The internet is a weird and wonderful place. It’s a place where thousands of people can simultaneously play the same game of Pokémon. It’s a place of wonder and frustration, of conversation and trolls. A place where even the silliest idea can go viral.

A few days ago, a guy going by Zack Danger Brown (Danger might actually be his middle name, but I’m assuming not) started a kickstarter to make a potato salad. “I’m making potato salad.” reads his description, “Basically I’m just making potato salad. I haven’t decided what kind yet.”

His original goal was $10, however, at the time of writing, he now has $17,367 with 2,304 backers…

What the hell?

Look, I get it, the internet loves potato salad. The internet loves making a big deal out stupid crap. But seriously… $17K for a guy to make a POTATO SALAD?!?!?

Let’s talk about why this is a bad thing.

I don’t think that Zack Danger intended, or even imagined that this little gag project of his would explode like this, or that it would draw this much attention. That’s sort of the way the internet works, you can work hard for years and never get noticed, or you can post one thing that millions of people like/agree with/laugh at/scoff at/hate with a passion and then you are famous out of nowhere. This is just a side effect of how the internet works.

Now, this may be like a Twitch Plays Pokémon, where it explodes in popularity and then quickly wanes. (I just learned that TPP is actually still running, they are in Pokémon Black 2, though now the average viewership is much lower.)

But for now this thing is all over the internet. All day as I was at work on the computer I was seeing tweet after tweet about this stupid potato salad thing, people kept talking about it, and that’s a big part of the problem. Hell, by writing this blog post I am talking about it and being part of the problem. All the attention this project is getting is a bad thing.

Crowdfunding, while it has revolutionized the way that small projects can be funded and created, is still a fancy new-fangled thing. (My parents could not understand why crowdfunding worked for a while. Why would you invest without equity?) A project like this just draws negative attention to kickstarter, makes it harder for something like crowdfunding to be taken seriously.

However, the bigger problem with the potato salad project is that all this money could be going instead to fund other projects, projects that have work and talent behind them. Project that matter. While there is nothing inherently wrong with Mr. Danger wanting to ask for money to make a potato salad (though, honestly, dude, don’t you have a job or something that you could get that money from), but the money and attention he’s getting is far better served going to better projects.

Here’s a list of just a few projects on kickstarter right now that are far worthier of your attention (in my honest opinion):

A project to make durable toy swords with interchangeable parts

Playing cards that help you make backstories for RPG characters

A dieselpunk sandbox RPG

A game about becoming a monster to protect someone you love

And SO MANY MORE!

Please, take whatever money you were going to throw at Mr. Danger and his potato salad, because God knows he doesn’t need any more money than he’s already been pledged, and use that money to help out a project that actually needs it. Crowdfunding is a wonderful opportunity for the collective that is the internet to help out a project that needs it, to help out a project that you personally believe in, that you want to see come to fruition. So, please, let’s not talk anymore about potato salad, and let’s help make some great things come into being.

Starting working today on putting together a personal website where I should hopefully be able to post links and information about my small game projects that I have been working on and will be working on. Still in rough shape, but I hope to get it polished up by the end of the week and I’ll post a link to it here.

I will still use this as my personal blog, hopefully I can be a little more consistent with my posting here.

I was bored and feeling a little pensive, so I wrote a poem.

Passing Shadows

Do we ever truly belong anywhere
Or, rather, is our life meant to be transient
filled only with passing shadows,
some who linger longer
while most fade into distant memories?

In the moment when we stop moving,
when we “settle down” as they say,
is that the moment we begin to truly live,
Or is that the moment when we begin to die?

What is home?
Is it a place, some large, imposing space?

Or is it something you can carry with you
Is it even a thing
Or can it be a moment, a memory, or even a person?

Is home a sail,
Or an anchor,
Does it carry onward to distant a new seas
Or does it keep us entrenched so deeply
that our rudders can no longer bear the weight of adventure

Is happiness a journey, or a destination
Once we’ve achieved enough, gained enough,
Then will we be happy?

Or, is joy there to be found in every moment,
even when “plenty” is a foreign word?

Does any of it even matter?
Or are we all just passing shadows,
passing through the world without leaving a trace

streaming schedule

So, last semester I dabbled with streaming a bit with my friend Luke, aka BlueWales73. We had a ton of fun doing it, and while we didn’t really have more than one or two viewers in our few test streams, we felt like it’s something we want to keep doing.

While we’re not doing it trying to get a ton of viewers or anything we still think that it’s good to set an actual streaming schedule so that at least we are consistent. Who knows, maybe people will watch in the future.

As of right now the plan is to stream Tuesdays and Saturdays, 8-10 MST. You can find those on my twitch channel, or if you follow me on twitter I always tweet a link whenever we start streaming.

I will also likely stream at random times as well, but those aren’t going to be on a schedule or anything, since some weeks will be busier than others.

Just before the holidays I completed my penultimate semester of college, in which one of my classes was on Software Business, in particular about starting one. One of the most important things we talked about in the class was customer validation before you begin making the product. Before you write the software you find out what it is that the customers wanted. In the course of the class we formed groups that acted as start-ups and we did surveys to find out if people would actually buy the software we were going to make. (Most of the groups were just in it for the grade, though a few were planning on taking their business ideas beyond the scope of the class, for which I applaud them. I was certainly not one of them.)

The point of the exercise was that before you put a lot of effort into making a piece of software you should figure out if people will buy it, and what they’ll be willing to buy it for. As Steve Blank said “No business plan survives first contact with the customer.” So, better to have that contact before you invest time and money into that business plan.

This also applies to the game industry. When you are making a game you want to make sure the game is fun to play, that the mechanics work and that your players understand your story. As you make the game, though, you get blinded by your own bias and you become unable to see the flaws, the things that might be unclear, or the things that might not be so fun. In order to make sure you have the best game possible you want to get outside input. Just like in the software industry many companies will do an alpha or a beta release.

In comes “early access”. In the past year we’ve seen more and more games starting to get released under the early access system, either on Steam or through their own sites. The idea behind these games being released in this way is that developers can get player feedback so that the game can be even better.

Cube World, being developed by Picroma, currently in alpha

Cube World, being developed by Picroma, currently in alpha

From the Steam website:

We like to think of games and game development as services that grow and evolve with the involvement of customers and the community. There have been a number of prominent titles that have embraced this model of development recently and found a lot of value in the process. We like to support and encourage developers who want to ship early, involve customers, and build lasting relationships that help everyone make better games.

This is the way games should be made.

There is merit to this, and there are success stories that show that early access to a game can help the game develop into something great. Minecraft, for example, exploded in popularity during it’s alpha and beta releases, giving the developer Mojang access to mountains of player feedback. It’s a game that continues to evolve even today, each new release adding more to the game.

Unlike a pre-purchase of the game you get access to it immediately, and from the get go you can play the game in it’s current form. However, both pre-purchase and early access come with one inherent problem:

You are buying a game that is not finished yet.

When you pre-purchase a game you are paying for something before it has come out. You have no idea, and no way of knowing, if it is any good. With early access you are paying for a game that is in progress, but you also have an opportunity to be a part of the game’s development, which is a unique opportunity. However, you have to keep in mind, the game isn’t done yet.

Hearthstone, Blizzard's digital CCG, currently in closed beta.

Hearthstone, Blizzard’s digital CCG, currently in closed beta.

There will be problems, there will be crashes, there will be changes, there will be bugs. As long as you understand the risks associated with purchasing an early access game then there isn’t a problem. Getting early access to a game is a great opportunity, however, early access in itself as a business model is doing damage to the gaming industry.

Not everyone understands that the game isn’t finished yet. When the game is released to the public in an unfinished state it effects the way that people view the game. When the crashes and the bugs happen those become what are focused on, and it does damage to the game and to it’s development cycle. People who were at first excited about the game coming out start to lose interest, and the game can die before it’s even finished.

If you want to be a part of the process, if you are interested in seeing the game in it’s early stages, if you are willing to put up with the problems and the crashes and the bugs than by all means, by that game in early access. I myself have played a number of these early access games. The important thing to keep in mind is this:

The game isn’t finished yet.

You can’t judge an alpha or beta game based on it’s current state. The game isn’t done yet, so don’t judge it based on what it is, but on what it can become.

I don’t say this often, but you need to experience this game. Everyone needs to experience this game. Why? Brothers is, by far, the most powerful game I have ever experienced. Do not watch Let’s Play’s do not read spoilers, do not look it up on wikipedia, you need to experience the game’s story yourself. Heck, you probably should just stop reading this review right here. Here, have a link, just go on steam and buy it right now, and play it.

In case that didn’t work and you need more convincing (or if you have already played it and just want to read my thoughts on it) let me explain why I am praising this game.

In Brothers you play as two brothers who are on a journey to find the tree of life to heal their dying father. The game has a very unique mechanic. You control both brothers simultaneously and use them to solve different puzzles. Brothers only works with controllers, which, for me, is normally a turn off, but in this case it’s completely justifiable.

While at first a bit disorienting, the control scheme feels natural and is fairly simple. You only use the sticks for movement, the triggers to interact with the two brothers, and the bumpers can be used to control the camera. While I would often get the two brothers confused and end up trying to move the wrong one, by the end of the game I mostly was able to keep them straight.

Brother is more of an adventure game than a puzzle game. The puzzles that are there in the game are not too difficult, but they keep you engaged and make good use of the fact that you are controlling two brothers. I would not describe Brothers as a puzzle game, it’s more of an adventure game. You, as the Brothers, are on a journey, and while there are some obstacles and puzzles in the way, the game is really about the journey.

And what a journey it is. The story is incredible, and without any spoilers, it is one of the most powerful stories I have ever experiences in a video game. The game is also visually beautiful.

Brothers is, to me, a prime example of the power of video games. What makes it wonderful is the fact that the mechanics go hand in hand with the story. There is no dissonance between the two, as you play as the two brothers on their journey you are being taken on a journey, and at least for me it was a journey I will likely never forget.

Even after playing through the game myself and watching my two brothers each play it still touches me deep in my soul. This game shows that a game can be powerful, that a game can tell a wonderful story (with no dialogue, by the way), that a game can make you feel accomplished, that a game can make you cry, that a game can change people. I will repeat myself again: You need to experience Brothers for yourself.

For some context take a look at this article on Polygon, which talks about online harassment and cyber-bullying targeted at game developers. A very good read, and it got me thinking about this topic.

Toxicity is not something limited to online games, but it is one of the places that it seems to be the most prevalent. When I look back on the last few times I’ve played online multiplayer games I can recall at least a dozen cases of toxicity. Trash talking, insults, cursing, blaming other people on your team, these are just a few of the ways that toxicity comes into place in these types of games.

Why? Honestly, what purpose does this serve? Why do we feel a need to be so toxic when we are playing games?

One of the last time I played Dota 2 I had a particularly bad experience with a particularly toxic player. I am still fairly new to Dota 2, and one of the problems (and one of the intriguing parts) of single draft is that you will often end up with a hero that you have never played before. This was the case, and as such I was floundering a bit. One player in particular got annoyed at me, and in the chat consistently berated me for every perceived mistake, including every time he died and I was nearby. (In one of these cases he claimed that I should have sacrificed myself so he could get away because he was losing too much farm or something.) Now, I will admit that I am not a great player, and I am sure that I was making a lot of mistakes that game, but the abuse (I do not use this term lightly, the level of toxicity was abusive) was completely uncalled for.

The thing I found very interesting in this case was that on our team this particularly toxic player had the second lowest level, had the least kills and the second lowest gold per minute.

In my experience I’ve noticed that good players don’t trash talk. Good players don’t need to blame others, they don’t need to get inside their opponents head, they just play their best and usually win. The players that resort to toxicity are generally not that great, to be frank.

Recently I’ve been prompted on YouTube several times if I want to use my real name instead of an alias on my channel and in comments. I’ve turned this down, but it make me question the motivation to this push. YouTube comments are most certainly one of the few places on earth where you can find almost incomprehensible amounts of ignorance, stupidity and toxicity. I think if people would read their comments aloud it would stop a lot of it, but I think there is an entirely different cause as well, at least for the toxicity part: anonymity. On YouTube you hide behind a username, no one has any idea who you are, and when hiding behind a mask it’s really easy for our ugly sides to come out.

I personally think that if everyone on YouTube were to use their real names it would stop most people from making toxic comments. Of course, there is a whole slew of privacy concerns with that, but I think that it would at least alleviate a large amount of toxicity on YouTube.

When we play online games, we are essentially hiding behind a mask. We are known by our usernames and gamer tags, and in a way those become an entirely different identity, and in a lot of ways disconnected from who we are in person, and a lot of people really aren’t worried about soiling that second identity because it’s distinct from them. This is another root of toxicity, this idea that you are anonymous online.

It needs to stop. There is no need for it, and it just harms the gaming community. There is a reason that gamers are not taken seriously in society, why when it’s discovered that a political candidate plays World of Warcraft it is heavily criticized and becomes news. We as gamers are perceived an immature, toxic and disconnected, and a large part of why is that this sort of behaviour is so common in online interactions. Are all players that way? Not by a long shot. Enough are, though, to make this a serious problem.

I wanted to finish off with one more point. There is a word that float around in the gaming community, a derogatory term that I feel needs to be buried once and for all. This word is ‘noob’. In no other activity that I know of is it a bad thing to be starting. In almost every other social activity and/or social circle/group that I know of people are happy when new people show an interest. Every time I am at the game store playing Magic the Gathering I am really happy to see someone there playing in a draft for the first time. In my experience people are more than willing to help the new player learn the (admittedly) complicated rules of the game, to help them feel welcome, and to get them to want to play more.

However, a brand new player jumps on to Dota 2, and immediately everyone in the game is yelling at them, calling them a ‘noob’, and telling them to go home. How is this alright? I don’t understand why some gamers are so quick to try and chase away anyone who wants to share in their hobbies? It doesn’t make any sense to me, and I have a strong urge when I hear (or see, as the case may be) the word ‘noob’ to punch the perpetrator in the face. It needs to stop.

Interesting little test that a friend of mine posted about on twitter. Here are my results:

I Am A: True Neutral Human Bard/Sorcerer (2nd/2nd Level)

Ability Scores:
Strength-9
Dexterity-13
Constitution-11
Intelligence-14
Wisdom-10
Charisma-12

Alignment:
True Neutral A true neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn’t feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most true neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality. Such a character thinks of good as better than evil after all, he would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he’s not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way. Some true neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run. True neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion. However, true neutral can be a dangerous alignment when it represents apathy, indifference, and a lack of conviction.

Race:
Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Primary Class:
Bards often serve as negotiators, messengers, scouts, and spies. They love to accompany heroes (and villains) to witness heroic (or villainous) deeds firsthand, since a bard who can tell a story from personal experience earns renown among his fellows. A bard casts arcane spells without any advance preparation, much like a sorcerer. Bards also share some specialized skills with rogues, and their knowledge of item lore is nearly unmatched. A high Charisma score allows a bard to cast high-level spells.

Secondary Class:
Sorcerers are arcane spellcasters who manipulate magic energy with imagination and talent rather than studious discipline. They have no books, no mentors, no theories just raw power that they direct at will. Sorcerers know fewer spells than wizards do and acquire them more slowly, but they can cast individual spells more often and have no need to prepare their incantations ahead of time. Also unlike wizards, sorcerers cannot specialize in a school of magic. Since sorcerers gain their powers without undergoing the years of rigorous study that wizards go through, they have more time to learn fighting skills and are proficient with simple weapons. Charisma is very important for sorcerers; the higher their value in this ability, the higher the spell level they can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on user interfaces, or UI’s as they are often called. However, I do use computers a lot, and I mean a lot, so I think I have a bit of experience to spot a bad UI when I see one.

I have an android phone, and since android is an open source software that is altered by the manufacturers to fit their particular needs I don’t know whether to blame Google or Pantech for this one, but either way, my phone has a particularly bad flaw in it’s UI.

There is not anything really secret or private on my phone, but I am still a security conscious individual, so I decided recently to try a pattern screen lock on my phone. At the bottom of the screen lock there is a small button that says “Emergency Call”. This has been the cause of my problems.

Two days in a row last week my phone called 911 while in my pocket. Now, if you’ve ever accidentally dialed 911 you know that if you don’t stay on the line they will call you back to make sure everything is ok, like they should, however, this meant that two days in a row I had to explain to the person on the other end that my phone dialed 911 on it’s own, while in my pocket. I got to sound like a complete idiot two days in a row.

I understand the reasoning behind the button. If you are locked out of your phone and in an emergency you need a way to make the call without the pattern, either because you are panicking or it’s not actually your phone. However, it’s placement on the main page makes it way to easy for something like what happened to me last week to happen.

So, needless to say, I won’t be using a screen lock anymore…