Reflections

It’s MSPoll time here – the time at which the ‘softies get to tell the bosses way up the org chart how they’re feeling.


Those looking for a mini-msft style discourse here will be disappointed; I did use Mini’s advice, though, and use at least the period of the survey for some reflection.


There’s a bunch of stuff happening with my role that means that it’s frankly not as appealing as it once was. Don’t get me wrong – I love this job, I just can’t see myself doing it three years from now.


When first I got here, I was superboy. An agent for change. That Crazy Guy. No problem was insurmountable, no task too big to take on. But I think my edge dulled over time. Maybe I got more political, or just barnacular. Actually, my new team might still think I’m crazy, but probably in a creepy, sinister sort of way rather than a loud, happily obnoxious kind of way. Maybe both on a good day.


For so long now, I’ve been defined by my role, and that’s the yardstick by which other humans are judged; I haven’t been doing a job so much as living it. In the Good Old Days, there was a palpable, visceral thrill to doing what I do, amplified by the thrill of doing it for Microsoft.


But at the end of the day, I have to be doing this for me.


Two poignant posts:



Yeah, I’m going somewhere with this – to save you the suspense (I know, I’m a crappy writer), I’m not quitting. I’m thinking of moving out.


Pros:



  • Control of the server (hackability!)
  • More content flexibility

Cons:



  • Paying for the server (my DSL connection isn’t stable enough to self-host)
  • Loss of mothership air cover

My ideal model is something like Rory’s, only with fewer comics, less humour and no actual skill per se. I’m an argumentative, happily angrily loudly obnoxiously distracted person that tends to swear more than is necessary in real life*, but by golly gosh, I have enough passion for two and a half small-to-mid-sized quiet, book-reading people; I want to channel some of that passion into something I own.


So, ebtdf.com (.ingsoon)…?


* (ooh, an actual asterisk with note) er, when you get to know me; I’m otherwise painfully shy and private.

Thanks Chuckie P.

It’s a Saturday night, so naturally I’m catching up on thousands of unread blog posts while my girlfriend subjects herself to Return of the Jedi.


Charles “Chuckie P”* Petzold (the famous XAML rapper) made a very interesting update on Microsoft’s CSAML C-sharp programming innovations at some point in the last month (some might say a key point).


Somewhere around the example “A = 5 * (B + 27 * C);” translated into CSAML, the penny dropped.


Note to long-time readers expecting some level of verbal abuse from me: The title for this post was either going to be “Thanks Chuck” or somewhat more precisely “Damn you, Petzold! Daaaaamn yooouuu!”.

(Unwelcome) Realism in Games

Tycho (linked page contains harsh language) expands on something I’ve been unhappy about for years – my emphasis in bold:



I was interested to read an interview with the man who designed Lara Croft, where he makes it clear that their Tomb Raidin’ gameplay – which is to say, the enclosed subterranean holes we associate most directly with the series – was largely a function of technology limitations. I found this fascinating. As hardware increased in power, what it actually enabled them to do was create spaces that felt less and less authentic to Tomb Raider fans!  The limitations themselves helped to create what we think of as “classic” gameplay, here and elsewhere.


That’s a sentiment I’ll wistfully echo. See, there was this game, once. And I got really, really fond of it. But then… it changed.


Now, I’m not actually unhappy about Tomb Raider per se – sure, I was an original Tomb Raider fam that thought the rest sucked, put bluntly – but I’m still unhappy about Descent 3.


More Better Fasterer Opener!


It sounded so good on paper: Detailed and varied environments that weren’t built purely from concave cubes! For the first time, fly outside the mines across actual landscapes! New weapons!


But the mines were the heart of Descent. Sure, the robots had character (and in many cases were a manifestation of evil intelligence so pure that Doom would be hard-pressed to better it), and the mines were blocky, but it all contributed to the air of claustrophobia and machine domination.


Santa Claustrophobia?


The tantalizing glimpse of a planet surface as your Pyro spacecraft exited a mine, the mine exploding around you was akin to the sensation of breathing for the first time after being submerged for far too long.


Same thing: when rapidly traversing a particularly labyrinthine section of octopoidal tunnel and bursting into a cavernous area, thinking for a couple of seconds that you were safe, and then… the walls opened, or the robots quietly slipped out from behind a really-difficult-to-make-out-in-the-dark pillar, or from shallow recesses just behind the door’s line-of-sight. Shudder.


In multiplayer, the whole cat-and-mouse-only-with-a-very-narrow-area-in-which-to-shoot thing was just a joy to experience.


What did we get in Descent 3? Varied environments. Yawn. Large open spaces between building/mine/structure/tube station sections. Broke the tension up nicely, but perhaps too soon and too regularly – there was no “wow, I just escaped from hell and all I got was this lousy broken Hyperdrive” T-shirt feeling afterwards. I didn’t finish it. Might have to try again sometime. But I’d rather get D2X and play The King.


If there were ever a Descent 4, I’d want the claustrophobia back more than any other aspect. I’d love to see a Doom 3 style retelling of the first couple of Descentia, the readme once again proclaiming proudly “You’ll need a good joystick”. Until I played it with a Good Joystick, I had no idea what they meant. (Actually, I played it with a Wingman Extreme for about 3 months until the trigger broke, then with the replacement for 3 months until the trigger broke, and then I gave up on that brand and went Sidewinder, never looked back). Update: Looks like someone else had the same idea with Into Cerberon, only they actually Did Something About It… Must go reinstall Doom 3 now…


I’m Not Alone


Stepto suggested someone try a Descent for Xbox Live Arcade recently (along with some other classics like Speedball and Thunderstrike), and while I’d dearly welcome any new/rebadged Descent game, I’d also want a controller that supported the whole 6 degrees of freedom thing, like my trusty Thrustmaster (compatible) Sidewinder at the time.


So come on Outrage, or Volition, or whomever is still around and awake enough to re-invent the classic – build us a Descent 2.5 we can be proud of! (I’ll pay you for at least one copy, maybe two).

In The Company Of Heroes

My job supports my gaming habit. I got into the IT industry by playing games, and it’s looking likely that I’ll exit in much the same way! 🙂 That said, it’s great working in some small way with your childhood heroes, no matter how remote!


To hear that Peter Molyneux’s Lionhead studios is now part of Microsoft produced one of those “wow – so I actually work with Peter Molyneux!” moments, and let’s face it: we’ve all had those “wow so I actually work with Peter Molyneux” moments before*. Bullfrog had the most amazing hit rate I’ve seen with their games, and I lapped them up years ago. Populous, Powermonger, Syndicate, Magic Carpet, Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park, Hi Octane (a very underappreciated title)…


The one and only Martin Galway crossed my path a little while back (another jaw-dropping “my god, you work here!?” moment) as well (he did the music for Parallax, Times of Lore, Ultima 7, and was involved with loads of other Origin games, which I also played to death as a wee kiddie).


In other “real people, real news” items, Dan’s also joined the local support team (yaaay). He moves the mouse, reads, clicks and types things faster than my brain can keep up. By way of trying to retain some degree of masculinity: I’d probably smash him at Project Gotham Racing 3.


Yes, that’s a challenge, Dan. And to you, Galway and Molyneux, if you’re racing types. Hey, how about a Hi-Octane for the 360, Peter?.

SyncToy 1.2 Out Now

Synctoy is an excellent Windows XP Powertoy that has loads of interesting synchronization modes.


It was just updated to version 1.2, though I haven’t had any problems with 1.1. If you’re using it, possibly worth the download.


If you’re not using it, and you tend to manually push files from a folder on one PC to a folder on another because you can’t quite be bothered writing a batch file to do it and dealing with the synchronization options, you owe it to yourself* to give it a try.


And if you like it, you’ll owe me**.


* this statement confers no actual warranty or value, expressed or implied. Value judgements on your person and character are beyond the scope of this blog.


** this statement is binding.

Stupid Fixed-Width Blogs

There have been a couple of pleas on one of the blog discussion aliases internally about images that seem to jump below the post.


If you’re in that situation (and oh look! I am too since I moved to a basic fixed-width format), you can use the IE Developer Toolbar to fiddle the results and work out the custom CSS you need to apply to fix it.


So the point of this post is: The IE Developer Toolbar is really helpful when looking at “why on earth does IE do that?” type issues.


Now, off to identify the CSS id I need to massage…