June 27, 2016

A Gamedev Plays...

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I have set up a new website: A Gamedev Plays… will be dedicated to discussion and reviews of all sorts of games (but mostly games that I want to play). There is already an associated YouTube channel and Steam group. I will be using the Jarrah Technology Twitter and Facebook pages for promotional purposes at the moment.

I appear to be increasingly writing about games here. The desire to do so will only increase. Unsurprising, considering that most of my time is currently spent designing, building or just thinking about games. So I thought it best to split out the games posts into their own website, as such a monomanical focus was never the intention for this site. There may still be games posts here, but only ones I feel are particularly notable (similarly some of the old games posts from here may make it to the new site).

The plan for the new site is to play more games and write about them, both as a game design learning exercise and as motivation to create more myself. As a secondary goal, I also hope to create a small community around my games writing.

There is an explosion of game making at the moment. More and more games, many with innovative ideas are being released. I need to be aware of what is happening in game design. Since starting work on my own games I can’t help but try to analyse what makes a game work (or not!) when I play it. Being able to organise these thoughts into a coherent argument in a presentable form can only help me improve my future games.

June 26, 2016

...And Then We Hold Hands

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Starting positions

…and then, we held hands is a very interesting two-player only, cooperative board game, available for free print & play (P&P) download or purchase. Despite having an abstract design it is incredibly thematic.

Originally developed in just 48 hours as part of the 2014 Global Game Jam, this board game went on to win best Golden Geek Print & Play and earn a proper published release. However, the rules of the GGJ state that all games must be released under Creative Commons, so it will always be available for free download, as long as you are willing to create the components yourself. This review is for the free P&P version.

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May 6, 2016

Dark Matter


I’m constantly on the lookout for good sci-fi TV shows. I grew up regularly watching Star Trek, Blake’s 7 and Dr Who. I love the imaginative and/or expansive stories sci-fi allows, so I’m always willing to give a new show a try.

Recently I started watching Dark Matter, a new show on the US Syfy channel that has been garnering a few good reviews. I didn’t like it and only watched 3 episodes before stopping. This is very unusual for me, normally I will go through an entire season. However, in this case it seemed very unlikely the show could recover – plus there is so much other great TV to watch. The acting ranged from acceptable (most of the leads) to poor (most of the guests), but the characters were cliched (quiet Asian martial arts expert prefers swords to guns – tired) as was the dialogue and plots. I found myself calling out what would be said next – and was correct way too often. It also seemed to be produced at a very small scale. The main spaceship was dark and empty, as were planets and stations. In my opinion the show is not very good, or is it?

After considering it for a while, I decided that if this TV show aired 15 years ago during the Star Trek: Next Generation, Bablyon 5 and Stargate: SG1 era, I would have considered it as quite good. I certainly would have given it much longer to prove itself. Both Babylon 5 & Stargate had the same just acceptable level of acting, plots and production at the start. Star Trek TNG was actually bad for its first season. However, they all grew into great shows. I have particularly fond memories of the episodes Chain of Command from Star Trek and Severed Dreams from Babylon 5. Dark Matter would stand up well against the early seasons of those shows. What has changed?

Well TV, including sci-fi TV has gotten much better, and shows have to be good from the start now to even have a hope of success. Battlestar Galactica started with the incredibly good episode “33” (although I still pretend the last season and a half never happened). Game of Thrones and The Expanse similarly started with well-polished episodes and a strong story. There is no time to get writers up to speed and let actors grow into their characters. Showmakers’ need to know where the story is going from the start. Production quality has also greatly increased. Presumably with a corresponding increase in cost, although perhaps not with current CGI techniques.

All this is a long way of saying, I am still regularly amazed at the quality of modern TV. The competition is so good a show like Dark Matter feels very dated and behind the times. A show I might have loved not long ago is now a fast reject.

April 24, 2016

Funding Circle Results

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Time for the annual report on the performance of my peer-to-peer lending investment. Funding Circle is doing very well: they have doubled the total amount loaned out; opened a US website; and, now can be included as part of a tax-free ISA in the UK. Some of that extra money loaned is mine. After last year’s good returns (much better than other UK investments), I decided to add some extra money to my account. So in retrospect, was that the right decision? Have the investors done as well as the company?

Here are the returns for the last UK tax year:

Gross: 10.0%
After Fees: 8.8%
After Bad Debt & Recoveries: 10.4%

Wow, my best year, and by a long way. 10.4% is an extremely respectable return, especially in a year where the FTSE-100 share indexed has declined. According to Funding Circle my lifetime (5 years) return is currently 6.4%, also very good.

Gross returns have risen around 2%, with fees roughly matching the rise. However, the biggest gain has been net bad debt/recoveries. In the last year I have only had a single loan go bad – much better than previous years. Recoveries have been huge! Larger than the loss and even larger than the fees paid this year. Thus a total return higher than the gross return! Kudos to Funding Circle team as they have now recovered about half the bad debt from previous years.

So with that kind of return I should be adding more money to the account, right? Unfortunately not. I manually choose all the loan offers joined, as opposed to using the autobid tool. As my criteria has tightened (small, guaranteed, short term loans to profitable, tax paying companies with good credit rating and acceptable working capital), my bad debt rate has dropped below the site average, despite making over a hundred loans per year.

Since a rule change in the way Funding Circle works at the end of last year (fixed returns rather than an auction), it has become increasingly difficult to find loans to fund. This is not due to a lack of loans available, or even a decrease in their quality. Instead it is because the loans are filled in a matter of hours rather than days. Now most of the best loans are already filled and closed before I even get a chance to see them. Most frustrating.

As a result I have built up a surplus of non-invested money on Funding Circle. Money that is not earning any interest (for me anyway). Enough to fund several weeks worth of loans under the old system, but currently, and for several months, there have not been enough opportunities. My options are to relax my lending criteria, or start using their autobid tool (effectively lowering my standards anyway). Alternatively, I can accept my time on the site is over and start to slowly empty my account (it will take a long time to close out some of the loans, even with their secondary market). I have yet to decide what to do.

Tune in next year to see what happens!

April 12, 2016

Malaysia East Coast Roadtrip

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Over the past two weeks we have driven up the east coast of Malaysia for a holiday. From the south-eastern tip of Johor (with a detour to see Legoland) through Pahang, including several days on Pulau Tioman. From there we stayed some time in (probably our favourite) Terengganu. The finish in Kelantan, had us driving up a broken and bumpy road to the river marking the Thai border. We drove back through the centre of the peninsula and ubiquitous Palm plantations.

My best photos from the trip are in a short slideshow available here. I tried to keep away from posting too many of the endless empty beach photos inevitably accumulated from such a journey.