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Beta drops and disappointments

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Okay folks. The the 6/20 beta of the games is now available in the same place where you found the previous beta. If you don't have that old email or you want to join up with the beta program, email john@thecodezone.com and I'll set you up. My beta-list is still pretty small, but I don't anticipate any further world-shaking bugs.

Other than the addition of a EULA to the installer and a couple more trivial sounds here and there, the list of changes to the current beta are available on the Attack Of The Bugs page.

Notes from the previous beta:

- NSIS is really great. It makes nice small unobtrusive installers. There's little worse than a huge byzantine install that sinks its tendrils into every part of your system. My games installer is pretty-much as small and simple as I can possibly make it. There are really only two options available ("put icons on desktop" checkbox and "install to somewhere other than program-files" field). The uninstaller removes EVERY DAMN SPECK OF MY PROGRAM from your system, because there's nothing ruder than looking into your registry or "local programs" folder only to find a bit of something you uninstalled months ago. I'm still finding pieces of old 4 Elements contest entrants on my machine. Yuck.

- NIS Edit is also really great. It's nothing special. Just a text editor that compiles NSIS scripts. But I love it. I also love that the sum-total of my install exists in a single text file (and a non-default icon). NSIS can read that file and build a standalone EXE out of it. Yum.

- Microsoft really needs a PUT YOUR SETTINGS HERE page. With Duck Tiles, I have a trivial amount of persistent data, so I just store it in the registry. That's fine, provided that you store that data on the right branch (and you remove it when you uninstall, but I already talked about that). Problem is, it's not really obvious what that branch should be. I see software settings all over the place, so it's not like I can just look at the registry and say "ahh, it goes here".

It's even worse if you're storing your data as an external file. I'm currently storing all persistent data as a ".czdb" file in the same directory as the game itself. That works just fine, but according to Microsoft that's a bigass no-no because your default protections might not have access to that.

Problem is, your default protections DO have access to that. They do right now. They did in the past. And they will under Vista, although Vista's come up with some sort of scheme that'll fake your app into thinking it's writing there when it's really writing somewhere else.

Dear Microsoft. If you want me to write my little high score database somewhere, MAKE IT CLEAR TO ME WHERE TO DO IT. I presume it goes into "documents and settings/all users/local somethingorother/the code zone", but I can't just hard-code that like we gleefully hard-coded "c:\temp" back in the day. I know I need to ask Windows where it should go, be it from the registry or from some kind of "getFriendlyPathMisterWindowsPerson()" call, but IT JUST AIN'T CLEAR. All I see when I look are many documents about how it's bad form to put my data in certain places.

And, as I find myself saying to Shelly and Maggie often, "Okay, now I know what you don't want. Now please tell me what you DO want."

Speaking of Shelly, I threatened to blog about this conversation for a week now. Now's the time. This exchange happened last week. . .

Me: I was listening to the TWIT podcast, and they were talking about popular podcasts. One is called "ask a ninja", and it's apparently some kind of call-in show where people ask questions and ninjas answer them.

Shelly: Umm. . .real ninjas?

Me: [gives Shelly a look like she has bunny rabbits crawling out of her ears]

And finally I have disappointments. . .

1. A pal of ours is 102% down on his luck and can't hold down a job to save his life. We need a little minor filing done and felt sorry for him, so we hired him with the understanding that he'd work full-time for a couple of weeks going through our active files, organizing 'em and inactivating the dead projects.

Well, he started on Monday and the first two days he did great. We got a lot of stuff purged outta the files and put away to storage (as an engineer, you have to archive old projects for 11 years).

Then he didn't show up for the rest of the week. No calls, no nothing.

Then he showed up the following Monday and worked three hours. No explanation where he was.

Then he didn't show up for ten days, showing up the following Thursday (payday). He then worked for two hours, worked on his resume for two hours, and got upset that he couldn't figure out how to get his Windows 98 laptop to print to our Wifi network. I made it clear to him that we're a very small office that has to shut down if we go out in the field, so he can't just pop in when it's convenient. He agreed.

Then he didn't show up the next day.

I saw him in-person on Sunday, gave him a check for the 5 hours he worked, and asked him not to show up anymore.

The only good that came out of that experience is that I no longer feel sorry for him.

He does get chutzpah points, though, for listing us on his resume. He worked for us for a total of four days over the course of three weeks, got fired, and put us on his resume. Sheesh.

2. The Bulldozer music. I was excited about the possibility of getting a real live professional-type musician to do some stuff for Bulldozer. I had a pal who's a really talented musician who'd expressed interest in the past, so I contacted him. The price was high for my budget, but I figured I'd get something special in exchange. Next thing I know he's introducing a friend to me who's apparently got skills in game-musicking. I wasn't worried, figuring that one would do the music and the other would help get it game-ified (like making it loop-able and convert it to a reasonable size MP3 and such).

Two weeks later I get some pretty generic-sounding synth music. Now then, the pal worked for all kinds of eclectic "They Might Be Giants" style bands (including a cover-band consisting entirely of steel drums), so I was hoping for something odd and catchy and wonderful. Instead I get a few 30 second synth-loops that sound like they could've been taken from any side-scroller or puzzle game.

Mind you, they're not bad. They'll work for the game. I just really expected something more.

Next I emailed the old friend and asked him if he has anything to do with these clips I'm getting. I get no response. Finally I get sent a licence agreement from game-music-guy that allows downloads but guarantees that they'll have their hand out again if my games ever end up on a store shelf.

The whole thing bugs me. I honestly feel that I could've gone to the gamedev help-wanted forum, offered 1/4 of what I'm paying these guys, and picked up some similar sounding music only with a better license. That or a music-clipart licensing service.

And I might end up doing just that. The whole "You're paying me hourly, but you have to pay me more without me having to make any more effort if you get more success" deal bugs me greatly. I'm thinking of just scrapping the whole mess and starting over.

Live and learn, I guess.
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I had your problem last week. I fixed it.

I use SHGetSpecialFolderPath on Windows to get the user's personal (My Documents) directory and store under My Games in there. I've written this feature into a cross-platform component of my games library. It also works for OS X and finds the user's library directory by using the OS hooks there. I dunno about Linux, but I can probably get away with just using ~

Anyway, so my game would store in
C:\Documents and Settings\rav\My Documents\My Games\Ham Sandwich, The Game\HamSandwichSaves.txt on Windows and /Users/rav/Library/Application Support/Ravuya/Ham Sandwich, The Game/HamSandwichSaves.txt on OS X.

And on Evil Steve's computer (which is screwed up):
Z:\My Games\Ham Sandwich, The Game\HamSandwichSaves.txt

On foreign versions of Windows, the "Documents and Settings" and "My Documents" folders will be named differently! Nothing's worse than creating a USWindows directory on a poor user who has "Los Documents de la Settings" and "Los Ravuya de la Files" in his computer. [wink] SHGetSpecialFolderPath not only solves this, but it's Unicode so weird-ass Japanese Windows should work fine too -- same for OS X.

It took me a bit of time to figure out but it's well worth it. Pretty sure the code should stand on its own; it's pretty simple C++ with a bit of STL string mixed in. Lemme know if you want to take a look; I'll clean it up for you and fire it along. I'll trade it to you for another hit of Shi Sen. *click click click click click*

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If you're considering looking for additional composers Sean Beeson (recent HW, website) and Blaise Douros (recent HW, website) both seem to be very reliable and produce some good quality work (although I must say Blaise's website could use a touch-up).

Ryan Reilly (Rain 7) has also seemed to reliably produce good results for those that I've seen him work with, but is a bit less experienced. He doesn't seem to have a website and hasn't posted an ad in Help Wanted recently (if at all), but I do remember he produced some music for Jooleem.

Just a couple of artists I've seen in both Music&Sound and Help Wanted who seemed to stand out a bit if you were considering looking for someone. [smile]

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I'm getting some tracks from John Ervin (Jervin) as well. Although I'd recommend you wait until my tracks are here! [wink]

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