Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Handy optimising tip

If you have a profiler like aqtime that can be remotely enabled and disabled try this.

  1. Have a flag that is ‘bprofileframe’ and set it to false by default
  2. Bind a keystroke to a function that toggles the flag on
  3. In your render loop, before rendering, if the flag is true, enable debugging
  4. At the end of the render loop, if the flag is true, set false, and disable debugging.

Voila! you have a keystroke that will capture a single frames profiling data and ONLY that frame, making for really easy profiling on very specific situations. Works a treat. Now I just need to work out how to make it all faster :D

Solar install complete

So the solar guys have finished and gone today. I now am the proud owner of my own little ground-mounted photovoltaic power plant. Check out the remote monitoring gadget for proof it actually works:


That gadget is the bluetooth-enabled sunny beam monitor that wireleslly connects to the inverter and lets you monitor output. Cunningly, it has built in solar panels itself, for power :D It also has a usb cable for you to power it, or to dump the historical data to a PC as a csv file.

Here is my ‘what I learned so far’:

Ground mount panels are BIG. They don’t look big on a roof, but stick 10 panels (roughly 2KW) on frames in your garden/driveway and you will be surprised how big they are. This isn’t something you want to do in a small suburban garden. We are lucky in that the drive for our house is unusually big and empty, looking more like a car park than a normal driveway, so we still have lots of room left. They need a lot of space between rows of panels too.

Planning permission for solar with a listed building is HELL. Either pay a company to do get the permission for you, to save yourself the hassle, or start the process a year in advance and prepare for stress. This varies by local council, and if your house isn’t listed, and they go on the roof, AFAIK you dodge needing this permission entirely. Lucky you :D

There will be a lot of extra hardware installed by your electricity meter/fusebox. You get a new (tiny) generation meter (middle top of picture), plus a new fusebox gadget (bottom of picture, with big phat AC cable coming into it from the inverter), and another little black box thing (under the generation meter, stuffed with big cables). Don’t assume it will all fit in a tiny space in a cupboard somewhere. We ran out of room and needed the fusebox gadget attached below. I’ll probably get it boxed in one day to look less industrial.

Prices are dropping big-time. My roughly £10k install was £11k just 9 months ago. If you got a quote for PV a year or two ago, get a new one. The panels are getting much cheaper.

Get panels with bypass-diodes. They are more expensive, but worth it. Mine are Schuco. With Bypass Diodes, shading on 1 panel means 1 panel generates zero. Without them, shading on one panel would mean all ten generate zero. This is a BIG deal. Don’t get them without bypass diodes unless you have a south facing roof in the sahara and no trees for miles. Not all panels are the same.

It’s very very cool to have lots of electrical stuff running and your electricity meter not moving. Especially on the day we hear there is another 16% rise in electricity prices. bwahahahaha. I’ll be contacting my electricity company soon to get a new meter fitted which can handle being supplied to. Sadly mine wasn’t one which spun backwards :(

You get a dedicated generation-meter which you have to manually read and report in order to be paid the feed-in-tariff (43p / unit). Entirely seperate to that is an agreement with the electric co that you get credited as exporting 50% of what you produce (extra 3p per unit). This is great,because I will use everything I produce and export bugger-all, so it’s free money :D. This happens because the electric co can’t be assed to install proper export meters.

Lots of boring generation stats to blog over the next few weeks, I’m sure :D. Already earned £1.50 yay!

Now back to programming stuff that explodes.






Solar Panel install day #3

Panels all installed, trench for cables dug, final electrical connections friday morning, with any luck. Yay!

They almost look small from this distance…

For people who care, they are schuco MPE 215 (215 watt) solar panels with bypass diodes.


They will look a lot less industrial once they have been surrounded by some whicker-ish fencing, and some plants yada yada…

Solar Panel install, day #1

Anyone new to this blog: I have long-wanted solar power for my house. I’m sick of watching energy companies do sod all about renewable energy, whilst charging me ever more money for their coal-fired power that causes so many problems*, and I am also keenly aware that the UK’s feed-in-tariff means that it’s a VERY good investment. With interest rates this low, your money is better off on the roof than in the bank (at least until they lower the tariff for new adopters next year, so hurry!)  However, because my ancient pre-napoleonic house has a stone-tile roof, and is ‘listed’ I can’t put them on the roof, so instead, they are going in the driveway, which luckily is stupidly big for a house this small.

The installers showed up yesterday to start fitting the ground mount frames:

That’s the frame before most of it gets pounded down into the ground and then concreted in. It’s quite a cool system because hardly any concrete is used, yet they are very very stable.

Make no mistake, these are BIG and THICK and mostly HEAVY metal frames. These aren’t going anywhere, any time soon. Although obviously, should the need arise everything *is* eventually removable. There are very few good pictures of ground mounted solar panels in a domestic environment, so I thought I really should snap some. I found it hard to visualise them accurately before ordering it all.

This is the complete array of solar panel frames as it stands now. Two rows of five panels. The back row looks elevated, but actually it’s the same height, we just have a sloping driveway. The gap is needed to stop the front row obscuring and shading the back one. I’m assuming that tuesday will be spent mostly digging the (quite long) trench to take the power to the house. I bet no actual panels get attached until wednesday. I expect it to look a lot nicer and a lot less like an industrial oil-refinery outside my window when that happens. Plus the plan is to get some willow-hurdles to line the back and probably the sides of them to make them look less GRRRRR. I should point out that the initial reaction to these frames now is *Eeek, they are BIG!*. I can’t dispute that.

*I know solar has it’s problems, and personally I’m backing tidal power for the UK< but the thing is, for 95% of people, the ONLY renewable energy they have direct access to owning and installing is solar thermal or PV (wind doesnt scale down well, and there is no water nearby for hydro. House not airtight enough for geothermal), and our house has no hot water tank, ruling out solar thermal, so there was basically one possible solution, and this is it.

Why good companies can do evil things. (even in gaming)

Here is a pet theory.

lets say there are two logging companies. Treehugger Corp only cuts down trees in sustainable plantations, and its price per kilo to customers is $20. Bastard Corp cuts down trees where the hell it likes, and it’s price per kilo to customers is $20 too. Customers are happy with the $20 price point. $2/kilo is the ‘normal profit’ that makes the industry a worthwhile endeavour.


profit / kilo for treehugger is $2. for bastard corp, it’s $4. So what does bastard corp do? It obviously lowers it’s price to $18. It still makes a decent profit margin, but suddenly treehugger corp costs more. 95% of customers don’t look past the PR spin to see which company is really the ‘nice’ company, and thus treehugger desperately loses market share. With falling market share and revenue, it cannot afford to fight back. Soon Bastard corp has the market to itself. cackle cackle, twirl moustache. They probably even raise their prices to $22 later.

Here is where my theory kicks in…

Lets say there is a third company ‘CleverCorp‘. Clevercorp would like to be like treehugger corp, but once-bitten twice shy. They aren’t going to go-down like TreeHugger corp, but they have the same ‘nice’ goals. When BastardCorp lowers it’s price, CC does the same, and begins to sell unsustainable wood too. At the same time it complains to the government and the press, that this is all wrong, and that the industry needs regulation, pointing to BastardCorp. The problem is, to the cynical public, govt and media, Clever Corp is as bad as Bastard Corp. They are involved in the same shady practices too, and their bleeding-heart PR is just a smokescreen. How can we have any sympathy for Clever Corp?

I’m reminded of this phenomena (game theory probably has a nice name for it, if it’s not just a moral race-to-the-bottom?) when I see ‘bullshots’ (mocked-up screenshots) and sexist ads for games. I’ll never release screenshots that were mocked up in photoshop, nor will I stick a semi-naked buxom elf in my games, or my ads. I do, however, realise this puts me at a commercial disadvantage.

This is why it’s really good for customers and industry pundits to rail against stuff that is bad, like the aforementioned PR lies and sexism. note also Duke Nukems PR threats to journalists for higher scores, flying journos to the bahamas to review a game, and the old story of how people in gaming are worked to death for shit wages.

When that sort of stuff is made unacceptable, it’s not only a welcome kick to the bastard corps, it’s also a change that enables the ‘nice’ corps to stay idealistic, and not go down the understandable-but-still-evil middle route.

This coming week is solar week. By friday, it might become OMFGLOOKITSIMAGESOFANEWGAME week.