Thursday, November 05, 2009

Interesting Use for Yorick

Wizard of Oz Skull from Yorick
Here's a use for our digital puppets I hadn't seen before: recreating the audience chamber scene from Wizard of Oz.

For Halloween 2009, Chris used our "Yorick" digital puppet as the ominous head over synthetic flames to retell the story with his own, Tim Burton-esque spooky spin on it. Be sure to check out the other cool stuff this home haunter put into this year's highly original haunted theme while you're there.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Carnival of Souls 2009 a success!

We're exhausted, but Carnival of Souls 2009 was a success.

In all, we had nearly 40 volunteers helping at our house this year at one time or another. All together, we were able to put on one of the best seasons of Carnival of Souls ever. New elements this year included:

The Cursed Treasure - A new carnival game which lets kids roll balls down an inclined playfield where stacks of coins and other pirate treasure lay scattered. Depending on where the ball rolls, the kids would get different amounts of candy. It was a huge hit, and a great improvement over "toss a rat in a bucket".

The Spider Cave - Though a little too imposing for some kids, the spider cave allowed the brave souls who attended to go inside and have the spider answer a question, any question. It turns out our spider puppeteer did such a great job that the spider cave became quite popular.

The Pirate Graveyard - This walkthrough attraction included a ghostly possession of Madame Sarita, a large ruined bastille inhabited by undead pirates, and a journey over the sea on a sunken pirate ship helmed by an undead captain, where kids could shoot cannons at the damned crew of Anne Bonny and Mary Read. We had some technical difficulties with the final scene a few times, unfortunately, but we got them ironed out quickly.

Pirate Barter - Instead of just getting candy this year, the attractions doled out pirate treasure: coins, jems, strings of pearls, etc. Walking around the show were some greedy pirates who would barter with kids for this treasure in exchange for candy and toys. Kids loved being able to buy their treats with the booty they earned.

Of course, some of the old mainstays were still in effect, such as the Magic Mirror, which is always a hit with the kids. And Dr. Richman returned with his "Creepy Crawly Emporium".

All in all, it was a fantastic year for the tots. Thanks to all our volunteers and visitors! We're already looking forward to 2010.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Carnival of Souls 2009 teaser

Here's a teaser photo for Carnival of Souls 2009. These are some pirate ship cannonades my brother built for the main walkthrough haunted house attraction. They look awesome, don't they?

And oh, what's that little black cable sticking out from under the cannonades? Is that a USB cable...?

I'm looking forward to seeing all our friends on Halloween next weekend. See you then!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Big Hearts in Big Country" up for People's Choice

Big Hearts in Big Country version 2
As you may know, my 1KM1KT 24-hour RPG competition entry was a wild west themed RPG with saloon-inspired trappings called Big Hearts in Big Country. It's got a fun, cinematic combat system, a character-driven storytelling system, and a heavily fleshed-out setting, all in one free package.

Well, if you like it, then you should head on over and vote for it, because it is nominated for a people's choice award in the "Honey, Where's My Dice Bag?" category.

And as always, play reports are welcome!

Monday, October 19, 2009

New Versions of Digital Puppets Up!

We've been busy at ImaginEERIEing with our home haunt, but that doesn't stop us from trying to help you make your Halloween better.

We just released two new versions of two of our signature digital puppets:

Mirror Mirror
Mirror Mirror has been updated with a new feature that allows the Mirror face to fade away when it is set to "asleep" mode. This allows your Mirror face to magically appear somewhere your visitors may not expect it.

Gordo has been updated with a new feature that allows Gordo's exterior to be rendered completely black. This allows you to project Gordo onto a real pumpkin, and have it appear that it is magically animated. The effect is truly fantastic - I'll try to get some video of this up in the coming days.

(Since both of these improvements haven't been tested extensively yet, the downloads are only available on the main site. The download link you receive when you buy will still be the older, known stable version. If you don't need the above features, we recommend you stick with the stable versions, since these are not maintenance releases.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Keywords in the Apple App Store

In the last several months, my wife and I dove into iPhone development. Frustrated with the quality of apps for kids, we decided to take matters into our own hands and create the sort of app we wished was generally available. My wife has a PhD in educational technology, and I'm a multimedia developer, so we've been creating educational multimedia for almost a decade.

We worked long and hard on LetterWriter Oceans, a game to teach letter writing to kids. When we started development on it, there wasn't quite the glut of cheap letter-writing apps that there is now on the app store, but the steady rise of cheap apps in our target space didn't really bother us, because we were confident that we could grab a good niche because we were shooting for higher quality, better interaction, and a different tone - less "Saturday morning cartoon" and more "trip to the aquarium".

Unfortunately, the sales numbers have been only slightly better than abysmal, with only a few sales per day. We're aware that the days of the iPhone App gold rush are over, but this was even worse than we expected.

And here's the main reason: people just aren't finding our app.

I'm convinced that if our app was listed alongside the other apps of its ilk, we'd fare much better than we are, but we're struggling to get in even the first page on any search of the app store other than an explicit search for the name of our app.

The reason appears to be due to a new policy for App Store applications: keywords.

Recently, the App Store has started asking for keywords. Near as I can tell, new applications are required to add keywords, and only these keywords are used in searches. But legacy applications, added before the keyword mandate, are searched for based on the full text of their application description.

Thus, if you search the App Store for "letters", something that a letter writing application should come up very high on, you'll see things like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic books before you see our app. Why? Because they list the person who drew the letters for the comic in the application description.

Worse, you won't even find our app in the search results. We used the word "letter" as a keyword for our app, but we didn't use "letters". I had assumed that Apple's search engine would match simple plurals for nouns, but I was wrong. If you search for "letter" in the App Store, you will see our app in the first page. If you search for "letters", we don't exist.

Furthermore, Apple's search engine doesn't filter out what we'd all assume are "noise" words. Our other app, Tap Treats Halloween comes up on a search of "trick treat", but not if you search for "trick or treat", because I didn't include "or" as a keyword, thinking that Apple would either filter it out as a noise word, or at least display our app if two of the three words matched. Nope.

Oh, and you only get 100 characters worth of keywords, and that includes the comma delimiters.

As far as I can tell, there are no recommendations from Apple for crafting your keywords (if you know of any, please share!), so we're left to do it by trial and error. But even that is problematic because your keywords are set in stone and unchangeable until you upload a new version of your app. You can't even change the title of your app from, say, "LetterWriter Oceans" to "Letter Writer Oceans" without submitting a new binary.

The net effect of all this is that we have been practically absent from the App Store, even with very relevant searches. And that directly affects our sales, perhaps moreso than any other factor. I really enjoy making iPhone apps, and the iPhone development environment has rejuvenated my desire to create apps like no other environment has in recent memory. But this one piece has been a real letdown. Hopefully, Apple engineers are working on ways to make the keyword searching smarter (plural-aware, noiseword-aware), and this problem will go away. But in the mean time, my competitors are snaring sales that I can't even compete for.

And what's going to happen when we have thousands of developers submitting incessant fake updates so they can tweak their keywords? I can't see any outcome other than the approval process slowing to a crawl.

Update: Our new version of LetterWriter Oceans is up on the app store, so if you try the above-mentioned keyword search for "letters", it might start showing up, since this means our new list of keywords is live.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Free RPG Blog reviews "Big Hearts in Big Country"

Big Hearts in Big Country version 2
The Free RPG Blog reviewed Big Hearts in Big Country today.

By any account, it's a glowing review, which is gratifying. The real measure is whether players enjoy the game, though. If you play Big Hearts in Big Country, please drop me a line and tell me how it went for you. I'd love to hear how it works in practice for people who didn't write the rules (heh).

Friday, October 02, 2009

LetterWriter Oceans featured at Playgrounder

LetterWriter Oceans was featured today at

Playgrounder is the brainchild of Dan Benjamin, usability and lifestyle blogger of HiveLogic which features quality children's products. Unlike some sites, Playgrounder is not a "pay for play" site - they feature products based directly on quality of product, rather than kickbacks from promoters, so we're very happy to be featured there.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Problems with our Hosting

Our long, reliable host, which we've been hosting with since the 90's, was bought by another company called "agavue" recently, and already the service is careening downhill. We sell digital puppets for Halloween, and on October first, of all dates, all the files we had hosted on their servers vanished. The entire directory is just gone, so it's not even something that could have been user error on our part. And our original host's late-hours technical support has been replaced with a nine-to-five tech support, so I can't even talk to them about it until tomorrow. Super.

If you were trying to download one of the demo versions of our digital puppets in the last few days, and were told that the file no longer exists, well, this is why. I've updated the demo download links to grab them from a different server.

Sorry for any inconvenience.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

LetterWriter: Oceans Now Available in the App Store

It's official! We're a published iPhone developer now!

LetterWriter: Oceans, our handwriting training game for kids, is now available for sale on the iPhone App Store. It's $1.99, and packs a lot of underwater fun and poetry into a little package.

If you download it and enjoy the game, I'd appreciate it if you write a glowing review for us, and tell your friends about the game. We need some word of mouth to get the news out, because a whole raft of letter-writing games showed up on the App Store in the last couple of weeks. (Bummer for us!) So far, ours looks like a standout, but it won't take much to get lost in the glut.

We hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gameplay Video for LetterWriter: Oceans

I uploaded some gameplay video of LetterWriter: Oceans last night to YouTube. You can get an idea of what the game looks like and how it plays.

In the clip, you get to see several of the features:

• The panorama where you select the letter to practice.
• Several of the letter backgrounds.
• The earning of starfish as you complete letters.
• Earning four starfish unlocking the storybook.
• The options screen.


Monday, September 14, 2009


I just submitted our first iPhone game for approval at the Apple App Store. It's a game called LetterWriter:Oceans, and it's an educational app that helps kids learn how to draw the capital letter glyphs in a fun undersea environment. Follow the link for more screenshots.

We've been working on this for several weeks, because we have a child who is just learning to write, and we've been unhappy with the quality of iPhone apps out there for this. So, for our anniversary, my wife and I took a vacation up to Cloudcroft and designed the game we wished was available, and now it's done.

Watch for it at the app store in a couple of weeks.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Bhut Jolokia Brownies

Hot on the heels (as it were) of releasing "Holy Jolokia," a hot sauce made with Bhut Jolokia, the NMSU Chile Pepper Institute is now selling Bhut Jolokia in powdered form. It's a boon to chefs everywhere who like their food spicy.

(For those of you who don't know, the Bhut Jolokia is the world's hottest pepper, rather recently discovered, whose heat goes into the millions of Scovilles.)

To celebrate, my wife made a whole tray of brownies with only a teaspoon of powdered Bhut Jolokia mixed in. And boy, did it add some zip! Not enough to be painful, but certainly enough to give you a pleasant chile burn for a while. If you're looking for a way to add a little zing to your cooking, just a little bit of this stuff will go a long, long way!

(Cue jokes about putting mind- and body-altering substances in brownies...)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Preloading Flash SWF's without Executing Scripts

For a project we are doing at work, I had a game engine shell which would load .SWF's into the shell for playing individual vignettes and cutscenes. Because it was going to be served via a web server, I wanted to preload these vignettes during play so that when the vignette was encountered, it would play immediately, instead of the user having to wait to download the item.

However, one of the vignettes had a custom cursor in it, which would hide the regular cursor. The end result of this was that when I preloaded that SWF, it would execute that code and hide the cursor for the movie before displaying that vignette.

The solution was to use URLLoader to load the vignettes to get them into Flash Player's cache, and then, when they were needed, using the Loader class to load them into the engine:
public class SWFPreloader {
public function SWFPreloader() {
// Preload a list of SWFs here, or call preloadSWF()
this. preloadSWF( 'intro' );

public function preloadSWF( url:String ) {
var urlr:URLRequest = new URLRequest( url );
var _loader:URLLoader = new URLLoader();
_loader.dataFormat = URLLoaderDataFormat.BINARY;
_loader.load( urlr );
Using this method, you could preloadSWF() the MovieClips you will need later, and the Flash Player will put them into the cache. Load the MovieClips normally using the Loader() class, and Flash Player will pull the SWF's from the Flash Player cache instead of downloading them again from the web server.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sometimes, it Takes an Outlaw to Bring Justice

Big Hearts in Big Country version 2
I've updated the original version of Big Hearts in Big Country to version 2 of the rules.

In this new set of rules, you will find:
  • Rule tweaks and clarifications, including a full example of a sample gunfight.
  • More good guys to befriend and more bad guys to stand against.
  • More detail and story hooks for the sample setting, Sangre De Dios.
  • Spiffier, more western-themed layout.
  • More detail in the character archetype generator.
  • More artwork.

Enjoy. If you play it, please send me a play report - I'd love to hear how it goes for you.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

More work on "Big Hearts in Big Country"

I've been working on fleshing out the rules from Big Hearts in Big Country a little more over the last week or so. It's starting to look really good, and the more I work with it, the happier I am with the original rules I wrote.

I'm finding that I have less cleanup than I originally thought. It's funny - I went back in to add a lot of detail and complexity, and found myself, after much typing, deciding that I liked the simpler, original mechanics better, and deleting everything I'd typed and instead just doing an editing pass on the original content, clarifying what was in my mind as I wrote the thing. I think the 24 hour limitation actually made the game better, because it kept me from going in a direction that would have weakened the game.

Out of my wish list of new features, I've got just about everything but a map for Sangre de Dios, the sample setting for the game. I'm also a lot happier with the layout:

I'm toying with the idea of commissioning some original artwork to be created for the game, such as portraits of the various characters in Sangre de Dios and some more scenic set piece type illustrations. I know better than to try to illustrate the game myself; I'm not "Mr. Stick Figure," but for a game that's all about mood, drama, and character, I know my drawings wouldn't be able to set the tone I want to set. In order to recoup the cost, that means I'd have to try to sell it (or ask for donations, or sell ad space on a web site for it, or something.)

The question is: is there a market for something like this?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Big Hearts in Big Country

I just finished an entry for the 1KM1KT / FreeRPG Blog 24 Hour competition, a competition where you have 24 hours to design a tabletop RPG from the ground up. You pick a theme from a list, and I chose the theme "Cowboys with Big Hearts." Since my life has kids and work in it, my game represents far less than 24 hours of work - more like 6 or 7.

My game is called Big Hearts in Big Country. Here's the pitch:

Big Hearts in Big Country
Welcome to Sangre De Dios.

The villagers stare as you ride into town. They don’t know what to make of you. Strangers are rare here, and usually don’t stay long. They either have a drink and continue on their long journey northeast to Las Cruces, or they take a much shorter trip southwest up to Boot Hill.

Long ago, the townspeople stopped daring to dream that a big hearted gunfighter would come clean up the town. But then, they’ve never met you...

Big Hearts in Big Country is a cowboy-themed RPG which centers on what cowboys do best, at least in the movies: staring down the villain in the black hat, waiting for him to twitch, and then being fast on the draw. You’re the guys (or gals) who clean up bad towns.

Featuring six pages of simple rules, a starter setting for gameplay, a simple core mechanic for telling dramatic, character-based stories, a tense, edge-of-your-seat system for high-drama shootouts, and theme-appropriate game materials like poker cards and chips instead of character sheets, "Big Hearts in Big Country" is quick to pick up and play, and focuses on telling stories that would make Sergio Leone or Sam Peckinpah proud.

Enjoy. If you have any questions, suggestions, or play reports, let me know in the comments.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Update to MVC Framework

I've released an update to the MVC framework for developing Shockwave3D applications in Director. Changes include:
  • Models now receive the act() message each frame.
  • Fixed bug that makes demo scene not work.
  • info() gives more information, and more complete information without parameters.
  • Fixed thumbnailer to include headings on member thumbnails.
  • Added floor() and ceil() math functions.
  • Added event() and replaceController() to the Controllers object. The Controllers object is now implemented a little differently, but the API should be the same.
  • Added centerImage() imaging lingo routine.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Online Trick-Or-Treating

Doorless Chambers is a site that organizes online trick-or-treating for virtual Disney-themed goodies from October 25 through 31. Interesting concept. I might have to participate this year, if I can come up with something decent to share.

Monday, May 25, 2009

My "One Page Dungeon" entry

Recently, an old-school tabletop roleplaying site hosted a one page dungeon design challenge. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to craft an entry, and the deadline passed.

However, due to some confusion, the deadline was extended, and I was able to scrape together some time to make an entry of my own: The Poseidon Adventure. It's released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.

The dungeon itself is a much abbreviated version of an adventure I ran quite a while ago (one of the first I ran using third edition). Some might accuse it of being a device to deliver the punch line of a terrible, terrible joke (it certainly got some mighty groans from my players when I said, as we were putting away the game table, "thanks for playing...the Poseidon adventure."). But really, I think the adventure stands on its own, too. The bad joke is gravy.

If there is interest, I might post what I have from the original adventure, but the primary macguffins from the original adventure are retained in the one-page-dungeon entry itself: the good magic gone bad, the impending rise of a new evil demigod, the drastic change to the dungeon environment halfway through the adventure, and the final race against time to escape the ruins. (And the terrible joke, natch.)

The changing environment in particular made a one-page presentation difficult, since I had to present the environment in both contexts, one in each orientation. As a result, I went more "new school" and kept things short and more plot-oriented than some of the other entries I've seen, but I think the thrill of such a dynamic environment is worth the space devoted to it. We'll see if the judges agree.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Holy Jolokia!

It's official. NMSU has its own hot sauce, taken from the hottest pepper in the world, the Bhut Jolokia. Sales of Holy Jolokia go towards an endowed chair at NMSU. Burn your mouth and help higher education at the same time!

Monday, February 02, 2009

DIY Magic Mirror

The guys over at DIY Magic Mirror used Mirror Mirror and Yorick to create the videos for an installation-based Magic Mirror program. You can extend what his mirror installation does by using any of our digital puppets.

If you create an installation from them, be sure to send us photos and videos - we love to see what people do with them!