Gamecraft

This blog is all about the craft of making games, and in particular, computer games. Gamecraft involves a broad range of topics, including design, development, quality control, packaging, marketing, management, and life experience.

Name: Gregg Seelhoff
Location: East Lansing, Michigan, United States

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition 2.0

The next version of our card solitaire game for Mac OS X is now available.

Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition 2.0 has been published by Goodsol Development. This solitaire program includes 101 games (up from 30 in version 1.01), plus 34 bonus variants in the full (purchased) version. It also adds some features, including the introduction of Climb Mode. For more information on the basic features, see the screenshot tour.

This version of Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition is a major technological upgrade from the previous versions, now being based on our Goodsol Solitaire Engine, which is a cross-platform, data-driven game engine that has been the focus of our development over the last year or more. Although more improvements are still planned, the basic functionality of this engine has already been proven, and it will allow us to produce upgrades and expansions more quickly and easily.

Climb Mode is a feature where deals for a particular game are played in numerical order, with a fixed set of rules, for a cumulative game score. This feature was implemented originally as a solution to online statistics manipulation, but it has evolved into a good competition, especially in the card solitaire games. With the addition of Climb Mode and the supported 101 games, PGSME 2.0 is the Mac OS X equivalent of Goodsol Solitaire 101 on Windows, and they share online high score tables.

Because of the (overly?) generous upgrade policy, Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition 2.0 is free to all customers who purchased PGSME 1.0. If you have not purchased yet (why not?), it is available for $24.95 (plus $7.50 if you want it on CD) here.

One down, two to go! (See the second item in our company goals for 2009.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Macintosh Disk Images

Or... Where Mac OS X really shines over Windows.

On Mac OS X, the preferred installer is none at all. Instead, applications are self-contained bundles that, under the covers, are folder/directory structures that the operating system treats as a single file. Although these entities are analogous to a subdirectory under 'Program Files' in Windows, they appear in Finder (the Mac equivalent to Windows Explorer) as a single icon. The bundles should be considered read-only, like the aforementioned Windows folder, and there are known writable areas for user and configuration data.

To "install" a program, a Mac user expects to simply drag the bundle/icon to a location. Done. That's it. This process is so simple and straightforward that I expect it to be copied by Microsoft at any point. Of course, some applications (think that they) require additional steps and actually use an installer, but short of a major application that touches several areas of the system, like the Xcode Developer Tools, it should be unnecessary.

So, the question becomes: How does one actually distribute applications for Mac OS X? The answer: A publisher provides a downloadable disk image (.dmg) file which contains a complete folder in a single file, readable by any OS X system. When a disk image is opened, it is "mounted" as a new volume with the contents (and name) of the original folder, and from there, the user just drags the application to the desktop (or other folder) or can even just double-click it to run in-situ.

In order to create a disk image, start by creating a distribution folder with the desired name. In our case, with an early version of Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition, the folder was named "Pretty Good Solitaire 1.01". Next, after building a final release version of the application bundle, copy (Alt-drag) it to this folder, along with any other separate files, such as documentation, you want to appear. In our case, for the trial version, we had only the application bundle, named "Pretty Good Solitaire trial[.app]".

Once the folder is set up as desired, it is time to actually create the disk image file, which is done using the 'Disk Utility', which is found in the Utilities folder (Shift-Command-U). Launch this application, and then select 'File->New->Disk Image from Folder' from the menu (or Shift-Command-N). Navigate to the folder and press the 'Image' button. On the next window, type an appropriate name, make sure that 'Image Format' is "compressed" and 'Encryption' is "none", and then press 'Save'. (We used "pgsme101trial[.dmg]" as a name to eliminate spaces, which are inherently problematic for downloads.) The disk image is then created in the same folder that contains the distribution folder. Quit 'Disk Utility'.

The disk image is ready to ship, but one can internet-enable the image (by setting a flag) to make it even easier for the user. Normally, when downloaded, a disk image is automatically mounted so the contents can be seen and copied. When internet-enabled, the contents of a disk image are copied to the downloads folder and the disk image itself is unmounted and removed, resulting in just the application in that folder, without the user having to do anything with the image file. An image can be internet-enabled from 'Terminal', by navigating to the disk image and typing, "hdiutil internet-enable [filename].dmg".

This is the basic method for creating a distributable package for Mac OS X. Note that, inexplicably, the Apple Store actually requires ZIP files, so the usual practice is to place the disk image file into a ZIP file, but allowing direct downloads of the DMG file from the product site requires fewer user steps. We have used the above practice for Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition 1.0 with success; however, we are modifying it to add "curb appeal" for version 2.0, which will be described later this week.

OT: This weekend produced good NCAA basketball results:
MSU (men) 77, Robert Morris 62.
MSU (women) 60, Middle Tennessee State 59.
MSU (men) 74, USC 69.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Relaxation FAIL

Or... Gregg and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

As usual, we have been quite busy with development around here, and everything seems to have stepped up the pace since the start of March. I thought that I was going to get a break last weekend, but ended having to correct a mistake (of my own making, to be fair), so I ended of working especially long hours on Sunday. In exchange, however, I decided to take yesterday [Tuesday, March 17] off to enjoy the particularly nice weather around here.

We have a secondary office and retreat at an "undisclosed location", surrounded by woods and nature, away from the normal demands of a daily office. (We do, of course, have the modern computer amenities such as DSL and a wireless network, so I can go there to get work done away from interruptions.) This place also serves as a storage location for the company archives. Or, rather, it did...

On a beautiful early Spring day, with bright sunshine and temperatures in the 70s, we arrived for some basic relaxation (and to drop off an offsite backup). Upon opening the front door, though, we were greeted with an unpleasant moisture in the air, followed quickly by the discovery of a plumbing failure that had completely flooded one bathroom, the hallway, and two adjacent rooms. One of those rooms held the archives.

Further inspection showed that many of the items on or near the floor, including a large portion of our collection of game development and programming books from the last 30 years, had been ruined. As we quickly moved to save the dry items and salvage as much of the wet stuff as possible, we discovered that the floor in the room had partially collapsed, causing a stack of books to fall into a wall, seriously damaging it as well. However, we just kept working until the rooms were mostly empty, and then I succumbed to the shock.

The overall damage is still being assessed, and the standing water is still not yet cleaned up. (Carpeting acts as a sponge and effective water conduit.) I can definitely say, for a fact, that some irreplaceable items were totally ruined, but also that some of the items ruined probably would have already been eBay fodder for a few bucks had I found the time. Thankfully, many boxes avoided the water entirely, but usually at the expense of whatever they were sitting on. Much of the paperwork still needs to be evaluated and either salvaged or discarded. All of the registration letters for PACMANIA were submerged. The PlayStation 2 development system survived by being perched on some furniture, but the Apple II (and color monitor) in original packaging were not so fortunate; I truly hope it was only the boxes that were destroyed.

The blog posting originally planned for today has been moved to Friday. For now, I sit in mourning.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Second place in Class A1

The ice racing season ends with a good championship position.

The points championship in MIRA (Michigan Ice Racing Association) is over, and I finished in second place in my class. I raced in Class A1, which is front-wheel drive cars, racing rubber-to-ice, first driver. (The A1/A2 split allows two different drivers to participate using the same car for more fun!) I finished the year with two wins (which is two more than my previous total for all 12 previous years of ice racing), and I was competitive, especially toward the end of the year.

2009 MIRA Series Points - FINAL STANDINGS

Going into last weekend, I still had a chance at the championship, but with the cancellation of the Saturday event, there were not enough points left for me to either win the championship nor lose second position. This turned out to be a blessing, as [ob Game Development] the recent beta version of Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition, version 2.0, expired, so I stayed home and worked for the whole weekend instead.

Rumor has it that the person who won the championship has been racing (in various forms) for 35 years and this is his first ever championship, and he did beat me more often than not, so it was well earned and well deserved. (I have won a TSD Rally Championship before.) This year was my best showing in MIRA since I first raced back in 1985, when the group was only a few years old.

There would be some non-points racing this weekend if it were to happen. A few hardy optimists are still holding out hope for one last event, but it is currently almost 60 degrees here (in the overnight hours), and the forecast calls for temperatures well above freezing until Monday (and beyond), so it is very unlikely.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The downside of VOIP

Or, Why you should probably avoid Comcast.

Last Friday, our cable television went out. Not like 'some services are missing' out, but like 'somebody just sliced a cable' out. There was static on all of the analog channels, and just black (no signal) on everything digital. Many months ago we made the decision to ditch their cable modem in favor of our SDSL connection (from ACD.net), which was both faster and more reliable. We decided that the redundant Internet connectivity was more trouble than it was worth, at the added expense, and also, frankly, were just unhappy with Comcast.

For the last year or so, Comcast has been on an all-out media blitz to get people signed up to their VOIP package, bundling cable television, Internet, and telephone. The timing may have been coincidental, but the mailings seemed to intensify after we downgraded, and when we had to call about (somewhat regular) problems with the only service we kept (cable television), we always had to listen to another pitch before we could tell somebody in another state that our local HD was out... again.

Anyway, when the cable television service went completely dead, we called the customer support number. Instead of the usual sales pitch we got... wait for it... nothing. Yup. Apparently they use their own VOIP service, so when the cable system has a failure, you cannot reach anybody there by telephone. Brilliant! I was not even vaguely intrigued by the offering, but this definitely convinced me that my convictions against this technology (and Comcast) were not unfounded.

Not that I am any fan of AT&T either, but I am a believer in land lines. In the event of an emergency, when one really does need to have a phone, I am glad to have a system that will work even when the power is out. (Yes, we keep a standard handset telephone for just such an occasion.)

Our cable television signals did come back before prime time, but I think that all a satellite television company needs to do is add CBC and we are there. (Perhaps we should just move to the Bahamas where, oddly, Canadian programming is also available. Do they long for snow?)