RGD: Day 1 Report

OK, it’s Tuesday and I need a change of plans! I had a case of the Munday’s yesterday, so not too much to report on the game front. I did however get an email from Gamasutra informing me about a great deal at Yoyo Games where you can get a copy of Game Maker Standard edition for FREE until March 2, 2014.  I downloaded and installed Game Maker just to try it out. The really neat thing about Game Maker is that you can write games for Mac or Windows without a single line of code. After trying it out for an hour, I could see some real potential in Game Maker for my rapid game development projects. However, I feel the time pressure to get something done for Sunday, so I don’t want to spend too much time learning a new game development environment. That’s when I remembered another great tool for quickly creating games called, Construct 2 by Scirra. With Construct 2 you can create non-commercial game for free for multiple platforms. The really great thing about Construct 2 is that your game came be played on almost any platform without an installation. The free-edition does have some limitations, like limited program events and limited platform support but overall this is a great tool for my gaming projects. There is a learning curve to using Construct 2 as well, but I did some of the tutorials a couple of years ago, so I think I can get a game up and running without too much fuss. So, I’ve decided that my first gaming project won’t just be playable on Macs, you’ll be able to run my game from Adventures in Play without any installation on your computer. 

Now, I need to get back to it and finalize my game concept, but first I have to go to work. I’ll report back tomorrow with some screenshots of my initial game ideas.

 

Rapid Game Prototyping

Experiments from the Blogatory

This week I’ve decided to try something a little different.  So far, I’ve written career posts and whined a bit about my PCs and that has been great fun, but when I created Adventures in Play, I wanted to create a segment that focused on fun stuff that I like to do in my spare time. The problem for me, is that like many, I don’t have a lot of spare time and lately I have been exercising a lot of down-time watching the Olympics and Netflix (I discovered Farscape this week) shows. Mind you, watching the Olympics has been a lot of fun and to be honest, I am going to miss watching those athletes do their thing. It inspires me to be superfocused on my goals. Speaking of being super-focused, have you heard of rapid game development? Back in 2005 I read the now classic article “How to Prototype a Game in Under 7 Days” (still a terrific treatment on the subject). I’ve always meant to run my own game prototyping sprint to hone my game development skills, but I’ve never really had the time or frankly, discipline to commit to a crazy development schedule. Some of the recent articles I’ve read on rapid prototyping have gone to greater extremes, writing a game in one weekend or 30 games in 30 days. I guess it’s a matter of preference, but I do have a day job and would like to spend time with my family.  So, my revised plan is to focus on the fun and return to the original goal of one prototype in 7 days. My focus for this experiment is to have fun while writing a simple game for the Mac. Really, what do I have to do in February besides get my taxes done early and wait for winter to end?

Experiment #1: Creating a game in 7 days

new_game

 My Rapid Game Prototype Commitment:Spritekit

  1. Write a simple, yet complete game in one week.Spritekit
  2. Create a game for the Mac using the SpriteKit framework.
  3. Have fun!!! Although I am genuinely interested in becoming a better game developer, my motivation for this experiment is pure whimsical fun.
  4. My kiddos (Thing 1 and Thing 2) will judge my game at the end of the week giving my game a fun-factor score.
  5. Make my game available to the public for general enjoyment!

I plan to give daily updates on my progress, so check back here tomorrow or follow me on Twitter (@runstop) to see how I am doing.

 

My PC Won’t Sleep

Is your Windows desktop an insomniac? Does your Windows PC stay awake no matter what you try? Maybe you’ve tried to adjust the Power Options in the control panel? Maybe you tweaked your LAN and USB device settings. Maybe you played around with the Powercfg utility? Maybe you tried all of the advice out there and still your PC won’t sleep. That has been my experience.

At home  I have two custom-built PCs that use a lot of power. Inside these rigs I am running some pretty powerful video cards on 800W power supplies. My power bills were getting quite high and I was looking for ways to cut costs. I did not want my PCs running when nobody was using them. These are family computers that often get left on “by accident”. The problem for me was getting them to sleep. Windows has had power control settings since day one, but I have always had issues with this feature. Sometimes my PCs wouldn’t wake after going to sleep. Sometimes they would go to sleep at unexpected times without warning. But lately, my PCs just never went to sleep.  I had hoped the issue was only happening on Windows 7 and that after I upgraded to Windows 8 things would improve, but they didn’t.  I would schedule my computer to sleep after 20 minutes and began to notice the computer stayed awake. Sometimes my computer would sleep, but then immediately woke up for some reason. I researched the issue and learned that there were many things that could wake up a computer, from: shared media to USB devices.  Here is one support link from Microsoft on how to troubleshoot the issue:  http://support.microsoft.com/kb/976877 

I even learned how to “Get a detailed Power Efficiency Diagnostics Report for your computer“. Yeah, this has been a time consuming task. Ugh!

Determined to fix the issue once and for all, I would try solutions like the ones suggested in the support article, but after hours of tweaking, my PCs defiantly stayed awake. Just when I thought I had the computers down for the night, the little naughty PCs would wake themselves up again. Finally, I got fed up and came up with my own creative solution- I wrote an app called Nightcap that puts your PC to sleep after a specified period of time.  Out of the box, Nightcap will put your computer to sleep after 10 minutes of inactivity.  But the computer doesn’t just fall asleep without warning. A minute before sleeping, a warning will pop-up on screen with a countdown timer alerting you to the fact that your computer is about to sleep. To cancel the sleep state, simply move your mouse or press a key. Even cooler, the app can be set to fall right back to sleep if the computer has woken up without user interaction.

Nightcap Coming Soon!

sandman

I had planned to make Nightcap available this weekend, but I wanted to ensure that the program provided a way for you to give feedback and report issues. Nightcap was developed on Windows 8, so I want to do some testing on Windows 7 and possibly XP. 

If you have a sleepless PC and want such a program, please let me know and I’ll work extra hard to make it available on my site soon.  My hope is that Nightcap will save you from hours of frustration and maybe even a little on your power bills. I know, for certain, it has saved money on mine.

 

Let’s Talk Desktops

As you likely know this year marks the 30th anniversary of the Mac. I was inspired by Apple’s story and it got me thinking about desktops. At work I use a Macbook Pro and love it for the most part. However, at home I am platform agnostic. I mean my household runs the gamut of computer operating systems: two Windows 8.1 PCs, an ailing Macbook running Lion, a Mac mini running Mavericks and of course, my beloved Raspberry PI running Raspbian. There is even a decommissioned Mac mini (2006 model) waiting for a new pet project. Among them all, we have iPhones and a first generation iPad. But for me, the real work gets done on desktops–big keyboards and big screens. I am not a fan of laptops because I end up turning them into desktops by “anchoring” them with my own keyboard, mouse and monitors.  I am simply enamoured with desktops. I must be a dinosaur. Even my parents have replaced their Macbook with an iPad. But from my perspective the functionality of a full class desktop just isn’t on par with those mobile devices. The experience is somehow lost in the translation. For one thing, I never seem to get the swipe gesture just right on my iPhone. My fingers fumble to find the desired pixel-point position on those tiny screens. My other beef with the mobile devices is the shallow, limited nature of those prolific apps. Apps have given software a bad name. We have come to know them as mostly useless, something you install and forget about and later delete to make more room for newer apps.

None of that happens on my trusty desktop where the preferred method of interaction is purely key-based. The keyboard is king. I need all of those keys and I need to feel each and every one of them. Tactile feedback is so important to muscle memory. There is a reason why there are special little underscore marks on the G and J keys of your keyboard. It tells your fingers that they are in the home row position, ready to reach any other keys without a single glance. But desktops are more than just full sized keyboards or big monitors. These are the Frankenstein machines of the computing world. A device that you can get inside and make your own. Ever since I was a kid, I was always taking things apart and that desire has never completely left me. I have a need to get inside to figure out how it all works. If you don’t like your video performance, then augment that overworked integrated GPU with a mammoth video card. Don’t like that no-name mouse that came with your PC? Then buy a super-sensitive Razer mouse. But the customization doesn’t end there. There is no limit to what you can rig up to your desktop and that sort of customization is getting harder and harder to do with Macs. Adding a spare hard drive to my Mac Mini would void my warranty and require me to remove virtually every component from the machine. There are no such barriers on my monster rig.

My Monster Rig!
My Monster Rig!
Inside the Machine
It’s beautiful inside too!

Do you have a PC running in a dark corner of your basement? Perhaps you gave up the shackles of the desktop and now use a laptop. Maybe you use a mobile phone to do it all. Whatever the case, I would love to know what you are using at home for your everyday computing needs. I have created a special poll for this purpose. In addition to the poll, please feel free to leave a comment and share with me what you like or dislike about desktops.

[socialpoll id=”2186921″] 

Get It Done!

Do you often feel like you have a mountain of things to do, but just not enough time to get it all done? I know I do. It can be overwhelming especially if you don’t have a good strategy for getting the important stuff done and that is the focus today’s post. I want to share with you the things I do to stay on top and perhaps you can share with me some of your strategies as well.

Now, I’d love to tell you that I am a super productive sort. You know, the kind of person who is perpetually on task, getting it all done with style and apparent ease. But I was clearly not cut from that cloth and besides, the thought of being super-organized makes me anxious. Seriously, who wants their entire day ruled by a never-ending series of To-Do items? For me, there has to be a balance between a life of human doings and of human beings. So my goal is to use strategies that make it easier to manage the conveyor belt of tasks, while providing me the extra time and mental relief of “being on top of it”.

Some Background

Dr. Who's TARDIS
Dr. Who’s TARDIS

“Where does the time go?” may be a cliche statement, but rings true for me. When I am at the computer time slips away like I am inside Dr. Who’s TARDIS. One moment I am easing into my New Year’s Resolutions, the next it’s February and I still have no concrete goals for 2014. Big picture aside, I find it helpful to start with my workflow for taking care of the immediate and important tasks.

By the way, being in front of a computer doesn’t mean you are instantly productive. If you are like me, you can have 50 browser sessions open at a time (more on avoiding this later), along with a slew of apps that have popped up throughout the day. All of those distractions add up and could be making it harder for you to get your work done. I am a computer programmer by profession, so it is especially important that I find a way to corral in all of those distractions. I have compiled a few tools in my toolbox that have helped me “Get It Done”.

My Top 7 Favourite Tools and Techniques for “Getting It Done”

#1. The List

To-Do List

I keep a list of important things that need to be done, front-and-center in my workspace. Composing the list is a matter of personal choice. You could manage your To-Do list using your favourite iPhone app, or on a text editor on your desktop, or even something as simple as scrawling tasks on post-it notes that are placed around your monitor. It’s up to you, but having a To-Do list keeps a constant reminder of the important stuff right there in your face. It’s like what advertisers do all the time on TV or on websites. They know how important your attention is for getting you to take action. From my experience something almost magical happens when you keep a list visible…things just seem to get done. On the other hand, if you keep the list in your head then stuff just seems to slide.

Another benefit of a list is that it feels great crossing off the completed items, knowing that you are always working on the next important task, so you naturally become more productive. At the end of the day there is a record of where all that time went, making it easy to update project managers on your progress.

#2. Declutter Your Workspace

clutterKeep you workspace clean and clutter free. Piles of papers or a myriad of windows creates a mental noise that can slow your progress or make it more challenging to complete a task. So, take a minute at the end of each day to do a little tidying up around your workstation. Virtual messes can affect you too. Don’t be afraid to close out browser tabs. Only keep programs open that are related to getting the next task complete. If need be, you can always locate previous sessions in your browser history. If you find a juicy StackOverFlow article that deserves further investigation, save it to Safari’s Reading List or create a temporary bookmark.

#3. Employ the Pomodoro Technique!

cowtimer

What is this Pomodoro Technique you ask? Without getting into the particulars, the Pomodoro Technique basically is a time management technique that can make you more productive by having you  focus without distraction on a single activity for a brief period of time (25 minutes). You use a kitchen timer (you can even buy a tomato timer if you want) to track your progress for each session. When the timer starts ticking, you start working with full concentration on the pre-decided task. If someone or something interrupts you during a pomodoro, you must reset the timer and begin again. It takes practice and you have to work at protecting those 25 minutes sessions from distractions. Once you have completed a pomodoro, you can take a 5 minute break to check your email or just plain relax. Repeat the process a couple more times and then take a longer break. Typically, you will not get more than 6 pomodoros out of your day.

For a more detailed explanation of the Pomodoro Technique, check out the official website: http://pomodorotechnique.com

#4. Go for a Walk

walking

Unless you work in one of those operations where you are tied to your desk, you should aim to go for a 5 minute walk about every 30-45 minutes. If you practice the Pomodoro Technique, you could go for a walk after you complete one pomodoro. If you are in the zone, you could skip the walk until two pomodoros are complete and then go for a 10 minute walk. Sitting down at your desk for prolonged periods is not healthy. Some people like standing workstations, but I have not personally found this set up works for me. I would prefer frequent walkabouts. Often I step outside my building to get fresh air to clear my mind and my lungs. Why should smokers be the only ones to enjoy this reprieve?

#5. Drink More Water

glass-of-waterA few years ago my wife started suggesting that I drink more water throughout the day. The advice sounded great, like eat less junk food or exercise more but I didn’t think it would really change how I felt. I drank a lot coffee (still do) and thought I was plenty hydrated. Boy, was I wrong. Replacing a coffee refill with a tumbler of water can do wonders for how you feel AND THINK. For tech workers, this is huge. Your brain works so much better when it is properly hydrated, so drink up! “Experts” recommend 8 glasses a day. Give it a try. You’ll feel and think better.

#6. Tips for Managing Stress

zen1

Part of being more productive is handling stress well. Although some people seem to navigate stressful situations easily, dealing with stress isn’t an innate talent. Coping is a learned skill. Learn to recognize when you are feeling stressed. If you feel like you are suddenly going to lose your cool, it’s OK to say you need to step away for a moment to gather your thoughts. It’s amazing how stepping away from a situation for just 30 seconds can totally change how you feel. If you can’t leave, stop talking, pause and take slow, deep breaths. You can’t take back words spoken in the heat of the moment, and people won’t fault you for taking a moment of silence while you collect your thoughts. One more thing on the topic of stress management- keep a sense of humour about all things. Being serious all of the time is exhausting for you and everyone around you. Try to find the SNL scene in your everyday life. I can’t tell you how many times I mentally turn a boring boardroom into an SNL comedy sketch.

#7. Keep a Positive Mindset

Stuart Smalley

Don’t listen to an internal dialogue of self-doubt. Don’t waste your mental energy thinking about what negative ideas others might have about you. Take a tip from Stuart SmalleyYou’re Good Enough, You’re Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like You“.  Celebrate the minor victories. When you have fixed an elusive bug or finished writing a section of a tedious document, give yourself credit for a job well done- a mental high-five! It’s amazing how much smoother and faster a day goes when you have a positive outlook.

What are some of the tools in your “Get It Done” toolbox? I would love to hear about them!

 

References:
Stuart Smalley, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Stuart_Smalley.jpg