So you wanna make a Flash game?

•November 30, 2006 • 2 Comments

Since the birth of the telegraph, the progression of technology has surpassed all expectations. Like never before we have access to information at the click of a button. In this world of instant gratification, the hands that feed us tend to dictate when and how we receive our daily fix. Being a firm believer of media serving its own agenda, the complications faced during my final project were more than disappointing. They were restricting.

We have all walked by a “Do Not Enter” sign and clearly understood its intentions, but something’s just don’t make any sense. Like limitations on services we pay for. Why should I have to wait for them to work out the kinks? Especially when I know the kinks were put there purposely.

My final project (chosen by Moi) was to develop a very simple Flash game and to load it on to a flash-enabled cell phone. For those of you who are not up to date with all the hub-bub in the cellular world, allow me to fill in the gaps, since as of late I am a self proclaimed expert.

First of all, Flash, a software that allows developers to design animation, games, and other interactive content, has recently teamed up with cellular giant Verizon wireless to introduce their new Flash enabled phones. What this means, in short, is consumers with the right equipment can download and play Flash games on their cell phones. Unlike many of its predecessors’, Flash delivers rich content over a smooth platform, making it stand out from the rest.

Flash, which is now owned by Adobe, recently introduced its new roll out of flash-enabled cellular devices on October 25, 2006 in a worldwide press release. The goal is to capture the market of emerging technologies in
North America before the competition does. Here is what vice president and chief marketing officer for Verizon Wireless John Stratton had to say, “At Verizon Wireless we recognize that an exciting and simple to use mobile experience will accelerate customer adoption of new data services now offered across our network. Our relationship with Adobe will help us deliver a rich, seamless and branded experience across mobile devices and at verizonwireless.com” (Stratton, Adobe.com, pg.1).  This translates into setting the tone for the competition and fattening Verizon’s wallet. As told to me by a Verizon wireless representative, “Verizon is trying to cushion its existing users while attracting new subscribers from their competition.”  I have to admit it’s brilliant.
 Only two other mobile carriers offer this type of technology, DTT DoCoMo and KDDI, both based out of
Japan. In comparison to mobile phone culture in
Japan, we are slow adapters. The mobile phone industry is booming and also a huge part of Japanese culture, mainly among teens. The mobile phone serves a wide variety of purposes for people of
Japan. Through their 3G service they can purchase drinks and snacks at vending machines, get detailed maps of buildings, and enjoy lightening fast downloads through the power of i-mode. Cell phones play such a big role that specialized clothing is on the market designed with custom pockets to carry mobile devices. In
Japan the mobile revolution is much more than fun and games, it is a necessary part of life.
 

During my project, I expected some hiccups but I was no where near prepared for the ride I was about to embark. Being a product of the 80’s, I grew up in what I remember as a very colorful and animated time. I would watch marathons of cartoons while drawing and coloring the images that raced through my mind.  As a kid, I was fascinated with the art of animation. Coming from a graphic design background, learning Flash has always been a goal of mine. I figured what better way to learn the software than to throw myself into a Flash project. With the help of the Element K tutorials from Quinnipiac, and the mighty thick Flash book I bought, it wasn’t so bad. The game I made is a spin off of one I remember playing eons ago. My initial choice would have been something much more advanced like Donkey Kong. Unfortunately, due to my novice nature, I had to settle for simple and attractive. Even though there were minor bumps in the road during development, the big challenge arose with delivering the content.  Now keep in mind, Adobe’s website plays a big role in contributing to confusion. The website does a good job sticking to some web standards but lacks big time in the navigation department. For some reason, it is easy to get confused about where you saw what, even though they use breadcrumb trails. I had a hard time remembering where certain pieces of information were and caught myself thinking way too much about where to click next. The information I was trying to gather should have stuck out like an old lady in leather chaps. Instead, I was forced to stumble from page to page trying to locate what I needed. Many times, the most logical places to click actually became the most obscure. This contributed to a lot of lost time and frustration. Obvious enough, Verizon and Adobe don’t have a good handle on this partnership what-so-ever.  

After all, it is a new venture so giving them the benefit of the doubt thus far would seem fair. Oddly enough, I see it as feeling out the playing field. Most companies, particularly computer manufactures, produce faulty products and mark them down by serial number anticipating their return just so they can meet their quota. This type of structure helps with numbers but leaves the consumer feeling cheated. This seems to be the stage Verizon is at with the Flash release. I say this because of the experience I had trying to publish my Flash game. Now to properly distribute Flash content to Flash-enabled devices one must either submit content to Verizon wireless directly or to already contracted developers approved by Verizon. This content, once tested and approved, is then given a price structure and sent through Verizon’s BREW application for distribution. BREW, Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless, is an application developed by Verizon allowing consumers to view and purchase content through their wireless phones. Such features as “Get it Now” and “V-Cast” run on this software offering users access to a variety of content from ringbones to TV shows. This is the primary application used to distribute Flash content to flash-enabled phones.  

When acquiring the information needed to complete this process, one major factor is licensing. Verizon will allow anyone to submit content for possible distribution providing you purchase the minimum of a 100 licenses for $400. Once I figured that out, this route was out of the question. Another option would be to purchase a flash-enabled device and Bluetooth the file over wireless to the phone. This seeming like the most logical option, I pursued this route.  Recently, I was able to upgrade my niece’s phone on my account. Lucky enough the phone she has been dreaming of was flash-enabled. This was perfect, except there was one little problem, her new phone doesn’t support OBEX file transfer through Bluetooth. I discovered this after the purchase of the new phone. Through several hours of investigation I came across several articles posted by angry subscribers bashing the OBEX block. From what I gathered, Verizon blocked the transfer of files through Bluetooth so customers would be forced to purchase a data cable and software.  At this point, it seemed like smart marketing. Well the data cable doesn’t work either. Come to find out file transfer is not an option on this phone. Throughout my investigation, phones which are Flash enabled do not allow file transfer and those that are do not support the Flash player. Masterfully, Verizon has covered every base to protect un-licensed content from being distributed and for good reason. Unbeknownst to me, cell phones are just as hack able as computers. Many advanced users can access secret menus and at the push of a few buttons crack codes and unlock features of the phones. This provides the hackers with access to subscription content for free; more importantly, this is major reason why Verizon is putting their foot down.  

In the midst of my dilemma, I stumbled upon an article concerning a class action against Verizon involving another phone that had Bluetooth file transfers disabled. It seems to me Verizon’s mission to deliver Flash content to
North America has put a big clog in the drain. Users want freedom not limitations. All new mobile devices should be equipped with in demand features or have an option to purchase them.
 Furthermore, Verizon’s lock down of features keeps the market in their reins so they can work out the kinks and get a grip on what the people want. In the meantime I am still searching for a solution to my problem. 

For the future, I hope a compromise that allows students, such as myself, the freedom to test a game on my phone, even if it requires a monthly fee. If the consumer feels in control the more likely they are to spend money. One thing we can expect to see in the near future is more customizable interactive content. Consumers enjoy the freedom of choices and like to participate in the process. Hey Verizon- Can you hear me now?   

Citations:

www.Adobe.com

http://www.Verizonwireless.com 

Private Parts (#10)

•November 15, 2006 • Leave a Comment

yeah that’s right it works….

Response (#9)

•November 8, 2006 • Leave a Comment

Among the obvious speculations and grandiose expectations of new media, one has to admit, it is a fairly remarkable time to be alive. The ways in which we communicate are changing ever so rapidly since the arrival of the internet. Like never before the audience is taking part in distributing media through a variety of outlets. No other form of communication has allowed the audience to become active participants in the information we soak up. “This circulation of media content- across different media systems, competing media economies, and national borders- depends heavily on consumers’ active participation (Jenkins, H pg. 3)”

The blending of old media to new media is becoming an interesting phenomenon in itself. In 2001, Dino Ignacio a high school student, posted several images of Bert, from Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie, interacting with notorious bad guys such as Bin Laden. The images were a collage of pictures depicting Bert as evil. Ignacio photo shopped several of these collages and posted them to his web site. Unbeknownst to him, this image would play a role in the quirky things that happen when blending new media with old. A publisher from Bangladesh searched the web for images of Bin Laden and came across the one with Bert and chose to use it for anti-American posters, tee shirts, and signs. Since Sesame Street is not a promenant part of the culture over their, Bert was plastered all over posing with Bin Laden. During a broadcast on CNN, The Children’s Television Workshop got hold of what was going on and immediately demanded an explanation. Long story short the boy was asked to remove the images from his site.

 

The power of the web and user driven content is bound to make several more splashes as these two Medias collide. Even though new media is heavily supplied by users, there will always be a place for old media. Between newspapers and television, there is still a large chunk of the audience that relies on them for the news. Most blogger and new media enthusiasts have the means and interest to engage in this technology as where older folks and those to busy to care may retreat to more comfortable forms of information retrieval. None the less, the more users that explore this new media the more challenges arise. As we travel this road of convergence, we are bound to witness more mishaps like those of Dino Ignacio’s. No matter how innocent it may be, boundaries will be crossed and names will be ruined until we get a better handle on this wild horse we are trying to ride. Until then, hold on tight it is going to be a bumpy ride.

 

Citations:

Jenkins, H. (2006). Introduction: “Worship at the alter of convergence” Convergence Culture.
New York: NYU Press.

Felton, E. (2004). Rip, mix, burn, sue: Technology, politics, and the fight to control digital media. Princeton University President’s Lecture Series, no. 1. 

You left your structure on your plate…Eat up! (#8)

•October 31, 2006 • 2 Comments

       

Besides the cosmic amount of varying creative individuals out there, I have always been boggled by the lack of inconsistency throughout the web. Unbeknownst to most surfers, there is a call to action going on to unite the web into a highly functional and user friendly environment. While hopping from site to site, and depending on the genre, you may stumble upon several types of structure. Most web sites completely ignore standards and conventions while others try desperately to abide. So where do we start to draw the line? How do we define where information goes and how it is perceived on the other end? Why do these protocols exist? Better yet, does anyone know the meaning of existence anyway? (Never mind that last one… I figured I could drop that in there.) The short answer is structure.

We need it to process information correctly, not to mention point out the obvious. Okay, so maybe things aren’t always obvious; that is why there are standards and conventions. These methods of structure exist to serve the immeasurable audience it conducts. Without it, the web would be a rompus room for extremely right brained creative’s’. We all know they can’t run loose or you can kiss your structure goodbye.  

Truthfully, since the introduction of the web, designers have been on a permanent free for all. This has caused a lot of confusion. The amounts of web sites in business today don’t follow standards. Some incorporate a few while others ignore them all together. There is big controversy over the best approach. Being the web, many feel that it is our artistic right to design freely. But something has to be said for cavity causing eye candy and poor navigation. Sites that have amazing visuals tend to lack in the functionality area. I propose a fusion of these two theories.

Granted, visual aesthetics and standards are on opposite ends of the spectrum, they share a common bond; creativity. In order to produce an eye catching functional site, the individuals driving it need to have a keen sense of both methods. If we can merge both methodologies, the web will become a union of best practices. Considering both demands an extreme amount of creative energy and organization, this could be the marriage to save the state of the union.

(VOTE GAY MARRIAGE…oops wrong paper)

Anyways, the individuals responsible for infiltrating this phenomenon are Information Architects. They are responsible for ensuring “the structural design of shared information environments” in addition to “the art and science of organizing and labeling Web sites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and findability” (Unknown, Hoffman, p.1).

 I couldn’t have said it better myself… no really I couldn’t, hence the quote.

Currently, defending the purpose of having an Information Architect on your squad is highly debatable. Like any new job description, people tend to push back at what they don’t understand. Let’s be honest, most of us still don’t know what “WWW” stands for. Quite frankly, it’s sad that the internet has become its own bandwagon. If you can’t ride, don’t get on and if you can, be prepared to be thrown off. The web is constantly changing with emerging new technology and social platforms that even for a veteran, keeping up can be deteriorating.

The web is designed to connect a variety of characters, like-minded or otherwise, into a massive neighborhood set in virtual reality that fits neatly underneath a slab of wood with four legs. It is quite impressive yet still has a tendency to keep others out. Not everyone can afford a computer, even though they are relatively cheaper now, let alone the internet. In some ways, it can limit itself even though it is perceived as being limitless.

None the less, Information Architects are diving into the mess that has been made. They are on a mission of restructure and findability making the web a fun and safe place to visit for anyone.  Thank the almighty being of creation, whoever or whatever that may be, for bestowing upon us this precious gift of Information Architects. With the help of this new field, structuring the web will be possible.

For now, we have to hope companies start to realize the importance of untangling this web we weave. We need to build it back up properly and expand our horizons. For tomorrow will be hard to find if they forget the site map.

Citations:

Hoffman, Allan Information Architects: Web Builders with a Sales Bent (2006)

To Plan or Not to Plan?

•October 24, 2006 • 1 Comment

People read the internet differently than they do printed material. Your web site should be an extension of your organization that examines “challenging questions about an organization, its administrative operations, the way it delivers services to its constituency, and even how it defines that constituency (Grunwald, pg.1) If you let the structure of your organization drive your web site plan your web site will be boring. There is a proper way of constructing a web site, like starting with a site specification and continuing through the steps from there. Failure to do so will result in a lackluster representation of your organization.

By establishing goals for your web site, you can expect better results. A web site is an ongoing work in progress and without proper planning of what your web site will entail can result in a flop. It is important to properly set goals for your web site since these will become the foundation of your design.  Your goals should include “specific strategies around which the Web site will be designed, how long the site design, construction, and evaluation periods will be, and specific quantitative and qualitative measures of how the success of the site will be evaluated (Lynch/Horton, pg.2) If you are not aware of your audience, relaying information effectively will become a big issue. By knowing your audience, you can structure your web site with the knowledge and expectations of your viewers. Most importantly, you need to be aware that your audience may vary from novice to expert. With this in mind, it is vital to structure your web site with the correct amount of information to accommodate your audiences’ preference.  

The hardest part of completing a web site is gathering content and making sure it has been constructed properly. During the construction process, it is important to repeatedly check each page for functionality and usability. It is also important to make sure that the links are working and a full test of the site is completed by several individuals outside of your project coordinators. This ensures that your site works and is free of errors. Not fully testing your sites functionality, HTML, links, and visuals aids will result in unplanned results. You should not market your site or post the URL until a thorough testing of your site has been completed. Another factor to consider is making sure your site is designed and coded in manageable code. It is critical to understand how your site was coded by the web developer or designer. Failing to do so can make it difficult in the future to rewrite code or read code for maintence purposes.  

The most important thing to keep in mind after your web site is complete is tracking and maintence. Keeping an eye on who visits your web site is a key factor in developing new and editing existing content. This helps keep your web site interesting and up to date. Maintaining your site is also very important. Links on your site need to be checked periodically to ensure that they are working. Just assuming they work once does not guaranntee them to work consistently. Once you build an audience it is important to keep them interested by keeping the site tidy. Moreover, don’t forget to back up your site or archive it on a secure storage device. Not doing this could result in lose of your web site and its data. Make sure to backup or archive your pages.

 Site specification is like your blueprint to your web site. Your site specification should list out everything contained within your site including an estimate of   how long it shall take to complete the site, cost, and how you will measure your success. This comes in handy to keep your project focused and with in the scope of the project.  

Citations:

Lynch/Horton,  Web Site Design Process from the Web Style Guide. 2002

http://www.webstyleguide.com/process/index.html

 Grunwald, Terry Web Site Planning 12 June 1999                                                                           http://www.techsoup.org/howto/articlepage.cfm?ArticleId=293&topicid=13

In Addition… (Response #7)

•October 24, 2006 • Leave a Comment

Since the beginning, keeping web standards has become a difficult task. The introduction of the web has spawned the feeling of new found freedom. From novice users to web site designers, web standards have been forgotten and in some case completely hacked up. Even though, there is a great deal of well developed sites that do follow web standards. Among the most common abusers of web standards are graphic designers and new comers. These violators acknowledge the various ways a web site can be constructed yet ignore learning the standards. Within any field of study there are standards. Standards hold the glue to the basic foundation of why things work the way they do. To ignore these standards, especially when building web space, you also ignore the future of your web site.

 

Contributing to this web confusion is common sense. Of course you can hack a page up and still get it to function. But does that really insure its reliability down the road? By implementing standards, the designer, guarantees the site to be easily manipulated in the future and also set the tone for good design and functionality.

 

There is an abundance of web sites out there coded out of templates. This has caused a trend with designers to edit and change the front end code of these templates. By changing the templates through CSS, designers have “…confused the concept of independent structure and presentation” (Bowman, pg. 4).  Not to mention, the usage of Gifs and tables on a grid to layout web pages. This may seem useful and functional for designers but left a big “HTML mishmash” (Itoh, pg.2) for the rest of us. Eventually, these sites became inoperable, not to mention unable to view in some browsers.

 

Another big reason why some designers strayed from standards has to do with creativity. For some reason, standards have become an excuse for lack of creative energy. Web standards don’t limit creative; they provide the structure for that creativity to take shape. Designers exist because of standards no matter how you look at it. Creative jobs are built upon limitations. The reason designers exist are to answer and solve these puzzles within the walls we are given. Web standards are no different. Therefore, establishing structure and presentation appropriately does not limit creativity. It should be embraced and encourage it. Above and beyond that there really are no limitations, especially with programs like Flash around. You can get as creative as you want as long as you consider the standards. They are there as an assistant to developing good functionality and usability.

 

To get a grip on web standards it is good practice to go over the fundamentals. One of the biggest pieces to the puzzle is the relationship between structure and presentation. The structure of a web page is contained within the markup language and is the foundation of a web document. A web document relies on how the page is constructed through the HTML code and semantics. The presentation of a web page is simply the style or look applied to the content. Contained within the HTML you will find the structure and content of the web document. The presentation of this structure and content should be controlled by CSS. Cascading Style Sheets adds tremendous functionality to a web document that can easily be administered throughout the web site.    By using CSS, changing the structure of the web document is much easier and practical. You can not have structure without presentation nor presentation with out structure; the two go hand in hand. To effectively display your content you need to have well developed structure and without well developed structure your presentation will be nothing special. It is vital to web sites longevity to properly have these elements in place and understood.

 

 Take XML as another contributing player in keeping content separate from structure and content. XML, extensible markup language, was designed to work with HTML. XML is responsible for describing data and HTML is responsible for displaying it. XML contributes to this separation by infusing itself as another element to keep content separate from structure and presentation. It helps keep data in its own tiny little box while the HTML focuses on showing how that tiny box of data is to appear in browsers. The tags used for XML are not predefined as are the ones in HTML. The tags used within XML are defined by the writer of the code allowing transmission of data to be transferred more effectively. The big advantage here is sending and receiving data over cross platforms. And since there is currently no standard for operating systems, XML serves as a valuable participant in keeping data accessible to all. This is a key in keeping structure and presentation separate.

 

Either way, web standards need to be enforced while the web is still fairly young. If this problem is not taken care of soon the future of the web may become an unsightly place. It is always important to do things the right way instead of having to do them over and over again. The first step in solving this problem is to educate people and use the web to spread the message.  

Citations:

Makiko Itoh , A Brief History of Web Design  

Bowman, Douglas, Stop  Design: Are they really separated?   14 October 2003                       http://www.stopdesign.com/log/2003/10/14/separated.html 

Krug, Steve,  Don’t Make Me Think   (2006) 

If all else fails…THEN WHAT?!

•October 17, 2006 • 1 Comment

It’s time to turn over all you precious mobile devices because technology called and requested all its stuff back. That’s right no more text messages, blogs, emails, flash animations, digital photo albums, web cams, RSS feeds, instant messaging, mp3’s, ipods, laptops, PDA’s, or cell phones. Everything is going back to a simpler time where social participation required face to face contact and flesh on flesh interaction. Sound absurd? Of course it does. Technology is part of our culture, livelihood, future, and for some a means for existence. It has consumed so much of our behavior that it is hard to remember what life was like before the invasion.

 

Not more than a month ago, I left my house without my cell phone. The feeling of complete abandonment set in quickly upon realization of my mistake. What was I to do? How would I go about my day? If I were to get into an accident, how would I handle the situation? Simultaneously these questions paralyzed my survival skills and hindered my actions. Instantly my whole world changed with relation to technology. Before this event occurred, acknowledgement of technology as a life tool had never penetrated my conscience.

 

With all things considered, the current technological movement encourages social and behavior change. The mere existence of future computerized gadgets and networks have a purpose. The goal is to make life easier by developing tools which take the mundane tasks of life, such as video taping, and remembering where you left your keys, out of the equation. The idea here is to salvage the time devoted to everyday tasks and replace it with the things we wish we had more time for.

 

The article “Digital Memories in an Era of Ubiquitous Computing and Abundant Storage” suggests possible and current digital media that is already accomplishing these tasks. Primarily the article focuses on such things as recording digital memories with the ability to share them over time more effectively. Everywhere you look on the web users are documenting their lives through audio, video, and other forms of digital documentation. It is trendy and economical. Above and beyond the social elements coinciding with these new technologies, digital documentation is fun. It brings like mined individuals together and connects relatives distances away. What happens if these technologies fail and all information that has been digitized disappears forever? Where does this all end and how do we pick up the pieces? This brings me back to my cell phone dilemma: Technology can only go so far before we become puppets in a complex world.

 

The great debate here; will technology ever reach perfection? Thus far it has proven only to provide new distractions from old mishaps. The one constant we can expect from technology is its never ending mission to create a new form so previous attempts go unnoticed. Something’s never change; they just continue.

 Citations:

Czerwinski, M., Gage, D.W., Gemmell, J., Marshall, C., Pérez-Quiñonesis, M., Skeels, et al (2006). “Digital memories in an era of ubiquitous computing and abundant storage.” Communications of the ACM. 49.1 January 2206

.Hiltz, S.R. & Turoff, M. “Education goes digital: the evolution of online learning and the revolution in higher education.” Communications of the ACM. 48.10 October 2005.

Kangas, E. & Kinnunen, T. “Applying user-centered design to mobile application development” Communications of the ACM. 48.7 July 2005