Monday, November 23, 2015

"What is that thing in your logo?"

2016 will mark the 20 year anniversary of ToddWorld. 20 years...ON THE WEB! While I await for some historical organization to send me my virtual historical marker plaque to celebrate the special occasion, I figured I'd address a question I often get.

"What is that thing in your logo?"

Honestly, from the standpoint of a graphic designer, it's probably a question you don't want frequently asked. I mean, if you have to visually explain your logo, then you probably did something wrong. And we are.

The Origin

When I was first designing ToddWorld, I wanted it to be different somehow. I didn't want to create a website like all the others. The concept I locked onto was that of a children's illustrated storybook. You know, the kind with a large image followed by a single line of story, then turn the page. I decided I would create a website that scrolled horizontally (sideways), instead of up and down. 

I drew a bunch of illustrations of locations like a movie theater, a rocket launchpad, a weird art gallery, and a laboratory.

Size reduced to show the horizontal scaling.

At that time, the ToddWorld logo was simply a logotype, a handwritten set of letters I had created. But the more I worked on the original site, the more the idea of a laboratory clicked with me. I'm always experimenting and trying out new things. I liked the scientific implications that it suggested while at the same time the illustration has this huge, looney toons telescope jutting out of one side, pointing toward the sky. The lab is about being brave enough to try something different. It's about looking at the details with a microscope, or looking to the future with a telescope.

When it was time to roll out a new design for ToddWorld, I'd decided to go a different direction with the site, but I still wanted to keep some piece of the style from the original site. The choice of what to keep was pretty easy, the laboratory would move on while the launchpad, the gallery, and the movie theater would become history.

Since then, the laboratory and the logo have gone through a number of iterations. Some with color, others without. I've even created "Seasonal" versions for the holidays and such.

At one point I was even asked by David Copperfield if he could take the logo and use it as a logo for his secret magic museum. While I was flattered, and appreciated the question I recommended that there may be something better out there to serve as the logo.

These days the color and the detailed line art of the original lab are all gone. All that's left is the silhouette of the lab itself. 

And while it's easy to argue that just the silhouette is not a clear mark or that it's not easy to identify, it does seem to represent me just fine.

So there you have it, that's how the ToddWorld logo evolved. Is it perfect? No, far from it, much like me.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Coding isn't Coding Anymore

You know what I miss about programming, or at least what I miss about learning a new programming language? All the....programming. Modern technology has fundamentally changed the way we learn how to program, and I'm not sure it's for the better.

The Old Days...

I began coding when I was 8. The first computer language I learned was BASIC on our brand new TRS-80 model 1 (complete with a total of 14k memory).

"How did we learn to program back in 1978?", you may ask. The internet wasn't around, at least not in the common form it is today. You couldn't turn on the TV and order your "How to Program in BASIC DVD" video course for $19.99. There weren't any schools or classes available in most places. So how was one ever to learn the joys of seeing your name scroll endlessly across a black and white computer screen?  We read books and magazines, made lots of mistakes, and experimented like crazy.

I had a bookshelf full of books like "Programming BASIC", "50 Great Games for your TRS-80", or "Basic BASIC: An Introduction to Computer Programming". Inside these pages were not only basic lessons on programming, but they also included the actual programming code for dozens of games. Pages after pages of code, hundreds if not thousands of lines of computer programming code.

As a kid, the biggest problem in the early days of home computing was finding interesting things to do with your new high tech computer. There were only a handful (yes, a SINGLE handful) of games available at the tiny local computer store...if you were lucky enough to have one nearby. And there was no xBox Live or PlayStation Network where you could browse and download the latest games.

At best, if you were lucky enough to have a modem and the right phone numbers and login, you might be able to hit an online bulletin board and download a program or two from there.

Unfortunately for me, our family never splurged on the modem hardware.

The process for learning a programming language back then was relatively simple, you read the lessons that explained the basics, then you put the lessons to use by typing in and debugging actual code. After a few lessons, and thousands of lines of code, you may start to experiment with things on your own. You'd experiment with how you thought things were going to work, and then try to figure out why they didn't.

I spent countless nights (and early mornings) spending the night at a friend's house where we would take turns entering thousands of lines of code so we could play a simple game on his computer.

That was it. That was just how it was done. It was very similar to the same method of learning any new language; like Spanish or French. First you learn the basics and structure. Then you memorize and practice with common pre-built words and phrases before setting off on your own and trying to put together your own sentences. Then you try to figure out how you ended up at the library when you asked for directions to the restroom.

These Days

Today the process is quite a bit different. Want to build a game today? No problem. There is a plethora of game development software to choose from. Many of which include drag and drop interfaces and don't require any actual coding at all. Many have online stores where you can purchase extra extensions and plug-ins that give you added functionality if you wanted to do something outside the scope of the default development software.

Even if you were to do a little coding yourself it only takes a few smart searches online to find extra pre-build libraries and code snippets that you can instantly download that allow you to easily add that missing complex functionality in your game.

While all of this software and easy access to cut-and-paste code libraries has no doubt made the process of making games easier and faster, I'm not sure it's a helpful tool toward learning. In fact, it's completely possible to create your own game without learning a single thing about programming. While I agree it's much "faster and easier"...I don't feel "faster and easier" make it "better" in the long run. As a result, this is creating a world with many more games, but many fewer programmers. That seems a shame, in a world that's relying more and more on digital interfaces and computers.

Without knowing how the code works, you limit yourself to the features provided. Personally, I hate being limited.

My Challenge to Those Making Games 

I'm not trying to say, "Making games is a waste of time." or that "Game engines are bad.". I feel quite the opposite in fact, making games can be incredibly valuable on many levels. But for those that are making games and don't know anything about programming, let me suggest taking a step back and programming a little by hand before jumping directly to the drag-and-drop interfaces. Take the time to step through some coding tutorials in whatever language you are using. If you use snippets of code from the web then at the very least copy the code yourself by hand instead of resorting to copy and paste. If you're using a library then take a little time examine how the library is constructed, and figure out "why". Who knows, you may even find ways to improve it. 

Will it take more time? Yes. Will you have to work through some frustrations? Absolutely. But I promise you'll get more out of the experience in the long run.

Drag-and-drop game engines, downloadable code libraries, and plug-ins are great for speeding up development of applications. But don't deny yourself the opportunity to expand your knowledge so that the tools that you use don't become the barriers to what you want to do.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

A Moment of Serious Talk

I'm a teacher, and I take my job very seriously.

Don't let the fact that I'm standing on top of this desk surrounded by my students be any reason to question my sanity or sincerity. Do not mistake for a moment that the loudness and laughter coming from this classroom is a sign of chaos or confusion. What you're actually hearing is engagement and excitement fueled by genuine curiosity and wonder.

On any given day, if you peek into my classroom, you'll probably find me sporting a t-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes. But don't for an instant, question my professionalism. Professionalism is not printed on a tie or sewn into a seam. It's not a brand name found on the inside of a collar or a cuff. And if something about my t-shirt creates a connection with a student, which leads to a genuine conversation, which in turn helps me build a relationship with that student so that I can better understand his or her needs in the future, then I will wear that t-shirt every single week...or until we find something better to talk about.

My job is not about worksheets, or quizzes, homework or tests. It's about questioning the reason, not memorizing the answers. It's about examining the journey, not simply bubbling in the destination. It is about raising the standards, not shooting for some predetermined number on a politicians napkin. Because innovation will never be found in answer A, B, C, or D, and true success can't be measured on a scale of 1 to 100; Not when the opportunities for greatness are found so much higher, and it is those places that we need to reach.

You can believe teaching is all about "summer vacations" or going home at 4:00. But the truth is, it's about opening minds and teaching people to think differently. It's about challenging high performing students to take that extra step. It's about finding those that stumble and helping them learn to fly. Because everyone is capable of flight, even if they achieve it in different ways, especially the ones that don't yet realize that they can.

I am a teacher. At some point in the coming school year you'll find me rockin' my electric guitar, reinacting scenes from popular movies, and standing on my desk. Someone may break out in song or dance, and there will be laughter. But make no mistake, I take my job very seriously and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Time for a New Chapter

Professionally speaking, I've done a few things in my life. I think it would be easy to say I've had at least 3 careers.

The Ad Days

The first, graphic design and advertising, I have a nice little piece of paper from the University of North Texas that says I'm qualified to work in that field. That very expensive piece of paper opened the doors for a lot of unique experiences for me. I've worked with some really amazing people, as well as some real monsters which I'm sure have a reserved seat in the seven circles somewhere.

Through the course of that first career, I sat in the luxurious crown royal suites at Texas Stadium during a Cowboys game, and I've been on the sidelines photographing the likes of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Daryl Johnston. For the record, I very much prefer standing on the sidelines over sitting in plush leather seats.

I participated in a photo shoot starring one "Snake" Sabo from the band Skid Row wearing one six-foot long python around his neck...until the python decided he liked Snake a little too much. I've worked with Steven Curtis Chapman, Jeff Carlisi, and I've even told Eddie Van Halen what to wear (no kidding).

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Indie Game: the Movie – my thoughts

I must admit, when I first heard about “Indie Game: the Movie” I thought it had potential. Make a documentary about how small independent developers make games. What does it take? How long does it take? Why do they do it? Is it worth it?

I guess I was looking forward to all the different takes on those answers, and more. Watching the trailer, they seemed to be on the right track as far as casting their movie. They gathered the dev teams for “Braid”, “Super Meat Boy”, and “Fez”; three “indie hits”. I mean these guys did it. They made it to the big time, therefore their stories must be pretty interesting right? I mean, these are the “indie pros”, which sounds pretty oxymoron-ish, but that’s the best way I can describe them. Surely they must know what they’re doing.

At least that’s what I thought going into it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The End of the World…again

Yes, that’s right, the world is ending, one more time. It was just over a year ago that I made this post about Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) shutting down its servers after eight years of letting players live out their dreams in a galaxy far, far away. This time the apocalyptic event is occurring to the “City of Heroes”.

Like SWG, I spent a good deal of time in the virtual world, joining both games while they were still in beta testing. In fact, the kind people of Paragon City, home to the City of Heroes, were nice enough to inform me that my first, and highest level character Ipo has spent a total of 3,333 hours fighting crime and saving the world. And that is exclusively HIS time in the game, not to mention the two or three dozen other characters I’ve played.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Can an App Create Heroes?

Now more than ever the world needs more heroes. It needs more 'good guys'. It needs more "Supermen" (and women). The question is...can an app create more heroes?

This question leads me to my latest experiment. Let's take a large number of would be heroes and give them the tools to become real heroes, then we'll see if they step up and take action.