Late Summer 2017 Conferences and Availability

A little over two weeks ago I finally was able to submit the final chapter for the rough draft of my book. I started the book back in October and it’s been a real trip. One thing I have not been able to do during the time I have been writing the book is have a stable full time job. Book writing is a full time job in and of itself, but it sadly doesn’t pay super well. One of my goals in the next few months is to line up a job so that I can start digging myself out of the hole I’m in.

I have two months to line something up. I am going to be speaking at a lot of conferences and doing a lot of traveling over the next two months. If you’re interested in seeing me, here are some of your options:

  • That Conference: That Conference is a spin off of Code Mash. It is a multi-platform conference that takes place at the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells. My talk on graphics programming will be on August 8th, which also happens to be the same day the final editing pass on all of my chapters is due. Busy times.
  • 360iDev: After missing the conference last year due to various work commitments, I am looking forward to coming back and seeing all my old indie friends. I will be doing a similar talk on graphics to the one I did at That Conference, but more tailored for iOS. That will be on August 16th in Denver, CO.
  • iOSDevUK: I get to take my second trip across the pond, both this year and in general, at the beginning of September. This conferences is in Aberystwyth, Wales and I will be presenting a two-hour pre-conference workshop on ARKit on Monday, September 4th.
  • Strangeloop: My final conference will be another multi-platform conference, but this time about cutting edge technology. I will be giving a talk on GPGPU programming on the iPhone using Metal and will try to talk a bit about CoreML. Strangeloop is in St. Louis, MO.

The book is set to release on December 4, 2017. I am working on the sample code that will accompany the book. My focus in writing the book was to provide more conceptual information about how Metal can be used rather than just cataloging the API. One of my frustrations in trying to learn OpenGL was the focus on the API with the assumption that everyone knows what a texture is and what Euler angles are. It is my intention that anyone buying the book use the sample code I am creating as canon since both Metal and Swift change so rapidly. I will maintain it and keep it up to date and I hope to add to it as new features become available.

I feel incredibly lucky to have had a chance to write this book. From the moment Metal was introduced in 2014 I felt like it was my thing. I worried I waited too long to get involved with it, but it seems like it’s been rather difficult for people to approach it due to the vast amounts of other concepts one must be familiar with before one can use Metal. I am hoping that this book helps open Metal up to other iOS developers.

I am planning my next steps right now. Beyond just finding a job and getting a paycheck, I have a few goals over the next few years that I would dearly love to fulfill. I will be sure to post more about them when they become more tangible. So far over the last ten years things have simply worked themselves out. I am hoping that this streak continues and that I know my next step when I see it. Until then, I am going to focus on the tasks ahead of me and do my best.

The Fallacy of Logic

Over the last 24 hours I have had several upsetting exchanges with people. I was dumb and responded to a notorious Twitter troll because I had just woken up and was angry and behaved impulsively. Later that day, I had someone I didn’t know call me out on it and demand that I logically defend my behavior. They told me if I was going to state my opinion online I should expect some backlash and be prepared to defend my point of view.

I got very upset and told this person that if they thought I was an irrational bitch that was just fine with me. This person got incredibly offended and told me not to put words in his mouth. He continued to fight with me until I broke down upset. In order to preserve peace with the rest of the people in the chat room who had witnessed this exchange, I apologized to them for engaging in this argument. The person who started it misunderstood who the apology was for and thanked me for apologizing to him. This action has made me physically ill and prevented me from sleeping much last night.

I have been rolling around in my head why this exchange upset me so badly. I wonder if I am unreasonable. I wonder why the hell this person felt that verbally attacking me on a chat room was perfectly fine but me implying he thought I was a bitch was simply beyond the pale and a bridge too far.

I have had a number of these kinds of exchanges over the last year. I noticed that people became incredibly hostile during the 2016 Presidential election. I had hoped that things would die down after that, but if nothing else, they’ve gotten worse. I had to deactivate my Facebook account because I was being attacked by people for not sharing their exact specific political beliefs. I have left multiple Slack rooms this year because one person out of 50-100 will lay into me about how my observations of sexism and discrimination do not fit in with their experiences as young white men who have computer science degrees who live in San Francisco.

None of these people are evil. I know several of them are generally nice people, but the way they engage me upsets me greatly. I feel like a rattlesnake frantically rattling my tail to warn them not to step on me. I don’t like being stepped on and biting them takes a lot out of me. They’re always surprised when they get bitten and decide that I am not behaving rationally and they get quite angry. I cut a lot of these people off because I simply can’t deal with them anymore.

I have been told that some of these people I have cut off are saying I am paranoid. They are saying I am mentally ill and I am destroying relationships with all my allies and one has gone as far as to say I am a sociopath.

I don’t want toxic people in my life. Life is short. I love cooking. I love my dogs. I love to write books even though they stress the living crap out of me sometimes. I feel like the world is this vast sea of endless possibilities and things to learn and explore. Then I get dragged down by the reality of trying to interact with other people who want to fight with me about Swift equivalents of vim versus emacs. These people drain all of my optimism and turn me into an angry bitter person that I don’t like being.

I have been trying to figure out why I am not allowed to simply withdraw from interactions I find unpleasant. I am not allowed to simply retract whatever the offending statement is. It is demanded that I defend it to the death and give up my precious spoons arguing with someone who is never going to be convinced that they are wrong.

I believe it is a fallacy of logic.

My ex-husband was an atheist. He said he would not believe in anything that couldn’t be proven with science. He said if Neil Degrasse Tyson says it’s true, then it must be so. Once he verbally assaulted me in the car to the point I was planning to jump out of the moving vehicle for saying “God bless you” to a stranger in public.

I am not an atheist. I would consider myself a Christian except I do things like read Tarot cards that I am pretty sure Christians see as witchcraft. I get very strong feelings about things that I know to be true but I have no evidence for their existence. When I was an atheist for ten years I would ignore these feelings and ignoring them always got me in trouble. I had a stranger talk his way into my dorm room and even though I had a bad feeling about him, I couldn’t think of a logical response to his argument that I should let him in. He raped me so badly I now have PTSD. My life was not on a good track and my world felt quite grey and empty. I decided ten years ago to believe in God, even though I had no evidence for his existence. I decided to trust those gut feelings i had been ignoring for ten years because they weren’t rational and to have faith that they were leading me to a better place.

I read a book many years ago called “Blink!” by Malcolm Gladwell where he talks about how our unconscious mind works much faster than our conscious mind does. It’s like having a background thread and a main thread. We can instinctively know something without being able to consciously and verbally explain it. I have faith in these feelings in spite of lack of evidence and I believe in them deeply. I have discovered most people in tech are not like this.

Emotions are not rational. We have been trained as a society to scorn anything that isn’t rational and can’t be explained very simply with logic. Any time I have a discussion with someone who doesn’t agree with me, they have a long list of talking points with very simple ideas that they use to try and convince you that you’re wrong. A lot of these people are simply unwilling to believe that you can see where they are coming from and still disagree with them.

I remember in college having boys try to logically explain to me why I should have sex with them. I was dumb and at the time I thought I could reason with them, but any arguments I made with them only gave them another argument point they could use to try and reason with me about why I should have sex. I would tell them I found them unattractive. They would say “Well I don’t find you attractive either! But sex is fun!” They were so invested in getting the result they wanted that it was completely useless to argue with them and the only course of action you had was to just walk away and hope they found someone else who is less work.

That is what the tech industry feels like to me some days.

I am not allowed to have my finely honed sense of intuition about anything because everything must be an argument. I can’t say that I don’t want to interact with someone who persists in arguing with me about nothing because that makes me a bad person. It doesn’t matter that these arguments destroy my ability to function. I am expected to have them because if I simply refuse no one knows how to respond.

Everyone is invested in believing that whatever they believe is right and correct and they have constructed intricate logical facts around supporting that believe. If someone doesn’t agree with them, they feel it is a personal attack on their core sense of self. They defend it to the death and feel that they are doing nothing wrong in behaving this way.

There was an interesting study recently that showed that most men will say that rape is wrong. They will swear up and down that they would never rape anyone. But then laster in the survey they admitted to forcing a woman to have sex that they knew did not want to have sex. There is a fundamental disconnect in their brains between the word “rapist” and what it means to rape someone.

We have a lot of labels for people that are not nice. Racist. Sexist. Rapist. Nazi. No one wants to be associated with being a racist even if they have racist beliefs. Calling someone a racist is seen as being similar to calling someone a bitch. It’s lost all meaning other than as a name you can call someone to try and make them feel bad about themselves. They don’t want to be called a racist. They think that their racist beliefs are rational and can logically be explained and that someone who is a racist hates for no reason and therefore can’t be them.

I hate to break it to you, but feelings are irrational. We feel the way we do based on things we can’t really explain. We are a result of decades of experiences and neurochemical reactions. I know people who got slighted by someone when they were seven years old and that one experience still angers them to this day. My father is still angry at being slighted by someone forty years ago who died in a terrible car accident thirty years ago.

We’re all giant bundles of irrational behaviors. I just wish that we were better at accepting that sometimes there isn’t a logical explanation for why we feel the way we do. We’re all entitled to our own perspective on something without feeling like the existence of a different perspective threatens our own.

If someone is triggering my PTSD symptoms and doing something I find threatening, I am entitled to end that conversation. I should not have to suffer flashbacks because someone finds it fun and engaging to get involved in an endless argument over nothing. You don’t get to argue with me that what you’re doing wouldn’t bother 99% of the rest of the population. It bothers me. If you persist in behavior that I perceive as threatening I have the right to cut you off to protect myself mentally. If you know that what you are doing is upsetting me and you persist in doing it, you are harassing me. My right to feel safe is greater than your right to argue with me. I don’t care if you agree with me or not. I am entitled to my own perspective just as you are entitled to yours. Agree to disagree and get a beer with me later. Or call me a bitch. I would vastly prefer that to the death of a thousand cuts of being forced to explain why I feel differently than you do while looking for a way to escape.

What Will Your Verse Be?

Yesterday was the conclusion of WWDC 2017, and what a WWDC it was. It felt like everyone got what they wanted. Most developers got better stability in tooling and not too many changes to the core frameworks. We also got some breathtaking graphics and games APIs, like ARKit, along with easier integration for machine learning models, such as MLKit.

I watched the keynote in awe, my brain exploding with everything that was now possible in iOS. I had augmented reality on my wish list, so that thrilled me. But seeing how much love Apple gave Metal really touched me deeply. I have spent the last eight months working on a Metal book and I had feared that it would land with an unceremonious thump and no one would care about a three year old technology framework. The keynote gave me hope that Metal would be a continuing important part of Apple’s future for the time being and that my efforts were not wasted.

I downloaded the Xcode 9 beta with the intention of diving into ARKit. The beta still has not been extracted from its .zip file. I got home and immediately became overwhelmed by everything. There are so many new things. I tried to look at the docs but my head swam and I couldn’t deal with it.

The next day I started to see people posting their own AR efforts and a few days after that I started seeing ML efforts. I got very depressed. I left the keynote feeling like I was ahead of the curve and now I was already behind it again.

I feel we in the Apple Developer Community have been trained to jump on every new shiny thing Apple announces immediately. We all remember missing out on the Gold Rush when you could put out an app that you made over a weekend with some new piece of technology that Apple created and earn $10,000 in a week. The new Photos stuff allows us to do a vast but limited number of things and if you want your Photos app to be the top dog you have to get it out before anyone else does because you all have access to the same tools and the barrier to entry is low.

I want to be emphatic about this point: That is not the same situation with ARKit or Core ML.

My background is in the creative field. I wanted to be a film director and do sound design. My dream since I was a child was to have the Back to the Future experience of getting a box of books on my doorstep that had my name on them and to know I wrote a book. I have had that experience several times now and I feel quite blessed that I got to have that experience.

Anyone can write a book. We all have access to the same tools. There are fancy authoring tools like Ulysses and Scribner that cost $50, which is basically nothing compared to the cost of being an iOS developer. There are self publishing sites everywhere that will allow you to publish your book if no one else is interested, or if you don’t want to give up 50% of your royalties.

Just because anyone can write a book doesn’t mean everyone will write a book. Also, it doesn’t mean that someone else is going to write your book.

We still read stories that were written hundreds of years ago because they speak to something foundational about how we see ourselves as human beings. I read Tarot cards and the cards haven’t changed for a hundred years in spite of all of our changing circumstances because even though we all have iPhones and can connect at any given moment, what makes us human has not changed. We all worry about money. We all strive to advance in our careers. We all crave love. We all desire to have some kind of family, even if that family consists of friends and a grumble of pugs. Those aspects of ourselves don’t change.

A story by Jane Austin still resonates with us because we know how difficult it is to find another person you are willing to spend the rest of your life with. Romeo and Juliet still appeals to hormonal teenagers to whom every little bump in the road is the end of the world and for whom every relationship is forever. Unfortunately, the same applies to Twilight.

One reason so many people are appalled at the behavior of the Republicans right now in trying to strip tens of millions of Americans of their health insurance is because it goes against our script of what we think people should be like. Atrocities like the Holocaust speak to us on a deep level because it goes against our human nature of the way that we think people should behave. And it keeps happening. This is one reason The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter have such staying power. They speak of ordinary people being placed in extraordinary circumstances, facing incredible odds, to attempt to defeat evil. The evil of Lord of the Rings was a different evil than we have now, but evil is never truly defeated. If you wanted The Legend of Korra, you know that light and dark are in an eternal battle where one can never truly vanquish the other.

Yin and Yang. Darkness and Light. Good and Evil.


Augmented Reality has me excited because it opens up another medium to tell stories. You could create an AR app that takes you around the Tower of London while you investigate the disappearances of the Princes in the Tower. You can stand on the site that Anne Boleyn lost her head and see the crowds of people observing the event. It makes these old sites and dusty facts come alive in a way that they can’t if you’re just reading about them in a book.

Technology in and of itself doesn’t make something compelling. Every Jurassic Park movie has dinosaurs, but only the first one truly feels special. When I think about Jurassic Park, I don’t think about the dinosaurs. I think about the characters and their story arcs. The overarching story arc is a tale of human hubris where a con man with a bunch of money is able to cobble together extinct animals by buying enough technology other people developed in order to create an amusement park to make money. He doesn’t think through the consequences of what he’s doing and is brought low by his own hubris.

The secondary arc of the film has to do with Alan Grant. The first thing you learn about him is that he hates computers and technology. Nothing in this movie is going to change that opinion. The second thing you learn about Alan Grant is that he doesn’t like children. So of course he is the one that is stuck watching the children after the park goes to hell. He goes through a fundamental change by having to interact with actual children and at the end of the film they snuggle with him as Dr. Sadler starts ovulating. It keeps Dr. Grant from just being the crabby guy who loses all of the good one-liners to Jeff Goldblum.

We’ve seen many other films in the last 25 years that have dinosaurs, including the most recent Jurassic Park last year. But none of these films have the satisfying feeling that the first one does. It has an encapsulated story and a grand theme of human scientific hubris. Everything goes to hell the way it’s foreshadowed. The park is destroyed by the unnatural force that was brought into it, and all of the people we actually care about survive. It’s a satisfying story that is enhanced by the use of special effects that are actually used quite sparingly.

One reason Pokemon GO was so successful was because it was building off of an experience that people have been emulating for 25 years, which was to pretend to live in a world where little pocket monsters live in the tall grass and can be captured and made into your friend. There is a sense of wonder about Pokemon GO in that you can take it into the normal world that you inhabit and you can lift the veil on the normal world and expose a fantastical world you never knew was there. Most people agree that Pokemon GO was rather repetitive and the game play wasn’t great, but it created an experience that was wanted by a large number of people. The same thing happens when people visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park.

One thing these have in common is that they are pre-existing properties that have large and established fan bases. Most developers aren’t going to be able to go out and create their own Doctor Who augmented reality application because of licensing issues. So that means that there really isn’t a hurry to go out and do whatever the first few AR apps are going to be. If a company like Warner Bros wants to release their own Harry Potter AR app, you can’t stop them. But you can think about what story you want to tell.

AR is a tool that is made or broken by the story that the creator wants to tell. You can create an interactive murder mystery or a tour of a museum. There are so many unexplored avenues of AR that the limit is what you can imagine and how much work you’re willing to put into creating that experience.

We have such tools to create and express ideas, yet few people seem to. I am guilty of that as well. I do hope that the barrier to entry gets low enough that I can spare some time to create some experiences for the joy of creation. But please do think about creating something for the joy of creating it and not because you assume that there are a wealth of new AR related jobs or a limited number of AR apps to be created and you must pursue the money train on this. That train goes over a cliff. We have so many media for self expression and no time to do it and no stories to tell. Life is filled with possibilities if you lift the veil on the real world and reveal the hidden one.

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry, because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering — these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love — these are what we stay alive for.

To quote from Whitman: ‘O me, O life of the questions of these recurring. Of the endless trains of the faithless. Of cities filled with the foolish. What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer: That you are here. That life exists and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.’

What will your verse be?

Goals for 2017

We’re about halfway through 2017. WWDC starts on Monday. I have been working on a book on Metal since about October. My life has been on hold since then as I knew I couldn’t really work a full time job and write a book on Metal at the same time. Metal is incredibly mentally comprehensive. It’s a multidisciplinary skill as you don’t just have to understand the framework, you have to have a large base of knowledge around linear algebra applications in order to have it do anything useful. Half of my book is about graphics and half is about machine vision/learning and GPGPU programming. So trying to learn all of these things and distill them into something that’s actually coherent to other people has been incredibly mentally exhausting. It’s been rewarding as well. I honestly don’t think I could do this while also working full time concurrently.

I am getting to the end of my time on the rough draft of the book and I need to figure out what I am going to do when it’s over. My plan was to try and knock this book out as quickly as possible and then hope I could use it as a portfolio piece to find a decent full time job that would hopefully allow me to work remotely. As I nearing the end of this process, I don’t really want to do that yet. Don’t get me wrong, if someone offered me a decent full time job that let me work from my house right now, I would accept it immediately. But right now that’s not what my main career goal is for the near future.

One of the wonderful things I got to do this year was attend GDC. I got to meet a lot of awesome game developers. As an iOS developer, I meet a lot of people who think game development would be cool, but it doesn’t pay anything, so they stick to learning Core Data and doing boring things that will keep them employed and pay the bills.

I don’t have an app out on the store. I have published multiple books (and yes, I do know how to code!) and have worked on many long term projects with a team of other people. But it bothers me that I have never published an app. Specifically, I want to publish a game.

I have been toying with game development for a few years. I have tried working through a few books on game development assuming that game programming would be exactly like iOS programming. It’s not. There are a lot of design patterns that are fundamentally different between iOS and game programming. Also within game programming, there are a lot of foundational differences between a platformer game and an RPG. Just knowing some foundational SpriteKit information is helpful, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg for creating something interesting.

I see game development as being similar to Metal in that just learning the framework isn’t enough. You have to have an idea about what you want to do with it in order for it to be truly useful. A lot of Apple’s frameworks are very Lego-block like in that you have a bunch of built-in methods to do whatever it is you want it to do. That can be satisfying to throw together, but it doesn’t give the same feeling of creation you get from doing something outside the box.

As of right now, I have two goals I would like to accomplish in 2017:

  1. Publish my Metal Book
  2. Publish a Game Made With SpriteKit

I know that my first goal will be accomplished. I don’t know about the second one. The second one depends upon me being able to line up enough part time contract work to pay my bills while also leaving enough time for me to dedicate to game development.

I am talking to several people who have created successful consulting companies about trying to figure out how to do this successfully. I have been consulting for the last year or so, but it’s been rather haphazard. I have been fortunate enough to know someone who needed a contractor at exactly the right time I needed to begin something else. I don’t want to continue to rely on getting lucky in order to sustain myself. I know if I want to do this long term I need to put time and energy into it.

So why am I writing this blog post?

I believe in manifest visualization. I have noticed that many people have amorphous goals that don’t really line up with what they actually want to accomplish. I went to school for audio engineering and a lot of people wanted to be rap stars. They didn’t want to be rap stars because they enjoyed making music, they wanted to be rich and famous. Being a rap star seemed like the easiest way to get rich and famous and they assumed that being rich and famous would make them happy. This lead to a lot of people being put into exploitive situations that did not make them rich, famous, or happy.

I believe having concrete goals you want to accomplish with no extraneous strings attached to them is the best way to approach accomplishing anything. My goal with the book was that I wanted to learn Metal and I wanted to have a book on Metal with my name on it out in the world. I have no illusions that it’s going to get me hired by Apple or propel me into a job where I make fuck you money. I don’t have any illusions about it out-earning my advance. If I never see another penny from it and it doesn’t change my career, I am still happy I did it because it’s something I wanted to do.

Right now my hope is that I can line up part time contract work (~ 20 hours a week) through the end of the year so that I can publish my game. I am hoping that by focusing on what I want to accomplish and having concrete ideas about how to do it that I will be able to reach my goal. I don’t think my game is going to earn any money and it will probably look very amateurish and get lots of one-star reviews, but I want to create it because it’s something I want to know I can do. I am praying that I can find a way to add value to someone’s company as a contractor that also allows me enough free time to pursue my own passions and interests.

I don’t know if I will be able to pull off what I want, but I at least have an idea about what that is. It does no good to get everything you ever wanted only to find out you wanted the wrong things.

The Metal Programming Guide Pre-Order

After many long months of work, “The Metal Programming Guide” is available for pre-order. Many people have been asking me questions and here are the answers to the most frequent ones:

  • The book is in Swift.
  • I don’t know if this will be available in an eBook format. I would be greatly surprised if it wasn’t. Every other book in the Red Book series has a Kindle or a PDF version available. If the book is available as an eBook, I believe it will be accessible.
  • I will be taking into account what happens at WWDC. As of today, the rough draft of the book is 75% complete. That translates to 15 chapters completed and five to go. I have a placeholder chapter for whatever new and shiny thing may be introduced at WWDC.
  • There is going to be sample code. I had some really tight writing deadlines and it was not possible for me to write the code concurrently with writing the book. I intend to spend the time between when the book is completed and when it’s released to ensure there is good informative sample code. I hope to continue to add to this sample code and maintain it as Swift and Metal evolve.
  • The overall composition of the book is about 50% graphics and 50% GPGPU programming. There are a few chapters in the graphics section that you will need to read if you’re only interested in GPGPU programming. Those are detailed at the beginning of that section.

One thing that I have learned while working on this book is that it’s impossible for this to be everything to all people. There are chapters in this book that have entire books dedicated to them. It wasn’t possible to write all of the implementation details of complex operations such as facial detection. My hope with the book is to basically prime the mental pump. I hope that if you encounter a topic you find interesting that I am giving you just enough information about it that you can somewhat wrap your head around it and seek out dedicated resources for it.

One of the biggest questions I have gotten over the last year is “Why should I know Metal?“ I am hoping that my conceptual chapters do a good job of answering that question for you.

I’m incredibly excited for this book. This is the book I have wanted to write since WWDC 2014. I thought that I waited too long and I missed out on being the person to write this book. I feel incredibly grateful for having the opportunity to take a year and really dive deeply into Metal. I knew since I started programming I wanted to learn and understand graphics. Getting to take that knowledge and apply it to thinks like data analysis and machine learning.

I loved math as a child. I felt like it was the language that helps us understand the Universe. I strayed away from it as a young adult because I had a bad experience with it and figured I was stupid and that it wasn’t for me. By bashing my head against vectors and matrices and seeing how you can use them to do amazing things has been a mental renaissance for me.

In life you don’t get a lot of opportunities to work on something you’re passionate about. I have been fortunate in my career to have several of these opportunities and I cherish every one of them.

Legitimate Complexity and The Art of Teaching

I have been working on a book on Metal for the last several months, since October. I am entering one final push and trying to complete the rough draft of this book by the end of June. That gives me about a week to write each chapter, which is really stressing me out and upsetting me tremendously.

The thing that is stressing me out is that I feel like learning Metal is like zooming into a fractal. Every time I think that I have a good grasp on the material, I realize there is a much more complicated layer of complexity underneath what I just learned. The complexity grows exponentially.

Metal is multi-disciplinary. It’s not just the framework. It’s all the things around the framework that you need to understand in order to actually create something useful. There are a lot of math concepts and a lot of 3D graphics concepts that most books on OpenGL don’t focus on because no one wants to write a 2000 page book that contains everything you need to know that absolutely no one will read.

I am frantically trying to edit myself enough to present a coherent chunk of information in each chapter without getting overwhelmed with all the things I don’t have time to explain or learn.

I’ve been an iOS developer for the last five years. I learned a lot of programming from Ray Wenderlich tutorials. Those tutorials are fantastic, but I feel like they give a false impression that anything anyone wants to do can be broken down into a 3,000 word step-by-step tutorial.

Right now I am trying to work through their 2D Games by Tutorials book. This book is a monster. It’s nearly 700 pages long. I have only ever gotten through the first 150 before I got overwhelmed and given up. I managed to get further than I had before, but it’s still incredibly dense. If you asked me what they could have gotten rid of to make it less overwhelming, I would be hard pressed to tell you.

A lot of things we do, especially when we’re starting out, are small and easily encapsulated. This lulls us into a false sense that everything we do will be simple and easily encapsulated. We develop sound byte memories where if something can’t be spoon fed to us in ten pages or less, then we get muddled and confused. This severely limits our ability to work on anything more complicated.

I am absolutely not picking on Ray’s site. It’s an amazing resource and the reason the tutorials are set up the way they are is because of this issue of us only being able to handle a certain amount of complexity. His site is working with how we process information rather than being a source of bad habits. I have nothing but admiration and respect for the writers on that team and I do not want this to come off as me bashing them or saying people who learn from that site are not real developers. I am simply talking about how for the last few years I have lulled myself into believing that everything can be broken down into easily digestible chunks when not everything can.

At this point I am trying to figure out how to expand my brain’s bandwidth so that I can tackle more complexity than I am used to. It’s incredibly difficult to do so. Not only am I trying to figure out something incredibly complex, I am also trying to process and package it into a digestible chunk by another person.

I have been reading a lot of graphics books and gotten frustrated at how abstract they are. I get frustrated that certain things are assumed and that nothing seems to be explained. I am now beginning to understand that once you reach a certain level of complexity there is a limit to how well you can convey that information.

This is an issue we are currently dealing with in our political sphere. Take the tax system for example. The tax system is an incredibly complex system that most people don’t really understand. When we go to vote for our representatives, it sounds good to say “Reform the tax system to make sure everyone pays their fair share,” but how to actually implement that is complicated. Something that is simple and sounds fair usually winds up being worse that the current system that is too complicated to explain in a 30-second sound byte on the evening news.

In programming we talk about precision and elegance. Those are concepts that do well in incredibly controlled and contrived situations. When you have to deal with things in the real world, stuff gets messy. There are edge cases. Things don’t behave predictably.

For a “simple” example, look at dates and times. There are 365 days in a year, 24 hours in a day, sixty minutes in an hour, and sixty seconds in a minute. Except when there aren’t. Every four years our year has 366 days. Then you get into leap seconds. Then you have Einstein’s Theory of Relativity where clocks that are shot into space are slightly off from their counterparts back on Earth. Things get wibbly wobbly awful damn fast and this should be a straightforward example.

I get that the world is so hopelessly complex that if we tried to understand the full scope of just how little is standing between us and total anarchy our heads would explode. We simplify complex systems as a means of being able to just cope with every day.

Right now I am frustrated because I am just beginning to grasp something that is hopelessly complex, but I don’t know how to package it in a way that is accessible to a group of people. I want to write a Rosetta Stone where someone can read through my book and totally understand a complex system, but that really isn’t possible. It would take a hundred pages to walk a reader through creating every piece they need to get a minimum useful thing up and running.

I am doing the best I can to present the information to someone in a way that will help them figure things out. I am trying not to be hard on myself for not being able to do an impossible thing. I know with several years of practice and working with this, that I can master it. I have to accept that there is no magic book that will intuitively teach you everything you need to know in order to do something legitimately complicated. I can just try to do my best to present what information I think your brain can handle and hope that you can find the next step to figure out the rest for yourself.

Moneyball: The Art of Scouting Programming Talent

Back when I was in London I suffered from a nasty bout of food poisoning. I wound up spending a lot of time in bed hiding in my hotel room. I got bored and looked for something to watch on TV. A channel was playing the movie Moneyball.

I am not a huge baseball fan, but I am interested in data and statistics, so I started watching it not really knowing if I was going to like it or not. It wound up captivating me in a way I didn’t think it would.

It was less about the statistic and more about the story of the central protagonist, team manager Billy Beane. Billy was scouted for the major leagues as a high school student and signed to join the Mets at age 17. His career was lackluster and he never really lived up to his potential.

The movie only briefly covered this backstory, but it fascinated me. Why had he not lived up to his potential? Did he just peak too early? What happened?

I finally bit the bullet and bought the book the movie was based on and I got a better overall explanation of what happened. Billy Beane was one of the most intelligent kinesthetic learners of the century. He was capable of doing things no one else thought possible and making them look easy. His physical talent and capabilities were beyond question.

The issue was his mind.

He never learned to cope with failure. As a high school student, he was always so much better than everyone else that failure was never something he thought much about. When he started playing against people older and more experienced than he was, he would strike out and his batting average dropped. He was unable to cope with this failure, so it manifested in explosive rage and he developed an inability to perform. If his first at-bat went poorly he was done for the rest of the game. He was afraid of embarrassment. He modified his batting to try and not strike out as often, but it worked against his natural athletic gifts. The only person keeping Billy from being a super star was Billy himself.

This story really strikes a chord with me. I speak somewhat openly about having mental health issues. I have had multiple jobs over the last few years where the work environment destroyed my ability to function. I would sob because I knew the programming knowledge to do a task was locked away in a safe somewhere in my mind and I could not access it because my mental health was in shambles. It’s so hard to tell someone that this isn’t you. You know you can do better, but you just can’t right now because your mind is interfering with your ability to function.

Over the years I have learned some coping skills. I know how I work best and I try as best I can to tell people I work for how I work so that they don’t break me. Some of them respect that. A lot of them don’t. I honestly don’t understand why a company would spend so much money on programmers and then make dick moves that destroy their effectiveness. The only explanation I have is that they don’t think of programmers as people. We’re a disposable resource. We’re like race horses. They are all excited about us until we break a leg, then they take us out back and shoot us and go out and buy a new one.

There was another aspect of the book that resonated with me. I have had very bad experiences with jobs where I feel like the people who hired me are waiting for me to fail. They look for any indication that I misrepresented myself or that there is some reason I can’t do what they want and they cut their losses and let me go. I see other people who are completely incompetent who linger forever and continue to get another chance in spite of their past record of failures.

One of the points of the book was talking about how baseball scouting has always been done. A bunch of guys will travel around watching high school baseball games looking for talent. They have a preconceived notion of what a star baseball player looks like. He has to be tall and muscular and have the right look. He has to have the right tools. He has to have a presence.

There was a whole chapter about the scouts sitting down with the economist who did the statistics going over who the scouts wanted and who the economist wanted. Most of the players the economist wanted horrified the scouts. They were all too fat, or not tall enough, or they would throw funny. It didn’t matter what their past statistics said about their ability, they didn’t have the right look. The scouts couldn’t imagine them being the next big thing.

Billy Beane was allowed to languish in baseball for ten years in spite of a poor track record of success because he had the right look. Everyone was waiting for him to shake off whatever was wrong with him so that he could be the player everyone imagined he could be. Baseball scouting is less about what someone has done and more about what you can imaging them becoming.

This applies so much to technology as well. We have the myth of the 20-year-old programmer in a hoodie who writes code that changes the world. We have ingrained in ourselves what we think a programmer is and how they’re supposed to look and act. If you’re a venture capitalist, you’re not looking at a track record of past success, you’re looking for someone that feels right. You look at what you imaging that person can be rather than who they are.

Having several failed start ups is seen as a bonus, but only if you’re the right kind of person. People are willing to keep giving you chances because they have a gut feeling that you are going to become something even though you have no past track record to back it up.

If you’re black, or female, or trans, or some other underrepresented minority group, it’s harder for venture capitalists to imagine what you could become. It doesn’t matter as much if you have a solid business plan or if you’re doing something no one else is doing. If it’s something that is outside of their scope of understanding, you’re not going to sell them of the fantasy of being Peter Theil investing in Facebook.

This is a larger problem even beyond the scope of who gets funding and who doesn’t. We are sold on the idea that a programmer looks and acts a certain way. Everyone has to be a 10x programmer. Everyone has to work 80 hours a week. Everyone has to be passionate. Everyone has to keep learning the next hot thing because if you don’t you’ll be left behind. Everyone has to be under the age of 30 because young people are smarter.

No one can ever be wrong. No one can ever admit to not knowing something.

I think one reason we have so many toxic hostile arguments about code is for many of the same reasons Billy Beane did not pan out as a baseball player. People can’t ever be wrong. People can’t fail. Our self worth is wrapped up in being the smartest guy in the room. We can’t tolerate ideas that are different from our own because if we’re wrong, then who are we? Are we those losers who refused to learn object-oriented programming in the 90’s who can’t find jobs now? Are we those people we make fun of who write JavaScript and copy and paste code from Stack Overflow?

I think we make the mistake of thinking that a lot of the toxic behaviors we see come from a place of strength. It’s quite the opposite. It comes from a place of fear. We fear being displaced. We fear being wrong. We lash out at minorities because we benefit from looking like what a programmer should look like and the fewer people we have to compete with, the easier it is to be at the top of the heap (or the stack).

I have had people who are less talented than I am sabotage me at work because they see their job as a zero sum game. You are either the smartest person at the office or you are not. It’s a competition. If someone knows more than you do, then it diminishes your sense of self and you must get rid of the person who is challenging your identity.

We are limiting what people are capable of by forcing them to put on a facade that they are never wrong. We are creating a more toxic environment by conforming to these ideas of what a programmer is supposed to look like. We think we’re special unique snowflakes, but we’re not. This is a problem everywhere.

We need to stop breaking people by trying to force them to conform to a mold that was set fifteen years ago. We need to be open to people who look different and have different ideas. We need to stop making people feel inadequate if they are not the smartest person in the room. We need to stop being hostile to people who are different and waiting for them to fail while giving a pass to the people who look like us because we imaging what they could be. That’s a fantasy, not reality. They’ll never become what they’re capable of if we don’t challenge them to think differently.

Helping Hands

Back in November I disconnected my Facebook account. I had hoped that when the 2016 presidential election was over that people would be able to go back to talking about life as we knew it. I missed talking about computer programming and science fiction. Every single day was filled with anxiety by everyone about what the future would bring. Things got progressively worse after the election in a way I didn’t think was possible. I had people who voted the same way I did viciously attacking me for not completely supporting their views 100%. It got too demoralizing to deal with everyone anymore because everyone was so angry that I simply quit. I couldn’t deal with it anymore.

This left me rather lonely. I started writing a book back in October. I find it difficult to leave my house regularly without completely exhausting myself. I certified my pug Delia as a service animal because I found dealing with the outside world too difficult to cope with. I don’t have any local friends anymore and it’s difficult to find people to hang out with.

Back in March I had two rather intimidating conferences I was attending. One was GDC. The other one was iOSCon 2017. This post is about my experiences with these conferences and how important our community is to me.

GDC 2017

GDC is by far the largest conference I have ever been to. I was fortunate enough to be accepted as a conference associate. I got to attend the conference in exchange for helping to make sure the conference runs smoothly. My first conference was Snow*Mobile in Madison. The organizers of that conference let me attend the conference in exchange for volunteering to help run the conference. I got to hand out conference badges and meet the speakers and it was an invaluable experience. I always prefer to not just attend a conference and I was incredibly grateful to be accepted as a conference associate.

Delia and I greeting at GDC. People asked where the pug was later and were sad she wasn’t a fixture at the front.


I was also afraid.

I was afraid if I told them that I had a service animal that they would think I would be unable to perform my CA duties. I should have been up front and told them immediately, but I figured if it wasn’t okay to bring Delia that I would leave her home and try to find a way to cope.

I didn’t need to be worried. Everyone in the CA program was absolutely fantastic about having Delia there. She and I were accepted by everyone. A lot of people took comfort in having her around and it really made that conference special to me. I love my pug, but I am biased. I worried that people would think that I was pulling a con and I wasn’t really disabled because I don’t have a physical disability. I worry that people think I am like Paris Hilton carrying my dog around just because I have privilege rather than her being something that helps me cope with crowded noisy situations. Having so many people enjoy having her around really touched me in a profound way.

Someone was spoiled with all the pettings.


Getting to attend GDC was a life changing experience for me. I met some of the greatest people ever. I feel incredibly blessed to have been able to connect with such a fantastic group of positive and accepting people. One of the big things they look for in a CA is someone who is friendly and positive. A lot of people there acted as mentors to students trying to break into the game industry. The CAs were a creative and colorful group of people. I felt like I could completely be myself and that it was just fine. I take pride in my weirdness and my craziness, but I do feel a lot of pressure to tone it down and conform at iOS conferences.

When I got home after the conference I felt surprisingly energized. I realized when I got home that I hadn’t heard anyone talking about politics or arguing about it for the past week. Everyone I interacted with was positive and happy to be there. I made a lot of new friends. I got to be in a completely non-toxic environment for a whole week and it was amazing.

Someone drew a picture of Delia and put it on the bulletin board. I may have cried a little.

iOSCon 2017

iOSCon was a different experience. It was not as large as GDC, but it was in London. This was my first overseas conference. I had concerns about the flight over and getting around. I also could not take Delia with me. I was afraid that I would not fulfill all the correct paper work and she would be taken away at the border or I would be denied entry into the country.

I also did not have any cellular service. I am not comfortable with public transportation because I live in rural Wisconsin. I was terrified of getting lost and not being able to get to and from my hotel. I have wanted to visit England forever, but I was terrified of trying to actually visit anything.

One of my friends, Paul Hudson, was going to speak at the conference and lives in Bath. He invited me to take the train out there and visit the sites. I was terrified of getting lost on the train. I had no idea how to get anywhere. Paul sent me incredibly detailed directions about where to buy a train ticket and how to get there. His directions helped me figure out how to get around Paddington Station when I arrived off the plane and was suffering from jet lag. I would have freaked out more than I actually did had I not been forewarned about navigating around.

When I got to Bath, he showed me around. I didn’t have to worry about referencing a map or getting lost. Getting to visit Bath was the highlight of my trip. If he had not reached out and taken the time to make me feel comfortable about going out there I never would have gone. I would have spent even more of my time in London hiding in my hotel room watching Law & Order reruns that miraculously still play on British TV.

I fulfill my life’s purpose by visiting one of the world’s oldest baths in Bath.

Helping Hand

I have trouble doing things that don’t bother most people. One thing that frustrates me when I go to San Francisco is that people invite me to go out to dinner and don’t do anything to help me get there. Sometimes they don’t even tell me the name of the restaurant they’re eating at. I wind up staying in Cupertino a lot, and the idea of hopping on the CalTrain and trying to figure out the MUNI and the BART to get to a location that no one will even tell me about throws me into a shut down.

I don’t like that I can’t do the same things everyone else can. I feel embarrassed having to explain that I curl up in a ball crying if I encounter multiple public transportation systems in one place when I don’t expect to. Everyone else knows what they’re doing and they get aggressive when you’re in their way because you’re freaked out and don’t know what is going on.

If people want me to do things with them they need to do a little more to help me get there. I need explicit directions. I need addresses. Having the name of the place is helpful too. It’s not that I am incompetent or lazy. I just need more help.

I don’t expect people to make the extra effort to help me spend time with them. Whenever someone does, it always means a lot to me. I know our community values being able to go off on your own and do things without help, but social stuff is really hard. It’s hard to go to a place you have never been and to deal with a system you don’t understand. Having a modicum of empathy for someone else and reaching out to do slightly more for them when they have trouble doing it for themselves is always unexpected and greatly appreciated.

There are so many small things that people can do that take just a few minutes out of their day that can mean the world to someone who has trouble doing things for themselves. My experiences this year are making me more aware of what I can do to be a positive influence on the world around me. With so much negativity out in the world right now, small acts of kindness really mean a lot. We’re all in this together.

Thoughts on Being Single for the Second Time

About two years ago I went through a divorce. I had known my marriage was over years before I was able to finally pull the trigger on it. I had actually tried leaving once a year earlier, but I was forced to go back to my husband because I wasn’t able to sustain myself quite yet and he promised to change. He didn’t and we followed through on the second attempt.

My ex-husband had an OKCupid account set up months before we filed for divorce the second time. He had his first date less than a week after he moved out of our house. A year after he moved out he had already replaced me with another woman with long red hair, two small dogs, and mental health issues.

During the year or two after our divorce I was a complete wreck. I was in much worse shape than I thought I would be. I had wanted the divorce. Our marriage was over. I thought I would feel free to finally do all the things I wanted to do. Instead, I felt like a death had happened. I had never been responsible for balancing my own budget and I had no idea how much money I earned or how much my bills were.

I had multiple rooms in my house that I simply never went into. My house felt incomprehensibly large even though it’s actually quite small. I used to have dreams that I was walking through my house and it was a giant labyrinth of gardens and piano rooms that I never knew were there because I only stayed in one small corner of my house.

The idea of trying to date anyone during this time seemed absolutely incomprehensible. I consistently see men who have recently gotten out of relationships try to get back on the horse and date again immediately. I don’t understand how they can do that.

I haven’t been on a date since I was 16 years old. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was put on medication that made me gain sixty pounds in less than two years. My medication triggered panic attacks and caused a lot of mental health issues alongside the ones they were supposed to actually treat. I was a chubby, socially awkward woman with no social skills trying to navigate a social environment run on alcohol, which I couldn’t drink because of my medications.

I felt like having a boyfriend would give me some kind of validation that I was actually a person worthy of being liked. I used to develop crushes on other socially awkward guys who were less attractive than I was because I thought that they were low enough that I could get them. Most of them were either too socially awkward to return my advances or were appalled that a chubby socially awkward girl thought she was good enough for them while they drooled over anorexic teenagers with daddy issues.

Boys in college had been sold on the idea of the hook up. They had been told all through high school that when they got to college it would be a never ending stream of pussy. None of them wanted a relationship. They wanted to have sex with you and never speak to you again. I literally had guys come up to me and say to my face, “I hate you. I know you hate me. We should have sex. It will be fun.“

I was too priggish to give into any of these situations, but other girls I know did. They slept with guys to give themselves a sense of personal validation and were always disappointed when things never went any further.

I left college without having a boyfriend. I also left college without having any kind of stable career path. I was faced with a future alone with no meaning. Then I met my husband. We’d known one another since we were children. We were both tired of trying to find someone. I needed health insurance and to move out of my parent’s house. I thought I knew everything about him. I was terribly wrong and if you ever meet me IRL ask me about it and I’ll give more details than I am willing to give here!

After my misadventures in college, this seemed like as good as it was going to get. Sure, we weren’t really attracted to one another, but he would look me in the eye and talk to me. That was an improvement.

Things were fine for the first two years. Then he got weird. He started spending money we didn’t have on shit we didn’t need. I decided to go back to school for computer programming. I wanted an actual career and not just the menial white collar jobs I had held since we got married. I wanted a sense of self worth and to do interesting work I was proud of. I told him that if he would support me for two years that I could start bringing in four time more money than I had before. We could start a business. We could be partners. We could have our freedom and independence from The Man.

He wanted his freedom, but he didn’t want to work for it. It was the biggest disappointment in his life that he wasn’t born wealthy. This ate at his soul. He was bitter and resentful of having to go to work to earn a wage. He was always scheming about how to get rich quick without any effort. He would bully me about how I wasn’t developing the next Candy Crush. He would come to me in tears and tell me that he just needed me to earn a million dollars a year. He could find a way to be happy on just a million dollars a year.

He got incredibly paranoid. He was convinced I was cheating on him. He would follow me to networking events he previously had no interest in. He would skulk around behind me nursing a glass of scotch, watching me as I tried to network. He would go over and yell at me in front of people I was trying to connect with professionally. Once I came home from a business meeting to find him in the garage activating the GPS on my phone so he could track me down and physically bring me home. He would lay on the ground behind my car to prevent me from leaving the house.

He was jeopardizing everything I had worked so hard to accomplish and I simply could not tolerate his behavior anymore.

I feel I have been left in the lurch. I talk to other people who have built their careers on writing books and doing conference talks. I ask them for advice about how I can build this as a sustainable career while still paying my bills and I always get sheepish looks and the response, “Well, my wife has a really good job with benefits.“ I hear that and my heart sinks. I keep seeing and hearing that the career path I want to take can only be sustained by having a supportive partner who is willing to shore up the other person’s financial deficits.

I feel a great deal of anger at my ex-husband for destroying our marriage because he was unwilling to give up his $10,000 a year vacation habit. I have been borderline unemployed since September and I am just now reaching the end of my savings. We were $30,000 in debt with two incomes and bringing in over six figures while we were married because my ex couldn’t do without picking up an expensive hobby every couple of months. I had a plan that would have been mutually beneficial for both of us and now I am spinning plates frantically hoping that I can achieve what seems like the impossible all by myself.

I have no illusions about my book. I am writing about an incredibly niche topic that has almost no job prospects. I keep hoping if I develop skills around graphics programming that I can break into that area of expertise and have a long, stable career build on something most people don’t know that doesn’t fundamentally change, but I don’t know if I have enough time or runway to slog it out. I’m afraid of taking a dead end job and waking up seven years from now to find I didn’t keep up with the new changes in tech and that I am unemployable. Having the buffer of another person in case I made a terrible mistake and failed eased my mind. Having no safety net and throwing myself into a chasm right now is deeply worrying to me and I don’t have anyone I can even talk to about my anxiety because I am completely alone right now. Except for my parents. They have been fantastic, but I hate having to go to them with my hand out.

Being single at this point in my life is markedly different than it was when I was younger and I had no career. I am doing my best to not see getting remarried as an escape route for the path I have chosen to take. I would love to have a supportive partner around to help me out so I don’t have to do this alone, but having survived an unsupportive one, I know it’s better to be alone than live through that again.

I keep feeling like I am supposed to move on. Join OKCupid or Match.com. Go to speed dating. Relocate to San Francisco or Seattle to get access to a larger pool of eligible men. But I keep getting this nagging feeling that things have not fundamentally changed much since I was in college. Reading horror stories about how Tinder has basically supercharged the college hook up dynamic worries me. Seeing how many men are basically jumping into relationships to avoid being alone worries me too.

I like working. I see so many people doing frivolous crap all the time that I worry if I did move to a city and started trying to be social like everyone else that I would stop dedicating myself to my work. I would stop pushing and get left behind. It’s so hard to find another person who also likes working who is willing to just be in the same space I am while we’re both working.

I want to be with someone who wants to be with me. I would love to have someone to cook for besides just myself. I would like to have someone to build robots with me in my basement and then cuddle on the couch watching Star Trek. I don’t want that badly enough to grasp onto anything with a dick that comes along because I don’t want to be alone. I feel I have progressed from my college aged self who felt like having a boyfriend would be a validation to someone who is comfortable with themselves but would like to find another person to share things with.

I’m not willing to be with someone who did a visual assessment of me that I am just hot enough that they’re willing to have sex with me but they think I am unattractive enough to be approachable. I don’t want to be with someone who thinks that relationships are parking spaces and that you are supposed to always be parked somewhere or on the lookout for one.

As it looks increasingly like this will never happen, I am trying to accept being alone. I won’t settle for anything less than someone who likes me as a person and who I actively want to be with. There might be no one out there like that and I need to be okay with that.

Being alone sucks. But being with a destructive and unsupportive partner who doesn’t love you sucks more. It’s important to have a creative and fulfilling life rather than waiting for it to just happen to you. For better or worse, I am living a life I want to lead. I have no idea how sustainable it is in the long run, but for now I’m being true to myself. I am trying to have faith that if I do that then things will work out. Doesn’t mean I don’t indulge in feeling sorry for myself every once and a while.

Enough whinging. Back to work.

Persona 3 vs Persona 4

I am doing a lot of travel at the beginning of this year. I just got back from GDC and I am flying to London for iOSCon in a few weeks. While I was at GDC I was staying with a friend who generously let me squat on her couch. Her couch was an hour away from San Francisco by train, so I knew between my flights and all the time spent on trains I needed to find something to keep me entertained and occupied.

I couldn’t work on the plane or the train because I am sensitive to motion sickness. That crossed out reading too. The best option I could think about was playing video games. I didn’t want to take the 3DS because it has terrible battery life, so that left the PS Vita.

I decided to replay Persona 3. I finished up Persona 3 a little over a year ago. It took me 75 hours to get through it the first time. I really wanted to replay it again, but I thought it was stupid to confine myself to one game, so I have spent the last year trying to find something I like as much as Persona 3. I haven’t found it yet. And yes, that includes the venerable Persona 4 Golden.

I know this is probably an unpopular opinion, but I like Persona 3 better than Persona 4. I was told by many people to play Persona 3 so I could appreciate how much better Persona 4 was. I held off on Persona 4 for a bit while looking for another game, but I couldn’t wait anymore and started playing it. I was disappointed.

I have been trying to figure out why I don’t like P4 as much as P3. Since I started replaying P3 I have a better understanding of what it is about P4 that I don’t like as well. Fair warning, I am only about 20 hours into P4, so it’s possible that some of my gripes might be rectified.

Dungeons

I like the main dungeon in P3, Tartarus, better than the mechanic in P4 where you enter the dungeon through the TV. I was a huge Buffy fan, so the idea that your school is the base of all evil is a perfect metaphor for being a teenager.

I liked that there was an explanation about why the Shadows show up at the school. The Shadows are a result of an accident at the Kurijo Group. Mitsuru’s father was responsible for the accident. Yukari’s father died in that accident. It felt like people were being drawn to this problem because of their pasts.

In P4, you enter the dungeon through the TV. There seems to be no explanation about why these people in this one town are able to enter the TV to go fight shadows. It’s a small town and people just sort of happen to be there. There was no grand plan to right the wrongs of the past. There was an epic component missing from the grand scheme of things. I get that it’s supposed to be a less heavy and more fun iteration of Persona, but if you’re delving into Jungian psychology and the collective unconscious, I did appreciate the epic scope provided by P3.

Getting flashbacks to college

I also really liked that the students in P3 live in the dorms and there don’t seem to be any grown ups around. It really scratched a mental itch to get to have an immersive Japanese high school experience with all its stereotypes. Playing a game about a bunch of kids in a small town who live with their parents reminded me too much of my own real life to be a fun escape.

Combat

Persona 3 Combat

I don’t really like the tweaks to the combat system in P4. I don’t know why, but it’s difficult to see what various Shadows are weak to. In P3 I can directly control all of my players and get a good overview of what each shadow is weak to. When I do combat in P4 I don’t control my players and things happen so chaotically that I don’t actually know what moves my players made against the Shadows.

I also miss having the portals on various levels to take you back to the entrance in P3. In P4 you need to hold onto a consumable item that you must use to get back to the entrance.

All in all, I just found the combat in P3 to be more intuitive than in P4.

Quests

Completing a quest for the Fox and leveling up social link

One component in both P3 and P4 is that you go on quests and receive rewards. The quests are a side component of the main gameplay.

In P3, you receive a list of quests from Elizabeth/Theo. They’re all neatly gathered in one place. You get a crazy response from Elizabeth. It’s fun to complete the quest just to hear what she is going to say. A lot of the quests can be completed just by doing dungeon crawling. They’re not that hard to figure out.

In P4, your quests are spread all over the place. Unless you have an online guide, it’s practically impossible to find and complete every single quest. One is from a teacher wearing Egyptian wear hiding behind a corner. It’s difficult to keep track of all the quests and how to complete them. I believe some of the quests advance a social link, which makes it vital that you complete some of them.

I wound up playing through bits of P4 on the plane when there was a glitch on my memory card. I bombed nearly everything I did in the game because nothing was intuitive. I couldn’t look up the answers online and I failed at everything. If this was a normal game where dying is a way of learning, that would be one thing. Playing this game is an 80 hour commitment and I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot by screwing up all of the quests when I want to play for a few hours when I don’t have access to the internet.

I get stressed out trying to keep track of the quests and so I usually wind up ignoring them. Sometimes I will look something up and find there are ten things I missed. I get that some people might really enjoy just how many side quests there are and how much there is to do, but I don’t like the idea that I have to sit down with an online guide to accomplish everything happening in the game.

Skills

Scooting to the next town over, just like high school

Going along with having too much chaos with the quests is expanding the skills requirements.

In P3, you have three skills you must max out: Academics, Charm, and Courage. The first time I played through I didn’t understand that you had to max out all three of these. I focused on Academics because I knew we had midterms to study for. This lack of understanding bit me towards the end of the game as there were several social links I never finished because I didn’t have the requisite skill level to begin the social link.

P4 doubles the number of skills to six. In addition to that, it adds gardening and fishing and scooter riding and… It’s difficult to grasp the advantages of leveling up one skill over another. In addition to these skills you have to kill Shadows and level up your social links.

I get that part of the appeal of P4 is that there is more of everything, but I find it personally overwhelming. I find it difficult to know what to do on any given day and I feel like I am playing the game wrong because I don’t know what my character is supposed to do. I have major FOMO no matter what I do.

Female Protagonist

Female Protagonist and team leader

The last bit I would like to bring up is my appreciation that the portable version of P3 has the option to play as a female.

It shouldn’t make that much of a difference, but playing as a female character completely changes the feel of the game. The first time I played through as a female character I found Junpei to be creepy because I thought he was hitting on me rather than being friendly. This time around, knowing that he is not an option for a love path, I am really enjoying my character’s friendship with him.

You get to have the option to use Elizabeth’s brother Theo as your liaison with the Velvet Room. It’s fun getting another character to interact with.

Right now I am playing another game, Rune Factory 2: A Fantasy Harvest Moon. That game consists of two generations, where most of the main gameplay happens in the second generation. In that generation, you have the option to play as either male or female, but you don’t get that option in the first generation. Your main goal in the first generation is to find a girl to marry so you can knock her up with what will be your character in the second generation.

Playing as a boy puts me in a position I don’t like being in. I know the only goal I have as my character is to find the mother of my child. The characters are paper thin because they’re not really the point of the game, so I find myself asking questions I don’t like. Do I marry the girl the game wants me to marry who will never marry anyone else if I don’t marry her? Do I steal the shy girl who talks through her doll from her boyfriend because he’s an asshole? Do I try to marry the rich girl because she’s the hardest one to marry and thus prove my status? It’s a really creepy and superficial way of looking at things and it worries me that this is how boys see relationships in real life. Like, we’re not people. We’re various status symbols or a means to an end. Playing like this really depresses and upsets me. I know logically that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to give deep and complex personalities to something with such shallow gameplay, but having to think that way really upsets me.

P4 was remade for the Vita as Persona 4 Golden. They made a fighting game with the Persona 4 cast, along with a dancing game. These characters have been in so many games and done so much fan service that it really bothers me that they figured it just wasn’t worth it to add a female protagonist. Being able to play as a female is much more comfortable and it’s an indication that the creators care about making a nice game for everyone and not just the boys.

Conclusion

I will admit that the story and characters in P4 are better than P3. I know that the characters are a vitally important part of the game, but it’s still a game. It’s not a visual novel. It’s nice to do well in the game and constantly being confused as to what to do. In my opinion, P4 is too much of a good thing. I have preordered P5, so we’ll see how that one stacks up. For now, P3 for the win!