Contact
Posted by Photics.com - Online since 1998 [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 December 2012, 12:08 pm
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WordPress vs. Drupal
Posted by Photics.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 January 2013, 6:35 pm



The Unofficial GameSalad Textbook Returns
Posted by Photics.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 January 2013, 4:13 pm



Switching to Drupal
Posted by Photics.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 December 2012, 12:34 pm

Hi! Happy Holidays! The site is under heavy construction right now. I'm in the process of switching the site from WordPress to Drupal. Some site features might not function while this project is being completed, but the site should be back to normal — and even better than before — in just a few days. 




Where's My Start Menu In Windows 8?
Posted by Photics.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 October 2012, 7:01 am

Running Windows 8 - Thumbnail ImageThese days, there seems to be three main food groups of technology — Apple, Google and Microsoft. With all of the various computer screens that I stare at these days, it's usually powered by one of those three companies. That's a far cry from earlier in the millennium, back when I was mostly a Windows guy. I remember the days when Internet Explorer drove +90% of website traffic. Today, Microsoft is struggling to stay relevant in an Android and iOS world. The October release of Windows 8 is an attempt to remedy that.

Considering my recent frustrations with Apple, and my continued contempt for Google, I was looking for reasons to get excited about the lasted upgrade to Microsoft's might operating system. Yet, it just feels wrong. The easiest way to know this is to look for the "Start Menu". It's gone. Why would you do that Microsoft?

For more than a decade, I could count on the bottom-left spot of my screen. That's where the Windows action begins. I could launch an application, open a document, use a "Run" command, shut down the computer and lots of other useful stuff. Instead, I get the "Metro" interface. This was an incredible disappointment for me, as I don't want to work from a touchscreen. I actually like using a mouse.

That preference doesn't seem to matter in Windows 8. It wasn't long before I found myself trapped in the PC settings. How do I close this window? How do I get back to Metro? Where's my desktop? If I'm a tech-savvy guy, how's an average computer user going to react to this? It's as if Microsoft wants to create work for IT support teams. Nearly a two-decade old standard has been replaced — I don't think it's for the better.

Perhaps I would be in a better mood if Windows 8 didn't remind me of my broken Microsoft Account. Many years ago, I created an XBOX live account for "Photics" and for XNA game development. Something must have happened to this account, as I'm unable to login. Despite numerous attempts to reset my password, and battles with the fragmented Microsoft tech support teams to resolve the problem, the account is still broken. The XBOX live team states that my account is, "forever stuck in a corrupted state." Because of this account issue, I can't fully enjoy Windows 8.

That's when I start to wonder, "Why bother?" The truth is that I didn't install Windows 8 on a PC. I installed it on a Mac. VirtualBox allowed me to test things out. After my disappointment with Mountain Lion, this was an opportunity for a return to Windows. With GameSalad supporting Windows 8, and Stencyl soon to do the same, there could be lots of money to be made with Microsoft. Yet, with such a lousy experience, I didn't feel motivated enough to continue. Windows 8 makes it harder to use my computer than Windows 7, Windows XP... or even Windows Vista. Windows 8 was so bad that it makes Mountain Lion look like a great upgrade.

It's not impossible to get the "Start Menu" back. Third-party software that can recreate something similar. Yet, I didn't see an inherent way to accomplish this task. One of the things I used to like about Windows was consistency. I used to be able to disable the features that I didn't like. With Windows 8, it's a dramatic break from tradition.

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Five Tech Lessons Learned From Hurricane Sandy
Posted by Photics.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 November 2012, 9:53 am

Super Storm Sandy IconWhen I first learned of Hurricane Sandy, I thought that the storm would simply drift out to sea. What kind of storm hooks left? But as the days progressed, it was clear that the storm would be quite severe. Even then, I didn't worry too much. I filled the car with gas, stocked up on some food and I watched the news. It was more like entertainment than an emergency — but then things started getting real.

One of the things that surprised me about Sandy is power. I'm shocked at how easy it was to darken the New York/New Jersey area. A blackout for a few hours is not unusual, but this disaster blackened the land for days. To cope with this, I'm glad that I had my gadgets. Instead of being thrusted back into the 1800's, I was able to cling onto some modern technology. That's one of my tech lessons from Hurricane Sandy.

Solar Power Flash Lights Are Not A Joke — I think it was back in the 80's when I first heard the joke of a solar powered flash light. Solar calculators gained in popularity, but they weren't exactly high power objects. Plus, light is needed to make solar power work. That's the irony in the joke — light is needed to make light. But with today's improved battery tech, a solar powered flash light is a reality. I finally got to use my Etón FR160B. It's a solar powered flashlight. It also comes with a hand crank for generating power. This helped when the lights went out last Monday night. I was able to listen to the radio and illuminate my darkened home. I didn't have to worry about batteries. This was a very good thing, as batteries were in short supply.

The Etón FR160B can also be used to recharge some mobile devices. Unfortunately, my iPhone 4 is not one of them. Etón makes other models, but it's basically the same idea. If you can generate your own power, you have a better chance of surviving in a storm like Sandy.

Traffic Lights Are Really Important — After seeing the power go out, it was starting to feel like NBC's Revolution. That's a TV show where humanity tries to survive without electricity. My situation was not as dramatic, but I could feel as if technology was pushed backwards. When the car was first invented, traffic lights didn't exist. I've seen old videos of what that was like. The cars would dart across busy intersections in a chaotic manner. It was as if every busy intersection was a death trap. But initially, my life without traffic lights was kinda cool. Without having to wait for a red light to turn green, my commute was dramatically shortened. I began to wonder if traffic lights were even necessary. Couldn't we all just treat intersections like four-way stop signs? It wasn't too long before I found the error in that logic. The epiphany occurred when I tried to cross a busy road. I simply couldn't do it. The path was intentionally blocked by police. The major roadway took priority over the minor one. I tried driving around, looking for an alternate path, but this didn't help. Downed trees blocked streets. It was extremely difficult to move around on the side-streets. Eventually I found myself lost in South Plainfield, New Jersey.

Web-Based GPS Maps Are Bogus — Realizing that I was lost in the Garden State, I didn't feel like using my iPhone. I was close to the limit on data usage, so I didn't want to get hit with an overage charge. But with the amount of gas and time that I was wasting, I figured that a quick glance at my current location was a good idea. Fortunately, the data cap wouldn't be a factor. Unfortunately, it was because I couldn't go online. So there I was, lost in New Jersey, with no Internet access and few working traffic lights. While I still had a decent amount of gas in the tank, I could see the ridiculously long lines forming around what few gas stations were open. Obviously I made it home. But three days later, I would find myself with a near empty tank. To remedy that problem, I had to wait 3 1/2 hours for gas at Coscto — one of the few places with gas on Staten Island. Perhaps I could have avoided that situation if I splurged for an app with map data included.

I Should Get A UPS — The problem with Sandy is the unexpected. If you know for certain that the power is going to be out for a while, then you can prepare. It's the uncertainty that makes the situation worse. While working in my office, the power went out... but only for a few seconds. That was long enough to shut off my Mac Desktop. This went on throughout the night... computer on... computer off... computer on... computer off. It was hard to get any work done with my computer constantly needing to be restarted. If I had an uninterruptible power supply, I could blast through those hiccups. That's when I started to wonder, "Should my main computer be a laptop?" They can store their own power and they're portable. While laptops are becoming more predominate than desktops, and they're probably more convenient in a disaster like Sandy, I find it more comfortable and productive to use a traditional desktop setup. The point is that even a cheap UPS, with just a few minutes of uninterrupted power, would have been powerful enough to avoid frustration. If the power flashes out for a few seconds, it would be no problem with a decent UPS. If the power outage was longer, I could at least save my work and properly shut down my computer.

I Should Get Generator Too — Although, why stop with a UPS? With my own generator, I could do even better. Well before the storm, I spotted a natural gas generator at Costco. I was impressed. It seemed like a great thing to have in a disaster. I didn't have the money to buy it, the expertise to install it or even the space in my car to get it home, but I was considering it as a future purchase. After Sandy, a generator is now an even more likely purchase. With my own generator, an electric car also seems like a good idea. I wouldn't have to worry about gas shortages. These are expensive purchases, but it was beginning to feel like Mad Max out there. Sandy was a bad storm, but it could be much worse.

I was shocked at how quickly the stores emptied out of supplies. I'm not used to things like gas rationing or nights without heat. It made me angry. It was like being thrown into an era before electricity, or dystopian future. Neither was acceptable to me. Humanity is clearly dependent on technology. That's why Sandy should be a catalyst for improvement. It's certainly has me rethinking the way I'll prepare for the next hurricane.

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Back From Poland
Posted by Photics.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 13 December 2012, 7:39 am

Thumbnail image of Poland map, cropped to highlight Gdańsk. Image Source - CIA World FactbookI recently returned from a trip to Poland. It was a tough but enlightening journey. Throughout the years of running this website, I met lots of people throughout the world — but only virtually. For the most part, I stayed in the NYC area. I figured that all of the best stuff in the world is already here. Why bother traveling, especially considering that I hate traveling by airplane? But surprising, I found myself on the way to Gdańsk. In doing so, I learned some new things.

One of the things that I didn't learn is my hate of buses with wings. I already knew that. The plane was even called an "Airbus". But while flying on Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), I got to experience some modernization of air travel. The seats had little monitors in them. I could watch movies, play music or see travel information. I could see the location of the plane on the globe. It was like one of the slowest progress bars ever, as the little plane moved over the Atlantic Ocean. At 39,000 feet, the outside air temperature is much colder than on the ground. At first I thought -70° and lower was a mistake. Yet, I was flying through thin air, at night, over some frigid territory. It reminded me of the massive technology that was required to make this trip happen.

And those jokes I heard about airline food, it doesn't seem to be true — at least not anymore. I had my Thanksgiving dinner somewhere over Canada. It was quite nice, even though I didn't feel much like eating. Well, I did get hungry, but it was hard to get comfortable when stuck in a chair for over eight hours. The first flight was filled with several noisy children. I felt trapped. Fortunately, I had a window seat with an amazing view. Even though it was dark, I could see stars and a beautiful display of lights from the cities below.

Since there weren't any direct flights from New York to Gdańsk, I had to switch planes at Copenhagen, Denmark. This is a lovely airport. I was impressed with the hardwood floors and numerous shopping areas. New York is often called the capital of the world. If that's the case, then it might be hard to realize that from the airports. I've been to the JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports. I found it to be much nicer in Copenhagen.

After a short plane ride over the Baltic Sea, I landed in Poland. Growing up in the 80's, I was influenced by the cold war. We were taught to distrust the Russians and their allies. I didn't imagine myself traveling to this part of the world. But now that the communistic era for Poland is over, the country is becoming Americanized. I was surprised to hear English on the radio. There were lots of great stores too, like Biedronka. Throughout my travels in the Pomeranian providence, the smiling ladybug store could often be found.

Other stores like Real (kinda like Walmart) and Obi (kinda like Home Depot) are quite similar to popular American stores. The Polish stores seems a lot cleaner. I was also surprised by cashiers that could sit instead of stand. It made shopping America feel somewhat barbaric. Why do our cashiers have to stand all day... and why don't the back wheels on the shopping carts turn? The shopping carts in Poland were more maneuverable than the ones I'm used to in New York.

I could find many of the foods that I'm accustomed to, but many items were difficult to find. Cranberry Juice was surprising difficult to locate. The best I could find was a mix of cranberry and some other juice. I couldn't find Vegetarian Beans, Eggos/Bisquick or Provolone Cheese. But for the most part, I was able to eat the same things that I would in America. To a world traveler, that might seem absurd. Isn't the idea to experience the local culture? I did try some new Polish food, but I like hamburgers and pizza. I was eating rather well.

I especially liked the chocolate pudding, which is something else that I found amazing about Poland. This was one of the best chocolate puddings I had in my life. It felt and tasted rather fancy, but it only cost about one złoty. That's like 30¢ in New York. Life can be hard in Poland. With high unemployment, it can be tough to get a job. So while the country appears to be growing economically, it's still recovering from the darker days.

Many people use coal and firewood to heat their homes. I was surprised at how polluted the air felt. In New York, if you see a black column of smoke, it usually means to call the fire department. In Poland, it usually means that gas and electricity is too expensive. I did see quite a few windmills, so perhaps Poland will improve in this area. Recycling didn't reach the area I was staying, so the plastic bottles of my trip could be around for hundreds of years after my journey.

That's what was interesting about Poland. Some things are quite modern, while others things were so backward. Television is an excellent example. In New York, I don't have cable or satellite TV, but I still have lots of shows to watch. But on an old TV just south of Słupsk, only three broadcast channels were available. Much of the time, American movies and shows were shown — with a Polish man talking over the English dialogue. It made for a frustrating viewing experience.

Here's an excellent example of the difference. On a Sunday afternoon, the movie "What Planet Are You From?" was on. It was something of a sci-fi comedy, with many elements of soft-core porn. In America, that movie would be rated "R". In Poland, the number 12 was shown on the top-left of the screen. Apparently, the Polish people are cool with young kids watching Garry Shandling on top of a woman with her breasts exposed. I had to leave before the movie ended, so I didn't get to watch what happened to the alien with the vibrating penis.

While Polish TV was a disappointing experience, I'm impressed with Polish Internet access. A company called Play offered 1GB of mobile data for 19 złoty. That's about $7 — less than what I pay for my mobile phone. It was pre-paid. No contract, not even a name was necessary. Just drop the sim card in a USB stick and play. (It was 129 for the stick and 1GB of data.) Although, I was glad that I downloaded the City Maps 2Go app. Having an offline map made it easier to get around.

Almost two weeks into the trip, something weird happened. I started dreaming in Polish. This is especially weird considering that my understanding of the language is about the same as a Polish toddler. I was eager to go home, but it wouldn't be easy.

It started snowing in Poland. In general, the skies were gray. If you're interested in visiting Poland as a vacation spot, it might more enjoyable during the Summer months. The winter in Poland seems tough. I was shoveling lots of snow and it wasn't even officially winter yet. I was also sick for most of the trip, constantly coughing from the cold air. Although, the snow did add a nice background for the season. The weather made it feel more like Christmas.

The snow delayed my flight, which lead to a quick trip in Zürich, Switzerland. Apparently, I was making up for all the years I hadn't been outside of the United States. The flight home was on Swiss International Airlines. I still hate flying, but the Star Alliance seems to do a good job. I enjoyed eating lasagna and pizza on the return flight.

Things are different in Europe. The people seemed rather cool. Even though I was a foreigner, I felt welcomed. When I arrived in America, I felt the difference. Getting through customs was rather annoying. I'm thinking that this is a bad introduction for foreign visitors. I travelled through Denmark, Poland and Switzerland without much trouble. In America, it was quite a hassle. I didn't enjoy the body scanners or being searched for contraband. The whole process of leaving and returning to the United States just seemed more serious and less friendly. That's unfortunate, because it can be a deterrent to traveling. In Poland, there was security, and it was strict too, but somehow it was friendlier.

Will I return to Poland? I don't know. I did learn some valuable information that could make a return trip easier. Although, I am happy to be back home. That's what I learned the most from my trip. It gave me a renewed appreciation for the little things in life... like sleeping in my own bed or driving my own car. I also think that I gained a new respect for those that live abroad. Considering that Photics.com is visited by people from all around the world, I think it's a very good thing to have had a more worldly experience.

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Mountain Lion - There's a reason it's $20
Posted by Photics.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 July 2012, 9:19 pm

Mac Desktop - July 26My experience with OS X 10.8 is off to a bad start. Apple officially launched Mountain Lion on July 25, 2012. But unfortunately, I didn't get to use it until today. The installation was hindered by slow download speeds and an unusual hard drive glitch. After those frustrating issues, problems persisted. At first, I was looking forward to this upgrade. But soon after the installation, I was contemplating a switch back to Windows. What's wrong with Mountain Lion?

I can understand a slow download. Apparently, the update is popular. Before I could even log into my iTunes account, Mountain Lion was already the number one app on the Mac App Store. With so many people hitting Apple's site, such a delay is to be expected. What I didn't expect was a bizarre error. The Mountain Lion installer told me that my startup disk could not be used as a startup disk.

What?! :???:

Part of the problem was figuring out the issue. Initially, I thought that my hard drive needed more space. That wasn't it at all. Apparently, I was supposed to open up the "Disk Utility" application and slightly reduce the size of disk partition. I really had to struggle to install the software — and I used to be a Mac system admin. Even with nearly two decades of Mac experience, Mountain Lion confused me.

Mountain Lion was almost dead on arrival. I probably could have looked past that issue, but lots of little issue ruined the fun. After two episodes of Burn Notice, my Mac Mini still wasn't finished with the update. I even watched some of the 10 o'clock news, but the install kept going. I went to bed and tried again. The next morning, I awoke to further disappointment. The install was complete, but my machine felt slower. The speed issue eventually went away, but only after all of the background activity subsided. It didn't matter, my mood was worsening. There was plenty of reason to be pessimistic.

An example is with the Dictation feature. Internet is required. Why doesn't this work locally? Apparently, Apple wants my voice — and the voices of millions of others — to help improve the dictation feature. I'm not so trusting. I'm reminded of The Dark Knight (2008). When I watched Batman defeat the Joker, by collectively listening into the cellphones of Gotham's citizens, I didn't see the harm. What's the big issue? Batman's the good guy, right? Yet, the movie portrayed it like it was something so sinister. But now that this sci-fi technology is essentially reality, what's the difference?

That's a big problem that I have with Mountain Lion. It wants to know everything about my Mac — AND ME! What's it's location, what are your contacts, what's your email login (Thunderbird handles my email, no thanks Apple.), what are your documents and more. Am I just supposed to expect a company, that just took a serious hit in the stock market, to forever remain benevolent?

Even that issue I could look past, as I understand that certain personal information is required for cool features. I didn't mind Apple knowing the location of my phone when I lost it. Yet, I was really starting to get angry when I loaded up Safari.Ugh... BIG... GOOFY... TABS!

Safari in Mountain Lion is a battle of first impressions. In addition to the oversized tabs, my search bar is gone... and my meticulously arranged bookmarks (in the bookmark bar) got screwed up.

Apparently, Apple added a lot of features to Safari that I hate... features that I am unable to disable. Apple seems more obsessive about remembering my passwords. Instead of a blanket rejection towards saving passwords, I now have to reject each website individually. How is this an improvement? If there is an option to disable password saving for all websites, I couldn't find it.

Ah, but now I have iMessage. Now I can send text messages from my desktop. Of course, they're not received because the recipient is "not registered with iMessage." Notifications is a nice feature too. I can quickly access Notification Center messages to reveal a "No New Notifications" message. It's not Apple's fault that I have no alerts, but something is clearly wrong with Game Center. On load, an empty message box appears. Attempts to login appeared to have failed.

Unfortunately, my favorite Mountain Lion (10.8) features are the ones from Lion (10.7). Fullscreen mode is nice.

I think if I struggled hard enough, I could find something else nice to say about Mountain Lion. But other than the cheap price, Mountain Lion has disappointed me. Maybe that's what happens by being an early adopter — but I thought Apple software would be more polished than this.




Is My XBOX Live GamerTag Lost Forever?
Posted by Photics.com - Online since 1998 [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 December 2011, 11:35 am

Photics - XBOX Live GamerTag - ThumbnailNow that the winter months have approached, I'm realizing that I'm not exercising as much. I need to play to stay healthy. But in late December, it's so cold outside… and the dark nights are longer. I think a good video game is the answer to this problem. Yet, my Wii and PlayStation 3 are just collecting dust. What about the XBOX 360? Well, I don't have one. Here's the main reason why. I can't log into my Windows Live / XBOX Live account.

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I Lost My iPhone — But Apple Found It
Posted by Photics.com - Online since 1998 [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 December 2011, 9:34 am

Find My iPhone - ThumbnailI rarely leave my home without my iPhone. Otherwise, it ruins my whole day. It's like losing super powers… like Lion-O without the Sword of Omens or like Batman without his utility belt. And yet, it happens. Sometimes I forget where I left my iPhone. Yesterday was one of those days. Just as I was about to leave, a question halted my plans. "Where's my iPhone?" I checked all the usual spots, but I couldn't find my iPhone. Fortunately, Apple has an app specifically for finding iPhones.

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Year of Stencyl
Posted by Photics.com - Online since 1998 [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 January 2012, 10:44 pm

Thumbnail - Year of StencylI'm not the type of guy to make New Year's resolutions. When I set out to do something, I typically keep working until it's done. It doesn't matter to me if it's the first of January. Yet, I'm a bit behind on the roadmap for Photics.com. Where's the new book on StencylWorks? Where's the new Photics Arcade? I've been busy with web development work, but at least I'm starting the year off right — with an iStencyl Pro subscription. Since the first day of 2012, I can publish my StencylWorks games to the web and the iTunes App Store.

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GameSalad vs Stencyl
Posted by Photics.com - Online since 1998 [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 February 2012, 3:00 pm

Stencyl vs GameSalad Thumbnail - Round 1 - Fight!OK, it seems a lot of you are hitting my website because you searched for "GameSalad vs. Stencyl" or "iStencyl vs. GameSalad". As the author of The Unofficial GameSalad Textbook, it seems that my answer to that challenge might be highly biased. Yet, an honest answer can be determined by my actions — or inaction. My GameSalad subscription has expired. I haven't renewed. That's because iStencyl gives me more development power at a cheaper price. Yet, what if you prefer simplicity over power? What works for me might not work for you. That's why I decided to write a guide, to help you decide which drag-and-drop editor is best for you.

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Building My Robot Army
Posted by Photics.com - Online since 1998 [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 February 2012, 4:22 pm

Automator & Simon - Building My Robot ArmyIf you've watched popular sci-fi movies, you might be able to spot a common theme — computers and robots are bad. At some point, they'll advance so far that they'll rage against humanity. If that's true, there can only be one defense — other robots. I can't fight as tirelessly as a robot. So if there are evil machines out there to get me, then I'll need ones to protect me. If it's so easy to imagine evil robots, why not imagine robots that fight on the side or righteousness? Recently, I've taken a big step in building my own robot army.

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GameSalad Gets Better With Version 0.9.92
Posted by Photics.com - Online since 1998 [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 31 March 2012, 9:50 am

GameSalad Pro ThumbnailIf you haven't noticed, I haven't been the biggest fan of GameSalad lately. However, I was watching the progress of the software. I was looking for something that would reignite the enthusiasm that I once had. I'm thinking that other developers must have felt the same way, because GameSalad launched "Community Love Week". From March 26-30, GameSalad showed their appreciation for game developers. It was cute, but the highlight of the week for me was the release of GameSalad 0.9.92.

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Stencyl Officially Upgraded to 2.0
Posted by Photics.com - Online since 1998 [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 April 2012, 8:06 am

Stencyl 2.0 install thumbnailProduction level — what does that mean to you? When is software ready to leave beta or be labeled with a new integer? When should software hit the point-0 mark... 1.0, 2.0, 3.0? If you're GameSalad, three years is not enough time. If you're running Firefox or Chrome, it seems like every other Monday. But with Stencyl, I think that they've got a good pace going. The numbers are ticking by quickly, but so are the new features. Version 2.0 is a significant change from the previous 1.4 version.

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GameSalad Template - Dual Controllers
Posted by Photics.com - Online since 1998 [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 May 2012, 2:07 pm

Dual Controls ThumbnailWhile frequenting the GameSalad forums, I spotted an interesting thread. Apparently, the default template for creating dual controllers is a bit buggy. I know the frustration that this can cause, as my first GameSalad project didn't go so smoothly. The virtual joysticks would jam, creating a rather broken gaming experience. Fortunately, I designed my own system to resolve this problem. A free template is available for download.

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Upgrading to OS X Mountain Lion - The Cheap Way!
Posted by Photics.com - Online since 1998 [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 11 June 2012, 9:35 pm

Mac Software Update Icon - ThumbnailApple's 2012 World Wide Development Conference kicked off today. And overall, the news was impressive. If you have $2199 to spend on a laptop, the 2880 x 1800 retina display of the new MacBook Pro might interest you. Meanwhile, iOS is getting upgraded with anti-Google technology — like maps and improved Siri responses. Yet, I was most excited by a fairly minor announcement. OS X Mountain Lion is releasing next month... for $19.99.

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ROUND 2: GameSalad vs Stencyl
Posted by Photics.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 May 2012, 3:10 pm

Stencyl vs GameSalad - Round 2 - ThumbnailA little over three months ago, I posted an assessment of two powerful game creation applications. Which one would win in a fight? I didn't really declare a winner, as choosing between Stencyl or GameSalad is essentially a matter of preference. Yet, things did not stand still. During the last three months, one of the competitors dramatically improved. That competitor is GameSalad. Is there a clear winner in the game development battle now?

Apparently, the "GameSalad vs Stencyl" issue is still a popular source of traffic to this website. Many new developers are looking to me to settle the debate. I can't really answer the question, but I can post useful information. That's why I'm posting this article. Things have changed. Here's a list of improvements with GameSalad since the last article...

  • Game Center Achievements are now possible
  • The annual subscription dropped to $299
  • The Android sound bug was addressed
  • A Windows version of GameSalad is now in beta

Some major gripes that I had with GameSalad were resolved. So, did I ready my credit card for another year of action with GameSalad? Well... no... not yet anyway. That's because things have changed with Stencyl too. In the last three months, my understanding of Stencyl has improved dramatically. There's really nothing technical that stops me from launching a completed Stencyl game.

Unfortunately, there are other issues that I'm battling with...

  • Despair - Sure GameSalad and Stencyl have improved, but can I really compete with a flood of free games? Just recently, I downloaded "Got Cow?", "Cut the Rope: Experiments" and "Mini Motor Racing" for free. If this is the kind of stuff being given away, I feel a little awkward charging 99¢ for my games.
  • Artwork - If I am going to compete with these free games, my games have to look a lot better. I just don't have that level of content right now. I haven't decided if I want to spend thousands of dollars on hiring an illustrator or investing weeks of time to create the art myself.

And yet, I still poked around with the latest Stencyl update. Version 2.1 makes it a lot easier to create scenes/levels. It resolves mostly tedious stuff, like being able to place actors outside of the scene or holding the shift key to snap actors to the grid. Little details like that make Stencyl more user friendly. That's exactly what the software needs. Stencyl isn't standing still. Something interesting is going on over there. Apparently, version 3.0 is going to be a major change. Things could be quite different mere months from now. So, I still see it as the same stalemate as before... but GameSalad clearly won round 2. Major issues were resolved.

Yet, the ultimate issue with GameSalad still remains. I can't customize my GameSalad games. With GameSalad, my games feel locked in and limited. With Stencyl, my projects feel more like my own. Stencyl has features like custom polygon collision shapes, Web Requests and Universal Binaries. The ability to add custom code removes boundaries. I like to see the code. Things feel less hidden with Stencyl. I feel less restricted. I can make my dreams a reality with Stencyl. For rebuilding the Photics Arcade, Stencyl is the clear choice. All I have to do is keep working with it. Although, that's easier said than done.

Ironically, because these two applications both have their advantages and disadvantages, I have been incredibly less productive. I'm like a carpenter without my favorite hammer. Instead of just banging away, knocking down those nails, I find myself switching back-and-forth between the tools. I can't just forget about GameSalad. The software is improving and my most successful Photics.com project to date is The Unofficial GameSalad Textbook. The plan is to muscle through the Stencyl textbook and then go back to release the second edition of the GameSalad book.

The truth is that there's money to be made with both applications. That makes me the winner in this fight.

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Is My XBOX Live GamerTag Lost Forever?
Posted by Photics.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 December 2011, 11:35 am

Now that the winter months have approached, I'm realizing that I'm not exercising as much. I need to play to stay healthy. But in late December, it's so cold outside… and the dark nights are longer. I think a good video game is the answer to this problem. Yet, my Wii and PlayStation 3 are just collecting dust. What about the XBOX 360? Well, I don't have one. Here's the main reason why. I can't log into my Windows Live / XBOX Live account.

I decided to contact XBOX support. Here's an edited version of my message…

I was thinking about getting an XBOX 360, but I realized that I am unable to access to my GamerTag. Years ago, I reserved "Photics" by creating a Windows Live Account on my desktop computer. Apparently, my account is still active, but unused...

http://live.xbox.com/en-US/Profile?Gamertag=Photics

I don't know how to prove that this is my account, as my email addresses don't seem to be working for a password reset. I'm thinking that this account was created late 2007, as I put the GamerCard on my website. Here's a web archive link…

http://web.archive.org/web/20071028093647/http://photics.com/about-photics/

(Web Archive is a website that shows how web pages looked in the past. Currently, my about page on Photics.com is now http://photics.com/about …without the GamerCard. I had forgotten about getting an XBOX, but now the Kinect looks pretty cool.)

Is this GamerTag lost? Was my account closed because of inactivity? (I used my Windows Live account very rarely, mostly for testing out the XNA software. I haven't tried to login for years.)

Michael Garofalo

Playing XBOX with Photics123 floating over my avatar just doesn't seem as entertaining. That's when I start to rethink the idea. Do I really want to drop another $300 on a game console? All I have to do is look at the Wii Balance Board. That huge surface area is extremely proficient at dust gathering, but it hasn't been that much fun lately.

Yet, the Kinect looks like a lot of fun. Instead of a boring treadmill or other exercise machine, I can improve my health without feeling like a hamster. Instead of just giving up, I decided to contact Microsoft. I suspect that my account has been deactivated because of inactivity.




I Lost My iPhone — But Apple Found It
Posted by Photics.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 December 2011, 9:34 am

I rarely leave my home without my iPhone. Otherwise, it ruins my whole day. It's like losing super powers… like Lion-O without the Sword of Omens or like Batman without his utility belt. And yet, it happens. Sometimes I forget where I left my iPhone. Yesterday was one of those days. Just as I was about to leave, a question halted my plans. "Where's my iPhone?" I checked all the usual spots, but I couldn't find my iPhone. Fortunately, Apple has an app specifically for finding iPhones.

Is it here? No! Is it there? No! While walking up and down the stairs, I started to wonder if my iPhone was someplace else. Maybe I lost it outside? No, that can't be right. I was fairly certain that I brought it home. Yet, how could I prove it?

Before Apple's iPhone tracking app, I used a simple technique to find misplaced phones — just call them! The phone would ring and I could hear it. Yet, that wouldn't work here. I usually leave the sound off on my phone. The ringer would not ring. That's when I decided to modernize my search. I loaded up iCloud.

With iOS 5 installed on my phone, I could use this handy feature. The first step was to verify that my phone was actually nearby. Find My iPhone (in iCloud) uses GPS to track the iPhone and then the location is displayed on a map.

iCloud quickly located the approximate position of my iPhone. It was nearby!

Yet, it wasn't enough to know that my iPhone was close. I suspected that my iPhone was near, but I wasn't exactly sure where. Fortunately, after my iPhone was located, I had three main options to choose from…

  • Play Sound or Send Message
  • Remote Lock
  • Remote Wipe

Since my phone was safe at home, I didn't need to lock it or wipe the data. Instead, I simply activated the alert sound. The electronic beeping was reminiscent of a radar system... beep beep beep. At first I didn't even hear the sound, but as I got closer, I could hear faint beeping. Ah ha, it's in the laundry! I had left my phone in my pants pocket. If I didn't find my iPhone in time, it might have ended up in the wash — where it probably would not have survived.

This is a great feature, but I think it can be improved. There should be a fourth option, to see what the iPhone camera sees. Heh, then it would be like the Sword of Omens... with sight beyond sight.




Year of Stencyl
Posted by Photics.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 January 2012, 10:44 pm

I'm not the type of guy to make New Year's resolutions. When I set out to do something, I typically keep working until it's done. It doesn't matter to me if it's the first of January. Yet, I'm a bit behind on the roadmap for Photics.com. Where's the new book on StencylWorks? Where's the new Photics Arcade? I've been busy with web development work, but at least I'm starting the year off right — with an iStencyl Pro subscription. Since the first day of 2012, I can publish my StencylWorks games to the web and the iTunes App Store.

Although, before I can start publishing iOS apps with iStencyl, I have to figure out how the software works. It's been a bit more of a challenge than I anticipated. That's because I've gotten spoiled with GameSalad. I found myself getting frustrated with StencylWorks. I wasn't a know-it-all. I was stumbling to complete basic tasks.

But between Christmas and today, I made major progress in converting Arcading. I figure that's an excellent starting project for iStencyl. With iAds and additional Game Center features like achievements, it should be possible to port my old GameSalad project to iStencyl. After a feature comparison of GameSalad vs. StencylWorks, it seemed like Stencyl was the clear winner.

There was one major caveat — PARTICLES. How would I make a scrolling starfield/warpfield? How would I create the cool fiery effects? Fortunately, StencylWorks added lightweight actors. By disabling actor physics, I was able to recreate the scrolling starfield from Arcading.

With the particle problem out of the way, I could enjoy the freedom of iStencyl. There are so many new features to enjoy. Things improved with testing too. It's a lot easier to test my iOS apps with iStencyl. That's because it uses Xcode. I didn't have to fumble with a goofy viewer app. All of the puzzle pieces were starting to fit into place. I was making scenes, actors, attributes and other essential parts of an app. In just a few hours of hard work, iStencyl was demystified.

Sure, there's still much that I have to learn, but now I can see some real progress. :)




GameSalad vs Stencyl
Posted by Photics.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 February 2012, 3:00 pm

OK, it seems a lot of you are hitting my website because you searched for "GameSalad vs. Stencyl" or "iStencyl vs. GameSalad". As the author of The Unofficial GameSalad Textbook, it seems that my answer to that challenge might be highly biased. Yet, an honest answer can be determined by my actions — or inaction. My GameSalad subscription has expired. I haven't renewed. That's because iStencyl gives me more development power at a cheaper price. Yet, what if you prefer simplicity over power? What works for me might not work for you. That's why I decided to write a guide, to help you decide which drag-and-drop editor is best for you.

I used to be a huge fan of GameSalad. Yet, I grew weary of waiting for basic features. With a name like GameSalad, I'm surprised that full Game Center support is still lacking. Where are the achievements or networking support? That's why I found StencylWorks alluring. A draggable block for Game Center achievements is right there. And while the networking aspects of Game Center are not yet supported in iStencyl, I could use HTTP requests or even add my own custom code.

It's 2012. Where's the GameSalad equivalent of this?

However, after using StencylWorks for months, I still don't have a completed game on my website or published game to the iOS app store. I've been struggling to recreate the games that I've made with GameSalad. While StencylWorks gives me more power, it comes with more responsibility. GameSalad aims to makes things really easy. With StencylWorks, it's a lot easier to break a game.

As a general summary, GameSalad is great for beginners, while StencylWorks is for more advanced developers.

Both applications have their limitations and glitches. Both are fairly responsive at fixing stuff when it breaks. Yet, I have the impression that StencylWorks is moving at a faster development pace. GameSalad has a nice head start though. As an example, StencylWorks is still working on Android support and HTML5 support. GameSalad's lead is being squandered, as Android and HTML5 publishing with GameSalad feels rather unfinished. In GameSalad, HTML5 exporting tethers your game to the gamesalad.com website. Exporting isn't as liberal as Flash exporting is with StencylWorks. As for Android publishing, none of my GameSalad games have made the jump. A nasty sound glitch ruined the fun.

StencylWorks is superb at making Flash games. Yet, Flash is a dying medium. It doesn't run on iOS and HTML5 is starting to chip away at the percentage of browsers with the Flash plugin. And unfortunately, I can't use complex vector artwork. StencylWorks has a drawing feature for lines, circles and squares, but I can't import the fancy stuff from Adobe Illustrator.

Right now, it looks like a race of potential. I think that StencylWorks is more likely to win that race, which is why I have been going through the trouble of learning the software. It's been a grueling process, but that goes back to what I wrote at the beginning. My actions speak honesty. Unless GameSalad can get more competitive with pricing, and faster with the release of new features, StencylWorks is looking like the longterm winner here.

Although, I'm not really cheering for a winner. I actually like the competition. Both applications need dramatic improvement. Considering that thousands — or even millions — of dollars can be made with a good app, I don't see a problem with maintaining two subscriptions. Don't get caught in the Coke vs. Pepsi mindset. A good carpenter doesn't just have one hammer. While both game development applications can perform similar tasks, they're different enough to be used with precision.

GameSalad is better if...

  • You want to throw together a quick game in 24-72 hours
  • You hate to program — you don't even want to see code
  • Need to create quick and simple particle effects
  • You're poor — the basic version of iOS publishing with GameSalad is free (with PlayHaven ads on your games)

StencylWorks is better if...

  • You want to get more hands-on and create your own custom blocks
  • Need more advanced features for your games
  • You want Flash publishing
  • Don't have access to a Mac
  • Need professional iOS publishing features, for less money
    (Yearly Subscription fee: GameSalad $499 vs iStencyl $149)

There's one other major factor in deciding which development platform is better for you. That's performance. GameSalad has suffered in this area for a long time — especially with loading times. A major change is underway for GameSalad. Lua is being dropped. This could be a game changer — literally. Supposedly, improved performance is heading toward GameSalad later this year.

And yet, this is ultimately another reason why I'm using StencylWorks today. I've lowered my expectations with GameSalad, because I'm tired of being disappointed. I remember how project "Masala" was supposed to be an amazing improvement to GameSalad. After months of waiting, I was ultimately unimpressed. Masala was the codename for HTML5 publishing — mainly for the GameSalad Arcade. Most of my existing projects didn't work with this new feature. Either my games were too large, not the right ratio or too complex. I could have created games from scratch for this new feature, but I couldn't host the games on Photics.com — even though I was paying for a Professional subscription.

I don't feel like I'm being held hostage when using StencylWorks. I don't feel like StencylWorks is trying to own my games. StencylWorks allows me to publish my game to Flash, without it ever touching the stencyl.com server.

Both applications are free to try. If you're serious about development, it might be a good idea to experience both for yourself. :)




Building My Robot Army
Posted by Photics.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 February 2012, 4:22 pm

If you've watched popular sci-fi movies, you might be able to spot a common theme — computers and robots are bad. At some point, they'll advance so far that they'll rage against humanity. If that's true, there can only be one defense — other robots. I can't fight as tirelessly as a robot. So if there are evil machines out there to get me, then I'll need ones to protect me. If it's so easy to imagine evil robots, why not imagine robots that fight on the side or righteousness? Recently, I've taken a big step in building my own robot army.

Surprisingly, this is not science fiction or paranoia. Right now, there are evil robots out there to get me. Or more specifically, they're out to gain control of my website. It's not just this site. Hackers and spammers use evil robots to scan for vulnerabilities in websites. Unfortunately, I can't defend against every unknown. What I can do is keep a lookout for trouble and be alerted to when it happens. That's where the first benevolent robot enters the scene.

Robot #1 - Dejal Simon

Obviously, I'm not going to wake up at 3 AM and check if my site is online... and then again at 3:05 AM... and then again at 3:10 AM... 3:15 A There's software that can do it for me. Simon is a Mac application that can periodically check websites for changes and failures. If I see a green arrow on my dock, then I know that my site is online. That's a lot easier than constantly hitting the "F5" key in my web browser. My main complaint with this robot is the expense. Simon Free and Simon Express are in the Mac App Store. But for advanced features, like improved notifications or additional services to check, the Standard Edition is required.

Robot #2 - Automator

This little guy is part of the Mac operating system. And yet, the power of Automator could easily be overlooked. By combining Automator with iCal, I can schedule periodic maintenance. Disaster can happen at any moment. But with an automated backup, it's easier to recover. I've used Automator to backup web files on a Mac server. Every day, it creates a nice little archive. With variables, those archives can be dated. With search, older archives can be automatically deleted to save disk space. And with AppleScript, Automator can even empty the trash.

Robot #3 - CRON

This is not a new member of my robot army, but I might have new work for it soon. In a Unix/Linux environment, periodic tasks can be scheduled — like backing up a MySQL database. CRON is similar to the power of Automator. CRON is also a common feature on shared web hosting servers. And ultimately, the entire web server is like a friendly robot. Instead of printing out pages and handing them out on the street, a computer is distributing web pages to the world.

Obviously Simon, Automator and CRON are not the equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator, but it's a start. By automating the tedious aspects of my work, life becomes more enjoyable. It also gives me a sense of optimism in the future. Robots can be cool!




GameSalad Gets Better With Version 0.9.92
Posted by Photics.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 31 March 2012, 9:50 am

If you haven't noticed, I haven't been the biggest fan of GameSalad lately. However, I was watching the progress of the software. I was looking for something that would reignite the enthusiasm that I once had. I'm thinking that other developers must have felt the same way, because GameSalad launched "Community Love Week". From March 26-30, GameSalad showed their appreciation for game developers. It was cute, but the highlight of the week for me was the release of GameSalad 0.9.92.

Here's a list of the new features...

  • Game Center Achievements (Pro Feature Only)
  • Fully integrated Apple’s GameCenter Achievements
  • Twitter Tweet Sheet (Pro Feature Only)
  • Provide user with tools to create a game with the ability to publish a game with Twitter posting functionality to be utilized by end user.

Wow, GameSalad finally added Game Center Achievements. Two of those new features are listed as "Pro Feature Only".  Fortunately, GameSalad decided to lower the price of a Pro subscription. It's now $299 a year. That's still kinda pricey, but more competitive with similar software. As an example, I've spent $199 on StencylWorks. $149 for iStencyl and $50 for branding free Flash games. Considering that HTML5 and Android publishing is not yet available with Stencyl, one could argue that $299 is a reasonable price. This is especially true when compared to Corona, which is $349 a year for both iOS and Android publishing.

So right now, GameSalad is sitting pretty. That's especially true when looking at the bug fixes. Here's the one that stood out for me...

  • Sound Issues on most new devices (Kindle Fire exempted). Sound delays fixed on most new devices (excluding Kindle Fire)

The sound delay issue rendered GameSalad's Android Publishing useless for me. Now that it's fixed, I'm wondering if I should revisit my GameSalad projects. Although, I recently decided to abandon App Store publishing. Instead of giving Apple and Google 30%, I figured out an alternative. Unfortunately, such great improvements to GameSalad arrived a little too late.

There's still one major issue with GameSalad that causes me to hesitate — HTML5 publishing. Last I checked, the games would be hosted on the GameSalad website. That doesn't work for me. I like how StencylWorks handles it. I don't have to upload my games to Stencyl.com. Even though I spent $50 for branding free Flash games, that service appears to be unlimited for me. (I was an early adopter.) I'm not sure if I want to go back to GameSalad. But with a week of good news for GameSalad, I've been rethinking the longterm strategy for Photics.com.

So, the competition is heating up. And ultimately, developers have better choices. GameSalad, Corona and Stencyl, they perform similar jobs — but they're very different tools. I'm glad to see that GameSalad is getting back into the game.




Stencyl Officially Upgraded to 2.0
Posted by Photics.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 April 2012, 8:06 am

Production level — what does that mean to you? When is software ready to leave beta or be labeled with a new integer? When should software hit the point-0 mark... 1.0, 2.0, 3.0? If you're GameSalad, three years is not enough time. If you're running Firefox or Chrome, it seems like every other Monday. But with Stencyl, I think that they've got a good pace going. The numbers are ticking by quickly, but so are the new features. Version 2.0 is a significant change from the previous 1.4 version.

So... what's new?! The most noticeable change that I can see is the new "Events" system. The layout is a bit different. Instead of one giant list of Stencyl blocks, now they're segregated to a game event... like when an actor/scene is created, drawing or updating. Those were the three main brackets for Stencyl programming. But now, there are many more. It dramatically changes the way the software works. It becomes more object orientated, as the arrangement of blocks is less linear. The events take priority. And considering that video games are about on-screen action, this is a good change.

Here are some of the other new features...

  • Easier block selection
  • Trash Can
  • Pre-Shipped Behaviors
  • Google Chrome Web Store publishing
  • Improved memory usage

Along with this new release, Stencylpedia was also updated to version 2.0.

Version 2.0 is such a big change that I've been using the beta for a while. I usually stay clear from beta software. I don't like the frustration that usually accompanies bleeding edge software. But now that things are starting to settle down with Stencyl, maybe I can finally get some real work done. I have yet to publish a complete game with the software.

One of the main reasons for the struggle is that I keep accidentally deleting my work. You might want to be mindful of where your game projects are stored. I was obliterating entire directories — and my work went along for the ride. While hopping between 1.4 and 2.0 / Mac and Windows, I made lots of foolish mistakes.

Stencyl 2.0 is a new installation. So, you could have two versions stored on your computer. Before you start deleting the old version, it might be a good idea to backup your projects. Your Workspace folder can be located by accessing the Stencyl Preferences.

My overall mood with Stencyl has improved. Even though I have been struggling to master this software, it's hard to get angry with software that is so frequently updated... lead by hardworking individuals... and a community that is frequented by such mellow and intelligent developers.




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