Archive for the 'Tales from the grind-stone' Category

Accountants, Dragons and Helicopters (not in that order)

Posted in Games, Tales from the grind-stone on November 22nd, 2011 by MrCranky

Ooh: post 666! Spooky. 🙂

I’ve the office to myself for a couple of weeks, as Tim has taken the opportunity to use up the load of holidays he’s saved up before the end of the year, and Dan is busy with both university and other projects. I’m somewhat surrounded by Amazon boxes, as my wife has been using the office as a delivery drop-off for a vast amount of Christmas presents for all and sundry; as a personal rule I don’t shop for Christmas until it turns to December, but she’s a bit more efficient and organised about it than I am. As compensation for that though, and because she’s just generally lovely, she’s also had them deliver a shiny new copy of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for the 360. There was a certain amount of giggling with glee when it turned up, as I’ve been quite jealous of all the other devs who are enjoying it: I do like a good open-world adventure. Where I’m going to find the time to play it I’m not quite sure yet, but even rationed out over weekends I’m sure it will be fun. A first quick blast in the office had me running away from dragons, which is always a good start.

On a whim a few weekends back while I was huddled up trying to beat off a nasty illness, I picked up a copy of DCS: Black Shark from Steam; I do like sim games, and the X52 in the cupboard doesn’t get a chance to come out. It was tragically disappointing though. Not because the manual isn’t the manual for the game, it’s the manual for the actual helicopter. That’s half the fun. No, what put me off was the terrible way it was presented. In a nod to playability, they include ‘game’ toggles for the flight and avionics. The ‘game’ flight mode is much friendlier to new players, but takes away half the fun and control I enjoy. However I learned my lesson with Lock On: Modern Air Combat; actually learning the radar and weapons controls for a real combat aircraft isn’t nearly as much fun! So I want ‘game’ avionics, and ‘sim’ flight, and set the options accordingly.

Here’s where it starts to go wrong. If you set either of those options, the game considers you in ‘game’ mode. And there’s an entirely distinct control configuration for game mode. It doesn’t tell you it’s in game mode, or give any indication as to which controls are ‘current’. You are just supposed to know. It’s not even in the manual anywhere, I checked. Worse, the control configuration isn’t accessible from the in-game menu. So you start a mission, take off (because that part is easy), but find you can’t operate one of the controls (of which there are many). Can you look it up? No. Because to look it up, you have to exit the mission, and go check the control configuration in the front end. I don’t even want to change it, I just need to see which button it’s mapped to.

So instead of actually enjoying the challenge of controlling a complex, agile helicopter, I find myself getting into the mission, only to find that the weapons systems are unusable, and I get shot down because I am spending a good few minutes just trying to get a particular bit of it to work. And there aren’t any missions in there that let you just concentrate on one thing at a time. You don’t get a ‘free flight’ mode, you don’t get some a mission with nice simple targets that don’t fire back right in front of you so you can familiarise yourself with the weapons systems. It’s either ‘quick start’ (which throws you into a mission assuming that you have full control over everything), or ‘campaign’. At least the first mission in the campaign takes you through some easy flying, but there’s no practicing of flight maneuvers, just ‘fly there, then there, then home’. That’s not what you need to practice. You need to practice low level flight, and going from full forward to stopped and hovering before popping up over the brow of a hill. You need to practice strafing and orbiting targets. None of which is encouraged in the missions provided.

Anyway, suffice to say that the nod towards making it ‘friendly’ very much fails. It’s not that much friendlier for novices, and those parts are ignored by intermediate or pro pilots.

Lastly, and on a completely different note, we’ve got ourselves a new accountant, who comes recommended from a couple of other game-devs around Scotland. This is a bit of a relief to me, since our filing deadline is the end of December. The previous accountants, who I’ll not name (although they do deserve to be shamed) have been informed, although they can’t have expected to keep our business, not least because they’ve been avoiding contact with me since spring (and their refusal to pay the fines they incurred through their incompetence).

Busy August

Posted in iPhone Apps, Links from the In-tar-web, Tales from the grind-stone on September 4th, 2011 by MrCranky

Lots of little things this month, keeping us all busy. I was ill for much of it, a fortnight of a racking cough that was driving everyone in the office crazy I’m sure, which put the kibosh on any plans I had to enjoy the Edinburgh Festival. It also made it rather hard to concentrate quite as much as I would have liked on our new project, a re-make of a famous Spectrum / C64 classic for smartphone and tablets. Instead, that’s largely been left in the capable hands of Tim and Dan, with me only providing interference in the form of design notes. We can’t talk too much more about it just yet, but it’ll be announced soon enough, probably when we get some good looking preliminary builds made up that will give people something to talk about while we get the game ready for release.

The iPhone app we made for PASG has finally launched – Hold’em Manager for iOS. That was our focus for much of late last year and this first half of this year, so it’s nice to see it out in the wild. It’s a partner application for users of the Hold’em Manager suite of apps, which are a great tool for any serious on-line poker player. Mind you, I do have to persuade our accountant that the money paid to on-line poker sites during testing are in fact valid business expenses. Not sure exactly what category that comes under in our year end accounts.

I took some time out in late July to tackle something I’d been meaning to do for a while: get us some official Company t-shirts. Here’s me modelling the black version:

Very ‘man from C&A’, I know. I’d never make a model.

Our month long experiment with allowing people to comment on the blog without registering first is now done with, as I’d suspected, it didn’t really help much with the spam. Instead of a few dozen spambots registering on the site and needing deleted, we got a few dozen spambots registering on the site and needing delete and a few hundred spam comments which Akismet blocked before ever seeing the light of day. We don’t see a lot of discussion here on the blog, so the increased maintenance effort on my part wasn’t really worth it. Back to registration first for the foreseeable future.

Too much time this month was wasted trying to rebuild Dan’s PC, which had taken to freezing on boot and blue-screening. After swapping out every single component (graphics, PSU, motherboard/CPU, HDD, heck even the keyboard and power cable), we eventually figured out it was the DVD drive. Operated as a DVD drive perfectly, but if plugged in would cause failures. As a result we’ve got pretty much all of the bits of a new machine, so now Dan has his own, entirely rebuilt machine with Windows 7 (instead of a hand-me-down server machine running XP). I also get my XP server back, which I’d been missing as it’s nice to have a box I can run Cruisecontrol and background tasks on. It’s doing a sterling job with our tools work for Sumo, which is occupying most of my time right now.

Team Bondi went into administration. Not entirely unexpected, but still not nice when the livelihood of people is on the line. Hopefully it will serve as a warning to other studios as to what happens when you mismanage a project so badly with regards to working hours. However more likely it will all be pinned on Brendan McNamara, and the crunch part will be played down. The people I really feel sorry for are those at KMM (the only other sizeable employer of digital art staff in the area), who escaped Team Bondi and its management, only to find that their nemeses have now followed them to their new job.

Anyway, that’s pretty much it for now, back to tidying up all the boxes of PC components strewn around the office.

Pest Control

Posted in Tales from the grind-stone on July 10th, 2011 by MrCranky

Ah, summer is in Edinburgh at last. Thunder and lightning storms, and flooding so bad the water breaks out of the sewers and comes up through the road. I love this city. I don’t think the squirrels in the garden were quite as happy though.

Baby mouse in a soup tin

Curse you and my steel (tin) prison...

At least the squirrels have the decency to stay on the outside of the office though. This little gent (or lady, I didn’t get close enough to check), was the second littlest of a family of mice that have been tormenting us for weeks now. Leaving little presents on our desks. Something in the last couple of weeks must have driven them out looking for nesting material though, because they were all inexorably drawn to the box of packing peanuts that lay out in our office. Bold as brass, we found them rustling around in the box, and popping out the top with a polystyrene peanut in their mouth, trying to get away. Thankfully, their attraction to the box made it much easier for us to arrange things in such a way that we could more easily trap them when they did show themselves. At the current count, I’ve caught four of them, and Tim caught one [Hah – I win!]. We’re presuming the one Tim caught was the daddy, as he was much larger.

All of them were released into the wild (or as wild as it gets 100 yards in either direction along Belford Road), as we’re both softies at heart and couldn’t quite bring ourselves to kill them. Tim’s catch was released on the Dean Bridge itself, much to the amusement of passers by – hopefully it won’t have decided to end it all and take the leap off the edge. They probably have a homing instinct of some sort, but we figure as long as they find a similarly attractive home somewhere along the way back we’ll be rid of them for now.

iPad @ home

Posted in Tales from the grind-stone on May 27th, 2011 by MrCranky

I must confess, the iPad we bought for device testing has migrated home to the flat, and now only makes its way back to the office for specific needs. Not for purely selfish reasons I hasten to add, although it is partly that. Rather it’s because when we first got it, I was unsure as to exactly how it would fit into the average user’s life. The iPhone was easy, within an hour or two of using it I could see it’s niche; a pocket sized, versatile device with good connectivity and an intuitive interface. The iPad, not so much. Too large to carry around without making a conscious effort; lacking the keyboard for serious work, and unable to run most of the existing software most users are accustomed to using on a laptop.

The real trouble is that we here at Black Company make terrible cold testers. We’re technical, so we tend to focus on the implementation details rather than the broader feel of the interface. We’re advanced users, used to knowing everything about the software we use; being forced to learn a whole new interface makes us grumpy, but not nearly as grumpy as having not having all of our usual tools to hand. So as I usually do with such things, I hand them straight to my wife without saying a word, and simply watch how she uses it. The question was, really, would it find a use naturally, or would we be using it for the sake of it? And what would that use be?

Put simply, it did, and the use is: content viewing. I had thought that my computer time was read-write, but in reality, outside of work, the majority of my time is spent consuming content and not creating it. Facebook, Twitter, blogs and RSS feeds obviously, but more and more with on-demand video services like iPlayer. The iPad keyboard is, frankly, not pleasant to use (I’m writing this blog post using it as a proper test), but for the majority of content viewing we do, that’s not an issue. In fact, in the few months we’ve been using it, the biggest annoyance has been the fact that much of the on-demand TV we want to watch is on Channel 4, and their web solution was Flash based (i.e. not available on iPad.

And it was what we had to do when we did want to watch those things that drove it home to me. The iPad lies around the living room happily. It’s discreet and portable. To get the laptop out, plugged in, booted, takes a good 5 minutes, not just because it lives in a bag in the other room. So it’s a new way for us to experience the content out there, that we just wouldn’t have done before, and I don’t think I would have appreciated that without properly field testing it (or at least, allowing Vicki to do that).

That’s not to say that there aren’t other lessons to learn too. The bad apps we’ve found are the ones which simply take an iPhone user interface and make it bigger. But the key thing to appreciate about the iPad is that there’s likely to be only one in the household. Whereas the iPhone is a naturally single user device (not just because it’s something you keep on you as you move around), the iPad is passed around amongst the household. So apps like Facebook and Twitter have to account for the fact that you’ll want to easily pop back to the top level and switch users; as well as some loose protection against accessing other people’s accounts. You trust the people you share the iPad with, but not that much. And of course, it’s far less likely to be moving around out in the world, so apps that focus on the geo-location data are far less useful. On iPad, the value is on it’s versatility to display content in a relaxed environment (not necessarily at a desk). The larger display is key to that versatility.

The trick will be to take the things we understand about how the iPad gets used, and use it to inform our app designs.

Thinking of holidays

Posted in Tales from the grind-stone on April 3rd, 2011 by MrCranky

It looks like a well meaning group are attempting to restart interest in a Scottish chapter of the IGDA. While I’m all for more cooperation between Scottish developers (and engaging with other people interested in the industry), I’m still rather soured on the IGDA itself. Since my earlier posts relating to working hours, the organisation has only been further devalued in my eyes. But rather than rant about it now, I’m going to make the effort to attend a local meetup and meet the people in question, and tell them just why I’m cynical. Maybe I can be persuaded that I’m just being a stick-in-the-mud, but at least they’ll be going into it with open eyes. Either way, I’ll thrash out the arguments both ways, and write it up for here.

In the meantime, I haven’t much that I can interestingly write about here. We’re juggling now 5 distinct projects (6 if you include the much neglected internal prototype work), none of which I can freely write about here. Well that’s not true, of course I can talk about our own project, but right now I don’t quite want to, at least not until we can put up some interesting looking screenshots. But more importantly for us is the fact that we’re actually progressing one of our ideas, instead of continually putting it off till the next bit of down-time between client work. I think that’s good, both because it’s cool to be doing our own work, but also because it keeps us from going a bit mental with an seemingly never-ending pile of work-for-hire. As much as we like our clients, their work is theirs, and it’s hard to get super-enthusiastic about other peoples’ projects.

I’m personally feeling a bit of burn-out, largely because I’ve been working solidly since before October, with no breaks of more than two or three days, and there’s not likely to be any let up for the next month or two at least. So refreshing our heads with a bit of our own work is a good thing to stave off the madness. Sadly the same lack of available energy is the reason why the scarcity of posts here. There have been plenty of interesting topics come up, I’ve just not been able to find the time to write them up for here.

It’s funny, because when I was working as an employee for someone else, it never occurred to me that I needed a holiday. I threw myself into the work, but not completely, there was always room for personal stuff. Since starting up for myself, the greater focus on work means that I’ve had little creative energy left over for anything else. And if I want to refresh my batteries, I think I need a proper (i.e. not thinking about work at all) holiday. But I should stop dwelling on that now, because I find myself staring out of the window here at the pretty sunset, day-dreaming about what I’d do on a holiday, and that’s just rubbing salt in the wound. 🙂

User friendly Employee T&Cs

Posted in Tales from the grind-stone on January 3rd, 2011 by MrCranky

And finally, the last part of our look at our Employee Terms and Conditions. Since the document itself is written in suitable legalese, I wrote up a more succinct (and decidedly less formal) version that conveys the spirit of the terms rather than getting bogged down in exact wording.

1.1 You’re an employee, we’re your employer. Welcome aboard. Get to work.
1.2 If you’re too sick to work, don’t be surprised if we get a temp in to cover. Don’t worry, you’re not being replaced.
1.3 Just to make sure – you’re okay to work here, right? You’re not also pretending to work somewhere else? Or claiming benefits from being out of work?

2.1 We expect you to work a typical week, but when the s&*^ hits the fan, we might need you to stay late.
2.2 If you’re putting in a regular day, you can totally take some time out for lunch. Just don’t eat anything that stinks the office out.
2.3 We can’t / don’t want to pay you money for overtime. But since overtime is definitely over and above the call of duty, we want to recognise that, so if we do need you to do it, we’ll let you take time off later, as much time off as you put in extra now. That doesn’t mean you get to take the piss and work silly hours for a week, and then not come in for a week. What it does mean is that, if the business needs it, you and your manager can work out when you’re going to work extra, and when you get to go home early (or stay off) to make up for it. Even at that, we’re going to cap it at 20 hours in a month, because that seems like a reasonable amount; anything more and you’d not be usefully working anyway.
2.4 Don’t f*(& around. Really. We pay you to work, we expect you to work. Don’t take the piss, and you’ll do just fine. On a more serious note, this is really how we want you to work. We don’t want you working stupid hours into the dead of night to hit our deadlines, we want you in and focused 100% on your work for the 8 hours you’re in the office each day. We’ve already said we’re going to send you home at a sensible time every day, and we hope that will help keep you sharp and eager to work when you’re at your desk. Obviously there’s some give and take here, but it’s at the discretion of your manager. Rest assured, he’s probably occasionally web-surfing too, but within reason, and he expects the same of you.

3.1 This is obviously a condition written when we were still all working from home (we have an office now). We’re not going to up a move to Guadalcanal without some notice, but if we do have to move, we don’t expect you to come with us without being paid to relocate.

4.1 You get paid! Hurrah. You get paid after you do a month’s work, at the end of the month. (If we didn’t pay you at the end of the month, you’d be within your rights to not come back in at the start of the next month until we did).
4.2 We’re not going to fix you on this salary for ever, but we can’t say when or how we’ll change it next. We will however work out when that’s going to happen with you in advance, usually when you take the job.
4.3 Legal stuff.

5.1 If you’re working for us, and you pay money out of your own pocket to do that work, we’ll pay you back later. But you’ve got to do it by the book, so receipts, and get the claims in sharpish. And for goodness sakes, clear it with your manager first.
5.2 Company credit card? How much do we trust you? Okay, so we do, but you’d better not abuse the trust, and it’s still ours.

6.1 Details
6.2 You get a certain amount of holidays a year, and you earn a fraction of those holidays for every day worked. This is to stop you from joining the company, then trying to take all 30 days holiday in the first month. Holidays come after the work, not before.
6.3 6 weeks holiday – but bear in mind that includes the what, 8 days of bank holidays that some other places add on top.
6.4 You have to let us know when you want to get off. Usually that will be fine, with advance warning, but sometimes we need you in the office for certain deadlines. The farther in advance you let us know, the more likely it is you’ll get to take it; if something comes up for the business then so be it – we won’t ask you to cancel a big holiday planned in advance because the client pushed the deadlines forward (or back)
6.5 (see 6.3)

7.1 You’re never so sick that you can’t make a call to the office and let someone know. NB: Emailing is not letting someone know! You have no idea if that email’s been picked up, maybe the person you emailed is sick as well. You have to have made a sincere effort to let someone who has made it to the office that day know.
7.2 Doctor’s note if you’re really sick – we need the paperwork to cover us for sick pay reasons, etc.
7.3 More statutory stuff that says we’ll still pay you if you’re long term ill, but in line with government rates
7.4 same again
7.5 and again
7.6 If you’re getting a wad of money from sueing the drunk driver that knocked you over, some of that money comes to us to cover anything we’ve paid for your convalescence.
7.7 We might need to check your health, for our own insurance reasons, or because we’re trying to stop all of you sedentary developers from keeling over with heart attacks due to your bad diet and lack of exercise. Don’t worry, we’ll pay for it all.
7.8 Just because you’re ill, doesn’t mean that we can’t terminate your employment. In fact, whether you’re ill or not should have nothing at all to do with us letting you go.

8.1 We might, at some point, need to sack you. Might be your fault, might be a decision we have to make for other reasons. If we do, we’ll tell you about it a month in advance. If you want to leave, you also have to give us a month’s warning. If you’ve breached these terms though, we’ll put you out right away.
8.2 If you’re leaving, for whatever reason, we might want to just pay you for your notice period without actually having you around. Don’t take it personally. Whether we do or not is up to us though, not you.
8.3 If you’re leaving, and we keep you around for your notice period, then we don’t have to give you any real work to do, or even let you back in the office.

9.1 We might give you some kit to do your job, but if you’re leaving us, then you have to give it all back, including any copies you’ve made
9.2 And you might have to swear that you definitely have done this, so if it turns out later you were lying we have something we can point to and moan about it

10.1 If you are involved in any other business that might relate to us in any way (like a competitor, or even a similar business), you have to let us know. We might not mind, but you definitely have to tell us. That includes your direct family too.
10.2 Once you’re working for us, you agree not to start anything like that either. We don’t mind you buying shares in a business like that, as long as it’s not a very big stake.
10.3 Stuff defining some examples of how we mean ‘involved’ in those other businesses.

11.1 You’ve got to tell us if you were a crook, generally a dodgy character. And if you find out that a bunch of your colleagues are planning to leave and strike out in competition with us, you’re obliged to tell us as quick as you can. And if you know that one of your colleagues is screwing us over, tell us that too. Otherwise we’re going to believe that you were helping them.

12.1 Don’t tell anyone else things you know because you’re working with us. That includes other business’s secrets – our company has agreed to keep those secrets, and that includes you.

13.1 Any ideas or content you come up with “while working on activities for us”, belongs to us, wholly and completely. That applies whether you’re in our office our out on a client’s site somewhere, or even if you’re working on company stuff in your home. Conversely, if you’re not working on activities for us, your ideas are your own. Bear in mind, you shouldn’t be working on activities of your own when you’re at work at all – we expect you to either be at the office, working, or at home, not thinking about work at all.
13.2 If you do come up with something at work, and we really don’t want it, you can ask, and we might just give you all rights to the idea. This will basically take the form of a signed document that say exactly which idea we don’t want and we’re handing off to you.
13.3 Some copyright specific stuff to make clear that we, the company, is the author/originator, and not you, when it comes to IP
13.4 We might need you to sign your name and generally take part in the process of sorting out trademarks, patents, etc, that you had a hand in creating with us. That’s true even if you’ve left the company’s employment since you did the work. You won’t be able to do those things on your own, it will have to be us that drives the process.
13.5 You’ve got to do everything you can to make sure that the IP rests properly with us, and not you; even after you leave us.
13.6 Don’t steal anyone else’s work and pass it off as your own (and so ours), or make some libellous or obscene content in our name.

14.1 You’re going to be exposed to at least some level of our company’s secrets – you’ve got to keep them. If you do divulge anything, you’d better have our written consent first.
14.2 You can’t start a business in competition with us. But we don’t mind you owning shares in a publicly listed company that competes with us (that’s just investment). Shares in privately held companies are out though.
14.3 You’re not allowed to poach recent (in the last 12 months) customers from us
14.4 You’re not allowed to poach recent (in the last 3 months) employees from us
14.5 You’re not allowed to use any confidential information you have as a result of working for us, or tell anyone else that information (apart from tribunals or courts that you’re obliged to tell the truth in)
14.6 You’re not allowed to record details of what’s going on inside the company, unless it’s to benefit the company
14.7 You’re not allowed to pretend to still be working with us after you’ve quit
14.8 We know this legal wording’s pretty complicated, and different situations lead to different justifiable periods, so if this contract would be valid if we took out some of these restrictions and/or reduced the times involved, then that is the contract instead. I.e. you agree not to try and work around these agreements by finding a loophole in an otherwise reasonable clause.

15.1 Don’t do something on our behalf that would tarnish the company’s name. We’ve written down how we expect you to behave, roughly, so you should read up on that so you know what to avoid.
15.2 If you’re new, then we might skip the more rigorous disciplinary procedures; but you can take your complaint to the company director, if you’re not happy with the way you’ve been treated.
15.3 Please be sensible, and work things out with your line manager before starting the formal grievance procedure. But if you do want to do it formally, make it in writing.
15.4 If you’re formally doing things, you have the right of appeal of your decision
15.5 If you’ve since quit, please still raise the grievance with the company director.

16.1 Legal statement that nothing else interferes with these terms
16.2 We might need to change these rules, but if we do we’ll let you know a month in advance.
16.3 Where to find the employee handbook

17 Legalese

18 Legalese


Posted in Tales from the grind-stone on November 18th, 2010 by MrCranky

So we haven’t seen Sid or Sally Squirrel for weeks now, after them being around almost every day. Tim spotted another visitor though, who left before we could figure out if it was one we already knew. This one seems substantially stupider though. Not only is it still out and about even though the weather has turned decidedly chilly, he tried to stash a peanut he’d found here: in the corner of our window. Right out in the open. Yeah, no-one else will ever think of looking for it there. Certainly not all the birds which nest in the trees all around here.

I have this narrative in my head now of a lazy squirrel that wakes up one morning in November, hung-over to all hell, and realises that it’s frosty and he’s seriously late for winter. And now he’s dashing around, cursing under his breath at the monster head-ache he’s got, stashing food any old place. All the good places are taken as well, so he ends up stuffing them in all sort of rubbish places. Since I’m an unabashed cynic though, the story ends with him lifting up a particularly grumpy cat’s tail and trying to stash an armful of brazil nuts under the cat, only to be unpleasantly and messily devoured.

Expanded Team

Posted in Tales from the grind-stone on October 10th, 2010 by MrCranky

So it is with great pleasure that we can welcome a new member of the Black Company Studios team. Daniel Holden is joining us part-time, while he also works towards his degree at Edinburgh University.

Team Photo (Dan, Tim and Chris)

Our new and slightly larger team, at Ghillie Dhu in the West End

Dan brings much needed artistic ability to the team, and even though he’s only working a few hours a week, should give us the ability to make our prototypes look much, much prettier. Certainly much prettier than the photo above, taken in poor light conditions on an iPhone as we partook in a celebratory drink. We’re not that blurry really. Well, Tim and Dan aren’t at least; since my beard has reached full thickness, all of my edges are pretty fuzzy now.

WordPress 3.0.1

Posted in Links from the In-tar-web, Tales from the grind-stone on August 9th, 2010 by MrCranky

It’s probably entirely escaped your notice (or at least it should have done), that we’ve upgraded to WordPress 3.0.1 recently. Everything should be exactly as it was before, externally at least. Please let me know if anything looks off of course. Doing that little bit of maintenance has reminded me that it’s probably time to update the website in general though. I have been meaning to make a little section for our iPhone games and applications, although probably that’s easiest done in the blog itself. More importantly however will be to update our About pages to include more recent endeavours.

In other, unrelated news, I’ve been answering questions over at the beta of the GameDev StackExchange site. It reminds me of all the reasons why I would get annoyed at et al; basically that since there is no barrier to entry, anyone can both ask stupid questions and give stupid answers. So you get people replying who aren’t professional game developers and have a very limited set of experience making ‘games’, but who have a very high opinion of their ability. However, since the original StackOverflow site has become a useful resource in its own right, despite the equally large numbers of “please help me with my homework” questions, and poor quality answers, I thought I would give this one the benefit of the doubt. I would heartily recommend any of my peers who have some free time to go over and contribute as well: while you can’t do much to begin with (new users can’t even vote good answers up), it only takes a couple of questions answered sensibly to elevate you from the rank of untrusted outsider to someone who can contribute. And as long as it’s people with real knowledge of the industry voting up the real solutions, I think there’s a good chance that there gets to be some content there that’s useful to the games industry in general.

iPhone @ Stanford U

Posted in Tales from the grind-stone on July 27th, 2010 by MrCranky

It’s very strange, after having had so much to do solidly for so long a time, to be able to pick and choose what to work on again. There was a big stack of paperwork, of course, including our end-of-year accounts for 2009/10. And my desks had degenerated into a big pile of letters, both spam and ham. So clearing that was a requirement, not just a nicety. But aside from clearing those backlogs, the decision as to what to work on next has been quite tricky. In the end I opted to try and catch up on Tim in terms of iPhone knowledge. Tim has done the vast majority of the work on our iPhone apps so far, and despite working on the UI design with him, I’ve not had any time to get my hands dirty with implementation. So with some free time to play with, it was time to get some serious crash-course learning done.

Cue some virtual attendance of CS193P, the iPhone Application developer course from Stanford University. Taught by developers from Apple, and with all of their lectures videoed and put online, it has been a great way to get quickly up to speed with Objective-C and Cocoa Touch development. Of course that’s not the only way to develop for iPhone, you can (and in my opinion, should) implement the large part of any game or simulation app in standard C/C++. But for working with the iPhone operating system, and implementing interfaces (arguably where the real challenge and value in an iPhone app lies), it has to be done in Objective-C.

Stanford University

Stanford U

So while Tim was busy with some other work-for-hire, I took the opportunity to bash through the majority of the CS193P course, and start to tackle an app idea we’ve been talking about for a while: the Drunk Compass. More on that in later blog posts. Actually watching the lectures brought back a load of memories of university: it was nice to remember a time when all I had to do was take in as much knowledge as possible and try to retain it long enough to pass exams with.

Thankfully, as this was just one course, condensed, it didn’t last long enough to evoke the things that annoyed me about university: the feeling that I was always doing throw-away coursework. I’ve always preferred the hands-on approach, and by the time my university career ended, I was already itching to make something real, and loose it on the world. A shame then that my first shipped title with VIS didn’t see the light of day until 5 years later (although technically i-Race shipped much earlier than that).

Anyway, learning is good, and I think it’s been a welcome change of pace after the hectic nature of Crackdown 2 or our other client work. Hopefully now that I’m comfortable with the Cocoa interface tools, I can prototype our most promising app idea, and get it one step closer to reality.

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