December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas or something or other...

'Twas the Night Before Christmas In Freeport

Not bad for 10 minutes of work...

December 11, 2005

Updates, or Lack Thereof, and Why

So, it's been awhile since I've updated. I'd say, "I'm sorry," but according to my boss, I'm not allowed. (grin) Besides, you know you don't update enough when Robert Scoble unsubscribes.

I've been working a lot of six- and seven-day work weeks since my last update. We've been doing extended playtests of "SiN: Episodes" on a fairly consistent basis over the last while, and they're a bit of a time sink.

An extended playtest is when you bring in several players and have them play through the entire game from beginning to end. Since we've promised 4-6 hours of gameplay for players, we block out six hours per test.

In our first test, all of our players were done in about four hours. It exposed some issues with our dynamic difficulty system that were addressed.

As the dynamic difficulty system was repaired and adjusted, the tests gradually got longer. In our last test, we had one player who had played through half of the game before in previous playtests, one person who was a headshot master in "Counter-Strike: Source" and one person who has played first-person-shooters before but was in her words "bad" at them.

The experienced player and the headshot master finished in five hours. The "bad" player encountered a crash bug due to a bad shader fallback on a material at the six hour mark, but was on track to finish in seven hours.

Unfortunately, between now and ship, my time is going to be even more limited. I'm going to try to do some updates between now and ship, but I'm not going to promise anything, especially since I have testing duties above and beyond the playtests.

November 18, 2005

Amazon knows what Jack wants...

This screenshot was too funny not to share...

As some of you know, Jack Thompson is a Florida attorney and is pretty much against anything that he deems "sinful." You know, sex, profanity, violence in media, the fun stuff.

So what does Amazon think readers of his book would want?

Jack Thompson readers want SEX!

November 15, 2005

MSNBC Exceptions

I'm glad to see that MSNBC is using the .NET Framework and ASP.NET to power their news site.

However, it might be nice if they were hiding their error need to give people too much information as to what's going on under the hood...

Screenshot showing .NET Exception Stack Dump at MSNBC Web Site

November 9, 2005

Current Status

752 unread E-mail messages, caption 'The bugs keep coming!  AARRGGHH!!! They burn!  They burn!
MSN Messsenger says it all...

Off-Topic: What's Bringing People Here

This is a brief list of what people have entered into various and sundry search engines in order to find this site over the last few weeks.

daryl welsh microsoft
Um, if you're looking for a positive reference for this guy, look elsewhere. You won't get one here.

cvar engine
I've got one for Visual Basic .NET right here. I'm working on converting it to Visual Basic 2005.

c# directsound voice
Sorry, I don't have any C# content in my blog or on my site...yet.

dungeon siege chunky cheat purpose
The purpose of the "chunky" and "superchunky" cheat codes were to dramatically increase the amount of gore in the game. It also served as a means to an "M" rating once the ESRB found out about them. The game was rerated back to "T" after their removal.

realbasic versus revolution
I did this test, and never reported back. My end decision: neither. Both are lacking quite severely in several of the areas that BASIC should be strong at, usability among them. Use Visual Basic 2005 Express instead. It's free for the next 363 days, and as long as you install before the time limit, you own it in perpetuity.

pirate s moon fixes
mechwarrior 3 pirate s moon problems
While I posted about issues I had during development of "Mechwarrior 3: Pirate's Moon," I don't have any troubleshooting info here. Sorry.

postal hostility
Sorry, I'm hostile towards lots of things, but USPS isn't one of them.

mce activex
I'm actually working on a Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 game right now in my miniscule amount of spare time. However, I don't think that's what you are looking for.

visual sourcesafe 2005 price
Amazingly enough, this is missing from the current information on Microsoft's site. They should be slapped for this...go figure. I'm going to guesstimate $199 a seat based off of previous talks.

msdn subscription warez visual studio 2005
Hey, I'm not all that happy about the pricing either, but I'm not going to pirate the damn thing. Fuck off and die, you warezing loser.

how to access play money cheats
I don't even know how to respond to this one...if anything, this schmuck is even more pathetic than the asshole looking for a pirated copy of Visual Studio 2005.

The Hours

Sorry I've been silent...the hours at work have been, well, a bit insane for the last week.

I came in to work on Thursday at 10:00am, and left Friday after dark. (Not sure what the exact time I left the office was. All I know is that it was dark and I'm glad I had a lift, because I was in no condition to do more than walk up the steps to my apartment and crash.)

I slept pretty much all day on Saturday in a futile attempt to recover from the marathon shift.

I came in for about four hours on Sunday to tie up some loose ends, then came in at 10:00am on Monday and worked for 22 hours straight. I went home and slept until 6pm yesterday, woke up, ate two frozen pizzas, played some WoW, went back to sleep at 1am, and game in to work today about 20 minutes late.

Needless to say, my sleep cycle is going to be out of whack for the rest of this month...

November 3, 2005

Quake IV/Doom3 Script Errors?

Are you working on a mod for "Quake IV" or "Doom3"? Are you getting odd script errors like the following?

ERROR: Error: file scripts/maps/my_q4_mod.script, line 119: '}' is not a name

If so, don't worry. Check to see if you have an empty else clause in your code.

Evidently, if you have an else clause without at least one executable statement in it somewhere in your script, your script won't compile.

A common reason for this occuring is if you use sys.println() to dump debug spews to the console. You may end up with a code snippet like this:

//sys.println( "I AM COMMENTED OUT" );

If the above else is in your script, the script will not compile because there is no executable code in that script block. To correct the problem, either remove the else clause, or comment out the else block entirely by placing a /* immediately before the else keyword, and a */ immediately after the close bracket.

Update 11/4/2005, 8:41am: Corrected typo, grammatical error.

November 2, 2005


Please forgive me for not updating as often as I used to...I'm currently in multiple alpha pushes and multiple gold pushes, so time is at a premium.

I've planned out a series of posts related to testing over the next two weeks and I'm hoping to write most of them this weekend.

Please stay tuned.

October 29, 2005

Trojans and the Like

Tonight, someone going by the handle "hypermind" went to the Ritualistic forums and posted links to a site that redirected people to a site that tried to infect people's machines with trojans.

This kind of stuff really pisses me off.

So, if you know the person behind the "whois" dump below, please do me a favor and kick them in the crotch. It's the very least that they're asking for...
Domain ID:D82425367-LROR
Domain Name:NIMP.ORG
Created On:14-Jan-2002 00:52:01 UTC
Last Updated On:13-Jan-2005 09:01:14 UTC
Expiration Date:14-Jan-2007 00:52:01 UTC
Sponsoring Registrar:Gandi SARL (R42-LROR)
Registrant ID:0-529765-Gandi
Registrant Name:the Nimp Team
Registrant Organization:the Nimp Team
Registrant Street1:3, rue A. Thomas
Registrant Street2:
Registrant Street3:
Registrant City:Freyming-Merlebach
Registrant State/Province:
Registrant Postal Code:57800
Registrant Country:FR
Registrant Phone:+33.681122062
Registrant Phone Ext.:
Registrant FAX:
Registrant FAX Ext.:
Admin Name:Samuel Hocevar
Admin Street1:22 rue de Plaisance
Admin Street2:
Admin Street3:
Admin City:Paris
Admin State/Province:
Admin Postal Code:75014
Admin Country:FR
Admin Phone:+33.681122062
Admin Phone Ext.:
Admin FAX:
Admin FAX Ext.:
Tech Organization:GANDI SARL
Tech Street1:see also
Tech Street2:
Tech Street3:
Tech City:Paris
Tech State/Province:
Tech Postal Code:75003
Tech Country:FR
Tech Phone:+33.1
Tech Phone Ext.:
Tech FAX:
Tech FAX Ext.:
Name Server:NS1.ZOY.ORG
Name Server:NS2.ZOY.ORG
Name Server:
Name Server:
Name Server:
Name Server:
Name Server:
Name Server:
Name Server:
Name Server:
Name Server:
Name Server:
Name Server:

October 27, 2005

Seapined Again

Just a brief bit of ego-blogging here.

For the second month in a row, Seapine Software, makers of TestTrack Pro and other QA-related software, published an entry from my blog in their customer newsletter.

I'd like to thank Seapine Software for giving me the opportunity to share the lessons I have learned with their readers, and for realizing that games care about quality assurance as well.

October 26, 2005

Blog Archive Pages Fixed

The monthly archive pages have been repaired. I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. Back to work...

October 25, 2005

Welcome to

If you are seeing this post, you have successfully moved your browser bookmark or syndication feed over to the correct location on my domain,


There may be a few minor issues over the next few days while the move is finalized and links are fixed, but this should be a better home overall.

This Blog Is Moving

I'm finally moving my blog over to my personal domain.

Effective immediately, this blog can be found at

The syndication feed can be found at

October 24, 2005

Off-Topic: World of Lost Time, er, Warcraft

So, I lost 30 hours of my weekend to "World of Warcraft" this weekend.


Don't worry, this isn't going to turn into a blog about my character or anything like that. To be honest, this may be the last time you hear about it here.

But still...30, er, WoW.

October 19, 2005

Mini-Review: "Doom"

First off, I want to thank Universal Pictures and id Software for inviting me out to see the Dallas premiere of the Doom movie. It was an enjoyable experience.

So, the mini-review?

If you liked Doom3, it's a no-brainer to see it.

If you didn't like Doom3 because it was too dark, go see it and give it a chance. You'd be amazed what can happen without a two-light-per-surface limitation.

If you didn't like Doom3 because it was Hell, go see it and give it a chance. It's still Mars, but it's not's a genetic mutation.

If you like the Rock, go see it. The person I went to see it with is a huge fan of the Rock, and was having lots of little Rock-gasms whenever he was on.

If you get motion-sick easily, when you're looking at a reflection of the main character in the mirror, turn your head away until you hear the Rock.

Essentially, "Doom" is nothing more than an excuse to blow shit up...and to be honest, that's all it's pretending to be. It's a fun movie if you go in with those expectations. Besides, the mutants were cool.

Off-Topic: Such Violent Politicians...

This was too funny not to share.

Senators open fire on Rice in Iraq | Insurgents kill 19

Scoble vs. Mini-Microsoft: My Take

Lately, a lot of people in the blogosphere have been having some major discussions trying to decide who better represents Microsoft, Robert Scoble or Mini-Microsoft. I think that's the wrong question to ask. Personally, I believe that the true question to ask is which aspects of Microsoft are represented by these two individuals.

I believe that Robert Scoble represents Microsoft's inner child. He bounces between energetically secretive ("Ooooh, I know something you don't know...") and the class show-off ("Look at what we did!") to transparently envious ("They have something better than us...") to downright lazy ("This linkblog is too much work, so I'm just not going to do it anymore.")

I believe that Mini-Microsoft represents Microsoft's consceience ala Jiminy Cricket. He sees that Microsoft has made mistakes over the last thirty years, and he is trying to call out some methods for redeeming those mistakes. He also gets frustrated by what seems like dry-rot in the area that would become Microsoft's heart should it ever turn into a "real boy."

I may be right, I may be wrong, but I believe that both have their strong points. Microsoft ignores either one at its own peril.

October 17, 2005


...or should I say, "WoW."

Yes, I'm an idiot. Tonight, I ordered "World of Warcraft" from

Why am I an idiot? Well, let's see. We're finishing up our work on "25 To Life," ratcheting up our work on "SiN: Episodes: Emergence," and also ratcheting up our work on "Unannounced Super-Secret Do-Not-Disclose-Under-Penalty-Of-Atomic-Wedgie Project-X..." and in the middle of all that, I pick up the MMORPG-equivalent of crack-enriched crack on crack with crack on the side.

I've got a lot more than that on my plate, though. We've also been searching for a new home down here in the Dallas area, but so far our choices have been demilitarized zones or "quaint" homes that were last inhabitable in the 1940's by people who were suicidally depressed.

So why did I pick it up? If I had an answer for that, I wouldn't be an idiot.

Radiant Right-Click; and the Missing Post

Are you running the Radiant map editor (not GTKRadiant, just Radiant) and having problems with your right-click menu not showing up?

The solution to this one is extremely stupid, but nowhere near as heinous as the Valve tools fix...

1) Press Windows Key+F to bring up the Search Results window.

2) Select "Change preferences".

3) Select "Without an animated screen character".

4) Reboot.

For some reason, the animated search dog in the Search Results window causes the right-click menu in Radiant to not be able to show up.
Also, this is the Missing other words, this is my 404th blog entry.

Given that I never expected to hit 100, hitting 404 is quite an accomplishment.

October 14, 2005

ESRB Ratings For Parents

Are you a parent? Are you confused by the ESRB rating system for video games? Do you understand the MPAA rating system for movies?

If you answered "Yes" to at least two of the above, then go here for my "ESRB Ratings For Parents" guide. It is a quick reference card that you can use to link the two rating systems as a guideline.

Ignorance of the rating system is no excuse. As a parent, it is your job to take responsibility for what your child plays or watches. If you don't parent your child, who is going to?

VProject Problems?

Are you working on a mod for "Half-Life 2" or some other Source-engine game? When using "Hammer," are some of your entities not properly showing up, or do you get an error about a bad VProject environment variable? Does HLMV just show black instead of your model? Does VConfig take a long time to set everything after you hit "OK?"

I was having the same problems today, and I have a cause and a solution for you.

The issue is a setting in Windows Explorer, under Tools → Folder Options... → View → Advanced Settings. There is a setting there called "Launch folder windows in seperate process." This setting increases the stability of windows, but can cause problems with multiple (and occasionally conflicting) copies of environment variables hanging around.

You have two options to fix the above problem. You can either:

1. Disable the "Launch folder windows in seperate process" option, reboot your computer, then run VConfig again; or

2. Run VConfig. Click "Edit..." Change one character in the path and immediately change it back. Click "OK." Click "OK." Run VConfig again. Click "Edit..." Change one character in the path and immediately change it back. Click "OK." Click "OK." Close all Explorer windows, including Internet Explorer. Open Explorer and run VConfig again. Click "Edit..." Click "OK." Click "OK."

End result:

If you disable the "Seperate Process" option, VConfig will run faster, but Explorer will be less stable. However, the Source SDK Tools will work.

If you use option 2, VConfig will still run slow as molasses, but the Source SDK Tools will work. However, if you have to change to a different game in VConfig, you will have to repeat the steps in option 2 all over again.

October 12, 2005

Hey, IGN...

Ads don't look disabled to me...

Hey, IGN/Gamespy, I'm a Founder's Club member. Somehow, this doesn't look like ads are disabled to me. What do you think?

October 11, 2005

"gmax" No Longer Available

As of October 6, Autodesk has pulled "gmax" from availability.

For those who don't know, "gmax" was a feature-limited version of "3D Studio MAX" meant for the mod community to use. When you saved an object out in "gmax," it was either saved to an encrypted "gmax" format file, or directly to the supported game.

The thought process behind the creation of "gmax" seems to have been pretty simple...

1. Modders have no money.
2. "3D Studio MAX" costs lots of money.
3. Modders are either pirating "3D Studio MAX" or getting the academic version for pocket change so they can mod.
4. We want to reduce piracy, while increasing usage of "3D Studio MAX."
5. We can't release a file-format compatible version of "MAX," because if we do, normal users will buy one copy of "3D Studio MAX," and then have all their peons use "gmax" instead, so we'll make an incompatible file format.
6. Rather than support the game developers who invest in and use our products, we'll charge developers for the right to distribute "Gamepak" export plugins.

So, what were the issues with this plan?

1. Game developers didn't have any real motivation to support "gmax." By the time the asset pipeline had been fixed, they weren't going to derive any cost savings from using "gmax," and they were going to have to pay for the rights to distribute the "Gamepak" anyway. It was free for them to distribute their own plugins.
2. Users who made kick-ass assets in "gmax" couldn't take them with them into "3D Studio MAX." They either had to export them to a game format and then try to extract them back out using an asset converter, or recreate them from scratch when they did move to "MAX."
3. The pirate users didn't care and still snagged pirated versions of "MAX."

If anyone wants to learn a lesson from this, it's pretty simple. It's one thing to expect a customer to pay for a feature that benefits them. It's another thing to expect a customer to pay for a feature that primarily benefits you.

*cough* Visual Studio Team Edition's MSDN bundle requirement *cough*

Anyway, sorry to see the tool go. The mod communities who were using "gmax" really were doing some amazing things with it...

October 10, 2005

Public IP Address Web Service Available

I've made the public IP address code behind "What IP?" available as an XML web service. If you want to use it, just add a web reference to

Please try to keep your application's access to reasonable levels (fewer than four times an hour.)

Cool Feedmap Feature

I just noticed a really nice feature about Scoble's Feedmap...

1) Go here.

2) Click on the page by the feedmap...not on it.

3) Hover your mouse pointer over the map so you get the Pointing Hand icon.

4) Use your mouse wheel to scroll up and down.

Results: You can scroll into street level, or out to half a state.

Only issue I've found with it is that if you scroll too fast, the scroll command goes to the page instead and your browser window scrolls.

Still, it's cool.

October 8, 2005

New Web Tool: What IP?

I've uploaded a new web tool to "What IP?" tells you what external IP address is being reported for your machine.

Given how often I need to know what IP address I'm coming from, I'm amazed something like this hasn't popped up before...

Update 10/10/05, 1:53pm: After viewing some of the alternatives listed in the comments, I've decided to keep the tool up. It's still one of the smallest pages (byte-wise after total load) out of the multitudes out there, and one that doesn't use pop-up, pop-under or Flash-overlay ads to subsidize it.

That being said, I want to make it more useful, so I'm going to put up an XML Web Service API for it tonight that will let you retrieve all of that information from a client application. I'm also going to add in some components that are currently missing.

October 7, 2005

California, There They Go...

Leland Yee introduced AB 1179 back in February of this year. It was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger today.

Unfortunately, this bill will have several unintended effects for the video game industry.

1) It requires that all games "imported into or distributed in California" to bear a 2"-square black and white "18" on the front if the game meets some vague set of criteria. The criteria is so vague that any jury in California would find almost any game meets this bar, as the state of the player's mind comes into effect when handling the judging.

Unintended side effect: Pretty much any game outside of "Reader Rabbit" needs to be stickered. For example, I love multihopping on turtle shells in "Super Mario Brothers." If I'm doing it to prove my skill, the game is okay. If I'm doing it to mess with the turtle inside the shell, the game needs to be stickered, as per 1746(2)(E).

Unintended side effect: Only retail is affected, so electronic distribution systems like Steam are immune from the effects of this bill, thereby driving adoption of alternate delivery systems in California. Good for us...

Unintended side effect: The ESRB rating system has been given a large "No Confidence" vote by one of the largest states in the Union. Never mind the fact that the games are already labeled for the appropriate age groups, and the new sticker will most likely be placed on top of the ESRB rating...

Unintended side effect: You won't be able to see the front cover of GameBoy Advance or GameBoy DS games.

2) Only owners and store employees with management duties are liable for fines. Sales clerks are immune.

Unintended side effect: If I'm pissed at my manager, I can sell all the stickered games I want to kids and my manager and owner will get the $1,000 fines.

Unintended side effect: This bill encourages everyone to be promoted to a manager so that they'll have a stake in whether or not the stickered titles get sold.

3) You just added a massive weight to the shoulders of several industry giants in your jurisdiction. You think they're going to want to reward that behavior by sticking around? Especially the ones that have locations in other states?

Unintended side effect: Unemployement rate among game developers is going to rise.

4) The state doesn't rate the games. The rating of each game is left to "community standards," which as we all know, range from overly permissive to overly restrictive. A game that needs to be stickered in one town would not need to be stickered in another town.

Unintended side effect: Even if a company does do due diligence and decides that it doesn't need to sticker the game, one community out in Podunk County could decide to proscecute sales of the product anyway. End result: I'm expecting even "Reader Rabbit" to get stickered on the way to California.

In short, Schwarzenegger did the wrong thing. Bad Governator...bad, bad.

Update 10-08-2005, 12:30am: Corrected typo, added one item that was left from the list, two additional side effects.

October 5, 2005

Off-topic: Poker Nickname

I received my first poker nickname today.

According to Wyeth, I am hereby to be known as Captain Chuckles "Hemorrhage" McRandom III, Esq, or just Chuckles McRandom for short.

This is the first semi-legitimate nickname I've received since "RomSteady" back in the Atari 8-bit days. The "rat bastard" and "lucky son-of-a-bitch" nicknames really don't seem to fit...

October 3, 2005

The Downside of Shims

As some of you may know, Microsoft has included a "shim" mechanism in Windows XP.

This mechanism lets Microsoft drop in "compatibility" fixes for older Windows products. Unfortunately, there can be issues.

I've been spending the last week trying to track down a bug in the original "SiN" that only manifests itself on certain configs with Windows XP Home SP2 German Edition. The application crashes on launch. We haven't been able to reproduce this bug internally.

I finally just sent off a copy of "Dependency Walker" to the person experiencing the crash because the address that was being reported for the crash wasn't anywhere near our code. ("Dependency Walker," aka depends.exe is a tool that ships with Visual Studio, but can also be downloaded from the official website.)

I had him open "sin.exe" using File->Open, then had him go Profile->Start Profiling. The next instruction was to make sure that everything was checked, and for him just to hit "OK." After it crashed, I had him save out a .dwi file using File->Save, and had him send me the .dwi file.

Turns out the access violation was occuring in ACGENRAL.DLL, the Application Compatibility manager. It seemed to occur when UXTHEME.DLL was loaded by a second thread.

End result: this is a customer that I can't help. I don't know what ACGENRAL.DLL is doing, so we can't work around it. I can't reproduce the issues locally to try to trace through it. There is literally nothing I can do.

So beware the may not always help.

Quake 4 Gold

Congratulations to Activision and Raven for getting "Quake IV" out the door.

I managed to spend some time with the single player game back at QuakeCon, and they've done a very good job of immersing players in "Quake II" universe. As for the multiplayer, it felt like a refined version of "Quake III: Arena."

Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing what the mod community does with this one. I'd love to see the "Team Arena" role powerups implemented, as well as some large-scale terrain maps for machines that can handle it.

Anyway, I'm picking it up on the day it comes out. I have to have something to torture-test my new machine with.

Update 10-07-2005, 9:55am: Evidently, the "Arena CTF" mode does include "Team Arena" role powerups.

Release Candidate Period for X360 Titles

Just as a gentle reminder to those of you who are working on Xbox 360 launch titles...

If you aren't at least in "release candidate" phase by end of next week, you might be at risk of slipping past launch.

I'm just sayin'...

September 30, 2005

Odd Game Design Story

(Warning: The following post contains descriptions of biological functions. If you believe that anything that is emitted from your body is pure, concentrated evil, then you might want to skip this post.)

I own a lot of games. By a lot, I don’t mean 100 or 200 games. By a lot, I mean over 1,900 games across multiple platforms going all the way back to the Atari 2600. (Storage is a bit of a problem, as you can imagine, but that’s a story for another day.)

My collection has been growing fairly significantly recently, with “We ♥ Katamari,” “Final Fantasy Chronicles,” “Still Life,” “Fable: The Lost Chapters,” and others joining the ranks recently. (What’s scary is that I still have my “Final Fantasy II” Super Nintendo cartridge, bought “FFC” so I could have it for the PS2, and I’ll probably buy it again when it comes out for the GBA this December…)

Anyway, my point is that I own a lot of games. Like most people, I keep gravitating back to a few core titles. What’s really interesting is that the titles I go back to seem to be grouped by their nation of origin.

I play games from America when I feel the urge to decimate my opponents, or feel like a total badass. Games like “Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings” give me that visceral feeling of domination. Games like “Halo” give me that heroic basis that make my experience expand by allowing me to envision life as the savior to Humanity.

I play games from Europe when I want quirky humor, a deeper viewpoint or a skewed viewpoint of life in the United States. “Worms” and “Fable” have a nice, subtle humor to them. “Incubation,” while it possesses an amazing storyline and kickass gameplay, draws me back with the small touches that delve deeper into the characters that I’m assisting. The “Grand Theft Auto” series is the epitome of a skewed viewpoint of how America truly is. “GTA” is to America what Hugh Grant movies are to the U.K. There’s enough of a similarity that you can tell where it’s supposed to be because of the blanket stereotypes, but the natives can tell the difference.

I play Japanese games when I want to do one simple thing better than anything else. “We ♥ Katamari” and “Katamari Damacy” are perfect examples of a simple concept honed to perfection: collect items. “ICO” is a perfect example of the “protect” gameplay mechanic. The “Silent Hill” series is a perfect example of how to instill dread in a player. The “Mario” series is the perfect example of the “run & jump platformer” school, while “Metroid” and “Castlevania” are definition of “exploratory platformer.”

When I play Japanese games, I don’t feel as heroic as I do with games from America, but I do feel more human because I feel like I’m doing something a human would do. The Japanese way of designing games seems to be finding one thing that you enjoy doing, find the fun in it, and design a game around that fun. For example, “Dance Dance Revolution” is designed around the fun associated with dancing. “Metal Gear Solid” is designed around the fun associated with sneaking around.

So I thought I’d give it a try and see if I could design a game the Japanese way. I said to myself that the next time I found myself playing a game in the real world without there really being a game there, I’d design a game around what I was doing at the time.

Flash to two weeks ago when I went out to dinner with my wife. I had to use the restroom, and while I was using the restroom, I noticed a fly on the back of the toilet. So I did what any male would do…I aimed at it, hit it, and felt superior for a moment…and then I realized that not only was the fly painted on the back of the toilet, but I had made a game for myself. So I’m designing a game based off the concept that it’s fun to urinate on things.

It’s actually pretty funny. The psychology of male urination is pretty well known. The restaurant I was in painted the fly on the back of the toilet to encourage people to pee on it. During the winter, men will often go out with their sons and write their names in the snow. Urinal cake holders are made in the shape of targets, or have small targets on them. Some men actually throw cigarette butts or pennies into the urinals so they’ll have a target to aim for.

So, we have our core mechanic: aim and “shoot.” A training level could be a snow bank. Have the player “write their name” to try to accustom themselves to the control. Resource management is already a part of the game. After all, we only have finite size bladders.

Challenges could be as simple as “hit the stationary target,” progress to “hit multiple moving targets,” progress to “don’t cross the streams in the stadium trench toilet,” progress to “put out the fire completely,” and others.

You can add additional challenges to the above by modifying the players abilities based on extenuating circumstances. “You are drunk: your trajectory will wander.” “You are dehydrated: ‘ammunition’ cut in half.” “You are supersaturated: Double ‘ammunition’ but two second max ‘no fire’ time.”

Is it disgusting? Yes. It is quirky? Yes. Is it fun? Not sure yet. I’ve got a base design, but I need to implement it at least at a skeletal level in order to see if it’s fun…which is exactly what I’m going to do. If you don’t like it, well, piss off.

September 29, 2005

Page Views Speak Louder Than Words

I've been trying to decide what direction to take this blog in. I've been trying a variety of different things, between talking about products I've worked on, testing techniques, Managed DirectX code, technical issues, career items, product reviews, etc.

Based off of the page views for the last few months, it looks like the readers here want:

1) More technical information and product analysis. My article on Steam's memory usage is by far the most popular article on the site right now. It's also the number one item on Google if you search for "Steam memory usage".

2) More how-to's. The next biggies are how to fix errors with Microsoft products, specifically Media Player errors, Media Center errors and Portable Media Center errors.

3) More workarounds. My Managed DirectX articles on how to get around certain problems with MDX are the next biggest draws.

4) More stories about the video game industry from the inside.

5) Finally, more humor. I still get a ton of hits on my list of ways to tell you're dating a tester...

Those five areas are going to be my focus over the next few months. You may see less content from me, but the content that you do get from me will be more focused and hopefully higher quality.

Anyway, to the 11,000 of you who visit this site each month, thanks for reading.

September 28, 2005

Test's Most Powerful Weapon

Lots of people think that they know the perfect silver bullet for testing. Some believe that automation is the savior that will reduce testing time to nothing and reduce or eliminate human error. Others believe that in-depth test plans and suites will ensure that no stone is left unturned. Still others believe that only white-box testing will allow the product to advance beyond the Stone Age.

Well, all of those are useful tools, but all are forgetting the most powerful weapon to a test department: a live tester.

True, your automation tests can glide through your product and help ensure nothing has broken, test suites ensure that nothing has been missed in the product and white-box testing helps uncover bugs that would hide for years. But the bugs that you find with these tools cannot compare to the bugs you will find with one intelligent tester just sitting back for 5 minutes and saying, "I wonder what would happen if..."

If you don't have at least a small period of ad-hoc or directed ad-hoc testing on your product per day, you're missing all sorts of wonderful bugs. It could be something as simple as a timing based bug. It could be something as major as an issue requiring a complete architectural overhaul.

In video games, ad-hoc is especially important, because we need our testers to be as abusive as regular gamers are going to be. We need to think, "I wonder what would happen if I abused the weapon physics system to get around massive chunks of the level." We need to think, "I wonder what would happen if I shot that grenade the guy tossed at me in mid-air." We need to think, "I wonder what would happen if I drop this unbreakable crate into this tram that has to move to the end of this railway, and orient it in such a way that when the tram moves forward, the crate collides with the ceiling."

In "Halo 2," you could toss a grenade on the ground, bounce yourself high into the air, and land on top of the buildings so you could run past 30% of the level. The other two are things that came from our ad-hoc testing on "SiN: Episodes."

Fact of the matter is that tools are merely And the end result of using a tool is only as good as the craftsman using the tool.

Let your testers ad-hoc. It refines their skills so when they do more automation testing, they write deeper tests. It hones their instincts so when they run their test suites, they instinctively test into the holes in those suites. It sharpens their intellect so when they do white-box testing, they do more mental checks for invalid inputs while walking through the source.

September 26, 2005

The Great Steam-Powered Experiment, Part 3

Eight minutes. That's how long it took for the game to finish decrypting and download the appropriate files after I restarted the Steam client. Of course, it would have taken less time if it hadn't been downloading the files from Internode in Australia...

So, as for issues...

1) VALVe recycled their Half-Life 2 intro video and as a result, also recycled their copyright date in the intro video. Correct copyright date should be ©2005, since it was released today.

2) It's slightly disturbing when the first item in your main menu is "Report Bug."

Report Bug is first item on menu...

3) Hitting "ESCAPE" in-game goes to the server browser instead of the main menu.

Other than that, not bad...

The Great Steam-Powered Experiment, Part 2

"Day of Defeat: Source" is now available through Steam. As you may recall, I preordered the game back on the 19th so I could experience a pure Steam-only purchase experience, just like people who buy "SiN: Episodes" will encounter later this year.

Unfortunately, I'm at work for another 90 minutes, so I'll be getting a real torture test...I'll be unlocking at the same time as 90% of the people who preordered the game.

I'll post again once that's done and over with.

Off-topic: Agent 86 Signing Off...

Don Adams, probably best known as Agent Maxwell Smart in the TV series and as the voice of Inspector Gadget, "Get Smart," has passed away at the age of 82.

I have a deep-seated respect for comedians who make a living playing the incompetent competent...those who succeed despite doing their best to fail. It takes a lot of character to be able to pull that off.

My best wishes to his family. This is a fan, signing off.

September 22, 2005

Viva La Liberation!

I just got back from Gearbox Software's Liberation party, and I had a good bit of fun...even if I couldn't stay for the entire thing.

They had a nice "Moulin Rouge" rip-off on stage with some fairly attractive ladies (and the token beefcake for the ladies in the audience). They had some extremely expensive finger food that tasted like the fingers that prepared it. They had the trailer for "Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood." They had some high-poly renders of the vehicles they were going to use for their next-gen stuff. They had Mark Rein from Epic Games there plugging Unreal Engine 3. They had free shirts. Enough said.

A lot of the Ensemble guys who had RSVP'ed weren't able to show...something about a well-deserved day of golden slumber...

Anyway, if you're looking forward to "Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood," here's a link to the PC SKU via Amazon:
- Purchase Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood via

Anyway, I'm working on an article related to "We ♥ Katamari." I'm hoping to have that up this weekend. Those who are offended by bodily functions may want to skip that article, however. Consider yourself warned.

September 19, 2005

The Great Steam-Powered Experiment, Part 1

As many of you know, "SiN: Episodes" is going to be released exclusively on Valve Software's Steam electronic distribution system.

Valve is also releasing "Day of Defeat: Source" on Steam this month. So this weekend, I decided to put Steam to the test. I pre-ordered and preloaded "DoD:Steam."

This may seem stupid, but I didn't do this because I like "Day of Defeat." To be honest, I've never played the game...not once. I did this because I wanted to experience a Steam pre-load/pre-order just like our customers for "SiN: Episodes" are going to. And aside from a minor glitch on the credit card number entry screen, it went off without a hitch. The preload was finished in about five hours, and my card will be charged next week.

This release is a true test for Valve. The launch of "Half-Life 2" was marred by issues with Steam authentication. We'll see if history repeats itself, or if Valve has learned the lessons that needed to be learned.

September 14, 2005

Published Yet Again...

Thumbnail of article in (game)land Magazine
I was just noticing that my site and my blog have been getting significantly higher volume than normal, so what do I find? Seapine Software, makers of TestTrack Pro, ran a previous entry from my blog in their September 2005 newsletter.

Well, welcome to the new readers. I hope you find something worthwhile during your visit. Another entry is scheduled for either October or November, but I'm unsure which.

As for why I say I was published yet again, well, I was published in (game)land Magazine in Russia back in July. That article was on the Windows Logo for Games program from Microsoft...a program that I fully back, but fear will fall on deaf ears until Vista ships.

Hell, I'm just glad that QA is finally getting some notice in the software industry. This is a good sign...let's keep it up.

Minor update, 8:45pm: Added links to (game)land Magazine; Seapine Software.

September 13, 2005

"SiN": Did you know... takes five man-days to do a full test pass on just the ABO sections of the original "SiN"?

...that chapter 3 can be skipped entirely?

...that chapter 5 is the most complex chapter, with nine seperate branches and the ability to affect events in chapter 6?

...that Blade was on the front cover of the U.S. release, but Elexis was on the front cover for the European release?

...that "SiN" was one of the first games to receive the "Mature Sexual Themes" ESRB descriptor due to the hidden Easter egg in Janitor Bob's closet?

...that "SiN" was the first ever American property that made the transition to anime?

...that you can buy the original "SiN" for under $2 through, but the expansion pack still costs nearly $25 through the same place?

...that if you're running Windows XP, it's a bad idea to run the DirectX 6 installer on the "SiN" CD?

...the original game shipped with a bug where load times could take up to 40 minutes because it would accidentally load the entire level twice?

...that the silliest line in the game is, "Well, I never liked the Pacific Northwest anyway. Too much fish."?

September 7, 2005

Off-topic: Webcomic Telethon

Webcomic Telethon - September 13-14, 2005
Several web-comic authors, including R.K. Milholland from Something Positive, are throwing an online telethon next Tuesday and Wednesday to benefit the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Just follow the banner above or this text link to go there to either participate, donate or enjoy.

September 6, 2005

Off-topic: Refugee

refugee, n. One who flees in search of refuge.

refuge, n. Protection or shelter, as from danger or hardship.
The Reverend Jesse Jackson has asked that we not call the people who were driven from their homes by Hurricane Katrina "refugees" because he feels that the term has racist overtones.


This is the worst natural disaster to hit the United States in years. Several hundred thousand people (at a minimum) are without homes and income as a result of this storm. These people are having to make a new life for themselves as a result. Several have given up hope of ever returning to their beloved towns due to the extent of the damage and the horrible memories that lie in wait for them should they choose to return.

We called those who survived the tsunami overseas "refugees." It is an accurate term. Why can't we call American citizens who experience a similar tragedy by the same term? A "refugee" is not a second-class citizen...but a closed-minded preacher who believes that terminology is of high importance during these trying times should be.

DirectX, Installers and D3DX

As you may know, I recently upgraded to a new computer. Before getting this computer, I was participating in an NDA beta-test on a different product. (I'd tell you which, but the NDA doesn't expire for a year, so I'm just going to call it "Game X.")

Anyway, the first thing I did on my new machine was install Visual Studio .NET 2003 and the latest DirectX SDK. I received my gold master copy of "Game X" after I got my new machine, and this weekend decided to install it so I could properly stress-test my new machine, as this game really taxed my old box.

The install goes through without any problem, and I tell it to launch the game. I get a "Missing DLL" error, telling me that d3dx_24.dll was not found.

At this point, it hits me like a ton of bricks. A few versions of the SDK ago, the D3DX DLL's were broken out from the main redists so that breaking changes could be made. Unfortunately, that means that any game that uses D3DX needs to either have their installer force the proper version of the DirectX installer to run, or needs to include the D3DX_??.DLL as part of their installed files to their application directory.

So, if you get a game, install it and get a "D3DX_??.DLL" missing error, all you have to do to fix it is to run the DirectX installer on the installation media.

It doesn't surprise me that this wasn't caught either. When we build and test installers, we test on clean machines to make sure that a machine that doesn't have anything is brought up to the point where it can run the game. We don't usually think to test against newer versions of redists...usually because they don't exist when we are doing our testing.

Anyway, my apologies to the "Game X" development team. I E-mailed the beta lead what I found...I hope you haven't pressed too many CD's...

September 2, 2005

Off-Topic: Vacation Day 1

First off, I want to send out a big "thank you" to the staff at AnimeFest for their decision to grant the FEMA crews on hand to handle the Katrina refugees free access to the convention. I saw several support representatives from California and Nevada on the show floor, and it was good to see their spirits lifted slightly before having to go back to support those who were displaced by the worst natural disaster in recent history.

I finally got to meet R.K. Milholland, one of my favorite webcomic authors. Admittedly, his artwork may not win awards, but it still looks a helluva lot better than anything I could make. I'm going to see if I can get him some giveaway stuff this weekend. I did my small part to make his trip financially worthwhile by buying a T-shirt.

I tried to manage my money much more efficiently at this con. Half of the money I was going to use at this con I donated to the Red Cross. Even so, I managed to get quite a bit for a small amount of money. I got a pack of "Noir" playing cards, a full set of "Neon Genesis Evangelion" capsule figures, some "Excel Saga" merchandise, I won a DVD from Funimation, my alias done in Chinese calligraphy, and I got a really cute "Serial Experiments: Lain" figurine. All that for under $30.

Anyway, we're going back tomorrow morning, and we'll stick around through the AMV awards. Yvonne wants to go in on Sunday to see if she can get the autograph of Nabeshin (Shinichiro Watanabe), but I intend to spend the rest of the time polishing up my Managed DirectX game. Anyway, back to work...

September 1, 2005

Off-Topic: I Lost It Tonight...

I feel embarrassed, but vindicated tonight. I'll explain, but my explanation is going to ramble a bit, so please forgive me.

First, it seems like the population of Dallas has doubled overnight with an influx of people from the disaster areas along the Gulf Coast. I started seeing the refugees this morning, and it's a very striking sight. Most of them seem to be walking around in a state of shock, as if they had just seen the wrath of God and lived to tell the tale.

Second, I gave up on giving money to panhandlers about four years ago back when I was working at Microsoft. I gave up because I found that a panhandler who I often saw in Salt Lake City begging for change outside of Temple Square happened to live in and pay for a $235,000 home in Ogden just down the street from me with the money he earned from panhandling. Since then, I donate to support organizations like the American Red Cross (link to donation page), and to local organizations dedicated to helping those in need. If I see someone in need, I'll help by buying them a meal or some food or a blanket...but I won't give money any more.

Third, there is a panhandler that comes out every night near the West End DART Station. He hit me up for the first time about three months ago. He said he had just gotten in via Greyhound from Oklaholma and was out of cash. He asked for a buck so he could get a Big Mac at the McDonald's two blocks away. I said, "You want food?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Okay, let's go." He quickly stammered, "Well, can I just get the cash?" I said, "Nope," flipped the bozo bit, and proceeded to ignore him. Since then, he's hit me up at least twice a week with the same story. Usually, I just ignore him.

Tonight was different, though. He came up to me and told me that he'd just gotten in from New Orleans. I didn't let him finish his spiel. I ripped into him for exploiting their tragedy for his own benefit. I literally yelled at him until I was hoarse. For five minutes, I slowly edged him away from the station while I vented all of my frustration on those who would exploit the kindness of others. I finally told him that if I ever saw him again, I would have him arrested for fraud and panhandling and he ran like crazy.

I will gladly help those who need help. Today, I donated $100 to the American Red Cross. It was all I could afford, but it was a start. That money could feed a Katrina refugee for a week.

If you want to help those whose lives were ruined by Katrina, donate to the American Red Cross. Don't fall prey to those who would exploit this tragedy for their own purposes. Put your money where it will do the most good.

Off-Topic: The Weekend

Well, I was here at the office until 11:45pm last night trying to get a build out. Finally succeeded, so I'm going to be taking the next four days off.

So what are my plans? At least two days this weekend will be spent at Anime Fest at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Dallas...assuming that the Regency doesn't get turned into a refugee center like the American Airlines Center has in Downtown Dallas.

I plan on spending one day getting caught up on my game backlog. I still need to finish "Clock Tower 3" and "Fatal Frame." I haven't even started "Still Life" yet.

Finally, I want to spend one day getting my own little skunkworks Managed DirectX project polished enough to show to the guys here at Ritual. Let's just say that there is more than one way to fight a mutagen...

August 29, 2005

The Caffeine Thunder Rolls...

As we approach gameplay complete in "SiN: Episodes" and milestone submissions on our other products, it quickly becomes apparent that it would be nice if sleep was optional rather than required.

I've worked on multiple products before, but this has been insane. We've got three major projects that are sapping my time, one of which spans three platforms. There's another project coming down the pike that's going to require at least two weeks of concentrated testing efforts to stabilize...and that has to be done extremely quickly.

In short, the end of a single testing cycle saps your cycles beyond anything imaginable. Stack all of these projects on top of each other...well, imagine shoveling six feet of snow with a measuring spoon.

Thank Bob for caffeine...

August 28, 2005

MSN Desktop Search Anti-VB Bias?

This is just a side note, but I find it rather telling that the MSN Desktop Search team indexes every single source-file extension from Visual Studio .NET by default except for .vb (Visual Basic.NET).

Of course, VBScript files (.vbs) do get indexed...go figure.

August 23, 2005


One of the shining gems of the online game development world, flipcode, has decided to shut down. The articles are remaining online, and the forums will soon be up as read-only, but that's one more site down the drain.

It's too bad, too. While is an excellent site, the experienced-to-newbie ratio there is a bit skewed. At flipcode, there may have been a smaller user base, but the experience level over there was significantly higher.

Anyway, best of luck to Kurt on all of his future endeavors.

She's Home...

After 24 hours and 10 minutes in the emergency room, my wife is home.

It's always comforting when the doctor's comments on discharge are: "It's obvious that something is wrong with you, but I'll be damned if I know what it is."

Gee, thanks.

August 22, 2005

Wife In Hospital

I'll keep this brief. My wife just got back from a five-day trip to Utah this morning. This evening, she's in the hospital under "observation."

Unfortunately, it's rather serious. I'm not going to go into details, but if this blog goes dark for a couple of weeks, you'll know why.

August 21, 2005

"Hidden" Hardware Features

Yesterday, I was talking about the kind of stuff that made building your own machine today just not worthwhile.

Today, Adrian's RojakPot is reporting that some ASUS motherboards are secretly overclocking their processors. (Thanks to Hard|OCP for the heads-up.)

See, if I can't rely on getting reliable information about what my hardware is doing, how the hell can I make sure that all of my hardware is going to work well together? Do I really have to worry about if my video card is trying to pull an extra tenth of a volt, or if my motherboard is secretly overclocking, or if my mouse doesn't fully support the USB HID standard and spikes itself upwards once every 119 seconds, or if my USB keydrive silently installs drivers? Not just no, but HELL NO!

If I have a choice between getting a system that I know works, and a system that runs 1-2% faster, but might work...I'm going for the one I know will function appropriately.

Look at PC's today like they're cars. The vast majority of people want a vehicle that will take them from point A to point B. Some will want to trick their cars out. Still others want to mix and match ("Hey, I dropped a Ford in my Chevy.") For each step you take away from stock, the risk of failure increases exponentially. For the last step (mixing manufacturers), you are combining parts that were never meant to work together. You may get an extra 50 miles per hour, but is it worth the chance that the cars going to explode under your ass?

Likewise, I may only be getting 98% of my potential framerate, but I can rest easy in the knowledge that my system isn't going to reboot in the middle of a vicious tournament because in one frame, the video card decided it needed a little bit more juice and the BIOS PC Health power meters flipped out. And given how many times that has happened to me, the 2% framerate hit is a sacrifice I'm willing to take.

August 20, 2005

New Computer On The Way

I just finished placing my order for a new desktop computer.

This one is rather notable for me for several reasons. I'm not building this computer. Aside from my speakers, I'm using absolutely nothing from my current computer on it. I'm going back to Intel processors. I'm getting a dual-core system. I'm getting a flat-screen monitor. I actually got a warranty. Finally, I ordered it online from Dell.

Over the last two years since I built my last PC, I've come to realize that it just isn't worth the hassle to build your own computer anymore. Sure, you may save a buck or two, but is it really worth the extra hassle and time? Is it worth having to worry about "Did I accidentally buy grey-market?" Is it worth having to handle your own warranty service when for some of these companies, "lifetime" means "the lifetime of that product line, which we discontinued three months ago?" Is it worth the hours and hours of aggravation trying to find out why your PC won't work when it just so happens that there is a undocumented-but-known-to-five-people incompatibility between your video card and your motherboard because your video card wants to draw an extra tenth of a volt and your motherboard refuses to allow it?

Are there things I don't like? Sure. I don't like having to pay extra for the installation media for my operating system. I don't like that my PC is going to come with a whole ton of pre-installed software that I'm going to have to spend some time uninstalling (although some of this preinstalled software did subsidize my machine in order to get it at a low price) and the way I had to order it to get the price did not allow me to not have it installed. I don't like that I didn't have the option to "opt-out" of the 15-month subscription to McAfee's SecurityCenter...given that I already have it. And I just think it's cocky for them to put "Award Winning Service and Support" as a line item on their receipts.

But all in all, the savings in time and effort will be worth it to me, and that's all that really matters.

August 18, 2005

You Can Make It, But You Can't Buy It

According to, U.S. Representative Chris Bell is planning on running for Governor of Texas in 2006. One of his major platforms is said to be to "ban violent video games."

Well, I can look at this one of two ways: as a voter or as an employee of the video game industry. Let's look at it both ways just to be clear.

As a voter, I will not tolerate further encroachments of my rights under the First Amendment. If you want to mandate ID checks to purchase M- and AO-rated games, that's one thing and I would fully support such a bill, but if you want to keep those games away from the citizens of Texas, then you're obviously not going to get my vote.

As an employee in the video game industry, I just want to point out that Texas is home to several dozen companies who make the very titles you want banned, including id, Gearbox, Ritual, and others. id Software alone has brought over one billion dollars to the Texas economy.

If you think that these companies are going to stay in Texas if you ban their products from being sold, you are sorely mistaken.

If you want valid issues for Texas, there are plenty. You can try to address how local school boards are more concerned over politics and property taxes than they are about teaching students. You can try to address increasing corruption of elected officials at the local government level. You can try to help curb the increasing amounts of debt that are burying Texas families.

...Or you can continue on this path and lose several billion in income in the state and make Texas seem like more of a "hick" state than it already does.

August 16, 2005

Quote of the Night

"What kind of company are we when the tester has to tell us that the table is on fire?"

I am never going to forget that moment.

August 15, 2005

Geek Birthday

Well, tomorrow my lifetime counter will completely fill five bits of space. While I've had an enjoyable time at 1E, I think that 1F will be a rewarding experience.

Of course, that means that in 16D days, I'll be 20. Starting a new bit is always a challenge. You find that areas where you would fit at four or five bits, you no longer fit. You also find hardware that came online when you initially hit five bits start to fail on an increasingly alarming basis.

My wife has been six bits for quite awhile now. Perhaps I'll find it easier to interface with her soon, since we won't have to go through a thunking layer to communicate. I already recognize that I'm having issues communicating with those who are in the three- to four-bit range.

My goal is to completely fill seven bits. I realize that it's a lofty goal, and I realize that while trying to reach it, I may encounter The Great Overflow Bit, but all that will mean is that I'm being paged out until my space is needed again. Of course, knowing how I've lived, I'll probably be garbage collected instead...

Off-Topic: "Ai Yori Aoshi" Ends

I just found out this morning that the final Japanese magazine installment of "Ai Yori Aoshi" will run on August 26.

I own the first nine volumes of the American translation of the manga and both seasons of the television series. I really enjoyed "AYA" compared to other harem series due to the gradual evolution of the characters, the relationships between the main characters, the down-to-earth "slice-of-life" settings and plots, and the fan-service didn't hurt either. [grin]

I wish Kou Fumizuki the best of luck with his future endeavors, and while I'm sad to see the series end and I don't want to say "good-bye" to these characters, I look forward to reading the ending.

August 12, 2005

QuakeCon Oddity

I went to QuakeCon for a little while this evening and had a wonderful time, but I had one extremely odd moment that I think personifies the recent ESRB debate perfectly.

I was checking out some of the custom cases in the BYOC area (some were rather amazing), when I bumped into a small child. I turned around, and saw a 6-year-old girl. I apologized for bumping into her, and she challenged me to a 1-on-1 tourney match in "Quake III: Arena."

Never mind that this child is 11 years too young for the game as rated, but the way she challenged me told me she'd been playing online for awhile. I asked her why she wanted to play me, and she said so she could "smack my bitch-ass down." Her mother then came over, took her by the shoulder, and told her, "Don't be mean to the nice man."

So you can blame the developers, or you can blame the store clerks, or you can blame the publishers, or you can blame anyone you want for "M"-rated titles being in the hands of children. Personally, I'm going to blame the mother of a 6-year-old girl who not only bought her daughter a copy of "Quake III: Arena," but also allowed her to play online and then went so far as to pay for her admission and escort her to a LAN party dedicated to an "M"-rated title.

Mind you, I'd much rather a child play "Quake III: Arena" than "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" anyday, but that was a bit too surreal of an experience for me.

My "Hot Coffee" Theory Vindicated

Remember when I said that "Hot Coffee" probably wasn't removed from "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" because the code and/or assets were being used elsewhere?

It's great to be shown you were right (at least on the assets side of things). Evidently, the skeletal animation files for the oral scene are used in the background of some other scene in the game.

In other words, the animations were accessible without any codes being entered or modifications to game files, but the code for the mini-game (where you are controlling the act instead of viewing the act) was not.

August 11, 2005

FMOD Ex Announced

I can't believe that I missed this announcement, especially after seeing in in action back at GameFest...Firelight Technnologies has released FMOD Ex (aka FMOD 4).

Personally, I think it's an amazing set of audio libraries. On the managed front, it now ships with official managed interfaces (VB.NET/C#). The library has been restructured completely to make it even easier to use. The FMOD Designer tool is a dream, and the CPU usage is incredibly small, even on the Xbox 360.

So if you're looking for a great affordable library for your commercial product, or a free sound library for your personal use, go check it out.

Off-Topic: QA Should Not Be Limited To Software

For example, take this from a delivery menu:
Free Delivery For Orders Of 10 Or More Within 10 MILF Radius
(Click To Enlarge)

Um, a 10-MILF radius is rather small...maybe 20 feet on the far outside...unless they're lying head-to-toe...

August 6, 2005

How To Handle Jack Thompson

No matter if the film is banned, the most important thing is believing in it.
-Wong Kar Wai, Hong Kong-born Chinese film director (source)
Every new media over the ages has had their share of critics. Video games are no exception.

We happen to have an extremely vocal critic, Jack Thompson. Mr. Thompson has a record of trying to blame nearly everything that he can on video games.

I don't know what his motives are. It could be that he believes that video games are for children only, and he does not really believe that adults play them. It could be that he believes that since the military uses video games as training for soldiers, that it "proves" that video games train children to be violent and gives them no choice but to be violent criminals, even though that belief flies against evidence from the United States Government (link to UK document referencing US statistics). Even judges don't buy that one.

Regardless, his recent success with "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" has emboldened him. Admittedly, Rockstar created the content and accidentally left it on the media, and Take 2 Interactive and modders are the big losers in the end, but his drive brought the issue to the public eye and we all have to suffer for it.

Since then, he's made even more wild accusations, among them claiming that there are hidden sex scenes in "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" (they aren't hidden, they are part of the storyline), and that there are anatomically correct models underneath the blurs in "The Sims 2" (of course, they're just like Barbie in that respect...neither have genitals).

Now GameSpot is reporting that he is getting death threats. As much as I wish I could consider this to be more of his idiocy, I believe that he really is getting death threats. After all, I've gotten death threats in the past because a person's newspaper was twelve minutes late (no joke). He's threatening people's recreation, people's jobs and to be dead honest, his points of view are leading to a McCarthyist rally against video games.

A few of you may have heard something about this little document called "The Bill of Rights." It's a set of ten amendments to the United States Constitution that give all American citizens a certain set of rights. The First Amendment is fairly simple.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
It's pretty straight forward. Over the years, the courts have whittled away at this amendment, however. For example, in 1896 the Supreme Court decided to restrict speech that was deemed obscene.

Even with those restrictions, the Courts generally try to allow us to express ourselves freely. And I'm sure that most Americans would recognize that I may not agree or approve of Jack Thompson's points of view, I must defend his right to express them as an American citizen. (Apologies to Voltaire's paraphraser...)

Likewise, I'm free to express my opinion that the man is generally full of shit. The man usually refers to studies that have been debunked and/or discredited by the scientific community and to studies that have been found by courts to lack sufficient evidence to back them. He participates in personal attacks on individuals who express themselves rather than try to debate arguments on their merits. (Remember kids, an ad hominem attack is about as effective as TK'ing your team in Counter-Strike.) He even threatens cartoonists who do unflattering portrayals of him. (Personally, I think Hillary has a much better case than he does...)

Regardless of his logical or moral failings, threatening to kill him is not the proper way to handle this crackpot. All it does is lend credence to his opinions. Threatening to kill him has the same effect that Microsoft bombing a Linux convention would makes him stronger. So if you want to counter Jack Thompson, the best way to handle it is to beat him at his own game, so to speak.

To start, use proper grammar, spelling, punctuation and capitalization in your sentences. Given the quality of his E-mails sent to Scott Ramsoomair, it's already a step in the right direction.

Second, think for a second about what you want to say and how you are going to say it rather than posting the first thought that comes to your mind like the average Slashdot poster. You need to think out logical arguments. Find evidence and link to it.

Third, write to your representatives and senators. Show them that they have constituants who are gamers and voters. If you don't stand up for your rights, he's already won.

You may have noticed that there isn't much fun in the above, and it's true. Standing up for your rights is rarely fun, but often rewarding.

Look at it this way. To defend our games, we must set down our game controllers and go back to the written word. So let our words be our weapons and let's Zork this son of a bitch.

August 5, 2005

Press Release Faux-Pas

This afternoon, JoWooD announced that they were terminating production of "Stargate SG-1: The Alliance™."

A game being cancelled is not the issue here. Games are cancelled quite often. Most games are cancelled before they are even announced.

What is the issue here is that JoWooD then proceeded to essentially ream the developer up one side and down the other.
“The title in its current form, initially scheduled for an October 2005 release, does satisfy neither our quality requirements nor the fans expectations. We will not release anything that does not do justice to this well known license” says Albert Seidl, CEO JoWooD Productions Software AG. “In recent months we have invested a lot of time and resources in helping Perception finish the development, but we now simply have lost confidence in their ability to finish this project in time and sufficient quality.”
Following the termination JoWooD has asked for repayment of their investment in development and further expenses.
According to our reading of the contract the rights to the title as well as the source code are transferred to JoWooD“. After delivery of the code and assets JoWooD will review the possibility of seeking out developers if it is economically viable to finish the title” reports Michael Paeck, Executive Producer for JoWooD Productions Software AG. “We are, however, not prepared to release anything but a top quality title. Fans of the show as well as gamers would not accept anything less. There are several options to consider, among them potentially moving to next-gen consoles for the title.”
This press release looks like it was written by someone who took a press relations course from Derek Smart. In it, they first announce that they are severing the relationship with the company. Then, they bad-mouth the work done by the company. Finally, they announce that they are making legal demands of the company.

If you are making legal maneuvers, please try to keep them out of your press releases unless you are required to by disclosure laws. This press release reads like an attempt to appease an angry mob of investors at the doors.

Had the slams against Perception been kept out of the press release, these issues could have been settled amicably out of the public eye. Now, having Perception on a resume could be seen by some as a black mark. Fans are upset at both Perception and JoWooD. They're upset at Perception for potentially destroying a possibly lucrative franchise. They're upset at JoWooD for publicly flexing their muscle with this title when they didn't with Söldner. They're upset with MGM Interactive for giving the license to a company with a poor track record of delivering quality releases. The anger would still be there had the announcement been shorter, but it would be much more subdued.

So remember kids, public relations is hard work. A good rule of thumb: don't say anything in a press release that you wouldn't say to a man with a shotgun to your forehead.

...and that's one to grow on.

QotW: T&A vs. B&G (Mature Subject Matter, Language)

Every week, I do a "Question of the Week" over at Ritual's fansite, Ritualistic. However, I get a very specialized audience over there...people who are already fans of Ritual products.

So, I'm going to start doing the questions here as well as there to get a wider audience. Plus, I'm going to do them here a few days before I do them on Ritualistic so I can work out any problems with the question itself.

So, here's next weeks "Question of the Week":
"SiN: Episodes" is most likely going to be rated "M" for Mature by the ESRB. As with all "M"-rated titles, it's a balancing act. You can have trememdous amounts of blood and gore, and get an "M". You can have tons of raunchy humor and graphics and still get an "M". After all, the "M" rating is the gaming equivalent of an "R". However, if you go too far combining the two, you can bump yourself up into "AO" range (the game equivalent of an "NC-17" or "X" rating.)

So if you had to choose, which would you want in your game: excessive blood and gore, or excessive sensuality?

Would you rather have a topless woman, or the ability to remove the top half of an enemy? Gibs or tits? Guts or bush?

You decide.

August 1, 2005

Off-Topic: Full Disclosure

In the interest of full disclosure:

Last month, I earned a total of $2.01 via Google AdWords ads placed on this blog.

To date, I have earned $23.56 from ads placed on this blog.

I have earned an average of $2.14 per month I have been on the AdWords program.

Since it seems that it will be ~35 months before I receive a check from Google, I am not seeing this site as a financial conflict of interest. [grin]

July 31, 2005

Off-Topic: Types of Poker Players Online

Lately, I've been playing a lot of poker online. Usually, I play at, but I can also be caught at (Sorry, guys, free tables only.)

Mostly, I play to relax. I also play to practice for when we play at lunch at work. However, I've noticed a few common types of online poker players. See if you can spot yourself in this catalog...

"All-In" without a clue. These people see people go "All-In" with crap hands on TV, so in their first hands at the table, they go "All-In" with a 7-2 off-suit and lose. Generally, I find every table has anywhere from one to four of these Darwin-award winners.

"All=In" with a purpose. These people prey on the "All-In"-without-a-clue crowd. If they've got a semi-decent hand, they'll go "All-In" on the first hand to get a lot of chips. If they win, great. They can bully the rest of the table because they've doubled-up on the first hand. If they lose,'s only play money.

Lights on, but nobody's home. These guys know that mathematically, they can fold every hand and end up in the top half of the table. So, they intentionally start the round and then let themselves time-out or set themselves to auto-checkfold until the round gets interesting. Some poker sites, like, have means of handling these geniuses. Others, like, do not.

Racist. It doesn't matter who you're beating, as long as you think they are from an ethnic group you don't like. I was playing a game tonight on where one player (IrishPiratex) was calling everyone "a *&#($ Jew" who beat them. Another player (x bacon) started retorting with anti-Irish propaganda. I was in the money, but I intentionally played to lose so I wouldn't have to put up with their bullshit anymore.

The beggars. These guys hang out in the lobbies of the pay room, begging for vouchers so they can either start or continue playing. No offense, but if you're begging for money so you can play virtual poker, perhaps you should be going to a different site.

Kids. Some, like "x bacon", readily admit they aren't old enough to be on the site. Others simply act like kids. Generally, I assume everyone's 30 and subtract two years from their age for every typo I see in their chat, and add two years for every piece of punctuation they use correctly and every capital letter. It's been amazingly accurate for me so far...

People who are actually interested in playing poker. This happens to be the smallest group, unfortunately.

Frankly, I'm sick and tired of 99% of the people I see on these sites. I'm half-tempted to throw together my own poker site with one limitation...invitation only. So, if you're reading this, what would you think of an "Invite-Only" poker site? Think "Orkut for poker..."

July 29, 2005

Testing "Source"

As is probably well-known by now, Ritual is using the "Source" engine for their next title, "SiN: Episodes."

"Source" is an amazingly flexible engine to code for, and offers tons of options for level designers. The design of the engine encourages the development of emergent gameplay. Through the creation of simple sets of behavior, and occasionally some room-specific behaviors, you create a much deeper experience.

There is one issue, however, and that is trying to properly test games written using this engine. A lot of the engine is non-deterministic. I can shoot an object in the exact same place multiple times and get slightly different physics reactions. All of the reactions are "correct," but it does make it a challenge to make sure that all of the physics puzzles work correctly. AI happens the same way. We may have five seperate AI attached to a trigger, and the order they activate off the trigger will differ every time.

While this adds rather significantly to replayability, it does make testing a much more complex issue.

I'm trying to be very intelligent about how I test "SiN: Episodes." I'm writing tools to extract out the triggers from the levels so I can check them off during my test passes. I'm checking areas in "Half-Life 2" where it is very possible to break the game (like your battle with the helicopter, or when you're playing ball with Dog) to make sure we don't have similar flaws in "S:E."

...But I can only do so much. I don't often ask for specific readers, but I figure that I'm getting to be high enough profile in my field that I can try at least.

If you or someone you know worked in test on either "Half-Life 2" or the "Source"-engine "Vampire" title, can you have them contact me? My E-mail address is at the bottom of this page. I want to see if they have any tips on ways to optimize my testing for the time I have allotted for the project.

July 24, 2005

E-mail Slash & Burn

As part of my backup and data spring-cleaning exercise, I decided to do a major purge of my E-mail at home today.

When I started, I had nearly 1,500 unread E-mails. That's an insane amount, to be dead honest with you. So, I created a couple of backup buckets on my local box, and started dumping mail.

High-traffic mailing list I read on occasion? Cut.

Any unread mail over 30 days old? Cut.

Ads that made it through the spam filter? Cut.

E-mail copies of blog feedback? Cut.

After nearly four hours of slashing and burning, I'm down to a nice, manageable 89 messages. Hopefully I can get to those tomorrow evening...

If you sent me an E-mail and require a response, please resend your E-mail to be safe. It may have accidentally been "purged."

Tomorrow, if all goes well, I'll be able to do the same thing. I'm bumping up against my mailbox size limit at work. Unfortunately, I can't be as cavalier about deleting work E-mails. As the QA Manager, I need to retain a lot of information. Guess it's time for Personal Folders...and sleep.

July 23, 2005

Time's Not On My Side...

You ever have a computer that you just know will have a hardware failure any day now? I've got one.

I bought this computer back when I was at Microsoft. It's an AMD Athlon 2600+, 1Gb RAM, a terabyte of HD space, and a Radeon 9200 All-In-Wonder. It's served me well, but I could feel the failure coming back when I bought my Radeon 9700 to replace a failing GeForce Ti200 and it kept causing the system to reboot. Even with a new power supply, this system could not handle that card.

Well, it's now rebooting itself at least once every three days. Given the "generic" nature of the Windows "Watson" error, I know the hardware is going to go.

So I'm currently in middle of the monotonous process of backing up mission-critical files to DVD. I've done seven DVD's today, and am midway through the eighth. What's scary is that I'm still in the same folder, and I'm only up to the P's.

Since my granddaughter is coming down for a month, I don't have the cash to replace it now. I won't be able to replace it until September.

Now it's the waiting game. Personally, I'm expecting it to fail on August 16, 2005. (Things like this are more "fun" when you draw a line in the sand.) If it does go, I'll be dark for a little while.

July 22, 2005

"Tray and Play" Request

One of Microsoft's upcoming initiatives in the "Windows Vista" timeframe is a program called "Tray and Play." (GameSpot article from March here)

Personally, I'm okay with it. However, there is one tool that I'd love to get to help with this initiative that I don't see coming down the pike any time soon.

If you've ever developed a title for the Xbox, you may be familiar with their DVD emulation hardware/software combination. You create a folder on your hard drive with the build, "emulate" the DVD drive, play the game for a bit, and then optimize the build based off of the order in which files are accessed on the DVD.

The biggest problem with "Tray and Play" right now is that with most of the CD and DVD mastering packages that are available, we do not have the ability to tell the package which layer to put the files on, or which order to put them in. As a result, games loading off of the CD/DVD may have to seek from one end to the other and back on a regular basis. Load time performance really suffers.

If you want "Tray and Play" to succeed, give us a tool similar to that for the PC. Have it spit out a project file and an ISO image at the end.

I know it's not the easiest thing to do, but you already have a large chunk of the work already done. (Ignore the blog spam at the bottom of that link.)

July 21, 2005

My Take On "Hot Coffee," Part 2

Yesterday, I made a post about why I believed that the code and assets required for the "Hot Coffee" mod may have inadvertently made it onto the "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" master.

Today, I want to briefly address the ESRB, and say what I think could have stopped most of this uproar dead in its more public.

This is not the first time that the ESRB has revoked and re-rated a title, although by looking at the news, you'd think it was. I have first-hand knowledge of a title that had their "Teen" rating revoked after a cheat code that enabled "excessive blood and gore" was found for their game.

The publisher of this title had to do many of the things that Rockstar is now claiming that they are doing voluntarily: sticker all units in the channel with the new "Mature" rating, remaster with the code removed, release a patch that removed the code, etc. The publisher also had to pay a fairly hefty fee to the ESRB. Once all that was done, however, the publisher was able to apply to have the "Teen" rating restored, and it was.

However, you most likely have never heard about this. There are many non-disclosure agreements in place in this industry, and some are designed to keep things like this that are believed to affect sales quiet. The only evidence you may find are some reviews that were published while the product was still rated "Mature."

So it's time for the veil of secrecy to end. The ESRB should publicize actions like this to show that they are being effective. If enforcement is more visible, violations are less likely to occur.

Right now, studies show that 83% of parents agree with the ESRB ratings on titles. You can't even get 83% of parents to agree on a proper means of discipline. The ESRB system works. Now it just needs to be open.

July 20, 2005

My Take On "Hot Coffee"

I've been pretty quiet about all this uproar about the "Hot Coffee" modification for "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" because I've got friends who work for Take Two, but now that the recall petitions are out, I figure it's time to say what I think.

Developing video games is hard. Not only do we have to make a product that works, we also have to make a product that is fun, a product that will get the appropriate rating for our target market from the ESRB, a product that is acceptable to our publishers (well, we get to bypass that with SiN: Episodes...he he he), and a product that we are proud of at the end of the day.

A large part of game development is prototyping. That's when you're tossing new things into a product in a skeletal manner to see if it will add to the final product. This process often goes up until just a few weeks before a product goes "gold".

Sometimes, the features are cut but the files and code remain in the product. Why? Because developers don't want to introduce new bugs by pruning out older stuff.

Let me give you an example. Let's say that a developer prototypes a bike-tire-pumping minigame. The developer decides it should be a rhythm game, so he develops a rhythm system in the game, adds some placeholder animations and textures, and gets the minigame approved.

At this point, a few things are going to happen. Other developers are going to look at the helper functions and systems that this developer put in to see if they can build on top of what he has. Artists are going to replace the placeholder art with real art assets. These assets may be exclusive to this minigame, or these assets could be shared with other portions of the game.

After a couple of weeks of work, the programmer's system is used by several other developer's code, and the art is used in many other areas throughout the product. Suddenly, a note comes down from the publisher asking that the bike-pumping minigame be cut. Evidently, some kid in Arkansas stuck a bike pump in his ear and pumped so hard that brains shot out the kid's nose, so the feature is being cut to be more sensitive to consumers in Arkansas.

So how do you cut this feature out? The feature is there and works, other code is reliant on it, the art is used in other sections of the game, what do you do? The safest bet is to just make it so that the minigame is never called by the main game. That way, you aren't interfering with code or art.

This is most likely what happened with "GTA:SA." Most games have hidden features in them. Admittedly, very few are sex games. Some are unfinished levels or test levels. Some are hidden characters. Some include unauthorized copies of "South Park" clips. Most of the time, only a game's die-hard fans care.

Now is the ESRB responsible for this? Nope. The feature can only be accessed by modifying a game file. Admittedly, it's only modifying a single byte, but it's still a modification. I'm sure if you modified a single byte in a couple of "The Simpson's" titles, you'd get Homer screaming, "Fuck you, Flanders!" The ESRB can only really review titles as they ship. Now, if the feature could be unlocked somehow within the game, like the "chunky" and "superchunky" codes were in Dungeon Siege, then the ESRB could easily do something. As is, we'll have to be patient to see what the ESRB does.

Update (7/20/2005, 4:59pm): An AO rating. Not surprising.
Update (7/20/2005, 10:44pm): Corrected a typo, responded to feedback in comments section.