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Whatever strikes me as shiny

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Founding a community group

It's been a long time! When I founded Perfect Minute Games a few years back, I thought I'd be a lot further ahead by now. Instead I've practically given up game development while working on a novel. It's a long road between then and now. I wasn't able to preseve that incarnation of PMG, but I managed to weather its failure without losing good relationships, which I count as a win. But it did damage to my initiative with respect to game dev. Lately, however, I've come to the conclusion that it's a good and necessary moment to build a strong, independent community group here in Newfoundland and Labrador. I've been involved in a few groups in the last few years - as an executive member for one group, as a member and presenter for another, and as a variety of different things for yet another. I decided to take on that responsibility. I've never been much good at community-building, but having some roots in theatre has proved helpful, and my involvement in other local tech groups has proven helpful. I guess that's an obvious outcome, but I didn't realize beforehand how useful those connections would be. Gamedev NL is the fruit of that work. It's still nascent, but I'm already excited by the interest and activity it's generating. I'm having conversations with lots of folks in the local film, game development, and educational communities, and there's plenty more to do yet. Someday I'll get back to PMG. For now, though, I'm hoping to do some good for a few others in the field.




Looking for a Founding Artist

I mentioned before that I had founded a game studio focused on short, incredible games. We are making slow, slightly unsteady progress on our first game, so I've decided to start looking around for an artist who
Believes that short games can and should be the best games
Has the experience and artistic vision to make that happen
Has the kind of distinct, interesting artistic voice to establish a visual identity for many games to come.

I don't want to misrepresent the situation - right now the studio is still an idea more than a business, and very much a spare-time pursuit for those involved. But for the right person I can promise I will do whatever is in my power to bring it rapidly to the point where it becomes a rewarding, professional opportunity.

If you think that might be you, drop me a line.




The LEAN Business Model

I'm doing a pre-incubator business class/program at the Genesis Centre here in St. John's, and I'm actually learning a fair bit along the way. At the moment my big challenge is proving the working model for Perfect Minute Games. This is a place where the artist/auteur in me comes up hard against the pragmatist: on the one hand, I want the products I aim to build. On the other hand, I am not the person who has to buy them, nor am I able to pay for their production.

The program focuses on a concept called LEAN. This is apparently also a part of the Startup Weekend model, although that part of the experience was not emphasized during my last crack at that particular can (we're working on it for this year's event). LEAN, in a nutshell, is the practice of proving your theories by talking to people you think will use your product or service. For Perfect Minute Games, that is some subset of gamers, but getting a precision slice of the gaming population turns out to be a bit tricky, so for now I've satisfied myself with simply interviewing whatever gamers I can find who are willing to give me the time of day.
It's an interesting approach. You set up a canvas that has a bunch of sections. The really key ones are Value Proposition and Customer Segment - these are the "heart" of your business. If you don't have a customer segment identified (I do, or at least I thought I did before I started talking to people) then you probably don't have a business idea yet. If you don't have a value proposition, on the other hand, you don't have a service or product yet.

In the program I'm doing, these are couched in the language of problem/solution. Perfect Minute Games aims to solve two problems:

- people have limited time to play
- they love deep gameplay but don't want to endure lengthy games

Which gamers have these problems, though? I started with myself as a market, so I figured they'd mostly be people like me - 30-some-odd, house, job, commitments. It turns out, asking different people questions about their gaming habits helps to open that up a bit. Some gamers just plain like short games; in particular, they find that long games run out of ideas. This is actually something I'd figured out for myself - you can concentrate limited resources on a shorter game much better than on a long one.

I didn't spool the idea all the way out, though. I didn't think about the fact that a gamer who only has limited time wants a game with save-anywhere play. A friend with whom I used to play pen and paper games likened it to those games - you can walk away at any point without losing your work. This is how computers should work, and games are no exception.

And there were things I really didn't foresee. My formative experience with coop was on Deus Ex; The Coop Project, to which I contributed a small but nonzero amount of code, never really gained traction in that community. Apparently there's an easier way to make that work now, so that's good.

Nearly every person I talked to during this process mentioned cooperative play. It's no longer something that you get to muck about with; you need to be building cooperative play modes.

The tool we're using for all this is Launchpad Central, which apparently is only available in this kind of incubation setting. They're using their own stuff to decide that, or so I understand, which is at least nice to see.

The process has really given me some new muscles to target in the future, and I feel a little less overwhelmed by the concept of building a working business at this point. I'd love to hear from other devs who are trying this or any other method for planning the business side of things.




Perfect Minute Games

Myself and a buddy here in Newfoundland have founded a game development company called Perfect Minute Games. Thus far it's going pretty well; I've had a year or so to really get my feet under me since moving home and now I am at last reasonably stable again, so it is a good moment to dive back into this realm.

Perfect Minute is an idea that came out of getting older and still loving games. I've got friends that run the gamut of family structures, from confirmed bachelors (a category that included myself until quite recently) through three kids, a dog, and a minivan. I think a lot of us have discovered as time rolls on that regardless of one's circumstances it becomes increasingly difficult to find the time to play.

I found myself wondering why I would try to get through yet another days-long marathon of grind-style content just to get myself a prettier shoulderpad or a two minute cutscene. There are exceptions to this description - for me Mass Effect is a big one - but it is largely true of modern games.

I realized somewhere along the way that length was not a valuable axis for me when it comes to games (or any other medium, for that matter). I would much rather pay $15 for a game that focused its dollars on a two-hour campaign that offered me something like catharsis than a 60 hour game that had its rewards laid out on a carefully sculpted reward curve to give me maximum addiction.

I also realized I'm an addict when it comes to games. If you give me infinite gameplay and lay that addiction schedule down, I will snort my way through the checkpoints for a long, miserable time. There are exceptions to this - FFXIII is a big one for me, more because the game is dull than anything else - but there are a lot of non-exceptions, and I feel comfortable stating that that's my relationship with games now. I want self-contained, short, incredible games.

So Perfect Minute Games was born.

Our first game is called Contension. The misspelling is purposeful, although I'm not sure exactly how much it will play into the overall theme just yet. It's the barest prototype of a concept as yet. Here are a few screens of the WIP:

I hope you'll drop in on us now and then.




Back in

I started prototyping something new tonight. Nothing very difficult, just a 2d particle fountain with some on-click effects. But it reminded me of something that has recently hit home: even very simple mechanics, paced correctly, can lead to deep gameplay. More importantly, the simpler a prototype, the easier it is to find inspiration.




Stop me if I'm boring you.

I know this isn't particularly related to my Two Things, but forgive me, I haven't set up a formal AppDev blog, and I wanted to get this thought down.

I was reading O'Reilly's What is Web 2.0 and I read this:

They're right to an extent, but there's something more to the equation - the very fact that users are the empowering force behind the network means that you're putting power into the wrong hands as well as the right ones. Take PageRank consultants as an example - the formal notion that a trusted user causes implicit improvements in page ranking is counterbalanced by the fact that there are experts whose entire business is focused on gaming the system. This is part of the reason why Google's searches turn up a lot of garbage, because the least honest/desirable players are the ones most willing to engage in this activity.

Similarly with Bittorrent and p2p in general, you get massive numbers of fake sharers that try to frustrate the normal service operation. They're not all that great at the moment, but it seems likely that, particularly with the legislative help they're getting in certain countries, they're going to get much better as time goes by. Malicious software is already a well-known meme; I have to wonder how many folks walk that idea up the chain and conclude that malicious content is eventually going to come to life as a strong presence.

Happily, the decentralized systems are, for now, relatively resilient against malicious users. But as Wikipedia's ongoing debate about editor credentials gives a good indication that the risks are slowly becoming commensurate with the rewards, and history indicates that that situation is something we should expect to worsen.

I'd like to be able to see where the next set of network memes are likely to come from - are we going to go to a trusted-circle version of Tor, where content is associated primarily to trusted entities? Maybe we'll just see a much stronger user-driven community, a la Wikia and other emerging user-driven search sites, with a market emerging for users to drive content ranking via digital payola. Maybe DMCA-type regulations are going to kill a lot of the infringement-heavy user-driven communities, and an upwelling of entirely original content will result. Maybe robotic overlords will by that time have destroyed us.




Two projects

Getting my brain handed to me on a plate by a Google tech screen has convinced me that I need, regardless of my professional life, to have at least some kind of relatively advanced technical effort going on at all times if this is actually going to be my life's work. The work I'm doing is, in large part, beneath me. That sounds arrogant, but today I'm fixing up hard-coded registry key paths, so it's not like the bar is real high.

My two current free-time development targets are:

Semantic Diff
Martin Fowler describes it best:

Current leads:

Something (not sure what) from the Sun site about the Java parser


First things first, need a graph of the code structures in both cases - how to handle code that doesn't compile? - research topic!
Need to figure out if a line is the basic diff entity - compromises between simplicity of implementation (tokenization/parsing) versus simplicity of use (manageable, distinct entities) - stuff to try!

Physics/Engineering Sandbox
I don't know what exactly this is going to be yet, but I have a couple of ideas. First, the "physics":
Rigid & Soft-body dynamics
Fluid dynamics
Electromagnetic interactions
Optics (primarily "caustics", as the cool kids say)
Chemistry - this one's pretty ill-defined at the moment, but the use cases will help, maybe
Some potential use cases to demonstrate interaction between systems:
Oersted's wire and magnetic needle
Steel Wool + battery
Creation of sparks by striking metals together.
Filling up a windsock or waterballoon
After that, maybe some engineering - see if I can get some simple cases first - ropes pulling vehicles along, units combining and diverging, some armor-piercing and armor-destroying interactions, etc. All on the road to a foundation for liquiddark.



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