March 17, 2010

Advice for budding game developers

Posted: 03:20 PM ET
Uncharted 2 wins 2009 Game of the Year
Uncharted 2 wins 2009 Game of the Year

So you want to design a video game?

One way to break into the field is to customize existing games like Sim City, where users can create your own clothes and change various gaming mechanics. 

That was the advice from Shanna Tellerman of when I asked her about entry-point recommendations for someone who is interested in creating video games but lacks a computer-programming background. 

Tellerman participated in a South by Southwest Interactive panel designed to share unique approaches for game creation accessible to anyone. The panel was one of many gaming-related events at the festival, which ended Tuesday.

Between console games, online games and social-networking games such as FarmVille, there are more computer games and genres today than ever before.  But why would an ordinary person without a gaming or computer background want to design their own independent game? 

Michael Agustin from says games are important for teaching and sharing meaning. "Creating games for parents allows them to take an active role in the context of the games their kids play, and to be more involved," he said.

Video games have also been used to raise awareness for social issues or to aid victims during natural disasters.  They are educational tools, but let's not forget that games are also meant to be fun.

Designing the next World of Warcraft or best-selling app for the iPhone might be a bit of a reach for most newbie game designers.  Game developer Adam Saltsman, or 'Atomic Adam' as he's known in the gaming world, tells beginners to become familiar with Gamemaker from YoYo Games. 

"It offers great resources with community support and is visually easy to get into," said Saltsman, who believes game creators shouldn't aim for mobile platforms in the beginning but instead focus on designing for the Web. 

Saltsman, whose Canabalt game was an Internet sensation last year, says Web-based game design is generally much easier to maneuver than mobile platforms because many mobile devices are not Flash enabled.  Eventually designers can move to mobile, he said.

Tellerman suggests that budding game programmers look for 24 hour 'game jams', weekend events where groups of designers collaborate on dynamic game-development projects.  "It's mostly simple games being built, but the process and experience is a great value," Tellerman said.

All of the South by Southwest Interactive panelists agreed that would-be game creators should spend a lot of time experimenting on their own time. After all, Tellerman said, some of the most successful independent game developers lacking formal computer-programming educations.

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Filed under: Gaming • SXSW • SXSWi • video games

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How to be cool (and not uncool) on Foursquare

Posted: 10:15 AM ET

Many of you are active users on Foursquare. More of you have at least heard of Foursquare. And the rest of you are probably just annoyed by your friends posting updates from Foursquare.

Foursquare is a very rapidly growing social network allowing users to “check-in” and share their location with their friends. There is also a gameplay component, drawing a page from the original four square game’s book; users collect badges and become “mayors” at spots they frequent. Its been lauded as this year’s Twitter by Mashable’s Pete Cashmore, and was certainly the talk of the town at SXSWi this year, a tech conference in Austin, Texas.

There are several ways you can be cool and more importantly not uncool on Foursquare. Here are a few tips and guidelines for being cool. (Full disclosure, I am an avid badge hound, and am moderately guilty of one or two of these myself.)

1. It’s all about Serendipity, baby
To me, Foursquare is all about serendipity. It’s all about discovering that my friends are at the same place as me … or that I just missed them. Or discovering how much you can learn about a friend by the types of places they frequent (and sometimes wanting to join them). It’s about battling out a friend or a foursquare nemesis for a mayorship of your local bar.

2. Don’t check in if you’re not there
As previously mentioned, Foursquare is about the serendipitous moment of discovering you’re at the same place as your friend. If you check in somewhere you’re not - either to catch up on a place you were earlier in the day or (more nefariously) to try to win a mayorship - that’s just not cool. Just let it happen naturally. You’ll become a mayor soon enough. If it’s a place you hit often, you’ll check in there again.

3. Don’t do drive-bys
Don’t check in when you’re dropping off the dry cleaning or picking up some cash from the ATM. Where’s the fun in that? And who really wants to be mayor of the gas station anyway? Check in at places where you really are and your friends have chances of finding you (see point #1). And while I’m at it, check in when you arrive somewhere, not when you’re leaving so you can increase those chances of serendipity.

4. Don’t check in at work or home
It’s just not cool. Of course you’re the mayor of your house. If you’re not, then you’ve got a real problem. And for work: You’re supposed to be at your job every day; I don’t need Foursquare to tell me you’re there. Reserve Foursquare for the places you can bump into people by happenstance. Its much more fun that way (plus, your boss can’t track how late you are to work).

5. Don’t ignore real people who you’re with
This could have been rule number one. If you’re too busy fiddling with your iPhone when you meet up with your friends for drinks after work, you might have to really start using Foursquare to find new friends. Don’t ignore the people in front of you for the avatars in your pocket. As I’ve discovered, becoming a “mayor” usually does not impress them.

6. Friend your friends
With Foursquare, if you’re doing it right, you’re telling people exactly where you are. I generally like to reserve that for people I actually know. I’m not saying I’m important or interesting enough to have a stalker, but I still don’t really want people I don’t know to know my precise location.

The exception, however, is for the Foursquare users whose paths you keep crossing. You might discover someone new you’ve got something in common with who could be a new (real) friend. But still, at least buy me a drink first.

7. Think twice about broadcasting an activity
Speaking of your friends, before you start tweeting or broadcasting your Foursquare activity to Facebook, think about all your friends who really don’t care you just became the mayor of your grocery store. While you’re earning your overshare badge, you might be losing some followers on Twitter.

8. Add a tip or a to-do
Add a tip for the places you frequent and know a lot about. That could really help the people who might not know your area as well. Plus, it helps built Foursquare street cred and gets you to superstar status faster.

So there you have it: Eight simple tips from some random, opinionated Foursquare user. I might have just set a record for use of the word serendipity. But if everyone followed these rules, the world would be a better place … or at least I would get to enjoy Foursquare a little bit more.

But of course, some of the same rules can also apply across some of the other location-based social networks like Gowalla or Yelp (and maybe even Facebook soon). What do you think? What are your rules for Foursquare?

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Filed under: Foursquare • SXSWi

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March 16, 2010

No 'suits' allowed at SXSW

Posted: 08:07 PM ET

You see plenty of tech company founders and CEOs at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas – many of them building empires at the age of 20.

But you don’t see very many "suits."

In fact, the prototypical SXSW executive probably looks more like a hipster than a businessman – sporting jeans, some trendy t-shirt and striped sneakers.

And, to make things all the more bizarre, you might even stumble upon one of them writhing around the floor of the Hilton lobby, as I did this year at the annual tech convention.

(This video will make it all make sense).

The executive, who was fully embracing the non-square nature of SXSW, was Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley. I spotted him in a spontaneous backstroke competition across the hotel lobby floor at 2:30 in the morning.  And, no, there wasn’t a swimming pool involved.

Danny Newman of id345, an idea consulting firm, defeated Crowley in the match.  He told me I had witnessed an annual tradition, already in its fifth year.  Newman excitedly said that he remains undefeated in the contest.

He also said the backstroke-swimming execs have been kicked out of the lobby in previous years.

Not this year, though.  Perhaps Crowley and his buddies have earned enough street cred in Austin to ‘check in’ to any hotel here and do whatever they want.  Isn’t that how rock stars act?

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Filed under: Foursquare • location • SXSW • SXSW Interactive • SXSWi

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March 14, 2010

SXSW: Vote on ideas for a better digital future

Posted: 02:03 PM ET

Three people with cult followings online have been asked to choose ideas they think will change the way the Web works. And each is competing for a $50,000 prize to get that idea up and running.

It is part of Pepsi’s Refresh Project, where the company is giving away $20 million to people with great ideas during 2010.

Here are the ideas. Let us know what you think. You can chime in with comments below, and vote for your favorite idea on Twitter, as part of the Pepsi campaign.

Foursquare meets Craigslist

Adam Ostrow, editor of the technology blog, is supporting Brian Milner who wants to build something to help people in need connect with people who can help (Foursquare meets Craiglist).

Stories of the homeless

Digital guru Gary Vaynerchuk is the founder of Wine Library TV. He is supporting Mark Horvath who runs InvisiblePeople.TV, an organization that shares the stories of the homeless throughout the U.S.

Virtual food bank

Melissa Garcia, also known as Consumer Queen, is a prominent mommy blogger. She is supporting Sandy Jenney who plans to use the $50,000 to build a virtual food bank where people can donate food online.

The voting ends midnight on Monday. Each of these influential online personalities is encouraging their community to vote via a hash tag: #RefreshMashable, #RefreshGary, #RefreshCQ. The hashtags will be tallied and a winner will be announced on Tuesday.

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Filed under: SXSW • SXSW Interactive • SXSWi • Twitter

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SXSW: Microsoft Surface,, FunMail and HuddleHub

Posted: 01:23 PM ET

The South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival, which is known for being one of the preeminent events for introducing tech innovations, began this weekend in Austin, Texas. More than 100 cutting-edge interactive businesses set up shop along an exhibit hall floor here, in an attempt to attract attention from tech insiders. I braved the large crowds and product pitches to check out what some of the coolest emerging technologies.

Here are four products that most caught my eye:

Microsoft Surface:

What is it? Multi-touch technology that enables users to interact with their digital content on a tabletop surface without a keyboard or mouse.

Microsoft Surface responds to natural hand gestures and real-world objects, helping people interact with digital content in a simple and intuitive way. Think 'Minority Report' meets the CNN Magic Wall on a beautiful table setting.

During a demonstration of prototype software, a tablet reader was rested on the tabletop while magazine content was dragged over from the Surface tabletop to the users' account with a flick of the finger. Microsoft Surface is currently geared for commercial and developer use, but could be marketed for consumers in the near future. It features an open API which allows developers to build apps to work with the product.

What is it? A personal identity management Web site that allows users to combine social network profiles onto the same page for a "unified online presence." provides a clean interface for curating and showcasing your Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr and other feeds into a 'one-stop digital storefront.'  If you've longed for a home worth showcasing your many online wares (personal homepages, lifestreaming, splash and microsites, celebrity fan pages, commercial promotion, brand marketing and everything in between), this could be the tool for you. offers free basic service and a premium package ($20 annual) which includes your own web domain name.


What is it? For users interested in adding a little visual spice to their messages, FunMail from FunMobility is a next-generation visual messaging platform that attaches multimedia to your text, tweet or status update.

FunMail uses a learning technology that gets smarter about making insightful connections between imagery and language every time a FunMail is sent. When I typed in "Hated losing an hour of sleep this morning," for Daylight Savings, for example, the search engine found images of people lying in bed, dogs asleep on couches and one very close up shot of a toothbrush.  I chose the toothbrush.

FunMail is currently available for iPhone and Android devices as well as online.  The company hopes to offer a Blackberry version soon.  Just in time for South by Southwest Interactive the company has released FunTweet, a Web service that turns any Twitter stream into visual messages. There's also a Facebook app.


What is it? An online management tool for people who 'own' multiple fantasy sports teams.

If you're a fantasy sports geek like me, then you'll want to check out HuddleHub. The service, which just launched, promises to aggregate your player updates, provide live sports and fantasy updates via web and mobile, and - here's where it gets fun - a recommendation engine for advice on player personnel moves via algorithms.  Just imagine taking some of the guess work out of that pending blockbuster fantasy trade.

I asked the company founder if there were any assurances this tool would provide me the competitive edge to earn championship trophies in my future fantasy sports league endeavors. He said it should help, but made no guarantees.

The Web version of HuddleHub is free and available now.  HuddleHub expects to release an iPhone version in June.

What do you think of these products? Let us know in the comments.

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Filed under: Microsoft Corp. • social-networking sites • SXSW • SXSW Interactive • SXSWi • technology • Twitter

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