Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Parenting and Gaming: Entertainment and Technology Badge

Entertainment Technology Badge!
For the first time, Frogdice hosted an Entertainment Technology Badge event for Junior Girl Scout Troop 847 this year. Our studio strongly believes in encouraging women and girl to pick up gaming as a learning tool and a means to empowerment, and where better to start than with our own daughters? Here's a guide to what we did and the amazing results that followed.

A Quick Discussion on Gaming

We started with a quick discussion on what games the girls played, who they played with, and how they picked the games they played. Of course, we used our own game, Tower of Elements, as one of the games we demonstrated. All the girls talked about what games they played, who they played with, and also, what makes them like or dislike playing.

I'd like to report that every single one of our girls gamed quite a bit, but very few had been exposed to playing games on anything other than phones or mini-tablets. We had four PC gamers out of the eleven who attended the meeting and a handful of console gamers. Temple Run was the game that most everyone shared in common.

Learning about Stop Motion Animation

Part of obtaining the Entertainment Technology badge consisted of the girls learning about animation and how we created animation. We showed them sprite sheets and examples of 3D animation done in Maya. Now all Girl Scout badges insist on hands-on experience, so we did a segment on stop-motion animation. We used the following supplies:
  1. A camera
  2. Paper
  3. Markers
  4. Lego people and props
  5. A computer
First, the girls wrote a script knowing that they had only 16 frames in which to tell their story. Then, with the help of a leader, they positioned the lego people in the scene and snapped a picture of the scene. Next, the girls would re-position the characters in the next step of the animation, and we would take another picture. When we were done, we loaded all the pictures onto a computer and simply used Window Photo Viewer to quickly scroll through the pictures. Thus, we made a very simple, but effective, animated short.

Game Design and Development as a Team

As another part of earning our badge, we split the girls up into development teams. Everyone role-played their part in creating a game and learned how programming, art, music, design, and writing all went together. We tried different tactics with creating as a team with one person in charge, and then we tried a democratic method of design. We also experimented with salaries, pitching to VCs and meeting deadlines. The girls also drew concept art, hummed various tunes they created for sound tracks, and used other video games for inspiration for their creation.

We created achievements, leveling systems, reward systems, and bosses. More importantly, the girls learned that not every idea works and not every idea is the best one. They learned about discarding ideas, implementing each others' ideas, and adjusting their ideas to fit their overall game design.

Girls Aren't that Different

Some readers may remember me mentioning my "World of Dolls" incident where it became obvious that some designers believe girls will only play games with dolls, rainbows and horses. Those beliefs contain a hint of truth but only on the surface. One of the games that the girls designed, Cloud Castle, can only be described as an RPG. Cloud Castle starts each character with a small cottage that they build into a great castle in the cloud by defending Cloudland against horrible monsters. Characters join up in the Cloud Academy to learn new skills and form groups to fight the really hard bosses or to build up their castles. They could also use the items they earned to make clothing and costumes, and the girls even built in a micro-transaction system to sell players color. They got down to the point of arguing whether or not they wanted people to buy extras or if they just wanted to sell the game right from the beginning for $10. (These are issues that current developers are discussing and debating.)

Ultimately, the girls wanted to create a deep game where they could progress and earn things for their avatars. That's really not so different from what the boys I've taught in various programs wanted. It just goes to show how gamers, male or female, simply want good games.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

You're making video games where?! (Part II)

As I said before, I get two reactions when I say we are making video games in Lexington, Kentucky.
  1. In Kentucky? Why Kentucky? There's nothing in Kentucky.
  2. I had no idea that we had that in Kentucky! My son/daughter/nephew/corgi would love to visit your studio!
I had no idea we had that in Kentucky!

Kentucky actually has a very active indie gaming scene. RunJumpDev serves as our indie studio organization where we come to share ideas, run events, and have amazing game jams. John Meister of Super Soul, another indie studio in the Lexington area, heads up all the organization and planning for our group on top of making games and drinking bourbon. We're a mix of all different levels and expertise in the gaming industry, and yep, we're doing it all in the heart of the Bluegrass.

Chillin' with Amumu at PAX
Moreover, we're doing this with the support of the local government, Commerce Lexington, the ICC, and the BBDP. This year, Shobu Games, Super Soul and my own company, Frogdice, went to PAX East for the very first time, and we went together as RunJumpDev with the support of our local government. That's right, Commerce Lexington helped us obtain our booth. We loved being a collection of indie developers in the Indie Mega Booth. (A booth within a booth of a collection of booths. Mind blown!) 

Why is this important? PAX East isn't cheap for any studio let alone an indie studio. It also happens in a city known for its expensive conventions, and it's so very, very easy for a studio to spend money in all the wrong places for something like PAX. Because Commerce Lexington helped us go financially and we all went together as a team, the risks involved in attending something like this were spread out pretty thin. We were able to go with minimal staff, and thus, we were able to put our funds towards swag, codes, and presentation. In addition, we now have a better idea how to prepare for these conventions. I absolutely can't wait to go again, and I'm glad to know that studios in Kentucky will always have the ability to do a "test run" before they decide to do something like this on their own. The experience we gained this year can only be described as invaluable.

So if you have a budding studio and spend a lot of time wondering how to get to the next step, make sure that you plan a trip to Lexington, Kentucky. We just might BE the next step you need to take to turn your hobby into a full-time job.

My son/daughter/nephew/corgi would love to visit your studio!

We get a LOT of visitors, so you'd be welcome. Players of our 17 year old game, Threshold RPG, have visited a total of 47 times since we opened our doors in May 2012, including players from as far away as England. 

I get tons of calls from friends and friends of friends asking to visit our studio. As long as I'm in, I'm happy to have them visit. We also have young artists who come in and learn what it is to create concept art and how we deal begin creating most of the art in our game. We also encourage Junior Girl Scout troops who are working on their Entertainment and Technology badges to contact us. We did this badge for the first time this year for my daughter's troop, and the girls had a blast making video games, playing with animation tools, and learning about the industry. (I'll tell you more about that event later!)

Last but not least, if you have a corgi who wants to visit the studio and learn how to be an awesome mascot for a gaming company, let me know. Our own resident mascot, Tehpig, a Welsh Pembroke corgi born in Paris, Kentucky, spends a great deal of time here, and she's a very patient teacher as long as we keep giving her treats.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

You're making video games where?! (Part I)

I get two reactions frequently when I tell people that we make video games out of Lexington, Kentucky and that, yes, we have a full development studio minus a sound guy (or girl) presently.
  1. In Kentucky? Why Kentucky? There's nothing in Kentucky.
  2. I had no idea that we had that in Kentucky! My son/daughter/nephew/corgi would love to visit your studio!
Why Kentucky?

Yep, I see this everywhere.
I moved to Kentucky in late 1981 after immigrating to Boston, MA from Thailand. Let me tell you that the culture shock between Boston,  MA to Campbellsville, KY felt almost as much as a culture shock as moving from Thailand to the U.S. I went from a bustling metropolitan city with an aquarium, an elementary school within walking distance, a children's museum, and a pro baseball team to a sleepy little farming community in the heart of Kentucky. We were one of two Asian families in the entire community.

Kentucky grew on me over the years. The people are loyal, the countryside is beautiful, and the pace of life is gentle, allowing people to appreciate all the earth has to offer if only one wishes to look. I left for law school in Vermont, then moved to Georgia with my fiance, and ended up in Washington, D.C. with my husband and new baby. It took me a while, but I finally got us back to Kentucky to be near my family. I chose a bigger city than Campbellsville, but I'm still in Kentucky.

By the time I knew how difficult it would be to grow a gaming company in the Bluegrass state, we already had a child in an accelerated cluster program offered by the public school system in Fayette County and another child well on her way to entering the same program. We also had our kids in competitive gymnastics, piano, art, Girl Scouts, and several other activities. I loved all that city had to offer our family and at such reasonable prices.

So, as my husband was preparing to move us to Austin, TX, I asked him to please look around here one more time to see if we could stay.

Our studio!
We met with Commerce Lexington, and they proceeded to get us in touch with the ICC and BBDP. (It's like alphabet soup just spilled onto my blog!) We met Warren, Dean, Chris, and a number of people who were extremely interested in helping our business grow despite the many obstacles that faced us. (That's something that requires its own blog post.) Needless to say, they convinced us to stay and make it work here where nothing like this has worked before in the past.

There's nothing in Kentucky!

You would be right and wrong at the same time. There really is very little infrastructure for a developing video game studio. We don't have a pool of artists and sound studios to pick through for our talent, though we've got a great group of programmers. The internet access here, to put it nicely, makes me long for a 2400 baud modem every now and then, and often, explaining exactly what we do involves a white board, three artists, and a three hundred page manual. (I'm just kidding about that last one. It only takes one artist.)

This is on our wall.
What makes it worth doing in Kentucky is that I often feel that the entire state is behind what we're doing. When we opened the doors to our new studio in May of 2012, the mayor of Lexington and the governor of the state were scheduled to be there. The mayor spoke wonderful words of encouragement, and about six TV studios showed up to film. Over forty people showed up for our ribbon cutting, and we ended up a beautiful mint julep cup from the governor's office that sits in our lobby.

People from the state stop by our Facebook page to drop words of encouragement frequently, and we end up on TV talking about our studio quite frequently. So because there's not that much competition here gaming-wise, we get the benefit of being unique, interesting, and something to be treasured.

There's also not a ton of opportunity to invest in a local gaming company in Kentucky, yet several smart investors live in the area. It's a good position to be in for a small indie studio. Many, many people are happy to see us succeed, and they do everything they can to help us do so. Kentucky's really good at promoting the things that the people feel are "their own" like UK, bourbon and horses. I'm really glad to have ended up back here and being a part of that unbridled spirit.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Women in Games: Why no naked parties?

With the recent controversies surrounding women in games, especially the IGDA party incident, I have fears of what the backlash will bring to the gaming industry as a whole. I guess that's why I waited until the furor died down a little bit before voicing (very quietly) my opinion.

I believe you.

First, I know that I've posted that I've been very lucky not to experience the misogyny and sexism that occurs in the gaming industry. I don't really have any horror stories to share, and I've been lucky in gaming as well. I play heavy PvP games with a group of really great people, and I simply don't end up dealing with people abusing me for my gender. They might abuse me for my playing skills, but that's just about it.

Having said that, I BELIEVE the stories that many women have shared. I feel for them, and I'm incredibly thankful that I've never had to experience it. I find myself worrying and, at times, being hypersensitive because I know it's out there. Just because I've posted that I haven't experienced it does NOT mean that I don't believe that it happens, and it does not mean that it's not a problem.

I point out my experiences because I believe that healthy environments exist within the gaming industry, and I strongly encourage women to seek out those environments if they cannot make the ones they already exist in better. Those companies don't deserve you, and there are so many out there that would cherish you for being who you are, not because you're a woman but because you're a good game designer, artist, musician, etc.

Just because my experience differs from yours does not mean that I am on the "wrong side" or that I should be ashamed of myself. I'm not ashamed that I've never had to face the indignities that others have. I'm blessed.

It's okay to be hot... or not!

I want to point out that the people who objected to certain GDC parties being hosted by half-clothes girls do not "hate themselves" and are not all "dumpy geeky women who hate beautiful women". Please be aware that  the fashion magazine and celebrity tabloid industries (both filled with beautiful women) make billions of dollars a year. Guess who buys those magazines? Yep, it's women. Women absolutely love beautiful women. We like to be friends with them. We like to look at them. We like to be them. So then what's the problem with the party?

Technically, there's nothing wrong with those parties. I rarely attend parties without my colleagues, friends or husband anymore, especially if I'm attending an out of town convention. I'm there to meet up with friends or colleagues, and a mutual party is a great place to meet up. The problem with having women there purely as decoration is that you absolutely have no idea what to do with your eyes if they happen to accidentally land on one of those decorative pieces because that "piece of decoration" is a living, breathing person and shouldn't be decoration. What if that decoration meets your eyes? Do you say hi? Do you ignore them? Oh, my goodness, what if your eyes just happen to land on the wrong part of the decoration? What if your friends notice you looking? Do you acknowledge it? Do you talk about it? So much stress!

It gets even worse if you attend a party like that with a husband. I have no problems with my husband looking at beautiful women, but man, I can't help but hate it when he catches me looking at beautiful men. That's why I absolutely refuse to go to a male review with him. Even if he comes with me, I don't want him watching me watch stuff. I don't want anyone I know watching me watch stuff. So, if we flipped it around, and there were guys walking around a game development party with skimpy loincloths on, I would have to leave simply because I wouldn't know where to put my eyes. I'd know where they'd land eventually, and then I'd have to be gone. Why? Because I can hang out with my friends somewhere less stressful; somewhere I can put my eyes wherever I want without thinking about it.

(And as it is, if models are topless, they just about poke me in the eye with their stuff since I'm 4'11". Talk about uncomfortable!)

I left out pictures.

I decided to leave out pictures for this. You've all seen the party pictures, the cosplay pictures, the objectifying (or not) pictures. I think my words serve my purpose here.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Gamer's Guide to Playing Twitter

Okay, so a few weeks ago, my husband and one of his friends got me to try out an awesome new game. It's called Twitter. They tricked me into playing by saying that it'd be good for our little indie studio, Frogdice, but I digress. There's several objects to this new game, and I'm enjoying it immensely. Casual and hardcore gamers can both enjoy this game, but I'll warn you that many aspects of the game can be extremely addicting and even downright dangerous. Here, I'll break it down for my faithful readers.

Create a Character

Okay, so you create a character first. That's pretty standard. Character creation is simple, and a player can customize his or her character page easily. I made mine brown and green. I have no idea why since I pretty much hate the color brown. Next, you write a few blurbs about your character. Get as creative as you want. I fashioned my character after my real life self. Not too inspired there.

Learn the UI

The UI for the game is relatively simple. You start off with a little egg for an avatar. (I think that it's because you're supposed to be a baby bird.) You can change this to something that suits you more, but the egg's pretty cute. Next, you have a little bird's nest for your "home" button. (So clever!) You use these buttons to navigate through the game as you send out little "tweets". Tweets are just things you type in under 140 characters or less, and this can be extremely daunting. So many times you'll be at 141 characters, and then you'll have to choose how you want to mangle your use of the English language. (Or whatever language you may be Tweeting in. I'm thinking of trying Thai next when I beat the next boss).

Object of the Game

I'm just kidding. Bosses don't really exist in this game. At least I haven't encountered them yet. There's multiple ways to level up in this game, and I love systems like that. You can count the stats for each of your "tweets". Other characters can "re-tweet" you, and that gets added to your tweet score. They can also favorite your tweet, and that also gets added, too. So many pretty numbers going up and up and up! You can also look at your number of "followers", and that's another thing that you can level up via your "tweets".


Like any good game, I found many, many obstacles in my path. For example, you can run into doors or get run over by cars if you tweet carelessly. I found this out while I was tweeting from my phone. (Did I tell you that this game can be played on your phone, PC, or even your TV? Wow! Talk about multi-platform.) I even read about someone falling off a cliff while tweeting. Or maybe it was texting. The games are pretty similar. So, be careful while you're playing. Play responsibly, and remember to take breaks!

Some characters on the game can be very difficult to conquer as well. You can tweet and tweet and tweet and tweet, and they never respond. Other characters add a lot to the game, so make sure that you keep track of those by "following" them. This will also add to their "followers" score, and they may add to yours.

Re-playability and Retention

I'm still pretty new at this game, so I don't have the answer to this yet. You're welcome to add to my follower score by finding me, @dalaena. (The @ and the # signs will be your best tools while playing this game.)

Grumpy with no Twitter!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

PAX East: Cosplay and Getting Along

Ray in a cube
One of the things I love most about going to any convention is the cosplay. Our players at Threshold RPG have been cosplaying since before cosplay was a thing. We started having our conventions in 1997, and the very first players to dress up in costume did so in 2001. We had an entire costume competition with people dressing up as dryads (including a VERY brave guy in a weenie bikini and doing the beaver dance), salamaes, and even a gelantinous cube. You can see these at Threshold RPG's Facebook page, and oh, why don't you like us while you're over there?

PAX East had plenty of cosplay, and boy, people get completely creative and original with how they build these costumes. You can't just order a costume from a Hollywood set when you're wanting to cosplay these video game characters. Each piece is lovingly designed and created by the people who wear the costumes. Sure, you can buy a few pieces here and there, but you're not buying a complete Caitlyn outfit. Nope, that has to be put together by a dedicated fan with an attention to detail. Most comic book characters must be created in the same way, though, with Disney buying Marvel and the success of the Avengers, I expect to see lots of costumes sold over the next few years. (Don't get me wrong. I love anyone who's willing to dress up. The handmade costumes just impress me more.)

Me and Caitlyn - calling bot!
Over the last few years, I've noticed people putting each others' hobbies down more and more. I've got a friend who loves the cosplay at DragonCon yet mocks the people who go to DragonCon to game. I've seen sports fans who make fun of the "video game" nerds, and that just drives me up the wall. How is watching TV for two full days any more "cool" than playing video games for two full days? The sports fans vs. video gamer dichotomy has always confused me. We're so incredibly similar.

Georgia cosplayers

Sports fans are the biggest group of cosplayers that I know. Those jerseys that they'll buy for $200 a pop? Total cosplay. They're dressing up as the player they love so much. How about all the guys and gals you see with painted faces, hair, and color-coordinated costumes? Wait, am I talking about football fans or cosplayers? I could be talking about either! Go team!

Football and video games, at heart, are both GAMES. One game we watch and play rarely. The other one we play a lot and watch rarely. (Though with the emergence of eSports, that's changed. I watch several games a week.) There's no real point in mocking one or the other, right?

We won't even get into how many fantasy sports teams is so very much like making an avatar in a video game and watching the stats go up through various actions. You have an awesome spreadsheet for your fantasy football team that you go to the office to brag about? Well, the person next door may have an awesome DKP spreadsheet for his or her raiding guild. What makes one more acceptable than the other?

Anyway, there's a lot of common ground that we're missing simply by talking past each other. Cosplay is awesome whether it's happening at PAX East or at a Georgia Bulldogs game.

I'm gonna wreck it!

Monday, March 25, 2013

PAX East: Swag Hag with a Bag

I absolutely love swag. I don't know what exactly I love about swag, but I adore it. Make it video game swag, and I can hardly control myself. Last night, during a reunion with several old friends and my husband, I made my shameful confession: I'd actually contemplated committing assault and battery to get the swag I wanted off of other PAX East attendees.

As an exhibitor, I had to weigh what I wanted more- swag or a chance to reach out and literally touch some new customers. (But not in a dirty way.) Of course, I had to choose customers over swag, so I spent most of my time confined in a 10 x 20 space. Don't get me wrong. I absolutely cherished our chance to be an exhibitor at PAX East especially since we were in the Indie Mega Booth.

Still, I could hear the swag calling to me. It sang a siren's song, and I had no wax for my ears. Thankfully, I met some of the most amazing people ever. First, through Twitter, I met Brock. Yes, THE Brock. The one from Pokemon. This Brock tracked me down at my booth, traded me a HAND MADE gym badge for my daughter for a box of Girl Scout cookies and some our swag. One of the best trades I'd ever made. Ever! I still can't believe I'm bringing home a gym badge for my daughters.

Now, remember LoL Couple? They brought me the Lulu cupcake that I mistakenly identified as the Caitlyn cupcake in a previous blog. Well, they actually go by Colleen and Ben. How did I find out? Because Colleen and Ben came back, and they had gotten me a Ziggs bomb, a Gangplank orange, a Soraka banana, and an honor pin. I'd talked to them on Friday about how I was incredibly thankful to be able to attend PAX East but that I possessed fears that I wouldn't be able to go get the swag I really wanted to get. They went and got it for me. I can't even express how incredibly touched I was by their gesture. People I didn't know more than two days previous went out and got swag for me.

The swag came from the Riot Games booth, easily the largest the booth at PAX East. The crowds that gather there are quite intimidating, and these fine people braved it to get swag for me. Let me tell you, though, that the people working at the Riot booth are also some of the most awesome people I got to meet. Colleen and Ben told them exactly what they were doing (getting swag for another exhibitor who is a total LoL fangirl), and the Riot people gave them swag to give to me. As swamped as we were, I can guarantee you that they were far more destroyed by their crowd and all the people who wanted their swag as badly (if not more so) than I did. I can't wait to be able to give my girls their LoL swag. They'll be crazy excited. The Ziggs bomb is mine, though!

I also took a "bathroom break" and visited the PopCap booth. We took a bunch of our swag over to them, and we had a wee bit of a swag trade. I think I came out on top. They got collapsible water bottles to fill with the "water" of their choice, and I got sunshrooms, walnuts, and zombies. Yay!

So, I'll take a picture of my swag and send it out soon. They're all tucked away in my bag, ready for their fourteen hour trip home. I'm going to take them out and cuddle with all of it on my way home.

PAX East: Serendipity and Media Sluts

I promised an amazing PAX East story, so here it is. On Friday, a guy stopped by our booth to introduce himself. He wore a badge that identified himself as media and introduced himself as John from Frankfort. He wanted to let us know that he worked in video gaming media and that he, too, was representing Kentucky at PAX East. We talked for a while, exchanged cards, and went on our merry way with the promise that he would come back and chat with us later. I went back to yakking about our games to everyone who would listen, selling Girl Scout cookies, and hyping up our awesome company, Frogdice.

On Saturday about midday, John shows back up to chat. I see that media badge, and I start going into my whole speech about how our company is awesome, how we believe in the strength of women in gaming, how we made the decision that I would lead our design because I am our only woman designer. I yakked and yakked and yakked some more. I talked about how 34 years ago I immigrated to Boston, MA and then how we moved to Kentucky. Finally, John looked at me and said, "I'm going to ask you a really personal question. You don't have to answer if you don't want to."

That gave me pause. Was John a pervert? Was I going to have to deck him? Was I going to have to call security? Whatever. He could be the biggest pervert in the world. HE WORE A MEDIA BADGE. I processed that all in about 2 seconds and said, "Oh, sure. Go ahead."

"What's your maiden name?" Huh? That has got to be the weirdest question I've ever gotten from a media person. Maybe he just thought I was Thai and was waiting to hear confirmation by hearing my last name.

So, I told him. The weirdness got worse. His response to my answer? "You don't remember me, do you?"

CRAP! He must be someone important, and I had no idea who he was. He always appeared strangely familiar to me, so I thought that my husband (the President and CEO of our company) must have told me who he was and that John must be an incredibly important person. Doh! I sat for a second trying to figure out how to bullcrap my way into convincing this press guy that I DID remember him when, all of a sudden, I realized that his name might NOT be John.

I asked him again where he grew up in Kentucky, and when he responded, I knew only one person from the area he named. I just hadn't seen that person since 1992, over twenty-one years ago. He had been my very best friend from a six week summer camp that we both attended, but what were the chances that we'd meet again after all this time at PAX East hundreds of miles from home? How likely were the chances that we'd end up in the same industry? Still, it couldn't be anyone else, yet I didn't want to risk looking like an idiot just in case he was just a press guy I should know.

So I asked him his last name, and he turned out to be that friend from camp. Only his name was Ron, not John, and I knew him as Ronnie. (Yep, just drop the -nie from a name, and I'm completely stumped.) Though honestly, how many 4'11" Asian women named Pang could there be from Kentucky? He should have remembered me instantly! (I've got to thank my husband for this argument since he created it.) Ron had gone home on Friday night to look through the cards he received, and that's when he realized who I might be.

We spent the rest of the night just marveling about the serendipitous nature of our reunion AND how much of a media slut I must be to actually answer his creepy and weird questions. I'm still boggling over how far we had to go from home to find each other again.

I already thought of PAX East as one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had. This pushed it one step further and gave me back a friend with whom I'd completely lost contact.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

PAX East: Super Derp! (Day 2)

I got back to my home away from home super late tonight due to an awesome series of events. Unfortunately, it means I don't have a ton of time to blog tonight.

Photo-bombing Wreck-It-Ralph
We saw two of our Threshold RPG players today, Abdalan and Xar. Abdalan has been playing Threshold for over 14 years, and Xar has been there for over 16 years. (Yep! Threshold turns 17 this June. Absolutely crazy, right?)

I didn't think that PAX East could get more awesome, but today blew yesterday out of the water. We saw more cool people, played more cool games, and sold tons more copies of our own game. The best part of the day, and the most ridiculously serendipitous event to happen to me at Pax, consists of a series of bizarre events that re-united me with one of my best friends from high school. I hadn't seem him since 1992, and where do we meet again? Yep, right on the Expo Floor of PAX East.

So, I will apologize in advance for my short, detail-less blog post tonight. I got selfish and stayed out late to catch up with my old friend. Then while we were catching up, we ran into one of our old players that I hadn't seen in over 6 years. More details to come. For now, I've got to log out before I pass out.

Friday, March 22, 2013

PAX East: Derpin' along... (Day 1)

The first full day of PAX held a lot of surprises and challenges for me. The people of PAX surprised me the most. I expected a whole lot less than what I got. The people, especially the Indie Mega Booth people, are some of the nicest, most helpful human beings I've ever met. PAX East, to put it simply, is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING. We've been really lucky to be able to attend.

1. Mr. Nash lost his gaming virginity today when he sat down and played Dungeon of Elements, the game we debuted at PAX East. This may seem mundane, but it's actually an extremely amazing detail. See, Warren isn't a gamer, but he's primarily responsible for sending us to PAX East. The ICC sent three gaming companies from Lexington to PAX East and helped us be able to afford to attend. How cool is that? I don't know if I would have had the guts to tackle this on my own for our very first time. I'll say it a million times over the next year, "I love Lexington!"

2. A new gaming media company called Game Skinny took a moment to hear our story which then turned into an interesting angle on families and gaming, parenting and gaming, and women in games. It's nice to see the gaming media look into new angles. I'm pretty impressed with their angles, savvy questions, and ability to bring up interesting topics during their interviews. As always, I relish the chance to talk about Frogdice to anyone who will listen.

3. SWAG!!! I GOT SWAG!!! I'm way, way, way behind on swag because I really didn't have the chance to leave our booth at all except to do an interview or two. This is a good thing, but being the swag hag that I am, I can't help but be a little bit sad. I have to say, though, that the people at PopCap and Riot Games understood my absolute love for their games and slipped a fellow exhibitor some swag. I would have stood in the lines, but I couldn't do so. Thankfully, I got a few pieces for my girls, and that's really what I wanted.

4. To continue my swag story, a couple stopped by our booth. We got to talking about different games, and the discussion turned to LoL and PvZ, my two current favorite games. I was lamenting that I hadn't been able to check out what was going on at the Riot booth during the day or to get any swag, and they reached into their swag bag and gave me a Caitlyn cupcake. Now, I've never played Caitlyn. I've only laned with her a handful of times, but I will NEVER give up this cupcake. It means a ton to me that fellow gamers have so much heart and generosity. (It turns out that it's a Lulu cupcake from one of her skins, I think, so forget Caitlyn! I actually play Lulu a bit, and her polymorph/shield combo is awesome.)

5. I must have said about 400 times today that our oldest game, Threshold RPG, turns 17 this June. Every time I said it, it tickled my soul. It's so hard to imagine that we've known several of our players for this long. It's also hard to imagine that the world of Threshold has been continuously developed by us AND by the stories that our players tell for so many years. How absolutely amazing!

6. We sold over 100 copies of our game today and had countless people come to play. I'd say that at least half of the people who sat down to demo our new game and Tower of Elements were women. I'm pretty excited by the reception that Dungeon of Elements had, and I can't wait until it's released next month. Woo!

So, these are a few highlights of my first day ever at PAX East. Have I been a little bit too optimistic? The only negatives I can really think of for today was that I didn't have time to eat lunch and my feet feel like two hippos sat on each of them. Remember when I said I was going to party like I hadn't since college? Well, I never even made it to the party. Just scrape me off the floor and pour me in bed, please.

PAX East: Moving Towards Derp

We set up our booth today at PAX East, and it went much more seamlessly than I expected. That might have come from years of experience running our own small convention for our Threshold RPG players. We brought extra supplies so that the other indie companies that came with us from Lexington were able to set up relatively painlessly as well. I'm happy with how it all turned out in the end.

Since we spent most of our time at our own booth, I didn't get to tour the floor as much as I would have liked to do so. I did hit the Nintendo booth to check out any Pokemon swag for my girls. I tried really hard to hit the PopCap booth, but they hadn't set up yet. Sadly, I couldn't get my bid in for swag early. I might have to wait with everyone else. SADFACE!!

I stopped by the Riot Games booth, and my favorite AP character was there. Ziggs had a bajllion bombs ready to toss around for fun. KABLOOEY! (Ziggs, I had no idea you were taller than me. I'm a little jealous.) I love the Riot booth, but I didn't get to talk to any of the people. I just took a bunch of pictures with some of the really awesome booth statues that they had. I don't really even know what to call these models. They're gorgeous, and it's like seeing my favorite characters come to life. I got a great picture with Katerina and her... erm... double Phantom Dancers. Such big, lovely weapons, too! I also got a wonderful picture with Tryndamere and his insanely huge sword. (I really hate your ult, sir.)

I did meet a ton of really awesome indie developers and discovered that most of the people at PAX, and especially the Indie Mega Booth people, are extremely friendly, helpful, and ready to share. I met a group making a little game called Cupcakes and Critters. It's a modified tower defense game that caught my eye because the art was RIDICULOUSLY cute. And. They. Had. Cupcake. Stuffies. I hugged one. Maybe I'll win one!! I can only hope. What cracks me up most about this absolutely adorable (and really fun) game is the fact that three guys created it. How did they manage to get the perfect recipe for cuteness for me? (Guys, I wrote about you in the blog. Surely I get a cupcake?)

About fifteen people in Lexington came in addition to the indie companies that actually make up our booth. I'm amazed by their support, enthusiasm, and boundless optimism for our developing gaming community. Want to know something really amazing about Lexington? The guy who heads up the ICC, someone who knows actually knows absolutely nothing about gaming, is here supporting us and representing Lexington. Mr. W. Nash, you really make my heart happy.

All in all, PAX has been pretty awesome so far. We meet with the press tomorrow, and I can't wait to talk about our plans, our players, and our games. Time for bed. Big day coming up! Peace out, Girl Scouts. (Did I remember to tell you guys we have Girl Scout cookies? If you're here at PAX East, make sure you stop by and support an awesome group of little gamers. Yep, one of our troops just earned a badge for game development. Guess who spoke at that meeting?)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

PAX East: Pre-Derp Days

Okay, we made it to Boston for PAX East. The city holds a very special place in my heart because thirty-four years ago, I immigrated to the USA in this city straight from Thailand. Talk about culture shock. I had never worn a coat or shoes, and when I left Thailand, temperatures probably measured in the 90s or so. I arrived in Boston in February, during a blizzard. WHEE! I bet that was fun for my parents.

We lived in Boston until we moved to Kentucky in the early 80s. No one had heard of Thailand at that point because Thai food hadn't become popular yet. All my new little friends in Kentucky thought that my Boston accent was an "oriental" one. They kept asking me where I was from, and I always replied Boston. They never seemed very happy with that answer.

Now I'm back here with my gaming company, Frogdice, and we made it here without too many problems. I promised that I was going to party like I hadn't since I was in college. I think I might have been a little bit too optimistic there. After driving for two days, I unpacked (some of) our crap, looked up some restaurants, decided to have a bowl of clam chowder at the hotel, and now I'm about to hit the sack. Woo! I'm a party animal, I tell you.

I can't wait to get started. We set up our booth tomorrow. I've got fun swag, and some of our players are stopping by to see us. Also, a buddy from CoX will be attending. I'm going to see if I can hit some of the booths early tomorrow to grab some swag. My top priorities include PopCap's PvZ booth, Riot Game's League of Legends booth, and checking out some new friends including the people who made Soda Drinker Pro. I'll keep you guys posted!

P.S. We are booth #785. Please stop in to see us!

Monday, March 18, 2013

PAX East: Pros and Cons

Our indie company, Frogdice, is going to PAX East for the very first time ever, so I'm pretty excited. I'm also pretty nervous. I can't wait! I also don't want to go. I've been vacillating all week, so I finally decided to get it all out in a Pros and Cons list.

PAX and Cosplay

Pro: I absolutely love cosplay. Our players have been cosplaying for over 13 years for Threshold RPG, our 16 year old text RPG. There's going to be tons of cosplay there!

Con: Since I am representing our booth, I can't cosplay any of my favorite LoL characters. I was thinking of going as Gragas. (Yes, imagine a 4'11" old, Asian lady dressed up as Gragas. HAH!)

PAX and Marriage

Pro: I'm going to PAX East with my husband. We'll be representing a company that we've built together and showing off games we've built as a team. All this from having met each other on a game he created while we were both in law school. It's like the culmination of an epic love story.

Con: Prepping for PAX East might result in a divorce. I'll let you know if I'm still married when I get back.

PAX and Swag

Pro: I love our swag! And I can't wait to go swag shopping. I may be a game developer, but I'm also an avid gamer. I've already contacted other booths in hopes of swag swapping. Woo!

Con: It's swag. There ARE NO CONS. Okay, maybe a little con. I had a hard time choosing our swag because, as an indie company, you have to be pretty frugal and spend very, very carefully. There's not a lot of room to spend money on swag that people might just toss in the trash. I'm pretty pumped with the swag that we picked out. I think they have a high chance of making it home with gamers. If we have any left over, I know a ton of people at FroggaCon who will want it. So, maybe I was right. THERE ARE NO CONS!!!

PAX and Press

Pro: Our interview slots are filling up, and since we're both going, we can double up on the interviews. I'm extremely happy with the press and their interest. We've got a great story, but sometimes it can be a little bit tough to get their attention. Wait until I tell them that we're only married because I wanted better gear for my character on Threshold.

Con: As I said, it can be hard to get gaming media to reply at times. On the other hand, I can't wait to meet the people who have been INCREDIBLY responsive and supportive from the first time we've contacted them. Also, I may run out of bourbon trying to booze these guys up.

PAX and Parties

Pro: I'm gonna party all night like I haven't since college.

Con: I'm gonna party all night and pay for it since I'm now 37 and not 19. If you see me lying in the gutter, kindly scoot me back onto the sidewalk. Oh, and can I borrow your walker?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Photoshop: My Enemy, My Friend

Recently, I subscribed to the Adobe Creative Cloud service which gives me access to all 17 of their powerful programs for $30 a month. I can't even tell you the amount of excitement I got from having all that creative power at my fingertips. Now I wasn't stuck with using Paint for all my creative endeavors, and I would produce brilliant pieces of concept art for my hard-working team at Frogdice.

Look at the difference between my concept art!

No, I'm just kidding. I really wish that was how it turned out. (I borrowed the turtoom from our 3D Artist, Adam.) Instead, I got Photoshop and couldn't figure out how to make a circle. Well, that's not really true either. I made a circle, and I was pretty excited about it. I got up to get a drink, and when I got back, my circle was gone. I never did figure out where it went or how it disappeared.

Now, of course, I'm much more comfortable with Photoshop. I'm still not doing anything super beautiful with it, but I did make the title to this blog. I have to say that I felt incredibly proud of it. Of course, Photoshop turned around and kicked me in the teeth the day after I finished my Frog Pond title. I ended up pasting 400 codes into a template in Photoshop and saving each page as an individual file in preparation for PAX East. Photoshop had a great laugh at me then.

Photoshop, sometimes friend. Sometimes enemy.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Nerd cred, yo!

Recently, I've been reading about women game developers and women geeks in general having to defend their "nerd cred", and my first thought was, "What the hell is nerd cred?" Immediately, I start imagining gangs of people in their pocket protectors and horn-rimmed glasses doing a dance off in front of white boards and armed with colored dry erase markers.

As I did more research, I discovered that I was guilty of laughing my butt off at a meme that is now considered extremely sexist. I was first introduced to this meme when one of my friends, a fellow geek girl, had this posted to her page:

This was months and months ago, and I remember calling my husband over to laugh over it with me. First of all, it's funny because my friend absolutely won't have anything to do with DC comics. She's a total Marvel Girl. (Pun intended! And a girl after my own heart.) Secondly, I've dealt with so many people (not just women) that this meme makes fun of over the years. Heck, I may have BEEN this meme at some point in my life.

First of all, this meme makes fun of posers, and we all have met posers or been one at some point in our life. People try on a lot of hats for all sorts of reasons, and popularity and "being cool" are definitely two big factors in being a poser. We're all offended by posers because we often feel like they're mocking something we truly love or feel we've invested a lot of time and energy doing.

I'm not sure why this meme got turned into the "sexist" meme. I mean, most memes are downright insensitive in one way or another. I find Super Photogenic Guy to be far more sexist than Idiot Nerd Girl for the simple fact that Super Photogenic Guy is literally about that guy's maleness, even if it's in a positive light. Idiot Nerd Girl has very little to do with that girl actually being a girl and more about people pretending to be something they are not in order to make an impression on another group of people. Would we have the same reaction if it was Idiot Nerd Guy?

Now, don't get me wrong. There are jerks out there who question a girl's "nerd cred" and accuse us of using our womanhood to get in their sacred, geek pants.  I've had a run-in with it lately while playing a game on Kongregate of all places. I got accused of "getting all the men riled up because you let them know you're a girl who plays LoL". My horrible deed? One of my buddies on the game asked me what my League of Legends account was so he could friend me. Why? Because he liked playing games with me. So because I answered and because I had not hidden the fact that I was playing the game with my husband, I had obviously lured all these men to treating me better by... I don't know. I got lost in trying to follow his line of thought. He obviously had a problem with me playing an online game and being a chick. Here's the thing, though. That's HIS problem. He temporarily made it mine, but it was VERY temporary.

The meme, however, is not the result of a bunch of sexist, misogynistic men who are out to destroy all nerd women. In fact, before I knew it was "sexist", I made a bunch of them just to amuse myself. I even used the template to make up one for some of the sanctimonious role-players in a certain game where I can often be found. By attacking the meme, we're allowing the douche canoes who are making us defend our "nerd cred" to  have a rally point and to hide behind that meme. And really, those guys are like that with EVERYONE, even other guys who aren't in their accepted group and their accepted level of knowledge. It's their version of pissing on a tree to tell others to keep away, and it works remarkably well.

I was on the other side of Idiot Nerd Girl at Barnes & Nobles the other day. I had found a Lego Death Star, complete with a Tie Interceptor there, and of course, I bought it for my husband. When I got up to the register, the cashier gushed all over my Death Star. Then I said that I saw that there was a Yavin 4 and a Tatoonie as well, and I was thinking about getting one of those. She told me that she teared up every time she thought about Tatoonie. I thought that maybe she was sad that Boba Fett had died in the Sarlac Pit, and I was about to tell her that he actually makes it out when she said, "I never understood why Princess Leia wasn't more upset when they destroyed her planet. I would be devastated."

Before I could help myself, I blurted out, "Oh, you mean Alderaan."

She looked at me and said, "What?"

I said, "You mean Alderaan. Princess Leia's home planet was Alderaan, not Tatoonie."

Immediately, the lady got flustered and said that she couldn't keep any of the planets straight. There were just to many. For a moment, I doubted myself and started to feel like a guilty nerd who had spent too much time watching Star Wars. (Which I probably have, especially since my daughters are now getting into it.) I had a flash of resentment that she'd brought up Princess Leia in relation to Tatoonie at all and putting me in this position. She could had just gushed about my Death Star and left it at that. At the same time, I felt bad that she was trying to engage me, and it turned out awkward. So, I suppressed my nerd guilt and said, "Yeah, there's a lot of planets. The only reason I remembered it is because one of my favorite T-shirts shows Luke and Leia together with Alderaan in the back, and the hilarious caption said LOOKING FOR LOVE IN ALDERAAN PLACES." We had a good laugh and moved on away from the awkwardness. She helped me bag everything up, gave me about a thousand coupons, and rang up my discounts. We were both happy by the time I was done.

Still, I had that flash of resentment, but I'm a 37 year old woman with two daughters and a TON of geek/nerd friends and customers. I knew better than to let it unleash or to even hold it against that woman who was just trying to engage me. The Cred Warriors just don't know any better. They feel the need to stomp, moan, and freak out over their Nerdom. I leave it to them. They can have their little corner of the universe while I find friends who don't mind if I make a little bit of a mistake every now and then as I try to share their passion, and they don't mind if I correct them in my moments of extreme geekitude.

Monday, March 11, 2013

"Relax. It's just a game."

If you are a gamer, you have heard this at least once in your life. Maybe you yelled at your husband when he interrupted your Bejeweled Blitz minute after you'd spent tons of coins on power ups and a Phoenix Prism, and he gave you the standard, "Relax. It's just a game." Perhaps your wife told you that after she got you facerolled while you were solo mid, and you, understandably, had a few words to say it. Maybe your WoW tank said it to you after you watched him switch to his DPS gear for "fun" and wiped the raid.

I had that moment a few days ago. I had a player write me because I was really slow in processing a character for him. He explained to me that he had just had four days off work and had look forward to his new character, but now those four days had passed. He felt that those days were days he'd never be able to get back on playing his character. My initial thoughts were, "Man, chill out. It's just a game." Afterall, I'd just been through a week of hell, my company was going through some major (and great) changes, and my child's fieldtrip to Washington, DC had been cancelled two days early. I had a lot on my plate, and here was this guy whining about how he didn't get to play a GAME. Sheesh. The nerve.

But then I stopped and thought about it. This player had just had a new baby. I knew very well how precious gaming time becomes with a new baby. I'd had two myself. He was right. He deserved those days of gaming, and I was just trying to displace my own failure of dealing with my responsibilities by minimizing his complaint by saying, "It's just a game." And how poor a rationalization that was! It was MY game. My business. My customer. He keeps me in the business of making games, and he really would never get those four days back.

I thought about how frustrated I felt when I couldn't play SimCity due to all the server issues. I remembered the people mocking others who had taken time off work in anticipation of the first new SimCity in a decade. "It's just a game. Why would you take time off work for that?" People take time off work for all sorts of stuff they enjoy. Why not a game?

Gaming is valuable time for most people. It's time we carve out from our families, friends, work, school, etc. It's time we're choosing to entertain ourselves. So, the next time some gets mad at you for something and you want to reply, "Relax. It's just a game.", really take a look at your actions. You might be trying to shift blame for wasting someone else's time. And for gaming companies that blow off their players for not being able to access their game (I'm not naming any names. You know who you are.), take their complaints seriously because they take your game seriously.

(Okay, if you're living with a gaming addict, you can definitely say, "It's just a game!" and be justifiably mad. You are exempt from this blog post.)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Top 5 Signs That You Are a Game Designer

5) Whenever engaged in a mundane activity, you think that you could make this into a game.

It doesn't matter what activity you're involved in doing. You think there must be an awesome game there. That's exactly how cooking games came to be. When I was working on a cooking system for one of our games, every time I was cutting, stirring, chopping, smashing, chilling, or doing anything- no matter how mundane- I was sure there was a way to turn it into a game. Epic game designers probably think about how to turn pooping into a game.

4) You start bedtime stories for your children with, "Hey, honey, pretend you're playing a game involving mushrooms, badgers, and llamas that create a trade nation, what would you do?"

Seriously, you view your children as real sources for game design solutions, and you pick their innocent little brains as much as possible. It doesn't even have to be your children. It could be random children off the street. Just remember that parents don't appreciate it when you, a stranger, offer their children candy- no matter how good your intentions may be.

3) When faced with a growth of mushrooms and admiring the beauty of nature for exactly 3.8 seconds,  you immediately start wondering how many points/xp/resources/gold you could get for stomping/gathering/smashing/kissing every single mushroom.

Yeah, you've been there. You start eyeing everything in terms of what you SHOULD be able to get out of it if you did a particular action. The good thing is that many pots remain unbroken, mushrooms un-stomped, and trees un-chopped because you can't figure out what you'd actually gain from it in real life. So, you glance at it, admire it and move on- blissfully thinking about how you can incorporate such action in a game and how you can reward a player for it.

2) When irritated by someone, you wonder how you can build them into your game and really teach them a lesson.

Every now and then someone really irritates me. It's usually on the road or at my children's school. Someone already made a game for drivers who piss you off. It's called Crazy Taxi! And I don't think you can make a game that advocates violence in schools at this day and age.. even if it's against parents. Thus, you have to get creative and name the person who irritated you as some wimpy, puke colored dragon in your RPG. (Don't be surprised if you end up a puke colored dragon in my next game!)

1) You write a blog post about the Top 5 Signs That You Are a Game Designer and strategize how to get the most Likes, +s, Shares, Re-Blogs, Re-posts, Links, and Tweets you can get...

because there MUST be an extrinsic reward of some kind. You can't just blog for sheer enjoyment of writing or any other kind of intrinsic reward.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Video Games Inspire Violence in Little Girls

The Newtown shooting, a national tragedy, is the stuff of nightmares for anyone but especially for parents with young children. We send our children off to school every day because that's what expected of us, and we hope that, in return, they learn to be productive members of society. It didn't take the media long, of course, to blame video games for the violence. Of course it was video games!! 

Let me share with you our own experiences with video game induced violence. We had a beautiful day of snow over Winter Break. On the first day, we just played. On the second day, we went sledding. It was amazing! We loved zipping down the perfect hill and crashing into various things. We vowed to do it again the next day as the sun went down. On the third day of snow, the temperature went above freezing, and the sledding on slush does not produce the same epic results as sledding on soft powder.

Both my little girls and I play video games, so of course, we resorted to violence. EPIC VIOLENCE. We invaded my parents' backyard with an army. Our anger had to go somewhere, right?

That's right. We built an army, and we made sure that they were armed with dangerous weapons a la Plants vs. Zombies. I'm telling you that our hours of playing PvZ drove us our great rage to new extremes. How dare the snow melt before we were ready?! We had to strike back at the world.

Our army moved relentlessly towards the stairs. They brought fear with them. This particular guy was totally inspired by hours of killing gems in a most brutal manner in Bejeweled and aggressively creating cakes in My Little Pony: Pinkie Pie's Party Parade. My girls have been inundated at a young age with this kind of stuff.   It's no wonder they're acting out with this army. 

The coup de grace is our headless snowman. It's all the Pokemon games we've been playing. I don't think it could possibly have anything to do with their curiosity about the guillotines used in the French Revolution as I was telling them the story of the Scarlet Pimpernel and discussing Les Miserable with them. That's classic literature, so seriously, it's either Pokemon or Spore that must be to blame. I haven't decided which yet, so we'll just say it was both.

Despite the fact that my ten-year-old spent the whole time talking about how this was just like Calvin and Hobbes the entire time we were building our snow army, I'm convinced that it was video games that inspired such violence in them. I should say that my mother is a culprit, too, since she provided the flowers that were used as "guns". I'm pretty sure that their reference to plasma rays must have come from overhearing something from Mass Effect and probably has nothing to do with Stitch shooting up Lilo's house from Disney's Lilo and Stitch.

And ultimately, I would like to remind everyone that this violence must be the fault of video games, and of course, I can't be held responsible, being their mother and all. After all, it's really not my responsibility to take them outside, to play with them, to engage them in new ideas and introduce them to art in all its forms. It's really just those darn video games.