Playing: Bomb Buddies

Bomb Buddies

It’s good to have friends in the gaming industry. You occasionally get the opportunity to check out something new before it comes out. This week I got to play Bomb Buddies from the guys over at Balanced Worlds game studio. If you grew up on Nintendo and Bomberman, then seeing a free-to-play game with similar mechanics that one can enjoy with multiple Facebook friends is exciting.

The version I saw is still in it’s early “Alpha” stages, but even then, the graphics are all top-notch and the game-play was already smooth. This is definitely not Farmville, but rather more focused on a more hard-core social gamer.

Most of the team was still focused on improving the game playability and developing new in-game content, but they’ve already released some early Youtube footage worth checking out. If you like what you see, help my friend out and show some “like” love to the Bomb Buddies Facebook page.

My Left Eye by Jay Scott at EyeCon Art

Learning: Codecademy

Codecademy’s Code Year, a program dedicated to teaching people Javascript over 2012. Unable to convince myseld people would follow through with this, I just dismissed the whole website. One friend even made the joke that resolutions like this are the 21st century version of signing up to the gym. However, once my cynicism faded, curiosity got the best of me and so I decided to see what they’ve accomplished. It’s been a while since I’ve done some programming, so getting a refresher seemed like a worthy adventure.

After spending a few days going through the existing lessons, a few compelling aspects of Codecademy really stood out:

  • One Spot: There is no for context switching between book and screen or screen and other app. The lesson and the coding area are located next to each other, making it easier to follow the assignment and maintain focus.
  • Development Environment: There is no environment to set-up, it’s self-contained. Yes, I know they use Javascript so this isn’t really a major issue, but once again though, having the coding area next to program output is an incredible time-saver.
  • Q&A: Hints are embedded in each lesson and always a click away. If that doesn’t help, the Q&A community will help you work through most problems.
  • Time: Each course has multiple sections, but they only require a few minutes each. Since your progress is saved, it’s simple to complete one quick lesson, go do something else, and come back later.

Codecademy is still a start-up and therefore still evolving. So while I’m going to be patient with them, there are a few areas could use some improvement:

  • Lessons Quantity: There are just too few. This should rapidly increase in the near future, but right now, it’s a pain to get on a roll and then have to stopand wait for the next lesson set to be released.
  • Cheat Sheets: It’s easy to forget something you’ve only done once. So after learning a new concept, a handy (possibly printable) cheat sheet containing basic structure or grammar would be more helpful than going back to reference an old lesson.
  • Repetitive: There are areas where you constantly type in the same code over and over. While it does help drill home the point, it also can get annoying quickly.
  • Errors: Programming errors, especially for newbies, bring everything to a halt. Sadly, most errors don’t say, “You should put a semicolon here,” or “You didn’t close out that function with a bracket.” A short lesson here and there on error messages and what they actually mean would go a long way.
  • Curation: The Q&A is nice to have, but is going to be overwhelming as more people sign-up. People who post up questions are usually not clear in describing their problems, so its difficult to find the exact help you need. Given time, I hope they can curate or summarize some of the most common issues and the best answers.

Overall, I’m pleased with what I’ve seen. With the pieces they already have in place, it shouldn’t be too difficult to teach some fundamental programming concepts. As with any educational tool though, you get out what you put into it. There is no public resolution for Code Year needed to move forward, so get started and catch up with the rest of us. For a few minutes a day, it’s an easy investment to make.

Link: Codecademy

Playing: Triple Town

Triple TownTiny Tower has recently consumed more time than I should admit. My tower-ful community though is quickly losing ground to Triple Town’s cottages, cathedrals, and carnivores. The concept is simple. You own a parcel of land that needs developing to its highest potential. This is done by combining together object triplets. Bushes turn into trees, trees turn into houses, and so on. Life seems good, but not everyone shares the utopian dream for a city. A cadre of cute, yet contrarian bears continually conspire to bring a special brand of chaos to your carefully constructed calculations.*

Triple Town is not chess. It does, however, require thinking a few steps in advance and being aware of how much space you have work with. Ignoring this will just limit growth. For example, randomly creating trees will allow for short-term point gains, but it will eat up space and make it difficult to create more valuable items later. Each board is randomly created: the initial playing field changes, the queue of items differs, and the bears move in different patterns. Together, this creates a distinctly new game each play, increasing its replay potential.

The game is free is to download, so for the developers to monetize, the player initially receives a limited number of turns before either having to wait for turns to organically increase or by paying to completely and permanently unlock this restriction. Thankfully, the game comes with enough “free” turns to play a couple of rounds before running out. Unfortunately, by that point your hooked and the $3.99 to unlock the game begins to look like a great investment.

* Note to self: Alliteration kills.

My Experience with Fiverr: The Portraits

When I was in high school some friends of mine used to have little inside joke where we’d say “It’s ONLY a dollar!” To be honest, I can’t even remember how it got started or why it was even funny at the time, but it was the first thing that came to mind when I discovered Fiverr. As far as internet niches goes, Fiverr is striking gold by connecting cheapos like me with people who’ve grossly underestimated the actual worth of their services.

So to test the site, I decided to submit some photos to 4 different artists who all promised me to change my awesomely normal look into their own personal styles. It’s only five dollars, I couldn’t NOT do it.

“You look like a monkey”

My girlfriend said I looked like a monkey.In all honesty, I have no idea what a “Julian Opie” style is, I just thought it looked cool enough to start my Fiverr experiment. To date this was the best in terms of responsiveness and quickness of delivery. The artist was extremely quick with feedback and the final artwork, even going so far as making a last-minute change. They definitely set the bar for what I expected from others.

So while the service was great, the final result was a bit underwhelming. I suspect this is less to do with the artist’s ability as it is in me giving them a bland photo to work with. My feelings towards the end results were mixed at best. My girlfriend went so far as to tell me, “You look like a monkey,” and then threatening to post the image on her Weibo account.

For that, I’d like to thank the artists. You’ve given my girlfriend more ammo in her relentless crusade to convince me that all caucasians look like monkeys. I’d pay you in bananas if I could.

Final Grade: C+

Artist: Relaxabe

Ad: Draw a julian opie style cartoon image from your picture (link expired)

Hey, is that Tobias?

Hey Baby, you lookin' at me?My second attempt ended up with a better end result, but was much more of a shocker in terms of delivery time. My “extensive” experience on Fiverr told me these artists work fast, so imagine my shock when I didn’t get my portrait within 24 hours. Screaming ensued…objects were thrown across the room…litigation written up…

Ok, I’m kidding. Basically what happened was that I had to reset my expectations for what I was going to get for $5usd. The old saying about “cheap, fast, and good” still holds on Fiverr. So while everything on the site is cheap, you still have the “fast and good” variables to deal with. After a few days of waiting, the results finally came in. It was then I realized my few days of “not fast” were offset by an increase in overall satisfaction with the final product.

That said, I’m still not completely happy. The artist had more time, but seems to have turned me into a generic cartoon version of David Cross, instead of trying to find one distinguishing feature to focus on.

It’s decent work, just lacks punch.

Final Grade: B

Artist: Draculafetus

Ad: I will draw a portrait of you in my unique style

Me in a Japanese RPG supporting role

The Anime version of me. And by punch I must mean anime! How could I resist making myself look like a supporting player in Akira? This is a slam dunk, I had to have this one. My only concern was whether or not I still had enough hair on the top of my head to justify any super-power spikiness. From the results, I’d say…umm…I don’t. But I must give credit to the artist, no one did better than him on nailing the look of my receding hairline. Kudos…you almost made it look cool to have a gigantic forehead.

Seriously though, this is my favorite of all the entries. Even with the anime-overlay, I don’t have to spend 5 minutes convincing myself that it’s me. I do have to convince myself that I’m not actually a cyborg with shotguns for arms, but I’m willing to live with that.

Side Note: I’m currently searching Fiverr for someone to convert my arms into shotguns.

Final Grade: A

Artist: Joshuab

Ad: Draw you or a friend as an anime character

The Rat Pack member?

Smooth OperatorAlthough most of these orders were initiated at the same time, this one took the longest to deliver. The end result seems to be a little more Ol’ Blue Eyes than Jeremy, don’t you think? I suppose it’s my fault in asking for a Frank Sinatra vibe in the picture. The artist obviously delivered. Sadly though, what makes me who I am seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle. Maybe the lesson here is that you shouldn’t give people too many of your own ideas. Let them just do their work as they see fit.

Artists are usually good at feeling what you mean, instead of what you say. In this respect I have to give the artist credit for correcting my mistake in asking for “a Frank Sinatra ‘Brat Pack’ type of vibe,” instead of the more accurate “Rat Pack”. Luckily, they seemed to have known what I meant instead of what I said. Had they not, I could have ended up looking less like like Frankie and more like Judd Nelson.

Final Grade: B-

Artist: friendswith4leg

Ad: I will make a whimsical illustration of you for your FaceBook profile

 

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