An Evening of Failure and Stupidity 2: Stupid Harder

Rants   By Shamus   Mar 5, 2015   122 comments

No, this post is not a repeat. It’s a sequel.

OH MY GOSH these notifications are getting on my nerves. Windows update keeps popping up in the corner, telling me I need to update. So then there’s this break in my workflow where I have to mouse down there and hit the teensy-weensy ‘x’ to make the bubble piss off for another random interval. But if I miss, then I click on the bubble and instead of the bubble going away I get a popup window telling me about all the stupid shit Windows has for me to worry about. I could swear I turned these stupid notifications off.

So now on top of all the other crap I have to do, I have to ALSO find that setting and reset it to “I’m an adult and I know what I’m doing. I’m a busy man and I’ll do my upgrades on my timetable, not yours, Windows. You asshole.” (I think it’s actually labeled something else.)

At some point it downloaded some of the waiting updates. So now I get a popup, “You have downloads waiting to be installed.” So I dismiss that and INSTANTLY get another one telling me about updates NOT downloaded.

Sigh. Fine. Just to stop this constant irritation I’ll do the damn update. Just about the time I settle back into work, Windows popups up agin because OF COURSE it needs to reboot. I can either reboot now, or it can pester me until I give in. Fine. Get it over with.

So Windows goes quiet for a long time, like Deep Thought except really, really unlike Deep Thought, if you see what I mean. Then it blue screens, reboots, and is dead.


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Ideas about a new programming language for games, Annotated: Part 4

Programming   By Shamus   Mar 4, 2015   98 comments

We finally get to the good stuff. The discussion below contains a lot of the reasons I wanted to do this write-up in the first place.

Link (YouTube)

1:00:00 Let’s Make an Array Type.


This might seem trivial to a lot of people. This is basically just a fix for the std::vector<int> name; problem I discussed earlier in this series. We use arrays everywhere in our code. We’re constantly building lists of data. C++ offers tons of ways to do this, and somehow they all suck.

The lazy way:

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Experienced Points: So You Want To Be a Game Developer?

Escapist   By Shamus   Mar 3, 2015   91 comments

My column this week is some advice to the young people considering a career in AAA videogame-making.

Something I really wanted to put in the column:

A couple of years ago I saw an ad for Full Sail University or one of the other game colleges. It said something like, “80% of graduates find a job in the industry within a year!” I was dumbfounded. Given the cost of going to one of these places (the price of a house and a couple of the most valuable years of your life) those are horrendous odds. The cynic in me read that as, “1 in 5 of the people who come to our school find the whole thing was for nothing.” I would never risk two precious years of my life on anything that risky.

I didn’t put it in the column because I can’t find the source anywhere. The game colleges apparently no longer offer post-grad placement info beyond, “We will help you!”

Also the anecdotes suggest a system where the college develops a relationship with a studio (stuff owned by EA, usually) where they just send them waves of grads who will work crunch-mode hours (80+) for months on end until they burn out, at which point there’s another wave of grads chomping at the bit, waiting for their turn at living the dream. So even if the placement rate was 98%, it would still be a horrible gamble, since leaving the industry in disgust and disillusionment is arguable worse than not getting a job at all. The actual success rate – the number of people who find good jobs with hours and pay that allow for a normal life – is probably really tiny.

But I can’t begin to back any of that up, and I didn’t want to build a point around a single barely-recalled data point. I mean, I can’t back any of it up, but I tried to stick with stuff that’s more or less accepted as common knowledge.

Also: If you DO work in the industry then please tell your story. If it was awesome, say so. If it was horrible, say so. Young people are making life-changing decisions and the only information we have are the gushing promises of game colleges and the occasional “development hell” scandal. Your story might change someone’s life.

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Diecast #95: Final Fantasy XIV, NOLF, Spore

Diecast   By Shamus   Mar 2, 2015   107 comments

Direct link to this episode.

Direct download (MP3)
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Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: Shamus, Josh, Chris, Rutskarn, Mumbles.

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A new programming language for games, Annotated: Part 3

Programming   By Shamus   Mar 1, 2015   96 comments

The annotation continues…

Link (YouTube)

39:00 Exceptions Are Silly.

Exceptions are where you run a bit of code, but you sort of leave a note for the program, “If anything goes wrong, jump to this bit of code and spit out such-and-such message.” Here is the video Blow mentioned, which talks about why exceptions are such a mess.

My experience with exceptions is pretty limited. In my professional work, we used a large codebase that began life in 1994 as vanilla C. Somewhere around 2000-ish we migrated (in fits and starts) to C++. So I didn’t even have a chance to use exceptions until 2000, and we didn’t really have a lot of need for them. Our software was pretty mature and we already had all the error handling we needed.

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A new programming language for games, Annotated: Part 2

Programming   By Shamus   Feb 27, 2015   108 comments

The annotation continues…

Link (YouTube)

6:00 Garbage collection.

In C++, you have manual memory management. You need to request enough memory to hold all your space marines. If you need more marinesWho doesn’t? you have to allocate more memory. When you’re done with a marine, you have to tell the system you don’t need that chunk of memory anymore. You can’t ever make a mistake, because using memory you’ve freed causes a crash. Using memory you haven’t yet obtained causes a crash. Trying to free the same bit of memory more than once causes a crash. And forgetting to free memory causes a memory leak where your program will consume more and more until it crashes.

And by “crash” I mean, “It might crash or it might malfunction badly somewhere later and you’ll have NO IDEA where it all went wrong.”

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Project Button Masher: Administrator’s Lament

Music   By Shamus   Feb 26, 2015   17 comments

I think this is the last track of this project. It’s nothing special. It’s just more fun with audio samples. We recently wrapped up our play-through of Half-Life 2: Episode One, and it got me thinking about good old Dr. Breen.

I think I met my goal. I’ve sat down and re-listened to the entire Button Masher collection…

…and I find myself thinking, “Yeah, I see what I did wrong there” and “I could do this so much better now”. Of course, finding out you were recently incompetent and you’re slightly less incompetent now isn’t a massive boost to the ol’ ego. But it’s something.

I’m moving onto other projects now. I’ll probably get back to music making eventually, but now is the time to write code. Thanks for listening.

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A new programming language for games, Annotated: Part 1

Programming   By Shamus   Feb 25, 2015   177 comments

John Blow is the designer of Braid and one of the first of the new-wave indie auteurs. Back in September of 2014 he made a video talking about his ideas for a new computer language focused on game development.

I wanted to write about this when the video came out, but I was in the middle of a move. Then there was Christmas. Then other projects. But now almost half a year later, I’m finally coming back to this. His project has moved on and I don’t know where it is now, but it’s this first video I want to talk about.

Link (YouTube)

That’s an hour and a half talk about why he thinks game development needs a new language, why the existing languages don’t quite cut it, and a few things he thinks the new language ought to do. It’s pretty heavy-duty in terms of technical jargon, so if you’re not a coder I don’t know if you’ll get much out of it.

I’ve seen people criticizing his suggestions saying that other languages already do what he wants, or that he’s not qualified to design a language. I’m not really qualified to comment on that and not really interested in that debate. I’m more interested in his talk as a sort of “Everything annoying, frustrating, inefficient, or scary about the C languages”.

So I want to comment on what he’s said, and I’m going to do my best to say it in language that should be comprehensible for non-programmers. We’re not so much discussing his language ideas as using them as a launching point for talking about things that make programming less fun.

Consider this a consolation that we didn’t get an annotated version Carmack QuakeCon address last year like we have in years past. Sadface.

Timestamps are approximate:

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Experienced Points: How Do You Know If A Web Site Is Secure?

Escapist   By Shamus   Feb 24, 2015   81 comments

So I did a column encouraging more user paranoia, like I promised last week. I’m not happy with how this turned out. It’s one of the longest pieces I’ve done in the history of the column, and I feel like I barely scratched the surface. It was too big a topic to ram into a single column but I didn’t feel like it was wise to make it two or three parts long. (I didn’t want to embark on an epic three-part series and then after part 1 realize that nobody cared. I’d end up with the Too Human of articles.

I should have just replaced the whole column with a link to the comments section last week. That was a pretty cool discussion. I find the social engineering side of security so much more interesting than the technical side.

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Diecast #94: Wolfenstein, Planet Explorers, Evolve, Destiny

Diecast   By Shamus   Feb 23, 2015   106 comments

Direct link to this episode.

Direct download (MP3)
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Hosts: Shamus, Josh, Chris.

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Half Life 2 Episode 1 EP7: Episode Won

Spoiler Warning   By Shamus   Feb 20, 2015   103 comments

Link (YouTube)

And so it ends.

For the record, I actually like all the constant encouragement and praise from Alyx. Although maybe I’m just unskilled and emotionally needy. It is a little jarring when you hear the comments close together, but during the course of a normal game (as opposed to sprinting through the content the way we do) they feel more like a pat on the head from the game designer and less like Alyx going all fangirl on you.

I really wish we’d get more shooters like this.

I played Wolfenstein: The New Order last year. It felt like they were aiming for Half-Life 2 in terms of gameplay, but didn’t quite nail it. It’s got quiet. It’s got combat. It’s got areas where you can wander around and listen to people talk, or get on with your job. It’s got a novelty weapon that works as either weapon or tool. It has run-and-run style combat instead of stop-and-pop. You gun down fascist humanoids in prisons, ruins, and bases. It’s not Half-Life, but I think it tried.

Josh just finished the game and was somewhat less delighted. I haven’t got the whole story from him. (It might end up as a segment on next week’s Diecast. It’s also on the short list of consideration for Spoiler Warning. We’ll see.)

Still, there’s nothing quite like Half-Life, and nobody seems to be making more. Sadface.

EDIT via Josh: So no, despite how funny it turned out, the episode was NOT supposed to end with Rutskarn singing out the apocalypse. There was actually another five minutes that were cut off in the initial video because of an encoding error that someoneI won’t name any names, but it begins with J and ends with “Why are my pants on fire?” didn’t check for before falling asleep in a drunken stupor.

The embedded video has been updated with the fixed and complete version of the episode. Sorry about that.

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Project Button Masher: So Cool JC

Music   By Shamus   Feb 19, 2015   24 comments

I’m taking it easy this week. We’re not trying to copy any particular style. Not trying to emulate certain instruments. Not trying to figure out what gives a soundtrack its particular sound. I’m just making music and posting the result. This is my attempt to take everything I’ve learned and see if the quality of my work improved.

If there’s anything that inspired this track it’s this em… skit(?) from Machinima: Deus Ex: The Recut.

Link (YouTube)

There is something really delightful about re-cutting and subverting the Deus Ex dialog. The conversationFor the impatient: It’s at the three minute mark. in this week’s song was really fun to put together.

This one is a lot more complex than my usual project. I also took the time to make everything myself, including mapping out the drums. (I usually use pre-fab drum loops.) Most of the instruments were built by hand. Note that I’m not saying it’s better or anything, but it is a pretty big step up in complexity and effort. Here’s the track map:


A funny story about the audio clips in this song:

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