Review: Writing Interactive Fiction with Twine

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Writing Interactive Fiction with Twine  by Melissa Ford is from Que Publishing (2016). This book is part software manual, part writing workshop.

The software described in the book, Twine, is free to download. There are sites mentioned in the book where you can publish your completed interactive fiction. If you have your own web site, Twine stories can be published there.

If you loved the choose your own adventure books from a few years ago, this is the modern version of that type of storytelling.

Twine can be used to create more than stories. It can create games, puzzles, and role-playing games. It’s meant for game designers and game players who have lots of ideas of their own for exciting games. (I think it would also be a great way for people who love to write fan fiction to work their way into a more high tech approach to storytelling.)

In terms of writing advice, the book talks about story structure, character building, creating settings, balancing pacing and action, keeping players engaged, and the all important storytelling rule to “show, don’t tell.”

The approach to the software used in the book is step by step. You should read the book with Twine open on your computer so you can try out all the ideas and suggestions and learn how to write in the Twine languages.

The book instructs in the use of macros in a choice of Twine languages. It also explains how to create variables, conditional statements, and arrays. With the help of macros for history, either, random, click, mouseover, prompt, count, append, prepend, replace, remove and more, a user can create a complex and exciting interactive world. There are built-in Twine functions to control turns, display, actions and more.

A Twine writer can use HTML and some CSS to change fonts, backgrounds, sidebars, links and more. You can import Google fonts with the stylesheet. Twine lets you add images to your story.

If you are interested in creating interactive fiction or games that you can easily share with others, you should take a look at Twine as your software tool. This book will make you an expert user with an easy to follow, step-by-step approach.

Summary: Melissa Ford shows you how to create a game or puzzle using Twine software, and helps you be a better writer in the process.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of Writing Interactive Fiction with Twine (rating: 5 stars)

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for this review. Opinions are my own. Links to Amazon are affiliate links. Here is my review policy.

O’Reilly EBook: Design for Voice Interfaces

Design for Voice Interfaces

O’Reilly Media is offering an ebook called Design for Voice Interfaces: Building Products that Talk by Laura Klein. It’s only 30 pages long and worth reading. It gives a brief background, talks about current issues in designing VUI and concludes with a few helpful resources to get you started learning more about it.

You definitely can’t beat the price for this informative book. It’s free.

Review: Badass: Making Users Awesome


Badass: Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra is from O’Reilly (2015). This book is about motivation and skills and progress and brain science. It shows you how to use motivation and skill levels and learning progress by being badass, by modeling badass, and by giving you the badass version of learning how to be badass.

If you know who Kathy Sierra is and what she’s already done as a writer and programmer, you’ll recognize what she’s talking about in this book. It’s been her topic before and she’s come back to it with a powerful teaching device – this book. Kathy’s premise is you don’t just want a great product, you want great users. You want users who find it easy to learn to be experts with your product. Even when your product is complicated and hard to learn to use at an expert level, if you approach helping users the right way, they will reach the badass level as users.

The book if full of lively graphics, funny illustrations, and simple but powerful charts.

A chart showing how an upgrade to software can move users from competent back to feeling like they suck

This chart shows exactly how I feel about every new upgrade of Dreamweaver CC. Each time I open it, I go back into the suck zone on something. Getting the labels on form fields – oh, no, I suck. Creating a new selector in the style sheet – oh, no, I suck. Using the fucking fluid layout grid – oh, no, I suck. Kathy explains how to help users avoid that oh, no, I suck sensation with upgrades and with new skills mastery in general. The people at Adobe are definitely not using all of Kathy’s suggestions to help users move to badass with updates to their products.

A chart showing the good practice is in the zone between what your good at and what you are bad at

Even something as basic as practicing a skill to get better at it has brain science examples to help you design experiences for users that let them practice the right way. There are also chapters on how to help users filter out brain spam so they can concentrate on things that matter. Here’s the table of contents:

The table of contents for Badass: Making Users Awesome

Just looking at the table of contents tells you a lot about how this book works, and how Kathy Sierra uses her deep understanding of brain science and user experience to craft an experience for you that will leave you feeling badass.

If you want to learn how to create and market a product that your users will love using and will recommend to others, read this book. After you’ve read it, go back and look at how it was written. What were you asked to do as you read? How were you helped to understand the points made? How were you helped and supported as a reader to become an expert in making users awesome? What patterns and perceptions sneaked into your brain without you knowing how it happened?

Kathy Sierra has always been about creating awesome users, and this book can help you be about that, too.

Welcome back to the conversation, Kathy. You were missed.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of Badass: Making Users Awesome (rating: 5 stars)

Summary: Kathy Sierra shows you how to make your users keep coming back by helping them be badass at using your product.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for this review. Opinions are my own. Links to Amazon are affiliate links. Here is my review policy. .

Review: HTML & CSS: Design and Build Websites


HTML and CSS: Design and Build Websites
by Jon Duckett is from Wiley & Sons (2011). This book is a little old (4 years) but I was so impressed with the JavaScript book by the same author and in the same format that I requested a copy from the publisher for review.

Everything I said about pedagogy and color coding in the review of the JavaScript book applies to this book as well. In fact, this book is where the author first honed the techniques used in presenting information so simply and clearly.

An infographic page from the book

A diagram and infographic page from the book

Simple illustrations with color coding and annotations for every point are used to teach the coding rules.

A reference page shows the HTML (or CSS) and the results of using it.

A reference page shows the HTML (or CSS) and the results of using it.

The reference pages are also color coded, with HTML shown in blue and CSS in pink as well as results examples.

As with the JavaScript book, all the code is downloadable. And, as with the JavaScript book, the language used to explain each concept is exceptionally clear and simple. Here’s a quote from the page introducing CSS.

CSS Associates Style Rules with HTML Elements

CSS works by associating rules with HTML elements. These rules govern how the content of specified elements should be displayed. A CSS rule contains two parts: a selector and a declaration.

The book went completely through all the HTML it included (page structure, text, lists, links, images, tables, forms, audio and video and a few other bits of HTML) before getting to any CSS. Normally that would bother me, but it worked in this book. The CSS part of the book included color, text, boxes, lists, tables, forms, layout, images and some info on layout using HTML5.

Where the book is a little out of date is the information about HTML5. It’s no fault of the author, it’s just that the book came out in 2011. A few things are included (like hgroup or codec issues with video elements) that have gone away, and a few things that are more recent (like the main element) didn’t get mentioned. I reduced the star rating on the book because of that, but if I’d seen the book and reviewed it 4 years ago, I would have given it 5 stars. I simply want anyone who buys and uses it now to be aware that small parts of the book in the HTML 5 descriptions are different now. The book is still a perfectly good way to learn HTML and CSS – in fact, the book is an excellent way to learn HTML and CSS.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of HTML & CSS: Design and Build Websites (rating: 4 stars). The rating is based not on the quality of the book but on the fact that some of it is a little out of date.

Summary: Detailed, careful, guide to HTML, CSS and more.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for this review. Opinions are my own. Here is my review policy. Links to Amazon are affiliate links. You can buy the book from Wiley, as well as Amazon. The link to Wiley is not an affiliate link.

Review: JavaScript & jQuery: Interactive Front-End Web Development

JavaScript & jQuery: Interactive Front-End Web Development by Jon Duckett is from Wiley & Sons (2014). This book earns high praise from me as educationally sound. It reminds me a little of the Head First series of books, except this book isn’t silly. But it does use a number of interesting techniques to help you learn that are based in sound pedagogy.

Color Coding

There’s color coding for everything, which helps some people learn. Diagrams and infographics are on a dark background. Within the page itself, various elements are also color coded.

An example diagram page

Background pages and examples are on a light background.

An example page

An example page

Again, there is color coding within the page itself.

Reference pages are on a gray background with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript codes all shown in different colors. There are also separate color schemes for introductory pages and summary pages in each chapter.

Clear Language

The language is plain, very careful, easy to understand by anyone. Every single detail is explained in clear, simple sentences. It’s a masterpiece of clear writing. For example, here’s the initial description of jQuery:

jQuery is a JavaScript file that you include in your web pages. It lets you find elements using CSS-style selectors and then do something with the elements using jQuery methods.

Scope

Beyond the pedagogy that went into presenting the material in the book in a way that makes it easy to grasp, there is also the scope of the book. It covers more concepts than I’ve seen in a book of this type. It covers all the JavaScript basics, the Document Object Model, jQuery, Ajax & JSON, APIs, error handling and debugging, filtering, form enhancement and more. The book is over 600 pages long.

The examples are real world with downloadable code. The code shown in the book is  annotated (and color coded) with every detail fully explained. The output for every code example is pictured next to it.

Programming books often make my eyes cross and close automatically, but this one kept my interest. I learned many new things about topics that I hadn’t really understood before. I’d recommend it for independent learning. The exercises and examples in the book would also work as a classroom text for a JavaScript class.

Summary: Detailed, careful, guide to JavaScript, jQuery and more.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of JavaScript & jQuery: Interactive Front-End Web Development (rating: 5 stars)

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for this review. Opinions are my own. Links to Amazon are affiliate links. Here is my review policy. You can buy the book from Wiley, as well as Amazon. The link to Wiley is not an affiliate link.

Images © http://javascriptbook.com/

Review: The Design Method: A Philosophy and Process for Functional Visual Communication

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The Design Method: A Philosophy and Process for Functional Visual Communication (Voices That Matter) by Eric Karjaluoto is from New Riders (2013). This book changed my impression of myself as a web designer.

Prior to reading this book, I would have told you I wasn’t a designer. My designs were super simple, even plain. There were no cute little graphics all over the place, no lush backgrounds or images, no clever metaphors. If you’re reading this on my blog, you’re looking at what I think is a good design right now. Plain, white background with black text, clear in purpose and easy to read and navigate.

Turns out that Eric Karjalouto considers my choices to be design choices. He says design isn’t about how decorated or beautiful something is, but instead is about how something does what it is meant to do. In terms of a web design, that means communicate.

It takes Karjaluoto about 10 seconds to debunk the myth that design is about visual beauty and a number of other commonly held beliefs about design. He says it’s about making things. He calls it a problem solving process that helps facilitate desired outcomes.

The book describes his problem solving process and is a practical outline of the step by step work needed to discover what outcome a design is meant to produce and then discover a way to make that happen. In that sense, his design method gives you a map that will help you create a design process that works and help you run a successful design business. There are checklists, systems thinking and steps, and details about everything from using his design method for discovery, planning, creating, and applying ideas. He also helps with ideas on how to present designs to clients.

The book would be particularly helpful to designers who are struggling to build a business that makes money. It gives steps, processes, client interview techniques, testing techniques, and all kinds of ideas that a firm can use to build designs that work, and therefore a company that works.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of The Design Method (rating: 5 stars)

Summary: Practical not precious. Advice for getting things done.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for this review. Opinions are my own. Links to Amazon are affiliate links. Here is my review policy.

Review: SASS for Web Designers

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SASS for Web Designers by Dan Cederholm is from A Book Apart (2013). Like all the A Book Apart books, it’s brief and very good. And like all books from A Book Apart, it isn’t available new from anyone but them.

SASS is a CSS preprocessor. The book’s first chapter is Why SASS? Cederholm does the explaining with this elevator pitch:

Ever needed to change, say, a color in your stylesheet, and found that you had to find and replace the value multiple times? What if you could change that value in one place and the entire stylesheet reflected that change? You can with SASS! Or how about repeated blocks of styles that are used in various locations throughout the stylesheet? That’s also SASS!

From the first page, you see code examples for how something would be written in SASS. Following that, the CSS output from SASS is shown, to explain exactly what the SASS example does. You quickly begin to see the connection between what you’re asking the preprocessor to do and the CSS output.

Chapter 1 also explains SASS syntax and using the .scss file extension.

Chapter 2 is Workflow. It explains how to install SASS on a Mac and/or Windows. It gives you a few (very few) command line entries but also mentions some apps you can use if the command line freaks you out. Finally it explains how to choose an output style for the CSS that SASS is going to spit out.

Chapter 3 is Using SASS. You learn about nesting rules and namespace properties, about referencing parent selectors with &, about commenting in SASS, about variables and mixins, about mixin arguments. Cederholm also explains mixin libraries and the use of @import rule. He discusses the pros and cons of the Compass framework and the Bourbon library.

He explains extends, multiple extends, and extend vs. mixin. Every one of the topics in chapter 3 comes with very clear code examples that help you see how to do something with SASS and what the results would be in CSS.

Chapter 4 is Media Queries. You find out about nesting media queries, using variables for breakpoints, using the content directive, and putting mixins inside mixins.

The book wraps up with a list of resources for learning more.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of SASS for Web Designers (rating: 5 stars)

Summary: You could start using SASS today with this book as a guide.