Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Praise vs. Brown nosing

Like many IT sectors, in the game industry there are frequent periods of "crunch". During these times dinner is ordered and many stay late into the night. Tonight wasn't so bad with over 12 hours at work (minus 1 hour of playing "Heros Of Newerth" at lunch.) During a group dinner there was some chatter about a lead designer at Firaxis and I made comment how I admired his ability to take criticism without attacking the (sometimes rabid) colleague.

In the middle I was cut off and told, "Tronster stop brown-nosing he's not even here."

It was said half joking, but all half-jokes have (half-)truths. And now I've been pondering the difference between positive praise for colleagues vs superiors on the reporting chain.

From the various jobs I've had, it seems many people are content to be quiet until they are irritated or disappointed in someone else. The truly stellar manager's I've had, would be sure to raise praises of individuals on their team (to directors) when good deeds or accomplishments occurred.

While I passively witnessed this occurrence at jobs, it wasn't until I joined the Conference Associate (CA) program at GDC that I was made consciously aware of what was going on. It took 2-3 years of "bragging" about fellow CAs (a routine encouraged to get gold stars by each others names) before the concept solidified.

Now I look for opportunities to be sure to let others know the positive aspects of what's going on amongst my team and colleagues; I just need to be more careful to keep my praise curt when talking about those above me.

Social rules... one day I'll get them down.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

GDC'09 Recap

Last week was the annual Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco. I paid for my own way working as a Conference Associate (CA); Firaxis was nice enough to let me attend the conference for the week. Already details from the week are sliding away from me, thank goodness for photos, twitter, and friends with better memories.

Highlights of the conference were:
  • Attending Epic's tech semi-private tech talk on upcoming Unreal 3 features

  • Attending my first Sony party

  • Participating in the first FlashSIG meeting

  • Hanging out with old CA friends during the night

  • Seeing many familiar faces from Baltimore make the journey too.

  • Helping the flight attendents hand out food on the trip home.

Proposed improvements:
  • Adobe having Flash representatives at the conference.

  • More techno at parties. (Sony was banging... and it has live techno.)

  • Bringing back suite night.

I'm now evaluating a plan to get the photos up on the web. Once they go up, so will all my previous photos too.

EDIT: GDC'09 photos are up on Picasa.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


During my senior year in high school I had the opportunity to put together my own "Senior Page" for the yearbook. Four photos were used; one of them was of me wearing my Photon gear. I loved playing laser tag in high school; I still play today.

This evening I played XP Lasersport in Owings Mills with a bunch of friends. We lucked out and got to play a few "tournament rule" games for the 2nd half of our gaming. The tourament rules allow for a quicker game, require more team work, and are incredibly fun. Special modes (called CHIPS) allow a player to re-"ENERGIZE" teammates, "DE-ACTIVATE" an enemy with one shot, and go invisible with "STEALTH". I don't know if I can ever go back to playing "public rule" games.

If you're near northern Baltimore, MD, I highly recommend getting a group of friends together and checking it out.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Rant on user interfaces of consumer devices

Today I'm starting to clean out my many old drafts that never quite made it to posts. This one is based on a draft started in February 2007...

Until recently I felt as if every manufacturer of consumer devices had an agenda to gratuitously brand their product trumpting all considerations on Human Interface Design (HID). My irritation in their poor product designs were only matched in my sadness of consumers complacency to live with such shoddiness. If only enough consumers complained about about the lack-of usability, it might send a signal to the manufacturers on what they should be caring most about.

Thank goodness Apple, and a few others are stepping up to the plate, spending R&D cash to make a better product.

Below are just a few examples of products I purchased and have had to endure...

Verizon branded Razr

ISSUE: The Razr has both hardware and UI-based buttons positioned poorly. One example is an internet button that cannot be removed from interface; when its (accidently) hit a web-browser starts. A user has to wait 5-10 seconds for browser to start up before it can be exited, and is "charged" for transfering data.

PROPOSED SOLUTION: Allow users to remove (or disable) button from menu, speed up start-up time of browser, and do not connect nor charge users who do not purchase data plans.

MY SOLUTION: When my contract was up, bought an iPhone 3G. I paid more for the phone, and more for the monthly fee... but it integrates so well with my life I have no regrets. Also I'm finding that it works so well that I don't need another MP3 player, and no longer need to buy Franklin Covey refills. After 10 years, I'm going to stop using my 1/2 page planner. Thank you Apple for making my planner fit in my pocket.

Alpine CDA-9847 Car Stereo

ISSUE: The interface to set radio and head-unit options is clunky. The interface for interacting with and attached iPod is awful. While my first MP3 player, a "Diamond Rio 500", was convenient for playing MP3s, the iPod mini was the first MP3 player I owned that had an intuitive interface I could tweak without looking at while running. The interface on the Alpine CDA-9847 is so poorly constructed that it is dangerous to change songs on a connected iPod unless fully stopped, or a passenger is DJing.

PROPOSED SOLUTION: Perform usability tests with the unit and provide a firmware update that remaps the controls to one that allow a driver to effortlessly change song, artist, or album. If a firmware update cannot be performed, at least do this for future models.

MY SOLUTION: Since my average drive is 10 minutes, on weekdays, I can live with the shortcomings of this head unit. I'll add usability to my checklist when I am ready for an upgrade. I had originally selected this Alpine head unit because it was one of the few that could switch from one CD-written MP3 to another without a 0.5 second - 2 second pause. (I remember not finding a single Pioneer unit that didn't have this unbearable pause and being told by a phone-based customer-service rep that it was impossible to remove the delay.) Now any delays, on CD tracks written with MP3s, is not that big of a deal; a look-free user interface for a driver is paramount. The only thing more important is making sure the head unit works with properly with my car's stereo amplifier.

This ranting is long so I'll hold off talking about keyboards or operating systems. My parting observation: companies that offer a better user interface tend to have more attractive products. My attractive products can demand a higher price and tend to be in higher demand.