Simple game, great interactive

The New York Times did some clever storytelling for the Women’s World Cup Finals - remove the balls from their pictures and let the users, based on the pictured athletes motion and eyes, guess where it was.

Since most people don’t do this sort of thing on a normal basis, after a couple rounds you’ll start to intuit where the ball may be, and your guess will be contrasted against others after you commit to a guess.

As a non-soccer fan, I like this interaction - it’s a simple idea that works well on the web and draws in readers like me. I didn’t give the text too much thought, but I tried several pages of the ball guessing.

Moreover, the NYT chose a small game that wasn’t gimmicky or too on the nose. Approached another way, this could have been a silly “kick the ball” advert-mini-game that didn’t expose me to any of the actual athletes or at least attempt to engage with the timeline each guess fleshes out.

Best of all, I don’t actually have to engage with the guessing game if I don’t care. Ultimately, it’s a nice balance of appeal for both the fan and bored internet clicker alike.

I don't think Minecraft means, what you think it means

I’ve heard Minecraft described as “Legos for adults.” That’s a fairly good generalization to the uninitiated player. However it’s more - it’s getting to live, explore and create in that Lego-like world you inhabit.

And it’s why I don’t really get the excitement around Minecraft using Microsoft's new HoloLens.

The demo looked really incredible, and I can’t deny that there is a charm to interacting with your MC world from a new perspective, as if they were actual blocks in your home. Tabling the criticisms of the HoloLens around its small viewport and orientation procedures, the gameplay in Minecraft with the HoloLens overall doesn’t appeal to me. In fact, the HoloLens kind of ruins the fun.

Take the far-off perspective available with the holograms. The flying perspective native to Minecraft doesn’t let you slice the level as shown in the demo and only occurs when in creative mode. Albeit, this is a feature beyond what’s currently available, however, discovering fortresses and caves, along with their resources, using this feature takes away the fun. If you can just zoom out and spot what you need, there goes the excitement of finding it. Part of the addictive nature of Minecraft is the feeling that there’s something special just beyond that next block, but with the HoloLens, you won’t anticipate, you’ll just see.

Watching and tracking players from a real third-person perspective is, again, novel, but is antithetical to the immersion of the existing game, or really most games.

Seriously - if I am trying to enjoy a game and my wife is making dinner in the background or my cat jumps on the table, I can’t really get into that game. I don’t require a first-person perspective for immersion, but now the real environment can affect my focus on the game.

I can see some value to the holographic perspective. First, if features like drag could be added to allow players to quickly set a line of blocks, or even a wall, this would save a lot of time for creative builders. Second, when playing with other people, it would be a lot of fun to have a “dungeon master”-like player would add some fun multiplayer gaming scenarios and adventures.

However, that’s really the core of it. The gameplay that is the joy of Minecraft - immersion, exploration, and laborious creating a huge structure in survival - is removed by the HoloLens and we as players can think of some places where it might work, but ultimately, I just want to get back to my laptop screen.

IHOP Logo Redesign

IHOP has redesigned their logo after almost 20 years. The chain launched in Los Angeles in 1958 and has since built an empire of more than 1600 locations nationwide.

I like the update personally, it leans into their "friendly, no nonsense" brand vibe and feels welcoming. I can't say that I frequent IHOP on a regular basis, but the memories I DO have of going their are all filled with warm fuzzies. Whether it's all the choices of pancakes and syrups or the never-ending cheap coffee -- it's all good as far as I'm concerned.

Curious to see what the "Summer of Smiles" campaign, that roles out along with this new logo, will look like. No doubt they are trying to leverage some recent momentum in their domestic sales growth. I say "Good Luck IHOP." I hope you're filling bellies with pancakes for years to come! 

Dragon Warrior with a natural terrain generation

Hunter Loftis has been one of the more fun programmers I follow online. He's created a good reputation for himself by taking seemingly complicated graphical programming tasks and creating simple JavaScript that produces FPS engines and to the point of this article - natural terrain generation. 

Loftis used the midpoint displacement algorithm to generate 3D geographic maps that even had a sea level. Brilliant, but honestly a little too complex for my blood. 

What I wanted was the ability to create simple 2D maps that resonated with the RPGs I played as a kid and teen, and so I altered Loftis' algorithm and generator to produce geographic maps using the art from the 1989 game Dragon Warrior. These maps follow the geographic generation algorithm but instead of producing three dimensional height, instead mountains, hills, sand, grass and water indicate elevation. 

Loftis did a fantastic job communicating a simple but powerful algorithm. I've seen lots of tricks for terrain generation for games and writers, but this application is by far my favorite as each load of the program is a surprise. 

The code is available on github and if anyone wants to fork it and add caves, villages and castles, I look forward to any additions. 

Apple Watch: Friend or Foe?

I am on the fence about Apple's latest release of the Apple Watch... is it just another piece of technology that I will get bored of like I did the FitBit? 80% of FitBit users discarded the bracelet after just 6 months of use. The battery life is also a problem. If this is supposed to replace my watch, but it doesn't have the battery life to stay illuminated what good does it do? It needs to be charged every night no matter what, which just seems impractical for a fashion accessory.

I know the biggest bonus of this device is the push notification feature, every email, text, tweet or Facebook message can be pushed to my wrist. But I ask, do I really want another electronic thing to check all the time? I can picture it now, I'm at lunch with a friend and I've made the conscious decision to keep my phone in my bag so I'm not tempted to get distracted and check it. Now however, I have easy access 24/7 right in plain view. When people are already having trouble disconnecting these days, isn't this just another in-your-face distraction?

I get that the apps are also intriguing, most perhaps being the two fitness apps that come pre-loaded. It allows you to track the standard stuff, heart rate, and steps but the watch nags at you when you've been too sedentary. However it can't differentiate whether you're working or driving in your car. Great, so now on-top of my own self-loathing because I didn't hit the gym that morning, now I get judged by my watch? No thanks.

I'm most interested in the Apple Watch when our environments become more customized. Example, I walk into my favorite coffee shop and my apple watch pings their digital system to start making my favorite coffee which is then automatically payed for all without me having to launch anything. When that is possible, I'll be the first one in line to buy that watch.