Ninjas & Bunny Rabbits
[Miscellaneous Ramblings]
12 Aug 2014 - Wishlist for the Tablets of 2019.

As a life-long gamer and, more recently, a tablet game developer, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about what does and doesn't work with tablet UI design, which naturally leads to some musings on how I'd build a tablet from the ground up if I had the chance to. I know some people are already thinking about contact lenses and virtual touchscreens that get projected onto thin air, but I'd predict that we're going to have tablets for a good long while, I think they'll outlast traditional mouse/keyboard/monitor setups by at least a couple decades... so let's set about unlocking their untapped potential!

1. Tactile Feedback

One of the great things about a tablet is how intuitive it can be if done right. Look at a game like Flight Control, just draw a flight path on the screen and airplanes will follow it... don't need much more explanation than that. The fact that they make iPad games for cats, dogs, and babies speaks volumes to how a well-designed tablet interface plays to instinctive behavior rather than learned behavior.

But sadly, where our instincts want multiple senses to agree with each other, whatever you touch on a tablet is just going to feel like glass no matter what it looks or sounds like. This isn't a terribly big problem when you're writing an e-mail, but in a fast-paced game you're going to want to keep your eyes on the action and not on helping your fingers find the buttons. This isn't a problem for traditional controller-based games since they're designed with tactile feedback in mind. And while it's possible to design a game without buttons in it, it can be limiting. Sometimes, you just need to throw a button on the screen, especially if you're porting a console game to a tablet, and it would be great if those buttons felt as natural as they do when you've got a controller in your hand.

I've seen a few different approaches to this, all of which seem to be from three or four years ago in articles or videos that end with the hopeful but now inaccurate phrase "and we expect these to be commercially available by 2012." There's the display that physically raises bits of the display (because how better to make a button feel three-dimensional than to actually create the shape of one in three dimensions?), but what really intrigues me are the displays that take advantage of the way our skin senses touch and create electrical fields that can mimic other textures. I haven't experienced either of these so I couldn't tell you which approach I favor (although I can't argue with "let's just have both").

On top of that, let's throw in old-school rumble technology. How better to please your lizard brain than by actually making the screen rumble during a giant explosion? But rather than just throw a single shaking motor on there like the good ol' N64 Rumble Pak, why not take a look at what Valve's doing with their Steam controller? Articles seem sparse on the specifics but all I keep hearing is that the force feedback is crazy well-done.

2. Stereo freaking sound already.

I don't know what Android tablets are like, but my iPad has just a single speaker on it that tends to get covered up by the hand you're holding it with. What I'd really like to see is four speakers, one on each side of the device, and use the same software that orients the screen to appropriately assign the speakers as left, right, and center channels depending on how you're holding the device. You don't need big honking speakers to get a good sound experience these days, just check out the 3DS. Two speakers each smaller than a dime and you get a pretty good 3D sound experience out of them. Come on, tablets, it's time to up your game.

3. Better color gamut coverage

The latest displays have taken resolution about as far as we're gonna take it. Where to now? Well... standard RGB displays sadly leave out huge chunks of colors that the human eye can percieve — I find this most noticeable in the range between blue and green, but there's shortcomings all around the color wheel. Every once in a while you see a company throw a yellow or cyan primary into their monitor to try and cover these gaps but thus far it hasn't seem to have caught on (in part, I'd wager, because you'd need special software to really take advantage of 4+-channel color)... but I'd personally love a device that shows me more of the colors I can see.

4. Pressure-sensitive touch

I've had a Cintiq for several years and a Wacom tablet before that, and I've loved them both. One of the key differences you get from either of those devices compared to an iPad touch screen is the idea of pressure-sensitivity. You can bear down with your stylus to make a thick line, or gently glide it across the screen for a thin one. Or, you know, you can configure your brushes to do other fancy stuff, too, that's just one example. My iPad can't tell gentle from firm, it just knows "touching" and "not touching," it would be great, especially for drawing apps -- but also for games with on-screen-buttons -- to be able to register changes in pressure.

And while we're talking about it, it would be nice to have some better-precision styluses than those eraser-sized foam-tipped ones.

5. Any-Angle 3D

I can hear some of you groaning already, denoucing 3D anything as a gimmick that just needs to die already. I may be in the minority, but I own a 3DS and I actually like its most-mocked feature. But it could stand some improvement. It's a little tiring to need to hold the 3DS a certain specific angle to your face and a certain distance away. Playing a game like A Link Between Worlds sometimes you get lost in the 3D illusion and then you try and crane your head to one angle to see something better, and then the illusion is instantly broken.

So, what I'm thinking... why not have the camera track your gaze and adjust its 3D accordingly? I'll admit, I don't know much about how lenticular displays work, I'm not sure how possible it would be to make a 3D display that works just as well in portrait orientation as it does in landscape... a quick Google search seems to indicate that this would indeed be possible but it seems like there's issues with it to be worked out still.

6. Touch-sensitivity on the back, not just on the front.

One of the most common criticisms I've heard about the control scheme in our current work in progress, The Day We Fought Space, is that while it's very intuitive, your hands block some of the view of the action when you're steering the ship and aiming your weapons. We have some alternate control schemes available that mitigate this issue, but since the only way to interact with the screen is by touching it, it's never going to go away completely.

Unless... you could have touch input somewhere that isn't the screen at all, like the back of the device? The PS Vita has a setup like that, if I'm not mistaken. Admittedly, you'd lose some of the intuitiveness of touching the things on screen you want to interact with, but throw in the tactile feedback I mentioned in point #1 and you could have a seriously powerful gaming interface in your hands.

In Conclusion

Unfortunately, what I expect will be the biggest hurdles in getting a tablet like this on the market will not be technical ones but legal ones. I'm sure most of these ideas, even the ones I might think are original ideas, are already patented by some company jealously guarding their secrets, and getting the best of all worlds fused into a single device will remain a legal impossibility. But that's a rant for another day...

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[Miscellaneous Ramblings]
30 Dec 2013 - 2013 Gaming Intake

If one were to measure success in life by sheer number of video games played, then 2013 would count as one of my most prolific years in a while. What was I keeping myself busy with?

Well, there were a number of new-to-me games I played to completion (or at least to satisfaction, as some of these games don't really even have a defined 'end'):
Beat Sneak Bandits (iOS)
Bleed (PC)
Buster Spirits (iOS)
Castle Raid (iOS)
Dead or Alive 4 (360)
Deathsmiles (360)
Dodonpachi Maximum (iOS)
Evoland (PC)
Fez (PC)
Fish Out of Water (iOS)
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams (PC)
La Mulana (PC)
A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
Little Inferno (PC)
Offspring Fling! (PC)
Peggle Deluxe (PC)
Plague, Inc. (iOS)
Project X Zone (3DS)
Random Heroes 2 (iOS)
Rogue Legacy (PC)
Saint's Row: The Third (PC)
Spaceward, Ho! (iOS)
Temple Run 2 (iOS)
Thomas Was Alone (iOS)
Warblade (iOS)
The Wonderful End of the World (PC)

A couple that I started in 2012 and finished up in 2013:
Protect Me, Knight (360)
Recettear (PC)

Some standby favorites for killing time or lifting spirits:
Arcana Heart 3 (PS3)
Castle Raid (iOS)
Draw Something (iOS)
Jamestown (PC)
Jetpack Joyride (iOS)
Mortal Kombat (PS3)
Pac Man: Championship Edition DX (PS3)
Stepmania (Mac)
Super Stardust HD (PS3)
Technic Beat (PS2)

A handful that I brought out again for a second play-through:
A Link to the Past (SNES)
Link's Awakening (GB)
Oracle of Ages (GBC)
Oracle of Seasons (GBC)
Ratchet & Clank HD (PS3)
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Gen)
Super Meat Boy (PC)

A bunch of new games that I started into but have more work to do in before I could consider them 'complete':
Antichamber (PC)
Awesomenauts (PC)
Bee Leader (iOS)
Castle Crashers (PC)
Disgaea (PS2)
Dustforce (PC)
FTL: Faster than Light (PC)
The Impossible Game (360)
Luminous Arc 3 (DS)
Mark of the Ninja (PC)
NightSky (PC)
Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale (PS3)
Reus (PC)
Spelunky (360)
They Bleed Pixels (PC)
A Virus Named Tom (PC)
Waveform (PC)

... And a few that I only just barely tasted, typically right before getting distracted by one of the games on the above lists:
Chantelise (PC)
Intrusion 2 (PC)
Ittle Dew (PC)
Mariokart 7 (3DS)
Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale (PS3)
Shoot Many Robots (PC)
S.O.S. (SNES)
Skullgirls (360)
Zombie Driver (360)

Sometimes the line between work and play gets a bit blurry, which is what brought my attention to the following games (plus some others already listed above):
Gradius III (SNES)
Legendary Wings (NES)
Parodius Da! (SNES)
XOP Black (PC)

In addition to these, there's the multitude of games I had a go at during the Midwest Gaming Classic and trips to Rossi's Arcade.

And last, but not least, of course, I did spend quite a bit of time playing various alpha and beta builds of The Day We Fought Space (iOS).

I doubt this is an exhaustive list... but it's what, for whatever reason, I remember playing this year.

What stands out? Well, Rogue Legacy and Spelunky have gotten me excited about a whole new subgenre. A Link Between Worlds restored my faith in the Zelda franchise. Project X Zone was quirky and weird but left an impression on me. Dodonpachi Maximum taught me how well bullet hell and tablet gaming go together. Giana Sisters was visually stunning. Bleed blended fun and challenge together masterfully. Fez was just straight-up brilliant.

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[Society / Politics]
9 Dec 2013 - Cathy vs. Washington

Ed. Note: This article will be updated as the situation evolves.

On November 26, 2013, I sent a sincere but unorthodox letter to my two U.S. senators, my U.S. representative, and the President of the United States. What follows is the unedited correspondence between me and my elected officials:

26 November 2013. My initial letter, sent online via various official contact forms:

Dear [Rep. Pocan / Sen. Baldwin / Sen. Johnson / Mr. President],

So I was thinking.

The name "The United States of America" isn't so much a name for a country as it is a rough description of what the country is.

Also, as descriptions go it's not terribly accurate. I mean if you're going to split hairs, this place really ought to be named "The United States, Commonwealths, District, and Territories of America and the Pacific." But that's a mounthful.

And to make matters worse, the colloquial form "America" and its corresponding demonym "American" are ambiguous because are you talking about America the country or America the continents?

I mean, our neighbors have names. Canada is a fine name for a country, as is Mexico. Why not us? After almost 240 years nobody can say we haven't earned the right.

As far as what name to choose, there are plenty of options, like the Revolutionary War–era "Freedonia" or "Alleghany," or Frank Lloyd Wright's preferred term, "Usonia." Heck, I'd even settle for the modern tongue-in-cheek "'Murica." Better a silly name than none at all.

I realize this is not a terribly important issue but seeing how polarized Congress is right now and how generally paralyzed the federal government has become in addressing issues that carry even trace amounts of partisanship, maybe now's the right time to do a little bit of clean-up and touch on some of the small stuff.

Sincerely,
Catherine Kimport

The first response recieved (not counting the automated "thanks for contacting so-and-so" messages) was from Sen. Baldwin who replied in an e-mail dated 6 December 2013:

Thank you for contacting me regarding your disappointment with the performance of the United States Congress. I appreciate you taking the time to write me about this important issue.

While we all hear a lot about the wide distance between Democrats and Republicans, the widest and most important distance in our political system is between the content of the debate in Washington, D.C. and the concerns of working families in places like Wisconsin.

When my grandparents were raising me, I learned that, if you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead. The Wisconsinites I talk to grew up learning the same thing. They are working as hard as ever. And they deserve to get ahead. But many are barely getting by. People are still working for that middle class dream: a good job that pays the bills, health care coverage you can rely on, a home you can call your own, a chance to save for your kids' college education, a secure retirement. That's the biggest gap of all: the gap between the economic security Wisconsinites work so hard to achieve, and the economic uncertainty that they are asked to settle for.

While Wisconsinites do not all agree about what their representatives in Congress should do, they want to see all of us working together to find solutions, even if it takes some spirited debate. I believe that it is possible for Members of Congress to stay true to their core principles while reaching compromise to move our country forward.

Recently, I worked in a bipartisan manner with my counterpart Senator Ron Jonson (R-WI) to establish the Wisconsin Federal Nominating Commission to move federal nominations forward, including vacant federal judgeships in Wisconsin. I look forward to working with Senator Johnson on other issues that will move Wisconsin forward.

In the Senate at large, I have worked with my colleagues Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) to fix a Medicare reimbursement provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that has been a windfall to Massachusetts hospitals at the expense of hospitals in other states includingWisconsin. The Hospital Payment Fairness Act (S. 183) reverses this provision, returning Medicare hospital reimbursements to the state-based pools that existed before the ACA.

While these are a few examples of bipartisan comprise, I know that there is much work yet to be accomplished by Congress, I am confident that we can reach compromises that bridge our philosophical differences and pass legislation that is in the best interest of our country. Please know that I will keep your thoughts in mind as I continue to seek opportunities to find common ground with my colleagues in the Senate.

Once again, thank you for contacting my office. It is important for me to hear from the people of Wisconsin on the issues, thoughts and concerns that matter most to you. If I can be of further assistance, please visit my website at www.baldwin.senate.gov for information on how to contact my office.

Sincerely,
Tammy Baldwin
United States Senator

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[Miscellaneous Ramblings]
29 Oct 2013 - Crossover Time

So, Project X Zone left a big impression on me, apparently... maybe in part because I was playing it around Halloween time, that magical time of year where the boundary between reality and fiction is at its blurriest (a recurring theme in Project X Zone and its prequel, Namco X Capcom), but whatever the reason, I've been thinking about what my dream roster for a no-licenses-barred PXZ sequel might look like. Here's what I've come up with (limiting roster sizes to 42 of each type of unit, just because it seemed like a nice round number):

For those of you unfamiliar with the game, units are made up of a "pair unit" of two inseparable characters, typically from the same canon (with some exceptions), that get mixed-and-matched with one of your various "solo units" to make a three-person fighting team. And yes, I'm aware that many of the characters I picked are antagonists from their respective stories. Spoiler alert: they join up into your party fairly frequently in Project X Zone.

And yes, I snuck in a shameless self-promotion cameo. Deal with it.

Pair Units

ZummiCallaAdventures of the Gummi Bears
PetraNazunaArcana Heart
DocMartyBack to the Future
StarbuckAthenaBattlestar Galactica
JadePeyjBeyond Good and Evil
BuffySatsuBuffy the Vampire Slayer (TV / Comics)
FredWillowAngel / Buffy
Li Mu BaiShu LienCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
KasumiAyameDead or Alive
DiggerShadowchildDigger
The Doctor[see note 1]Doctor Who
DustFidgetDust: An Elysian Tail
RamzaAlmaFinal Fantasy Tactics
TerraCelesFinal Fantasy VI
AerisSephirothFinal Fantasy VII
YunaAuronFinal Fantasy X
JayneKayleeFirefly
HermioneRonHarry Potter
ZaphodTrillianHitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
KirbyMeta-KnightKirby's Dream Land
LegolasGimliLord of the Rings
EowynAragornLord of the Rings
VanessaFatimaLuminous Arc
Megaman VolnuttRoll CaskettMegaman Legends
SchlockLegsSchlock Mercenary
RamonaRoxyScott Pilgrim
Jon SnowAryaSong of Ice and Fire
BrienneJamieSong of Ice and Fire
Seung MinaTakiSoul Calibur
Han SoloChewbaccaStar Wars
TassadarRaynorStarcraft
Chun LiHsien-KoStreet Fighter / Darkstalkers
LuigiTailsSuper Mario Bros. / Sonic the Hedgehog
AyameRikimaruTenchu: Stealth Assassins
PeterLucyThe Chronicles of Narnia
LinkZeldaThe Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Toe JamEarlToe Jam and Earl
Wall-EEveWall-E
ClaudiaJinksWarehouse 13
Kitty PridePsylockeX-Men
RatchetClankRatchet & Clank
Jack BauerChloe24

[1] I'm still only on season 2 of the reboot, so for the time being I'm leaving unspecified which companion and which incarnation of The Doctor

Solo Units

RipleyAliens
AshArmy of Darkness
The KidBastion
BatmanBatman
WrynBleed
FaithBuffy
FreyBuffy (comics)
Lucy DiamondD.E.B.S.
HammerFable 2
PoisonFinal Fight
River TamFirefly
GianaGiana Sisters: Twisted Dreams
KratosGod of War
Indiana JonesIndiana Jones
IzunaIzuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja
LemezaLa Mulana
Little PrinceLe Petit Prince
Tron BonneMegaman Legends
SamusMetroid
BarryMonster Dash / Jetpack Joyride
Ms. Pac ManMs. Pac Man
MulanMulan
SayaNamco X Capcom
AmaterasuOkami
RedPokémon Red/Blue
ChellPortal
EilonwyPrydain Chronicles
Q*BertQ*Bert
CharmeRecettear
KinzieSaints Row
MihoSin City
DanaerysSong of Ice and Fire
TyrionSong of Ice and Fire
SpyroSpyro the Dragon
Obi-Wan KenobiStar Wars
KatchooStrangers in Paradise
Chun LiStreet Fighter II
IsaacThe Binding of Isaac
EquinoxThe Day We Fought Space
ParizadeThe Thousand and One Nights
AnibelleThe Wotch
VV for Vendetta

I haven't taken the time to list out all the stages and enemies you would fight in this series, but to give you a taste of the general flavor of the series then imagine yourself in the middle of Zanarkand, confronted by Yunalesca, and then all of a sudden a bunch of Reavers drop in, Kerrigan shows up and then you also get flanked by the Zerg, and then for no particular reason Mewtwo is breeding Protopets and you need to fight them too.

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[Musings on Society]
6 Oct 2013 - Two kinds of people...

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Ninjas & Bunny Rabbits - Contents and Script Copyright © 2000-2014 Catherine Kimport