Back in the days when I bowled in a league and, frankly, back when people actually scored on paper with pencils, players on our team used to occasionally draw a black bar after a frame on their row of the scorecard; this would indicate where some significant change was taking place. It could be switching balls or adjusting technique but seemed to most often just denote that this was the point where they determined that they would increase focus and concentration. (The unwritten rules seemed to be that nobody said exactly what the bar meant to them, and that one did not use more than one per game, preferably no more than one per series/night.)
I was thinking back to this because the idea remains affixed in my mind, and I sometimes would conceptually draw a bar after an event or a period that was less than satisfactory for me, for whatever reason. Well, the last nearly five years have been far less than satisfactory to me, and I have come to realize that this is going to be the default situation going forward, so I am mentally, and publicly, drawing a bar under this period of my life. This is less disruptive than yielding to the impulse to burn my old life to the ground, and less painful (but also less immediate) than having Cher slap me twice in the face and scream, “Snap out of it!” 🙂 (Moonstruck, 1987)
Clearly, my mourning for my wife is not going to end anytime soon. It is not that I have not been getting development done during this tough period; I have been fairly productive. In fact, despite a difficult start to the year, I have already completed all my client goals for 2023, made significant inroads into our company product goals, and have a clear vision moving forward. Apparently, I have also been putting on a brave face, such that a friend recently described me as “a happy person”, which is definitely not how I actually feel.
What is going to change is my attitude. I will continue to push forward, but no longer with the false expectation that I will ever recover from the trauma. In the original spirit of the black bar, I am going to try to increase my focus and concentration, pursuing my game development goals without apology or justification. I will endeavor to entertain and educate those who are interested in what I do, but I intend to be, ultimately, only accountable to myself. I will use my intimate knowledge of mortality as a motivation to get things done.
I went to a small industry event in Chicago last week, the first such event I had attended since the pandemic, and it was refreshing and revitalizing. I did a little bit of networking, and I met a number of indie game developers, and they helped put things into perspective. Not only were they facing similar issues to me (sans the death of a soulmate), but many, if not most, were desperate to complete a game, whereas I have dozens under my belt. When I showed somebody one of my released games on my phone, they (earnestly) responded, “Cool!” Nobody there looked down on casual games nor the fact that is (in part) what I enjoy making.
Thus, be it resolved, I am going full steam ahead to make games that I want to make, to support and educate others who want to pursue their game development dreams, to disdain the naysayers, and to thrive in my chosen field so that I can live the kind of life that I want to live for as long as I am privileged to live it. 👍
Due to the struggles of 2022, and the particular effort to get back to “normal” operations, I ended up working right through most of our annual shutdown period, when I should have been relaxing and unwinding in preparation for a strong start in the new year.
I emerged from this burnout risk directly into the anniversary of my wife’s tragic death (4 years ago), which has a way of negatively affecting mood and productivity long before one consciously realizes that the date is approaching.
Having already cleared my schedule, rather than pushing on an internal project, I chose to use the next couple of weeks to regroup, which was only partially successful. This “break” segued into necessary preparations for a quasi-vacation, previously scheduled.
I was then out of office, and even mostly out of the country, for the rest of January, returning with a case of “cruise crud”. Once that was shaken I was ready to get back to development, but I did not have a suitable period of time to catch up with my backlog (which I also underestimated).
February 6th was the first day officially back in the office, and I immediately set to work clearing the backlog of messages and responsibilities that had accrued in my absence. It took me the rest of the work week to get everything caught up, so I decided to return to proper routine and take time to reset over the weekend.
On February 13th, I started the day enthusiastically programming (finally!) and made great progress. I reached a good “stopping point” in the afternoon and switched over to some operational matters. I was wrapping up customer support (and had gotten to the part where I was just interacting with my friends/customers online) when I heard loads of emergency sirens, and then some police vehicles sped by (~25 yards/meters from my office window) with full lights and sirens blaring.
It was shortly after that point that I got a message that there was an active shooter on the Michigan State University campus. While I was looking for more information, a “shelter in place” order was issued (definitely including my location), and I learned that multiple people had been shot just a half mile South from here.
I spent the rest of that night taking cover, trying to get information about what was happening, and worrying about family. When it was confirmed that there had been a lone gunman and that he had killed himself (like the coward he was), the “shelter in place” order was lifted, and while we all collectively tried to catch our breath, I learned that the gunman was a nearby neighbor of my grandchild and child-in-law.
When all was said and done, 3 people had been killed, and 5 more were in critical condition with gunshot wounds. While, in retrospect, I was never actually in danger, there were numerous alternative scenarios in which family, friends, and even I, could have been in the firing line. Frankly, I have been far more shaken by this event than I would have imagined.
So… 2019 was the year I had to deal with the sudden and unexpected death of my wife (and business partner), 2020 was the year of the global pandemic, 2021 was the year where a friend and client very nearly died, and 2022 was the year where my personal life was in upheaval (and my stepfather died); I will be damned if 2023 is going to be defined by this mass shooting.
I ended up taking the rest of the week off from development, not entirely by choice, so at this point we are in the second half of February with little development progress to show. Therefore, I declare that the first seven weeks of 2023 are a mulligan. I will spend the next 10 days on planning, organization, and regaining development momentum, and then, like the Ancient Romans, I will start 2023 in earnest on March 1st.
My race number is 23, so this is going to be my year!
The last year was particularly challenging for reasons mostly unrelated to business or development, so rather than give a letter grade, I merely graded our performance on a pass/fail basis. Since we made it through the chaos, that earns a passing grade. Now Digital Gamecraft® and SophSoft, Incorporated, are in a similar position to where we were last year, albeit with fewer resources and a different calendar year. It could have been much worse.
Accomplishments of 2022
We managed to continue development throughout the year, so here is a countdown of our top 10 achievements:
We shipped a beta version of Action Solitaire in April. The fact that a release version has not yet been published accounts for this being at the bottom (well, top) of the list. However, this is a maintenance release only, so I can still recommend the current version, Action Solitaire 1.6; the next update will be free to all registered users.
We completed a fully playable PlayStation 4 prototype of Demolish! Pairs in May. This marked a console development milestone set when we got our PS4 and PS5 kits; from this point we are performing a quasi-port of this proof of concept to PlayStation 5 by means of enhancing our SophPlay System™ for both platforms and converting any remaining code that directly accesses any PlayStation SDK.
We shipped a beta version of a (deliberately undisclosed) feature for Beyond Compare (Scooter Software) in May. This deliverable demonstrated the feature functioning in an environment programmed in Delphi and represented a concrete milestone of moving from the research phase toward a complete implementation, though potential integration would not happen until 2023 at the earliest.
We shipped two beta update versions of the Goodsol Solitaire Engine, in July and November, adding 50 more Solitaire games, along with supporting engine changes, each time. This brought the total number of implemented games to 1000, which count includes (100) bonus games. These new games should propagate into Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition, and probably Pretty Good Solitaire Touch Edition (for iPad) and Pretty Good Solitaire Mini (for iPhone) as well, in 2023.
We published Demolish! Pairs 1.10 for Android in January. This represented a significant amount of refresh work, as discussed in an earlier blog post, being the first Android project in more than 3 years. The end result was professionally satisfying, placing this accomplishment near the top of the list, despite earning, literally, nothing. 🙁
We survived the year, again, with the business still intact, and I personally made it through a myriad of challenges as well. For the third year in a row, existential concerns have been paramount, with a global pandemic and other matters of life and death, literally, factoring into how the company operates. Here’s hoping that 2023 is a relatively uneventful year of outstanding productivity and no existential crises. [Voiceover: “… but that hope would only last until Monday, February 13.“]
In general, despite the challenges, we continued to develop and make good progress. We completed 23 projects, including 10 published release versions, 2 active beta versions, one completed beta version pending release, 9 other completed betas, and 1 major prototype. We shipped products in 9 different calendar months (only missing June, as 50 Solitaire games were added to Goodsol Solitaire Engine, and September/October, as another 50 games were added.) Frankly, I was surprised looking back at how much was accomplished.
Our product development goals were not met, although progress was made. None of the (4) unannounced projects made enough progress to actually be publicly announced, although the Gamecraft Classics™ product made major strides and should be revealed soon. SophPlay System™ progress was good on multiple platforms, but significant work remains to be done. Demolish! Pairs got its Android refresh in January (after iOS refreshes in late 2021), as well as completion of the PlayStation 4 playable prototype, but the multi-platform redesign has not taken place yet, much less implementation and release.
Development for client projects, on the other hand, was quite successful. Although it was not explicitly mentioned, I enumerated 13 client projects for completion in 2022 and we completed every one of them. We also got clearance to publicly name Scooter Software as a client (only mentioned here because it was listed as a goal). The only drawbacks were that one beta product got stuck in the doldrums, and that there are fewer client projects for the new year.
General development goals were not met, though primarily because these are the kinds of projects that get deprioritized when resources (especially time) are constrained. We made limited progress on each item, but significant progress on only one, while the focus of the console goals shifted, and I made few blog posts, despite better intentions.
Business goals, alas, were a failure. Simply put, not only did we fail to increase income, but the extra challenges meant repurposing some of the funding for renovations into operations, so there was no time for reviewing paperwork and neither time nor enough money to begin renovations. On the other hand, that leaves these goals unchanged, and despite the larger challenges, I am more motivated than ever to fulfill these goals.
I did not publicly enumerate personal goals, but I did mention spending more time with my grandchild which definitely happened, albeit not as I had imagined, and we have a closer relationship now that I could have ever hoped for, which is the best outcome of the year. All of the other personal goals were totally shaken up by events, but I did my best.
Honestly, much of 2022 was fairly dark for me, so I am relieved to look back and see that the company continued to deliver for clients, and scaling back the goals ever so slightly allowed us to complete all planned client projects. When one is faced with concerns about the immediate welfare of family members or oneself, it becomes difficult to plan for the future, and very hard to dream of much beyond an end to the current crisis (or crises).
Now that most of these concerns have passed, I am beginning to plan and dream for the future again, while adjusting to those things that will never be the same (as I also had to do just four short years ago). I can’t say that I am quite back to 100% yet, but I am close enough that I have been able to get “in the zone” once more, and dismissing humility for a moment, I feel that my 90-95% is still much better than most developers at full strength. 😉
I can even say that I am truly excited for (the rest of) 2023 and the positive progress it will bring, and I am looking forward to much better things. Onward!
This past year has been fairly decent for Digital Gamecraft® and SophSoft, Incorporated, all things considered. Despite the continuing pandemic, we made more progress, albeit not quite as much as planned/hoped, resulting in a grade slightly higher than last year, yet still well below our potential (and intention).
Accomplishments of 2021
Here is a countdown of the top 10 achievements of this past year:
We shipped Pretty Good Solitaire Touch Edition 1.61 in January. We seemingly started off quickly, although version 1.60 was actually shipped in the dying hours of 2020, only becoming available publicly this year, and then requiring a quick maintenance update. (The details of my bugs are listed in the ‘My Mistake’ section of the previous post.)
We shipped updates to Goodsol Solitaire 101 version 2.40 (for Windows), Goodsol Solitaire 101 Mac Edition 3.20, and Goodsol Solitaire 101 Touch Edition 1.60 in August. These were maintenance updates to use the latest engine and bug fixes, but included no new games or features, hence the combination of all three platforms being relatively low on the list.
We made significant improvements to our development tools and internal development processes. This includes upgrading Windows development to Visual Studio 2022, adding a new Mac system, prioritizing 64-bit development (with 32-bit support) on Windows (to match the other platforms), incorporating extra code analysis, and further improving code standards, as well as enhancements to our SophPlay System™ for robust game development.
We added 50 more Solitaire games, along with supporting engine changes, to the Goodsol Solitaire Engine, for a total of 800 games plus 100 bonus games in our library (closing in on the 1050 in the flagship product) and ran another short and successful beta test.
We achieved major progress on a project for another client, working in Delphi (and beta testing Delphi 11 in the process). This is only listed in the lower half because a) the final goal, while close, has not been realized yet, and b) I still haven’t asked for clearance to reveal the product, so I have nothing to highlight or link. 😉
We shipped Pretty Good Solitaire Touch Edition 1.70 in October, with those 800 Solitaire games for iPad, plus the 100 more bonus games. This update is listed below the Mac Edition only because it was easier; we already took the the deprecation pain for the last release.
We shipped Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition 3.60 in October, with 800 different Solitaire games for macOS, plus another 100 more bonus games. More importantly, perhaps, this upgrade included Apple M1 support, MacBook touchbar support, loads of internal enhancements, and fixes to every reported bug.
We shipped Demolish! Pairs 1.30 (iOS) and Demolish! Pairs FTP 1.21 (iPad) in November. Demolish! Pairs is the full version, and Demolish! Pairs FTP is the free-to-play version that supports in-app purchases. These upgrades were made under duress, specifically a threat from Apple to remove them from the App Store because they had not been updated in too long (and no other reason); they worked fine with no issues even on the latest version of iOS. Nevertheless, we reworked both SKUs, adding “support” for new devices and iOS 15 (not that a user would notice), resolving deprecations, and updating the source code to our latest standards. (This month, we got more than $6 from this effort — so worth it. 😐 )
As of May 25, 2021, we have a registered trademark for Digital Gamecraft, so now we are Digital Gamecraft® (as astute readers may have noticed in the first paragraph). This is an exciting culmination to years of effort (and not insignificant expense). We popularized the term “Gamecraft” in the video game industry more than 20 years ago, but (for reasons of frugality, i.e., a lack of funds) we stuck with the old unregistered ™ symbol. Recently, however, there has been more and more encroachment into our (intellectual property) territory, including at least one attempt to deliberately trade on our good will, so action was necessary. We eschew legal conflicts, but when cease and desist letters are necessary, they will happen.
We survived and even thrived in another difficult year. There were major challenges this year, plus some life-affirming events (see below), and while we did not accomplish everything we had planned, we definitely made progress on all fronts. It actually really helps to do these yearly reviews to get a better perspective. (After some initial doubt, not only did we get enough accomplished to have a top 10 countdown, but we even had to combine some products to keep it down to only 10.)
Although games are extremely important to me, personally, it is important to keep in mind the bigger issues that transcend (yet underpin) all of our usual day-to-day activities. I was not being flippant when I said we “survived” this year, as these three larger issues attest:
Birth: In March, my first (and likely only) grandchild was born. They are healthy and doing quite well (at 9 months of age now), and they have definitely shifted my life priorities. Their birth (within a few years of the death of my wife) certainly helped put things into perspective.
Death: In April, my friend and primary client almost died, and by that I mean that he came so close that it took extraordinary medical procedures (an open-heart surgery very few doctors could perform) to even give him a fighting chance. I was already contemplating my own mortality, and then suddenly I am communicating (and then unable to) with somebody who was literally facing death. The excellent news is that he did survive and is doing well now.
Illness: Of course, it comes as no news to anyone that the global Covid-19 pandemic lasted throughout the duration of the year, and continues. At least the vaccine arrived this year, and I got mine as soon as it was readily available (not being in any risk category, I waited until those who were had been served), and I got the booster as soon as I was eligible. All of my family and inner circle of friends have done the same (as any non-idiot has) and, so far, none have been infected. I still mask whenever indoors, other than at my own home/office where I live/work alone, the sole exception being while I am swimming (for obvious reasons).
Clearly, these bigger issues are ever-present, but I consider myself fortunate that all of the above have happy endings as of the end of 2021.
We shipped 12 SKUs, including 10 release titles and 2 current beta versions, along with 6 other betas. Although we did not actually ship a product/update every month, it was still quite good.
We met 2 out of 3 business goals. Specifically, we made it safely to this point, always making payroll along the way, and grew our income (albeit just slightly).
I personally took a chance and made an investment in myself and my family, my grandchild in particular, betting on (and facilitating) future success of the company.
What Went Wrong
These things went wrong this year (to be corrected in 2022):
We did not ship the console game we had intended to ship before the end of the year. The amount of supporting work (beyond basic product development) was greater than anticipated, and several external issues provided unneeded distraction.
We left 13 SKUs (including the above title) on the table, including a refresh of the Android version of Demolish! Pairs, two other unannounced internal products, Pretty Good MahJongg, Most Popular Solitaire, Action Solitaire, and FreeCell Plus. (To be fair, some were not done due to issues beyond our immediate control.)
We failed in one business goal, doing no outreach to other developers during the year. This simply fell off the radar in terms of priorities. (We may push this to 2023.)
I have colleagues who have day jobs and shipped just a single title, or were unable to ship anything, during 2021, and some other “indie” game developers have many times the personnel and focus on a single title for years (a luxury of funding we do not have). Given this, I think that a dozen SKUs cannot be a disappointment, even if it was only roughly half of what we attempted. Scaling back expectations is certainly a consideration.
At the moment, I am feeling fairly optimistic, but that is probably less due to the new year, nor even to the boost of looking back at our accomplishments, and more due to the fact that we are a couple weeks into our traditional year end break and, hence, I am “out of the trenches”. I am refreshed and ready to dive back in.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.]
The Roman calendar started in March (Mensis Martius), so by that measure I am not too late.
OK, so we are already two months into the Gregorian year, and this is only my second post. Frankly, those of you who know me personally will appreciate that I often have a lot to say, but when it comes to setting aside time in my busy schedule to write it down, well, my preference always tends to actual development (and my task list reflects that preference).
So, SophSoft, Incorporated and Digital Gamecraft have been acting like a duck, appearing calm and quiet on the surface, but paddling like crazy under the water.
Yes, we have been ducking. 😉
That said, we have been doing a great deal of development work on a few fronts.
What We Have Been Doing
Recent development work has been divided pretty clearly into three categories:
SophSoft has been continuing our long-term association with Goodsol Development, and there are a couple of products in the pipeline for release in the near future and, of course, more to come thereafter. There is a major release scheduled for March 21st (stay tuned), followed shortly by our two products, the first of which is already “in the can”, and the other being completed now.
Digital Gamecraft is going to be releasing Demolish! Pairs for Android soon, in conjunction with the refresh of Demolish! Pairs for iOS, which is currently in progress (as required by Apple). Another game is prototyped and approved for full production once that simultaneous release is (successfully) completed.
I have been leading a team, the Advanced Concepts Group, at DAQRI, to produce AR (augmented reality) software for enterprises (Professional Grade AR™), including the majority of the Worksense™ productivity suite, as well as the development tools necessary to build applications for the DAQRI Smart Glasses®.
With more than a dozen products actively developed already this year, not to mention also properly purchasing our Michigan home/office during the same period, perhaps that will put some perspective on my lack of blog progress. Now…
What (else) We Will Be Doing
In addition to the work mentioned above:
SophSoft has another (unannounced) product designed and in the early (prototype) phase. It is a slight departure from other projects we have previously done, but it should be groundbreaking. The first version is scheduled for release in “late Q3”.
Digital Gamecraft has a planned and prioritized list of game projects to undertake, with four more expected to be developed during 2018. However, we should probably emphasize the “agile” nature of this schedule.
With DAQRI, there are several exciting (but, alas, non-game) projects scheduled throughout the year and into 2019 and beyond. I am not at liberty to reveal any of these plans, of course, but I have seen the future of industry.
Personally, I have two close family weddings and a big family reunion all scheduled during the summer (in three different months), so I should be increasing my air miles, too.
Everything is looking quite positive, and after Looking Back at 2017, I fully expect 2018 to every more productive and fulfilling. In fact, composing this blog post reminded me why I should be doing it more regularly: it helps me increase both my enthusiasm and my focus.
It has been more than four years since we have done a proper ‘Year in Review‘ post and, frankly, it will be still longer before we do a proper one. However, we should take a look back on the previous year and take an honest appraisal of our performance and the work we have done at Digital Gamecraft and SophSoft, Incorporated.
Excluding politics, 2017 was not a terrible year for us, and for the most part we moved in a positive direction, with no catastrophic setbacks. However, it must be noted that our ostensible performance was disappointing. While we made big strides with internal development, we did not publish enough product (nothing directly from Digital Gamecraft) and did a poor job of communicating and marketing.
When one is spinning plates, it does not take much loss of focus to allow things to come crashing down. Right now, SophSoft is as “streamlined” as it has been since 1994, so with fewer manhours to utilize, we tend to focus on the crucial issues (e.g., paying bills) and the tasks that we perform best and enjoy the most (i.e., development).
What Went Wrong
Because I gave us a below-average grade, we will start with the negatives for 2017:
We did not publish any Digital Gamecraft products (or even updates).
One of our Demolish! Pairs products was removed (forcibly) from the App Store.
Our primary web server crashed (hard) in the summer and we are still recovering.
Time spent in Los Angeles is far less productive than East Lansing (for reasons).
The current US Government is attempting to destroy this country for generations.
What Went Right
Now, we can end this with the positives about 2017:
We essentially finished Demolish! Pairs for Android and it plays great.
Another (unannounced) project made great strides after languishing for years.
Our skills and capabilities continue to improve and expand.
SophSoft remains the oldest independent game developer in the world.
Ultimately, being disappointed with shipping an average of more than one product update per month is probably a good thing; however, we can definitely do better, and that will be the subject of my next post, Looking Forward to 2018.
It has been a couple of months since my last blog post, and in that time, there has not been a lot of encouraging news about the game industry, business, or life in general. We have often heard, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.” More specifically, I do not want to spend a lot of time and effort whining (or whinging, if you prefer) and filling this Gamecraft blog with negativity. However, that can result in a very quiet site sometimes. That said, it is past time to provide an update, despite its somewhat unfavorable tone. (Besides, with 475,830 spam comments rejected and very few actual comments, and fewer informed opinions, evidence is that few will read this anyway.)
The positive is that we are still alive and kicking and, with Goodsol Development, we continue to publish and improve the best solitaire games on the planet. Nevertheless, what has been appreciated in the past as fantastic fun, quality workmanship, and excellent support is now just expected from us as par for the course, and rarely recognized nor appreciated. If “the squeaky wheel gets the grease“, then perhaps by eliminating any squeaking wheels from our products, nobody cares anymore. 🙁
Winter of disappointment
The overwhelming feeling over the past several months has been one of disappointment. Nothing catastrophic has happened, but the total weight of one minor setback after another, and one dissatisfying interaction after another, without many positives to offset them, is definitely sapping my remaining optimism. At first I was interpreting most of this solely in terms of the game industry, or even just our little part of it, but it is now clear that the same type of problems run throughout our society and culture. This realization does not inspire a hopeful mood in me.
Still, the Richard III interpretation of this section title provides something on which to hang my hopes. After all, there has to be a thawing in the spring (whenever that comes), and if my general expectations have fallen low enough, it makes it much easier for me to be pleasantly surprised. There have to be more people out there who do not automatically approach every interaction with the thought, “what’s in it for me?”
In other words, there is nowhere for my attitude to go but up. Actually, I have fallen to a very succinct phrase that describes it perfectly, but since the command verb is an expletive, I will go ahead and leave that to your imagination.
Given the current situation, we are making a slight switch away from “business planning” and toward “take things as they come“, especially since something significant is likely to change our course in the short term anyway (or else there may not be much of a long term at all). Independent game development has become (practically) unsustainable.
As part of this shift, I am reorganizing my general schedule, compressing the business functions (which have been generally unsatisfying) into just a few days each week, leaving the majority of my time for pure (hopefully, uninterrupted) development work, which is what I truly enjoy. After any client needs are met, I will be focused on designing and building the kind of games I want to make.
The next game industry crash is already underway, but I will not go down without a fight!
Anybody who wants to prove me wrong can do so, easily, by hiring me for game development. You can find my résumé linked from my online portfolio.
The new year has gotten off to a snow start, though.
For us here at SophSoft, Incorporated and Digital Gamecraft, 2014 is starting a little bit later than originally scheduled. We took our usual couple of weeks off at the turn of the year, but the weather decided to insert itself into our plans. On the first full day of our break, we were hit by a serious ice storm, and although we were very lucky to be mostly unaffected by the power outages, our immediate neighbors were without electricity until New Years Eve. Fortunately, they were back online just in time to watch the Michigan State University Spartanswin the Rose Bowl!
On the first day “back” from the break, we received more than 18 inches of snow, which essentially shut down all of East Lansing and surrounding communities for a couple of days. Although we could still get development work done, the first priority was digging out, and that took many hours of physical effort, so it was not easy to just jump right back onto the project schedule. On top of that, we received several pieces of personal news, both bad and good, so it was an emotional week, too. (Personally, I managed to get sick in the midst of all of this, from which illness I am still recovering.)
Nevertheless, despite the slow ramp up, we are now approaching full speed ahead with game development in 2014. We added some newer development systems to assist with our desktop and mobile development, so now we have a state-of-the-art environment for creating games for Windows (up to 8.1), Mac OS X (through Mavericks), Linux (Ubuntu), iOS, Android, Windows Phone, HTML 5, Silverlight, Flash, Xbox 360, OUYA, and more. If anybody needs to contract some programming talent, you can contact me here.
The 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi (Russia) are just three weeks away, and we expect to have unprecedented coverage, both through our @DGOlympics twitter feed, where we will again provide results for all events (as we did for the London Summer Olympics in 2012), as well as through a new (broader) game site that we plan to announce shortly. If you have any interest in the Olympic Games, please follow us at @DGOlympics and spread the word.
On the Solitaire front, our top priority is finishing the substantial rebuild of Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition and the other Goodsol Solitaire Engine games. While we have, unquestionably, the best technical platform (and the most games) for the Mac, we are revisiting the interface to make it even more fun to play. Of course, we are also planning to add many more new games in our relentless march toward 1000. 🙂
We have a new iOS upgrade for Demolish! Pairs (and later, Demolish! Pairs FTP) in the works. We are adding (at least) one new play mode, by popular request, and several other new features. (The exact list of features will be determined based on scheduling considerations.) Of course, you can buy Demolish! Pairs on the App Store now and get the upgrade for free when it is released.
There are currently three more major projects in design and development, but I will announce each of those here at an appropriate (later 🙂 ) time. Additionally, there are always a number of maintenance projects which, at this point, include changes to our iOS games mandated by Apple to be “optimized for iOS 7”, modifications to most of our Windows games to properly handle touch interface changes made in Windows 8.1, and of course, everything can use a fresh coat of virtual paint for 2014.
Rather than spend any more time typing about this, I should get back to actual development work, as 2014 is looking to be our most exciting year yet!