Monthly Archives: December 2009

Users self-help forums

December 22, 2009 | Filed under: business

I have had recent (bad) experiences with this phenomena, but it’s not the first time.

How many times have you gone to a website for a game, a service, an ISP, some software, whatever, and found an ‘official’ self-help forum for users? I seem to recall Dell used to do it, and now almost everyone does it.

“Welcome to the community help forums where fellow member of the ABC community help solve each other’s technical problems”

What this translates (to me) as is this…

“Fuck customer service. We will let you dumb schmucks who bought our stuff fix each others problems. Meanwhile, we are on the beach! Good luck losers…”

I check my forums daily. I don’t post in every thread, and I don’t fix every problem, but I at least flipping TRY to do so. I read every support email I get, and I won’t make you jump through hoops to email a real person. The person is ME. here is my email address: cliff@positech.co.uk.  Here is a clickable one:

cliff@positech.co.uk

Here it is bigger;

cliff@positech.co.uk

I get quite a pile of spam because I am so free with my email address. You know whose problem that is? MINE. Whose problem is it not? My customers.

Fuck email forms, fuck ‘self-help community forums. Fuck “your call is important to us” and definitely fuck “We are experiencing higher than normal traffic“. If you bought a game from me, and it doesn’t run email me. email me now, and I’ll do my best to fix it.

And the next time you encounter a software provider or other company that expects you to not only make do with ‘community’ tech support, but to act as their unpaid helpdesk staff, make a mental note to avoid them in future. Only by hurting the business of people like that will things improve…

And just to add some positivity, who can I name with the same attitude?

Seth Godin, the marketing guy.

BMTMicro, my payment provider,

Cater Allen, the UK bank.

errr….. feel free to add to the list.

Ok, so patch 28 for gratuitous space battles is out, bringing the game to version 1.28. Hurrah. Lets take a looky at the two big new things (in addition to the major crash bug that was somehow still in the game, and is hopefully now hunted down and killed).

CUSTOM CHALLENGES

This is a big deal. If you go to the challenges screen, there is a new ‘custom challenge’ map, which opens up a whole new screen showing stuff to fiddle with to basically create your own map, from existing backdrops, plus settings for pilot limits, budget, and the supply limits or spatial anomalies present. You want a battle with a 10,00CR budget, 4 pilots, no shields and no missile modules? You got it kiddo!

You can save out these custom scenarios or load them in, (if you save them out, that lets you name them, otherwise they default to ‘custom map’. Clicking the deploy button takes you to the normal setup screen for arranging your own fleet, and from there you issue a challenge as before. I hope people really investigate this as an option for the game, because it gives a lot more creative control to the player. If you thing fighter rockets are overpowered, you can issue a challenge where there aren’t any, and see what other methods people use to beat you. if you like a certain map but wished it had a ‘must have engines’ requirement, you can do that too. And if I add in extra anomalies or scenario options, they will all end up in this editor too.

MESSAGING

The game now maintains an on-line ‘inbox’ for everyone, and auto-sends you a message when your challenges are beaten or played, or when someone sends you a challenge. It also gives you the option of sending post-challenge feedback to the issuer. This means less wondering how the hell they beat you invincible fleet, and more reading the gloating from your nemesis, which is of course, all in the spirit of GSB.

1.28 took a lot of under-the-hood fiddling, but I think these two things were missing from the game, and needed putting in. I wasn’t sure the challenge stuff would be as popular as I wanted it to be, but it has proved to be very popular, so it’s been l33t to go back and add this stuff to an existing game. The game will auto-update if you have registered it on-line, but I’ll be getting updated patches to the distributors like steam and impulse and the others right away.

I’m a big fan of modding and game editors. people love to tweak a game they way they want it, and I support that 100%. So with this in mind, here is a work-in-progress screenshot of the custom scenario editor.

The idea is that there is a new way to launch a challenge (maybe from the challenges window), rather than selecting an existing singelplayer mission. That new button takes you to this screen which lets you tweak everything. Once done, you can then click deploy, and arrange your fleet like any other mission, then issue that as a challenge to anyone else. You can only use backgrounds that already exist in the game, but everything else is tweakable.  The only big chunk not done yet is changing the deployment zones. I may end up adding that later and using defaults for now. My UI coding is sadly slow and inefficient :(

Together with in-game messaging, this is the second big feature that will be in the next patch (alongside many bug fixes) which will be 1.28

World War 2 (executive summary)

December 14, 2009 | Filed under: Uncategorized

I’ve been reading a huge 5 or 6 volume book called ‘World War II’. A bit of an arrogant title, assuming you can cover the whole topic, but it was written shortly after the war by Winston Churchill, so he’s allowed some slack. Obviously it’s insanely long, and I’m only on volume 3, but it’s fascinating stuff, especially when you are working on a battle game :D.
Here is some of the stuff that has stood out as interesting to me so far.

1) Invasion of Poland my ass. We get taught in school that this is when WW2 started, but thats bullshit. Hitler had already frogmarched into a number of countries by then, and Mussolini had been misbehaving too. We didn’t officially declare war with Germany until then, but the idea that this was sudden or even slightly unexpected is wrong. There was tons of obvious buildup.

2) Everyone thought England was fucked. The Germans assumed they could conquer us, The Americans had strong doubts we will hold out any longer than the French. (They wouldn’t send us arms that they secretly thought would end up in the hands of conquering Germans).  The global consensus was that England would fall next, and Hitler would have the whole of Europe soon. Nobody took seriously the idea of the Brits fighting to the death.

3) The British Navy was fearsome. We kicked ass in terms of naval combat. The Germans didn’t really try to engage the royal navy, because they were just outgunned and they knew it. The story of ship v ship combat (ignoring subs) for the first part of the war, was the royal navy tracking down enemy ships and sinking them. No wonder we have this ‘brittania rules the waves’ lyric.

4) The battle of britain was vital purely because it stopped Germany having air cover for a seaborne invasion of the UK. They knew their ships wouldn’t make it over the channel without air superiority, which is why they tried to take out our air force. The whole bombing of cities was just plan B after it was obvious that an invasion was impossible

5) The Italian army was rubbish. Really hilariously bad. There were some engagements where it was literally a 100 to 1 ratio of British troops lost to Italians killed or captured. That’s just laughable. This isn’t knocking the Italians, it’s probably just that the average Italian soldier wasn’t as keen on the war as the Duce. Good for them!

6) Churchill was on the ball. This was not some upper class twit drinking port and leaving the war to the military. He was intimately aware of troop dispositions, strategy, diplomacy, economics, and always hassling everyone to get things done better, faster, and with more enthusiasm. He was determined to take the fight to the enemy, and a big believer in using new technology to win the war.

It’s especially amazing to read Churchills multi-thousand page history of the war, know all about Bletchley park, and notice he never even hints at what went on. Talk about keeping a secret…

I’m sure in 4 years time when I finally finish the books, I’ll have more to report :D If you have a million hours of free time, I recommend it as a fascinating read.

I’m working on the UI for a custom challenge editor thing…