Category Archives: databases

Speaker Evaluations – GDC Austin 2009

Conferences don’t make these public.

But they should.

So … here are the evaluations (from the audience) for our panel session at AGDC 09.

Judge for yourself whether you want to attend any future sessions featuring us again (Adam Martin, Bill Dalton, Rick Lambright, Joe Ludwig, Marty Poulin).

Head Count: 74; Evaluations: 32 (43% response rate)

  • Overall rating of the presentation – 88% (AVG: 86%)
  • How relevant was the topic to you? – 86% (AVG: 84%)
  • How well did this class meet your expectations? – 94% (AVG: 84%)
  • Would you recommend this session to a colleague? – 90% (AVG: 84%)
  • Evaluate the speakers’ ability to communicate – 94% (AVG: 86%)
  • If there were visual aids (slides) how were they? – 74% (AVG: 60%)

All of those are above average, and I’m glad that a particularly high number would recommend the session to their colleagues.

It seems that we did particularly well on fulfilling the remit (very high number for “met expectations”), and that our speakers had an awesome ability to communicate (almost 10% higher than average for the other speakers at the conference).

Audience Comments

  1. The most entertaining session I attended, but didn’t sacrifice information value.
  2. Interesting format, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of this, but it is time consuming
  3. Good stuff
  4. Slow, confused start lost valuable time for Q&A
  5. Should have done middleware
  6. Only 3 topics covered. Expected others

Comment 4 – yeah, something I’m unhappy about too, (it wasn’t our fault, it was the people running the conference), but there was nothing for it but to grin and carry on. Someone screwed-up the radio microphones, and we lost a lot of time at the start waiting for them to fix it. There was nothing we could do – they had connected the mics from a different room to *our* speakers. We didn’t find out until the person in the other room started talking, and it all came out through our speakers :(.

Comment 6 – we covered 4 topics (oops, audience can’t count :P). We all wanted to do more, but at GDC conferences, the organizers only give us 1-hour slots. With 4 speakers + moderator, I think that was pretty good, especially considering the time we lost at the start.

Perhaps someone will clone this format for a future conference (seems a good idea), and try to get a 2-hour slot for it?

Export spreadsheet to plain XML with OpenOffice 3.x (works!)

Microsoft Office:

  1. Costs stupid amounts of money
  2. Isn’t very good
  3. Is only available on windows
  4. …but “usually” works

OpenOffice:

  1. Is completely free
  2. Is an almost exact clone of Microsoft Office circa Office 2000/XP
  3. Is open-source (so that sometimes you can easily fix it yourself, quite surprisingly!)
  4. …but apart from the Microsoft Word part, “often doesn’t work”

I’ve been using OpenOffice’s Word clone as a complete replacement for Word for the past 3 years, and it’s been perfect. Previously, I used to use Word *and* OpenOffice, because the latter had some big bugs left in it.

Sadly, OpenOffice’s Excel clone is … often shockingly buggy. I won’t go into the details. But this post is about one missing/broken feature in particular: OpenOffice by default saves / exports XML which (for most people, and all simple uses) is unusable/unreadable – and is very hard to convert with XSLT. Read on for a script that will fix this for you…
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MMO Blogger Round-up

On this site I have a rather subtly-hidden Blog Roll. When I started blogging, the site had less on it, and the roll was easy to find – and short. Now it’s not. And it’s long. And each link on there has been carefully considered. There’s some gems in there (although a lot of them are updated so infrequently few people track them).

So it’s time to call-out some of the interesting things to be found in the blogging world of MMO people.

By the way … you can tell who’s working on uber-secret or personally exciting projects these days because they’ve suspiciously stopped blogging for months at a time. Lazy slackers, the lot of them. The more you do, the more you should blog! :P

There are some that should be on the blogroll but aren’t (yet), and some other bloggers I should mention (but I’m sticking to the blogroll only for this post – I’ll go through others next time). Feel free to add your own recommended reading in the comments.

Blogs to read:
Brinking (Nabeel Hyatt)
* Who? serial entrepreneur, raised funding and sold companies
* What? currently running a funk-tastic social / music / games company with a bunch of Harmonix guys
* Why? big commentator on the games/apps/making money/predictions parts of All Things Facebook

Broken Toys (Scott Jennings / LTM)
* Who? became infamous in the early days of MMOs as a player of Ultima Online who ranted publically, amusingly, and sometimes even insightfully
* What? ex-NCsoft, now doing intriguing web games at John Galt Games
* Why? In his heart Scott’s still a player, and more than anyone else I’ve seen he interprets the world of MMO design, development, and playing through the players’ eyes. Interesting point: he’s mostly concerned with life-after-launch. Funny that. Players kind of find that bit the most interesting. Also keeps a close eye on community-management screw-ups, and WoW generally

Bruce Everiss
* Who? ex-head of marketing for Codemasters
* What? um, I’m not sure what he’s doing these days, apart from becoming a “professional blogger”
* Why? he aims to comment on every single interesting piece of news in the mainstream games industry. That’s a lot of commentary. Always something to read! IMHO he is often completely wrong about anything online-games, and a lot of business and “future of industry” stuff – Bruce is from an older age of the industry. But … he says a lot of interesting things and sparks a lot of interesting debates in the process. Worth reading. Just remember he is extremely (deliberately, I’m sure) provocative, and don’t take it too seriously.

Coke and Code (Kevin Glass)
* Who? A programmer working in mainstream IT
* What? An insanely prolific author of casual games “in his free time, as a hobby”
* Why? Because he’s better at making games than many professionals I’ve met, and he is very very prolific, making new libraries, toolsets, editors, games, game engines – and commenting on it all as he goes, and throwing up new games for you to play all the time

Erik Bethke
* Who? ex-Producer for Interplay
* What? CEO of GoPets, an online casual virtual world that’s especially big in Asia (and based in South Korea)
* Why? A hardcore WoW player who analyses the game-design as he goes, and relates very honestly a stream of both emotional experiences and seminal events in the game that should give you lots of things to be thinking about, especially if you’re a designer, business person, or product manager.

Extenuating Circumstances (Dan Hon)
* Who? ex-MindCandy, current CEO of SixToStart
* What? one of the first Bloggers (on the whole of the internet!) in the UK, and an awe-inspiring assimilator of “everything happening on the internet, with technology, with media, with entertainment and the future of the world” for all of the ten years I’ve known him.
* Why? He’s still an excellent tracker of all those things, and finds memes very quickly. Nowadays he just auto-posts links (lots of them, every day) with a few words of commentary scattered here and there (del.icio.us descriptions) – making his blog a ready-made news filter for you :)

Fishpool (Osma Ahvenlampi)
* Who? CTO of Sulake (makers of Habbo Hotel)
* What? a very technical commentator, often in great detail, on the issues of running a 100-million user virtual world, with observations about Habbo’s community, business, and culture thrown in
* Why? He posts very rarely, but when he does, they’re usually full of yummy detail

Futuristic Play (Andrew Chen)
* Who? ex-VC (Mohr-Davidow Ventures)
* What? entrepreneur with a web-background who’s come into the games industry and bringing lots of useful stuff with him
* Why? blogs a LOT on advertising (and how to make money out of it in games and web and casual), and on metrics, and how you can use them to run you games or web business better. Also has a long fascination with what are the best parts of the games industry, and the best of the web industry, and how we can each put those best bits together to be even better

Off the Record – Scott Hartsman
* Who? ex-Everquest, ex-Simutronics
* What? Senior Producer for MMOs – but previously an MMO lead developer, and once (apparently) a Game Designer.
* Why? he’s funny, he knows his stuff, and he’s worked on some of the most important MMO projects outside Asia, so he’s got an interesting perspective going there.

Orbus Gameworks (Darius Kazemi)
* Who? ex-Turbine, now CEO of Orbus (a games-metrics middleware company)
* What? Likes the colour orange *a lot*, infamous for networking his ass off at games conferences (*everyone* knows Darius), very friendly, generous – and mildly obssessed with the use of metrics and stats to improve the creativity and success of game design (in a good way)
* Why? If you liked the Halo heatmaps when they came out, you’ll love some of the stuff they post on the Orbus company blog. A year ago they were posting heatmaps-on-steroids. If you thought “metrics” equalled “spreadsheets of data” then prepare to have your view changed pretty thoroughly.

Prospect Magazine/First Drafts (Tom Chatfield)
* Who? section-editor of the highly respected socio-political print magaine Prospect
* What? a highly-accomplished English Literature post-grad (bear with me here) … who also happens to have been a lifelong hardcore game player, I think the only person I know who got a hardcore character to level 99 on Diablo2, and now plays WoW a lot.
* Why? although Prospect only very rarely (like, only a few times ever) covers games, it’s very interesting to see what the rest of the world – especially the highly educated and highly intelligent but non-technical, older generations – thinks of us. And a bit of culture in your blog reading is probably good for you, too.

Psychochild (Brian Green)
* Who? ex-3DO/M-59, now the owner and designer of the revamped, relaunched, more modern Meridian-59
* What? an MMO game designer who disingenuously describes himself as an indie MMO designer but like most of the others has probably spent too long doing this and knows too much (compared to many of the modern “mainstream” MMO designers) for that to be true any more
* Why? lots and lots of great design ideas and commentary here for anyone wanting to do MMO design

Scott Bilas
* Who? programmer on Duneon Siege
* What? …in particular, responsible for the Entity System (one of my main areas of interest)
* Why? Scott’s phased in and out of blogging, but when he does blog he tends to do good meaty programming posts that contain lots of source code and some useful lesson or algorithm.

Sulka’s Game (Sulka Haro)
* Who? lead designer for Sulake (Habbo Hotel)
* What? more of a Creative Director than game designer, more of a web background than games, but above all a community/product/creative person who knows his stuff. Also a big player of MMORPGs
* Why? are you cloning Club Penguin or Habbo Hotel and want some pointers about revenue models, community management, and how to be successful with virtual-item sales? You might want to read his posts ;)

The Creation Engine No.2 (Jim Purbrick)
* Who? ex-Codemasters, ex-Climax (both times working on MMO projects)
* What? originally a network / MMO academic researcher, then a network coder, and now the person who runs Linden Lab (Second Life) in the UK. Very big proponent of all things open-source, always doing interesting and innovative things with technology
* Why? Keep an eye on the more innovative technology things that are done with Second Life (stuff you don’t tend to read about in the news but – to a tech or games person – is a heck of a lot more interesting by a long long way), and get some insight into the life of serious open-source programmers who succeed in living and breathing this stuff inside commercial environments

The Forge (Matt Mihaly)
* Who? developer of one of the earliest commercially successful text MUDs, now CEO of Sparkplay Media
* What? spent many years running Achaea, a text-only MUD that made a healthy profit from pioneering the use of itemsales (virtual goods) – and the things weren’t even graphical – and has now finally (finally!) moved into graphical games with the MMO he’s developing
* Why? one of the few MMO professionals who talks a lot about his experiences playing on consoles (especially Xbox), which makes for a refreshing alternate view – especially from the perspective of an MMO person talking about social and community issues in those games. Just like Brian Green, claims to be an indie MMO designer, but probably knows far far too much for that to be even vaguely justifiable

Vex Appeal (Guy Parsons)
* Who? ex-MindCandy
* What? Guy is an extremely creative … guy … who had a small job title but a big part in inventing and rolling out a lot of the viral marketing stuff we did for Perplex City (online game / ARG from a couple of years ago)
* Why? Awesome place to go for ideas and info on the cutting edge of doing games stuff with social networks. Usually. Also … just makes for a fun blog to read

We Can Fix That with Data (Sara Jensen Schubert)
* Who? ex-Spacetime, currently SOE
* What? MMO designer, but like Lum / Scott Jennings, comes from a long background as player and commentator, and shorter background as actually in the industry. Like Darius Kazemi, spent a lot of time in doing metrics / data-mining for MMOs
* Why? Take Darius’s insight into metrics for MMOs, and Scott’s knowledge of what players like, don’t like, and ARE like, and you get a whole bunch of interesting posts wandering around the world of metrics-supported-game-design-and-community-management. Good stuff.

Zen of Design (Damion Schubert)
* Who? ex-EA (Ultima Online), currently at Bioware (MMO)
* What? MMO designer who’s been around for a long time (c.f. UO)
* Why? Damion writes long detailed posts about MMO design, what works, what doesn’t, practicalities of geting MMO development teams to work together, how the playerbase will react to things, etc. He also rather likes raiding in MMORPGs – which is fascinating to see (given his heavy background as a pro MMO *designer*)

[NC] Anson (Matthew Wiegel)
* Who? ex-NCsoft
* What? Dungeon Runners team
* Why? was doing lots of interesting and exciting things with data-mining/metrics in the free-to-play low-budget NCsoft casual MMO. Watch this space…

People with nothing to do with games, but you might want to watch just because they’re interesting:
Bard’s World (Joshua Slack)
* ex-NCsoft
* Josh is one of the key people behind Java’s free, hardware-accelearted, game engine (JME)
Janus Anderson
* Who? ex-NCsoft
* What? um, he’s been taking a lot of photos recently
* Why? watch this space
Mark Grant
* Who? non-Games industry
* What? an entrepreneur, web-developer, and Cambridge Engineer
* Why? very smart guy, and interesting posts on web development (no games tie-in)

Entity Systems are the Future of MMOs Part 4

Massively Multiplayer Entity Systems: Introduction

So, what’s the connection between ES and MMO, that I’ve so tantalisingly been dangling in the title of the last three posts? (start here if you haven’t read them yet).

The short answer is: it’s all about data. And data is a lot harder than most people think, whenever you have to deal with an entire system (like an MMO) instead of just one consumer of a system (like the game-client, which is the only part of an MMO that traditional games have).

Obviously, we need to look at it in a lot more detail than that. First, some background…
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Improving your dev process: Automating collection of game-crash info

(As spotted in last month’s Game Developer magazine’s Inner Product column. Good enough that I wanted to draw some attention to it, and hopefully add a bunch more of these good ideas as I come across them / remember them)

Most games, when they crash hard enough, memory dump. The customer (or internal tester during development) can then be requested by the dev team to find a specific file in a specific directory (the mem dump) and email it to them for analysis.

Some games actually popup a dialogue to the user, to tell them about this file, and where to find it, and who to email it to.

Some even include some contextual information automatically (“the user was on Level 3, and has the following DirectX hardware info”). Most just ask the user to fill in a field “telling us what you were doing when it crashed”.

Most games, during development, automatically either popup – or display in a custom textarea – a message every time somethign unexpected happens, something that MIGHT be a symptom of a bug. There are even conference talks about how to avoid making your playtesters so sick of error messages that they stop bothering to read them, and hence the messages become mostly a waste of time.

How many games do a simple call to the SQL client library to send to the local SQL server a simple detailed report of what happened, when, why, and how bad it was? This information is ALL already available, but how hard is it to copy/past the following into your source code and execute it as an SQL command?

INSERT INTO reports.errors (time, problem, severity, stacktrace, user, IP, clientversion) values (TIMENOW(), “+assertion.getMessage()+”, “+assertion.getLevel()+”, “+assertion.getStacktrace()+”, “+assertion.getUsername()+”, “+system.getLocalIPAddress()+”, “+client.getVersion()” );

Nice idea – free, detailed, metrics on exactly why, when, and where your game exe is crashing, any unexpected problems, anyone who’s running an out-of-date version, etc.

And with the dev team no longer having to rely on users *actually bothering to tell them* when they see big flashing warnings and errors, we might avoid some of the programmer/artist antipathy (“[artist] hey, can you help me with something?” “[programmer] its got an error! no wonder it doesnt’ work!”, “oh, ignore that, it always does that”, “um, how long has it been ‘always’ doing that?”, “ever since around the time the game started running really slowly, 2 months ago. It sucks – now everything takes me twice as long to test. But that’s just life, I guess” [cue: programmer grinds teeth, smashes forehead on desk, or similar]).

NB: I have nothing against artists. They are just an easy scapegoat for a not-very-funny-but-actually-quite-painful-if-you’ve-been-there joke. No artists were harmed in the making of this post.

GDC08: SQL Considered Harmful

Summary

Speaker: Shannon Posniewski, Cryptic

I was expecting something shockingly naive and/or stupid from the title of the session. The first thing the speaker said was that the title was completely wrong, so I ran with that. With that out of the way, the talk was fine, although small things kept coming out during the talk that were hard to believe or worrying claims.

So it was going OK, until … right at the end, just before the Q&A, and partly during the Q&A, the speaker dropped some serious shockers:
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