Still Alive!

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First of all, I’m flat-out at work right now on recruitment and running a challenging project so here’s a plug for some jobs…

We’re looking for 3 amazing Agile PMs here at Red Gate. If you think you’ve got what we need and fancy working with me, please dive in and apply.

[edit] – actually we’re hiring for more than a dozen different roles you might expect in a software company! – Take a look at the rest too.

Second. I’m currently supporting part of the SQL Source Control development team here on a rather challenging technology refresh project. We’re planning to ship an Alpha soon to validate our technology decisions and then press ahead with completion and new features. I can’t say much more about this at the moment but despite being relatively small by most company standards, it’s one of the trickiest projects I’ve ever inherited. Once we’re successful, I hope to write more.

Finally – back to the title…

Forgive the Portal reference but for the last few months I’ve been using my spare time coding a game.

If you’re of a certain age (like me), you may fondly remember hours of bashing away trying to solve puzzles and guess verbs in black and white (or green screen) dungeon/text adventure games.Minimum viable text adventure game screen

I grew up coding on a BBC micro and developed an early love for interactive fiction. It’s now a pretty niche area with some amazing games.

Whenever I want to learn something new, I need a goal – something concrete. So I decided to write my own but using slightly more modern technology. If you’re interested in why, see my last post.

Progress has gone really well and I think the results so far have some promise. There’s a few unique aspects of the game in comparison to the more old-fashioned equivalents. Essentially, the games characters and scoring are somewhat more dynamic and based much more on the actions of you as a player. I won’t spoil it but if you have the patience, give it a shot at: http://mvta.herokuapp.com/

Whilst not “finished”, it is live and that’s an achievement in itself.

I reconnected my developer empathy circuit, thoroughly enjoyed going back to coding and managed to learn some new skills on the way.

A few nerdy highlights…

  • I’m really impressed with Heroku as a hosting platform. I managed to go from zero knowledge to live and running in under 2 hours – including restructuring the codebase and packaging in order to support heroku deployment.
  • I had to get to grips with NoSQL  much sooner than expected. The original saved game data was filesystem-based but Heroku offers no filesystem support so games are now saved in a hosted Redis data store. This also gave me the benefit of painfully relearning use of binary data streams and debugging third-party libraries (developing on Windows vs production on Linux). It turned out that by default, the nodeJS Redis library is somewhat buggy on Windows as it drops back to a javascript parser. On Linux it uses a C library.
  • I’ve come to love Github for source control and got to grips with a modern IDE (Visual Studio) having last used Eclipse back in around 2007!
  • I’ve learned to value real user testing and usage reporting. A large part of the game usability came from observing the attempted and failed actions of users playing the game.
  • I’ve really boosted my nodeJS and javascript skills although the JS itself is still largely poor OO rather than dynamic.
  • I still prefer writing business logic over coding the “plumbing” but did occasionally have to drop back to some old-school computer-sciency work to achieve what I wanted.

Most importantly, whilst it’s a well-tested and working game and engine, I built a nasty legacy codebase that forces me to resort to writing tests and reworking/refactoring whenever I want to add something new and facing the pain of missing tests and regressions as I go.

I’ll continue updating the content over time but please dive in, have a play and waste a few hours.

Oh… and post comments here if you need “guess the verb” type hints or clues!

Cheers for reading!

Simon

 

1 thought on “Still Alive!

  1. Interesting. Despite the user testing here, I had 2 readers/users both try “go to kitchen” as their first action after posting this.
    Text adventure domain knowledge definitely isn’t what it used to be. :)

    The game now handles that request much more gracefully – thanks for playing!

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