Tuesday, 11 October 2011


The passing of Steve was the first time I'd emotionally responded to the death of a high-profile figure. I wandered past the Apple Store here in Bath at lunch time the day after and saw that tributes had been coming in, as well as a Cancer Research stall nearby.

I popped back to the studio and put together something to add myself, which you can also find on dribbble.

I haven't got too much to add that hasn't already been expressed with eloquence and beauty. But a dark cloud hung over me all day, looking at peoples tributes, reading Steve's quotes, reading the blog posts of people who had met Steve which I loved. I was obviously never fortunate enough to cross paths with the man, but his products have had a profound impact on my life and I found it interesting to reflect on, so here's my personal story, iApple.

My dad was a layout designer for many years, Syrian born (remind you of anyone?) and working on Arabic newspapers and magazines here in the UK. As a little girl I used to go with him to his offices frequently, back then they had huge drawing boards (admittedly they'd probably not seem quite so vast now, but at the time I could sit in front of one and it would fill my vision) and not a computer in sight. The computers were kept in their own room, remember that?! Four of these, Macintosh II series:

Most of the time I was happy drawing my own Sonic the Hedgehog comics at the drawing boards, but every now and then I'd wander over to the Mac, turn it on and move the mouse around a bit. This was enough excitement as the only computer I had come into contact with prior to this was an Acorn with a CLI interface and no mouse, which was already forming a lasting fascination with computers.

I'd click on a few things I didn't understand before resorting to just moving the mouse around the desktop, drawing invisible hedgehogs. Then I'd toddle off into the photography dark room, comment on the smell and chew Fruit Pastilles slowly while watching photos develop, my childhood was the epitome of excitement I'll have you know.

I didn't see much more of Macs once I wasn't visiting my dad at work any more, we acquired a mouse for the Acorn and some semblance of a GUI but it was pretty uninspiring, I didn't feel compelled to draw hedgehogs on it. I did, however, feel a desperate need to type random command lines and flood error messages before taking the whole thing apart to look at it's innards, much to the disgust of the adults who caught me before I could reboot. These days I build my own gaming rigs and overloading a system with error messages is... frowned upon.

By the time I saw another Apple product I was firmly in the PC camp, I could customise the decks in Solitaire don't you know. I was keen on messing with settings, changing the way folders displayed and how the Start Menu was laid out. Did I mention I wasn't that popular at school? Coincidence, I'm sure. I was about 12 by now and my dad was doing the same kind of work, one weekend he was taking me to Segaworld but he had to go in to work for a couple of hours. I went with him on the promise of Galaxy Minstrels in the vending machine, but when we got there I saw something I wanted more:

An iMac. After a short while acclimatising to the taskbar being in the wrong place and stuff having a tendency to bounce for attention, I spent a short while exploring everything every menu had to offer, which was my default response to being at a computer, but it didn't last as long as on a PC. I found that I wanted to use this thing to draw hedgehogs again. I opened Photoshop for the first time and made some utterly dire crap that I was extremely proud of. I wish I still had it.

And then I never owned a Mac. The end.

But not really. My dad moved abroad and so I never visited him at work again and never really came into contact with Macs. We had a PC at home and within a couple of years I started having IT lessons at school, which I was good at and frequently helped other kids out when they managed to unlock and hide their taskbar, sending them into a frenzied panic of unhelpful clicking.

It wasn't until I went to university that I had a decent PC, and I went all out with an Alienware and life was blissful because I didn't have to go make a cup of coffee to pass the time when Microsoft Word was opening. I studied video game design then illustration, the former was entirely PC based and the latter had the kind of fear of anything digital as a neanderthal would if you showed up in his cave with a toaster. So no Macs there.

And then I needed a new phone, and had ignored the first two iterations of the iPhone. I had a Sony Ericsson which I liked but when I tried using it's upgrade I felt it morally obligated to not own it because the UX punched me in the soul. The iPhone 3GS had just come out and I had just got the deposit on my flat back so.... you know... priorities...

I fell in love with the damn thing and it quickly replaced a lot of physical gumpf in my life like my Filofax and calendar, which pleased me because basically, if I had my way, everything I own would be digitised and live on one device and my house would be empty. Except a bit of it would be an aquarium. With a shark.

After uni I started working as a designer in a studio with G5s and iMacs, and had to become as familiar with OSX as I am with Windows. Turns out that's really easy but, judging by the amount of frantic phone calls I had from OSX colleagues encountering Windows, not so easy the other way around. Again, I did a bit of delving and tweaking but this was a tool I used to create. When it came to the time I needed a laptop, what was always going to be a PC ended up being a MacBook Pro. I still have, and always will have, a PC for gaming and for the satisfaction of working on something I built, but my Macs are a joy to use, beautiful and effortless.

Then comes the iPad, and not being a total rabid Apple fangirl just yet meant that I didn't get one immediately on the basis that I had two computers, a laptop and an iPhone already and didn't think that there was a gap that needed filling. And then I realised that that wasn't the point, the point of the iPad (in my eyes) is to enhance and enrich. I waited for iPad 2 and now I couldn't be without it, as most people with an iPad will probably tell you. I travel a fair bit which had probably helped me get a good amount of use out of it; where a 17" laptop is cumbersome and an iPhone is too small. Another little bit of magic, which I've only experienced from Apple products, is that even though I can type faster on a computer keyboard (although only just these days), I prefer to write emails on my iPad because it's just a nicer experience.

I'll be in the queue at 8am on Friday morning for an iPhone 4S, I have fallen to the cult of Apple totally, following keynotes live and excitedly anticipating new releases. I hope they remain faithful to Steve's standards and ethos, time will tell, but throughout my lifetime so far I have been inspired and enriched by the products only one man could have made. So thank you, Steve.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Explay Game Jam: Buggr™

A theme, a team and 24 hours to make a game. The Extended Play Bristol game jam kicked off at 7pm Friday evening and a day of good people, good games, good laughs and some pretty amazing food commenced.

For a reason that's best left unexplained, our team was Team Disco.

Team Disco, demonstrating the scale of smileyness from Unimpressed (left) to Manic (right)
Team Disco, left to right: miscellaneous George, sound designer Owen, game designer & programmer James, film-maker Sy, programmer Dan, artist/designer Nat. Many high-fives were had and I yelled 'TEAM!' a lot to foster team spirit but ended up annoying myself (and probably others) instead.

The theme for the jam was 'mirror'. We brainstormed very effectively and narrowed-down less effectively:

Dan was desperate to do a fashion/dating/Chat Roulette game but we said no, and then Dan wasn't allowed to make suggestions any more.
Food + booze + Miscellaneous George's green post-it's  = inspiration
It's worth noting at this point that miscellaneous George lived up to his name quite spectacularly, randomly producing items such as a table tennis bat, green post it notes, a small disco ball and at one point a highly questionable hip-hop DVD.

Primitive technologies
By the end of Friday evening we had decided that we'd have a mirror in the game. Great success.

Saturday morning James had come prepared with an idea and a dry-wipe marker. He sketched up his design and then we made a paper version of it to work out the logistics and see if it was actually, you know, fun.

We nailed the mechanics and settled on a Frogger-style game but with insects and mirrors and decided to call it Buggr (you'll be shocked to hear that miscellaneous George came up with that gem of a name "Hey guys, you know how our game is like Frogger but with bugs...."). So we got down to srs bzns and the hours flew by.

So, games. We made one. Here's some art I did for it (smack 'em for full view):

Concept: Characters
Mockup: Starting positions
Mockup: Action

Mockup: Victory!
You are a bug trying to reach the discarded sandwich, but a kid with a magnifying glass stands between you and the gingham paradise, trying to fry you to a crisp (with an entertaining fizzling sound, thanks Owen) It's a tactical multiplayer, each turn a player moves forward a small distance and positions their mirror anywhere in a circular radius around them, once all the players have moved you hit a button and the kid with the magnifying glass randomly spawns and sends out a ray of sunshine-death which can either hit a bug directly or bounce off another bug's mirror and potentially hit a rival. The first to the sandwich wins.

This mechanic allowed for some interesting tactics, players could choose to make a mad dash, using the mirror to shield themselves, take rivals out by using the mirror offensively, but leave themselves more open to hits, or even team up with another player to build a mirror-wall and edge forward.

The game is as rough around the edges as you'd expect from a day's design and build, but it works and is actually pretty fun! Once it's online I'll update with a link.

Sy has some pretty rad camera skills and made a short documentary of the our project on the day. I have discovered that I am not eloquent on camera, the outtakes would be 9 minutes of me going "blah blah blah *stall* *blank stare* -- let's go again", nevertheless, it's impressive.