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Thatcher's rants and musings 2004

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13 Dec 2004


"Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath" is finally winding up, after three years in development. Three years is a long time; I'm pretty damn glad to see the end of it. Towards the end of QA I finally actually played the thing as it's meant to be played (without cheats or missing content or broken code). I think it's a good game.

At the very beginning of the project, cbloom advocated that we have tons of character dialog, since that has always been one of Oddworld's strengths. That was a good call. The dialog came out really well; the NPC characters are funny and have lots of personality, and give a nice feeling of having lives of their own as they wander around chit-chatting with each other.

The storyline is relatively coherent, the FPS stuff is playable and not too twitchy, and the 3rd person melee stuff is fun. I wish the FPS gameplay was less central, but hey, it works.

I'm pretty happy with the visuals. The lightmapping worked out reasonably well. I wish I had done something better with chart boundaries; it's one of those problems that doesn't appear to have a good general solution. But we had talked about some kind of optimization pass to adjust the chart UV's a bit. Charles' cube-map/normal-map character lighting works nicely.

PSM mostly worked out right; we didn't end up with real resolution problems. The one glaring problem with the PSM shadows is double-shadowing in dark areas, and shadow bleedthrough on the backs of receivers. We had a sweet shader solution to this, where we used the lightmap color to control the PSM darkening. Unfortunately, it was deemed more important for the characters to have dynamic shadows on shadowed ground, than to get rid of those other problems. In other words, the double-darkening was considered a feature, not a bug. So, enjoy the double-darkening, and please ignore the bleedthrough.

The water came out nice for the most part. The particle and atmospheric effects are often great. The depth-of-field and glare looks good. Overall though, the art team deserves tons of credit for making the engine look good.

Anyway, I hope you like the game, we worked hard on it.


I'm on vacation, and it is great. I'm suffering from bone-deep tiredness and a glassy stare. I've been taking a drool-y coma-like nap at least once a day. I plan to continue that regimen until I feel halfway alive again.

Today I discovered that NYC seems to lack a technical bookstore. Atman knew of a couple places ("Book Scientific", and the bookstore at the McGraw Hill headquarters in midtown), which I visited, but both of them are out of business. I assume killed by Amazon et al. There are some gigantic bookstores around; maybe one of them has a good computer section. The B&N near my apt is gigantic but absolutely terrible for computer books. It's depressing to say this, but if I squint a little, NYC looks like a very large, but not especially unique, shopping mall.

4 Dec 2004


My opinions on this ea_spouse thing, in case you care:

The game industry does indeed overuse "crunch time". EA seems to have taken it up a few notches, deep into the zone of the ridiculous, compared to most companies. ea_spouse has done a giant service to us all by shedding light on the situation and forcing a public discussion.

I don't know if the industry should have a union. Union or no, we really need a concrete, specific set of "recommended labor practices" that cover things like crunch time. Game projects drag on for years, so there need to be limits. My recommendations would be something like:

(Those hour limits are set a bit high; the real average should be more like 40-45 hours/week normally, and 60 hours/week during crunch. But realistically there needs to be some flexibility depending on the work.)

There are plenty of companies where management means well, and pays lip service to the fact that too much overtime is counterproductive. But when push comes to shove, crunch time is too easy to rationalize, too devoid of short-term consequences.

The same thing applies to employees. You can get into a mode where it's easier to just go to work, than to deal with your life. At that point, you need some externally imposed limits on work.

Another totally crazy thing is well-intentioned companies that try to make work as self-contained as possible. For example, there are companies that have built movie screening rooms on-site, and invite families in from time to time, so that employees can get some recreation and family face time without leaving the building. Insane! When the work hours are over, kick the employees out the door! Don't fill the workplace with distractions, and then keep employees on-site for extra hours in order to make sure the work gets done!

19 Nov 2004

Professional Grade

I always roll my eyes when that GMC truck commercial comes on and proclaims their monstrosities "Professional Grade". I've seen some of the jalopies that tradesmen drive around town, and quite often they're not gleaming new GMC whatevers. If a professional uses it in their work, is it "professional grade", and is that supposed to somehow be good?

Even inside a trade, this disconnect persists. There's a common fallacy in game programming that if some tool or technique was used on a succesful and large commercial project, and someone from the team says the tool was indispensable, then that proves that the tool or technique is actually good.

In fact, if we're being honest with ourselves, a lot of our "Professional Grade" tools and techniques are poorly designed, unsuited to their purpose, buggy, inefficient, and hard to use. The reason they are usable at all is that in a large commercial project there are piles of labor and hardware heaped on every task, to make sure it gets done. But there are too many tasks to optimize more than a couple of the most critical, and there's pretty much never enough time to do fair evaluations of several alternative tools or techniques. As long as the job gets done in the time allotted, regardless of how far from optimally, the tool could be considered Professional Grade.


That's a whole heap of "Professional Grade" garbage.

18 Nov 2004

Similarities between Pokey and Hazel


3 Nov 2004


It looks like Bush has won the popular vote, although we still don't know for sure who has won the election, thanks to the electoral college system.

So... if there is a God, why doesn't He just strike Bush dead? The only rational answer is that God is scared, as we all should be, of a Dick Cheney presidency. Clever of Bush to keep Cheney on the ticket.

The fact is, God has a disappointingly poor track record of striking down hypocrites. Bush and company are very bad, but God is very high above. What little comfort I can get from religion at this moment comes from the lyrics of The Rich Kids on LSD song, Tell Me The Truth:

    If He's up there like I think He is,
    There's a hell that's hotter than piss!
    For all the money hungry godly liars
    Their reward... a lake of fire.

25 Oct 2004


I went to see the movie Primer last night. Today, Julie asked me how it was. I thought for a minute, then told her, "Terrible."

I really wanted to love it. The premise is right up my alley: some engineers spending their nights and weekends in a garage, building some curious experimental contraption (that turns out to be a time machine). The nerdy dialog is right on pitch, no dilithium crystal BS or gratuitous glasses and pocket protectors. The acting is not amazing, but certainly good enough. The movie is raw and low budget but manages to look cool, and the props really look like genuine handmade prototypes of electromechanical thingamajigs. For the first half of the movie, while the guys are building their device, I was totally on board, even though it's a bit confusing and takes too long to get to the point.

Unfortunately, the second half of the movie features a spectacular failure of storytelling craft. I'm pretty sure some significant things happen to the characters in the second half of the movie, but I would be hard pressed to say what they are. There are lots of interesting and curious tidbits, that completely fail to support any kind of coherent narrative. Seemingly significant characters and themes appear and disappear from scene to scene, with no explanation.

I'm left feeling very frustrated. I want the filmmakers to go back in time to before the film was released, reedit the script until it resembles a story, shoot a couple new scenes if necessary, record some new voiceover that explains what the hell is going on, and release a great movie.

Miscellaneous Sunday Night At The Movies Opinions From The Past Year Or So

Collateral is a really good movie. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is fantastic, the best movie I've seen this year. Garden State is very sappy, but still good. Sky Captain is mediocre at best. Team America is mediocre but with a couple really funny scenes, plus it's all puppets. Farenheit 9-11, as a movie, is decent, but not nearly as good as Roger And Me or Bowling For Columbine. Starsky And Hutch == funny. Troy is OK for a big budget bronze breastplate epic. Return Of The King is great of course. Kill Bill didn't do it for me; haven't seen the second one yet. I really enjoyed Club Dread.

12 Oct 2004

more tuffy

7 Oct 2004

The Capitalists Are Getting Restless

Here's an open letter to Pres Bush, from 169 tenured US business school professors, including a couple of Nobel laureates, Pulitzer prize winners, and more importantly my brother Karl:


"[...] the clear message is that more of the same won't work."

1 Oct 2004


It was nice to see Kerry kick some Bush booty last night. Thoughts:


30 Sep 2004

Interview in gotoAndPlay

gotoAndPlay, a site dedicated to Flash games, asked me some questions about gameswf, and published the interview here: http://www.gotoandplay.it/spotLight/gameSwf/

26 Sep 2004

Maria Full Of Grace

This is a pretty good movie if you're into slightly arty foreign flicks. My chief objection to the genre, and this movie is no exception, is: tighten up the editing! You could tell the story more effectively in 15 fewer minutes, by cutting out the long "meaningful" pauses where nothing happens and which aren't actually meaningful!

17 Sep 2004

Bacon Tempura

That's right, the Red Cat on 10th Ave / 23rd St offers bacon tempura on the appetizer menu. Yes it's good.

13 Sep 2004

Some adventures in font design.

10 Sep 2004

Misc blog-like thoughts:


18 July 2004

Celestia is a really fun virtual planetarium / virtual universe program. It's amazing how easy it is to get lost in space! There are a lot of stars out there, and once you get a few dozen light years away from the sun, they all kinda look the same!

8 July 2004

Hooray for summer soccer! There's a good summer rec league on the Vineyard. I'm playing for the Coop de Ville team (it's a restaurant down on the Oak Bluffs harbor). The league has this nifty website where you can read about my latest own-goals and yellow cards...

Oh yeah, I've been picking up some playing tips here: http://finesoccer.com

13 April 2004


24 Feb 2004


A while ago I mentioned seeing Tim Laursen's funny/demented movies on the Martha's Vineyard public-access channel. It turns out he plays in a local band, and they are pretty rockin. Sort of a Pixies-vs-Getupkids sound. Behold their web site, complete with mp3's: Unbusted.

22 Jan 2004

Die Backslash Die

A little game programming rant -- I just have to get this off my chest: backslash is a freaking terrible path separator. In C/C++ and many other languages (such as scripting languages used by game designers etc), you have to type it as "\\", because backslash is also the escape character. Meanwhile, in input prompts and many config files, you can't type it as "\\", because that means two backslashes.

Use the forward slash instead, always. The Windows API deals with it just fine, your programs will be more portable, pathnames look better, and you won't create unnecessary confusion for your team.

The one area of annoyance is that the windows command-line built-ins are a little stupid about forward slashes. Do yourself a favor and use a real shell instead.

19 Jan 2004

Random unprofound thought: I've noticed that magazine articles are sometimes called "pieces". E.g. "did you see that piece in the New Yorker about so-and-so?" Why it is called a "piece"? Piece... of what???

5 Jan 2004

Happy New Year!

The major news: arrival of new baby Hazel -- tons of photos here

More thoughts and stuff later...

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