Daily Routines

Coffee is a staple of my morning routine. Like many people I start my day with coffee, and I continue to drink coffee throughout the morning. This blog, is about how I get my coffee. Now before you go on leaving because you think getting coffee is boring, let me say that I think how you get your coffee, or really how you do any routine, can be an exciting part of your day. We will get there.

My First Coffee Habit

During my years in college you might say that I was an atypical student, because I never got into the whole coffee thing. At Southern Illinois University Edwardsville we were even able to buy Starbucks on our meal plan. For the most part I never participated, except for the White Chocolate Mocha. To this day I think Starbucks puts crack in that thing.

My first real experience with a coffee habit came when I got my first career job, technically after my second internship. I worked for a company that made scoreboards. It was a fun job, but as far as engineering companies are concerned , they lacked a few perks. One such perk was a coffee maker. Now you may be wondering how you can have a company without a coffee maker, but what they lacked in coffee makers they made up with some of the best people I have ever had the pleasure to work with.

That is not quite the point, however, the point is the coffee! So, in lieu of a coffee maker, we had access to a coffee vending machine. This machine could make coffee in various ways. My favorite came to be the cappuccino. Just try to imagine how I would have spelled cappuccino without google! Back on subject. My cappuccino cost 25 cents a piece, it was a somewhat small cup, and it was hotter than Richard Simmons after a nice workout.

I'm what some may call, impatient when it comes to my hot drinks. I want to drink them immediately, and at a constant rate to enforce my creacher of habit. My Richard Simmons cappuccino, therefore, posed a problem. I could accept that there would be a small amount of time at the beginning of my day in which I would not be able to drink, but after that I needed coffee, caffeine, or crack, at a constant rate.

The First Approach

Over the course of a few months, I observed my problem set and began to make incremental changes to my routine in order to make myself happier. It started, by getting a broader rimmed cup to increase the surface area of the hot liquid, and therefore increase the rate in which it cooled. It also helped that my wife had made said cup in her pottery class, which added to the sentimental benefit of using this cup.

After getting my faster cooling system in place, I was faced with a separate problem. How do I keep my liquid at a consistently warm temperature while in this super cooling cup? The answer took a little while to come up with, but after trying the microwave, various timing techniques, and poring strategies, I came up with a two cup system. Since the cups that the cappuccino came in were tall and slender, they maintained their temperature rather well. After being transferred to my cooling cup, the liquid cooled quickly. Therefore, I kept a certain portion of my cappuccino in the original cup to keep it warmed, and put the rest in the more broad cup. This system became a three cup system eventually, which involved two slender cappuccino cups, but I think the point has been made.

What Is The Point?

The point is this. Seeing a problem that I am faced with daily, hot coffee, I decided to fix my problem. In the act of fixing my problem I engaged my brain in an activity that was outside of my normal scope. I think of this as stretching the brain. My theory is simple. At the basic level, out brain is made up of a bunch of neurons that have made connections between one another. By forcing my brain to think of things that it normally would not, I'm forcing new connections to be made.

This goes well beyond the normal routine. In fact, you can seek these opportunities to make new brain connection virtually anywhere you would like to. Here are some things that I like to do:

  • After feeling an intense emotional feeling, I write a poem about it. Not because I'm good at writing poems, but because it forces me to verbalize my emotions.
  • When I watch a commercial, I try to analyze why I feel good or bad after watching it. I connect that with the intention of the commercial to decide if it was good.
  • I am a religious person. I also have books on my bookshelf about topics that are explicitly against my religion. I do this to stretch my thoughts, and understand what others believe, which creates more neuron connections.

The point, is to daily think about something in a different way. Doing this with something that you do daily can produce, well, daily results.

My Second Coffee Habit

After working with the scoreboard company I moved to Asynchrony, where I have happily been for three years come January. I was gaining a little, girth, in places where I didn't want to from the cappuccinos co I decided to switch to straight black coffee. The transition was rough, but I find that making transitions are easier when making other life transitions that are more concrete. I took a new job, I related drinking plain coffee with my new job, I can't easily change my job, therefore I am stuck drinking plain coffee. Just a small anecdote.

Asynchrony, does have a free coffee machine, and a Keurige machine. Two options are great, but of course I have to narrow the choice to one. This only took a few weeks. After coming to the normal coffee machine a few times in a row to find that there is no coffee, you give up on being the only one who actually makes the coffee. As an interesting point I have observed this to be a problem area in many companies, and I think it goes far beyond making the coffee.

Two Reasons For Not Making Coffee

You choose to not make coffee when you take the last bit for one of two reasons. The first is because you think the company values your time more than mine. Think, is the main word here because really our employer has deemed us both worthy of spending the time to allow us to get coffee, and has not provided a separate person to make the coffee, therefore they accept that I, as a coffee drinker, may have to make the coffee. Just saying.

The second reason I would not make a new pot of coffee is far more serious. I do not care about what the company thinks, or who spends there time making coffee, I deserve it, and I'm not going to waste my time making it. The reason this is an issue has nothing to do with coffee, but with the persons initiative. They have obviously decided that they are entitled to not preform the job of a lowly coffee maker, and thus, have placed their own priority on their time based on their pride.

Conclusion

I don't point these things out to say that Asynchrony is filled with coffee pot snobs, we have tons of great people who fill the coffee pot regularly. I say this to point out how what you don't do, speaks as loudly as what you do do.

In particular to this post, I think that when you fall into a rut, or quit caring, you stop making new neurological connections. This reflects itself in your daily routine, work ethic, and general creativity. In contrast, by working to improve routine things, you can improve your thought process, and thus the quality of your work.

Records

This past week I set up an old record player. The player had belonged to my wife's grandparents, along with the rather large collection of records. We have hooked it up a few times in our various apartments but never truly used it. As it turns out, I really like listening to records.

Music Today

Artists tailor their art to however most people will be consuming it. This applies to music today, because almost all of us consume our music digitally. Whether it's iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, Google Music, Xbox Music, or any of the countless other options, it is digital. Now, digital on its own does not change a whole lot, but how we use it is very different. Digital music made playlists an everyday thing. We then took that a step further to randomize playlists. Randomized playlists, ensure that pretty much every song is from a different artist, recording, and sometimes even genre.

I don't think this is bad, just different from years past. By consuming music in different ways we have forced musicians to produce different music. Before random playlists, or any other type of mixing music, an artist could mix songs together to create a literal feel for an entire album. Artists try to do this now by saying that all the songs may have a consistent theme, but for the most part the songs are all interchangeable. The way we consume music today, forces artists to create the emotional highs and lows all within one song.

Records were different.

Records, almost guaranteed, that a listener would consume at least half the album in a row. There was no automatic way to switch after each song. The best thing you could have is a stack of records that would each play after the previous one had finished. This gave artists a certain liberty that they don't have today.

Homework

By forcing artists to tailor their albums to an individual song level, we have forced various creative styles to extinction. Records are our time machine.

For this reason I am attaching homework to the reading of this blog. Listen to two albums, twice, digitally. One album should be The Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd. The other can be any album released in the past year that has at least two radio single on it. Which can be pretty much any of the top albums from the previous year. Listen to both of them through first. Then listen to both of them through with the shuffle option on. I think you will understand what I'm talking about.

The New Apple TV and Concole Games

This post is a response to the following article. http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidthier/2015/09/13/ios-dev-why-apple-tv-is-game-over-for-xbox-one-and-ps4/

The new apple T.V. is an impressive piece of hardware. Like most Apple products, the material design will be great, the software will work well, and the overall experience will look perfect.

My argument is not that the Apple TV is bad, or even that it won't do well. It is that the the Apple TV will not succeed as a gaming console. Furthermore, I have read several articles, like the one quoted above, that try to relate the Apple TV to the Xbox One or PS4. Let me be clear, there may be a decent amount of games that are made for the Apple TV, but the profit will not amount to much.

The reason that I say this is because the TV gaming market is very different from the mobile gaming market. Some could see the TV mobilish gaming market as untapped. I think this thought is short sided. The reason mobile games are huge is that people use them as fillers in between their daily activities. Console games are different, gamers play console games to consume art. Whether they know it or not, console gamers need a deeper experience.

This is the main reason that the Apple TV will not break into the console gaming industry. It's the same reason that Ouya did not break into the console market. We have extremely high standards. I would say unreasonably high standards. We expect a level of art that the Apple TV can not physically deliver.

To say that the Apple TV is in any way a competitor to the Xbox One or PS4 is a short sided reaction to a great press conference. Apple may succeed, but it won't be in the console gaming market. That ship sailed when they failed to sign Bungie with Halo.

The Road To Destiny 2.0

The legendary World of Warcraft killer. This fabled game has been talked about so much over the years that it is impressive people still care about it, yet, we do.

For the non gamers out there I will give some context. World of Warcraft is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, or MMORPG for short. This breaks down into two parts, Massively Multiplayer Online, which describes the open and collaborative nature of the game, and Role Playing Game, which describes the way the game plays. You can do a quick search to find more info about it, but I'm going to assume from here on we all know these terms.

What W.o.W did, is perfect this model of gaming. I say perfect, not to say that W.o.W. is perfect, but to say that they are by far and away the best. At one point W.o.W. claimed over 12 million active monthly subscribers, and at 15$ a pop one can quickly see why everyone in the gaming industry would love to have their own slice of the pie. As the saying implies though, this has proven to be an elusive beast. Many have tried, some have been profitable, non have fully succeeded.

Enter Bungie

Bungie is going to be a large thread in this blog, therefore it is good for people to know a base line about them. Bungie made Halo. For those of you who know me, know that I'm a huge Halo, and I am not going to try and hide it. I also, through the transitive property of bad ass games, love Bungie.

In April of 2010, Bungie announced a publishing agreement with Activision games, the same people who profit from W.o.W. At the time there was speculation of Bungie making some sort of MMO, and in September of 2014, it launched Destiny. Destiny is a console based MMO, and is the main subject of this blog.

What is Destiny?

Destiny is an MMO, an RPG, and an FPS (First person shooter), all in one. It has won many awards, but also received a lot critisism for not living up to expectations. What I would like to lay out in this blog, is an outsiders opinion of a business plan, which lead to a game, to be the W.o.W. sibling.

If you noticed the verbiage change, it was intentional. I pointed out that Activision owns the publishing rights to both Destiny and W.o.W., which means it has no interest in killing W.o.W., simply diversifying its assets.

The Business plan

  • Create a game which keeps players actively engaged, ideally daily, but at least weekly.
  • Find a way to make subscription like income from the engaged players.
  • Make it an FPS so as to not take customers from W.o.W. (Activision's goal, Bungie's strongsuite)
  • Release it on a console to reach non PC gamers. (Also, Activision's goal, Bungie's strongsuite)

The Problem Set

  • To date, there has been limited success in the MMOFPS market.
  • Console gamers will historically not pay a subscription fee.
  • MMOs of any kind are HUGE. Creating one is a likewise a huge investment, and is historically risky business for profit margins.

Sum Up The Setting

Bungie had years to plan Destiny. We are talking about some of the most creative minds in the entire industry. Who have been dreaming about their next thing for years before they were ever allowed to work on it. These are the same creative minds who spawned the Halo universe! To say that they had big ideas, would be an understatement.

This fits perfectly with the MMO space because the second you say MMO, we expect a metric Blam! ton of content. Bungie, had that content in mind. Then reality sets in. They had to get paid to keep the lights on, they had to keep players engaged long enough to paint the masterpiece, they had to execute.

So where do you start when you want to build the next wonder of video game history?

Start Small

In agile software development we call this the Minimum Viable Product. The idea is that the customer (gamers) wants the world, and we want to give it to them. We also understand that of all the amazing things we want our program (game) to do, there is a compromise that will allow the customer (gamers) to start using the program (game) earlier. In the process we can get feedback and enough money to keep fueling the development process.

The key to a minimum viable product is that is has to be enough to keep the initial customers interested, and in the spirit of the end goal, it has to be something we can build from so we don't have to start the development effort over from scratch (too costly).

What was Destiny's MVP?

I'm glad you asked!

Gameplay

The most important thing in an MVP is the core. Give the customer the thing that matter most. For any game, this is how the game plays. Do the physics make sense, do my jumps feel natural, is the recoil from a gun consistent? This is a seemingly small part of a game that if done superbly, is not noticeable. When done wrong, no one will play your game. When done well, people won't notice it outright, but it will not be conducive to every day gaming. It has to feel natural.

Destiny, nailed it. When I throw a grenade, it goes where I think it should go. Does it go where I want it to go? No, it goes where I told it to go based on the movements of my controller. It sounds like a crazy small thing, but it adds a level of finesse to the game that keeps you coming back to play more. Skill jumps, precise aiming, mastering weapons, knowing your armor, it all plays in to how engaged I am when playing the game. The more complex, the more brain stimulation, the more stimulation, the more I want to play!

To put things in perspective. The way that weapons balance out, meaning none of them are inherently better than others, makes a big difference in the gameplay. Destiny has had it's issues with this. Listen to my podcast and hear the weeks of complaining about Thorn, shotguns, or cheap snipers. There are imbalances.

What was Bungie's response? https://www.bungie.net/7_Destiny-Weapon-Tuning-20/en/News/News?aid=13147

This narrative talks about all the changes Bungie has been looking at for the new weapons system. Every weapon, changing by percentages. This is the type of O.C.D. that puts @adamritzel to shame. This was a team of people, going weapon by weapon, ability by ability, percentage point by percentage point. Going through the game mechanics with a fine tooth comb. To perfect them. Gameplay, is the core of Destiny.

Gameplay Needs A Context

Gameplay is great, but if I don't have a context in which to consume it, then I will never understand how good it is. I believe that this was Destiny 1.0. The original game that shipped lacked a storyline, had a poor showing of multiplayer maps, and was void of end game content except for one raid. All in all it was a huge letdown on paper.

My words here may be a little harsh, but I think they relay the general sentiment that the gaming community had with Destiny. Similar to how a gaming engine will put together a game to demo the capabilities of the engine (we are looking at you Crysis), Destiny wrapped content around there engine and gameplay.

My small anecdote here is that I think the content we saw in Destiny 1.0 really does tie into a much larger story, and that in a few years we will see it as a necessary foundation to the larger universe.

The Dark Below

Destiny's first expansion was met with excitement by few, and furry by most. Only a few short months after releasing the original game, Bungie put out an "Expansion" with a few more missions, an additional raid, and a few multiplayer maps. The expansion, cost $20. For those who are keeping track, we have now spent $80 on a game, which the gaming community at large does not feel has the content of a normal AAA game.

Enter the subscription model. Do you remember how earlier in this document I mentioned that console gamers wouldn't pay a subscription? Scroll up if you missed it, because Bungie just got you to pay a subscription in two month intervals. Some may confuse this tone of voice for anger, but it is more a voice of respect. They needed to make subscription money, so they made it happen.

The beauty of this model is that most people look at the content that was released and say "Well they did put a decent amount of effort into it." It wasn't a ton of content, but what was there was done well. I'm not disagreeing with this. Bungie was able to add a decent amount of things in a relatively short amount of time. Some people saw this simply as Bungie withholding content from the original game, so it could get more money, hence the point above. That certainly played a part, but outside of artistic skills I would venture to say that the first expansion needed far fewer resources than a typical expansion. This is because the underlying core game engine was already written and written well. I think that bungie did a good job of noticing that they could get some good bang for their buck by releasing content that required very few engine changes. It's smart, get the most money, with the smallest amount of effort.

The House of Wolves

Feedback is an amazing tool in software development. The House of Wolves is the first time we got to see Bungie take our feedback, prioritize it, and give us what we want most. The way I imagine things at Bungie is that there are three teams. One that manages the minimum viable product. It takes the current game, ensures that additions to the game do not change the core experience, and absorbs the new content. The second team is working full steam ahead on the original game plan. The original game plan covers ten years of content so they stay busy. The third team, implements the most popular feature requests. This team got to shine in the House of Wolves.

The two main complaints that I heard with Destiny at this point was that it lacked dynamic NPC (Non person controller) content, and the lack in competitive multiplayer. Bungie answered in two huge ways with Prison of Elders and Trials of Osirus. These two modes added a brand new way to engage variose foes from the storyline in a new way, and a top tier competitive multiplayer mode. This seemed like it was a lot of content for an expansion, and it was, but to go back to the point around a foundation based on gameplay and a solid engine. The team was expanding, not starting from scratch. This allowed them to deliver content that was both new, and desired based on feedback, to expand the game in ways that the gamers desired.

Lets Wrap This Up

Destiny's third expansion, The Taken King, is releasing in September of 2015. This major expansion is being coined Destiny 2.0. I keep reading articles in which people discuss that this is finally the game, after three expansions, that should have been the original launch title. I write this blog to disagree.

I agree that there was a lack of content when you compare it to other games that have been released this year. I'll even go as far as saying after one year, $140 total dollars spent might be a stretch. I do, however, think that Bungie has executed the plan flawlessly.

My case and point of Destiny is this. Bungie has massive dreams for this game, and through an iterative process they have laid the foundation. Many people complained, many people quit playing, but they stayed the course they knew they had to in order to some day bring their dreams to a reality.