18 December 2007

Pay Your Water Bill

New York City was recently spared a raise in water rates. Instead of sticking the 18% rate hike to NYC residents, the government will track down water bill deadbeats and make them cough up the dough. The question that immediately came to my mind was, "Do you know anyone who refrain from paying for water use?" Every now and then someone would tell me that they have to leave the place where they are at to "go pay my water bill." Some Chinese I know even say the exact same thing in Chinese, namely, "去交水費". So how can there be water bill deadbeats if so many people I know always pay their water bills. Where did those people go when they said they went to pay their water bill?

It is a strange world ;-)

16 December 2007

The Story Behind Platypus

I liked the game Platypus so much I started to Google for more info about it. I learned that there was a sequel called, uh, Platypus II, for Windows only for now. Then there was also a Platypus for Sony's PlayStation Personal. Eventually, I came across the web site for Squashy Software, Anthony Flack's company. It was there that I learned about the story behind the game.

There are two stories of note on the Squashy Software web site. The first, also discussed elsewhere on the web, was that Anthony was an up-and-coming game developer. Along came software publisher iDigicon offering Anthony a lump sum for the game Platypus. Like many people starting out, Anthony didn't have much money at the time and took the offer, signing away all intellectual property rights that would be associated to the game. As yet another item in the traditional brick-and-mortar stores, the game didn't fare well at first. Then Mike Boeh obtained the rights to distribute the software from iDigicon, made some improvements to it, and re-released it online as shareware/demoware. The game was a big hit, but unfortunately, all Anthony Flack got out of it was the original sum iDigicon offered him (plus the completion bonus). Well, for a short while, through arrangement with Mike Boeh, Anthony was able to offer the game from the Squashy Software web site, but then iDigicon canceled the deal with Boeh and the action nixed the Squashy link as well. That was Feb 2006, something might be different by now because Boeh's web site, www.retro64.com, does offer Platypus for download, but Squashy Software doesn't.

Scott Adams of Dilbert fame once wrote that to be successful in business you would need to be a business person. He attributed his success in the cartoon syndication not so much because of his drawing skill, but rather from some other business angle. The world can be a complicated place sometimes. I identify with Anthony because I am not business-savvy. I like drawing cartoons and hope someday to make a living out of it. I dread ending up like young Anthony Flack of yesteryear, taken advantage by some lop-sided business deal that, at the time, was better than nothing.

The other point I find interesting is how having a backup offsite makes all the difference. While young Anthony was working on putting out Platypus, a fire in his building consumed everything he possessed except the clothes on his back. Luckily, he had a backup of the game stored outside the apartment. Wow. It is not only important to have backups, but the backup must be offsite, physically away from the original. Anthony had a hard time finding plasticine to continue making clay models, but at least he had the backup to continue the work.

Anthony Flack has been working on the next game, Cletus Clay, for a while. There is much anticipation in the indie game developer community, but Anthony doesn't have enough time to devote to it. Let's wait and see.

BTW, I learned today at http://www.blitzbasic.com/Community/posts.php?topic=34737 that Michael Reitzenstein did the conversion for the Mac platform for Platypus.

Besides the story posted on www.squashysoftware.com, you can also get info about Anthony Flack from an interview he granted to Indie Game Developer's Podcast:


15 December 2007


I am on the mailing list of a few game publishers, both to keep up with the news and for the occasional freebies. Recently, Macgamestore.com gave away the game Platypus to its subscribers. At first, I thought, great, a shoot-em-up game. In recent memory, I bought the game Jets 'N Guns, also of the shoot-em-up genre, because of its great music and impressive graphics, but the game is so hard I never got beyond level 2. I've been looking for
another game in the shoot-em-up category. Platypus is just what I want.

The game is relatively easy to play. I was able to get past a few levels the first time I played it. Work with a second player and you can advance even faster. (In the screenshot, Player 1 (yellow) hasn't re-materialized yet after being blasted into smithereens earlier.) I am currently stuck at Level 2, Area 2, so it is not that easy that I can finish in one seating. The music by Chris Abbot is nice, too. I wasn't into computer during the Commodore 64's heyday so I didn't readily recognize Abbot's music, but there is some similarities to the music I heard in some Commodore Amiga games. Unlike Jets 'N Guns, there is no need to buy and sell stuff to arm your spaceship. Just blast a wave of enemies and they become stars for you to collect. Shoot the stars a few times more and the power-up changes - wide-shooter, autofire, sonic wave, rocket, and lightning.

What really sets Platypus apart from many of the games out there is its claymation-based graphic. I think there are some game building packages out there that are used by the people who supply games to publishers like Game House and Big Fish Games. It's probably the same people using the same artists, such that they all look similar. The way the games are played maybe different, but still they do look the same. It's like cartoons from Pixar or Dreamworks. Impressive and beautiful as they are, the look in all those cartoons are the same. Not so with Platypus, because its creator, Anthony Flack, had meticulously made everything from clay and animated them. Think Nick Park, Creature Comfort, and Wallace and Grommit. Even though I am good at drawing, animation, computer-assisted or not, is just too tedious for me. My hat goes off to Anthony for the great work. The clay appearance simply gives the game a unique look that I haven't seen in any games.

Next time: The sad story behind the game.

02 December 2007

Him, Him, Him!

I just bought Rupert Holmes' Partners In Crime album from the iTunes Music Store. I didn't buy it for The Pina Colada Song or because I like the plays that he wrote - not that they are bad or anything. In my little corner of the world, Holmes' song Him holds special significance.

It was the early 1980's when I first settled down in the U.S., a mere lad in a family of six. We just arrived from the refugee camp and started adjusting to the new life. I had about one year of private English school but it wasn't enough to carry out fluent conversation. Someone, whether my late father or a cousin I cannot remember, said that when my English was good enough, I would be able to comprehend what was said or sung on the radio. Sure enough, whatever on the radio sounded so fast I couldn't understand much. Still, as I explored American music I discovered that, unlike Vietnamese music, there was much repetition as far as the lyric went. Even though I didn't understand all the words of a song, there was always certain phrases or words that were repeated over and over. As we didn't have a TV and I didn't read the newspaper, there was no way to confirm it but I was sure I knew the names of certain songs, simply based on the repeated words or phrase. One of the songs I like in those early days on American soil was Holmes' Him.

I didn't catch the lyric enough to know the entire story, but just hearing "Him! Him! Him!" and "It's me or it's him" I could interpret that it was about some guy telling his gal to choose one guy or the other. Love songs are usually about pain and suffering, universally.

I knew there was some reference to the window in the first line. I don't recall knowing back then what do without someone means, so even if I caught the phrase She's gonna have to do without him, I doubt I would know what it meant. Especially the gonna part, as it was a while before I learned the slang words.

Back to the present, I now can easily pick up the whole lyric for Him. I can even detect wrong lyric on some web site. I could have bought the song on CD elsewhere on the Internet but buying through the iTunes Music Store and have the song synchronized to the iPod has special significance. It's amazing how much technology changed over almost thirty years. Years ago I first listened to the song on some low-quality radio, now I have the song on an MP3 player the size of a pack of playing cards, along with many other songs.