Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Humbled: a Review of Gemini

High-concept games impress me; I like it when my understanding of reality is enhanced by having been twisted in a particular way, as with Portal and Miegakure.

Sometimes, though, it doesn't take much for a game to be a mind-opening experience for me.

This year at PAX Prime, I came across Gemini. Drawn in by the soothing graphics, I picked up a controller at an available station.

In Gemini, your avatar is a small sparkling circle. The world is 2D. There are no apparent obstacles; just the ground, which is a line you can't fall past. The game uses all of two buttons: left bumper and right bumper.

Naturally, I moved both left and right along the ground, but I didn't seem to be making any progress. I glanced over at the other players. They were clearly able to go up. I wanted to go up, too.

After skittering along the ground for another minute, I started pressing every button on the controller in a vain attempt to start flying. Sometimes I hopped a little. One of the devs caught me button-mashing, and tapped me on the shoulder. "Those are the only controls," he said, pointing at the LB and RB icons on the screen.

Exasperated and embarrassed, I looked up at the game's poster for additional clues. I finally parsed the name, Gemini. The twins, a constellation. Wait a minute. Twins. Should I expect another player to show up?

There was a glowing bauble that appeared from time to time. I had presumed it was a part of the background. It had moved around some, but didn't seem to do anything. I had ignored it. I did recall, though, that every time I'd hopped off the ground, that bauble had been nearby. Maybe it was important, after all.

So I went back over to the little glowing orb, and sure enough, I jumped a bit. But it wasn't a real jump. Instead, I ascended somewhat unpredictably while in its proximity. With more experimentation, I found that it would follow me upwards. The bauble and I were entwined, but only just so. I couldn't get too close, or it would repel me like the wrong end of a magnet. I couldn't get too far, or we would both drift to the ground. If I kept to a certain 'Goldilocks' distance, however, I'd move upward, and it would follow me a little bit. Only together could we ascend.

I found that I had the power to fly wherever I wanted, but I could never take a direct route to get there. Gemini rejects precise, Mario-like controls. Instead, you make a butterfly-like dance across the screen with your companion orb.

When I made this realization, I had to blink back an actual tear.

You see, I'm from a WEIRD (western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic) culture. We emphasize the individual over the group more strongly than any other people in the world. The boundary I draw between myself and others is so strong that it took me several solid minutes to figure out that I even had a companion in a game called Gemini, let alone that my interactions with that companion could let me fly.

For gods' sake, I had rejected the power of flight in favor of telescoping in on the one aspect of the game I had the most control over. I was blind to the fact that my avatar could even exist as a system between a pair of entities. Consider my eyes opened, Gemini devs, and thank you.

NYU Game Center Incubator, please release Gemini soon. Every WEIRD person in the world needs to play it and be humbled.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Brewing Tea in the Office

I drink a liter or more of tea per day, and keep 15 to 30 types of tea at my desk. Over the years, this habit has taught me some tips about brewing tea using a standard hot/cold water dispenser.

Brewing tea requires specific water temperatures and precise steeping times. While you can track steeping time using your smart phone, you cannot dip your smart phone into your cup to see how hot the water is. It's easier to interpret water temperature based on how your tea turns out, then apply what you learn to future cups of tea.

Black Tea
Most black teas are best steeped in near-boiling (195-210°F) water. A typical water dispenser doesn't make water quite this hot, but it comes close. When brewing black tea in the office, swirl hot water in your mug to heat the mug first. Dump that slightly-cooled water out, then immediately add your tea ball and pour fresh hot water right onto the tea. This helps ensure the hottest possible steeping.

Oolong Tea
Oolong is easy to brew in the office; most hot water dispensers produce exactly the right temperature water for it (about 185°F). You'll want to follow the same procedure as for Black Tea, but you can get away without heating your mug first.

White Tea
While a dispenser's water is slightly too hot for white tea, that's ok! You can get the extra heat to transfer to your room-temperature ceramic mug, creating water that is the right temperature; 160-175°F. So - pour the hot water in your mug, wait until the mug is hot to the touch, then add your white-tea-filled tea ball and steep away.

Green Tea
Green tea is difficult to brew even with the right equipment. I've ruined many a cup! Here's one way to avoid overcooking those delicate leaves in the office:
  1. Put your green tea in a tea ball in your room-temperature ceramic mug.
  2. Pour COLD water into your mug until it is about 1/6 or 1/5 full. Learning exactly how much cold water is right for your mug and your tea may take a few tries.
  3. Swirl the cold water around the tea ball, soaking the tea. This helps protect the tea against the near-boiling water you're about to add.
  4. Pour HOT water into the mug, filling it the rest of the way, making sure to aim the stream of water away from the tea ball.
  5. The green tea should now be sitting in roughly the correct temperature water (around 150°F, plus or minus). Remember to not oversteep.
These postings are mine alone, have not been reviewed or approved by any employer or company, and do not necessarily reflect the views of anyone but me.