Friday, December 27, 2013

2009 - A long road ahead....

Coming to the end of another year at YoYo Games, and it's hard not to reflect on how we're doing, and how far we've come in the short time I've been there. As I feel the need to ramble... I'm going to go back to where I was before, how I got here, and just how much we've accomplished in this short time.

Demo shown to Ordnance Survey
So, back in 2009 I was working for Realtime worlds doing a project called My World, this was a large GIS (geographical information system) based engine. That is, a 3D world based on real world digital map data. Dave Jones had brought me into the company back in 2005 and I founded the project, and was the sole member of the team for about a year, before Russell Kay joined me. In that time, I got the basics working and we presented the concept to Ordnance Survey, the owners of the UK map data. They were incredibly interested, and gave us even more data to test with, basically we got the whole of Scotland for free from them, and the project moved on. Meanwhile Russell joined and things gathered pace as we scaled everything up. We put together a demo and showed it to investors and (eventually) Realtime Worlds got around $80 million in investment from various places. All was going well, and the team grew as the project grew in importance and everything was right with the world.

A few years in however, and it all started to go pear shaped. The folk they brought in to manage the team never really understood it, and little groups formed within the team. There was very much a "them" and "us" culture. The "them" were mainly a bunch of juniors, and the producers, they loved meetings, bureaucracy, and doing jack shit basically. They were forever refactoring things, trying to make everything perfect and basically making no headway at all. The "us" were some of the original team, and basically those who knew what they were doing; We wanted as few meetings as possible, and to just wanted to get things done and get something out the door, knowing nothing is ever perfect. However, as time went on, the producers and management put more juniors in controlling roles and basically took over, and the project was doing it's best impression of a swan dive. So... come mid-2009, and I was at the point where I didn't see any reason to do free work at home any more, and started looking for something else to do.

Enter Mark Ettle (CEO of Cobra Mobile), an old boss, and a good friend from the old DMA Design days. He told me about a guy that was after some basic porting work, and wondered if I was interested. Now, a lesson I learnt a while back is that while doing a fulltime job, it's virtually impossible to do anything major at home that isn't aligned with work. Your brain just doesn't like being pulled in two different directions, and so I figured that if I was going to stand a chance, I'd need someone else this time, to help when I slackened off. So, I persuaded Russell to help me, and I met with one Sandy Duncan in June of 2009, midway through a road-trip holiday I was having, touring England on my own (which was great fun BTW). In the initial meeting with Sandy, he told me about GameMaker, and that he had this C++ runner that he was looking to port to the PSP and his plans he had for it all, while I described the experience Russell and I had, and what we could do for him. All this went well (obviously) and Sandy sent us the source for us to look at.

It was horrible, utterly horrible.

The runner had been commissioned so that it could go cross platform easily as the original (written in Delphi), was totally unsuitable. However, it had been farmed out from the company hired to do it, to an intern, and was written in MFC (Microsoft Foundation Classes). This is as about un-portable as you can get. The code was also horrible, not only written by a junior with very little experience, but designed to be very closely based on the original Delphi version, with special classes/code to try and emulate what the Delphi did, instead of making it a proper C++ project. Russell and I spent months just removing the MFC and cleaning it up to the point where we could even begin to start porting it - there are still areas we've never touched, that are still just horrible.

However, port it we did.... and several months later, we had it running on the PSP and showed Sandy when he paid us a visit to Dundee. He was ecstatic to say the least. Part of his dream for YoYo was getting games to play on other platforms, and many, MANY folk said he'd never manage it, but we had. What's more, we were running on a very low powered system, meaning it was all upwards from here.

In early 2010, things at Realtime Worlds had progressed beyond the point of stupidity, the "juniors" were now running pretty much running the show, making sweeping choices that crippled everything without understanding anything. My only amusement in all this was that decisions they had overridden years ago, were now coming back to bite them in the arse. Things I had told them simply wouldn't work some 3 years back and had been told was was an idiot, were as expected, coming true, and they were having to rewrite loads of stuff to fix it. I said it then, and I'll say it again, if you hire experienced folk, you should really listen to them.

Anyway, enough was enough, I was looking for an out, so I approached Sandy and we started to look at setting up an office in Dundee to work on GameMaker and all it's ports, and in early March 2010, I started working at home, finishing off the PSP runner along with Russell. We worked like this for about 3 months or so before we found an office, and it was just in time too. We were getting to the point where we needed to be sitting next to one another, Skype just wasn't viable any more.

Russell and I on the first day at the new office
So we opened the first office and Russell, myself, Andrew McCluskey (Nal) and Kirsty Scott started full-time in a brand new office, inside Abertay University. Andrew was hired from our community, as a GML programmer, and initially was simply doing tests for us. As time progressed, he became the first member of the games team, porting community games to other platforms - along with his own. Kirsty came in as our Community Manager, and manned the help desk, while Russell and I plough on with the port.

So... here we are, the beginnings of YoYo Games in Dundee, and the start of a wonderful road to wander down. In the 3 and a half years I've been there, we've done an amazing amount of work, games and tools.

I'll carry on rambling tomorrow, where the fun really begins!


Unknown said...

It's nice to see digitalized Dundee :)

rmanthorp said...

Great read Mike. I always heard of the troubles at RTW but I didn't know how deep it went. Nice little history lesson there. Whatever happened to the PSP runner then? I don't think I've ever heard about beyond Karoshi.

Hope you're enjoying the holidays!