Creating the perfect office

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It is with a significant amount of excitement that myself and some colleagues at Kotikan are creating our very first office space. We’ve spent the last 4 years in shared offices kindly provided by Edinburgh University and some Regus serviced offices but for the first time in nearly 6 months we will be back together under one roof. And we want to make the space awesome.

Open plan spaces, breakout working areas and lots of glass panels to let the light in – that’s a great start but what next? How do you make an office a great place to be and somewhere people want to spend their time? We’re lucky to have a great team of people – it’s one of the most important aspects of the company, so we thought about what activities are enjoyed by members of the team. Gaming (consoles and cards), socialising over a drink, sitting out in the sun and playing with the latest technologies all came high up on the list. As great design and solid engineering are important to the company we wanted to create an inspirational atmosphere that would also support close working together within teams. A long shopping list of requirements! Put on top of that space for 50 people to work and attend company meetings or presentations and it was a tough challenge.

Fitting 50 staff in 1 room is more than we have tried by a long way – we’ve been pretty successful at maximising usage of our space but this time we wanted it to feel less crowded. Purchasing larger desks and adding more space between them was an obvious start but we didn’t want to have teams further apart than before. Careful planning was the key here – considering what project each person was involved with at the same time as which department they were in. By taking all the variables into account we can keep teams together and shorten desire lines to reduce the feeling of walking past lines of desks that is familiar to many open plan offices.

Following a brand update last year we concentrated on 6 bold, bright colours to bring the office to life. Moderation is the key here – grey / black soft furnishings with white clean edges were used for most furniture. Colour is carefully added across the office space by picking colourful chairs, painted wall sections and the occasional dividers which also helped reduce noise from the kitchen etc.

As well as a place to work this had to be a social office so we took a completely different approach for the kitchen. Hidden away as you enter is a kitchen that’s themed as a city park or beer garden, it’s inspired by “The Meadows” that anyone who’s been to Edinburgh in the summer will have enjoyed. Picnic benches with thick grass coloured carpet underfoot adds an element of fun and our mural of the cityscape (to be added) completes the feel nicely. Our meeting rooms which will be stylishly themed (voting on which theme soon) all double up as gaming destinations with many consoles from various times in gaming history available – from the Atari 2600 up to the latest xbox one!

Common areas and breakout spaces are also important in how we work – giving small groups the chance to catch up on the day, their latest Pokemon or important work topics away from the desk. We already provide everyone with laptops so the flexibility is there but we added sofas and coffee tables for breakout conversations and a tucked away quiet spot for those hard to concentrate on tasks.

We haven’t forgotten the need to fuel people too – a selection of soft drinks, teas and coffee are always available and we have a beer fridge at the ready for our monthly company meetings. If you just need a break from the work, some random inspiration or you want to fill an idle hour then we’ve got it covered. Besides the games consoles there is also a great selection of card, dice and board games along with various LEGO sets and other geek toys!

What more could you want? Let me know in the comments…

The social networking game

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The office kitchen chat last week was about Charlie Brooker’s recent TV programme “How Video Games Changed the World“. The finale of the show (spoiler!) was to include twitter as the latest game to have had a significant impact on the world. In the fashion that I expect he intended people started debating the validity of this but it was only a couple of seconds after hearing it I realised he had a point:

All social networking is a game.

Constructing posts, getting likes, browsing feedback, better understanding the audience and what works to create the next post hoping for a higher ‘like’ or ‘+1’ count. It’s also incredibly addictive – how many times on average do you check facebook or twitter? And how many times more do you check on a day you’ve written a really interesting post? Be honest now – include checking your email for notifications too! It’s almost inescapable, a function of our socially networked world. What are the rules? You may not know them or even have considered their existence and yet it’s clear that people can cheat. As the networks evolve so does our understanding of what an online social connection means.

But wait – it’s older than that. Consider the early internet when websites were evolving. Think of hit counters – competitions about how many new visitors you got each week. Communities and link ‘rings’ indicated you had interesting content – and you could be a member of many. Next consider Google, their world changing algorithm was based in link-in counting as ‘votes’ for your site and later included context as a modifier to eliminate fakes and cheats. Essentially they were assigning your site a score based on it’s popularity and quality. And then there’s the whole business of Search Engine Optimisation – essentially the sports coaches of the web popularity competition, followed by social media consultants promising similar goals.

How can you think for a moment that the internet as a whole is not a game? The largest, most popular and probably highest financed game of all time…

Portal 2 amazes!

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OK this might be a spoiler so put your fingers in your ears if you have not completed Portal 1 yet!

Following from the fantastic first game which, whilst short, was perfectly formed and one of the best thought out games of it’s year we are taken on a new journey with GlaDoS.

You remember her right? The manic AI which hated you, tricked you and tried to kill you on an hourly basis? Well, it seems that killing her was not quite enough… Yes I know, having the game update with an altered ending did not exactly hide this part but what they did keep well hidden was how much time and thought had gone into the sequel!

Portal 2 contains all of the puzzles, humour and creativity of the original but on a grand new scale. You will be encouraged and taunted by a selection of celebrity voices whilst you undergo testing on a whole new level. No longer clear who is the good guy, who is the bad guy or what to beleive you tumble through an ever expanding world of test chambers, back alleys and condemned caverns that keep getting grander and trickier.

Unlike the first game the second rapidly becomes about figuring out where the exit might be nevermind how to get there! One of my person favourite sections is when you are dropped down a seemingly unending pit to end up in the old foundations of Aperture science which seems to have been formed over 25 years ago. Attention to details and textures show how the company has clearly come a long way since the initial days of simple tests for the advancement of science.

With unending wit, beautify levels that defy logic physics or even the capacity of your graphics card Portal 2 is sure to keep you hooked and have you straining your brain right to the final chapter!

 

Link returns in the Phantom Hourglass

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The long awaited Zelda title for the game boy DS has finally arrived. With the combination of a new method of game play and a renowned game genre it already looks set to be a classic.

Link’s latest adventure continues where the “Wind Waker” (for GameCube) left off. Link’s pirate friends are merrily sailing the high seas and Zelda has once again renounced her title and returned to her former life as Tetra the pirate. The adventure begins when they are attacked by the mysterious Ghost Ship and (surprise surprise) our beloved Zelda is kidnapped once more. The game player is thrown into a world of pirates, sailing and swashbuckling.

Although true to it’s Zelda roots in many respects, including the music, there are a number differences from previous Zelda titles.

Firstly, and probably most obviously, is the method of game play. Nintendo have made the most of their DS console, utilising the tall split-screen, microphone, hinge and responsive touch screen during gameplay. The control is almost entirely through the touch screen which is a very peculiar sensation for those used to the previous portable titles. However, it becomes second nature within minutes. Scribbling on maps could be seen as a gimmick but it does become useful later in the game.

Secondly, the Phantom Hourglass is remarkably easy to play for a significant proportion of the game. Admittedly it does get rather complex further into the game but for the first few hours of game play there is little to challenge the hardened Zelda fanatic. Although newcomers may love this some die-hard Zelda fans have been less than amused. The in-game world is also much smaller than in previous Zelda titles, mirroring the compact nature of the portable device it runs on. This is actually one of my favourite points of the game as even lengthy journeys are reasonably rapid.

The most notable feature of the Phantom Hourglass is it’s remarkable charm and playability. It feels similar to playing on the Wii for the first time. At first the strange controls and new ideas seem peculiar but very soon you realise that you have been playing for 5 hours and have forgotten about the beer sitting next to you!

Esudoku goes global with a competitive edge

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Sudoku is now a global phenomenon. The logical 9×9 numerical puzzle was initially developed by an American before gaining popularity in Japan. Now the whole world has taken notice. And so has Retang.com…

eSudoku is the fastest open source logical sudoku solver available. It uses logical algorithms to calculate the sudoku answers. It also helps users learn sudoku as it explains each step it takes to find the answers. It can run on linux, unix, osx and there is an online version available at http://dev.rectang.com/esudoku.php.

… and now eSudoku has made a leap for freedom …

Rectang.com’s eSudoku is backing a new competitive daily sudoku game on Facebook. The Facebook application has daily sudoku puzzles varying from easy to diabolical. There is an unlimited time limit on each puzzle (up to one day!) and you gain points for completing each puzzle. More difficult puzzles are awarded more points and the leaderboard keeps track of the scores and rankings. The puzzles will get more difficult towards the end of each week giving new users a chance to get started. Esudoku is already proving popular. Check it out at facebook.com.

The next stage for eSudoku is developing a logical, equally rapid generation algorithm. Watch this space …