Monday, September 8, 2014

Over A Thousand Virtual Hugs Given (Or A Blog Post About Nothing)

Place: Hacker Dojo, 599 Fairchild Drive, Mountain View, CA
Time: 6.30 pm

Monday evening. The team behind Mathbreakers – Morgan, Charlie, and Vivian – are half-way through their dinner. Morgan has Reddit open, and is pretending to be hard at work, when Charlie says, “Hey Morgan, Its your turn to do a blog post today.” 

“Mmmmm Mmph darumfff wamppppa,” replies Morgan, chomping down a rather large mouthful of burger. Which, Charlie and Vivian, having worked with Morgan before, rightly interpret to mean, “But I don’t wanna.”

What follows is the conversation they had..

Charlie: You should write about how we built the game from scratch.

Morgan: You mean how I met you and Vivian early last year, and how you guys had these cool prototypes for a Math game, though technically speaking not production stuff… And how I took on a role where I could advance that stuff in a maintainable way, and work towards optimizing and maintaining what we had?

Charlie: Also talk about the website.

Morgan: Remember, for a little while we had this impossible to maintain PHP version of the website that I wrestled away from you? I guess I could write about how we are using Django and jQuery.. Also, all the APIs we are using – the Mathbreakers game uses logins, assignments from the teachers which need to be tracked, the back-end purchasing system.. Yes, I could write about all that; but I don’t want to.

Vivian:  Maybe I could write the code for the site. I will only take five-times as much time than you guys.

Charlie: Remember all the time Morgan spent on doing Shaders! That was the time when he wanted to build this cool-looking bubbly shader for the numbers – giving objects in the game a ice-cuby effect? (Psssst, Ice-cuby is not a real word.)

Morgan: You can do all sorts of custom effects on object and game environment - cool things. Like the material you put on objects , light up when there is sun. See-through or reflective surfaces, for examples. We are a small team and did not have an art budget; so I tried to do most of the work using code.

Charlie: Which is why you built the hex grid system, this bunch of hexagonal tiles, that sort of pulled the game together visually.

Morgan: I think the way we built Mathbreakers was Charlie would have an idea and would start building a level for it.  He would also write much of the code for it. I would do tricky parts of the code,  make it more maintainable, for example. Then Vivian would come in, and make what we did look pretty.

Vivian: We built the game on top of Unity, which meant we did not have to do every little thing ourselves. Unity took care of the Physics for us. Like, when you go sufficiently close to a ledge, you automatically fall off.   

Charlie: I think Unity is kinda like Photoshop, but with way more interaction.

Vivian: I think you can say that about Blender. You can customize a lot of things very easily.

Morgan: Players can customize the characters in the Mathbreakers game, man. How cool is that! (Note: Vivian is not a man, but Morgan refers to everyone as ‘man’; be it man, woman, child or a pet cat.)

Vivian: I think the components-based model of Unity helped us a lot with testing. Larger game studios work in six-months sprints, they have to be able to figure out things many, many days in advance. We, on the other hand, were able to make a feature in a day or two, and test it out. If children loved a feature, we kept it. If they did not, we removed it.

Charlie: I thought having a marble in the game would be a good idea, but the kids did not like marbles all that much. The robots they loved!

Morgan: Speaking of, do you know we sent out roughly a thousand robot hugs?

Vivian, Charlie (in unison): Dude! A thousand robot hugs!

Morgan: Meh. Whatever.

(The End)

Editor’s note (Yes, this post has an editor): A thousand robot hugs! When the Mathbreakers team had this hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, they thought it would be a great idea to thank all the people who had supported them. They were at a party, and thankfully it was the kinda party that also had an unlimited supply of paper and pen, along with various cool beverages.

Having made sure they had enough pizza, Morgan, Vivian, and Charlie started drawing random robots on paper. Their friends joined in as well. Later, Morgan scanned some of the images, and wrote a quick JavaScript program that made it look like the robots were actually hugging people off their browsers. Everybody loved it!

Want to send someone a robotic hug? Fine! Here:

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