Friday, December 31, 2010

The Many Faces of Brian: The 2010 Photo Evolution

   Recently, I have been having a hard time buying alcohol. I guess people do not think the photo in my ID looks like me. Having been thinking about this and considering that it is New Year's Eve, I thought I would do a photo lineup of me throughout the year. Unfortunately, I did not have pictures from January and February, so I start with December 2009 and move to March 2010.



December 2009




March 2010




April 2010




May 2010




June 2010




July 2010




August 2010




September 2010




October 2010




November 2010




December 2010




   There you have it. I cannot lie. I would be hesitant to sell me alcohol too. I know, I am just that beautiful.


Happy New Year everybody! Be safe. Have fun. I will see most of you soon. Thank you for reading.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Jury Service Served

   A couple of months ago, I was sent an invitation to serve my community by sitting in as a juror at one of California's finest courthouses. My response was the same as most Americans' would have been. I immediately began to dream up excuses for why I could not serve. Now, let me explain something, because I know some of you cringed while reading that and thought, "ugh....jury duty is your civic responsibility. You are not patriotic."
   I believe in civic responsibility. Perhaps, I believe more than a lot of you. I have served on a jury before without trying to get an excuse out of it. I even turned 21 while serving on that jury. Let me make that more clear, I sat on jury duty on my 21st birthday as well as the day after my 21st birthday. Not only that, but when I vote, and I do vote, I vote for civic responsibility. I would be the one that supports much higher taxes in order to properly fund our communities. Also, while I do not support most of the social services widely available, I would be one of the few that believe that at the least, if we are going to have these social services, the only way they can be supported is with finances gained through higher taxation.
   Anyway, before I get too far off on my political beliefs, I really, genuinely needed to get out of jury duty this time. Most people know that I am a self-employed housewife (is there a male equivalent to that? I do not think so.) that was also a full-time student at that time. It was my final semester. I am responsible for the daytime care of my children, whether it be being home with them or able to respond to whatever need the school has at whatever random time it comes up. Plus, we also depend on my income to get through the month. I filled out my excuse card stating that my excuse was the care of my children.
   The first response I received was a denial of excuse. I would have to report. For those who want to know, I cannot remember the exact date but it was the week of Veteran's Day, early November. This was not going to work. Sure, it is my civic duty, but I would have two kids out of school just to serve, that is not right. I sent an email to the courts explaining this situation. A couple of days later, I get another postcard response saying my jury duty had been delayed until December 27th. They postponed it until a time when they knew the kids were out of school. The courthouse has a childcare facility on-site; probably just to prevent this excuse.
   "Alright," I thought, "Fine, I will make my kids sit in there for a week of their vacation so I can serve jury duty right after Christmas." I really did not want to, but I have come to accept that my luck is of the such. The way it goes here, you look online or call in the weekend before to see if your jury group has been called in to serve. I checked online on Christmas to see if I would have to serve. I got a message that said I would not need to report on Monday, but to check back Monday night after 6:30PM to determine if I needed to report on Tuesday. How nice of them to give several hours notice.
   Same message on Monday night. I could hardly take the suspense. If I was not called to serve on Wednesday or Thursday, I knew I would be off free for the year, because Friday is a government holiday. I felt for sure I would end up having to go on Wednesday. My car is not waterproof and we were expecting heavy rain Wednesday morning. Again, my luck. Checked Tuesday night, same message.
   Turned out that my brother-in-law and his wife wanted to have the kids over last night. I thought for sure my luck had run out. Kids were supposed to be out of the house for the first time in what seems like years (they are on Christmas break). Finally, 6:30PM rolled around and I checked again. I was pleasantly greeted with a message saying my group had not been called and my service was fulfilled for at least a period of one year. Hallelujah!
   One thing about me serving on jury duty anyway; you should never feel as if I am your peer if I am sitting on the jury for your trial. I do not think anybody really does feel that way anyway, but definitely not with me. To be a peer, in my eyes, suggests a relationship that you and I probably do not have. If we are indeed peers, I probably am not welcome to sit on a jury in your trial. I understand, we do not have to be well acquainted, but I just see a bias on some level there. Anyway, if I am selected, I will really watch you. I will really hear the words you say. I will really make my own judgment. I will really fight for what I believe in deliberations. I am the guy who will decide your trial. Not only that, but I might already have it decided before the trial even begins. I am good at keeping an open mind, and when I served on my first trial, I thought the plaintiff would win right off the bat. Through watching her, her witnesses, and many other things in the trial, I decided she should not win her case in any degree. It was a civil suit. She did not get a penny. I am not sure if you want a guy like that on your jury. It is a dangerous choice to make during selection.
   A thing about how jurors are selected. Most of us know that it seems like if you are a person who has been selected for jury service, that you are one of a few that you know that ever gets selected for jury service. This is how randomness works. You may be selected as often as once a year, and you are the lucky one that is randomly selected every year. Here is my proposal: how about in a state where 1 in 8 of us is currently unemployed, we make the people collecting unemployment insurance serve on juries before bothering people whom are gainfully employed. If you want your unemployment check, go serve on juries. They need you, you will be paid more than you would if you did not collect unemployment and served on a jury, and you are supposed to be looking for work anyway. I am just saying, want your unemployment check? Help me out too then. Go sit on juries so I do not have to.
   Again, I will reiterate that I really do not mind sitting in on a trial as a juror every couple of years. However, I sure am glad I did not have to this time.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Free/Indie Game Review: Paper Venture - Quick and Simple Fun


Title: Paper Venture
Platform: Flash - Plays in browser
Release Date: November 18, 2010
Developer: Arcade Armory
Site: http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/553931
My Rating: 8. Pretty fun and will not take
long to beat.


   Paper Venture is a cute little Flash game that most people will be able to beat in a single coffee break. The game challenges you to guide a basic figure through thirty levels without hitting any saws, hitting your head, or going off screen. This is a platformer in the simplest terms of platforming. It will take you back to the days of Super Mario Bros. The story is very basic: the character fell down a hole and you are guiding it back up.
   The controls are all mouse, which is refreshing for a Flash game. Your mouse cursor is the rectangle thing shown in the picture. You use it as a moving platform to help the character work around saws and get to other platforms. The character can also hit the side of the cursor to turn around. Seems pretty simple, yet there is enough of a challenge to make you have to repeat several levels many times over.
   I was a fan of the visual style from the very beginning. It is a basic layout. Everything is pencil sketched on paper. The mouse cursor looks like an eraser, to the point where I expected it to erase things as I went. It does not. There will never be so much that it will not be immediately obvious as to what to do. Avoid saws, hit walls to turn around when needed, make it to the door.
   The soundtrack for Paper Venture drew me in. It is a simple looping track. However, it makes the game feel like the platformer it is. I would have liked some sound effects. Saws should buzz and the character should scream when dying. However, for this version, the only sounds comes from the soundtrack.
   If you are looking for a quick, easy, fun, and free way to dispose of about fifteen minutes, head on over to NewGrounds Flash Portal and give this game a try. I promise, it is worth your time.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Review: Angry Birds - The Only Reason You Need to Buy a Smartphone


Title: Angry Birds
Platform: Android (also on iPlatform)
Release Date: September 28. 2010
Developer: Rovio
Publisher: Rovio
My Rating: 10. Seriously, get a smartphone
and play this game.

   Very rarely is there a game that hits its target so well that it deserves a perfect score. However, Angry Birds is definitely one of those games. Developed originally for the iPhone and eventually making it ways to the Android, Angry Birds is a game that is quick and easy to play, but addictive enough to keep you coming back for more. Get a smartphone, it is free on the Android OS, and be prepared to be taking half-hour bathroom breaks. This one will keep you coming back for more.
   There is not much of a story in Angry Birds. However, for a cellular device game, this is perfect. What story there is is passed along in the few cut scenes. Basically, green pigs stole eggs from birds with amputated wings. Actually, nobody says the birds have amputated wings except for me, but they cannot fly, so I will explain it away by claiming the green pigs amputated their wings while stealing their eggs. Of course, birds do not like it when their eggs are stolen. Now, they are sling-shooting their way through the pigs' hideouts in an all out war to recover their eggs.
   Each stage in Angry Birds challenges you to slingshot through a fortification made of wood blocks, ice blocks, and stone blocks to kill some green pigs. There are a handful of different birds that all come with their own ability, strength, and weakness. You usually get four or five birds to destroy all of the pigs with. As you break the different blocks, blocks around the one also fall or otherwise take damage. In many of the stages, taking out the pigs is the easy part. Finding the correct way to destroy the blocks in order to get at the pigs is the challenge. You must kill all of the pigs to advance to the next stage. Bonus points are awarded for causing damage to the blocks. You can get up to a three-star rating on each stage. Getting all of the stars in an episode unlocks a bonus level. Also, some stages have golden eggs that can be collected to unlock bonus levels. Check out this trailer on YouTube for a look at the simple but fun gameplay.
   For me, the visual style in Angry Birds is pleasantly refreshing. I love 2D video games, always have, always will. Angry Birds takes full advantage of the high-density resolutions on smartphones while keeping it simple. Everything about it looks like a high-definition Nintendo game. The color palette is small, simple, and fitting. The blocks come in three varieties. It is very easy to tell them apart. The birds are colored and shaped appropriately to give a visual clue as to what they do. When blocks are hit, they break apart, fall appropriately, and even cause damage to obtructions below. The whole thing is very entertaining to watch.
   The sound effects in Angry Birds are great. The birds go "weeeeeeeeeee" as they fly through the air. You can hear the blocks breaking and pigs getting hit. The whole experience with the sound effects will keep you cracking up.
   The controls were very clean cut on the phone. Put your finger on the slingshot, pull back to line up your shot, and release to go. Quick and simple. I did sometimes slingshot a bird backwards while swiping across the screen to look at the pig/block arrangement; however, you can quickly restart the levels, so you mostly just feel dumb for doing it.
   Angry Birds will easily be one of the top five memorable games of 2010 for me. This game is a well-targeted time killer that hit its mark dead on. The first experience is great, the seasonal version is fun. Not only that, but I can see many opportunities for added gameplay mechanics if and when they decide to make an Angry Birds 2. If you have not yet made the jump to a smartphone, now you have the only excuse you need. Well, that and fart-sound ringtones, of course.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Weekly Plan - Swap Meet Server Android


Objective Dates
------------------------------------------------------
All menus and menu screens implemented Mon-Wed
First game mode implemented Thurs-Sun
------------------------------------------------------

   I have two main goals for my software project this week. The first is to have all non-gameplay scenes implemented. The second is to have the first game mode in the program as a playable.
   The implementation of the menu screens is always a good place for me to start. It is a simple implementation that serves two purposed for me. One, it shows me that my game loop works. Two, it is a small accomplishment with a quick reward. This implementation is simply a splash screen that shows my logo, a menu screen with buttons that will mostly do nothing at the time, and a credits screen that will have a few names as well as a link to this blog. This will also have a menu associated with the menu hardkey on Android devices. I already have the splash screen and menu screen flashing back and forth, so I have a good start with this particular objective.
   The second objective is just to get a game mode going. This will not be fully operating. I just want to have the background and fruit stand set up as well as having a timer running. I will undoubtedly need to rework some of my art assets, which could consume more time than I would like. I also will need to work on how I display the assets to the screen. When developing for many devices, it is important to work with a normalized screen size. In this way, we are detecting input and laying out our assets based on a percentage of the actual screen size rather than programming for a particular window size then suffering the consequence of not having things line up for forced screen sizes. I have some learning to do on this front, which is why I do not intend for the first game mode to be fully functioning by the end of the week.
   That wraps up my plan for Swap Meet Server this week. If I do not end up having to serve jury duty, I believe these are reasonable goals. I still have my kids at home and it is New Year's this weekend, so I will not have quite as much time as one would think for programming this week. Check back on Sunday and see how I did!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Current Project Review - Swap Meet Server Android

   While I was in school, my assignments were always due on Sunday. Therefore, it feels only natural to reflect on my current ambitions on a Sunday. Due to the holidays, I do not actually have much going on. However, I have been working on learning the Android Operating System in hopes of developing a game, Swap Meet Server, and maybe making a dollar or two while building my resume.
   As mentioned above, I did not actually accomplish much this week. I did manage to learn a lot of basic programming functions for creating Android applications. I also managed to setup my own game loop, which I will discuss here.
   A game loop is a function within a program that is made to keep the program running while appropriately handling any operating systems that could interrupt the program. Most applications run the thick of the application in a loop. This is because a procedural program without a loop would run all of its code then exit. By putting the majority of the code in the loop, we are able to control when the program ends by having it wait for some sort of quit message. In terms of Windows operating systems, a quit message would be triggered by the Alt+F4 or clicking the red X in the corner of the window.
   The other reason for the game loop is to handle other events from the operating system; usually without interrupting the game. My experience with Android so far has taught me that I really only need to be concerned with three events that might interrupt the game. These three events are when there is an incoming call, when the battery is dead, or when the program loses focus. Preferably, in the cases when the battery has not died, the game is put in a pause state. This way, if the user comes back to the game, they can pickup where they left off. The pause state can be activated very simply and is actually a usual function for an Android application. Implementing it is easy.
   Now, when the battery dies, you have a different situation on your hands. You will not be able to recover from a pause when turning the phone back on, as the application will have been closed forcibly. Luckily, most Android products actually shutoff before the battery dies. Even if the battery has only a fraction of a percent of juice left, there is usually enough processing time left to exit the program gracefully. In the case that a phone being switched off is adamant, it is best to call whichever quit method you have for the application, which should release all assets before closing the program.
   If these things are not happening during the life cycle of an Android application, there should be nothing else happening to interrupt the program. While the application is running, the loop processes continually. To the user, this appears as the application running seamlessly. The main purpose of the loop is to update the graphics, check for user input, and output the correct information. Again, if this is done correctly, it appears to the user as an application running.
   For my specific project, the loop does not do much yet. I have the application open to the loop, which cycles a splash screen and menu screen continuously until the user exits the program. Like I said, I did not accomplish much, but we should not discount this progress. The game loop is the foundation of your game project. It is essential that you have a proper setup for your game loop if you hope for your product to run successfully.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!!!

   In the spirit of Christmas, I thought I would attempt to start a conversation about what everybody got for Christmas. I will share what I got. Please feel free to share yours in the comments!

Fart-Sound Enabled Goo - James
Corner Pillow with Armrests - Madison
Slippers - Jennifer
Elder Scrolls: Oblivion PS3 - Jennifer
Fruitcake - Jennifer
Coffee Grinder - Jennifer
Mario Rising Sun T-Shirt - Jennifer and kids
Hungry Guy T-Shirt - Jennifer and kids
Button-Down Polyester T-Shirt - Jennifer
Best Buy Gift Card - Michael and Gabby
Rechargeable Wiimote Battery Set - Jennifer
3-Piece Candle set (for me & Jen) - Gabby's parents
Help Making Christmas Easier - Mom and Step-dad
2011 Calendar w/Russian
as Calendar-guy - Jennifer

   I know I am probably missing one or two gifts there, so do not get mad if I forgot. We also received all kinds of Christmas cards this year. Always nice to know people care enough about you to put a stamp on a card and mail it! As you can see, I live the spoiled life. However, that is what Christmas is all about these days. Overindulge and have fun with your family. Speaking of which, I am ending now to go play with my kids. Merry Christmas everybody! I hope you have a wonderful day.
   What did you get?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Trophies

   For most people that know me, it is no surprise that I am a PlayStation fanboy. PlayStation and I have been a happy couple since my early teenage years. When PlayStation 3 came out, my wife was wonderful enough to buy me one; even though the price tag was rather exorbitant. The early life of the PlayStation 3 was filled with turmoil. There was not much of a library. Nobody knew for sure whether or not the Blu-Ray format would catch. I stood by my PlayStation though. Slowly but surely, functionality was added and the library caught up to match. Then, the final push towards widespread acceptance was the death of the HDDVD format. With following price cuts, it was no longer a large gamble to develop a game for the PS3. Instead, it became known as the standard. One idea that Sony undoubtedly "borrowed" along the way to current-generation fame was the achievement system out on the XBox 360, called trophies. Everybody that plays PlayStation 3 earns at least a few trophies in the course of gameplay. Here, I present my ideas on trophies, trophy collecting, and trophy hunting.
   In basic terms, a PlayStation trophy is an indicator of a completed objective. Some of these objectives are completed during the course of normal gameplay. Others require extraneous gameplay. Some objectives are defined in the trophy list. Other objectives are hidden; only discovered after being completed. The trophies come in four flavors: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. All disc-based games have at least one platinum trophy, which is usually awarded for obtaining all other trophies in the game. Most PlayStation Network games offer a gold trophy instead of a platinum, due to their smaller nature. Trophies are great in general. They offer immersion into games on different levels. First, you are able to show your trophies to all of your PlayStation Network friends; as well as post your PlayStation ID with trophies on various websites. This lets people see how well you are doing. If they feel so inclined, they can check out which games the trophies were earned in. On another level, trophies really add to the gameplay experience. They act as a set of secondary objectives to all games. For the people that are obsessed with earning trophies, this can mean many more days of play time per game. I believe that everybody feels at least a little excitement from earning trophies, regardless of the degree of which they actively go collecting.
   Trophy collector would definitely describe my level of trophy obsession. I go into a game with a very specific purpose: game completion. However, I will go out of my way to earn the majority of the trophies along the way. As you can see though, (in my sidebar), I do not hold a single platinum trophy. This is because earning all the trophies in a game requires a level of devotion that I simply do not have time for. Some games have trophies that are easier or more fun to collect than others. Therefore, in some games, I have a great majority of the trophies, while in others, I may have less than half. Some games, I actively continue playing after completion to earn some of the trophies. Other games go straight to the shelf. I will sometimes even cross the lines to trophy hunter and do things such as keep multiple save states for the purpose of returning to an earlier point in the game at a later time to try to get trophies that were maybe easier to obtain earlier or not possible to obtain later. I would love to earn some of those platinum trophies; however, due to my ever-growing game library and current backlog of games to play, it is highly unlikely you will see my moniker with a platinum trophy for some time.
   I have a deep admiration for the trophy hunters. Whenever I see somebody that has several platinum trophies, I know they worked hard for it. Even in the games that are known for being easy to collect trophies in, there is always at least one that they make you work for. No matter which game these guys play, trophy collection becomes much more than just a secondary objective. Collecting all the trophies actually becomes the point of playing the game. They will work for hours just to collect a single, seemingly impossible to obtain, trophy and the thought of shelving the game would be an act of heresy if they had not yet accomplished the task. They will even sink to low levels, such as playing the kid games, just to earn some easy platinum trophies. Again, while I would like to earn some platinum trophies at some point in the life cycle of the PlayStation 3, I simply could not fathom putting in the time needed to do this. Most of these people are the same people that were online the last time you turned your PlayStation 3 off and still logged in when you turned it back on the next day. Not only are they dedicated, but they have very little going on outside the world of PlayStation.
   All of us that own a PlayStation 3 earn trophies. Some of us feel the experience of earning trophy is more rewarding than others. No matter if you just earn the trophies that you get from playing the game, you actively go trophy collecting from time to time, or you are a true trophy hunter, it is hard to deny the pleasure you get when you hear the little ding associated with the unlocked trophy in any game.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Review: PixelJunk Shooter - A Pleasant Waste of Time


Title: PixelJunk Shooter
Platform: Sony PlayStation 3 (PlayStation Network)
Release Date: December 10, 2009 (US)
Developer: Q-Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
My Rating: 8, very fun to play,
but not much going on.

   PixelJunk Shooter is an original take on a 2D space shooter game from the people that brought popular PlayStation Network games such as PixelJunk Monsters and PixelJunk Eden.
   The story in PixelJunk Shooter is that you are on a rescue mission to save stranded miners on an exotic planet. An exoplanet was found to have a rare, but valuable, mineral. Many miners were sent there to drill for the mineral, but after digging so far, their equipment turned on them. When trying to retreat, the planet came alive, with monsters attacking them on the way out. Your job is to get in, save as many miners as you can, and destroy the awry machinery.
   As a rescue mission, the gameplay is quite a bit different than what you might expect from your typical shooter. Much of the play in throughout the levels in the three areas is based on clearing obstructions to get to the miners. The obstructions can either be cleared using the guns equipped on your ship; fired with the right shoulder buttons, or using the various liquids that appear in the levels. For example, you will see a lot of ice that can only be cleared using lava. Normally, lava will cause your ship to heat up. If you heat up too much, your ship will explode. However, there are parts of the game that give you the ability to withstand the heat, and at times, actually be impervious to heat while taking damage from cold. Items; including miners, can be picked up with a grappling hook attached to the ship, using the left shoulder buttons. As you progress through the levels, you will encounter some enemies. These come both before and after reaching miners. Therefore, you might think a room is all clear, but will be surprised with some extra monsters popping out on the way to the exit.
   The slower-paced gameplay will definitely not prepare you for the boss battles. There is one for each area; three in all. I found them to be frustratingly difficult, which slightly dampened my view of the game. The bosses are; as you might expect, somewhat tough. This is in disproportion to the rest of the game, which is fairly easy. Because your ship will usually be destroyed in one hit, if you get to the boss without a shield, you will likely find yourself dying time after time while attempting to defeat the boss. Luckily, the boss fights are few and far between. Before you know it, you will figure out the boss and be advancing to the next area.
   As we have come to expect from the PixelJunk brand of games, the visual style in PixelJunk Shooter is pleasantly unique. The surroundings in the levels very much make you feel as if you are in underground caverns on an alien planet. I hate to make this comparison, because the visual style is very different, but I could not help but be reminded of Super Metroid in the thought that you are in a world very different from your own. The color palette is somewhat flat, mostly earthly. There is a lot of blues, browns, yellows, reds, and oranges. The monsters are not like any you have seen in other games. They are mostly mechanical in nature, popping out from the walls to shoot at you as you pass by. As mentioned, this is a 2D game. The background that the sprites and level are drawn over give hint that there is more cavern to explore. To get a full idea of the visual style, I would recommend checking out this E3 trailer available on YouTube.
   The audio track in PixelJunk Shooter adds to the aesthetic appeal of the game. It is a very basic track, but it feels right. The music is very calm, which matches the gameplay. When there are monsters on the screen, it picks up a little bit, but quickly quiets down when the action is over. The sound effects also seem to match with the visual style. They are different enough to set this game apart from other shooters, but are very appropriate for the gameplay and artwork.
   The controls are simple enough to quickly figure out. The left shoulder buttons are used to grab things in the environment. The right shoulder buttons are used to shoot. The left analog stick is used to move around. The right analog stick is used to change the orientation of the ship. For the most part, this all works well. However, I was not a huge fan of some of the physics. At times, it seemed the ship could not move quick enough; even when holding both analog sticks in the same direction to move more quickly. When you did get moving, the little bit of momentum would keep you going a little bit after changing direction. This is to be expected, as we know from basic physics lessons. However, what I did not like was how the orientation of the ship would adjust. Sometimes, I would have the perfect shot lined up, but as I would shoot, the ship would change its angle slightly. I am sure this was done purposefully; perhaps to simulate the recoil of shooting a gun. I just did not care for it much.
   All in all, I would say PixelJunk Shooter will make for a great afternoon for anybody looking to dive into one of the many experiences offered on PlayStation Network. The game is short, so it will not take up too much time from your busy gaming schedule. However, you will instantly fall in love with how the gameplay, visual style, and audio track come together to create this unique shooting experience.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Westwood College Postmortem

Introduction
   Most of my friends and family know that for the last several years I have been attending Westwood College Online to earn a Bachelor's Degree in Game Software Development. On December 12, 2010, my classes were officially finished. I am now the official holder of a Bachelor's Degree. Over the course of three years, many things happen. Therefore, it is only natural to reflect on some of the good, the bad, and the ugly of my educational experience.


The Good
Learning Feels so Good

   It is very rewarding to know you are doing something to better yourself. Education can be a great step in the road to prosperity. Westwood offered a well-rounded curriculum. I had course in all of the general education areas as well as many specialized courses that catered to my degree. Best of all, I learned that I have a true passion for learning. The feeling of having knowledge gives a large boost to self-confidence, which I never had much of. I was happy to get back on an educational track and plan to continue my education even further.


Goal Setting
   I have never been great at setting goals. Most of the goals I have set, I have not followed through on. Having such a strong focus over the course of the last three years has taught me the importance of goals in three degrees. First, you need to have short-term goals. Those would be the type that you plan to accomplish anywhere from the next few hours to the next few; maybe even up to six, months. Medium-term goals are the ones you hope to accomplish within a year, or possibly two. Long-term goals are the ones you hope to do beyond that period. It is always important to do goal setting. I would recommend each person do some conscious goal setting each day. This allows you to take an inventory of where you are at and where you want to go.


Degree in Three Years
   The degree programs at Westwood College are very intensive. You earn what is the equivalent of a Bachelor's Degree in three years. It has been my experience that many people are not cut out for the format. I was determined. As such, my lowest grade in any course in the three years was an 85%. I had no course withdrawals as well as no incomplete courses. I am very proud of myself for making it out as well as I did.


The Bad
Intensity Takes its Toll

   The format is a semester is five, ten week long semesters a year. That is fifty weeks of school throughout the year. Fifteen semesters in all. You get your assignments on Sunday night at midnight, Mountain Time. They are due the following Sunday at midnight, Mountain Time. The instructors are very unforgiving of late work; regardless of the excuse. This being what it is, you are either all in or all out. If you are halfway there, you can expect half a grade, which we all know is failing. During this time, I have missed out on a lot of family life. My kids went from ages four to seven and six to nine. I have missed birthday parties, family vacations, social outings, and much more. It is not only hard on yourself, but it is hard on the people around you. When a particular topic presents troubles, you can expect it to be very hard to find the solution. This leads to stress, which causes grumpiness, which ends in innocent victims. Even I cannot deny it will take time to fully mend the holes I have put in some of my relationships.


Pay for a Grade
   A particular concern of mine with Westwood College was the fact that it seemed I could not get a bad grade on a written paper. Just about every course required that you wrote at least one paper. I never received a poor grade on a paper. Some might contest that I just did that well. However, it is a deep understanding of mine that writing is not a strong point for me. At first, I always did my best. Without a doubt, you can never call me out for not doing my research. I am also a master with spelling, grammar, and syntax. Therefore, just on a mechanical basis, I should get at least a passing grade on a paper. However, the content of my writing is generally lacking. I am not the greatest at forming a point and staying on topic. I tend to ramble on when I make my points. Also, my conclusions are horrible, at best. If I were an English professor, I would have a very hard time giving my papers a better grade than a solid B. This is being honest. However, at Westwood, when you write a paper, you will get an A so long as it meets the length requirement. This made writing a pointless endeavor, but guaranteed that so long as your tuition was paid, you were getting a passing grade. I know for a fact that many of my papers were never read by anybody; not even myself, after writing them.


Not Enough Focus
   One thing anybody would expect when going for a degree in Game Software Development is to be doing a lot of game development. Unfortunately, this was not the case. In fifteen semesters, I had four courses dedicated to programming games. There were several courses dedicated to developing game ideas. There were also several courses devoted to planning a game software project. However, only four courses involved actually making a game. This was a large disappointment. The shortcoming showed badly when looking at the Senior Projects of my colleagues. While my project was not the best, I easily voted mine as better than most of the rest. Unfortunately, after all of that, I still do not know how to make a redistributable package with my software. Every time I attempt to run my game on a non-development computer, I get a side-by-side configuration error. Who could miss the thought that a game development student might want to be able to give his product away to his friends? This is really a sad truth about Westwood College: you will not be able to stand on your own two feet with the experience you earn at the school.


The Ugly
Bachelor's Degree in Three Years?

   For Westwood College to claim the degree you earn at their school is a Bachelor's Degree is a flat-out lie. The credits you earn at Westwood College are not transferrable in the least. I knew going in that I wanted to be able to take my degree to a university when I finished. I was told that I would be able to. Turns out that this was completely wrong. The thought that Westwood ever had accreditation or was even in consideration for other accreditation was part of a large scam that allowed them to drain students and the government of money. Bachelor's Degree? More like a certificate of completion.


Wait, How Much Did That Cost?
   Supposedly, the total cost of attendance at Westwood College is approximately $75,000. As the admission representatives say, most of which can be covered by federal and private grants. This is a lie in every respect. First, cost of attendance was more close to $100,000. Second, I applied for many private grants. I received none. As a matter of fact, I did not even get the courtesy of a denial letter for most of the grants I applied for. Bottom line, you will receive no private grants to help with the cost of attending Westwood College. Federal grants will work for those that are eligible; however, due to maximum limits, these barely cover half the attendance costs. The rest is loans. Paying that back is not going to be easy either. When you have loans so high, the monthly bill will also be high. Good luck to anybody in the same position as me, because I know repayment will be a major hardship on my house.


Industry Ready from Day One?
   The hardest fact to accept about Westwood College will not come until it is too late. The skills you learn at Westwood provide a great foundation for your career path; however, it will take much more work on a personal level to get from graduation to game developer in the industry. The school presents the curriculum as highly specialized, but it simply is not. You spend much of your time copying code from book. After that, you have little to no practice on your own. Those that would do best either have previous programming experience or have enough time on their hands to do lots of extra work with the material on the side. The highlight of distance learning is supposed to be the ability to do it at your pace; however, balancing a job, this curriculum, and a family will leave little time for anything else. When you graduate, you will understand that you could have done just as well on your own with a few books. Bottom line, the school will not prepare you for a job, you will have to do that on your own.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Welcome to My Blog

   Thank you for coming! This is the blog for Brian Furlong. I have had this blog for quite some time; however, I have yet to make use of it. I recently finished school, so I am making it a point to put up some content.
   A little about myself.....my name is Brian. I am known as Brian from Sacramento; B-Sac, for short. I am currently in Corona, CA, but will be back in Sacramento for good in a short while. I just finished my bachelor's degree for Game Software Development at Westwood College Online. Truth be told, I am very proud of myself; however, recent events have made it a bittersweet accomplishment. My long-term goal is to earn a PhD in Computer Science and go into research and development. I am very interested in the Intel chip-sets as well as Sony PlayStation, so hopefully my goals will lead me to a research position within one of these companies.
   In the meantime, I plan to put my Game Software Development degree to good use. I am working on an Android game called Swap Meet Server. I hope to have it out by the beginning of February. If it is even minimally successful, I have ideas for several other games that will be released in short time after. If it is marginally successful, I will expand the horizons to the iPlatform.
   In case it was not clear, I am a gamer. I am mostly a Sony PlayStation fanboy; however, I also have a soft spot for Nintendo. My main intention for this blog is to use it as a video game review blog. Because I work for myself, I shall review anything I want. However, I can take suggestions. For the most part, I will review games I have played in the past, but replayed in recent days for the purpose of reviewing. While I would like the reviews to be from a technical standpoint, I have yet to accomplish that. However, I will be working to mold my format from rant and rave to technical review. It may take some time, but I appreciate you reading; even if just for entertainment.
   I will also be using this blog to discuss my programming endeavors. As I said, I am currently working on a game for the Android platform. This is my first experience programming for Android and only my second experience working with the Java programming language. It is always good to reflect on your experiences, so I shall. As I said, my first title will be Swap Meet Server. This is a memory type game that I have developed in school using C++. The Android version will be an indirect port with a bit more functionality.
   I am also a family man. I have two wonderful kids; son and daughter, and a beautiful wife. We are constantly on the move. As such, I sometimes have life experiences that I would like to share. Therefore, from time to time, my blog will be completely off-topic (hey, this is my blog) and I might just write about whatever.
   It is my goal to write an article each day. That being said, this is the end of this article. I thank you all for reading. I hope you find the content entertaining at the least. Please feel free to leave comments and suggestions. Thanks!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4: I'll Have Another Helping Please!


Title: Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4
Platform: Sony PlayStation 3
Release Date: June 29, 2010 (US)
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive
My Rating: 9, an instant favorite.

   I always wrote the Lego games off as being solely for children. However, in a quest to earn some easy trophies, I decided I would give Lego Harry Potter a try. Much to my amazement, there is plenty going on in the game to keep kids and their parents coming back long after completing the story.
   I do have a couple of core complaints about functionality though. I will get those out of the way first so I can go on about how great of a game it is after.
   First, developers around the world need to know something about today's consoles. They support more than two players. I have four controllers, and while I can admit that in some places it might be difficult to work four players into the plot, I am fully disappointed that I cannot put all four of those controllers to use while playing the game. Somehow some way, we must learn to implement four player play in all co-op games.
   Second, it is way too easy to erase your game in Lego Harry Potter. True story, my wife decided she was going to play one day out of the blue. She turned on the game, selected New Game, then saved right over my son's save file. Why did they do this? I would think this is a no-brainer. Implement a Delete Game option in the menu screen. Do not let people overwrite games when starting a new game. Take it one step further; let people name their save files so it is obvious what is going on. Not a very hard thing to do; yet, it feels as if video games have taken a step back in menu implementation.
   Complaints aside, let's talk about what Lego Harry Potter did right. First and foremost, they gave the world what they truly wanted: a Harry Potter game where the player is free to explore the world of Harry Potter as they wish. Having a son that is a die-hard Harry Potter fan, I have had to sit through several lackluster Harry Potter games that do a mediocre job; at best, of taking the player through a single book in the Harry Potter series. I felt that this game did a good job of summarizing the story line in the first four books as well as let the player explore as they chose.
   Another thing that I liked about Lego Harry Potter was the "Legolization" of the mythology. Everything about the game reminds you that it is Legos. This is implemented very well, and even though some of the arranging of Legos with the wand can be frustrating, it is just as fun playing in a Lego video game world as it is playing with Legos in real life.
   A common complaint I have heard about the Lego games is the extension of gameplay via mindless collecting. I find the collecting to be very fun though. The people that complain of this mechanic could very well just be unhappy that it is a successful formula. For me, many of the most memorable moments in video games come from side quests. Which people that have ever played Final Fantasy VII will ever forget snowboarding? Not I. Anyway, the collection of character, gold bricks, red bricks, and studs in general is very fun. I will continue playing Lego Harry Potter to completion just for the enjoyment the collecting brings.
   A final high point for those that love Harry Potter is the level editor. It is my understanding that the level editor is fairly new to the Lego games, but it is very fun. Understandably, it may not have fit on a DVD, but playing with the editor for just a few minutes, I have to ask myself why it is not in every Lego game. It is a natural fit to allow players to create their own content with Legos. While the sharing side leaves something to be desired, the editor is very easy to use. My kids and I have quickly and easily built some side games in the game using the editor and it is quite literally like playing with a box of Legos.
   All in all, I feel that if anybody is looking for a great Harry Potter game to get into, Lego Harry Potter is the one to get. Beyond all of the great gameplay, Lego Harry Potter le's players do what they really want to do: explore the world of Harry Potter. Whether this is bought for the kids or you are man enough to admit you do not have any kids, Lego Harry Potter is a game that should be in every collection.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Super Paper Mario Review: Super Not Very Fun


Title: Super Paper Mario
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Release Date: April 9, 2007 (US)
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
My Rating: Somewhere between a 2 and a 3.
Really, don't play this game.

   I was very excited for Super Paper Mario when I first purchased it. I had just got my Wii. While I had my eyes on other games, Super Paper Mario was the vote that made the cut with the family. I love Mario though and have never played the original Paper Mario, so I was very excite to play it...
   ...that is, until I turned it on. Super Paper Mario's biggest problem was apparent from the very first screen. There was too much talk; not enough action. As a RPG/Platformer crossover, you do expect a fair amount of story. However, when a game consists of more reading than playing, there is a serious balance issue. This shows even more when the player actually stops and read the story. A great story can be very fun to read; however, the story in Super Paper Mario was, well, paper-thin. It was clearly geared towards a younger audience, but I have a hard time believing that the kids would have much more interest than I did.
   It is possible for me to see past the story, even if my button mashing finger does get tired of mashing the button. Unfortunately, I had a hard time finding much of worth in the actual game. Want to play through all of Super Mario Paper? Follow this pattern: explore the new area in 2D, be sure to talk to everybody, flip, explore the area in "3D", be sure to talk to everybody, defeat large monster, click through pages and pages of text, repeat.
   If that is not enough to keep you away, let us discuss some of the "mechanics" in Super Paper Mario. First, the 2D to "3D" flip. Notice I put "3D" in quotation marks. This is because of the sprites in Super Paper Mario are just that, sprites. All of the character sprites, good guys or bad, are done in 2D. There is little 3D modeling. Much of the 3D is actually rather flat. Sure, you can move in 4 directions instead of 2, but the extra dimension of movement is very narrow. Moving on, you would think there was not much to be able to be lost in Super Mario Paper; however, you will spend an incredible amount of time circling the levels trying to figure out what to do. Sometimes, you are supposed to walk through a solid wall, with absolutely no clue that this is what you are supposed to do. At another time, my personal favorite to hate, you advance in a level by hitting 3 coin boxes in a specific order. Later in the same level, you come to another set of 3 coin boxes that you also must hit in a specific order. Unfortunately, the order is a combination of 20-something different hits. You only find the combination by venturing back to the beginning of the level and talking to a specific guy. Sure, he informs you that you must write it down, but really?
   All in all, I would say the graphics are not what you would expect; even from a Wii game. The gameplay is simply not fun. The story is worse than the gameplay. I am not sure who would want to play this game. Little kids will be turned off by nonstop reading, as will adults. Those who get past the reading probably will not make it past the constant searching for nothing. By the way, I did not give fair mention to all of the extra content. Why did they even bother? I could not imagine anybody that felt obligated to beat the game would want to waste more time with it.