All posts by secondtruth

Catch me on Twitch!

Cross-posted from Tap-Repeatedly.com:

I can’t always find time to write long essays about games. I’m often busy playing them!

I figured I’d go ahead and share that gameplay with all of you, so I re-invigorated my Twitch stream. I haven’t streamed since Extra Life several years ago, so I’m shaking off the dust.

Check my channel out at http://twitch.tv/litagemini

My plan for the forseeable future: to stream CRPGs on Monday night, and shooters or team games Friday nights, time permitting. So, on Mondays for a while, please come watch me play Torment: Tides of Numenera, if you want to see the game! Keep in mind that, a) there will be spoilers, of course, and b)  the game is very text heavy. On Fridays, provided I’m not traveling or at a conference, you can watch me be pretty terrible at Overwatch. Hooray!

Also in the works: we’re starting a local Dungeons & Dragons game, and we’d like to livestream it as much as possible. More details as this unfolds, but you might be able to catch character creation and D&D plotting this upcoming Sunday afternoon.

While my channel is offline for the rest of the week, watch my friend Elli at https://www.twitch.tv/elliface. She’s the one showing me the ropes where it comes to making a Twitch stream go, and is an awesome streamer with a good variety of regular content! (We’re playing D&D at her place.)

Oh, and… if neither of those are happening, I guess you could watch the Power Rangers.

See you tonight, starting at around 8:00 PM EST, and going until I feel too sleepy to keep it up (around 12 AM).

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Email the author of this post at aj@Tap-Repeatedly.com.

Making Makoto’s Black Dress

This last weekend I went to the Sailor Moon Silver Millennium Masquerade Ball! It was an event in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Sailor Moon, with formal costumes, drinks, dancing, and moonlight. We enjoyed the event very much. But what does someone wear to something like this? Well…

I wanted to do a “canon” gown from the Sailor Moon manga, show, or art. My favorite character is Makoto, or Sailor Jupiter, and I have cosplayed her before in her regular Sailor Senshi outfit. (You might think that a geek girl who likes computers would be all about Sailor Mercury. I do like her, but Sailor Jupiter is the awkward girl who is a hard kung fu badass on the outside, but a sweet romantic on the inside. Plus she loves to cook! So I love her to bits.) I knew I wanted to do something Jupiter-inspired. After examining my options, I thought about doing the green gown… but, I polled my friends, and we had never seen anyone attempt Makoto’s black gown, which Jupiter wears in the Sailor Moon Super S series. The episode is actually about a date going pretty badly for Makoto, but… I figured for a real date, it would be pretty charming. Plus, I’m kind of into the whole “girl falls for the villain” thing anyway. Sorry, not-sorry.

So I made up my mind to create this dress.

For the last year and change, I’ve been taking sewing lessons at the JoAnn Fabrics in Downingtown. I must give my thanks for this to the incredible Denise, who is the instructor there who helps with the “Sew What” classes. She will allow someone to bring in basically any project and she’ll give guidance on how to make the outfit come to life. She is a big help with teenage cosplayers and helped me make my first from-scratch cosplays, as well as this gown!

Whenever I’m ready to create a new cosplay, the first thing I do is pin a bunch of views to my Pinterest. In this case, screenshots of the dress available on-line, and a very nice rendition done on DeviantArt, were my main clear references for the costume.

Looking at the pictures of the dress in the anime, I thought black velvet would be the most dramatic for the real dress. After looking at the options available at hand, I picked the pattern McCalls M7320, View C, to make this dress.  It has a slightly longer train than the ‘canon’ dress, but I liked the effect of this. Changing the skirt bottom would be simple enough though if you wanted a shorter train on the gown. The dress does have some seams up the front. Sewing these on didn’t interfere much with the design and gave the dress some much-needed structure and fitting help. I made just a couple of small changes: one, I sewed some bra cups into the top of the dress to help out with some support, and, two, I had to create and sew on the little off the shoulder straps on either side. Other than that, the dress itself was pretty much the same as in the pattern!

The biggest challenge of this was the rose applique. To plan it, I took the art of the rose, and shifted it to grayscale, then blew it up in Photoshop. It took some trial and error to get the rose the right size. Once I had the size I liked, I printed it out on multiple pieces of paper which I taped together. I used 2/3 of a yard of red satin, and 2/3 yard of light purple satin. I had quite a bit of purple left over, but I was okay with that since it did give me some chance to make mistakes. You could probably get away with a bit less if you placed leaves carefully before cutting out.

Since getting the size of the rose right was a challenge, I’ll provide my final pattern for if you want to try it yourself. (Link to it in my public OneDrive.) I laid all the pieces out on to the fabric, and cut out interfacing in the same shape as the pieces. I used 805 weight fusible interfacing to back the satin. The first step is to iron the interfacing on the “wrong” side of the fabric, then cut the shape as precisely as you can. Finally, peel the paper back of the interfacing off. The interfacing will add stiffness to the fabric so it won’t lose its shape during the embroidery process. And it’s fusible on both sides as well for placement.

For embroidery, I had three colors of thread: pink for the rose petals, dark purple for the leaves, and a light purple embroidery thread to match the light purple on the leaves, which was used for the stems. Using my printout as a guide, I first lined up the flower shape where I wanted it, and ironed it onto the velvet fabric (carefully, since velvet is easy to wreck with too much heat). After that, I used tailor’s chalk to trace on the patterns of the petals. Then I used my sewing machine on an embroidery stitch, and carefully followed the lines that I drew! This was time consuming, and I didn’t get it exactly perfect, but I was pretty happy with the way it turned out.

From there, I started first with the leaf that overlaps the rose, since its placement was most critical. Again, I ironed it on first, then sewed it on, this time with the dark purple thread. Then I used my template to carefully lay out all the remaining leaves and sew each one in place.

To make the stems, I put a paper backing under the dress, and again traced the lines I needed onto the dress with chalk. I mostly did this freehand, using the template and eyeballing the right placement for the swirl at the bottom, as well as connecting all the leaves and the rose itself. The paper backing peels off when sewing is complete. And the pattern was done!

To make the shoulder straps, we measured around the shoulders, and cut four strips of velvet with a “peak” on each one. I sewed stiff interfacing onto the inside of all four strips to make sure the sleeve pieces had enough body to stand up on their own. They don’t add any structure to the dress and just sort of hang there. But they look nice!

I’d say the one thing I ended up disliking about wearing the dress is that, even with added bra cups, it didn’t really give me much support up top. Upping my corset and bodice construction game is one skill I definitely want to work on this year in crafting. But the next time I make a ballgown, I’ll go for one that I can wear a regular bra under, for comfort reasons. My next dress is probably going to be Princess Peach!

I do have one other regret, which is that I was in the restroom when they did the “every Sailor Jupiter” group photo, and I totally missed out on it. Ugh! But there’s some photos of the ball on my Instagram. I have some professional photos coming of our final look at the ball, but in the mean time, here’s a couple snaps of the finished dress. Good luck if you try to make it yourself or something like it!

 

What Is: Microsoft Cognitive Services

Lately I’ve taken an interest in Microsoft’s Cognitive Services suite, and given some talks about Cognitive Services around the country. Since it makes sense to take some notes on this process, I’m going to write a couple of blog entries going through some of the services available and some sample code for people who want to try it out. Before I start doing that, I’ll just write a brief intro about what Cognitive Services are and why they’re pretty cool.

Cognitive Services used to be called Microsoft Project Oxford. Since its debut it’s expanded to include more features. This is a suite of intelligent APIs that work cross-platform to provide intelligent data such as facial recognition in images, voice recognition of speakers, and video stabilization. There’s a variety of APIs to explore here. You can access the APIs from any kind of app that you want to interface with them, though I have been coding in C# the most lately so that’s what I’ll use in examples.

You might already be familiar with Cognitive Services already if you tried out the How-Old.Net website back in May of last year. (I recall this going viral, then a big scare about if Microsoft was saving your images and violating privacy, but… the site doesn’t save your images, so don’t worry if you want to play around with it.) There’s also another favorite, the Fetch app, which is at https://www.what-dog.net/. It can recognize breeds of dog, or tell you what dog it thinks you are…

mepoodle

It thinks I’m a poodle.

You should check out all the APIs that are available and just play around. I particularly have fun with the Image Analysis. It’s pretty smart, though it’s not always a hundred percent right which is why it gives off a confidence rating whenever it analyzes a picture. What impresses me as well is it recognizes a pretty amazing variety of celebrities, including people from television and Broadway. Also, I will stealthily point out to you that it judges pictures on their Adult Content and Raciness Rating, which has lots of practical and impractical applications.

As an Interactive Fiction fan, I’m also really excited about the possibilities in the natural language understanding API. With my background, I think of it as a potential for a much better text parser for a conversational IF. I’m going to be approaching a new project from that angle.

If you want to do more than just play and use these in an app, you’ll need a Microsoft account to log in and get API keys. (It’s the “My Account” button in the top corner.) I’ll post step by step later, but if you can’t wait, you may also see me at Philly Code Camp this Saturday discussing them! Maybe see you this weekend!

Fixing A Frowny Face on the Raspberry Pi

This post is to document a weird error for posterity. But first, some background:

We’ve been working for a while on a device that uses the Raspberry Pi 2 running Windows 10. It’s neat! If you want more information about how to install Windows 10 on a Raspberry Pi 2 or 3, go here:

Windows IoT
Basically, the steps are:

  1. Get Pi
  2. Get an SD Card for the Pi
  3. Download and install Windows 10 on that SD Card
  4. Slip that card into the Pi and boot
  5. Connect your board to a network (I used wired at first, but a wireless gadget can work too)
  6. Deploy code to the board

The first few steps of getting Windows up and running are really straightforward!

But:  I encountered a problem sometimes. Folks told me it’s worth it to write this entry in case other people run into that same problem.

Windows 10 worked great for me when my Pi was plugged into the wall. However, I’m creating a device that I want to be portable, so I’m powering the Pi, and the Pi’s tiny screen, with these portable power supplies that run on AA batteries. They work great! Mostly!

RPi-battery-power-supply

However, the battery drain on the device from running an entire computer and a small monitor was more than I initially imagined. And batteries don’t die evenly. When the battery power is low, but not entirely dead, the Pi might give the impression that it’s working even if it doesn’t actually have enough juice to work. When that happens, it will start dropping off the network, not allow you to push code, and then, finally, it will lose Windows.

When that happens, you might get the dreaded Frowny Face error.

This error is very mysterious. A frowny face definitely tells you something is wrong, but it really doesn’t help you understand what.

I did find the frowny face hilarious though. My Pi is currently in a 3D printed case that has a small window, so the frowny face made it look just like Game Boy from the Captain N cartoon…

th

Sorry, I’m showing my age. I think this is also a character on Adventure Time?

adventureBMO

It’s the same character, people; it’s amazing! Only mine was, as I mentioned, frowning.

Anyway, I discovered that the problem, essentially, was that the Pi had some power, but not enough power. When it didn’t have enough juice, it wasn’t able to boot up Windows 10 after all. All it could do about this was be sad! The problem was fixed when I simply replaced the batteries in my portable power supply. I rebooted Windows, and I was able to push code again. But since it seemed like it was sort of working, I’m ashamed to admit it took me quite a while to figure out that the problem was the power supply, rather than Windows or the SD card. This is especially true because it doesn’t all fail at once. First pushing code stops working, then Windows stops working, as the power gets lower and lower. So if you do get the frowny face, don’t despair! Try getting more power and the Pi will work again.

Happy hacking!

A Health and Weight Loss Post

I know I usually write about games and tech, so forgive me: I’m going to write about something personal (with, maybe just a little about tech).

Over the past two years I’ve started taking my health more seriously and worked hard on losing some weight. Microsoft incentivizes employees to get yearly checkups. When I got my first checkup, I realized that my weight had climbed up over 200 lbs, and I was not happy about that. I don’t necessarily think that weight loss is vital for everyone’s health, but I wanted it for myself.

As of this writing I’ve lost about 50 pounds over the last two years. It’s been a gradual process. Last weekend I went out shopping, and bought some clothes that actually fit me. So this week, when I went out to see friends, the difference was more noticeable. People who haven’t seen me in a while always remark that I look very different. That’s a good feeling, but still a mixed feeling. I feel like I still have a long way to go. I will talk about my process and journey with enthusiasm to anyone who asks, so I figured I’d go ahead and put it in writing to get some of those feelings out in a more organized way.

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Fragments: Design for Mixed Reality

Anyone who knows me knows how extremely excited I was for the HoloLens, the Mixed Reality device being developed by Microsoft. When I saw the live demonstrations of the device, I knew I had to have it.

All that being said, as excited as I was about the HoloLens, I was excited about it for reasons beyond my usual. HoloLens has  tremendous potential in the fields of science, medicine, construction, education, and engineering. I was not really sure how it would fare as a gaming device, however. It seemed likely that casual games could find a home there, but could a device that overlays holograms onto the real world be home to a deep narrative experience?

Well, now I’ve played the game Fragments on HoloLens, and I am convinced.

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Helping with Your Game Dev Homework

Hi Blog!

Recently, a student (I’ll leave out details) emailed me these questions about the process of game development and how to get started. I haven’t posted since MAGfest, so I decided to answer them here too. That way anyone who is interested in answers to some basic questions can see them. I think beginners to game dev make a few assumptions that there are hard and fast answers when there often are not, especially since there are so many routes to game development. Everyone is going to give you slightly different advice, so here is mine.

I was asked:

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Thank you MAGFest!

I just returned from MAGFest in Maryland and I have had a terrific time. I am so proud to be part of the MAGES group at MAGFest and enjoy giving panels to talk about my experiences as a gamer and game creator. Plus, the music rocks!

I have a full writeup now up at Tap-Repeatedly.com, but I want to just shoot this quick entry here for anyone who found my blog via meeting me at the festival.

I have done a big update today to my Upcoming Events Calendar, so if you missed me at MAGFest or if you want to see me again somewhere else, check there to see where I’ll be next! This list isn’t final, so I may add a few more things, particularly in April as Philly Tech Week gets more planned out.

You may notice there’s a bit of a gap in March. Sadly, I will not be attending GDC this year. I’m taking the month for some needed vacation, to visit family, and to work on some other professional projects. You’ll see more video blogs from me on Channel 9 really soon! If you haven’t yet, please check out my latest on the Game Dev Show: “What Does a Universal Application Platform Mean for Game Devs?”