Pebble: Just Smart Enough

I’ve been wielding a Pebble for almost two years now (red Kickstarter edition).  In my circle of friends (even within the area of IT I work in) smart watches are still very rare.  In fact I think the only other I’ve seen in the wild was in a meeting with one of my external vendors (another Pebble).  On my side, the Pebble has become my daily driver.  Between notifications in the office and music control on the tube, I end up looking at the Pebble on a regular basis throughout the day.  Oh, and of course I use it to tell the time.

When people do realise I’m wearing a smart watch I get one of two reactions.  Some dismiss it as another pointless gadget.  These people tend not to be heavy users of smart phones or other connected devices, and as most smart watches are an extension of these I can see why they find no utility in them.  The other response is inquisitiveness tinged with scepticism.  They want to know what I use my Pebble for, but are already somewhat prejudiced from what they’ve read of other smart watches, more often than not the poor battery lives.

My Pebble lasts me a week without a charge.  Let me say that again.  A week without charge.  That’s not idle time either – I have notifications hammering me all day, I control and monitor my music through it for a few hours each day on my commute, and I’ve recently started to use a couple of other apps for fitness tracking.  So the question is, in order to meet that battery performance, do I feel like I’m missing out on functionality?  Is there more I could do with my watch?  I really don’t think there is – I get just the level of information and control I need.  This is where I feel the other smart watches have failed.  By trying to do far more than is necessary, including touch control and colour screens, they munch through their batteries in around a day.  This is not a workable situation, especially for those watches that need bespoke chargers so you can’t find a place to charge your watch where ever you may be.  Until we have a power revolution, I hope that some of the other smart watch manufacturers consider the e-paper route with simpler devices to conserve battery life.

It’s worth noting that some who come the closest to being convinced are still put off by the look of smart watches.  Even the more expensive Android Wear watches don’t quite do it for them, as they want a good looking professional / dress watch.  It’ll be interesting to see whether Apple’s foray into the market will change the perception of smart watches in this regard.  Whether this is achieved through actual change of thought or blind devotion, I care not.

I had originally planned to write this post a while back in response to the rise of Android Wear but my usual problem of not having any free time got in the way.  Now, however, the Pebble guys are back with a new Kickstarter for the Pebble Time.  With two years of positive experiences watching the Pebble team and using the product it was a no brainer for me to back this and upgrade my watch.  It may not be exactly the smart watch I want (kinetic + mechanical + e-paper), but it’s the best of the bunch so far.

 

Skipping Feb OGAM

I’m skipping the February OGAM due to a house move and illness. Luckily I have a design in mind and it’s one I want to work on a bit longer term so I expect to release something, just not to the deadline!

 

Resolution v0.1.0

I’ve been busy with a house move for the last week so I’m releasing where I last left Resolution. It has a way to go before it’s a proper game, but it’s got the basic mechanics in there. I’ll call that a tick in the box for my January OGAM entry.

Left and right control the character, up and down vary the target speed for running. The max speed you can run at depends on both your energy and current weight. Either of these are affected by how long you run for and what you eat (energy bolts or food).

It’s obviously missing some major features, which I’ll add over time when I can:
– Scoring and failure state. I imagined that coming off the end of the treadmill would be failure. Wah wah wah wahhhh. The longer you’re on, the higher your score counter goes. Or pickups. I dunno.
– Game state handling to let you start at your leisure, pause, and handle the end game states.
– Better balancing of pickups. At the moment they’re randomly spawned across treadmills, increasing in rate as you avoid them, decreasing if you hit them. It also needs to distinguish between good pickups (energy) and bad (food).
– More treadmills. I’ve implemented variable speed treadmills, so these can be added to make it a challenge to move around the whole scene. This could then be tied into a risk/reward system for collectibles.
– Tuning. It needs it. Much of it.
– Sound? Who listens to things anyway?

 

Resolution: First Demo

I’ve managed to find a few hours to play with both Unity and the wonderful (in my unskilled hands anyway) Pyxel Edit so have made a start on my January OGAM entry for Resolution. Non playable at the moment, just demoing animations, variable speed treadmills, working HUD meters and spawning of random pickups. Looks fun doesn’t it! No? Fine … see if I care.

 

One Game A Month

I already know 2015 is going to be a busy year. I should have a new house to play in, with all the associated DIY and building work that will come with it. Work isn’t going to get any easier so will either kill me or drive me into a change of jobs, neither of which option is going to result in me being rested and having an abundance of free time. I’m already signed up for at least one comic con for which I’ll need to get my cosplay sorted. I’ve also got quite a few weddings and stags coming up this year. All that doesn’t leave a lot of time to focus on realising my pages of scribbled notes and game ideas, so there’s only one thing for it: I need to set myself an unattainable target! One Game A Month seems like the perfect target to follow. Someone else can manage the tracking and goal settings, and I can sit back and fail to hit any of the deadlines!
Seriously though, it’s a good framework to get myself to put some effort into working on some game development. Every month there’s a new theme to work to, which should help me to branch out or inspire some new challenges. Even if I do the minimum for a given month – create a tech demo or follow a game tutorial that fits the theme – it’ll help improve my game dev skills. I will make one prediction now – September is going to be mega-busy so I expect to be missing that deadline!
The first theme word for 2015 is “Resolution”. I’ve got an idea in mind for a small mini-game about weight loss so let the games(dev) begin!

 

Kickstarter Addiction

Kickstarter Running Spend

Kickstarter Running Total Spend

If my luck holds, I’m going to be moving house in the new year. As I have a bit of a Kickstarter addiction, this seemed like a good time to go back over my open pledges to work out where things are now and what needs an address update for delivery. My first Kickstarter pledge was back in August 2011 and since then I’ve been a regular backer of projects. In 2013 I went a bit out of control and spent a large chunk of cash on projects, a little under 2% of my income, and since then I’ve tried to restrict my pledging and have fallen back to a nice manageable rate. It may seem like I don’t really care about the projects I’m backing if I need to have a concerted effort to look back over them now, but that’s because I approach each project differently. A lot of game projects get ignored because I both don’t have the time to play the betas, and don’t want any spoilers for games with a strong story. On the other hand, some of them (TinyKeep for example) drew me in with interesting regular updates on the development process so have kept my interest.
On the whole I’ve been happy with the Kickstarter experience. Very few projects have actually failed to deliver, even if some of them are horribly delayed. There have also been some resounding successes in the shape of projects like Shadowrun Returns and Wasteland 2, as well as some products that have become daily drivers for me like the Pebble smartwatch.
I don’t think I’m going to be losing the addiction any time soon, but I’m certainly refining what I’m willing to back in the face of failures of some early access games. That and a much larger mortgage I need to satisfy!

 

EGX 2014

Yesterday I trudged along to EGX after four days at Oktoberfest in Munich. That was a terrible idea – flashing lights, crowds, and motion have not helped my recovery. I was also somewhat puzzled by the lack of lederhosen. Regardless of my ability to absorb what was going on, I had long since gone off the main show at EGX. Increasingly it’s made up from large name booths with massive queues and no windows into them. I’m not keen on hanging around in line ten times a day, and I really don’t see why they can’t let people peer in to watch those who are hands on. UbiSoft have done many things wrong in their time, but at least they set things up so punters can spectate while others play. Anyhow, I made my way through the main section pretty rapidly to get to what I considered the main attractions: Rezzed and The Leftfield Collection. It’s great to be able to walk amongst the games, chatting to the devs and getting to play some games I might otherwise never get a chance to experience. Some of the games on show I was already looking forward to (Heat Signature) and some I’ve played already from their Kickstarters (TinyKeep). In addition to those, I’ve now walked away with a list of more games to add to the ever-growing backlog. … 

 

Watch_Dogs: Game or Prototype?

I upgraded my keyboard last month and got a copy of Watch_Dogs with it as part of a Razer promotion.  In no way did this bonus influence my purchasing decision;  I’d heard pretty bad things about the PC release of Watch_Dogs.  By all accounts the game has ropey PC performance, a story that’s far from engaging and very restrictive missions for a supposedly open world game.  Still, this was meant to be one of the big releases of the year so I felt I should give it a fair go, especially with no GTA V PC in sight.  This, in hindsight, was a mistake.  I should’ve left well alone.  All I had heard was true, but even worse there wasn’t even a good game underlying everything.  Instead I found what seemed like a constant disregard for the player, like the designers had been playing with prototypes for new functionality without actually playtesting it from the perspective of the gamer. … 

 

London Film & Comic Con (LFCC) 2014

It’s been very quiet here for a while, and that’s mostly because I’ve been preparing cosplay for London Film & Comic Con 2014.  Photos I’ve collected so far are in the gallery below.  I had a different costume for each day: Barf, Jayne Cobb and Obi-Wan.  It was an exhausting weekend, especially given how poorly ShowMasters ran this year’s convention.  Still, I had a great time meeting other cosplayers, stars and friends.  Now it’s over I can try to catch up on life – I’ve got a few progress photos from some of my costume creations so I’ll write up a post at some point on those.

Oh, and I was featured on BuzzFeed!

 

The Problem with Motion and Touch Controls

The recent announcement by Microsoft that they will be selling the Xbox One without the bundled Kinect has sparked mixed reactions from critics and developers.  From my perspective, Microsoft seem to be accepting something that I’ve been thinking about for a while – the problems with waggle and touch controls for gaming (which I’ll collectively refer to as “waveprod” from here on).

I should point out at this juncture that I think both motion tracking technology and modern capacitive touch screens are amazing advancements in consumer tech.  I attended a lecture by Professor Chris Bishop a couple of years ago on the science behind Kinect and it’s truly fascinating stuff.  The thing is, a lot of his own enthusiasm for the product seemed to come from applications outside of gaming, such as helping doctors control interfaces in sterile environments.

I’m also not trying to say that these types of interface have no place in the gaming world.  There have been some excellent applications of the technologies thus far, and I’ll touch on how some of these implementations overcome the issues with waveprod.  Unfortunately there are also some oft repeated mistakes made with waveprod implementations in games, quite often as a result of lazy porting of an aspect of game design to mobile platforms.  I’m going to touch on two different sides of the waveprod problem – the connection to the game, and the connection to the player. …