Game Spotlight: Little Orpheus

Have you ever played a video game where your jaw just drops and hits the floor? That’s pretty much been my experience with a gorgeous new indie game called Little Orpheus.

Little Orpheus is available on Apple Arcade, and my son and I have been loving this game to pieces. (Haven’t heard about Apple Arcade? It’s Apple’s $5 / month “all you can eat” gaming service which is perfect for families, since you have full-access to over a hundred games, there are no in-app purchases, and everyone on the family plan gets to play on the device of their choice). This game was lovingly crafted by the award-winning developer house The Chinese Room — and it shows. Every shot is cinematic, every frame is lush, and each new level is pulpy-good fun. You follow the adventures of a hapless Russian cosmonaut whose mission did not go as planned (to say the least).

Now, I’m not a hardcore gamer anymore (note I said “anymore”), so if you happen to be playing games 24 / 7 — please take what I say with a grain of salt — but this game truly is a marvel from start to finish. It’s not a long game, but every moment is saturated in glorious technicolor, the scenery will blow your mind, and the different modes of play keep things interesting (think “move block here to climb up there, time your jumps as you slide down, crank this lever to move that”, etc.) There’s also some lovely narration and cut scenes where our Russian hero regales his journey to his skeptical comrade, and it keeps things light and moving along. If I had to nitpick anything, it would be that the controls can be a bit stiff at times (I play with an external controller), however the difficult level is relatively low, so it’s really not a big quibble.

Full circle — if you like atmospheric platformer games that are more about art and less about button mashing (i.e. “INSIDE”, “Stela”, etc.) then you’ve got to give Little Orpheus a shot. Check out the trailer below:

Book Spotlight: Start Something That Matters

Finished reading: Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie 📚

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of books on business — but none have impacted me quite like this one. Start Something That Matters is that rare chimera of a business book that encourages you to develop simple products communicated through simple stories, and it also emphatically encourages you to bake social responsibility into your business model from day one — not tacked-on later as an after-thought.

Author Blake Mycoskie was visiting the lovely country of Argentina when he couldn’t help but notice a few things:

  • Nearly everyone in Argentina wore simple and beautiful flat shoes called “alpargatas”.

  • Everyone, that is — except those that couldn’t afford shoes. Namely children. He saw children walking through the streets barefoot — and in some neighborhoods, these streets were unclean. There were shards of glass strewn about, pieces of metal and debris …. Diseases were very common in the country due to foot infections that could’ve been prevented by wearing shoes.

  • He also noticed that “shoe drives” were a “thing” over there; concerned individuals would hold shoe drives where they accepted donations of shoes, and then they did their best to distribute those shoes to children in need. There were challenges with this method, however; first off, it relied on people donating, and secondly, the shoes always came in random sizes, so they were never sure if the sizes would actually match the children they’re hoping to donate them to.

Blake wondered …. “What if I start a donation fund, and all the proceeds will go to funding shoe drives in Argentina?” It was a noble idea, but it also faced the same core limitations of the shoe drive (what if the funding dried up?) He then thought … “What if I could bring this fashionable shoe over to the U.S?” He thought there was a market for it there, so he and some friends designed something very similar, but with a more durable sole. Eventually he landed on a sort of hybrid “for-profit but also socially-responsible business model”:

“What if … for every pair you purchase — we donate one pair to a child in need?”

It was simple and beautiful. It told a story in a sentence, and everyone immediately understood what this was all about. Thus TOMS was born in the living room of an apartment in Venice, CA — and the rest is history.

I’m not quite sure what this means for me (and potential future business ventures), but I will say that I was quite inspired by Blake’s story, and I got a lot out of this book. In fact, it’s one that I plan on reading again someday — it was that enjoyable.

Podcast Spotlight: Breaking Brand

If you have any interest in design, branding, direct-to-consumer businesses born online — or about the story of an already-successful creative agency (Gin Lane) completely pivoting to become a company with several retail brands under its umbrella (Pattern) — then I highly recommend the podcast “Breaking Brand” produced by the fine folks at Buffer. It’s a sharp, concise, well-produced peek into the future of commerce, highlighting how some innovative companies have chosen to focus on intimate relationships with their user-base, rather than casting a massive, impersonal net. It’s only five short episodes for its first season — so it’s an easy one to pick up and savor on your lunch hour!

Book Spotlight: Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull & Amy Wallace

Finished reading: Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull 📚

What makes Pixar so … magical?  Ed Catmull & Amy Wallace unveil the secrets behind Pixar’s mysterious legacy in Creativity, Inc. In each chapter, we see the struggles and perseverance of a company not built on platitudes and mantras, but a community fortified by hard-work, honesty and passion.

For example, did you know that Toy Story 2 had a deadline to hit theaters in six months—and the Pixar team decided to rewrite the script because it wasn’t working? (Keep in mind they still had yet to animate the film.)  Yeah.  Pixar mustered the chutzpah to attempt that kind of gambit because they wanted the film to be the best it could, and yet pay off it did–as Toy Story 2 was released to a massive box-office haul and universal critical acclaim (with many saying it trumped the original).

You’re also welcomed to be a fly on the wall of a Pixar screening of a film in early, rough animatic form–which is followed by the hallowed “Braintrust” meeting–where open candor and constructive criticism rule the day.  Brilliant writers and directors give their heartfelt notes to a director and producer (who may be a wee bit too close to the material), and everyone honestly points out what’s working and what isn’t, so that the story can ultimately blossom and be the best it can be.  This is not a culture built on fear, but rather they understand that falling down is simply part of the creative process, as is dusting yourself off and getting back up.  I believe the storied Director Andrew Stanton said my favorite quote in the book:

”Fail fast and fail often.”

What Ed & Amy share with us isn’t glittery magic—they pull back the curtain on a team that forces itself to ask the hard questions about their work—and this team keeps working as a positive, encouraging unit until they get it right.  While this is especially convicting for a writer like myself, I believe the principals presented in this book can benefit anyone who creates or works with others to get their job done.