Max Analysis

May 21st, 2015 by harold

Well that was good entertainment for sure. I really recommend not watching trailers.

Mad Max Fury Road is efficient. Mad Max Fury Road just does what you don’t expect because we’ve been used to stupid characters and stupid situations. I kind of blame Marvel for that. Those action movies are wordy motherfuckers and kind of lame, let’s face it. I say this because having a woman with her own agency in a story shouldn’t be amazing. That she’s better than Max at most things shouldn’t be something fantastic it happens everyday in the real world, boo.

It’s not so much how Mad Max is good, it’s more like how other movies suck hard on this.

Mad Max 2015 conveys meaning with silence and hell I wish most action games were taking notes on that. Shut Up, stop trying to make characters deep by transforming them into motor mouths. I don’t care if it cuts the voice over budget in half, STFU and please let me sink into information scarcity, let me build the story in my mind, let me fill in the blanks. Expect that I’m smart. It feels good.

Visually well it’s perfectly crafted post-apocalyptic design. and I can see the Hokuto No Ken and Rage influences who have been influenced by 30 year old Mad Max movies. I love witnessing the aesthetic waltz between medium and years.


Rage, Id Software, 2011.

My argument with action movies and CGI is that those movies should be full 3D. Come on: there’s no acting in Mad Max Fury Road that we cannot do very beautifully in 3D. Looking at the horizon or looking determined is no acting skills. That’s acting.

Also we always detect the green screen on those medium shots. It kills my vibe. I am happy to read that George Miller thought of making this movie a 3D animated movie back in 2009 (he knows damn well that someone dying on set isn’t worth it and he got lucky as hell in the past stunt wise). I mean the movie was supposed to be shot in 2001 but couldn’t for various reasons. They had to wait, just to be able to shoot in Namibia for example.

There is no such thing as waiting for a country to allow you to shoot when you’re doing CGI. No stunt injury or death. There’s no convoluted editing because you have to mix green screen, CGI and stunts. There are shots that probably would have been better if the camera had been free to fly around a scene where you can do whatever you want.

Nonetheless, George nails it as close to the metal as possible.

Classic Ron

May 19th, 2015 by harold

I’m the player who smiles at your story and attempt to make it serious-like-movie-serious. I’m the player who presses whatever key to skip anything that is not gameplay. I’m the player who doesn’t read/listen to any existential shout outs between characters.

I so do not want to run that errand for that generic, lifeless NPC who’s talking and who I don’t listen  to. Having said that, there’s someone who makes me want to follow the story and read everything:

Ron Gilbert.

I mean, I’m not the only one and Ron got me when I was a kid so I guess he’s like that uncle who tells stories better than anyone in the family and I’m looking forward to the time when he’ll tell a new one. I think there’s a formula:

Mysterious agency and unexpectedness

I think Ron is like the Coen brothers: the basic plot is always simple but the way it will be treated will be good. You know it’s going to feel different. You know Ron treats you like an adult. Thimbleweed Park, his last game: Thimbleweed Park is the curious story of two washed up detectives called in to investigate a dead body found in the river just outside of town. […] Meanwhile, on the 13th floor of the Edmund hotel, Franklin wakes up with no idea how he got there. But that’s not the weird part. The weird part is that he’s dead. Spoiler: He’s not the body found just outside of Thimbleweed Park. Wow! That’s confusing. Don’t panic, we’re just as confused as you are. All about the journey and not the destination kind of design. I’m sold already.

Humor

Probably the hardest part. Ron uses that “90s Simpsons” style that always has been extremely efficient, regardless of where you’re from: The Simpsons probably aired there and you probably liked it. You know, the stupid puns and funny little phrases and regular pop culture jabs. The English non-sense, satire all the way… Very efficient stuff and I insist on the international traction at least for my generation. And what is great and that most people miss with humor and story based games is that it functions as a mechanic/reward: you explore dialogue and it’s going to end with a something funny, you smile next time you’ll try another branch.

In serious games with serious scenarios, you just go for the obvious and move on. It’s anti-exploratory. Humor solves that in a very elegant way. It is however really hard not to have a patchwork of different humor that works more or less like in most games.

I think those two marks are also parts of why Kentucky Route Zero is fantastic or how Oxenfree sounds pretty awesome though both are darker in tone.

This is the puzzle dependency/story chart for Thimbleweed, still in development. Ron says it’s the most complex he’s ever done. The development blog shows once again how making games is hard, even with a “simple”, old school adventure game. $0.6M is not much to build everything around that chart and make it come true.

Adventure games have a lot more to share with us. We need more awesome authors like Ron.

Deceptive

May 14th, 2015 by harold

That’s the word describing what most of the tech world –devices, apps, services- leans to, a bit too much. It annoys me.

Let’s take the example of Uber. I use their service a lot, over 100 rides in a year. Love the diversity of drivers, always nice people and great experiences I could be an ambassador for that service right? No. They use deceptiveness as a business model: drivers are made to believe that they make money when it’s becoming harder and harder, and users are made to believe that prices are cheap when Uber is using that surge BS as often as they can: they know that people order their rides right before leaving so if they push a surge, there’s a huge chance that people will pay more. There is no such thing as supply/demand through the invisible hand, Uber tricks everyone for their own valuation’s sake. They have all the data. Uber’s valuation is about to hit $50 billion. It was $330 million four years ago.

And that’s what is so fucking wrong. So much of that new technology could empower people and make them live better lives but so much is done by design to milk the shit out of our credit cards, very quickly. F2P comes to mind. Phone carriers and smartphones. And you know where that control-freak worship-me attitude, make insane profits culture comes from?

Apple. 2003. iPod/iTunes.

All tech companies in the world are copying that model, that vertical model. They want those trillions or whatever. Twitter exploded thanks to its openness towards developers and once they went public, they screwed them all and still do. Google with Android has been deceptive, open source bla bla but it quickly moved to third gear and locked everything down once their mobile system was big enough for them to impose policies. Facebook’s algorithm, talk about bullshit. Microsoft has been the least deceptive (services available on all platforms, opening up .NET etc.) which is why Wall Street blasts them, why people think they’re weaker and why they’re fine by me.

It comes down to this: you don’t have to use deceptiveness to make a nice profit. You do that to make insane money via valuation, by locking people down and sucking as much as possible from them by sort of lying to them.

From 2000 to 2005, all that tech –feeds, location-based, miniaturization- was being created and true, most people had no idea how to monetize that. But it first empowered people and made them dream of a not so distant future where it would simply make our lives better, not transform us into brainless “fans” of a brand.

About 10 years of signup login and FOMO and Fear Of Not Being Able To through deceptive designs and companies abusing us by saying that they are changing the world with their services while they are mostly making us weak, dependent. And people play the game, get mad when a platform gets an app they had “exclusively” on theirs.

This all vibe needs to stop.

Housing is everything

May 12th, 2015 by harold

Sure this is a lot of text but here’s Barack Obama on Baltimore. He didn’t look amused:

“This is not new. This has been going on for decades. And without making any excuses for criminal activities that take place in these communities, we also know if you have impoverished communities that have been stripped away of opportunity, where children are born into abject poverty, they’ve got parents, often because of substance abuse problems or incarceration or lack of education, and themselves can’t do right by their kids, if it’s more likely that those kids end up in jail or dead than that they go to college. And communities where there are no fathers who can provide guidance to young men, communities where there’s no investment, and manufacturing’s been stripped away, and drugs have flooded the community and the drug industry ends up being the primary employer for a lot of folks. In those environments, if we think that we’re just going to send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise there without, as a nation, and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity, then we’re not going to solve this problem. And we’ll go through this same cycles of periodic conflicts between the police and communities, and the occasional riots in the streets and everybody will feign concern until it goes away and we just go about our business as usual.”

Housing is the start. Good housing => stability => wealth => wealth transfer. This is how  white people have been able to mechanically triple their wealth in the past thirty years.

Housing is even more essential to future wealth now because jobs simply disappear and that’s a trend that is not going to slow down. That’s the massive difference with the 60s and civil rights movements. As Paul Coates remembers:

“What was the environment like back then? Black folks were suffering. But conditions were a lot different then. I don’t think, for example, many people had a problem finding jobs. Maryland had a strong industrial base. Baltimore was a port city. There were active shipyards here. There were major industries in Baltimore—steel mills, clothing factories, tire companies.”

Exactly. You could work at a gas station and be home owner I mean I’m gen X and it makes me salivating to think about something like that.

So even if in those times things were hard people had something to sustain themselves, build/buy their house, aim for something bigger, which is part of happiness. Having plans, son. That feels great.

Today even with the best of luck and financial support and good start in life, shit is tight. Everything can change real quick.

So housing is the start of everything good, still today, even more tomorrow. You have your crib, you can take care of your children and the rest is history, they’ll do fine and will overcome. Or at least, they have the best starter kit.

I feel like sustainable and affordable housing is far, far more important than any mandatory body camera on cops or college courses ever will in the long term. Fair housing policies would massively change the social landscape in two generations.

The good news is we can do that now, cheap. We can build nice homes for the price of a SUV.

The bad news is, no one connects the dots. The bad news is that there’s little to no profit to make. I know right?

The arcade but like a comic book store

May 9th, 2015 by harold

Just read that article on Why the Comic Book Store Just Won’t Die. I kind of extrapolated to computer games stores. Both thrive on niches and fandom. Computer games culture is 90% online now and there are many reasons to make that culture more of a local, real life thing.

So we had arcades back in the day. They were cool but dirty and exclusive, the business model doesn’t work with today’s world.

NY in the 80s 355
Bros and sticks

There has been a resurrection of arcades as barcades, which are pretty fun. I went a couple times to the one downtown LA and it’s great but in a way it doesn’t cover all computer game activities. It’s not centered around game culture, it’s using it.

What’s so great with comic book stores it’s their diversity in content. Anything for anyone, curated by unique humans. I think we need to make computer games something we can discuss and try outside our devices in our living rooms, browsing the internet while machines stupidly try to understand what game we would like to play.

Computer games shouldn’t be only played drinking beers in the evening. We play anytime. We should have computer game stores where we can chill and try out games with headphones on, really enjoying the process of trying something new, sharing impressions with other players directly and not through a text box and threads.

It shouldn’t be about finishing games so much than it is about enjoying playing games and ultimately buying them. Tons of comics and books are read and not finished by people all the time. Some games are way better once you’re invincible. What I’m saying is, to get a “better” computer game culture we need to focus on play more than win, hardcore punishment, twitch reflexes, etc.

If I could have a computer game store here in LA… The main floor would be dedicated to discuss and play games casually in bean chairs and classic desktop settings. Downstairs would be the action room: a 10 seat LAN setup (CS:GO), a big console setup for AAAs and a couple of MAME arcade machines meant to be brutalized like in the good old days (standing up and mashing those buttons is part of computer games DNA to me), maybe a couple pinballs because those are the shit.

This way I could talk Minecraft mods with a son, install that Contraption Maker game on a mom’s laptop, recommend Snakebirds or Gunpoint to a daughter, talk LAN games strategy with teenagers or what it takes to make that AAA game look like that or how the demoscene in Europe influenced tons of developers in the 1990s hey come back, I’m not done!

Now that’s culture. We need real, non-digital stores like this.

Mad and Furious

May 8th, 2015 by harold

Composed and produced October 2014.

I don’t think you are

April 29th, 2015 by harold

I wonder if I keep coming back to wanting to play Counter-Strike and old school shoot ‘em ups because those games taught me to be a much, much better navigator in crowded spaces.

I’m not in the mood of playing Bloodborne because oppressing atmosphere+dying every 90 seconds is not what I want when in real life it’s open season on black people. I can’t be in the mood.

Going from there, I feel like escapism is… Ambiguous. Games are so good at that though. We just “try” and then it’s three, four hours later. And then we’re just kind of confused and weirdly satisfied?

The Indie Soapbox this year had Jenova Chen wonder about what’s going on with games and if he is asking too much, wanting them to be more than what they are now.

You know something with a big, positive impact culturally and socially? Really memorable, across generations games? Are we doing this with or without competitiveness? How? Very difficult questions to answer.

In progress

April 25th, 2015 by harold

It’s been a little intense in the past few weeks. Things got cancelled, people quit, I didn’t get a job that I was eyeing hard and as too often in this economy or world I don’t know, I just don’t know where I failed, where I can improve. Things looked pretty good, on my way to the third interview aka the Final Stage but yeah, nope. There will be other opportunities. Time to regroup and breathe.

Still watching or not watching those videos of black people getting murdered, brutalized, killed. Everyday. My mind becomes an anechoic chamber. Not a single white person talks to me about that, I can tell it’s not even on their radar. Not even a little, two minute chat where I can hear a white person tell me “yeah, this is fucked up” so that I don’t feel like we’re against each other. Black people are on the edge and you keep looking away. I feel like this summer is going to be crazy and desperate.

Of course this stays here or locked up in my mind and I just act as if all of that wasn’t happening most of the time. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a good thing to lie to and convince myself that everything is cool, everything is awesome when I have tangible proof that it’s fucking not.

Sorry! I forgot to breathe.

The other day:

Stuck dad
Yes, I stopped and helped him too.

That clueless old white man got his car back on the road thanks to five black and brown young people pushing his ass back in the parking lot. I thought it was consistent with the world we’re living in.

From good design to bad design to business

April 25th, 2015 by harold

I just saw Windows 10 Mobile screenshots and oh god no.


8 on the left, 10 on the right. The blue squares don’t stay this way once you have a couple pictures. They show up and make it look good, son. Personally, the 80s desktop real file looking icon has to disappear. 2015 ffs.

I have been using Windows phones since early 2011. The stark design and simplicity of the OS have been fantastic to me. Not only competition never looked attractive –kind of a first time ever with MS products-, competition started to seriously look like my phone with iOS 7 and whatever Android version brought the square and flat design all over the place. I would stop on gadget blogs and be like “wait, is this on WP?”.

I think the WP design team was far ahead and still is in their vision.

The Mad Men & Women of the Windows Phone design studio
Yep 20 people, 8 women. Almost parity. I don’t know, it feels right.

Good design makes a product useful.

All the built-in features of WP makes it extremely useful without downloading apps, out of the box. It is good design to integrate services like they did in the people hub, how the Facebook chat is baked in –you don’t have to use it-, the possibility to update multiple social network at once etc. Think about it: no app to search for, no website to visit to look at the offer, no app to install, no app to learn, no app to update. It’s just a login/pwd and there you go, your content, contacts etc. Imagine today something like Ello instead of having to use a terrible web app you would just login and update on your phone exactly like you do with other networks.

This is good design.

Of course, business and strategy wise that’s not making anyone happy but Microsoft. And the user. Because partners complained and don’t want to depend on MS, Microsoft successively took those features away with 8.1 and now Windows 10. So you have to download “official” apps now, for everything.

I haven’t updated yet.

Good design helps us to understand a product.

Icons are stupid. There, I said it. Icons regardless of how good they look, always have to be guessed. Or need text. WP went brutal on this: TEXT. No visual distraction. It’s very bold but one thing is sure: you know exactly what you’re doing and what you’re clicking. It is honest. Good design is honest, doesn’t try to impress you with busyness.

Good design is unobtrusive.

Which is not the case with notification centers and red dots of FOMO and battery %. That shit is obtrusive! It is telling you constantly “watch me, hey, hey, look something happen, look bright colors, emergency hey hey”. WP design is all about opting in. Yes, you have to choose to unlock your screen to look at notifications. Immediacy is not the only thing that matters in the world, far from that actually.

Good design is as little design as possible.

And that’s where I see WIndows 10 going all Frankenstein annoys me. I understand the challenge: make something different, that will make both developers and users happy. Developers and users are used to iOS/Android and Windows pre 8 UX, MS needs to cater to that insanely diverse and massive crowd. Developers want/need to code as less as possible. This is also consistent with Microsoft’s will to have their apps on all platforms regardless, since the 1980s. So, design compromise for a billion reasons.

The problem is design kind of has to be something you impose without compromise. If you start following trends that makes you look weak, usability gets confusing and people think you are a follower. To create trends you need to stick to them. To gain respect you need to stand still, show interest in people who understand what you’re doing and improve on their feedback. Ain’t happening.

It seems clear that since Steven Sinofsky left after Win8, design centric MS wasn’t into design so much anymore. People as usual with innovative things, hated Win8 by default (remember all the people hating the iPhone’s lack of buttons?). But if you look at forums now, tons of people are as usual with innovative things, liking Win8. I’ve seen people apologize!

It just needed time and now that the public is getting used to it, MS dilutes something they had that was unique, discerning.

Timing is a bitch and ultimately, Microsoft wants market share more than identity. Not sure it’s the best bet, good design is hard. They mostly had it.

Sticky Intro

April 25th, 2015 by harold

Composed in November 2014.