Friday, September 1, 2017

Six reasons millennials are abandoning religion - By an actual millennial who abandoned religion

Please excuse the click bait title. Actually I lie, this is click bait, no excuses. I have no real qualifications for this other then being a millennial that has abandoned religion.

It shouldn't be any news by now that the latest Australian census results declared 'No Religion' to be the largest single religion in Australia. 30% of Australians claim no religion. Combined, the various flavors of Christianity still dominate, at about 52%. The non Christian religions come in at around 8%. (Its a non compulsory question on the census, which explains why these numbers don't add up to 100%). What is even more interesting is the predominance of no religion among young people. And these stats are being reflected in religions across the world.

I recently came across a couple of articles on my Facebook news feed. The first one was by a Christian, proclaiming woe and doom if we abandon Christian values. The author manages to claim every single advance in human rights to Christianity (I should probably write another post about that). It pins the demise of Christianity on the rise of the new religion of Atheism, with the prophets of Dawkins and Hitchens. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say a traditional book burning won't bring millennials back.

A second poster on my Facebook feed posted 12 Reasons Millennials Are Over Church. Its a list of reasons presented by a Christian millennial for why none of his age group are at church. There are 12 reasons in there, but they can be summed up pretty succinctly: churches aren't listening to millennials, and aren't adapting themselves to the special unique needs of millennials. Its a seductive argument for the religious, if only they could figure out what millennials really want and need, then we would all come rushing back in. Atheism would die and the world could go on the way it used to be. There are a few churches trying to engage and adapt with millennials today, but I see little evidence of it actually working.

Out of curiosity I did some more googling. There are plenty of articles that attempt to rationalize why millennials aren't at church. Its frequently blamed on science, atheism or the church culture. Some blame it on doctrines being too harsh, doctrines being too watered down, or the general secular nature of education. All of them seem to be written by people still within religion, and seem to run with the idea that if the churches could just find the right solution, millennials would come back.

The reasons millennials are abandoning religion go far deeper. Its not something that can be fixed by a few tweaks to church culture or making us feel valued. It runs so deep it might not be possible to fix at all. Here are my six reasons why we've abandoned religion. And in typical click bait fashion I'll start with the least important and work my way up.

6) We are connected to knowledge. The universe has very few unanswered questions for us. Want to know how the earth formed? Want to know what causes cancer? Want to know why their are starving children in Africa? The answer to all of these questions is only a Google search away. What's more, with that knowledge we can actually make a difference, in a way no amount of prayers ever has.

5) We are connected to ideas. At a click of my fingers I can access the philosophical ideas of Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Descartes, Aquinas, Confucius or Hank Green. And that's just scratching the surface. Any significant issue has been wrestled with by many thinkers, and the answers have been refined for centuries. That includes everything from moral code to what happens when we die. Religion no longer has the best answers to the difficult questions.

4) We are connected to people. Social media has diversified and globalized our friendships. I have significant contacts across the gender, religious, political and geographical spectrum. Its hard to vilify Christians/Muslims/Gays/Transgenders/Iranians/Atheists/etc when one actually talks to them on a regular basis. Millennials encounter these people all the time. We see them as the thinking rational people they are. On the other hand religion is constantly telling us that accepting group x will cause the disintegration of the fabric of society. Its a hard one to swallow.

3) Religion is hard work, with little to no benefit. Millennials live in an on demand society. I want to watch a new movie? I can load it up in just a few moments. I want to talk to someone? Social media means I can start a conversation in seconds. Hungry? There is a app on my phone that will have food delivered inside half an hour. Contrast that with the promises of religion. If you live this arbitrarily long list of requirements for your entire life, then you will receive a reward after you die. That doesn't really appeal to a generation that complains about three seconds of buffering on YouTube.

2) Our values don't match up. For millennials same sex marriage is good. Access to reproductive services is good. Education is good. Egalitarianism is good. Many of the values held by religion appear down right evil to millennials.

1) We just don't believe it. Religion makes some wild claims. There is a magic man in the sky who created the whole universe, and he cares deeply about your personal sex life, but chooses not to prevent famine or disease or natural disasters. If you follow the instructions of the magic man in the sky, you will have good things happen to you after you die. As evidence religion offers a book that was written a few thousand years ago by dessert dwelling nomads. Do I really have to explain how ridiculous this is? I've got just as much evidence to say that Hogwarts is real or that vampires exist and sparkle in the sunlight.

Often these conversations end with what religion can do to be more appealing to millennials. On this I have no answer. The changes required to bring millennials back to religion would probably destroy religion itself. Like the proverbial cat, this one isn't going back in the bag. I guess the best advice I can offer is to prepare to live in a world without religion.

I'm a big fan of the Socratic method. Which means I encourage people to comment and debate on this post. Have I got something wrong? In that case post a counter argument. Have I got something right? Post evidence to prove it.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The fifth soil

There is a parable given by the Savior in the New Testament, commonly referred to as the parable of the sower. The vision of the tree of life given to Lehi in the Book of Mormon has a similar theme. Both stories describe the various ways in which people interact with the gospel, both when they first hear it, and as they grow and develop. There is a focus on why people leave the gospel, both parables have far more people that leave then stay.

One of the first categories is the seeds that falls by the wayside. The wayside is the hard, packed ground next to a road. The seed doesn't get a chance to grow or sprout, and is immediately stolen away by birds. This is described as the person that hears the gospel, and immediately discards it without due consideration. In the tree of life this is the people that never leave the dark and dreary wasteland.

The next category is the seed in shallow ground. The seed grows, but because of its shallow root it withers in the sun. This is described as the person that finds the gospel, and meets it with eagerness. But they don't develop a deep understanding of the principles, and when things get hard they give up. These people grasp the iron rod, but only lightly, and are soon drawn away.

A third category is the seed on thorny ground. The seed grows, and even begins to bare fruit. But its soon choked out by weeds, and dies. The weeds are described as the cares and riches of the world. But they can be anything that is put ahead of the gospel. The church doesn't fall away due to lack of testimony or knowledge, but because there are simply other things put ahead of the church. In Lehi's vision this is the people who come and partake of the fruit, but are afterwards ashamed and leave for the great and spacious building.

The fourth category is the good ground. The seed grows up and bears fruit. Its not overcome by weeds or the sun. And everything is good. Some people join the gospel and reap the blessings, and are happy for it. In the vision this is those that partake of the fruit, and continue to do so.

I want to propose a fifth type of soil. The fifth type of soil is good ground. The seed takes root and develops. It brings forth fruit. This is the person who holds onto the rod, gets to the tree, and partakes of the fruit. And yet the fruit isn't 'delicious above all else'. In time the plant is uprooted and the tree is left. Not because of thorns or neglect or birds. But because the fruit is not worth maintaining. This is the faithful member who becomes disillusioned with the church. The person may continue with the gospel for a long time, attempting to endure to the end. But eventually they leave.

This fifth type of soil is one that isn't very well tackled in the scriptures or doctrines of the church. The scriptures and prophets teach that the gospel brings blessings. Period. The very idea that church membership might not be the ideal mode of life isn't considered. Reactivation efforts focus on a person that has been offended, or that is suffering from addictions, or that simply cannot get out of bed on Sunday mornings.

Nowhere is it acknowledged that for some, life might genuinely be better outside of the church.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Solving casual PVP: Pokemon Go

So if you haven't been living under a rock, you've heard of Pokemon Go. It's the location based AR app that's taken the world by storm over the past couple of weeks. The game is as popular as it is buggy. Much of the design had been critiqued for employing Skinner box elements. But there are some gems of brilliance in the design. One of those in particular is the way PVP is handled.

Traditional casual PVP suffers from a couple of problems. The most obvious is Pay2Win. Some casual games bias the PVP heavily in favour the players that are paying. This alienates free players. And can make the game unpalatable in the long term.

A more subtle problem is game balance. How do you pit players against each other when they have different abilities and play time? How does the elderly grandma that plays once a week compete with the teen that plays every waking hour? Casual games that forgo Pay2Win often end up being Play2Win, and are heavily biased in favour of those with more play time.

So how did Pokemon Go solve this difficult problem? The trick is in asymmetric PVP. The game is heavily biased in favour of the player who is at the location at the time.

So let's look at how this works. First a quick look at Pokemon Go's PVP structure. Combat happens only at specific locations called gyms. Players attempt to gain control of gyms for their team. The attacker is player controlled. The defender is an AI controlled Pokemon left by another player. Combat is very heavily weighted in favour of the attacker, meaning gyms change hands at high frequency.

So the first layer of bias occurs at the team level. There are three factions a player can choose from, the factions are identical in all respects except for colour. This number three is important. It means that at any given time there are twice as many gyms to attack as there are to defend. Any given gym has twice as many attackers as defenders.

The second layer of bias occurs when a gym is attacked. The attacking player gets to choose six Pokemon to attack with. Most gyms are defended by two to four Pokemon, giving the attacker an instant advantage in numbers. On top of this multiple players can attack a gym at once, further driving the numbers advantage. Not enough for you? The attacker 'wins' and weakens the gym for beating just one Pokemon. There is no penalty for attackers Pokemon that are defeated.

I dunno about you, but six on one odds sound pretty good. No matter how big the other guy is. And that's exactly what Pokemon Go is aiming for.

So what about the team defending the gym? Players approaching a friendly gym can train it. This works by pitting one of the players Pokemon against the gyms Pokemon. For each Pokemon the player beats, the gym gets stronger. Let that sink in for a while, attackers get six Pokemon, trainers get one. 

So what does this mean taken altogether? It means players are incentivised to attack gyms. And with such bias towards the attacker, gyms are changing hands constantly. And that's a good thing. Even the newest player can successfully attack gyms. And the advanced players have an interesting challenge to try and defend the gyms they do capture.

What do you think of how Pokemon Go has handled casual PVP. Have you seen other games do it better? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Unity Developer Certification

So I got my Unity Developer Certification today. It was actually surprisingly easy. 

Key tips:

Do the practice questions on the certification training material. Many of the exam questions as are very similar.

Do a refresher on which components are in which menus. 'Just type it in the search box' isn't a valid answer for 'how do you add component xxx'.

Be broadly aware of the entire engine, the surrounding services, and the industry at large. You don't need to be an expert on any of these areas, but you do need to have the big picture. Examples include animation, coding, lighting, unity services, game genres, production pipeline and so on.

Relax. The exam is pretty easy. There are a few places where the wording is designed to trip you up. But ultimately if you know your stuff the exam will be a breeze.

And for reference, I'm Melbourne's first Unity certified developer. That's my claim to fame for this week.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Steam Greenlight - Lessons learned from Pond Wars

Two months ago I pulled a very cheeky move and put Pond Wars up on Steam Greenlight. As expected, the game didn't get anywhere. But it did give me some insight as to how the process works. So I thought I'd share that here.


Before talking about the process, its worth noting what I wanted to achieve. My goal with Pond Wars was to get a feel for how the Steam Greenlight system works. I also wanted to experiment with various methods of driving traffic to the steam page. And finally I wanted to see if just having a game up on steam could drive downloads of my game on other portals.

Beginnings - Organic traffic

I posted my game on April 26 (a Tuesday) at about 9 pm AEST. There was no special reason for this time, that was simply when I got all of my screen shots in. After one hour I had racked up a massive 25 views. 3 yes. 15 no. That proportion of yes to no stays pretty static throughout the initial portion of the campaign.

At twelve hours in my stats have climbed to 360 views, 44 yes, 193 no. The game is also 4% of the way to the top 100. There are a few positive comments, but they appear to be fairly generic. Seems that Steam Greenlight attracts a bunch of 'publishers' that are probably scams. Most of the genuine comments are negative, mostly saying the art needs improving. That doesn't come at a huge surprise, its pretty much in line with previous comments. Key take away - Steam gamers just don't appreciate Paint.

At twenty four hours I have 500 views, 50 yes, 255 no. The game is two thirds of the way down through the recent submissions page, meaning it will be in front of less gamers. Organic traffic from steam seems to be slowing at this point.

At thirty six hours the game is finally off the front page of recent submissions. So far its had 540 views. 53 yes, 292 no. Without the front page traffic has slowed dramatically. Interestingly enough there is no measurable flow through into my view count. Key take away - Steam Greenlight is not effective as advertising.

Traffic briefly picks up again going into the weekend. The peak is Sunday local time or Saturday in the US. On the face of it releasing a game on the weekend to maximise organic traffic while the game is on the front page sounds like a good idea. I'm not sure this would be totally effective, if there are a ton of other games also doing the same thing you might actually get less time on the front page. Key take away - You only get 36 hours on the front page, use it wisely.

By the May 9, only two weeks after launching the Steam Greenlight page, organic traffic from Steam has dropped down to nothing. In total I got 800 views from organic traffic, 67 yes, 434 no. Interestingly later viewers are more likely to vote no then yes, not sure if this is real or just an effect of my small sample size.

Social Media - Twitter and Facebook

For some context here my Twitter and Facebook following is pretty limited. I have 40 twitter followers, mostly other game developers. I have 250 friends on Facebook, mostly personal acquaintances. Sharing on both of these mediums netted me 40 new views, 3 new yes, and 6 new no. Its a small sample size, but it looks like my own friends and followers were more likely to vote yes.


In the last phase of my experiment I made the Steam video public on YouTube. My channel there has about 1000 subscribers. Somewhat surprisingly I got no additional votes, and very few additional views.

If I was to do it again...

I would definitely spend more time on the art. The art work is the only thing that got looked at or commented on. Along those lines I would beef the video up to, possibly even paying someone else to make it.

I'd spend a little more effort promoting to my own social network. But ultimately my friends and game dev colleagues are not a huge market for actually playing the games.

I hope this helps someone else. And feel free to share your experience getting a game promoted on Greenlight in the comments.

Oh, and if anyone wants to see the Greenlight page, you can find that here

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Global Game Jam - Demon Days

So, its over. We had the jam. Made some awesome games. Now its time to reflect. If you just want to play the game, check it out here.

The Team

From the left: Gaston Iglesias, Rhiannon Nee-Salvador, Emma Cameron and Richard Gubb 
Two weeks before the jam we went to a IGDAM meeting. The point of the meeting was to put together jam teams. There was a little confusion at first, several folk who weren't actually coming to the jam making teams. Rhiannon running around hoping desperately to meet at least one other Unreal developer. And in general a bunch of socially awkward game devs trying to figure out if they could stand sharing a room with other people for a weekend.

The end of the night came, and Gaston, Rhiannon and I were still unteamed. People were starting to pack up and head home. The venue was becoming dominated by unattached game dev students. Rhiannon quickly grabbed Gaston and me and press ganged us into her team. We had an artist and two programmers. We were live!

Over the next week we sent dozens of emails. We established art pipe lines. Source control (more on that later). We met up in person and discussed time lines, sleeping schedules, roles and more. We had never been part of a game jam before. But we were ready.

Artist Bait

Astute readers will notice there are four team members in the portrait. Between registration and the keynote we decided we needed to get another artist. So we set a clever trap to find one. You see game devs of all types have a weakness. We all love to play games. And board and card games are inherently social. I had Love Letter in my pocket (I seldom leave home without a game). We choose a corner near registration and began playing.

At first it didn't seem like we were going anywhere. We had a couple of coders join us. We had a 3D modeler. We had several people with there own teams. An audio guy. Even an old Advanced Fighting Fantasy buddy from high school. Finally Emma joined us. We had found the needle in the haystack, an unattached artist.

The Theme

Artist secured there was little more to do before the keynote. We grabbed a desk. Set up laptops. Gave source control another kick in the tires. Played some more Love Letter. And waited. They keynote itself was pretty good. But honestly I don't remember much of it. Something about roses in Iraq. Something about VR. A whole lot of sponsors. And the theme. One word 'Ritual' that was going to dominate our lives for the next 48 hours.

Initial whiteboard design
Ritual was a brilliant theme. There were two immediate directions we could go. Perhaps a game about occult or religious rituals. Or maybe we could go with the more mundane daily rituals. Turns out there was a third path some groups took that we hadn't even considered, animal mating rituals. We went back and forth several times, but finally settled on the base concept, a demon carrying out his mundane rituals, frequently interrupted by human summoning him to the surface world. 

The idea done, we ate our pizza, and set about meeting our first milestone. A playable prototype by the end of Friday night.

Original game design documents
Source Control

One of the things that went really well on our project was our use of source control. For the technically minded we used a git repo, hosted on BitBucket. We set the artists up with a basic GitHub desktop client. It automatically took care of pulling and pushing, in a single button press. I used SourceTree. And Gaston, the only one in our team who is a professional programmer, used command line access to fix all the tricky cases.

Things went pretty smoothly. We had a couple of hiccups were an asset was committed before Unity had created a .meta file. And we did have one inexplicable problem where Snuffles managed to loose his animation four times with less then an hour to go. But the benefits of keeping everyone on the same Unity project and code base were amazing. And actual handling of stuff on USBs was minimized to almost nothing.

Game Design

By mid day on Saturday all of the base elements for the game were in. The artists were well on the way to completing all of our art assets. Gaston had plugged in an xBox controller, bumping the experience up dramatically. We'd even goBut something was still missing. At this point the game was fun. But it was kind of pointless. There was no way to win or loose the game. No way to tell who played it better. To channel Chris Murphy, the game did not have flow.

We took a time out. We made charts. What should the player be doing with there time? What things should we penalize the player for? What were the player goals? How could we provide feed back? How should the game end?

The scoring / energy loop
The result was a three pronged system. We added a timer to set the game end. We added score to provide the player with a clear goal and feedback. We added energy to incentive the rituals. We all went back to our laptops to build the new systems and art to make it work.


Gaston finished coding all of the requisite systems somewhere between 4 and 5 am on Sunday morning. The rest of the team awoke to a fully playable, fully integrated game. We had a whole day to balance and play test. What could go wrong? We snagged a few passing volunteers. Put up a rudimentary leader board on our trusty white board. And sat back to watch.

A screen shot of the final game
To our dismay perhaps one in five players actually got the game detailed tutorials. Everyone loved torturing Steve. The sound and the music were great. They laughed at being told to pet Mr. Snuffles while in the middle of killing civilians. Yet they didn't actually score points.

With very little time left we went back to try and fix this. We added key prompts over top of targets. We added floating scores when the player gets points or energy. We messed with the starting conditions and the timers. We definitely improved things. By the time 3pm came around about half of the players got what was happening without prompting. But the game desperately needed a tutorial. And we barely even scratched the surface on balance.

The future

A couple of weeks after the jam everyone got back together at another IGDAM meeting. This time to play the games other jammers had made. And to catch up with team mates. We showed off Demon Days. We played other games. We talked about what we want to do next.

Demon Days is finished for now. We aren't going to continue developing it. But we will be taking the lessons we learnt forward into our own work. And who knows. Maybe the experience convinced Rhiannon to try out Unity for her next project.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My proof arrived!

I have a real book in my hands and everything. Sure it's just a little one. And I self published it on create space. But I've legitimately got through (almost) the entire process of writing a book, from the first draft, through editing and publishing. 

I'm pretty close to being able to call myself a real writer. The last thing for me to do is read over the proof and hit the accept button. It's exciting times. 

I'll be taking some lessons from my experience with making games. I haven't perfected the craft of writing yet, so I'll be making the book available for free as an e-book. The print copy will be available at just the cost of printing and postage. 

And to finish it off here is a picture of the proof.