Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 - The year of travelling.

2013 kicked off with a trip to CES where we had been invited to take part in MIPS presence at the show. Sandy, knowing my utter love of all things MIPS asked if I'd like to go, and I jumped at the chance! Russell felling left out begged to come as well. He's never been to CES and was itching to see the largest consumer electronics show on earth. Sandy relented and before he booked everything, I asked if I could pay to take my better half with us. I'd never been to Vegas, and suspected I'd never get back, so thought this an ideal opportunity to do all the tourist things out there in one go. We stayed at the New York, New York hotel/casino and it was an experience to be sure. I hired a car for a couple of days and we took trips out to the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon, both on my life "to-do" list..

The MIPS hotel suite was odd though, Russell and I turned up and no one knew why we were there, or what we were supposed to be doing. However, the head guy appeared a little later, and knew what was going on, and just told us to set-up somewhere. We were there to help support the sale of the chips and devices, to show that there were free tools available that supported MIPS. By this time, we had the free MIPS version out, so it was a good sales pitch I guess. There wasn't actually that much for us to do, so we just hung around for a while, then met up with my wife, and headed over to the show. CES is massive, and it was great fun wandering around, my wife Frances took great delight in getting as much free stuff as was possible.

Once we got back we had some serious catching up to do, as the race was on to get ready for this years GDC. Work had finally started on the YoYo GameMaker Compiler (YYC), and this was to be what the big push for GDC was this year. Yet again, the bulk of the work fell to Russell, as he was "Mr Compiler" in the team.  The games guys were to do a new set of example games, and this year they out did themselves making the lovely looking Angry Cats Space game. We also put together a great video of indie hits created using GameMaker, including Spelunky, Hotline Miami and quite a few others.

It was decided to get a proper stand this year, something Russell and I were overjoyed about, as we wouldn't have to carry the stand over there this time! But with only a couple of weeks to go and lots of meetings stacking up, Sandy suddenly felt we didn't have enough folk to man the stand, so ask Malcolm and Geoff to come as well. With 6 of us there for the whole show, and Jaime (our lone US presence) pitching in to help, we were well staffed, and ready for the rush. The stand looked great, and once again we had lucked out on the stand location, right next to the indie games expo.

Everything went as planned, although we adjusted things a little as the show went on to draw more folk in, but it was another busy show, with lots of interest. We had some great meetings while we were there as well and came back ready to press on with the compiler and 1.2 update changes.

1.2 had some pretty large features, the compiler being one of them, but we also added Shader support, and had intended to add a proper source level debugger, but as I was also doing the initial shader support, this slipped, which was a shame as it's why we had added cross platform networking support prior to GDC. Still, the shaders were going to be a huge deal, and when paired with the compiler, we figured we would finally be able to stand up to anyone comparing us with Unity. The speed up with the compiler - in some cases, was monumental, while in others, hardly noticeable, but this was to be expected as it depending on just how much scripts and loops you did.

Perhaps the largest change however was that we had finally outgrown the office, and had been looking around for a while for some place we could move to. This place came in the form of Dundee One, and was about as prestigious an office space as you would find in Dundee. While we cracked on with the work, Sharon our new head of finance was given the task of overseeing the move. This included planning it all, liaising with architects, electricians, builders, and building managers. This almost broke her, but the results were spectacular. While Russell and I were asked for general layouts, and plans, she did all the hard graft, and the office has been acknowledged as being one the best in Dundee and surrounding area. It's a fantastic place to work, and we still can't believe we get to go there every day!

At the start of July, a few of us went down to the Develop awards as we had for the first time been nominated for the tools we've spent so long creating. Stuart and a few of the guys were already down there, as we also had a stand at the Develop conference. Sharon, Russell and I however went down for the evening, and we invited Tom Francis (of Gunpoint fame!) to join us, and much fun, and many a drink was had by all.

Only a week later however, and I was off on my 4th trip of the year. this time part holiday, and part business. I had decided to take myself to SigGraph, a huge 3D graphics show that tours around the US each year. I'd been to a few of them over the years, and they are always hard going, but great fun. The "hard going" part, is the sitting in a dark room for a week, listening to folk drone on about stuff your only half interested in, but someone at work has asked you to attend as it was of interest to them, and being on a work ticket, you felt obliged. This time however... would be different. Being there on my own buck, I could ignore the boring talks, and just attend the ones I was interested in.

Pixar stand - where I got a Renderman walking Teapot!
As I was attending a conference the week after, Sandy had graciously volunteered to pay for my flight over, and as luck would have it, I found a dirt cheap business class seat out of Amsterdam and so for the first time ever, I went in some luxury to the US. Talk about how the other half live.... it was a fantastic trip, and one I now look for whenever I go, although it's not always possible, it's brilliant when it happens.

So I spent a week in LA at SigGraph, met a couple of friends, did some great holiday things and attending what turned out to be more like DVD extras live events (which was great fun too), I then headed up to San Francisco for Casual Connect. Unlike most trips to the US I'd now been here a week, so was actually in time sync and was looking forward to a show where I was actually awake! However, Casual connect was hard going and almost broke me. Stuart came through to help out and with Sandy and Jaime, we should have been in good shape, but everyone else had meetings to go to, and that left me on the stand for 4 days, from around 8am to 7pm, it was a total killer. Even Stuart who did have meetings to break things up agreed, but that's what shows are all about, so we finished up and went back to the UK exhausted.

Yet, only a few week back, and Russell, Stuart and I were due to head out once again to GDC Europe in Cologne. Unlike last year, where we flew into Amsterdam and got a train from there to Cologne, this time we found direct flights, and so were all pretty keen to go. But with the V1.2 release looming, Sandy told us someone had to stay back to help push it out, and so as Russell was involved in it far more that I was now, he volunteered and we rushed around to change tickets and hotel bookings to take Gavin instead.

So mid August, just 2 weeks after I had returned from the US, I was off again this time to Europe and Cologne. We had a lovely stand this year, and it really stood out compared to everyone else's, in fact, quite a few came up to ask where we got it from. The show went fine, although we felt it was a little quiet compared to the last couple of years, and certainly compared to the US one, but we still made some good contacts and had fun doing it. We got to go to Gamescom as well, which is always good, particularly as it's on the business day, and it's totally empty, not the mad rush that the public get to see.

So job done, we packed up and took ourselves out for a last relaxing evening out before heading back, when a Microsoft evangelist called Kristina Rothe tweeted me and ask if we were around, I'd said we were just having dinner and would be having an early night as we were leaving tomorrow, then made the mistake of inviting her over if she was in the neighbourhood - thinking that she'd be miles and miles away. But no, she was virtually around the corner and so appeared about 20 minutes later, and to be fair, we had a lovely drink, meal and a chat. She then invited us out to a party she was going to and said she could get us in, and we thought sure... one drink will do, and then we can head back.

The devil woman snares another victim
As it turned out, she was the devil in disguise, and the party was awesome, and fun... and I drank WAY too much, something I never - ever do. I made an utter fool of myself and managed to spray beer all over the host, who was a total gent and never even beat me up for it. It was a fab night, and we finally headed back to the hotel after a second party turn out to be closing down when we got there. I failed to drink enough water during the night and awoke the next day with a massive hangover, mainly I think due to dehydration! A nightmare trip to the airport followed, along with a long wait at a starbucks waiting on the flight to board. I did however manage to eat, and drink something, so by the time we got home, I was more or less back to normal again, where I vowed - like everyone else "Never again".

V1.2 was released a few days later, and went down incredibly well. Users were especially excited about the new shader support, and have been having fun with it ever since. We also shipped YYC as a new module something again customers felt should have been free. Back in the day when I use to use products like Blitz basic - or just BASIC for that matter, compilers were always viewed as an add on you paid for. The basics worked just fine, and the compiler was an optional extra that give you a boost when you needed it. These days with the internet giving so much away for free, many users forget the time and effort that goes into something like this and demand it be reduced in price - usually to a point where they specifically can afford it.

Iconic view from the Empire State Building
Still, everything was going well, when all of a sudden a few things clicked into place, and we were all off again on another trip to the US. Russell, Sandy and I were due to head out mid September to various meetings, first on the east coast in Boston, then down to Washington, then up to New York. It was a pretty quick trip taking in a couple of cities a day, but fortunately I was only doing the East coast and the guys then left towards San Francisco without me. Having never been in New York before I was pretty excited to take in some of the sights, and to finally meet up and have dinner with Jesse Freeman. After a great dinner, wonderful conversation and a good sleep, I was able to take in some of New York's sights before heading back to Boston by train for my flight home.

Once I got back, I joined in the started work on 1.3 - along with some other projects, and started to get back into the groove. At home however, I'd started a new GameMaker project that initially got some folk over excited. The Your World project started out life as an Ant Attack map loaded, but quickly evolved into the city scape that is so well know with another game - which shall remain nameless. It didn't take very long to get it up and running, and being a personal project at the time, I had great fun showing it's progress and trying out new things. I didn't realise the interest in it however, until Left on a holiday with my wife to Erik Ruth's wedding in Washington (Trip 6!) when the media got hold of it, and coverage exploded! My Twitter followers more than doubled in a matter of days, and interest in the project took off. We decided to rain things in. We decided that we would try and do something more with the project that as a toy for me to play with, and so Your World was born. There was a necessary lull in exposure to the project as we refactored it, and created our own assets, but in doing so, we created a fully open source world that was free, and had a built in editor for folk to play with.

Our trip to Washington was also great, and the wedding was fun to go to - much tamer than a Scottish wedding BTW! No one got knifed, or drunk themselves to death, but it was fun all the same. We also managed to spend some time with them a couple of days later going around the museums and malls. Both of us loved sightseeing around Washington, spotting all the landmarks we'd seen on so many TV programs, and would go back again in a heartbeat!

Back at work again, and we carried on working towards the 1.3 build, while I also did some other browser work, and helped get the new Your World project going.With very little free time, I was looking forward to a long weekend away and Amsterdam(Trip 7!), once again with my wife. I'd been through Amsterdam a few times, but had never managed to spend any time in it, so a few days walking around there at the end of November were a welcome break. With the canals and lots of tiny unique shops, its a very relaxing place to wander, and we had great fun doing just that.

Coming back from there Russell was pulled onto another project, and I started pulling together the brand new Early Access build. This was a new version of GameMaker that would live alongside the current one, with the idea that all the new - and probably broken features, would go into this one, while we kept the main build as stable as possible. over the year and a half of Studio's development, a huge number of features have gone into it, and as a result, it's definitely had some stability issues. We tackled them as soon as we found them, and the beta branch worked okay for that, but we don't feel it was enough, so over the last few versions, we've kept a totally separate code branch that we simply merge fixes into, and we feel that's helping to keep the main version much more stable.

But we do still want to get new features out there so users can try, and test them. We now have tens of thousands of users - hundreds of thousands if you include the free version, and we simply can't test as much as all those users can, so the decision was made to create a new version, explicitly designed to house new features - complete with the lovely blue icon.

However even though this is supposed to be an unstable branch, this first version is actually pretty stable in itself, and the feature set is utterly desirable. Lots of hard work has gone into the 1.3 release, and includes things like FLASH asset importing, the source level debugger (finally making an appearance), and full extension support for iOS and Andorid. On top of this, there are some major updates to the IAP api, Push notifications - probably the most requested feature, have finally been added, and some new events as well. This makes the first Early Access build one of the most desirable versions of GameMaker: Studio ever, and it's something we pushed hard to get out before Christmas so that everyone could have some fun with it.

So there you go...2013 has come, and gone, and it's been a totally mad year. I've done move travel this year, than I have in the past 3 put together, but it's been great fun - and it turns out, I love to travel, which is just as well really. 2013 certainly ended much better than 2012 did, and we have the foundation of an amazing 2014. Things are already afoot to give some surprising and exciting news, and while there's huge amounts of work still to be done, we're excited and ready to do it - here's looking forward to a great 2014!


Anonymous said...

In my memory we were only down for payments over-night, with the bulk of the (hack-job) code being written in the space of something like 12 hours, briefly stopping to get a pizza from a nearby kebab shop...

How time flys!

-Lee (anon, cuz I can't be faffed to create an account)

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