Categories
Marketing/Business Personal Development Politics/Government

A Review of My 2021, and Looking at 2022, Already In Progress

2021 ended weeks ago, and I’m only now getting around to having a retrospective about it.

We’re in our third year of a pandemic that a lot of us thought would be over within weeks or months at most.

Once again, my immediate family somehow managed to make it through the year unscathed as far as we know. I know a number of people who have tested positive for Covid, and we’ve lost a few people we knew.

I’m still employed and working the day job from home, and since I work in software consulting, it translates into a relatively comfortable income and life for my family.

We’re all fully vaccinated, and most of us have gotten a third vaccine. Recently with developments of variants, we’ve upgraded to KN95 and N95 masks.

And since our society in general seems interested in actually helping the pandemic, it seems like this is our foreseeable future.

That said, we’ve started venturing out of the house a bit more in the last year. My children participated in sports, and I even acted as unofficial assistant soccer coach for my daughter’s team. We’ve visited with family.

Some things felt normal, despite feeling weird, and despite knowing that some people are immunocompromised and most at risk as society prematurely decides the pandemic is over. It’s disappointing.

So with the pandemic as background music, how was 2021 for GBGames?

Goals from 2021

As I wrote last year in 2020 in Review and My 2021 Vision, my goals for 2021 were:

  • Go from ~0.146 sales per week to at least 1 sale per week by December 31st
  • Increase my newsletter audience to at least 100 subscribers by December 31st
  • Release at least 6 Freshly Squeezed Entertainment games by December 31st

Increasing sales and increasing my newsletter audience aren’t things I have direct control over. They are lagging metrics, the kinds of numbers I can look at after the fact.

The only one of those goals I had direct control over was publishing games. This is a leading metric. That is, my hypothesis is that if I quickly work on and publish playable, polished prototypes, that it will lead to people finding my games and eventually subscribing to my newsletter.

And what I hypothesize is that those subscribers have shown they like my games and are more likely than random strangers to pay for Toytles: Leaf Raking and future non-free games I publish.

So how did I do?

Sales (Target: 52) – 5

In 2020, I sold 7 copies of Toytles: Leaf Raking. So, selling less means I went backwards in terms of results.

If there’s a bright side, unlike in 2020, I only released one update for the game, and most of my focus was on my new development. So 71% of the previous year’s sales despite a near-complete lack of me talking about the game?

Maybe that’s not bad, but it was clearly not anywhere near the increase I wanted.

GBGames Curiosities Newsletter subscribers net increase (Target: 84) – 6

I went from 16 subscribers to 22, about a 38% increase. Considering how the next goal’s results went, I’m taking it as a minor win, despite not hitting my goal of what now seems like a ridiculous expectation of a 525% increase.

And, no one has unsubscribed, so that’s another win in my book.

As this was probably the most important goal in terms of how much it will impact the future of GBGames, it is a bit disappointing, but again, it is a lagging metric. I can’t control it directly. Which leads me to what I could control.

Published Freshly Squeezed Games (Target: 6) – 1

Toy Factory Fixer was the only game I published last year, and it didn’t get released until mid-December.

So on the one hand, I am disappointed that I fell so far short of my original goal. Having such a late release meant that I spent most of the year not knowing how my Product Development Strategy was going to work out experimentally, which made me worry about the risk of taking so long to release something to get that feedback even more.

On the other hand, I finished and released a game I’m proud of, people are still downloading it and playing it, and I have already received some nice reviews.

And I think my regular posting about development progress has led to people signing up for the newsletter, so there is a direct connection happening there.

Analysis

Now, I think much like my arbitrary one month deadline for Toy Factory Fixer, these goals were more wishes than anything. I had no solid plan in place to make them happen, and any plan I did have was a bit vague and untested.

Literally, my plan was to release free games, hope some of the players signed up for my newsletter, and hope those subscribers eventually became paying customers.

And I think it isn’t a bad strategy overall, but in retrospect I was deluding myself with the fixed numbers I made up without anything to justify them.

I mean, I’ve made games in a weekend before, so taking two months instead of one month to make a game sounded like I was right-sizing that goal, but my experience with Toy Factory Fixer showed me that I was going to need to do something different if I wanted to make games anywhere near that fast that I would still feel good about releasing to the public. And everything else hinged one me releasing Freshly Squeezed Entertainment.

I wrote a post-mortem for Toy Factory Fixer, so you can read that post if you want to see my analysis of what I think went well and what went wrong and what I learned from it.

Otherwise, I think in general my specific goals were unrealistic. Which is frustrating because they feel like they shouldn’t be. In fact, I thought 100 subscribers was something I would hit much earlier in the year, and that what I was really hoping for was 12 games in a year.

Imagine if I made a game of the quality of Toy Factory Fixer every two or three months. Is it so unrealistic that I would have had 100 subscribers to my mailing list by the end of the year?

By my math, if I only gain 6 subscribers a year for some reason, am I really looking at 13 more years before I hit that number? That’s ridiculous.

But clearly something has to change if I want different results.

What else?

Well, I tracked 299 hours of game development, which is pretty close to almost twice what I did the previous year. 300 hours in a year might not sound like much, as it amounts to a little less than two months of full-time effort, but since I am part-time and have a family and other obligations, it represents the fact that I made it a priority to put in effort week after week.

I published 60 blog posts, slightly more than the 58 from the year before, and it was mostly weekly sprint reports. Those reports functioned almost like a combination sprint retro and demo, in which I demonstrated what I got accomplished. I got into the habit of writing the report, then planning the next sprint once I had taken time to think about how things went. Plus, people responded positively, especially when I had animated GIFs or videos to share, and since I love reading about behind-the-scenes of games, I thought others might, too.

I created an update for Toytles: Leaf Raking. It’s more compatible with modern Android and iOS systems. Otherwise, I haven’t changed anything about the game since the previous year. My expectation was that I would work on a Freshly Squeezed game, then work on a Toytles: Leaf Raking update, then work on another Freshly Squeezed game, but obviously I had no concept about how I was going to make that work.

Without contract work and with very few sales, it was very easy to have a lot more expenses than revenue. I can’t control my income, but I can manage my expenses a lot better going forward.

My personal goals for the last year were similar to the year before:

  • Do a minimum number of walking hours, push-ups, squats, and planking
  • Read a book per week
  • Create at least one doodle per day
  • Do 15 minutes of focused learning a day

I successfully did 15 push-ups, 15 squats, and 30 seconds of planks every day of 2021. Look at all that green in those columns!

Morning Exercise Routine In 2021

Technically, my daily exercise streak goes back to October 19th of the previous year.

I also did yoga on most weekends, and I think my body feels more physically capable than it has in a long time. In the past I would sometimes hurt my back or side, but I’ve been able to avoid seeing a medical professional for a long time.

Unfortunately, I rarely did anything cardio-related. Once again, the best of intentions doesn’t mean much, and my goal of walking everyday was hampered by the lack of habit, the broken treadmill I’ve been meaning to repair, and a lack of commitment. I sit too much, especially since I have my day job work and then put in even more time for my business.

I read a total of 33 books last year, the most in a given year since I stopped listening to audiobooks and switched to podcasts in my car a few years ago. I count 11 books related to games, including a bunch from Ian Bogost and a couple about making games with deeper meaning. Another 10 books were productivity or business-related.

I only read four fiction books, including Seveneves and A Game of Thrones, each of which took up a significant amount of my before-bedtime reading. I also greatly enjoyed Redwall, which was seemingly even more brutal than A Game of Thrones was.

Other books were related to history, parenting, comics, or DIY renewable energy.

I continued to do a daily doodle, alternating between drawing faces, drawing objects, and body parts like hands, legs, and feet. Sometimes I did cartoony drawings, and sometimes I tried to make it as realistic as I could. Once in a great while, I would look up a tutorial online, but I felt like I was in a holding pattern of putting in the time to make the doodle but not really growing in skill.

The new thing I tried to do was make explicit time for learning. I value learning and growth, and in the past I have invested in books, conferences, online courses, and such, but I never made an explicit plan to take advantage of those investments. So I made it a daily habit. 15 minutes a day adds up over time. I tracked 137.75 hours of learning, on topics as varied as game programming, game art, game production, creativity, and various personal development and technical things. I have had a Pluralsight subscription for the past couple of years, and this goal allowed me to take advantage of it more than I have in the past.

Goals for 2022

If the last year has shown me anything, it’s that even if I were to write down all of the outcomes I would like, it means nothing without a plan and without my capacity to work on that plan.

In 2010, I quit my job and became a full-time indie game developer. After running out of cash, I went back on “corporate welfare” in 2012. My expectation then was that I would build up some savings and quit again, but I didn’t take into account how being married and having a family would affect my risk assessment (or how much my family’s risk tolerance would inform my decisions), and I have had a day job ever since.

Clearly I wasn’t going to accidentally make GBGames my main employment, so last summer I started writing a “Full-time Indie Plan.” I wrote down how much money I was currently earning from my day job and how much money our family budget currently is vs what it would look like cut to its essentials. I documented details about platforms, revenue sources, challenges, risks, what I wanted to accomplish and what I explicitly didn’t want to do (such as spy on customers or bombard them with ads) and more. And the most important part of it is answering questions about how I was going to make it happen, such as identifying exactly what needs to happen in terms of sales, marketing.

This document isn’t finished, and while I expect it to be a living document, I recognize that I am repeating mistakes I’ve made before when I’ve done similar exercises in the past. Namely, I can come up with a lot of questions or categories, but then I don’t actually address them.

So while I have documented what I value, such as privacy, encouraging curiosity, supporting creativity, and others, and while I have done a SWOT analysis (although maybe I can iterate on it some), I haven’t answered questions about who my audience is and how I can reach them. I haven’t made a solid plan for actually marketing my games besides blogging and sharing on social media. It’s a 13 page document that has a lot of TODOs and headings without content in it.

But of course, I only have so many hours in a day. Even if I could identify 100 marketing activities, if I can’t actually make time to do them or manage someone else doing them, it does me no good.

My current lack of capacity should inform my goals more than they have in the past. Any marketing I would do would be inbound in nature rather than outbound, as it is less expensive and takes advantage of doing something once, such as publishing a blog post, and distributing it multiple times for near free.

So here are my goals for 2022:

  • Release at least 2 Freshly Squeezed Entertainment games by December 31st
  • Increase my newsletter audience from 22 to at least 34 subscribers by December 31st
  • Earn at least 1 sale per month by December 31st

I still think my overall Product Development Strategy is still sound. Create free value, ask for permission to talk with people who have shown they like my games, and then use their feedback to help me make deluxe games that are more likely to sell.

Creating two games in a year should be doable if I put on my game producer hat more often. I would love to try for four games, giving each one on average about three months, but I’m already worried that I’m still overestimating my capacity with two.

My newsletter went up by 6 subscribers last year. Now that I have one Freshly Squeezed Entertainment game out and expect to have at least one more by the middle of the year, can I find 12 more fans who are interested enough in my games to sign up?

I don’t have a sales plan in place, and clearly one sale a week was too ambitious. Still, one sale a month sounds like a ridiculously small amount, but then again, it is clearly a difficult goal for me at this time. It works out to a little more than double the sales I made in 2021, which was slightly fewer than sales from 2020. Making that trend go back up will be huge.

Besides those overall goals, I do want to spend some time porting my existing games to desktop platforms, and I’ll need time for that effort that isn’t going to be going into new development. I already develop on my Ubuntu system, so creating a Linux-based release shouldn’t be difficult, but since both Windows and Mac OS are trying to be walled gardens, I need to figure out how I can create free games for them without it costing me a ridiculous amount of money.

I also want to make time to actually play games. Between all of my old consoles, Steam, Humble Bundle, GOG, and Itch, I have a lot of games, many of which I’ve paid for, that I never enjoy or even learn from. Last year I played Castles I, Sunless Sea, To the Moon, Minecraft, and Super Crate Box, and shortly after I released Toy Factory Fixer, I allowed myself to play The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker during my week off from the day job near the holidays.

But much like my 15 minutes of learning each day habit, I’d like to make regular time to play games, even if it isn’t daily, even if it is a dedicated part of a day once a month.

Ok, so maybe two games in a year is starting to sound ambitious…

Anyway, I hope you have a safe and healthy 2022! Happy New Year!

Categories
Politics/Government

I’m Cancelling my Associate Membership with the FSF

The Free Software Foundation, the non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and defending computer user freedom, has welcomed Richard Stallman back to the board of directors.

And so I am cancelling my associate membership that I’ve had since 2005.

Stallman resigned as president of the FSF and his role at MIT in 2019 after some statements he made about a colleague involved with one of Jeffrey Epstein’s victims, claiming she may have presented herself as entirely willing, as well as arguing about the technicalities of what counts as rape.

Stallman has made similar statements about underage rape before, and claims after some conversations he’s has since changed his mind and now believes people shouldn’t have sex with minors.

Well, that’s good? I mean, I believe people can change, and I hope he’s actually done so.

But he has decades of history both at MIT and at the FSF in making the spaces he is in a more hostile place for women. I don’t know if Stallman has changed, I don’t personally have knowledge of what happened at FSF or MIT, but I can still know there is an effect he has had on a large group of people.

And the FSF brought him back.

It feels like he is yet another celebrity who just ducked out of the spotlight, laid low, then came back with no real consequences.

I was tempted to resign from the FSF back when his behavior was first brought to light, but he resigned, and so I kept my membership.

But I don’t understand why an organization that supposedly wants to support computer user freedom wants to make it more difficult for some people to be part of that movement. Why would they invite him back?

And more importantly, why would I help fund such an organization?

I’m merely an associate member. It’s $120 per year that I invest in an organization doing work I believe in. I have the privilege to put my money towards such causes, but I also recognize that in the grand scheme of things it is a mere drop in the bucket for a large organization, although based on the regular mail I get from them they claim they don’t have much and every dollar counts.

I want to see more software freedom, but it’s not worth it if fewer people feel safe. I can put that money towards investing in organizations that have a future in the inclusive world I want to see.

And right now, it is clear that the FSF has no such future in that inclusive world.

On a less important note, an organization that is so dependent on one individual likely won’t have much of a future when that individual no longer exists. I want to see possibilities emerge by the voices of many coming together with a shared purpose, with no one person necessarily driving that purpose forward. With the FSF inviting someone so problematic back, it makes me question the overall capacity of the organization to survive a world when Stallman is no longer in it. It gives me no confidence that my investment with my membership is doing the world any good if the organization is just going to flounder and fall apart once its primary leader is gone.

Categories
Marketing/Business Personal Development Politics/Government

2020 in Review and My 2021 Vision

Another year has passed, and I feel very fortunate that my family and I survived it fairly unscathed. I know that a lot of people didn’t, and I know the COVID-19 pandemic is still taking its toll, both in lives and lives affected.

It has been a tough year, but I continued to be employed and was able to work from home. Most of our extracurricular activities, such as taking our kids to dance and Cub Scouts meetings, basically stopped. I rarely left the house all year except to pick up groceries or go for a walk around the neighborhood with the kids.

I got to spend more time with my family. Without school providing meals, my wife and I cooked a lot more, and we found that we enjoyed doing so together. We got the kids playing Just Dance and following yoga videos online to get daily exercise in. Internet outages went from being a minor annoyance to having a major impact on our work and school, and as I am the main IT department in my house, it all fell to me to make sure that the Wifi kept working.

It took a lot of adjustment, but we made it.

Goals from 2020

I had a few major business goals for last year:

  • Finish the contract game project
  • Game Sales: from $0 to $10,000 by December 31st
  • Release one more game before December 31st

The contract was finally finished in January, and aside from one more update to comply with changes in the App Store in the summer, I was done. I was happy to have had such a direct impact on the creation of a published game, as well as getting paid for it, but I was even more happy that I could direct my attention back to growing my own business.

Last year, I said:

Ostensibly my goal for the last few years was to get from $0/month to $10/month in sales. Again, the goal was meant to be achievable and to be a stepping stone to increasing sales over time.

But I think what might help is if I gave myself a much more inspiring goal, something that is doable but also would require me to stretch to make it happen.

So my 2020 goal is to get $10,000 in sales by December 31st.

It’s not quit-your-job money, but it’s not so small as to let me think I can procrastinate and make it happen in the last weeks of the year, either. It’s also not about the money, but money is an easy metric to track.

I came nowhere near to making that amount of money. That sum did not end up inspiring me, and it is probably because I didn’t see a clear path to it. Last year I wanted to start creating and finding my audience again after ignoring my business in favor of contract game development, but I didn’t formulate a coherent plan to do so until December. So for most of the year, I worked on creating updates for my existing game.

In the end, I was paid a total of $16.79 from sales of Toytles: Leaf Raking, my leaf-raking business simulation game (I have another payment coming this month from a sale from last month).

Now, I know there are a number of reasons for the low sales. Almost no one knows about the game, for instance. I haven’t been doing a good job pushing it out there.

But I did port and release the game for iOS, and then I published 6 of what I called Personality Injection updates since July. Each time I did so, I not only posted an announcement on my blog and shared it on social media, but I also sent out an email to my GBGames Curiosities Newsletter subscribers.

Oh, that’s another thing I did: I brought back my mailing list. I used to have one years ago, but I decided to start a new one. I invited the previous subscribers to join, and some did. Sign up, and you get a free player’s guide for Toytles: Leaf Raking, which is another thing I created last year.

Since I had a new mailing list, I also added a new goal for the second half of the year: grow my subscribers by 10. I ended up increasing the number of subscribers by 3, but since I didn’t promote it any more than the game, I think that’s a decent improvement.

I ended up publishing a total of 58 blog posts throughout the year, partly because I started writing a weekly sprint report, documenting the highlights of what I accomplished in the previous week of game development. Considering that I published a total of 3 blog posts the year before, this output is a significant improvement, and I think it directly led to people learning about Toytles: Leaf Raking.

Now, I thought I would get to a point where I would consider myself “done” with Toytles: Leaf Raking updates and could start working on a new game early enough to get one released by the end of the year, but since I was only working an average of about 5 hours a week as a very, very part-time indie game developer, those Personality Injection updates sometimes took me over a month to get out. So no new game has been published yet.

But if you’ve been paying attention, you know I’ve been working on one since December, and strategically it is the first of my Freshly Squeezed line of games. More on that later.

I also had a few personal goals for 2020:

  • Do a minimum number of walking hours, push-ups, squats, and planking
  • Read a book per week
  • Create at least one doodle per day

Take a look at this chart of the year:

Morning Exercise Routine Tracking in 2020

The green indicates days in which I did a minimum of 10 push-ups, 10 squats, and 30 seconds of planking. The red indicates days in which I skipped. There is a big block of red near March, when my back was bothering me significantly enough to prevent me from exercising, but otherwise most of the year I kept up the habit. I feel fitter and more capable. I also did yoga on weekends, which I credit with preventing my back from hurting throughout the rest of the year.

I was trying to walk on a treadmill for 30 minutes a day but our treadmill’s motor started to smell like burning, so I haven’t been using it. I did walk with the kids during the summer after lunch, but otherwise I didn’t do walking regularly.

I read a total of 25 books, which is less than I read the year before. Still, between listening to podcasts instead of audiobooks in my car (and then not driving anywhere when the pandemic hit) and reading longer books, I think the fact that I was able to keep up a reading habit during the pandemic was a win.

But my favorite habit was doing a daily doodle. This one appealed to me partly because I always liked drawing but I also liked the idea of getting better at it. My programmer art is decent, but I want to make it more decent, and I know to get better I need to practice more than I do.

I’ll have a separate post about the improvement of my doodles, but here are my first few drawings:

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

And here are some of my favorites:

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

My 2021 Goals

Creating an aggressive sales target didn’t seem to work for me, but I still managed to make some sales happen despite a lack of advertising or contacting reviewers or anything.

It was a total of only 7 sales across Google Play and the App Store, but I can build on that.

My goals for 2021:

  • Go from ~0.146 sales per week to at least 1 sale per week by December 31st
  • Increase my newsletter audience to at least 100 subscribers by December 31st
  • Release at least 6 Freshly Squeezed Entertainment games by December 31st

I explained a bit what Freshly Squeezed Entertainment means, but the main idea is that I will be following through on my goals to create more and find my audience. I want to create free, quality games that encourage curiosity and support creativity. I want the games to find the people who love playing them and encourage them to sign up for my mailing list. And I want them to see my mailing list as a way to give me feedback and collaborate with me on the kinds of games they want to play, which means that when I release a game for sale, I am more likely to have an audience interested and willing to pay for it.

There’s a lot of uncertainty to this strategy. I don’t know how many people who play games would be willing to sign up for a newsletter these days. I don’t know if people who play free games are less likely to pay for a game. I don’t know how many people will sign up, nor do I know how many who do sign up will read the emails I send out. I don’t even know if my free games will be seen or get lost in the huge number of games that get released each week.

But the general idea is sound: give away value to attract players, get permission from players to talk to them, and use conversations with those players to get feedback and learn how to make what my audience is willing to pay for.

It’s way better than hoping and praying that strangers discover and pay me for each new game I create.

I was originally aiming to release one Freshly Squeezed game a month, but so far I think my 5 hours/week isn’t going to make it work out for me. It’s especially doubtful as I still want to create updates for Toytles: Leaf Raking in between Freshly Squeezed games. Still, I hope to have a release for my first new game before the end of this month.

One thing I realized is that out of the three goals, the only one I have direct control over is publishing games. I can’t control how many people sign up for my newsletter or how many people buy a game. But if the three goals are as connected as I expect they are, then releasing quality games should attract newsletter subscribers who eventually become customers.

Again, there’s a lot of uncertainty, and I recognize that 1 sale per week works out to almost 7 times what I am currently (I originally had a goal of 60 sales per week but realized it was much, much more ridiculous to expect an almost 400x increase in sales), but I can’t wait to get some hard data in the coming months to see how well this strategy plays out. I’ll adjust my expectations accordingly.

As for personal goals, I like aiming for a book a week as well as not sweating it when I don’t make it. I will continue to do daily exercise, and in fact I’ll increase my push-ups and squats from 10 to 15. I need to either fix my treadmill or get a new one so I can get in daily walking or running even when the weather doesn’t work out. I think I’ll continue to create daily doodles, but I am going to want to learn other aspects of art, such as color, character design, perspective, environmental design, and more.

Happy New Year

I hope 2021 sees the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, a safe transition of power, and justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. I hope my kids can play with family and friends without worrying about someone getting seriously or fatally sick. I hope you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy in the coming year.

Categories
Games Geek / Technical Politics/Government

Tell Nintendo Online to Keep Google Out of It

I’ve been a fan of the existence of Duck Duck Go, the search engine that focuses on privacy. It’s search results are sometimes not as useful or comprehensive as I’d like, but most of the time, it’s great knowing that what I search for there won’t follow me around the Web.

So I subscribe to the Duck Duck Go Privacy Weekly newsletter, and I just learned about how Nintendo is using Google Analytics in the eShop. The latest firmware update will apparently automatically turn on data sharing even if you had turned it off prior to the update.

If you’re in Europe, you have the benefit of the EU’s GDPR to protect your privacy, and so you’re probably less concerned about the kind of data that is being collected about you.

In the US, we have no such privacy laws, but at least Nintendo Switch offers an opt-out in this case.

Nintendo Switch eShop Analytics

  1. Open System Settings and go to Users, then select your Switch’s primary user
  2. Select Nintendo eShop Settings, and type in your password if you need to
  3. Scroll down to the bottom and click “Change” button under Google Analytics Preferences
  4. Click the “Don’t Share” option, then click the “Change” button on the right

I hope you find this helpful. I feel better if my kids end up on the eShop that they aren’t being tracked any more than they already are online.

Categories
Game Design Game Development Geek / Technical Politics/Government

Toytles: Leaf Raking Progress Report – Scene Transitions

Here’s this week’s progress report for new updates to Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.

Get it at the Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

I talked about fixing some typos and adding screen transitions in last week’s sprint report.

Sprint 19: Screen transitions & time-based dialogue

  • Create screen transitions when entering/leaving yard
  • Story progression when finishing a yard (unique monthly client dialogue w/ difference between clear/uncleared yards

I did only 3 hours of game development last week.

I think I expected that I would accomplish a lot more. I had even taken a day off from the day job.

But in case you missed it, last week coincided with the U.S. Election. Normally we can call it the night of, or we wait for the Supreme Court to tell us who won, but we spent the better part of a week paying attention to the news.

The memes have been great, by the way.

I look forward to not worrying that my kids see the President’s behavior as something to emulate.

Anyway, I decided to quickly hack together fade out/fade in transitions between screens.

Why did I hack it? I didn’t want to spend the time and effort to create a high-quality implementation until I knew how it was going to look and feel.

So I treated it as an experiment. And I liked the result! It felt nice, and added a sense of polish to the game. And the investment on my part to find out that it would work out was minimal.

Experiments like this are the kind of thing I want to feel comfortable doing more often, especially early in a project when there are so many questions to answer about a potential game’s design space.

Once I had determined that I liked the look and feel of the fade out/fade in transition, I threw out the hack and started over, only this time test-driving my solution and being mindful of wanting something solid to build upon. I even managed to refactor out part of the neighborhood-transition code so that it relies on my new general transition code.

I only got to put in about an hour or so of effort into it. I expect to finish up the work this week, and then I’ll get started on the new dialogue. I don’t know if I’ll finish it all this week, but once the dialogue is done, I’ll cut a new release.

Thanks for reading!

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

Want to learn when I release updates to Toytles: Leaf Raking or about future games I am creating? Sign up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter, and get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free!

Categories
Games Politics/Government

Mere Hours Left for itch.io’s Racial Justice Bundle

I was surprised to learn that people I know who I consider to be the kind who spend a lot of time in game news didn’t know about this bundle, but the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality sale is about to end in a few hours.

We reached out to our community and an unprecedented number of creators donated over 740 projects to be part of what we believe is the largest bundle ever. Over $3,400 of paid works are available Pay-what-you-want with a minimum donation amount of $5.

All proceeds will be donated to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Community Bail Fund split 50/50.

What’s amazing about this bundle? A few things:

  • Hundreds of creators joined in the bundle after it started, so now there are over 1,700 items available. Most are games, whether video games or table-top games, but some are tools, asset packs, engines, plugins, audio files, soundtracks, etc.
  • So far, over $7 million has been raised through this bundle. That means each of the organizations are getting at least $3.5 million by the time the sale ends.
  • They’re all DRM-free, and many are available for multiple platforms, such as GNU/Linux, Mac, Android, and Windows, and some are for the PICO-8 (which is also in the bundle), and some are for your web browser.
  • You only need to contribute a minimum of $5 to purchase over $9,000 worth (but feel free to contribute more)!

If you’re into video games, there are some prominent indie titles, such as Overland, Night in the Woods, Celeste, Wheels of Aurelia, Nuclear Throne, Minit, and Quadrilateral Cowboy, among others. There’s…a lot to sift through, and hopefully itch.io makes it easier to peruse the games in the bundle soon.

If you’re into table-top RPGs, there are multiple campaigns, rulesets, and even tools to help create maps. I’m not as informed about what is going on in this area, but I was delighted to see such a variety that wasn’t just D&D.

If you are a game developer, there are design tools such as TTRPG Design Lenses, art packs, audio packs, tilesets, and more. Oh, and PICO-8 is there, so you can make small games for a virtual game console.

It’s amazing how much of the game community came together to make a dent in injustice.

Categories
Politics/Government

Want Peace? Demand Justice

A man was murdered by a police officer who walked away free that day.

Almost everyone on my social media feeds who usually posts their concerns about a police state and tyranny? Silent.

Then people took to the streets to protest the abuse of power by the police, the police escalated, and then there was destruction of property.

Suddenly there’s clutching of pearls and tsk-tsks and smarmy comments about how wrong and counterproductive it is.

A man was murdered by a police officer, who got arrested only after people took to the streets to demand justice, and it is very clear who is actually worried about tyranny and injustice and who just wants to pretend they do.

Black Lives Matter. The lives of people matter. Buildings and consumer products should not matter nearly so much.

If you don’t want to see destruction in the streets, stop tolerating abuse and extrajudicial executions carried out by your police.

Demand accountability.

Demand justice.

Don’t demand peace from the people who are getting murdered and who have tried peacefully protesting, which has been met with vitriol and anger anyway.

If you truly want peace, then you want justice.

There is no other way.

Categories
Geek / Technical Politics/Government

Books I Have Read: Tools and Weapons

A colleague at my day job lent me a copy of the book Tools and Weapons by Brad Smith and Carol Ann Browne.

Tools and Weapons book cover

The main premise of the book is that technology is a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, it has the potential to do so much good for individuals, organizations, and societies. It can ease our lives by automating drudgery, help us make and keep connections with friends and family, and assist us in solving some huge problems in healthcare, conservation, and business.

On the other hand, technology has the potential to do a lot of harm, especially in the area of human rights. It makes it easier for totalitarian governments to identify and spy on political enemies. Our privacy is at risk as organizations find ways to take disparate pieces of data and find correlations that give insights into who we are. Inequality can get exacerbated.

I found myself impressed with Smith and Browne’s ability to tie modern day conundrums back to analogous situations in the past. The late 1800s gave birth to the modern U.S. government when it started to regulate railroads, an interstate technology with a scale and scope that was unheard of in an era when states were almost exclusively the ones doing the regulating. What does our modern Internet require?

In the early 1900s, combustion engine technology put horses out of work in firehouses all over the country. The need for food to feed these horses also dropped, which had knock-on effects for other areas of the economy, from farming to packaging to shipping. What will AI do to today’s workforce, and how much can we reliably predict?

When it comes to making broadband Internet available for rural residents, what can we learn about the initiatives to spread the benefits of electricity throughout small towns and farms?

And as Smith is an executive at Microsoft, I also enjoyed getting quite a bit of insight into the company’s approach to dealing with the world and governments over the last few decades, especially when juxtaposed with newer tech companies such as Facebook.

While I don’t doubt Microsoft led some initiatives to work with governments, I did find myself rolling my eyes at reading how moral the company supposedly was and is. There was a lot of name-dropping, including U.S. presidents and major figures in technology and political science, and I appreciate that there were discussions about how a large and influential tech company such as Microsoft needed to create policies to ensure that they did as little harm as possible to society, but then again, this is the same company that for years liked to spin their monopoly as natural.

But now I also know that this is the same company that provided their technology to organizations such as ICE. I mentioned the name-dropping earlier because I wanted to emphasize how weird this one passage was:

A glimpse of what lies ahead emerged suddenly in the summer of 2018, in relation to one of the hottest political topics of the season. In June, a gentleman in Virginia, a self-described “free software tinkerer”, also clearly had a strong interest in broader political issues. He posted a series of tweets about a contract Microsoft had with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, based on a story posted on the company’s marketing blog in January. It was a post that frankly everyone at the company had forgotten. But it says that Microsoft’s technoloygy for ICE passed a high security threshold and will be deployed by the agency. It says the company is proud to support the agency’s work, and it includes a sentence about the resulting potential for ICE to use facial recognition.

The next paragraph goes on to talk about how that supposedly forgotten marketing post took on different meaning in the context of the Trump administration’s decision to separate children from parents at the US border, and it goes on to talk about employee activism, but wait…

A gentleman from Virginia? Why didn’t we name this individual like we did everyone else? Well, there was an endnote:

Taotetek (@taotetek), “It looks like Microsoft is making quite a bit of money from their cozy relationship with ICE and DHS,” Twitter, June 17, 2018, 9:20 a.m. https://twitter.com/taotetek/status/1008383982533259269.

While Smith makes it sound like the relationship between Microsoft and ICE/DHS was this forgotten quirk, here’s a thread in which this “gentleman from Virginia” gives more context to this section of the book, including pointing out that a Microsoft executive got a job at DHS and shortly after a number of contracts between Microsoft and DHS were established.

All this is to say that while I found a lot of insight into how major tech companies are starting to recognize that great power requires great responsibility and how they are doing more to work together with governments and society to make it happen, I’m also taking the “we’re trying to do right by everyone because it’s the right thing to do” line with a huge grain of salt. When big companies seek out regulations, it is often to make it easier for them to compete and not out of some moral character.

Still, the book tackled privacy, the ethics of AI, inequality, cybersecurity, and modern society’s dependence on technology to live and work while discussing the repercussions of data moving across borders into data centers and the laws that regulate them.

In the end, even while Smith talks about the needs of a “Digital Geneva Convention” to protect civilians against cyberattacks by nation-states, and privacy regulations to protect people against rogue companies (it sounds like Europe is way ahead of the world in terms of pushing technology companies to respect individuals and their privacy rights), I worry about a world in which most of our technology is seemingly dependent upon Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Facebook doing the right thing by everyone. In each case, they’ve shown that there is a priority for them, and it isn’t my or your interests.

Categories
Geek / Technical Politics/Government

How Much Do You Value Privacy and Security in the Apps You Use?

I tend to dislike relying on third parties to provide me with services I find indispensable.

If I can help it, I prefer having control over my own services, even if it means having a poorer experience than a flashier, proprietary solution might provide .

Staying in Control of my Mental Food Sources

For instance, years ago I used Google Reader quite a bit to keep up with news on the game industry, on blogs I followed, and more. It was a great service.

And then I imagine with the rise of social media my own usage dropped without me realizing it, so when they announced they were discontinuing it in 2013, I learned about it probably on Twitter.

There were plenty of tech-oriented news sites putting out articles on replacement services, such as Feedly, which I know lots of people recommend.

But I was curious about creating my own personal Google Reader-like site. It’s just collecting a bunch of RSS feeds and showing them, right?

Before I got too far wondering how to do it myself, I learned about Tiny Tiny RSS, open source web-based news feed (RSS/Atom) reader and aggregator.

Open source means I don’t have to worry about a third party disappearing or pulling the service for one reason or another. I also don’t have to worry about said third party collecting data on my reading habits.

It was years before I got around to setting it up on my own web host. In fact, I didn’t do so until last December. But now that I have, I feel like kicking my past self for not doing so sooner. It’s incredibly useful, especially as I can’t trust various algorithms (and the algorithm writers) at Twitter and Facebook to show me what I specifically wanted to see.

And the best part is that I am in control. I can backup my data and take it to another web host. I can use my own desktop computer to act as a server if I want. I can see everything without filtering or some company deciding that NOT showing me what I subscribed to is somehow better.

I just hope I never need to ask for support, unless I want to deal with the developer equivalent of the Soup Nazi. Reading through the support requests I did see when I was trying to figure out how to set up the software left a bad taste in my mouth. Yeesh.

But since Tiny Tiny RSS is open source, I technically have the ability to take my support requests elsewhere. Again, I have more control and more options.

My Any.Do Woes

More recently, I ran into a frustration with an app I depended upon to manage my todo lists. A few years back, a friend recommended the Android app Any.Do to me, and I’ve used it ever since.

It was intuitive, allowed me to setup recurring items, and showed me my items in the order I liked, separating things that are to be addressed today from the things of tomorrow or in the vague future.

I of course used it for one-off items. Maybe someone recommended a book to me in a conversation. I would pull out my phone, open up Any.Do, and add an item to remind me to look up the book later.

But the ability to set recurring tasks was a huge feature. I set reminders for mundane things like watering my plants every week or cleaning the litter boxes each morning. I used it for regular habits, such as writing a daily summary of the prior day each morning and using my evenings to plan for the next day. I even used it to remind me to write blog posts or update my finances.

At one point it started trying to get me to install their calendar companion app, but I was fine with my current situation, and I learned I could disable the reminder.

It also kept asking me to get the pro version, but as I had no interest in syncing between devices, I was fine with the free version.

And everything was fine. Well, mostly. It had a few minor bugs I got used to over the years. Every once in awhile, the UI would get glitchy. Sometimes the tasks would look like they were reloading on top of each other, and eventually I think there would be a conflict that would prevent me from swiping a task to completion or adding new tasks. Closing and reopening the app usually cleared it up, though.

The bigger, scarier one was when I would open Any.Do only to find a blank screen. My task list, the one that that I live by, was gone!

The first time, I had a moment of panic because, hey, free version, meaning no syncing, and therefore no backups existed. But then I not only closed the app but shut it down. When I launched Any.Do again, there was my list. Whew! Every critical bug with a workaround becomes a minor bug. B-)

So, I happened to see that Any.Do had an update in Google Play, and I went to check the changelog, and all it said was “Every update is a boost to the app’s stability, speed, and security…” Maybe they finally fixed the bugs?

So I update the app, and now I find out that the syncing feature of the pro version is required in the free version.

Required.

Now when I launch Any.Do, I see a screen asking me to create an account by linking the app with my Facebook, Google, or personal email account in order to keep my tasks and lists in sync across all of my devices.

And there is no way to get past this screen so I can see my list again if I want to avoid creating an account I don’t need.

I’ve learned that Any.Do is also integrating with Alexa and will have a chatbot to help you with your to-do items. I’m sure those are great features for people who like them, but I’m decidedly not an early adopter, and I think I prefer my to-do list app to be sans A.I.

TODO: Find Another To-Do List App

So the changelog lied, and now my choice is to comply and lose a bit (or a lot?) of my privacy, search for older APKs of Any.Do and worry about where they came from and whether or not it is safe to install them, or find another app.

I decided to look for another app, but I wanted to be more careful this time. I already hate it when seemingly simple apps ask for way too many permissions.

Unfortunately, almost all of the apps I could find that focus on privacy and limited permissions were too simple. Recurring tasks are almost never available as a feature.

Privacy Friendly To-Do List by the SECUSO research group would otherwise have sounded perfect in terms of limiting permissions and providing control.

I did find an app called To Do List & Widget. It had limited permissions, which boiled down to “it needs to read and write to files”, and it lets you back up your lists manually.

It’s only downside besides a UI that is somewhat less intuitive than Any.Do’s is that there’s almost no information about who made it and where it came from. It’s definitely not open source. While the permissions allow it to do only so much, I still found myself being a bit uneasy about trusting it on my device. And besides, what happens in the future? Will it continue to be updated?

So ultimately I settled on Taskwarrior, which is a GUI app wrapping the command line tool of the same name.

The underlying system is incredibly powerful, and so unfortunately I found the UI requires me to learn how to use it. Recurring tasks aren’t as easy to setup, for instance, but I can do more interesting schedules than what Any.Do restricted me to.

And if I ever do setup my own Taskwarrior server, I can get syncing on my own terms.

I was surprised that it requires a lot of permissions, but it boils down to the app needing to create and use an account on the device and needing access to the network to do the syncing. There are no in-app purchases or ads, and the source is available so I can build it myself and read through it to verify that nothing nefarious is happening under the hood. I also have the ability to continue updating it if the original maintainer disappears.

The user interface is awkward for me at the moment. Any.Do showed me my tasks for today, tomorrow, and later, and it even had a separate category for unscheduled stuff as “Someday”. A recurring daily task I completed would show up in the Tomorrow list automatically.

Taskwarrior’s default views are showing me everything, and while they are in date order, it’s not cleanly separated. Also, recurring tasks are automatically synthesized from the template task, and so I find I can have multiple instances of the task at once in my list.

Then again, these issues might be due to me not knowing how to use Taskwarrior properly.

What’s Important to You?

Some people might balk at the idea of investing time into learning how to use an app when a more intuitive one is available.

And that’s fine. I get it.

But I’ve been starting to value my privacy and my security even more these days.

And it’s not an absurd paranoia. Recently there was news about a popular makeover app with privacy red flags. Pokemon Go was a concerning app until they changed the scope of the permissions it required to run.

I already know that Google tracks where my phone goes, which means it knows where I go. I should really turn off the GPS when I’m not actively using the map functionality, in fact. It’s always disconcerting to see the notification telling me that it is using it because none of the running apps in the background should care where I’m at.

I mean, when I took a picture at my mother-in-law’s house during a party, I got a request to upload the picture and attach it to the search results of the nearby public park. Ick.

Artificial intelligence is huge these days, and with chatbots and intelligent personal assistants such as Siri, Google Now, Cortana, and Alexa, we’re seeing a lot of benefits in the way of convenience.

To get that convenience, though, we’re handing over our data to the people behind our devices. And yet, security is rarely treated as a priority, which means that even if we trusted our data to those people, it might also be getting to people we don’t trust.

And so, because I value my privacy and security, often it feels like my choice is to opt-out or roll my own solution.

And since everything is getting artificial intelligence integrated in, it often means tolerating third parties getting access to data more or using alternatives. And if I am going to use alternatives anyway, they may as well be ones I have the most control over.

Thank goodness for free (as in speech) software, eh?

Categories
Geek / Technical Politics/Government

Where To Donate Some Money Before the End of 2016

There’s only so much time left for your charitable contributions to count towards your 2016 taxes.

If you’re looking for recommendations, here’s two organizations I have contributed to because I believe in what they do.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

“Defending Your Rights in the Digital World” is the EFF‘s tagline, and I’m unaware of another organization focused on our rights and liberties in the context of our digitally-enhanced age.

Founded in 1990, EFF champions user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development. We work to ensure that rights and freedoms are enhanced and protected as our use of technology grows.

When the Digital Millenium Copyright Act was passed in 1998, there was a lot of abuse potential.The DMCA is overly restrictive in what it allows people to do legally with their own technology, and it allows large companies to abuse the system.

Yet the DMCA has become a serious threat that jeopardizes fair use, impedes competition and innovation, and chills free expression and scientific research. If you circumvent DRM locks for noninfringing fair uses or create the tools to do so you might be on the receiving end of a lawsuit.

In one high-profile example, Dmitry Sklyarov, working for ElcomSoft, was arrested by the FBI while he was in the United States on a trip where he spoke at DEF CON about ebook security, specifically Adobe Systems’ technology. Why?

Because…well, it wasn’t clear at the time, but Adobe Systems thought that his published research and software was a violation of the DMCA’s circumvention of their copy protection systems.

The thing is, Sklyarov is from Russia. The DMCA has no jurisdiction there, so what he or his company did wasn’t illegal.

Also, while Adobe’s software didn’t allow people to exercise Fair Use, ElcomSoft’s software did.

Throughout the years, the EFF has been leading the charge against abuses such as this one.

I like my copyright law to be used to promote the useful arts and sciences, not to allow copyright owners complete control over all potential uses just because there happens to be a DMCA-covered copy protection scheme to prevent my otherwise fair use.

I also like my privacy to be protected, and I don’t like finding out that my technology is forced to have backdoors or introduced a rootkit onto my computer.

So, I support the EFF’s work, including their projects such as HTTPS Everywhere which is aimed at helping to make our web browsing more secure, and recommend you do the same.

Contribute to the EFF and become a member.

The Internet Archive

I’ve been blogging for over 10 years, and a lot of the blogs and news sites I’ve linked to in the past are no longer around. Sometimes, I want to reread an article, but the link I have is dead.

Another issue that could arise on the Internet is that someone’s stance may have silently changed. You were pretty sure that politician was pro a few years ago, and yet they insist that they are con and always have been.

So I go to Archive.org‘s Wayback Machine and find the article from around the time it was originally published and prove that the politician has flip-flopped.

The Internet Archive not only has the history of over 279 billion web pages, it also has a library of books, movies, music, and software.

Did you want to watch The Great Train Robbery, the 1903 silent film with the terrifying surprise ending? Well, it’s not really all that terrifying, but back when it was originally in theaters, it made audiences jump out of their seats to safety because no one had seen anything like it before.

It revolutionized certain film-making techniques, and you can watch it for yourself thanks for the Internet Archive:

Or maybe you miss playing certain games on your Apple II computer, such as the classic game Lemonade Stand:

Oh, wow, does that take me back!

I believe in the importance of preserving our history and ensuring free and open access to knowledge is available to millions of people for many years to come, and I’m happy to support the Internet Archive in its efforts to be the most trustworthy and important non-profit library for the world.

Contribute to the Internet Archive today, and your donation will be matched 1-to-1 to double your impact.

Those are my two recommendations. What are yours?