Archive for January, 2010

Gensoft Kitchen Alliance

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

When I submitted my project proposal for my class this quarter, I was afraid of two things: 1) that the proposal would not get approved, and 2) that if approved, since the professor was in charge of assigning projects to the groups, my group wouldn’t get to work on my project. 2/3 of the proposals were not approved, and some groups did in fact end up with projects not proposed by any of their members. But my group ended up with Refrigerator Fairy, so I guess I got lucky there.

But when we started interviewing people and discussing among ourselves, it became clear that the Refrigerator Fairy concept was fundamentally flawed.

The idea of Cirno (or another famous character) being a mascot that would guide and reward you was not received well by the people we interviewed or by the other members of the group. They likened it to the talking paper clip that appeared in older versions of Microsoft Office – an annoyance that people turned off at first opportunity.

Admittedly, I, and possibly half of my blog’s readers, would let the Microsoft Office assistant stay if it had Cirno’s likeness and gave us a new comic to read whenever we completed a document. But this hinges greatly on us liking Cirno, and none of the people in our study even knew who Cirno was, much less why she was so awesome. Supporting enough characters to appeal to a wide section of users was not viable, and the very idea of altering your behavior in order to be rewarded by a fictional character is foreign and even distasteful to people who aren’t comic-reading, dating-sim-playing fanboys like us.

Also, the name “Refrigerator Fairy” did not go over well at all. One of my groupmates said he wouldn’t buy our product if it had “fairy” in the name, and one of the people we interviewed said he preferred a character that represented him rather than some premade character.

The other important thing we realized from our interviews was that people cook for other people. One of my group members referred to his wife as a “slave of the kitchen”, who didn’t want to cook but had to, in order to feed her children. One of our interviewees cooked regularly but was spontaneous in her choice of food. She only brought out the big guns – searching for creative recipes, planning ahead, and spending longer than usual in the kitchen – for the times she was having guests.

Another of our interviewees complained how much harder it was to cook now that he and his wife had gotten divorced – cooking for one person meant that you had to eat the same thing several days in a row. Also, buying enough ingredients to, say, make an apple pie only for yourself, usually meant buying more raw materials than you needed and not knowing how to use them up. He also said that he wanted to talk to people about ingredients and recipes, and usually those people were nowhere to be found.

Yet another interviewee came from a family of professional cooks – her mother and brother were both chefs, and she cooked to show that she was “worthy to be a member of the family”. She regularly asked her mother and brother for advice when cooking, and would try new and exciting things in order to impress them.

Perhaps the most impressive is what happened after the interviews: myself and a member of our group decided to try out cooking for ourselves, inspired by watching our interviewees shop and cook. I tried to figure out a use for some spice and fried rice seasoning packets my roommate left in my house when she moved out over a year ago. And my classmate tried to make his own grilled sandwich instead of buying one at the store.

It’s commonly known that cooking brings people together, but what is not immediately obvious is that when you bring people together, cooking happens. And that’s why Refrigerator Fairy evolved into a community networking application.

Introducing Kitchen Alliance. Now with fewer Toho references.


Rabbit season

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Stage 5 was easier than Stage 4. It was still viciously hard and required over 250 tries before I achieved consistent no-life-loss clears, but that’s less than the 350 it took on Stage 4. Also, I expended fewer of my spells on average on Stage 5 and could actually capture the bonus last spell if I got lucky, unlike Final Spark which I could never capture in all those runs. Maybe there is some truth to the rumors of the bunnies only being good for their sex appeal.

Here’s me clearing Stage 5 using one spell and taking no hits except from the bonus Last Spell that doesn’t reduce your life.

Of course, when I’m not in practice mode and running through the game starting with Stage 1, my clears aren’t quite as pretty, but I still manage to start the final stage with 4 life and a couple spells left. I die to Erin almost instantly, but I’m guessing a few hundred practice runs should increase my survival rate.

Just one stage left. Beating a Toho game (admittedly, the easiest of the Toho games) on Normal without continues doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore.

Onward! Erin awaits!

Sakuya’s lecture on PADS

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

Click for larger image

Greetings. My name is Sakuya Izayoi, and I am the chief maid of the Scarlet Mansion.

The Scarlet Mansion is known throughout Gensokyo for its vast library, consisting of kilometers of dusty bookshelves made to fit into a smaller space by dimensional manipulation.

However, a large part of the library’s knowledge is not contained within the books or within its aptly named librarian, but within electronic storage. Physical books are still necessary because certain magic spells need a physical object to be bound to, but electronic storage does a better job of cramming information into a small space than dimensional magic ever can.

The electronic storage of the Scarlet Mansion contains a catalog of every physical book in the library, research data generated by the Kappas of Youkai Mountain, feeds from the many dimensional gaps opened by the Yakumo house, a certificate from every soul passing before the Yama’s throne for judgment, a record of all donations received by the Hakurei shrine (a file less than 1 MB in size), and more. Some of this data is in relational databases or XML files and is easy to search and organize, but some of it is not.

And that’s where PADS comes in.


On bad user interfaces

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

The class I’m taking this quarter is called “Human-Computer Interaction”, which is essentially about user interface design. There isn’t any actual code writing until the 8th week of the class (the class runs for 10 weeks). This week’s assignment was about designing a control panel for a copy machine and building the control panel out of index cards. I had originally planned to do a post on PADS, but the copy machine assignment ran too long. I don’t know if it’s just me, but planning, and building the user interface was a horrible struggle, and despite the effort put into it, testing it with random people was embarrassing as they got confused with and/or pointed out the weaknesses of the design. Guess I won’t be so quick to complain about hard-to-use user interfaces in the future.


Refrigerator Fairy

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

I don’t know if people would be interested in me blogging about my grad school classes, but if the great KirbyM can make it interesting with Toho, maybe I can do it too, on a smaller scale. And even if the posts aren’t popular, it’s better than going on hiatus until summer, I think.

This week we have my project proposal for Refrigerator Fairy, an iPhone application that serves as a portable moe-enhanced shopping list and recipe database search, aimed at getting busy people to cook more. Refrigerator Fairy stars Cirno and (bizarro) Kaguya, and you can view the full 1.75 MB PDF document here.

Join me again next week for my thoughts on the colloquium lecture on Processing Arbitrary Data Streams (PADS for short). Let’s see if you can guess which perfect and elegant Toho character will be featured.


Friday, January 1st, 2010

Technically, my condominium homeowner’s association prohibits fireworks on New Year’s.

Fortunately, fake fireworks are fine.

Going from Stage 3 to Stage 4 of Imperishable Night is supposedly when the difficulty (at least for beginners on Normal mode) goes from “hard” to “I hope you like pain”. This run of Stage 4 is not perfect, but I’m more proud of this than my Stage 3 perfect clear. Although I know this is a small feat by the standards of those who can play on Lunatic mode, it’s still an achievement unlocked by many hours of practice.

Approaching 300 tries on Stage 4 as Sakuya and Remilia and still not consistently getting past Reimu, I gave up and decided to play as Reimu instead. This helped me realize why Reimu is the main character and why her partner, Yukari, is considered the most powerful being in Gensokyo. The smaller hitbox, the longer reaction time to prevent damage with a spell whenever you get hit, the homing attacks, and the spells that wipe the screen clean (unlike Sakuya’s) just make life so much easier. Add that to the fact that when you’re Reimu, you don’t have to fight Reimu in stage 4 and instead fight the less stressful Marisa (in my opinion), I could consistently clear this stage with little or no life loss after only 350 practice runs.

Next is Stage 5. It’s rabbit season.