Going to the SFMOMA is always a fun and amazing experience for me.  Being back in San Francisco for the holidays, I felt drawn to drop in even though I had not checked out what was exhibiting.  I was most impressed by a work done by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer entitled Frequency and Volume.

It's an engaging installation that tunes into radio frequencies based off the length of your shadow.  It's really hard to describe, and it something that is better experienced.  Relating to a radio frequency through my shadow was an exercise in abstraction.  Moreover the piece was constructed to challenge the rights of pirate radio during a tenuous time in Mexico.

If you are in the Bay area, don't sleep and make your way out to check this out.  Maybe Kinect developers can get some inspiration from this piece.
 
 
Watching waves of ones and zeros
Crash against the surf of snowy fields
The black ether holds no warmth

I sit waiting your cold judgement
Calculating and unforgiving I must submit
Abortions are the cost of my folly

Precision in your world order
Guides me to the only hope I have
To find the lusty dreams I seek
 
 
This is not a full length game.  But how sweet would it be if it was?!?  For a bite sized dosage of delicious art style and clever puzzles, check it out.  Thanks Kynan for pointing this gem out.

http://www.fastgames.com/littlewheel.html 
 
 
Make it a night out in Japantown of San Francisco this coming March 9th.
Come out and engage in an evening of creative dialogue with myself and brethren game makers, Jenova Chen and Suyin Looui.  We will be discussing our works and brainstorming with you - the audience - on game ideas at The Play Salon.  Come ready to jam!  

The salon is part of this year's San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF).  Follow the link below for more details.  Come one come all!

The Play Salon
March 9, 2012 7:00 pm 
SuperFrog Gallery 1746 Post St (at Webster), San Francisco  
 
 
I recently made my way over to the SFMOMA with a fellow game designer friend to geek out over Dieter Rams' works.  It was inspiring to see his designs that he produced anywhere from up to 50 years ago still stand the test of time.  His style is one of less is more.  Yet what little he did focus on was elegant but purposeful.

One of my favorite pieces that I saw was his loudspeaker design.  Being a fan of music equipment and a recreational musician, I wished that I could afford to buy this wondrous speaker.

There was a familiarity to the shape and lines of this speaker while I admired it.  My friend chimed in as he noticed me gawking at it.  He mentioned that Apple has referenced Rams' works as a source of inspiration to their own products.  That's when he dropped the knowledge on me that the speaker looked like a current iMac.  I nodded my head in agreement as Rams' influence over current industrial design sunk in even further.

The exhibit is coming to a close on February 20th sadly.  So if you haven't already, make your way over to view some of the cleanest and innovative industrial design.
 
 
One great thing that freelancing has provided me the opportunity to do is to explore contributing to different projects.  It's a sticky issue working on staff at a studio and diving into other game projects due to possible corporate conflict of interest.  Now that I'm a free agent, I can more easily juggle various projects.  I still make sure that I am not treading into areas that could create conflicts of interest.  However I feel that I have true creative freedom now.  

It's creatively liberating to have the space and freedom to pursue different projects when I want.  It was a bit daunting during the initial phase of my venture into freelancing.  I felt like I had been conditioned to operate in a certain way for a very long time.  Focus and work on one project for 1-3 years and that's it.  Now that I wasn't under those constraints any longer, I felt a bit lost since I didn't have that narrow focus to guide me.  Freedom is something I think that we all wish for, but sometimes when you have it you don't know what to do with it.

One project that I have become involved with is The Last Sleeper.  My involvement started with a friend of mine connecting me with The Deacon.  Starting from a simple Skype call, we just started creatively flowing.  He pitched me what he was imagining.  I was excited about it and responded with complimentary ideas and designs.  Since then things have evolved organically and in a way that is unique to the project.  I am enjoying contributing to the project in a way that is different from a typical staff position experience.

Moments like these reassure me that creatively wandering and exploring the vast landscape of video games is a reward in itself.  I feel fortunate that I have been able to create space for myself to do so. 
 
 
I discovered this gem during my work travels.  Aurora was developed by a small group of Vancouver Film School students.  The simple elegance of the game is its strength.  It provides an organic and relaxing galactic experience.  Hats off to the VFS crew!

http://www.playaurora.com/
 
 
Back in the day when vinyl was more commonly associated with music rather than clothes, I remember the countless hours of flipping through stacks of music records looking for surprise gems.  Sometimes they would be stuck between pop hits.  Other times they would be sitting on top of record stacks in plain sight.  Occasionally they would be showcased on the staff recommendation racks.  However they found their way into my hands, when I donned the headphones and the needle hit the groove of the record it was a magical moment of head nodding discovery.

That is the moment of discovery I also search for in video games.  To find games unbeknownst to me that capture my imagination and bring a smile to my face.  These are the games that aren't household names but deserve your attention.

This is the beginning of an ongoing series.  I will highlight games that I stumble across that may not be on MetaCritic or be the featured App in the iTunes Store.  These are the sleepers that light up the rest of the gaming landscape and provide creative inspiration to all of us in small and big ways.
 
 
It takes a lot for me to throw my controller down in frustration, but it bounced pretty high off the sofa just about now.

I am currently enjoying Batman: Arkham City for the most part so far.  But it breaks a pretty obvious design rule that is making some of the combat scenarios annoyingly difficult.  While the player is expected to be fighting large groups of characters, there are combat tips that persist on the screen for extended periods of time or until you have completed the prescribed sequence.  The action does not stop and the player is expected to read the text while characters attack them.  

The most annoying part is that the text is smack dab in the middle of the screen.  So it obstructs your view of what is going on.  If you are going to obstruct the action, please pause the game!!!

If the player does not execute the prescribed action, the text stays in the middle of the screen obscuring the action the whole time.  Get out of the way!!!

I can't believe how badly some of the in-game tutorials are presented for an otherwise enjoyable experience.  If there is something critical to convey to me, pause the game or explain it to me without having ten characters trying to jump me at the same time.  If for whatever reason, you want the message to persist don't cover the middle of the screen for crying out loud.
 
 
Times are tough.  The US is teetering on a double dip recession.   Europe has been struggling to sort out its credit crunch.  Fear is looming of an economic slowdown in China.  The domestic and global markets are not looking so hot right about now.  Even amidst these unfavorable market conditions, Zynga was pushing for its IPO the week before Thanksgiving.  It seems like Zynga is taking its foot off the gas pedal and will now be trying to go public after Thanksgiving.

So who really benefits when a company goes public and what compels a private company to do so?  It’s a complicated process that I don’t claim to fully understand.  However, this is what I have been able to gather from public news.

Zynga has been trying to go public since July 2010.  However there have been numerous delays to bring us to today where we are still holding with bated breath.  Some of the delays have been attributable to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) continuing review of Zynga’s financial results.  Zynga was required by the SEC to restate their financial results due to accounting errors back in August.  This has been one contributing factor to the erosion of Zynga’s projected valuation.

The owners of Zynga are supposedly bolstering their voting power over common shareholders.  This is not out of the ordinary.  However the ratio of how many votes the owners will maintain to a common shareholder’s vote seems heavily engineered to maintain voting control.  In the case of the founder Mark Pincus, one of his super votes counts for 70 votes to just 1 for a common shareholder.  The venture capitalists get a more tame 7 votes to 1.  This allows him to maintain a controlling interest over the company, 38% of the votes, while the venture capitalists maintain a 26% share of the votes.  Moreover, Pincus only has a 20% economic stake in Zynga while the venture capitalists have a larger 35% economic stake. 

Now let’s get to why a private company typically goes public.  One motivation is to raise additional capital.  The common stock sold does not have to be repaid to common shareholders.  Typically if there is a voting ratio of 1 vote to 1 share, the downside to the current private owners is that they are giving up a percentage of their ownership.  In the case of Zynga, Pincus and the venture capitalists thanks to their super votes will still maintain 64% of the votes even though they are not as equally financially invested in the company.   That does not seem like an equitable trade for a common shareholder.  While this is not necessarily bad, it does make you wonder what is going on.

In a positive scenario, by maintaining control of the company, it could be steered more effectively by the people who got it to where it is now instead of opening it up to shareholder demands that can often be short-sighted.  From a more cynical view, it allows Pincus and the venture capitalists to have their cake and eat it too.  They get the infusion of public money and also get to control it.  I will let your imagination take it from here.

Looking at the actual execution of an IPO, there are multiple parties that would benefit from the sale of an IPO.  Investment banks and the venture capitalists have a large stake in seeing a company go public.  Investment banks do the underwriting of the company in preparation for the IPO.  They typically get paid a commission based on a percentage of the value of the shares sold.  Without an IPO there’s no commission.  In the case of venture capitalists, they typically don’t see a return on their invested money until there is a realized event, such as an IPO.

With the looming threat of of a rocky and depressed global market, unclear financial results, an inequitable public ownership model, and a strong incentive for venture capitalists and investment banks to get paid out, the winners at Zynga's IPO finish line don't appear to be the common shareholders.