Well, it’s been a while – time for another one o’ my infamous novella’s ;-) TZ Beta 3, Mac problems, Midnight Ryder gets a Spyder, less stress, more work, tuning out the noise, opporunities show up in the strangest places, some commentary, need more hands, and other BS in my latest .plan :-)

In random order, of course 😉
It’s amazing what little things in life case you stress. One of mine has been vehicles. I love to work on cars – it’s part of that hacker nature really. It’s just another thing to take apart, examine, and put back together better than when you started (hopefully – true to hacker nature, sometimes it doesn’t come out better.) Problem is – that’s more of a hobby rather than something I should be doing to survive. I’m a pretty good shade tree mechanic, don’t get me wrong – I don’t flinch at the idea of doing something like droping a manual transmission on a rear wheel drive car. Done it many times, replace to cluch, put it back together, etc. Problem is, I didn’t own a manual, or a rear wheel drive even. Instead, I had a front wheel drive automatic that was falling apart. Missing a gear, needed a new top, engine leaked oil like a siev, and an unbelieveably long list of repairs in general. Pretty ugly. Well, it started getting worse, and I mentioned the idea of buying a new car to my wife – and she was all for it.
So the hunt began. The requirements – Convertable, dependable, manual transmission. The result: 1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder (a convertable) with a blower, etc. on it. All decked out. $11k. Also have a 3 year warranty on it, etc.
I had no idea my old car was being such a source of stress until I started driving the Spyder. One of my old ‘detox’ methods involved driving home from work, music up full blast, top down (even if it was cold) doin’ about 70 do the road. Just getting THAT back has been a big deal. Not having to worry about it falling apart tomarrow or the next day is a huge weight off of me. That’s probably the best $11k I ever spent (well, still spending – monthly payments ya’ know?) Less stress = more productivity. Less Commute time = more productivity time. More productivity = more time for development 🙂
But there’s more that relates to game development about buying that car. I try to talk to the people around me when I’m dealing with stuff like that – sometimes you learn interesting things, or sometimes interesting opportunities present themselves. The car salesman and I got to chatting, and I discovered he was into makin’ music. Longer story ensues (won’t share that with ya – it’s not really important) but we found a car across town, and he drives me out there, but grabs one o’ his CD’s he created of his work – some unique stuff ranging from hip-hop to rock to… well, just a little bit of everything. He’s tellin’ me about it, and I hand him a business card (don’t have business cards for your game company yet? Get some. Like NOW. These are incredibly handy some days, and are cheap) and explain that well… I can always make use of someone who does music. He’s all excited about it – it’s not the money that he wants (he sells used cars for a living. He’s buying a house so I don’t think he’s doing too badly), it’s the projects so that he’s got a focus. Finding someone to do game music is hard at times. Finding someone in the same TOWN to do game music is unbelieveably hard (same town is good because it’s much easier to set down in person and deal with the creative process) 
The moral to the story is ta’ keep your eyes and ears open, and talk to the people around you – never know where the next resource might turn up 🙂 (Only said for the benefit of people who don’t think that way – a lot of Indies already have that mindset 😉
Beta 3 of Trajectory Zone is a massive headache. I mean MASSIVE. It keeps getting delayed for this and that, but the Windows version seems to be done. Now I’m working on the Mac port (since I decided I’d keep all the Mac portage in house, along with the Windows version.) THAT has been the source of my headaches really – compile problems, performance problems, etc. (Note – I’m writing this between runs and compiles on the PowerBook. I just discovered something – switching to 16 bit from 32 bit screens in OpenGL just made a huge difference in performance. On my Windows machine, it doesn’t make that much difference, but, I’ve got a lot more horsepower there!) But I’ve also discovered something else interesting – sharing the PowerBook isn’t as good of an idea as my wife and I originally planned. Since she’s a college student, she uses it A LOT, so sometimes it may be 11 PM before I can get my hands on it, some days I have access to it all day. It’s very chaotic for scheduling any dev time on it. Needless to say, there’s only one fix – and taking the laptop away from my wife isn’t gonna work 😉 After the car is paid off (about 6 months) we’re buying another Mac I think. Which also means I get to have my dream of a Mac as my primary dev platform too 🙂 And now that it appears that the Blender exporter is working, I’ve got a modeling packing (after I *cringe* learn Blender. No small task.)
On the fly generation of random levels is back out of TZ again. Looks like it’s just going to end up being a part of the terrain editor. I’m a bit disappointed with this, but, I’m still happy that it’s going to be used somewhere, and adding faster ways for end users to create new content is never a bad thing 🙂
I’m kinda conflicted about TZ – I like it, and I hate it. The UI, for instance, still looks lacking to me after compairing it to other commercial offerings out there. But the gameplay is pretty good, but there may not be enough variety. Lighting looks good (more on that later – this isn’t your standard “Engine Of Darkness” Torque here, and when B3 is released I’m tossin’ up screenshots and info on what’s up with that) However, I had hedged my bets when writing and designing it, so adding more gameplay modes post-release is fairly trivial – I can continue to breath new life into this game for quite a while if nessisary. Adding a TorqueIDE and some documenation to it also makes it easy for end users ta’ explore doing the same thing.
But overall… I guess I’m happy with it. Next project is going to be short. Like, REALLY short. No more long projects for a while – it’s amazing how much you can dislike and like something at the same time just ’cause you’ve worked on it too long 🙂
The lack of huge posts from me in the last month or so is because I ‘dropped out’ for a bit. Too much stress, too many things to get done resulted in me being completly fed up with people in general. Not in my day to day life, but, dealing with online communities. I’ve got 6600+ unread forum messages at the moment – not sure if I’m gonna bother scanning through that or just hit “Mark as Read” on ’em 🙂 The result was pretty good though – I was able to concentrate on a couple o’ things done. I’ve got a couple of resources to release (XML documenation generator, another update to TorqueIDE, etc.) when I get the chance – I’ve still got documenation work on ’em to do, plus I wanted to chat with LabRat about what he had in mind for his replacement interface for TorqueIDE (which means I may unhook mine and toss it if his is better, or, do something and make it just a bit easier to pick an interface to work with.) But I do scan people’s .plan files from time to time – my lame way of keeping up with the rest of the world without being interactive or swamped by it.
One that stuck out (no surprise here) was Jeff T’s comments about Yet Another Studio Dying. In particular, selling out. I couldn’t imagine selling Midnight Ryder Technologies – but on the flip side, with 30 people depending on you, it would make it probably the hardest decision you could make about a company. I hope to never see a situation like that – but given the situation, I’d do the same has him. People are important – it’s a part of the responsibilities of a business owner to make sure the employess are taken care of. (IMHO – though I seem to be in the minority in the corporate world 😉 And personally, I’m glad Jeff did that – obviously I have no connection to Dynamics, but, would GarageGames and the Torque engine be here today if he had made a different set of decisions?
I’m never surprised to see a studio collapse these days (well, if Id collapsed, I’d be shocked), and it’s just going to continue happening over and over. To me, it’s part of the boom – bust cycle that the game industry goes through (said from an outsider who played games and wanted to make games since the Atari 2600, not from a battle scared industry veteran, so take with a grain of salt!), and it will always continue to happen. One of my ongoing projects has been deciding how to set the game company up to always survive those cycles, but, without being Activision or someone that big, I just don’t see a way of doing it – except to say lean and mean. Basically, always be an Indie – we can always survive on contracting work for a while when things get tough, even if it’s not game related contracting 🙂
His most important comment in there, IMHO, was the shortest:
One last note. If, as independents, you don’t see opportunity in all of this, you are not paying attention. But, that is another .plan for a different day.
Ain’t that the truth. Everytime one of these studios is closed down or goes bankrupt, there are things to look at. For instance – with Origin gone, even if they releases another Ultima titled game, it’s already lost a huge portion of it’s user base because they know it’s not Origin that did it. Why not capitolize on that – look at the essence of Ultima, and create a game that brings back that essense, and market it directly at the old user base. That’s just one opportunity there. I hope Jeff does write a followup .plan to that one – I’m currious to see what he has to say!
Oh, and the Midnight Ryder ‘family’ (ie, Me and whoever wants to work on projects) grew by one. I’ve been getting a stream of resumes lately (and publishing offers from REALLY small publishers – sure, I want to publish my game exclusively in a market like Russia… 😉 and contracting offers lately. I always turn ’em down. However, one new person may be joining the team, and this may speed up project development considerably – it’s a programmer, rather than an artist (not downplaying artists importance – instead, that’s just what most of the resume’s I get are.) We’re discussing some short term projects at the moment. This could be some serious relief for me – I’ve got a number of projects I’d like to see done, but, don’t have the time to program ’em. I’ll say who whenever we come to an agreement, but this is exciting to me – I’ve thought about putting up a help wanted for programmers before, but, never have. I loose a portion of projects if I do – but while talkin’ to him, I realized something:
If I don’t write the games, I’m loosing a percentage of nothing.
That may not seem like a revalation to most people, but, somehow it goes against my grain (which is, well, do everything myself 😉 So, because of those discussions…
If you are between projects or are looking for a project to work on, Midnight Ryder Technologies would be interested in talking to you. MRT has completed 6 games in it’s 4 years, and is working on Trajectory Zone. All projects are short term projects using the Torque engine (thus all programmers must be Torque licensee’s), and nearly all of them are projects completely different from what Torque has been used for before. All of them are short term, quick turn around projects designed to create continued revenue streams instead of a lump-sum payment. All inquiries welcome.
Now back to Trajectory Zone on Mac, round 57… 😉
Paul Dana   (Feb 29, 2004 at 01:31)
I feel the pain. I never did get a Mac version of Bit Shifter to compile for IGC.
Davis Ray Sickmon, Jr   (Mar 01, 2004 at 08:59)  
I think I’ve got most of the kinks worked out now – except the distance fog is odd. One level, for instance, has a red haze for distance fog. On the Mac version, it shows up blue instead. Hrm. Performance is still a little laggy, but, not nearly as bad as it was. Hopefully I can get all of this resolved sometime soon 🙂
Trent Reimer   (Mar 01, 2004 at 11:39)
I hear you, cars are definitely getting less repair friendly and more “disposable” in nature. I wonder if there would be a market for a car that was designed to be “repairable”? I was actually a diesel mechanic before turning programmer (thanks to back injury) and it was surprising to see how many competent heavy machinery mechanics were deferring their auto repairs to shops. Like you say, it all depended on what year the vehicle was made – nobody wanted to bother with the newer front wheel stuff.
I had never used a computer before my injury so it’s been refreshing to discover extensible, community based technologies which encourage tinkering.
All the best in your porting.
Eric Forhan   (Mar 01, 2004 at 13:42)
That’s great news, Davis. 🙂

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