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"Your 'reality', sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."
— Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von Münchhausen

No, *Your* Mom is on the Phone

It's really beneath us, but for some stupid reason, my boy MacFurious and I can't help but indulge ourselves in a constant barrage of reciprocal insults that take the form of "your mom" jokes. "Your mom _______" is an appropriate response to just about anything. It doesn't even need to actually insult the target's mother. It doesn't even need to make sense. For example:

Mac: You're gay.

Me: Your mom is gay.


Me:The PS3 is really expensive.

Mac:Your mom is really expensive.

and so on ad nauseum. Why? Not really sure. We'll eventually grow out of this, I'm sure. It's just one of those immature phases thirty-something-year-olds go through.

Well, Mac's recent post really sums up the whole phenomenon by referring us to the always-funny Alien Loves Predator.


Friday Free Game: QWERTY Warriors

I love word games, and I have played a slew of them. But I have yet to recommend a word game to my readers. This is mainly because most word games are simple variations on old themes, reworking of old games, and rarely offer something new.

This week's Friday Free Game offers something few other word games offer: real action. Sure, it's nothing more than the same type-as-fast-as-you-can game that we've seen umpteen times, but the presentation is what makes it stand out.

The game is called QWERTY Warriors, and there's not much to know about the game except that you'd better type fast. You're a warrior with a gun in the center of the screen and your enemies appear from the edges of the screen and slowly approach. Each enemy has a word beneath it that you have to type to destroy it; soliders have simple, three-letter words like "hen" and "lid", but more powerful enemies (like tanks) have longer words. There are also two special items that appear randomly: "fullhealth," which restores you back to 100 hit points, and "detonate," which destroys all of the enemies on the screen. Judicious use of these items is key to surviving the higher difficulty levels. I hunt-and-peck about 80 words a minute and found the highest difficulty setting was a real challenge. One bit of advice I can offer, however, is that if you use the "detonate" while a full health is on the screen, you actually get the benefits of both. So when you're in this position and being swarmed, don't try to type "fullhealth". Use the "detonate". It's shorter anyway.

As far as I can tell, there's only one major problem with the game: there are a number of words in its database that are misspelled, so be careful that you're typing exactly what's shown. QWERTY Warriors is fun for a quick distraction and it provides good tension for a simple word game. Give it a try.


Advice via Korea (via James via Mike)

"Via Korea" has a nice ring, doesn't it?

GameDev Mike has a nice summary of a talk given by James Gwertzman of PopCap Games at the Korean Games Conference. Even though Mike admitted that he's not deeply invested in the casual games market, he took a lot away from the talk. In his summary, he lists a number of key points for how to approach development of casual games, but I think many of these lessons can be applied in principle to nearly any game you write. His words are in bold at the start of each point:

  • Never require the keyboard or the right mouse button to play – casual games should use the left mouse button only. Anything else confuses people. The point here is what I've already been talking about with the one-button games: keep the interface simple. I think this is solid advice. The newest version of Space Avenger has less controls than before but has more complex gameplay. I accomplished this by changing the function of the space bar depending on the in-game context. I will need to wait and get actual player feedback until deciding whether this will work out.
  • Don't give the player low point awards. One game they prototyped initially received poor feedback. After they raised the points awarded in the game, players loved it. Being a sort of purist, I find this silly, but if extra zeroes make a player happy, so be it.
  • Avoid using a lot of text – casual gamers don't like to read. This one I'm struggling with since Space Avenger's new equipment-based model is going to require the player to distinguish between different sorts of equipment, and the easiest way for me to implement it is to use different names. I know this won't do in the long run, so I am slowly trying to assemble a graphical equivalent, but this is going to take some time. Thus, Space Avenger hasn't been released in a while.
  • Don't ignore advice from friends and family members who test it (what he called the "Mom Test"). Assuming that said testers are actually your target market, their feedback can be invaluable. This is precisely why I need my readers to join the Space Avenger Announcement List. Playtesting and feedback are vital to making a game.
  • Don't use long or hard-to-pronounce titles for your game. Also avoid overused words in your titles, such as Dungeon, Space, and so on. Just look around some of the portals to see which words are overused. Space Avenger was an intentionally hokey name. It was supposed to be a Space Invaders clone. Now that it's evolving into something else, it will probably need to be renamed. Also, my discovery of 2005 Game of the Year Astro Avenger means I definitely have to change the name. At least the idea is a winner.
  • Don't make the game too hard. Casual players like to be challenged, but they don't want to spend much time learning how to play, nor do they want to die and restart frequently. This one sounds obvious, but it's not. A player should make it through a few good levels on their first play. That's not easy to achieve while still keeping replay value.
  • Don't make the game too cerebral. The goal of the casual gamer is to relax, so they don't want to do much thinking when they play. Again, they are looking for a challenge, but not something that will over challenge them (think of checkers vs. chess). This is just like the point above, but just reframed. Keep it simple enough for the newbie, but challenging enough to keep them coming back. For me, Tetris is one of the best examples of this type of balance at work.
  • Don't use difficulty levels. You should try to come at game play from a one-size-fits all perspective. This is, once again, similar to the advice above. You have to find that perfect balance for your game.
Posts like this help me stay focused on the bigger picture.

Apologies for the intermittent posting lately, but I'm moving, and things are going to probably get worse for a little while. I should be settled into my new place at the beginning of December. Bear with me. I hope to have another Space Avenger release before year end, but we'll see.

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I'm an Excellent Musician

Try out this intriguing musical test. It was developed by a medical student as a screen for tone-deafness, and measures your overall pitch perception ability. According to the creator, even excellent musicians rarely score over 80%. I scored an 80.6%. It takes six minutes and of course requires sound. I'll be back to post again after I've composed my opera.

Fake Beauty

Strange, but true:

Plastic surgeons around the world are being given the chance to show off their talents, in a new artificial beauty pageant in China. A contest will be held in October among women who have undergone cosmetic surgery, according to state media.

It will be open to any woman who can prove her beauty is man-made.

Plastic surgery is on the increase in China, China Daily newspaper said, with around 20bn yuan ($2.4bn) spent yearly on beauty treatments.

The idea for "Miss Plastic Surgery" was reportedly born after a woman was barred from a traditional beauty contest after spending $13,000 on 11 cosmetic operations.

The paper said China now had a million beauty salons, employing six million people.

Their clients range from body-conscious teenage girls to women in their 30s seeking facial jobs and breast implants, it added.

The rise of the salons is based on the assumption that beauty is a route to success, China Daily said, citing findings by US economists which indicated that good looks increased overall hourly income by 5%.

China recently lifted a 54-year ban on beauty pageants, which the authorities used to see as bourgeois and decadent.

But the explosion of economic growth and the loosening of social controls of the past few years has led to a growing preoccupation with how people look.

The Miss World contest was held in China for the first time in 2003.

BBC News, "China to hold fake beauty pageant"
A hat-tip to Microsoft's Raymond Chen for pointing out this article. He was talking about steroids in baseball, and proposed that there be a "juiced" division and a "non-juiced" division so that we can satisfy everyone, saying "it worked for beauty pageants" and providing the link to the news story.

But the problem with the analogy between steroids and plastic surgery is that while it seems pretty easy to distinguish between natural and unnatural athleticism (no injections as a rule of thumb), I find it hard to call regular beauty pageant contestants 100% natural. A true contest of natural beauty would require that contestants use no makeup, no styling products, and wear no clothing. Honestly! It would be the only way to evaluate their actual appearance. Work out all you like, use whatever beauty regimen you normally use to enhance your appearance, but when you are evaluated, the judges should be evaluating only you. And you know what? I bet you money that we wouldn't see these big-mouthed, big-haired, skeletal waifs winning anything anymore. That's not what a really beautiful woman looks like.

Rumsfeld Replaced

In what you might consider the first actual victory against the Bush-Cheney cabal, it is now being reported that head hawk Donald Rumsfeld is being replaced.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is standing down, President George W Bush has announced after bruising losses for Republicans in mid-term elections. Mr Bush said that both he and Mr Rumsfeld had agreed the time was right for new leadership at the Pentagon.

Former CIA Director Robert Gates has been nominated to replace Mr Rumsfeld.

The Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in the polls, and the Senate balance of power hangs on a tight race in just one state, Virginia.

BBC News, "Rumsfeld replaced after poll loss"
Sure, as some might say, this may amount to little more than the Bush administration sacrificing a pawn in an effort to appear as if they are taking some sort of responsibility, but at least the opposition has had enough power to force their hand.


Speaking in Tongues

The Times ran an interesting article today about a study being done on brain activity during glossolalia or "speaking in tongues":

The passionate, sometimes rhythmic, language-like patter that pours forth from religious people who “speak in tongues” reflects a state of mental possession, many of them say. Now they have some neuroscience to back them up.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania took brain images of five women while they spoke in tongues and found that their frontal lobes — the thinking, willful part of the brain through which people control what they do — were relatively quiet, as were the language centers. The regions involved in maintaining self-consciousness were active. The women were not in blind trances, and it was unclear which region was driving the behavior.

"A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues," The New York Times
While the Times hesitates to draw Earth-shattering conclusions from this, I think it's important to draw attention to the fact that neuroscience is taking phenomena such as this seriously enough to devote time and money to it. I've always been a skeptic with regards to such phenomena as this, but like any link to the unconscious, I think that it can be revealing as a window into human nature, even if it's babble and not the Word of God.


Election Day

Today is Election Day here in the US. I implore anyone who reads this blog to please go out and vote. Make your voice heard. Make democracy work in America. Especially if you're young, especially if you've never voted before, especially if you're sick and tired of what has happened to our great country by its irresponsible and corrupt officials.

Remember: they work for you and it is our job to fire them when they've abused our trust. They've left their own people to die in New Orleans, sent our young men and women to Iraq so that oil companies maintain their profit margins, they've invaded our privacy, and they've tortured American citizens. Today is the day that this all can change. Please, get out and vote today. And tell them the Red Bull sent you.

F*cking Brilliant

You've all read Dilbert. And if you haven't, then go read it. And now that you've all read Dilbert, you all know who Scott Adams is. And of course, you know that he has a great blog that he updates daily. You should read it, too, because it's plain brilliant, and he and I have nearly the same philosophical stance on life, free will, money, government and the like.

He also offers truly gems of random thought like this past Saturday's post, called "The Most Obscene Letter":

If you ask me, the most obscene letter in the alphabet is the asterisk. It appears in almost every naughty word you see in print, from f*ck to p*ss to m*th*rf*ck*ng c*cks*ck*r. You can’t even pronounce the word "asterisk" without saying *ss. That smutty little character is attracted to obscenity like flies to sh*t.

To be fair and balanced, it should be noted that the asterisk protects you from seeing naked cuss words that would otherwise blind you and put you on the slippery slope to porn addiction. But when you cover a naughty word’s turgid genitalia with an asterisk, no one knows what the f*ck you're trying to say. That's why it's totally safe!

The man is brilliant. Read his blog daily. You will be wiser for it.


Friday Free Game, One-Button Edition: Twin Spin

Last week's game was Air Monkey, a game that managed to do a lot with just a single button. In Helicopter, the obstacles were moving automatically. In Air Monkey, both the environment and the the player avatar itself (the monkey) moved automatically. If you noticed, the monkey shifted as he swung on the vine. And the way it did so was entirely predictable. Assuming you grab the vine on the right side at the very bottom, the monkey shifts around to six different positions, moving after the vine reaches its highest point on either side:

  1. Bottom right
  2. Bottom left
  3. Middle right
  4. Middle left
  5. Top right
  6. Top left
Then, he'd shift back down the vine, going from top left to middle right, middle right to middle left, then down to the bottom. This, of course, is the trick to managing the distance the monkey jumps. Sometimes you have to wait for the monkey to shift into the right spot before you click to reach the next vine.

This works well for Air Monkey and it's a fun game. But waiting for your monkey to do his six-position-shimmy on the vine can get a bit tiresome; it felt to me like the game would have benefitted overall if you were able to control this movement yourself. Making it automatic made the user interface very simple, but it slowed down gameplay. This week's game utilizes this same idea of automating avatar movement in a much more elegant way. It's called Twin Spin, and it's probably the best one-button game I've been able to find so far. Simply click to anchor the spinning "baloon" and move around the board. Odd instructions, right? It may sound confusing, but give it a try. It's easy, intuitive, and still provides a challenge. Twin Spin manages to provide a number of different goals and obstacles while still remaining very simple. The trick is learning how to make your spinning globes walk around the board. See how many times you play level 11 before you beat it. Next week, we'll review.


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The Red Bull Diary is the personal pulpit and intellectual dumping-ground for its author, an amateur game designer, professional programmer, political centrist and incurable skeptic. The Red Bull Diary is gaming, game design, politics, development, geek culture, and other such nonsense.