Friday update: Trac’n’Hack

Thought some of you fools might want a little work-related update; from today’s beta build:

Host:
– Improved inter-host peering
– Improved inter/host connection loss and recovery
– Improved cell host chat host connection
– Added new performance counters and tracking

Host Internal Testing:
– On startup, strat host builds a collision matrix for enabling the very-rapid detection of which CP a player is near
– On startup, strat host builds a TOE-style supply/delivery matrix for performance/viability testing

Some of this is just fixing a couple of issues that I found that have been in our system since day 1. Hopefully some of this should usher in a new era of host stability – finally fixing one of the longest running stability bugs; sadly its mere coincidence that I knew where to look for it – testing something unrelated I happened to set a breakpoint on the very line causing the issue.

For the rest, we had to pull back from my prior TOE implementation when it proved to be a major resource conflict with the rest of the strat server. I tried various ways of working around it until finally we took a step back, reviewed the design and requirements, stripped away a few more “fluff” elements of TOEs, clarified some others and really came away with the feeling this was a design we feel good about.

I’ve taken a couple of days stewing these changes and rolling back my mental picture of the servers and leapt back into the fray getting a host with a skeletal TOE-engine in it that is instrumented for testing and evaluation via the Lua-based scripting testing truss I’ve cobbled together over the last 2 years.

That doesn’t mean its on display yet – infact beta testers should be unaware of it.

Part of this is the “collision matrix”. This is really a chance to avoid having to “port” part of the strat/supply/spawning system from non-TOEs to TOEs as well as another step towards replacing the “grid” system in the cell hosts: some of you may recall that the area chat “grid system” (which is also used by STOs) was a dry-run for using a different mechanism for our world grid. It’s still very rough and aside from sparing me from having to shovel horse-shit code into the TOE system, it doesn’t really have anything exciting to describe at this point.

On the client side: there’s some really nice stuff in this beta and this is the first time we’re using Trac to back-end our beta testing/confirmation/ticketing process so there’s a bit of a positive buzz in the office today.

Some of Sebastian (Jaeger55)’s work has finally been going into source control and they’ve been working through the week to get that all integrated – I don’t yet know if it made the beta, I’ll be checking it out from home when I get there. Killer is incredibly eager to see what we’ve seen so far make it into the game, though.

14 Comments

Can’t wait to see it :)

Wow, “Trac” should help guys out with quality and time. Cool.

Hopfully there will be some improvement in the stutters area.

Ohoh, i feel a touch of patch fever. lol

Um…I’m feeling tingly….No, I’m not going to stand up just yet.

If I understood your 2006-08-02 post here correctly, the strat link system managed on the server and the bridges managed by the client at that time didn’t know about each other, and thereby there was no way for bridge status to play a role in the supply, spawning and unit-movement systems. Will the server system changes you discuss here have any effect on that functional relationship?

Oh dear Thor, bless you Plummerx!

I can’t stand that Snap crap!

It only took me a year to hook Gophur on Trac (Bugzilla wouldn’t take because it does have the sexy). If only Trac’s wiki formatting wasn’t ass. And if only one of these damn wiki packages would integrate a damn WSYIWYG gui for the codish-phobics like Gophur.

Per Plummerx’s comment above about Snap-crap:

Unfortunately, their disabling procedure doesn’t work if you’ve got IE cookies set to Ask. And as for contacting Snap, I did so to inform them of the issue, and they professed to be unaware of it and not particularly interested…their stance seemed to be that if it couldn’t be disabled in a particular IE setup, that was my problem.

nice, didn’t know jaeger55 was working on something other than the “put models in the video card memory” thingy.

also, getting rid of the snap thingy with adblock was very quick and painless.

There is a feeling of mild ‘malaise’ in the forums and in-game. It may be partially that we are still in 1939 style equipment after a long bout of Tiger-Sherman-ophilia in the last map. But I think it is also partially that no new patch has caused any fever and gotten the masses back with renewed blood. A new patch every 6 weeks or so was a nice way to change the game quickly.

I would recommend that delays in any patch process help CRS decide to code in “something different”, be it RDP changes or otherwise. I know that the break-out of Tier I was meant to be this ‘change’ but it seems to have slowed things down and frustrated the spoiled players who want blue skies, the fastest planes and tanks-o-million.

I wonder if it is possible to change the terrain stickiness in the ‘slowest’ areas of the map, so that when the heavier tanks come in – they cannot cross that particular landscape? (this would keep the lighter tanks as important all throughout the map is my point, and complicate RDP in the later tiers).

Anyway, I’m drifting, but I do think patches which change fundamentals in the game a bit are not a bad thing when other patches aren’t available – but only if the tweaks are quick coding and easy to beta test.

Point: How often can you attack code fundamentals to enhance “speedier updates, render pipeline” without giving up more equipment development? This will be an awesome patch, when it comes – but how long can the players wait?

If subscriptions have continued their slow climb, then my point is moot.

I wish we would take a leaf from Sony’s book and dump this ridiculous bloody version-number system. I’ve bitched about it since day 1 – ie before being a player. I’ve always felt we should be rolling out feature updates on a regular basis with the occasional “bundle patch”.

Unfortunately, we use Microsoft Visual SourceSafe.

bloo
It only took me a year to hook Gophur on Trac (Bugzilla wouldn’t take because it does have the sexy). If only Trac’s wiki formatting wasn’t ass. And if only one of these damn wiki packages would integrate a damn WSYIWYG gui for the codish-phobics like Gophur.

Hey, at least I reminded you of it, even if the G-man wouldn’t go with the sample Bugzilla install I built for you guys. :)

I wanted to email this to you KFS so you could post this *if* you found it interesting. The WSJ will allow me to email the article, but you can’t link unless you have a subscription.

From today’s Wall Street Journal:

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Reflections of a Game Guy
Probst, Soon to Relinquish
CEO Post at Electronic Arts,
Talks About Industry Changes
By NICK WINGFIELD
March 5, 2007; Page B1

When Lawrence Probst joined Electronic Arts Inc. more than two decades ago, the videogame industry was a thoroughly undisciplined business, filled with wildcat developers who would hit it big and suffer debilitating failures in even turns. Mr. Probst changed the game by introducing better management, and marketing and emphasizing sequels, helping to turn EA into a factory for dependable hits.

Now EA is the biggest videogame publisher in the world, with Madden NFL, Need for Speed and other highly lucrative titles.

Last week, Mr. Probst said he plans to step down as chief executive of the Redwood City, Calif., company, a post he had held since 1991, and that his former lieutenant, John Riccitiello, will assume the top job on April 2. Mr. Probst, 56 years old, will remain executive chairman of EA’s board.

The games industry itself is in a technology transition, driven by new consoles such as Sony Corp.’s PlayStation 3, Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox 360 and Nintendo Co.’s Wii system.

At EA’s headquarters recently, Mr. Probst discussed his legacy in the business, how the balance of power is shifting among hardware makers and the key initiatives under way at EA. Excerpts:

WSJ: Why is now the right time for new leadership at EA?

Mr. Probst: When I first became CEO, I said to myself I would do this for 10 years. That turned into 16 years. It just doesn’t make any sense to be CEO for another five or six years and then go through another technology transition.

When you go back to 2000, we were moving from the PlayStation 1 to PlayStation 2. It was pretty straightforward and pretty simple. This time it was the 360 platform, PS3, Nintendo Wii, the hand-helds, the mobile platform, the online opportunities, the casual games space. I think we’re through the choppy waters. That’s precisely the right time to put somebody new in the chair.

WSJ: Sony dominated the last generation of games hardware. How does this technology transition compare to those in the past?

Mr. Probst: You’re going to see a much more competitive environment, and that’s really good for the third-party software companies like EA.

WSJ: How do you think the PlayStation 3 launch is going?

Mr. Probst: They ended up delivering about the number of units that we expected in North America. The interesting thing to me is that people seem surprised that there might be some resistance to a $599 price point. By the time you buy the machine and a second controller and the high-def cables and a few pieces of software and it gets taxed, you’re walking out the door with eight or nine hundred bucks missing out of your pocket. That’s a lot of money.

WSJ: Has Sony tried to do too much with it?

Mr. Probst: I don’t think they have. I’m not so sure that people have fully understood what’s in that box. They’re getting a thousand dollar Blu-ray player [for playing high-definition movies] for free in that box. It just feels like that is not being fully appreciated by consumers and it may take some time for that to happen.

WSJ: Where do you see the biggest opportunities to make money from online gaming?

Mr. Probst: It’s a combination. Subscription revenue is what drives our Pogo business [a Web site where subscribers can go play games]. We’ve got a massively multiplayer game in development called Warhammer, which we have high hopes for. That will also be a subscription-based business.

The early returns on dynamic in-game advertising have been good, so we think there’s potential there. The microtransaction segment is beginning to develop pretty significantly. You’ve probably heard the story about our FIFA online [soccer] game in Korea. We did 1.4 million microtransactions at a price point of $1.60 on average [between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31 last year].

WSJ: You were selling uniforms for game characters and things like that?

Mr. Probst: Yes, power-ups, uniforms, shoes — let your imagination run wild. In the last 12 months, we’ve done something like $115 million in digital revenue, and it’s growing pretty rapidly. We think that number’s more than $200 million in our next fiscal year.

WSJ: How big is the opportunity for selling advertising in games?

Mr. Probst: We’ve consistently said that in the foreseeable future we think that’s in the tens of millions, not hundreds of millions. Some of our competitors are out there saying it’s a hundreds-of-millions opportunity. Maybe long term it is.

WSJ: What makes you think it will grow that big?

Mr. Probst: I think advertisers looking for that 18-to-34-year-old demographic are pretty clearly coming to the realization that those eyeballs are playing our games as opposed to watching network television. I’ve got two sons that are in the middle of that demographic, and they don’t watch any network television, with the potential exception of “24.”

WSJ: At what point will people download videogames and stop going into Wal-Mart, Target or Best Buy to buy them?

Mr. Probst: I don’t think digital downloads are going to put retailers out of business anytime in the foreseeable future. When we look at our overall business in fiscal 2010, we’re forecasting all of our online business plus our mobile-platform business to be something in the neighborhood of 20% to 25% of our total business, which would suggest that the rest is still transacted at retail.

WSJ: EA has said it wants to rely less on licensing intellectual property like movie characters for its games and beef up its roster of titles that are wholly owned by the company. How has your progress been on that front?

Mr. Probst: I think this year we’ll end up with wholly owned IP representing about 40% of our business. I think we’re on a good track. Spore [a personal-computer game expected out by April next year] is obviously something that we have high hopes for. We’re resurrecting the Command and Conquer franchise, which we acquired a few years back. We’ve got Army of Two in development, which we think has great potential.

Longer term, the margins on wholly owned intellectual properties are really, really compelling. As development becomes increasingly more expensive, it just makes sense from a margin standpoint to have as large a percentage of your portfolio be wholly owned intellectual property where you don’t pay that licensing fee on top of platform fees and the cost of development and everything else.

WSJ: Is one of the reasons you want to move away from licensed properties because Hollywood simply wants a bigger piece of the pie?

Mr. Probst: The more successful you are, the more the licensor wants to be paid. That just is never going to change. There’s the issue of creative control, and some licensees or licensors are easier to work with than others.

WSJ: Why in the case of sports have you been willing to stomach the higher licensing fees to the National Football League and others?

Mr. Probst: The sports business is a cornerstone of Electronic Arts as a company. We’ve got something like a 70% market share in sports. It just doesn’t make any sense to walk away from that. You take a look at a product like Madden, which in calendar-year 2006 was the number-one best-selling title in North America, and revenues were up 24-25% year over year. I can predict with a fairly high level of certainty that that product’s going to be a top-five product in North America every year. To hand that over to somebody else on a silver platter, that makes no sense to us.

WSJ: How likely is a big, multibillion dollar acquisition of a games company by a big media company?

Mr. Probst: Certainly could happen. I don’t think that anybody has gotten really close to it. I know that analysis goes on all the time and whether somebody decides to pull the trigger — hard to predict.

WSJ: How do you strike a balance between keeping people on your creative teams on deadline and budget, and giving game designers like Will Wright the freedom to do what they do best?

Mr. Probst: Will Wright’s our Steven Spielberg. Will kind of gets to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and we pretty much think it’s going to turn out well. His track record is Sim City and Sims, and we think he’s on a terrific trajectory with Spore [which will allow players to guide the development of creatures from single-celled organisms to complex societies].

WSJ: EA has been criticized by some Wall Street analysts for being risk-averse. Do you agree?

Mr. Probst: If they have been critical at all, it’s about the amount of R&D spending that’s gone on at Electronic Arts over the last two or three years. If you take a look at the number of new things that we have in our pipeline just in fiscal ’07 and ’08 — I could tick off five or six things that are brand-new intellectual properties that we think have tremendous potential — the notion that we’re risk-averse is just preposterous.

WSJ: What has the success of online games like World of Warcraft taught you about where your priorities should be?

Mr. Probst: World of Warcraft caught lightning in a bottle. I know they didn’t know what they had. In hindsight, I wish that we had gone out and acquired that business when it was for sale.

WSJ: Do you play games yourself?

Mr. Probst: I’m playing Tiger [Woods Golf] on the Wii. I like to play golf, and this is fun.

Write to Nick Wingfield at nick.wingfield@wsj.com

Glad I’m not the only one that reads the WSJ. Glad to see that running the Tech treadmill affects more than just the every day worker. It also affects the people trying to make the decisions of steering the company.

I see opportunity for in game advertising. WWII vintage style billboards.

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