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Keukenhof Gardens - Expat Adventures

Keukenhof Gardens - Expat Adventures

This is the first of what I'm going to call my Expat Adventures posts.

After a couple months of living in Amsterdam, Dani and I finally took our first touristy trip out of the city.  We visited the Kuekenhof Gardens in the town of Lisse. The gardens are only open for a couple months in the spring each year.  They are 32 hectares of beautiful gardens, with eateries, art, a playground, a petting zoo, windmill and a hedge maze.

We took a Tours and Tickets bus from the Amsterdam City center, which dropped us off right at the gardens gate.  They gave us a little over three hours before we had to board the bus and get back, which is plenty of time to tour the entire place.

The grounds are split into different areas and include several large buildings. The buildings had different setups including a display history of tulips, an amazing building full of orchids, and one with a series of different intricate displays. In the large center building there were beds and beds of flowers on display from different growers in the Netherlands. Who knew there were so many different types of tulips?  Not me!

After a few hours, we boarded the bus and headed back to the city. All in all, it was a very fun and fragrant afternoon. It's one of those places, that if you find yourself in the Netherlands in April/March, you should definitely check it out! In the mean time, check out a few of the photos I took below.  Tot later!

Next weekend, we are visiting Disneyland Paris for the first time!

Game Developers Conference 2018

Game Developers Conference 2018

I just noticed I haven't actually published a blog post since I started to detail out GDC last year.  I think I've started a "How living in Amsterdam is going" post a couple times, but haven't managed to finish that up. Hopefully soon. Anyways...

Last week I was back in the states for the annual Game Developers Conference (GDC). As it was my second time there, I felt much more prepared going into the event. Knowing where things are and how things generally work helps a lot in managing your time and quelling anxiety.  There are still some things I want to work on for next year, such as planning ahead for ancillary networking events and maybe even an after party (I'm looking at you Unity). I definitely need to work on putting myself out there more and try to make friends in the industry. I'm a pretty shy person, so that's a tough thing for me.

This trip, much like the last one, I spent a lot of my time in talks, presentations, and seminars on various subjects.  There always seems to be way more that I'd like to see than I have time to attend. But I did my best, and the rest I'll have to hit up on the vault later.  Here's the list I attended over the week for those that are curious.

  • The Year in Mobile Games
  • Good Game Design is like a Magic Trick
  • Practical IP Law for Indie Developers 301: Plain Scary Edition
  • Know Your Market: Making Indie Games That Sell
  • Crafting RPG Worlds in Real Environments with AR
  • Making Twitch Interactive with Twitch Extensions (Presented by Amazon)
  • New Mobile Frontiers: HTML5 Development Best Practices (Presented by Facebook)
  • Mobile Game Designers Notebook
  • Mobile Game Dev Stories
  • It's About Time: System Design for Mobile Free-to-Play
  • Job System & Entity Component System (Presented by Unity Technologies)
  • Board Game Design Day: Balancing Mechanics for Your Card Game's Unique "Power Curve"
  • Let's Be Realistic: A Deep Dive into How Games Are Selling on Steam
  • Indie Soapbox
  • Inside Oculus 2018 (Presented by Oculus)
  • Developing the Art of 'Fortnite'
  • GDC Microtalks 2018: Playing with Fire
  • 'Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality' Postmortem: VR Lessons *Burrrp* Learned
  • 'Horizon Zero Dawn': A Game Design Postmortem
  • How to Write Games for the Internet without Embarrassing Yourself
  • Playing with Pride: When Game Culture and LGBTQ Culture Collide
  • Marketing on Zero Budget
  • Micro Postmortems

One thing I made sure to hit up this year, after missing it last time, was the awards ceremony.  On Wednesday evening they have the IGF Awards Ceremony followed by the Game Developers Choice Awards. It was a hilarious and inspiring couple hours seeing some of the best of the best games and developers. Those of us not nominated or part of the nominated's friends and family were walled off in the back three quarters of the room, while the people at the front tables did some pretty good drinking it looked like.

I spent some time on the show floor on Wednesday and Thursday.  Being a part-time indie, a lot of the b2b offerings aren't super applicable to me.  However, there was still a good bit to see.  I got to try out the new Oculus Go headset and play a little bit of "They Suspect Nothing" at the Oculus booth. I spent a good deal of time at both the Amazon and Microsoft booths learning more about their services and collecting swag. I love the azure blue coloured xBox controller MS was handing out.  And I also got to play a little bit of Squanch Games' "Dr. Splorchy Presents: Space Heroes" on the new Lenovo Mirage Solo Daydream powered headset that they teamed up with Google on.

In the small bits of downtime I had, I managed to catch up with an old work friend, went to see the new Tomb Raider movie, and wander around SF a bit.

All in all, it was a really great week. I really hope that I can make it back again next year.  In the meantime, I'll be attending my second Unity conference (first in Europe) this June at Unite Berlin! I hope to have the game I'm working on formally announced by then!

GDC & San Francisco Part I

GDC & San Francisco Part I

Sometime early yesterday (seems like much longer ago now), I was dropped off at the airport to make the 6+ hour flight trek west. I think the last time I was in San Francisco was when Dani and I came out six or seven years ago. So I was pretty excited to get back out here.  I'm staying at the Cartwright hotel in Union Square. I was pleasantly surprised by how nice the hotel is.  The building is old, but the rooms are nicely updated.  They are small, but that works fine for my solo trip this week.

I decided to walk down to Fisherman's Wharf and pier 39. Because of the time difference, I was already super hungry at 3pm, so I battled the crowd for my In-N-Out burger fix. I'm so sad that we don't have that chain on the east coast, but I suppose that's good for my self control. Right after I finished eating, it rained for a short while.  I was a little bummed to be caught in it, but seeing this rainbow really made it alright.

Since I'm still on east coast time, I crashed about 8:30 pm - which means I was then up at 4am. Fun!

Monday at GDC

Registration opened at 7:30 am, so I grabbed a coffee and headed over.  From what I understand, registration was a bit of a pain in years past.  It could not have been more simple this year. I grabbed my badge and "swag bag", then headed over to the west hall.  Since panels didn't start until 10am I just hung out at the tables and did a bit of work on my game.

With a couple exceptions, I spent the entirety of my day taking in the panels from this years "Mobile Summit". Since I'm working on my own mobile game, it was super educational.  More than anything it gave me a bit more of a peak into the industry that I lack, having never worked for a studio.  The other two panels were a "Simple AI Tricks" panel and a postmortem on a really neat Project Tango based augmented reality game called "Woorld". 

I was very impressed by how well things ran today.  And how diverse and inclusive the entire conference is.  There were people from all over the world, men, women, trans peeps.  Given how bad the player community can be to people who are cis-white hetero males, It's nice to see that the dev community is so much more inclusive.  

Anyways, here's photos I took today.

First time at PAX East

This past weekend was my first foray into the phenomenon that is PAX East. I was, thankfully, able to snag a Saturday ticket right after they went on sale. And got to attend with a few friends and coworkers.  We had fun, played a lot of board games, and I walked the insanely crowded show floor.  I picked up a new board game (Krosmaster Quest) and a couple of ships for X-Wing, which I finally learned how to play.

I was coming down with a cold, so my day was unfortunately a bit subdued. And I failed hard at taking pictures of all the awesome stuff. I think next year I'll try to get a three day pass so I can experience more of the panels and other things going on.  In the mean time, here are the few pics of the fun insanity I took.

Force Friday Midnight Event at Toys "R" Us

I'm not much of a person for midnight releases... of anything; movies, black Friday stuff, etc.  But when I heard that every Toys "R" Us was going to be doing a midnight release event for the new Star Wars Force Awakens toys, I was intrigued.  I had already planned on taking Friday off to spend the Labor Day weekend at the cape, and I discovered there was a Toys "R" Us store about 15 minutes away in Hyannis.  So I thought, why not, and headed over there around 11pm.

I was a little afraid that since this is a smaller town/community they wouldn't be doing the event, but when I rolled up I saw the ropes out and a small crowd of 12 or so people waiting.

By the time the doors opened there was 50 or so people in line.  Luckily since I was near the front I got first dips on the goods.  They did a bit of people management so not everyone rushed in at once.  The manager came outside about 15 minutes before to let us know how it was all going to work.  I was really impressed by how organized it all was.  When we walked in we were handed some nice freebies:  Kylo Ren poster, a Hasbro toy guide poster, and a Force Awakens Lego piece.

The store and aisle were all decked out in the new Star Wars identity.  I wanted to get pictures of the aisle itself, but as you might guess it was pretty crowded with 50 people vying for space.  It looked fantastic and it was hard not to get very excited.

I wanted that 50" talking Storm Trooper so badly, but I feared for my marriage.  So it stayed on the shelf. I didn't see anyone else buy it either, but everyone loved it. Because of limited quantities and fairness and all of that good crap, they placed a limit of three on any item line number. That, which I found out, did not mean any one particular item but instead any line.  So I was only able to pick up three of the five new 6" Star Wars Black figures. Boo!  I did, however, find my 20" Captain Phasma.  I only wish they had done her in vac metal instead of that swirly grey plastic.

All in all, it was a very fun experience and I'm glad I went.  Oh, I almost forgot to mention Geoffery the Giraffe was there!

 #GiraffeSelfie

#GiraffeSelfie

Disney Star Wars Race Weekend

Disney Star Wars Race Weekend

I'm not a great runner. Honestly, I still haven't found that thing about running that many people love.  However, I do love Star Wars, and to an only slightly lesser degree I love Disney. So when they announced the inaugural race weekend in Disneyland, I didn't figure I'd have too much trouble convincing Dani to agree to sign up for it.

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Both of us signed up for the newly announced Rebel Challenge (10k + Half marathon). But then Dani "fell on the 5k registration" as well. I was careful not to do the same.

Neither of us had ever been to the left coast Disney parks, so we were excited for that alone. Well that and escaping the sub-ten degree weather in Boston for the mid-seventies in SoCal.

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The races were as much fun as you can make running be. The 10k wound through both parks and featured many familiar characters from the Star Wars universe. Unfortunately due to my slow pace (whoops I forgot to train, at all) I didn't feel I had time to stop and wait in the super long lines at the character stop. Hopefully next year I can get my Boba Fett picture.

The half marathon started with a trek through the parks and then out onto the streets on Anaheim for the bulk of it. Along the course was around eight of so high school groups and marching bands, as well as a stretch featuring an amazing group of cosplayers. I think they had a larger and more diverse group of characters than even Disney had. This was my first back to back race challenge, so I was pretty spent from the 10k and two days of walking around the parks, and was dragging ass half way through. But when I saw those ladies with the balloons indicating the back of the pack, I picked it up and pushed through the pain (again cursing myself for not training). I wasn't going to get swept! I had to get these beautiful medals!

Final Times:

  • 10k - 1:34:38
  • Half - 3:33:06
  • Rebel Challenge - Completed
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The parks at Disneyland are amazing!  I discovered a couple of the duplicate attractions, like Space Mountain and Tower of Terror from Disneyworld were actually better out here. And the Cars Radiator Spings racers might be one of the best attractions at either location!

One of the great things about the Disneyland resort is how close everything is together. While in Disney World you have to find transportation between the parks and hotels, in DL, both parks and Downtown Disney are pretty much across from eah other with a small plaza inbetween.  And our hotel was right around the corner.

It was a great, and exhausting, long weekend for us. And I really hope we can come back again next year! In the meanwhile, I have a month to get in slightly better running shape before Dani and I head to Disney World for the Glass Slipper challenge and our first Coast to Coast medals!

I took a ton of photos, maybe not as many as Dani, but still... Here's a sample of my favorites.

Smiling Hill Farm with the Gilligans

This past weekend, Dani and I took a trip up to Portland to visit our good friends the Gilligans. First stop Saturday morning was to Smiling Hill Farm to pet some animals, ride a tractor and pick a pumpkin.  Although the weather kept us from the tractor ride and pumpkin picking, we still had a blast seeing all the farm animals.  I didn't take my nice camera, but I managed to get some fun shots with the iPhone.  I even took a selfie with a very handsome goat (which is much harder than it sounds).

Chicago and C2E2 2014

I just got back from a much needed vacation to Chicago. For the third time since 2011 , I attended the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo. C2E2, as it's called, has become one of my favorite comic events to attend. It's a great event that's both affordable and isn't completely overwhelming like New York or San Diego.

My parents traveled up from Bloomington, IL and spent the weekend in Chicago as well. It was nice to spend some time with them. Since moving to Boston I don't see them very often.  We spent Thursday together wandering around Chicago. It's always nice to reconnect with my old home. It's an awesome city. I miss it frequently.

Friday I spent the morning walking the show floor. I had a VIP ticket, so they let us on the floor with the pros at 10am. It was nice to have an hour with the floor largely empty. I picked up some show exclusives and a couple toys for my collection.  After they let everyone else on, I headed upstairs for some great panels, including one with writer Gail Simone (One of my favorite writers). After that I attended a panel with an assortment of DC writers and artists.  Finally I headed down to the main show floor (thank you VIP Pass for guaranteed premium seating) for a panel with Torchwood's "Gwen Cooper" - Eve Myles, and wrapped up the day with a Game of Thrones panel including Natalia Tena (Osha) and Kristian Narin (Hodor).

First thing Saturday, I spent some time walking through Artists Alley. I didn't buy any art this year, but I always leave these cons completely awed and inspired by the work of the artists attending. And with the intention of getting back to drawing myself.

One of this weekend's panels I was most excited to attend was the Power Rangers "Reunion" panel. Jason Narvy (Skull), Paul Schrier (Bulk), and Steve Cardenas (Rocky the 2nd Red Ranger) were ridiculously entertaining. I think we laughed more that panel than any all weekend. I finished up Saturday with a "24" reunion. Carlos Bernard (Tony Almeida), James Morrison (Bill Buchanan), and Louis Lombardi (Edgar Styles) were up on stage telling stories and fielding questions. Dani and I have been powering through all 8 seasons of the show the past couple months and are super excited for 24 Live Another Day.

I usually just got back on Sunday to wander around the floor a little more and maybe take in one last panel.  However there were a couple this time I had to see.  One was a special private event for Marvel Unlimited Plus members (subscribers of Marvel's digital comics app). We got some cool swag and were privy to some neat previews. Including some test footage from the new Ant Man Movie, which is going to be great.  And then I wrapped up my C2E2 weekend by seeing Stan Lee, in a Q&Q panel. This was my first time catching him live anywhere, so it was pretty special. Excelsior!!  Below are some pics I snapped from around the event.

One of the coolest parts of these show is all the amazing cosplayers that attend. So much time, energy and creativity goes into making these awesome costumes. And with a huge "Hero's of Cosplay" event going on Saturday night, awesome costumes were not in short supply. This is just a small sample of what was there.

I was sad when the weekend wrapped up. It was a great experience and a much needed vacation. I didn't want it to end. I came back feeling refreshed and inspired to be more creative.  I had said earlier that I wasn't planning on doing NYCC this year. But now I'm reconsidering. It's just too much fun!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Signing

To this day, my favorite, and arguably the best, comic book / cartoon / movie / toy lines is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I still have vivid memories of being a young kid in the toy aisle of this store called Roses, seeing those first toys on the pegs. After that came the cartoons, Archie comic books, coloring books, movies, and years of my elementary school art teacher begging me to draw something other than a ninja turtle.

Last summer, on a trip up to Wells/Ogunquit Maine with the wife, we drove by this shop called Shellback Artworks on Rt 1.  The distinctively TMNT branded signage immediately drew me in. Turns out it's owned by an artist named Steve Lavigne.  He is known for his lettering and coloring work on the older Mirage TMNT comics. He wasn't there that time, but we took a spin around the shop, the art gallery upstairs, and met his wife.

Recently on Facebook, he announced a signing at the shop. Peter Laird, as in the Laird of "Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" was going to be there along with TMNT artist Jim Lawson. I definitely couldn't pass that up. So I gathered up a few belongings to get signed and drove up for the afternoon. It was amazing!

I'm kind of shy, so I didn't really say much to them. But in the off chance that Peter Laird ever reads this, I wanted to say "Thank you for the Turtles. The characters have brought, and continue to bring, me hours of enjoyment in all their various incarnations."

Some pictures from the event and the items I got signed are below.

Baby Joanna's First Birthday

A little over a year ago, our friends Sarah and Brandon brought this beautiful little girl into the world.  Dani and I are fortunate enough to get to spend time and be a part of her life.  Below are some photos from her first birthday party. As you can see, she loved playing with Molly, Laney, and her birthday cupcake!