Archive for March, 2012

Sick Wars: The Ugly Darkside

Saturday I lost 13 hours playing Bioware’s newest MMO: Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR for short). I’ve also played it about five hours on and off while sick, when my energy is high enough to kill droids, but too low for keeping up with work email. It’s super awesome, and I highly recommend people trying it out. I was skeptical of the whole WoW + Lightsabers + Bioware cutscenes, but my friends talked me into playing it, and I admit, it’s really fun. I actually care way more about my characters in SWTOR more than I ever have in WoW, the cut scenes really add to the experience, and I feel like I’ve gotten a chance to really chose how I want to play my character’s persona.

One of the key elements to the persona is the choice whether to be light side, dark side, or ambiguous side. This isn’t about whether you chose to fight for the Republic or the Empire, but the choices within that. Do you charge a bounty to find some chick’s kid? (dark), do you strike down a traitor? (dark) or get her to confess (light)? My favorite was the rather morally ambiguous situation of two jedi trainee lovers. Some older jedis asked you to spy on them to see if they were getting jiggy. If so, they would be kicked out of the jedi order (passion fuels hatred of course). The light side choice was to turn them in, while my moral compass said let them keep on keepin’ on, which was darkside. Bioware has done a good job keeping the situations from being one sided or trite and so it’s often interesting (especially if you “roleplay” a character).

From what I can tell, there are three ways to optimize this choice: max light, max dark, or alternatively somewhere in between. My first character was a Mis’inam a dashing Twi’lek Smuggler. I’m playing him as a mostly good guy (he can get irritated, especially when people have tried to kill him). My second character was blind yet attractive Nadasia a  Jedi Shadow, and I’m playing her full lightside. Don’t worry about her disability, she can still see using the force. My third character I decided to try was a Jedi Knight, and I opted to play him evil. So of course I made him a race with horns, a bunch of scars, weird face tattoos, and made him all aged. To top it off, I named him Lucifern (I was going to steal Piers Anthony brilliant palindrome and named him Natasha, but alas ’twas taken).

Here are the photos of my low-level dudes:

The moral of this story why did I feel it necessary to make my evil character be ugly? Even in a fever induced state I had trouble with the idea of playing an evil character. Did I feel the need to disassociate with him by making him scarred?  Was my choice to make dashing good guys and ugly bad guys similar to how other players chose? Or is there no consistent pattern? I’m curious, and I may try to see if Bioware has any extra information on this.


Fast Fail

So many VCs and “valley people” speak about having a fast fail. The core premise is that entrepreneurs or projects should fail fast instead of lingering on. Well, I took that concept to a literal level last evening. Yup, 3 1/2 hours after posting about my fast, I went in to a restaurant with a friend and ate a rather large dinner. While greens, prosciutto, pork belly, short ribs, and meat pasta are all good things, I’m not sure it was the healthiest choice I’ve ever made.

While I woke up frustrated with my epic fail, I also woke up sick as a dog from the flu. I’ll spend the rest of my life making excuses for why I couldn’t achieve a 48 hour fast. Perhaps it was my friend coming over and talking about food, or my cousin, who works at Top Pot.  Perhaps I’m just inspired by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Perhaps it was because I was getting sick (so sick that I am at home today, and cancelled my trip to SF).

I’ll never let myself believe that I just got hungry.


Water Fast

After reading an amazing Harper’s article on fasting while with charity:water in Ethiopia, I’ve decided to do a 48 hour water fast. My last meal was Saturday brunch (ending at 12:00). It was probably not the healthiest: blueberry pancakes, eggs, orange juice and lots coffee. I’m 27 hours in, and here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • It’s really not that hard
  • Hunger seems rather habitual or cyclical
  • I had weird food / fasting dreams last night
  • Hurling (the competitive Irish sport I play) wasn’t as bad as I expected
  • People eating bagels and drinking coffee in front of me, was worse than I expected
  • I miss coffee more than food
  • Lastly: it’s way easier to spend 13 hours straight playing Star Wars: The Old Republic when you don’t need food breaks
I do recommend that Harpers article on fasting. A couple of other people I know read and enjoyed it. The article certainly educated me on something I was previously ignorant.


PopCap Olympics: Rockband Competition

Culture can be a double edged sword. One of the things I like about our culture is the amount of extra activities we provide and encourage employees to enjoy. While sometimes it’s abused these days, I’m very grateful we have a corporate culture that has a cornerstone of fun for the sake of fun.

Today marked the 3rd PopCap Olympics Rockband challenge. Five teams competed with voice, plastic guitars, and crazy outfits to best each other in an epic battle of the fake bands. It was awesome. Highlights for me were James’ cracking an actual whip (not his) to Devo, the band which combined sexy space uniforms, dalek costumes, facepaint and homemade unicorn horns, or my personal favorite, the anti-anchovy band which teamed up a singing slice of pizza to duet with the radical Ninja Turtle, Michelangelo**.

The weirdest of all was the passing out of buttons with my likeness on them. It started last olympics thanks to Sharon Bruhn and company making a John Vechey fan club song parody. Thanks to her tireless buttonizing, this meme has lived on. And to clarify, yes, those are rainbows out of my bum.

**I believe the eyemask was orange which is Michelangelo. It could’ve been red, which would’ve been Rafael. I want to make sure there’s no confusion as my memory of colors is bad, not my recollection of which turtle was which.

My Newfound Empathy and Understanding of Conservatives (and Myself)

56% of the way through The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. For anyone keeping track, this book is holding strong as one of my favorite non-fiction books and I believe will be in the running for one of my most influential books.

I already blogged the other day about the first section, Intuitions Come First, Strategic Reasoning Second, which covers the concept of why the elephant (intuition) is actually in charge of the rider (rationality) as it relates to morality.

The second section is titled There’s More to Morality than Harm and Fairness. This section covers Haidt’s Moral Foundation Theory. Building off of the idea that our intuitions are running the show, Haidt then explores the ramifications on morality, and shares his main theory. He states that everyone has six moral “tastebuds” of which everyone has a slightly different blend (which are somewhat effected by cultural upbringing). The foundational morals are: Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Liberty/Oppression, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation.

He makes a great argument laid out over hundreds of pages in his book, so don’t take my explanation. Read the book (please, I want to talk about it with people).

What I will say is what I’ve developed by reading this book:

  • An authentic and non-judgemental understanding with conservative viewpoints
  • A deeper appreciation for the power and benefit of “tribes” in our society
  • A framework for dealing with ideological differences in a healthy way
  • A set of communication tools for people with different moral viewpoints
  • An understanding of why gay marriage may seem a threat to marriage (and why it matters)
  • An appreciation for pro-life advocate’s passion
  • An idea how to help motivate groups of people better to achieve objectives better for all (both politically and at PopCap)
  • My own beliefs

I guess the overall summary is that I’ve always looked at the world from a very liberal viewpoint. While I continue to maintain the same moral compass and believe in many of the same solutions, I understand my own beliefs in a way that opens my mind to everyone’s understanding of the world. I’ve always thought empathy was an under appreciated skill and this book has helped take mine to 11. I’m curious to learn what I will make of my new found understanding.



Wealth of Thirds

Met with a rather wealthy killionaire today. I inquired about his strategies for dealing with his success. He had put a lot of contemplative thought into the subject and had good insight to share. He tries to divide his time and energy into thirds. One third of his time he spends on generating more wealth (starting or investing in companies), one third on public / civic service (politics, charity), and the final third on contemplative activities (things that keep his mind flowin’).

I really appreciated the way he balanced things in a way that worked for him. My balance would be a bit different as I feel my job at PopCap is more than just a paycheck, and requires contemplative thought to be successful (even though on rare days it feels like civic duty). He also gave some very great advice, that marks some of the best I’ve heard. Paraphrased here:

Be wary of the path of least resistance. Everyone will want you to spend your time, wealth and energy to merely generate more wealth. The easiest thing to do with success is create more success. Though not bad necessarily, it may not lead you to the life you want to live.

It’s true. So many people have assumed that I’m going to become a VC, or asked me when the “golden handcuffs” expire before I start another company. No one believes me when I explain that I love making games, I love PopCap and if I’m making games I’m going to do so for EA / PopCap. Candidly, there would be a lot easier ways to spend my days, but few would bring more long term satisfaction.

The Rules have Changed Back Again

When we first started PopCap there was no casual or  mass market gaming. There was no facebook, iOS app store, or Steam. There weren’t portal partners nor a downloadable business, and mobile phones couldn’t even play text games. When Bejeweled (then called Diamond Mine) first launched on MSN games it became the most played game on the Internet.

The idea that games for everyone would take over the world became believable. Games evolved. We released a few more web games. Discovered $19.95 downloadable business. Started making some revenue from other platforms. Success was all about fun, innovative new gameplay. Partners like Real Networks were growing the audience. Xbox Live Arcade was another place for new ideas. We invested in games like Peggle and Plants vs. Zombies, knowing that it was about innovation in gameplay.

Then it all stagnated. Big Fish Games and Real fought to steal customers from each other. XBLA became crowded. Big publishers started throwing money at the business. Developer margins were shrinking. It wasn’t about gameplay it was about market share. Merely a game of margin control. PopCap was lucky that we had hired a CEO and developed a publishing organization. We were lucky that our games appealed to hard-core gamers, lucky that we invested in retail, but the traditional casual channels were flat.

While that was happening Apple was experimenting with an app store on iPod scroll wheels. Facebook was opening up its platform to developers. Platform focused developers like Zynga and NGMoco were started. Their whole raison d’etre was to master a platform, not innovate on gameplay. Some were experimenting with gameplay. Doodlejump, Flight Control, and Pocket Gods come to mind, but they were still the exception. It was the era of these new, weird platforms. Companies succeeded not through great games, but by harnessing and mastering the new platforms. Angry Birds succeeded by pioneering the top ten lists while leveraging their charm. Zynga exploded by being one of the best online service operators in history.

Thankfully, Facebook is more known now. Developers no longer question the Apple App store viability. Microtransactions have ceased to be weird. Things have settled. Which is great. Gameplay innovation is in the air. Whether on Facebook, Apple, or Android new gameplay is coming out and thriving every day. Soon Xbox, Nintendo and Sony will join this new connected world.

Tiny Tower. Jetpack Joyride. DragonVale and Temple Run have all shown that great, new gameplay can happen. OMGPOP has destroyed the charts with Draw Something. Innovation is now vital again. It’s about great gameplay. It may look a bit different than it did in the downloadable days, but the audience is bigger, the developers more innovative, and potential for greatness amazing.

The rules have finally changed back again. I look forward to playing all the new games that are going to come out in the next couple of years. I look forward to PopCap making some of those games.

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