All posts by Doctor Mike Reddy

Well that didn’t go so well

It’s the end of the first day, and I’ve downloaded FaceBook, Twitter and WordPress and played with IE9 and Bing.
Social Apps
Both FaceBook and Twitter are pretty much what you’d expect. However, neither is really as smooth as their more polished Apple equivalents, with performance issues (stuttering scrolls) and annoying refresh problems making it hard to keep track; these were problems on the iPhone too one or two versions ago.
Well, actually this is more about the keyboard. It’s early days but generally I like the portrait keys better than the iPhone. However, the location of the Delete key seems to be annoyingly close to the CR key. After some practice I’ll probably not notice.
Bloody BING!
Which brings me to BING. I’m sorry, but it’s just a pile of crap. What makes it worse is that it has a dedicated button right there, which you cannot yet reallocate and gets hit accidentally ALL the time! The main reason I don’t like BING, apart from the fact its search is poor, is all the sponsored ads that jump all over the place. If I could remove it entirely I would. Google Search is now installed 🙂
Headphone Woes
Finally, my Sony in ear headphones are incompatible with WP7 because the mic doesn’t work 🙁
So, it looks like I’ll have to buy some new ones.
FaceBook and Twitter 6/10
Keyboard 7/10
Headphones 1/10
Camera and other stuff

OK… here we go!

Well, after receiving a nice WP7 phone to do some XNA development on, and my iPhone 4 nearing the end of its contract, and looking for a new mobile provider, and generally feeling uncomfortable with “how well” Apple devices have slotted into, and shaped my existence, I’ve decided to see if I *can* transfer all the services and conveniences that iTunes and three generations of iPhone have given me, to alternative platforms. First off, it is the Nokia Lumex 800, so the front facing camera I’m used to (occasionally) using has gone; if you had the new 900 this would be fixed, but this was a freebie, so I can’t complain.

The Nokia headphones provided are TERRIBLE, not fitting my ears at all (HTC ones are no better, sadly). Having said that, the Apple default ones are awful too and I generally buy Sony “in ear” headphones, as they help with my hearing impairment – too much head banging in my YOOFF – but the lack of on mic volume buttons means the Nokia ones HAVE TO GO! So, one change I won’t accept, but one I’d effectively already made anyway. In fact, I think over the years I have spent about a whole phone’s worth of money buying replacement headphones; this is not an exaggeration, as I’ve kept all of the various broken headphones for some art piece I may eventually get round to. So far, either an earpiece starts buzzing, or makes no sound, or is wrenched off, or the mic breaks or the plug cable wears out. I am a HEAVY podcast listener, clocking in at over 20 hours a week, so it is understandable that I will get through them at an alarming rate, but it is frustrating how expensive headphones are, when bought separately. So, the Sony MDR-EX38iP are recommended as they tend to last a few weeks longer than most, especially because the phone jack is a right angle type, rather than sticking annoyingly out to get caught and bent and broken in trouser pockets.

iTunes Withdrawal
Which leads me to the first and most major hurdle with letting go of my iPhone 4! As I said, I have a rather voracious podcast habit – mostly science, games, technology and occasional audio books – and while many slate iTunes, it is a damned convenient way to subscribe and manage podcasts, and is cross-platform; I have macs at home and a mix of windows and macs at work, but we have a few iPhones, as well as various iPods in use daily, so currently the home iMac is the default location of my audio. The first major stage then, apart from unlocking the iPhone 4 so it can go to my wife when (if?) I manage to wean myself off it, is getting my podcasts either from iTunes to the Nokia, or reproducing my subscriptions in Zune Marketplace, which many podcasts feed into. The latter is difficult as it involves me setting up a PC as my hub for the phone, but the former is a kludge, even with the new, greatly improved Mac Connector software:

So, let’s take the apparently easier path of using Mac Connector with my existing iTunes files. Mac Connector makes this relatively simple, but already I’ve got a problem. My iPhone 4 is 32GB, but the Nokia is 16GB… Time to selectively choose what podcasts I can have on the phone. Firstly, the interface for choosing what podcasts to sync to the phone is not that dissimilar to what you’d get in iTunes. However, a live feed of file size estimation is missing, until after the sync is complete. So, it’s trial and error as to whether you have picked too much content to fit onto the limited memory. Syncing also still seems MUCH slower, as the files used to be uploaded each time, rather than intelligently recognised as already being there. However, it appears that this has been fixed in the new version; doesn’t explain why it’s still slow though. And, unlike the iPhone 4, you cannot access audio while the phone is syncing, but have to unplug it from the computer. However, even quitting the Mac Connector software doesn’t release the phone functionality, which is problematic if you are trying to charge the phone at the same time! 🙁

I already have a problem, I suspect, because I’m not entirely sure if listening on the Nokia will flag to iTunes that the file has been “played”, but syncing is set to all unplayed files; I’ve already had to cut down by at least 50% what I am putting on the phone already. If Mac Connector doesn’t “set” played files for iTunes, then that is another manual task that may need completing… Let’s see, shall we…!

Talking of syncing, anyone who knows me has probably heard my rather distinctive ring tone, which I have carried since I first had a Sony Ericsson P900: It merely states in a female voice, ” is anybody there? “, which always raises a smile. However, Mac Connect has an odd idea of what is a compatible ring tone. So, I need to change hello.m4r to hello.m4a in Quicktime player, then reimport to iTunes and create an mp3 version. THEN get it onto the phone… we’ll have to wait until the podcast syncing has finished to try that.

While we’re waiting, I am looking forward to the MS Office app on the phone, as I get stupid amounts of word attachments on my work email, and being able to see stuff the way colleagues do will be an advantage. And the lack of games (sic) means it will be harder to distract me 🙂 Mind you, I HAVE to have Twitter, WordPress, and Facebook to be truly diverted. So, it’s a good thing that these are there, even if the first is rather different to what I am used to.

Right, it’s all synced and backed up now. So,let’s listen to a short podcast, in this case the BBC World Service “60 Second Idea to Change the World”, which is understandably a rather brief programme. The first thing to notice is a big “subscribe” button. Hey, maybe I can go iTunes FREE! We’ll have to see. However, the big problem I am immediately aware of is the lack of 2x play speed. Now, if you haven’t clicked yet, I listen to A LOT of podcasts, and one of the ways I do this is by using the double speed playback that iPhones allow. This does take some getting used to, but after your brain speeds up to the rapid flow of speech – rather like visiting Italy and learning Italian! – it is PAINFUL to listen at 1x playback speed as everyone seems to be speaking S O S L O W L Y! General impressions of the podcast playback, apart from the lack of double speed, is that fast forward doesn’t allow sped up audio, like the Apple playback, and on the Nokia at least, FF makes files fly past in a way that is much too quick to be really useful. Not a major thing, but this leads to my first KILLER APP idea for WP7: a decent player that can access the podcasts on the phone, but able to play at variable speeds, such as 1.5x or 2x as well as allowing FF and Rewind review of the audio. I am amazed that there is no decent podcast playback app in the marketplace.

OK, after listening, then syncing again, something sort of works in flagging files as played in iTunes, but the last played date/time is not set; not a major problem although it does make it slightly harder to see what files have been listened to, with the only indication being the far left blue ball icon. In that respect, this is also a great improvement on the first generation of Mac Connect.

Headphones functionality 6/10 (no on mic volume control; a clearly slower response to pressing the button; no option to shuffle based on double click.)

iTunes functionality 7/10 (this score based on Mac Connect, which has notably improved since I first checked it last year)

Podcast functionality 5/10 (mostly because of playback speed; no audio review option; inability to change order of podcasts in interface)

Next time
Getting my Social Apps ON!

My review of Reviews of Fez

Ok, here’s my take on @polytron and Fez. But first a disclaimer: I haven’t finished the game. But I won’t be posting links to other reviews, even though this is a piece about those reviews (Google them). But there’s a reason I feel qualified to comment. But before I explain that I’m going to summarise in one sentence so the haters can jump in to the comment section:

“Fez is about losing childhood.”

But am i ready yet to do the growing up?

Many reviews focus on the mechanics – retro 8 it platformer reflecting the days were games were real games and hard – or the multi-layered “get everyone talking in the playground (Internet forum?)” under the surface content. Some think it clever this is concealed (though what truly is when “walkthrough” is one of the most used word in search engines?) while others worry people “won’t get it”. Still a few naysayers accuse Phil Fish, who is invariably described as “outspoken” or linked to the GDC Japan games thing (Google it), of cunning manipulation. Of course, what’s always worse than a smart arse is a successful smart arse.

So, let’s take a look at what I have gleaned from “Fez: The Review: The Game” (FTRTG), which unlike “Fez: The Movie” (aka the Indie Game Movie that stubbornly resists being torrentable, and will only be shown once in the UK in Sheffield this year :-(so I’m not holding much hope of seeing any time soon) or “Fez: The Game”, which remains firmly unfinished (see my second but). Because I AM finished with FTRTG. All the various takes on Fez in print and web seem to each miss a different but important element – author’s blindspot, limited space or deadlines? – and only reading a selection can you see a growing theme. Like Gomez suddenly being aware of his 2D existence, but having a limited pallet to manipulate it, and his journey of discovery in a frankly bewildering world, I feel (yes, feel) there’s a metaphor here to our own childhood’s end (mistaken for nostalgia by many reviewers). It also cleverly refers to the mainstreamification of Games into modern culture. However, the obvious (and sometimes subtle) references aren’t only to games as some have suggested: the NYT review references meaningless hyroglyphs translated as “Help I’m a prisoner in a Fez factory” but fails to spot homage to a great children’s book “Help I’m a prisoner in a toothpaste factory” sadly, and there are other missed connections to innocent times. Fez is far deeper than many will give credit for. Maybe not deliberately on Polytron’s part, although I suspect it is, but this is, by the external requirements – QR codes, cyphers, and a (deliberately?) confusing multidimensional map – the players’ hero’s journey NOT that of Gomez.

Fez is an impressive addition to the canon of games that will require me to keep digging, and trying to not type “walkthrough” into Google. My only regret is the ephemeral nature of its meta content: will we still be able to use the QR codes in 20 years? it might take me that long, and a series of red rings, to fathom it all.

I did not like (Dan Golding’s review of ) Fez

It all started with a tweet:

@dangolding: I did not like Fez. Here’s why:

Something about the controversial title didn’t sit right. Checking it out, I couldn’t help feeling it was more rhetoric than reason. After reading the ‘review’ I replied on twitter asking Dan where it was going. It seemed nowhere. Dan asked if I thought his critique was unjustified. So, I said I’d read it again.

It read as a bash Fez for no reason emotional attack. Rather than calm me down, maybe think I’d over-reacted, it just made me feel more angry. So, I commented with a fairly inflammatory response. Go read his post first, and the “me too” comments; no doubt by now others may have sprung to defend him. Maybe they’re right, but something about this article is not right. Anyway, in case my reply has gone to moderator’s hell, here below is my comment on his article reproduced.

Like a previous poster, I’m going to quote this:

“But Gomez’s smile is empty and hollow. It is less a naive expression of nostalgia than it is a simpering, mincing appeal. He has nothing else to say, so he just grins.”

but not in order to praise the author. More than anything else, this piece of rhetoric belies the fact that this is a one dimensional opinion piece, playing on the topicality of attacking what is currently getting (undeserved?) praise. It’s not big, and it’s not clever. It’s just the first to burst the Fez hype balloon; like the mainstream media’s habit of building up, then tearing down people through the currency of celebrity.

The overwhelming (if temporary) love fest (fezt?) that is the specialist game journalism coverage of this long awaited Fish product is as much his creation as the game itself; wheels within wheels of viral marketing that shows a credible awareness of the culture of game and how its members can be manipulated. However, if people are happy to be gently massaged, or creatively led through a series of superficial mysteries, who are we to judge. It just makes Fish’s achievement that much more canny. This isn’t shallow propaganda, it’s effective and clever marketing.

The author introduces the idea of “smart” indie games without justification, then straw man argues against his own categorisation as judgemental, then states that all video games would not stand up to Ballet, should we slip down the slope of cultural comparison.


Most reviews of Fez appear to be joyful description of play, rather than actual critique – for example – but this article presents itself as a critique:
@dangolding: I did not like Fez. Here’s why:

@DoctorMikeReddy: @dangolding ok, but what next. Your piece starts but doesn’t end. Where should we go?

@dangolding: @DoctorMikeReddy Well, it’s a critique, not a manifesto. I don’t want to dictate directions so much as analyze current trends.
*** Twitter ***

However, there is no meaningful analysis or identification of trends. It just resorts to a superficial description of what it describes as nostalgia, namely jumping and rotating, which doesn’t “say” anything.

Phil Fish doesn’t need to say anything; given his recent GDC running off at the mouth, this is probably a good thing. However, he maybe does need to “work the room” to make sales – something we should openly debate – and this he has done with remarkable success. To attack elements of the game instead of debating Fish’s multi-pronged technique to build interest in a long in the tooth product, just comes across as jealousy. Perhaps Dan resents the effectiveness of this manipulation, as I can’t see any other reasonable explanation for the vitriol. I can understand this, if it is accurate, but let’s call a spade a spade. Fez encourages a sense of (often bewildering) exploration, both within and without the game. A depth Dan’s article would do well to emulate.

Plagiarism is just what we do!

Subscribers to this blog may know that while I teach Computer Game Programming, I’ve had a long involvement in plagiarism in Academia, mostly through sitting on various national committees as well as actively campaigning for understanding why it occurs, rather than just blindly penalising it. Plagiarism is more of a hobby* than an actual research area for me, but through accident as much as design I have been in a position to influence the attitude of fellow teachers throughout the World. So, this article by @dantheduck, “Plagiarism as a moral choice”, which looks at the real world pressure to “clone” the work of others, is the collision of two normally separate worlds:
A Servant of Two Masters
The allusion to copying prior to it being considered a “crime” was/is refreshing. It brings home to me the value of working with creative “clay” rather than descriptive “pen” for assessment:

A) it’s hard to plagiarise an assignment when you are building rather than writing, and easy to spot copying when under the process of creation is missing.
B) it’s impossible in the medium to not encode traditional interactions, so novelty stands out, but competent copying is itself an achievement.**
C) on a vocational course – increasingly en vogue with this Government – competence is preferable to creativity for employers at least.

In the game industry, copying is difficult and is financially, if not morally, superior. There have been few legal battles over stolen content, ideas, techniques, compared to Art, Film and Literature. Creativity seems to be when copying produces better results than the original. The question is not whether but how much to copy.

It’s not theft it’s reuse

There is far more “recycling” in this industry than many others. Partly this is perceived as market-driven – as The Jam lyrics claim, “The Public wants what the Public gets!” – and in part is technical; film companies don’t tend to need to re-implement cinemas each time they make a movie. However, code reuse, if not level design, should be encouraged. And predictable user expectations for interaction – WASD anyone? – make game play straight-forward; there isn’t a BookFAQs web site explaining how to proceed with Lord of the Rings P1 by “turning the page and starting at the top of page 2” as far as I know.

Or is there?

Is the 90/10 copied to new ratio an extreme example of “standing on the shoulders of giants” ?

* I’ve tried to keep away from becoming a mainstream plagiarism researcher because I didn’t want to sink into depression.

** I tell my students each year that copying – i.e. reproducing in their own code – Miamoto’s 6502 assembler implementation of Mario’s jump in Super Mario Brothers is the ultimate challenge.

What motivates me?

I’d like to write a really short post today (late)… (as usual)… and leave you with a question to ponder:

“What motivates me?”

And I’d like to leave you with a cartoon I discovered recently, which keeps haunting me. Particularly the last frame. It’ll be down there at the end of this short post. Go now if you don’t want the preachy, uninformed, ivory tower like stuff.

You see, I have developer’s block. I have three games that are hideously late. Mostly due to the unexpected complexity of needing to make them ‘editable’ as well as ‘educational’ and ‘excellent’ (of course, we need the last one, otherwise these will be three very worthy educational games that no one will want to play). And I also have to write a huge report explaining why the games are late, why that isn’t a bad thing, as we are discovering all sorts of interesting things about the process of writing educational games that actually are educational and games. And this report writing is, ironically, stopping me from finishing the games. However, it is important. Without the report, the second year of funding – the most important part, the testing of the games with teachers, parents and students – won’t happen. So, hopefully you will forgive this brief bit of work avoidance. Now I have to get back to writing the report, getting the funding, enabling the really important stuff to happen; namely the actual testing of games to see if they make a difference, rather than just on paper sounding like they will. Of a two year project, only 3 months to make 6 games. Six games that can be adapted, modified, extended and used in ways we don’t really expect. No wonder we are a bit behind schedule.

Anyway, here’s the cartoon. I promised it. Afterwards, think what motivates you. Is it 5 minutes of playing a quick game level after an hour of programming? Is it a cup of coffee and cake? What is it that you do, when you should be doing something else, and the deadline whizzed past ages ago? What is your lizard brain reward? What is it that you do when you are tired of playing games?

Reality is Borken* – How do we avoid the ‘Workification’ of Game Programming

For whatever reason, I was thinking of the Matrix just now**, and it hit me: All this talk of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and encouraging programming in schools was an embodiment of the needs of the parents/Government/IT Sector and not really that of the children. In the Matrix, Neo (and other escapees from a manufactured delusion) fight a system that wants them put in a pod, unwittingly contributing to a global economy – as batteries in the film, but you get what I mean – where even the illusion of personal choice is manufactured.

We need coders, lots of coders

Ian Livingstone OBE, life president of Eidos and recent recipient of a well deserved Develop Award for a lifetime achievement in Games, as well as some other guy (!) published the Livingstone-Hope Review eight months ago, which has been covered in great detail

Progress from this has been ‘slow’ if his recent presentation at the Develop Conference in Brighton in July is anything to go by, despite Michael Gove, UK Education Secretary, recently declaring that Games offer “huge potential for maths and science teaching”

Livingstone-Hope declared:

“Computer science must be part of the school national curriculum. The current curriculum includes ICT, but the authors of the report argue that ICT, with its focus on every day applications such as word processing, does not teach the valuable computer programming knowledge that is vital to high-tech industries such as videogames and visual effects.”


“Young people must be given more opportunity to study art and technology together.”

but both of these rely on what my tutor at Leeds, Dan McDade***, used to call a “utopian indicative”: if more children are exposed to ‘proper’ Computer Science in schools there will be a sudden and impressive flood of kids wanting to go into IT careers. It might be right. Might.

…it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself

The imposed homogeneity of a National Curriculum has been with us a long time – I decided to leave school teaching as a result of this and other silliness in the late 80s – but, sadly, there is no waking up from this particular rabbit hole. Even in universities, where you might assume because students have elected to be there, institutional pragmatism as well as ‘customer’ expectations dictate a passive sameness in Higher Education; this will only get worse as HE is increasingly commercialised. Students and staff alike are fearful of opportunities to diversify, for a variety of reasons. It’s hard to assess when there isn’t a level playing field. Learners are often ill-equipped to be pro-active in their own education. Everyone longs for the easy life of spoon-feeding, and those that fight it, face poor feedback, more headaches and longer hours.

…I can dodge bullets? …when you’re ready, you won’t have to.

The trick, of course, is to keep the ‘cool’ (if any beyond novelty) of games and, more challengingly, programming because of the huge difference between choosing what (and whether) to play and the stranger task of designing/making/coding games. Part of the problem is the big gap between what children can reasonably program and the polished products that they are used to consuming. The other issue is what I call ‘Workification’; the consistent transforming of something fun and creative into mindless drudgery by well-meaning, possibly desperate educators, trying to make important skills relevant to an apparently disaffected youth.

Tonight, Ian Livingstone is touting the Next Gen initiative, which is the update showing what has happened post Livingstone-Hope, due at the end of October but being raised on NewsNight early next week according to Livingstone:

Ian Livingstone (@ian_livingstone)
07/10/2011 15:41
Newsnight running a feature on Next Gen report on 10 October ahead of the response. Hope Mr Gove watches!

There are, apparently lots of positives, but I feel were we in HE have the biggest contribution to make is in supporting teacher continuing professional development (CPD) and training for the new beyond ICT curricula that the Creative Technology agenda will be asking for. That’s where I will be putting my efforts!


I’m thinking of writing a book, “Reality is Borken”, in which I expound at length about how amazingly creative technologies have been squandered in Education by being over-hyped, over-used and under-evaluated. Somehow, I don’t think Jane McGonigal is going to be writing the Foreword.

    * credit to Corrado Morgana, a colleague at my university for inspiring this title. Otherwise, I’d have gone with “Reality is NOT broken”, which doesn’t have the same ring.
    ** This is a classic case of work avoidance, because I started all this with a complety different altdevblog idea!
    *** Dan, if you’re reading this, I’ve forgiven you now for losing (and subsequently not marking) one of my PGCE essays, costing me the Distinction I was working towards. It taught me a lot, that particular lesson.

The ants pick the food, the ants eat the food, and the grasshoppers leave.

“Universities have been bashed over quality, relevance and value of computer games courses for too long. Like complaining that a cafe’s food is disgusting and the portion’s too small, now even schools appear to Gove, Livingstone, Hope and Braben et al to be failing. By turns it’s either too many or too few games, not enough programming, etc, that is to blame for the lack of a stream of compliant, skilled workers streaming from HE into the dark Satanic Mill of game development. Well, Education’s had enough. We aren’t training sweatshops. We don’t teach skills, we teach people. Now bog off and let us do our job!”

This is the summary and abstract for a talk I will be giving at Brains Eden in Cambridge on Monday 11th July.

The title is a quote from “A Bug’s Life”, but few know it was based not only on Kursowa’s “The Seven Samurai” (aka “The Magnificent Seven”) but also on one of my favourite Aesop’s Fables, The Ant and the Grasshopper, where an individual of a playful nature does little to sustain his existence, then expects to long serving collective to support him with resources.

The analogy should be clear. Ok, yes, this IS meant to be controverial. Deliberately so, as the organisers have asked me to be. For the past couple of years Games Eden have organised ‘Brains Eden’, a gaming festival designed to bring together industry, academia and students. This year it will revolve around a 48-hour Game Jam hosted at Anglia Ruskin University, with representatives from the local companies speaking on Monday on a range of subjects. However, what the schedule seemed to be missing was someone from academia to do a 15 minute talk; “the livelier and more controversial the subject matter the better.”

It’s a double edged sword, this “rocking the boat” malarkey. Not one I am unfamiliar with, even outside of games, having singlehandedly destroyed Higher Education on at least one occasion – according to the Daily Mail
and the Telegraph, though (sadly) not the News of the World – or started a revolution in 21st century university assessment – according to the Times Higher Ed Supplement (THES) and the Guardian – it’s cleary time to don the asbestos suit again. However, this time it has been planned. There is much that is right, or potentially so, with Industry getting involved with HE, although why anyone would think that some form of company sponsored national curriculum was a good idea I don’t know, or even with computer games revolutionising Education generally. So this blog post is more about airing the subject for debate. A proto rant. Do you think the Brabens, Livingstones and Hopes of this World are right? That we should return to an 80s (Thatcherite) approach to teaching programming in schools, in the forelorn hope it will ignite a new generation of bedroom coders – just like it didn’t in the actual 80s? Or that HE has been doing such a bad job of fitting the loyalty chips in the necks of serfs bound for indentured servitude at the nearest Triple-A studio that Industry, which has little or no pedagogical expertise or interest beyond easing the recruitment/staff turnover (burnout?) problem, should step in and “well and truly sort us out!” If so, comment here. It’ll all be good ammunition or target practice for me, when next week I’m thrown to the Lionheads; see what I did there?

It’s not just about Games, it’s far less serious than that.