In 2011, a crack tester was sent to fashion prison by a military court for a crime he didn’t commit. This man promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Seattle underground. Today, still wanted by the government, he survives as a soldier of fashion. If you have a fashion problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him, maybe you can hire… The fAshion-Team.

Well, ok, just me. Smile

My friend Jason back in 2011 had a problem. Actually, he had 3 problems and those problems were his busted ass corduroy pants, some god awful shorts, and another pair of pants that were awful, but not memorably so. Like most intractable problems, these pants had a way a reappearing again and again. Despite Betsy’s efforts to convince him that, like an old lion past it’s prime, that they were ready to be taken down by younger, healthier pants, they’d always hang around. Brief interludes of pantlessness were pleasant, but temporary, and she always secretly hoped that he would never get back into them. Finally, in the spring of 2011 she had a breakthrough and Jason acceded to her wish for him to go on a “man-shopping date” to serve as shopping expedition to, “test the waters” so to speak, in regards to him accepting my advice. You see, Jason was pretty resistant to much of her requests, which to him sounded vague. Which she admitted was totally true, but despite her limited knowledge of men’s clothing, she had arrived at the unshakable notion that something was wrong, even if she was baffled how to fix it. And my clothes commentary sounded suspiciously like “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” type of chatter.

Still though, with a promise of fun man food and beer at the end of the shopping trip, and Jason not minding my company too much when I wasn’t discussing clothes, he accepted the idea of the initial shopping trip. We canvassed downtown Seattle, hitting up various stores and outlets, trying on clothes and just seeing what he’d be ok with. The list could be counted on 1 hand, and in despair I spent almost the entire afternoon coaxing and cajoling to get him to try on a pair of jeans, which aside from some shirts, was the main prize of the evening. Despite his misgivings, I flat out ordered him to buy the pants with assurances that the fabric would soften and shape to his form as he work them.

When we got home with the jeans, Betsy promptly told him that he looked “damn sexy” when he tried them on. In the biz, this is called “positive reinforcement”.

Great success!

Even though we’d only purchased a single pair of pants, the seed of better fashion sense was planted and my position as fashion czar was assured.  Over the summer the seed grew into an unstoppable crop of hate for his current clothes. Hence:


So no asteroids appear in the post, but for entertainment purposes, you can think of the people in the following roles:

  • Betsy = Billy Bob Thornton: Critical to the mission, but is doomed not to be able to participate. Knows there is a problem but doesn’t have specific tactical knowledge to destroy antagonist.
  • Me = “Roughnecks”, or if you want to be more specific, Ben Affleck: Performs the dirty work. Has specific knowledge to defeat the primary antagonist. Sort of cuddly, but sort of irritating in a “know-it-all” kind of way. Likes “Leaving on a Jet Plane” by John Denver.
  • Jason = Liv Tyler: Needs saving. Has inexplicable relationship with Ben Affleck, and love/hate relationship with Bruce Willis. Has a thing for cute animals.
  • Pants = Bruce Willis: Annoying. Been around for too long. Critical to and dies for the story (in this case the blog post).

Heretofore, Jason, in an effort to reduce his contact with sales people mostly interested in selling him something, tended to purchase clothes in bulk. Call it the “Costco” shopping approach. He’d get several identical items except for color, and wear them…what’s the phrase? Oh right, he wore them right into the fucking ground. And that’s putting it politely. Among other issues, one problem with buying all your clothes at the same time is that they wear out at the same time. Pantsageddon was a perfect storm of desire for nice things and all his pants falling apart. See below for a sample of what his pants were like. And he was wearing them everyday like this!

Corduroy pants 1Corduroy Pants 2Corduroy pants 3

Since it was summer time when this happened, Jason also expressed a desire to pickup some shorts. Preferably a pair that didn’t have an elastic waistband…and cargo pockets…

Shorts with elastic and cargo pockets 1Shorts with elastic and cargo pockets 2

Before heading out, Jason and I met and established some ground rules and goals of the shopping trip:

  1. Pants first and foremost was the goal
  2. We wanted some variety in the pants. He’d accept khaki’s if they were actually twill and not colored khaki.
  3. We’d not worry too much about price, but we didn’t need crazy expensive pants, we wanted pants that would move the boundaries of his comfort zone slightly, but were still wearable everyday.
  4. He liked solids, but subtle patterns were ok.

So with these rules, I decided we should go to Macy’s. Why Macy’s? Some of you might be thinking they are pricey. Some of you might be thinking they are cheap. What you should be thinking is that we needed to try on a whole bunch of clothes, in a whole bunch of styles, and do it without spending a whole bunch of money or waste a whole bunch of hours going from store to store. During our first time shopping, we had tried out a variety of stores including Nordstrom, Nordstrom Rack, Banana Republic, Express, and Macy’s. And at the time it was a giant time sink wandering from store to store. But it was ok, because we were trying to figure out what stores Jason had an affinity for. More so now than before, a part of the purpose of the excursion was to expand his sartorial horizons – and Macy’s already has plenty of things capable of pushing his boundaries. Knowing this, I decided it was more important for him to try out different kinds of pants rather than focusing on a particular brands (Express style vs Banana et cetera) kind of pants. And while I love Nordstrom, it’s pretty pricey for bedrock fashion closet stuff, and The Rack is just too hit or miss depending on size, availability, and location. Knowing our destination, we plotted our course to Macy’s.

We tried on a bunch of pants – it’s more exciting to try on clothes than to hear about it, but it was a rather hilarious picture of me pacing around the changing area waiting for Jason to come out and do his catwalk. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure all the salespeople thought we were gay. Doh!

The first clothes that Jason settled on were some chino’s in solid colors. Not too far of a move away from his old corduroy’s, but definitely a change, and much cooler for the summer. These were also pretty much the same color palette as the corduroy’s as well. This was the “safe” choice that he’d be happy with no matter what. One of the things that is nice about Macy’s is that they have an ungodly large section devoted to Dockers chinos. You’ll want to steer yourself away from the pleated pant section, and in general the D3 and D2 sections have this fabric that tends to have this shiny sheen to them that screams “I sell cell-phones for a living”, but if you poke around, they also usually have the more trendy pants prominently displayed near the aisle so look for those displays. I don’t think they had the Dockers Alpha Line at the time, but they did have their soft khaki line which is thankfully matte and comes in plenty of nice colors. I’ve tried to steer my clothes collection away from too many cotton twill pant pieces, but I admit these pants make me doubt my resolve sometimes. Jason picked out an olive pair (left) and a cargo pant (right) in a dark gray.

Dockers khaki oliveDockers cargo pants

As mentioned before, these are the safe choice pants and these pants are really important because they act like a safety blanket. After buying these pants, Jason has goten what he wants, so it’s easier to get him to try things out subsequent items that are out of his comfort zone. This is an important point because, ultimately, we want him to be happy with his pants AND we want him to feel comfortable with the process of selecting clothes.

Since we’d gotten the safety pants out of the way, I started changing gears and selected some pants safely in his color palette, but somewhat out of his fabric zone – streaked gray five-packet pants.

“What about these five-pocket pants?” I asked.

“What’s a five-pocket pant?” he replied.

“They are like jeans, but not. And you can wear them anywhere you’d wear the khaki’s we already picked.”

“Ummmmm….alright. I guess. You are the fashion expert.”

“Damn right I am. Now get your ass into the changing room.”

Textured five pocket pants 2

He emerged a changed man. I liked these pants on him because they match his build a little better. You’ll see it later when he tries on the shorts, but Jason is a little bow-legged and he needs a good ratio between the waist and pant leg size to maximize his leg profile. He doesn’t really have big thighs to fill out the pant leg on pants that have a looser cut, but if it’s too slim, it accentuates his natural slimness. He really dug these pants, and afterwards we were able to try out something really far from his normal pant choices: glen-plaid cotton pants!

glen-plaid pants 1glen-plaid pants 2

He actually liked the pants SO much that he changed into a fancier shirt to show off when we were taking pictures. These pants are really great for Jason. They expand his color palette out of the dark shades that he’s been wearing for years. They are light and summery for the warm weather. The glen-plaid pattern is very light so they aren’t plain and wash out against his fairer complexion. And most importantly he loves the pants! These are the pants that launch a thousand outfits so to speak – once he fell in love with the pants it was so much easier to get him to see the quality in a piece of clothing.

Okay, so we’re not quite done yet. We made a quick pit stop over at J. Crew to find some shorts. I can’t remember 100%, but I seemed to remember finding the short selection at Macy’s somewhat lacking. Too many cargo pockets, not enough colors, too long. Basically Tommy Bahama hell. I won’t digress much more, but I feel like Tommy Bahama might be the worst thing they sell at Nordstrom. They’re certainly the worst shirts they sell by FAR.


We picked up a nice pair of light blue shorts. No elastic, no cargo pockets. Just the right length down the thigh. JFK-esque. Check ‘em out yourself:

J crew shorts 1

I could’ve standed for them to be a smidgen higher up the thigh, but other than that they were fine. Past knee length shorts and really short shorts require specific body types to look good. They also require specific situations to look good. These kind of shorts will flatter many body types, and are a great all-around short type to buy.

Making the Grade

We took everything home and Betsy promptly sat down for her fashion show. Her approval meant everything, and she was pleased with the booty. Both meanings. No longer buried in a quagmire of worn out corduroy, Jason’s ass was freed from bondage. A happy ending for everyone at all ends.

Okay, okay, I’m done with the puns.

So what did we learn here? We learned that no one had to sacrifice themselves to make the giant pile of worn-out pants destroy your wardrobe. You just need some patience and the ability to understand people. Not everyone is going to wear $200 jeans around everyday. But everyone likes to look good, and given sufficient motivation, and the proper affirmation, everyone can find reasonable clothes that flatters them. I think it was a great success all around and Jason continues to work on his wardrobe. He was really happen with the pants. I got a free meal and a chance to mock Jason as he pranced around in clothes for me. I also got some great material for a blog post. And of course, Betsy got a sexy man-husband to keep on her arm.

I love it when a plan comes together.


Setting up your router to use DynDNS

I was recently reminded that I wrote a post about setting up your Windows XP machine to be remote accessible anywhere, but I never wrote the follow-up on what to do after that! I was working with one of the leads at Tableau when we were talking about workarounds to get a Mac on the network. Long story short, I mentioned the article I’d written, but when I read through it, it ends after setting up Windows XP for remote operation.

This means if you followed up the instructions in the original post to the letter, you’d have to remember your IP to be able to connect,and if your internet provider ever gave you a different IP, you’d have to find out what it is and rememorize the new IP. What I ended up doing after that is setting up my router to use a free service from Most new-ish routers have the build-in capability to work with to provide free IP update services, and also free DNS hosting – the caveat being you are limited by the domains available to you. Since we only plan to use this to remote, this is not such a bad limitation! Below are the adapted instructions I whipped up for Raif, I hope they work well for whoever reads them too. Smile

  1. Go to
  2. Setup an account
  3. Under “My Services” select “My Hosts” DynDNS account setup type
  4. Select “Add New Host Name” DynDNS add hostname
  5. Pick a name and an extension. Fill in the IP address. Then activate.
  6. Now login to your router. Look for something like this:DynDNS setup - router portion
  7. Fill in the info from DynDns
  8. Apply and let the magic happen

This capability is completely awesome and really makes your information at home accessible. Of course you will want to lockdown your router and also be very careful not to share the name that you’ve chosen for your machine, but in my opinion, the benefits are very much worth the tradeoff. Happy Remoting!

Project in Review, Part 3: 2D or not 2D?

[cross-posted from my blog here!]

This is a continuation of a multi-part blog series focusing on the development of Archimedean Assault. Go read part 1 and part 2. It’s good!

Once the scope of our game was reasonably well defined, we set forth like good little game jammers and started hammering out code, 2D art assets and music.

Not far into this process, we realized the multiplicative nature our scope had on our art assets. A robot. Alright, he has to walk around and shoot. But, also, he has to transform! A transforming robot. Okay, that doubles the number of art assets for our robot’s actions. We need assets for both versions of the robot. And, we also need a transition animation going from one form to another. Okay, fine. A free-roaming game world in which the player can move 8 directions.

So, we need at least number of actions * number of forms * number of directions (x * 32 for those keeping score at home!) frames for any given action, and that’s before we get into animation. That means, if we want the robot to fire a gun and have muzzle flash, we need to get the muzzle flash from each direction in each form. When we start talking about animation and number of frames per animation, hand-drawn art assets quickly balloon out of control.

That’s before we start talking about the environment assets in which the game will actually take place.

Being the newbs that we are, we don’t have a dedicated pixel artist. We’ve got nguyenn1, who is by my estimation, about 10% of a dedicated artist. It takes us a few weekends to discover that we wrote a check for art assets that our group couldn’t cash. At least, not within a reasonable timeframe, and not within a reasonable quality.

We mitigated our dependency on pixel art by borrowing heavily from anywhere we could. danc’s sprite sheets on Lost Garden quickly became an invaluable asset that we leaned on.

Of course, this restricts us to assets that fit into the kind of game we’re trying to build, and art decisions became something to the effect of “Well, what’ve we got that kind of works?” That strategy doesn’t work when you have very specific demands, like “floating citadel” or “a robot that transforms from 8 different angles.”

After realizing that there was no way we’d effectively deliver on our artistic demands, I started looking at alternatives. 3D models are readily accessible at comparably low costs from sites like TurboSquid. After several months, the art assets for the player weren’t yet complete, and environmental art assets were still quirky and buggy. But, we could buy a 3D model that matched up pretty well with our vision for $5.

If $5 can save months of artist time, it certainly seems like money well spent. However, working with 3D assets requires time elsewhere. It requires non-trivial developer time and ramp-up time on tools and techniques across the team. Once I have a $5 model for the player, then what? The landscape of 3D modeling software isn’t terribly friendly (importers for fixed content, exporters to proprietary formats that either didn’t support our content pipeline or munged content beyond recognition, rigging models and animating them in-game…), and animation seems to be a mess across the board.

So, $5 doesn’t seem to save us time, but does distribute the load across the team a bit more evenly. But, how can we be sure that we aren’t wasting our time chasing something because we think it’s fun?

Dueling Clothes: J. Crew Mayfair Wool-Cashmere Topcoat vs Express Wool Topcoat

I’d been looking for a topcoat for a while, but finding a good topcoat is hard. Some of you might be asking, what the hell is a topcoat? And how is that different from a regular coat?

As always, Wikipedia to the rescue! A Topcoat, or overcoat is a coat meant to be worn over your suit, or to more formal occasions. The main difference between an overcoat and a topcoat is the material, but pretty much the usage is interchangeable for the most part…in fact, I’d say the topcoat usage is more widespread in retail. Exhibit A: J. Crew:


The sad fact is that a lot of topcoats out there just plain suck. The main issue with most of them is that they are just plain ugly. The biggest sin is that they are just incredibly big, followed up by the insanely long “80’s stock broker” look that just looks bad. Nordstrom, I love you, but you had a lot of both of these:


Oh yeah, one more thing, many of these coats are just crazy expensive. Check out the Dolce and Gabbana for a cool $560 – after 50% off! Fortunately, J. Crew offers the Mayfair topcoat that has a really modern cut, good make (wool/cashmere mix), nice style (single breasted with proper collars, and a reasonable starting price ($375). Post-Christmas these coats went on sale and I managed to snag mine for $246 after tax and free shipping. Happily, Express also had a crazy sale and they had their wool topcoat on sale for…$79.99. I’d been lusting after the J. Crew Mayfair for many a week, but the price on the Express coat was so good that I had to compare the 2. What follows is a sartorial death match with only 1 winner and the other returning to the store, sad and broken.

The Contenders

J. Crew Mayfair Wool-Cashmere Topcoat

J. Crew is both an online behemoth and a series of brick and mortar stores. This in itself is not uncommon as most clothing retailers have both web and physical outlets. What is weird is that J. Crew the online store operates almost wholly separate from the physical locations. That means that the online store will have both stock AND sales that may not exist or be honored at the physical location. This makes it particularly difficult to shop for men’s items because ONLY the Seattle J. Crew location has what they call a “Men’s Shop”. This means they carry suits and topcoats in addition to the normal assortment of garments. The Bellevue location is just a travesty with respect to selection for men and the less said here the better. The upshot of all this is that it’s better to order from J. Crew online than it is to buy in person. With that all said, let’s see how J. Crew sent the coat to me:

Jcrew topcoat box shot 1Jcrew topcoat box shot 2

This type of packaging is pretty standard for J. Crew, as I got the same kind of packaging when I ordered my J. Crew Ludlow fine-stripe cotton suit (review forthcoming!). Let’s open it up and take a look inside:

Jcrew topcoat unboxing 1Jcrew topcoat unboxing 2

Nothing too special here, notice the J. Crew logo on the bag, and also note the nice job they did folding the coat to prevent any creases.

Express Topcoat

The coat was purchased in-store, so there are no unboxing photos. As a sidenote, Express actually carries 2 different versions of its topcoat: regular and fitted. The in-store version will almost always be the regular version and you can verify this by checking the materials. The regular version is partially polyester whereas the fitted version is 100% wool. I didn’t get a chance to try out the fitted version, but if unless you are particularly slim, the regular version is already pretty tight.

Round 1– Construction, Materials, and Interior Details

In round 1, we’ll go over the construction, materials and interior details of the coat. A good topcoat is a lot like a suit jacket, so many of the same things that make a good jacket also denote quality in a top coat.

Interior Lining

The interior lining of the J. Crew coat is satiny, but is all black. The Express jacket has a black satiny lining for the body, but surprisingly, they manage to have a striped contrasting lining in the arms. Take a look! The Express is on the left and the J. Crew is on the right:

Express coat details 1Jcrew coat details 5

If you click on the J. Crew though, you can see that the stitching is especially fine. I unfortunately don’t have a picture of the Express stitching, and while it was more than adequate, the J. Crew coat impressed me here. I would take the better stitching over the contrasting sleeve lining, but it is a nice touch, and makes this kind of a wash between the two coats.


One thing that really surprised me about the Express coat was the prevalence of pick-stitching on the pockets as well as the lapel. This is a REALLY nice detail that I would not have anticipated on a cheaper coat. This is a clear mark above the J. Crew which does not feature any pick stitching.

Express coat details 2Express coat details 3

You might have to click on the pictures, but to the pick stitching is clearly visible on the jacket. The only thing that might be mentioned in J. Crew’s defense is that the material of their coat is heavier and the coat seems to function more as an overcoat, rather than the Express which feels lighter and seems more intended as a jacket replacement. Nonetheless, it would have been excellent to include the pick stitching if possible and I applaud Express for including it here.

Interior Pocket

Since these are meant to be dressier coats, the exterior pockets won’t be used generally, so the interior pockets are very important. Both coats don’t disappoint, with the J. Crew going above and beyond with a hidden third pocket on the exterior of the left hand pocket.


Express coat details 5Express coat details 6

I did like that there was a flap for both pockets to seal it, but I’m not a huge fan of the pen pocket. I think they put it there because they don’t expect the wearer to have another jacket underneath (see below for further notes regarding this), but it’s sort of an extra unneeded detail that doesn’t appeal to me.

J. Crew

Jcrew coat details 1Jcrew coat details 2

The first picture isn’t a great picture of the pocket, but you can see the closing flap. When I originally took the pictures, this article wasn’t intended to be a duel, so I was showing off the extra buttons included with the coat. Ditto for picture number 2, I was showing off the very nice size and materials label, but you can see the third pocket in the shadows there. There is NOT a flap the close the 2nd and 3rd pockets, but that doesn’t really bother me too much as there is at least 1 pocket with a way to fasten it shut. My preference here is for the J. Crew configuration as it gives you more space.

Lapel Tailoring and Materials

In cold weather, these types of coats need a scarf to cover the upper chest, and it’s not uncommon to “flip up” the collar to help hold in the scarf and ward off the cold. This means the tailoring done on the collar will be exposed, as well as helping to maintain the lapels’ shape when switching back and forth between the two configurations. Take a look at how each collar was done (again Express on the left, J. Crew on the right):

Express coat details 4Jcrew coat details 4

The color is a wash here, because although I like the contrasting material on the J. Crew, I doubt that they change that color to match the coat color, so if the coat I had purchased was grey instead of black, it would also match like on the Express. However, what one can see is that the J. Crew stitching is MUCH higher quality here. The stitches are smaller and there is no excess fabric crudely folded over like on the Express coat. I also felt a difference when wearing the coat, as the J. Crew lapel folded up and down much more smoothly and when I turned my head and my chin encountered the collar, the collar moved more smoothly out of the way on the J. Crew.

Material wise, if you went just by the numbers, the J. Crew wins hands down. It’s 95% wool and 5% cashmere and it’s soft as hell. But frankly, for something only 80% wool, the Express topcoat was pretty damned soft. And at 1/3 the price, it’s kind of shocking how good a job Express did there. Would I expect the J. Crew to hold up longer and retain it’s softness, sure. But at $80.00, the Express could be replaced several times over. I’m giving the win to the J. Crew because at the end of the day, it is softer, but it damn well SHOULD be softer.

Round 1 winner: J. Crew barely edges out the Express

Round 2: Fit

So even though Round 2 is only concerned with fit, don’t let that fool you: this is the make or break round. All that other stuff is nice, but if it doesn’t fit it’s going back to the store. That said, let’s take a baseline comparison with both coats (unbuttoned) front and back. As usual, the Express is on the left and the J. Crew is on the right:


Express coat unbuttoned front 1Jcrew coat unbuttoned front 1


Express coat behind 1Jcrew coat behind 1

So a few things to note right off the bat. From the front, both coats look about equal in fit, but the Express is clearly quite a bit longer. It’s not the camera playing tricks on you as I’m standing at around the same distance. Also, if you look at the behind pictures, the J. Crew coat is actually slimmer. You can tell because the light from the front of the house can be seen in the gap between my body and my arm whereas on the Express coat it’s completely obscured. Both have a center vent of about the same size in the back and while it’s tough to tell in these pictures, the J. Crew has a ticket pocket AND a chest pocket while the Express does not. Not that you’d ever stick anything in the chest pocket, but the ticket pocket is a classy and handy touch. At this point, the J. Crew is the clear winner to me based on length and general look. It’s looks dressier and it’s shorter so it definitely looks trimmer to my eye. Let’s take a look at the coats with the front buttoned:

Express coat buttoned front 1Jcrew coat buttoned front 1

The Express coat continues to look a bit bulkier here. The J. Crew coat in most of the pictures has the collar flipped up, so it’s hard to compare, but the large lapel of the Express contributes to the boxy look. Let’s take a look at me with my arms held up to see how these coats fit when stretched in the worst possible scenario:

Express coat buttoned front  2Jcrew coat buttoned front 2

Notice both are pretty slim in the body, but look at the shoulders. This is pretty telling; the Express coat is heavily structured in the shoulders compared to the J. Crew. I believe this to contribute significantly to the boxy look. In these pictures, the collar was flipped up the  on the Express but it wasn’t too comfortable (part of the reason why it’s folded down in most of the other pictures). Another small detail to note is that the J. Crew buttons are hidden. Take a closer look at the button flaps that cover them:

Jcrew coat details 3

No real improvement in function, and it’s really up to you what you prefer visually. I think the Express coat looks better with the buttons showing, but that’s also probably because it doesn’t have a chest pocket, or a ticket pocket to break up the front visually.

Ok, last 2 pictures with me trying my best to look cool:

Express coat unbuttoned front 2Jcrew coat unbuttoned front 2

Frankly, I think the J. Crew looks better here with the shorter length. It also happens to lay better because the material is softer and doesn’t lay as stiffly as the wool of the Express. Not shown here, but the thing that really clinched the fit for me is that fact that the J. Crew coat fits well with a suit jacket. It’s obvious that was a design consideration for them and it shows. The Express coat is a fine coat by itself, but for me it is impossible to wear it and a suit jacket unless I switched to a Large (which I did in-store). The large version of the coat is MUCH larger and looks terrible on me. It could be me, but I’m not especially muscular or large (5’ 10” and 181 lbs.) so I have to chalk this up to how they made the coat.

Round 2: J. Crew wins hands down


Winner: J. Crew Mayfair Wool-Cashmere coat by unanimous decision!

So the J. Crew wins a clean victory. It’s definitely the better coat, but at double the price normally ($375 vs. $250) and 3 times (!!!!) the price during heavy discounting ($246 vs. $79.99 + tax) it had better be! If price is an issue, it’s hard to go wrong with the Express. I chose the J. Crew because it was really important to me that the coat truly function as a topcoat and be able to be worn over a suit jacket. Plus I had the extra bucks to spend on the coat. But for those who are less demanding in quality, or less prone to wearing a jacket, or whose budgets cannot accommodate the expenditure, the Express coat would make a fine addition to the closet. For the money and style though, in my searches I don’t think any coat can compare to the J. Crew.

Project in Review, Part 2: Archimedean Assault

[cross-posted from my blog. Click here to read the original.]

In this episode, we’ll focus on the team makeup going into the development of the currently-stalled Archimedean Assault. For a general overview of the project, go read Part 1 in this series.

I mentioned we had about a half a dozen people that thought this was a great idea for some reason. For a hobbyist, “Hey, who else wants to go get stuff done this weekend?” project, we ended up with an all-star cast of game development awesome.

The Game Designer

nguyenn1 leveraged some awesome connections from a local Soul Calibur Game Night and roped in an honest-to-goodness, gainfully employed game designer from a local game studio.

This was awesome, and we were quickly shaping up to be a legit operation (!!!).

Having a designer on-board for the first time, one thing we quickly learned was that an hour of game designer time could quickly translate to hundreds of hours of development time.

Even though we settled on a general design early on in the project, gameplay evolved as soon as people got their hands on something playable. Evolving design meant more requirements during development, which equated to more time producing art/audio assets and development.

On the plus side, having a game designer allowed others to focus on their work. I could fire up a build of the game, enthusiastically shout “This isn’t fun! Who cares, not my job!” and then toss it over the wall like a good and/or bad engineer is prone to do. Being able to lean on the game designer was certainly handy for maintaining focus in the face of a game that wasn’t immediately fun.

Of course, in order to be able to toss it over the wall, we had to expose a bunch of levers to allow the game designer to tweak core gameplay mechanics. Keep in mind that we started with the game jam format, which roughly translates to producing code that only looks like it works by Sunday.

Letting the designer muck with game mechanics is a data-driven concept, and the game jam schedule is on the opposite end of that particular spectrum. That got us in a bind where virtually everything was hard coded and needed to… not be.

Exposing gameplay mechanics for the game designer ended up taking just as long as the original game jam schedule. Whoops.

Lesson learned. All roads lead to data-driven content. Got it.

Project in Review, Part 1: Archimedean Assault

[Crossposted from my blog. See the original here.]

As nguyenn1 alluded to, we’ve been working on a game (!). What started as a weekend long GameJam entry into October’s LudumDare competition is… well, still going. We’re clearly over every imaginable budget at this point, so let’s take some time to look back and see what went well and what could have gone better. But, before that, let’s set some context!

Archimedean Assault is a single-player, arcade-inspired shooter featuring a transforming protagonist. Development efforts were borne out of a love for games and a coinciding LudumDare competition.

The player pilots a Gundam-style mech that can switch between a maneuverable aerial form and a heavy-hitting ground assault tank. While airborne, the player has exceptional maneuverability through a constant speed bonus and afterburners for an extra boost. In contrast, the player’s ground form is a slow-moving, armored behemoth with much more firepower. Expert players will strike a balance between air superiority and ground assault modes to destroy opposing forces and complete objectives scattered through a free-roaming game world.

In retrospect, I’m not sure how any sane individual could read that last paragraph and say, “Hey, we can totally hammer that out in a weekend!” Yet, we had about a half a dozen people on-board with the idea that we could.

Stay tuned for the gory technical details!

Game Theory: Making the Game

Does anything ever work the first time?

I have always loved video games. I can’t think of a time where there wasn’t a video game in my life when I was growing up. I remember looking through catalogs (remember those?) to Witmark (!!!) wishing I could buy the Turbographix 16 or the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Point of fact though, I think a lot of guys my age had similar experiences, but most of them never do it. I don’t know why that is; it’s probably just like most things we dream of as children – wonderful fantasies we cherish that we don’t have the time, or opportunity, or the ambition to ever accomplish. So naturally, when I was presented a chance to make a game with some friends from work, we never did anything beyond basic talk.

OK, this time is for realz guys

Fast forward just about 1 year, and the some of the same guys, some new guys, and you know what? We started talking about making a game, and this time we actually started working on something! What follows is a little snapshot and history of our game. Right now it looks pretty crappy, and it IS pretty crappy. But it works, and it uses assets that are not cribbed (well, entirely cribbed) from other sources. It even has box art and an official story!

Now, before I go any further, sometime after we started making the game Gabe and I talked about documenting our experiences making (still making as of the writing of this post!) our 2nd game together. That’s right, I said Gabe and I! Gabe will be a guest blogger who will be contributing his own thoughts and insights into what we’ve been working on. Some of the material will be the same, but he’s going to focus on the things he likes aka coding, and I’ll focus on a few pieces that I know well. I hope you guys enjoy what we have to say. But that’s getting ahead of things. Let’s go back to the 2nd beginning…

So in the beginning there was Gabe. And Gabe had this idea that we could do an unofficial “game jam”. A game jam is a weekend dedicated to conceiving, designing, programming, creating, testing and releasing a game. It’s meant to encapsulate the entire experience of game creating into a single weekend. By this time, I’d felt like I learned some lessons from the first time we tried to make a game, and when he asked me, I jumped at the chance.

Now around this time, it became pretty apparent to us that we needed more skills than just what Gabe and I could bring to bear. Sure, we had the help of 2 of the previous participants (Brett and Michael), but that was pretty much the same group of guys who failed the first time. Fortunately for us, I’d managed to make a few new friends who would prove very helpful to us. My friend Bryan was/is a game designer, and his brother Bruce (or Brewski as I like to call him Smile ) studied sound design at school. I felt with Bryan’s previous experience, he could help us design a better game and Bruce filled in a much need gap in our skill set. We still lacked an artist, but having realized this from the last time we tried to make a game, I decided to bit the bullet and make the art for the game.

The Usual Suspects

Friday after work, we all gathered at Gabe’s house and started to powow. The original gang consisted of Gabe, Jaison, Bryan, Bruce, and myself. Brett and Michael had agreed to work as guns for hire and bang out the code we needed once the game design had been settled down. The game I 🙂 had in my mind looked a lot like an old arcade shooter called Cybattler

Cybattler google images:

I wasn’t able to articulate this at first since I had forgotten the name of the game, but eventually everyone got the idea. At this point, each person had some input, but Bryan really took a large role here. From the initial game concept (i.e. clone cybattler) he envisioned a much more free-form concept that involved the same pieces: transforming robot, space, waves of enemies but instead revolved around exploring the map searching for those enemies. We all agreed to this concept and started working! The whole process definitely took a bit of time, and Bryan was to spend A LOT more time fleshing out many of the specifics that we never even got to.

At this point, the 4 of us split apart and starting playing around with each of our assigned roles. Gabe is a much stronger coder than I, with more experience, so I started working on the concept art and actual art of the game. I don’t have a Wacom tablet or anything, so when we started doing the initial conceptual art of the robot, we did it with paper and pencil first. As a child of the 80’s, all things anime had a big influence on me, but Robotech and Battle Tech in particular had a really strong grip on my imagination as a child. Below are the sketches I did to get an initial idea of what kind of aesthetic we wanted the robot to have:

Archimedean Assault Robot concept art 1Archimedean Assault Robot concept art 2

The robot had to be able to transform from plane to robot and back again, so you can see the elements of the plane in the robot design. The feet were meant to contain the primary thrusters. The shield in the second picture formed the wings of the plane and the backpack looking thing was the plasma thruster unit which was meant to be the afterburner in plane mode, and a kind of beam weapon in robot form. The pictured gun was originally a kind of machine gun in my own head, and was also the primary attack cannon of the plane mode. The primary thrusters of the jet mount onto the back of the robot and provide the movement and flight capability in space. There are no hardpoints for missiles – in typical anime style they are internally stored. Smile In our robot’s case, they are stored within the legs so that means the robot is actually more heavily armed in robot mode than in plane mode! The tradeoff is that the plane is much faster.

My next post will talk about the tools we used to create the art assets and hopefully the source control software. But the next post you should see will be from Gabe!