Archive for October, 2006

New beta build

Saturday, October 28th, 2006

There’s a new Banana Bay beta build up (try saying that 5 times fast). If you’ve played previous betas, you can grab it from the same location, with the same login.

For this beta, I’m not adding any new beta testers, but I should have another version later next week that I will open to new testers, so if you’d like to be in it, drop me an e-mail at psteinmeyerpublic A T charter D O T net.

Windows Vista, R.C. 1

Friday, October 27th, 2006

You can download for free the first release candidate for Windows Vista.

I did so last night to try to see if Banana Bay would work alright under Vista.

Some observations:

It took a long time to download – it’s about 2.5 GB, and took about 2 hours or so for me to download on my fast cable connection.

I went to install it on a ~3 year old Windows XP machine. This machine has decent specs – AMD Athlon XP 3000+ CPU, GeForce 5700 video, and 1 GB RAM.

I wanted to install it to a hard drive partition and keep my old XP install around. This machine is not my primary, and had no important data, but I still wanted to keep XP on it. The Vista RC 1 expires on 5/31/07, and I didn’t really want to be left with a PC with an expired OS (yes, I could reinstall XP later, but that’s a pain).

I tried the option to install Vista onto a partition, but although there were some vague indications from the language in the setup that I could do this, in fact, it seemed that your drive would already have to be properly partitioned for this to work. Although my hard drive was probably only about 20% full, I couldn’t find a method to partition it as part of the Vista install, and didn’t want to invest hours and/or $$$ finding a 3rd party drive partitioner.

So I opted for an overall ‘Upgrade’ – i.e. replace my XP install with Vista, but keep my programs intact.

It didn’t like one program I had installed (Norton), but after I spent 20 minutes or so removing Norton (what a pain), I got Vista to start it’s install/upgrade process again.

It ran ok for about 3 hours, then stalled in the last of the 5? stages it listed (finishing installation?)

I let it run overnight, but when it was still dead this morning, I rebooted. After some more complaints from Vista about an incomplete install, I went the 3rd route, and chose the option that amounted to ‘blow away everything on the drive and give me a clean Vista install.

This took only about an hour, and succeeded, mostly…

Once Vista fired up and prompted me for my user name and the like, it seemed pretty solid. Internet access worked right off the bat (I didn’t need to enter any settings). The OS seemed solid, except that it was running at 1024 x 768 resolution. I have a Dell 2005 LCD monitor, and it’s native rez (and my preferred rez) is 1600 x 1200. Unfortunately, Vista would not let me bump the rez past 1024 x 768. The problem is that it apparently couldn’t identify my monitor, possible because the PC is not directly connected to the monitor, but rather, goes through a KVM switcher (allowing me to hook 4 PCs to the same monitor, keyboard and mouse).

It wouldn’t let me manually specify the monitor – it just had the generic default monitor configuration.

I was able to find a switch for ‘Hide modes that this monitor cannot display’, which was checked by default. I unchecked it, which gave me some more, higher rez modes to select, but they were all widescreen modes, like 1980 x 1080. I ended up leaving things at 1024 x 768. Maybe I’ll fight this battle another day.

One of the first things you notice with Vista is that it pops up a LOT of warning dialogs when you change just about any setting. I suppose this keeps newbie users out of trouble to an extent, but it’s annoying to a savvy user. I could probably find a way to switch into administrator mode and cut back on this, but I wanted to experience the OS as most users would.

As for the actual OS – it looks very cool. I’m surprised to admit this, since I thought the default XP look (candy-coated) was awful, but the default Vista look is very nice – better than Mac OS-X in my opinion.

I went to install my game, which runs quite well in Windows XP, and is very vanilla (does not even use DirectX, but rather, the more basic Windows functions of Waveout for sound, and BitBlt for graphics). I got a few semi-scary warnings when I went through the install process. This is going to scare inexperienced users away from games and such by smaller developers. You can address it to some extent by digitally signing your installers, but that’s expensive, cumbersome, and somewhat oriented towards larger developers, IMO.

After the install and the various warnings, I went to play the game.

It all played fine, except the sound was very ‘skippy/stuttering’. Usually this means the sound buffers are too small. I recompiled the game with bigger buffers, and that resolved the problem, but at the cost of much higher sound latency (i.e. the lag between when you, say, press a button, and when you hear the appropriate sound). I added some debug code and determined that I was filling the buffers at proper intervals. Then I added some more debug code to see if the buffers were ever ‘running out’ (which would cause stuttering).

To do this, I called waveOutGetPosition, which you can use to see if the buffers have data in them. In theory, this function is simply a ‘read-only’ function – it tells you something about the state of audio playback, but should not actually CHANGE anything about audio playback.

And yet, once I started calling this function, the stuttering went away. I confirmed this by adding a switch by which I could, in game, toggle this function call on and off. I do not know why calling a query function such as this appears to affect the way that buffers are refilled, and it makes me uncomfortable that, at the moment, the ability of my game to play sound correctly in Vista appears to depend on this oddity, but that’s the way it is.

Otherwise, I haven’t spent too much time using Vista. I will say that my initial experiences with it leave me rather skeptical that this it will really be ready for prime time in the next few weeks (I believe the final is supposed to be seeded to corporate customers in November, and to be pre-installed on consumer PCs in January). We’ll see, but a multi-month slippage in release dates would not surprise me. I doubt they will have a version good enough that I’d want to make it my primary OS come January.

Edit – One further note: Since I set this Vista machine up about 6 hours ago, its hard drive has been chattering most of the day, even when idle. Hopefully this is just a one time indexing thing or something like that (though the machine is now clean except for the OS and my game – shouldn’t take too long). If Vista is always active and pounding on the hard drive even when you’re leaving it alone, that could become very annoying very quickly.

Edit 2 – apparently R.C. 1 is NOT brand new but has been around for at least a little bit. R.C. 2 was apparently recently leaked and is better, but is not available at the site above. So, if this version I’m looking at is several months old, it’s more believable that Microsoft could hit a final in a few weeks with a decent version.

Ayiti – The Cost of Life

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

In my last post I mentioned an interesting serious game in beta. It’s now been released. Ayiti – The Cost of Life is a game where you try to shepherd your poor family in Haiti through the many problems they face. A light graphical touch softens a tough topic – give it a look if the subject interests you.

On a lighter note, this game shows that even dirt-simple graphics and mechanics can be amusing. It takes about 10 seconds to learn and you’ll probably be done with it in 10 minutes or less, but it’s fun. (My record is 9.1 seconds)

Finally, check out Funny Farm. A simple word game/trivia puzzle – type in words to expand the grid. For example – cow connects to ‘On the farm’ and cowboy connects to cow. Post your save game link here and you can merge it with others working on the puzzle (it’s a BIG puzzle – you’ll want to work with others…)

Link Updates

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

Some interesting sites:

Casual Review – New reviews every couple of days of various casual games. The reviews are noticeably better than your typical user reviews posted on portals. Also note that Gamezebo continues to publish casual game reviews, news. etc. If anyone knows of other non-blog sites operating at a professional, or near professional level, that are focused on casual game news, reviews, etc, and are NOT part of a portal (i.e. selling the games), please let me know.

James Smith of Reflexive has updated his excellent Game Sales Chart site with a whole list of different presentations of top 5-10 sites processed in different ways. I especially like the ‘World Map‘, which presents 17 different ‘top’ lists in a way such that you can quickly see how a given game is doing on any/all of them (just mouse hover at different spots on the grid).

I’ve been interested in so-called ‘serious games’ for a while (games used for educational, social policy or other purposes). There’s an interesting new one in beta (sign up here) about the daily life and struggles of a family in Haiti. Attractive presentation of a difficult subject.

Beta Updated

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

For those in the Banana Bay beta program, there is a new version of the beta posted. Same location, user-ids, passwords, etc. as the last few betas.

How Much Do The Top Casual Games Generate?

Monday, October 9th, 2006

James C. Smith, of Reflexive Entertainment, posted some great data on the IndieGamer forums.

Click on the link for the full summary, but the nutshell is:

On Reflexive Arcade, the top 5 and top 20 games for the last 12 month period generate 19.6% and 42.6% respectively, of gross revenue. That’s a lot, but there’s still room to generate revenue outside of the top 20.

For a single month period, the numbers are a bit more skewed towards the top (since a handful of games are more likely to dominate a single month than a whole year), but still, not too bad. The top 20 games generated 54.0% of the revenue for September 2006.