Tonight marks the end of an era in more fields than I care to count. The DaVinci of our age is no longer with us and it saddens my heart.
Just a few moments ago I was at the grocery checking out when I heard a woman at the next aisle talking on her cell say "Steve Jobs just died." I had to interrupt her conversation to ask if I heard correctly. I sat there flabbergasted for a spell and then a morose "Shit" worked it's way out of my confusion, the two cashiers staring at me a loss.
Steve Jobs has almost single handedly shaped not only my own view of the world, but my entire generation's. He's a big part of why the geek (present) is new chic. He defined the way I've interacted with media, and therefore large parts of my life (remember the geek bit?) for most of that short time. And lastly he is the messiah of my newly chosen industry: design.
I've been using a Mac since the beginning of high school and Apple products have been I'm my life ever since. I travelled through both New Zeland and Europe with my now decrepit MacBook Pro and an iPod hasnt left my pocket for almost a decade. An iPhone is just around the corner and I'm currently writing to you from my iPod touch. This is change. This is the future. And I've been lucky enough to live through the revolution. From here on in it's just going to get bigger, better and faster but I can proudly tell my grandchildren that "When I was a boy, you went to the computer; not the other way round." Many had envisioned our computing future but Steve brought his idea into reality and humanity as a whole has benefited from his foresight and passion.
So to Steve I say a million thanks and best wishes. Safe travels in the sacred halls of history's grand innovators. Give ol' Tesla a big handshake and share a glass of wine with Plato. And rest assured your hard work has inspired many more to continue to push the boundaries of imagination and the established mega-industries to their limits. I should know. I'm one of them (the inspired, not the corporations).
I know it's been awhile but I'm checking in to spur myself to action. Moved into my new place in Park Slope after a messy and expensive retreat from my sublet. After trying to find a subletter to cover my month of overlap, I discovered a bed bug in my old place! YUCK! Decided it would be best to move and fumigate all my belongings that weekend. After a week of having next to nothing and sleeping on an air mattress I got all my stuff back and am still to unpack. Thankfully, so far it seems I didn't bring the fiendish parasites with me.
I now have the task of unpacking my stuff and organizing my new huge room. It smells a bit musty down here in this basement room, I'll probably need a dehumidifier and some natural light bulbs to make it a bit more hospitable. I'm already around $2k down from the move, exterminations and inspections. Bed bugs are clearly big business! Unfortunately the mess of it all has led me on a "going out" binge this week losing me more money. I need to live more spartan for the foreseeable future as loans creep up.
Project wise works been going great working on odds and ends while we wait to hear back from clients. Getting some great chances to try and learn new technologies. We're also trying to tie our technical resources with those of our London office and I imagine our Durban one eventually. My personal projects haven't progressed much beyond some sketching but I now have a few.
NYC Subway Web Comic
Yogscast Fan Art
Sun Smasher iPhone Game
Touch Up Website
While you wait to hear back about those, check out this awesome song and quirky music video.
Saw a real gem of a place out of the blue tonight right around the corner from where I live. A broker who I had talked to previously but hadn't had much of interest called me unannounced today during work saying he had an appointment set up to view an amazing place in Washington Heights for $2500 (heat and water included of course). He had scheduled the viewing for another client, a NYU professor who was looking for a place for her and her daughter, but they had had a family emergency (my condolences) and had to cancel. Knowing I was looking for a three bedroom he called and boy am I glad he did. The photos speak for themselves:
This place is amazing in terms of layout, space and overall size. The building has no history of bed bugs but does have a number of other complaints (mainly dealing with structural or heat problems) in other units but none specific to this one. The appliances all look pretty new and its got a dishwasher (SCORE!). Laundry in the building plus an elevator, though I'd only ever use it to get to the basement laundry room.
On the downside, Washington Heights is not renowned for its safety or nightlife. Personally, I feel plenty safe here as its a very family centered neighborhood; I see little kids out and about till pretty late along with their parents and even grandparents. Perhaps very late at night it can get a bit sketchy but this is NYC after all. As to nightlife, the fact that two main subway lines are on your door and getting downtown takes a half hour to an hour tops means the city's your playground (plus this place is so big I could definitely see myself entertaining guests and/or parties). Worst case scenario, I'd be here a year and then choose a nice area from a list like this.
I asked the current tenant if they liked living there and the only complaint they had was that occasionally they had to file a noise complaint because of people hanging around outside the window under the scaffolding around the building, probably since its a dead end making it a good place to congregate. However, because the building's on a slope, most, if not all, the windows are above eye level of the street which is nice (plus they're barred of course). Stupidly, I forgot to ask specifically why they weren't renewing but since she looked to be in my age group and her only grievance was some street noise, I assume her and her roommates are moving on to other things. They might have even been students (which would explain the September lease and her comrades' departures).
Of course I am a bit biased since I already live in the area. In fact I'm currently so close that I only need to rent a dolly or shopping cart to move all my stuff over the block and a half. I was looking forward to maybe trying a new neighborhood but I haven't even been here six months and this place is definitely a diamond in the rough, literally.
I've put down a small deposit and I told the broker I'd let them know if we're going ahead by the time I get off work tomorrow at 6pm. If so I'll get the rest of the first payment (first months, security and fee which is only an extra month) as a certified check to them later that afternoon. I was ready to wait a month and let my roommates look for sublets but this place is just so amazing. It actually feels like a home; a place I'd want to live and stay!
Hope you all agree with me.
Firstly I'd like to thank Geekadelphia for their great Limitless contest awhile back and for rewarding me with the prize (a copy of the book, a handy water bottle and free passes). While I never got to use the movie passes, I use the water bottle all the time and just finished reading the book following it up with the recent film. I feel like I came across this book at a perfect time because its focus has been on my mind for quite awhile and, in fact, a good part of college: what is the role and morality of intellectual juicing?
In brief, Limitless is the story of Eddie Spinola, a deadbeat writer who's clearly circling the drain in his lower east side hole-in-the-wall apartment. One day he runs into his ex-wife's brother, Vernon Gant, who offers him a new pseudo-legal drug, MDT (or NZT in the film, we'll go by the former). Eddie gets hooked after his first hit but when he goes back to Gant for more, he finds him dead in his apartment. After calling the police, Eddie finds Gant's stash, managing to hide it before the cops' arrival. Over the next few months, Eddie becomes dependent on MDT as he finishes his book, begins day trading and eventually works his way up to working for Van Loon, a fictional Trump-Buffet amalgam. However with this success comes a series of debilitating side effects including black outs, aggression and dependency unto death. Meanwhile, Eddie has been juggling his new corporate life of success and his increasingly complicated relationship with a Russian mobster, Gennady, who he initially loaned money from at the start of his trading days. The only problem is Gennady managed to steal some MDT and is now hooked. As a major merger at Van Loon's offices comes to head, Eddie begins tracing MDT back to its origin finding a variety of successful people all in hospital or dead from withdrawal. This intricate conspiratorial web eventually leads back to some of the highest tiers of government in this slightly alternate history of Mexican invasion. Eddie returns to his new $9.1 million pad one day to find it ransacked and his last remaining MDT supply gone. Just at that moment, Gennady comes to collect his weekly dose leading to a dramatic confrontation where Eddie stabs him in the chest getting away with what few pills he had on him. Eddie high tails it for a remote motor lodge in Vermont where he writes the tale we've just read as the last few hours of his MDT high fade into migraines, coughing and death. As he drifts off into a coma, he sees the President declaring war on Mexico, an MDT glean in his eyes.
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Government super-drug and cult conspiracies aside, I found the book a very good read. The involvement of the powers on high seems to be thrown in at the last minute to add yet more scale to the already bracing story but is never fleshed out satisfactorily and comes off feeling unwarranted if not absurd. However two themes the book touches on and relies on to hook the reader are definitely in the forefront of my mind as of late:
The morality of mental juicing:
One could argue we've been doing this since man found caffeine. But what constitutes an acceptable enhancer of intellect. Clearly MDT is a fantastic sort of Aderrall and Speed all in a deadly hit and we can probably all agree that the idea of anyone using such a drug, especially those in positions of power (who, if we assume MDT exists, would logically be the addicts), is abominable. While I acknowledge that I maintain a fairly strict moral view, even the use of Adderall by acquaintances in college before exams and papers seemed dubious at best. In my mind, I draw direct parallels to sports: the moment even one athlete begins to use Steroids, the value and meaning of the entire athletic competitive system begins to lose meaning. Similarly, how is anyone to compete with the drug-fueled focus of Aderrall except by either taking it themselves or be an utter freak (which I am proud to say I sometimes am though not half as often as I'd like).
Of course what is most disturbing is that not only has this not truly hindered sports to any great degree, a few headlines aside, but in fact the opposite has happened. There are entire cultures and communities built around juicing. One could even say certain sports now support, or at least demand it to succeed despite their drug screening protocols. Who's to say that such a mirrored mental culture won't soon grow? Perhaps in some backroom hacker cult it has already begun. If anyone were to begin such a group, I can think of no better candidates than the network obsessed denizens of the dark, who most likely already have a prescription, their ailment being the same reason they love computers so much. And herein lies my first major problem with Dark Fields' film adaptation.
Obviously since it's a film adaptation they pare the Van Loon story line down while emphasizing a single love story and the Russian mobster angle for action. I felt this was all done well and managed to sum up the books many plot lines into the three core arcs: love, action and business. However, the pseudo-epilogue threw all this great editing to wind. Somehow Cooper manages to not only overcome his addiction but also retain his abilities, get the girl and 'defeat' Van Loon all in one fell swoop. This, of course, glorifies his use of the drug. Its as if at the end of a long history of steroid use, a body builder managed to maintain his physique and the girth of his testicles; it makes no sense and it sends the wrong message.
In the book, Eddie ends up alone in the countryside, writing his manifesto in the hours before his hit wears off, killing him. This sends the exact opposite, not to mention deeper, message. Is the fact that this movie preaches the goodness of using mental enhancing drugs a sign that society has come to accept such abuses? I hope not, but then again, I try and only drink coffee when I'm actually tired.
Cosmic Fate v. the Chemical Factory
What my alliteration is trying to summarize is mentioned several times in the book though never truly delved into to any meaningful extent. Are human decisions and actions products of our own making and/or fate or are they simply the result of chemical reactions in the brain. Thankfully I've read and studied a bit on the topic in 13 Things That Don't Make Sense as well as a couple of philosophy courses I took in college. While we all would like to think that we actually think and make meaningful decisions, what little I know about the brain combined with what I am continually learning about the power of computing has led me to firmly believe that our actions and decisions are indeed simply products of a complex neurological process. However I fail to understand why so many people think this is a bad thing or are even scared to admit this. Such a proposition in no way devalues our actions for each of our brains are a completely unique and utterly inconceivably complex tangle of circuitry that we've slowly fostered since birth. The way two people process the same exact event will be completely different. Add to this the readings of Descrates' Error and the idea of distilling this process down to interactions on a computer chip vanishes into the very distant future, Moore's law be damned.
Studies have shown, according to 13 Things, that there is a measurable amount of time before we are aware of making a decision or action where are brain has already fired, determining that realization. If you think about this, this makes complete sense; how else could we be aware of a decision until our brain decided to let our consciousness in on it. The only other options are either that such decision-making comes from an inexplicable third source outside of the brain or we could somehow trace and be aware of our mental gears turning (see the fundamental NP-complete problem). In Descartes' Error, Damasio (and excuse me if I am remembering incorrectly) essentially concludes that brain function is an incredibly intricate dance between brain and body where the actual neurons just make up a fraction of the overall process, though granted an important one. Each act by the brain is in turn dependent on a series of factors and interactions with the rest of body communicated through the blood, nervous system and state of the other vital organs. In unscientific terms, we can all associate with this. That hollow pit in your stomach when nervous. That sense of lift in your chest when you see your loved one. Or for me, the tingly dryness on the top of my mouth when I see a woman who makes me nervous.
When it comes to it, its hard to imagine thought without the rest of your body. Which is why anyone who tells me they can't wait to have their brain uploaded to the mastermind is missing the point; the sooner they're plugged in the better. While information is good and dandy, life is about living and living is intrinsically tied to a physical body. Even if we assume we could somehow simulate all the necessary body interactions in a computer, how can we simulate natures way of limitless change and evolution. Some things are just too unpredictable in my opinion but talk to me again in 20 years when the people who actually know what they're talking about have sorted out both neurology and artificial intelligence.
In sum, I liked Dark Fields as it got me thinking about some really cool things. In fact sitting here, typing away till 2am I almost feel like I'm on MDT myself (I thank my lovely brain). Besides some New York Times best-seller hints near the end, it was a provocative book. The film was equally engaging and I especially liked how they put the "trip" on film. The deep zoom shots through New York City were worth the hour and a half in and of themselves. But ultimately I find it funny that the film is directly at odds with its source material when it comes to message. Makes me wonder if some MDT junkies are up there in Hollywood as I type. I guess the real question one has to ask themselves is: if I had a limitless quantity of MDT, would I take it?....(a tentative) yes.
So I finished my project...well sorta. I got it to a good working point after much work and submitted it. I definitely plan on coming back to it. Firstly I'd like to completely redo the design to make it a bit more accessible. Then I need to add the many features discussed in previous posts. So stick tuned here!
You may have also noticed (though I doubt anyone reads this but I'm going to keep it up to keep motivated on my own projects) that I've changed to title. The title, "The Graduate Mechanism," is in keeping with my company's, The Mechanism's current move to start a series of micro-sites and such all involving some sort of mechanism. Seeing as how I just started working there and just graduated, it was either "graduate" or "n00b."
Going to be part of the MP3 Experiment down in Battery Park. Looking forward to it, I've never been part of a flash mob. Gotta go downtown to get a few last minute props as well as do some other shopping odds and ends. This week was a bit stressful since my roommate and I were still sorting out the money situation for the whole lock malfunction business that happened last weekend. The stress really got to him and well both of us. All Friday I thought things were going to get really dicey but it turned out we had both just been confused by each other's texts and everything is now sorted. Joy!
Just waiting for my headphones to get back from the warranty place, the right ear bud broke after a tiny tug and there was no visible damage. They were only 6 months old! Hopefully they'll send a new pair soon!
Lastly Jared sent me this awesome MTA contest link. Definitely something I should try to do in my free time since I've gotten pretty good at Appcelerator Titanium since starting work (which is going splendidly I may add). Now I just need to peruse their available data and methods to see what kind of fly ass stuff I could do...hmmm...
So I got my four planets, my two suns and my three backgrounds plus menus! Not too shabby especially considering I got all three damage states for each planet. However all that art took a long time so looks like sound, options and level tracking will be left on the cutting room floor for this release. I plan on getting it to at least a couple friends tomorrow to at least write about what improvements should be made even if I can't make them. Hopefully there'll be a few minor ones I can implement realistically.
I think I should have time to create a pause menu that will come up when you click on the sun in the scene. Clever huh. Of course I don't really have time to create a tutorial screen though maybe I'll have a simple label window pop up when you hit config? We'll see what I have time for.
My main problem has been staying focused on the project since I'm doing everything myself. If I were just responsible for the code or art it would be much easier. But since I have to do everything, I find it hard to get started since its so overwhelming and across the board kind of work. Especially now that I'm trying to get everything to a presentable level. I feel like at the moment the game might be too difficult/easy since there's only the one weapons and I've had to make the planets a lot smaller to allow more than a couple on screen. If I had more time, I'd make sever sized versions of each so as you progress the scale starts to feel larger and larger even though the navigation remains fixed. This should be pretty easy to do down the line but its tedious time consuming work I don't have time for right now. I remember a lot of my time at Mindsnacks was just dealing with scaling, reformatting, renaming the assets I created. Thank god for Automator but it was still tedious.
Sadly my Mac is on its last legs. The laptop display is pretty much unusable so I'm restricted to my external monitor alone. Hoping to get an Asus Eee Slate if Microsoft stocks them back in their store so I can get a free 360 (it's part of their back to college deal and I still have a edu address: shhh don't tell!).
After I finish this, hopefully tonight, I'll have to really cram on my independent study but that's just a pass/fail elective so I'm not too worried. I figure as long as I show I worked on it it should be fine since I decided to invest my time in this project which actually matters to me, my grade and my major.
Oh one interesting art note that cropped up during design which I hadn't considered: what angle should the planets be viewed from? Obviously the game itself is in a top down perspective on the system. However my assets are all side on since its more interesting and easier to discern. I figured seeing a bunch of polar caps and concentric circles wouldn't be very interesting so I guess I every system you're destroying has a wonky Uranus like axial tilt (which is parallel to the solar plane). Hell, maybe that's why you're destroying them! Ha!
Almost done with the asset production. Got two suns done. And now I just need to do the planets and finish up the post level menu and I'll be done. Then throwing the assets in should be fairly simple. Finally I'd like to run the "final" product by a couple of people, get some feedback and tweak some odds 'n' ends. Onto work tomorrow and then my voxel renderer.
So finally got to the design! And now I'm super rushed so I really don't have as much time as I'd like so I'm just figuring it out as I go. I scrapped the cool vector/neon over realism feel I had in my initial mockups since it requires a lot more precise design and because I have many fewer screen elements in the current version of the game (no weapons, navigation, etc). Maybe in future versions I can go back to that but for the moment I've gone with something easy and that I know: grungy Sci-fi a la Gears of War. Looks good but I've never been a fan of games that go for the "realistic" look on these small platforms since they never come across very well (with rare exceptions of course). But again, doing anything else would require more time on my part to develop and implement a style. Maybe some day in the future.
Here's a video showing how it functions and some pics so you can actually see it, damn camera! However, I found that turning the FPS to 15 decreased that annoying flicker. Cheers!
As for the back story I mentioned in the above video here it is roughly:
Your home planet, cradle to a great and advanced civilization, has developed a method for getting unlimited energy from its Sun by harvesting it directly from the star itself! However, no one knew that that such cannibalism carried a heavy cost. After centuries of this practice and a rocketing population, your sun is beginning to behave strangely, affecting the environment on the planets in your capital system. Not to mention the increased solar flare activity which has been rocketing the many large orbiting satellite colonies in the system.
You are the vanguard of an effort to stop this runaway disaster. As part of a fleet of sun-eating ships, it is your job to clear away all the planets in the target systems so that the other larger sun-eaters can siphon energy off of the stars for your home system. The sun-eating tech requires a lot of room and no disturbance, so the planets must be demolished or, better yet, fed to their star. However, the sun-eaters are still many lightyears away. Your simply clearing a path on orders. Parked in deep orbit in each system's Oort cloud (that's the cloud of asteroids and crap in deep orbit around our Sun), you gather the detritus of each system's ancient birth and hurl them with unimaginable force at each planet to destroy each, one by one. When your work is done, you move on to the next system, never questioning your orders.
Little do you know your mission was compromised decades ago as time sped by as you flew from your home, faster than light...relativity's a bitch. Something sinister is at work, the only evidence; dust and dead suns.
I like this story arc though I doubt I'll be able to work it into this early version of the game. However, it's great since sequels could easily involve the other major ships: the Sun-Eaters (in this one your a Sun-Smasher obviously), combat and more. God I love my imagination sometimes, I go very cool places!
Well I'm going to call it people! The game mechanics are working just fine. I'm going to now try to get it on the device tonight and make sure it runs all right. I'll also put it through the analyzer to make sure there are no major memory issues or the like. I have today and tomorrow to work on the assets. Then it'll take around a day or so to throw them all in along with any basic sprite animations I might want to consider (e,g rotations, scaling and translation -- no actual animation for now). If I have time I might try and implement some layered sprites (planet and shadow for instance). Sound is a whole other beast however.
Some other features that I may reasonably be able to implement but am leaving on the cutting room floor for now:
- Storing your high score
- Level selection
- Options (don't know what I'd put on there though)
- Pause Menu
As much as I'd like to add sound, I'm a little afraid of all the extra tweaking that will require. However, if it turns out to be easy I might go ahead and do it. At the very least I'll try and find some spacey Creative Commons licensed music to play at all times. The options menu could allow you to turn it off and on.
Concerning the style/design, I am quite fond of the realistic style I showed during the Alpha. Bonus: I already have three assets to throw in after some tweaking. Con: They'll have to be static aside from maybe some rotation which means the shadows, which are what make them look so good, are going to have to either be stationary or removed and added later as a transparent sprite over top. Obviously the latter would be a good deal of work. For now I think I'll just Have the static shadows but make my files so its easy to remove them and save separately if I can figure out animating the shadows. I feel like having the planet rotate under a static shadow I align to point away from the Sun could look awesome!
For now my goal is to create:
- 4-5 Planets each with 1-3 damage states
- 2 Suns possibly with a glow or flare layer to animate on top
- 3 Outer space backgrounds (Deep Space, Meteor Belt, Nebula)
- 1 Ship/Turret that points towards your shot
- 2 Bullets (abstract glowing photon torpedo kind of things)
- Main Menu buttons - Play, Level Select, Options (only Play will work for now and the background can be one of the space images)
Please enjoy this video of the game mechanics below! The reason you see levels "over lapping" like that is because I have no background set. Easily fixed. I would like to find out if I can have everything shift over as if we are warping from one part of space to the other.
Splendid progress going on. Quick post as to not break my workflow. Collisions are now finished. The handlers were pretty easy to set up since Chipmunk takes care of a lot of stuff for you. I extended the shape class to simply have an extra "life" float that I can deduct from and when it reaches 0, the planet is destroyed. Later I could even do cool stuff like calculate damage based on the force exerted in contact. For now each shot or contact with another planet deducts a set amount of life so each planet can take about three hits. The hardest part was figuring out how to clean out all three parts of each planetoid: the sprite, body and shape. My subclass Planetoid worked great since I wrote my own dealloc method that took care of everything for me on every call (however for collisions I had to do it manually since they only return the shape. Note to self for future reference, shapes store their related object and sprite mainly negating the benefit of Planetoid).
I'm now working on level generation using a .plist since it seems the simplest to implement. Its a small XML based text file bundled with the app and in it I'm storing two arrays: "High Scores" and "Levels." "Levels" contains sub-arrays filled with yet further sub-arrays of planets and their properties. And "High Scores" contains, you guessed it, the high scores feature which I am as of yet to implement. However, I'm already calculating the total number of shots fired and the number of planets is evident. I'll probably work out some sort of scoring function as a product of the two variables. I think I good scoring function is as follows (where 'n' is the number of planets in the level and 'm' is the number of shots fired over the course).
- 100% : m <= n + 2
- 0% : m > 3n
I think its safe to assume that on most levels, if you do it right, you should be able to get all planets down in about one shot per planet give or take two shots. Likewise if you hit each planet three times to destroy it that's the worst solution. One edge case scenario I haven't yet considered is what happens if a planet gets knocked into a high or highly eccentric orbit such that it's never on screen? I assume this should count as a planet destroyed but its a hard edge-case to check for.
I've had some drawing issues since I'm currently drawing the bullet path using OpenGL directly. I'd like to be able to have this path be low opacity but changing the alpha blending function then messes with the sprite 2D texturing causing them to become boxes. For now I'm going to try adjusting the colors to look like they're blending or I might try spawning sprites instead of drawing, however I feel like that would be way to costly.
Gameplay-wise I've been thinking I'll shift the entire puzzle part over and away from the firing spot to make it a bit more challenging. Plus I think a neat future ability would be to warp to the other side of the solar system for left/right handed people or to get a well aligned shot off. Now that I'm coming to the end, at least for now, of the game mechanic implementation I'd like to enumerate some future features that probably won't make it into my turned in version:
- Multiple weapons (laser, shotgun, explosives, etc.)
- Control over scene view (magnification, panning, etc.)
- Shrapnel on planet destruction (not in Sun)
- Dynamic damage based on impact strength and other forces (bullet speed -> using gravity to increase damage!)
- Game Center High Scores
- Animated sprites (explosions, sun flares, meteors, etc.)
I'm still hoping I'll have enough time to add some basic sounds and such. It really depends on how long the asset creation and then implementation takes. I really want to do some basic sprite animation using the cocos2 actions which are a breeze but will take a good chunk of time. Plus I still need to code in the whole post-level score screen dialogue and a tutorial of some description. Once I have my .plist integration working I'm going to try getting in on the device and seeing how smoothly it runs before getting into further level and asset creation. If only I'd worked this hard the entire time!!! Thank god I didn't try and finish during the year however, would've been a nightmare.
PS: I hope Joe or Norm is reading this. I'm moving to NYC on the 17th but my apartment doesn't have internet set up so it'll be at least a few days before I can start really working again which is why I want to be more or less done by then. I'm hoping to have internet there by the end of that following week but between that, setting up in a new place and my independent credit (god help me) I'm not sure what will happen. My hope is to at least get it into a few friends hands and get some feedback/questionnaires out for the data portion of the project. I'm mainly worried about the independent credit since I really need to do it on my PC and without internet I'm afraid of the intractable problems I might run into. Wish me luck!