Tough Name to be Lumbered With

December 28, 2010
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Over on my professional blog I discuss Apple App Store Sales reporting, and the hardship of having the name Scrooge.


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Mars Rocks – Now Daily

December 27, 2010
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After a patchy couple a months the Mars Rocks! are now back in full effect, with one-a-day planned from now until the end of time, or maybe a little sooner. See them here!

Mars Rocks! - Comin' Atcha!

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Not Your Usual Santa…

December 24, 2010
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During the Christmas hols last year I was struck by an idea – a zombie shaped bookmark, where the arms loll over the top of the page, all zombie-like. All year I’ve been thinking I should do something with this idea, and now I have. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you… Zombie Santa!

Zombie Santa - He'll give you presents, but he'll eat your brains!

And of course, he has some real talent…

If you keep enough brains, then Zombie Santa will help mark your page in a book!

Merry Christmas!

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My Game, Now On iPhone!

December 20, 2010
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Yes indeed, iPhoners, iPod Touchers and iPadders, you too can now enjoy the unbridled Christmas joy that is Christmas Tripeaks!

Making a church out of cards - a good idea if you're a game designer, a terrible idea if you're an architect...

When you’ve bought it and played it obsessively for a week, be sure to come back and leave a comment.

Android owners, go grab it here.


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Tin Can Christmas…

December 20, 2010
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When I was a kid my parents used to make our Christmas crackers, which seemed like voodoo to me, not because of the chicken feathers and chanting that went along with the construction process but because of the contents – how on earth could a mere human put a bang into a crimped crepe paper tube, more importantly, how did you get the toy in? For a few precious years these were amazing mysteries.

Last Christmas me and my partner had our own go at making some festive items, in the shape of lanterns made out of tin cans.

Eat some beans then up-cycle the tin can into a nifty lantern...

They’re easy to make but they do take a bit of time, and if you’re not good at hitting a nail with a hammer then you will be when you finish.

First of all, get yourself a tin can, any will do, although I expect one that previously contained baked beans will be your most likely candidate. Wash the tin can out, being careful not to cut yourself open if you’ve left a sharp edge around the top, I’d hate to be responsible for the wrong kind of claret being spilled. Then peel off the label, it helps to soak the can for a while before attempting this. The label normally comes off fairly easily, but the glue can be a lot more stubborn. Soaking can be enough to break down the bond between the glue and the metal, meaning you can break it off if you get something under it. Pliers can be a good for this, as can any tool that enables open aggression. Some glues are more sticky than brittle and can take a lot of scrubbing to get off. Don’t worry about being completely thorough getting the glue off though, no one will notice the odd bit when you spray paint it later.

With your tin can cleaned and dried it’s time to draw the design you want on it. You’ll be going over this design later, hammering in enough holes to describe your design. Nearly all cans have grooves around them and any hole you try to put in the can will be much easier to do if it lies in the groove. If you want to make the job as quick and easy as possible then draw a dot for each hole you want to punch in the can, and put all the dots either in grooves or on flat sections of the can. However, if you want to be more carefree and freeform then scribble away to your heart’s content and work out the details of where the holes should be punched when you get to that stage.

When drawing on the tin can it’s best to use a permanent marker, and the finest and lightest coloured one you can find. Thick black marker lines take a lot more coats of spray paint to cover up than a thin line of yellow marker. If you’re planning on painting the can anything other than white, you are best off using a marker the same colour that you’re going to paint it. That way you’ll be able to get away with only a couple of coats of paint – a significant time saver.

Two ways of doing your design - the tin on the left is freeform and I'll have to work out where all the holes will go when I'm doing the punching. With the tin on the right I have figured all that out already and only have to put the nail through where the dots are.

You’ll also make your life a lot easier if you keep your design a little way from the top of the tin can. This is because the next thing you’re going to do is fill the can with water, all the way to the top, and then put it in the freezer. Now you have to wait about 24 hours for the water to freeze solid. Don’t be tempted to take a short cut on this time just because the water seems to be entirely frozen. I once tried that and found out that the ice wasn’t frozen in the middle and, after a few holes were punched, the ice shattered and fell out of the tin can. The ice is essential because it makes the whole tin rigid enough to not buckle when you’re hammering in the holes. Without the ice the whole thing bends and deforms and ends up a mess in no time at all. The reason for not going too close to the top of the tin is because holes punched up there splinter the ice out of the top of the can, giving you less time to punch all the holes; if possible it’s best to do all the holes in one go.

To actually drive the holes into the tin, find a good solid surface to lay the can on its side – I used a concrete wall. Then take a small nail, something about an inch long and not too thick, and holding it between your thumb and first finger, line it up on the spot you want to put the hole in. The hand that’s holding the nail is also the one that holds the tin in place on your solid surface. Now take the hammer in the other hand and tap the nail. And keep tapping it until it goes through the tin can. This doesn’t take much effort, because the metal is so thin. As you get more confident you’ll be able to drive the nail through it one go, but you have to be sure not to be too heavy, the harder you hit the nail, the deeper it goes, and the harder it is to get out. This might not seem like much of a problem but you fingers will get cold over time, and the chore of pulling the nail out soon wears thin.

If you need to take a break then put the can back in the freezer. If you really have to bulk up the ice in the can then you can, by wrapping a plastic bag around it then gaffer taping all around the bag BEFORE you add the water in. The bag has to be a very snug fit though, because the water spills out of the holes you’ve already punched and freezes on the outside of the can, hiding your design and making it tricky (not to mention even colder than normal) to progress.

To see if your design is coming through as clearly as you hoped, hold the open end of the tin up to a light, and it will shine through and out of the holes you’ve already punched. If you keep doing this then you can add extra holes where you think necessary, you might also save yourself from having to put a few of the holes in.

Once you’ve put in all the holes you want, it’s time to get the ice out of it. This is not as easy as it sounds, that’s a big block of ice you’ve got there and it will take a while for it to melt enough for you to shake the rest of the ice cylinder out. You can, of course, grab an ice pick and chip the block of ice out, but I’m not fan of such devices, having watched Basic Instinct at a very vulnerable age.

Let your tin can air dry and then it’s time to paint it. I always look for any opportunity to use spray paint, which isn’t always good, but in this case it’s definitely the best option, because its coats are so thin. Using a pot of paint and a brush will result in all your holes being clogged up. It’s not too much trouble to go over them all again with the hammer and nail but it’s a pain compared to shaking up a can of spray paint and having all the fun of using that.

A few coats/clouds of paint later you’ll have yourself a beautifully painted lantern, ready to receive a tealight and shine forth. Be warned though, all those holes that are smooth on the outside have turned the inside of your tin can into a cheese grater, so watch your hand when dropping that tealight in there.

Beware of bare flesh on serrated metal...

Now put your lantern somewhere and admire your yuletide handy work. Most importantly, place your lantern at eye level, otherwise no one else will notice all the effort you’ve put into it.

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Brown Free

December 14, 2010
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Today I am unshackled from salaried work, for I have gone freelance. And you know what that means, yes it means a brand new blog! I know it seems preposterous that I should need another one, given the long list of blogs I already have over there in the side bar to the right. But it turned out that I didn’t have a blog that was purely dedicated to my work. But now I do, and it’s called Two Tailed Tiger.


Move over Bear Grylls – National Geographic is launching a new series called ‘Tiger Vs ‘. In this shot the tiger (who’s called Roger) is about to take on a tiger shark to win back it’s name…

I was recently wondering what to call this new venture; I had no names in mind and was starting to get a little worried. Then I was listening to the audio book of Diamonds Are Forever and a ‘tiger with two tails’ was mentioned. It had all kinds of connotations that I liked too much to pass up, although I couldn’t resist moving the words around a little to make the name as short as possible, but still keep its meaning.

Apparently, the theme tune isn't actually about diamonds. Am I the only one that's dumb enough to be shocked by this?


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In 2008…

December 12, 2010
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A senior game designer was summoned to New Zealand by Mario Wynands to head up a new game design department. This man promptly escaped from a maximum-security way of designing and scared the bejesus out of his employer with some boss designs. Today (tomorrow, actually), still wanted by the government (to pay tax, of course), he survives as game designer of fortune (one day, please god, one day). If you have a problem… if no one else can help… and if you can find him… maybe you can hire… Jon Brown.

Da da da dah, da da da da, da der da da, da da da da da, dum dum…

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Play Like You Mean It!

December 7, 2010
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Live music rocks, sometimes in a metaphorical sense, because it’s not always rock; sometimes it’s folk, or blues or jazz or hip hop. You know what I mean. However, going to see David Helfgott playing solo a couple of weeks ago had a certain sense of going out on a limb, especially for the price of the tickets. All I know about the man can be encapsulated in the biopic “Shine”, in which Geoffrey Rush played Helfgott and received an Oscar for. That was before he became better known as a pirate vagabond, Geoffrey Rush that is, not Helfgott. However, with Helfgott being Australian, it seemed to make sense to go and see him, what with Wellington being in the… er… same hemisphere.

Geoffrey Rush - Oscar being used like a weapon there methinks...

Given that I knew little of the man, and that the whole geographical relevance thing was wafer thin, you would assume that I am something of a student of classical music. Well, I’ve listened to plenty of it over the years, but I seem to have a lot of difficulty remembering most of the pieces I’ve heard. I have a suspicion the problem is what’s described in the film “Amadeus” (as a criticism of Mozart’s stunning work) as “there are too many notes”. I just don’t think I can remember that density of sonic stimulation.

A few stick though: There’s Holst’s “The Planets” which is slowly sinking in after 20 years of play, although I still find it hard to name the specific movements (Mars excepted) even though all I have to do is attach one of six possible names. Ravel’s “Boléro”, which every Great Britannian knows from the international ass-whooping that Torvill and Dean served at the 1984 Winter Olympics (stand and salute my countrymen); gold medal victory is a dish best served cold. Of course, they used the radio edit, but I am also familiar with the original album version, which is a lot longer – Olympic winners, for sure, but a little on the lazy side it would seem. And, naturally, I know “the music from The Deer Hunter” and “the music from Hovis advert”, although I suspect they aren’t the official names.

This cat has a better memory for classical music than I do, and it spends 95% of its time thinking about fish...

For all my love of music you would think that I would have put in some effort to learn an instrument. My parents had, indeed have, a piano, and as a child I was asked if I wanted to learn to play. In the days before I learned to judge my responses and would reply without giving my fearful lizard brain a vote, I eagerly said yes. This was a mistake, as my lessons were scheduled for exactly the same time that “Mighty Mouse” was on TV. “Here I come to save the day!” No Jon, it’s time for your scales. I didn’t actually have the expletives in my vocabulary to describe my miffedness.

I didn’t practice much either, as there was the outdoors and den building and Lego and cartoons and pretty much everything else going on in my young life, and it was all more important than middle C and its keyboard companions. I did manage to lodge the first eight or something bars of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” into my noggin, although only the melody. Once, in the music block at school, where I would invalidly hang out, I played my terrible rendition on an unfortunate upright. When the hat/feather combo was declared to be Macaroni my friend, Dan, jumped straight in and thrashed out the chorus; he used chords and finesse and all kinds of madness. It was humbling, although not enough for me to learn better, oh no, you can still catch me awkwardly murdering that melody whenever I am near a keyboard.

This is what pianos want to do to themselves when I show up...

But my fists of ham don’t really bother me that much, because I really enjoy watching other people play the piano. In fact, my earliest memory of this strange fascination of the visual exhibition involves the aforementioned Dan Rendall, playing the piano at some school concert. I’m fairly confident he played some Scott Joplin. He seemed to have a penchant for that when we were kids.

My love of the piano as a focal object must go back to my parents, and their old Joanna. One of my earliest memories is of being sat on my mom’s knee at the piano, singing along as she played. We’d go through a pile of sheet music and choose our next victim – I have never been much of a singer. Polly would be implored to put the kettle on, and we were familiar with the disappointment the sailor felt when he discovered the limited ocular choices of a seascape, at least I think I used to do my machine gun fire shouting of “sea, sea, sea” along with the piano – I wonder if my mom egged me on, driving me along with her own trigger key punching, like a super skilled Morse tapper.

Carolina - I have never been and the intertubes provide poor evidence of "fineness", just pictures of women called Carolina and American Football players. So the jury is out on this one...

And my dad used to play with gusto, thrashing out recitals of “Carolina In The Morning” (nothing could be finer, I am informed) and “When The Saints Go Marching In”. I’m not sure if he always stood up to do this, but I always remember him standing up, proper rock ‘n’ roll style, even if the music wasn’t. In fact, my dad playing “When The Saints…” is still the only version I actually like, he must have captured some of the real gospel spirit in there somewhere, unlike most renditions you hear, around football matches and whatnot. Obviously I watched all this ivory tinkling and I guess I’m reminded of these fond memories at some deep level whenever I see anyone play.

All things considered, I reckon I was bound to enjoy seeing and hearing David Helfgott play, and I knew it. Of course, he is a pianist of rare talent, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I was transfixed by the movement of his hands and was enormously glad that I was sat on the side of the theatre from where I could see them – it took me until the second half to realize that the stalls were uncharacteristically unpopular for exactly this reason.

David Helfgott - me and him share a posture...

From my vantage point I could see his digits slink around the keyboard in a spectacular fashion. Never ever did his action look heavy, even when pummeling a key with his powerful hands, like Kung Fu rather than heavyweight boxing, the power came from speed and precision, rather than weight and brutality. And what speed, there were times when the movement was a blur, not some kind of hyperbole, an actual real “I can’t see where those fingers really are in space” type blur.

Best of all though, David Helgott hunches over the piano in exactly the same way I hunch over a plate of food. Now, I don’t want to read too much into this meaningless fact but does this mean I’m a virtuoso food eater, rather than poorly postured and mannered? I rather like to think so.

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