Axonic Diodes, Revisited

Wait! Before he begins, this was a science fiction game set on a tropical island!

 –Me, attempting an explanatory preface before one of my coworkers performed a dramatic reading of one of my Next Island mission dialogues for the rest of our coworkers. When I wrote these missions, I was thinking about MMO players,and never imagined listening to an impromptu dramatic reading for the Products team at YD, but it was pretty good fun.

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Book Tour: City of Whores

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City of Whores Mark B PerryCity of Whores by Mark B. Perry tells the story of an aspiring movie star and a powerful celebrity couple in 1950’s Hollywood. A thin veneer of old-Hollywood glamour covers dark secrets and disturbing choices.

The story of an aspiring actor willing to do anything and everything to become a star isn’t new, but the characters are fleshed out, complex, and believable, and the particular brand of “anything” will keep readers turning pages. Overall, the novel was a great deal grittier and darker than any of the other books I’ve received from Whirlwind. (Like Black Bear Lake, Children of the Gods, and Careful.)

The glamorous / seedy Hollywood setting is what first interested me in this book, and I was not disappointed in this. The novel constantly reminded me of my trips to Los Angeles, staying in the worn-down glamour of the Cecil. Some places around LA were familiar to me, but others, like film sets and backlots, were completely new to me, and exciting to imagine.

Because the Hollywood setting and a love of film are such important aspects of the novel, it’s one of the (rare) times when a book trailer makes sense.

I received a copy of this book to review as part of Whirlwind Book Tours.

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Robots Need Love Too

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Robots Need Love Too is an iOs puzzle game about two lovestruck robots from Elephant Mouse.

In the beginning of Robots Need Love Too, you can choose names, gender, and preferred pronoun for your romantic robots. In addition to the obvious he and she choices, your robots could use the genderqueer pronouns they, zie, ey, or xie, and naturally any two robots can fall in love. Robot gender and pronouns are entirely cosmetic features for this puzzle game, but character customization is always about allowing players to recognize ourselves in the game and connect more with our protagonist. The ability to select preferred pronoun and the gender creates an inclusive space for all gamers and a refreshing spin on the ol’ rescue-the-princess narrative as well.

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It’s amazing how inclusive just a few text options can be. Oh, and the UI doesn’t start on any particular gender, either, which helps question heteronormative defaults.

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I chose Pyramus and Thisbe, because I’ve received a classical education. (And when connecting with characters, I like doomed relationships and literary references. What?)  I was not disappointed in any of the resulting text narrative.

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One every level, the lovestruck robots need to reach each other. Players arrange arrows to bring the ‘bots to their goal, collecting up to 3 hearts along the way.  As the game progresses, there are obstacles, gaping holes in the floor, immobile arrows, magnets to drag robots across the room, and other challenges to the robots’ union. The course of true love never did run smooth.

Robots can only go where they’re programmed, so I wondered if my robots would walk an endless loop or if they’d step off into a hole. They would! And my ridiculous experimentation was rewarded with achievements! It’s like the Elephant Mouse team was rewarding my bad choices!

Each puzzle level is made up of two parts, Pyramus’ path and Thisbe’s path, and sometimes one side was much more difficult than the other.  It also took me a couple levels to really figure out how to work the magnets. A couple rough patches didn’t turn me off the game, because the game is just so cute, and because each level had a sweet little flavortext about the robots’ relationship.

Elephant Mouse’s previous games include Star Trek: Rivals and Lil’ Birds (as Villain Games).  Also, I’ve socialized with more than one employee of Elephant Mouse, and I worked with some of the RNLT team on Star Trek: Rivals. None of them have offered me sexual favors, illicit drugs, piles of cash, or whatever massive bribes games bloggers are supposedly receiving, which I think was a gross oversight on their part, don’t you?

Robots Need Love Too is available free on the App Store.

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Greek Devil

Tick Tock Diner on UrbanspoonThe Tick-Tick Diner on Route 46 used to have a dish called Greek fries, which involved diner fries, feta, thin strips of gyro, and tzatziki sauce, but they’ve changed up staff and menu, and it’s gone. By the way, a lot of things changed at the Tick-Tick, because one of the owners hired a hitman to kill the other owner!  This is a real thing that happened for real, and not a forced lead in to New Jersey mafia joke. When the story got out — and it got out because when you are hiring a murderer, it’s probably best not to hire an undercover cop —  my Facebook feed was on fire with Montclair friends posting the link and their amazement that this could be connected to our favorite place for all-day pancakes, bottomless coffee and exam cramming, disco fries at the round tables and so many other memories.

Laojia, 老家, is the Chinese word for hometown, the characters are Old and Family, and as every single person I knew from my hometown shared their shock, and all of our friends and significant others made the expected Tony Soprano comments, I finally understood it.

Attempted murder aside, those were pretty great fries.

Gussy's Greek Food Truck on Urbanspoon

Gussy’s Greek Devil food truck came near our studio today. (I’ve just noticed a new blog trend: I eat food and then end up writing about other places that food reminds me of.) Food was ready really fast, standard chicken pita was very nice, but what stood out were the Greek fries.

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Skinny, hot, not-greasy fries, tossed in salt and oregano, with feta on top. This is a huge portion of delicious food, and you should probably not try to eat a pita or a gyro with it. I’m just saying.

gussys

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Classically Educated Tech Blogging

Female employees working at Apple will soon be offered a fertility benefit of up to $20,000 to put toward freezing their eggs, which advocates say gives women the freedom to seek career advancement without worrying about future family plans.

via Apple to pay female employees up to $20,000 for new egg freezing fertility benefit.

I almost wish I were tech blogging right now, just so I could title my coverage of this story ab ovo usque ad mala.

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雀巢咖啡 and Hello Kitty

nescafe and hello kittyNescafe and Hello Kitty next to my computer.

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Rejected Lines From My Ada Lovelace Script

I wrote a new script a few weeks ago, to teach our students about Ada Lovelace Day. Here’s what I decided not to include.

Ada_Lovelace_portraitToday is Ada Lovelace day, which is not her birthday or any date significant to her life. An unassuming date in the middle of October was chosen because it was a considerate date without major conflicts, because when we are honoring women who’ve been ignored in tech for decades, let’s be considerate and thoughtful and choose a date that’s convenient for others, ok? Ugh. Maybe I should include that, it’s a pretty good metaphor for women’s experiences in STEM fields!

Ada Lovelace is the daughter of Lord Byron, the writer who was known for — never mind, kids, you’re too young. Let’s just call him a famous writer!

The Analytical Engine, designed by Charles Babbage, was the forerunner to the Difference Engine, and WHAT? What is this?  Turns out Charles Babbage never actually built the Difference Engine, although he managed to receive over 17,000 pounds from the British government to do so. Huh. Kinda the patron saint of those project-delay emails from funded Kickstarters, now that I think about it. Also, pretty cool metaphor for certain parts of startup culture.

This is getting really long. Our students are aspiring developers, so I’ll focus on the invention of the computer and the creation of computer programming. That means deleting the last three paragraphs on how Ada Lovelace was one of the earliest tech bloggers, by looking at emerging technology, envisioning all the potential uses, and then writing her thoughts and publishing to share with her mathematician friends.

My scripts are always read and performed by a man, which is usually more than with me (I hate listening to my recorded voice and I have extremely conflicted feelings on becoming more visible) but it feels weird to be invisible on this particular topic.

Ada Lovelace died at 36. She invented programming in that time, and I’m basically the same age, and I’ve… um… I wrote some things that weren’t completely dreadful. Sometimes.

My actual post for our students is here, and the related Ada Lovelace Day video has been very well-received by our audience of 8-year-olds. 

 

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Every Day

Basically every day, I wear jeans with a plaid flannel shirt buttoned over a t-shirt from a game or app promo. I mean, I usually wears earrings and eye makeup and nail polish, too, but it’s the same outfit.

That’s what I wear to work every day, which is fine because this is also what all the men in my studio wear to work every day.  Well, maybe not the cosmetics.

When I lost weight a few years ago, I looked forward to choosing and wearing cute things every day, instead of selecting from my least-unflattering outfits. (Whenever I write about this, someone always comments to tell me that people can be healthy and happy at any size, and I definitely don’t mean to imply that one must be a certain size in order to wear nice things. But for me, being terribly depressed for about a year directly correlated to being overweight for about a year. Not my favorite year, all things considered.) Now, I have an embarrassing amount of clothes that I never seem to wear, and I’ve decided to branch out from jeans-and-flannel every day. There are so many other things to wear! So many clothes to choose from!

So… should I wear my grey miniskirt and black sweater, or my black miniskirt and grey sweater tomorrow?

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Serious Pony, Kool-Aid, and Existing In Public

This entire post from Kathy Sierra is an honest and thoughtful look at the internet attacks on women in tech and games. The whole thing is worth reading, discussing the backlash women face when we do things like make videogames, have opinions on games, or basically exist in the public space.

There is only one reliably useful weapon for the trolls to stop the danger you pose and/or to get max lulz: discredit you. The disinformation follows a pattern so predictable today it’s almost dull: first, you obviously “f*cked” your way into whatever role enabled your undeserved visibility. I mean..duh. A woman. In tech. Not that there aren’t a few deserving women and why can’t you be more like THEM but no, you are NOT one of them.

You are, they claim, CLEARLY “a whore”. But not the sex-worker kind, no, you are the Bad Kind of Whore. Actually TWO kinds:  an Attention/Fame Whore and an Actual Have Sex In Exchange For Jobs, Good Reviews, Book Deals Whore. I mean, could there be ANY other explanation for your visibility? But the sex-not-merit meme is just their warm-up, the lowest-hanging-fruit in a discredit/disinfo campaign.

Because what the haters MOST want the world to know is this: what you’re serving your audience? It’s NOT EVEN ACTUAL KOOLAID. “Snake oil”, the trolls insist. You’re a “proven liar”. Or, as I was referred to yet again just yesterday by my favorite troll/hater/harasser: “a charlatan”. And there is “evidence”. There is always “evidence”. (there isn’t, of course, but let’s not let that get in the way.)

And then:

A particularly robust troll-crafted hot button meme today is that some women are out to destroy video games (shoutout to #gamergaters). Another is that they are taking jobs from men. Men who are, I mean obviously, more deserving. “If women/minorities/any oppressed group are given special treatment, that’s not equality,” they argue “I guess you don’t believe in equality, feminists.” Quickly followed by, “wait, did I say ‘oppressed group’? There’s no such thing as an oppressed group I just meant Professional Victims Who Pretend To Be Oppressed And Serve Social Justice Warrior Koolaid.”

Life for women in tech, today, is often better the less visible they are.

via The Koolaid Point on Serious Pony

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Awesome Quest

game namesI spent a bit of time this summer explaining to my App Design students that when you call your game Broccoli Avenger or Astro Kitty, those words are now a title, and therefore a proper noun, and need to be capitalized. Useful life skills, my friends.

 

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Chirba Chirba

One of the many things I miss about Beijing is having delicious dumplings all the time. There’s a pretty heated debate about which dough it the best, and which filling, and whether the best dumplings are steamed or fried or boiled, but I don’t care, all dumplings are tasty!

One of the many, many things I miss about New York is the Rickshaw dumpling truck. Delicious dumplings, without the possibility that I misspoke and ordered something wrong, like that time I accidentally ordered a whole chicken. (Chinese is hard, ok?)

Chirba Chirba Dumpling on UrbanspoonNorth Carolina is not the greatest place for dumplings, unless you mean the floury kind with chicken,  so whenever I cross paths with the Chirba Chirba truck, even if I’m not particularly hungry, I stop and get dumplings.

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Smiling baozi!

Chirba Chirba parks near my office sometimes, which is about as good as it gets in North Carolina.  They have a rotating selection of dumplings, including a Beijing-duck kind and a pork and chives kind. There’s always at least one vegetarian option, which is more likely to be a tasty mushroom dumpling than a token salad.

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Delicious jiaozi!

Chirba has other things, like edamame and tea eggs, which I guess you could have if you didn’t want dumplings.  But are you sure you don’t want dumplings?

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Bro, Do You Even Ello?

Mashable’s Chris Taylor describes my feelings on Ello perfectly:

There isn’t a working search function. I can’t find my friends, which is about a basic a function as a social network needs to have. I have to login every time I use it. My Ello feed (I’m @futureboy, naturally) has nothing but a list of people accepting my invites. There’s another part of the feed called “noise,” which basically looks like a cut-rate Pinterest.

I mean, I got an invite, made an Ello account (@simpsonsparadox, obviously) and checked it all out in early-adopter glee, but unless I’m missing something major, Ello’s a social network without features or content.

via Facebook’s ‘Real Names’ Policy Could Turn it Into Friendster.

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Some Practice

I’m doing some new things at work, and I’m quite pleased that my role is becoming more creative and more essential. I’ve been at Youth Digital a little over a year now, making this the most successful 8-week contract I’ve ever taken.

My new role is closer to the company’s main goal of educating all the babynerds in the whole world in caring and innovative ways (I think others might employ slightly different phrasing for this), and will end up being closer to one of my long-term goals of supporting and encouraging female developers. These female developers are around 10 years old, which isn’t quite where I thought this goal would take me, but I’ve already made the women-in-games presentation at conferences and already written editorials, and that didn’t change the industry. Maybe all we can really do is create a new generation of game developers, where doing terrible things to female developers seems like a bizarre historical footnote.

But right now, there’s that learning curve where I realize it’s taking just as long for someone to explain to me what needs to be done, and set me up to do it, and answer my questions, and then look over what I’ve done, than it would take to just do it properly.

The other day, I submitted some stuff to a colleague for the almost inevitable discovery that I’ve done things that way, when actually everyone else does it this way. Ugh.

“I noticed your titles.”  My colleague said, “Very clever.”

“Well,” I said, “I’ve actually had some practice naming game reviews.”

(With apologies to my editors who’ve tried to coax clever titles out of me, or at least tried to improve on my usual Stuff I Noticed While Playing This Game or Some Reasons I Didn’t Particularly Care For This Game. )

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Shadow Kings

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Shadow Kings is a new free-to-play strategy builder from GoodGames, now available to play on CrazyGames. Shadow Kings is also available for Android and iOS mobile devices.

The game is set in a fantasy kingdom where humans, elves and dwarves are under attack from the orcs, goblins and trolls. Players of Shadow Kings begin by building and fortifying a city, with typical builder improvements like barracks and defences to keep out mean old orcs.

As the player’s city grows, they’ll be able to acquire more resources, to build more improvements, and gain even more resources. Then players can build an army from their city, and help the good guys (humans, elves and dwarves) against the fantasy baddies (orcs, goblins and trolls). Shadow Kings also has community events and PvP battles.

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Dwarven Tutorial NPC, Bombert

Free-to-play resource management builders are so common online and on the App Store, that a new builder game really needs something to set it apart and make it memorable in such a crowded space. In Shadow Kings, that’s the art quality. All the characters — even the evil orcs, goblins and trolls — are really cute versions of fantasy staples. Even the menu icons are chubby cartoony images.

All the menus and selections are quite clear, too.  (I didn’t realize quite how essential this is until recently. I just finished a review of another game, for Hardcore Droid, where the illogical, poorly-localized menus and options made the game completely unenjoyable.)

Shadow Kings is currently available on CrazyGames, along with plenty of other Flash games like puzzle game 2048, and evil twin 2584, vampire makeouts in Twilight Kissing, and cute buttonmashing adventure Mighty Knight.

 

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The Three O’Clock Sandwich, and Other Things I’m Terrible At

One of the many life skills that everyone but me has mastered is eating. Mostly I screw it up by forgetting to eat. This sounds really convenient, like I’m going to tell you the secret to magically losing ten pounds, but mostly it just means that I don’t realize I am hungry, while I start to realize that everyone around me is extremely annoying. And stupid. And that I can’t concentrate. And that the last time I thought everyone around me was super annoying, it meant that I’d forgotten to feed myself.

Also I will realize that it’s time to eat, and do about an hour of one-more-thing, just finish this quickly, etc., before I go to eat.

This was fine in New York, where there are about a thousand food options at any time of the day. I could have a sandwich or a salad or a diner meal whenever I felt hungry, even if it wasn’t a proper meal time. (Also, when I was in Manhattan, I worked with Chip a lot, so only one of us had to remember that food is essential.) Actually, if you want dumplings or curry or fried chicken at any time, you can get it in Manhattan.

North Carolina, though, isn’t really into 24-hour access to anything. (One of the nail salons near me is open nine to five, which blows my mind every single time I try to go there and find it’s closed. Is there really no overlap between people who visit a salon, and people who have jobs?)

Hungry at 3:30? Should have thought of that last night, and packed a snack! That’s 3:30 PM, by the way, I’m complaining about my inability to get a late lunch, not wishing for a midnight meal. It’s easy to forget that human bodies require nutrition,  but I never forget that I’m not in the city anymore.

Around Harold’s office, there’s a collection of lovely breakfast and brunch places, which are all closed by 3. There’s also a collection of bars, which seem to open around 6. Which means if you are looking for something to eat before meeting Harold after work, YOU CAN NOT EAT.

It’s not the end of the world, of course, I’m capable of packing an apple or a granola bar, and I’m sure if I keep looking, there’s someplace I can drive to where I can get a three o’clock sandwich. But looking hungrily at a half a dozen closed restaurants is a pretty clear object lesson in how I simply don’t get it here, how I want things no one else wants, and how I’m overall just Doing It Wrong.

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