The 2014 Retrospective Post

The year 2014 was an important and well-lived year in my life, for which I’m very grateful.

In 2014 I’m proud to have:

  • Became a Zend Certified Engineer for PHP 5.5 and Zend Framework 1.
  • Received word that I passed the MySQL 5.6 certification exam during the beta last December (2013).  Though Oracle claims the credentials are equivalent to non-beta exam takers, I’m proud to have earned mine because of the enormous block of questions featured only in the beta exams. It feels hard-core.
  • Succeeded at a dream job and found another. I’m getting closer to figuring out what I want to be when I grow up.
  • Released 3 games through the Ludum Dare game development competitions and also worked on the Shadowgate remake. That was cool.  I only had one small game out in 2013, so I feel like I’m gaining momentum in this area.
  • Joined the current decade in cell phone and laptop technology.
  • Visited Portland, twice!  Portland is neat. I could retire there someday.
  • Went on a proper (if somewhat local) traveling vacation to the empire mines.
  • Played and wrote more about games.

I’m also happy to have seen my family more and spent time with people who are good for me. That’s the most important thing.

Bringing in 2015

It’s that time again.  I started this blog in 2013, this is a young blog!  It feels very strange to write up another year’s end post already, so I’m going to do it backwards and look ahead to the new year.

In 2015 I plan to:

  • Complete one game a month in the One Game a Month Jam. (Is this a jam? I don’t really know. But it looks cool.)
  • Get my retirement finances in even more groovy shape this year. I’m definitely getting better at moneying like an adult.
  • Blog excitedly about the video games I own, most of which I haven’t played yet.
  • Pet more kittens.

In 2015 I also hope to:

  • Learn how to cook food worth eating. I’m *this* close.
  • Upscale my game development skills in the art and music areas. I’m committed to making 12 games next year, but I’d like them to be good ones, eventually.
  • Finish my lingering Magento enterprise certification. I still have the voucher; studying for the certification test got away from me this year.

Aside from these goals, I think I’m going to play 2015 by ear. I’m also going to write a retrospective of 2014 probably in the first week of January — it was an important year for me.

Ludum Dare 31: The Results

The results are in, and I’m happy to say Tiny’s Adventure in TV Land did much better than I expected!

ld31results-tiny-adventure

I’m especially proud of the 3.94 I got in the Theme category!  One hope I had from this competition was to get a 3 or higher in any category because I’ve never scored above a 2.x before. I almost got a 4 in Theme! I’m also pleased that the 3.94 score placed me at #189 out of 1365 total 48-hour compo entries.

My rank in the Humor and Mood category placed me in the upper half of the competition entries. I did slightly worse in the Overall category than the last competition; my previous game SWARM received a 2.80 rating in Ludum Dare 30.

The most informative part of this competition for me was having 55 other participants play and comment on my game, which is a new record for me.  Thank you so much!

Playing Oblivion Again

After nearly a decade-long pause, I’m finally playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion again.  I’m actually going to beat it this time, too!

Back when I was obsessively playing Skyrim, I remember thinking that Oblivion was still better. I couldn’t remember exactly why it was, but I felt very strongly about that fact. Now that I’m back into Oblivion, it’s easy to see why.  Oblivion is beautiful. Skyrim is epic in a Game of Thrones tribute to the north kind of way, but it gets dreary and boring. Even the later generation graphics don’t quite save it by comparison. The placement of villages and overall map structures in Oblivion make sense, and don’t feel packed in like Skyrim’s do. Oblivion feels smaller, but that’s okay, because the cities, towns, caves and other areas resonate with the mood of the game.

I never finished Oblivion back when I first played it largely because my game got bugged inside the oblivion gates.  My incredibly powerful alchemist made potions to walk across the lava in the oblivion areas to reduce travel time.  I thought I was being clever by sidestepping one of the more boring areas of the game, but I ended up bugging the gates, and treasure chests weren’t populating along with other issues.

I have other games I intend to finish soon, so my current Oblivion playthrough is more of a casual speedrun.  I’m having fun, and this time around I’m not taking any shortcuts.

Tiny’s Adventure in TV Land – A Ludum Dare Postmortem

Tiny's Adventure in TV LandLast weekend I created the adventure game “Tiny’s Adventure in TV Land” in 48 hours for Ludum Dare #31.  Prior to the competition I had a plan for the development methods I would use and roughly how I would spend my time.  This is a postmortem of how it went.

What went right:

  • I completed the game in 48 hours!
  • The thematic portions of the game were easy for players to identify.
  • Improved graphics. This game was visually nicer than my previous Ludum Dare entries.
  • The overall game design I came up with Friday night largely held throughout the weekend.
  • Having a tested build system in place.  This made the submission hour a breeze.

What went differently than I expected:

  • Dropping mobile support early. Prior to the competition I wanted to make a mobile entry, but I decided there wasn’t time to tweak a game type I was unfamiliar with.
  • Time management. I’d planned to have the entire prototype finished Friday, and then iteratively polish it over the weekend. Instead, the game came together a few hours before the competition ended.

What went wrong:

  • The first level was too hard.  Some players mistook the carrot as life or status indicator instead of an item to retrieve.
  • I didn’t allow enough time to create a soundtrack.
  • The physics were floaty.  I went with it, rather than changing it, but this limited the level design later on.

After each competition I have an idea of what I need to work on.  These are my plans:

  • Practice composing music in GarageBand.  I need be good at this and have a solid workflow in place prior to the competition.
  • Study photoshop techniques.  I learned quite a lot during the competition and I think I can improve even more for the next one.
  • Improve my use of JavaScript 2D physics and use a better tweening solution.

Overall, I had fun participating in this Ludum Dare. I learned the most enjoyable part of the game development process for me is at the point when the game is assembled just enough to be playable. I’m looking forward to the next competition in April.

Ludum Dare #31

Ludum Dare #31 starts in a few days.  I’m looking forward to participating — this will be my fourth entry in the 48-hour competition over the past couple years.

I plan to create an html5/css/js game with crafty.js, photoshop, pickle for the sprites, and garageband.  I may also use a sfx generator for beeps and boops if the game is in a retro-style. I usually make retro style games, but ultimately I wait for the competition to start before deciding on a specific type.

Before each competition I make a small goal, usually an improvement or feature I’d like to attempt. For this competition I want my game to be easily playable on desktop, tablet, and mobile devices. Since this requires some knowledge going in, my plan is to spend a few hours a day this week testing the waters by playing around with crafty.js and media queries.  Now that I have a mac I can easily test with an iOS simulator too.

I’m also going to try a new schedule. Typically, I design the game Friday, implement on Saturday, and then go into full-scale-panic-mode Sunday when the previous day’s work doesn’t mesh.  This time I’m going to attempt to both design and finish a fully working prototype on Friday and then use the rest of the time for polish.

A Good Birthday

Yesterday, November 6th, was my 35th birthday.  Encompassing most of 2014, this previous year has been a very good one for me.  I’ve achieved personal and professional goals, I’m lucky to have good friends who care about me, and I feel close to my family.

The festivities were mellow. I took a day off from work, I had a relaxing time at my favorite restaurant, and I received some interesting gifts.  I purchased an Atari 2600 for myself, which I hope to use with the Harmony cartridge to port a Ludum Dare entry (more on this later).  I also received an apple, a t-shirt, and the mother of all power strips which is greatly appreciated right now to support all of my various gadgets.

I’m really looking forward to the next year. I have a hunch it’s going to be a good one.

Addicted to Ultima 1: The First Age of Darkness

Ultima 1: The First Age of DarknessLast week I took the plunge and started playing games in my massive GOG.com library. Let me tell you about Ultima 1.

Ultima 1: The First Age of Darkness, is Richard Garriot’s first game in a series I loved as a child. One of my all-time favorite games is Ultima 4: Quest of the Avatar for the classic Nintendo. But looking back I hadn’t played much of the others, stopping after briefly playing Ultima V on the classic NES, and some aborted attempts with VII in the 90’s on an ever-slow 386. The first game in the series, released in 1981, simply passed by me.

Fortunately, the version on GOG.com is the 1986 remake with enhanced EGA graphics and a few other tweaks. The graphics look brilliant on my netbook, and the game’s overworld is bright and colorful with animated sprites and wandering monsters.

Probably the best part of the game is the most sparse, the 3D line-art minimalist dungeons. They are positionally navigable, capturing the first-person dungeon exploration experience I loved in other games like Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder. And the line-art makes me smile.

I’m only a few hours into the game so far, but I’ll post an update when I’ve managed to complete it. I’m hoping for a long adventure.

September 2014 is here

Summer has been as busy as expected, and I’m glad to have time to blog during these next few months.

My technical certifications are moving forward. I decided to finish off the MySQL certification series and become a certified 5.6 administrator by the end of this year. I originally skipped this certification test, sitting only the developer portion of the exams.  I’m now able to commit a couple hours a day for studying and I expect it will pay off.

I participated in another Ludum Dare 48-hour game development competition. My web-based entry is called SWARM, and it’s available here (click on Web/HTML5 above the picture).  I’ll probably do a post-mortem on it after the judging ends next week.

Shadowgate came out and was for the most part well-received by the series’ fans. This makes me very happy.

I’ve also agreed to look at PHPUnit Essentials for Packt Publishing and will be posting a review here within the next week or so. Reviewing books here was something I started on an experimental basis, and I hope to have a couple more reviews up in 2014.

On a personal level, I’ve made some efforts to reconnect with friends and former co-workers. Keeping positive people in my life is important to me.

An Eventful Early Summer

I’ve had an eventful summer so far, and the past month has been busy. In June, I vacationed to Nevada City and Grass Valley, California to tour historical sites involved with the gold rush and mining. The highlight of the trip was visiting Empire Mine State Historic Park and looking down into a very long mineshaft.

In late June, I played the new Shadowgate beta and tested it quite a bit. I love the style and format, and I’m hopeful the game will do well. There’s something fundamentally cool about seeing the game revived more than 20 years after I first played it.

I also got the MacBook Pro I desperately needed. I originally planned to buy a new mac after expiration of the warranty on my Inspiron M5030, but things worked out, and the mac happened sooner. I love it.

I expect to spend July catching up on certifications, and planning out the last half of 2014. I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished this year, and the next few months should be pretty great.