Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Packaging is insane

I like drinking V8 Splash.
I like watching DVDs.
I like using my shaver.
I like listening to music on CDs.
I like using Windows XP.

What do these things all have in common? They come in the world's most insanely difficult-to-open packaging. It is like some sadistical package designer decided to make everyone's life more difficult just to thwart a few thieves by closing off all access to opening the item. The end result is that this Christmas season resulted in a lot of personal human damage because people pulled a muscle or sliced a finger when using a knife on the extremely dense plastic trying to get at what was inside.

I'm beginning to wonder if the average person can't open the packaging, the product inside might not be worth it. The same goes for software development. While Microsoft can get away with insane plastic protectors around a single disk, the rest of the development world can't. Don't know what I'm talking about? Walk into Best Buy or some other retail store and only Windows is shipped in impossible to open plastic containers (all the other products are regular boxes). Those things are literally sealed shut and it takes a knife to open them. A really good knife. So, you'll go home after buying it and slice your leg or arm or finger trying to get at the goodies inside. Basically, a medical disaster waiting to happen. As a software developer, please don't do this. You can't afford a lawsuit.

I tried to open a V8 Splash the other day and, for some bizarro reason or other, the cap simply would not come off. Almost went to get the knife to slice the perforations, but eventually got it open.

DVDs this season have gotten MUCH worse than last year. Last year there was an easy open shrink wrap package and one "security" sticker. This year, there are three "security" stickers with improved glue and much tighter binding along with "improved" shrinkwrap. Knives don't work here - just a half hour wrestling with the stupid box. Even then, the "security" stickers marred the protective plastic cover for the title and description inserts. Over the past year, the actual DVD holders have changed from easy to remove to impossible to remove as well (they hold the DVD in place). Some are easy, but most have these funky holders where the DVD has to literally be bent to remove it. That's really bad for data DVDs (hint, hint, game developers...).

My shaver came in an impossible-to-open package that rivals even that of Microsoft plastic. I think I cut myself on that box - I remember spending a good two hours slicing up the plastic so it would consume less space in the trash.

Whatever happened to the "good ol' days" of packaging where people actually used reasonable cardboard boxes? Cardboard boxes have this unique ability to be able to be flattened nicely for the trash. They are biodegradable. They are easy to open by default. They can be made difficult to open with a little tape. They can be molded into any shape that plastic can. The only downside is that during shipment they have difficulty maintaining their shape...but that's what outer boxes are supposedly for.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas

Apparently my mom (erm, "Santa Claus") has determined that I should get black socks. Unfortunately, my choice in socks is a little bizarre. See, I am your traditional "geek" and therefore wear equivalently odd clothing. Okay, so the black socks are to look all professional and what-not and that is fine, but let's step outside in these black socks for about two seconds.

...

Brr. That was cold (sub-zero temperatures here). And guess what? My feet froze. Now I've got to thaw out. And in the meantime, I had to endure the uncomfortable nature of these socks.

So, what is my definition of a good pair of black socks? First off, they have to be comfortable. I can't find a single pair of black socks on eBay that sound comfortable. I like 100% cotton in my socks. I see pairs with spandex and nylon and rayon and all sorts of other uncomfortable materials. Comfort is also defined by how warm I stay with them on. Since I have almost no body fat, I chill easily. Therefore, the higher up the sock goes, the warmer my legs will stay. I have figured out, through scientific experimentation, that knee-high socks (my definition of "knee-high" means it comes right up to just under the ball part of the tibia) keep me the warmest without looking too geeky/nerdy. By the way, ankle-high and crew black socks look really tacky when people sit down - their legs show - as well as nasty leg hair on some men. The world doesn't want to see it, so wear longer socks people...at least if you care about looking professional.

What is this all about? I'm not sure yet, but I'll keep blogging as the day unfolds. I think it has something to do with going to trade shows and what-not. My mom is especially picky about how I look when I go out someplace. I could almost care less.

That said, I really should care about how I look when I go to trade shows. Right now, all I have are knee-high (by my definition above), 100% cotton, grey socks. Those things rock. I can't find them in any color other than grey. Looking your best at a trade show makes you look better than the guy in the next booth. How you look and act is going to either drive away some business or draw it in like crazy. So, it does matter and I should care, but I don't. The main reason is that no one sees my grey socks because the pants on my suits are really long legged (but not so long that they touch the ground). When sitting, the legs still cover the shoes well enough.

I've been keeping my eyes peeled for a good set of black socks for years and no one has the genius idea to make them comfortable in the dead of winter and yet look good. Way to go for the lack of innovation in the U.S.

Anyway, have a great Christmas.

Edit - Nothing with the socks happened. Guess it was just a random pair of black socks or something.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Unhappy penguin

There is a poll going on at http://www.happypenguin.org/

This poll is completely unnecessary. Andre Lamothe wrote a book eons ago on how to write a game. Apparently people don't pay attention to the people who have made successful games to learn how successful games are created.

That said, you need marketing and a publisher. Not just a good game. About half the work involved is marketing and distribution of the product. The other half is the development of the actual game: Storyline, graphics, genre, the little extras (or, in the case of a game like FF7, NeverWinter Nights, other RPG goes here, little side quests - although in FF7, Emerald Weapon was insanely difficult to beat), the look-and-feel of the default controls, music, audible and ambient sounds, enemies, proper collision detection, the menu system (never underestimate the importance of a good menu system), etc. all work together to make a unified game. Then, once the game is made, beta tested, and ready for gold, in comes the box art, CD art, and website design and art specialists - these are the people who make the game good.

I got to that site through the wxWindows.org site from an e-mail someone sent me. I'm a programmer and have generally been disappointed that there are no games for Linux _worth playing_ that Open Source developers have made. The core problem lies in the fact that most of the Open Source developers like the idea of a game but have never really written one. The best people for developing a game are those who have done it before by themselves. None of this team junk. They went out by themselves and proved themselves to themselves and their friends.

Let me give an example of a lousy Open Source game and a good game (that happens to be closed source):

http://tuxkart.sourceforge.net/

TuxKart. First off, the name is uncreative. Every Linux person knows that Tux is the penguin and that tacking the name "Kart" on the end is a lame rip-off of MarioKart. Basically, a poor attempt at a clone of the real MarioKart. It goes quickly downhill from here. The website design is abysmal. It looks like a 5 year old made it. It gets all technical and the author is quite whiny and apologetic in the download area, "The TuxKart download is currently just under 5Mb - sorry!" The graphics are ugly. The screenshots are ugly (which means the game is likely to be ugly). There is a controls page, which likely means there is no menu system in the game. The icons are ugly and pixellated. The background choice doesn't match anything in the game. Bascially, the website is completely lacking unification with the game.

Then, once you manage to swallow the fact that you have to compile the game (no pre-built binaries with a handy installer) AND install it yourself (writing a good GUI-based installer for a game is an art in itself), you are left with a shell and an empty feeling about the game...if it works. The website even states it might not work if you try the installation instructions. The website sets users up for failure.

TuxKart made the "Game of the Month" on the "Happy Penguin" website (Rule #6 of website design broken: Acronyms lose users, so I recommend losing the acronym "GotM" - users don't have a clue). This is the sad state of Open Source Linux games.

Here is how to make a good game and it would do game developers well to take heed:

http://www.unrealtournament2004.com/

The first thing you will notice is how professional the website looks. A nice change from the TuxKart website. Go back and forth between the pages a few times to see what I mean. For some of you, this is a foreign concept and one you had better get doggone right if you want to make a successful game.

Now there is one strange thing about this website - it coincides with the actual game. Graphics you find on the website are used in the game and vice versa. In fact, the game should bring you frequently to the website and the website should bring you back to the game - that is how unified the two must be to be successful.

UT2004 comes in a shiny box with a CD and high-gloss manual. Everything there is unified with the game and the website.

Do you see a theme here? I haven't said a word about how the code should be written and yet I'm a developer. See, I have the end-user in mind whereas 99% of all other software developers don't. What you must do to make a successful anything, whether it be a game, application, or tool, is make it so that the target audience feels comfortable about installing whatever it is. Keeping the look-and-feel consistent to what they are familiar with encourages them to install the game and give it a whirl. Irregardless of what the Open Source developers around here think, users WANT to just pop in the CD and have it practically install itself automatically. They don't want to 'make install' anything. In fact, they would prefer being clueless about how it works - they just want it to work. Most people playing games are playing just to either burn a little free time or to relieve stress. Know your audience. Games, especially, should ALWAYS have a binary installer (or compile behind the scenes if you insist on distributing source code).

Look at UT2004 or any of this year's commercial games, the related website, the marketing tactics, and the community in general. These are successful companies. The wise, discerning software/game developer will ignore my rants and go analyze how successful games are made and come to the same conclusion I've come to and shared freely here.