Destiny is not its concept art

Back in January, Erik Kain wrote a piece on Destiny at Forbes called “Why Destiny was the best and worst game of 2014.” I just read it today, though, and spent some time discussing it afterward with my go-to teammate for my adventures in this game.

In brief, Kain says Destiny is the best game of the year because:

The gameplay is terrific, and the progression system, however bizarre and confusing it may be, works to keep you playing and grinding away to your heart’s content.

However repetitive the levels can get, there’s no denying that scrapping your way through a challenging mission with a pair of Guardians at your side, and then maybe getting some sweet loot at the end, can be a lot of fun. All the little pieces here, taken individually, are fantastic.

This sounds like a game you’d want to play. And, he’s not wrong — the shooting mechanics in this game are tight, the controls are slick and easy to manage, the game is visually beautiful, and the music is excellent. Existing in the game’s environment as a player is incredibly fun.

However, on the flip side of that “game of the year” coin, and using a series of concept-art illustrations as supporting material, it’s the worst game of the year because “…the game Bungie advertised early on was far more imaginative and inspiring than the final product.” 

That’s obviously a debatable, subjective point. Much of the concept art is indeed significantly different from what can be seen in the version of Destiny that we now get to play. It does not stand to reason, however, that different automatically means better.

This piece in particular was pointed out in the Forbes story:

About it, Kain writes:

Perhaps the most frustrating of all, a giant frog with goblins on its back. And a Guardian wielding a broadsword. Why are these things not in the game?

Well, because it’s a giant frog, and fighting a giant frog in Destiny as the game exists right now would be incredibly stupid. And, given how the universe has been constructed and the direction Bungie seems to be taking the game, fighting a giant frog in Destiny at any point in the game’s future would still be incredibly stupid. Nothing in that illustration remotely resembles anything that’s in the game. And while there are things in the sky on Venus that look like dragons, that doesn’t mean an honest-to-goodness giant frog belongs anywhere in this game as it exists today

This is the folly of getting lost in a sea of concept art that is floating around on the Internet completely void of context. Hundreds of concepts are developed for games like this; some of them make it through to the final game, and a significantly larger percentage get pushed to the side. Some likely get pushed to the side because the scope and scale of the game changes, and reality simply demands that not every awesome thing can go into a game. Some are likely pushed aside because they’re terrible. But even the ones that are amazing may not necessarily work with the current direction of the game and still find themselves on the sidelines. Maybe the concept is so good that it’s revisited in the future as part of an expansion, or as part of the already-in-development Destiny 2. Or maybe Bungie takes that idea and eventually builds another game out of it entirely. The ultimate lesson to be learned in this sea of beautiful concept art is that we’ll probably never know which category any particular piece falls into unless something happens to look familiar in a future expansion.

As an aside, this is why Dark Horse’s The Star Wars project — an eight-issue mini-series based on George Lucas’ first draft of Star Wars with visuals based on early Ralph McQuarrie concept art — has always bothered me. The source material for this series all should’ve been left in the scrap heap of history — interesting relics of what later became Star Wars, but not anything that should’ve been the basis for a full-blown adaptation. There’s a reason Lucas moved on from those concepts — some of them were really bad. This is particularly true of the story elements — a lot of what was in the main plot for The Star Wars involving trade disputes and political gamesmanship actually became most of the main plot for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. And, as you recall, that movie was terrible

Fans’ current obsession with Destiny concept art feels like a similar exercise in futility — they’re latching on to things that may look cool in a vacuum but lacking in any sense of how those things may or may not be remotely connected to the current state of the game and its universe, or to the plans that guide how that universe will grow and change in the future. But it helps fuel the conspiracy theories about how the game was gutted during the final year of its development, and so these images are added to the crackling bonfire of reasons Destiny is terrible.

As for me, I’ve been playing since the day the game launched and my friend can attest to the fact that I still giggle like an absolute idiot every time I stick a fusion grenade to a Wizard’s head and blow it up. This game is incredibly fun, and it’s a level of fun that some gaps in a story can’t diminish. I still enjoy looking at this art and appreciating it for the creativity and vision; but I refuse to make the false connection between these images and some imagined deficiency in the game.

Saving old buildings

There’s an old building in downtown Bemidji that used to house the Masonic lodge that has been vacant for a long time. It was announced earlier this week that Bemidji’s Watermark Art Center has received a grant that will allow it to buy — and then demolish — the building. You can read about that here at the Bemidji Pioneer.

The immediate reaction is totally predictable — and it falls along the lines of “why put in the effort to save buildings like this when you can just spend three months replacing it with something made of styrofoam and spackle?”

I just wish we could maybe drill into Americans’ heads that if you want to save buildings like this, efforts have to be made to take care of them all along. Too often you have these remarkable old places that are just left derelict for decades, and then saving them becomes this amazingly expensive proposition. But had they only found some way to take care of them all along… It reminds me of that fabulous old hospital building in downtown Ely  That place should be amazing, and it’s just sitting there empty and rotting away. But you watch, when the time comes that a decision is made to tear it down, people will come out of the woodwork trying to save that building. But right now nobody seems to give a crap about it.

People like to point to Europe and all of the hundreds-of-years-old buildings they have over there as an indication that we’re doing it wrong. But what they totally gloss over is the fact that those centuries-old palaces and castles over there have had *armies* of caretakers for each of those centuries. They stand because people have made great and enduring efforts to make sure they stand, not because they’ve just magically willed it to be so. THAT is what we haven’t gotten right — it’s not that we lack the desire to preserve history, but not enough people have the will to do the work along the way to make sure it happens. They just want to swing in at the end of a building’s life, waive a wand and save it, regardless of its condition or ability to be saved.

Previewing The Birthday Massacre’s “Superstition”


A couple of days ago, a five-minute video featuring 30-second samples from each of the 10 tracks on the upcoming The Birthday Massacre album Superstition, which releases on Nov. 11 (pre-order from iTunes), was uploaded to YouTube. You can check out the preview here:

Here’s what I took from the preview of each of the album’s 10 tracks, to the extent that you can take anything out of some random 30-second excerpt from a song:

01. Divide (0:00)
This song reminds me quite a bit of Down, the second track on TBM’s last album that’s probably my favorite thing they’ve ever done (it’s not an exaggeration to suggest I’ve probably listened to Down over a thousand times). The sound is different – Down is more hard-driving – but the lyrics seem similar, both thematically and structurally. I’d like to hear more. At the tail end of this snippet there’s a lyric “…rising up away from the Earth” that takes me right back to some ‘80s synth pop one-hit wonder that as I write this is driving me insane through my inability to properly recall it. To this mystery song I say: I will find you.

02. Diaries (0:30)
The lyrics that are in this snippet are a little weak: “Close your eyes | You’re dreaming, so am I. You know I can’t stay here and I won’t pretend | All that begins never comes to an end.” I won’t pass too much judgment on this until I hear the whole thing, but at first blush it feels like this could be a “skip track” candidate like One Promise turned out to be on their last album. 

03. Superstition (1:00)
When I first heard this I swore TBM was covering Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. Seriously, listen to this and replace the lyrics with “I come home in the morning light | My mother yells when you gonna live your life right…” It’s almost perfect. I want to hear the rest of this song, but I’m going to be entirely unable to shake the vision of ‘80s Cyndi Lauper when I listen to it. It’s definitely distracting, but there’s no way to know yet if that’s going to be good or bad.

04. Destroyer (1:30)
Destroyer seems to be the obligatory “monster voice” track that TBM has been busting out sparingly on its recent albums; the sound apes the monster-voice parts of Lover’s End from the band’s second album, Violet. It’ll probably be cool, but it feels like the kind of sound you could’ve called for this album the minute it was announced as being a thing. That’s not a slam; this type of thing is one of the band’s signature sounds, and they always make it work. I’m looking forward to this track.

05. Surrender (2:00)
This is one of my favorite of the 30-second previews; somehow it reminds me of Always  which ranks highly on the list of my favorite TBM tracks that I’ve never actually compiled. 

06. Oceania (2:30)
This feels like one of those songs that I’m not going to love, but it’s not going to be a track-skipper either. It sounds like a lot of the other things they’ve done, but from this little sample anyway there isn’t a hook that made me want to stop and listen to it. In fact, although it’s the sixth track in the album it’s the 10th out of 10 snippets I’ve written about for this particular post; I just kept glossing over it while thinking about the other samples. I’m quite interested to know how I’ll feel about this song after listening to the entire thing in the context of the complete album a few times over. Because I’ve just written five times more about this than I did about the immediately preceeding track, which I told you I liked quite a bit.

07. Rain (3:00)
This is going to be the first single from Superstition, and the band has already teased that a video is coming. They also released an instrumental-only track of Rain as one of the promos for its PledgeMusic campaign that’s supporting the album. You can listen to that here:
…and there was another teaser from the campaign that featured some of the behind-the-scenes work on the vocal mixing for this track, which you can also find on YouTube, here:

…so hearing a bit of all of that coming together in the final track is pretty cool. This should be a good song.

08. Beyond (3:30)
I can envision playing this song a ton, and I will say right now that I’m probably going to like singing along to this song in my car. I’m not really sure what else to say about it beyond that.

09. The Other Side (4:00)
This is an interesting track to me in that it seems to have the melodic-to-more hard-driving transition that would have made me guess this was going to be Superstition’s monster-voice track, only without evidence of the monster voice. After listening to it a few times, it sort of reminds me of their Red Stars track from Walking with Strangers — which is good because I think Red Stars is one of the band’s best songs.

10. Trinity (4:30)
This is an instrumental-only snippet, the only one of the 10 previews in this sampler to not include vocals. Awesomely, this sounds like it’s been ripped straight from the Blade Runner soundtrack (listen to the end title theme for Blade Runner) and seems to perfectly encapsulate the heavy ‘80s influences that run through most of what The Birthday Massacre has done with their music (and which you can hear repeatedly in nearly every track of this album — I’ve only mentioned a few of the ways this pulled me back to that era as I listened to this sampler. Seriously, it’s in just about every track). I’m very intrigued by this and will be curious to hear the entire track — I’m definitely wondering if there are lyrics or if this will end up being a purely instrumental piece (I could Google this and get an answer, I’m sure, but I choose to not find this out until the album drops on Nov. 11).

Overall this feels like it could be a strong album; as a followup to Hide and Seek from 2012 it’s got its work cut out for it, to be sure, but other than Diaries there doesn’t seem like there’s a particularly weak song in the bunch. I’m very much looking forward to Superstition’s Nov. 11 release date, and I fully expect to listen to that on a constant rotation — and not much else — between then and Dec. 13, when I’m going to have my first chance to see TBM in concert in Minneapolis. 

Coding with Swift

When Apple shocked everyone and announced Swift at its Worldwide Developers Conference this past June, I shared in the excitement that surrounded the language. I watched Apple’s sessions on Swift and it seemed as if the language was something I could understand and probably even code with. After I made my way through the session videos, I posted on Facebook that I could see in my head how Swift worked and that I was excited to try and build things with it.

As per usual, I put this off for months. Until tonight, in fact. I don’t know why. I just didn’t know how to start. But today I had an idea for a project — I’ve been using this little web tool from Raven Software to build URLs for tracking goal conversions in Google Analytics for BSU’s online news stories. I have a spreadsheet where I’ve been building 10 different URLs for each story I post; it’s not a complicated process but it’s pretty detail-oriented (since you can’t have typos) and with the workflow I’ve set up it takes me about five minutes each time. But consider that I’ve built enough of these packages for enough stories already this year that I’ve spent a total of about two hours just building these URLs — this is basic string concatenation, and it’s something that could be easily done programmatically with the push of a button. Today it finally occurred to me that this was my entry point for learning Swift.

So I did it. And I now have 87 lines of code in a Swift playground that will take a hard-coded URL with a hard-coded value for the URL’s Campaign Content argument and run a series of loops to build 10 URLs. I’m pumped; the code is sloppy (I’m using four different loops with different sets of variables where I should be using one loop with three arguments passed into it that runs four times, for instance) and I still need to take the next step of learning how to take that working Playground code and put it into an Xcode project so it’ll actually run. I also want to build a UI for it so a user can enter the starting URL and the Campaign Content variable and pass them into the program, rather than having those hard-coded. But the code works.

There are lots of ways I probably could have gone about this — I could have done something with Google’s scripts to create these URLs and then dump them directly into a Docs sheet, for example — but this way I’m building actual MacOS software, which is something I’ve wanted to do since OS X came out in 2001.

I never could seem to adequately wrap my head around Objective-C, but so far Swift works for me. I want to finish this and figure out what to build next. This is so cool.

Destiny: Three Weeks In

This week marked the third week in the life of Destiny, Bungie’s new social shooter for whatever your favorite video game console happens to be. I have been playing since launch day on Sept. 9 and in general, while the game certainly isn’t without its flaws, I’ve enjoyed Destiny quite a bit. This is a massive game that is part of what will hopefully be a massive franchise, so plenty of people have written about it so far; for the most part the things I think works are in line with what plenty of other people think works, and the things I think are frustrating have been ranted about almost ad nauseum in various corners of the Internet. So there likely won’t be much new here other than the fact that I wrote it. 

What works
• It’s a shooter that is challenging to me but doesn’t make me feel that I have to be a spectacular player in order to be successful (up to a point; more on that later). The entirety of the main storyline is soloable and the strike content that has in-game matchmaking is straight-forward enough that random groupings of three people can tacke all of it, so you can experience the main story by yourself. Part of the reason I’ve enjoyed this game so much is that it feels accessible and the cool stuff feels achievable (mostly).

• Visually the game is pretty great. The effort Bungie put into things like the skies is tangible and makes the game better. The four enemy races are all very cool and seem to be well thought-out. The enemy ships, despite the fact that you don’t actually fight them, all have personality — watching Hive tombships pop out of a wormhole, deploy a bunch of bad guys and then vanish into another wormhole is one of my favorite sights in the game. It’s one of those fun details that don’t add anything to the way the game plays, but add a *ton* to the way it feels. It’s one of those things that world builders don’t have to do, but when attention is paid to those kinds of details it makes everything else better. 

• The game’s music is outstanding. I have been tempted to buy the soundtrack on iTunes and I just need to do it. It sets the mood well, especially in combat, and there is a ton of variety. 

• I haven’t played two of the game’s three classes, because I’ve been having so much fun with my warlock. The tech-magician has just worked for me; there’s nothing more fun than jumping off a high point in the game, gliding over a group of bad guys, looking down on their heads and dropping a huge magic bomb on them while still in the air.

• The way the Cabal heads explode when you hit them with precision damage. 

• This isn’t really something that “works” but it doesn’t fit under “what’s frustrating” either, so I’ll put it here — the game’s famously awful story really hasn’t bothered me that much. I kinda bought into one of the first lines of dialogue in the game from your Ghost, “…there will be a lot of things you don’t understand”, knowing that the game was going to evolve over time through expansions and additional content. Some of the things that have come out about the final year or so of Destiny’s development have been interesting, to say the least, and I’m curious to know where things go and how Bungie builds on what’s obviously a very small first step they’ve taken with this game.

What’s frustrating
• The enemy AI and the invisible fences that keep them contained to certain parts of the map often doesn’t make much sense. You can bait enemies into chasing you to a flight of stairs, for instance; you can run to the bottom of the stairs, and they’ll stop in the middle and turn back, returning to their defined playground rather than chase you. Given the shared-world nature of this game this is probably to prevent people from training bosses out of certain zones into the open, but once you figure out that monsters won’t chase you past a certain place it becomes easy to plan ways to exploit this to win certain fights. It turns a number of boss confrontations from intense firefights into simple duck-and-cover midranged shootouts that are legitimately difficult to lose.

• Leveling past the actual “cap” of 20 — the highest level you can attain by gathering experience points — is somewhat frustrating since it’s entirely gear dependent, making you completely at the mercy of drops or long farming grinds. Granted, this makes individual upgrades, when they come, pretty significant as they are a stat boost and can actually level up your character.

• Once you hit level 20, the difficulty curve of the missions varies wildly and in completely unpredictable ways. For example, as a level 23 character I can smash the level 20 daily heroic mission, and a friend of mine and I two-manned a “heroic” difficulty level 22 strike mission that you typically play with three people, but the level 24 Queen’s kill-order missions are a recipe for horiffic and repeated death. 

• Visually there’s not too terribly much distinction between your starter gear at level 1 and your level 20 gear. In games like World of Warcraft, you can look at a character immediately and say “that person has cleared Black Temple many times.” In Destiny, there’s not that immediate “wow” factor when you see another player’s gear. Blizzard got it right in WoW by focusing on helms and shoulders as the visual focus for different tiers of gear (although transmogrification eventually made this less important). Destiny tries some of this, but the only gear that really stands out is the exotic-quality stuff — and you’re limited to wearing one piece of exotic gear that can come from a random world drop or be purchased flat-out from a vendor. So there’s very little way to look at a character and have some sense of where they’ve progressed in the game. There are some raid weapons in Destiny that are unique, but only your primary weapon shows on your character when you’re in the Tower so if you’re like me and your coolest piece of gear is an exotic secondary weapon, nobody sees it unless they inspect you anyway.

• Getting repeatedly one-shotted in the Crucible is the exact opposite of fun. I typically don’t like PvP, but at least when I played WoW I felt like it was possible to be competitive in places like Arathi Basin or Alterac Valley (but I always absolutely hated Warsong Gulch). I’ve never felt like anything but a moving target in the Crucible. 

Overall, though, I have to say that I still am very much enjoying the game. I love that it’s set up in such a way that I can come home for lunch and spend 45 minutes running patrols while I eat a sandwich and feel like I’ve accomplished something meaningful toward a long-term goal. And although I have historically hated replaying content once I’ve cleared it, the shooting mechanics in this game are so fun that the repetitive nature of the content hasn’t burned me out yet. I’m definitely looking forward to the two expansions, although I wish we didn’t have to wait until December for the first one.

Replicating impression patterns in tweet schedules

If you do something once, you look for patterns and try to figure out if it’s possible to use those patterns to repeat the experiment. 

When that works and you get a repeated pattern, you’re onto something.

Below is a graphic of Twitter impressions for a series of tweets I scheduled yesterday and this morning. The schedule was based on an experiment I did with multiple tweets on one topic last week (which some of you read about; thanks to everyone who plugged this post last week and again earlier this week). This schedule added the early-evening tweet (5 p.m.) as a bridge in between the noon and late-night tweets, and had a next-day tweet scheduled for 7:30 a.m. in an attemp to capitalize on the early-morning rebound I observed for the late-night tweet in last week’s test.

This data shows that the tweets performed almost exactly how I had expected them to perform given last week’s results; the basic pattern is the same. The biggest first-hour impressions came in the noon and 10 p.m. tweet, and the mid-evening tweet underperformed both of those overall and died pretty fast but still generated good impressions in the first two hours. It also rebounded slightly the next morning, which I didn’t expect.

The morning tweet was scheduled at 7:30 a.m., so its first hour seems to underperform — but it pulled 159 impressions in 30 minutes. Had I scheduled that tweet at 7 a.m., it seems likely it could’ve performed better than the first hour of the 5 p.m. tweet.

However, what’s notable about the morning tweet is the huge 8 a.m. hour – it pulled 181 impressions in its second hour, which was far and away better than the first three in the schedule. 

I’m torn between scheduling the morning tweet at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. for the next one of these experiments; I think I could get a bigger first hour by scheduling it at 8 a.m than I could at 7 a.m., but there’s clearly an audience in the 7 a.m. hour that’s not being reached by the previous day’s tweets. I’ll have to try going to 7 a.m. first and then moving it to 8 a.m. and seeing what happens.

Overall, though, this definitely reinforces the need for a multi-tweet strategy for news you want to make sure people see. That first tweet at noon yesterday pulled 900 impressions and completely died after 15 hours. Adding the three reminders should more than triple the number of impressions for the message by the time today’s morning tweet dies out, and that signal boost is exactly what I was going for.

Fun stuff.

As a bonus, I also have been pulling engagement stats from Twitter’s analytics on each of these tweets — they show data for link clicks, favorites, replies, detail expands, etc., for each — and once there’s more information on today’s morning tweet I’ll talk about those as well. Early indications are that the morning tweet is super important for overall engagement; but, again, I’ll have more on that later when more numbers are in.

Using analytics to guide a multi-post strategy on Twitter


Over the summer I began experimenting with using Sprout Social to schedule repeat posts of tweets. In the past, Twitter for Bemidji State was a fire-and-forget type of operation; we’d have a story, we’d tweet about it when we released the story, and that’d be the end of it. 

That always intuitively felt like a mistake; after all, for that to be effective relies on a couple of things that simply cannot be true. We were assuming the entire audience that we hoped would see the tweet was:
• …on Twitter when we sent it
• …paying attention to the BSU tweets in their timeline when we sent it
• …would catch up on tweets they missed if they popped in a couple of hours later to catch up on Twitter

Twitter’s new analytics data, which is now available to the masses, not only takes the guesswork out of this, it helps prove that none of those assumptions are true and reinforces the necessity of multiple tweets for key messages.

Using data from Twitter, I put together a Google Sheets analysis of three tweets I sent yesterday — all three identical, about BSU’s position in this year’s U.S. News & World Report college rankings. The first was sent at 10 a.m., the second at 3 p.m. and the third at 10 p.m.

The 10 a.m. tweet had 751 impressions, with 603 (80 percent) in the first four hours. The 3 p.m. tweet had 1,442 impressions, with 1,087 (75 percent) in the first four hours. The final tweet at 10 p.m. had 861 impressions, with 763 (88 percent) in the first four hours.

Analyzing this data leads to some interesting observations:
• The 10 a.m. tweet  was the least-viewed of the three, but it took 13 hours for it to get to the point that it was getting less than five impressions an hour.
• The 3 p.m. tweet pulled much more traffic — it pulled 520 impressions in its first hour and had more impressions in its first four hours than the other two will get in total. It didn’t die as quickly as the other two, though — it pulled 244 impressions in the three-hour block from hours 4-7 after it was posted, while the first tweet had only 52 and the third had only 19. 
• The 10 p.m. tweet had huge initial traffic — 553 impressions in the first hour — and then tailed off quickly. However, unlike the first two tweets it picked back up again this morning, gaining 70 impressions between 6-9 a.m., or hours 9-11 after it was posted. The first tweet had 37 impressions in hours 9-11 and the second had 40.

I will have to do this more often with more tweets that are scheduled on a repeating basis to see if these patterns hold true. If they do, here are the adjustments I might make:

• Start the chain at 9 a.m. (when possible) to see if that will lead to a faster start for the first tweet
• Continue to schedule the second tweet five hours after the first tweet to see if there’s a similar mid-afternoon bump in traffic.
• Move the third tweet up an hour to 9 p.m. and see if that leads to either a bigger initial hour or a bigger number of impressions in the first four hours
• Add a 7 a.m. tweet the next morning to catch some of the rebound traffic that’s obviously coming in on the tail of the late-night tweet.
• Also, consider the possibility of adding a mid-evening tweet in between the 3 p.m./10 p.m. tweets and see what its impressions are like to take advantage of the fact that the 3 p.m. tweet did so well in hours 4-6 compared to the other two tweets. There’s clearly still an audience there.

I’m suddenly completely enthralled by all of this. I will share more as I learn more.

#BartlettMetrics for August

Yesterday, I updated the #BartlettMetrics data I compile at/near the beginning of each month of follower statistics for the seven state universities in the Minnesota Colleges and Universities system.

I first started gathering this data back in August of 2011, and have been diligent about updating it monthly for about the last year and a half. I know all of the arguments against using follower volumes as a true measure of social media influence, but it’s an easy statistic to measure and there are trends in the numbers that are interesting to watch.

But it doesn’t tell the whole story. I’ve wanted to find some way to start measuring some actual engagement numbers — likes/comments/shares/etc. on Facebook and favorites/retweets/@-mentions on Twitter, etc. Part of the reason I haven’t started doing this is simply that I haven’t put the effort into finding tools to do it. There are plenty of excellent things out in the world to measure your own social media efforts – including things like Sprout Social and Crowdbooster, both of which I have in my toolbox for BSU – but the things for measuring the efforts of others have always felt less robust.

Sprout Social will do some basic comparisons of competitors’ Twitter accounts, but it only has four data points — percentage of conversations between new/existing contacts, a percentage measure of “influence” that it doesn’t really explain, raw number of mentions (and no explanation for what constitutes a “mention”) and number of followers gained. You can export a daily comparison of mentions, which is getting closer but not without more information about what constitutes a mention. And it does nothing for Facebook comparisons.

Crowdbooster provides nothing like this at all.

So, on to other resources.

Simply Measured has some neat free tools, but they only measure in two-week increments backward from the day you run the reports; so assembling a month’s worth of data would have to mean that I’d need to schedule specific times to generate these reports every two weeks so I could have four weeks of data — and I’d never be able to do comparisons sortof-monthly as I do with the follower stats. Paying for Simply Measured isn’t an option; its “cheap” tier is $500 a month. I wish this would work, because SM’s Facebook engagement comparison is pretty damn cool.

HootSuite has some reports that look like they may get to the neighborhood of what I’m looking for, but they’re teased in the free version and then paywalled behind either their pro or enterprise pay levels. Awesomely, there’s of course no pricing information for the enterprise level – and I’m not interested in more sales calls.

There are other things that I’ve run across that I won’t even mention, because they don’t do what I want them to do either. All of this screams “learn to code, learn the Facebook and Twitter APIs and just build something.” It’s probably getting to the point that I’ll feel like I need to do just that.

“10 books that have stayed with you”

A couple of people have tagged me in the “10 books that have stayed with you” challenge that has been floating around on Facebook. The challenge is to list 10 books that resonated with you somehow; not necessarily the “best” or anything, just books that have stayed with you.

I replied to the first person who issued me this challenge that I wasn’t sure I could do it — while I’ve certainly read plenty of books, the influential things in my life have tended to be movies or television shows. I was a voracious reader as a kid, but am on something akin to a novel-every-two-plus-years pace these days (in that I start a novel, read a chapter every few weeks, and finish it two and a half years later). So I genuinely wasn’t sure I could do this. 

But tonight Melissa tagged me in her list too, and when your wife throws down the gauntlet you’ve gotta pick it up. So here’s my crack at this. In no particular order (with Amazon links):

• “Dune” by Frank Herbert
• “Armor” by John Steakley
• “Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000” by L. Ron Hubbard
• “Red Storm Rising” by Tom Clancy
• “Imagica” by Clive Barker
• “Rework” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeir Hansson
• “It Will Be Exhilarating” by Dan Provost, Tom Gerhardt and Clay Shirky
• “Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
• “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams
• “Farenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury

What I’m Playing
I picked up Velocity 2X yesterday; it’s this month’s free PS4 game on Playstation Network. I played for about an hour last night and got through maybe 11 of the game’s 50 levels. It’s not a challenging game by any means, and the intent is that you replay levels repeatedly in an attempt to pick up every item in a particular level in the fastest possible time — thus velocity. It’s clever in that it is a mashup of side-scrolling platformer and top-down shooter, to the extent that both genres are available in a single level in many circumstances (you start as top-down shooter, “dock” in a certain area of the level so you can find a switch that you need to open a gated area, and once inside the dock you change over to side-scroller so you can run to the switch). It’s clever. But the game’s challenge comes not from being able to finish a level (during my time playing, the levels were so easy that not completing one didn’t even feel like an option — granted, I am only about 20 percent of the way through the game), but to finish the level perfectly (by snagging all of the level’s collectables and reaching a certain score threshold) while at the same time finishing ahead of a time limit. However, once you’ve beaten a level there isn’t much motivation to replay it to beat the time limit unless you want the achievements; the “XP” you get as currency for reaching certain performance thresholds in each level is used to un-gate future levels, so it may well be that by the time those gates take hold, you’ll have to farm previously-completed levels to get enough XP to unlock new stages. Which, honestly, might just make me quit playing. 

It’s fun. I’m glad it was free. I’m not sure I’ll ever beat all 50 levels, though. 

Fun stuff from social media today
• Bungie put out a rather awesome live-action trailer for Destiny; check it out here. Bring on Tuesday…
• Ikea put out a brilliant ad for its 2015 catalog, “bookbook”. Watch it on YouTube

Post-mortem: “InFamous: First Light”

Back in May, I wrote about how much I was enjoying the PS4 game “InFamous: Second Son”; at that time I had just completed a first playthrough on normal difficulty and was in the midst of a second playthrough at a higher difficulty. About a month later I completed that second playthrough and in June this became the first game that I had earned a platinum trophy achievement in for completing all of the game’s other trophies.

I talked about how much I enjoyed the game back in May, and the fact that I eventually finished off every trophy available in the game was a testament to that. So when I heard that developer SuckerPunch was developing an expansion (which, really, was inevitable) called “First Light” focused on the Abigail “Fetch” Walker character, I was excited; Fetch was a strong supporting character in the first game, and she was the source of the game’s neon-fuelled powers, which were fun to play. All seemed to be in place for a solid

I completed First Light last week, and I’ve been waiting for a bit to post about it simply because I initially wasn’t sure what to think about it. Here’s my post-mortem on the game:

What I liked
• The game seemed to use better character models than Second Son; Augustine, the first game’s main villain who was relegated to sidebar status in First Light, certainly looked better.
• Fetch’s neon abilities were significantly more powerful than Delsin’s version in Second Son. There were some nice upgrades to the sniper abilities, and Fetch was a much more capable melee fighter than Delsin was in any of the original game’s four power configurations.
• The clouds to boost Fetch’s speed when sprinting were super-fun; as if the neon sprints weren’t one of the best parts about the game already.
• The lumen race side-mission layer was fun. Most of the races were trivially easy, but it was a neat addition to the game that I enjoyed.
• Fetch’s grafitti tagging side-missions were good, and I liked that those were very limited in number; there were too many of these in the first game.
• Only a couple of the lumen-collecting jumps were difficult, but those few that were took many attempts. It was a nice victory to complete all of those.
• The sniper’s nest missions were super-fun; there should’ve been more of those.

What I didn’t like
• The game was very short. Had I been so inclined I could’ve run through the game from start to finish in a solid night of play (as it was I sat down to play the game maybe four times in total, start to finish); it left me wanting much more.
• As with the first game there’s essentially zero penalty for failing at anything. You just roll back to a checkpoint and start again. And as with the first game, that eventually served to encourage me to play sloppily.
• There wasn’t a branching storyline depending on whether you made hero or villain choices, because there were no such choices. That created even less of an incentive to continue with the game after the first play-through.
• There were no boss fights. The boss fights in Second Son were some of the most challenging aspects of the game, and I missed those more-significant one-on-one fights in the expansion.
• The game world was limited to one of the first game’s two zones, and it was the least-interesting of the two zones visually. Given the game’s neon focus, I would’ve liked to have spent time in the virtual Seattle’s Lantern District.
• I wish there would’ve been more police drones to hunt down; those weren’t difficult but they were fun to do, and even doubling the amount of them in the game would’ve been welcome.

Most disappointing to me was the fact that First Light moved away from the first game’s trophy system — where all of the game’s trophies could be achieved while simply playing through the main storyline and running the side-missions — and added “virtual training” missions that you essentially have to farm repeatedly in order to attain the scores necessary to earn the trophies. I really do not enjoy this kind of content, and I definitely do not like playing this content repeatedly simply to achieve a higher score (and, to be honest, the old-school ‘80s gamer in me weeps at this revelation about my current gaming habits). So as I did with Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City, which had similar content making up a significant portion of the games’ respective trophies, I essentially skipped this content — and, as a result, am going to end up skipping about two-thirds of this game’s trophies. It would’ve been nice to have platinums on both the base game and the followup, but I’m simply not interested in grinding those training missions.

In short, while I wish the trophy system was more in line with the first game, I wish the main campaign had taken longer, and I wish the main campaign took longer to complete, in all I would say I liked First Light. Fetch is a strong character and as I mentioned earlier the neon power tree was one of the best things about the first game. Given what I know about it having played it, I’m not sure I would’ve spent $15 on it again though.