Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Why We Owe the iPhone to Peter Molyneux

Of all the James Burke-y connections in this world, here's one that I had completely overlooked until recently. We owe almost every interface action we do on our smart phone to the most disappointing game of 2001. 

Allow me to elucidate.

In those heady, pre-9/11 days we gamed. Oh, how we gamed. We played Warcraft before there was a World thereof. We Commanded and we Conquered. We Duned too. We fought any number of AI and human opponents on a screen that represented only a small portion of the world map. And how did we move our little window to the world around? We either used shortcut keys, we clicked a mini-map or we maxed the mouse cursor against a screen edge and the view would magically shift to reveal more in that direction. 

This was completely normal.

Okay, quick. How do you move everything to the left (revealing things hidden to the right) on a smart phone screen? Answer: you hold and swipe left. Sooooooo.... how did that ever become a thing? When did the world start sticking to your finger? Personally, I think it started in March of 2001.

Here, take a sec and watch this video, starting at 6'17". This scene comes from the beginning of Black & White, a god simulator from Peter Molyneux's studio Lionhead.

Did you catch that? Drag the landscape around with the mouse to move. Anyone who grew up using a modern handheld device is saying "I know, right? Big deal." (Actually, nobody who grew up using a modern handheld device is reading a blog so I can probably be as demeaning to that demographic as I want.) Dragging to move is ubiquitous now but back in 2001 it actually took some getting used to. It was new. 

Okay, who cares, right? Well, I do. I have maligned this game since I realized that I blew $50 on a box full of empty promises, but this may actually have been the single more important interface design change of the decade. The iPhone wasn't released until June of 2007. I honestly cannot think of a game that did click and drag to move before Black & White and the whole iPhone experience is predicated on that action.

Okay, so P.Moly did something great. It isn't like he hadn't before. His former studio Bullfrog released Populous, Powermonger, Syndicate, Theme Park, Dungeon Keeper... he has been responsible for some amazing games. These are some of my favorites. 


In Black & White the execution just couldn't keep up with the vision.

You basically play a god in this game, but your primary presence on the earth is a giant monster that you train to be good or evil. They start out small and cute. 
You have to play quite a while before you even get to this
As you train them one way or another they start to take on the appearance of their training. Here, enjoy a picture of a good turtle.
I don't even remember how to get a turtle in the game
Likewise, an evil goat.
I don't remember how to get a goat either

The only problem is that the AI in this game was stooopid. I desperately wanted to think there was a complex system that I just couldn't understand, but in the end I gave that theory up with the realization that this was just a big disappointment.

Granted, it's easy to read intention into observations when you assume there is more depth than there actually is. It's like Eliza with violence.

Go read this:
I'm really hoping your reaction to that was, "Ummm. What?" because that's what a healthy adult should be thinking. That's because you realize that a video game tiger from 2001 does not have sacrificially altruistic motivation. It just has bad AI.

Now go back and read the rest of that entire site, Old Man Murray. The authors are the guys who wrote the script for Portal. I know you won't read it, but I had to try. 

There were other problems with the game.... infuriating design decisions like making you play through an excruciatingly long intro sequence if you want to restart the game with a different monster thingy. Oh, and it got boring fast once the novelty of watching the monster wore off or you chucked all the villagers with names from your Outlook address book into the ocean. (Yes, it read your Outlook address book and names villagers after your contacts. Funny, but a little creepy.)

In the years after abandoning actually playing the game, it has lived on. For years, my coworkers hid the B&W game CD / manual / box in each other's desks/cars/etc. I also have enjoyed torturing my children with the sailor song from B&W. Look it up.

Hyperbolic design claims are what got us the @PeterMolydeux twitter account, which is spot on satire.

On the plus side, B&W gave us the phrase "the fuzzy leash of compassion." I can't say I've ever said it in conversation.

You read the whole thing! Here's a bonus pic of Mr. Molyneux himself.
I can reduce all of human existence to three signed doubles and handful of bools.

And now here's a double bonus pic of John McCain watching a video of someone paying $50 at a Babbage's in the mall for a copy of Black & White in 2001. It might have been me.

Ouch. Right in the funds.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Robotech RPG Tactics: My Field Trip to Palladium

I got an email from Palladium Books that my Robotech RPG Tactics kickstart rewards were ready, and since I was in Michigan I was able to go and just pick them up. Their office in Westland is only about 20 minutes from my house, so today I drove out there. They had all my rewards boxed up and ready to roll for me, but invited me into the warehouse to see things.

Here is a giant pile of game boxes waiting to go to their new homes...

A little further in they had glass display cabinets filled with painted models from the game. (The buildings are apparently from Dropship Commander.)
MAKURO no sora o tsuranuite ...
There were also unpainted versions of some of the other models, including the Monster.
Chikyuu o utta ikazuchi wa ...
 The Zentraedi looked especially nice, all decked out and ready to be shot up.
Warera osanai jinrui ni ...
Some of the models were still resin versions. I got a chance to hold the Miria-type Queadluun Rau. It was surprisingly heavy, but the PVC should be much lighter.
Mezamete kure to hanatareta

What a great bunch of people! Everyone seemed genuinely happy that I was there to pick up my stuff. I talked to Jeff at length about the kickstart, issues with manufacturing, Macross canon, etc. It was huge fun. Here's another great thing... I hadn't planned on doing this today since it's my 20th wedding anniversary. My wife insisted, and said it would be fun. She's a gamer/nerd/geek/whatever so it's not terribly out of domain for her, but miniatures are not really her thing and she wasn't a huge Macross fan. Nevertheless she wanted for us to go and didn't once make me feel like she was doing it under duress. I love that woman!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Recognize Everyone and Communicate Hope

The people from our relatively smallish church got together with friends around the country and world to create this song and video. The goal is to get enough downloads (through CD Baby or other means) to fund our new building with no debt. We've been meeting in school gymnasiums for a decade, and while we actually own land we want to build so that we can continue supporting causes around the community and missions around the world.

So check it out. Share it if that's your sort of thing and if you like what we're doing buy the song for a buck.

The title of this post is our church's motto: REACH (Recognize Everyone and Communicate Hope.) Thanks!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Snow Basing Materials Reference

Inspired by the most recent issue of The Weathering Magazine, I have sought some other solutions for creating snow bases. I had been happy with my techniques, for the most part, but over a few years anything I did with baking soda yellowed. To find something that appeared the way I want and would (hopefully) retain its color over time, I created this reference.


High resolution version available here.

The products are fairly easy to get. The Microballoon filler is commonly used to cut resin to make lighter casts, and it is a very fine powder. Try not to kick it into the air and inhale! The Snow Base is part of a Woodland Scenics "Scene-a-rama" set that includes base, snow flock and some icicle making lacquer in a little paint jar (the kind GW includes with their starter paint sets.)

Interestingly enough, some of the samples changed dramatically in the 24 or so hours between creation and this photograph. The Vallejo Foam Snow sample shrunk, and the Woodland Scenics Snow Base cracked and separated more, although the snow base might not have been adequately mixed for that sample. Some of the microballoon samples lost volume as well. 

Overall, I was most pleased with the simple and cheap mixture of PVA and Woodland Scenics Soft Flake Snow, either just mixed together or mixed and topped with more Flake Snow. The PVA + microballoon mix probably looked the most like a fresh fall of snow at a small scale. The simple PVA topped with Flake Snow would make a good frost cover. Some of the later samples were topped with a mixture of Flake Snow and microballoons to see if the surface texture was dramatically different than using just one or the other, but I don't think the results warranted the trouble. The mixture of all the products led to some different textures, and I would assume that those could to roughened/smoothed with the addition of more of the wet component. 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Bruno! Gobbos! Cupcakes!

You may recall that I was a little miffed recently that I never received my Pirate Gobbos from an IndieGogo campaign a while back. On July 1, I received an unexpected email from the campaign originator, Bruno Galice.
Hi Mike,
The Post Office did return me a whole shipping I did last year (that's more than 90 miniatures sets in more than 60 parcel/letters...) that was somehow lost by them, yours was in, I just resend it to you this morning. I hope you'll receive it !
Keep me posted !
Could it be? Will I finally receive my gobbos? I was cautiously optimistic, but after all the prior near-misses I wasn't exactly excited. A mere six days later I received a padded envelope!
The infamous "box from France" wasn't a box at all!

Inside was the promised two sets of gobbos, along with three sets of gobbo dice (one more than expected!)

The figures themselves look great, and the resin bases are perfectly suited to them.

And now, as promised on the comments of the last post, here is an original illustration of Bruno Galice being wonderful. He is delivering cupcakes to orphans. Spread that joy, Bruno.

Bruno Galice delivering cupcakes to orphans. 1/1

Thursday, May 08, 2014

A Reasonable Comparison

The label may be there but the level of interaction is roughly the same.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Whoa-oh Take The Money And Run

I don't know why, but this just galls me today. Way back in Summer 2012 I was just starting to jump on the crowd-funding bandwagon, and a fellow named Bruno Galice had a campaign on Indiegogo running to produce a small band of pirate goblins sculpted by renowned gobbo sculptor Kev Adams. I pledged, the project funded, and I looked forward to my new gobbos.

Cool concept art! 
The problem is that nothing arrived. In fact, many of the backers reported receiving nothing. I held out hope. Things happen. It's not like nothing had been done on the project, since we had been shown supposed evidence of the sculpting WIP and manufacturing.

First there were sculpts

Then there were more sculpts.

Teasers of what we would be receiving.
Then there were bins of pewter!
Months passed, and still nothing arrived. Multiple emails went unanswered. The Indiegogo message area for the project was filled with people wanting answers for their non-delivery. There were claims that things had been sent but somehow not received. There were claims of illness and accusations of lying and all sorts of drama. All the while I held out hope. It wasn't a huge monetary investment on my part, so I was more than willing to wait however long it took.

The last update from Bruno Galice to backers came in February 2013, in which he claimed that he was sending out another 25 parcels that day. Speculation on the Indiegogo campaign messages ran rampant until the campaign was suddenly missing. I contacted Indiegogo about the sudden disappearance and received this response:
Unfortunately, at this time, the Indiegogo campaign, “Pirate Goblins Box Set”, has been discontinued.
Campaigns may be removed from Indiegogo if the campaign is found in violation of our ToU or at the campaign owner’s request during the review process. You can see our full Terms of Use here:
We have asked the campaign owner, to contact his contributors. Unfortunately, at this point we have not heard back from him and have frozen his account and campaign(s) so that he can no longer use Indiegogo again.
Additionally, you can try reaching out them through their other social media sites.
Okay, then. I continued to attempt to contact Bruno through email. I remained positive, if less so than before. I even offered to pay for shipping if that was a problem (he responded that money was not a problem.) Email after email went unanswered after that. Every day I would get home from work and ritually ask my family, "Box from France?" Every day the answer was no.

Eventually I sent him this email.

Hi Bruno, 
   I just saw a few pictures someone posted on their blog about getting the Pirate Gobbos. I don't really know what's going on with you personally, but I saw that the indiegogo project had been pulled. I would still like to get a set of the goblins when you are able to send them. No hard feelings, no questions asked. Just please don't forget the people waiting on those wonderful little gobbos. 

Soon after, I received this unexpected photo.

For me?!!? Really!!?
What better evidence could I hope for than a photo of my gobbos and an envelope with my name and address? So I waited. And waited. And nothing arrived. 

My final email to Bruno, in my typical non-confrontational manner:
More than three months have gone by since you sent me a photo of the package with my name on it. I never received the goblins. I think I finally believe that I'm never going to get these. Whatever is stopping packages traveling from France to U.S. is impossible to overcome. Thanks for trying.
There was still a part of me that thought staying congenial would lead to me eventually getting the gobbos. It didn't. I will never get them. I have, as they say, been had. 

Maybe a great guy, but don't entrust
him with your money.