Jul 312011

We were having a meal, socializing with Sal’s old kindergarten teacher.  It was interesting talking to her as a person instead of only talking about Sal’s development.  Add in a touch of her husband’s perspective and I got such a chuckle out of the conversation that Sal started giving me a funny look.

We were talking about Happy meals.  And the toys in them.

Catherine: I can’t believe they haven’t banned the toys yet.

Teacher’s Husband: Why?

Teacher [in a hushed voice, talking quickly, then taking a bite of her food]: Because she likes to see children sad.

Apr 172011

First, I gotta admit, I’m watching another season of the Real World and I’m amazed how the more things change, the more things stay the same.  Should be a good reunion show though.  And I still wonder how much different I’d look with some film crew on my life vs how I perceive it.  Someone should sell that service.

Anyway, I read an article on how some games are lame – like Candyland and Chutes and Ladders or Hi-Ho Cherry-oh.  And they put it well, with the fact that there is no decision making in the game.  You get a color or spin the spinner and then you follow some rules and that’s the game.  No choices for kids to make.  So games with choices are good for the kids, cause you learn to play by rules and you learn to strategize as well.  I hadn’t thought about it so explicitly, but liked it when it was spelled out for me.

So what was that guy playing with his kids instead?  An RPG.  Which made more and more sense the more I thought about it.  Sal likes to role play when we’re driving.  If he can’t be playing Spore, he’ll talk about playing Spore.  If his mom doesn’t want to play Spore, they’ll play “Animals” instead, which, after I heard them playing for a while, was basically Spore Creature Creator.  He’s sneaky.  But he’ll also want to “play” Star Wars or Monster Trucks or Ninjago or Pokemon.

But our “play” lacks rules.  Though it’s fun for me to try and probe for rules (he won’t let me be the Death Star when we play Star Wars) it’s not a really a game.  Adding some of the structure of an RPG could give the game some more focus for him so that the game could get extra depth instead of just the breadth that he’s getting right now.

So at breakfast, I drew a map on the back of his menu at Hobbee’s and I downloaded a D&D die program for the iPhone.  And he walked through the maze, trying to rescue his mom, running into skeletons and treasures on the way.  This was based on the Ninjago storyline at first.  Sal, being a treasure hunter ended up exploring too much instead of bee-lining it for his mom, and died just before he finished his hi-hat hashbrowns.

He took it pretty well.  Better than I thought I guess and followed up with a quick – “Can we play again?”

Of course we can.  And this afternoon, we’ve been talking about all sorts of expansions to the game that he wants (pet dragons, ninja stars, backpacks, sushi rolls, etc) and as I’m thinking about it, I’m thinking it’s something that I’d find easier to keep track of with a program rather than crayons and menus.  Plus, it seems like something that can get him drilling math without really caring about the fact that he’s drilling math.  When attacking, odds numbers were misses and evens were hits.  So he’s getting practice with that.  And he did the calculations for hit points as people were doing damage to each other.  Over time, I imagine he’ll get more curious about probabilities and the differences between rolling a 6 sided die vs a 20 sided die.

Seems like, if I write a program to do this, I could prompt him for the math answers and his character could gain experience points that way too.  Depending on his “level”, the math probes could vary in both difficulty and rewards.  The rules could get more complicated too, once the character levels up enough, to introduce division and fractions and such.  And instead of “gold pieces” which is generic and useful enough for those well versed in our currency, we were thinking of using pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, so one would have to get used to doing the math involved with how much loot one did find (ie – “you found 4 pennies, 3 nickels a dime and 2 quarters – how much is that?”).  Every chance to get the math in there…I figure the more he’s doing it, the more likely he’ll work at creating a system to do it faster…

The tie in to making the math drilling fun is meaningful to me because there was a game I wanted to show Sal on the iPad and his first response as I called him over was “Is it going to be a fun one or one that tries to teach me math?!?”  Fortunately, it turned out to be both – Super 7 – a nice cross between flight controller and math drills.  Review coming over at Catherine’s site.

But anyway, as Sal and I are drawing up the rules for this game, I’m thinking, iPad app would be convenient to play, but server side app would probably be more convenient to prototype and update…and it’d still be accessible on the iPad.  But then again, the dad that’s talking about playing the RPG with his kids likes to build up mazes with the kids in the house and your character walks through the game and turns over cards that reveal monsters or treasures. There’s something to be said about having the manipulation in the real world I think.  But then I go back to being a lazy programmer and think it’d be so much more convenient to maintain experience points and rules and the dice if it was all bundled up in a program…so that’s got me back to keeping the game virtual.

I’m also wondering if anyone has other pointers on how to design an RPG game, period (both game dynamics as well as an OO approach).  Websearching has lead to some strange places.  One recommended RPG was Dungeon Squad, which I thought was good, but then was a little surprised when it’s wiki page had a comment that it was designed for teenagers.  Still, we might use similar rules – kind of making them up as we go along – but would really like suggestions if any more experienced dungeon masters have any.  I never really got to play D&D till I was in grad school – and even then, it was a little odd cause one guy kept on spending way too much time rolling to see if he could find any invisible items in the room.  Over and over again.  And again, one more time just to be sure.

Cause I guess it’s kind of hard to tell the difference between not seeing any invisible items in the room and well, not seeing any invisible items in the room.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep invisible items out of my game with Sal for a while.

Feb 222011

We’ve been working on a little toy app for Sal and he’s been part of the process.  I like hearing his opinion on UI and he’s got a decent eye for things.  There’s a lot of subtle changes that need to be made to transition from a mouse UI to touch UI.  He’s made the transition much faster than I have, though it probably helps that he doesn’t really remember computers pre-iPad too.

Sal: Why does it say ‘click to start’?
Me: Because you need to click it when you’re ready to play.
Sal: But why does it say ‘click to start’?
Me: Huh?
Sal: It should say ‘touch to start’ or ‘tap to start’.

Uh huh.  And later, we were putting on extra images here and there.  Off the cuff I ask him if the stickers should be the same as on another page, or different, or it doesn’t matter.  He thinks for a second, then says they should be different, and we talk about the algorithm for insuring things are different when you’ve got a shuffled deck.

Next day, he’s playing with it and says “This is wrong. The goat was on both screens.”  Ask him to clarify and reminds us that the stickers should be different.  We shouldn’t see the goat on both screens.  But it’s not consistently reproducible.  Turns out, the deck was being shuffled in between screens, so there was a chance of the sticker being repeated.  But it was random enough not to be too obvious.

Unless it is your requirement.  Then I guess it is more obvious.

Me: Good bug, man!
Sal: How can bugs be good?  [Then laughs at me.]

So its been good to see that he’s still getting more observant.  It makes things a little tougher when I’m trying to slide a fast one by him, but in the end, I think it’s better that he sees things for what they are.  Including us.

Bugs and all.

Dec 042010

That movie, Race to Nowhere, was triggered because a little girl hung herself over a poor score on a math test.  Not a math class, just a test.  And there’s a lot of pressure on the youth in the bay area to do things right.  Do everything, and do it perfectly.  And these kids get stress issues and such while in elementary school.

Well, not our guy.

He’s got a guitar recital today.  And he’s perfectly happy playing 7 notes, that could become the beginning of Twinkle Twinkle, if he wanted to use his left hand.  But the teacher back’s Sal’s call of doing the easy thing first.  After all, he’ll be on stage, he’ll be performing in front of a ton of strangers, he’ll be up there alone.

That is a lot to overcome and is a great step in itself.

But he can play the start of Twinkle Twinkle and is just choosing not to.  I guess one could argue, he’s a perfectionist in that he doesn’t want to commit to doing something he’s not confident about.  But it also seems just lazy.

And considering he got an S- (less than satisfactory) on effort on his kindergarten report card, it seems that others might think he’s not really applying himself as well.  Waiting for Superman was all about kids that were at risk educationally – but they were inner city kids with limited resources.  This kid’s at risk of underachieving because the bar for him is higher and he’s happy with the idea of a lower bar.

Curse of laziness is more of an issue, though I’m not sure where he got that from…

Jun 092010

I noticed through linkedIn that a guy I used to work with was now working at Apple.  I looked him up, we sent a few emails back and forth, and then I realized that he was working with more dudes that we used to work with and they got bought by Apple.  Siri.

These were the guys that I used to play basketball with in a 3-3 tourney against the Paris twins.

Cool for them.

But remember that guitar open house that Catherine brought us to over the weekend?  There was a dude there that used to work at Dejima too. I didn’t remember his name. But I remembered he wasn’t very good at his job, though I don’t really remember the job either – product marketing maybe?  Something vaguely product.

Anyway, his daughter was noisy and troublesome during the class. And I was thinking, yeah, a guy that was that bad at his job would probably be a very organized parent.

As we were leaving, I was asking Catherine if she remembered the guy at all, or maybe his name and she didn’t.  She just said when the mom came over after the info session was done (the kids were in the back at a table drawing and entertaining themselves) he growled at his wife: “She peed on the carpet!”

Yeah.  I don’t miss working with that guy.  Whatever his name was.

Jun 052010

Catherine leads off with “Want to goto an open house…” and I start to go into a daze.  But I’m used to this song and dance and I start to try and think up new reasons why this next house is great, but not “the one”.  Yeah, I can do that before I see the house.

But while I’m fantasizing about rejection, she continues “…for a guitar class for Sal?” and she successfully reset my expectations and we were excited to goto the place.

Then when we get there, it dawns on me why.  It’s the Suzuki method of teaching music.  Yeah, I didn’t know what that was either.  And it might not be the Suzuki method – that could be me generalizing a Japanese last name.  But it’s super successful.

Of course it is – because the parent is a significant teacher in the process – it’s one of their upfront commitments that you must make when you enroll your child into the class.  But what if the parent doesn’t know how to play the guitar?  That’s okay – because there is an 11 week course designed for parents to become home teachers.

And as all this sinks in during the presentation and I ask Catherine if she’s planning on going to class and she gives me her “I’m cute and I don’t think I need to do what you’re asking me” look I realized that she chose her “open house” wording very wisely.  Misdirection indeed.

So maybe Sal’s too little for a guitar.  Nope, they have guitars from “Argentinia” that are not like the “toy guitar like” things that they sell in music stores.  Used ones will run 250-600 bucks.  The older kids that were playing in the recital were sporting $5-7k guitars.

Okay – so the only way out is to get Sal afraid to commit to the year long classes, so that I don’t have to commit to the year long classes.  Except the guy is too young to know what committing to a year of classes is…and I don’t really want to scare him out of it anyway.

Here’s to a year+ of “twinkle, twinkle” – because, they emphasize really mastering a song before moving on, so that the next song is easier.  (I mean, I buy into all their tactics and think they are sound.  But I also buy into the notion that we pay people to teach and support and love my child, so that I can spend time on the internet…)

At least, this will give me some rationale for buying those guitar tuning and teaching apps on the iPad.