Curmudgeon Day 2015

The holiday is needed now more than ever!

Stay Home. Do What You Want.This is the 12th straight year that I have written about Curmudgeon Day on this blog, and every year the situation gets worse.

The purpose of Curmudgeon Day is to avoid all of the insanity associated with the commercialism attached (incorrectly) to the day after Thanksgiving in the US.  Some may call it the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season, but the idea that it is the most profitable day of the year is a myth.

The practice on Curmudgeon Day is to stay home and do whatever you want to do, but most importantly, do not go shopping.  Granted, it can take some planning, especially if you are not in the practice of keeping your pantry full and cooking for yourself, but it is much safer not to join the frenzy, as well as better for your mental health.

Since the first blog post here in 2004 (which was already many years after Curmudgeon Day started), the crowds have gotten bigger, the number of deaths have increased (from none), and the abuse has spilled into Thanksgiving, our family’s most sacred holiday.  The only way to stop this idiocy is to refuse to play that “doorbuster” game.

Instead, stay home and actually play games with your family, or work on your hobby, or read that book you have been meaning to find time for, or, if you must, just watch the disturbing images of shoppers acting like stampeding cattle on television and learn the names of all the people killed underfoot this year.

I urge you, most seriously, to make a stand.  Celebrate Curmudgeon Day!

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!

Pretty Good Solitaire ME 3.10

The next version of our Mac Edition is now available.

Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition 3.1Goodsol Development has released Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition 3.10.  This is a free upgrade for customers who have already purchased, it is available for immediate purchase for only $24.95, and a trial version is also available.

This version of Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition adds another 25 games, for a total of 575 games, and the full version has 75 bonus games.  The main menu interface was also changed to make the game search/filter box easier to find and use.

The 25 new games in PGSME 3.1 are:

  • Acey and Kingsley
  • Anno Domini
  • Assembly
  • Box Fan
  • Cell 11
  • Crescent Fan
  • Double Aces and Kings
  • Five Stacks
  • Forwards
  • Forwards and Backwards
  • Free Parking
  • Grandmother’s
  • Idle Aces
  • Lucky Thirteen
  • Maze
  • Pyramid Clear
  • Quadruple Russian
  • Racing Aces
  • Red Hand
  • Ripple Fan
  • Solid Square
  • Spaces and Aces
  • Speculation
  • Twin Queens
  • Unusual

Goodsol Community

Along with this release, Goodsol has now created two new places to discuss Solitaire games in social media, to supplement the Goodsol Forum.  The first is the (quite active) Goodsol Solitaire Community on Google+, and the other is the Goodsol Solitaire Group on Facebook.  These are great places to get help with a specific deal number for one of our games, to find a challenging deal number (and maybe help somebody else), to get recommendations for games, or to discuss Solitaire topics in general.

The next version of Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition will contain 600 games, but you can buy now, have fun right away, and still get that version as a free upgrade!

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.

Developer for Hire

You have a game idea.  Let us create it for you.

SophSoft is available for game development now!This week marks 20 years (!) since we first took our company full-time.  In that time, we have developed more than 25 products for a variety of clients.  We have published games for Windows, Mac OS X, and iOS, and we have extensive experience.

Now, we are available immediately for new development contracts.  We have a significant opening in our schedule, which we need to fill soon.  This is your chance to have a world-class game developer working (or consulting) on your project.  If you want to explore this opportunity, please contact me directly at seelhoff@sophsoft.com.

For more information on SophSoft, Incorporated, please visit the web site, and you can also download our brochure [PDF, 2 pages] to find out how we can help you.

All clients get to deal directly with me, and if you are interested in my 25+ years in the game industry, please feel free to look at my résumé [PDF, 4 pages].

Act quickly!  Do not miss this opportunity.  It may not last long!

Meaningful Play 2014, Day 1

This academic conference on games gets underway in earnest.

The first day of Meaningful Play 2014Meaningful Play 2014 started this morning with a keynote, continued with 3 conference sessions (6 choices each) followed by another keynote, and concluded with a special event where lots of games and research were presented in a social environment of happy, controlled chaos.

(There was actually “continental breakfast” available first thing, for those into waking up that early, but my schedule was not conducive to that.)

The proceedings were (briefly) opened by Johannes Bauer (Michigan State University), who chairs the Department of Media and Information at MSU, which department presented the conference.  (Interestingly, I have known Johannes for about 20 years in a completely non-game context.)  He introduced conference organizers, Brian Winn (Michigan State University), who I have known since before he started the first Meaningful Play, and Casey O’Donnell (Michigan State University).  Casey spoke about the monsters theme as a metaphor for games and game studies, saying, “Monsters aren’t bad, only complicated.”  Brian provided the selected hashtag, #MPlay and some (more grounded) conference numbers: 300 attendees from 17 countries and 23 US states.

The opening keynote was “Computer Game Studies: Moving Forward (?)“, presented by Mia Consalvo (Concordia University), who also had been one of the respondents last night.  She structured her entire talk as a “Dear Espen” (a play on Dear Esther) letter replying to a 2001 commentary by Espen Aarseth.  It helped set up the discussion on game studies, the primary focus of the conference, as well as subtly playing on the theme of diversity in games, which cannot help being an undertone of the discussion, given recent events.  The talk was interesting and engaging but, if I am honest, not terribly enlightening, especially given that I have been a part of the game industry through the entirety of the history she covered and that the talk was targeted at researchers; the only time developers were really addressed was when she entreated us to all work together (i.e., for game developers to listen to scholars).  My (retrospective) takeaway is that the area of “game studies” has to struggle for relevance within the larger industry.

For the first set of sessions, I attended a panel, “The Meaning of Casual: Serious Dialogues about Casual Games“, with presentations by Shira Chess (University of Georgia), Adrienne Shaw (Temple University), and Lauren Cruikshank (University of New Brunswick), with a remote from Maria Cipollone (UX researcher at Zynga).  The panel was (ostensibly) about taking casual games seriously, which I found really intriguing, but there was a large overlap in the genres discussed, completely excluding the types of casual games that my company builds.  Specific points made about nurturing games targeted at young girls do not translate to casual games in general, and where puzzle games or solitaire were mentioned, there seemed (to me) to be a bit of the same air of derision that the panelists were supposedly denouncing.  (I was astounded, too, that discussion of nurturing games never once mentioned the word, “tomagotchi”.)  The remote presentation was the most interesting, but the conclusion was one that we already know well, specifically, that “casual gamers” can be anything but casual about playing.

That panel provided a basis for some interesting observations, however.  The first two presenters (at least) have been called out by name in the #GamerGate controversy, which I suspect is the reason that the group seemed to be a little bit insular.  Whenever I saw one of them throughout the day, the others were always there.  (This is in contrast to my own conference behavior, where I often eschew friends in order to make new acquaintances by talking to other people.)  On that (parenthetical) note, one of my new conference friends went to the workshop, “Make the Course You Want to Take: MSU’s Surviving the Coming Zombie Apocalypse” and she (an educator) raved about how good that session was.

Then, there were two more sessions in the afternoon.  [OK, I admit it: I went home for a few hours, as I was not fully prepared to exhibit tomorrow, and I was also yawning due to “jet lag”, my normal schedule being closer to Pacific Time. 🙂 ]

The afternoon keynote was “Meaningful Leverage: Breaking the System of Ignorance“, presented by Erin Hoffman (Game Design Lead at GlassLab), who is probably best known as being “ea_spouse“, from the exposé on labor practices at Electronic Arts.  This keynote was quite enlightening, and well-presented.  Hoffman began by discussing the concept of systems as known to game developers, with references to game balancing, noting how easy it is (or can be) to “break” a system, which in the context of game design is a Bad Thing.  She then turned the topic on its head, looking at the larger world, making the case that ignorance itself is a system that feeds upon itself, and asking how we could work to break that system (improving education and fighting poverty being two obvious approaches), which would be a Good Thing.  This a fascinating concept, provoking thought and discussion, and seemed to be very well-received among attendees.

One point I found interesting, albeit mostly unrelated to the keynote itself, was when Hoffman dismissed casual games as “meaningless”.  I happened to be directly behind the table occupied by the presenters from the earlier panel on casual games, in a line of sight to the speaker, and it seemed that the whole table had a visceral reaction of discomfort at the statement.  The sentiment (or flinching) must have been somewhat broader, because the speaker immediately attempted to clarify her intent.  However, I do not think that she helped her case any by stating that did not mean they were unimportant, because they must provide something that is otherwise missing in the lives of casual game players.  Wisely, she quickly moved on before digging that hole any deeper; so shall I. 🙂

After a dinner break, there was the Special Event: Conference Reception, Game Exhibition, and Poster Session.  The main event was held in the ballroom, with the posters (and open bar) just outside.  Alas, some of the scheduled posters were not there (and few of the authors), but fortunately, Allen Trammell was there to discuss his most interesting one, Vertiginous Play: Debating “Fun” with the Diplomacy Wives Club, in which he looked into archives of the fan community of Diplomacy (a board game) from the 1960s and found parallels to current debates within the video game community.  After a healthy discussion there, I attempted to introduce myself to the aforementioned casual games micro-group to share my thoughts, was rudely rebuffed (an action rife with opportunities for speculation), and then bumped into Brian Winn, for the first time since his conference started, and had a (no doubt) much more fulfilling conversation with him.

Inside the ballroom, there was all manner of activity, with lots of games, both digital and “analog”, being discussed, demonstrated, and played.  There was bustle everywhere, and the event seemed to be really successful.  Some of the digital games that I saw were Fat Chicken, though Josh Mills was struggling with the seemingly inevitable technical issues when I visited, After the Storm, an interesting educational game for reading and writing in the context of journalism, and Guided Meditation, which was my first direct experience with the Oculus Rift headset (and my first VR headset experience in probably 10 years).  On the board and card game side, after meeting Clay Ewing, I made a point of checking out both Humans vs. Mosquitos and Vanity, the former (in particular) being impressive in its ability to convey a message in the context of an elegant card game that would be welcome at one of our regular game nights.

I also came across the game, The Bone Wars, a game about paleontology in a (narrow) historical context that taught me something with just the description.  What made this most interesting for me, though, was that I got involved in a discussion with the project advisor, Paul Gestwicki (Ball State University), in which we were able to discuss technical aspects of game development in depth.  We talked about tools, and game engines, and the difficulties inherent in creating general Solitaire deal solvers, and all manner of other topics of interest to programmers.  The conversation lasted until the event had technically ended and the ballroom was starting to empty.

Returning to my office at the end of a long day, I am looking forward to more to come.  (I also realize that I parked downtown three different times, in three different cars…)