Saturday, December 13, 2014

An evening spent watching Action Jackson

The two Action Jacksons in my life. Both are Kvlt.

For some reason, I had a sudden urge to watch Action Jackson. I have no idea why. Perhaps it was because it was called 'Action Jackson'- in an unintenitional nod to the eighties Carl Weathers not-classic that Vinay Nilakantan and I are so fond of. Perhaps it was because of this trailer Perhaps it was because I had a fucked up week and I wanted, much like Prince Siddhartha, to purify myself by undergoing some kind of severe penance.

But I roped in movie afficionados Naren Banad and Abitha Anandh (mainly because their combined experience may help them notice and point out to me the cinematic nuances that I might otherwise miss), and off we went.

As a result of our careful preparations for the evening, we were completely drunk by the time we entered the mall where the multiplex is located. Being drunk, we were in the mood for adventure. So we stuffed a tote bag with a couple of hip flasks full of whisky (or it may have been rum. I don't remember. Mainly because of the effects of whisky. Or rum. I don't remember), a full family tub of Baskin Robbins ice cream, some chocolates and sallied forth to test the theatre's seriousness about their stated 'outside food and drinks not allowed' policy.

Essential Action Jackson survival kit. Must be smuggled into cinema hall, helped by incompetent security guard (not in picture)

Of course, the security guard opened the bag and inspected its contents for a full thirty seconds before waving us through. If all security checks in the country are manned by personnel of a similar calibre, I have compete faith in the integrity of terrorists and other mass murderers - society has wronged them. The only possible reason that there is no bombing or shooting in a mall every single day is that these paragons of society have no interest in carrying one out. Here we are, suspecting these fine men and women of constantly plotting to wipe out significant sections of society by unleashing firearms and explosives in public places, while, on the contrary, they continue to steadfastly refuse to take advantage of the virtual red carpet welcome that our non-existent security offers them. "What use is a public massacre if there is no challenge?" they must be asking each other daily. So, perhaps in an ironic way, the poor quality of security is actually protecting us from terrorist attacks, by playing on the terrorists' inherent sense of fair play. Genius.

But I digress. On to Action Jackson.

As a service to the readers, I will now spare you all the pain of reading through more of my verbose style of prose, and present the salient features of Action Jackson in the form of bullet points.

  • Action Jackson is a film in which Ajay Devgn has a double role. The actor excels, resisting the temptation to play each role slightly differently to add needless nuance and flavour, and executing a pitch perfect performance in which both Devgns speak, dance, fight and generally behave EXACTLY the same.Take that, Kamal Hassan.
  • If you ever fantasized about watching Sonakshi Sinha walk across the screen while some background singers are crooning "Khusheeeeeeeeee. Oh - Khusheeeeeeee! ", then rejoice. Your prayers have been answered.
  • Director Prabhudeva pulls off the admirable feat of taking Tamil actor Anandraj, who nobody would ever mistake for a beauty contest winner, and making him look even less appealing by giving him a glass eye. And also a weird Gorbachev like bloodstain-skin discolouration thingie, just in case.
  • Anandraj is a crime lord who, for some reason, believes that the best way to get Devgn to fall in love with his "(Anandraj's not Devgn's) sister is by violently murdering his (Devgn's, not Anandraj's) girlfriend.
  • The film introduces the really cool idea of an "arms dealer conference". I couldn't help thinking of some arms-dealer version of a body like NASSCOM running around for bag, lanyard, notepad and badge sponsors for months before the event.
  • The film begins with a shot of a picture of Sai Baba. Perhaps to atone for what follows - people being dismembered by katanas, a big guy called Pedro beating Yami Gautam to a pulp but without disturbing her lipstick and multiple instances of Ajay Devgn dancing.
  • Fantastic performances from Sonakshi Sinha, Manasvi Mamgai and Yami Gautam, who all manage to pull off the histrionic challenge that is pretending that Ajay Devgn is the sexiest man alive. Top notch acting - perhaps topped in modern cinema only by Isha Koppikar in Narasimha.

The hall was packed with Invisible People. Will Eisner would have approved.

Overall, though, it was fun enough. I was actually disappointed that it didn't suck a bit more. I had no idea what the fuck was going on most of the time, but enjoyed myself for the most part. Probably because I was pretty blind drunk by the end.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

In which a Taxi for Sure driver threatens to bring 200 friends to my house and kill me. And yet I reach the airport like a boss.


Taxi for Sure customer support called me and we had a chat. They said that they would take strict action against the driver. I appreciate that they called and seemed genuinely interested in the feedback, and in solving the problem.

I told them that's their call, but I'm not sure that would solve any problems. I suggested that if this was the first time that the driver had behaved like this, they should probably just tell him to take a chill pill and not do this to any other customer. 

I'm not interested in Taxi For Sure punishing the driver or not. He and I both had a bad day, and we both deserve whatever comes our way. 

I used some bad language (provoked by his incessantly rude behaviour, which nobody seems to care about). For which I apologized multiple times immediately. 

He wasn't interested in my apology and threatened to kill me in a "I know where you live and I will bring my goon friends and break your neck" way. And he threw me out of the cab. And charged me full fare.

Some of you think that I deserve death threats because I said "fuck" and that the driver was justified in his actions. 

Sure. That's your opinion. I don't agree. And I don't care about your opinion anyway. Just like you don't care about mine.



Dear Taxi For Sure,

It's been an entertaining morning. A driver from Taxi For Sure threw my colleague and me out of a cab. And, for good measure, threatened to bring hundreds of his taxi driver buddies to my home and end my miserable life. And the sun wasn't even up yet.

But I'm getting ahead of the story.

I'm writing this from Delhi.

And I got here no thanks to Taxi For Sure.

My colleague picks me up at 5.30 am in a cab, to go to the airport. We request the driver to pick up another colleague from Koramangala. He cribs and complains about this. Then picks up the phone and talks to who must be his boss. More complaining yakkety yak about said detours. He sounded like an ISRO scientist would if we had requested the Mars lander to pick up some cheese from the moon on the way to the red planet. Pretty upset.

"Sir extra 300 rupees"was the net outcome of this animated conversation.

I assured him that I had no problem with this. "Sure. No problem", I said.

The guy continues cribbing and complaining into my ear about how we have no doubt ruined his carefully laid plans for the morning by asking him to perform the painful task of driving his cab a few extra kilometres. No doubt his world domination schemes now lay in complete disarray, thanks to our callous request.

So he keeps talking.

I tell him "Boss. 300 rupees. No problem. Now shut the fuck up and drive".

He stops the car. Starts yelling. Tells us to get out of the car. Apparently the use of the word "fuck" and "shut up" are not on. 

I apologised instantly, cursing myself for screwing up my colleague's morning. He's a gentle guy and looked terribly uncomfortable with the whole situation.

I apologised multiple times, and told the guy I shouldbn't have used those words. Now can we go to the airport please?

The driver continues to abuse. And then threatens me with violence. He says he will bring a couple of hundred of his merry taxi-driving buddies to my house and take my life.

At this point, I'm thinking it's probably a bad idea to ride in a taxi with a man, upstanding paragon of decency though he may be, who has expressed a more than casual interest in throwing a party, inviting his friends, and murdering me for fun.

So I start walking away. We're not far from my house. Worst case, I can just get my car and drive to the airport.

But Taxi For Sure's foot soldier was not done, evidently. Now he's harrassing my colleague, who has been trying to calm things down - and asking for full payment. I did a quick ROI, decided that the small sum of a thousand rupees was a small price to pay for significantly reducing the probability that I would be beaten to death by enough drivers from Taxi for Sure to fill a passenger jet. So I paid. And walked away to the sounds of incoherent yelling in a curious mix of Hindi and Kannada. 

The guy was purple with rage by this time. I suppose he was a bit disappointed that he did not get to fulfil his fantasy of group-killing a senior game developer at Iblur junction. Or maybe he didn't like the fact that I paid so easily. I don't know.

A bit later, Taxi for sure sends an apology. It is most amusing. Here are the text messages from Taxi for Sure.

While Taxi For Sure's driver's obnoxious (and psychopathic) behaviour considerably dampened my mood in the morning, their apology lifted my spirits instantly.

"Apologies for not living up to your expectations. We are continuously improving and will make sure we resolve the issue" it seems.

No problem, guys. I readily accept your clearly heartfelt apology. I will forgive the fact that your driver Mr.S.Sridhar (phone number 8184082999 , Tata Indica no KA-53A-6681) threw me out of a cab at 5.30 in the morning, yelled and screamed at me and promised to murder me through the use of goondas. No problem.

But please also ask him to accept my apologies for saying "fuck"and "shut up" a couple of times. I already apologized to him multiple times, but he hasn't indicated yet that he's cool with that. 

It would also be nice if you requested him not to go ahead with his plans to take my life. Just saying. It will negatively impact my studio's quarterly roadmap.

Thanks. And have a nice day.

Anand Ramachandran.


How did we eventually get there, you ask ? Simple. Got an Uber.

Driver Ashok Kumar came, picked us up. Picked up my colleague. Dropped us to the airport.

I actually thanked him saying "Thank you. You saved us this morning. "

"It's my job, sir" he said, with only a hint of a smile.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Anand Ramachandran Escalation.

No doubt, from time to time, the question enters your mind, "What does it feel like to go through life being called Anand Ramachandran ?"And, I'm sure, after a few futile attempts at finding a satisfactory answer, you go back to doing whatever it was that you were doing earlier, none the wiser. "Sigh", you despair. "I will probably never know", you whisper sadly to yourself, sipping on some blackcurrant tea. Which tastes like hot Ribena. But I digress.

I am here to help you. Let me assure you that it is the only subject on which I am one of the world's leading authorities. 

So, what, indeed, is it like to go by this seemingly harmless name ?

While I must admit that it does have its advantages, it is also not without some significant drawbacks.

The main reason for this is that there are numerous individuals who go by the same name - a startling percentage of whom also know each other personally and move in the same extended social circles. And I'm not even taking into consideration here the world-famous LASIK guy. Or that dude who is a big-wig in aviation.

I was blissfully unaware of the Anand Ramachandran proliferation until a few years ago, when I first noticed that another fine gentleman who shares my name would often comment on the Facebook posts of a common friend. A few "Anand Ramachandran and Anand Ramachandran like this" and "Anand Ramachandran likes Anand Ramachandran's comment " incidents later, the whole thing became so kvlt that becoming FB friends was inevitable.

Subsequently, Anand informed me that his brother's name was also Aravind, and that he had been mistaken for me several times. I conveyed my sympathies (it can't be pleasant being mistaken for a writer who has got death threats from crazed cricket fans on the Pakpassion forums), had a good laugh, and that was that.

Until a year or so later, when I finally got to meet him (or so I thought).

It was at one of the craziest parties I have ever attended (which is a whole blog post in itself, probably titled "Two Ducks and A Chinaman". But I digress) when a friend (we will call him Paavamani) excitedly called me and told me that he'd met this guy called Anand Ramachandran whose brother was also called Aravind Ramachandran, and that he was bringing him to the party just for the kvlt. I replied that I already knew him, and couldn't wait to share a beer with the excellently named chap.

A few cigars and beers later, Paavamani and Anand turn up. I excitedly greet them and then we chat about this and that, but mainly about being Anand Ramachandrans with brothers named Aravind. I also learn the bonus factoid that his daughter is my son's classmate - which contributes more towards my head reeling and spinning than all the alcohol I had consumed until that point.

And that wasn't even the strangest part.

That was when he seemed baffled when I started referring to our amusing interactions on Facebook. And he flatly denied that he was friends with me on FB. This caused me to

1. Vigorously shake my head from side to side very rapidly to disperse the clouds that were forming in my brain.

2. Realize that he was NOT the Anand Ramachandran who I had earlier bonded with on Facebook! There was another!

When a man named Anand Ramachandran with a brother named Aravind Ramachandran realizes that the other man called Anand Ramachandran with a brother named Aravind Ramachandran that he has just been sharing a beer with is not the Anand Ramachandran with a brother named Aravind Ramachandran that he thought he was, it is fair to allow him to sit down and quietly reflect for a bit. Which is what I allowed myself to do.

I have never really recovered from the impact of that moment. And every now and then, something happens that considerably worsens the chances that I ever will.

Like that time in Bangalore airport where a gentleman walked up to me, tapped me on the arm and asked "Excuse me - are you Anand Ramachandran ? "

Tempted as I was to respond with a bitingly sarcastic "Which one ?", I thought better of it, shook his hand, nodded and smilingly asked "Yes, I am. Have we met before ? "

Of course, inevitably, his reply was "Yes we have. My name is also Anand Ramachandran."

Normally, my response would have been to look for a chair, sit down and cry. But recent events had hardened me to the impact of meeting unexpected Anand Ramachandrans, so I took it in my stride. Further friendly conversation finally helped it to dawn on me that I had indeed met the guy before. I remembered him well, but only by the nickname "Oms Nandi". The reasons for that could be another blog post altogether on our strange nicknames for the most pleasant of people, which include "Kakkoos Balli", "Beer Beer Indrabeer Badamkheer" and "Mapuchi 2000". But I digress. 

At least he has done me the small kindness of inserting a 'Sharma'between the Anand and the Ramachandran to make things slightly easier when I need to mentally sort out and index various Anand Ramachandrans. Thanks, mate.

That was about three months ago. There have been no other sudden Anand Ramachandran incidents since. And I still haven't had the pleasure of meeting the one who started it all.

And if there are any more of you lurking in the woodwork, step out now. Maybe we can have an Anand Ramachandran conference next year.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Game design lessons from my high school days in Don Bosco

I often hear the argument that the things we learn in school are virtually useless in adult professional life.

From bewildered schoolboys wondering to themselves about the practical value of knowing the precise location of iron ore deposits in Bihar to self-styled reformers ranting about the outdated and archaic education system, there seems to be a prevailing opinion in modern society that our school system, outside of teaching basic language and arithmetic skills, offers nothing that will prepare young boys and girls for the trying times when they have to be actually productive.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Today, I make games for a living. I use several skills I learned in school on a daily basis. And, on the rare occasion, even things like language, math, science and history come in handy. However, the lessons that are most useful are those that I learned while playing all manner of games in school - both inside and outside the classroom.

Of course, I am not referring to the major 'mainstream' sports and games that gave us celebrities of the stature of Vijay Amritraj and Vishy Anand - men so famous that even Maria Sharapova would have no trouble identifying them if suddenly asked by a sneaky reporter.

I am referring to the lesser known, non world-famous but immeasurably more Kvlt games that took up so much of our time - Crocker, Conquering The Land, Battleships and several others that didn't even have names, but I fondly remember as "tear the other guy's pocket", "crawl behind the other guy and then have a friend push him over" and the evergreen favourites, "Kumaraswamy / Chinnaswamy Wars".

Crocker, of course, needs no introduction here. A game characterised by the fundamental tenet of "No waits in Crocker" made it a game of frantic pace and non-stop excitement - leading to the modern proverb "Time, tide and cocker players wait for no man". K.Srikkanth, deprived of the time to conduct his bizarre rituals between deliveries, would have failed miserably at it. Lalit Modi would have hated the game's pacing which leaves little or no time for ad breaks. Probably just as well it has never caught on as a spectator sport. The game design lesson here? Adding a single mechanic (time pressure) can make a formulaic game immeasurably more fun.

"Conquering The Land" was another interesting game design, come to think of it. It remains fairly unique in that it combines the traditional board game mechanic of capturing territory on a board with the more physical, schoolboyish activities of running, stretching and throwing sharp sticks at one another. Excellent idea - combine cerebral and physical skills to create a game that can only be won by players who have both. It's the same thought process that probably led to the development of Chessboxing. (Never heard of it? Shame on you)

My memories of school are also littered with enjoyable sessions of indoor games played during class. Notably, the old pen and paper classic, Battleships (later made into, for some reason, a film staring Rihanna). While the short-sighted may perceive this as mischievous and irresponsible behaviour, in fact I was acquiring crucial life skills - such as finding a way to entertain myself while looking reasonably industrious during boring sessions where other people talk about things I did not really understand or care about. This serves me extremely well today in the numerous meetings I am forced to attend with execs and other business-types who will give any history, geography or science teacher a run for their money in boring people to the point of death.

There were several others - a scouts game called "message relay" which combined the charms of Chinese Whispers with the thrill of the 100 metre dash with amusing results, assorted pen and paper games in which the chief skill was "firing" a pencil across a paper gameboard by flicking it with your forefinger, and amazingly imaginative "paper video games", ingenious game designs that used folded paper to create a gameboard on which you could "control" a small paper ball by pressing down to tilt the board. All imaginative game designs which I enjoyed very much and are possibly the reason I became a game designer. That and the small fact that I never finished a college degree and hence had very limited choices.

See? I did learn things in school that directly helps me in my career today. In addition to all the great stuff that was in the textbooks. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

How my son's passion for Halo got him interested in art and music.

My son is a typical eleven year old. He doesn't enjoy work. He doesn't enjoy educating himself. He'd rather be playing videogames and eating unhealthy things all day.

He does enjoy drawing and music - but we were finding it hard to get him to focus and practice in any meaningful way. He'd pick up something, doodle about for a bit, get distracted, and give up. Many children do. He seemed reasonably talented and interested - but did not have the discipline to overcome challenges, solve problems and learn stuff that wasn't ridiculously easy.

But he's different when he's playing Halo. For those of you living under a rock, Halo is the blockbuster XBOX game which involves heroic human super-soldiers and really cool aliens shooting at each other. It's awesome. You should try it.

Here are some videos that will give you an idea of what Halo looks and feels like :

My son LOVES Halo. He's finished every campaign in the game, and regularly plays multiplayer battles online. When he's doing this, he's incredibly focused. He practices long hours. He improves his skills. He doesn't back away from challenges. He takes defeat in his stride and wants to get better. And he gets better. It's exactly the attitude you want a child to have.

Now a normal parental instinct is to lecture the kid about this. WHY can't you show the same focus in art or music or studies? Or to pull the kid away from the game and force him to focus on other stuff. Thus usually igniting a death spiral of boredom and resentment that makes the poor kid hate absolutely everything.

I thought - why not get him to channel his passion for the game to help him develop other skills ?

Why not point him at the art and music in Halo to get him to spend more time developing his skills ? Could it work ?

You bet.

Art was always going to be easy - because my son is naturally drawn to it. So setting down goals to try and learn different aspects of drawing, inking and colouring had spectacular results (I'm referring here more to the discipline he shows in learning the skill than art quality per se). I'm posting a few of his pieces here (they're all from Halo) - I can assure you that the improvement he's shown is significant. More importantly, he enjoys the process and is proud to show people his work - something he was always shy of before.

Music was more surprising. Normally, he's reluctant to sit down and practice for more than a few minutes, and if a piece was too hard he would simply give up. Once I suggested that he try and learn some pieces from the Halo theme music - he was transformed. Now, he spends significant time sitting by himself and practicing the pieces (even in the morning for a few minutes before leaving for school). He does all of this unprompted - he doesn't wait for me to tell him to practice. If he has a few minutes free he's at the keyboard, playing away. It's amazing.

A month back, he was nowhere near this confident or motivated. He goes for lessons at the lovely Taaqademy, but he would barely spend ten minutes a day at home practicing, only when pushed. Add Halo to the mix, and a marked difference. Here are a couple of videos of him trying to play pieces from Halo. Far from perfect, but a remarkable improvement.

Kids don't hate art or music or science or math. They hate being forced to learn these things in ways that don't suit them - at some predefined pace, or with some predefined goals that they have no say in setting.

There is art in every videogame. There is music in every videogame. There is math and science in most videogames. It's an opportunity to get kids to learn skills in a way that will hold their attention and interest - point at the stuff that their beloved games contain, and get them to go deeper.

My experiment doesn't stop here. We've already begun exploring how probability works in the deck-building activity of games like Magic : The Gathering. I'm thinking of putting together a history and geography program based on Civilization V. Some time soon, I'll also try and get him started on programming by encouraging him to code his own games. I'm certain it will work.

I'll keep posting about the results here. I also urge those of you who have videogame obsessed kids to try some experiments of your own.

Monday, June 9, 2014

What is wrong with you, South India?

I sometimes randomly Google things to see what turns up. It's fun.

Last week, I Googled for 'South Indian Stud'. This is what turns up :

(Please click on all the pics in this post and view the larger images. Totally worth it.)

I mean, seriously? No Dr.Mr.Joseph Vijay Saar ? No Power Star of any sort? No Sidin Vadukut? Ridiculous.

To compare, I next Googled 'North Indian Stud'. Only marginally better, but better. At least one bona-fide stud, and two passable ones. I'll leave you to figure out which ones exactly those are.

North India - 1. South India - 0.

Next, as suggested by the admirable Devadittya Banerjee, I Googled an image search for 'Tamil'. Here's what I got :

Lots of pictures of chicks. One of Karthi. And suggested categories include 'Love Kavithai', 'Love Failure Kavithai', 'Love Letter' and 'Love Song'. 'Love Failure Kavithai' as an entire CATEGORY? WTF Tamil Nadu????

Surely only my home state couldn't be so pathetic. I needed to know. So I Googled for all the other three major South Indian languages.

Telugu again shows up only chicks, one random guy, and some suggested searches that all seem to be about something called 'Lanjalu'. The one colleague I asked for a translation assured me that it isn't something pleasant. Sigh.

Malayalam again stays with this pattern. Full chicks. But at least some balance is restored by Lalettan, Mamootty and some dude called Dileep. But no Sidin. Suggested categories indicate that Mallus dig something mysterious called 'Scrap'. Three of the categories are 'Scrap', 'Comedy Scrap' and 'Scraps Friendship' - whatever those mean.

So far, so good. I sighed in relief. Not only Tamil Nadu, but all other states are the same. Thank God.

And then something happened. I Googled for 'Kannada' : 

WTF??? It's all about the language! All the images show the script. The suggested categories are about the state - logo, Rajyotsava, and so on. Even the 'Love' here is 'Language Love'. The only image of that couple smooching is an aberration, a blemish on this beautiful search results page.

I was filled with a new respect for my current home.

But wait. Perhaps Karnataka is the exception. Surely, other Indian states will revert to the pattern established by Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam.

I Googled further.


Rest of India - 6. South India - 1. Thank you, Karnataka.

For what it's worth, I tried with other languages from all over the world as well.

Looks like it's just us.

WTF, South India ?

(Except Karnataka. You're okay).

Friday, March 14, 2014

We didn't start the fire - Twitter version.

Every few years, I feel compelled to write a song to the tune of 'We Didn't Start The Fire?'

Why ? Because it's so easy, even I can do it. Twice.

Last time around, it was a generic desi version.

This time, I thought I'd make it about a subject we all love to hate. No, no. Not Arvind Kejriwal (though he does make an appearance). I'm talking about Twitter.

So, without further ado, I'll just leave this here :

Rahul Gandhi. Kejriwal. NaMo and Kapil Sibal.
Katy Perry. Justin Bieber. Who'll end up trending?
@rameshsrivats just logged in. @jhunjhunwala and @sidin.
We'll soon know. They'll decide. On them we're depending.

Where the hell is @krishashok ? In an airport telling joke.
Hashtags lose their zing. @anantha is amazing.
@diogeneb is the king. Of anagramming everything.
Superman. Remap sun. Anus perm. A Nu Sperm.

We're the folks on Twitter.
We don't go to parties.
We just count our RTs.
We're the folks on Twitter.
Its sure contagious
how small things outrage us.

@bigfatphoenix disappears. Yawn. And then he reappears.
Boromirfaramir. Twitter Afridi.
Oh look! There's someone to blame. Let's gang up and bring the shame.
Scapegoat biryani. Twitter Bakridi.

Tedx. Wikimedia. Sounds little seedy ya.
Situation's getting hard. Better change my business card.
Too late. Getting trolled. Story being told.
Don't tell @kiruba. Konjam summa irubaa.

We're the folks on Twitter.
We don't go to parties.
We just count our RTs.

We're the folks on Twitter.
Its sure contagious
how small things outrage us.

Crack a joke. Make a GIF. @onejubb and his #machanif.
Who is your best matey da? @chuck_gopal or @raytida?
Everyone's a plagiarist. @AaruC does not exist.
What did you eat for lunch? @i_r_squared's name rhymes with lunch. 

#Paam-Pa-paam-pa-paam. #Paam-Pa-paam-pa-paam.

@prempanicker sparks debates. @sidvee plain intimidates.
T20. Test match. Outrage over dropped catch.
Ponting or Tendulkar. Which player do #youprefer?
Virat Kohli scores a ton. @cornerd likes badminton.

We're the folks on Twitter.
We don't go to parties.
We just count our RTs.

We're the folks on Twitter.
Its sure contagious
how small things outrage us.

You missed an apostrophe. WHAT A GREAT CATASTROPHE.
grammer nazi's, strike again. Grammar nazis strike again.
Hard to be grammatical. Simply isn't practical.
When limiting fctrs. Is 140 chrctrs.

Demonstrate your sparkling wit. Or just say some random shit.
Do your best or do your worst. But @rameshsrivats did it first !

We're the folks on Twitter.
We don't go to parties.
We just count our RTs.

We're the folks on Twitter.
Its sure contagious
how small things outrage us.

I just gained a follower. Your life must seem hollower.
[Fist pump]. [Tummy tuck]. I rule. You suck.
I just changed my DP now. Followers are saying 'wow'.
Lo-res hotness. #winning. Oh, yes.

Influence. Need some more. All about my Klout score.
Got RTed. Yesterday. What else do I have to say?

We're the folks on Twitter.
We don't go to parties.
We just count our RTs.
We're the folks on Twitter.
Its sure contagious
how small things outrage us.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Android Game Recco - Card City Nights

Card City Nights is a wonderfully imaginative, addictive, and rather odd little card battling game that offers a lot more strategic depth than its goofball graphics suggest.

The game starts you off as a newcomer to the city, and very quickly has you meeting some pretty nutty characters, battling them to win cards, and setting you off on a quest to find the eight 'legendary' cards to win the game. The story, of course, is nonsensical and doesn't really matter, but the writing, should you choose to pay attention to it, is witty, charming and funny.

The core of the game is, as it should be with card battlers, fighting card battles, winning new cards and building the most powerful deck possible. The battle system itself is pretty unique and fun - you lay out cards on a 3 X 3 grid, trying to string together 'combos' to attack your opponent or raise your own defense. It's a lot more challenging than it initially looks. The first few battles are pretty straightforward, but pretty soon you'll discover a wide range of cards, combos and strategies - primarily by the time-tested method of getting your ass kicked by the game's 'bosses' who use said strategies. Soon, you'll be winning tons of new cards and putting together powerful new decks with specific strategies - I've got an attack heavy deck, a defensive deck and a generalist deck already, and I'm only about two hours in.

It's a fun, challenging and rewarding battle system - I say this as a fan of card battlers in general, and MTG and, more recently, Hearthstone in particular.

The cards themselves are, simply put, quite insane. A madcap assortment of characters with crazy names and crazier artwork quite unlike anything I've seen in the genre makes it extremely entertaining to collect cards and build decks. 

Mobile and tablet gaming is increasingly taking up chunks of my time - offering deep and 'hardcore' experiences that are beginning to rival those found on traditional platforms. Card City Nights is another such title - I heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a deep and satisfying strategy game experience on the go.

Card City Nights is available on Steam (PC/ Mac/ Linux) Android, and soon (or maybe already) on iOS - so you really don't have an excuse. Get it here.

The most important game design lesson I ever learned

While we designers rarely ignore the mechanics based aspects of what makes our games fun and addictive (aspiration, progression, balance, storytelling etc.) there's one simple rule that I've seen ignored time and again, and indeed have been guilty of ignoring myself.

This one simple principle seems to be a common thread running through every successful (and especially addictive) blockbuster game ever made.

Here it is :

The action that your player performs most frequently should feel like fun all by itself.

To elaborate - the one (or two) things that the player repeatedly does while playing your game should feel juicy, satisfying and fun enough so that just simply performing this action hundreds of times even without any additional context should not become boring.

Let's test this hypothesis by looking at some blockbuster games across genres :

Super Mario Bros - running and jumping
The famously solid and weighty physics behind Mario's basic run and jump make controlling him extremely pleasurable. Just running and jumping around a level with Mario, even without any enemies or obstacles would still be pretty fun.

Diablo - clicking on an enemy
The famously visceral feeling you got when attacking a monster in Diablo - the hugely satisfying crunching, squishing and cutting sounds followed by great death animations - meant that you could just click on enemies all day, making it one of the most addictive games in history.

Candy Crush Saga - matching candies
Love it or hate it - there's no denying that Candy Crush exploded in audio-visual delight every time you made a combo. Every sound and animation is just perfect, and they string together beautifully so that making a series of long combos is a hypnotic experience - regardless of the score, progression and other gameplay mechanics.

Halo - shooting
Halo (or any other top FPS) gets the shooting right. The simple act of firing any of its guns feels solid, punchy and satisfying - the sound, the recoil animation, the overheat animation, the needler trails, all work together to make just shooting a gun a fun experience by itself, even if there are no enemies at the other end.

Farmville - harvesting crops
The core actions in Farmville are another example of using sound and animation to make addictive fun. Harvesting a bumper crop in Farmville is almost a zen-like experience - huge bushels of strawberries or pumpkins or apples (and gold coins) burst out of your screen at every click, giving your brain endorphin hit after endorphin hit.

Angry Birds - launching a bird
Like Super Mario Bros, this one is also all about physics. The superb sense of weight when you catapult different kinds of birds to their doom, with the hilariously perfect sounds, lead to an experience that never gets old, however ,many hundreds of times you repeat it.

Minecraft - digging and placing blocks
The satisfying whack-plink-thunk sounds when you dig through different kinds of terrain in Minecraft, and the comforting thud when you place a block down make the basic actions of the game feel fun and enjoyable. So hours and hours of carving out the terrain and building stuff doesn't feel like a chore - in fact, quite the opposite. It's an addictive, almost meditative experience.

Hmmmmmm. Most suspicious, yes?  The truth seems to be, regardless of genre, that the most successful games make the core action as much fun as it can be. So much that, when you're in the thick of the game, it becomes a trance-like, meditative experience.

I actually learned this the hard way at Zynga when we shipped Hidden Shadows. While we focused heavily on making the hidden objects scenes look great, writing interesting stories, tuning the economy to feel right and suchlike, we dropped the ball on one important thing. In our game (like in many Facebook games), the action that the player performed most frequently was in fact clicking on buttons (in the quests, the game's various menus and dialogs and so on). We failed to make the button-clicking a delightful experience - and this made the game, in hindsight, less addictive. My gut still tells me that a better level of UI polish would have made Hidden Shadows a vastly more successful game than it ended up being. Games like Candy Crush Saga and Farmville 2 get it right - and are more addictive experiences as a result.

To anyone making games today, I cannot stress this enough - isolate the core action of your game, and polish the crap out of it until it feels like fun on its own. Test prototypes that have just the core action and absolutely no other systems built around it - and iterate until these feel enjoyable to play around with. Your game will be better for it.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Madras Psychedelic - an Interactive story about weirdness, Madras and being lost in an alternate dimension.

For a while, I've been tossing around in my mind an adventure game I wanted to make about Chennai.

The first prototype is finally here - it's called Madras Psychedelic.

This prototype is a text-only (with a few pictures) Twine based interactive story in which I'm testing out the overall feel of the narrative. Check it out here :

Maybe sometime in the future, I'll mock up something with graphics in AGS or something. But for now, I want to see if the narrative works. Is the world fun to explore? Are the characters fun to interact with? Is the story interesting enough?

So I'd love for you guys to play through this VERY early Alpha version and let me know what you think .

Here are some teaser images to give you an idea of what's in there :

Do play, and give me lots of feedback and harsh criticism. It's over here :

Friday, February 7, 2014

Why we're so addicted to Flappy Bird

The success of Flappy Bird seems to have confounded a lot of people, who can't seem to understand why it's such a big deal. As a game designer, I see some very sound reasons (based on core design principles) why it's so darn popular and addictive, despite being so brutally difficult. Here's what I think :

It feels winnable

The objective of Flappy Bird is very simple - "Score 1 more point  than I did last time". That is all. No quests, no story, no faraway goals that seem unreachable or intimidating.

That doesn't sound so hard, does it? Surely you can do it?

Especially since you were this fucking close last time. Right? You only missed by a whisker. So you try again.

Play time is super short.

Each play lasts, for most people, about five seconds or less. Even the best players can't be playing for more than a minute. So where's the harm in trying just once more to score just one more point? So you try again.

Every small victory makes you feel Like A Boss.

Because it's so darn hard, scoring a single point gives you a feeling of epic victory and accomplishment. And the next epic win feeling is only five seconds and one point away. So you try again.

It feels fair

This is important - the basic physics and controls in the game feel solid and fair. So every time your bird falls to the ground, you blame yourself and your lack of skill. Not luck or randomness. So you still believe that you can beat it the next time. So you try again.

So by following four very basic design principles and implementing them well, the designer has created a game that is addictive. A game that people can't stop playing. A game that people talk about and get others to play. I don't think it's an accident - it is at its core a very well made game.

It isn't even the first of its kind - many recent games have achieved success by following the exact same principles. Super Hexagon, for instance. It's just that Flappy Bird takes these principles and distills them to their essence, cutting out even the most basic of embellishments, such as pretty graphics, music or a story. Which is why it works for such a wide audience. And which is why it will fade away quickly - because it lacks lasting value to anyone other than the most competitive of players.

The lesson here for anyone making games is this - the oldest video game design technique (one fun core mechanic tied to a high score ) still works very well.