Technology Cannot Make a Platform, But It Does Help

The web literally exists to share content. The first web browser was also a web editor. And ever since then, programmers have been working on ways to make publishing easier and better. As such, there’s no shortage of existing technologies that a new platform can build off of.

Continue reading “Technology Cannot Make a Platform, But It Does Help”

Headcanon for Lego Batman

For the unfamiliar, a “headcanon” is a fan’s interpretation of an aspect of a work that does not necessarily align with the work as generally accepted. In a sentence: “It’s canon in my head.” What follows is my personal interpretation of The Lego Batman Movie.

Not sure if Batman spoilers but definitely Lego Movie spoilers so have a break:

Continue reading “Headcanon for Lego Batman”

Sonic Mania and the Triumph of Fan Culture

The livestream was cutting in and out. There was a constant buzzing that replaced most of the audio. And instead of a trailer, the in-house audience saw a brief Sonic Mania logo followed by a Mac desktop. But after many fits and starts, the trailer finally played.

There’s a level of excitement around Sonic Mania that Sega hasn’t seen in roughly five years, the time since Sonic Generations was released. Fans are excited about the chance to play a new game in the vein of the classic Sega Genesis games many grew up playing. Polygon described it as “finding a long-lost Sonic title from the mid–90’s.”

But what makes Sonic Mania any different from previous Sonic games, introduced with much hype and fanfare only to be revealed as spectacularly mediocre at best? After all, this is the same company that has had many attempts to “reboot” the franchise or “return it to its roots,” often with lackluster (if not horrible) results. Is the anticipation justified this time?

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. But this time, Sega’s investing in the right chefs. And before I try to string this metaphor out too far, let’s talk about The Avengers.

Continue reading “Sonic Mania and the Triumph of Fan Culture”

Satoru Iwata

My first great garage sale find was an original Nintendo Entertainment System with all the cords, 2 controllers, and 4 games including Super Mario Brothers 3 and Contra. All for seven dollars.

We sold Contra for seven dollars. I later heard about Contra and all it entails, but I don’t really regret that sale. We didn’t enjoy that game a whole lot (mostly because it was super hard), and it meant we basically got the NES for free.

Now, this was back in the days when GameStop still bought/sold classic games. We picked up original Zelda and sold it back. We found a copy of Super Mario Bros / Duck Hunt and might have sold it back; I can’t really remember.

And then we found Kirby’s Adventure.

When the Virtual Console for Wii was announced, I explained why I was looking forward to playing Kirby’s Adventure again:

First, Kirby’s Adventure is fun. Plain and simple. Not many games from this time period let you fly to get around puzzles, let alone absorb abilities from your enemies. Second, the game is expansive. There are at least six different worlds, each with several levels and minigames to boot. Third, powerups. One minute you’re throwing razor-sharp boomerangs, the next you’re a fireball, and the next you’re a floating UFO shooting laser beams. Don’t like what you’ve got? Press select and find a new one. But my personal favorite is the surprise ending, where [spoiler deleted] and you find out that [spoiler deleted].

Kirby’s Adventure is one of the best games of the 8-bit era. It has an unusual game mechanic, plenty of secret areas to discover, save files, a surprise ending, and one part even has parallax-scrolling backgrounds that most games didn’t see until the Sega Genesis / Super Nintendo era.

Satoru Iwata was a producer on that game. He’s most known for working as a programmer at HAL labs, working on games like Kirby and Earthbound (and even doubling the size of Pokemon Gold/Silver!) before moving on to become the president of Nintendo. He was there for Nintendo’s release of the Nintendo DS and Wii which were responsible for the company’s massive successes last decade, and when the 3DS and WiiU didn’t sell as planned, he himself took a pay cut. And when news of his death was released yesterday, it took so many people–myself included–by surprise.

He was an authentic president, a skilled coder, and he will be missed. Rest in peace, Iwata.

Justice

I’ve largely been silent on the issue of Ferguson, MO. Most of what I’ve “said” on the topic have been retweets and reblogs of what other people have said. Since I’m not on the ground there, I’ve ceded my voice to those that are. Since this doesn’t feel like my story, I’ve ceded my voice to those who it is.

Though I’ve been developing opinions of my own on the subject, I was waiting for the evidence and the investigation to be made public before saying anything. I feel that I need to be serious with my words; firing off half-baked opinions about a controversial topic based on shaky evidence is not what I want to be known for. I trusted our justice system to conduct a complete investigation and give Officer Wilson a fair trial.

With Monday’s announcement that there would be no trial (at least at the state level), that trust has been shaken. And so I write.

I firmly believe that there is enough doubt around the circumstances of Michael Brown’s death that a trial is deserved. The solution to conflicting reports is to bring them out at trial. The solution to conflicting evidence is to investigate it. There is a lot of noise around this event; we need a real investigation and a real trial to cut through the noise and find the truth.

Many people have bemoaned how the court of public opinion has already found Officer Wilson guilty of murder. The St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney could have taken the judgement to an actual court, but chose not to. Perhaps I am being unfair–after all, it was a Grand Jury that chose not to indict Officer Wilson. Yet Attorney McCulloch had a simple job and failed to do it.

These events have shaken my faith in the justice system in my country. I’ve always believed that the system was fair; I see now that it isn’t. I have thought that the disproportionate targeting of African-Americans by police was a factor of wealth or some other circumstance, but now I’m wondering if racism in the police force is a bigger problem than I first believed.

Even if Michael Brown was a thug that deserved to die, Officer Wilson did not have the right to make that decision. The death penalty, even where it exists, can only be given out by a jury, not a single officer. If Michael Brown did not deserve to die, then this is a crime. This needs to be investigated. We need the truth.

The Lines Worth Reading Between

Apple’s latest earnings have an interesting note: their research spending is the highest it’s been since 2006.

Research and development is a fancy business way of saying “doing new things.” When my previous employer entered the great recession of 2008, the plan to weather the storm was to double-down on R&D. By investing in new products when the market was slow, the company would have those products ready when the market was ready to buy. Our part of the company–tasked with entering a new market for the company–was one of the few areas allowed to hire new employees.

The economy’s recovery in general is up for debate, but the advice is sound: research and development is a key investment for any company, particularly product-based companies (which any software company is, SaaS not withstanding). It’s almost too obvious: as annoying as constant calls for Apple to release a new product are, they do have a point. New products and innovations are the lifeblood of these companies. Which is why every company invests in research and development.

To provide some context, simple research is a constant cost. A company sets aside a certain amount every year to pay a certain number of people to spend a certain amount of time exploring new ideas. Google is (or at least was) famous for its “20% time” that allows any engineer in the company to spend time exploring. Microsoft has an entire division devoted to exploration. Apple obviously has its own research and development; they would be unable to update their products annually without it.

When a project is close to completion, things change. Completing a project means investing in quality assurrance and testing. It means finalizing all of the little details that make the difference between a “good” product and a “great” one. What was once a fixed cost suddenly becomes more variable.

Which brings me back to the inital observation: the last time Apple’s R&D spending was this high was in 2006. Apple’s most important product of the last 10 years–the iPhone–was introduced in 2007.

By now there’s too much smoke for there not to be some kind of watch-like device from Apple, most likely to be introduced this Tuesday. And given Apple’s increase in research spending, it’s going to be a big deal.

Personally, I can’t wait. You?

Sad Lyrics Over Uplifting Chords

I like Owl City. This is independent of my appreciation for Owl City. At their best, Owl City has a tendency to take me back to the late nights in my humid converted-attic bedroom the summer before my sophomore year of high school. To sum up a thousand-word essay in a sentence, it was the summer I really started letting my imagination free. Needless to say, it was a very formative ten weeks.

By that measure, Owl City’s new EP Ultraviolet does not disappoint.

The first track, “Beautiful Times,” features Lindsey Stirling on the violin. The music is full, lush, and steady, matching the song’s patiently optimistic lyrics. Lindsey’s violin helps drive home the song’s theme of seeing even a “fight of my life” being “beautiful times.” It’s followed by “Up All Night,” an infectious dance song that seems to be about a missed connection, though anyone that’s had a person (or other thing) on their mind for an extended length of time can relate.

The third track, “This Isn’t the End,” deals with heavy issues including suicide, panic attacks, and abandonment. It was hard for me, personally, to see past those issues enough to judge the song musically, though it does seem to be the weakest song in the set.

The selling point of the EP for me is the last track, “Wolf Bite.” Like Owl City’s first mega-hit “Fireflies,” the song has a bit of a musical dichotomy: while the words seem to belong to a quiet, understated song, the music apparently thinks otherwise. This is something Adam himself lampshaded on his blog:

Spoiler: Owl City is 95% sad lyrics over uplifting chords.

Unlike “Fireflies,” however, I think the dichotomy is warranted on this song. While “Fireflies” is a song about being unable to sleep (and things getting weirder as a result!), “Wolf Bite” is a call for help. Instead of the focus of the song being inward, the focus is outward toward another, calling out to “show me the way.” In other words, if you get one song off this EP, get this one.

Album Rating: B+

You can stream it on Spotify or buy it on iTunes.