Internet Famous

I didn’t usually post work press here, but Default Prime just did a story on Next Island, and mentioned me.

Next Island itself was demonstrated at length by Neverdie Studio’s developer Michael Ray, who answered journalists’ questions and showed character highlights, when he wasn’t bantering with Next Island’s social media consultant, Meg Stivison. Although Next Island doesn’t open for the mainstream audience until next month, the dedicated game forums and popular Facebook page are filled with advance players talking about the game.

I’m awesome on the internet!

Via Monday Musings: Attending the Next Island media launch event | Default Prime | Default Prime

Angry Birds

“Ever since we played Angry Birds in Maine,” Marcus said on the phone the other night, “I’ve been seeing it everywhere. I guess it’s becoming pretty popular.”

I just barely restrained myself from pointing out that Marcus is hardly the barometer for what’s hot in recreational tech. Other cutting-edge tech products to which Marcus has recently been introduced include Pandora, Twitter, Facebook games, and Skype.

“I’d heard of Skype before,” he insisted, “but it hadn’t really been contextualized for me.”

“And you didn’t type it into Google? Wait, you’ve heard of Google, haven’t you?”

“Go play your videogames, woman.”

When Contextual Ads Attack

Sometimes Facebook gets a bad rap. But I love Facebook, I mean, I defended Facebook back when MySpace looked like an actual competitor (That links to my old Rolling Dice column in the long-dead Faster Than The World mag). I defended Facebook’s first privacy oops over public feeds. I’m fascinated by what Facebook and social media are doing to society, and to romantic relationships.

But Facebook hasn’t been returning my love recently. This was not my favorite targeted ad ever.


That one got me thinking about search terms and ad targeting, and I didn’t really like where that was going.

But after this, Facebook, I don’t know if we can be friends anymore.

I'll have you know, Facebook, that I'd spring for the full price boob job.

Stays In Vegas

My dad picked me up at the airport coming home from Vegas, and he asked me how my trip had been.

I complained that I couldn’t take full advantage of the endless free booze because I was working. I told him that the games and tech world is harder for me because everyone else just wears a suit but I’m a girl so I have to sort out a whole ensemble. And how my flight back was kind of hellish, how I didn’t have enough time to catch up with journo friends or get to know awesome new friends, and how I felt like I barely scratched the surface of CES and Vegas, but I was also running purely on coffee and adrenaline.

“I’ll have the special, with the mashed potatoes instead of the fries,” my dad said.


“Just giving you some perspective.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

Max’s Brain

Games blogger (and my housemates’ college classmate) Kurt Kalata is coming out with a book based on his retrogaming blog. My awesomely artistic housemate Kate is making a shrine to Roberta Williams for the cover of Kurt’s book, so when I came downstairs the other day, there was a Max in progress on the couch.

Bits of Max

Meg stole Max's brain

(I stole Max’ brain)

Finished Max

Finished Max!

2010-12-05 11.11.00


Edit: The finished book!

With Benefits

Almost as soon as I moved back north, I got into this… situation. I hesitate to call it a “relationship” because the other party made it pretty clear that I couldn’t make any demands. We’d see each other when we saw each other, ok, and even though things were great when we were together, everything happens on the other party’s schedule, when they happen at all.

Some of my friends, who’d been in similar non-relationships or who were familiar with the other party, warned me that my situation might seem good now, and seemed like a complete shift from Raleigh life, but that in a few months, I’d be upset about it. The other party would be unreliable, I’d find myself in places I didn’t want to be, information from the other party would change at the last minute, with no warning, and the whole thing would go from no-strings convenience to endless frustration.

I thought I could handle it. I didn’t mind the other people, really I didn’t. My needs are pretty simple, and I didn’t want to get into a whole complicated thing, you know?

But recently, I’ve started to want more. The unreliable schedule and the poor communication is really starting to wear on me.

So that’s why I’m not taking the DeCamp into the city anymore.

Conflict and Resolution

Last Wednesday, I left for Los Angeles, pretty excited about Next Island launch and the VGAs and meeting the guys in LA in person at last, and all kinds of adventures. I drove myself to the airport, parked my car in one of the economy lots, a half-paved wilderness in the zipcode next to Newark Airport. My fifteen-year-old car still holds a cardboard box of shoes in the backseat, a casualty of my recent move and a physical symbol of the manic-depressive extremes in my life now, but I figure the only thing in my car worth stealing is my GPS, so I shove it in my bag.

The next hours are  a blur of reading Snow Crash on the plane, wrapping myself up in the cyberpunk awesome and starting to giggle. I also brought my Beijing bookstore edition of Out of Africa, because even through I’m fascinated with social gaming and the wild new uses for gaming tech, I still have a low-gadget expat side.

The next morning, I literally walk down the Hollywood Walk of Fame to the studio, where I meet wildly talented guys and have amazing conversations about gameplay and the future. I think, again, of Hiro Protagonist, and although everyone is quite nice to me, I feel nervous, like the cool kids are letting me sit at their table.

My boss interrupts to tell me we have a last-minute demo in Santa Monica, could I stop what I’m doing and come with him to help?  And also could I help him get directions?

“Actually, boss, I have a GPS in my purse…”

At Least Once

Some times I do things without thinking. (I know! You’re shocked! Me?!) Fortunately, I have friends and family who make sure I’ll never forget stupid things I’ve done. I’ve recently joined a D&D game with my cousins and their friends, and the other night, we were having some post-harpy-slaying coffee when my water-boiling fail came up. “Came up” means that my cousin decided to make sure that everyone I’d met though this game knew about my ridiculous failure. THANKS, IAN.

After the story, a couple people said they’d done the same thing, with tea or soup or something else left on the stove until it burned black.

“Yeah, I think everyone’s done it once!” I said, “After I posted about that, I got so many emails, and comments, and calls, from friends who’d done the same thing. It was probably my biggest reactions to a post, well, maybe second to when I posted my shower photos.”

There was the kind of pause described in RPG text as ellipses, as everyone around the table turned and stared at me.

“Um, that’s not quite what I meant.”

Just add that to things I’ve said without thinking it through.

Social Game Smackdown

So I’ve been struggling with my love for MyTribe and the way it’s been spamming up recently. I logged on the other day, and was immediately harassed for not playing.

I dislike this on a couple of levels. First, if the game’s any good, I’ll make time to play it. Trust me, I can find the time to play games I like, I don’t need to be punished or bribed into playing. Penalties like this turn gameplay into an obligation for me.

Second, I dislike the whole daily Tribal Bonus as a game mechanic. Adding the daily reward seems makes a casual Facebook game seem less skill-based and more luck-based. Admittedly there’s not a whole lot of skill in keeping your MyTribe people alive and well, but there are lots of individual choices. Adding a daily checkin creates a click-reward sequence that’s less like solving a puzzle or playing pretend, and more like a rat in an experiment.

I see so much potential in social Facebook games, that I’m frustrated when actual gameplay falls short. (Translation: Why isn’t the real world as awesome as my imagination?)

I’ve written before about the anonymous, automatic nature of virtual free gifting, but virtual trading doesn’t have to be so thoughtlessly spammish. What if we traded finite resources instead of blasting our social networks with free virtual goods? In MyTribe, that would be seeds, recipes and crafted items, as well as swapping salvage with friends to complete collections.

To see the appeal of trading for virtual items, just look at any MMO’s auction house, shopping in Big Fish-style casual games, and I even remember trading with NPCs at certain stops on the green-and-black Oregon Trail.  Instead of offering open borders (Don’t do it. Montezuma’s a jerk.) or weapon enchantment, a casual game tradescreen would offer players the chance to trade for new seeds or give surplus stock to new players. With so many possibilities for trading in Facebook games, it seems like a waste to be stuck on socially spamming free gifts.

Virtually trading an item from your own inventory has inherently more weight than giving twenty friends a free gift. You don’t have that cow or stork feather when you click on friends to receive your gift, so you’re not invested in the exchange. Collectibles, which I’ve recently learned are the lifeblood of social games, could still exist with finite resources. An example for MyTribe might be rare plants that require maintanence to grow and only produce a limited number of sharable seedlings. Or tiered items, crops that are required to unlock other, cooler recipes.

There would still be the option to brag about your resources on your wall, and since acquisition would be skill-based (based on a combination of trading, high agriculture stats and crop-tending), I’d probably be more inclined to do that than to let everyone know I’d received a random drop in a salvage crate.

Since the goal of many social games is to produce increasing numbers of clicks, a virtual auctionhouse would be successful there. Many WoW players have auctionhouse alts or check back at specific times to see how their sales are going. Not that I ever play Facebook games when I should be working, but if I did, I might check in now and then to see what was new on the AH. And an automated alert that my chuckberries had sold or that the recipe for cadmium blue dye was available might pull me back into a game.

Monetization would be easier, too, since a gooseberry seed with a high auction house price has more inherent value.  A player’s choice would now be between trading a virtually valuable item or paying a real dime to get the item they want. And a real-money price, even for players who haven’t invested Facebook credits or MyTribe pearls, could also add to the perceived value of items when players trade that item or seedlings produced from that item. I’ve also been in a lot of conversation at work about virtual currencies and the possibility of cashing out one’s virtual goods and services for real cash.

The social aspects to Facebook trading are even more interesting. What if you need that chuckberry or gooseberry for a dye recipe, but the only way to get it is by trading for it? Would we be helpful neighbors, offering our seedlings and salvage to our friends, or hoarders, making sure we were the only island with purple dye? And what would that do to our Facebook priorities? “Yeah, I know Sarah posts a lot of  pictures of her cats, but she is my only source for cadmium yellow dye…”

(Large portions of these were directly inspired by Darius’ awesome post over on Tiny Subversions about Spelunky as a Facebook game. Read it for an awesome blend of hilarious and thought-provoking.)

Apps That Need To Exist: Auto-Cool Twitter Locations

Auto-Cool Twitter Locations This app would automatically add my location in great detail when I tweet from someplace cool, like when I’m sitting on modern white furniture in a Madison Ave ad office, or having a meeting in a restaurant with an indoor waterfall, or commuting through Central Park, or working from a coffeeshop where the baristas are all way too fashionable to be pouring coffee.

But this app would also check my location, and automatically stop including any geographical location in my tweets when I’m in New Jersey, or waiting in the Port Authority to go back to New Jersey.

Tweets from work (Oh, hi, Boss. Um. I never tweet from work.) would go out as Cutting Edge Virtual World Developer on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and not This Desk In The Server Room Is So My Office.

Fording The River

Stick called today, partly to catch up and partly as just another step in the hellish process of separating ours into his and mine. I haven’t really known what to say about him here, because I still have a lot of respect and affection for him. First I was all “We’re going to work things out!” and then I was all “Still over. Still sad about it.” and neither one of those was a really happy thing I wanted to record for posterity (and the internet).

“I think I’ll spend Thanksgiving with my parents and then head to Denver,” Stick said. “I don’t want to wait too much longer to leave, or I’ll run into weather troubles on my drive west.”

There was silence for a moment, and then I said what had to be said.

“Do you have an extra axle?”

“Of course. And I’ll try not to get cholera,”

“Be careful fording rivers.”

Sure, the end of our relationship is like a giant gaping wound, but there’s no wrong time for an Oregon Trail reference.

Local or Express

Uptown, downtown. Local, express. Connections are available to the 1, 2, 3, and 9. I love the subway. It feels so cyberpunk to watch clips, play games (Alchemy!) or listen to podcasts on my phone on the subway car. And I’m embarrassingly proud of myself for finding my way around.

It’s not just the subway, actually, I love my whole trip to and from work. I like that I don’t have to think about traffic or parking, and that instead of other drivers on the beltway TRYING TO CRASH INTO ME AND KILL ME, I can sit and read my book, or listen to my headphones, or just look out the window at the New York City icons.

(Sure, it’s probably only a matter of time before I start grumbling about waiting for the bus or about how the PATH train stations seem permanently under construction. Let me enjoy it while it lasts.)

I was on the subway the other day when my stunning lack of direction struck again, so I stopped a random guy and asked for directions. He paused to think about it, and then burst into song:

“Yo-ou must take the A-train….”

Manhattan is awesome.

Crash Course

What with a very full first day and then all that dancing down the street singing about how I’ve gotten a new job, by the time I got to the train station, I’d completely missed rush hour. That means forty minutes between trains to Jersey and a transfer in Newark and other signs of commuter hell. Scep and Katie’s condo is awesome, but it’s at the edge of civilization. (Don’t even try to defend it, Scep, how long is your drive to work?!?) (And Andrea, your house is marked by Here be dragons on my map.)

I finally got back to Scep’s place and chatted with Scep and Katie for a bit before I picked up some clothes and left again to spend the night at my mom’s so I wouldn’t have to do that again tomorrow morning. My folks’ house is much closer to Manhattan-bound commuter rail, and therefore my awesome new job.

I took the Clove Road shortcut by Montclair State, thinking about how I’d spent quite a lot of high school weekends here at Six Brothers diner (Ooh, arcade Puzzle Bobble! That should definitely go on my 15 games list!), and not about the complete stupidity of driving a fifteen-year-old car through a college late at night. I’ve been pulled over probably six or seven times since I got my license, and five or six of those were for driving a battered old car on campus at night. It was worse when I was a new driver, going exactly the speed limit with an expression of mortal terror, but you’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now.

By the way, when the cop pulls you over in the middle of the night and asks where you’re coming from and where you’re headed, he doesn’t actually need to know about your new job, your move from North Carolina, and your old boyfriend.

I’m just saying.