Monument Valley Game

A year ago if you Googled Monument Valley, you’d come up with well-known images and wiki entries about the place in Southeast Utah (on the Arizona-Utah state line, near the Four Corners area). And perhaps even now, your top 20 hits might still be about one of the most photographed locations in the world. But if you searched a little further, or added ‘app’ or ‘iPhone’ after it, you’ll surely come across results that welcome into the world of the beautifully designed and engineered app game from UsTwo Games.

The game, which many compare it to something out of an M.C. Escher dream, is mesmerizing in every way possible. UsTwo has woven adventure, logic, storytelling and beauty all into one amazing game. At first, I didn’t even realize it was a story, but by the time I had completed the game (which was only a couple of hours later) I was in awe. The fact that I could become attached to some little character living in an imaginary world that has no place in reality, was mind-blowing. This game really sets the highest bar I can imagine for smart phone apps.

One of my absolute favorite scenes from the game is when one of the characters, Totem, bursts through a wall in hopes of reuniting with his friend.  As a tribute, I created a GIF of it. I don’t know if I’ve broken any copyright laws by doing this, but I will say that this GIF is derived directly from the game. I own no part of any of it, except for the fact that I created the GIF.

This GIF was created using scenes from the UsTwo iPhone app game. None of this content is my original work.
This GIF was created using scenes from the UsTwo iPhone app game. None of this content is my original work.


E.T. : The Death of Atari

I was recently searching through an old box of photos, when I came across the 1982 Atari game manual for E.T. I probably hadn’t seen this since I last played Atari, so it wasn’t only a nice find, but a fun experience to page through the booklet and remind myself of how cool this game was. (continue below)

ET-Atari manual

ET-Atari manual

ET-Atari manual

ET-Atari manual

ET-Atari manual

ET-Atari manual back cover

Unfortunately, the images did little to rekindle my memory. I acknowledged the fact that it has been over 20+ years since I last played an Atari game, yet I could clearly remember the many other Atari games I played as a child and how instant my recognition was of any imagery associated with them. Take for example the games Pitfall, Warlords and, of course, Pacman (shown below). One glimpse of a screen shot from any of these and I’m immediately transported back to the old gray carpeting of my living room, staring up at colored boxes on the T.V., and holding onto that joystick like it was the only thing keeping me alive.

screen shot of Atari game Pitfall
courtesy of AtariAge
screen shot of Atari Warlords game
courtesy of AtariAge
screen shot of Atari Pacman game
courtesy of AtariAge

It wasn’t until I googled ‘E.T. Atari’ that I learned why my mind draws a blank on this epic film turned video game. Apparently, it was due to Atari’s unrealistic demands to have the game ready for Christmas, which ultimately led to its demise. Below is an excerpt from Wiki:

“Though 1982 wasn’t a perfect year for Atari. At the end of the year they released E.T., a licensed game of the incredibly popular Spielberg film. The game cost around $125 million to develop, largely due to the licensing costs of the game. The game designer was Howard Scott Warshaw, who had received nothing but praise and adulation for his game Raiders of the Lost Ark. 

However, due to the amount of time that negotiations took, Warshaw was left with just 5 weeks to design the game in time for the festive period. The result: one of the worst video games ever made and one of the biggest video game commercial failures of all time. Apparently 1 million of the 5 million cartridges were sold, with rumours of the rest being buried in a New Mexico landfill.

…The result is often cited as one of the worst video games released and was one of the biggest commercial failures in video gaming history.

art deco + urban + zombies = BIOSHOCK

For those of you who are not video game aficionados, like myself, BioShock is a survival horror first-person shooter with role-playing game customization and stealth elements. The game, set in an alternate 1960, but is stylized from the 1920s art deco era, puts the player in the role of a plane crash survivor named Jack, who must explore the underwater city of Rapture, and survive attacks by the mutated beings and mechanical drones that populate it. (wikipedia)

I’ve never actually played the game – I first saw it a few years back, while I was watching a friend play it. But I always remembered it because of the first impression it gave me.  The music was eerie, like something out of The Shining. The phonographs will occasionally play music from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. The mechanics of the zombies remind me of the movie 28 Days Later. But the best and most memorable aspect of the game is the design.  The posters and signs look like something from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. And I especially loved the steam punk inspired characters.

The game has received critical acclaim for its design, and is now being featured in the Smithsonian’s Art of Video Games Exhibit running from March 16, 2012 – September 30, 2012. Irrational Games’ BioShock was one of 240 video games nominated for the exhibit, and became one of the top 80 currently displayed at the museum. To view the full list of games, click here.

“In addition to the 80 games . . . . five playable games will be included in the exhibition: Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and Flower.” Go to the Smithsonian’s site to download the The Art of Video Games Exhibition Checklist, which features screen shots of classic games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, amongst many others.

The museum describes the exhibit as one of the first exhibitions to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies. It features some of the most influential artists and designers during five eras of game technology, from early pioneers to contemporary designers.”

The Info on Infographics

A few weeks ago I received a job posting entitled “Infographic Designer (Freelance).” I thought I had read it wrong because, as naive as it sounds, I had never heard of the term infographics. The job description didn’t give me too much insight, which makes sense since if you don’t know what infographics is then you’re probably not right for this job. Before I Googled it, I took a second to think of what it could be. Obviously, the name does say it all. But I started to wonder if perhaps I knew what this term meant and just didn’t realize it had a label.

The first thought that popped into my head was the website We Feel Fine.

It’s an exploration of human emotion. It “continually harvests sentences containing the phrase “I feel” or “I am feeling” from the Internet’s newly posted blog entries, saves them in a database, and displays them in an interactive Java applet, which runs in a web browser. Each dot represents a single person’s feeling. The color of each dot corresponds to the type of feeling it represents (bright dots are happy, dark dots are sad), and the diameter of each dot indicates the length of the sentence inside.”  I’m not sure what made me think of this site – probably because it had received a lot of press and was an interesting creation. But after I did eventually Google the term, I realized that We Feel Fine was quite possibly the simplest form of an infographic. The only visual indications were size, color and frequency. No numbers, no words, no percentages – all of that was embedded in this interesting and colorful graphic.

My search for infographics pulled up a plethora of results. There were websites that listed them by creativity, uniqueness,usefulness and other classifications. What I learned was that they’re nothing more than creative graphs, PowerPoint presentations on steroids. Albeit, they’re done very creatively, and actually contain much more complex information than you would ever want to squeeze into a PPT deck. But all in all, they’re simply cool looking graphs. Yet, creating an infographic does require creativity and planning. This site gives an anatomical look at one and also outlines how to go about building it.

And if you’re in the mood for some eye candy, here are some examples as well as list of sites that feature more beautiful infographics.

Marian Bantjes: influence map

Heartfelt Thanks from Wiki

If you’ve been on Wikipedia anytime in the last year (and possibly before), you’ve seen the message in the header asking for support of the site. I’ve seen it probably a hundred times since I’m always on it. But it wasn’t until a few days ago that I decided to click the banner. It sent me to a page asking for a monetary donation to help keep Wikipedia free.

When I do donate I’m very selective of where my money goes, and being unemployed this is even more true. But when I am freely utilizing content, obtaining information, or downloading a program that will increase my productivity, I feel it’s my obligation to show appreciation and thanks for the effort of someone else that has made my life a little easier.

I decided to donate a small nominal amount of $5. It wasn’t much, but you know what they say about every penny/dollar counting. I figured $5 was more than they would’ve gotten had I decided not to donate.

Less than an hour later, I got an automated thank you email from Sue Gardner, Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director. I normally don’t even bother reading these types of emails because they’re so formal and monotonous, and I already know what they’re going to say. But with the 5 line email preview option on iPhone, I was able to glance at the message, and what I saw made me open it.

Although I knew it was an auto-generated message, it was written as though Sue was personally talking to me.  And it felt that way, too.  I really believed her own heartfelt gratitude. It’s very possible that Sue is the one who drafted this email; and I have no doubt that she might have.

Dear vanessa,

You are amazing, thank you so much for donating to the Wikimedia Foundation!

This is how we pay our bills — it’s people like you, giving five dollars, twenty dollars, a hundred dollars. My favourite donation last year was five pounds from a little girl in England, who had persuaded her parents to let her donate her allowance. It’s people like you, joining with that girl, who make it possible for Wikipedia to continue providing free, easy access to unbiased information, for everyone around the world. For everyone who helps pay for it, and for those who can’t afford to help. Thank you so much.

I know it’s easy to ignore our appeals, and I’m glad that you didn’t. From me, and from the tens of thousands of volunteers who write Wikipedia: thank you for helping us make the world a better place. We will use your money carefully, and I thank you for your trust in us.


Sue Gardner
Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director

I’m a registered trademark

My last name, Maganza, is not a very common one.  The name originated in Italy, Sicily, I believe, so naturally, it’s much more prevalent there. Here – not as much. Through my brief, less-than extensive, genealogy search, I have made the assumption (be it correct or not), that all Maganzas in the U.S. are related.

So, I was really surprised when I came across a website offering a product that not only has my surname, but is also extremely closely related to my profession (digital art director). Maganza Digital Publishing Solutions is designed by a German-based company called Onlinelib, and is composed of 3 elements: Maganza InDesign Plugins, Maganza Art Director (my personal fav) and Maganza iPad Reader.

I’m aware of there being Italian artists with the name Maganza (Alessandro Maganza [deceased] and Adrian Maganza) – perhaps it was inspired by one of them. Either way, I thought it was cool seeing my name that big on a website (other than my own).

Ducking iPhone autocorrect

Just a few days ago, I became so annoyed with the iPhone’s autocorrection feature that I decided to Google the issue I was having to see if anyone else shared in my frustration. I knew someone out there was having all of their ‘me’s turned into ‘mr’s and needed to know how to stop it from happening. Or , the bigger question, find out why it was happening. Turns out, there were a bunch of posts about this very subject, but none really answered my question. I like the autocorrection in most cases, and I use the spelling feature as well. I just couldn’t understand why they kept changing ‘me’ to ‘mr’ and there didn’t seem to be a clear cut remedy to fix it.

Fastforward to today. My friend sends me a link to this site: I’ve gone through 5 pages of posts and have yet to see the issue ‘me’ was having. But it is definitely good for a few laughs.

But if anyone have a solution to fix this problem – please share it with me!

Scrabble bans EVOLUTION

I’ve always been a huge Scrabble fanatic. I enjoy the strategy involved in coming up with scrabble-worthy words and then finding the perfect place to put them to gain the max number of points. And I love the fact that your word doesn’t even need to be lengthy – as long as you put it in the right spot. But I’ll admit that I get a high when I get a BINGO or better yet, get a BINGO using other tiles already on the board. It sounds so nerdy, but I’m sure anyone who plays this game knows what I’m talking about.

When I got my iPhone earlier this year, I downloaded the Scrabble App. My best word so far is ALIENAGE (131 points). I rarely get a BINGO with more than 7 letters, but these were one of those times. Which is why I was totally confused when I tried to create the word EVOLUTION a few weeks ago and couldn’t. I was trying to build off another word and had enough space to do it, so I didn’t know why it wasn’t letting me submit it. To make sure I was spelling it correctly, I even went to the Scrabble page on Hasbro’s site and entered it there. Turns out, it doesn’t appear in their dictionary.

scrabble dictionary online

I really thought I had misspelled it. I mean I’m not dumb, but I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t in their dictionary. What Official Scrabble Player doesn’t know the word EVOLUTION? So I cut and pasted the word from their site into Google just to make sure I wasn’t going crazy. I wasn’t. Then I started Googling phrases like “no evolution in scrabble” and “scrabble bans evolution.” I began to think that maybe Scrabble was conceived  by Christians who didn’t believe in evolution and so it was banned from their dictionary. (Just a conspiracy theory? Maybe.). Nothing came up. Then I tried to see if I could contact Scrabble directly, and in my search I found that the NSA (National Scrabble Association) existed. I laughed at first that there even was an organization, but then figured if anyone would know, they would. So I called them and explained my dilemma. Their answer to me was that perhaps the Scrabble app wouldn’t allow the word because it was longer than 7 characters. They suggested I try contacting EA, who created the app. However, it still didn’t explain why the word didn’t appear in the online dictionary on Hasbro’s site. Not to mention the fact that ALIENAGE is 9 letters and that was valid in the app. They didn’t have an answer for either, so I said thanks and hung up.

Not wanting to totally disregard what the NSA had said,  I went back to Hasbro’s Scrabble page and typed in ALIENAGE to see if this 9-letter word showed up. It did.

scrabble dictionary online

I even typed in a bunch of other 7+ letter words, like ORGANIZE and CUSTOMER,  to make sure I again wasn’t going nuts. I wasn’t. But then I typed in some other words like CONSCIOUS and RECOMMEND, and those did not show up. I was completely dumbfounded. I know I didn’t spell them wrong. Are these words not part of the English language?

My conclusion is that I have none. I could conceivably explain why EVOLUTION was omitted. But the other words? I have no clue. If anyone out there does – please let me know!

Adobe Kuler

Adobe Kuler (pronounced ‘cooler’) is a web-hosted application that lets you search, create and share color themes. You can also save and export your scheme to other Adobe CS 2/3/4 programs. It’s a great tool for either exploring colors to create your own palette, or if you’re looking for a particular color scheme. For example, if you’re in need of a scheme from the 1920s and it hasn’t already been created, you can do so and share it. Or, you can see if someone else has already made one. You can also create a scheme based on colors from an image.

The site, also adds a nice touch with their loading icon. Each time it loads, a new set of swatches appear. This scheme is called Endless Summer.

:: check out Endless Summer and other Kuler color schemes ::

Blender: FREE 3D rendering software

Taken from PSDTUTS: Blender is the free open source 3D content creation suite” it is the most advanced 3D program which is currently free. It can be used for modeling, UV unwrapping, texturing, rigging, water simulations, skinning, animating, rendering, particle and other simulations, non-linear editing, com positing, and creating interactive 3D applications.

I go on PSDTUTS a lot because they have great Photoshop tutorials that help me learn new techniques. They offer a paid membership for those that want to get premium access to things like articles and file downloads. But their ‘free membership’ offers a rich array of resources as well, ranging from website templates to useful links. One of their many type tutorials consisted of 3D text, something that could not be achieved in Photoshop. They posted this link to Blender, which was suggested as a means for achieving the 3D affect shown in the tutorial.

:: Blender download ::