35th Anniversary!

SophSoft has been in business for 35 years as of today.

Digital GamecraftOn Wednesday, January 13, 1982, thirty-five years ago today, Sophisticated Software Systems was officially founded.  That company was later incorporated as SophSoft, Incorporated (because that domain, sophsoft.com, was still available).

Five years ago, I wrote a post, 30 Years in Business, giving more information.  You can also see the About SophSoft and Digital Gamecraft page (and sidebar).

Over time, some years have been more productive, and some have been more “interesting” than others.  Notably, back on the 25th anniversary, I actually posted about the results of our annual off-site meeting, rather than the major milestone; in that vein, I will keep this celebration limited and generally mark the occasion with more development. Still…

SophSoft, Incorporated is the oldest indie game development company in the world!

Ha!  Beat that. 🙂

Fifteen Years with Goodsol

We have been working with Goodsol Development for 15 years now!

Goodsol DevelopmentOn this date back in 2001, SophSoft, Incorporated made our first software delivery to Goodsol Development.  Since that time, we have never stopped working together, producing the best solitaire software ever created.

I posted about this collaboration 5 years ago in my post, 10 Years of the GDcard Library.  We have continued our progress since then, adding an entire line of iOS products and 400 more games to Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition, along with much more.

For fun, I thought that I would take a look at some of the numbers:

To save everybody a little bit of math, this means that, on average, we have delivered a new product version once every 10 days, and we have added a new game of Solitaire every two days, for the entire 15 years.  Amazingly, the number of delivered versions for Pretty Good MahJongg and for Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition are currently exactly the same: 88 of each.  [Spoiler: PGMJ will take the lead with a macOS Sierra bug fix.]

In lieu of anniversary gifts 🙂 , just tell your friends about our excellent products!

Oculus Rift is a Fad

It’s All Been Done [repeat 3 times] Before…

There has recently been a great deal of “buzz” surrounding the Oculus Rift, which is a virtual reality headset, or HMD (Head Mounted Display) with positional tracking.  The talk really got started at E3 2012, when John Carmack demonstrated a prototype.  After that, Oculus launched a successful Kickstarter campaign, eventually receiving $2.4 million in funding (after seeking just $250K).

The Kickstarter page, however, is very revealing, describing the Oculus Rift as “the first truly immersive virtual reality headset for video games.”  This is just plain false, and it shows not only a lack of research, but an associated failure to understand the history of VR gaming headsets, which (unfortunately for them) strongly predicts the future.

There were virtual reality headsets readily available back in 1995, 18 years ago!  Then, as now, they were being hyped as a new standard of immersion and a paradigm shift in gaming and [insert preferred hyperbole here].  In particular, I speak of the Virtual i-O iGlasses and the CyberMaxx headset, both of which our company owns (and has in storage, notably not in use), though I recall other competitors; even Nintendo got on the virtual reality bandwagon with its Virtual Boy.

I suppose that this is a good time to provide my credentials for this discussion.  In 1995, I wrote the official game drivers for Virtual i-O, which included native drivers for Doom II (ironically, Carmack’s game) and Dark Forces.  I was also later (1996) contracted by VictorMaxx (the manufacturer) to write game drivers for the CyberMaxx, as well as a virtual mouse driver that was controlled by its head tracking.  Also in 1995, I worked on Locus, the first release from Zombie, and also the first (to my knowledge) retail game that was truly (as the box says) “Engineered for head-mounted displays“.  At the very first E3 in Los Angeles, I had my software being shown in three different booths, and I helped demonstrate the iGlasses myself in two of those places.  I know whereof I speak.

Clearly, as evidenced by two nearly adult headsets collecting dust in storage, the “virtual reality revolution” never took place.  Sure, there were games that supported HMDs, and a brief time when some “location-based entertainment” (a fancy phrase for video arcades) had games which used VR hardware, but most people still played (and play) games with just a controller and a standard display.  This is precisely analogous to the non-existent 3D television revolution touted by those with skin in the game; it never happened, and while the hardware is readily (even fairly inexpensively) available, it did not take off.

There are two main issues with why virtual reality gaming has not become mainstream.  First, using a head tracker and/or other VR hardware is inconvenient.  It requires some preparation, there is a degree of setup, and then players need to wear/use slightly (to significantly) awkward devices.  It is nothing that cannot be done fairly easily, but it requires just enough effort that most will generally not bother.  This is quite the opposite of the current mobile gaming revolution (which is happening) where a player simply picks up a device, touches a (virtual) button, and plays.  There is also no “killer app” for the technology (guillotine simulator notwithstanding), so nothing but novelty to drive sales.

The second issue is that position tracking latency in a head mounted display makes you ill, literally.  Extended use (more than 5 minutes or so) of a head tracker will actually give you symptoms similar to motion sickness, or perhaps a severe hangover, including nausea and headaches.  Apparently, the makers of the Oculus Rift claim that this feeling of seasickness could be overcome once you get your “VR legs”; do not buy that.  There are specific physiological reasons for this reaction, which I will describe in my next post.  For now, let me just tell you that I have never gotten seasick nor experienced any other kind of motion sickness, but using the iGlasses for an extended period, during final Doom II driver testing, caused such an unpleasant experience that for a long time I would start feeling unwell just seeing that game played on a normal screen.  Locus was explicitly designed to have short matches and encourage a break from the headsets between rounds.

So, the Oculus Rift is nothing that has not been done before, and although the vertical resolution for each eye is slightly better than the Virtual i-O device, the iGlasses actually were more immersive, since they included stereo audio on the device, not just video.  That all said, I will admit that the Oculus Rift (like others before it) is a cool device, and I am certainly considering one on that basis.  However, it is still just a fad.

A cool fad, but a fad nonetheless.

30 Years in Business!

Today we start our fourth decade in the computer game business.

Thirty years ago today, January 13, 1982, I walked into the Ingham County Clerk’s office in downtown Lansing, Michigan, and filed a “Certificate of Persons Conducting Business Under Assumed Name” (a.k.a, DBA, ‘Doing Business As’) for Sophisticated Software Systems.

You can read more about how this originally came about in A little bit of History, Part I, but for just a $10 filing fee and a notarized document, I started my first company.

After some false starts, Sophisticated Software Systems self-published its first successful game in 1990.  The company went full-time in late 1994, and incorporated in 1996 as SophSoft, Incorporated.

In 1998, SophSoft, Incorporated spawned a division specifically for developing in-house game projects, Digital Gamecraft (as well as another division for non-game products in 2003).

However, it all started officially 30 years ago today!

Below are a few of our logo images from over the years, demonstrating the changes over time:

Here’s to the next 30 years!

A Personal History of Thanksgiving

I come by my love of Thanksgiving honestly.

In 1621, the settlers of Plymouth Plantation held what is widely regarded as the First Thanksgiving, under the second Governor of Plymouth Colony, William Bradford.

In 1624, William Bradford had a second son, his first to be born in the new world, also named William Bradford.

In 1651, William Bradford (the younger) had a son, Thomas Bradford.

In 1693, Thomas Bradford and his wife, Anne, had a daughter, Jerusha Bradford.

In 1716, Jerusha Bradford married Hezekah Newcomb.
In 1717, Jerusha Newcomb gave birth to a son, Silas Newcomb.

In 1752, Silas Newcomb and his wife, Submit, had a son, Paul Newcomb.

In 1776, Paul Newcomb and his wife, Martha, had a son, Silas Newcomb.

In 1806, Silas Newcomb (the younger) and his wife, Betsy, had a daughter, Eliza Newcomb.

In 1832, Eliza Newcomb married Jerry Williams Pierce.
In 1844, Eliza Pierce gave birth to a son, Jerry Williams Pierce (II).

In 1872, Jerry Williams Pierce and his wife, Polly, had a daughter, Minnie Sophia Pierce, born here in Michigan (as was every person mentioned hereafter).

In 1899, Minnie Sophia Pierce married Jesse George Wilson.
In 1902, Minnie Wilson gave birth to my grandmother, Mildred Leona Wilson, who compiled all of the information herein prior to the existence of the internet.

In 1926, Mildred Leona Wilson married Manley Russell Seelhoff (my grandfather).
In 1941, Mildred Seelhoff gave birth to Gerald Norman Seelhoff, my father.

As you can see, I descend directly from the founder of our American Thanksgiving, as documented in his journal, Of Plimoth Plantation.  For this, I am also thankful.

10 Years of the GDcard Library

We celebrate a decade of collaboration with Goodsol.

Time really does fly when you are having fun (and doing what you love).  It was 10 years ago today that we delivered the first properly functional version of a playing card library, then named PGScard.dll, to Goodsol Development.  We have been working with them ever since, improving this library, which is used heavily in Pretty Good Solitaire, writing new games (see below), and extending the product line to include Mac OS X (and, soon, IOS), as well as our Windows products.

Back then, the whole nation was still asking questions, like ‘Where do we go from here?‘  We were facing a bit of a crisis here as well, as our primary external opportunity was stopped in the midst of economic uncertainty, and our main internal project was rendered unpalatable for release, so we were available immediately when Thomas Warfield inquired.  (The subject line of my reply was, “Work?  Did you say work? <g>“.)

In the intervening years, the library was renamed to GDcard, had numerous extensions and updates, and has been in every PGS release (for Windows) in the last decade.  The current version, GDcard 2.09, has not required any modifications in the past 4 years, but it still draws cards and provides other related functionality in the latest release, Pretty Good Solitaire 13.1.0 (with 770 games), published last week (almost 10 years to the day after the initial agreement).

This first project led to many others with Goodsol (in roughly chronological order):

… and several products to be announced later.  All of the above games have trial versions available for download (at the links provided).  We also created MahJongg Patience (a smaller version of PGMJ) for the original (retail) MahJongg Master, published in 2003 by eGames.  (I now see that we are averaging more than one new SKU per year.)

I do not expect to be exchanging diamond jewelry, or even tin or aluminum gifts, but I do look forward to much more productivity and success from this arrangement in the future.  Thanks, Thomas and Anne!

15 Years of SophSoft.com

We have had a web presence for a decade and a half.

On November 14, 1995, our original registration of the sophsoft.com domain was approved.  Back in those days, our online activity was conducted via BBS, CompuServe, America OnLine, and Delphi (albeit briefly).  At the time, we spent about $150 in various fees to secure the domain name, having originally failed to obtain sophisticated.com by about a month.  We had to go through our dial-up provider (before the term “Internet Service Provider” [ISP] was coined) to register with InterNIC, which (as Network Solutions) was in the process of change, including the institution of fees for registering domains.  The domain was a shortening/concatenation of our company name, Sophisticated Software Systems.

Within a year, our company had incorporated as SophSoft, Incorporated, using the domain as the basis for its official name.  Our provider was bought out by another company, ACD.net (which is now our ISP, and one of the largest providers in the state), so we had to figure out how to navigate the domain system ourselves.  At the time, one had to email a specially formatted text message to a particular address in order to make any changes, which (of course) took time to take effect.  We also got broadband via one of the very first commercial cable modems in the country, and were soon running our own servers (which is probably a bad habit that continues to this day).  Our early websites were fairly minimal, built originally via HTML in a text editor.

Today, domain names are easy to purchase and manage, changes are close to immediate (with propagation issues being just a side note), web pages are much simpler to create, broadband is much faster and nearly ubiquitous, and expectations for internet communication are far higher.  All of that makes it fairly ironic that our first site has hardly been touched in five years…

40 Years of Earth Day (Observed)

Earth Day celebrated its 40th Anniversary on Thursday.

In honor of Earth Day, which was first held on April 22, 1970, I thought that it would be fitting to note that the manner in which we (much of our industry) do business is one of the most ecologically responsible methods of commerce.

Everybody in our company currently works from a home office, which means that the commute involves no burning of fossil fuels.  Additionally, only one location needs to be heated (or cooled, on those rare occasions in Michigan), so less natural gas (or LP, fuel oil, or electricity, as appropriate) is used.  As important to us, though, is that we are not contributing to the gratuitous development sprawl that was taking place here entirely unabated, even by massive oversupply, until the financial crisis finally slowed it down just a bit.

Occasionally, I have considered that the 15 year old van I drive could be replaced with a more fuel efficient vehicle, but I have not taken action yet because, first, it is already quite efficient overall because of its limited use and, second, despite much blather, current fuel consumption (MPG) ratings are ostensibly worse than when this van was built.  I sometimes go for days without driving, so it would take a long while to make up for the manufacturing cost of a new car, and when I do drive, this old 3.8 liter V-6 engine still gets within a few miles per gallon of most new “hybrid” vehicles I checked.  Sad.  (The expense of a new vehicle, weighed against the current lack of car payments, has also been a significant factor.)

The one area in which online software sales and virtual stores falls behind is in consumption of electricity, which can be seen to be elevated due to extensive use of computers, and especially the constant, 24 hour/day, operation of various servers.  In our case, for several years we voluntarily purchased, from our municipal provider, a couple of “blocks” of electricity generated from renewable sources, which was enough to cover all of our company computer usage (including servers) each month.  This was an investment in keeping and building these renewable sources of electricity, which has since been mandated for all public utilities in Michigan.

Of course, there is always more that one can do, so it is a good idea to take a little time every once in a while to consider ways to improve fuel efficiency, whether your goal is to save money or just save the planet.  (Our project for this summer involves insulating the floor under the front part of my office, which was never done at all by previous owners, including the idiots who built the addition.)

The Hubble Space Telescope is 20 years old today.

On April 24, 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into orbit from the Space Shuttle Discovery.  Those readers who were alive and conscious at the time will remember the initial problem with the main mirror led to criticism and ridicule, but that problem was fixed, and that resulted in great leaps forward in the field of astronomy (and a million beautiful desktops).  Last year, the “last” fix has made the orbiting telescope more powerful than originally imagined, and it could continue its successful run for many years to come.  Like a piece of software, version 1.0 had its share of bugs and detractors, but it became really useful at version 2.0, and by version 3.0 has already outlasted and outperformed all predictions.

Happy Birthday, Hubble!

Happy Thanksgiving 2009!

Much for which to be Thankful

This day is traditionally for reflecting upon those things that make us thankful, a tradition that has been in my family, literally, for 388 years. [*]

Our company begins the holiday season by taking the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving away from work and, instead, hosts a game party for employees and guests, with board games, card games, food and drink.  In truth, we have in recent years included some party games on game consoles, but given the nature of our business…

For the business, I am thankful that our development efforts in recent years are starting to bear fruit, that we have successfully completed several projects over the past year, and that the economy is on the upswing without the bottom having a devastating impact on our company.  Personally, I am thankful that, despite a number of health issues over the past year, my family is relatively healthy, that we have made financial progress over the last year, and (to be trite) for friends and family.

We are now in the process of preparing the feast, which will include turkey (x2), ham, potatoes, beans, stuffing, cranberry sauce, apple pie, and (non-traditional, but yummy) cheesecake.  I was just about to insert a picture here of the “camp cooking” apparatus that was to be used to prepare one of the birds, but word just came down that a structural failure has destined the turkey for oven roasting instead.  (“Christmas!  We will do it at Christmas,” I am told.)

Anyway, here are our best wishes to all of you, whatever the day (and season) may hold.

[*] My Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandfather is credited with the First Thanksgiving.  Here is a small snippet of his account:

They begane now to gather in ye small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health & strenght, and had all things in good plenty”  — William Bradford, Of Plimoth Plantation