Monday, March 28

Notable Progress

The week was largely mobile development progress. I've been focussing on my German language app for yet another week, adding more content, but also adding local notifications, so you get a toast notification when you get something to practice and the shell tile updates with the number of words you need to practice every half hour. It's amazing how much more professional that makes it feel (the first German language app I got on my phone didn't do that - you had to keep opening the app to check). It also makes it much more usable, for that very reason - now I only start the app when practice tests are ready or to learn something new.

I set myself a goal to release the app this year, and that is now beginning to look achievable.

The weekend (and it was an epic six day weekend :-) ), was all about the games. My sister in law and her husband came to visit and we played nineteen games! Double Firefly! Two plays of Taluva, Kigi and one of Koi Pond, Ca$h N Gun$ and Colt Express from my ten plays list and also my first play of the year of Koi Pond, Vikings and Kigi, The only slight downer was the couple of spectacular sickness events The Daughter managed on Friday and Saturday :-(

In other news I started a lunchtime games club. Mal, Gav and I played Taluva (fast becoming one of my favorite games - also one of Gav's). We're going to play it again next week. In yet further news, at Games Night we only managed one game: Battlestar Galactica, which I'd not played for a couple of years. It was a weird game - we were all humans until distance six, and then the two cylons (including myself) revealed quickly to try to scupper things before they reached Kobol. We had almost no cylon fleet action until the last couple of jumps and the humans managed a fairly easy win (though we did get them down to 2 fuel and 1 population). I'd like to play again for a more normal, paranoid experience!

Monday, March 21

Decent Progress All Round

This week hasn't been as epic as last week, but I've nevertheless managed to make solid progress on a couple of things. It was a busy week at work (though all in the office - no travel!) with visitors from America and Manchester up along with my boss for several days and a work night out (rare enough for me) on Tuesday.

Once that was out of the way we had another good Games Night on Wednesday (more Taluva and Colt Express :-) ) and then I fit in some more development in the evenings towards the end of the week. One of the things I miss about being a developer in my day job is the feeling of accomplishment you get when you write some code, compile it and it works. You've clearly achieved something. These days my day job involves meetings and sending and responding to emails - it's harder to spot when you've done good work.

The last couple of weeks I've made really good progress on my learning German app, and I can tell that, because I can use it to strength my German - the proof is in the pudding. I'm now in a position (after a whole week of faffing on refactoring things) that I can quite quickly add a lot more vocabulary, which is what it needs to be useful. To me and others.

There's a bunch more stuff it needs to be shippable, but it's not a million miles off, so that's a goal for the year in my sights. I want to use it to strengthen my skills in a way that Duolingo doesn't allow me to, and the other apps I've tried don't do either. I've started learning Portuguese with Duolingo too, and already I'm wanting to get a Portuguese version of my app together too. So I must be doing something right (if only for myself!).

The other thing that has gone well this week was more Dragon Dance playtesting. I got a chance to try the new version out with Amaury, who really wasn't very keen on the previous version. He reckoned the new version was 'way, way better for the dragon player' and we even saw a win for the knight - the first in ages.

I need to tweak a couple of minor things and then I'll be looking for more playtesters and a wider range of feedback. Shout if you're interested.

Monday, March 14

An Epic Week

I've spent a whole week in Newcastle! That doesn't sound that impressive, seeing as it's where I live and work, but in the preceding two weeks I spent five and a half days in America and two days in Manchester.

With a whole week of evenings at home I've been amazingly productive, with Dragon Dance, with Zombology and also with my German language Windows Phone app. Broad-based productivity!

Last weekend I picked up my German language app again for the first time in at least eight months. It was the first time I'd written any code in eight months! My new role at work doesn't involve any coding and I'd been so focussed on Zombology (and latterly Dragon Dance) that I'd not done any at home either.

After last weekend's long night of coding on Saturday while The Wife was out, I've been working all week re-structuring the code extensively to make it easier to add extra vocabulary to the app. I want it to do two things which I struggle with in Duolingo (the app I've been using to extend my German skills): limited vocabulary, and a lack of tabulated data. I find it easiest to learn verb conjugations or adjective declensions from a table where I can see at a glance how things are structured, but in Duolingo you come across things fairly haphazardly and never get to see the table (don't get me wrong, I think Duolingo is great - I use it daily for strengthening my German and more recently learning Portuguese ahead of a holiday).

It's coming along nicely, and it feels great to be coding again - it's been a hobby of mine since I was ten and my day job for the vast majority of the last eighteen years.

If that wasn't enough, I also had my first Games Night in three weeks (the aforementioned travel nixing the previous two) which was also epic. There were only three of us, but we managed six games: three of Hive with Mike before Gav arrived (ticking Hive off my not yet played this year list); two of Taluva (christening my new copy, ticking two plays off my not yet played ten times list and Taluva off my not yet played this year list) and then one of Colt Express (christening my new copy and ticking one play off my not yet played ten times list). I'd not played Taluva in about four years, but it was just as awesome as I remember it being, and Mike and Gav seemed to really enjoy it too (we almost played three games back to back).

After Games Night, I printed out a copy of the new version of Dragon Dance I came up with last week and then Gav and I tried it out on Friday lunchtime. Gav seemed to enjoy it and I think it's an improvement on the previous version - I need to run it by Amaury now to see if it addresses his problems with the previous version.

Finally, to round out the week in style, I got the Print on Demand proof of Zombology from Drive Thru Cards and got to proof it on Friday night (I'm a wild man of Rock - that's how we wild men of Rock spend our Friday nights). There was one glaring error (I'd somehow managed to delete one of the card backs) and a couple of minor ones (the front and back cards that are intended to form the equivalent of a box lid and box tray design were facing the wrong way). So I've fixed those and uploaded the corrected art. After talking to Brian I'd already uploaded new art with the 100% Key black replaced with Rich Black, but the proof had been done with 100% Key and it looked fine and there were a couple of registration issues on some cards, which would make rich black look really dodgy, so I unwound that change too.

If only every week was that productive!

Monday, March 7

Asymmetry In Dragon Dance

The game I'm currently focusing on, Dragon Dance, is a two-player game themed around the epic struggle between St. George and the Dragon. I want it to be a game of simultaneous action and bluff that recreates the feeling I had when sparring during my Tae Kwon Do days - watching your opponent careful for the minute tells that telegraph his next move so you can counter-attack, block or move out of the way appropriately.

Clearly a game which features a human knight and a dragon also needs to mirror the asymmetry of that match up - the knight needs to feel in mortal danger throughout as he takes on a vastly more powerful foe. At the same time the dragon needs to feel frustrated as the nimble knight dances around his vast unwieldy bulk delivering small wounds which slow add up over time to a threat.

So the game needs to be, and feel, different to each player. Initially the asymmetry was fairly superficial. The knight had far fewer hit points than the dragon, and the dragon was limited in his actions by a smaller pool of dice that were required to perform an action, requiring the dragon to pause more frequently to recuperate and regain his dice.

Some of the first feedback I got back during NaGa DeMon 2014 was that the game felt too samey, so I tried to change the actions available to each player to make the dragon feel more powerful but clumsier - which I chose to do by making his actions work well with good dice and do nothing with poor dice. Sadly this just broke the bluffing aspect for the dragon player, as his choice of dice (the possible bluff) was now: He's doing x or wasting a turn - so clearly, he was doing x.

When I came back to Dragon Dance at the beginning of this year, turning it on its head improved some things (the theme feels tighter now, as does the reading the tells bit) but broke others - the dragon's options were too few and too samey. It felt much less interesting as the dragon.

Over the last couple of weeks I've been trying to think of a way to make the dragon's options:
  • More thematic
  • More powerful
  • More lumbering and unwieldly

While somehow making it not so powerful that it always wins effortlessly in the first couple of turns!

I had hoped to do something in the early mornings while away in America, but by that point inspiration had yet to strike so I had to settle for just finishing the Print on Demand version of Zombology and reading books.

Inspiration finally struck at the beginning of last week, which meant I was well placed to work on it while I was away in Manchester at the end of last week (I missed Newcastle Playtest last week because after five and a half days away in America I had another couple of days away the week after - I chose to spend some time with my family in between instead).

I want the dragon to feel clumsy and slow, very powerful, very dangerous, but clumsy and slow. Fewer action cubes (the dice equivalents in the new version) is part of that, but the new cards with three possible actions on them (an attack, a defence and an action) mean that the dragon feels very similar to the knight, and since the dragon's cards were all very similar, the choice of card wasn't very interesting either.

So I've decided to further rein in the dragon by reducing his options. Now each of his cards contain two out of the three options: attack, defend and action. As a result, I hope the choice of card will be more interesting (Attack/Defend? Attack/Action? or Defend/Action?) but the dragon will feel more restrained and hence clumsier, which will also give the knight a little more information, hopefully making the game less heavily weighted towards the dragon (I want the dragon to win a bit more than the knight, but not 100% of the time like it is at the moment!).

In other news, during a meeting with my boss's boss on Friday he ordered a copy of Zombology! There's only one of the limited edition left now, almost done!