptures From the Warped Mind of Jonty Hurwitz.

From Craig Miller, and this is brilliantly unhinged: On The Turing Completeness of PowerPoint (SIGBOVIK).

From Wallace, and this is an interesting read: A Day in the Life of a Food Vendor. From Wally, and I had no idea there was more than one way: Do you pronounce 'scone' to rhyme with 'cone' or 'gone'? It depends where you're from. This is awesome (and hopefully far, far away); When the developers of Dwarf Fortress die, a museum inherits the game.

From Tim Jones, and these are amazing: The Second World War as if it were yesterday: Extraordinary collection of rare color photographs reveal life as the people living through the war would have seen it.

From C. Lee, and I have no words: Investors backing Juicero and its $400, DRM-laden juicer surprised to discover they were fleeced. This is tantalizing: A 3D-printed key that can’t be copied. I felt like this more than a few times: Do you have a pointless job? Here's a great bit of gaming history: The original X-COM was cancelled, but development continued in secret. This is an incredible story: Man learns--and shows--that his face is not all that matters. This is excellent: Moral behavior in animals | Frans de Waal.

From DQ Reader My Wife, and I guess AC/DC is universal after all: KIDS REACT TO AC/DC.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Ask A Developer: 100 Words or Less (Laura Shigihara)

I'm very happy today to introduce another episode of Ask A Developer: 100 Words Or Less, and today's guest is Laura Shigihara. Laura's upcoming game is Rakuen, and here's the launch trailer as well as a link to the Steam page.

Remember "There's A Zombie On My Lawn", still one of my all-time favorite songs in a game? That was Laura. Good memories: There's A Zombie On My Lawn.

Describe your game in 100 words or less.
Rakuen is an adventure game about a hospitalized Boy who asks his Mom to escort him to the fantasy world from his favorite storybook, so that he can ask the Guardian of that world to grant him one wish. In order to receive his wish, the Boy must complete a set of challenges that revolve around helping his neighbors in the hospital by interacting with their alter-egos in the fantasy world.

What were your objectives (three) with the original design?
1.) My biggest goal was to tell a meaningful story.

2.) However, I didn't want the game to be purely exposition. I wanted to make sure there was actual gameplay (lots of gameplay early on, transitioning to mostly exposition in the later sections), and...

3.) I wanted the gameplay to always match the feel of the story. For example, there's a Zelda-style cave dungeon with an ecosystem of strange creatures that you navigate during a more whimsical part of the game. In contrast, you spend time solving puzzles to escape an eerie hospital while navigating the mind of a woman in a coma.

What distinguishes your game? 
You go on this adventure with your Mom. You walk a mile in the shoes of everyone from a retired pilot to a little girl to a stray dog. Your reward for finishing each "questline" is a special song that encapsulates the backstory of the person you just helped; each of these 5 songs combine to make a final song that you perform in order to receive a wish. "Wooden Signs" are a species in the game. You can get a job as a waiter serving tea to snobby flowerbuds in a manion in the sky.

How long does it take to play?
I'd say anywhere between 6 and 10 hours depending on your play style.

What are your strongest gaming influences?
In terms of story/music, I learned a great deal from games like Chrono Trigger and Suikoden. I thought Zelda: Link Between Worlds had incredible dungeon design (Link to the Past as well). I learned a lot about room escape/point-and-click elements from Maniac Mansion. And games like Yoshi's Island inspired me in the area of cute and funny creature design.

Even though Rakuen has nothing to do with Mega Man or Starcraft, I feel I should mention them because I was pretty obsessed with both. I dressed up as Mega Man for Halloween in the 4th grade.

What are your best gaming memories?
This question is too hard lol :) Beating all the different bosses in Secret of Mana with my friend and her older sister (it was so cool seeing them turn that red/orange color, and the screen would fade to white). Staying up super late playing Starcraft LAN games with friends, and at PC Cafes in Korea. Strategizing with guildmates about Challenge Dungeons in Pandaria (World of Warcraft). Getting coffee at Brewster's with a special someone in Animal Crossing. Getting to the end of Fleuret Blanc (a really great mystery game my friend made).

Who is your favorite designer, and why?
Well, the first game designer I knew about was Shigeru Miyamoto. I still remember reading about him in Nintendo Power (the Yoshi's Island issue). He seemed so creative, which at the time was a big deal to me. Nowadays I'm surrounded by creative folks, but I grew up in an area that discouraged creative careers so I always felt a bit out of place. The things Miyamoto-san said in the interview really resonated with me, and I thought it was so neat that he was doing these creative things for a living.

What game have you played for the most hours? Why?
Gosh... I'm not sure anymore lol. But for the longest time I'd say I sunk the most hours into Starcraft. I love that game, I never get tired of it.

What is your design process? What would you consider the foundation of your process?
In the case of Rakuen, the whole game actually started out as the story for a music video to a song I wrote called "Jump" (now Rakuen's ending credits song). I came up with the story while playing the song on the piano.

Before I do anything on the computer, I outline the game's structure on paper; I write out the characters and try to imagine their personalities; I think about what gameplay would best match the story; design puzzles, etc. Then I try to prototype it and go from there.

Foundation: Music <-> Story -> Lots of lists and pictures -> Prototype :)

If I remember correctly, you started out as a pop singer in Japan, then moved on to composing, then started doing game development. Is that right? I think I have a general understanding of how composition could influence your game-making perspective, but did being a pop singer have any effect, and if so, what? 
I think it probably had an effect :) I love composing background music, but I think my specialty is writing songs. I'm really thankful that I had the opportunity to work on so many vocal songs for video games (Plants vs. Zombies, To the Moon, High School Story, the ending theme for the Minecraft documentary, etc.). With game songs, you don't have to fit into a particular genre, and the mood can vary widely. From the beginning, I had songs in mind for Rakuen's design. There are around 10 lyrical songs, and they are closely tied to the story and gameplay.

How do you handle design paralysis? What do you do to move forward?
If I get stuck on something, I usually talk to friends or family about it. Brainstorming helps a lot. Sometimes I will go to a cafe, drink tea, and then just jot down ideas in a notebook to try to work it out. I've even had times where playing the piano can get me through a creative block.

How has the game changed during playtesting? How long did the playtest last?
We had two rounds of beta testing, both lasted around 2-3 weeks. Since the first playtest, I added some pretty significant gameplay and cutscenes for two of the major questlines, composed 3-4 more tracks of music; fixed a huge list of bugs, and did a lot of things to try and smooth out some of the puzzles. I've learned that puzzles are very polarizing; they can be super easy to one person, and rage-quit-level frustrating to the next! They require a lot of iteration. We also replaced a LOT of the art.

How did you handle the process of getting your game to market?
At GDC a couple years back, representatives from Valve were meeting with developers. During that time I was able to talk with them about Rakuen, and get the game directly onto Steam.

How do you handle marketing? 
I guess it's been kind of been a natural process thus far. I enjoy sharing screenshots and music as the game progresses. I've had a personal youtube channel for a while now where as a hobby I upload both my original music as well as video game music remixes; I try to keep my subscribers there in the loop by sharing about Rakuen's progress. I do my best to send major press releases to video game news sites. And of course, if I can do something fun that involves the community (like contests) then I do that as well :)

How much time have you devoted to marketing versus design/development time (in hours, if you know)?
Hmm... I'm not totally sure (especially since a lot of it I just do organically, like posting screenshots online when I finish a scene I really like^^). I definitely sunk a lot of hours into things like putting together a trailer, writing up press releases, sending off emails, etc. But overall, all that still ends up being a small fraction of the time it took to actually make the game.

What is the release date of your game and the price? Where can people buy it?
We're releasing Rakuen on May 5 on Steam (for PC/Mac/Linux). After doing a lot of research, we finally decided on $9.99 as the price.

What is your next project?
I would really like to release a music album. Over the years, I've written so many songs that I just never did anything with. It would be really nice to just get to work on that for a while. I also have a goal to learn how to make really good cream cakes (strawberry, and also matcha).

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Eli 15.9 and Tryouts

He made it!

Tonight

Eli 15.9 has one more tryout skate at 5:30, and we'll find out whether he made the team sometime tonight. I think he's in good shape, but it's still very, very stressful right now.

On the drive to tryouts yesterday, we figured out that there were 22 fifteen-year-old goalies playing AAA in Michigan last year (including 15u and kids playing up in 16u, so 16+6 spots). This year, it's reversed (16-6 spots).

10 spots instead of 22. That's a brutal cutdown.

A Nice Surprise Tomorrow

We'll have a new episode in the "Ask a Developer: 100 Words or Less" feature, and this time, it's with Laura Shigihara, designer/developer of the upcoming game Rakuen.

Laura is a tremendously accomplished musician, and Rakuen has an elaborate and lovely soundtrack. I've been looking forward to the game since it was announced a few years ago, and I'll have impressions for you shortly after release.

On The Road Again

"I just turned onto Tittabawasee and I'm driving toward Zilwaukee. Am I in a cartoon?"

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

MLB The Show 17: Design, Realism, and Fun

Enormous Bottoms, now in AAA, had a chance to win both the HR and RBI titles with four games to play in his season (now playing for the El Paso Chihuahuas after his original team foolishly traded him away).

He had 30 HR, one behind the leader. He was comfortably ahead in RBI, with 95, but wanted to reach that magic century mark.

Well, in those four games, his team put exactly zero runners in scoring position while he was at the plate. Zero

So what did he do? He hit four home runs (three on consecutive at-bats in one game), and one of those homers brought home a runner from first.

That's going big, Bottoms style.

34 HR and 100 RBI. League leader in both.

This was perfect. He wasn't rated highly enough to call up to the Majors, but he was good enough that he would destroy AAA until he built up a huge bank of training points.

One week later, he was traded.

He went from a beautiful ballpark to an absolute dump, but there was a short porch in right field, and when he hit a routine fly ball that turned into a home run in the season opener, it looked like it might not be so bad after all.

In the second game, in the first inning, he tore his MCL.

Out for the season.

In the offseason, hewas picked up by the Astros in the Rule 5 draft (one of many arcane rules in baseball). A Rule 5 pickup must stay on the major league roster for an entire season or he reverts back to his previous team.

Uh-oh.

Now healthy but far weaker than the other outfielders on the Astros roster, Enormous Bottoms gets fifteen at-bats in the first thirty games of the season. On the rare occasions when he plays, he presses and performs poorly.

Now, in one sense, this is just incredible game design, because it's an uncanny mirror to real life. I felt frustration, and anxiety, and even a little anger.

You know what, though? It's not very much fun.

I'm torn. One of the things I did in Gridiron Solitaire (which was ludicrously realistic), one of the things I prided myself on, was that the game would organically generate all the crazy momentum swings and emotions of real football, and it did.

Sometimes, though, as in real life, those momentum swings were downright punitive, and quite frustrating.

So I know how difficult it is to make a sports sim seem realistic, and what The Show has done in career mode is absolutely amazing.

I could have had more fun, though.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Zelda (BotW)

After I don't even know how many hours (40? 60?), let me just reiterate that this is an incredible, unbelievable game.

I'm still finding all kinds of new things in the world, and everything in the world is entirely consistent with everything else in the world, to a degree I have never seen before. It's a staggering achievement, and before this game, I wouldn't have thought it was possible.

The rain still drives me crazy, occasionally, but that is a minor annoyance in a brilliant, stunning experience.

A Big Week

Eli 15.9 has two final tryout skates this week, and by this weekend, he should know if he made the team.

This is the last open AAA goalie spot in the state, as far as I can tell. If you're wondering what happens if he doesn't make it, I can't tell you.

He's played extremely well in tryouts, so he's done his part. Tryouts can be wacky, though, and roster spots can turn on seemingly small things.

Like I said, though, we'll know by this weekend, at least.

He also went to Saginaw for Selects last weekend. It was a confusing tryout, because there were three districts involved, and they take kids from each district, but there was no way to tell which kids were from which district, so no one even knew who they were competing against.

We find out about that by May 3. "If I don't make it this year, I'm going back next year and kicking the door down," Eli said.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, and I have a deep affection for pinball, even though I was never very good at it: The curious story of Magic Girl, the would-be greatest pinball machine of all time.

From Steven Davis, and this is staggeringly beautiful: The Egg Painter.

From C. Lee, and this is a fascinating article: The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI. This is an excellent read: Me and My Troll. This is tremendously interesting: Engineering the Perfect Astronaut. Next, and I think we all knew this (not really): Has the Queen's English Become Frightfully Common? This is intriguing: There are 19 types of smiles but only 6 are for happiness.

From Wally, and this is a terrific read: The man who catches marathon cheats - from his home. Next, and this is excellent, it's Notes on Games with Sequential Moves.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Hue And Cry Noticeably Missing

From Deadspin:
Mallory Pugh, the blazingly fast and wildly skilled winger who played with the U.S. women’s team in the 2016 Olympics, is leaving UCLA to turn pro, according to a statement released by the school. The 18-year-old enrolled at UCLA in January and would have begun her freshman season in the fall. Instead, she decided to take her talents to the professional ranks before she ever played a competitive game for UCLA, which isn’t too much of a surprise considering U.S. Soccer just reached a new collective bargaining agreement with the women’s players, guaranteeing some players upwards of $200,000 a year. Turning pro means she can cash checks from U.S. Soccer as well as pick up endorsement deals.

A freshman (and only a freshman because she enrolled early) leaving to turn pro? Well, I expected a flood of editorials saying that she needed to stay for the college experience, that she wasn't emotionally mature enough to turn pro. What if it doesn't work out? She won't have anything to fall back on because she didn't go to college!

Instead: crickets.

Are the usual members of the outrage cotillion not upset because it's a white woman instead of a black man? I'm sure that's part of it, but I don't think it's the most important part.

The most important part, by far, is money.

Pugh going pro in women's soccer isn't going to cost the NCAA a penny in the larger scheme of things. Nobody cares if she's prepared, emotionally and physically. It's not something that anyone would even think of mentioning.

Young men and women graduating from high school and playing pro tennis, or pro golf? No one cares. No one would even think to bring up the argument.

High school graduates going to play minor league baseball instead of college? No problem.

Let's go to college football and basketball now. The money sports, the two sports where the revenue from television rights is absolutely gigantic.

Oh, now there's a problem.

Anything that would hurt the quality of the product that television networks pay for--well, it's all about the kid right? And the kids just aren't ready for the pros. It's actually exploiting the kids to let them skip college and go earn a living.

Good grief.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Minor Cut

Eli 15.9, The Boy Who Would Be Goalie, took a break yesterday to make these:


He clearly has strong cupcake game. 

Also:
"I cut my finger slicing tomatoes," Gloria said. 

"Oh, I'm sorry," I said. 

"It's nothing," she said. "Very small."

"Those are the ones that kill you," I said. " 'Following Local Woman's Minor Cut, Funeral Services at Noon at Waxworthy Funeral Home.' "

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

MLB 17: The Show (Update)

This lighting issue is quite baffling.

Here are a couple of pictures that (not terribly well)illustrate what I'm talking about. The first one is the actual batting view:


Like I said previously, there a a ton of different lighting conditions, but for all minor league parks (haven't reached the majors yet), but early in the game, almost all of them are dark to some degree. 

However, if the game cuts to a quick flavor bit, the lighting is much better:


That was on the same at-bat as the first picture, and it's a totally usable lighting level. So why is the batting view so freaking dark in comparison?

That's not even the darkest lighting that I see. It's even worse at times, and it generally doesn't get better until the late innings when the lights are fully on. 

On rainy days, though, the lighting is fine. So this is appears to be a case of the developers falling in love with the many levels of sunlight, but somehow misapplying them to the game. 

Also, like I said, quite a few of these lighting levels look like ass. They don't showcase the game. It's both a bug and a design mistake.

Now, it's possible that this is only an issue for people with PS4 Pros. It might even only be a problem for people using the PS4 Pro with 1080P screens.  

Whatever it is, though, it's annoying as hell.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Tunguska Event, With Chocolate

Gloria surprised us with Easter bags filled with chocolate yesterday.

"Hey!" Eli 15.9 said.

"What?" Gloria asked.

"Dad's bag has more candy than mine! And I know he already ate some, so it's even worse!"

"I never get more candy," I said. "Dads never get more of anything."

"This is an outrage," Eli said. "Oh, and what happened to those dark chocolate eggs I had downstairs?"

"Those?" Gloria asked. "I didn't think you wanted those, but I kept them for you. They're in the drawer in the kitchen."

"Wait, do you mean your secret chocolate drawer?"

"Uh..." Gloria said. Eli burst out laughing.

"It's not secret!" she said.

"No, it's just the place where you store chocolate with hand towels," I said. "Nothing to see here."


What the...

As of two days ago, all the trees on our street were bare.

We woke up Sunday morning, and suddenly, there was this:


Apparently, about 10,000 trees did this overnight. Very impressive, sneaky trees.

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