Is Settling A Good Life Lesson?

The other day, I was driving with NHL. We were on our way to get some food for Thanksgiving and NHL was talking about one of his passions: video games. Ever since the Nintendo Switch was released, NHL has wanted one. This desire only intensified as he watched some videos on YouTube showing Super Mario Odyssey being played on the Switch. Now, I’ll admit, the game looks amazing. The worlds are open and varied and the game mechanic of taking over your enemies to solve puzzles is inspired. That said, though, the price is steep. The game system itself costs $300 and Super Mario Odyssey costs an additional $60.

The price isn’t deterring NHL. He’s pledged to save up until he has enough money to buy a Switch and Mario Odyssey. There’s only one problem with this: He doesn’t really have any income. He’ll get some money for birthdays or Chanukah, but that’s about it. It would take him years to save enough for a Switch. By then, there would likely be a new game system that he really wants.

As an alternative, I suggested buying a used copy of Super Mario Galaxy 2. He had recently taken it out of the library and played it a bit so he knew he loved it. In addition, it’s a Mario game so it could scratch that particular itch. No, it might not be as good as Odyssey on the Switch, but it might be good enough.

“That’s a horrible lesson to teach me!” NHL shrieked in horror.

“What?” I asked, confused.

“Settling,” he said.

Now, it’s true that you should always reach for your dreams. If you want to be a writer, go for it. If you want to act, go on auditions. If you want to start your own business, by all means pursue it. However, sometimes, you’ve got to realize when a desire is unrealistic. I would love to take a week off of work every month and fly to Disney World. The main problem, though, would be the cost. Well, that and the fact that I don’t have twelve weeks of vacation time a year. I simply couldn’t afford to fly down to Disney World every month. So what do I do? I settle. We can go to Disney World for a week every so many years. In the meantime, we can find other activities that are fun but cost less.

I told NHL that, sometimes, settling was not only an acceptable lesson, but a good one. It’s nice to have dreams and pursue them, but it’s also good sometimes to be a realist. There are times when you need to realize that what you desire is out of reach. When you come to find that out, you can either keep trying fruitlessly to grasp at it, mope about being unable to attain it, or set your sights slightly lower.

This “settling” doesn’t even have to be a permanent detour. It could be a temporary step that eventually leads to your dream. When I published my first novel, I didn’t quit my job to pursue a dream of having a best selling book. I could have quit and spent all my time writing. My second novel definitely would have been done faster. However, sales of my novel haven’t reached anywhere near enough to replace my full time job. Had I quit my job to write full time, we would’ve gone broke before my novels took off. You could say that I “settled” by not pursuing writing full time. That might be true, but I’m also keeping the stable income while working on my writing. If the writing takes off and I can live off of it exclusively, great. If not, I still have the pleasure of writing.

I’ve always thought of myself as an idealistic realist. I have ideals and want to pursue them, but I temper those ideals with the facts of the real world. This keeps me grounded and stops me from following my desires when it would cause ruin. NHL might have thought that “settling” was a bad lesson to teach, but I think it’s imparting a little real world into his idealism. Saving for the Switch is nice, but perhaps he could get more enjoyment – for less money – if he used his spending money elsewhere.

What do you think? Is settling a good life lesson or was I imparting a horrible piece of guidance upon my son?

Making Mario Video Games

SuperMarioMakerFrom a young age, I’ve wanted to design video games. I would take sheet after sheet of paper and fill them with drawings of levels, enemies, descriptions of power ups, and more.  I didn’t know how to actually code the games. In addition, I’d often be building on established franchises.  I didn’t think Nintendo would want me coding an unauthorized Mario game.

Except, now they’ve given me the ability to do just that.  Enter Super Mario Maker.

Super Mario Maker lets you design your own Mario levels. The levels can be over-ground, underground, fortress, etc. They can be in the style of many different Mario games from the original 8 bit Super Mario Bros. to New Super Mario Bros. U.


Placing level elements or changing level designs is simple using the WiiU gamepad’s point and click interface.  Want to place a pipe?  Just drag it into the right spot.  Want to move a Koopa?  Just click and drag it around.  Want to make a platform wider?  Just click on the end and pull it.  In addition, some elements respond to shaking.  Shake a green Koopa (which walks in a straight line) and it turns red (and turns around when it reaches a ledge).  Shake a moving platform and it becomes a dropping platform.  Shake Bowser and he becomes Bowser Junior.  Enemies can be modified with super mushrooms (which makes the enemy bigger) and wings (which makes the enemy fly).  Finally, sound effects can be placed to be triggered at certain events.


If all of this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry.  Super Mario Maker starts you off with a small subset of its options.  Over time, as you play, more and more options are revealed.  By the time the full array of possibilities is at your disposal, you’ll be placing level elements like a pro.


If Super Mario Maker ended here, it would be a pretty great game, but Nintendo went a step beyond.  Once levels are added, you can share them with other Super Mario Maker users worldwide.  Before a level can be shared, you’ll need to play through it.  This ensures that no impossible levels get uploaded.  The levels might be insanely hard, but they will be playable.  You can even share levels by posting course IDs (e.g. 2D00-000-0082-EBA6 – and yes, that’s one of mine and last I checked nobody has beaten it).  You can play selected levels in the 10 Mario or 100 Mario challenges.  You can even use Amibos to power-up the original Super Mario Brothers’ Mario into various characters via "mystery mushrooms".  (Admit it, you’ve always wanted to play Super Mario Bros. as Link from Legend of Zelda.)  Shared levels can be downloaded and edited (but not re-uploaded so don’t worry about someone taking your masterpiece, adding a power-up or two and trying to pass it off as their own).

Since getting the game, my boys have become hooked on making their own video games.  They’ll spend hour after hour piecing together components to make tricky or weird levels.  Sometimes they’ll be easy.  Sometimes they’ll be hard.  One time, JSL made a tough level but didn’t foresee my being able to move Mario into a position at the top of the screen where I was able to avoid almost all of the enemies.  He learned a lesson that day about level design: Always test all possibilities because your users *will* exploit any opening you give them.  (This lesson also applies to programming in general.)

This is definitely a game that my boys and I will be playing for quite awhile.  I’ve already made half a dozen levels (not all uploaded) and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what is possible.  Super Mario Maker is great for any kid of any age who has always wanted to designing video games.

DISCLAIMER: We purchased Super Mario Maker ourselves and weren’t compensated in any way for this review.

The Family That Minecrafts Together

About a month ago, JSL came home from a play-date proclaiming that he loved Minecraft.    We had intended on introducing his older brother to the game at some point figuring that he’d enjoy the building aspect.  We didn’t expect his brother to fall in love with it first.  Still, we purchased Minecraft: Pocket Edition to put on their tablets and off they went building.  After doing some research, I even set up a PocketMine server so we could all play in the same world.  (After doing this, I realized that we could just pop into each other’s worlds while we were all on the same Wi-Fi network. ) I also downloaded some maps for the boys to start them off with some creations to build on.

After awhile, I began to get curious about just what they saw in Minecraft so I installed the game and got a theme park map installed.  Soon, I was having fun on the pre-made rollercoasters.  The boys quickly jumped into my world and we all ran around in-game trying out coaster after coaster.

As I tired of simply riding what others had built, I decided to see how easy it was to build coasters.  I started to build my own coaster and was hooked.  I made a "Coaster To The Sky."  It went up as far as Minecraft would allow me to build – just about touching the clouds – and then raced down.


Every time I thought I was done, I got another idea to add to it.  Eventually, I had the cart end up dropping into a deep pit where it landed in a room floored with cake.


JSL tired of trying to build rollercoasters and asked me to install a castle map that he had found.  As he played, I jumped into his game and looked around.  When he told me that the castle was off-limits for my building, I walked into the lake and began to dig.  Eventually, I was able to build a cavern underground that was dry.  I improved on my new underground lair, but tired of the water constantly threatening to flood my land.  So I blocked off the entrance, dug a tunnel to another, drier, section, and expanded my underground operation.  At this point, I have stairs, a bedroom, a dining room, and a few spare rooms whose purpose I haven’t decided upon yet.



Even in Minecraft, JSL is a bed invader.  He decided to come into my area and lay down on my virtual bed.


The only downside to Minecrafting underground?  Heading to bed immediately afterwards and feeling seriously claustrophobic.  Every time I closed my eyes, all I could see were the dark stone walls of Minecraft’s underground surrounding me with no way out.  I felt boxed in which doesn’t help a good night’s sleep.  In the future, I need to remember to stop playing long enough for the trapped feeling to pass.  (I’ve since made my rooms larger to avoid any future in-game claustrophobia.)

Now that the boys and I are hooked on Minecraft, we can play and build together often.  There’s only one thing missing: We need to get B hooked on Minecraft also!

Are you or your kids hooked on Minecraft?  If so, what’s the coolest thing you or they have built in the game?

The Importance of Playing

Platformer_Game"But we didn’t get time to play!!!"

Sadly, these words have been uttered often this week.  Thanks to various activities, the boys have had little time for playing in the afternoon after they return home, eat dinner, and finish their homework.  All too often, they’ll finish their last homework problem only to find that they have a mere ten minutes until they need to start getting ready for bed.

Obviously, play time is important for kids.  It lets them relax and get creative in a manner that they find enjoyable (versus in a manner that a teacher has assigned).  However, play time can be just as important for adults.

In a conversation with a friend if mine, he asked how many hours in a week I spent on social media, playing games, and other activities that did not directly put money in my bank account.  When I answered, he suggested that I use those hours to take on extra freelance work instead.

While I do freelance work, I try very hard not to be a workaholic.  Mainly, because I think that a life consisting of only work will quickly become a frustrating and boring life.  I would rather live a life with slightly less money but one filled with family, friends, and fun.

In addition, you can easily get burnt out by working too much.  When I’m faced with a frustrating task, the worst thing I can do is keep trying to tackle it for hours on end.  When faced with problems like this, I’ll put the problem down and either play a quick game, take a walk, or work on something else.  Doing this keeps my brain from going down the same failed path over and over again.  Oftentimes, my subconscious will figure out the solution for me while I’m pursuing other interests.

Finally, there’s the "death march fallacy.". Some employers try to get their employees to work 80+ hour weeks for weeks on end to finish projects on time.  (Usually in these cases, the deadline was set by managers who aren’t directly responsible for meeting said deadline.). The theory is that the employees will put in double the hours and get the work done in half as many days.  The reality is that employees wind up overworked, overtired, and burnt out.  The quality of their work declines fast and more time is spent fixing mistakes that they make than would have been spent with a slower development schedule.  Why would I subject myself to a" freelance death march" just to earn extra money?  All that would happen would be that I would be miserable, my quality of work would plummet, and my clients would be upset about the work I was doing for them.

No, my playing a game, watching TV, or reading a book doesn’t bring in money, but every activity we do doesn’t have to be monetized. A life focused solely on money sounds like a very boring and meaningless life to me.

How important is play/recreation to you? What is your favorite method of unwinding?

NOTE: The "Platformer Game" image above is by qubodup and is available from

Unwinding With Lego Marvel Super Heroes on the Wii U

Lately, I’ve been working pretty hard.  My day job has been keeping me very busy. (Not that I’m complaining, mind you.  I’d rather be busy than sitting with nothing to do.)  Then, after getting the kids into bed, I’ve been busy with a rather large freelance project.

After all of that work, I need to unwind and relax somehow.  Lately, my method of choice has been playing Lego Marvel Super Heroes for the Wii U.  I’ve been a fan of the Lego games for awhile on the Nintendo DS, but this is the first Wii U title I’ve tried.


A full review is still coming, but suffice it to say that I love it.  One of the things I’ve always liked about Lego games is the replay-ability.  After finishing all of the levels, you could always play them again in "Free Play" mode.  This title has that, but also has all of Manhattan to explore.  There are gold bricks to collect (over 200), citizens to help, Deadpool missions to complete, vehicles and characters to unlock, and Stan Lee to save (many, many times).  It’s quite daunting how big the world you get to play in is, but it’s also quite fun.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go flying around the city as Iron Man.  Or maybe go on a rampage through the streets as the Hulk.  TechyDad Smash!

What do you like to do to unwind?

NOTE: We purchased Lego Marvel Super Heroes on our own.  I wasn’t asked or paid to do a review.  I just wanted to mention a product that I liked.

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