Email, Motivation and Some Games
A new look, a new name, and a new direction
I’m trying a new look and format for this email. Rather than copy-pasting the article from my website, I’m going to include some links (at most 5) about things I’ve been reading over the last couple of weeks, and an update on what I’ve been working on behind the scenes.
What I’m Reading
A World Without Email by Cal Newport
I’m just starting this book, the third in what’s become an unofficial trilogy by Cal Newport about focus and productivity in the digital world. It’s an interesting piece that in some way feels like a response to what some writers think about the slowdown in productivity that occurred in the 2000s . Basically, technology was supposed to make us more productive and wealthy, but human productivity basically flatlined over that period of time. This is a habits and processes look at why (and some potential solutions), pointing to digital communication as a cause.
No Rules Rules by Erin Meyer, Reed Hastings
This is an easy breezy read about Netflix’s culture, structured as a series of interviews with Reed Hasting’s Netflix’s CEO, along with commentary by other Netflix employees. It doesn’t eliminate a lot of the concerns that came out of the original book, but it clarifies a number of interesting concepts that are central to the way Netflix operates.
High Talent Density and Few Rules (More Reports)
Feedback Is Central to the Business
Chelsea Troy is one of the top 5 people I most pay attention to when it comes to thinking about improving as an engineer and an engineering team. This is one of her older articles but it’s a good one. The point she makes here is that "Motivation” is a poor focus for making the sorts of deep long term personal growth that you want as a developer. It aligns closely with the idea of “situation support” that Laurie Santos talks about in her course The Science of Well-Being. People who tend to succeed over time don’t have more or better willpower, they do a better job of pre-emptively navigating themselves away from situations where they would have to expend willpower. This article specifically focuses on how to build new skills as an engineer. I highly recommend it.
Apple Arcade added 30 new and updated games a couple of weeks ago. Some people have called it a big turning point for the service. At the very least it reinforces Apple’s commitments to the platform, though I think the service already has quite a few incredible games worth checking out. Guildlings and Card of Darkness, to mention a couple.
This one’s behind a paywall but it’s maybe one of my favorite pieces of the year. The author starts with the preconception that play is primarily a learning and training activity and shows how this is in fact not the case. But goes on to talk about what the higher order outcomes of play are: dealing with uncertainty and relationships. It became the inspiration for this email/blog.
What I’m Designing
A New Tennis Game
Playing the Bohnanza: The Duel game on my iPad gave me the idea to build a two player card game around tennis. Bohnanza: The Duel is a two player implementation of the trading game Bohnanza. The theme is funny, it’s about bean farming, but the ipad implementation is surprisingly sharp (even if it’s a bit outdated now), and it gave me the idea to take the trading mechanism and turn it into a different game.
The way trading works is you “offer” a card and then the opponent can either accept or respond. The cleverness here is that you cannot offer the same card in response, and if you don’t have the card you offered, your opponent immediately takes a coin from you. This sort of push-pull back and forth felt like a potentially cool idea to apply to tennis. It would focus in on that back and forth, and the “offer” instead of being a card, it would be a tennis move (like a volley or a slice). The opponent could respond with their own move, or “call”, forcing you to show that you had the card in your hand corresponding to the move you made. If you were bluffing, they score the point, if you have the goods, you discard the card and continue.
This is a rough overview of what mimicking that trading concept would look like in the game. Each dot represents a location on the court where you’re hitting the ball from and to, with each player pushing their “response” towards the other.
A New Game Save Mechanism
Ever since Google Stadia announced their “State Share” mechanism (explained in detail here) I’ve been interested in trying to replicate this idea on my own in a web browser. The basic concept I have is, often puzzle games can be fun to try and share with your friends, but it can be especially exciting to have them start from a specific point where you got stuck, rather than only the beginning.
I’m trying to mess around with some basic state management libraries like X-state, as a way of messing around with this. The first prototype would be focused on Tic-Tac-Toe, a game I can replicate rather easily, but might expand out to other game prototypes if it works well.
What I’m Writing
This week I took a look at city builders and why some of the newer ones have been so interesting/exciting to me:
The concept of building and managing the various elements of a city has been popular since SimCitycame out in the 1980s. City building games are, as the name suggests, about growing and maintaining cities. Games in the genre focus on the social, economic, and political systems that keep cities running and often don’t have a goal. They can be a playground for your mind to run wild with the possibilities. But the lack of direction and the complexity of the systems stressed me out, so I stayed away. Recently, there have been a couple of new games that have me re-examining my previous assumptions about city builders. Games like Islanders, Dorfromantik, and Townscaper offer a different take on the genre that add structure and reduce the systems to the bare minimum. Like Carcassonne, they take the complexity of city building and abstract many of the economic and human systems into a simple set of points, counted up as you place tiles.
What Do You Think?
I’m considering/in the process of a shift from Play This Tonight to Playing With Rules. It would be a bit more of an expanded focus around game design, leadership, and technology.
Does this all belong on a single email? Should they be separated out? Did you find the design sections interesting?
I’d love to know what you think about the new direction.