What’s New With The OAK-U-TRON?

First Off, Thanks Are Due

The OAK-U-TRON’s debut at Occupy Oakland’s Move-In Day couldn’t have gone better. Well… we could have actually secured a building. And 409 of our closest friends could have been NOT arrested unlawfully after being shot in the face with beanbag rounds and rubber bullets, burnt with flash bang grenades, gassed with teargas, and threatened and beaten with batons, just for wanting to create a social center and provide free services that the city of Oakland decides not to prioritize. Okay, a lot of things could have gone better.

BUT, the OAK-U-TRON itself was a success. We managed to scrape and cobble it together in merely a week. And we couldn’t have done it without the overwhelming support we got from the community. A HUGE thanks goes out to everyone who donated via our WePay campaign. This would not have been possible without you!

So what’s been happening with the OAK-U-TRON since Move-In Day?

The OAK-UPATION GAME STATION has found a backup home at The Holdout a community organizing and events space. And bookstore. And bike shop. And free-school classroom. At 2313 San Pablo in Oakland. The Holdout is pretty much the closest existing thing to what Occupy Oakland had envisioned for its social space, so it feels like a good home for the OAK-U-TRON. They just had their grand opening in February and they are all-volunteer run, so they’re still working on expanding their hours, but your best bet, if you want to check out the OAK-U-TRON, is to find out when the Bookstore Collective is open and show up then.

The Holdout

According to the Facebook page, current hours are:
Mon: 3:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Thu: 3:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Sat – Sun: 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Be aware, though, that the OAK-U-TRON will be absent the week of March 4th through the 11th, because we’ve been invited to attend…

The Game Developers Conference

Yes! The OAK-U-TRON 201X and Keep Me Occupied were invited to be part of the Experimental Gameplay Sessions at this year’s GDC in San Francisco! We’ll be presenting during the 2:30–4:30pm Friday session, and we’ve also been asked to make an appearance at the Wild Rumpus/Venus Patrol party on Wednesday night.

We’ll probably be rolling the OAK-U-TRON around the conference as well during the week. We don’t have an Expo booth, but that doesn’t mean we won’t occupy the expo floor at some point. Finally, considering that all these events are a bit exclusive, requiring tickets that are either sold out, or cost hundreds of dollars, we want to arrange a time and place outside, where anyone who wants to can get a chance to play on the OAK-U-TRON. Nothing has been planned yet, but follow @RPMCollective on Twitter to stay updated!

While you’re at it, head over to Modern Times Bookstore (2919 24th St. in the Mission, not far from the BART station) on Thursday evening, 7–9pm, and check out anna’s book release party for Rise of the Videogame Zinesters! You don’t even need a ticket!


We’ve almost completed the process of inducting the OAK-U-TRON 201X into the official ranks of the Winnitron Indie Game Arcade Network. The only problem is that the $69 computer we bought off craigslist isn’t up to the task of running all the wonderful Winnitron games. Two-player Canabalt stumbles, Super Crate Box Versus gets hung up on dozens of enemies, and Nidhogg won’t run at all!

So we need your help again! OAK-U-TRON Phase 1 was a success. We were able to raise enough money to build a rolling, self-powered arcade machine within a week, out of scraps, and had it ready in time to roll through the streets of Oakland with two thousand people!

Now we need to make it even better! A new(er) brain so we can run all the wonderful Winnitron games! A control panel that doesn’t require opening up the machine and fiddling with cords just to start it up! A battery charger so we can keep it running all week through GDC! A backlit marquee for added flair! Wings for airborn flight! Head over to WePay and help us reach our goal for Phase 2! Even if you can only give a couple bucks, every little bit helps! Tell all your friends! Tell all your strangers! We can do this if we work together!

Check the sidebar on the right for donation links, and remember, there are fabulous donation rewards!


Screenshot Saturday: The Maiden Voyage of the OAK-U-TRON 201X

I’ve been struggling to write this wrap-up post of the Occupy Oakland Move-In Day event on January 28th. It’s almost five days later and I’m still absorbing media and other accounts from the day, people’s reactions and analysis, and reflecting on my own experiences from the event and its effects.

Though Move-In Day itself ran into complications, the OAK-U-TRON was a definitive success.

First Game Ever

It worked! The wheels held up. The game ran on the ancient computer. The battery-powered system came together at the eleventh hour (literally) and despite being completely untested and unmeasured, lasted the entire march.

Power Source

People loved it, and were amazed by it. Thousands of people turned out for the Move-In action. Everyone who saw the OAK-U-TRON couldn’t help but crack a smile. Who wouldn’t love a playable arcade game rolling right past them?

First Rolling Game

Everyone Loves the OAK-U-TRON

By the end, we had a decicated posse of OAK-U-TRON fans helping us push, navigating, scouting, and tweeting. And just as in real life, it turns out that the people of Occupy Oakland are a helpful bunch of gamers with the interest of the community at heart

Pushing On

I joked in a previous post about the circuitous path we had to carry the empty cabinet. Little did I know, the actual journey of the full machine (which was twice as heavy!) would be even crazier than the fictional tale. The OAK-U-TRON 201X travelled over two and two thirds miles through streets, up ramps, down elevators, and over bridges to just outside its intended location.

View Maiden Voyage of the OAK-U-TRON 201X in a larger map (WITH ANNOTATIONS!)

Unfortunately the Oakland City Administrator, Deanna Santana, made the decision that violently protecting an empty, unused, public building from people who wanted to open a social center to provide free services to the community was a larger priority than addressing the actual crimes committed against actual people in Oakland.

End of the Line

The OAK-U-TRON was not on the front lines of the march when the police responded violently. We ran into the sound truck at the back side of the building (Kaiser Auditorium) and the sound committee offerred to take the machine to their safe storage space, so it has survived to return another day. Though all the creators of the OAK-U-TRON made it out safely, over four hundred of our closest friends were unlawfully arrested later that night during a peaceful march (including said members of the sound committee), by a police force that cannot even follow its own policies.

Off to the Safehouse

The OAK-U-TRON 201X is a testment to of the city of Oakland. Unlike its sleek, modern Dutch sister and its well-mannered Canadian ancestor, the OAK-U-TRON is not pretty, but it speaks volumes of the resourcefulness and support of the community to be able to pull things together quickly when needed. It shows how elements of diverse sizes, shapes, colors, and backgrounds can fit together with a bit of work, hope and woodglue.

Final Round

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The OAK-U-TRON, our tactical, mobile, arcade game is ready to Move-In tomorrow! We’ll be at Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza, at noon and march with the Move-In march at 1pm. Come out, say hi, and play the wonderful 50-player co-op game that Auntie Pixelante made just for this event!

I can’t believe everything came together at the last minute, so thanks to everyone who helped make this happen!

I can’t upload images to this blog from the field right now, so follow @akerfoot on Twitter for updates during tomorrow’s event. Better yet, come out and visit! There’s stuff going on all weekend!

Oakutron Finsihed!

Oakutron Finsihed!

OAK-U-TRON: T Minus 2 Days

A quick status update today because we’re getting down to the wire, but it’s really coming together.

The support we’ve been getting from the community, or I should say communities—from gamers, to wepay, to Occupy Oakland—has been nothing short of amazing! We can’t thank you all enough for your support!

I got the game from anna last night, KEEP ME OCCUPIED, and it is amazing! I can’t wait to see people play it during the event!

I’m still wrangling drivers for the PC. I updated the video drivers for the integrated chip and now it will run MAME without crashing, but Keep Me Occupied crashes on launch. Because it’s a Game Maker game, it’s a bit hard to diagnose, but my guess is that the video chip, being pretty old, is missing some OpenGL or DirectX capability. The GeForce 4 card I have isn’t being recognized in the AGP slot anymore, and I’m not sure whether that’s a problem with the motherboard or the card. Going to run out to find a newer card and see if that works. Otherwise I might need to pick up a different tower.

I also picked up some nice speakers that Elliot was nice enough to donate last night. Thanks Elliot!

We got the controllers in, and Mars built a control panel for them.

We picked up a monitor off craigslist and Mars built a mount and bezel for it.

Here it is assembled so far.

The plan for today is to get everything in the case and see how it works. I predict it will be GLORIOUS!

Current Needs

These are our most immediate needs. If you would like to donate anything on this list, it would be much appreciated. Just drop a note in the comments, or email oakutron at rpmcollective.com.

  • URGENT: A Windows-capable, low-power desktop or laptop, with a decent videocard
  • A deep-cycle battery
  • An inverter capable of handling at least 300 to 400 Watts, modified or pure sine-wave.

OAK-U-TRON Progress Update 2

buzzed over to home depot, picked up some new wheels. two of my goals with any project are 100% recycled materials and zero cost, but these almost always give way to time pressure, so i spent some bucks on real wheels. the casters were about 12 each and the wheels were 15. axle was another 5. kept receipts. progress tonight:

control panel cut, with new casters and wheels on display.

begin one-man process of extracting roller cart from beneath cab.

cab front propped on improvised scaffold. cart is rocked up but still no contact between cab and ground. wood scrap protects stone ipa from sawdust contamination.

same from other side. had to squeeze beneath/through the cab itself to get around. several times.

heaved the back end of the cab up and pulled the cart out.

back on the ground, safe and sound. ready to replace the crappy rollers.

installation of wheels and casters.

Current Needs

These are our most immediate needs. If you would like to donate anything on this list, it would be much appreciated. Just drop a note in the comments, or email oakutron at rpmcollective.com.

  • a 19″ (or larger) Windows-capable laptop, as long as the screen is no wider than 23 inches.


  • 19″ LCD monitor (or an LCD approaching, but no wider than, 23″, preferably 4:3)
  • PC speakers
  • A deep-cycle battery
  • An inverter capable of handling at least 300 to 400 Watts, modified or pure sine-wave.

Screenshot Saturday: Occucade

This Saturday, January 21st, marked the first day actual construction started on the OAK-U-TRON 201X. anna and daphny not only spent their time working on the new game developed specifically for the Occu-Tron, but also donated an empty arcade cabinet they had hanging around. Without this, I don’t think it would be possible to have a working machine by Move-In Day on January 28th, so they deserve a lot of thanks!

After carrying the 250 lb. cabinet down five flights of stairs, through 2 elevators, over a fence, up an escalator, and around a merry-go-round, we threw it in the back of our rental truck. Luckily, the cabinet was exactly the length of the pickup bed, so we thanked the goddesses for our fortune and drove off.
cab squared

Flying down the highway at 140 miles-per-hour to drop the cabinet of at Mars’s shop and return our hourly-rental truck before it turned into a pumpkin took a bit out of us, so we spent a few minutes indoors trying to piece together a full computer from spare parts organized like a tub of assorted legos whose individual instruction books have long since been lost. The best CPU we managed to come by was a vintage 650GHz AMD Athalon from 1889. So we checked Craigslist before buzzing down to the infernal depths of Lower San Francisco to pick up a state-of-the-art HP D530 in the Small Form Factor Flavor, which you can see in the middle right, just beneath and to the right of the mustachioed Sega Saturn.
PC = Pile of Components

After having our fill of hardware issues, we decided to work on the hardware issues. Considering that the cabinet itself took up much of the room in the shop and the difficult involved in maneuvering it around and around it, we decided to start with the wheel cart. A scrap bed railing, cut in half and tied together with spare 2×6’s provided an base, and four $2 two-inch casters provided the mobility.
wheel cart

Field testing determined that the cart was both sturdy and manueverable enough to try supporting the cabinet itself.

Like a geriatric gorilla with walker, once the cab was placed on its cart it could maneuver over most sidewalk features and ramps and could even make it up tiny driveway curbs, but it felt quite precarious on the 2-inch casters. Further development may be needed on this front, er… bottom.
cab on cart

A trimmed-down sheet of scrap MDF mounted with hinges provided a nice if unsightly front panel. The TV pictured here belonged to a craigslister from whom we decided not to buy it, but instead Mars bought a stereo from her so she threw the TV in for free.
day 1

In order to test the display’s S-Video connection, we had to add another bleeding-edge component, this time a GeForce 4 Ti graphics card, imported from 2004 (3 years more advanced than the onboard HAL-9000 chip). The standard-sized graphics card required some intricate case-modding in order to fit in the small-form-factor case, but nothing we couldn’t handle with the right tools.
case modding

Unfortunately, the only resolution our rig could muster over S-Video was 800×600, which might suffice for a MAME cabinet, but will not work for the Winnitron’s standard resolution of 1024×768.

Then, after a productive day, I spend about 3 hours wrestling with legacy drivers to try to get any arcade emulator working over VGA using either the AGP card or the onboard chip, to no avail. Any time the program would try to change the display resolution, it would crash back to the desktop with no error message. Not sure if this problem is from running a new OS (Windows 7) on hardware so old that none of the drivers are supported, but I might just try wiping the machine and reinstalling XP to see if that fixes anything.

Current Needs

These are our most immediate needs. If you would like to donate anything on this list, it would be much appreciated. Just drop a note in the comments, or email oakutron at rpmcollective.com.
19″ LCD monitor (or an LCD approaching, but no wider than, 23″, preferably 4:3)
PC speakers
A deep-cycle battery
An inverter capable of handling at least 300 to 400 Watts, modified or pure sine-wave.
a 19″ (or larger) Windows-capable laptop, as long as the screen is no wider than 23 inches.

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Banned From Kickstarter
I tried to set up a Kickstarter project so that anyone who liked the idea of a public, mobile, indie, street arcade could help out with some of the material costs to get the thing off the ground, especially with the hard deadline of January 28th’s Move-In Day quickly approaching.

Apparently, not just anyone can throw up a campaign on Kickstarter, it has to be vetted by their staff first. So I submitted my project proposal worried more about how quickly they would get back to me than if they would accept the project, especially seeing how they’ve approved funding for games, museums for games, movies about games (twice!) and even parties for games. And who wouldn’t want another Winnitron in the world, let alone in the Bay Area, the birthplace of arcade games.

Sure enough, after a day and a half, I got a reply back indicating that they were excited about the idea, they just needed to have a clear goal and a timeline. I wrote back explaining the two-tiered plan.

The first goal, Phase One, would be to slap together a barebones, working arcade cabinet with whatever spare parts we could find (from our closets, friends, craigslist, amazon, etc) and have it running the custom game and rolling down the street for the march and move-in on the 28th, one week from then.

The second goal, Phase Two, would be focused on adding a level of polish to the machine, to make it something everyone would be proud of owning—swapping out the off-the-shelf joysticks with professional Sanwa or HAPP sticks and buttons, upgrading the hardware if needed, getting a local artist to paint the panels and adding a nice, backlit marquee. This would be completed one month after the end of the fundraising campaign.

So I sent that off, and waited to hear back. Meanwhile, we were already paying for things out of our pockets in order to get the bare necessities soon enough for Phase One. Another day goes by, and I get some bad news.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the right fit for Kickstarter. [...] For video game projects, we look for games that are being designed by the creators. I misunderstood and though you were designing your own arcade game. We see a wide variety of inspiring ideas, and while we value each one’s uniqueness and creativity, Kickstarter is not the right platform for all of them.


I could have said that the creation of creation of a new game, specifically for this event and this arcade cabinet are essential to the project. Essential, as in, ‘one part’ of the project itself. And that the designer and creator of the game are just as much a part of this project. I could have argued that it’s kind of ridiculous that Kickstarter would approve a project, the creation of a videogame, that contains absolutely no material costs, but deny a project, the creation of hardware to contain and play said videogame, that has plenty of material costs (wood, pc, monitor, controls, battery, inverter, etc). But I don’t have the time to do that. Move-In Day is in less than a week. So we’re going to do this the old-fashion, DIY way.

Here are some buttons you can click to donate to the OAK-U-TRON 201X: BANNED FROM KICKSTARTER DRIVE via WePay or PayPal:

BUT WAIT! That’s not all! This wouldn’t be a Banned From Kickstarter drive without FABULOUS PRIZES!

  • GIVE $5 OR MORE and receive set of OAK-U-TRON 201X and RPM Collective 1″ pins!
  • GIVE $20 OR MORE and have your name written into the OAK-U-TRON 201X’s credits sequence!!
  • GIVE $50 OR MORE and receive a hand-numbered poster documenting the OAK-U-TRON 201X in action on Occupy Oakland’s Move-In Day!!!
  • GIVE $75 OR MORE and receive an OAK-U-TRON 201X T-shirt!!!!
  • GIVE $100 OR MORE and receive a hand-screenprinted ticket to participate in an OAK-U-TRON 201X tournament on site, in Oakland, California. You get to keep the ticket whether or not you can show up for the tournament!!!!! (limit: 64)
  • GIVE $125 OR MORE and receive a coffee table photo book documenting the creation and life of the OAK-U-TRON 201X!!!!!! (limit: 20)
  • GIVE $200 OR MORE and have your name etched onto a metal plaque BY A LASER BEAM and bolted to the OAK-U-TRON 201X!!!!!!! (limit: 5)

(Note: if you do not have a WePay account, sign up using this referral link, and if you ever receive money from WePay, we’ll get $20 FOR FREE! If I can confirm the $20 came from you, i’ll add it to your total)

WePay is preferred, but if you must use PayPal:

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I get my donation reward even if the project doesn’t reach its donation goal?
Unlike Kickstarter, YES! For two reasons:

  1. Since I have no way of holding donations off until the goal is reached nor returning them if it isn’t met, you get your prizes regardless!
  2. Economic incentives for virality are the last refuge of capitalist scoundrels.

Who will own the machine?
The OAK-U-TRON 201X will be donated to the Occupy Oakland Social Space upon its completion, thus it will be collectively owned by anyone who gets involved and participates. I will take responsibility for maintaining the machine.

Will the OAK-U-TRON 201X be open to the public?
Of course! Even if it didn’t have to follow the guidelines for the Winnitron Indie Game Arcade Network, the the OAK-U-TRON 201X will be free and located in a public place.

What if you raise too much money?
#firstworldproblems? In the event that the OAK-U-TRON 201X: Banned From Kickstarter Drive manages to cover all costs after the final, Phase Two portion of construction, the rest will be set aside into an ANARCHIST ARCADE RESERVE FUND for the purpose of maintaining the OAK-U-TRON 201X. If the reserve fund has such a surplus that all foreseen maintenance costs should be covered, the maintainers may choose to use the funds to build a second unit, subject to the same conditions as the first (free, publicly available).

What happens if the Occupy Oakland Social Space gets closed?
In the event that the OO Social Space gets evicted, shut down, or otherwise closes, the OAK-U-TRON 201X will be relocated to another public location TBD temporarily until Occupy Oakland secures a permanent location for its Social Space.

What happens if the OAK-U-TRON 201X gets confiscated or smashed by OPD?
If the machine is confiscated by the police, I will take responsibility for claiming it, and moving it to a publicly accessible back-up location. Unfortunately, we’ve seen many times that police treat Occupy’s belongings in custody about as well as they treat arrestees. If the machine is damaged or destroyed, and there is enough money in the ANARCHIST ARCADE RESERVE FUND it will be rebuilt as a testament to Occupy Oakland’s resiliency. If such funds are not available and cannot be raised, the remaining portion will be used to give the OAK-U-TRON 201X a proper Viking burial.

What’s up with Kickstarter?
While I think this was a bad decision, I’ve got nothing against Kickstarter personally. They enable funding for a lot of great projects. In fact, you should all go donate to the Glorious Trainwrecks Pirate Kart right now!


Occupy Arcade

It seems like we have reached a point in society where revolutions occur by the minute. From Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Bahrain, to Greece, Spain, Italy and Iceland, to Wukan, China. It’s impossible to start listing them without omitting dozens of others. In the US, the Occupy protests started at Wall Street in September and spread all over the country, and eventually, the globe. Of course, each has had different conditions and experiences, and one can argue the semantics of “revolution” versus “protest”, but they have all created a revolution of the mind—showing people that they can stand up to power and giving them the tools to do so (be it the People’s Mic, street protests, business shutdowns) and the tools to self-organize (General Assemblies, working groups, spokescouncils, etc.)

So many things have inspired me personally: the sense of community I have felt from being a part of Occupy Oakland, the proliferation of conversations that were never happening around this country before, the new people I have met and worked with, and the work that has been done: feeding thousands of hungry people, welcoming marginalized people into the community, building labor solidarity, supporting those whose human rights are being repressed, and every single act of creative resistance.

On Saturday, January 28th, Occupy Oakland is going to take the next step, occupying a vacant building and turning it into a social center with room for a community kitchen, a first-aid station, meeting spaces, a free school, a space for children, a library, a media room, and more. There will also be a two-day street festival with music, movies, arts & crafts, food and speakers during the opening weekend of the building. You can read more about the event, including the festival schedule, on the Occupy Oakland Move-In Day site.

For a while, I was trying to figure out how I could best use my skills to add to this event. occucadeWhen I heard that someone was planning to bring a pool table to the initial march to the building, mounted on wheels so it could be played while being pushed through the streets, I knew what I had to do. Every community center needs a game room to draw in the general public, to give people some respite and lighten spirits, and to give people an opportunity to meet others in their community. And every good game room needs an arcade machine.

To that end, we are constructing an arcade cabinet to be completed by the 28th and donated to Occupy Oakland. It will also be mounted on wheels and be able to run off a battery so that it is completely mobile and can be played in the streets during the march to the new space. Yeah, you read that right.

On Wheels.
In The Streets.


Local Oakland indie game developer anna “don’t call me ‘indie’” anthropy signed on to create a game specifically for this event! I also wrote to the Winnitron folks about the possibility of having the cabinet be an official Winnitron machine, and they are all for it, which is awesome because the Winnitron represents the true, independent DIY spirit of Occupy Oakland!!



Any Way You Want It

A few nights ago I was explaining the concept of Equalizr to someone, and he asked me,

“So… if I wanted to have a game based entirely on Journey, I could do that?”

“Yes Rob, you take your music, throw it in the game, and you can have it Any Way You Want It.”

What I didn’t realize until just yesterday is that someone had already beaten me to the punch!

I don’t know what amuses me most about this video: the random footage of a towheaded, shirtless youth playing a Pac-Man clone in an arcade (can anyone place that game?), the back-alley posturing clip of the band members, or the conspicuous absence of frontman Steve Perry.

Perhaps most notable is keyboardist Jonathan Cain’s longshot attempt to tie the subtext of the game to the creative process of an artist—not his own or his group’s, but Perry’s, vicariously—while Nick Schon smirks smugly in the background. Such is the tragic nature of the rock keyboardist, always required to justify their stature, however futile. Or maybe he just never gets stuck himself.

Another Turn of the Crank

I spent part of this last weekend working on building a bike. If you weren’t aware, it’s an indie developer tradition to have your bike stolen, and mine was no exception.

I’ve never paid for a bike in my life—they have all been “gifts” (e.g. from a college roomate moving out and getting rid of the bike she paid $20 for) or from insurance claims as a result of getting hit by a car on said bike (RIP red, lady’s Univega)—and I’m not about to start now.

Not wanting to repeat the latter (I do not recommend it), and having run out of roomates with bikes, I decided to check out the San Francisco’s Bike Kitchen. The Bike Kitchen is a bike workshop where, instead of working on your bike while scoffing at your taste and lack of knowlege, the mechanics teach you how to repair your own bike. They also have a program where, if you become a member, you can pick through their giant piles of spare parts and build a bike from scratch.

While I was fitting the front derailleur on for the third time, Rudy the mechanic offered me the following wisdom:

“If you haven’t done something at least twice, you’re not going to get it right.”

This applies as much to game design and programming as it does to bikes. How many times has any programmer ever written more than 10 lines of code and had it work perfectly with no fixes needed? In my life, that’s happened to me fewer times than I’ve been hit by cars (which is to say, once or twice).

Obviously, this is a factor with experimental gameplay. Since it is new and unproven, the first time it will not be right.

It’s just as relevant for big-budget, “AAA” games. There will always be new things in these games, even if they’re just incremental. Unless the team is building an exact replica of a game they have already built together, they will need to do things more than once to get them right.

[ridiculously complex bike schematic]

The inventory system's connected to the... combat system.
The combat system's connected to the... AI

A game design is a massively complex system just by itself, disregarding the technology and art needed to implement that design. Just like a bike, game designs are combinations of many unique, interacting sub-systems and parts. You cannot expect to build a game design from scrach (or even from a pile of existing spare-parts), and have it fit together and work well the first time around anymore than you could build a bike like that.

Parts of your design will fail at first. Sometimes you can get away with a few tweaks to fix them, but other times they will be completely incompatible with the rest of the game. In that case, you need to trash them completely and try something else. This can be painful, especially since it involves throwing out the code and art associated with the design. But it is a necessary loss if you want the final design to work, and it is all the more reason to fail early and often.

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