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Gosh, it's been a long time since I posted on here. But I'm breaking radio silence to mention some exciting news: a board game that I designed is getting published! I've been working with the publisher Tasty Minstrel Games for a number of months now, making refinements to the game and working with Seth Jaffee, the designer of Terra Prime and Eminent Domain, to see whether Tasty Minstrel wanted to publish my game; and I've just received official confirmation they definitely want to go ahead with it!

What's the game?

It's a design I've been working on for a couple of years, with a playtest name of SteamWorks. It's looking likely that that will also be the name the game is published under when it hits the shelves.

What kind of game is it?

It's in the broad category that's variously known as "Eurogames", "German-style board games", and a range of other names. It uses the "worker placement" mechanic that will be familiar to players of Agricola, Caylus, Alien Frontiers and so on. The theme is Victorian steampunk inventors: the players build madcap devices for each other to use, out of components with names like Iteration Gears, Resonator, Miscellanerie, and the Patriotic Haiku Generator :)

When can I buy it?

Not for a while yet, I'm afraid. The release date will be either August 2015 or October 2015.

So it'll have proper artwork and stuff?

Absolutely. Tasty Minstrel are commissioning the artist and graphic designer, but I'll be involved along the way as well.

Are the rules finalised?

Nearly. Seth and I are making final tweaks over the next few months to ensure things are as balanced and fun as we can get them. The game has been through a lot of changes in the past year, but things are pretty settled now. I'll be writing up a preliminary rulebook pretty soon, which will be sent off to a professional editor and graphic designer to be tidied up / rephrased / rewritten wholesale as applicable!

Come and see a silly sci-fi show!

I've been doing some CULES-style acting! The Cambridge Uni Light Entertainment Society have a spin-off called COGGLES (Cambridge Old Graduates and Graduands Light Entertainment Society), which is basically CULES but with rehearsals and performances at times more suited to people who're likely to be busy 9-5 Mon-Fri. And now, for one afternoon only, you get the opportunity to come and see me overact myself silly!

The show is called USS FingersCrossed. It's basically a Star Trek spoof with a Star Wars spoof as a subplot. It takes many affectionate jabs at those two series, but has a jolly good fun adventure plot as well. I play the Emperor of the Vulcans Inhabitants of Planet X, and also the ship's Doctor. Other people like androidkiller are in it too!

There's more details at http://www.camdram.net/shows/13/uss_fingerscrossed , but the key data is that there will be a performance at 3.45pm, on this coming Saturday, 22nd June, in Clare Hall, the little grad college next door to Robinson College. You should all come and see it, because the show is fun and silly.

Come and work at MathWorks

My team is hiring! There's always several openings in the UK office, but at the moment we're particularly looking for a Parallel Computing Quality Engineer: that's basically working alongside me in the same job as I do. It'd be awesome if any of you wanted to come and apply for this job. Here are a few reasons why:

MathWorks are a fantastic company to work for

They really are. I've mentioned before one aspect of how they treat employees very well, but there are many others. The management is spectacularly clueful and take developers' opinions seriously; we really care about making incredibly high-quality software and have a sensible set of processes to help keep quality high without process getting in our way or getting bogged down in admin.

The company's also doing very well financially. We rode out the recession very well, and are well positioned to stay profitable even if one or two major market sectors crash (like happened with automotive and aerospace a few years back, and with finance a few months back). This also means that MathWorks pay competitively and offer great bonuses, and of course there are very good benefits.

The team is a great one to work in

The position is in Parallel Computing, which basically means supercomputers, distributed computing, and GPUs, even occasionally dealing with cloud-related things. It's a really interesting area to work in, and pretty cutting-edge.

The job is as a Quality Engineer, which is what I've done for the past 12 years. It means that most of the software you'd be writing is automated tests. But if you have bad associations with "software testing" from other companies, think again: MathWorks treats Quality Engineers extremely well, precisely in line with others in the development organisation. QE is a large department in MathWorks worldwide (maybe 200 people?) and well-supported. You'd be involved in design discussions of the shipping software from early on, and you'd be working with an extensive automated build and test system that runs automated tests to prequalify code before it integrates: no more "who broke the build"!

If you don't think you want a career in testing, that's fine too: MathWorks are happy for people to spend 2-3 years in QE and then move on to other areas of development.

So if you're a software engineer and you're near Cambridge (or would be willing to move here), please, drop your CV in, via me or at this link. Experience with parallel computing and/or MATLAB would be a definite plus, but isn't required if you're a quick learner.

Advanced Bethanese

Bethany's learning to say several new words a day now. It's great to see her acquire the confidence to say a word that she's been understanding from us for months, but now realises how to speak herself.

She's also uttering complex sentences. Her approach to this is pretty much what my approach to French was in early teenage years: "say the words I know how to say, and skip over the words I don't." One great example that Rachael mentioned [now edited to have more words thanks to Rachael below] - here's what you might have overheard yesterday:
Mummy Abwa go ou high gree bih why nine beer bih back bih!
Let me translate the individual words for you:
Mummy Bethany go out side green bin white nine blue bin black bin!
Can you tell what that means? Perhaps so. In context it was pretty clear:
Mummy and Bethany go outside [and move] the green bin with a white nine [next to] the blue bin and black bin!
Which is definitely an event Bethany considers worth celebrating, as it demonstrates Order Being Restored and the Replacement of a Thing to Where It Should Be. If the bin men leave one of our bins not aligned with the other two, as far as Bethany's concerned this is a flaw in the universe's integrity and must be corrected at once. (And as someone who's corrected at least his fair share of pictures hanging fractionally slanted, I guess I can see where she's coming from :) )

Tell me a story, daddy!

Bethany has started asking me to tell her stories!

For a while now she's been very into vehicles like cars, trains and buses. Her favourite toys have been cars, her favourite videos to watch involve cars or trains or buses, and so on. But one thing about the way she plays with toys has confused us for a while: she has some toy cars where you can open and close the doors, and others where she can't. She'll often play with these others and pull at the doors, saying things like "Baba green car yeah?", i.e. "Bethany green car please?" She's asking for something to happen with the car, and we've not been quite sure what. Sometimes she seems mollified if we say "I'm sorry, darling, the doors don't open on that car. It's just a toy car." Sometimes we've told her "You can pretend to get into the green car if you want," not particularly expecting her to understand.

But yesterday morning, she was doing this, and I said something like "Shall we pretend that Bethany and Daddy are going in the green car?" She look at me seriously and said "Yeah."

So I started making up something along these lines: "One day Bethany and Daddy went outside, and found that instead of our car, there was the green car on the drive! And so Bethany and Daddy climbed into the car, and started it, and it went brrm! So they drove the car up the slope, and found Mummy and Tango at the top of the slope..."

This seems to be precisely what she wanted, and went on for some time. She now asks for this kind of story - "Baba green car Dada green car yeah?" She enjoys driving the car around matching my narration ("then the car went Bounce, up into the air! Then Bethany drove the car some more, and it went Spin! ...") Most intriguingly, there are times when she gets rather upset, and as far as I can tell, it's because the story I'm telling doesn't match how she wants it.

I didn't really know to what extent she had a concept of fiction, of narrative and story. She has some books telling stories of Peter Rabbit or the birth of Jesus or suchlike, but I don't think she really understands that successive pages are a sequence of successive events; I think she just sees them as a number of pictures. And in fact there are some occasions when she points at a toy in a picture and asks to play with it, and we have to say "I'm sorry, darling, that's just a picture" or similar.

But these stories about Bethany getting in the green car (or the blue car, or the purple car) she seems very happy with, despite not thinking they're real in any sense. It's the first sign of pretend, make-believe, that I've seen from her, and it's really fun and exciting.

A particularly good day

Today has been a very good day.

I had my annual review at work, in which I got promoted[1] and a pay rise.

I got emailed a cute photo of Bethany along with a message that Bethany had insisted that I be sent this photo, which gave me a silly grin throughout the course of the day.

I got an email from a second board game publisher on the topic of when I go to the UK Board Games Expo next weekend to take Space Dogsbody[2] around publishers to see if they're interested, saying they're interested in meeting me.[3]

And then I had a jolly fun GamesEvening, in which someone who'd never played Space Dogsbody before played a game of it and was then recommending it to his friend who's not played it yet.

Overall, I'm very happy ^.^

[1]: The promotion doesn't mean I'll be doing any work different to what I've been doing the past couple of years. It's a kind of formal rank that doesn't mean anything. But it's still a target I've been working towards for the past few years.

[2]: I've been designing a board game called Space Dogsbody since January. It's been playtested extensively at GamesEvening, and people enjoyed it enough to suggest I try to get it published, so I've been working towards that.

[3]: Both games companies will only be meeting me for an informal chat - certainly nowhere near an actual contract yet; it might even be overstating it to say they're "interested" in meeting me, so much as just "agreed" to meet me. But it's still really exciting! :)

Christmas and Easter

Poll #1831510 Christmas and Easter

2000 years ago, give or take a few:

A baby called Jesus was born
In a stable or place where animals were kept
To a virgin called Mary
As prophesied 600 years earlier by Isaiah
And angels sang in the night skies outside
And a star was seen overhead

Thirty years later, give or take a few:

A guy called Jesus was crucified, and then
The Romans took his body out of the tomb
The Jewish authorities took his body out of the tomb
The early Christians took his body out of the tomb
His dead body was still in the tomb when people were claiming he was risen
He rose from the dead, thus confirming his teaching and himself as divine
He rose from the dead, but this doesn't show he's divine
Something else which I will explain in a comment

Learning Bethanese

Bethany has very good English aural comprehension. She understands a very large number of words – not just words for her toys and food, but most items of furniture, places, people's names, items of clothing, an increasing number of adjectives, and so on. And she can understand really quite complex sentences, such as "Why don't you pick up the red cup from behind the turtle and put it on the tower of blocks?" (When she didn't know where the red cup was, but could see a number of other cups, etc.)

However, her spoken communication bears much less resemblance to English. She will make a great variety of vocal sounds to herself, like she's chatting away in her own language, but they're not recognisably English, and they're not intended as communication. Certain things definitely are intended to communicate with us, though; so I thought it'd be fun to try to enumerate the words and other pieces of communication she uses.

Read moreCollapse )

So that's, what, perhaps 40 words and gestures that she uses? Whereas her vocabulary of understood words I'd say must be around 1000 now.

One other exciting development, as implied above, is that she's also now assembling short sentences. Two-word sentences like "Car gone" are common, and I've seen a few three-word ones: "Sheep song please" and suchlike.

It's delightful and intriguing watching as our daughter gradually becomes more linguistic :)

[1]: If you're not on Rachael's baby filter and would like to be, do ask; those posts are only filtered as a convenience to those browsing long friends-lists who aren't interested in baby stuff.

New computer squee

Ten years ago, I started work at The MathWorks. It seemed to me they looked like a good company to work for, as far as I could tell.

I had no idea how good they'd turn out to be, though. They gave me a computer as a thank you to me for being there for 10 years!Collapse ) The puter arrived on Tuesday, and it's basically all now set up and running, blissfully quickly. It reboots in 15 seconds! Starcraft II loads in 10 seconds!

I was also impressed by the way that cloud storage makes upgrades like this much smoother than they used to be. Chrome is my primary browser, and I have it configured to sync with my Gmail account. Which meant that about a minute after I installed it on the new box, it automatically added all my extensions and stored passwords and so on. Between that and Dropbox and Steam, it's been an incredibly easy upgrade; certainly much less painful than previous occasions.

The one point of fiddliness is getting Cygwin set up with Ruby on Rails, for Multiverse development. I expect this to be quite a pain: it certainly was last time.

But overall, I'm very happy with my new zippy computer. I'm not usually given to Squeeing over Shiny Things... or at least, any tendencies I have that way are usually overruled by my having quite a tight rein on my wallet in most cases. But at the moment, using my new computer just makes me happy, even if what I'm doing is mundane, because it's New and Exciting and Quiet and above all Fast!

What's a Metroidvania?

Some people aren't familiar with the term I used in my last post, "Metroidvania". So I thought I'd give my definition of what kind of computer games count as in the Metroidvania genre. It's a somewhat fuzzy-edged category: I think a game can probably miss any one of these tests and still count.

  • Platform game. Not an absolute requirement, but pretty close. I'd say Aquaria counts, but only because it's so clearly following all the other traits of Metroidvanias.
  • Powerups granting new abilities (not just increased firepower or whatever). Upgrades to the height you can jump count, for example, or gaining the ability to destroy bits of scenery you couldn't before.
  • Nonlinearity. Being able to revisit areas you've been to before, in order to collect things you missed or weren't able to reach first time round, or in order to find routes to new areas.
  • Secrets! Many games have optional bonuses and hidden bits, but they're an absolute staple of the Metroidvania genre. The best games in this category have at least three different kinds of secret: for example, extra health, coins to spend on upgrades, and occasional new types of weapon or optional powerups that aren't required.
  • Enemies and bosses to fight, and ranged weaponry. It's a slightly odd criterion to mention here, but many players do consider this a required part of the genre.

My game will meet all of these criteria.

Read more on ToothyWiki or TVTropes.