April 19, 2006

Quote of the Week

It should be mentioned that there is much disagreement within the industrial scene as to the current state of industrial, to the extent that some are of the belief that there is no "current state of industrial", saying that industrial music ended with the demise of Throbbing Gristle

April 15, 2006

Fighting conformity… one field at a time.

Warning: Drunken entry. Contains excessive egocentricity.

Well then. Tonight I went out in Basingstoke with Dave, Simon & Johnny from college. It was fun; we went to bars, we drank beer, we tried (fairly unsuccessfully) to pull girls that were wearing not enough clothes and far too much make-up. All very normal and healthy activities for a bunch of 20 year old boys on a Friday night, I'm sure you'll agree (well maybe not "healthy" per se, but.. y'know.)

Annnnywho… as I live slightly to the east of the middle of nowhere any night out involves a certain amount of walking home afterwards, and this evening's walk took me past a rather secluded pond. The air was mild, the moon was full, and there was a thin layer of fog blanketing everything; so I decided it would be nice to sit next to the pond for a while and chill out to some Nick Cave. Hence I sat and listened to the second half of The Lyre of Orpheus alone in the moonlight.

While this was all very good and beautiful and relaxing, I couldn't shake the feeling that at any minute a spotlight would fall upon me from a helicopter and people would crowd around and shout "LOOK AT HIM! HE'S BEHAVING ABNORMALLY! SEND HIM TO THE NUTHOUSE!" and this paranoia got me thinking. While I'm quite sure that everyone else behaves in a similarly eccentric manner when nobody else is around, am I alone in feeling horribly paranoid and vulnerable when acting like this? Is this part of "The Wall" that Pink Floyd sang about that makes us feel like acting as individuals is wrong in some way? Or am I just an overly self-conscious nutjob? Who knows…

Feeling rebellious and individualistic I decided I would continue to fight the system by taking a detour home via a rather large field. Several hours later, after getting completely lost in a small forest, I was home. I'm not entirely sure just how damage I inflicted upon The System, but I've fucking ruined my new shoes.

April 13, 2006

Online blackjack whoring…

… is fucking lucrative.


March 31, 2006

Making a game in 72 hours…

A few weekends ago a couple of guys from VGDsoc and myself decided to enter a 72 hour game programming competition. There were no prizes and I haven't the faintest idea who was responsible for organising it, but I decided to have a go anyway because I always really enjoy the pressure of coding competitions, since they force me to actually work hard rather than honing my already tip-top procrastination skills. That and my sleeping pattern was becoming alarmingly close to what could be described as 'sensible'. Now that the competition is over and we've made a game that I'm really proud of, I thought it'd be cool write up a summary of the process we went through.

Incidentally, if you're thinking that game development couldn't possibly be interesting and that this entry will be excruciatingly boring, you're probably right. If you don't even get slightly aroused by the thought of four GeForce 7900s running in SLI then you should probably go and read a different blog. Mat's is quite good.

The competition started at 6pm on Friday night, when the chosen theme was announced – "Magic". While we weren't especially happy with that, Jon and Dunk both came up with ideas fairly quickly, which they illustrated with everyone's favourite dynamic modelling tool: MSPaint.

Duncan's idea involved you assuming the role of an evil witch and having to thwart the progress of various heroes who are attacking your castle. You do this by aligning various spell ingredients in a Tetris-like fashion to cast spells on the approaching hero:

Jon's idea was a turn-based strategy game in which you control a wizard and do battle with various other AI-controlled wizards:

After a bit of discussion we decided to go with Dunk's idea, despite the fact that it was much more ambitious both technically and artistically. This was mainly because we had horrible visions of Jon's idea ending up like the games that they have installed on the machines in DCS which are (with the notable exception of Klickitty) fucking awful. Time being of the essence we immediately got to work with our respective jobs: Dunk composing music and recording sound effects, Jon doing some further design of the gameplay and me coding wrappers around OpenGL and the general framework of the game.

By Saturday evening I had a fairly nice framework written. It was practically the same one I've written many times now for different competitions and I'm completely sick of re-writing it every time – but the rules usually state that old code can't be reused. One thing I'd never done before was a Font engine, for which I used the fantastic FreeType library. Dunk had composed some fantastic music and recorded various sound effects, including a particularly impressive witch impression, voiced by his mother.

Up until this point I'd been working with my own hilariously bad "coder art" to see how things would be laid out on screen and generally test stuff out, but early on Sunday morning Jon finally finished the first piece of real art for the game – a prerendered backdrop (created in Anim8or. We were all really impressed with how good it looked in the game and it gave my motivation a huge boost because it's so much more fun when what you're making actually looks something like a proper game. By this point the sleep deprivation was starting to have a seriously negative effect on my programming abilities, leading to some gloriously disgusting code, such as this lovely thing:
std::map<std::string, std::vector<std::string>>::iterator i
And no, I don't know why I didn't just use the std namespace either, so please don't leave any smartarsed comments about it.

Meanwhile, Jon was working on the artwork for the landscape in the top-right hand corner. He started off by sketching it out on paper, then scanned everything in and neatened it up before putting it all together and adding colour:

I was going to write more about how the code was progressing here, but I can't think of anything particularly interesting to say about sitting around eating Doritos and programming in my underwear. It wasn't even my Superman underwear. Here, then, is some more fantastic art that Jon did:

A few more hours of work and everything was really starting to come together:

Although it looked good, there was still a lot of work to do – and the deadline was fast approaching. Jon and I spent the last couple of hours frantically implementing all of the spells that Dunk had designed and adding the sound effects into the game. I was pretty gutted that I only managed to get a fairly small selection of Dunk's sounds in the game. We also probably should have played sounds in a seperate thread, since there's some stuttering, but our lovely Concurrent Programming module has ingrained us all with a terrible phobia of multithreaded programming.

We were still working on the spell effects until literally the last minute. We didn't have time for any trivial little niceties such as testing to see if the final version actually runs; we just packaged it all up together and then silently prayed while waiting on what seemed like the slowest FTP transfer ever. I still haven't seen what happens when you cast some of the more difficult to obtain spells. Our timing couldn't have been more perfect:

After making sure that the submission had been received properly we decided it was probably time to start testing the game out. To my shock and delight it actually worked, although the complete lack of any gameplay balancing meant that it was insanely difficult to play. You can download the version that we submitted here – but remember that it still needs a lot of work on balancing. I will post a new version when we get around to finishing it off.

All in all I'm very proud of our game, though a little ashamed at writing 4394 lines of code without a single comment. In the end we placed second in the competition (full results, we're Team VGDS) It just goes to show, yet again, that VGDsoc really is capable of finishing projects. If only we were self-motivated enough to do it without needing the pressures of a deadline to force us to work…



Why the hell can I not stop listening to Hybrid Theory by Linkin Park? I feel like I'm fifteen again. Except even when I was fifteen my taste in music wasn't this bad. I'll be listening to Limp Bizkit next. VH1 are (or were?) doing a poll to find the nation's favourite lyric. I think this one, from "A Place For My Head", gets my vote:

I watch how the moon sits in the sky
On a dark night shining with the light from the sun
The sun doesn't give light to the moon
Assuming the moon's going to owe it one
It makes me think of how you act to me

Stellar. And the users of SongMeanings.net agree with me:

this song is so great.. i love how the guys use that moon and sky metaphor. it's about a friend who is selfish and greedy, and doesn't care about u.
i love this song to. i only really just paid it any attention, and it just figured n my head. great metaphor with da sun n moon.

Sigh. SongMeanings.net is a fantastic example of how a really good idea for a community-driven website can be totally ruined by the fact that 90% of the "internet community" seems to consist of 14 year old LiveJournal types. Although given my current listening habits it seems that I may be joining them soon. All I need is an 'arty' photo of myself alongside some quote that shows how incredibly intellectual I am and how utterly futile life is…

May 18, 2005

A New Era Begins…

It seemed mundane enough. A couple of bank statements, the new Private Eye, some crap from the Inland Revenue – the same junk that my parents forward to me from home every month. "But wait," I thought, examining an innocent looking brown envelope. "What's this? A letter from the good folks at the Prescription Pricing Authority?" My curiousity was piqued.

My heart sank a little as I began to read the letter. "Oh," I thought, "it's just that certificate for free dental treatment that I applied for." How wrong that thought would soon prove to be. Dejected, I scanned down the list of things that I could use the certificate to claim for, like the leech on society that I am. And that's when I saw it, the bulleted item that is to change my life forever:

Yes, you did read that correctly. No, I didn't photoshop it in. Free wigs. Free wigs!


The phrase "The possibilities are endless" is banded around a lot these days by the press and advertising companies, but it is difficult to think of a situation to which it applies more than the one I find myself in now. Contemplating for just a few minutes, I have already brainstormed several ways in which these gratis head coverings could be used to improve my life.

  • As a comical and/or stylish replacement for my current (frankly rubbish) hair.
  • As an unusual yet attractive and effective tea cosy.
  • Two words: Robotic wife.
  • For leaving on my pillow and stroking during lonely winter nights.

I'm sure by now you appreciate (and probably share) the state of ecstacy that I am currently in, but there is more. Much more! The business potential of these wigs is literally limitless. Here are just a few of my ideas.

  • Low maintainence (and 100% immune to death) pets for children with ADHD (addition of those little googly eyes required, however).
  • Many wigs could be sewn together to create a range of clothing that would take the catwalks of London and Paris by storm.
  • Undercutting NHS prices and flogging on the hair black market (which I'm totally sure does exist) to people not fortunate enough to be in possession of certificate HC2.

All quite lucrative, I'm certain you'll agree. And now I must sleep, so that I can get the first bus to the local hospital in the morning to claim my sack of free wigs. And it has just been pointed out to me that, thanks to my wonderful certificate, I can even claim the bus fare back. Life is good.

February 14, 2005

Tony Robinson, be my Valentine

On a day when most of the other blogs in my Favourites are getting all cynical and talking about how Valentine's day is just an excuse to sell cards and pink helium balloons, I would like to talk about Tony Robinson.

Throughout my life, Tony has been a guiding force. As a child I would fall asleep every night to his gentle voice reading audiobook stories, and Saturday mornings were brightened by that weird program where he told tales from the Bible. And now, as a student, there is nothing more comforting on a Sunday afternoon than to sit down with a cup of tea and watch Time Team (at least until someone comes into the kitchen and asks "You watching this?", at which point I have to feign apathy).

Sure, there have been other pseudo-scientist TV presenters over the years. And yes, there were a few shameful years when Adam Hart-Davis and that ghastly bicycle of his had pride of place in my heart. But, like that thing with Peter Snow, he was just a fling, Tony. I'll always come back to you in the end. After all, who wants to know what the bloody Victorians did for us, when we can watch your loveable gnome-like self getting overly excited about a piece of rock that may have once been an arrow head? Not me.

So, Mr. Robinson, whilst I may well spend tonight alone in my room watching depressing films, listening to Nick Cave, and drinking whiskey until I'm sick – my heart will be in a field somewhere in Wiltshire, sitting in a trench containing the remains of an Anglo-Saxon roundhouse, watching the stars with you.

February 06, 2005

Well well well…

…it would seem that I have a blog. Despite my constant insisting that nobody with a trace of sanity would ever want to read my ramblings, various people have pursuaded me that I should get one. Plus I was starting to feel a bit out of the loop, what with all the VGDsoc people being firmly onboard the blog bandwagon.

Now I'm just going to sit back and wait until something worth writing pops into my head. Don't hold your breath.

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