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volume 1, issue 24

Today in loonygames:

New!! The Archives have been cleaned up, fead links fixed, and printable versions restored! Also, don't miss the new comments on the front page!

Livin' With The Sims: theAntiELVIS explores the wild and wacky world that is Will Wright's The Sims, asking the inevitable quesiton, "is The Sims the first step toward a virtual life where everyone is Swedish?"

Pixel Obscura: Josh Vasquez on Omikron: The Nomad Soul.

Real Life: Check out our newest comic strip, Real Life! Updated daily!

User Friendly: Updated daily!

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Mechanical Evolution (part 1): Part one of Matt Gilbert's look at next-generation console programming.

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Artwork: Hey, dig the artwork on loonygames? We're selling some of the original art.


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Pixel Obscura: Josh Vasquez's regular look at the convergence of film and videogames.

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Behind the Curtain:
Mechanical Evolution (part 2)

By Matt "Thraka" Gilbert

The information you need at this point is never really put into a form that is easily accessible. There will be databases, and newsgroups, and gurus, but it comes down to this: you have to know what you are looking for before you can find it, and in order to get to that point, you wind up making a lot of mistaken assumptions, feeling stupid, rewriting code, wondering why it still doesnít work, posting messages, making phone calls, and tearing your hair out when it still doesnít work. Your producer is looking at you strangely, since you told him this was going fine, and suddenly itís All Fucked Up, hereafter referred to as AFU. Donít be too upset: thereís a reason why ĎSNí usually gets prepended to the ĎAFUí. In truth, this is Situation Normal, but if you have an ego (and who doesnít in this business), it will no doubt be in considerable pain. And if you have a team (again, who doesnít), and a conscience (if you donít have one, youíve already been launched long ago), youíre feeling like youíre letting them down. Again, this is normal, and itís good.

This is a baptism of fire: you werenít here in the beginning, so you missed your lumps the first time around. Starting late, you take them all at once, instead of getting them spaced out over several projects, but in the end, you get the same amount. Thatís the way it is. Donít give up: you may feel like a poser, but your team still believes in you, is counting on you, and youíre not the idiot you think you are. This life is just hard, bro. Youíll break through, I promise, or you wouldnít be here. Eventually, things start to become clear. You begin to understand the things the gurus have internalized, and suddenly, the things they tell you make sense. Once you get here, itís the same old burn, heading towards a master. Maybe this time, youíll go see the Grand Canyon. You lost all your money the last time you went to Vegas, anyway.

Okay, last part of this: how does this differ from PC development? Well, again, there is the temptation to say that PC programmers have it easier, and to a certain extent, they do; they never really lose the wealth of their accumulated knowledge as console programmers do. But, as I noted last time, nothing is really easy in this business, and PC guys have their own troubles.

The biggest pain in the ass for a PC programmer is without a doubt compatibility. PC programmers have this little demon that always bites them in the ass, something a console programmer never needs to sweat. When I lay down code on the PlayStation, I never have to question if it will work for everyone who uses it, except in some very special and predictable circumstances, such as PAL/NTSC issues. Not so for our PC programmer. He often has to deal with situations where code that runs fine on his system bombs or displays subtle bugs on other machines. He has no idea whatís wrong; in fact, quite often, itís not even something under his control. Example: when Diablo first hit the shelves, there were a bunch of people frothing at the mouth, pissed off at Blizzard because their machine crashed when they ran it. People were ranting about how the programmers sucked, etc. But where did the problem lie? Not with Diablo: in fact, most of the problems were with the IHVs. A number of video card drivers did some really screwy things, i.e. were not fully compliant with DirectX, and consequently, certain calls made them crash or behave incorrectly. Sometimes, these problems donít even show up in QA, and then the programmers have to endure a hail of insults from the public. Hereís a clue: next time you have the urge to blast the programmer because a game crashes on your PC, step back, take a breath, and see if itís something else. The last thing any hard working programmer needs is mail from an ungrateful, uninformed whiner suggesting he sucks and should be fired. Artists donít need this shit either, mind you, but the one I know who gets this most often seems to be more than capable of handling himself.

Okay, thatís all I can think of on the topic, but that hardly means there isnít more to say. If youíre one of my PC counterparts, and you disagree with me on some of this, or just have something to add, drop me some mail, and letís rap. Iím always interested in schmoozing.

Next Time: The Impossible Dream. How a perfectly reasonable schedule can be utterly destroyed by a well meaning but unrealistic publisher!


- Matt 'Thraka' Gilbert is a console programmer, currently working at StormFront Studios. These are his own ravings, and have nothing whatsoever to do with his employer.


Credits: Beaker's Bent logo illustrated by and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Behind the Curatain is © 1999 Matt Gilbert. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't do it. And ignore the man behind the curtain. He's just got a shotgun aimed at your head...nothing to get alarmed about.