Archive for the ‘General Interest’ Category

The Glitch That Launched A Thousand Ships

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

Not exactly a glitch and not quite a thousand ships, but I apologize for inadvertently launching everybody’s vessels in celebration of New Year’s Day.

There is currently no easy way for me to inactivate periodic events, so instead I set them to happen annually at midnight each January 1st, the idea being that just before January 1st I would change the date to July 1st and then change it back soon afterward. To make a long story short, I forgot. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you. In the meantime, enjoy the show!

Update and Survey

Friday, October 25th, 2013

My apologies for the long hiatus. I regret that I still won’t have much (any!) time for Steampunk Road until 2014. My life recently went from the 0 km/h of a lead balloon to a high-flying, Zeppliny 120 km/h with almost no warning. I am now working at a new job I absolutely love, which is a good thing considering it consumes 13 hours of every weekday. But I am also rehearsing every night for a play (I am Chief Inspector Hubbard in “Dial ‘M’ for Murder”) and taking three online graduate courses in online education! Unfortunately that leaves almost no time for eating, sleeping, or breathing, let alone working on Steampunk Road, until the final curtain falls on the play and the last virtual paper has been submitted.

I found just a few minutes this morning to post this update. I am asking you to fill out another survey, this time on which browser you use/will use to access Steampunk Road. It used to be that if a web site worked at all, it worked with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser. These last few weeks, I have come across two fairly-major web sites that absolutely do not work with IE, but do work with Google Chrome. And according to this article, those who use the web use Google’s Chrome web browser more than twice as much as any other. (Fine print: most people still use Microsoft IE, but those who use Google Chrome access far more many pages per person.) How about you? What is your preferred browser for accessing Steampunk Road? Please answer the question here. Thank you!

Of Blogs and Finances

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

When we first decided to start a blog for and about Steampunk Road, we sat down and came up with a list of topics. It was not a long enough list to cover the whole month of August, but it was enough to inspire some confidence that it could be done. We managed to post something every day in August except for one, and every day in September up until we took some scouts into the mountains (beyond the reaches of online civilization) the last few days. Of those original topics, all have seen the light of day except for one still waiting on some programming to be finished and three posts about money. We have been avoiding the financial posts, until now.

Steampunk Road is essentially cost free to run. It currently piggybacks on another website, and the domain name is a nominal cost (pun intended). Unfortunately, Steampunk Road also generates no revenue. This was originally a requirement of the Google Maps API, but Google has since changed their terms, and it is now more a feature of the web site. We want to attract as many players as possible to the game by being available to all, free of cost and advertising. (More on this, and your chance to supply additional guidance and feedback, in tomorrow’s weekly survey.)

But one cost not mentioned above is time. As a web site with a staff of one, any time spent on Steampunk Road is time spent not earning money doing other things, like programming apps or teaching. So even though the cost to run the web site is minimal, the cost to actively develop it is quite high. That is one reason Steampunk Road has surpassed two-years old before its completion — we have been doing other, more remunerative things.

Although we do expect to continue to post here fairly frequently, it probably will not be daily, as we will be spending more time on creating the game and less time on the blog for at least the rest of September.

Steampunk Road Rag Finished

Friday, August 30th, 2013

I have updated the Steampunk Road Rag music on the home page. I added a ‘B’ section and a ‘C’ section, wherein I take the rag to places it has never been before, and perhaps should never have gone.

Steampunk Road Rag

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

I was inspired to write some music for the home page of Steampunk Road. Although the piece is not yet complete, I have uploaded the ‘A’ part of Steampunk Road Rag. To listen, head to the home page and click the “Play” icon toward the bottom of the screen. It was while developing the piece that I decided that the perfect steampunk instrument must certainly be the calliope, something I am certain most everyone already knew.

On Being a Game Designer

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

I, dropping the royal “we” again for this more personal post, am not certain when I decided that I was a game designer. I never decided to become a game designer. I just woke up one day and decided that I was, by default, a game designer.

I more readily think of myself as a computer programmer. It was just that I had programs, like Steampunk Road and my mobile apps, that I wanted to write and there was no one telling me what they should look like or how they should work. Since the games needed to be designed before they could become games, I became a de facto game designer.

Now, I won’t claim to be a good game designer, but I have had some time to think and read and explore what makes for good game design. I am trying to incorporate all of that learning back into Steampunk Road.

For example, one of the things that you want in a good game design is a gentle ramp of difficulty. A game should start out relatively easy, but then start increasing in difficulty as the player learns more about how to play. The difficulty should challenge the player without frustrating her or him. If the game is too easy, or the difficulty stays the same, then the player will quickly become bored.

Steampunk Road has been a puzzle game from the start. The challenge has always been how to write a good puzzle in the era of Google and Wikipedia. I decided early on to expect people to use those resources and started writing puzzles with that in mind.

Surprisingly, writing difficult puzzles has not been a problem. For example, I have recently come up with a new puzzle that, while perhaps easier than our earlier puzzles, may still be quite difficult even with those resources. What has been difficult for me is coming up with easy puzzles! But there is still a lot of room in which to work, so I think perhaps we are working our way back from the end to the beginning.

Facebook “Insights”

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

We have a Facebook page for our Facebook fans. Mostly, we post brief updates about the game and links to this blog and the surveys. Today we turn the tables and write a post about what we wrote on Facebook.

A few months ago, Facebook encouraged us to increase our number of fans and held out the carrot of receiving “insights” into our fan-base if we did. So we explicitly asked for “Likes” among the steampunk fans of Facebook. We exceeded our goal of 35 likes (thanks again to all of our Facebook fans!), so we thought perhaps we should share our “insights” with you.

There is not much there, but what is there is interesting. For example, 54% of the people on Facebook claim to be male. That is all of Facebook, not just those who “Like” Steampunk Road. Our fans are more evenly divided male/female at close to 50% each. Somehow both of those numbers surprised us, as we tend to see more posts by females.

The other interesting tidbit is not so much interesting as a bit depressing. Less than one-fourth of the people who “Like” Steampunk Road on Facebook will ever see any given post there. At most, one-half of them will see it. As far as Facebook is concerned, unless a post is ‘Like’d or shared, it may as well not even exist.

We are not going begging again though, and we are not going to engage in any shenanigans designed to get you to “Like” or share or comment on our Facebook page (or here on this blog). Rest assured, if you feel like clicking “Like” or sharing or commenting, it will be because of a genuine post designed to inform you, not to manipulate you. But if you are on Facebook, don’t forget to stop by occasionally and check out our latest posts, because chances are that most of them are not showing up in your feed.

Of Top Hats and Logos

Monday, August 19th, 2013

I (dropping the royal “we” for the moment) was fortunate to come across some genuine antique top hats last month at a C & C Trading Post. The proprietor Mr. Jim Farley, who is based in Tampa, Florida but takes his trading post on the road, was a very gracious and knowledgeable host who was willing to share. I was particularly taken by the hat pictured below, dating from 1892:

Antique Top Hat

1892 Top Hat

Inside the hat was this note:

Top Hat Note


I was able to find an obituary in the January 19, 1942 issue of the North Adams Transcript for Lincoln Stephen Hickox, Sr., the only child of State Senator Stephen A. Hickox to survive past infancy. The funeral was held in the home of Harold Hickox. The listing was under the heading “Williamstown News Section”. Williamstown, MA is in Berkshire County. Given those points of connection to the letter (“Senator Stephen Hickox”, Berkshire County, “Mr. and Mrs. Harold Hickox”, along with the appropriate time frame) , I am very confident that this hat belonged to this particular (State) Senator Stephen Hickox.

You may not know that the felt covering the hat is made from is beaver fur, and indeed “beaver hat” is another term for top hat. Beaver fur was used because it has naturally serrated edges that make the fur mat easily into a felt. Eventually, beaver fur fell out of favor (perhaps due to the declining availability of beaver fur) and silk became the preferred covering.

You probably would not wish to risk wearing an antique hat like this one, and even if you did, it probably would not fit you. Most of the surviving hats from this era are very small, because heads of this era were very small. In addition to the antique beaver hats, Mr. Farley also had a modern felt hat and a modern leather hat for sale. Here is a picture of all of his toppers:

Top Hats

Top Hats at C & C Trading Post

As you may have noticed, our Steampunk Road logo is a top hat set at a jaunty angle. We have grown rather fond of it, but we want to know what you think about it. Our original top hat was a collapsible silk hat from the 1920’s. We replaced it today with a filtered version of Senator Hickox’s hat.


New Logo

New Logo


The jaunty top hat has a lot going for it as a logo. It is simple, instantly recognizable, scalable, and it works well in a single color. What it does not do is particularly say Steampunk Road without the accompanying text.

One issue with logos is this: Most clip-art, stock photography, and share-with-attribution artwork is not licensed for use as a logo. In the future, we would very much like to offer merchandise with our logo on it as promotional material, prizes, and perhaps even for sale. That means we either have to develop the logo in-house or pay for a work-made-for-hire logo.

So we are asking you to weigh in with your opinions once more. Help us by answering the question in this survey. Thank you!

And for those who want to know about last week’s survey, the current consensus is to keep travel the way it works now.

Note: We are also contemplating the creation of a new home screen which better conveys the feel of Steampunk Road. The new home screen would feature a steamship, steam engine, penny farthing bicycle, and a zeppelin, all going places. We would still need a different graphic for a logo since the home screen image would be much too complex for small sizes.

Erwin Schrödinger’s Birthday Today!

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Thanks to Google for pointing out that today is Erwin Schrödinger’s birthday. Schrödinger is the physicist who originated the thought experiment known as Schrödinger’s Cat, which featured prominently in Steampunk Road’s first puzzle. (We will be moving that particular puzzle to later in the game, due to its difficulty.)

Steampunk Still Trending Higher

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

I was recently reminded of Google Trends, an interesting way to gauge interest in topics around the world. If you were concerned that Justin Bieber’s “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” video would be the death of steampunk, you need no longer worry. Although interest peaked temporarily around October of 2012, Google is predicting a rebound and potentially some additional growth among continuing enthusiasm.
Click here to see the full report. Select “Forecast” to see the future!

Oh, and if you are wondering why there are repeating peaks in October, I have one word for you: Halloween. The number one related search term is “steampunk clothing”.