Monday, January 26, 2009


I forgot to put an update in my last post about how I got on with wading through the mass of things I wanted to consume while on holiday. I know it's not terribly interesting for most people, but what is a blog good for if not me writing about things that I like? And if you're not that bothered you probably wouldn't be reading my half-arsed ramblings anyway.

I got through most of the books in was intending to read: Bye Bye Balham, which is a collection of a few months' worth of Richard Herring's Warming Up, and is very funny, and also strangely reassuring (the book contains notes made during its compilation, so with five years' worth of hindsight); The Dunwich Horror and Other Stories. The works of Lovecraft are one of those things that I've heard referenced a lot in design circles, but never got around to dipping in to, and I'm glad that I have now, because it was very good; Instructions for Living Someone Else's Life, which is probably now my second favourite Mil Millington book, and though it was funny it also made me think about people's perspectives on life.

I also re-started Design of Everything Things. I find the book very dry, and combined with the dated nature of a number of examples, it becomes a slog. In the end I think I have given up, again. At around the same point I did the first time, judging by the overturned corners. I guess a beachy paradise island just isn't the place to read about how doors are stupidly designed.

What I did find funny was that afterwards I was playing PicPic on the DS (sorry, I've just noticed that this simple puzzle game is selling for £47 on's marketplace. Professor Layton - the first one, for any inter-continental readers, since someone's dragging their feet at releasing them over here - was in a similar situation just before Christmas, are companies vastly under-rating now many carts they need to burn?) and it's clear the designers haven't thought about the interface much at all.

For example, in the Magipix game (sort of like Minesweeper in that you mark squares one of two colours depending on the value of an adjacent tile), there is no way of telling which face button will turn a tile each colour, you have to use trial and error. This is down to the colours being laid out horizontally on the touch screen (when using the stylus controls, you tap the colour you want to change your pen to), which don't map to the control pad at all. Would it really have been hard to find the space to lay out the colours in a cross formation? Probably not, it just wasn't thought about. Even after a few hours of playing, I was still finding that I had to pause and think about which button mapped to which colour, due entirely to this poor design.

Another interface problem that struck me was that the three games contained in PicPic use different controls for similar features - to delete a placed link in one game you have to place the cursor over the number, and hold the 'paint' button down. Whereas in another game to empty a square you press a 'clear' face button. And the controls for moving your cursor to a different point in the maze game seem entirely random.

Oh yes, it uses a horrible font for the numbers in the games, too.

Since getting back from holiday I've been thoroughly immersing myself in the grey bleakness of the non-tropical world by watching Saw and Saw 2. I am truly ahead of the curve when it comes to movies (though, and sorry to keep banging on about my holiday, but ... actually I'm not, on the plane home the Jason Statham "Death Race" remake was on the in flight entertainment. I was going to atch it, but it was preceded by a message saying that it had been edited for content, and I figured that in a movie called Death Race, the only bits I would really be interested in watching are going to be the ones that would be cut. So I almost watched a fairly recent movie).

Back to Saw... I'd seen the 3rd one which made very little sense to me, and thought I should catch up on the first two, which were meant to be better. The first one was, but the second has a bit too much of the psychic serial killer thing going on, where the actions of half a dozen unstable individuals would have to have been predicated accuractely for the outcome to turn out how Jigsaw wanted.

Anyway, after watching them I was thinking that the series would fit pretty well into a video game. A torture porn version of Professor Layton, where you have to solve puzzles and work out solutions to traps within a time limit or people die. I think it would have legs (unlike probably half of the people in the game by the time it was over). And they're clearly willing to bend and whore the IP a little bit - I mean, who doesn't watch a horror movie and think "wow, what I'd really like to do is ride a roller coaster based entirely around this?".

PS - I just saw the trailer video for Section 8, which looks incredibly generic, but this line did make me laugh "Section 8 are elite shock troops, top-grade insertion specialists". I mean, if you're going to specialise in insertion, I guess focussing on top-grade makes sense.

PPS - It was my birthday recently and amongst the presents, I got pretty much the entire new Lego Pirate range. That's where the banner picture comes from. Lego is ace, and anyone who says a grown man shouldn't be playing with it is just a stinkyface who should bum right off. Sorry if the post title and picture led you to think this was going to be another fascinating industry rant about piracy.

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