Welcome to 2016!

This year is poised to be the “Year of Cool” (so read on).

Digital GamecraftHere we are a couple of weeks into 2016 and, having fully recovered from our year-end break, and I have already seen enough to declare that 2016 is the “Year of Cool”.

For many years, my definition of a “cool” product has been something that is really intriguing, enough to make somebody want it, but is ultimately not worth buying, or just generally pointless.  It is the kind of thing that you may be excited to receive as a gift, but very quickly begins to just collect dust.

It seems to me that early October, 1929 probably felt like one of the coolest times in the history of the United States (not that anybody would remember it that way).

Note that there is nothing wrong with “cool”, per se.  It is wonderful that we (some of us) have the luxury to pursue cool stuff for the mere sake of it.  It is enviable that certain products and people exude such a sense of style; equally, it is undeniable that without any actual substance, they are not particularly beneficial in the long run.

PinballsFor example, a collection of ball bearings is definitely one of the coolest things to see and handle, but it does not really have a function until they are put into a pinball machine (or a bearing, I suppose 🙂 ).  My friend used to have a box filled with dimes; surprisingly cool, so much so that I have often thought about recreating this, but it illustrates my point nicely.

This year, for the first time in decades, I had a motivation for paying attention to CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas.  Perhaps this skews my perspective, but most of the “innovative” products that got “everybody” (i.e., the tech press) talking seemed to elicit the necessary question: “Why?

Now several products I saw did have benefits for a particular market.  I was intrigued to see the Nima portable gluten tester, but only because my family happens to be affected by Celiac disease.  Of course, Stern Pinball is always worthwhile.

It remains to be seen if any of the “game changing” technology touted as the next big thing will actually have any lasting general impact.  (Light bulb speaker, anyone?)

Here’s hoping that your 2016 is fantastic!

Quest for a Happy Thanksgiving

A Classic Adventure Story for 2015

Legacy of the Ancients - classic RPG from Quest Software/EAMany years ago lived an adventurous little halfling.  (Don’t call him a hobbit, as some folks are offended if you use the term; only they can use it.)  After years of toil for nothing but scraps of copper, he decided that he was not happy and moved to rectify the situation.  He left the city and returned to a small town on the edge of nature and sought his fortune panning for gold.  Initial successes suggested that this could prove lucrative and, in any event, he was pleased to pursue his real adventure, instead of the pale imitation that had been sold to him previously.

However, as the years progressed, there were lean times.  Some years the stream dried up completely, and even when there were enough gold nuggets to indicate that fortune was imminent, it never came to pass.  As the successful years became fewer and the struggles more regular, he became less happy, though he still pursued his dreams.

Then one day the stream suddenly stopped flowing entirely.  After an initial panic, our hero made due for a while with the few grains of gold he could find in the quickly drying mud, hoping that the water would return.  Alas, upon further investigation, he discovered that the mountain people had dammed the stream in an attempt to keep every last scrap for themselves.  With the coffers empty and the cupboard almost bare, he relented.

So, the halfling and his warrior princess, who somehow continued to believe in him, left their rustic comfort and moved to a bustling metropolis.  He accepted a position mining for gold, and he decided to imitate his friends, the dwarves, by putting on a smile and singing a happy song.  “Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to work we go!”  To his astonishment, it worked.  Though the mine was much twistier and confusing than he was led to believe, he found a place of comfort and a way to enjoy himself.

Besides, minted gold coins beat the hell out of irregular nuggets of gold among the rocks.

And so our Adventure begins…

As a player, I was able to complete the first level, in which the halfling travels faraway to the big city and has to find suitable accommodation once there.  This was actually harder than it sounds, involving not only normal adventuring and RPG aspects, but also elements of time and resource management games.

In the second level, the halfling has to deal with remote threats from an evil villain and a crazy witch, all while facing the prospect that the gold mine may not stable.  I was able to play to the end of this level by concentrating on the most imminent issue, and properly equipping the warrior princess to dispatch the witch, we she did, albeit not without first having to bait her with some of her personal treasure.  I just finished that level.

For the next level, as far as I can tell, the goal is for the halfling to seek out the evil villain, who survived the previous level, and destroy him.  Armed with a war chest from vanquishing the crazy witch, along with significant information about the villain’s strategic weaknesses, it looks like our hero will be able to both defend his “castle” and take down the malefactor without too much trouble, though the villain is too dimwitted to realize this.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Outside of the game, this year I am thankful for all of my friends, both old and new, who provided support during the challenges and continue to keep me connected.  I am thankful that my family has managed a significant level of upheaval in the last year with grace and fortitude, especially my wife, who sacrificed a great deal to move to Los Angeles with me.

I am especially thankful that my choices this year, though not free of ramifications, have worked out essentially as planned, that I have been able to greatly expand my opportunities, and that I have found comfort within a brand new adventure.

Oh, yeah…  I am thankful that tomorrow is Curmudgeon Day!

SophSoft West

Now (also) coming to you from Los Angeles.

SophSoft, IncorporatedDigital GamecraftIt has been quite a while since I posted a Gamecraft update.  The last six months have been filled with “opportunity”, and the upshot of it is that I have relocated to Los Angeles, California.

Structurally, SophSoft, Incorporated and Digital Gamecraft still continue to operate from our Michigan office, and nothing substantial has changed in terms of client services or product development.  Practically, of course, having the company principal living a couple thousand miles away from the home office presents interesting challenges (some of which are still being resolved).  I am definitely in a period of adjustment, both personally and professionally.

So, what am I doing in California?

I am out here to pursue a great opportunity in the burgeoning field of augmented reality, bringing my years of experience in game development, coupled with my abilities in quality assurance and robust programming, to bear on a young industry that is just beginning to show its enormous potential.  That, however, is a topic (well, several) for another post.

For the moment, though, I am still transitioning from living in the Midwest to residing in the second largest city in the United States, and now that my West Coast office is up and (mostly) functioning, we are looking to resolve the remaining logistical and technical challenges inherent in running a business with offices in two different states.

Please stay tuned!

2015: 10% Done

No news can also be bad news.

It has been a couple of months since my last blog post, and in that time, there has not been a lot of encouraging news about the game industry, business, or life in general.  We have often heard, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.”  More specifically, I do not want to spend a lot of time and effort whining (or whinging, if you prefer) and filling this Gamecraft blog with negativity.  However, that can result in a very quiet site sometimes.  That said, it is past time to provide an update, despite its somewhat unfavorable tone.  (Besides, with 475,830 spam comments rejected and very few actual comments, and fewer informed opinions, evidence is that few will read this anyway.)

The positive is that we are still alive and kicking and, with Goodsol Development, we continue to publish and improve the best solitaire games on the planet.  Nevertheless, what has been appreciated in the past as fantastic fun, quality workmanship, and excellent support is now just expected from us as par for the course, and rarely recognized nor appreciated.  If “the squeaky wheel gets the grease“, then perhaps by eliminating any squeaking wheels from our products, nobody cares anymore. 🙁

Winter of disappointment

The overwhelming feeling over the past several months has been one of disappointment.  Nothing catastrophic has happened, but the total weight of one minor setback after another, and one dissatisfying interaction after another, without many positives to offset them, is definitely sapping my remaining optimism.  At first I was interpreting most of this solely in terms of the game industry, or even just our little part of it, but it is now clear that the same type of problems run throughout our society and culture.  This realization does not inspire a hopeful mood in me.

Still, the Richard III interpretation of this section title provides something on which to hang my hopes.  After all, there has to be a thawing in the spring (whenever that comes), and if my general expectations have fallen low enough, it makes it much easier for me to be pleasantly surprised.  There have to be more people out there who do not automatically approach every interaction with the thought, “what’s in it for me?”

In other words, there is nowhere for my attitude to go but up.  Actually, I have fallen to a very succinct phrase that describes it perfectly, but since the command verb is an expletive, I will go ahead and leave that to your imagination.

Practical adjustments

Given the current situation, we are making a slight switch away from “business planning” and toward “take things as they come“, especially since something significant is likely to change our course in the short term anyway (or else there may not be much of a long term at all).  Independent game development has become (practically) unsustainable.

As part of this shift, I am reorganizing my general schedule, compressing the business functions (which have been generally unsatisfying) into just a few days each week, leaving the majority of my time for pure (hopefully, uninterrupted) development work, which is what I truly enjoy.  After any client needs are met, I will be focused on designing and building the kind of games I want to make.

The next game industry crash is already underway, but I will not go down without a fight!

Anybody who wants to prove me wrong can do so, easily, by hiring me for game development.  You can find my résumé linked from my online portfolio.