Woman in Black and other Horror Musings

Over at Mob Rules, I posted a piece yeterday about The Woman in Black. Check it out!

I've been delving more into horror movies of late, mostly because of Haunts. I came up with this ambitious scheme to have the single player campaign in Haunts mirror the history of horror cinema. That entails learning more about said history, which is interesting. The first book I read on the subject was really more of an overview than any deep analysis. It was nice for what it was, but provided little deeper insight, especially in the movies of the past few decades. 

Right now I just downloaded Interactive Nightmares by Mark Butler. It's about the history of horror video games so, clearly it's a must read. It's also available to read for free through te Kindle Lending Library, so that's how I got it. I have to say, I'm really enjoying that feature on my Kindle Fire. So far, I'm pleased to see that Interactive Nightmares seems very up to date and Butler seems passionate about the subject, so I've got high hopes for the rest of the book. 

I'm setting up a movie-watch list for myself so I can go through that history of horror cinema in person. We're planning to do some sort of book-club like thing on the Mob Rules site, but for movies, so I want to have that all planned out sometime in the next week or so. I'm flying out to LA in two weeks and want to load up my Ipad or Fire with some horror movies, but I think I'll need to stick with the earlier, less bloody features - I'm try to be considerate of the sensibilities of my fellow passengers. Almost all the movies are available on-demand or streaming, but there have been a few exceptions, like Suspiria, which would definitely not be plane friendly.  I might have to reactivate the disk-rental part of my Netflix for the occasion.


How I'm Like Agathocles, Tyrant of Syracuse 

There aren't a lot of similarities between me and the rakish and daring total jerk of a troublemaker from the 4th Century BC, Agathocles, sometime Tyrant of Syracuse. Unlike him, I have no intentions of starting a war with Carthage or invading North Africa.

HOWEVER, I am like him in that when he invadaded Carthage he burned his ships upon landing in enemy territory so that he and his soldiers could not retreat and like him I'm going to burn my old clothes that don't fit me anymore. Except I'm going to actually give them to Good Will and not burn them. But as far as having them in my closet and thus available to wear ever again, I might as well be burning them. 

Thus I am the Tyrant of My Closet. The pic shows the clothes I'm metaphorically burning on the shores of the Mediterranean. 

A couple days ago I went to buy clothes and found to my surpise and delight I now wear a size 36 pants. I literally don't remember when that was last the case - presumably sometime in high school. I know in college I wore a 38. So, I bought some jeans, some pants, and some shorts - two of each in fact, along with, wonder of wonders, som XL instead of XXL shirts. It feels soooooo good.

A while back in early to mid 2011, as I was putting weight back on, I ended up being too fat for even my normal XXL t-shirts I'd been wearing. I shame-facedly bought some XXXL shirts from Walmart. That drove me to diet a little better then, and I fought my way back from like 285 to 275, so my XXXL days were relatively short. I definitely want to have to face that nasty, shameful self-loathing again if I ever start to put on the pounds I've been working so hard to shed, because it's a great motivator (one of many). Thus my decision to get rid of all these clothes that are now too big for me - I don't want to have anywhere to hide.



I Lost 20 Pounds on the Amazing Video Game Diet That Really Works!!!

Wow, it's been two whole months since I posted here. That's nearly criminal. But you know what? During those two months, I LOST 20 POUNDS! That's on top of losing about 10 pounds in the two months before that. So, I've cut thirty-pounds since August, which is pretty sweet.

And I did it all thanks to the amazing weight-loss power of VIDEO GAMES!*

During these last two months I played about 125 hours, yes hours, of Skyrim. I played about 30 hours of Saints Row: The Third. I played less than three hours each of Assassin's Creed: Revelations, Uncharted 3, Trine 2, and (currently) Resistance 3.  And I don't even have any idea how much Carcassone I've played on my Ipad, but i know it's a lot.

But of course it wasn't just video games that made me lose weight. A lot of my weight loss also came from playing BOARD GAMES!** 

My gaming group played a lot of 7 Wonders. We played some Space Alert. But in recent weeks, we've been playing the amazing RISK: LEGACY, which is a daring and paradigm shifting experience that not only breaks lots of collector taboos, but also helps shred the pounds.

And let's not forget the waist-slimming properties of PUB TRIVIA!***

Our team, Geek Maifa, led by the fearless Claire Stone, consistently places in the top three, no matter what the venue. Well, there've only been two venues, but we do well in both of them!

So, clearly, it is scientifically proven that, despite what doctors will tell you, playing video games will make you lose weight. Seriously. It's now officially science and stuff.

* Also, I cut my caloric intake by about 750 calories a day and carefully count calories.

** I also exercise at least once a day, usually twice, either with a long walk, a kung fu lesson, or a trip to the gym.

*** Oh yeah, and I stopped drinking casual beers and other drinks, and I always get the salad instead of the cheeseburger at Pub Trivia


Guerrilla Gorilla: Commander Kondo Issues Call to Revolution!

So most of the new content from me will be over at the Mob Rules Games site. All this month we'll have thrice-weekly updates about our proposed games, starting with Guerrilla Gorilla


Mob Rules Games is GO!


Developer Diary 05: One Week! One! Week! 1 wk!

Next week in fact. October 24th. That’s the big launch day. I can not wait!

It’s been a progressively useful two weeks, no great strides, but lots of small steps in a row. Jonathan has turned his attention to the user interface, which has led to some interesting research and discussion. As should always be the way, we’re trying t find the right balance between giving the player info and options on the screen and not having all that interface display stuff get in the way of seeing and playing the actual game.

I think we’re somewhere near the balance point, although the final implementation will vary depending on which of the three games we end up doing. One game has you controlling a lot of different units each with only a few possible actions, while another has you controlling just a few units who have many more options.

One thing I hadn’t thought of at first is what the default option should be when you first select a unit. Right now, there isn’t a default at all. In our test game, you select a unit and then hit a key to choose “Move” or “Attack.” That works, but it does put this extra step in there. So we’re going to default to “Move” being the already selected action, since the first time you select a unit each turn, that’s most likely the thing you’re going to want to do first.

From there we realized that since we’re already highlighting the spaces where you can legally move on the map, we could also highlight the enemies you can legally attack. So the default now is going to be, move or attack, depending on which space you select. Select an empty space, move there. Select an enemy, attack it. That of course led Jonathan to point out, attack it with which attack type? That’s going to depend on the game. Right now, in the test game, the units all have a default attack, so it’s no big deal to select as the default. If you want to do a special attack, you’ll have to press a button or whatever to select it first. For the more complicated game idea, which has inventory, we’ll probably revert to the “last used” attack as your default. Or maybe let players set a default. We’ll see.

Austin’s been working hard on drawing up some sample screenshots for each of the three games. It’s a really time-consuming, trial and error process. The first one he did is also the most complicated, with a lot of Art Deco details in the level background. I’m really happy with how it came out. We had an interesting discussion about perspective with the second game, and are trying something a little different. It seems to be coming together, but we’re still experimenting. The third one, which is a straight down, overhead view, raised its own challenges, but I think we’ve got it figured out.

All three will be part of the big unveil on Monday, October 24th, so you’ll be able to judge for yourselves! See you then.


Developer Diary 05: Why Does Web Development Always Take Forever?

Well, there seems to have been some major miscommunication between the people working on the web site and the people paying for said work. I wasn’t part of any of those conversations, so I’m not sure where the disconnect comes from, but it resulted in one side wanting it ASAP and another side only working on it 10 hours a week.


So, we’ll see what happens. Actually, I’m setting a firm date of no later than Monday, October 24th. Which is to say that, even if the site for the umbrella group isn’t ready, we’re going to launch our Kickstarter for our project on our own. Yep. We are.

Work continues though. I’m the one left slightly spinning my wheels, but since I’m not drawing salary yet, at least money isn’t being wasted (just time). Jonathan has made it so you can move pieces around a board and their rate varies based on terrain. I made a simple map for them to move around on based on the Battle of Bosworth Field. It’s not a pretty thing, to be sure, but I used GIMP’s “Clothify” filter to class it up a little bit.

Austin put together a rough cut of our launch video, and it’s kind of rough. Well, Jonathan and I are both less than thrilled with our performances. He was all on his own and in a a pretty ad hoc set-up, so he’s got an excuse. I think I overplayed it in the beginning of the shooting day, and only started really clicking by the end of the day. Fortunately, you’ll never see those rough parts. Austin (whose parts all came out good) is editing it down a lot plus inserting screen shots and art and stuff.

Some of that concept art didn’t quite come together the way we hoped on the first pass, but we talked it through and, I know this may sound weird, but took one piece and broke elements of it out into a whole new piece and now they both look cool. Austin’s really great about taking feedback and working with it, something all of us can learn from. 

This week, more video, virtual dudes start killing each other, and launch plans are (finally?) finalized. That’s what it says on my Google Calendar anyway.


Developer Diary 04: The Launch That Is Still To Come

Here’s a totally context-free picture, related in some way I won’t tell you to our project. I know I said the time for secrets was over, but I was wrong.

Today was, according to Our Big Plan, the day we were going to launch the site and the company and the bigger initiative and the campaign. Some sub-set of those things is not ready. I’ll give you a hint, it rhymes with Web Site. Can something rhyme with itself? Probably not.

So, yeah, the web site is not done or ready. The problem is, we took too long picking a developer to build it and they (like everyone, always when it comes to this kind of thing) dramatically overestimated how fast they could get it done. And so it’s not done.

It is more than just a site for our new company and project(s). Our stuff is just a part of a larger site, which even in this first version has a number of features that aren’t quite off the shelf. Actually, a fair amount of the technical back end functions are in place, but the thing looks like a hot mess, since no designer has touched it for a single moment. Launching with that would be an ugly distraction, not something you’d want to share with your friends because it’s so cool and exciting.

And so we wait. Probably two weeks.


But we’re putting those two weeks to good use. First of all, it mean Austin didn’t have to kill himself over the weekend editing the launch video. It also means we can pick up a few more shots for said video, as well as have more art in it. And more juggling. There is supposed to be juggling, but right now there isn’t.

Last week, Austin was working on what we’re calling Cover Art pieces, even though there won’t be a box to put a cover on. They’re looking pretty sweet. We finalized some character designs as well. I contributed a lot, I think, by saying that the one dude shouldn’t have a hat because his hair is so awesome. I think you’ll agree. Jonathan got the animation system up and working and made a simple chessboard where you could select squares. He also did some complicated math so that we can have different angles for our isometric view, if needed. I had many long meeting on Google+ and wrote a bunch of content to go up on the web site that isn’t ready yet. I also made decisions about hats.

This week, Jonathan’s going to get those pieces moving around the board, Austin’s going to rough-cut the video and draw more pics, and I’m going to figure out how to cram in as much extra functionality into those two new weeks, mostly to do with a simple AI system. 


Developer Diary 03: Making Movies about Making Games

If all goes according to plan, this will be the last one of these where I talk in vague allusions and avoid specifics. Next week (hopefully this very time next week) we’ll be announcing our project to the world. I say hopefully, because several key components of that proposed launch are not ready right now. The Web site is languishing in some unknown state within the servers and files of the company making it. The super-cool video that will explain it all in just two or three minutes isn’t edited. Indeed, it doesn’t even have all the video and images it needs yet. But I’m assured by all involved on all fronts that it will come together on schedule. I think it will. I think?

Last week was more getting our ducks in a row and then doing things that weren’t game development at all, like shooting videos. Austin and I went around to six or seven different places in Sarasota to shoot our parts of the launch video. The first day was full of minor blunders. I hadn’t charged either camera fully. Austin hadn’t checked to make sure one of our locations was actually open. One of our backup locations filled up with people who we couldn’t ask to be quiet since they were doing us a favor letting us be there in the first place. We had to go back a second day, which went much smoother. Jonathan is on his own out there in Seattle, so he gets extra credit for his solo effort. 

The video is all part of our Kickstarter campaign, and it will explain what we’re doing and why it’s the best idea ever for you to support us. Austin is an artist, but he’s also a film maker and freelance videographer, so he’s got plenty of editing chops. He also needs to do a lot of concept art to be featured in the video. What I’m saying is, Austin’s having a very busy couple of weeks. Jonathan meanwhile is plugging away at getting his Glop libraries set up for Go and implementing our sprite animation system. That’s supposed to be done in the next few days, and then he’ll start making the game map software, so we can put units on it and move them around. Soon enough, they’ll be killing one another for our pleasure.

I did have some great inspiration last week. My pal Jason Scott launched a new Kickstarter campaign to fund his next three documentary film projects. He’d told me about his wild plans to raise $100,000 a while back, and it seemed like a lot at the time. Well, just a week or so into his 60 day fundraising cycle, and he’s already pulled in $51,000 in pledges (including from me). That’s pretty amazing. I love his first two movies (about BBSs and Text Adventure Games), and look forward to these next three.

Check out his Kickstarter page here:

Next week we’ll have our own up!



Developer Diary 02: We Worked All Week

One week down! Many, many more to go. Still nothing I can show you from the actual project, so here's a pic of a baby and an octopus.

And it was a good and productive week, or at least it seemed that way to me. Among the various things we’re doing that people have warned us against, we’re going with a distributed team. That is, everyone works at home. As someone who has worked from home much more than he’s worked in an office, I know it can be done. Granted, I’ve never done it on a prolonged, co-operative project like this, but there are a number of successful companies who have. Since we plan to keep the team relatively small for this project (and hopefully forever), I’m confident we can pull it off.

This past week was easy, since everyone was for the most part doing their own things. Jonathan was readying software libraries and laying groundwork. Austin was doing concept art. I was writing promotional and web site material. We did all come together mid-week to work up guidelines for our sprite animation system. Jonathan laid down the system and then I made up the flowcharts. Austin made a little stick-figure soldier that can run and fight and die in an endless loop. That all came together really nicely. The flowchart software we used, the yEd Graph Editor from yWorks is a breeze to use and I had a lot of fun learning to use it. I think (and hope) we’re going to use it for AI Scripting too. That would make my life easier, anyway.

One of the nice things about working with others, especially those with different skill sets than you, is that they see things in different ways. I’ve found this to be true with artists especially. When I wrote comic book scripts, nine times out of ten the artist’s version of my art directions ended up much cooler than what I’d envisioned in my head. Austin did that this week with some concept art for a building that features prominently in one of our game concepts. I’d pictured the sort of classic, cliched version of this iconic kind of structure, but Austin came up with something wilder and more interesting looking that also fits what we’re doing with the game much better than the classic cliche would. Soon I’ll be able to share this stuff with you, I promise!

This week, more of the same. I’m finalizing pitches for the three games and working out many, many business details. Austin’s arting it up. Jonathan is ensconced in Seattle and coding away. We’re all shooting videos. OK, the video thing is new. But that’s a surprise for another day....