Tag Archive for development

Defining Failure

If you travel in the gaming blog circles, you might have heard about or even read a little anonymous diatribe about Warhammer Online.  And there are responses.  One.  Two.  Three.  Four.  Five.  Six.  And I’m sure there are more…  But really, I don’t want to talk about that.  Instead, let’s talk about what constitutes a failure in the MMO world.

I’ve seen a number of places, in comments on the above linked posts and all around the Internet that Warhammer “failed”.  However, they sold 1.2 million boxes, which I have to assume covered a good bit, if not all of the development costs.  We know they bled subscribers, and the last official numbers were that they had 300,000 subscribers as of March 2009.  They have cut back on servers, down to 9 (4 US, 2 UK, 2 German, 1 French) and are most certainly down below the reported 300k.  Still… if we can assume that the box sales and the first couple of months recouped the development investment, and if the current operating costs are below their subscription revenue, while the returns for the investors aren’t good, is an MMO operating in the black a failure?  I mean, they haven’t shut the game off yet, so I kinda have to assume they operate in the black, or damn close to it.  I could be wrong.

Clearly, the game did not perform as well as people would have hoped.  They didn’t make WoW-style money hats to wear while driving dump trucks of money to the bank, but did they lose money?  Is the game bleeding cash?  Each perspective on a game defines failure in different ways.  An investor, for example, will define failure as earning less money than other, less risky, options.  If he earned less on his cash than he would have just putting it in a savings account, then it’s an epic failure.  A publisher or game company probably defines success or failure on the affect the game has on both the bottom line AND the company reputation.  If a game is making money but the press keeps bringing the game up as being crap or failing, then overall the game is probably a failure since it might affect getting future investors to give you their money.

For me, as a player and a wanna-be developer, success means the game runs and I, as a player, can play it and we, as the developers, are still able to release more content.  Failure exists only when the game is in the red and we have to shut it off to keep from bankrupting everyone involved.

How many MMOs have truly failed?  Asheron’s Call 2, The Matrix Online, Tabula Rasa, APB, Motor City Online, The Sims Online… Are there more bodies in the MMO graveyard?  How do you define failure?

The Littlest Server

I have eight computers in my house.  The wife and I each have a “main” machine, identical Dell XPS machines we bought a few years back.  We have a Media PC where we download and watch TV shows (it has 6 analog tuners, which was awesome until Comcast ditched analog and the PC can’t handle 6 digital tuners, but it makes a good media server).  There is a PC in the bedroom (when the last DVD player died we just moved an old PC in there to watch stuff on – bonus, it lets us watch Netflix Instant in bed).  There is an iMac, which barely gets any use at all, but we sometimes drop it in a room that we want to stream music to.  I have a netbook and the wife uses my old laptop for portable computing around the house and out of the house.  And lastly my wife’s old laptop that she lugged to England while she went to university over there about 8 years ago.

As someone who does web development for a living, one thing I’ve always lacked at home was a server.  Sure, I’ve installed the dev environments on my main machine to be able to test things out, but I’ve never had a server that worked like a real server.  Monday I decided to rectify that.  Not wanting to buy a new machine I had to repurpose an existing one.  Obviously, the main machines were out, as was the Media PC, the bedroom PC, the netbook and the laptop the wife uses.  So my options were the iMac or the decade old HP laptop.  The iMac still serves a purpose, and not just as the occasional music streamer, but from a web development standpoint I sometimes use it to see what sites I build look like under other browsers.  I might still turn it into a server one day, for now though I went with the HP laptop.

The HP Pavilion n5150 latop.  This beast had Windows ME installed on it.  Yes, I said Windows ME.  This, above all other reasons, was why it was chosen for the server.  Plus, I like the idea of being able to put the server on a shelf out of the way where it doesn’t take up much space.  My current webhost (Dreamhost, who I am very happy with) uses Debian OS based servers.  As such, I decided that Debian would be my choice as well.  I downloaded the network install ISO, burned a disc, put it in the laptop and booted up.  It took about 2 hours, maybe 3, to finish (the network install puts the base OS on and then downloads everything else).  Clearly, the PIII-600MHz processor, the 256MB RAM and 10GB HD are woefully below the specs of a PC you’d actually want to use these days, but as a little web server it chugs along just fine.  Then I put MySQL and a few other bits on it and it is ready.

I am excited as I move into the next phases of my own little side projects, both the business app that will make me rich and the zombie web games that I’ve always wanted to build.

Makers versus Managers

I read this yesterday, and I can’t gush about it enough.  Paul Graham has managed to perfectly nail down exactly the problem that exists between the people who create (programmers, writers, etc) and the people who manage them.

Ultimately, this illustrates the best way to be a good Project Manager.  As a PM, your job is to be the conduit between the development team and the rest of the world.  You meet with your team on their schedule, leaving them large chunks of time to do the creating, and you meet with the other managers on their schedule.  If you have to do a meeting between the developers and the managers, you have to schedule it out a few days and either make it the first or last thing of a day (first is better, putting it at the “end of the day” can mean disaster to the developers who might be hitting a creative stride at 4 p.m. when you want to have your meeting).  I hear that good book editors work the same way, checking in on the writer when its needed for progress reports but not scheduling daily meetings to try to “keep them on task”.

Sadly, most Project Managers I’ve worked with over the years end up becoming just another manager, scheduling meetings with the dev team on a manager’s schedule and getting upset that the dev team’s productivity is dropping, resulting in more meetings and less productivity.

I really hope this article gets around and people take it to heart, because it really is true, and it would really solve a lot of problems.

Stuff White People Like

This is a pretty funny site.  And being that I am, in fact, a white person, I decided to go on a journey of self discovery and find out exactly how “white” I am by comparing to their list from 1 to 90 (the latest at the time of writing).

  1. Coffee – No, I hate coffee in pretty much all its forms.
  2. Religions their parents don’t belong to – I suppose this could be correct since I don’t ascribe to any religion currently and my parents did, even if they hadn’t gone to church in nearly twenty years.
  3. Film Festivals – Okay, I do like film festivals, but I think its important to note that I hate most independent films.
  4. Assists – Not much of a sports guy, so I have no opinion on assists.
  5. Farmer’s Markets – Nope.  Not a big Farmer’s Market guy.
  6. Organic Food – Nah… processed food is A-okay with me.
  7. Diversity – Ehh… not so much.
  8. Barack Obama – While I would choose Mr. Obama over Mrs. Clinton if those were my choices, I’m currently supporting McCain for President, so, this one doesn’t apply to me.
  9. Making you feel bad about not going outside – I’m a computer geek… outside? Why?
  10. Wes Anderson Movies – I have watched, and not really enjoyed, most of his films.  I don’t really get it.
  11. Asian Girls – Not entirely my cup of tea… wait, does saying “not my cup of tea” make me “white”?
  12. Non-Profit Organizations – Not I.
  13. Tea – Shit.  Although, I really only drink tea at Chinese restaurants, which I go to maybe once a year, and sometimes at family dinners, because my parents are from the South and Sweet Iced Tea is required at the table.
  14. Having Black Friends – I currently have no black friends, only a couple black friends of friends, this isn’t because I avoid black people, but instead because my life just doesn’t happen to have any black people in it, and I don’t feel any need to seek out black people specifically so I can befriend them.
  15. Yoga – No.
  16. Gifted Children – If I ever decide to have children, I’ll be happy if my kid only eats the FDA daily recommended amounts of paste.
  17. Hating their Parents – I can’t really say I ever hated my parents.  I mean, I did move out of the house at 18, but that was more because I wanted to have more sex than I was able to sneak past them, not because of any dislike of them.
  18. Awareness – Largely, I am aware of only that I could be doing more, none of which involves making other people aware.
  19. Traveling – I apparently missed my requisite trip to Europe. :(
  20. Being an expert on YOUR culture – While I will admit to trying (in vain) to learn Spanish and Japanese, I really haven’t spent much time worrying about learning other people’s cultures.
  21. Writers Workshops – Okay, fine, yes, I have gone to a Writer’s Workshop, but in my defense (I hope) it was only 2 days and at Dragon*Con.  No, I guess that really didn’t help.
  22. Having Two Last Names – I am not particularly fond of people who do this.
  23. Microbreweries – Not so big on the beers, I like liquor.
  24. Wine – People, white people, keep insisting I try wines.  Haven’t liked one yet.
  25. David Sedaris – Who?
  26. Manhattan (now Brooklyn too!) – I have so little interest in New York that I almost didn’t write this sentence.
  27. Marathons – “Do you run?” “Only when chased.”  And that pretty much sums up my interest in marathons.
  28. Not having a TV – Not only do I have a TV, I have 4, and 1 is actually a PC with 6 tuners so I can record everything and watch it later.
  29. 80s Night – This is really unfair, because being born in ’74, the 80’s are a huge part of my development as a human being.  So, I guess they get me on this one.
  30. Wrigley Field – If I was in Chicago, and I got tickets, I’d go, but more because about the only way I can stand watching baseball is at the field with a couple of beers and a footlong hotdog.
  31. Snowboarding – Have I ever mentioned how much I am not a fan of cold?
  32. Vegan/Vegetarianism – I am a card carrying member of PETA… People for the Eating of Tasty Animals.
  33. Marijuana – The only time I ever got high was during the 8th grade when my parents let my older brother and I go to see David Bowie on his Glass Spider tour.  Shortly after the concert began a haze rose from the crowd, the air was filled with the smell of a wet down jacket and I got a headache.
  34. Architecture – Got me on another one, I do like architecture, however there isn’t any particular style or era that I like, I just don’t like when strip malls are built looking like bland boxes.  I would prefer they all put at least a little effort into it.
  35. The Daily Show/Colbert Report – I have been told I would love these shows if I watched them, but as of yet I haven’t bothered watching.
  36. Breakfast Places – Breakfast is my least favorite meal of the day, largely because every breakfast place known to man seems to insist that eggs are required and I hate eggs.  Then they go and make me order a side of bacon, a side of ham, a side of sausages, a side of toast, a side of hashbrowns… it seems my penalty for disliking eggs is that my breakfast is going to cost $47.83.
  37. Renovations – *sigh* I am renovating a house, but only because I bought a foreclosure and the previous owner took everything not nailed down (and some things that were, if you’ve ever seen the Richard Pryor movie Moving you know what I mean), and they had horrible taste (every room in the house is a shade of brown).
  38. Arrested Development – Still have not seen it, but I’ll be sure to add it to my Netflix queue.
  39. Netflix – Fuck.  Although, allow me to reiterate how much I dislike most independent films… and foreign films.
  40. Apple Products – I’m just going to say that I simply do not have enough time or diskspace to explain to the lengths that I loathe Apple Products.
  41. Indie Music – I like music, pretty much any kind except hardcore gangsta rap (all the bitches and hoes and drugs and guns and that stuff, just does not strike a chord with me), so I suppose I like indie music, but I don’t believe it is to the degree intended here.
  42. Sushi – Hate.
  43. Plays – I like the idea of plays, its the execution of most of them that I dislike.
  44. Public Radio – Talk radio, I am certain, is one of the signs of the Apocalypse.
  45. Asian Fusion Food – No.
  46. The Sunday New York Times – I don’t read any newspapers anymore.
  47. Arts Degrees – Bachelor’s in Computer Science.
  48. Whole Foods and Grocery Co-ops – I do shop at one of those membership store, but its a warehouse style shop and I go there because it allows me to buy the crap I eat in bulk and save money.  Why pay $9 at the regular store for a small box of Stoffer’s French Bread Pizzas when I can go to BJ’s and get the giant box with four times the pizzas for $12?
  49. Vintage – Not really.
  50. Irony – I do, indeed, love me some irony, but not really in the fashion they describe it here.
  51. Living by the Water – Guilty.  I do want to live on a beach.
  52. Sarah Silverman – She’s funny sometimes.  And sometimes not.
  53. Dogs – Much better than cats.
  54. Kitchen Gadgets – I buy the gadgets not for me but for my wife.
  55. Apologies – I apologize alot, but then, I am a chronic procrastinator, so I often have things to apologize for.
  56. Lawyers – I respect the need for there to be people who spend the time to understand the nuances of law, but most lawyers are scum.
  57. Juno – I loved this movie.
  58. Japan – I do want to go to Japan someday, but I really hate anime.
  59. Natural Medicine – While I’m all for exploring natural solutions for things, I fully believe in the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to cure diseases.
  60. Toyota Prius – I do want a hybrid, but less for the environmental impact than for the savings in gas.
  61. Bicycles – I do like bicycles, although I have not owned one since mine was stolen almost 15 years ago.  If I ever bought another one, I could not see myself spending more than $200 on one, so no specialty bikes for me.
  62. Knowing What’s Best for Poor People – I care, somewhat, about poor people, but I care more about not becoming a poor person.
  63. Expensive Sandwiches – Wheat bread, meat slices, mustard, maybe occasionally throw in some lettuce or a tomato, or some pickles.  What I make at home often is so much better than what a restaurant will make.
  64. Recycling – I do recycle, but I also work on reducing the amount of garbage I produce as well.
  65. Co-Ed Sports – Again, computer geek… outside?
  66. Divorce – Divorce sucks.
  67. Standing Still at Concerts – I am confused by this one, do people who are not “white” go to concerts and ballroom dance?  I don’t stand “still” at concerts, I do move around to the music and what not, but it never occurred to me to break out the foxtrot or boxstep.
  68. Michel Gondry – He does some interesting stuff, but I wouldn’t exactly say that I love him.
  69. Mos Def – I do like Mos Def.
  70. Difficult Breakups – I don’t believe I’ve had a difficult break up yet.  Relationships just sort of end, and that’s it.
  71. Being the only white person around – Can’t say as I have ever sought this situation out.
  72. Study Abroad – Might have been nice.
  73. Gentrification – I suppose it is a thing that I like, because I would rather see inner city areas looking good than to see them looking like crap.
  74. Oscar Parties – I have gone to Oscar parties, but thus far, much like our State of the Union parties, they are more about hanging out and drinking than the program on the TV.
  75. Threatening to Move to Canada – Hell no.  Did I mention that I don’t like cold? or hockey? or French?
  76. Bottles of Water – I don’t buy bottles of water unless I have to, but I do buy bottle of orange juice which I keep and reuse as water bottles.
  77. Musical Comedy – Yeah, I admit, I do find it entertaining.
  78. Multilingual Children – I want to be multilingual myself, and looking to the future, being multilingual is probably going to be advantageous.
  79. Modern Furniture – No.
  80. The Idea of Soccer – Not much into any sports.  Computer geek.
  81. Graduate School – I wouldn’t mind going back to school and studying stuff, but I really don’t have an interest in grad school.
  82. Hating Corporations – I don’t hate all corporations, however I do dislike the disassociation of responsibility of people who work for them, the “I just do my job, and I had no part in the overall heartless money grubbing of this company” defense.  There is much more to it than that, but not for here, not now.
  83. Bad Memories of High School – I don’t really have bad memories, or good memories.  High school was neither the best nor worst years of my life.
  84. T-Shirts – While I do like T-Shirts with cool stuff on them, and I do wear T-Shirts whenever I can get away with it, but it doesn’t really go beyond that.
  85. The Wire – I do want to see it… Netflix.
  86. Shorts – Did I mention how much I hate the cold?
  87. Outdoor Performance Clothes – I do not believe I own any Outdoor Performance Clothes.
  88. Having Gay Friends – Much like the black friends up at number 14, its not something I seek out, if it happens, then it happens.
  89. St. Patrick’s Day – Yeah, well, I do like this particular holiday.
  90. Dinner Parties – I’ve had people over for dinner, but not by choice.  My wife is “whiter” than I am apparently.

So, that’s it.  Assuming this website is discussing a particular variant of “white”, largely registered Democrats and yuppies, it appears that I am not very “white” after all.  Well, now I’ve got to go figure out how to waste the rest of my day.

Enjoy!

RAD is not rad

Rapid Application Development is not a horrible idea. Of course, much like Communism, it is not a problem with the idea it is the implementation. When most companies get into a RAD style of work, the result more often than not is just flying by the seat of their pants. No project plans, minimal design documents… usually it is just a list of features and a deadline, or a dozen lists and a dozen deadlines, and the lists change daily.

Having worked for two years on one RAD project, and then two and half on another, I really would like to work on something with more structure, or at least be part of team that is doing RAD instead of people one guy trying to work on multiple phases on the same RAD project by myself. I go into one meeting about phase one in the morning, then in the afternoon I go to a meeting on phase two when I have to pretend that I am not aware that phase one is behind schedule… it really is quite maddening.

Arbitrary Changes

I am throwing this in the gaming section because some of what I’m about to say, while not directly aimed at gaming, applies to game development and design.

This week I have been dealing with a Teradata upgrade at work. We upgraded our Development and Test environments a while back and are now about to move it to production. As part of my process for the upgrade, I went through the list of changes between the Teradata versions and made sure that either a) they would not impact our program or b) our code was prepared for the change. What I have been dealing with this week is a list of undocumented changes (at least not in the documentation I was provided) that are giving me headaches.

Now, realize that the errors I am getting are showing up in our Test system, and only the Test system, and only because we are adding a new feature to our application that involves getting a new group of people on the Test system. See, in the Development environment it is pretty much always the same people. It has probably been over a year since we added someone new to Development. Test had been the same until this week.

The error, once fully discovered is that Teradata changes the result from SQL that creates a new user from 1 indicating a success to -1. 0 still means a failure. After a user gets created, I have to execute some other commands to finalize their rights assignments, and as you can imagine the switch from 1 to -1 caused an issue. See, my code was set to check if the return value (the .NET return value on SQL is number of rows affected) was greater than 0. Greater than 0 was a success, less than 0 was a failure. So, with the undocumented change, all my successes were now failures.

The problem I have is two-fold. First, it was a seemingly undocumented change. Second, I don’t see a point to the change. Why switch from 1 to -1? Sadly, this isn’t the first time or place I have run into changes like this, and it will probably not be the last.

As it pertains to game design… well, honestly, how often has a game put out a patch message that didn’t list every single change? All the time… and how often do those changes affect the players? Almost as frequently. In games, or in any product design arena, changes than affect the users of your product should never go undocumented, especially if its an output that what will affect applications designed to work with your product.