1. image: Download

    Versus Time, a competitive local multiplayer roguelike by Carles Salas and me. Playable here in-browser.

My thesis for the game was that you could make a decent competitive game out of a roguelike just by making it multiplayer with a chess clock-like time limit for each player.

It was an intense week and I didn’t have much time to think about design because I was busy wrestling with unexpected JavaScript issues (that’s why we bailed on custom fonts and music/sound). Luckily Carles did a great job balancing when he wasn’t making sprites, so when we sat down with hours left in the challenge to play the game as it was intended1 for the first time, it was already surprisingly fun and only needed a few more tweaks.

I do wish I could have had more time to think about spell selection—the ones in the game are just the first ones that popped into my head while implementing the spell system. But overall, I’m quite satisfied given that it’s a jam game and also both Carles’s and my first game (not the first that either of us has worked on, but the first that either of us has finished).



With more than one player ↩

    Versus Time, a competitive local multiplayer roguelike by Carles Salas and me. Playable here in-browser.

    My thesis for the game was that you could make a decent competitive game out of a roguelike just by making it multiplayer with a chess clock-like time limit for each player.

    It was an intense week and I didn’t have much time to think about design because I was busy wrestling with unexpected JavaScript issues (that’s why we bailed on custom fonts and music/sound). Luckily Carles did a great job balancing when he wasn’t making sprites, so when we sat down with hours left in the challenge to play the game as it was intended1 for the first time, it was already surprisingly fun and only needed a few more tweaks.

    I do wish I could have had more time to think about spell selection—the ones in the game are just the first ones that popped into my head while implementing the spell system. But overall, I’m quite satisfied given that it’s a jam game and also both Carles’s and my first game (not the first that either of us has worked on, but the first that either of us has finished).


    1. With more than one player 

     
  2. Been a while

    Almost a year since my last post.

    Now that I’ve started working on my first game, the focus of this blog will shift in that direction. Might be a while before I actually post something though.

    Or maybe not: I will be doing one or two game jams in the next month, and that should give me plenty to talk about.

     
  3. What to do now

    There’s always a lot of productive stuff we could be doing, but we can only do one thing at a time1. How do we decide what to work on?

    People typically first think about priority, but priority is just one of several factors to be considered. Even though I’m not the devoutest GTD practicioner anymore, I keep coming back to David Allen’s Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment. Here are the criteria, in order of importance:

    1. Context: Our physical location (e.g., home, office, on the go) and the tools we have with us (e.g., computer, phone). They limit the tasks we can even do and affect how easily we can do them.
    2. Time available: The finite, specific amount of time available before your next commitment. Obviously any task takes a certain amount of time to complete. With many tasks you also need a certain amount of time to get started before you can make meaningful progress.
    3. Energy available: The physical and mental energy necessary to accomplish tasks.
    4. Priority: Importance and urgency.

    Energy available is third on the list because context and time available place more restrictions on what actions are possible, but I think it’s the most interesting factor. Just like time, energy is finite and necessary for getting things done, but unlike time, our supply of energy isn’t static and can acutally be increased.

    I find taking good breaks and doing something really enjoyable can replenish my energy, but the most effective tool in keeping my energy levels up has been momentum. Doing tasks requires energy, but with many tasks the boost I get from completing it can actually leave me with more energy than before I started. I’ve known this subconsciously for a long time, which is why I’ve often cleaned my room or done other chores when I’ve wanted to start being productive. Now that I’m aware of this I make a conscious effort to sequence tasks so that I build momentum and have enough energy for the most challenging tasks.

    Different people will find different tasks energizing so you’ll have to find your own momentum-builders, but all it takes is a little attention. Once you begin paying attention to your energy levels you’ll quickly notice how different types of work and leisure affect them. After that, whenever you’re having trouble getting started or starting to lose your motivation you’ll know what to do next to get on a roll.


    1. Multitasking is a myth. Sure, you can listen to a podcast while washing dishes, but these are exceptions. 

     
  4. Don’t get stuck: feed your brain and use more of it

    It’s never fun to be stuck on a problem. You’ve exhausted all the possibilities you can think of, your brain stops coming up with new ideas, and it slowly starts to shut down. You feel like you’re banging your head against a wall, but you keep trying the same stuff knowing there’s no chance it’s going to work.

    This happened to me a couple times in the past week, and in each case what got my brain working and pumping out new ideas again was some kind of new input. This might come directly in the form of new ideas, like when I asked a friend for advice about a difficult iOS design problem I was facing. Or, it could just be some new sensory stimuli, like when I got unstuck writing a blog post after I put on some loud music. There’s lots of different things that can help, but what doesn’t seem to work is to keep staring at the problem and trying the same stuff. Instead, we need to give the brain more stuff to work with.

    After a few days of thinking about this for a few days I realized I was stealing from Andy Hunt’s Pragmatic Thinking and Learning1:

    The simplest thing you can do to begin to involve more of your brain in problem solving and creativity is to activate more neural pathways than usual.

    Hunt goes on to discuss ways to use more of your senses in attacking a problem, like drawing a picture or role-playing. Then, he mentions something we can do to keep our brains engaged so we don’t get stuck as often to begin with:

    Your brain is always hungry for this kind of additional, novel stimulus. It’s built to adapt to constantly adapt to a changing environment. So, change your environment regularly, and feed your brain. Any sort of extrasensory involvement is probably helpful.

    This resonates with me: I’ve gotten stuck on problems most frequently when I’ve stayed at home working for long stretches of time. As it turns out, locking yourself in your room to work for long stretches of time can be counterproductive.


    So there are two ways we can make sure we use as much of our brains as possible. The first is to give our brains lots of interesting stimuli on a regular basis. In addition to simply going outside like Hunt suggests, you can go to new places, meet new people, try new things, and consume a variety of media. And in each case, it’s important to strike a balance between things that are closely aligned to your interests (if you’re a photographer, you should look at lots of photos) and things that are completely new to you. Still, this is easy to do as long as you make a conscious effort.

    But we’d also like strategies to use when, inevitably, we do get stuck on a problem and we’ve already tried taking a walk and listening to music. Earlier, we saw some of Hunt’s strategies to engage more of our senses in problem-solving. Later in the book he discusses other strategies, like looking at a problem in reverse or using the Oblique Strategies, a deck of koan or fortune cookie-like strategies. While often useful, the trouble with these generic approaches is that they’re hit or miss. When you can find some way to make it relevant to the problem at hand then it tends to help, but a lot of times they don’t seem to apply.

    A possible solution to this problem of limited applicability might be to use domain-specific strategies. Unfortunately, I haven’t found anything like this online. If you google how to get unstuck in design, for example, you mostly find suggestions to expose yourself to stimuli that’s beneficial for designers, like photos and other people’s designs, but no strategies to use to approach difficult design problems.

    For the time being, when I get stuck on a problem I’ll try the Oblique Strategies, one of Hunt’s other strategies, or see if I can come up with something equally outlandish of my own. And I’ll start making a list of strategies that might generalize for whatever class of problems I might be working on, whether it’s design, writing, or something entirely different. Maybe someday I’ll be able to put out my own set of Oblique Strategies for some field.


    1. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to know more about how their brain works so they can think, learn, and solve problems more effectively. And shouldn’t that be everyone? 

     
  5. Using mindfulness instead of willpower

    Life is full of temptation. Whether you’re trying to get out of bed on time, stop yourself from overeating, or concentrate on work instead of checking Facebook, it’s tough when powerful and invisible forces are pushing us to do things we know we shouldn’t do.

    There are many tricks we can use to make things easier. We can set goals and track our progress. That way we give ourselves a desire to feel a sense of achievement (and a desire not to disappoint ourselves), balancing out some of the power of temptation. Setting up a reward for success (or consequence for failure) has a similar effect. We can also eliminate temptation altogether in certain situations—for example, by not keeping sweets in the house. But you still have to fight the urge to buy candy when you’re at the grocery store.

    No matter how many tricks we use, we can’t avoid temptation completely. And when it does strike and we want to resist it, we tend to use willpower. Meeting force with force, we struggle to make ourselves take the better path. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we fail. Either way it takes effort, and the more we fight our desires the harder it seems to defeat them1.

    Recently, I’ve discovered a better way to handle these moments. When a temptation arises, instead of fighting it with sheer force of will I take a few breaths and I concentrate on the temptation. I pay attention to how it feels to be tempted. What I find is a sense of yearning that feels like a knot in my chest, extending up to my throat and choking me unless I give in. It seems hopeless to oppose such a creature.

    But as I continue to watch the monster, something happens. Just like a muscle relaxes almost automatically once I realize I’ve been tensing it, once I’ve seen the creature for what it is its power seems to recede. The temptation doesn’t go away, and it still has some pull, but now I can choose not to obey instead of having to struggle. Or, I might indulge myself a bit, but I’m aware that I’m doing so and it’s easier for me to be moderate and not succumb completely.

    Mindfulness is powerful because it lets us see things as they are instead of blindly reacting to them. It’s the perfect weapon to use whenever our minds are beset by forces we can’t see or understand. In the heat of things we often forget to use it, and even if we do we can still be overwhelmed by intense emotions. But it’s a powerful ally, and only becomes stronger with use.

    So next time you’re struggling to resist an urge, try breathing. Pay attention to what you’re thinking and feeling. Once you really see what’s going on in your mind, you’ll be able to just make a decision instead of having to play a game of tug-of-war.

    Doesn’t that sound easier?


    1. Indeed, research has shown that we have finite resersves of willpower, which get depleted as we use them but grow with practice, much like a muscle. 

     
  6. The war on “writer’s block”

    At the beginning of the month when I announced I would start writing more, the main reason I gave was wanting to get over writer’s block. A few days later, I came across a great piece by Andy Ihnatko about how there’s no such thing as writer’s block, any more than driver’s block, cook’s block, or scientist’s block:

    There’s no mystical, mythical obstacle in any of these physical activities. In each of these cases, there’s a goal and there are simply a bunch of unforeseen obstacles preventing you from reaching that goal…

    So you just crack your knuckles and work on the problems.

    When I started using an app1 to manage a list of ideas for blog posts and outline a post before sitting down to write it, things felt a lot easier. Still difficult, but more manageable. And I gradually realized that what I had called “writer’s block” boiled down to difficulty with three distinct parts of the process, each of which outlining made a bit easier:

    1. Finding topics to write about
    2. Deciding (roughly) what to say about a topic
    3. Deciding (specifically) how to say it
    Finding topics to write about

    I was already keeping a list of topics I might want to write about so I could keep them on the back of my mind and wait until I had some idea of what to write before starting a piece. But with just a simple list of ideas, all the thinking had to happen in my mind and there was a limit to how deep my thinking could get.

    Now, whenever I’m thinking about an idea I start jotting down some bullet points and it quickly becomes clear whether I can come up with enough material to write a post. If not, I flesh out the outline a little more or come back to it later.

    Another big part of why this is getting easier for me is practice (even over the course of two weeks), and the pressure of knowing that I’ve committed to writing almost every day. I see the world differently now: anything that I read and any thought that pops into my mind, if it seems even a bit interesting, is considered as a topic2. I’m paying more attention to things and my experience of life is richer for it.

    Deciding what I want to say and how to say it

    This is where I’ve benefitted the most from outlining, because the problem was that I was trying to do both at once. Now the two are separate: I outline a post to get a rough idea of what I want to say, and then when I sit down to write it all I have to do is figure out what words to use. This is more efficient because I spend less time writing stuff that gets modified or deleted later on because of changes in structure. I also suspect that outlining and writing are both the kind of tasks where it’s easier to get on a roll if you’re just doing one or the other.

    I still find myself frequently changing the structure of posts after sitting down to write them. While I’m sure some measure of this is inevitable, I could write more detailed outlines encapsulating more of the sequence and flow in advance, and as I gain more experience I should be able to make better judgments about structure at the outlining phase.


    The insight that the amorphous, enigmatic “writer’s block” is in reality some specific, concrete obstruction we haven’t sussed out is important because it’s the first step to finding a solution. So next time you’re having a hard time writing—or doing anything difficult—think about what exactly the problem is and whether there might be a better way to do things. It’s obvious advice, but easy to forget when you’re neck-deep in a problem and trying to defeat it by sheer force of will.

    And if any of your problems are the same as mine, consider giving outlining a try.


    1. I use OmniOutliner, which is great, but a text editor is adequate. Microsoft Word is surprisingly good because there are keyboard shortcuts to move selected text up and down or change its indentation level. 

    2. As the saying goes, when you really need a nail, you look at anything and wonder if you could bang it into a board using a hammer. 

     
  7. "Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use."

    This same insight is a big part of why I left corporate life to pursue a life of making things.

    Worth watching even if you’re not a fan of Jobs.

     
  8. Computer dopamine monkey mind

    I’ve been meditating every day (more recently, twice a day) for nearly half a year now. When I sit, I watch the panoply of perceptions, thoughts, and emotions darting across my mind and they gradually slow down until I can perceive them as they arise in succession instead of being swept up in them willy-nilly. The more I sit, the more it transforms my experience of life throughout the day and the easier it gets for me to catch myself when I get caught up in a vortex of unskillful thought or action.

    For me the most dangerous of these vortices, in terms of productivity loss, has been mindless computer use. It’s easy to get sucked into the computer because there are so many unpredictable sources of stimuli in front of you, from email and Facebook to Twitter and blogs. The reward we get from these sources is variable—we find only some of the messages and content we see interesting—and research on operant conditioning has shown that variable rewards are the most motivating. It’s the same reason why gambling is so addictive. And as we get addicted to these stimuli, we learn the cues associated with these rewards, so that all it takes to trigger a dopamine rush is a little red circle with a number in it.

    As I’ve become more mindful I’ve started to notice what happens in my mind when I get caught up in these stimuli. It’s the same thing that happens when you get caught up in anything: your attention is drawn to one thing, another thing, and then another thing before you have a chance to become aware of the process and pull yourself out of it. In Buddhism this phenomenon of a hyperactive, wandering mind is called the monkey mind. We don’t need a computer in order to space out and lose track of ourselves this way, but nothing can amplify the monkey mind quite like the internet. Whenever we’re finally done with some distraction there’s always a whole screenful of posts and messages, indicators and alerts, each beckoning us back into its own rabbit hole.

    There’s no silver bullet for this, no easy antidote. You can make it easier on yourself by rearranging your windows like I did so you’re less likely to be distracted. And you can make rules about when you need to focus and when you can take a break, so you know when you need to catch yourself and when you can let yourself go. But short of quitting every form of electronic communication and content there’s no way to get rid of all these stimuli. Ultimately you have to notice when you’re starting to space out on the internet—or even better, before you do—and stop. But it’s also all you have to do.

    Just notice. And stop. It helps if you have a reason to stop, like if you’re trying to work on something you care about finishing. And the more you do it, the easier it’ll be1.

    It’s fitting that the most powerful productivity tool of all time brings with it one of the greatest dangers to productivity too. But it’s nothing a little mindfulness can’t handle.


    1. Meditating helps too. 

     
  9. Brett Kelly:

    The tools you need to do great, amazing things are sitting right in front of you. You’re probably using the same tools to read these words.

    All you need is an idea and some elbow grease. You already have everything else.

    Amen.

     
  10. 09:22

    Notes: 18

    Tags: enterprisehumor

    Enterprise nerds have no sense of humor

    TechCrunch’s Alexia Tsotsis covering SAP’s $3.4B purchase of SuccessFactors:

    I think this means that it provides enterprise software for human resources, but you can never be too sure with these incredibly dull companies. I am too bored to Google it. In fact, I am literally bored to tears writing this, like I am seriously crying here in my local coffee shop and everyone is looking at me weird and I just want to show them this press release so they’ll understand or something.

    Funniest thing I’ve read all week.

    Naturally, hordes of people have been whining on the comments, and for some reason enterprise IT consultant John Appleby’s criticism has been spreading on Twitter despite its inanity:

    Don’t write a crap piece of journalism and then follow it up with “I was just being honest” on Twitter – and then delete the Twitter post.

    This guy probably watched Borat and thought it was a crap documentary.

    If you compare Facebook even by their own metrics, they are still insignificant compared to the behemoth that is SAP.

    Right after a table where he lists SAP and Facebook’s revenues at $4B and $12.64B and profits at $1B and $1.16B respectively.

    …Facebook has not proven that it has a sustainable market model.

    See above. Plus, Facebook has been cash flow-positive since 2009.

    These people need to lighten up. There’s plenty of good coverage elsewhere1, and enterprise isn’t TechCrunch’s (or Tsotsis’s) focus anyway.


    1. See the links at the bottom. Warning: they’re incredibly boring.