Are you kidding me?

Where Gamecraft has been recently.

As regular readers will have noticed, this blog has spent a little time offline, and even more time without new content, although even occasional browsers will see that it now has an exciting new look.

In the past two months, we have had crashes of our most important Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows systems (in that order).  These were significant setbacks in and of themselves, but when a microISV is producing at full speed, and roadblocks are encountered, something has to give.  In this case, this Gamecraft blog was one of the casualties.

The initial Mac OS X issue was a terminal hardware failure of the primary development system, but it was compounded into a major problem by Apple’s ill-advised deprecation policy, since no new replacement hardware would run the version of Xcode and build tools we use to support all of our Mac customers.  (Say what you want about Microsoft, but they treat developers way better than Apple.)  We finally resolved the development issues by obtaining and installing old server versions of OS X in Parallels, but we are still screwed out of being able to properly test under Lion, Snow Leopard, or Leopard without buying old used equipment.  [insert appropriate expletives here]

The Linux (Ubuntu) issue was a bootstrap failure on our web server caused by a power outage during a major upgrade (and assisted by the new procedure of displaying update text and requiring user input to continue, without which the window of “opportunity” would have been much smaller).  Once it became clear that there was not going to be any reasonable way to recover/continue, it was not too bad rebuilding the system, and a little bit (including the entire database for this site) survived intact without requiring restoration.  Unfortunately, the server configuration (i.e., the hard part) was not fully recoverable, so that took some time to get working (and is still not completely to my liking).

The Windows issue stemmed from a (poorly timed) decision to upgrade my primarily development system to Windows 7 prior to public release of Windows 8 (a.k.a., Windows Ugh).  I almost always do clean installations, rather than upgrades, for my Windows systems, but the above issues suggested to me that I should do a 32-bit upgrade to minimize the disruption.  What I did not know is that in the interest of “security”, Win7 no longer supports the domain controller we have been using internally for many years, so the upgrade could not sign in, so it could/would not access the user information for my account, so the Start menu, registry, and other user-specific settings were all gone.  Result: All of the program files were installed, but the products ranged from working if manually launched to completely unusable.

After all of this, as a side note, everybody in the office experienced a tenacious respiratory illness that interfered with productivity as well.  (I would draw a parallel, except that only in the physical world was a virus involved.)

So, at present, all of our systems are back in working order.  We used the opportunity to improve our Mac OS X development process, including the introduction of code signing to support Gatekeeper, and the builds are running on a faster machine (which almost counterbalances the slower virtualized system).  Likewise, we ended up maxing out the Windows system memory and installing Windows 7 (64-bit) from scratch, giving better performance all around (except for the few old 16-bit tools I still used, which no longer run).  For the web, we decided to build a better blog (first) and then devote appropriate attention to our other sites, which, frankly, had been mostly neglected.

In the meantime, of course, we have remained steadily engaged in development, producing several new game versions and upgrades, as well as progress on a few new products, so expect a number of announcements (many after the fact) soon.

In the future, we will be utilizing the new and newly rebuilt development systems to full capacity, producing new and updated products for a multitude of different platforms, including (primarily) iOS, Windows, and Mac OS X.  Our new web sites will (also) be announced here as they are published, and we have plans to begin publishing game reviews for both Indie and AAA titles.

Please be sure to subscribe to our feed.  Thanks!

Where the Macgic Happens

A cozy Mac OS X and iOS development corner

I thought I should give readers a little glimpse behind the curtain here at Digital Gamecraft, so here is a picture of my personal Apple technology desk on one of those unusual days during which a full complement of devices have gathered.  Usually, most of the mobile devices live in other places, but they occasionally come together for an ultra-local technology conference.  (In this case, they were all anxiously anticipating new provisioning profiles after the previous batch had expired.)
This desk in the corner of the office is used for the bulk of primary development and debugging for Mac OS X and iOS products.

Here you see a simple key to the components of this image.  First, the parts labeled in red are the development components:

  1. MacBook Pro (“late 2007”), 17-inch 2.4GHz, running Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) through Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion), and soon the developer preview of 10.8 (Mountain Lion), with the help of an external FireWire hard drive, mostly hidden from view by the next item.
  2. iPad (original) 16G running iOS 3.2, the minimum iPad platform supported by our products.
  3. iPod touch (2nd generation) 8G, running iOS 4.2.1, sans (unsupported) multitasking.
  4. iPhone 4 with 32G, running iOS 4.2.6, with multitasking, GPS, camera, and (most importantly) a Retina display.
  5. iPad 2 (Wi-Fi + 3G) with 64G, running iOS 4.3.5, named “Rabbit”.
  6. Mac Mini PPC running Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger), the minimum Mac OS X platform supported by our software.
  7. Mag Innovision widescreen monitor with dual inputs, running natively at 1680 x 1050, acting as an external display for both Mac systems.
  8. Microsoft Mouse attached via Apple keyboard.  After a year of trying to keep this desk Apple-only, I had to surrender to the fact that Microsoft is just far better at making mouses.
  9. Herman Miller Aeron chair, brand new, also known as my horizontal trans-workstation transport device (for quickly moving between this workspace and my Windows workspace).  After breaking chairs every 2-3 years, the 12-year warranty actually made this purchase seem much more reasonable.

The components labeled in green in the key are fundamental to productivity, though not directly part of the development process:

  1. Head, the head head.  Head is responsible for employee morale, and keeping his minions in line.  (“I am so important that my minions have minions.”)
  2. Minions.  These (4) heads each have individual names, and they keep things lively by moving around the desk, often at night, very unlike their larger relatives.  You’ve heard of “talking heads”?  These are not those.
  3. Pioneer stereo receiver, practically an antique, from the days where radio was broadcast through the air.  This magic box plays news from NPR as well as classic rock and blues (and, previously, jazz), and special shows are regularly recorded digitally for later/repeat listening.  [Not shown: separate cassette player/recorder and turntable components.]

That is a small look at one corner of my office, which serves as an important piece of our development effort.  With this range of equipment, we can develop and test products for the last 4 major versions of Mac OS X, on both Intel and PPC hardware, as well as on versions of iOS since the iPad was introduced, with at least one device with each technology.  (Of course, things change again on Friday with the availability of “The new iPad” and its large 2048×1536 Retina display.)

Note that the view just to the left of this picture is out a window into a small courtyard where birds and squirrels (black, brown, and red), as well as our cats, frolic during the day.  At night, you can hear the raccoons and opossums wandering through and, alas, smell the occasional skunk.

Perhaps, if you are all good girls and boys, I may later show you the desk at which I am currently writing this…

Stop SOPA (and PIPA)

Stop PIPA, too.SophSoft, Incorporated opposes SOPA legislation.

You may have noticed that today several sites have “gone black” to various degrees.  You need look no further than the main page of Google (on January 18, 2012) to see a good example.

The reason for this is to draw attention to the dangers of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which is proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives, and its counterpart in the U.S. Senate, the Protect IP Act (PIPA).

We at SophSoft, Incorporated oppose these acts because, despite the ostensible goal, namely to stop computer piracy (a laudable aim, which we fully support), if SOPA and/or PIPA were to become law, they would fundamentally change the free nature of the internet, while doing little of substance to prevent actual piracy.

The rise of the internet has been the most important cultural shift in the past two decades, bar none, and it has been a catalyst for change throughout the world.  These bills could reverse that progress by allowing sites to be blocked in the United States without due process, and it shifts the burden of policing users to legitimate sites, requiring defacto censorship.  It also provides a blunt tool for unethical practices against online competitors or, in the best case scenario, merely (in essence) assigns much of the control of the internet (in the US) to large media corporations.

One of the most troubling aspects of these acts is that they show a profound lack of understanding of the actual issues, and without due process of law, there would be no opportunity for one to make a case, nor even to correct a misunderstanding.  The “fair use doctrine” is not a bright line rule that is always clear, and these acts could force a company out of business simply because of a complaint about the fair use of an item, or due to an errant blog comment with a bad link (or a good link that was compromised later), nevermind the threat of simple malicious complaints.

Here is a very realistic scenario:  Your sister-in-law gets a tattoo of Winnie the Pooh (Disney artwork) on her butt and thinks it would be fun to post a picture of the tattoo on Facebook; legalities of the tattoo notwithstanding, the litigious owners of Disney find a link to said picture, file a complaint, and Facebook itself could be shut down.

Another example, just for good measure:  A small company like ours produces a game and includes background music contracted legitimately from an artist who is fully paid for his work; EMI decides that one measure sounds a little too similar to something from one of their artists, files a complaint, and our website is blocked.

Clearly, SOPA and PIPA are very dangerous approaches to resolving a significant problem for those of us in the software industry (though, in truth, the acts are still all about protecting large media conglomerates).  If Congress really wants to help the problem, it could provide an expedited legal process for suing those who deliberately infringe copyrights, perhaps with a schedule of default judgment amounts, so small companies could afford to go after the real pirates.  I have no problem with a court shuttering a proven pirate website, but the government already has that power.

For different takes on this issue, please see the Wikipedia and Google (“End Piracy, Not Liberty“) responses.

Finally, let me simply say that any U.S. bills that would use the same methods as those used by the governments of China, Iran, and Syria to suppress political dissent, and are rabidly supported by Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp saw nothing wrong with tapping phones and illegally listening in to private phone conversations (until they were caught), are definitely to be avoided.


Happy New Year 2012!

Best wishes from all of us here at Digital Gamecraft.


The upcoming year corresponds to the Chinese Year of the Dragon, which should make it ideal for productivity, growth, and success.  Less mystically, 2012 is going to be our year of connection, as we continue to build our online presence and social network, both professionally and personally.

At the turn of the year, it is traditional to look forward into the future, and we will doing this in the coming days, as well as honestly assessing our performance over the past 12 months.  Expect some more significant activity on this blog in the coming days.  In the meantime…

Happy New Year!