April 4, 2001 – New Site Design, Business Stuff…

The website has been redesigned a bit, along with a complete update of PHPSlash, some info on Jumpman progress, and more on what it’s like to deal with a business like this…

Website redesigned!

Well, I finally downloaded PHPSlash 0.6.1 (called Greasy Spoon – gotta love these release names!) and plopped it in place. That’s when the problems really started… There’s new toys and stuff in PHPSlash which is very cool (one of them being the somewhat functional mailing list – sign up, and it tells you of changes at the site. Or at least, in theory it does. ) But during the process of installing it, I managed to break a couple of things, so I spent part of a day getting everything back up and running properly. And I’ve modified a couple of things (the developers diary main page, for instance, no longer displays all diary entries – just some intro text. But on the left side you get a listing of the 10 most recent entries by Randy Glover and myself, and you can just click ’em and check ’em out. This makes things load faster, since it’s not trying to display 30 entries! 🙂

Drop me a line if you have any comments about the new site update. I’ve still got a bit more to do on it, but, this is pretty close to what I want. For now.

Jumpman 2049 Progress Report…

Well, there’s not THAT much to report. I’ve been playing with the graphical style of Jumpman: 2049, which is a cross between the original’s style, and more modern day character animation. Jumpman himself is very smooth animation wise, and looks sharper than the previous work I did (IMHO.)

Of course, the question is WHY am I re-doing all the work I’ve already done? Well, I discovered Poser 4.0. I have a new toy that I love… If you haven’t ever played with the Poser demo, but are interested in character animation, it’s worth looking at. Compaired to some tools, it’s fairly cheap (0), and is just damned cool! Anyway – everything is being redone using Poser. I still have to hand tweak some of Poser’s output, unluckly – things aren’t PERFECTLY the way I want them.

Programming wise, well, not that much has happened since I’ve been playing with the site, working on the animations, and dealing with business topics. What I do have of the engine done so far is nice – but, I’m still trying to decide if it’s what I want. To be quite honest, I think I’m going to take a very different approach than what I originally planned on, and cheating by using a hidden layer that handles coliding with the environment (girders, walls, ladders, etc.) I originally wanted to just test against the current onscreen colors to determine if Jumpman was standing on a girder, etc. But the problem is this – that means you are stuck with only certain colors being allowed for certain objects. I could do per-level color schemeing, but, even then it’s just a pain in the ass. So, instead, when you create a level and hit save the level graphic is saved, plus the map that handles collision. But you’ll also be able to create ‘exceptions’ on the map – creating invisible walls, or areas you could fall through. I don’t think EITHER of those options will be used in the commercial levels, but someone might find it interesting for making thier own.

Business stuff…

Somedays I’d really like to just focus on being a video-game programmer. Then I realize, damnit, I hate working for anyone else!

Right now I’m doing homework for the Management group. Part of Jumpman 2049’s development will be paid for with an ARMF Grant (I hope.) Of course, this means more paperwork to be done. Unluckly, the Management can’t completely read my mind, so I have to provide them enough information to fill out the paperwork for the grant. Questions like “Discuss background information relative to the area of technology, including a brief bio-sketch on key researchers and staff.” and “Briefly describe additional research and development that may be required following this project in order for the product or process to be ready for commercialization. Include projected financial requirements for the R&D.” *SIGH* Long, drawn out essay questions. And very time consuming. But, the advantage to having to fill out things like this is that when you are done, sometimes you discover angles you missed or parts of the process that need more work. Everytime you comb through a plan, more stuff ends up shaking out and being resolved.

Something that some people may be wondering – why in the world am I using grants to write a game? An ARMF Grant is an interesting beast. If I remember correctly, ARMF = Applied Research Matching Funds, which helps make it a bit understandable right off. Unlike the term ‘Grant’ as most people understand it, you are expected to pay this one back. See, they hand money to businesses to take a larger risk on Research and Development for commercializable products. R&D can be a long and expensive process – and there’s always the risk that if it isn’t profitable, you screwed yourself too bad to recover from it. An ARMF Grant gives you a buffer – it helps pay for the R&D on a project. But they don’t hand you a check for what it’s going to cost to develop the technology – instead, it’s a 60/40 matching grant to start with. For every 0 you spend, they pay you back of it (which means you cover the other of it.) So you still have to pay for all this – they just give you cash back on some of it (kinda like a Discover Card for commercial research 😉 Here’s the cool part, and the reason why I agree with this particular form of goverment assistance in R & D – when completed, and you commercialize it, you hand them back (x)% of the profits from it, until the Grant is repaid! This way – projects that manage to make it put money back into the fund for the next companies research project. And what happens if the research doesn’t pan out, or ends up being less than commercially viable? Nothing. It’s part of the risk to the fund – if you can’t make it work or can’t manage to sell it, you don’t pay the money back. Again – this allows companies to take risks they normally wouldn’t because of the potential of failure! One more stipulation – if you develop it, and it is viable, but you don’t do anything with it (within a certian time period) the ARMF takes over the technology, and commercializes it (thus preventing companies from researching something, patenting it, and then setting on it!)

Of course, that doesn’t answer the question – why is an ARMF Grant being used here? It helps to reduce the cost of startup for Midnight Ryder Technologies, to start off with. While this is pretty much a small one man show programming wise, I’ve also got two content developers to hire (art, music, and networking development stuff). But the reason this applies is for the research in doing stuff like scripting systems within games (Visual Basic for Applications, and both the great things it adds and the potential problems it COULD create at times), dynamic music systems, and reusable game engines that cut development time. While I’ve talked about my latest stuff on making the engine from Gremlin Panic! reusable, I’ve talked very little about TDS (I won’t tell you what it stands for 😉 and the long term goal of producing exactly what I’m doing now – reusable game development tools. So in the end, it ends up being right in line with where I was headded in the first place. Strange how that works, right? Anyway, because it’s being developed to cut down development time for commercial applications, it fits the model for an ARMF Grant, and helps Midnight Ryder Technologies get a leg up on development.

OK, I’ve babbled and bored you long enough now – back to real work 😉

Midnight Ryder
AKA Davis Ray Sickmon, Jr
President, Midnight Ryder Technologies

“I never read it in a book,
I never saw it on a show,
But I heard it in the alley
On a wierd radio:
If you want a drink of water,
You gotta get it from a well.
If you wanna get to Heaven,
You gotta raise a little Hell…

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