Just Re-discovered iTunes-U

I have to admit, I am emphatically floored by not only the iTunes U app on my iPad, but also the way in which schools like Stanford have embraced it. Previously, iTunes U modules were simply videos, usually in a bundled series, that were lumped into your standard video player app. Recently however Apple has moved it all into its own standalone app, and some schools are taking it far beyond “a few videos” and doing something awesome.

A great example is one school right here in my back yard, Standord. They have started to provide a decent number of courses, for free, some of them I find quite interesting. For example, their CS106A, CS106B, and CS107 courses are listed. CS106A is “Programming Methodology”, their introductory CS course. 106B is the more advanced course building off of that, and CS107 is their general Object Oriented Programming primer.

 

With each of these courses, they don’t just give you a bundle of lecture videos and turn you loose, they actual provide the entire course module as they would to any other student. There is a fairly handy UI involved that breaks each course down to its various sections, and within each section you are walked through it as you would be if you were in the class. It starts off with a video presentation of the lecture, and from there you are walked through a series of PDF docs and various on hands exercises. At the end, in lieu of having the ability  to turn in your work for review, an answer sheet helps guide you through your work to determine how accurate it really is.

 

I can definitely see where a lot of my free time is about to go now, considering between those 3 classes and their iOS development course that builds off of them, I can essentially take the entire suite of CS courses Stanford offers for iOS development, for free. I haven’t even gotten into some of the Astronomy and Quantum Mechanics classes I have found either… A worthy investment of my free time if you ask me!

My Shepard had a choice

Let’s talk Mass Effect 3. I finally beat it last night, and was finaly able to look at all the internet rage under a microscope. I have been avoiding so many gaming sites for a week because of all the rage, and now that I am caught up, I am flabbergasted. (WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Let me be clear, my ending, was amazing. I was left in awe.

First of all, the Mass Effect universe is a grand opus Bioware has crafted over 5 years. It is one of the deepest, richest, most engaging Sci-Fi universes I have ever seen. To have given it a sunshine and rainbows ending where everyone lives and all the world is at peace would do it great injustice. It would also be illogical and impractical.

My ending, I learned after the fact, was the best you could have. Presumably most everyone came out of it intact, and even Shepard was hinted at being alive at the last second. (more on that later).

First off there is the complaint of it being “too short”, I think this is ignorance. The “ending” did not start after your conversation with the Citadel’s entity and as you made your choice. At the very least the ending was as you stepped into the beam, or alternatively could even have arguable been when you landed on Earth and began the assault. If you really want to take it a step further, you could arguably claim that the end of the story started at the very beginning of ME3, and that the entire game was the unfolding of the end.

Along the same vein, there is the “that last cut-scene that matters most, and it isn’t good enough or different enough between the choices.” Folks, the resolution of the story is far more than a simple 4 minute cut scene. If you NEED to rely on a carefully scripted video that spells out every little detail for you in order to get closure on the story and are unable to think for yourself and use your imagination to fill in the blanks, then an RPG is not the right kind of game for you.

Next up is the whole “all choices were the same” bullshit. I don’t think so. You have three options available to you, that indelibly burn the future of the galaxy into your own personal cannon. In all cases, yes, the mass relays are destroyed and everyone loses their easy to access travel around the galaxy… technology created BY the reapers and the citadel entity for the sheer purpose of guiding organic life to its own whims. But you know what? So what. The choice you make DOES matter. In your own personal Shepard story the future is entirely decided by you. Do the reapers get wiped out? Do you seize control of them and make them work along side life in the galaxy to help nurture it? Or do you merge organic and synthetic life into a new form of intergalactic DNA? These are SERIOUSLY major differences that affect the future of the galaxy.

The “deus ex machina” complaint is silly as well. From the very opening cut scene, the stage is set for this. It’s hard to accuse Bioware of taking the easy way out and dropping this in as an ending, when they presenting to you the beginning of this in the first 20 minutes!!

Lastly, the whole “if you get the best ending, Shep wakes up in the rubble of London, this is proof the whole thing was a dream”. No it’s not. The citadel is a sentient being, you were beamed up to it using its own inherent technology, what is to stop it from choosing to beam you back down to save you at the last second? Attaching the crucible, according to it, opened up a world of new possibilities it was not prepared to expect. Along with that, when breaking the cycle you may have very well also opened its eyes to other things it could do, such as save you.

In the end I think everyone needs to sit back and take a deep breath. The people of Bioware chose to tell us a deep and engaging story, one of life, death, and consequences. One of you cant always get what you want, but where if you try to make a difference you can. You might not win, but those you sacrifice for will benefit. If you don’t like that story, that’s fine. But you wouldn’t demand someone retcon the end of a movie and re-release it, you don’t demand a republication of a good book because you thought the ending sucked. You take what the artist gave you for face value and either enjoy it and walk away entertained, or you just say “nah that wasnt for me”.

You don’t rage like a 10 year old and threaten to take your ball and go home…

My next big project?

USG-Ishimura-dead-spaceI had a lot of fun building my SC2 Battlecruiser. When I was 5-12 ish in age, as much time as I spend now playing video games, I spent then building with Legos. Now with the advent of the various Lego creation software, it’s even quicker and easier to prototype things as well!

I’ve come up with a project that I am really digging the idea for, I just need to flesh it out more. Here is the deal. I really want to build a 3 to 4 foot model of the USG Ishimura from Deadspace. The problem is, a model of that size will cost roughly $800 to $1200 in Lego parts alone. So I have decided to take it a step further.

What if I was to setup a KickStarter fund? Crowd source the money, and then turn around and build it. The entire process I would document and record, making an amazing time lapse of the project as it’s built over (presumably) a week or two. When completed, I hope to have an awesome video that I can then post it on youtube and set it up for ad revenue. I would then throw the model up on auction, taking the proceeds from it, the video, and any left over KickStarter money and donate it all to the Child’s Play charity for the 2012 season. What do you guys think?

Before *anything* happens though, I need to roll up my sleeves and flesh out a solid design plan in one of the common lego design tools. My goal is to have something up by time I return from the UK at the end of Jan so I can start raising the funding then!

Battlecruiser Operational…. in time-lapse.

So I made a little project this past Saturday. I came up with the idea at Blizzcon when I picked up the Limited Edition MegaBlocks Battlecruiser kit, but have been putting it off since I got back. I finally had the time to sit down and work on it this weekend, and got everything in place for what I thought was going to be a 2-3 hour project. 6 hours later at 1:30 am in the morning I was finally done however. Feast your eyes on the fruits of my labor, my best time lapse project yet!

Adventures in Dragon Hunting

So Skyrim. Wow. I won’t go into a lengthy expose into why it is so amazing right now, I’ll save that for another post when I have more time to gush like a rabid fanboy.

Let’s talk Dragons. There are specific dragons throughout the game in certain locations, some even have names. Then there is an infinite number of randomly generated ones that will just drop out of no where and jump you from the clouds… and I seem to see them a lot. I’ve decided to start fraps-ing the encounters because sometimes they end up a bit humorous. Case in point, the video I just uploaded to youtube, check it out!

Floating mammoths, basejumping into dragon lairs, nearly dying from my own stupidity and more! Watch as I get jumped by a dragon while minding my own business in a field, and when I tackle a Blood Dragon to learn the power word he is guarding! Also be sure to check out the outtake at the end, where I learned how risky friendly-fire can be when I recruit a pack of Mammoths to help me fight a Dragon!

(If you are wondering why you almost never see me change gear/spells and it “just happens”, I leveraged the smooth fluidity of the UI flow and edited out the menu selection screens to make the video shorter and more cinematic.)

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

This is important enough of an event today that I want to earmark it to look back on and remember where I was. Often famous people die, and most of the time I shrug and go about my life dealing with far more important issues. This one is far more important to me though, both due to the significant impact he has had on the tech world, my world. Also because I got the chance to meet him (even if only for seconds) once.

Yes, he was quite the controversial figure, and arguably even a jerk. He still had a profound impact on technology however, in ways that have triggered all sorts of advancements that impact every aspect of how we live our lives today.

stevejobs

My 3DS Streetpasses it’s first convention

So this weekend is wondercon, the San Francisco branch of Comic Con. The one thing I was more excited about than anything else (even hot girls in spandex outfits!) was the chance to really put my 3DS’s StreetPass through its paces. I suspected there would be a healthy dose of 3DS owners there, and I was right!

I have to say, Nintendo really improved on the whole peer to peer encounter thing that they first tried with the original DS. I really liked it on the old system, but it was fairly impractical. You had to have the game you wanted to enable it on loaded up, at a specific screen, and then put to sleep in that mode. A lot of finagling had to take place to get things ready and you can only enact it with one game at a time. With the 3DS the biggest improvement, to me at least, was that you can enable streetpass for multiple games simultaneously even if the game isn’t even in your unit at the time. It’s always on all the time, whether your system is sleeping or actively gaming.

I threw my 3DS in my messenger bag on sleep mode with both SSFIV and the normal Mii StreetPass enabled, and headed down to the event. I learned a few things from this little experiment. Firstly, if you are out at an event where you expect a LOT of activity, like Wondercon or PAX or E3, check your system often. Each type of StreetPass (Mii, SSFIV, etc) seems to have a 10-encounter limit per title. Once you max out, it stops accepting any new encounters until you clear our your queue. If you don’t load it up and clean it out, you might miss out on a lot of activity. Secondly, you can only use Miis you have encountered for the mini RPG or the Puzzle game if no one new has arrived yet to “push them off” the list. In my case, I acknowledged the 10 new visitors, and then closed the unit and went about my business, completely missing out on the puzzle pieces they had and the fights they could have done for me. Both of these issues I am sure have perfectly logical technical design reasons/limitations behind their implementation, and I am ok with them now that I understand them, just wish I had known it sooner. (Then again I never bothered to thumb through that massive King James Bible sized manual so the fault is my own really.) Finally, in the case of Super Street Fighter IV, those mini figure battles have to be processed in the Log in order to accumulate the points earned. Sadly there is no way to speed through it, and sitting down and watching through all those battles is fairly time consuming and annoying. Fortunately though you can let up to 20 of them sit in your log before it fills up and you need to clear some out.

All in all, this weekend totally made owning a 3DS right out the gate all the more enjoyable. I was thinking all week how awesome StreetPass would be come E3 or PAX, not at all thinking about Wondercon. I’m glad I got to experience this now, as to get a better idea for how I plan to approach those other events this year once I have a fair amount of various games loaded up for StreetPassing, so as not to miss out on anything awesome. Most importantly, I want to point out that at the end of the day, after logging 30 or so SSFIV matches (and watching them all) and about 50 Mii exchanges (and clearing that queue 4 or 5 times) I ended the day with about 50% battery life. Considering how fast this thing drains, and how comparatively crappy its over all battery life is, thats fairly reassuring.

Corsets and Katanas and Guns, Oh My!

So I just saw Sucker Punch a few minutes ago….

wow

No, seriously… wow. Let me put it out right up front, if you are looking for a deep and insightful story that will crawl into the dark corners of your mind and toy around in there for days after, you will be disappointed. On the other hand, if you want a Damn Good Time™ that is just pure Audio/Visual/Cinema-graphic Porn that gives you a sensory orgasm and makes you feel like a 12 year old fantasizing about an action movie, you will be in for a treat.

1 Part Moulin Rouge, 1 part Anime flavored action, 2 parts Michael Bay, with a dash of Inception; this movie was the best 2 hour investment I have made in my life in several months. Don’t get me wrong, there IS a story there, and it’s not that weak. Its not story of the year stuff, but it is a solid bit of glue to help bind together all of the off the wall action sequences that are pure joy to watch unfold. I mean really, who here doesn’t want to watch a Samurai Schoolgirl take on a trio of 30 foot tall Ronin, one of which is wielding a Gatling gun?

That reminds me, something I want to thank the creators on; while the movie is over the top action packed, they do an artful job of avoiding any blood or gore without making it seem like they are obviously censoring the movie. Not that I have some strong aversion to that, it’s just that it has been such a strong point on so many over the top action movies of late, it was a refreshing change.

So moral of the story, spend the cash and go see it. I genuinely think everyone will enjoy it, so long as you approach it as a good, enjoyable action flick with a decent story and dont try to place any undue expectations on it. Take it for what it was meant to be: geek cinema porn.

Game Development Sepearation Depression

I’ve encountered an unusual phenomenon. The last year and a half at EA I’ve been on a team that is considered a “shared resource”. We are basically utilized by just about every single development studio at EARS as well as a few remote ones. When you need our support, you get a project lead (myself) and a decent sized team of people under me. We tend to drop in around Alpha, and bounce just as soon as the title gets approved by First Party for release. Generally speaking, we jump into a project for the last 4-6 months of development, and then move on to the next. Also, us leads are generally on multiple projects at once, the bulk of our interaction with the team is email and weekly meetings as we do all of this from our own work space where we all sit together. This has led to a very “clinical” approach to the teams I have worked with on my part.

With Dead Space 2 though it has been an entirely different situation. Due to the scope and focus of this title no expense was spared, that meant that the team put forward by my group was dedicated to DS2 and nothing else. This also meant we tried a new experimental plan where I packed up everything in the building I was in and moved into the Visceral studio for 9 months. I sat with, crunched, ate lunch, stayed late, and partied with the Dead Space 2 team. My entire focus was this game and little else. I was treated like part of the group and given a lot of the perks of it as well. It was an incredibly rewarding experience, but more importantly it allowed me to really get involved with the project more than usual and help make it the rock star success that it is. I went from an abstract paper pusher and project manager to an involved and valued member of the Dev Team.

Now I find myself with a conundrum however. The title has shipped, the team is moving on to their next project, and they are without need of my services for quite a long time. Today I pack up my things from my cube in their studio and move back over the building where my primary team is. I need to reintegrate myself to the style of working on a project where I’m not embedded with the team, and back to a life where I am just some guy who makes the dev team’s life harder than usual with most of my emails and no one really knows or cares to know me since I’m not “one of them”. I’ve come to realize it’s possible I was a bit spoiled, but at the same time thats how my job SHOULD be in a way. Now, I’m not so sure how much I like my job anymore if I have to go back to the way things were on future projects. The Visceral guys were really great to work with, they gave every single member of their team equal respect in ways most other groups apparently don’t. Above all though, they were simply awesome guys who were so much fun to be around. No matter how rough things got, or how crazy a day was, I went home happy and came in to work excited. It’s amazing what you will gladly put up with if the environment is right. The future now is not nearly as exciting it seems….