Archive for the 'Links from the In-tar-web' Category

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.

Crunch is avoidable

Posted in Industry Rants, Links from the In-tar-web on July 28th, 2011 by MrCranky

I’m putting off my blogging responsibility this week onto someone else: a great opinion piece from Charles Randall of Ubisoft, rebutting entirely the piece by that moron Michael Pachter which I won’t even dignify by linking to it. Here’s Charles’ piece. Stand-out quote for me:

Crunch is avoidable. But it requires a level of maturity and acceptance that the game industry sorely lacks. People argue that there’s always a period of crunch necessary at the end of a project. But that’s not true, either. If you are disciplined enough to accept deadlines and understand that there’s a point where you have to stop adding features, schedules can be planned with some lead time for debugging.

Anyone who tells you crunch is unavoidable is a fool. It might be that the games being made just now are unprofitable without crunch, but that’s not a reason to crunch; that’s a reason to change the way we make games.

On a similar note, you will find a couple of opinion pieces from me over on I <3 Crunch, a new blog set up specifically to raise awareness about articles on crunch, studios who are crunching their staff (and those which aren’t). I hope that by talking about this more we can put to rest this ridiculous notion that crunch is somehow acceptable or something we just have to live with. It’s the industry’s dirty secret, and the more we bring it out into the open, the better we will all be.


XBox abdication of parental responsibility controls

Posted in Industry Rants, Links from the In-tar-web on February 9th, 2011 by MrCranky

It’s been a busy winter for us, but this story (originally in the Daily Mail, unsurprisingly enough), made me grumpy enough to warrant a post.

It concerns a mother who is indignant that Microsoft are ignoring her complaints about her 11 year old child being ‘allowed’ to spend over £1000 on XBox Live. Over the course of six months as well, so it’s not like it was a spending binge.

Some choice quotes from the article:

“It is ridiculous to allow someone of his age to make payments without any checks being done,” out of pocket mother Dawn Matthews told the Daily Mail.

Indeed. Lucky there are several checks in place to ensure that children can’t spend someone elses money. All of which you bypassed for him.

“When he is in gaming mode he can’t be thinking about the money. You can’t put all that responsibility on a young boy.

Yes. Heaven forbid a child understand the concept of money, and the spending of other people’s.

“It is impossible to monitor everything your children do. These companies should take some responsibility. They take advantage of vulnerable people.”

Well, someone should certainly take responsibility. I’m going to go with the person who gave the child the ability to spend that money, and to a lesser extent the child for actually spending it.

“A thousand pounds isn’t that much to people like Bill Gates,” concluded Dawn Matthews, “but for a single mum it is a lot of money that I don’t have.”

Okay, well a) Bill Gates has been gone from Microsoft for a long time, and b) if you don’t have the money to spend, then you should be careful about how you allow it to be spent. Six months went past before this was stopped. That’s six credit card bills with their contents ignored. If you don’t understand what you’re doing with your credit card, then maybe it’s not a wise thing for you to have a credit card.

As if the refusal to accept responsibility for disabling all the parental controls and putting her credit card details in wasn’t enough, a cursory examination of this 11 year old’s public gaming history shows a slew of 16+ and 18+ plus titles.

  • SmackDown vs. RAW 2009 – 16+
  • Red Dead Redemption – 18+
  • Borderlands – 18+
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops – 18+
  • Gears of War – 18+
  • Call of Duty: MW2 – 18+
  • Assassins Creed – 18+
  • Left for Dead – 18+
  • and several more
So Dawn is quite happy to let her child play games rated well beyond his age. And yet we’re supposed to blame Microsoft. If she let her child rent and watch the Saw or Hostel movies through Lovefilm, should we blame Lovefilm for that? Ratings are there for a reason, just as the credit card checks and parental controls are. If you let your child play on the train tracks, you don’t get to blame the train company for the ensuing accident.

Game Development StackExchange

Posted in Links from the In-tar-web on November 19th, 2010 by MrCranky

So for some time now, I’ve been using Stack Overflow as a great reference for the sort of iPhone development questions that come up when you try to do anything non trivial. Of course the SDK documentation covers quite a lot, but when you are trying to express a particular structure of UI, and find that you’re not doing things “the Apple way”, it’s not immediately clear exactly why or what to do. Of course, for almost every case, there are dozens of developers who have come before me who have already asked, and usually answered, the same question. Instead of hours of painstaking research or trial and error, usually the answers on Stack Overflow are enough to point me in the right direction, if not provide a solution to the problem outright .

And it’s that sort of standing on the shoulders of giants that I hope that the Game Development Stack Exchange site will help provide. Recently out of beta, the community there has quickly flourished into a fully fledged site, with a good breadth of knowledge. As will all the Stack Exchange sites however, it’s only as good as the community makes it, so in an attempt to be helpful, I’ve tried to ask some interesting and useful questions, and provide some informative answers of my own.

Sadly, as with any open and un-gated site, there are more than a few contributors who are, quite frankly, not contributing so much as dragging the place down. Thankfully there are mechanisms in place to vote down the more useless questions (such as What’s the best phone for game development?) and vote up the more interesting ones (like Fixed time-step vs variable time-step and What can cause alt-TAB to be annoying / slow / glitchy?).

As always though, only time will tell whether it will turn into a useful resource, or will degenerate into questions asked by amateurs and answered by idiots. The only way I can see to properly raise the signal-to-noise ratio is to encourage my fellow developers to visit, find a few questions to answer, and vote down any questions that don’t add any knowledge to the community. And so this post, such as it is, is my little attempt to raise awareness of the site amongst the wider game development community. And feel free to add an answer to my only question so far. 🙂

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.


Posted in Links from the In-tar-web on July 28th, 2010 by MrCranky

New link over in the right hand panel: Not to be confused with Jamie Fristom/Torpex’s, to which we also link!

Basically it’s a new site to bring together many of the interesting game development blogs that are out there. Good to see a common location where you can go to read and discuss the game-dev news of the day, dip into the day-to-day life of various small developers like us, and generally learn something new. Go, read, enjoy!

Heat exchange

Posted in Links from the In-tar-web, Tales from the grind-stone on October 30th, 2008 by MrCranky

While rummaging around in my backlog of things to post, I found this link to an article I’d seen on Linux Journal. Definitely the best form of re-use I’ve heard. Everyone these days seems to be going on about recycling of goods we’ve used, and that’s a fair point. But I’ve always been more concerned about the impending energy shortages. It has always jarred a bit that in some places we’re using millions of joules of energy cooling our local environment down, when not too far away there are other people spending similar millions of joules warming their’s up. So much of the things we waste is because it is simpler to just use or make another than to try and re-use something already made. A case in point – we spend lots importing fuel to burn and keep our homes warm, but happily throw out heavy furniture made of wood. Once upon a time we would have thrown it on our fire and killed two birds with one stone, but our modern lives no longer make that easy.

Anyway, ecological rant out of the way for today, here in the office we’ve probably burned quite a few kilo-joules of energy keeping ourselves warm, as a cold snap here in Edinburgh has alerted us to the fact that the radiators in the office are no longer working. While I used to happily sit and work with a fleece and fingerless hobo-gloves on, I’d feel bad about making the team suffer the same. So instead we’re all kind of clustered around a little electric fan heater that must be costing the earth (literally).

We’ve had a stay of execution on the move away from this office however, previously we’d been told we’d have to move by late November, but now we are safe until February. That said, we’re looking at a nice new place in a basement on Rutland Square that fits our needs quite well – not sure if we’ll be taking it because I don’t know the cost yet, but it would be not too far from our current place, and crucially much closer to the nice pubs of the West End. Not that that affects my decision at all, no. That would be bad.

Fustian Future

Posted in Industry Rants, Links from the In-tar-web on October 12th, 2008 by MrCranky

Funnily enough, whenever I come back to the blog to write up a new post, one of the first things that jumps out at me is the monthly archives posts over on the right which I have to scroll past to reach the ‘site admin’ button. Whilst in my head I know fine well that we’ve been going for three and a half years now, it is another thing entirely to see all those months collecting up in the sidebar. Going back to some of the early posts still makes me laugh, as we’ve certainly come a long way since then.

It’s with that in mind though that I’m throwing up a link to Fustian Future, a relatively new (3 months or so) indie developer whom I know via The Chaos Engine (hang out for games industry folks from all over). Yacine Salmi, the one man team behind Fustian, is of course far more dedicated to updating his blog than I wasam, so there’s a lot more to read over there. He’s mixing up the regular indie developer chat with some interesting stuff on new and potential technologies, and more general games industry stuff. In particular I’d point you to this post on a GDC talk/round-table on unions in the games industry that sadly won’t come to pass. It’s certainly raised some interest on the Chaos Engine forums as it’s a contentious subject; however pretty much everyone is open to more discussion on the issues, so it’s sad to note that it won’t go ahead. GDC organisers take note – this is one more voice suggesting that you do the talk next year!

That being said, I’m always torn on the unionising issue. It’s been done to death on the TCE forums, and very little new gets said about it. There are a few (quite vocal) advocates of unions as a serious answer to the issues of overworking, crunch and general poor employee rights that plague some of the larger (and not so large) studios. There are others who a) don’t see the value in a union, b) don’t trust any of the existing unions to properly represent our issues, and c) don’t think that game-developers on the whole are the sort of people who would organise into a union.

But there is a definite chicken and egg problem, which the discussions we have make readily apparent. Most game-developers have little to no knowledge of unions, so their objections are rarely based on informed choice. There is no union which caters specifically for games developers, although several of the more general ones would happily expand to cover the industry (BECTU being the most obvious choice). By and large though, not enough employees at games studios are members for the union to actually properly represent them, so no-one can relate stories of how being a union member was obviously advantageous. Because there is no anecdotal evidence that being in a union is useful, not enough employees join. And so on.

At this point in the discussions, the cry is usually “why don’t you just join and start the ball rolling”, which for me is equally frustrating. Of course, I am in fact management, and not just an employee. So it doesn’t make sense for me to be a union member. And my team, not being generally mistreated, feels no need to join a union either. Many of the voices on the TCE forums echo similar stories. Those employees who might actually benefit are the ones that need to be persuaded by the discussions, and for some reason they are absent from the debate. So while I’m still ambivalent about the idea of unions in general, I’m keen to see the idea discussed more widely and openly amongst developers, so the people who could benefit may consider it an option, or discount it as unsuitable once they know the facts!

Accounts and slackness

Posted in Links from the In-tar-web, Tales from the grind-stone on July 16th, 2008 by MrCranky

So our accountant (who happens to work in the same building as us) popped his head round the door this morning inquiring about when I was going to sort out our 2007/08 accounts. Cue a frenzied morning of tallying, checking of figures, amending totals, and now we have our accounts finalised (finally). They don’t really need to be done until much later in the year, since the deadline is the end of January for filing, but I always say that I’m going to sort them out at the end of April once all the figures are in, and invariably get distracted and have to be reminded.

A decent profit was made this year, despite my best efforts to hide it with last minute devkit and hardware purchases, so our money-grubbing government will take a slice of it this year (boo, hiss). Somehow I’ll find it in me to live with that though. 🙂

Just been looking over the E3 content from this year though – so thoroughly un-inspiring that I’m not even going to bother linking to any of it. Suffice to say that there’s not really anything that I’m head over heels about, although id’s new trailer was good-looking enough to raise an eyebrow, even if I’m not convinced that it’s anything other than a tech demo at the moment.

Things in the office are trundling along much as usual, with our previous prototypes close to running properly on the devkit. We’re toing and froing about the direction the prototypes will take at the moment, but I’m just eager to get stuck in and try new things.

Other smart people

Posted in Industry Rants, Links from the In-tar-web, Tales from the grind-stone on July 1st, 2008 by MrCranky

They say that your opinion of someone elses intelligence is pretty much solely based on how much they agree with your views. Well if that’s the case, then Clinton Keith over at Agile Game Development must be pretty damned smart. This post covers pretty much exactly what I’ve said previously about the rising cost vs. stagnant demand for big-budget games, except with pretty graphs and actual numbers. Psshaw – who needs statistics when you have hunches and rhetoric.

Nothing that I’ve seen in the last 2 years has shifted my views on the likely fate of big-budget retail titles, although we haven’t seen a wholesale collapse in that sector of the market, so its likely things aren’t all that bad. Down here at the shallow end of the pond though it is small affordable to develop (and buy) titles all the way. We’re getting ever closer to getting our prototypes up and running on the console kit, but I won’t be happy until I can start tinkering properly and see the results on the television. Our story-board is shifting nicely over to the ‘done’ column though, so it will soon be time to re-fill the board with more significant and less engine-related stories.

Note to self though – follow up our post on the one true handed-ness with one on the one true endian-ness. Big endian is not our friend!

Black Company Studios Limited, The Melting Pot, 5 Rose Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2PR
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Last modified: February 06 2020.