Gauntlets of Recursion (+3)

Times, trials, and turbulence.

Personal Development

Demo Feedback

First and foremost, I’d like to extend a huge thanks to everyone who took the time to try out the Skirmish demo and replied with feedback. The consensus seems to be that it works on Windows without any hassle (to be expected, as the development platform :P), Mac OSX works with a little bit of fiddling, and Linux is a little dodgy. Like I said, hopefully I can find someone with some thicker Java+Linux experience than myself to help aid in that.

The overall conclusion (sans distribution methods) is that the game runs exceedingly well on most semi-modern systems. I actually had several rendering optimizations already planned in case lower-end machines were struggling, but nothing reported seems to fall very far of 100FPS in the worst-case. I will, however, need to rework my update timing, since the UPSes are all over the place. Groan, my friends. Groan.

I’m going to start looking into WebStart for future distribution of Skirmish-related files. Huge kudos to Jon for writing up a mini-article on using WebStart.

Personal Development

I wouldn’t call it a hiatus, but I’ll leave it to you to determine how to look at it. I will be taking a short break from Skirmish in the coming ‘several’ weeks, in order to work on some ‘personal development’.

Personal development? Yes, that’s intentionally vague. πŸ™‚

I’d like to think that I’ve accomplished a lot during the years that I’ve dedicated to game development and programming, but I can’t help but feel like I’ve been leaving a lot of things out. Writing games is certainly something that I’m comfortable doing at this point, but there are quite a few areas surrounding that which I really haven’t taken the time to explore. Like what, you ask? A few things:
Articles. I have absolutely avoided the article ‘world’. I wrote a small mini-article or two ‘back in the day’, but it wasn’t anything that I was really happy with or particularly informed about. They say that to be able to write and discuss something is to show greater understanding of something than simply demonstrating its use. Sure I’ve written raycasting demos, fractals, metaballs, and other games/demos that show a direct application of the theory behind them, but I still can’t really ‘talk’ myself through the math and ideas of it all. I really want to solidify my understanding of many of these ideas, and, as a nifty byproduct, I get to show informative articles to the world that can help others learn. Once again I have Jon to thank for the motivation to take on this direction — he’s been quite active in article-writing for several years now. I’ve seen how much writing articles has helped him in his work, and I can’t think of a better way to give back to the community.

Websites. Take a look at my ‘flagship’ game project — Membrane Massacre — and it’s awe-inspiring website. Does it fill you with the same sense of “from under which ugly-rock did that thing crawl forth?” that it gives me? I’ve been downplaying the marketing of my games for ages, and I would really like to do something about it. As a programmer, things like HTML and CSS are certainly not beyond my understanding, and I’d like to think that I have a good enough sense of style to pull of a decent website. When I point people to MM, I really want to write that URL with pride, not show some dinky template-generated 4-frame website hosted on After all, that’s the kind of stuff I paid for this webspace for!

A good start, I think. Since this notion of ‘personal development’ is the sort of thing that should continue for the remainder of my career, I’m not going to really say that “I’m going to work on this for N weeks and then return to Skirmish”. Instead, I’ll work on my articles and my websites when I can, and work on Skirmish when I can. Overall this will mean a slower development rate, but I think that this is a tiny price to pay compared to the gains of putting time into these ‘personal developments’. I’m interested in hearing about similar endeavors any of you have undertaken in the past. πŸ™‚

Article 1 – Metaballs

For my first article, I definitely want to start off with something that I know I understand. Well heck, I remember writing that little Metaballs demo a while back, why not write about those? Fair enough. So, I set about creating an outline for the article.

After sliding in a few points for what the introduction would cover, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I really didn’t know much about the theory and concepts behind isosurfaces — isosurfaces being the more formal name for the type of ‘object’ metaballs are — and that I couldn’t just write an article about a vague notion of what metaballs are and a couple of formulas. After all, this was supposed to be about becoming informed, right?

So, I hit the books. The online ones, that is. It turns out that there really is a lot more behind isosurfaces (or ‘level sets’, mathematically) than I had realized. Researching really is a critical component of writing articles. Articles are about facts (the good ones, at least :)), not about general opinions or beliefs of “what it probably is like”. Just in spending an hour or so of the evening reading up on isosurfaces and metaballs proved extremely enlightening. This transformed the original dilemma of “what can I write about other than the definition and formula of a metaball?” to the problem of, “what stuff do I leave out? I can’t fit all of this in here!”. 10/10 times I think I would pick the latter. πŸ™‚

The article is going to focus on isosurfaces and their applications to game development. This development journal’s focus has always been rooted in writing games, so I want to make my articles tuned into that wavelength to some degree. Since my audience is also of that vein, I doubt there will be many complaints. As an upshot, I even get to write a couple of small demos involving isosurfaces for game-related effects/mechanics. Exellent. You can read the (rough!) outline here, and are encouraged to provide any feedback or suggestions.

Sometime in between that endeavor and my assignments, I will also try and also build an outline for Membrane Massacre’s upcoming website. Perhaps brush up on my HTML and CSS knowledge as well. I can think of at least one web design guru I can prod at if things go awry. πŸ˜‰

And that’s all (for now). I hope that those of you that are here because of interest in Skirmish can understand my reasoning for undergoing this — er, ‘delay’? — side-project. In the long-term it will doubtlessly help me as both a developer and an individual.

Until next time!

4 responses to “Personal Development

  1. ravuya September 25, 2007 at 10:18 pm

    Like I said, on Mac OS X with about half a minute of work I can turn the thing into a double-clickable app with all the libraries and whatnot included. It’ll be completely transparent to the end user; they won’t even know it’s Java.

    WebStart will automatically generate a double-clickable OS X app on demand, so that’s probably a good idea too. It also does automatic updates and a bunch of other really slick stuff I’d love to have on the C++ side of my distribution problems.

    As for website design you should strongly consider looking at OSWD to see if there are any free designs that are useful. I have a terrible eye for colour and layout so it’s helped me immeasurably.

  2. David "Trapper Zoid" September 25, 2007 at 11:09 pm

    Trying to teach someone a topic is a great way to get a better understanding of the topic itself – I’m keen on reading your articles. I don’t know a lot about metaballs myself, so your first article will be enlightening reading.

  3. Jonathan September 26, 2007 at 1:27 am

    I don’t use this site, but I think it’s a terrific resource for inspiration. It might be a little over the top for a project site, despite the name.

    Just click on any of the designs in the sidebar to view them. Some are really neat and some are extravagant, but all are pretty good.

    – Jon

  4. Stephen September 26, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    Thanks for all of the helpful advice, and words of encouragement. I’m going to check out all of these.

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