Switching over to WordPress

Hello! I’ve decided to switch my blog over to Word Press from Tumblr. I’ll still keep the Tumblr blog up though. If you would like to see older posts dating back to 2014, please visit https://katiepustolski.tumblr.com/ .

 

Featured post

Learning Some React.js

For the past month, I’ve been attending weekly code study sessions hosted by Learn Teach Code LA and Women Who Code LA, and I’ve come to realize that quite a number of other attendees have been favoring the web development space in these meetings.  Many people in particular have been practicing React.js, a JavaScript library created by Facebook for creating user interfaces. This library has become quite popular for front-end web developers over the last couple of years.

Before pursuing my masters degree, there was a time where I thought I was going to be a front-end web developer and worked with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript quite a lot. I used to create my own website designs and projects with HTML5 canvas, a couple of which are still featured on my portfolio. However, once I started USC, my focus shifted more toward developing projects with Unity and C#. After hearing so many people in the code study meetings talk about React.js, I decided to try it out myself.

Thus far, I’ve only gotten through this React Crash Course tutorial by Mosh that I found on YouTube and it did a great job at covering the basics. He also introduced some new concepts from JavaScript ES6 that I didn’t know of. I’m still not to the point where I’m ready to branch away from instruction and create my own content, but it’s a start. I also learned some new things about Visual Studio Code, which has now become my preferred code editor over Visual Studio Community.

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Next up I plan on following a React.js tutorial I found on LinkedIn Learning. I might start that one later on today actually. Did you know that Lynda.com is now LinkedIn Learning? I didn’t know that until a week or two ago.

Sky: Children of the Light

I first saw that Sky was released on one of my social media feeds last week and I was pumped to experience what thatgamecompany had been working on for the last several years. At the time I downloaded it, the game must’ve just been released on the Apple App Store since their page only had one review on it. I jumped into it not knowing what to expect, though based on previous thatgamecompany titles, I knew that I was in for a beautiful experience.

What Is It?

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Sky is a social adventure game where you explore areas and find spirits along with other players in an beautifully enchanting world. Cooperation with others is highly encouraged and key for exploring some of these areas. Like in Journey, players remain anonymous and characters are robed, androgynous figures. When accepting a friend request, you may nickname your friend too. These nicknames are not shared with the other player and provide a way for you to keep track of them. I personally like naming my friends after pokémon.

Finding spirits unlocks different emotions and expressions that may be used to communicate with others players. It also helps with unlocking different areas to explore. There are options to chat with another player as well, but this option is restricted to benches and after reaching a certain friendship level with a friend.

Different hairstyles, clothing, and even instruments can be unlocked to make your character more customizable. These options can be purchased with in-game currency, and thus far I have only experienced candles (the common and easiest to gain) and hearts (the social currency given by friends). For the first few hours of playing, I thought the candles you collect were actually “love milkshakes” based on the icon in the upper left hand corner. Whoops. My bad.

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There are also special seasonal candles given to those who complete daily quests, which can be used to purchase rare outfits. Like with many other free-to-play mobile games, real-world money can be used to purchase candles and bundles as well.

Flying in this game is great fun too! Players must collect golden spirit-like figures called ‘winged light’ around the realms to level up how high they can jump, which is crucial to exploring certain areas in the game.

My Experience So Far

My first impression of Sky was “Wow, this game is beautiful!”. The aesthetic and visuals are stunning and I was taking screenshots right off the bat. The camera would always move around the character so that each one I took looked fantastic. I love this. It seems like a lot a people on the SkyGame subreddit like it as well.

The FTUE was pretty straight forward and easy for me to pick up. Since my iPhone SE screen is small,  I found the virtual joystick to be a bit clumsy at first. My thumb blocks a portion of the screen when I control my character, which is annoying. I got use to it pretty quickly though. I’m curious to know what it’s like to play on a larger device since I’m sure it would be much more comfortable. For now, I have to stick with what I got.

I’ve visited six realms so far, including the very first one with the tutorial. However, I have not been able to find all spirits in them quite yet. Each realm has a unique gimmick to it, and my favorite one is the Valley of Triumph because it requires a lot of sand – or is it snow? – surfing down hill. Super fun. The spookiest one is the Golden Wasteland with its giant centipede-like monsters. These monsters will and can hurt you if you get into their spot light. It’s dangerous to go alone here! Make a friend! Hold hands and don’t lose each other! I also heard there is a catapult somewhere in this area.

Holding hands is a new mechanic that I have not experienced in a game before, and I like the way Sky does it. Only one player can lead when holding hands, which I think is determined by who requests to hold hands in the first place. I’m not 100% sure about this and will have to pay more attention the next time I play. If you are following instead of leading, then you do not need to control your character and can watch what your friend does instead. You have to trust that your friend is leading you in the right direction. If you disagree, then simply stop holding hands and go in a different direction.

One thing I should note is that this game drains my battery like crazy and I have to make sure I plug it in while playing. It also makes my device super hot, enough for me to be a bit concerned. I’ll have to keep my play sessions to shorter busts of time.

Otherwise, I am really enjoying this game thus far and look forward to playing more!

Idle Side Projects

Have you ever started a side project and then put it on hold when something else requires your focus? Yeah, that happens to me at times. Right now I have two projects I started in the past year, but are currently sitting idle. Who knows, maybe I’ll revisit them again in the future.

Rollercoaster Tycoon UI

Rollercoaster Tycoon is a game I played a lot as a kid. I liked starting with a blank map without having to worry so much about money or meeting level objectives. I had my own method to it too. I would create the food court, then move onto creating my own rollercoasters and rides while trying to get as many people into the park as possible. When I got bored of the park I made, I would pick a blank map and start all over.

At one point in the past year or so I had an urge to play it again. I downloaded the game from Steam on my desktop and was pumped to play, but immediately had some difficulty navigating the user interface. How did I do this as a kid? I remember it being so much easier back then!

I decided to eventually create my own updated version of the UI and started by putting together some wireframes of the HUD in Figma. I also worked on a couple of hierarchical diagrams of the menus to understand what went where. However, I didn’t get much further than that before going on a vacation to visit family and focusing on other life happenings at the time.

Purchasing things

Tower Defense Study

I wrote about this one in my blog before I switched over to WordPress. I was inspired by a Warcraft III mod called Wintermaul that I played when I was younger. This was a multiplayer tower defense game where you had to destroy waves of enemies before they reached a ship at the bottom of the map.

I wanted to create a single player version of this gameplay and eventually got a very hack-y version working in Unity. I don’t remember why I stopped working on it last summer, but it’s worth revisiting at some point.

How it’s played

There are two alternating states in the game, build and attack. Build mode allows the player to build “buildings” (orange blocks) anywhere in the lane for a set about of time. In attack mode, the buildings attack the “enemies” (red cubes) with arrows (blue spheres) as they make their way down the lane to the green bar. Enemies may also attack and destroy the buildings if they can’t find a path to their destination. Gold is gained by killing enemies and used to build more buildings. Every time an enemy gets to the green bar, the number of lives decreases and if the number of lives hits zero, the game ends. If all enemies are destroyed in attack mode, the game continues by switching back to build mode and increasing the health of the next wave of enemies.

Previous posts about this project from my tumblr blog:

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Pet Adoption App UI

I woke up yesterday with a spur of the moment idea for a pet adoption app and sketched out a few wireframes in my notebook. I then spent a good chunk of my Sunday working on it in Figma. The two frames you see above are the most polished from yesterday.

I was looking at bestfriends.org ‘s adoption pages for reference. And yes, Cabbage is an actual dog up for adoption. However, the picture of the husky is not him. He actually looks like a “Labrador Retriever / German Shepherd Dog / Mixed“. The pictures I used are from pixabay.com.

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Icon Credits

Icons are all from thenounproject.com.

  • Female – Created by Ryan Canning
  • Male – Created by Ryan Canning
  • Location – Created by Saifurrijal
  • Bookmark – Created by Bhuvan
  • Home – Created by Braja Omar Justico
  • Search – Created by Braja Omar Justico
  • Back Arrow – Created by Bhima
  • Exit – Created by Aybige

 

A useful book for women in the tech industry

Women In Tech by Tarah Wheeler has a lot of useful tips for women both within or about to enter the tech field. It touches on topics such as networking, starting your own company, and salary negotiation.

Actually, this is the second book I’ve read that discusses salary negotiation, the first being What Color Is Your Parachute 2018 by Richard N. Bolles. Both Women In Tech and Parachute agree on certain negotiation tactics such as never being the first to give a number and negotiating benefits. However, I find it interesting how the examples they provide for responding to tactics differ greatly in tone. For example, if the employer asks you to name a number first, Wheeler suggests responding with:

“The salary you offer me tells me a lot about this company, and I think it’s really important for me to have that information so I can compare you with my other offers… I’m happy to give you some time; why don’t I follow up with you tomorrow if I haven’t heard your offer by then? I know it can take some time to get the i’s dotted” (pg. 64)!

In contrast, Bolles responds to the same topic with:

“Well, you created this position, so you must have some figure in mind, and I’d be interested in first hearing what that figure is” (pg. 88).

I’m personally more inclined to Wheeler’s example. Even when first reading Bolles’ response, I found it came off as a little too aggressive for me to use. I’m not going to go down the “aggression/swagger may be seen as a positive attribute in men, but often a negative attribute in women” rabbit hole, but Wheeler does touch on the topic in her book.

Women In Tech also features a number of inspiring stories from other women in the tech world. Each of their chapters tells their story, where they come from, and how they became interested in tech. I found them incredibly compelling since I love hearing about this stuff.

Now that I finished reading this book, I’m going to re-read How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I read it back in college, but the name has been popping up around me a lot recently. It’s probably time for me to revisit it.

Cuphead

The first time I heard about Cuphead was at E3 a couple of years ago. A friend and I were passing by the Microsoft booth when I got a glimpse of the iconic rubber hose animation style on one of the monitors. I didn’t get to play it since there seemed to be a line of people waiting to try it out, but the game was memorable enough simply by watching to make a lasting impression.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I bought the game for my Nintendo Switch as a birthday gift to myself. I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, but after the first couple of boss fights, I feel like I got a pretty good understanding of the game.

There are two main kinds of levels;  boss battles and run and guns. These levels are necessary to complete in order to unlock new areas of the world map and move forward. Boss battles are not a walk in the park, even in simple mode. They require a cycle of playing, learning the bosses attacks, dying, and starting all over again to move only a little bit further. You have three HP to get through the entire battle, so every dodge, shot and parry matters. For “Djimmi the Great”, I died thirty eight times before finally beating the boss, and that was only in simple mode. I’m not even sure if that number includes the amount of times I hit replay in the main menu.

Each boss has multiple forms that build upon another as the battle goes on. It’s a great way to track your progression through the level because each part of the battle has a consistent pattern to it no matter how many times you replay it. However, there is usually a random variable in each level that keeps you on your toes. For example in the simple version of the “Baroness von Bon Bon” level you must beat three of the Baroness’s lackeys before facing the Baroness herself, but you may not know which three out of the four possible bad guys you will be facing and in what order during each play through.

Run and gun levels are more like the traditional 2D platformer levels and are less common than the boss ones. The goal of these stages is to collect as many coins as you can while running through the level and dodging or defeating enemies. Like the boss battles, you only get three HP and go through the similar cycle of learning, dying, and trying again. The coins collected after completing these run and gun levels can be used to purchase new abilities at Porkrind’s Emporium.

There is a third kind of level, the mausoleum, that’s optional in each section of the map. These levels are more defensive and require parrying ghosts to keep them away from an urn on an alter. Completing these levels unlocks new abilities.

Although it can be frustrating at times, I am enjoying this game and curious to find out how times I die by the time I complete it. I’ll have to report back on how many it turns out to be. My prediction is around 500.

I currently don’t have a good way of grabbing the screenshots off of my Nintendo Switch without spamming my social media accounts, and so I decided to grab screenshots from some YouTube videos. The screenshots you see in this post are from videos by ZackScottGames and Boss Fight Database. 

New Project: Beer App

A few weeks ago, I walked into a bar with a friend and, after blankly staring at the drink menu for a good five minutes, realized that I knew absolutely nothing about selecting a good beer to drink. I eventually resorted to “I’ll just have what she’s having”, and felt like I could use a crash course on beers. In this moment I deeply regretted not taking the coveted “Beers of the World” course back in college.

Sometimes when I want to learn about a subject, the motivation to do so turns into inspiration to create a side project. This time was no different. I am still working on the pitch, but what I am creating is essentially an app that keeps track of the beers you drink and where friends can send recommendations to one another.

Initially the app was going to be about general drink journaling. I am currently using a journaling app called Daylio to track how I feel over time and wondered what a version would look like where you tracked your alcoholic beverages instead.

The idea has already evolved to a more social media-like app based off of the responses I got from a survey that I posted on Facebook a few weeks ago. Within the survey, I included not only a section on beer, but also ones on wine and spirits. Many liked to select drinks based on suggestions from others. I also found that a number of people already tracked their drinks – mostly beer – in different ways. Some friends said they use an app called Untappd while others use Google docs. A friend of mine also mentioned that they knew someone who would use Swarm checkins to review what they drank at a location.

For this project I am focusing on improving my UX/UI skills and do not plan on making an actual build for it. The end goal here is to have an interactive mock-up and I have already got a few wireframes and flows going in Figma. The next step will be to ask a few people to test the flows I created and see where they can be improved upon.

 

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Plasticity

Yesterday I finally took the time to play through Plasticity, a side-scrolling puzzle-platformer about environmental pollution and its effect on both people and animals. Created by a team of students from the University of Southern California, it answers the question “What if pollution goes too far?” and takes place in a world similar to the one featured in Disney/ Pixar’s Wall-e. However, in this take people still live on earth and must deal with living in their own trash piles. In this world children play in trash piles and micro plastics in food make people terminally sick. It reminds me a lot of how scientists have not only found microplastics in the ocean, but in the air too.

The game features a lot of environmental storytelling as well. Beached whales, flooded cities, and birds trapped in fishing nets are a real kick in the gut. There are multiple interactions with animals throughout the experience, like taking a bucket off of a puppy’s head or wrestling a piece of trash away from a stubborn seal, but there are some animals in the background that cannot be interacted with. I felt awful not being able to help them. The music and sound design also lended itself to the melancholic state of the world and story. After completing a puzzle or cleaning up some trash, the music would take a positive turn and it felt good to know I was doing the right thing. Also, the fact that there is a place called “Avalon Island” in the game resonated with me since my family use to go on vacations to Avalon, New Jersey when I was a kid.

Your interactions in the world and how much you clean your environment also affect the ending of the game. I only played through once, and got what I believe is one of the best endings. My guess if that if I ignored helping animals and recycling bottles, the world may have not changed as much after the game’s time skip. I’ll have to ask the devs just how many endings they put in.

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This game has a great message and is highly relevant to environmental discussions going on today. I highly recommend giving it a go and playing it through if you have 20 or 30 minutes to spare. It is currently available on Steam for free.

E3 2019!

E3 2019 was the fourth E3 I’ve attended in a row and this time around I was a volunteer for the IndieCade booth. I didn’t even know I was attending until last week when I was asked to fill in a few last minute volunteer shifts. Otherwise, I was free to roam around the hall and check out the show floor.

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The IndieCade Booth is the place to go at E3 if you want to experience something unique without having to wait in a long line. They had a mix of VR, mobile, physical, and PC projects this year. I was able to check out quite a few of them including Sloppy Forgeries, a game where you race against another player to create the most accurate copy of a painting before time runs out, and Too Many Cooks, an adorable multiplayer game similar to Spaceteam where you must work together to complete food orders. Other games I played were Ascend and The Last Friend. There was also a game there called Hot Swap: All Hands on Deck that had some awesome 3D printed controls. More information on the games shown at the booth this year can be found at https://www.indiecade.com/e3-2019/.

With this being E3, of course many of the booths were quite flashy. Nintendo’s booth as usual did not disappoint with Luigi’s Mansion 3, Pokemon Sword & Shield, and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. I was in Luigi’s Mansion 3 when the power surged and the lights flickered. Luckily, I got the “Thanks for Playing” screen only seconds before all of the machines rebooted. I was so close to beating the boss too.

There was a rock climbing wall in the Mario and Sonic at the Olympics Booth and I knew I just had to do it. I go bouldering every now and then with my friend, so I knew I could reach the top easily. I regret not eating something beforehand because in the middle of climbing I began shaking like crazy. That’s what happens if you exert yourself when you’re hungry and have to chug your coffee before entering the conference. That caffeine crash was not fun, but at least I got a t-shirt.

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I also got to check out the Unreal Garden, which was an AR experience with the Microsoft HoloLens. I’m 100% sure that Avatar was an inspiration. It was the first time that I tried out a HoloLens and It was quite difficult for me to experience the garden with the device. Like with most VR and AR head pieces, it didn’t seem the most optimized for those with glasses. I was having a lot of trouble at first and had to hold the head piece up most of the time. Otherwise, it was pretty cool.

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I spent most of my time in the West Hall, but did eventually venture over to the South Hall where there was a massive Fortnite booth. Thank you for the free food by the way. It served as my lunch on Wednesday. I had a friend working the Doom booth, though I was only able to get a quick hello and goodbye with her since she was working. The Lego Star Wars: Skywalker Saga  demo looked pretty amazing. I don’t normally play lego games, but I was blown away with the detail included in this one.

That about wraps up my experience at E3 this year. Perhaps I’ll be able to attend next years as well!

 

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