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The Code Zone Bargain Basement Blog

Adding gratuitous nothingness

Posted by , 19 May 1998 - - - - - - · 75 views

Probably gonna take it easy today. I think the haze and dust that's coating most of Texas is getting to me.

Otherwise, I've been making some good progress on the games. The latest dice game, now named "Kizbot", as I was feeling less-than creative during the naming process, is almost playable. I added colored pips to some of the dice, so you can get cool stuff like flushes with dice. The game seems fun so far, but it's gonna be slower-playing than Brain Bones.

Just for fun, I've been cosidering putting a "Gratuitous Blood Mode" in Olive Wars. One of my cohorts, working for my publisher, mentioned that Olive Wars is one of his favorites, but my games don't feature enough meaningless violence. I was thinking of putting in a mode that replaced the flying vegetables with flying guinea pigs that would explode like water balloons full of blood. I figure this'd also attract the "Deer Hunter" crowd, and it'll likely get my game banned from Megalo Mart.

But I'm rambling now. Off to bed with me.

CGDC Observations

Posted by , 14 May 1998 - - - - - - · 77 views

Well, I actually got some good feedback from the last entry. A couple of folks said that they shared my observations about the CGDC. A couple other people suggested that John Romero, the angry egotistical dwarf, be nominated for next year's People magazine awards. Still another person suggested that I should've just dwarf-tossed him and continued my conversation. I'll reserve further dwarf-comments for another time.

Also, I didn't mention my adventures in the puzzle-gaming roundtable. Alexy Pajitnov, the guy who invented Tetris, was hosting a 3-part roundtable about puzzle game design, and I got to attend two of 'em. Alexy acted more like a moderator, constantly asking if we wanted to talk about 3D puzzle games. The answer was a continuous "no", so he finally gave up on that discussion.

There was an interesting moment at the first conference. Shortly before it began, a character entered the room, and the rest of the room lit up with murmurs. Apparently this person was the lead designer of Obsidian, a fine-looking multi-CD adventure game. About an hour later, it occurred to me, "Wait a minute. My games have sold better than Obsidian, why was the room not abuzz when I entered?". Of course, Obsidian does look quite good, and Rocket Science might still be around today if they didn't release a bunch of crap early on, so it's not his fault that Obsidian faded rather quickly. He actually seemed like a decent guy, so I just kept my big egotistical wannabe mouth shut :)

The guys who designed Smart Games and a few other packs were also there. At one point we were talking about how to give hints without making it too easy on the user. I mentioned that 7th Guest had this quiet ambient voice that gave vague hints, becoming more demonstrative over time. When asked if I thought it was a good idea, I gave an ambiguous reply. I wanted to reply that the puzzles in 7th Guest were ambiguous and had nothing to do with the story, so the voice was needed just to connect the game to the plot. Unfortunately, the 7th Guest guys were in the room, so I didn't press it. Maybe roundtables should be done via IRC :)

Fixed a few of outstanding bugs in my main menu and in a couple of games (right after handing out sampler CD's at the CGDC, good work). I also started on a new game. I was always attracted to those Yachtzee-type games that you play with funny dice, so I'm working on my own version. Hopefully it'll be different enough from the stuff currently out there to be interesting. We'll see.

On a completely different note, I've become addicted to the little wheel on my mouse. I've got two of 'em now on the machines, the Microsoft and the Logitech. Of the two, I prefer the Logitech because the software is better and the wheel is a bit looser.

Home to Texas

Posted by , 10 May 1998 - - - - - - · 79 views

Awright. I arrived back to my cozy Texas home at 3 o'clock this morning. The CGDC has come and gone. There's a lot of stuff to talk about, and I don't wanna give a blow-by-blow description, as it'd take forever. For that reason, I'm gonna put down my random impressions into a buncha bullet-points. Here I go. . .

Good Things:

  • I met a really interesting character at the gamestorm booth. We chatted a bit about opponent-finding at the booth. A couple days later, I was asked to help him set up an easel for a lecture he was giving. He recognized me as "the guy from The Code Zone", which surprised me (7000 people went by his booth, for cryin' out loud). His lecture on network gaming was easily the best I'd heard.
  • DirectDraw and DirectSound Retained Mode are good things. I dunno what "retained" means, but the DirectX folks seem to be putting two levels of support in all of their stuff. The "retained" modes are generally higher-level and easier to use. DirectDraw Retained Mode is basically a full sprite animation engine for DirectDraw. It features lotsa nice stuff like Z-ordered sprites, dirty rectangle management, and alpha channels on sprites. DirectSound Retained Mode adds the long-needed ability to play WAV files directly, without having to stream the file into a buffer first.
  • I bumped into Frank Yerrace, one of my old co-workers from the old Tandy days. He's now at Microsoft, working on their sound stuff.

Bad Things:

  • Pirhana Publishing pretty much dismissed my product out-of-hand, despite their newsgroup solicitation for products. They flipped through my little press-kit (1 page description, four pages of screen shots, one CD), and said that they were looking more for large-scale strategy games than "small stuff".
  • I'm certain that this is a foregone conclusion, but the expo floor was more of an obnoxious show of dollars than a place to meet with companies. The best example was HEAT.NET, who handed me a T-shirt when I asked them how to add game content to their service. I kindly offered to trade the T-shirt for an answer to the question, but all I got was a business card and a suggestion that I call next week.

Cool stuff I ended up getting:

  • A Diamond Stealth II video card. It was a freebie given away for attending a seminar about the Intel i740 chip. Haven't installed it yet. It had some really nice statistical features that would let you tune your 3D games. Won't do me any good, but it'll probably run games well.
  • A Microsoft Sidewinder joystick. I got this at MS's hospitality suite. I could've gotten the force-feedback model, but you had to go through all kinds of hoop-jumping to get it.
  • Autographed CD's from The Fat Man. I had to buy the CD's, but I wasn't there just to scam free stuff (unlike 75% of my colleagues). I'm listening to one now, and they actually work as a real band --sort of a synth-version of TMBG.
  • A Hardwood Solitaire CD. I really respected these guys. They're just a little company with some really nice shareware solitaire games. They were running a hospitality suite, giving away games, mouse pads, and soda pop, just trying to get their name out. I mentioned that I was one of their competitors, and I talked to 'em for a bit, finally leaving 'em with a copy of my games.
  • Lots of key chains, squishy balls, plastic toys, pens, and CD's with SDK's of every kind.


  • The 3D market is ripe for a well-deserved "correction", to use the stock market's vernacular. The hot topic, nay the only topic, of the show was 3D. Fully 95% of the booths in the expo hall were either for 3D hardware or 3D software. There were at least a dozen companies dedicated just to modeling and animating human figures. The entire conference seemed to be geared towards its attendees (18-40 year old males). The only ray of hope was during a conference about trends in the market when one of my colleagues loudly commented that zero of the top-5 PC games are 3D, and that while folks are working on the latest run-around-in-halls shooter, Deer Hunter is clobbering them on the shelves! At least one other viewer loudly concurred that people are having such a love affair with the technology that they're ignoring the market.
  • John Romero is an annoying little egotistical dwarf. At one point, I was talking to the brother of Ken Williams (of Sierra fame) about their new opponent-finding service, won.net. Suddenly, this little creep with a Daikatana shirt shoves his way between us, trying to get Ken Williams' phone number. My roommates and I made fun of him and his "you will be my bitch" joystick ad for the rest of the week.
  • The CGDA has no real reason to exist anymore. What started out as an organization set up to support and connect game developers has become little more than a trade-show group. Frankly, making it a sub-conference of another bigger show wouldn't be a bad thing. A quick look at the CGDA web site shows that they don't really care about anything but trade-shows anymore. I joined up with the IGDN at the show, and I don't intend to renew my membership in the CGDA.
  • The online game networks richly deserve the trouble they're having. Almost every one of 'em is set up to work on high-bandwidth-low-latency games (read: Quake), so they can justify their monthly fee. Such a model is fatally flawed and deserves to die. If people are gonna pay to play games, they're gonna pay for content, not for latency. The current latency problems will improve as we get faster internet into homes. People aren't gonna pay monthly fees for a problem that people perceive is fixing itself. If people are gonna pay, it's gonna be for content, not meaningless buzzwords like "latency"

Off to Long Beach!

Posted by , 01 May 1998 - - - - - - · 71 views

Well, I'm taking the redeye to Long Beach tonight. I'll be arriving in sunny CA at about 3 AM, so I'll be nice and fresh for my indentured servitude at CGDC.

I put together 10 press kits to pass out to hopeful publishers. I pressed CD's with the existing games (they'll time out on 6/15). Shelly printed up four pages of nice screen shots for me, and we've got a short treatment ready. I purchased some handsome teal folders and some printer-ready business cards, and I'm ready for some shmoozing!

The main menu's not perfect, but it's working well enough to show off. I fixed as many bugs as I could find. I also finished the install program, which leads to. . .

[rant mode on]
Software companies need to learn something about scoping!

This install was the first time I used InstallShield since around 1992. The 1992 InstallShield (used to make the LANWords installation) was quite simple. It consisted of two command-line tools, a ZIP-like utility that would compress your files together, and a compiler that would compile a high-level script language into an executable install. All you had to do was to modify one of the example scripts and write a couple of batch files, and you were done.

The new InstallShield is basically the same tool, but it's no longer command-line and is now, IMHO, hopelessly mired in wizards and other UI nonsense. Instead of a buncha example scripts to modify, there is now a tool where you specify your requirements, and it builds a script for you.

Having many example scripts was actually much handier, as I could figure out how stuff is done just by running 'em. The new example scripts are now a hodgepodge of mini-examples in a help file. You can't run 'em, so you don't know how they'll work until you pull them into your own project.

All in all, it smacks of the episode of "The Simpsons" where Homer was allowed to design his own car. . .
[rant mode off]

OK, I feel better now. Hopefully one of my associates will be providing an update or two during next week.

Gettin' done with the GDC

Posted by , 22 April 1998 - - - - - - · 74 views

Moving along on the whole CGDC thing. Got my plane tickets and I have a hotel room lined up. Now I just need to have a nicely-debugged set of sample games to hand out.

The new main menu is basically done. You can see it here. It's much nicer than the old main menu, and it should be much easier to expand than the old one. I also had a chance to add a couple of user-requested features, like a "favorites" menu that shows the most-played games, and the ability to create a desktop shortcut to a game you especially like.

For some reason, the 16-color bitmaps are broken, and I have no idea why. I'll need to look into it. They've only been working since 1992. Go figure.

Hopefully I can convince the lovely-n-talented Shelly to update the diary during the CGDC. We'll see.