Friday, November 22, 2013

Website Design

    What have we been up to in the last 2 weeks?  Well, I took the time to finally start evaluating some website building software.  The excuse was to update the Zenerdgy site for the changes involving Score Genie, but really any time I can play with new software is a good time.   The old Zenerdgy website was thrown together using one of the 3 browser based website builders available at HostMonster.  Although it did the job and were faster than I could build it by hand, I much prefer building the website locally using software and then deploying the results.  Less surprises this way.
  So new website tinkering took up most of once week.  The last week was fixing some small issues with Family Bank and getting our house in order.  Not the company 'house', but our actual house.  It is Fall around here and those leaves are not going to pick themselves up.  Here in the Northwest, we have to jump on those sunny Fall days and get as much yard work in that we can.  You never know when it will begin to rain and not end until March or so.  I can tell you, wet leaves definitely do not pick them selves up, even with a leaf blower.  So a little house work was involved this last week.  Oh yeah, Rebecca has been out of town for business lately too, so I also had the kids all to myself.  Like leaves, they also do not pick up clothes and junk by themselves unless you follow them around the house yelling like a drill sergeant.  Lucky for them, I have that background.  Thanks Uncle Sam!
  Thanksgiving and the holidays are coming up fast, but I will try to get the upgrade packs to Score Genie out and also fix an advertising issue with Letter Rain Free.

Geek Side Note

    Although I have built a lot of websites in my past using a simple editor, I prefer using a WYSIWYG software package.  You give the control of every little detail, but get the perks of seeing what the site would look like in various themes and styles.  Thanks to the new Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and HTML 5 standards, you can create a lot of reusable site elements pretty easily.   My favorite example of this is the most excellent CSS Zen Garden site.   It is still the gold standard for showing off the same information, but with different CSS styles applied.  Pretty eye-opening, if you have never seen it.
  Along with new software, you also have to learn the quirks and tricks of how the software works and what are its limitations.  Now I had an old version of Dream Weaver sitting around, but it is not compatible with the latest OS X version, and was pretty out of date with the latest standards.  So it was off to Google and a search for the latest and greatest (within our budget).  I looked at a few, but narrowed my choices down to Sandvox and Freeway Pro.  These are both impressive products.    In the simplest of terms, Sandvox allows a user to create lots of themed sites quite easily, but Freeway allows you much more control of the site.  In the end, I decided on using Sandvox for the ease of use and more importantly, the ability to show the different themes to Rebecca for approval.  After running different versions of the site by Rebecca, I decided that Sandvox fit our process better.   In Freeway's defense, I could have eventually built up my own templates to do this, but was lured by Sandvox's nice and easy themes.  "No, no Baby, its not you, its me that has the problem."

Monday, November 11, 2013

iFest was a Blast!

   I have to admit that the room with all the old classic Atari and Nintendo game consoles was a pretty damned nostalgic.  You forget those old games that made you fall in love with computers in the first place.  Good job on the iFest organizers to have those consoles up and running for everyone to play.  There was everything from old Atari 2600 to the more modern Nintendo Entertainment System.  Lots of game cartridges too.
    The event itself was also very entertaining and especially informative.   There was an excellent Virtual Reality simulation with a simple target shooter.  We got there early, so the wait was minimal and worth the effort.  It is always fun to see someone standing in a room with a bunch of equipment on his head and back, moving and twisting in reaction to whatever only they can see.  Of course, once you are that person in the harness, you realize the monitors everyone else is watch do not do the game justice.  You need that sound and the environment moving when you do.  I don't know if I got high score, but I did enjoy that prototype game.
  It was amazing to talk to the other game designers/developers that were showing the results of months or even years of work.  Walking around and seeing these impressive games and their creators was a real treat.  There was everything from interactive graphic novels, to real world physics games using spaceships or even swinging from cables all over a city.  I know we will be buying a few of these games, which we were unaware of until we saw them at iFest.  We also learned a few tips on how to market our products in the future.  I must admit, I think Zenerdgy will be displaying a game or two next year.
   There were also some lecture hall talks about how independent gamers have dealt with various issues in creating and marketing their games.  We attended a few of these and really enjoyed getting some background behind some of the design and funding choices made by other developers.  There was also a good talk on how to keep your chin up and deal with happiness as a small independent developer.  It had an impact on both Rebecca and I and we are still talking about that today.  The mental aspect of the independent developer is critical in this field.  Instead of working for the 'Man', you have to make all your own decisions and live with the results.  It is not for everyone, we realize.

Side Note

Why is it always the 'Man'?  Isn't that a bit sexist in this day and time?  Why not the phrase, "Working for the Woman"?  or Person?  Eh, it just loses something in the translation when you say it that way.  Oh well, someday it will be a computer running everything, then we will say we are working for "The Bot" or something.  
I, for one, welcome our new Computer Overlords...  (Simpsons joke)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Rebecca: Putting yourself out there

Yesterday, Ben and I attended iFest.  It is a conference where independent game developers may showcase their games.  The organizers also had a variety of speakers on topics ranging from raising money, handling legal issues, and defining happiness as an independent developer.  Although the conference is small (number of exhibitors, number of attendees), it had a huge impact on me.  I will probably have 2-3 posts related to iFest.

One of the most impressive things about iFest is the independent developers.  The largest development team that I met had 6 people.  Most of the games are designed, developed, and marketed by 1 person.  The person has poured his/her passion into a game that they hope will make some money.  Yes, they would love to make millions, but they are really just hoping that they make enough to "keep the lights on."

Like artists, these mostly young developers have put so much of their heart and their love into their games.  In return, they make themselves vulnerable to the masses.  As the saying goes, "you cannot make everyone happy, all the time."  Players or gamers (endusers) provide invaluable feedback about the playability of the game, about the graphics, and about the "fun" of the game.  But the criticism may also be harsh.  I am not a programmer, but I know so many of the design or programming choices are subjective or the result of necessity.  When you build anything from your heart, it is hard to hear that your creation is not perfect.  It is easy to criticize:  "screen movement is jerky, I do not like the background, the game is confusing, or I don't like how it plays."  We are entitled to like/dislike a game, but I appreciate the huge efforts and love that goes into all the games I saw.  I hope the developers take the feedback that is helpful, but ignore the more hurtful comments.  You cannot make everyone happy.  If I learned anything from Ben's app development for Zenerdgy, it is make games you are proud of.  Have a few individuals that believe in you, follow your heart, listen to helpful criticism, and keep developing.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Rebecca: Approved

ScoreGenie was approved today.  Congratulations to Ben for writing an app in 30 days.  Like Ben, I enjoyed the blogging.  It is cathartic to express your challenges and your frustrations.  I also like putting in writing, in public what I need to accomplish.  While I have not received any angry feedback about my lack of progress on marketing initiatives, I know that my commitments are in the public space.

I will continue to blog about my musings, thoughts, and actions on Zenerdgy.  I also want to blog about how we use the Zenerdgy apps.  Ben is creating the apps for public consumption, but all of the apps have been driven by a family/friend need.  The apps are meant to be family friendly; and ultimately, I want Ben to feel proud of what he has created.

Thanks for taking time to read our musings.  We welcome comments, and we hope you continue the journey with us.