June 14, 2009

Last Post!

As I wrote in my last post, I have a new blog at my new site that fulfills the purpose of this blog. trazoi.net is now no longer active as a blog site.

I’m hoping to keep the site around, but I am in the process of turning it into a static archive form rather than a dynamic blog, which I then will attempt to shift to the same server as my new site. Hopefully most of the changes will be transparent, but it is possible links may be broken. Some things I expect in the archive site:

  • The most popular element of trazoi.net, Learning Inkscape - An Order of the Stick Guide, popular with both Inkscape and webcomic fans alike, was written in static HTML and is extremely easy to move. It should survive the move seamlessly.
  • The Flash games and my legacy little standalone games will transfer across, although I may integrate them into trazoi.com instead of leaving them in the archive. They will be available somewhere though.
  • The blog is a little trickier, given it’s a dynamic WordPress site. I don’t think it’s worth keeping a whole WordPress database system active for an archive, so I’ll be turning the blog into static HTML pages. Obviously it won’t have the same functionality. I’ve already disabled comments and the vote counter. The search function will no longer work (although it might still be on the archive page). Some of WordPress’s category and tag pages might not make the shift.

In the mists of the future, I may reuse trazoi.net for something else - if I can think of something “network-y” that would suit the domain, in which case I’ll move the archive somewhere else. I suspect if that occurs it’s a long way off.

Finally in case you missed it, the new site is trazoi.com. Just like the old site, only at a new dot-com location. See you there!

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April 25, 2009

New site update

Quick update:
I’m currently in the process of starting up a new website, where I will have a new and improved blog. The status of this one is yet to be determined. In the meantime, I’m posting back at my GameDev journal.

In a week or two, I’ll make a more formal announcement and link through to the new site.

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April 6, 2009

New Web Design

For the last week I have either been sick, had no internet, or both. If I am able to post this, then I am currently in a “sick with internet” stage. Expect grammatical errors.

While the level of this cold or whatever I have fluctuates along with my on-line connection I have been working on my new website design as an appropriately straightforward task. Thankfully I’d already set up my own internal server so I can work on a prototype off-line. Unfortunately as a lot of this is new to me it’s been a pain not having internet resources to help me through the hard spots

I’m basing my new site off WordPress, the blogging software. I was debating whether I should just use WordPress for the blog part of my new site, but I decided it was probably easiest to just manage the whole website under the system to get the same look and feel and universal search over the whole site. The tricky part is that I want to have a bunch of subdirectories for different things - games, experiments, tutorials, blog, etc. - which involved extending plain WordPress somehow to get this functionality. But I’d like to do this leaving the core files intact so I easily do updates. That’s something I’m working on, as it involve some in-depth WordPress tweaking which requires a stable connection to their wiki to solve.

I have got a semi-decent CSS style done though. That’s probably taken me the best part of last week to finish, mostly because there’s so many options you can tweak. There were some things I’m set on, such as having my favourite colour orange being featured in the logo badge of the site. But then there are other options that required experimentation. Should the site colour scheme be based on azure, violet, lime or a mix of the three? How much orange should I use? Is it better to have a thematically interesting background site to make everything look fun, or should it be very simple to emphasise the content?

Fonts are a big issue too. It’s amazing how few fonts are web safe. I think only Arial, Times New Roman and Courier/Courier New are dirt common over every system. Verdana, Georgia and Trebuchet are great for Windows and Mac, but their Linux support is low. Tahoma is an interesting font but has patchy Mac support. Arial Black and Impact are fairly common on Win/Mac but is only useful for headines. And apart from Comic Sans that just about wraps up all the web safe fonts. Of course, you should set multiple fonts in your style sheet so if one is missing then it finds a suitable replacement. Unfortunately though, many of the fonts have rather unique looks that make finding a common replacement difficult. And I’ve got no idea what fonts are common in Linux variants (apart from Arial, Times New Roman and Courier).

And then there’s Internet Explorer. I’ve read how web designers hate IE, but I never really felt exactly why until I tried testing out my design in Windows after building it on a Mac. As a novice designer, I thought it was plain sailing with my design looking the same in Safari, Firefox and Opera on the Mac. I was wrong. It seems Internet Explorer likes to play by different rules to every other browser in existence (biggest offender appears to be the calculation of box widths). Internet was down most of that day so progress was slow, but I did manage to use a brief window of connectivity to find a site with a shortlist of hacks to fix the problem. But it is annoying, and I sympathise with those who wish IE to drop in popularity.

All in all, the website is coming together nicely, if slowly. The internal prototype should be finished this week, and the new website will be up by the end of April. Slowing me down is this headcold or whatever bug I’ve caught, together with my tendency to spent waaaay too long on minor details (like shades of azure), but these issues will be conquered soon. Once I’ve got a full prototype working on my computer I can move to setting up a new server somewhere, which will take anywhere between a few days or a few weeks depending on the frequency of disasters.

Then I can post a link and ask you try it out!

P.S. Creative work including that Flash game will recommence shortly. I’m debating whether it’s best to do this over at the new site once it’s done, but the decision is moot until I’m a little bit better.

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March 4, 2009

Procrastination via Education

The vast wealth of knowledge on the Internet is both a blessing and a curse. When I was a boy first learning how to program I’d have given my milk teeth for something like the Internet today. All I had to work with was a couple of book on how to program in BASIC. These days, with the Internet, there are hundreds of guides for just about everything. But if you’re keen on learning then there’s an insidious downside to all this information at your fingertips; you can spend entire days reading more and more without actually doing anything. It’s an easy trap because you can use the justification that you are learning, but sooner rather than later you need to be doing as well.

This is what has happened to me over the last few days with setting up my new website. I don’t know much about web design and management, and with the emphasis on security I always feel there’s some critical gap I am missing. I’ve worried about the safety of my domain name with my registrar, the type of hosting I need, how to run my server, using WordPress over plain HTML, and so on. Sometimes the advice is conflicting. If I read too much in one sitting it just feeds into my paranoia, which makes me want to read more. It can end in effective paralysis.

There’s also the basic problem of being swamped by so many options to do everything. This is a general problem with everything to do with computing. There’s so many options to do anything; multiple types of hardware, multiple libraries, multiple service providers. If you aim to find the “best” solution you will spend an eternity evaluating all the choices. I’ve noticed this problem with myself, and I need to learn to put my foot down and if I find a decent solution that works, then I go with it.

All that aside, I have got some progress done. My current objective is to build the basics of a new website that will blossom into a business site. To start, I want to get the skeleton up and running internally where I can test it before putting it up online.

Currently, I have an Apache server running on my iMac together with PHP and MySQL. It isn’t actually that hard to get Apache and PHP running as they’re both part of Mac OS X, although dormant by default. I installed an updated package anyway to speed things up. MySQL was a little trickier as I did not get the permissions right first go. It took several hours to get it and phpMyAdmin working. Unfortunately for me, database management is a big gaping hole in my acquired knowledge so there’s plenty I need to learn.

After that, I’ve got a local copy of WordPress up, configured and “secured”. Modification is still an ongoing process. I’ve got a bit sidetracked reading about all the security issues and plugins. I know security is a big issue for a big open source project like WordPress, but I don’t know whether a lot of the security issues I hear about stem from the kind of people who think “password” is a good password for their system. Currently I think I’ve fixed the basic vulnerabilities; got all the file permissions set up, hidden information on files and directories using Apache’s config, used non-standard names to stop automated attacks and got the administration panel protected with a double password system (HTTP Digest for key files, plus WordPress’s own system). Certainly overkill for a test website that no-one online can see, but all good practice.

Next up, I need to experiment with a directory structure that works for what I want it do to. I’m leaning now towards doing the whole site in WordPress, at least to begin with. To start, my site’s basically going to be a blog anyway. Eventually I’ll be adding in a lot of static page articles and product pages, but I think WordPress should expand to cover that too in a way that has extra benefits (such as including all pages in the same . For a one man website I think it will be sufficient to do a few tweaks to a blogging engine; better that then spend an age learning a more complicated over-powered CMS system. If WordPress can generate static HTML pages for the main site with a bit of automagic, then that’s all I’ll need.

I also need some good administration tools, such as a few good ways to log what’s happening on the site and a method for automating backups. I’m assuming there’s some good methods for this already out there. Once I have the basic global structure down, then I can start thinking about web page design.

And on top of all this, I also need to get started on actually making games. With all the focus on game-a-week and game-a-fortnight projects right now, it is probably best to just jump in feet first. I’ll do a bit of thinking about what a good first project will be, but I’ll make a promise to myself to start on a short, actual game related project by Monday next week, if not earlier.

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February 27, 2009

Update & the future of the blogs

Quick update, in tandem at GameDev.net and trazoi.net journals.

Firstly, I’m making good time in my Internet challenge round-the-world balloon race. The winds across the Pacific were incredibly favourable, and I’ve now made it to the west coast of the U.S., as can be seen in the photo. The trickest challenges have been maintaining my internet connection and in training the fruit bat to use the camera. Darn bat can barely aim the thing at the balloon, and when it does there’s always a bit of wing in shot.

Secondly, my PhD thesis is now at the printers, which makes it really and truly “almost finished”. This means the document is now unchangeable and submission will be in around a week. While I’ve only been doing touch-ups in the last couple of weeks which didn’t take a lot of my time, it’s a big difference psychologically to know it’s untouchable now. It’s like a huuuuuuuge weight off my mind. Now I’m really keen to start game development tasks, 100% guilt-free.

Today I’m going to start work on the first “official” objective - constructing my new website. I’ll be experimenting with a few different navigation designs and I’m not going to rush, so it might take a while before its done. This site will launch at a new domain that I’m hoping to build into a company site.

The future of trazoi.net, my personal blog site, is undecided. I’ll keep the site running for a while once the new site launches. However, I will mostly be using the new site to blog. I thought about splitting the content into a business blog (at the new site) and a personal blog (at trazoi.net), but honestly I just don’t blog much about personal stuff. The only things in my personal life worth blogging about are big enough to post at a more formal site anyway, and my usual day-to-day life that isn’t development oriented is frankly too boring to share with the world. It’s not as if you’re dying to know I had fruit toast for lunch today, even if it was particularly tasty fruit toast.

The future of my GameDev.net journal is likewise undecided. I can guarantee though that the journal will not close and that I will occasionally put posts in here. However, all my regular full posts will be at my new blog. I’ll either put links to the posts at my GameDev.net journal, or occasionally post a big special summary post.

However, I suspect this won’t happen for a month or so at least. It’s going to take a while for a new website to form, and it’s not as if I don’t have a lot of other tasks on my plate. Kickstarting game development, practicing my drawing, steering this balloon into the Mid-West, it’s all go in March.

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February 24, 2009

“Sketchable” and “The Lab”

Andrew Russell’s “Sketchable”

I have been somewhat surprised by Andrew Russell’s “Sketchable” Blog. It seems Andrew is aiming for a very similar goal to mine; a business making our own games, free from cubicle life. Not only that, but his plan is very similar to mine; starting with simple prototypes to find ideas that work. And Andrew’s an Aussie as well, so we’ll have similar logistic issues. And we’re starting at roughly the same time. Wow, talk about coincidence!

If you haven’t already, I recommend signing up to the “Sketchable” blog and following Andrew’s progress. I thought I already had his RSS feed entered into Google Reader, but I only got the first entry. Hopefully I’ve got it right now.

One of the big differences between “Sketchable” and my project is that, with delays due to my dilly-dallying with my PhD, Andrew Russell is now at least a month ahead of me. I was planning on going full pelt with blogging about my plans once I had a new website at my new location set up sometime in late March, early April. Now I feel like my hand is tipped. While I am glad to have another Aussie blog going down the same path to inspire me and to keep me on track, Andrew Russell is now blogging competition. My only recourse is to challenge Andrew to a race around the world.

Game Plan for 2009 & “The Lab”

It’s also timely to read Andrew’s blog because I’ve been doing some paper calculations and I realise I need to kick things up a notch if I am still to entertain the concept of releasing a sellable game sometime in 2009. I will most likely blog about this some more once my new website is up, but it’s time to outline my broad approach to game development this year.

As I see it, there’s three big business areas I should work on:

  • Marketing - letting people know I exist and have something they’d like to buy/try/see
  • Research - prototyping out new ideas
  • Production - making products to sell

As well as this, there’s also administration (keeping everything running) and training (learning new skills), but those are fairly straightforward as to their purpose and value.

Marketing gets an important billing on my list as I think it’s the area most neglected by indies. It seems most indies prefer to be working on making games, not promoting them. However I think marketing is the most important activity to success in this field. If people don’t know you exist, how will they know about your game?

My marketing plan is still in development, and hinges a lot on just how much I can get done in a day. Basically, my plan is to draw people to my new site with as much interesting material as I can. I’ll have a developer’s blog, obviously, but I also plan to write a few tutorials and articles to host there. I’m also planning on having a few freebies and game prototypes as a drawcard, very similar to “Sketchable”. This is a nice tie in to “research”.

Research is the fun part of trying out new ideas and technology without caring too much about production values, deadlines or marketability. Plus after several years in academia, I really need to have a research outlet worked in here somewhere!

The genesis of my approach to research stems from the Experimental Gameplay Project. I marvelled at how these developers could pull together idea prototypes in a week with such flair. The success of World of Goo only shows how valuable this approach is to creative indie development.

Also, like Andrew Russell, I think these little prototypes will be a great way to market our existence to the outside world. My little research wing is currently nicknamed “The Lab”, as it’s catchy and short to write in my plans. I’ll probably keep the name unless something better strikes my fancy.

My plan is to extend The Lab to cover technology demos as well as gameplay. The idea is to completely separate out “production” from “research”. Ideally, all production will be doing is taking ideas and tech developed and proved in the The Lab and bolting them together. Less risk, little fuss. Seems sensible to me.

All of this is planned to launch on a new site sometime in March or April, depending on how long it takes to build the website. I expect rapid changes on site for the first few months as I learn the ropes, but things should settle down later in the year when I start working towards a product.

For the first couple of months, I have my focus on setting things up and finding my feet. I’ve been a bit hesitant to get started for a while, but that might be due to my Ph.D. status at 99%+ for the last month or two. Once that is well and truly behind me (which it should be in the next week, barring any mishaps), that psychological weight should be lifted. I think Andrew Russell’s “Sketchable” approach is probably more sensible then a tentative one, and I should just dive in and start building stuff instead of learning each piece slowly and separately. Part of the problem with starting a big venture is that everything is uncertain; it’s like a jigsaw puzzle with no pieces on the table. Instead of spending time locked in planning it’s mostly likely better to jump in, throw a few pieces down and see if they make sense, with the option of rearranging them later.

That will mostly likely be my plan for March. February’s almost over regardless, so I won’t feel guilty about using the time left this month to tie up loose ends and get everything prepared.

Best of luck to everyone in their projects. If I’m to race Andrew, I’ve got a balloon to catch.

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January 10, 2009

Belated New Year, 2009!

Belated Happy New Year, trazoi.net blog! Welcome to 2009.

I was wanting to post something in here early in the New Year, but I just wasn’t sure what. Embarrassingly I have been posted lots over at my other, game development related journal (Trapper Zoid’s Trapper Keeper, over at GameDev.net). It’s the problem I’ve always had, having two blogs. The GameDev blog gets more traffic and seems more suited to game development posts, but those are the only ones I seem to have. I could reserve this one for just posts about my regular life, but frankly I find all the non-game development bits unworthy to share with the entire world; they’re either private or very boring.

To complicate things, I will be starting another journal later in the year. I haven’t worked out all the details, but this journal should subsume most of the posts from my GameDev journal as well as here. I will still be posting the occasional cross post over at GameDev mentioning posts at my new journal. However I am uncertain as to what the fate will be of this site. I think it still has a purpose as the repository of everything I want to stick on the internet in an informal way. But the blog might degenerate to just a news update for any changes to the site, in which case I might as well scrap it and replace it with a plain HTML page. I’ll have to wait and see.

Probably the only news I can post here at the moment that’s not game development related is that I’m working on getting fit. Over the last couple of years I have really packed on the kilos, and it’s starting to affect how I feel. I’m hoping to force my weight down to nearly what it was a decade ago (I was a bit thin back then). It might take a couple of months, but it’s doable. I don’t have a specific plan, I’m just moderating what I eat and upping the exercise to a significant level and seeing what it does. So far I think I’m two kilo lighter, but it’s hard to say if that’s permanent.

From now on, I’ll be cross-posting game development articles to both my GameDev journal and here, so I can get back into the groove of blogging and basic website management.

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November 29, 2008

Office revamp almost complete

Long time, no post again. I’m just generally bad at the blogging mindset. I’m waiting until I have a big milestone achieved I can write about, but none of them have been reached yet.

At the moment, I’m revamping my office space. All the major tasks are done, but there’s a bunch of minor details still to go. I’ve put on a new coat of paint, got some new bookcases and a filing cabinet, moved in some old furniture for reuse and got the basics all set up. I’ve still got to put up a whiteboard and unpack all my old files, which will take a while. I’ll post up some pics when I’m done.

I’m also putting some corrections into my thesis draft, and I’m starting to get a bit concerned about whether I can get this all done by the end of the year (which is my deadline). The document is content complete, except for any extra features I or my supervisor feel is worth adding. But the writing could use some more editing, and there’s always more to add. The main drawback is that I’m so sick of it by now it’s getting hard to muster up the willpower to do corrections. At least I can get through it by realising that it’s only a short matter of time before it can be send off to the printers and it’ll be all over.

I’ve also noticed an increase of spammer comments to this blog. Not a lot, but it’s the majority of the comments I’m getting at the moment. Hello spammer spider fans! I’m combating this by locking off the comments on any old post that a spam comment is sent to. I’m still contactable through recent posts, or through email (address username “david” at this web address will certainly get through.)

I’ll start posting more once I’ve got everything finished up, although I may be starting up a new blog and website in 2009…

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August 20, 2008

What’s in a name?

Another post to say I aten’t dead. One month to go on the PhD write-up, and everything still feels only half done. Still, you’ve got to submit with the thesis you have, not the thesis you’d like to have. I’ll be in crunch mode from now until mid-September. I’ll still be posting now and again on the forums so I have some contact with the outside world, but don’t expect such luxuries as “coherence” in the stuff I type in the next few weeks, m’kay?

The only game related stuff I’ve done in the last month or two has been business planning related. Since I’m the only one who needs the whole plan I’m using a personal wiki on my computer for the planning. It’s great at the moment as it’s very informal, and if an idea pops in my head I can quickly jot it down so I can focus on other things, safe that the idea is recorded. These personal wikis are great for any non-linear document, and I only wish I started using them earlier.

The other business related thing I’ve been doing is more brainstorming of business names. Since I’ll be operating on-line I’ve made it a rule that whatever name I own must also have the dot-com web address available. I’d also prefer it if I didn’t have to tack an extra word like “Games” on the end, like having to register randomnoungames.com because randomnoun.com is already taken. I don’t particular mind having something like “games” or “studios” at the end, but it does make it longer and it also limits me to using the business name in one area; if I decide to branch out to do a bit of consulting on the side I’d probably need a second name.

Unfortunately I’m bad at picking names. I spent ages trying to decide on “Trapper Zoid” for example. A good name needs to be memorable, relatively unique yet identifiable and spellable, represent something about you that you want to project to others. And on top of all that it needs to something you can live with for a while without you hating it.

My current plan is to register half a dozen or so dot-com address (already done) and then sit on them for a couple of months while I finish up my studies and set things up. During this extra time I can mull over the names in my subconscious and try them out on random people until I get a good feeling over which name I like the best. Then I’ll register that one as my business name. I’ll also have a few backups which I think are almost as good in case something goes awry when registering.

I’ve currently got three names that I think would be workable. However an issue has cropped up: while I like all three names and think any of them could be suitable, they all do project a slightly different image. Ideally I’d like to pick the name that projects the image closest to what I want the business to be, however I’m currently quite flexible about that. I don’t particular need on an artistic level to make a specific sort of game; I like nearly all genres and would love to work on any of them. So it’s not as if there’s an obvious choice based on my future vision of where I want to be.

I reckon that something as simple as the choice of name I go with could shape the future direction of the business. The choice of name will shape the logo I make, which will in turn shape the coloration and style of the webpage. And since I’ll be spending a lot of time working with that logo and style, it’s bound to have some effect on my inspiration and creativity. A certain style could suggest playful, cartoonish casual games, or it might skew me towards stylish niche indie games instead.

But then again, it could just be that deep down in my subconscious there’s a particular direction I want to go in that I don’t realise, and that my preference in name will reflect that. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? It’s an interesting question.

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July 16, 2008

It’s July and I’m still alive

I’m still alive, I’ve just been busy with mundane PhD writeup things too boring to blog about. Although I’ve been called out for posting back on my GameDev journal rather than here. I could rightly claim the stuff I posted over there wasn’t particularly relevant to this website, but it’s mainly that I felt blogging over there wasn’t so much a form of procrastination as posting here. In retrospect, that’s totally illogical, but thinking straight is a scarce commodity for me at the moment.

Relevant to this journal: according to my web host’s automatic billing scheme it’s the one year anniversary of the site. I’ve paid to keep this site running for another year, so I’ll be continuing to share my scattered thoughts with the rest of the world for a little while longer. But there are changes in the pipeline! Once I’ve finished my PhD studies, which I’m hoping will be the end of August, I’ll be putting some new projects into action.

First off and most importantly, I’m putting the first steps into an indie game business into action. I’ve already started with jotting down the beginnings of a business plan as a distraction break from PhD write-up. Up till now I’ve not thought myself ready and I’m still not fully certain, but I doubt I’ll ever be more ready unless I take the plunge. The exact form and function of the business is still very much up in the air, and I won’t be doing anything too rash until I’ve got a plan that passes a basic sanity test, but I feel it’s now or never and the lessons I learn even from a failed first business will be invaluable in the future.

Secondly, I still haven’t forgotten my pledge to start a webcomic this year. I’ve let my drawing lessons lapse a bit over the last few weeks due to PhD work and my tendency to injure my drawing hand (why do minor burns take so long to heal?), but I’m going to get back into this big time once I’m free of study obligations. The exact nature of the webcomic is also up in the air and the amount of time I can invest in it will have to be heavily tempered by my indie business plans, but I’ll start something up before the end of 2008 guaranteed. Expect the first notice of its existence to be posted here sometime in November or December.

Thirdly, I’ll be revamping this site. It’s been pretty stagnant in form for the last few months. I need to devote a weekend to working on improvements, but that’s something I’ve been putting off until after my PhD’s completion which keeps dragging on much longer than I expected. I also need to put thought into which direction to take the journal in terms of content. Most weblogs out there are focused on a particulr subject, but I’ve been rambling on about everything that interests me, which is nearly everything. I dabble in game development, programming, drawing, vector art, small business fundamentals, composing music and who knows what else. Consequently I’m not particularly good at any one of them, so I’m not sure if my postings here have value over a specialist experts blog on a particular subject.

I’m thinking it might be a good idea to convert the focus of this journal into more into a series of articles about my journey into areas I’m unfamiliar with, such as starting my own small business or creating a webcomic. I’m not sure whether this may be instructive as I’m fully expecting to unwittingly be making a ton of mistakes along the way, but it should be enlightening, informative, or at least better than an empty weblog.

All of this will need to wait until September though, as I’ve got a dissertation to finish.

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