Monday, July 20, 2015

The game emporium

Since I bought my new ASUS ROG gaming laptop, I have started watching more often game reviews on YouTube and even try some of them on my own. Below is a summary of the most interesting titles I played so far.

First game I tried was The Elder Scrolls - Skyrim V. I think I managed to put only about 10-15 hours into the game because it din't really catch on. Even if it has all the necessary ingredients to be a game on my own taste, I still felt something was missing. The open game world and the multitude of possibilities to interact with the game characters and items makes Skyrim a great game. It's initial release was on 11th November 2011 which is almost 4 years ago. Four years is a huge period in Computer Gaming world. I really wanted to try something new and to find out what improvements in gaming happened in the past years.

After doing a bit of research on the newest titles released, I decided to try Dying Light. The game follows adventures of a mercenary hired by a corporation to retrieve some documents from an infected area roaming with zombies. There are plenty of other zombie games that failed to impress, but I decided to buy it and give it a try. Soon I was hooked on the game mainly because of the combat and movement system. The parkour system is implemented quite well and it was a novelty in movement mechanics for me. The missions were a bit repetitive, and took me all over the map to do various tasks for different characters. The strongest memory I have from Dying Light is me getting out of the building where I did the tutorial with a pipe in my hand, ready to fight some zombies. After searching around for a few seconds, I meet my first zombie and started slashing it with the pipe. It turned out to be quite difficult to kill it. After a minute or more of kicking and running around to catch my breath, the zombie died and I was ready to fight another one. To my surprise the pipe broke shortly after I started killing my second zombie and I had to run back to the building for safety. The difficulty of this initial fight made me want to do some missions and improve my character stats so I could get better and eventually lead being hooked to the game for the next several weeks.

A highly anticipated release for me was Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto V. GTA5 is an open world, action-adventure video game developed by Rockstar North and published by Rockstar Games. The game was released on 17 September 2013 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and on 14 April 2015 for PC.

Rockstar has created one of the most extraordinary game environments I ever visited. Everything about Los Santos demonstrates the extraordinary effort and love poured into it by hundreds of developers over several years. The gorgeous sunsets, the way sunglasses subtly alter the color balance of the world, the carefully chosen music, they way characters clothes get wet on their back from perspiration when it's really hot and many more such details, make this game the best one I ever played. I won't go into details about the game because there are plenty of reviews all over the web, like the one on PcGamer's site here.

Since I took the time to enjoy this extraordinary game in it's every aspect, I'm still playing from time to time GTA5 both the offline and online version.

A new layout

Recently I decided to change the blog layout because I felt the old one was a bit too dull.

Blogger offers a variety of layouts to choose from. After looking trough all of them, I choose the current one because I felt it is most suited to what this blog is intended to be. The current layout has a much brighter theme but in the same time the background image is a little fuzzy. It's similar with the content, which is not aimed to a specific topic but tries to catch insights of how I see the world, making everything a little fuzzy. :)

I hope you enjoy the change!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Favourite book

I am sitting at a party with my friends, having a good time and discussing various topics. Suddenly someone asks: "What is your favourite book?". 

My friends start telling about this or that book, some of them I know and already read, some I hear for the first time now. Each describe how their book made a strong mark on their life in one way or another. Suddenly I realize that my turn is about to come and my mind is already racing through all the books I have read so far, trying to remember their plot. There must be a series of events afterwards that were influenced by the story of a book I read! I don't know why, maybe because of the pressure of coming up with an answer when soon it will be my turn, or this is indeed one of the most difficult questions I had to answer in my life, but I am having troubles making the necessary connections. Finally the much dreaded moment comes and an awkward silence fells. After a few seconds, when all the eyes are on me, I decide to give up and just pick a book for which I recall the plot a bit better, say it's name out loud and start looking to the next person to hear his answer.

Is it just me who or is it very difficult to answer this question?

Maybe it's because I haven't read enough books or I haven't yet read the right boot, but I can't give an easy answer to this question no matter how much I think about it. Every book I have read was interesting in it's own way. Usually I stop reading a book that doesn't catch me in the first 20-40 pages. If it pass this marker, I read it with so much passion as if it's the most important thing in my life at that moment. Once I finish, I feel marked in some way for the next couple of days, always recollecting various moments from it. All this lasts for a week or two, afterwards the once vivid memories of the events, start to fade out from my mind. Suddenly it becomes just another book that I read, for which I vaguely remember it's plot and if I am lucky, a name of a character of two.

How can there be a book that I can say it made a strong mark on my life, when I barely remember the plot a few weeks later, let alone the name of the characters?

I heard about techniques that can be used to remember the events from a book for longer periods of time. I thought about applying them, but somehow that would spoil the pleasure I have after I finish a good book. Instead of indulging myself in the recollection of events and feelings I had while reading, if would all feel like a work assignment. I don't read because someone tells me, I do it for the pleasure of putting together piece by piece, a world enclosed in the pages of a book. I don't want to feel like I study for a project assignment, I want to enjoy a good book. 

Maybe the price payed for this is that I will always find it difficult to answer an apparent easy question: "What is your favourite book?"

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

It's learning time!

Due to a lot of free time on my hand recently I decided it's time to learn something new.

I've had an account on Coursera for some time now, but so far I was only looking for programming related courses. I got the other day a newsletter on email from them, with some interesting new courses they just launched, so I picked two of them out of curiosity.

First course is called Advanced Competitive Strategy and it promises to give an overview on how companies can build up and maintain their customer base by increasing switching costs and facilitating strategic customer lock-ins. I've gone through a couple of videos and so far the topic is looking interesting. The information provided in the course can be applied not just to a possible future business but also in day-to-day activities, like choosing a mobile operator or an airline when going in vacations. So far there are not many Romanian businesses which I saw that apply principles described in this course, but I hope this will change in the near future.

The second course is called The Art of Negotiation and it promises to explore how current approaches to negotiation strategy and tactics are used, types of negotiation relationships that exists and how important is to plan and prepare for a negotiation session. When I hear the word negotiation it immediately brings into memory the image of two people bargaining in a market over a product price, but it's so much more than this. Negotiation situations are happening all around us and they are happening on a daily basis. From salary negotiations when switching to a new position at work to negotiations with children's, parents, wife or girlfriend on. We are negotiating one thing or another no matter where we are. Because of this I think this course will be very beneficial for my personal development.

Let's hope all goes well and I can go follow through with both courses until the end! ^_^

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Support rants...

I've been having some issues with my AdSense account for quite some time now. It looks like it's activated but every time I try to connect it with blogger, I get an error. There is no additional description to this error and I can't find any reference on the Web about it.

Finally I decided to contact support so I composed a lengthy report to Google last week, asking them to have a look into my account. Maybe there is some problem with it. So far I got no reply from them and I am a bit disappointed by the lack of response from Google on this matter. A while ago I had some issue with my Google Wallet account, so I contacted support. In less then half an hour, I got a phone from Google and everything was sorted out. I was presently surprised with the patience they had.

Since I got no update on my support so far, I asked my girlfriend to let me us her Google account and create an AdSense account. I linked my blog to her new account and now I am waiting for approval. According to the message that appears on AdSense, this can take up to a week.

Fingers crossed that everything will be sorted out and I can start displaying some of those annoying adds ^_^

Thursday, May 28, 2015

MyAnthem development - Progress report 2

It's been almost a year since I finished the development of MyAnthem and I'd like to summarize my experience so far.

The development team consisted of two people. I did the entire coding part and a friend of mine took care of graphics, general aesthetics of the app and social media presence. All in all we spent about 5-6 months building the app from scratch, without any previous experience in Android development. There's still a feature or two that I'd like to add to the app but I couldn't find the necessary motivation to start working again, even if I started coding one of the features already one or two times.

Overall things are not looking as good as I hoped. The app had little impact on the market and it generated less then 5 euros from ads. The total number of downloads shown in Google Play Developer Console is around 700, with a retention rate of around 20%. Using Google Analytics I see that the activity is rather steady, 400-500 sessions every month. In the beginning the session number/month was below 200 this but has increased steadily and for the past few months has remained to this figure.

Regarding marketing and promotion, in the beginning we focused on a strong social presence and an 50 euro ad campaign on Facebook. The app has it's own web page, Facebook account, Google+ account, Twitter account and YouTube channel. We even made a promotional video and published it on the YouTube channel. On Facebook we started a campaign called Anthems Around the World. The campaign consists of a series of "Did you know" cards with interesting facts about various national anthems around the world. Periodically posts were published on app's page on Facebook wishing Happy National Day to various countries arround the World that were celebrating in that day their National Day.

So far we only had one review published on, even if promotional emails were sent to several online publications.

All in all we gained a lot of experience from working on this project, even if it didn't catch the expected attention on the Google Play Market. The entire concept had a very limited audience, because let's face it, who listens to National Anthems these days?

Looking forward to finding an idea that is worth turning into an Android Application!