Child of Light: A pleasant surprise!

Image from Child of Light

I am not normally a fan of turn-based video games. Well, that’s saying it in a very politically sensitive fashion. Unless the game has X-COM in it’s name, I loathe turn-based games. I’m even less fond of platformers. When I saw that Ubisoft made it, I cursed them for not making the something to rival Mass Effect, Deus Ex, or Gears of War. (I could never get into Assassins Creed. Sorry. Great idea, though. Keep trying.)

Child of Light surprised me.

Because my brain was fried from too many hours editing Starcrossed in a desperate attempt to get it out the door in April 2015, I sat down in front of the Xbox One. Which was my first mistake, because nobody has made a game for the Xbox One that I really want to play since Tomb Raider (which incidentally has something in common with Child of Light). I should’ve just turned it off until Battlefront ships in December, but… I was fried.

Child of Light is a family-friendly, adorable, and unexpectedly (to me) fun game. I love the elemental soundtrack the most. Off to buy that next!

In a desperate need for mindless diversion, I picked up Child of Light while it was free for Xbox Live Gold members and unexpectedly fell in love with it. Damn you, Ubisoft! Knowing what I know now, I’d’ve paid full price for it. (I actually did that with Tomb Raider. I got it for free on the Xbox 360 with XBL Gold fully expecting to hate it, finished the game. Then promptly bought it on the Xbox One and finished it again, and then some.)

The game’s watercolor art style isn’t something I would normally be attracted to, even less its mode of play, but the silly-serious writing and the characters drew me in and hooked me. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the world and its story, especially the way that Aurora grows and matures during the story. [I even forgave Ubisoft the annoying JRPG-style press A to read every damn line of dialog. After about level 25.]

Yes, I have all of the achievements. No, I don’t have 100% completion of all the collectibles. Yet. I have to go back to editing Starcrossed first.

Looking for a low-violence Modernity-style plot?

the ninth gateFor a low-violence mystery conspiracy, you could do worse than The Ninth Gate. Depending on how you feel about Johnny Depp, you might be able to do better, but… All things considered, Polanski did a good job of putting together a contemporary noir pic that seemed to get a lot of mileage out of a very low budget.

Roman didn’t need hundreds of millions of dollars in big budget special effects and explosions and thousands of bullets to create the sense of the eerie and surreal that he was aiming for.

  • A flawed everyman protagonist
  • A plot that goes mostly wrong for him
  • An occult tome of immense power
  • An international conspiracy
  • A big twist at the end

I could readily see throughout the movie where all the various game mechanics in Modernity could be used to achieve a game very similar to the movie.

What do you think?

Goodbye, Outlook Tasks!

When I first met Peter Bregman, he was on his book tour speaking at Microsoft Research. In 2012. He tried to convince me to give up Outlook Tasks for managing all the stuff that I wasn’t doing. His logic was sound. He repeatedly pointed out that “It’s a myth. You can’t do it all!”

I wasn’t yet ready to acknowledge that my [many] task lists were really just a pile of things that I wish I had time to do. But don’t.

I bought the book, 18 Minutes, anyway and had Peter sign it for me. He was very gracious.

My wife and kids have read it (and done better than I have at following Peter’s advice).

Sure, I adopted some of his recommended practices:

  • I made a simple, six-box set of priorities. (I even look at them once in a while!) They’re in OneNote and pinned to the start screen on my phone so that I can’t ignore them (all the time).
  • I schedule time on my calendar for the important things, instead of putting them on a list.
  • I don’t put anything on my calendar that doesn’t fall into one of the six boxes.
  • I make myself accountable for the items on my calendar every day, even if they don’t get done during the time slot I originally allocated to them.
  • I celebrate the things I do get done, which is a lot more than I did two years ago.

imageEven the partial adoption of the 18 Minutes philosophy has made me more productive and successful in the past two years. I highly recommend the book. Peter’s fun to read.

Fast forward 2 years, 2 months, and a fortnight.

I still have hundreds of task list items in 6 different mailboxes (two of them Office 365 mailboxes). Many of them over a year old. Most of them long overdue.

I’ve known that I have a task problem for a long time, but it was never a priority to do anything about it, and I always promise myself that I’ll review the task list someday and do those things.

So why am I saying goodbye to my task lists now?

wp_ss_20140723_0002Windows Phone 8.1 made me do it.

I’ve had the same Windows Phone 8 device since Launch Day™. I stood in line for 8 hours on Microsoft’s main campus with a couple thousand of my closest cow-orkers to get my “free” phone. I’ve never been without it since, not a single day. Until this past Monday. My reliable, beloved HTC 8X has finally gone to the great phone Valhalla in the sky. RIP, little guy. I’ll miss you.

I have a great new device, a Nokia Lumia 635 with Windows Phone 8.1 on it. I love it. It’s so yellow that you can see it from space. I’m not prone to losing devices, but just in case, you know?

Now, I’ve always had the comfort of being able to easily swipe over to my task list on my phone and look at them. Occasionally even complete (or delete) one! But over the years with Windows Phone, as it grows and matures, it is becoming clear that Tasks are an afterthought for the team that maintains the Calendar app.

I can’t swipe over to my task list anymore. I have to perform some alternative action to discover my tasks. As a creature of habit (part of my autism is being pretty change averse), this is painful. It just seems like nobody thinks tasks are important enough to treat like first class citizens the same way that email, contacts, and appointments are. I don’t know if Tasks are going the way of Outlook Notes. (I don’t think ActiveSync has supported Outlook Notes since Windows Phone 7, but I could misremember; maybe it never did. I gave up on Outlook Notes long ago.)

  • I can’t pin Tasks to the start menu or create Tasks from the start menu.
  • I can’t do a lot of the categorization, coloring, etc, on the phone that I can do with tasks in Outlook. I’m not sure the two teams are communicating with one another regularly.
  • I can’t effectively search or do more than a basic sort of tasks on my phone.
  • OneNote is where the task functionality seems to be headed. Which sort of makes sense, although they don’t really have reminders, sortability, etc, either.
  • For now, tasks do still sync with my various clouds, but… I can’t find a Windows Phone app that does what I want AND supports more than one mailbox at a time.
  • The Windows Phone API only allows read-only access to other apps for appointments and contacts, not for tasks, which means I’m really, really too lazy to reinvent the wheel and code to the Office 365 API and manage my own task store on the phone. Ick.
  • Do I really need them after all?

No. I don’t really need them after all.

Fine. I can admit when I’m wrong. I’m sorry, Peter. You were right.

With my grieving done, I’ve made one final task list in OneNote.


Goodbye, Outlook Tasks.

Blast from the past

Millennium's End 63044One of my [many] favorite tabletop RPGs from the ‘90s is Millennium’s End. (ME v2 was updated in 2009.) It’s also one of the few games [of any kind] that I have ever seen that made a conscious effort to maintain backward compatibility between its v2 and v1 products.

Like many earlier generations of RPGs, its character creation involves some random generation of attributes. Very Gygaxian. The skill system is incredible rich and complex. What’s a 14-letter word for really complex?

Like a lot of RPGs, not just RPGs in the ‘90s, it’s combat rules seem absurdly complex at first blush. Every combat turn represents 2-seconds of real time. A typical human has 25 different hit locations, which are determined by a separate percentile role on a clear plastic overlay of a representative figure outline once a successful hit is determined. For each bullet fired. Then there’s different types of armor, different types of ammo, different types of… You get the picture. When we were in high school, we had time to burn six hours to run a 30-second combat scenario. Not so much anymore.

The rules (which I think are based on Phoenix Command, but I could misremember) are not what I love about the fabulous game that Charles and company produced. The complexity of the simulation engine is obviously the opposite end of the spectrum for what we have adopted for Modernity, but the gritty and contemporary cyber feel of the game are in many ways similar to aspects of Modernity. The technology obviously is years out of date, but if you’re looking for inspirations for your Modernity game, there a hundred plus pages in Millennium’s End that will serve you well.

You could even ignore the rules portion and play through the entire Millennium’s End campaign with the Modernity rules. It’s a lot of fun!

Merry Video Games Day!

Having two “official” holidays to celebrate video games is awesome. We’ll do this again on September 12th, just for fun. Here’s what I’ve been playing lately:

a53b3849-2dbe-4bbe-b819-3d5f427d01be[1]       Worms Battlegrounds

Watch_Dogs has taken a little more getting used to than I expected, and a little more suspension of disbelief on my part (probably because I’ve been building software and networks for 20+ years and it doesn’t really work that way – heh). Combat is extremely lethal, which I like because it makes stealth and hacking far more important. Driving feels like a looser adaptation (ick) of the Crackdown physics. Maybe that’s just the large number of driving side games and the temptation to carjack a ride whenever I need to get across town. The difference is that there’s always some “helpful” citizen around to dial 911 and call in the police to distract me (which doesn’t happen in Crackdown). It also feels a lot like Sleeping Dogs, which was a fun game. The way missions work and how easy it is to ignore the story make me wonder if this wasn’t a good Ubisoft story game that somebody came along and tried to shoehorn into a sandbox and then cram full of side games and random things that have nothing directly to do with the story… I’m ambivalent about the sandbox, but I’m enjoying the game.

Worms Battlegrounds is a delightful family couch game. Playing this with the kids gets really competitive. The story is nonsensical but entertaining because Katherine Parkinson really sells the voice over. She makes the wacky writing hysterical with her deadpan delivery. I’ve played every iteration of Worms, and they have improved the gameplay in subtle ways that makes everything faster and deadlier. Either solo or versus, hours will disappear in the same way that a worm does when an enemy drops a stick of dynamite on his head. Enjoy!

What’re you playing these days?

My life in comics.

In the ongoing saga of my life starring in Scott Adam’s imagination… (At the day job, not here at Glacier Peak! Smile with tongue out)

I’ve had this annual review once upon a time, about three years ago. Not fun.

The Official Dilbert Website featuring Scott Adams Dilbert strips, animations and more

I’ve since been MUCH more careful about choosing my managers.

Choosing the right job? Important.

Choosing the right manager? Crucial!

Not having this kind of annual review conversation? Priceless.

This exact experience is the reason why we have adopted a minimalist Employee Handbook™ and a No Annual Review™ process at Glacier Peak. We briefly considered following Nordstrom’s example, but in the end we decided that Nordstrom’s old 75-word employee handbook was too long.

Ours easily fits on the back of a business card: Always do the right thing. If you can defend your actions as an employee of Glacier Peak as “always doing the right thing”, for our customers, for Glacier Peak, for your team, for you, we’ll never have a problem.

And we’ll never have annual reviews.

Winking smile