Building a Kayak (Pygmy Pinguino Sport)

This summer, I bought a kit from Pygmy boats to build my own Pinguino Sport kayak. This is the shortest of their boats.

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It was a really fun process! You start with impossibly thin and weak-looking quarter-inch flat pieces of plywood, and over time you glue and bend them into a boat shape, “stitching” them together with bits of wire (which is later removed).

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I won’t go deep into the details of the process; you can see everything in Pygmy’s excellent videos here. But for the sake of people who are contemplating a similar project, here’s my quick summary and advice:

  • Almost all the steps are: apply some epoxy – sometimes over fiberglass, sometimes along a seam, sometimes just painting it over wood. Come back tomorrow.
  • The project took me 10 weeks, putting in about an hour each day. All told, it took me about 80 hours.
  • You need a pretty big space; I took over our garage for most of this time. There are enough fumes that I’d be leery of doing this inside the house.
  • This isn’t a criticism of the instructions – they’re as well-written as they could be – but some HUGE steps are embedded in the middle of paragraphs, e.g. to to flip and apply another coat of fiberglass and wait for it to cure – which will take a whole day until you can continue. I’d suggest you carefully mark up your instructions to call out “chunks of work” so you can plan accordingly, since it’s not immediately obvious which
  • For fun, try tracking all different names the give for various epoxy + wood flour blend ratios. Honey, peanut butter, molasses, until a stick can stand up in it, etc.
  • An orbiting sander was super-helpful. I gummed up a lot of sandpaper, so make sure you’re well stocked – especially with 120 grit.
  • You will go through a lot of disposable items in the course of building the boat, even more than the instructions say. Amazon was a great place to buy these in bulk. In particular:
    • Two boxes of latex gloves (you need a LOT of gloves)
    • Foam brushes. You want at least 40 of them. They are 89 cents a piece at my local hardware store, but Amazon sells a 20-pack for $4.19 – so buy lots of these! Impossible to have too many.
    • Lots of foam rollers – I used about 18 of them.
    • Extra dental irrigation syringes (for injecting epoxy into cracks). You’ll need more than the 3 they provide, it’s so easy to gum them up.
  • General purpose items that were invaluable include:
    • Good scissors – fabric or craft ones would be ideal.
    • A metal yard-ruler (in addition to a carpenter’s square)
    • As many clamps as you can get your hands on.
    • At least two sawhorses (4 is best)
    • I found a painter’s cutting/scrapping tool to be useful for all sorts of random tasks, like getting rid of drips of semi-cured “green” epoxy, and also for wedging between plywood boards to force them into the right shape.

I had plenty of extra fiberglass tape leftover when I was finished, and ample fiberglass cloth. The epoxy was entirely used up; I finished the last step with my dregs. Might be useful to get an extra pint to get a bit of extra “breathing room”.

Even though the boat is a pretty narrow 28″ and the recommended paddle for my height (6′) is 220cm, the cockpit is higher than most other kayaks; I might suggest a slightly longer paddle (I’ll try a 230cm next).

I did make one huge screw-up, and cut the front hatch much too close to the cockpit (I mis-read the directions). The boat is still perfectly useable, it’s just that the front hatch is pretty much useless. I lose all bragging rights, and it makes me sad.

Maybe I’ll have to make another boat and do it right this time. 🙂

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Time for a Game Redesign? Nah…

Despite more game iterations, Zebulon still hasn’t been going well. It’s confusing; in particular, the non-obvious rules around how the graph works, and the mechanic of dragging ships between planets.

Do I stick with what I have, or do a big re-design?

My original goal was just to publish an iOS game, of any kind. It would just give me bragging rights, and maybe a few hundred downloads. A redesign to make a better game that wouldn’t move the needle much isn’t a good use of effort.

But a redesign is still an interesting thought exercise. Let’s pretend I wanted to spend the effort to keep “core” of the game, but make it meet the usability of its tower defense peers. My game’s essence is:

  • There are discrete planets, with individual roles.
  • Roles interact with one another according to simple rules; the effects are stronger the closer the planets are.
  • Multiple simple interactions can lead to complex behaviors.
  • I want at least two kinds of “production”; I’m now leaning towards cash and energy. Cash is a discrete unit that accumulates, energy is an ongoing localized effect.

There doesn’t need to be a graph – or at least, not overtly. My original idea had been for the game to be centered around graph manipulation, but has two problems:

  1. It seems to appeal more to me than my early testers, and
  2. It’s a pain to generate 2D graphs such that the lines don’t cross, or get too close to, other planets.

So, let’s look at a random handful of other games I admire.

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I spent many, many hours playing Spaceward, Ho! on my old Macintosh when I was a teen, and it’s clearly a strong influence on Zebulon. It’s not a tower defense game per se, since you’re not dropping of autonomous units which repel waves of attackers in real-time; rather, it’s a turn-based strategy game where you have to juggle which resources you spend on terraforming vs. mining vs. research; ship-building; attack vs. defense. I loved trying to optimize its gameplay, and appreciated how well-balanced the game was overall. I will say that I’m not a huge fan of the fleet-management aspect of the game, however. The interface has a lot of dialogs and widgets; especially in later versions of the game which added features to appeal to more hard-core users.

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Obviously, Plants vs. Zombies is one of the great tower defense games. It’s not that complex a game, but the genius is in the simplicity and the evolving challenges the designers throw at you (now, play it at night! Now, you need to pot your plants! Now, we will randomly steal your plants). The core mechanics are:

  • Picking your six characters from among dozens of options
  • Spending resources on increasing production (sunlight) vs. defense
  • Building interactions between items; primarily in the same lane, but also between multiple lanes.

The interface is mostly drag-centric (pull items from the top menu), with some tapping to pick up sunlight. The “genius” is in how freakin’ well balanced it is – it’s always a challenge, but never crushing.

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I love the aesthetic of  Unstoppable Gorg, and it brings some clever additions to the genre; you can rotate an entire orbit “ring”, and enemy waves come in looping paths that require you to juggle the location of your defenders. Note that from a very high level design perspective, it’s not that different from Plants vs. Zombies, inasmuch as there is a tray of options at the top, with a counter and meters shown in the upper-left; and you select which handful of ship options you want at the beginning of a level.

With all this in mind, I busted open Illustrator to try a new Zebulon game design mockup:

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I’d move to a having a currency, and embrace the traditional tower defense trade-off of using a “slot” to generate money vs. doing something useful. I’d still like there to be interactions between neighbors based on proximity, which could allow for some interesting emergent behaviors. Your job is to build out each planet in a strategic way, such that planets support one another to repel the enemy.

…but let’s stop there. I’m not going to start over; what this game needs is more wrapping up, and less improvement.