Not-so-Free Agent

There’s a hole in my schedule, Dear Liza, Dear Liza.

For the first time in years, my game development time is entirely my own.  Today was the first day of business since late 2001 on which I did not have a time obligation to a consulting client.  Feels weird. ;)

Having made arrangements with our largest client to take a short hiatus (while we weather the vicissitudes of App Store reviewers), we did have an interesting quasi-game project penciled into the schedule.  Unfortunately, as happens all too often in this industry, as we were warming up the fountain pen, the prospective client proved to be yet another “tire kicker” not actually serious about having the project produced professionally.

So, this means that…

You, yes you, can retain a professional game developer with more than 30 years of industry experience to design, program, or consult on your project.

Currently, I am actively working on Windows, Mac OS X, and iOS projects, with C++ and Objective-C code, though my abilities range far beyond those.  I have particular knowledge of quality control, artificial intelligence, and traditional games.  For more information [serious inquiries only]: seelhoff@sophsoft.com

Of course, I am actually reveling in having the extra development time for Digital Gamecraft projects, starting with Demolish! Pairs, for which there will be a number of announcements in the coming days and weeks.

The only thing (and the real point of this post) is…  I need to get used to having all of my time for these projects.  At the moment, I still habitually kick into time management mode, making sure that I stay on top of everything that needs to be done for each client.  For now, I suppose, I am my only client.  That works. :)

2013: Year in Preview

Happy New Year!

Digital GamecraftWe at Digital Gamecraft have emerged from our two-week “break” into a new year with a fresh sense of optimism, renewed productivity, and an almost overwhelming prognosis of much greater success in 2013.

There are three major factors that play into the very positive outlook for this year:

  1. We had a strong finish to last year, with a large number of product updates shipped and a significant stabilization of our development platforms and processes.
  2. Despite officially being “out of the office” during the break, I actually fell back to my love of game programming, hence Demolish! Pairs made fantastic progress.
  3. The first day back in the office saw us ship another major update to Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition, adding another 20 games (to be published very soon).

After a certain amount of adjustment during 2012, we are not making any changes to priorities for the new year.  However, we did map out our course of development for the foreseeable future, and just seeing the project list is fairly exciting itself.  We have four brand new game products to launch within the next six months, as well as a new web site project and a productivity application.  Of course, success begets success, so new clients are also contending for SophSoft, Incorporated game development resources.

Personally, I am resolved to both read and write more; my desire to spend more time programming games is handled nicely by the facts in the above paragraph. :)

So, here’s wishing all of you a great deal of success (however you choose to define it) for the coming year, and a nice recovery for the game industry in general.

2012: Year in Review

Overall Performance Grade: B

Digital Gamecraft / SophSoft, IncorporatedDespite being in the middle of our two-week break, I decided to take a short hiatus from the warm tropical sunshine (actually, the snowfall outdoors and a space heater in the office) to do a performance review of this past year at Digital Gamecraft and SophSoft, Incorporated.

Major Events

#10: FreeCell Plus 4.10

We released a maintenance update to this popular collection of 8 FreeCell Solitaire games (plus 4 bonus games) on October 16, for both Windows and Mac OS X.

#9: Most Popular Solitaire 2.10

We released a maintenance update to this top-selling collection of 30 Solitaire games (plus 13 bonus games) on October 12, for both Windows and Mac OS X.

#8: Goodsol Solitaire 101 version 2.12

We released a maintenance update to this collection of 101 favorite Solitaire games (plus 34 bonus games) on September 25, for both Windows and Mac OS X (after the earlier release of GSCI 2.10 on July 3).

#7: Are you kidding me?

During August and September, we experienced major failures of systems running (in order) Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows, while development continued (mostly) apace.  All systems were restored, development processes were optimized, and this Gamecraft blog was improved.

#6: Action Solitaire 1.50

We released a significant upgrade to this arcade Solitaire game on May 15, adding 5 more games for a total of 75 games, for Windows (only).

#5: Preparing for Mac App Store Submission

Starting in January (and extending into March), we published a 6 part article, plus introduction, giving a most detailed listing of guidelines and pitfalls associated with submitting a product to Apple for inclusion in the Mac App Store (for OS X).

#4: Pretty Good MahJongg 2.41 / ME 2.02

We released an update to this definitive collection of MahJongg Solitaire, tile matching, and puzzles, which contains 55 games and 300 layouts, on September 25, for Windows (PGMJ 2.41) and Mac OS X (PGMJME 2.02).

#3: ISVCon 2012: Success!

The company attended the inaugural ISVCon conference (renamed from Software Industry Conference) in Reno, Nevada, and I presented Quality Assurance for Small Software Publishers and also spoke on the How Games are Different panel.

#2: Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition 2.40

We released another major update to this largest collection of Solitaire games for Mac, adding 25 new games for a total of 400 games (plus 60 bonus games), on November 27, for Mac OS X 10.4/Tiger through (current) 10.8/Mountain Lion (after the releases of PGSME 2.30/2.32/2.33/2.34/2.36/2.38 earlier in the year).

#1: 30 Years in Business!

In January, our company celebrated its 30th ANNIVERSARY, making us “The Most Venerable Independent Game Developer in the World.”  (It may be a bit of hyperbole, but we have been doing this since well before many “indie developers” were even born.)

What Went Right

Digital Gamecraft has remained a full-time independent game development company for the 18th consecutive full year (stretching back into 1994, as Sophisticated Software Systems). Some internal projects, including Demolish! Pairs, have made huge strides, and we have multiple iOS projects poised to release early in 2013, while maintaining our expertise in Windows and Mac OS X platforms and adding others (to be announced).

Product development was really solid for the entire year, and our strong association with Goodsol Development continued, as evidenced by the numbers: 18 SKUs published (plus two quiet updates), 16 closed beta versions, 6 internal (alpha) versions, and 3 more updates pending release.  That is a SKU/update shipped about every 8 calendar days, on average, not at all bad for a small company.  A new development/release schedule for Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition is more efficient and working well (so far).

What Went Wrong

The heavy release schedule of various Solitaire games on multiple platforms took a toll on the resources (mostly time) available for other projects, compounded by the several weeks of hardware and system failures and recovery, so Demolish! Pairs was delayed (again) until early 2013.  Marketing efforts are nascent as well.

Despite the improved release schedule, desktop sales have not lived up to expectations, based on results from previous years, so some rethinking and second-guessing has taken place.  In particular, the division of effort between (tried and true) desktop development and (less reliable) mobile development (for lower price points) is a matter of some risk.

Final Evaluation

On balance, I awarded a grade of B for overall performance in 2012.  Although specific tasks, especially the intention of shipping a new Digital Gamecraft product, were not fulfilled, the entire year was fully productive and reestablished forward momentum after a disappointing 2011.  This also takes into consideration progress on a number of projects that do not (yet) figure into the published release schedule.

We are capable of an A+ grade in 2013, so that is clearly the goal.

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.

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