2020: Year in Review

Overall Performance Grade: B-

Digital Gamecraft logo

This past year has, surprisingly, been rather average for Digital Gamecraft™ and SophSoft, Incorporated. I probably would have rated it a C, but the fact that we did not merely tread water but actually made progress during a global pandemic gave it a small boost.

Accomplishments of 2020

Counting down the top 10 achievements of this year:

  1. We joined Apple’s App Store Small Business Program. This is at the bottom of the list because, frankly, we want to be ineligible by virtue of making more than $1 million per year, but since we have miles (and just about a million dollars) to go to reach that plateau, we will accept a larger percentage of the sales.
  2. We finally tracked down the cause (spoiler: bug in Apple graphics code) of a really annoying, and expensive, bug that affected our custom libraries, and we worked around that issue. In case you are wondering how a bug can be expensive: We had to buy a specific used piece of Apple hardware in order to even reproduce the bug, but now we have an Apple iMac for QA.
  3. We joined another Apple developer program, which includes a “loan” of the latest Apple hardware, so all new macOS (and iOS) development will be ready for the newest systems.
  4. We got our new Windows development system fully installed and configured, so all of the programming for Windows, Android, and consoles will be done faster and better in 2021.
  5. We shipped Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition 3.56 in June, with 750 different Solitaire games for macOS, plus another 100 more bonus games (not to mention the bug fix from #9).
  6. We added another new development platform, Delphi, for an important client, so I personally picked up Pascal after, literally, three decades away (and, of course, learned Object Pascal for the first time, and continue learning.)
  7. We shipped Pretty Good Solitaire Touch Edition 1.60 (just a few minutes ago, actually), with those 750 Solitaire games for iPad, resolving issues with 4 years of Apple’s aggressive deprecation over as many major iOS releases, and fixing every reported problem on all iPad models running iOS 9.0 or higher. (Expect the update in the App Store in early January.)
  8. We were approved for major console development with a proposal accepted (n.b., not funded), on both the (then) current generation and the (now) latest generation, and we have our DevKit and TestKit in house and operational, with development actively underway. The original proposed release date was (naively) this year, but the approval process took more than 5 months to complete (from proposal to actually having SDK access and hardware).
  9. We shipped Pretty Good MahJongg Mac Edition 2.72 in October, with 55 original Solitaire games played with MahJongg tiles, as well as 355 tile matching layouts. This was a major rewrite of the successful product, switching from Carbon to Cocoa and revisiting every piece of code in the project, resulting in an excellent game.
  10. We survived a difficult year and are still here, with optimism for the future. As noted before, this pandemic has a smaller impact on this company than most, but fortunately, despite necessary changes, our clients have not pulled back. Instead, we leave 2020 with two more development platforms and five more development systems than when we entered.

Personal Perspective

I am pleased, or perhaps just relieved, that I have not gotten sick from, nor even knowingly exposed to, Covid-19, and I remain in good health. All of my family (of whom I have knowledge) and most of my friends have also remained safe (and the few friends who did contract Covid-19 seem to have recovered fully). I would call this “fortunate”, but it is actually more down to safe living practices, including limiting time in places where you might be exposed to an idiot who refuses to wear a mask. (To be clear, that means everyone who refuses to wear a mask in public.) It will probably be another half a year before I will be eligible for the vaccine, so we must remain vigilant and proactive.

My only real indulgence in this difficult year was to pick up two more pinball machines (to join the one I have had for about 20 years). I discovered that somebody (relatively) local had a 1974 Gottlieb Big Shot for sale, and since this was the 2-player version of my favorite machine ever, I bought it for myself; this one is a bit of a project machine, and I am working with my sons on restoring it completely. Immediately after getting it, I found (nearby) a 1972 Gottlieb King Rock, the 4-player version of the machine that made me fall in love with pinball and was the seed of my actual career, so I (perhaps foolishly) extended myself to get that, too; this one, however, was ready to play, so it gets regular use, as well as minor repairs and cleaning.

The addition of the new games, and the chance to spend time with my children working on them, inspired me to refurbish the 1973 Williams Fun-Fest I already had, but which had fallen into disuse a bit; it now has been nearly completely revamped and thoroughly cleaned, with new bumper caps (needed since I bought it) and fresh rubbers, and gets played almost daily. I still need to “debug” one feature, resolder a few questionable joints, and replace some cracked bumper skirts, but it is nice to have this machine working well again (and playing faster than ever).

During this brief frenzy, I also chose to upgrade my tools, especially my soldering station and my multi-meter, and to stock some specialty cleaning and polishing supplies, so now I can be a proper pinball hobbyist, rather than somebody who just owns a machine. Beyond that, while I had the rented truck from one of the pinball purchases, I retrieved my (original) upright Galaga machine from storage, prepared to diagnose and fix or replace the broken monitor (control board); I still need to get this completed (remember, I am a “software guy”, so hardware repairs, especially board-level work to supply power to a CRT, are a stretch for me).

Ultimately, this year has brought me some moments of joy, and in particular [buried lead] the news that I will become a grandfather in the coming year. With the family growth, political changes, and new business opportunities, there is good cause for optimism and hope for 2021.

Why I Do It

The origins of my passion for computer programming and games

I have always loved games, as far back as I can remember. Even as a small child, I enjoyed all kinds of games, and I remember making up games and contests of my own. However, most analog games have at least a couple of drawbacks surrounding one concept: competition.

First, one had to find other people to play the game. I spent a lot of time alone in my childhood, so the opportunities to compete against others was limited. Even when players were available, the choices were limited by the number of people. Some games do not work with too few players, and if you have too many, somebody can get left out.

Second, when there are enough people to play a game, there are a lot of issues with inequity. Sometimes the skill difference at a game (or in general) is just too great for enjoyment, and the degree to which one enjoys any particular game is usually imbalanced. My sister was often around for games for two players, but she was three and a half years younger, so there were few interesting games where we were matched well.

At the time, I had not developed enough life skills to solve these problems through negotiation and sheer enjoyment of playing the game. I took games far too seriously, and probably was something of a poor sport. Nowadays, we have (well, had) Game Nights, which we have been doing for a couple of decades, and I am now far more concerned that everybody is having a good time than whether or not I win (or even play), in marked contrast to my youth.

One solution is provided by one-player games, and I have had a love for Solitaire since I first learned Klondike around the age of five (as fully documented when I wrote “I come by my love of Solitaire honestly“). Likewise, I have loved Pinball for about as long, as my uncle owned Campus Pinball in Ann Arbor (and that experience factors heavily in my life story), but Pinball was not readily available to me on a regular basis in my early childhood due to both location and funding.

Instead, I made up games and similar activities that I could play on my own. I created solitaire games (like the one player version of Go Fish! mentioned in the linked Solitaire post), held competitive events with my toys, like marble races or a challenge to see which Matchbox/Hot Wheels/cheap knockoff car would go the farthest (for which I invented different match systems, including the double-elimination bracket system), or made up strict sets of rules (i.e., algorithms) for automatic players in multiplayer games, like Monopoly, and then played against them. I had no reference to know that this was a rudimentary form of programming, but it is obvious looking back.

More to the point, I used to fantasize about having a “robot” (because in those days, there were no personal computers, simple calculators cost hundreds of dollars, and the only real computer I had ever seen was an enormous mainframe at MSU with multiple huge tape drives 😉) who would serve as my opponent(s) in these games, effectively making them one-player games.

About that time, Pong was released, and as fun as that was, it was still a two-player game (although on many occasions I played both sides, where the inequality of the experience between my dominant hand and the other was striking), so it was actually Breakout, released 4 years later, that became the first video game I really loved. (It was decades later before I learned that Steve Wozniak programmed that game just before founding Apple with Steve Jobs, who was also on that project.) Of course, from that point on, the video games came faster and faster. (Plus, Pinball Pete’s opened nearby, and I made slightly more than nothing with a paper route, giving me better access.)

I was also introduced to Dungeons and Dragons, which is ostensibly a social role playing game, but for the first several years of my fascination, I never actually played it as designed, but rather read through the books of rules and played scenarios (alone) as Dungeon Master, as well as controlling the players, and/or a group of monsters, given algorithmic motivations, which (unbeknownst to me) was building toward computer adventure/role-playing games.

All of this led up to My First Programming Experience. I was hooked; for years I had dreamed to be able to do exactly what I have been able to do since then. Also, the technology rapidly exceeded what I could ever imagine (as detailed in Still Coding After All These Years). Occasionally, I have to take a deep breath and reflect on this fact.

This job is truly, and literally, a dream come true.

SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 Update

No Problems…  So Far

Fortunately, there have been no business changes due to the current worldwide pandemic, not because SophSoft, Incorporated and Digital Gamecraft are essential producers, but primarily because the company has always been set up to work in this fashion.  I only work from home, and when there were more of us, everybody worked from home (or, at least, remotely).  Our active projects for outside clients always have been delivered digitally, so nothing changes there either.

In truth, in the midst of all sorts of upheaval, my personal situation is actually quite stable, for several reasons:

  1. As noted above, I work from a home office, so (in theory) development work and company business do not change at all.  The only two analog functions that were regularly performed out of the office were banking and picking up the mail.
  2. My world was turned upside down and my life completely torn apart a little over a year ago.  Compared to suddenly losing my wife, this current situation is a mere aggravation, but very minor when put into perspective.
  3. Due to the above, I had already been adjusting to life (and work) alone here, so the solitude and loneliness were already something I was managing.  Of course, I do have two cats (plus a new stray on the porch), so that helps.
  4. Perhaps to the surprise of some, I am very much an introvert and, for the most part, prefer to be at home.  My default stance is to not leave or go anywhere, so I no longer need to make an effort to be social (for a while).
  5. I am quite healthy, and still relatively young, so I am not in a high risk group for hospitalization from COVID-19; nevertheless, I am taking as many precautions as practical.  Also, I got my “affairs in order” a while back, so I am not scared of being unprepared should I suddenly get sick or even die.

At this time, I have no known exposure and no symptoms; in fact, my body temperature has been running low ever since I started daily checks a couple of weeks ago.  I went to the grocery store today for the first time in more than a week (and only the third time since the pandemic was declared) and should be stocked for two more weeks.  Aside from that, I get fresh air and go walking outside, completely alone (and irregularly, it must be said) and otherwise have not gone anywhere (nor had take-out or delivered food) at all in the two weeks since Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed her “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order for the State of Michigan.

What annoys me right now (beyond those ignoring the recommendations and endangering us all, which registers fury with me) is the number of people who seem to be complaining about getting to stay home.  Because I was already close to self-quarantine before we had even heard of this coronavirus, I did not gain any significant quantity of extra time, and I never have enough time to do the things (at home) that I want to accomplish.  Now, some people have gained lots of excess time and talk about being bored.  Bored?  What is that?  Seriously…  I do not think that I have been bored at home in 30 years!

That said, productivity during this crisis has not been what I would have liked, although it has been getting better, with progress being made on all fronts.  I think that I may be dwelling too much on pandemic concerns, and that could be taking away some of my focus, all of which prompted me to write down my thoughts here.

It is my full and honest intention to make this the last COVID-19 related post for a while, and instead get back to product development and posting about other topics, all while maintaining the maximum practical physical separation from other people.

Digital Gamecraft 2020

It has been just more than a year since SophSoft, Incorporated lost its second founding partner (of three) and I lost my wife of 31 years.  In a week, the company will be celebrating its 38th anniversary, and it will continue to develop game software.

During 2019, I took time to reflect on what was really important and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and I decided that the plans that Sherry, Rick, and I had devised (and undertaken) as business partners were honest and true representations of what we wanted to achieve.  Therefore, I will continue those pursuits, not just out of a sense of loyalty, but because they are why we got into this venture in the first place.

Digital Gamecraft will continue to develop and publish game titles in a variety of genres, and this will be our primary focus.  While some of these games may be a little different to what they would have been with my partners to help guide the development, the games will nevertheless embody the spirits of Sherry and Rick to the best of my capabilities.

SophSoft will also continue to do consulting work; however, due to sheer limitations of time, our regular client roster is effectively full.  Please feel free to contact us if you are in desperate straits or need our help with a fully-funded project that is right down our alley, but realize that we may not be able to fit you into the schedule.  (If you have just an idea, a shoestring budget, or a need for fleet management software, go somewhere else.)

We also have a couple of adjunct projects that I expect to see the full light of day within 2020; announcements will be made here as and when appropriate.

In an industry where companies come and go with a disturbing regularity, remember that we have had the same address for 30 years:

Post Office Box 4936
East Lansing, MI  48826-4936

We have had the same business phone number for 25 years:

(517) 337-3905

Our web site has also been in steady operation since 1995 (though this blog is just a baby at a mere 15 years old).  Plus, having been originally founded in 1982…

We are the oldest independent video game company in the world.

I truly appreciate your support as we continue to move forward.

Sincerely,
Gregg Seelhoff

RIP: Sherry Seelhoff (1964-2019)

Sherry Seelhoff

At the start of the year, my wife died unexpectedly at the age of 54.  We had been married for more than 31 years and have two wonderful sons.  Sherry was a founding member of SophSoft, Incorporated, and her passing has had a profound impact on me personally and will have a lasting effect on the company, including this blog.

Sherry was a dedicated and loving wife and mother, who gave herself fully to her family and friends. Her kindness and generosity touched everyone she met, leading to recognition for her service with volunteer organizations. She was loving and loved, and her memory will be carried by all she knew.

Sherry passed away quietly and unexpectedly in her sleep as the new year began. She is survived by her husband of 31 years, Gregg Seelhoff, sons James Seelhoff (Meredith Baumann) and William Seelhoff-Ely (Sandy Seelhoff-Ely), sister Melissa Short, mother-in-law Margot Hellerman (Lance Hellerman), sister-in-law Lori Seelhoff, niece Heather Joswik, half-sisters-in-law Angelina Hellerman and Andrea Hellerman (Jim Arnold), half-brother-in-law Samuel Hellerman, two half-nieces, one half-nephew, and innumerable friends. She was preceded in death by her mother, Mary Theresa Short, her father Wyman Richard Short, and her father-in-law, Gerald Norman Seelhoff.

Sherry lived her life with empathy and passion, and had an infectious spirit. She enjoyed hiking, camping, canoeing, dancing, reading, hosting game nights, playing trivia, watching movies, and listening to music. She loved laughing with friends and family. She would want to be remembered by those she loved continuing to participate in her favorite activities and striving for the ideals and compassionate causes in which she believed.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in Sherry’s name to Sierra Club, ACLU of Michigan, and/or Planned Parenthood.

“… our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it. And we can make it very wonderful indeed.” ― Richard Dawkins

“Don’t think of it as dying. Just think of it as leaving early to avoid the rush.” ― Terry Pratchett

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” ― Dr. Seuss


Fall in East Lansing

#whymichigan

After an unusually warm summer here in Michigan, which happened to correspond to lots of upheaval and several unusual activities for me, the weather broke with a minor thunderstorm a few nights ago; in came the cool fall weather that characterizes the change of season, and it looks like it plans to stay for a while.

As much as I love hot days, especially those that others sometimes find unbearable, I think that I really enjoy the early autumn in East Lansing the most.  It is still warm enough that everybody is outside, yet cool enough to sleep in the evenings (and that damn air conditioning can stay off).  We get some rainshowers and occasional thunderstorms as the different air masses interact.  Soon, the maple trees will start turning beautiful shades of red, orange, and yellow, and the smell of falling leaves will permeate the fresh air.

This is fall.

(Yes, I know that technically the autumnal equinox is not until the 22nd of this month, but the change of seasons is not only about one astronomical event on a particular day.)

Another aspect of this time of year here is that East Lansing (Go Trojans!) is a big college town, home to Michigan State University (Go Spartans!), which has more than 50,000 students; that is more students than permanent residents of the city.  From late August into September, the influx of students, including some 10,000 incoming freshman, provides so much energy it is almost palpable.  (The increase is traffic is also unmistakable, but still nothing like larger cities.)  There is really nothing like a home football Saturday when all of the above combine into a uniquely exciting experience.

With the university and so many students, there is a lot of diversity of interest, many resources, and loads of young people who are here for the express intent of learning, which makes for a primarily uplifting environment.  Whether one is into science, the arts, sports and games, public service, natural recreation, business, or almost anything else, chances are good that you can find (or make) an opportunity here.  In just my field, there is the Game Design and Development Program at MSU, a student organization, Spartasoft, a top academic conference, Meaningful Play, and Digital Gamecraft is not nearly the only game developer to be based in East Lansing (though we are, by far, the oldest).

Whether coincidental or not, this impending change in season has corresponded to a noticeable uptick in productivity on the most important end of my personal task list.  In particular, I have been really able to dig into development recently, with two iOS projects getting ready for release, one product update very soon (i.e., already submitted to the App Store) and a second one (for a client) making great progress toward completion.  I have also been able to get back on the bike, literally, and pick up where I left off on my exercise program.  The scenery is just lovely, and the weather is perfect.

That is just one reason why Michigan.

[Note: The following just happened to come up randomly from my music collection while I was writing this post.  It seems appropriate, so enjoy.]

Happy Thanksgiving 2017!

Why I Am Thankful This Year

I have many reasons to be thankful this year:

  • On the business side, I am thankful that my company (SophSoft, Incorporated) continues to survive in a difficult and challenging industry.
  • On the development side, I am thankful that I have a large list of interesting projects on which to work and that I still get excited about programming games.
  • On the marketing side, I am thankful that I have been able to restore the new server and this blog site to something resembling its prior glory.
  • On the employment side, I am thankful that I have an excellent team of elite programmers who can pull off amazing projects and from whom I can still learn.
  • On the social side, I am thankful that I have some astonishing friends who are truly wonderful, giving me something to which I can aspire.
  • On the family side, I am thankful that my family remains so wonderful and continues to support me and each other, even when times are tough.
  • On the personal side, I am thankful that I am still healthy and active and that I can be comfortable without compromising my values or integrity.

I wish great happiness for all of you on this special holiday.

Gregg Seelhoff

Curmudgeon Day 2015

The holiday is needed now more than ever!

Stay Home. Do What You Want.This is the 12th straight year that I have written about Curmudgeon Day on this blog, and every year the situation gets worse.

The purpose of Curmudgeon Day is to avoid all of the insanity associated with the commercialism attached (incorrectly) to the day after Thanksgiving in the US.  Some may call it the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season, but the idea that it is the most profitable day of the year is a myth.

The practice on Curmudgeon Day is to stay home and do whatever you want to do, but most importantly, do not go shopping.  Granted, it can take some planning, especially if you are not in the practice of keeping your pantry full and cooking for yourself, but it is much safer not to join the frenzy, as well as better for your mental health.

Since the first blog post here in 2004 (which was already many years after Curmudgeon Day started), the crowds have gotten bigger, the number of deaths have increased (from none), and the abuse has spilled into Thanksgiving, our family’s most sacred holiday.  The only way to stop this idiocy is to refuse to play that “doorbuster” game.

Instead, stay home and actually play games with your family, or work on your hobby, or read that book you have been meaning to find time for, or, if you must, just watch the disturbing images of shoppers acting like stampeding cattle on television and learn the names of all the people killed underfoot this year.

I urge you, most seriously, to make a stand.  Celebrate Curmudgeon Day!

Quest for a Happy Thanksgiving

A Classic Adventure Story for 2015

Legacy of the Ancients - classic RPG from Quest Software/EAMany years ago lived an adventurous little halfling.  (Don’t call him a hobbit, as some folks are offended if you use the term; only they can use it.)  After years of toil for nothing but scraps of copper, he decided that he was not happy and moved to rectify the situation.  He left the city and returned to a small town on the edge of nature and sought his fortune panning for gold.  Initial successes suggested that this could prove lucrative and, in any event, he was pleased to pursue his real adventure, instead of the pale imitation that had been sold to him previously.

However, as the years progressed, there were lean times.  Some years the stream dried up completely, and even when there were enough gold nuggets to indicate that fortune was imminent, it never came to pass.  As the successful years became fewer and the struggles more regular, he became less happy, though he still pursued his dreams.

Then one day the stream suddenly stopped flowing entirely.  After an initial panic, our hero made due for a while with the few grains of gold he could find in the quickly drying mud, hoping that the water would return.  Alas, upon further investigation, he discovered that the mountain people had dammed the stream in an attempt to keep every last scrap for themselves.  With the coffers empty and the cupboard almost bare, he relented.

So, the halfling and his warrior princess, who somehow continued to believe in him, left their rustic comfort and moved to a bustling metropolis.  He accepted a position mining for gold, and he decided to imitate his friends, the dwarves, by putting on a smile and singing a happy song.  “Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to work we go!”  To his astonishment, it worked.  Though the mine was much twistier and confusing than he was led to believe, he found a place of comfort and a way to enjoy himself.

Besides, minted gold coins beat the hell out of irregular nuggets of gold among the rocks.

And so our Adventure begins…

As a player, I was able to complete the first level, in which the halfling travels faraway to the big city and has to find suitable accommodation once there.  This was actually harder than it sounds, involving not only normal adventuring and RPG aspects, but also elements of time and resource management games.

In the second level, the halfling has to deal with remote threats from an evil villain and a crazy witch, all while facing the prospect that the gold mine may not stable.  I was able to play to the end of this level by concentrating on the most imminent issue, and properly equipping the warrior princess to dispatch the witch, we she did, albeit not without first having to bait her with some of her personal treasure.  I just finished that level.

For the next level, as far as I can tell, the goal is for the halfling to seek out the evil villain, who survived the previous level, and destroy him.  Armed with a war chest from vanquishing the crazy witch, along with significant information about the villain’s strategic weaknesses, it looks like our hero will be able to both defend his “castle” and take down the malefactor without too much trouble, though the villain is too dimwitted to realize this.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Outside of the game, this year I am thankful for all of my friends, both old and new, who provided support during the challenges and continue to keep me connected.  I am thankful that my family has managed a significant level of upheaval in the last year with grace and fortitude, especially my wife, who sacrificed a great deal to move to Los Angeles with me.

I am especially thankful that my choices this year, though not free of ramifications, have worked out essentially as planned, that I have been able to greatly expand my opportunities, and that I have found comfort within a brand new adventure.

Oh, yeah…  I am thankful that tomorrow is Curmudgeon Day!