If you’ve got a shiny new Windows 8 or Windows RT device (like a Microsoft Surface), and you use the foursquare service (or have been meaning to try it out), you should head on over the Windows Store and check out my first app: 4th at Square.
In addition to the above Store link, I’ve set up a website devoted to the app, at www.4thAtSquare.com. If you have suggestions or other feedback, you can leave them on that site or right here in the comments.
Soon I’ll be doing some posts about my experience actually developing the app, and sharing some tips and reusable code snippets I came up with along the way.
Throughout the development of Windows 8, I occasionally dabbled in the new WinRT app platform, at various stages building things like a simple “twitter fall” app for watching trending or chosen topics stream by. In most cases all I did was dabble over vacations to see how the platform was progressing. However, back in February or thereabouts, I was sitting at Café Fiore on Queen Anne hill and decided to see how I might build something using the location and background task APIs that would make my Windows 8 laptop feel alive and aware of where I was. As a longtime on-again-off-again foursquare user, building something against that service seemed like a great place to start. So I fired up VS 2012 (a preview version at the time) and created a new WinJS project.
On a whim I named the project “4th & Square” – the name came about at least partly because I’d lived at 4th & Mercer, but looking back it’s also likely that I’d internalized the name of the excellent Windows Phone app, “4th & Mayor.” At the time, I gave the name little thought, as I was just dabbling and not planning to write anything that would ever be seen by anyone other than me and maybe some friends. I put a weekend or two of work into it, originally creating something that did little more than pop toast notifications as you moved around to new locations. Then I got too busy with other things like finishing Windows 8 itself, and the proto-app got stashed aside.
The app got through certification on its first attempt, and rather quickly. Within a day I started getting bug reports and feature requests from friends and others who had early access to the Windows Store. I put a couple more weekends into fixing things up, and released a couple of updates to the app to address all the reported issues.
A week or so later, after racking my brain more than you’d probably think necessary, I settled on “4th at Square.” One reason for this choice, versus something even more different, was that it let me continue to use the rest of my existing branding. Another was that it was sure to be a less jarring change for my existing customers. It took a couple more weeks to get the fully renamed package into the Store, but it appeared well before Windows 8′s general public availability date.
Oh, and this entire post was written on my personal Surface and Touch Cover
It’s been a few weeks and I feel like I’m still catching up from my week at the //Build conference. As it turns out, conferences are very busy places, and sometimes things you planned to do that week (such as, for instance, blogging) can easily fall through the cracks.
In the unlikely event that anyone was looking for me specifically, I hope you were successful. I spent most of my time at or near the Metro Style Apps booth, which was fairly front-and-center in the Expo hall. As I didn’t have a session of my own to present, my main purpose was to answer questions and demo different pieces of the Windows 8 user experience upon request. Because of this, I took to identifying myself as a “booth babe” when asked about my role at the conference.
Of course, my other primary purpose was to support my colleagues who were presenting. Most relevant in this regard would be the talk given by Priya Vaidyanathan, the main PM for the Windows 8 Search experience. As the main dev for this feature I was very excited to attend Priya’s excellent presentation (“Search: Integrating into the Windows 8 search experience”) and to help her address attendees’ questions afterward. If you’re at all interested in how the search experience works in Windows 8, or would like to know how your app can add value to it, I highly recommend watching the video.
Other great session videos:
- Jensen Harris’ brilliant “big picture talk” from the first day: 8 traits of great Metro style apps.
- My friend and fellow SVC team member David Washington explains how to build great support for different screen sizes, aspect ratios, and DPIs.
- SVC team PM Lead Ed Averett gives an overview of how to build great “gallery” Metro style apps.
- Many, many more at the Channel 9 Build 2011 site.
Misc //Build Links
If my Twitter stream is any indication, then I’m not the only one immensely excited for the events of the coming week. While I enjoy what’s likely one of the last solid summer days in Seattle, some of my colleagues have already begun making their way to Anaheim, CA for this week’s BUILD event.
I’m (seriously) overjoyed to say that I will there representing my team along with a few of our Program Managers. If you will be attending, feel free to track me down and say hi. I’ll post some updates about my schedule here when I’m at liberty to do so, and will also post (and tweet) some links which I expect many of you following along from home will want to check out.
It’s going to be an exciting week!
Earlier this week Steven Sinofsky kicked off the Building Windows 8 blog, the successor to the excellent (in my opinion) Engineering Windows 7 blog, which was often referred to as the “E7″ blog. When the E7 blog kicked off, you may recall that Steven introduced the team, including a list of the names chosen by each feature team across the division. I soon followed up with a post about the feature team I worked on at the time.
If you guessed “Search, View, and Command” then you guessed right!
You’re also right if you guessed that this is an evolution of the Find & Organize team from Windows 7. However, the new is far from a simple rebranding of the old. In fact, I would estimate that only about half of our team’s roster can be traced back to F&O. Along the same lines, our charter has evolved as well. More about that another day
Stay tuned for the B8 blog to learn more about our team and the work we’re doing. You can follow @BuildWindows8 on Twitter to get notified about the latest updates.
MS trivia: Our team is commonly abbreviated as “SVC,” which has on occasion caused some confusion. That’s because the SVC abbreviation has long been used to refer to the Silicon Valley Campus down in Mountain View, CA. Our team’s offices are in Redmond, WA.
If anyone still reads this blog, they’ve probably noticed that throughout the last year or more my rate of updates has slowed to a trickle. There are a number of reasons for that, but the largest reason is that I’ve been “heads-down” working on the most exciting and ambitious project I’ve been a part of since starting at Microsoft.
And as of Wednesday we have finally shared a first glimpse at what we are (for now) calling Windows 8!
Here are three videos from Wednesday:
Jensen Harris’ overview video
Here’s a video of our group’s director of program management, Jensen Harris, giving an overview of some of the new user experience we’ve built.
Steven Sinofsky on-stage at D9
That video was posted just after our division president, Steven Sinofsky, gave an interview and on-stage demo (with VP Julie-Larson Green).
Video here (no embedding available)
Mike Angiulo at Computex
Finally, one of my favorite presenters, Corporate Vice President Mike Angiulo, demonstrates “Windows 8” at partner preview event in Taipei, Taiwan, for COMPUTEX.
I may be going against the grain here, if the comments on GroupOn’s blog post are any indication. But I don’t really care what GroupOn’s intentions were, to be honest.
I found the ads hilarious and edgy.
I also found them thought-provoking because the issues they highlighted are important ones which people (myself included) often take for granted. The fact that ad was jarring was, in my opinion, it’s brilliance. It made me laugh, and then feel bad and thoughtful about the fact that I laughed. You see, my brain had filed these issues in the “past” category, the sort of thing you get used to seeing used in this sort of humor. When was the last time you heard anyone talk about Tibet or the rainforest? Seeing these ads made me realize these things are still happening and jarred my brain into realizing its mistake. And with any luck, correcting it.
Mission accomplished, I think.
PZ Myers takes Ray Kruzweil to task for claiming that we might be able to reverse engineer the “program” that our brain runs, and indeed make a computer-based “port” of it, sometime in the next 10 years. He doesn’t just refute Kruzweil’s claim, he seems to be using it as evidence for his argument that Kruzweil is a moron.
I can’t (and don’t particularly care) to comment on the intelligence of Kruzweil, I’ll leave the defense of his honor to the ready and willing. Instead I want to share an alternative interpretation of what Kruzweil meant. Or at least some food for thought about what seems to me a fascinating subject.
Myers makes a lot of great points about why it would be difficult (within 10 years) to simulate all the detailed biological interactions between cells in the brain. He also focuses a lot on a claim Kurzweil apparently made about the potentially small size of the computer program in question, based on the assertion that Kurzweil was only talking about “data” in the genome and that this is not sufficient for building a simulator of brain biology.
But when I read the Kurzweil quote, a simulator of brain biology is not at all what came to mind. Indeed, reading Myers’ argument had me scratching my head, since it took me a moment or two to realize what he was on about. You see, I read Kurzweil’s quote from the perspective of a software engineer, whereas Myers’ interpreted it as a biologist would see fit to do. This is a reasonable thing given that he is indeed a biologist. What seems less reasonable to me is how vigorously he attacks Kruzweil’s claim without giving the acknowledgement that he’s made an awful lot of potentially incorrect assumptions about what Kurzweil actually meant.
So what is my software engineers’ perspective?
I don’t see why reverse engineering the brain would require any ability to simulate protein and brain cell interactions. Doing so would be a brilliant achievement, but it seems orthogonal to the idea as I understood it. Myers says:
To simplify it so a computer science guy can get it, Kurzweil has everything completely wrong. The genome is not the program; it’s the data. The program is the ontogeny of the organism, which is an emergent property of interactions between the regulatory components of the genome and the environment, which uses that data to build species-specific properties of the organism. He doesn’t even comprehend the nature of the problem, and here he is pontificating on magic solutions completely free of facts and reason.
In my opinion this is not only wrong, but incredibly harsh.
It’s wrong because I think of biology itself as the programming language, and perhaps also the runtime. If a C++ developer were asked to reverse-engineer a program written in Pascal, they would not have to learn Pascal (or worse yet, reverse-engineer the compiler and runtime) in order to create a functionally identical C++ program. So I believe it could be with the biology and the functionality of the brain.
I understood Kurzweil’s statement to be about the creation of a computer program (in some existing, modern programming language) which implements at least a rudimentary version of the human brain’s algorithm. For example, its ability to continously observe input and recognize patterns, resulting in emergent properties that make up at least part of what we call consciousness. That’s why I think “reverse engineering” seems like an appropriate description, while “simulation” does not.
I won’t claim that this is what Kurzweil meant. He may have meant exactly what Myers claims he did. But I have the feeling Myers didn’t give this subject due consideration before lambasting Kurzweil over the supposed ridiculousness of his claim.
Bickering aside, what do you think of this subject? Can we reverse engineer intelligence/consciousness or at least some fundamental components? Will we have true “brain simulators” any time soon? I’m not remotely qualified to answer such questions, but I’m inclined to share Kurzweil’s optimizism and ambition about at least the former.
It came to my attention this afternoon that Roger Ebert, previously on record claiming “video games can never be art,” has sought to elaborate on this statement for… well, for some reason, I should think. He builds his case as a rebuttal to Kellee Santiago’s TED talk at USC on the subject. If this discussion interests you, you should read his piece as well as Kellee’s response.
Framing the discussion and defining terms
Ebert devotes a large (indeed perhaps the largest) portion of the article to a vain attempt at defining the term “art.” Crucially, he neglects to define the other half of the equation he proposes: “video game.” This is not to say that Ebert doesn’t have a definition, indeed it seems he does. Instead I’d like to point out his unwillingness to share it with us or court any kind of consensus about it. Ebert says:
Santiago might cite a immersive game without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them.
This seems either disingenous or daft. He quite nearly states that a video game cannot be art because if it were to be art, it would cease to be a video game. It is unfortunate that Ebert did not elaborate on what he believes constitutes a video game. I believe this is the most interesting angle from which to approach the issue, in contrast to his approach of attempting to define art, failing, and then sneaking in an easily contested definition for a different term which turns his argument into a tautology.
A video game’s purpose
Ebert seems to imply that a video game’s purpose is to have “points” and to be “won,” dismissing any value in the associated experience. My question to Mr. Ebert is then: what is the purpose of a book? Is it not simply to be read according to a set of rules? Surely one can’t go about reading page 42, then page 12, then page 100. This would violate the rules which stipulate you begin on the first page and continue, in sequence, to the last one. One could then argue that by following these rules and ultimately reading the last page, you have “won” the book. Perhaps if the book contains 400 pages, we could consider those to be “points.”
No one would argue that the ordering of the pages, the rules for navigating the book’s content, is likely to be artistic. I am thus confused why Ebert fixates on the fact that video games have an end and some mechanism to guide you from start to finish. Many other artistic mediums have such things.
I propose that the distinguishing characteristic of a video game versus, say, a film – is interactivity. Both share many of the same artistic elements: visuals, narrative, storytelling mechanics, acting, musical scores, and so on. However films and books are not interactive. That is, they do not adapt to input from the viewer. They are static.
If Ebert would like to separate the notion of an interactive film from a video game, then I invite him to make such an argument. However, I must note that such a redefinition would inevitably result in the reclassification of existing content. I would have no hesitation in proposing that Mass Effect is an interactive film at least as much as it is a video game. There’s no getting around the fact that much of the content we have today fits into both of those classifications (and perhaps others, if you wish to invent them). Halo is undeniably a video game, and the multiplayer aspect is arguably nothing else. But the campaign is about experiencing the story rather than achieving victory. Just like a film or a novel, you cannot lose Halo. You can only stop before you reach the end.
Parts versus the whole
Regardless of whether a video game itself can constitute art, it seems obvious that they can contain it. Game developers employ artists to create art for their games. This extends far beyond visuals. The musical score for Halo, for instance, is phenomenal in its own right. The same can be said of film. So how does a film become art? Do we measure the sum of its artistic components? The artistry of its music? Of its narrative? Do we critique the performances of its actors? Video games have all of these same elements, which themselves I believe Mr. Ebert will agree can be art. So I ask, Mr. Ebert, what do you believe elevates a particular film to be worthy of being called art? Is it the sum of the artistic value of its elements? Is that sum orthogonal to the artistic value of the film itself? Or must that sum meet some threshold which allows it to be considered, yet not be enough on its own to merit awarding the title?
Argument from ignorance
Ebert disappoints me by confessing that he has no firsthand experience with the medium, let alone with highly regarded specific examples. This seems rather like an illiterate person trying to explain to me why Shakespeare wasn’t an artist. Even if he stumbles upon a fair point, he’s not likely to frame it with anything I’d call insightful. Ebert’s failure to recognize the importance of defining video games likely stems from this ignorance, and not from any ill will or intellectual ineptitude. If that illiterate man had been explained the purposes of recipe books and instruction manuals, and then asked whether or not he thought books were a form of art, I wonder what he would say.
Kellee offered to provide Ebert with a Playstation 3 system to experience a game called Flower. I am not familiar with this game, but I have some more mainstream recommendations to make. I already mentioned Mass Effect and Halo, two of my favorite game series which each create massive (and ever-expanding) universes with engaging stories, deep and memorable characters, and top-notch performances from their respective voice actors. I could recommend many others, but for someone familiar with the world of film, these may prove particularly enlightening.
What do you think?
Do you have an opinion on the subject? Did I get something wrong? Do you have an example you think is the epitomy of art from the video game industry? Leave a comment and let me know.