2015 – The year I learned to say NO

Last year I skipped the looking back on 201X and plans for 201X+1 post. Didn’t feel like I had to! New year, new city, new people and new projects! With so many unknown variables it would have been a fool’s errand to try and plan ahead. So I went with the flow, winged it and it was a sweet ride, most of the time. But now I’m sitting here reading what Noppy did through out the year and the dude has it figured out (the link is on his twitter feed with the password).

To be honest I didn’t feel like writing a review post this year. Not since October anyway! My coach keeps telling me to keep it light and positive and never blab about negatives. I agree with him. So here’s how this year went and what’s going to change after the clock strikes 00:01 on 1st of January.

montserratI travelled! I travelled a lot this year! Saw Switzerland (Zurich), Germany (Frankfurt), Spain (Barcelona, Esparaguerra) and Andorra. Travelled to Cluj and talked about attending game jams and finishing something. Meet some lovely people and rekindled old friendships. Toasted beers at the base of the Montserrat, had coffee with people from twitter in Zurich and took a cab ride to a destination about 100 KM away.

We beat cancer. TWICE! You guys who follow me on twitter know why I ran away from Bucharest and Buzau and dropped the indie scene. Well, it turned out there was a god-damn round two but we ended up victorious – again! That’s why I dropped MGL and passed everything to Thomas. Couldn’t deal with it. Looking at what Thomy is doing right now I say it was the right call. So that worked out!

ggj_allI took part in the Global Game Jam and got 2nd place with Roguesweeper. Got a letter in the mail from someone who was inspired by that game to roll his own. Received an award for the game with the Best Design at work and released my first android game developed during a 1 month game jam.

Broke a couple of hearts this year and learned to walk away from things I don’t like. Etched the words “Never try to keep someone who doesn’t want to keep you” in my brain. Mourned the loss of my friends to a Nightclub Fire in Bucharest and dropped my long hair for good. Bought a 45” tv and invested in technology like never before. Spent a few hundred bucks on a HOTAS (Hands of Stick and Throttle for Elite Dangerous) and got my hands dirty with VR. Installed SteamOS and never looked back to Windows for gaming. Donated blood twice this year without knowing the recipients. Got my house flooded and two laptops stolen. Got them back and changed the pipes.

I dropped MOAI and moved over to Unity. Learned to rely on team mates a bit more. Wrote a design document before any line of code. Said thanks and gave credit when it was due! Bought the new Disturbed album and listened to it every night. Stopped using city transport and opted to walk towards all my destinations (while in the city).

italySo what’s next for 2016? It’s funny, I have no idea. There’s a big fork in the road round the end of January so I’ll wait and see before making any plans. What I know for sure is that I want to buy a bike. Been eyeing a Harley-Davidson Iron 883 for a while now. And I also want to visit Italy. If the bike thing works out, I’m pretty sure I can shoot two stones with one bird nest! Ended up buying a pillow with these two goals in sight. It’s quirky but so am I!

It’s been a good year, most of it anyway. Since October my daily life was marked by tragedies and disasters. Went to more funerals than weddings this year.  I feel guilty for a couple of things. But I’m looking forward to 2016. I spent this last week together with friends from the Highschool / College era. They seem to still love me. Can’t blame ’em. A fresh start is right around the corner and more challenges await there. It feels like facing the Elite 4 for the first time all over again! Hopefully, no bad days will cross my horizon again! As for a new year’s resolution? For now, let’s go with “I’ll get better at bowling”! Seems reasonable 🙂

 

 

 

 

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Running with SteamOS and Geeking-it out in the living room

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This article reflects my opinion on the system, it’s place in (my new) living room and quite a few geek moments sprinkled here and there. For a secondary opinion check out GoL’s coverage of the system here.

I’ve been running SteamOS for the past few months and suffered through the 2.49 update head-to-head with other integrated graphics users! First time I installed SteamOS was in October on my Brix Pro system expecting a console-like experience delivered to my living room. I had the system connected to a 23” AOC Touch Screen display, a sofa moved closer to the desk, the 360 gamepad in hand and a beer at my side! I fancy myself as a GNU/Linux user (been rocking Ubuntu – and a few other Debian flavours – since 2006) so I got by most of the problems SteamOS threw my way without giving ’em too much thought but from a newcomers perspective, at this point in time, SteamOS is far from the console-like experience it promises to deliver. For once not all SteamOS/Linux-ready games RUN out of the box: Mount & Blade Warband and Shadow of Mordor were a pain in the proverbial arse with their missing libraries and launchers that failed to execute.

SteamOS Livng RoomLet’s take a step back and start with the beginning! Installing SteamOS on a new box/custom built “Steam Machine” is easier than with most OS installs nowadays (except for Windows 10, never got to try/install W10). The Installer itself is based on the Debian installer and the process is extremely streamlined. The only possible hurdle might appear if you want to customize the partitions and install it alongside other OS’s. Shouldn’t be too hard but for someone new to this I would recommend going with the default settings if you only plan on using the machine in the living room.

SteamOS GamesAs far as games go I’ve yet to see a System/Console Launch with so many titles available on day one! More than half of my library is playable from the get-go. Sadly my Steam Gamepad still hasn’t arrived and I have no plan on using a keyboard and mouse to game from the couch so my selection of games is limited to a handful! I’ve been surprised to see how well BigPicture Mode scales on my 4K display since I’ve seen a lot of complaints on the the discussion forums. The Interface has one big flaw though: as of the current version 2.49 the shop displays ALL games available on STEAM, even those for Windows. Finding a game for your platform is a nightmare! I don’t get if this is an oversight on valve’s part since the current downloadable Linux Client displays games available for Linux while hiding those that are not. Navigating through the UI is done via keyboard/mouse and/or gamepad.

Team Fortress 2 - 60h gamepadThere are some problems though: my 360 wired gamepad sometimes stops responding causing the UI to freeze and the client to reboot while other times the mouse just does not want to click on the system icons (settings, messages, downloads) on the top of the screen. It’s weird and it’s frustrating but I can live with it. What I can’t live with however is the browser packed with the platform. Valve calls it the “FPS Browser” and I have to give it to them: It does make me want to take it out the back and shoot it. Luckily enough I have a Chromecast plugged into the back of my tv so I can enjoy Youtube/Videos without having to reply on the built-in solution. Still a dedicated youtube app would be appreciated, even if it’s the standard youtube.com/tv offering with controller support added. Maybe Valve will get to it someday though I won’t be holding my breath.

Just no Valve

Now for the ugly parts: If you are running on Integrated Graphics like me (Iris Pro 5200) then you might want to stick with the 1.0 release, dubbed Alchemist. Ever since the 2.49 update for Brewmaster SteamOS is unusable on anything that isn’t nVidia (though some report no problems on a few AMD cards). Problems range from the latest MESA drivers bundled with the update to the Linux kernel. In my case it’s both. The OS refuses to boot if ANY gamepad is plugged in. The Steam client fails on launch and enters an infinite loop of crashing, trying to restart and crashing again. Unplugging the gamepad leads you to a barely usable interface that locks up on you or causes the display to go black as if the system is afraid to disappoint you. Better shutdown rather than let you see that we didn’t fix the platform bug in the store.  I don’t know why this happens but it’s a common issue, at least on Intel GPUs. And it’s mind boggling especially as the first Steam Machine Valve touted is a Brix Pro running Iris Pro 5200. Pretty sure their not lacking in the QA department so I have no idea how this escaped them. At least all Steam Machines available for purchase right now are running nVidia (to my knowledge).

Fail interface SteamOS

Going even further some games do not start altogether. You have to get access to the desktop, open up a terminal and check out why the game fails to start. In some cases it’s due to a missing BINARY for the game, like in “7 days to die”‘s case. Other times it’s due to some missing libraries (or in Mount and Blade Warband’s case – because you have a newer version of the library installed and it can’t find the old one). Again for someone with enough terminal years under his belt this is easy to fix but still requires you to plug in a mouse and keyboard, add in unofficial repositories and scour the web in search of some packages things that DO NOT CONSTITUTE a console-like experience. So let me say this – SteamOS is not a finished product! It’s for early adopters and/or people like me who refuse to buy a console and want to run linux on anything ranging from their toasters up to their tablets.  But it will get better, hopefully. Valve has a huge chance to turn things around in the PC department. It already stirred up the Linux world and brought more games to the platform than ever before! It will take time however and if I were a betting man, I’d place my money on Valve getting it right in the end. Let’s just hope the final fixes and polishes won’t have to come in SteamOS version 3, we all know how Valve’s and 3’s go together.

room

However I like SteamOS. It’s a neat little living-room system that makes the geek in me jump for joy every chance it gets. How many of you guys can SSH into your console and play tetris in the terminal? On another done I’ve been mentioning on twitter that I’m wrapping up my living room. All I’m missing is a raspberry pi zero and a new monitor so I can setup my virtual fireplace. For now that task falls on my old 23” tablet. In the future I’m hoping on using it as a Skype Machine and hang it up on a wall somewhere. Ogh and I also bought some bean bags because why not? Have a great week everyone!

 

 

 

1/2 * 2015: Indie stuff, programming and my day job

Spoiler warning: I s#@k at typing on a virtual keyboard.

Its been almost half a year since the last blog post. How the hell i still have upwards of 100 daily visitors is beyond me (and the scope of this post). I’m currently on a train waiting for the last 2 hours of my 6h ride to end. So i guess it’s as good of a time as any to update my blog.

What have i been doing since GlobalGameJam?
Slacking off from my independent development work to put it mindly. Some of you know that i passed along Mutant Gangland to @Thomas and that i hanged up on MOAI and all my other projects. Part of the reason is that i needed to free up some time now that i spend most of it in an office (surounded by cool kats and bunnies). Working @Mobility-Games has been fun and i guess it is as close as I can get to the indie dream without having to rely on noodles to satiate my hunger. Steady pay (and physical colleagues) are a godsend, especially when some days we get to play with real world 3D pixels:

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Been a fun ride till now and i can’t wait to see what’s waiting around the next corner. (Mobility) work stuff aside I’ve been a pretty bad designer over the past few months. I’m pretty sure i broke most gamedev rules by rolling my own engine (MOAI i love you but i want to learn more), porting the engine to the NintendoDS (not the new 3DS),  embedding Lua and using an archaic openGL version (glBegin/glEnd) + a half-arsed port of it on android. Why? So i can keep doing my own thing without having to commit to releasing and finishing a game, yet still improve a bit of my programming knowledge. Its been wonderful, yet a bit frustrating, working for the DS. Its the first time i ever spent hours knee deep in refference manuals, doing math to try and ballance memory consumption and learning to stay away from high res images with a high bpp (bit per pixel). Ogh and i wrote this little snippet that got half of my followers laughing their way to the unfollow button.

Now if only i could code my way into improving my team work and team related abilities. To this day i cannot hold my own  in a game mechanic debate relying on just words to describe the behavior. Sure, i can hack a pretty good protype to back me up but in most cases no one is willing to wait 3h so i can show them what my words fail to represent. This is an area in which i still have a lot todo.

There is one more thing i’d like to say before i end this non-technical, indie-less blog post: keep an eye out on my twitter feed, we’re about to release a TBS/Boardgame prototype mashup that I have worked on with some co-workers.

Love you all o/

Open letter to the Gandul Editorial Team

Dear Gandul,

I am writing this <open> letter in order to express my enthusiasm regarding the news that have been covered by your outlet. I know many, less relevant, sites like CNN, BBC, Google – to name just a few – are following “insignificant” subjects, having to do with “protests, advances in medicine, or the continued spread of the MERS coronovirus“, wasting our time with non-trivial information and making a mockery off themselves in the process. This is why I applaud your efforts, the professionalism in your posts and your commitment to always publish trivial matters which indeed affect, directly or not, all of us. To be honest, I just couldn’t believe that a <John Doe> appeared at a <party> with a <companion/friend/love interest> who happened to be <overweight/underweight> and, while doing so, shocked his friends who I have never heard about. Certainly I would not have forgiven myself if I overlooked this issue. And honestly, I all but teared up when I saw how kind you are. Sharing, what probably is the most important moment in a women’s life, with the entire world is nothing short of generous. I mostly enjoyed your coverage of that one slip up which occurred after the wedding when the bride exposed, for a brief moment, what can only be “the source of most of your articles”. I am happy to know you are living up to the expectations and that you provide us with content of great significance.

Let it be known that I am looking forward to your metamorphosis into a portal-website which will cater to the needs of your entire audience. If there’s one thing I mostly care reading about then Pebble pretty much sums it up. I mean, I used to go on youtube for my daily dose of cuteness and “d’awww” moments but I’m glad to know you have me covered on this. Just add a music player to your frontend and I can wholeheartedly say that I’ll have no need to visit other websites.

You have surely evolved over the years, going from a great news site into… something else. If you think about it, this article, shows a great similarity with your transmogrification. With this being said, I wish a great day to your editorial team.

Signed,

A humble reader.

[Game Analysis]: Iron Grip: Marauders

I never expected to find myself so busy and caught up with work at this age. I always thought my twenties will be about traveling the globe, making games on the road and discovering an easier way to inject myself with caffeine. At least the latter is on schedule. But between work (freelancing), my own projects (Pimps vs Vampires) and wrapping up what’s left of my university (which I winged like Jeff Winger in Community) I find myself not being able to invest much time in gaming. On the road I used to play Carmageddon or Cardinal Quest on my Nexus and at home it was either Skyrim, Steam Marines or, when I got to hog the only TV in the house, Hawken (Mech Games and HDTV’s are a match made in heaven).

While browsing through Gamejolt’s database, I ran across what appeared to be a strategy browser game called Iron Grip: Marauders. I was never into this type of games and the only one I invested any time in was Bitefight, mostly because of my, then, girlfriend who kept pestering me to play it. What caught my eye, regarding IG: Marauders, was that it was “marketed” as a 3D Turn Based browser game so I decided to make an account and see what it is about. Honestly, I was expecting it to be a regular pay-to-win, ad-filled game like so many others on the web and boy was I wrong. So, after playing it on-and-off for a few months I decided to tear it to shreds, brake it into different components, and do a small analysis on why I find it so attractive. igm_the_gameIn a nutshell IGM is all about taking control of an diesel punk airship (think of it like the offspring of Queen Anne, Blackbeard’s pirate ship, and a Russian Kirov), raising money for your “cool pirate crew” and plundering cities and caravans. The resources are split into three categories: Gold, Iron and Gems. Gold and Iron are the primary resources used to research, build and acquire new technology and units, while Gems represent the premium currency of the game. And here’s the first thing I liked about IG: Marauders: You are not forced to buy Gems in order to succeed at the game. Even better, you get free gems when leveling up or when you  complete certain missions. The actual gameplay is split into two parts: Browser Based and 3D Tactical Battles.

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A rant about DRM services

Let me start this post by saying that I love steam, I’ve got most of my entire game collection on steam and I buy most of them through it! I’ve been using it for the past 3 years and I had little to no problem with it! It’s a great platform, but, mix it up with something else… let’s say Games for Windows life and you have a recipe from disaster!

Note that some of my opinions from this post are largely influenced by a bit of anger that, right now, keeps boiling and boiling! I’ve bought Red Faction Guerrilla a few months ago, but didn’t get to play it much till now (played it a few minutes from work one weekend) ! So, while browsing, looking up some new projects on scriptlance, I decided I needed to play something instead of hitting the F5 key, waiting for something interesting to appear on that site! So I opened up Steam and decided to download RF:G! The entire process went smooth, and it about 40 minutes I had the game installed, just waiting for me to push the “Play” button. Before the game started, steam informed me that I “might need” to use the game’s key somewhere, so it should be a good idea to write it down, which I did! What came next, brought me two steps closer to that mind stated know by some of us as: “The baby puncher mode”!
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