Monthly Archives: March 2012
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about what it means to be a curator. (“Call it sifting, call it filtering, call it editing even, but it sure as hell isn’t curating.” | “I don’t think anyone needs to give you credit for showing them the way to something great, since it’s not yours.”)
But no matter what you call it, the fact remains that there’s wonder, wisdom and inspiration to be found on the internet – and we’re all running out of time to search for it. That’s what Nextness is for: not to replace your other favourite curators, not to replace your own creation, searching and discovery – but to simply be a rough and crumpled treasure map, a guide you can trust to find at least some of the internet’s gold.
As we’ve grown up we’ve started to work out what we are as a blog and what we’re not. Here are some of the ideas the blog lives by:
Don’t be insular.
- We look outside our industry for the best and most exciting new ideas, from science to politics to art.
Newness doesn’t actually matter.
- Sometimes a blog post from 2006 is more insightful than one from 20 minutes ago. We’re not afraid to dip into a sites’s archives to see what’s stood the test of time. We don’t do newness for newness’ sake.
- We don’t follow the mergers and acquisitions of the tech world, the who’s up and who’s down, the what-will-Apple-put-in-the-new-iPad speculation. We try and share links that will still be relevant in a day, a month, a year.
Short and snacky is not best.
- We don’t patronise our readers by thinking they have short attention spans. We value longform writing, thoughtful and complex: we’ve gathered nearly 1500 of the past year’s best #longreads every week in Linkness.
Brains over beauty.
- We’ll link to something brilliant on an ugly site – but not something average just because the site is beautiful.
We value your time.
- We post when we have something to say and never if we don’t. Our readers are busy people. If we’re quiet for one day they won’t miss us.
- We don’t livetweet events or conferences: we point you in the direction of trusted people who are there and doing it well.
It’s all about the work.
- We don’t do agency gossip. We don’t rubbish bad campaigns. We freely link to good work done outside STW Group.
There’s always room to question and improve.
- We don’t shy away from questioning the communications industry, its role in society, its ethics and its problems. We write and share pieces that make us all look at what we do more thoughtfully.
- We love guest posts from staff, and sharing news about STW Group people and work. Not just to show off our cleverness – but to help make STW’s many offices and companies all over the southern hemisphere feel like one big BBQ at Christie Street. Nextness is helping staff from different offices get to know and inspire each other. If no one else read it, that fact alone makes doing this blog worthwhile.
We’re not perfect. And we’re not even that big of a deal: other agency blogs like Made by Many and BBH labs are brilliant and absolutely dwarf us. But we do hope we’re growing on you. Thank you for reading.
STW Group is the largest marketing, content and communications group in the southern hemisphere and Nextness is our blog. If you have any suggestions of what you’d like to see on Nextness, please email Editor Jessica Stanley (@dailydoseofjess) at jessica.stanley at stwgroup dot com dot au. If you’re a member of staff at an STW Group company, get in touch any time about doing a guest post. We love to hear from you. Follow us on Twitter @STWnextness.
“It’s much better to stop and think about something else quite different.” Writers on their routines.
The Paris Review website is home to seven decades’ worth of in-depth interviews with the best writers in the English language. As part of our Lessons for Creatives series, the Nextness will be foraging through the archives for words of wisdom to inspire, or console, writers both habitual and wannabe. Yesterday: how to pick up your pen and get started. Today: writers’ routines.
When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.
…whether I write or type, composition of any length, a play for example, means for me regular hours, say ten to one. I found that three hours a day is about all I can do of actual composing. I could do polishing perhaps later. I sometimes found at first that I wanted to go on longer, but when I looked at the stuff the next day, what I’d done after the three hours were up was never satisfactory. It’s much better to stop and think about something else quite different.
Generally, I write everything many times over. All my thoughts are second thoughts. And I correct each page a great deal, or rewrite it several times as I go along.
When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.
On a good working day, working from nine o’clock in the morning to two or three in the afternoon, the most I can write is a short paragraph of four or five lines, which I usually tear up the next day.
I’ve always written by hand. Mostly with a fountain pen, but sometimes with a pencil—especially for corrections. If I could write directly on a typewriter or a computer, I would do it. But keyboards have always intimidated me. I’ve never been able to think clearly with my fingers in that position. A pen is a much more primitive instrument. You feel that the words are coming out of your body and then you dig the words into the page. Writing has always had that tactile quality for me. It’s a physical experience.
And, make of this what you will:
I had a ritual once of lighting a candle and writing by its light and blowing it out when I was done for the night . . . also kneeling and praying before starting […] . . . but now I simply hate to write. My superstition? I’m beginning to suspect the full moon. Also I’m hung up on the number nine though I’m told a Piscean like myself should stick to number seven; but I try to do nine touchdowns a day, that is, I stand on my head in the bathroom, on a slipper, and touch the floor nine times with my toe tips, while balanced. This is incidentally more than yoga, it’s an athletic feat, I mean imagine calling me “unbalanced” after that. Frankly I do feel that my mind is going.
“Writing’s too hard, it just requires so much of you, and most of the time you feel dumb.” Writers on how to start writing.
The website of venerable literary journal The Paris Review is home to one of the greatest cultural treasure troves on the entire internet: seven decades of in-depth interviews with the best writers in the English language. As part of our Lessons for Creatives series, this week Nextness will be foraging through the archives for words of wisdom to inspire, or console, writers both habitual and wannabe. First? How to pick up your pen and get started.
I never thought of myself as a writer. I only backed into it through having to make a living. And then I discovered that I could actually do it. I thought there was some arcane fellowship that you knew at birth that you had to belong to in order to be a writer.
Writing’s too hard, it just requires so much of you, and most of the time you feel dumb. I always think you start at the stupid end of the book, and if you’re lucky you finish at the smart end. When you start out, you feel inadequate to the task. You don’t even understand the task.
Beginning a book is unpleasant. I’m entirely uncertain about the character and the predicament, and a character in his predicament is what I have to begin with. Worse than not knowing your subject is not knowing how to treat it, because that’s finally everything. I type out beginnings and they’re awful [...] I often have to write a hundred pages or more before there’s a paragraph that’s alive. Okay, I say to myself, that’s your beginning, start there; that’s the first paragraph of the book.
What happens is what Nabokov described as a throb. A throb or a glimmer, an act of recognition on the writer’s part. At this stage the writer thinks, Here is something I can write a novel about. In the absence of that recognition I don’t know what one would do. It may be that nothing about this idea—or glimmer, or throb—appeals to you other than the fact that it’s your destiny, that it’s your next book.
The beginning of the fear with me was, you know, what would my father say to something that I would write. At the time, writing “Howl”—for instance like I assumed when writing it that it was something that could not be published because I wouldn’t want my daddy to see what was in there. [...] That was sort of a help for writing, because I assumed that it wouldn’t be published, therefore I could say anything that I wanted.
Writing fiction is for me a fraught business, an occasion of daily dread for at least the first half of the novel, and sometimes all the way through. […] Novels are like paintings, specifically watercolors. Every stroke you put down you have to go with. Of course you can rewrite, but the original strokes are still there in the texture of the thing.
It’s like standing on the edge of a cliff. This is especially true of the first draft. Every day you’re making up the earth you’re going to stand on. […] Every day’s a miracle: Wow, I did that, I didn’t know any of that yesterday.
I feel that if I don’t get the sentences right in the first draft, it’s going to be hard to get them right later. Not impossible, naturally, but hard. So I work slowly, as if the first draft is the last.
I always felt I had such a dazzling idea—where did I go wrong? You go wrong from the first day. Everything’s a compromise. […]With many of my films—almost all—if I’d been able to get on screen what I conceived, they would have been much better pictures. Fortunately, the public doesn’t know about how great the picture played in my head was, so I get away with it.
What do you feel at the thought of making a game? Fear?
People tend to get scared because games typically take a long time to build. But there are ways to make games simple, cost-effective and fun.
First, take a look at the common traits of the most popular games.
- There has to be some fun physics to play with. Whether it is Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds, physics makes the game feel intuitive. It also gives the player a great sense of reward when things happen just the way they expect.
- The game needs a sharing function, or a leaderboard for the player to compare their scores with their friends’ scores.
- The game needs to be absurd – something whacky and wonderful or unexpected.
Enter Zombie Ninjas.
Based on these traits, my friend and I set out to build Zombie Ninjas. The storyline and the gameplay became an obsession for us. We went crazy creating the world, the setting and the backstory of the game. We also created this sprawling interrelationship with multiple characters, and characters’ histories.
This code sample from Zombie Ninjas was written completely by accident:
It’s telling the program ‘if there are zombies loaded, run.’ But we realised, it also has a humorous double meaning outside the game context: ‘if there are zombies, run!’ I felt like Homer Simpson, reading prophetic words formed in a bowl of cereal.
It took two guys a couple of weeks to create this game in Flash and make it available for the Android Marketplace. Of course, we had to cut back on a lot of our more adventurous ideas so that we could feasibly do it without interfering with our main jobs.
But it’s not game over yet!
I mentioned how we can make games cost effectively. Part of this is what we call sprite sheets. These are large image files containing the animation frames for a game.
Our senior designer edited the above sprites and created an entirely new game called Bonkers the Clown where you play as a psychedelic clown on a jumping castle.
And we built it without the need for additional programming time.
A sound artist then finished the project by creating an entirely original soundtrack for the game. This was all done in less than two weeks. Flash (not dead!) is fast. As was the case for the last decade, Flash is still the fastest way to build or prototype a video game. With so many devices already running Flash, it also has a huge audience reach. And with Flash Professional 5 and 5.5, Flash developers can even export directly onto an iOS or Android device, thanks to the Adobe AIR platform.
Now that we have a pinball game engine from Zombie Ninjas, we can theoretically build any pinball-style game with less development time than creating it from scratch. We can give the sprite sheets to each artist in the studio and create a whole genre of games with fresh artwork.
Imagine if we had more game engines ready, like a puzzle engine, a racing-game engine and a platform game engine. Every time a client wanted a game, we could simply re-skin and rebrand an engine, making games a fun design job, rather than a drawn-out development job.
Games are fun to build, and they’re fun to be involved with.
You will find that when designing a game it’s easy to come up with many ideas, but it’s hard to fit all your ideas into the final product.
And when having discussions with your game development team, you may find that the topics revolve around the most bizarre arguments, like what the proper sound a ninja sword should make, or the right way a zombie is supposed to explode…
Finally, a personal tip.
Senior developer at the white agency, Garry Law specialises in RIA (Rich Internet Application) and game design. In the last 2 years, he has created solutions for some of Australia’s most well-known brands like Commonwealth Bank and Lexus. He is currently a level 26 Trooper in the new Star Wars: The Old Republic video game. Follow him on Twitter @garry_law.
Recent headlines may have you convinced that the Adobe Flash Platform is in its death throes.
Internet Explorer 10 is dumping all major plugins: When Windows 8 is released, there will be two versions of IE10, one using the new ‘Metro’ style touch interface, and the other a traditional desktop setup. Microsoft has said that it will dump Flash support in the Metro version of IE10.
Flash plugin development canned for mobile browsers: The news from Flash’s own creators that they were no longer developing features for the mobile plugin seemed to confirm that Flash is definitely dying, if not already dead for mobiles.
Mac OS X is no longer being shipped with Flash: Old news for some, but we are always reminded of the fact that Flash is not being shipped with Macs anymore whenever we set-up a new Macbook, and of course, all iOS devices block Flash.
The headlines appear to depict a very bleak outlook for Adobe Flash. But in fact the essential details paint a very different picture of the Flash landscape.
IE10 will still allow plugins for the desktop version of the browser, and the reasoning is obvious: why take something away from people if they need it, and you’re already giving it to them? With Flash desktop penetration at 95% to 98% (depending on who you ask), that’s a lot of users who potentially depend on Flash for their video content and day-to-day work. Imagine the panic if this was taken away from people!
It is true that Adobe has stopped further development on the mobile version of Flash, but it is still supporting it. There is some very important language in here, because Flash is already packed with features and frameworks that HTML5 alternatives are only just starting to gather, so even the current Flash build would suit the needs of most applications.
What often gets ignored (and what I am really excited about) is the flexibility and power of the Adobe AIR framework, which is based on Flash. Since the release of Creative Suite 5 and 5.5, existing Flash developers have been able to easily create apps with Flash, making them available through the App Store or Android Market, bypassing the need for a Flash browser plug-in altogether.
Flash also has a large and devout community that has been growing for the last 16-17 years. Today, there are over three million developers who use the Flash platform for their solutions. Whether it be adding a physics game, 3D game, webcam support or video streaming – all these solutions are no longer experimental, and only require a little effort to dig up.
As the platform war between Apple and Adobe continues to play out, it is nice to know that the huge pool of Flash developers and knowledge can still be harnessed to create applications on both mobile and desktop devices.
Working in the world of technology, I am a firm believer in constant change and progress.
I enjoy delivering solutions in Flash, but do not feel the need to make it exclusive the way some may feel. I admire the fact that Adobe is still taking efforts to leverage the strengths of Flash, whilst still paying close attention to HTML5 developments, as opposed to the stubborn rejection of Flash by Apple.
Adobe Flash, in either its plugin form or Adobe AIR, is not going to die off any time soon. I’m not saying it will last forever. But in its current state, and with Adobe AIR as backup – we’re going to see a lot more applications developed with Flash before it disappears.
Senior developer at the white agency, Garry Law specialises in RIA (Rich Internet Application) and game design. In the last 2 years, he has created solutions for some of Australia’s most well-known brands like Commonwealth Bank and Lexus. He is currently a level 26 Trooper in the new Star Wars: The Old Republic video game. Follow him on Twitter @garry_law. Tomorrow, he’ll guest post for us on game-making.