Hammy

•November 14, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Our hamster died tonight.

She was about two years old, so I’d been kind of expecting this. She didn’t appear to be sick or anything; it seems she just ran out of lifespan.

Hammy was a Syrian hamster. She had lovely brown fur and bright black eyes. She was so smart and energetic that it wouldn’t have surprised me to discover that she snuck out of her cage at night to fight crime while we were asleep.

It’s a shame she won’t get to come to Dallas with us. I’m going to miss her.

My Friends Continue…

•November 10, 2015 • Leave a Comment

…To be more interesting than I. My old friend Eric Peterson, who ran Warthog/Fever Pitch back when I worked there on Hit & Myth, is now in the process of bringing the original Descent back from the dead. I think it looks damn spiffing.

Descent Underground is now playable on Steam Early Access, and while I know there are some quality issues with Early Access, I promise you will get more from DU than you did from Godus.

Missing Cat

•December 15, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Almost three weeks ago, right before Thanksgiving, our cat Figaro ran away.

I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean to do it; he just wanted to poke around outside for a while, the way inside cats do. But he darted out late at night and wouldn’t come back no matter how much my older daughter Megan (who is effectively the Keeper of the Cat) cajoled him.

I fully expected him to come back the next day, but he didn’t. He apparently got lost in the wilderness near our apartment. Days passed and we couldn’t find him, partially because we didn’t have a flashlight and night is the best time to look for a missing cat.

I was certain after a week that we’d never see him again. But Megan refused to give up, going out night after night to look for him.

A few nights ago Jamie and I were at the store and we remembered to pick up a flashlight. That night Jamie and Megan went out and thought they saw a cat that looked like Figaro, but they couldn’t get close to him.

Then, Saturday night, Megan went out again to look for him with the flashlight.

She returned sobbing with joy, Figaro in her arms. He was thin as a rail but otherwise unharmed.

We are all very happy to have our cat back for Christmas.

A Specialized Desire

•November 4, 2014 • Leave a Comment

If you’ve ever wanted to see the quicksort algorithm expressed through Hungarian dance, today is your lucky day.

And if you poke around, you’ll probably find some other sorting algorithms as well.

Um, Hi.

•October 24, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Hey.

Um.

Sorry about not updating for a while. Things have been slightly crazy.

Crazy AWESOME!

In our last episode, I mentioned that I had finally found a way home for myself and my family. ‘Twas a terrible thing to leave you guys hanging without the rest of the story, and I’m sorry. So here it is!

First, I was just amazed at how well the move worked out financially. Aspyr was willing to front us our move allowance, and a recent payment for my work on Fargoal 2 (still in development!) helped a lot too. (Thanks, Jeff!)

The move itself was straining, though. I’ve now moved cross-country three times and it’s been a harrowing experience each time. But there were no accidents or thefts or anything else untoward. Did get pulled over once but the cop let me off with a warning. (Thanks, cop!)

I’d been back to Austin twice, both times for job interviews. I could see that the city had changed a bit in the five years we’d been gone. Einstein’s Arcade on the Drag is gone for good. The Broken Spoke, a famous honky-tonk, is now sandwiched between two apartment buildings. Indeed, there’s been a lot of housing construction, most of it in the big-city “trendy apartments with storefronts on the bottom floor” type. Dunno how much I like that, but even before I left the city planners had announced that they wanted to turn Austin into a “24-hour city” so it’s not that surprising.

But I was still worried. Was it just a nostalgia filter? Or would living in Austin really be better than Florida?

Oh, yes.

triforcecar

In case you can’t make that out (because I Are Not A Photographer), it’s a car with a window decal of the Hyrule Royal Crest on it.

I saw this within the first two weeks back. I didn’t really want to get back to Austin because it’s a beautiful city (even though it is) or because it’s got wonderfully quirky shops (even though it does) or because it’s got excellent food (even though it does does does does).

It’s because I wanted to be back among like-minded people.

And now I am.

And it’s made me happy.

(does)

Game Archeology – Zarch

•July 17, 2014 • Leave a Comment

As you may know if you’re a long-time reader of this blog, I like Populous. I like Populous 1, I really like Populous 2 and have a love-hate relationship with Populous: The Beginning (though with mods that made it easier to play it’s swinging back towards love).

So I was browsing Wikipedia. You know how it be.

And I ended up at the entry for Populous (again). Only this time I noticed a little sentence I hadn’t earlier.

Peter Molyneux led development, inspired by Bullfrog’s artist Glenn Corpes having drawn isometric blocks after playing David Braben’s Virus.

Virus? What the heck was Virus? I knew a lot about David Braben (co-creator of Elite, creator of Frontier and founder of Frontier Productions, which, among other things, published Roller Coaster Tycoon 3.

But I had not heard of this game.

The game named as “Virus” was actually Zarch, a game for the Acorn Archimedes. (Virus was the name of the Atari ST version). In the game, you…well, just watch the damn video.

This game was released in 1987. Braben expanded on his groundbreaking work with Elite (which was the first game to use 3D polygonal objects with hidden line removal) to move up to a fully 3D, heightfield terrain using shaded squares to represent terrain types, altered the color of squares based on how far they were from the camera to simulate lighting, and had particle effects. As the game progresses, the terrain changes as it gets corrupted by the aliens – the colors go from green to brown and red and the trees become twisted and mutated. The game also had an incredible frame rate due to the fact that the Archimedes was quite a powerful machine for its time.

(It was also very difficult to play because of its mouse-only control scheme but that’s irrelevant to my point.)

Now that I’ve seen Zarch, I think it’s clear that it was an absolute inspiration – not for Peter Molyneux, but for Glenn Corpes.

Glenn was the landscape programmer for every Bullfrog game made, from Populous all the way through Dungeon Keeper. Populous actually got its start after Glenn played Zarch, got fascinated by the landscape generation, and came up with his own isometric version. But Glenn didn’t stop there.

Here’s a screenshot of Zarch:

Zarch_screen

Now compare it to Powermonger:

maxresdefault

It’s obvious that Zarch sparked Glenn’s interest in terrain generation in general. But now I think it’s clear that Powermonger was Glenn’s attempt to both replicate and improve on Zarch in every way he could. Powermonger even used a particle system almost identical to Zarch’s!

And here I thought I knew everything about the development of these games. That’ll learn me.

Goin’ Home

•July 17, 2014 • 6 Comments

Guess what?

I’m moving back to Austin.

Like, next week.

About a month ago I had an opportunity to interview at Aspyr Media. Yes, the same company that laid me off. They have since backed and filled, shedding unprofitable original titles to return to what they do best – ports. It was nice to hear this because I didn’t really harbor the company any ill will.

Now, I wanted to nail this interview so I did a lot of prep. I bought books on programming interview questions and did countless exercises to remind myself what the difference between public and private inheritance is. In the end, I thought I did okay in the interview, but I didn’t know if a) they’d hire me and b) if we’d be able to work out the mechanics of the move back.

But then they contacted me and told me they wanted me and…it was just the sweetest thing. The heavens parted and light streamed down. Of course, there was a lot of other considerations that might impede our progress back, and I worried that I might have to go back myself and bring the family back later.

But then stuff started to work out. And then it continued to work out. And then it continued to continue to work out.

And now the lease is signed, the truck is rented and we’re starting to pack in earnest. By next Wednesday (God willing) we will be back in Austin, and we will never leave again.

I’d like to publicly thank Ian Bullard for his help; he was the one who told me about the opportunity at Aspyr. My younger children will finish growing up in Texas where they belong and my older daughter will now have access to the greater opportunities a larger city (with a major university) provides.

More updates as the day approaches!

Pinball Arcade

•May 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

(Note to Fargoalians waiting for a Fargoal update – you will be served. Yes, you will. You just wait.)

In the meantime, I ran across this thing called Pinball Arcade.

Now, I had never been a big fan of pinball. Every time I played a pinball game it was over within moments, the balls caroming randomly off everything. I felt like I had no control and that the ball was attracted to the outlanes like they were magnetized or something. I never got it.

Then, while YouTubeing, I ran across this video of a guy absolutely owning a pinball game called The Machine: Bride of Pin*Bot.

It became clear as I watched this video that this game was complex and subtle, with many objectives to fulfill and many different ways to score. It also wasn’t nearly as random as I thought pinball games were and definitely rewarded skill.

It was also emulated, which appealed to me. Anyone reading this site should already know about emulators. Right? There’s tons of them. NES, SNES, Game Boy (Color) and Game Boy Advance, classic arcade games, the original PlayStation – all these platforms have been solved, with emulators providing experiences indistinguishable from the originals. If you’ve got a super-hot computer, you can even get near-perfect experiences with GameCube and PlayStation 2 emulators.

But unlike an electronic platform where you just emulate the CPU and memory and all the games suddenly start working, each pinball game must be emulated individually. The guys at Farsight Studios have to get a working machine (or a non-working machine and restore it to working order) and then spend months translating the machine’s internal workings, LED display and programming into their system. And of course they desire to be as accurate as possible.

This is more than emulation – it’s preservation. There are millions of working SNES machines in existence; you don’t need an emulator to play SNES games. By contrast, a very popular pinball machine would sell about five thousand units. And when all five thousand of those machines are gone – either sold for scrap or junked or just left to rust in a storage unit – then the game ceases to exist.

Unless it’s been emulated.

So I looked up Pinball Arcade and discovered that you can play it on practically any electronic device known to man. There’s a PC version (through Steam), PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, and versions for iPhone, iPod, iPad and Android devices. And they all play practically identically.

At this point, Farsight Studios has emulated almost thirty pinball machines through Pinball Arcade. They are living up to their name, doing the work of the gaming gods and making sure that these games do not die when the machines that contain them do.

You can download a version of Pinball Arcade on whatever you happen to have and it comes with a free boardTales of the Arabian Nights. You can then buy boards in two-packs or buy whole seasons of boards for a lower price.

Give it a try; it may just change your mind about pinball like it did mine.

GameStop Sucks

•May 12, 2014 • 1 Comment

I mean, I knew this. Right? Deep down, everyone knows this. Penny Arcade has been called GameStop “glorified pawn shops” for years and it’s true. But sometimes I want a game that’s been out a while and I don’t want to wait for it to come in the mail and I may not want to pay full price and…you know. Excuses, excuses.

Well, a few months ago I was in the market for a PS3 (to replace our stolen one, may the thieves rot in hell) and I wasn’t in the mood to pay full-price. So I succumbed to temptation and went to GameSpot.

I had another motive besides price – I wanted to see if I could find an older one with backwards-compatibility. All my kids have old PS2 games that they would love to play again (like Amplitude, Katamari Damashii and the Spongebob Movie game) so it seemed like an older “fat” PS3 would be a good buy.

And it was! The hard drive was only 80 gigs or so but I’ve never found half a terabyte necessary on a console. We got it home, set it up and started enjoying all the PS3 games we hadn’t been able to play for years, like Fat Princess and Scott Pilgrim vs The World. I also bought Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix for my son and the Ratchet & Clank trilogy for everybody. (The appeal of Ratchet & Clank is universal.)

Then, about two weeks ago. The PS3 died while my son was playing Kingdom Hearts. Now, we had just turned the thing on so heat wasn’t the problem. Attempting to turn off the PS3 and then turn it back on resulted in a green light, then a yellow/white light and then a continuous blinking red light. We never get video. Heck, we can’t even get the Kingdom Hearts disc out of it now.

So I did my Google-fu and found out that on the old PS3s, the continual heating and cooling cycle would eventually cause the CPU or GPU to separate from the motherboard, thus rendering the whole device inoperable. There are YouTube videos that will show you how to disassemble the unit, reattach the chips and then put the device back together, but most people warn that this fix will only last a few months before the chips separate again.

“Well,” I thought, “this is annoying, but there’s a fix, hopefully if I do this it’ll last longer than a few months. I just wish it had happened during the 30-day return period…”

Penny. Drops.

GameStop already performed this procedure on this PS3. They bought it broken, “fixed” it themselves with a fix they knew wasn’t permanent, and then sold it to me knowing that the device would fail, but would probably last longer than the return period.

So, because I didn’t pay $100 for an extended warranty (which would have driven the price of the device so high I may as well have bought a new one) I now have to nursemaid this thing and hope my fix is better than GameStop’s.

GameStop sold me a piece of hardware they knew was defective and would quickly fail and there is nothing I can do about it. Except never shop there again, which is exactly what I intend to do.

On This Day, Twenty Years Ago…

•May 12, 2014 • 1 Comment

On this day, twenty years ago, my wife Jamie Salter and I were married in the Justice of the Peace’s office in Austin, Texas. It wasn’t a shotgun wedding; I’d already decided I wanted to marry Jamie. But it was…hurried along by the news that our first child, Megan Salter was on the way.

Any regrets I have about the last twenty years are purely on myself. I regret getting overweight and the resulting health problems it caused. I regret moving to Michigan; it turned out to be a disaster for my family. I regret that even though things are getting better, we’re still not completely financially secured and we’re still not where we feel we belong.

Jamie has been at the root of everything great that has happened to me over the last twenty years. She brought me out of my painfully introverted shell. She made me believe a woman could care about and love me. She gave me the experience of being a father. She is the reason I was able to work for Origin Systems, both because she had a contact in Origin’s HR department and because she continually encouraged me to apply when I was sure I had no chance. She gave me two more children, both of which have been blessings, and has stuck with me through thick and thin.

I love you, Jamie Salter. I always have and I’m not stopping any time soon.