Trial and Epic Fail

Ventures of an indie game developer

The article deserves to be read still, four years to the day after it was posted. Stallman thinks so too.

Windows wins

Going back to using Windows, utilizing the free Windows 10 upgrade period which might close within one and a half months. My three month endevours with the Linux desktop has come to an end. I don't believe the desktop is dead, but the Linux ditto absolutely is.

Downloading Windows 10 over DSL is no small feat though. A couple of years back we were offered fibre installation for a fee of $1900. I didn't want it, and my main reason to not get it was that I wanted the family to stay offline more. Be more social, play more board games, be outdorsier. I'm not sure there's a correlation between bandwidth and behavior, and times like these I regret the decision. At least a little.

The first things I'll install are AutoHotkey, Git4Windows, Python3 and Chrome. It's not possible to power-use a Windows computer without 'em. Then Visual C++, Texts and Steam. No matter what the Linux nerds will have you believe, installation is still faster with Windows than Linux.


We grunt workers often complain about behemoth administration and overly-managed parts of the organisations we work in. We accuse large companies of having poisonous meetings and the middle-management of obeying the Peter principle. More often than not we're right to be disgruntled with this in our day-jobs. Or are we?

Take my current project as an example. This morning, my business project lead sent me this list of project participants:
  1. Business PL
  2. IT PL
  3. Lead Architect
  4. Lead Requirement
  5. IT-agreement lead
  6. I&O-PM
  7. Test
  8. Test
  9. Lead Developer
  10. Business Expert
  11. ACI Agreement Lead
  12. Business Expert
Number 9 happens to be me (and, yes, the "Lead" could easily be removed on that as well as on all other role descriptions). The other people involved are there to either have meetings, produce documents as input for the developers or test the developer's code. The project has one developer. Me. Sure, not all other roles full-time in the project, but neither am I. And sure, there are integrations with third-parties. But. Please. Come. ON!

I'd need a tester say 1/4th of the time and a nagging PM 1/8th of the time. The first part of the project, running over six months, had the architect and requirements guy produce their documents after the development was done. They weren't able to put together the documentation before implementation. I wouldn't have read it anyway as planning is only guessing. I only went to a couple of meetings, and could have skipped those as well. The realistic overhead for my day-job is thus:

This is, as we grunt-IT-workers know and lament, common in large corporations. But my private little tide is turning. When I was younger I was certain that I wanted a lean and effective workplace. I'm not as sure anymore. Is a company with 100% efficiency as dull as a 100% efficient relationship? Perhaps 14.6% is better, softer, more laid-back, comfier, happier and healthier than 50%? I'm actually starting to think it is.

Nonetheless there are two interesting questions here. The first one is: what is it going to take for top management to catch on? Because eventually they will. And capitalism kills dead meat. The answer to the second question will affect us all in inconceivable socioeconomic ways: what are all the meeting people going to do when it's obvious for everyone else that there is no demand for purposeless meetings and unread documents? Shangri-la or abyss? Hard to tell.

C++ parsing, Linux, and Linux no more

I recently "modernized" my C++ code style using a Python script. The script didn't catch everything and probably contained some bugs, but considering the amount of text it had to go through I'm pretty impressed with it anyway. C++ is notoriously hard to parse, and I just had to write the whole thing from scratch.

The script converted:
  • 1335 filenames+paths and 1040 include statements to lowercase;
  • 16 namespaces to lowercase;
  • 45 global variables from gMyVariable to g_my_variable;
  • 1550 constants from MY_COSTANT to kMyConstant;
  • 2556 member data variables from mMyVariable to my_variable_;
  • 6100 unique stack variable names from lMyVariable/pMyVariable to my_variable.
When the scoped stack variable and the parameter stack variable would collide, the scoped stack variable got an extra underscore, like so: _my_variable. Another 7k classes, functions and macros were left untouched as they already complied somewhat with Google's idea of a good coding style. Before-after:

So the code got a fix-up. Then I open sourced it on GitHub. And eventually I've gotten around to building the binaries for Linux (including the simulator for Trabant).

Wonderful! Finally I can leave the crappy world of Linux! The GUI is yuckie, but there's so much more to it than meets the eye at first. Here are some of my recent encounters:
  • Installing my Samsung laser printer took me hours, and the final solution included manually downloading and compiling some part of some CUPS driver (CUPS was originally an Apple network printing framework made open source).
  • Installing the scanner was fairly straight-forward, and worked quite well as long as I didn't perform too many configuration changes to the scanning software while the scanner was on.
  • When I booted, the computer would often hang with a blank screen due to a broken motherboard.
  • When I replaced the motherboard I got USB 3 support. Which rendered the USB scanner software non-working. Took me forever to realize what the problem was. Had to go into BIOS and disable USB 3.
  • The problem with the motherboard was not with the motherboard. Even with the new motherboard the system still hangs during boot 10-20% of the time. Probably some driver and/or some part of the kernel that hangs.
  • If computer hibernates, it hangs during boot 90-95% of the time. And takes forever those few times it actually does boot.
  • Had automatic updates enabled. Got a new kernel, 3.13.0-83. Hangs during boot 100% of the time. Same with 3.13.0-85.
  • When Ubuntu 16.04 LTS got released, the old 14.04 LTS became unfashionable and I was no longer able to update my system. I also don't dare to update to a newer Ubuntu as the most recent kernels crash on my machine.
  • Thus I was not able to install vlc to watch films.
  • Could never get my expensive Philips screen booting to 144 Hz. Instead I had to run something as extravagant as xrandr --output DP-4 --mode 1920x1080 --rate 144 every time I log in. When run the screen flickers for five seconds which lead to me not using that command at all, I just leave it running at the default 60 Hz. I could have just bought a 60 Hz screen for 1/3 of the price.
  • Whenever I jack in the HDMI cable to watch something on the TV instead the monitor flickers for five seconds and half of the time the TV becomes the primary monitor, so the thing corresponding to the "start menu" goes missing. Is the glass half-full or half-empty you ask. For Windows users' it's half-empty I can assure you. Also switching sound to go through the HDMI wire takes installing a software like pavucontrol and then clicking around for ten minutes until you succeed by accident. 
  • Default fonts, and font rendering in general look like shit. In the desktop and in the browser. I didn't think I had any preferences what so ever regarding fonts, but I apparently must have a distaste for ugly font rendering.
  • I used CodeLite for C++ programming and Sublime for Python hacking. CodeLite is free and has a lot of (MSVC-like) features, but is lacking some important ones like mouse hover over variable while in debug to read it's value, and keeping debug vars expanded during single-step which is really frustrating to be without. As always with large freeware, most of the interface is extremely poor and it's filled with output panes, quirky icons, incomprehensible check-boxes and empty areas with strange names. Which of these ugly icons and/or tabs would you click first? Dare to click one without mouse hovering first? I think not.
    It's not that I'm ungrateful or anything - or well I'm that too - but it's just that why would you want to work with this low quality when you easily can choose not to?
  • Sublime is like a poor version of Notepad++ and lacking hotkeys for "replace all" and similar features which Windows' users take for granted; the only option is to retort widd da mouse. I've used vim more than ever before in the last months, but the i-esc-:wq mode switching from the seventies sucks ass and if I ever use Linux seriously in the future I'll start using Emacs again. Vim you fucker.
So all in all, Desktop Linux made me buy a motherboard and a screen I didn't need, and I've wasted many hours building my own shitty software on other people's shitty software for no apparent reason since only 1.65% are stupid enough to run Linux on the desktop.

Where there any extenuating circumstances? Well when apt-get worked that was nice. And at first I was a bit infatuated with the "configure everything" concept. But frankly, that was it. As soon as I have time I'll move over to Windows 10 and never look back.

Bad conf

Went to my first conference ever in the beginning of the week. The conference was free and cheap, but I was surprised by the mostly unrehearsed, poor speakers and by how little the conference was about hard-core programming. My warning-bells started whistling already in the first few minutes when all return visitors were asked to raise their hands - and less then ten out of seven hundred did. From there on it went downhill. (The food was excellent though, but food is for suckers.)

Perhaps one should try to start something small in the municipality. Like inspiration for the kidz and socializing for the elder nerds. If I had more spare time I could have given it a try, but for now I'll just settle with a backseat driver's "I could have done better than most presenters at"

Free game engines++

When I started out writing a game engine fifteen years ago or so, the end-goal was to create a good one that could be sold. It didn't take long to realize that would never happen, but I stuck to the idea of developing a game engine and not just games.

Possibly one of the poorest choices in my life. I've spent enormous amounts of time on details that UE4 and others surely solves more elegantly and without sleepless nights.

In the duration of the project I've started a game engine from scratch, abandoned that to work with a friend's game engine, then abandoned that one to work on another friends game engine. Eventually, in 2006 I think, when he abandoned ship, I gave no shat about the redundancy and poor quality of the base we'd lined out and I just ran with it. 3 year later the UE3 SDK became free and last year UE4 came out. 7 years post UDK3 and my game engine is so utterly pointless that there is no point in keeping it to myself.

Not only have I struggled too many years, but I also had no time to refactor the code where it hurts. One especially poor decision, to use inheritance in two central "GameTicker" and "GameManager" classes makes my own eyes bleed, not to mention what it must look like to an outsider. Another bad decision. to use asynchronous resource loading to be able to stream huge amounts of world data (think MMOG), was also an awful one as it makes for horrible, fragile code, and there are coroutine options since 10+ years which would have been a much nicer solution.

When we started coding many years ago, hungarian notation seemed like a good choice. Now that I release the source code free I wanted something better, so I converted to something similar to Googles C++ coding standard. I wrote a small Python script for it, but it was non-trivial to get things flying and I easily spent two days on it.

Anyway, the code is out there. If anybody ever has any use for it, great! If not, well, hopefully I learnt something in the process. If I did, maybe it wasn't so bad after all. Trial and epic fail must the closest to the meaning of life one could ever get, right?

Surprising 17k iOS downloads

Was astounded to find that I have some 17k downloads on App Store. Not today, but overall. Lifetime. A that's like 10x than I thought! Life is humbling, isn't it?

The first app I released in February 2011. It was not a game, but a fairly good what-favorite-tv-programs-are-on-later-today app called "TeveSilen," or "The TV Strainer." I wrote it to learn the basics of native iOS controls for work and charged $1 for it. Without any marketing what so ever I suddenly saw sales for a single week in the 100s. The reason, I found by googling, was that the largest telecommunications company in Sweden, Telia, had written a review in their blog.

Since then I've released five games, the first one was a port of the classic Slime Volleyball which was created as a Java Applet in the 90ies by some anonymous guy, presumably from Australia if I remember correctly. I put my Slime Volleyball port for sale on the App Store in mid-2011 for a buck. 5% of my downloads come from Slime Volleyball.

2/3 of my App Store downloads come from the first game I made myself: Kill Cutie. I launched Kill Cutie as a free app in 2012, but I was so worn down by the App Store release process (porting my game engine to Mac+iOS; handling iOS device rotation in a portable way; creating icons; creating screen shots; writing the info text; creating developer+app accounts, keys and certificates; dealing with the release process; etc.) that I didn't have any energy left over to create a good game mechanic.

The game had four levels and four vehicles, but only one of each was free, the others were in-app purchase. The controls came out as pure sheit. Content-wise, as with all my games, it looks like something the cat dragged in and the rendering sucked. I didn't follow my own advice to do exploration instead of refinement. I've never looked for reviews or anything like that, and I guess the reason for it being downloaded 12k times in the four years it's been on the App Store is the name. And possibly the icon. And certainly the totally deceptive App Store description.

The one feature that adds a little bit of umph an otherwise lousy game is the high score list, which frankly is very good. You just enter your name and press enter. No account creation, no checking for "is that really you," nothing. The app just sends a simple message to the high score server with a digest to keep the simplest hacks out and the player is able to see his/her position overall. The score counting algorithm however is still a mystery.

I've sold 114 level and vehicle in-app purchases, 1‰ conversion rate. A telling figure.

After Kill Cutie I made Downwash. It has controls that works for very small kids, as well as extremely hard controls for the nerds.

I've loved radio-controlled helicopters since I was a kid, and always had a couple (!) at the top of my X-mas wish list. My parents never got me one, which was probably for the best as they were hugely expensive 30 years ago and extremely hard to fly. Now I own a couple of tiny, cheap, battery driven ones and I still love them. But as always (and without dragging Buddhism into it) the fantasy about a R/C chopper was better than actually owning.

Making a game based on what you loved as a kid was not the best idea, and placing it in the simulation -> education categories was just coo-coo. Education!?! Is that hubris or what?! Who gets educated by flying these dummy helicopters? Anyhoo, 9% of my sales come from Downwash. As can be expected, the sales bump when launching Downwash is hardly visible as I charged $1 for it.

Then I made Bound 3D, which got a launch spike since it was free. The game was exceptionally boring and I don't think I ever got iAds working. I sold 10 in-app purchases for Bound 3D, which is remarkable as you don't have to, to get rid of the advertisements.

My latest game NSAgent has sold 288 copies a buck each. NSAgent is probably worth five minutes of play when you've spent your hard-earned dollar and have nothing else to do under gun-point. There is no launch spike what so ever in april 2014. I made it free yesterday, and judging from the past I'll get 1k downloads in the next year or so.

My five games were sold without any marketing, promotions, news letters, press releases or helping hands. Possibly they ended up in the "new games" part of App Store. Otherwise I doubt I'd see any spikes at all in my downloads.

My game prototyping tool, Trabant 4 iOS, is free but only downloaded 133 times. Which is better then I thought but still yuckie.

I've never tracked the downloads of the Mac+Windows versions of my games from my webpage, but I have to guess they're around a dozen, and I'd be surprised if they were more than a hundred.

My goal for the next game will be to get more than 17k free downloads in the first month. As soon as I reach a critical mass of players, I'll turn it into a paid application. The icon style was probably best in Bound 3D, so I'll use that. The App Store description of Kill Cutie was good, so I'll see if I can produce something along those lines. The game will land in the action category of App Store. And I will not release until controls are great and the game is fun. Looking forward to making a great game for the first time. Wish me luck!

About the author

Min bilder
Gothenburg, Sweden