Monday 25 February 2008

new business plan

A new wave of productivity has come about, and has transformed Shortfuze from bunch of wannabes to a bunch of wannabes with post it notes...

Tuesday 19 February 2008

The secrets of the springy valvey thingummy

I don't think we're being unfairly arrogant when we say that we have a lot of intelligent people working here at Moviestorm Towers. In the tradition of geeks throughout the ages, many of us are firmly caffeine-powered. Nonetheless, the complicated task of preparing the communal coffee pot in the morning seems to have eluded us, prompting our beloved CEO to pin the following notice above the coffee machine:

How to make coffee
Many people have either failed to create coffee in this machine, or have succeeded in flooding the work surface. Neither outcome is really desirable.
The key point is that the coffee cannot drain into the jug from the “brown bucket” under the “white filter thingy” unless the “springy valvey thingummy” underneath the “brown bucket” is pushed up by the top of the cover on the coffee pot.
This only works if the “brown bucket” is pushed all the way down so it touches the top of the cover on the coffee pot.
So: each time you lift the “white filter thingy” to put fresh coffee into it you MUST lift the handle on the “brown bucket” and push the bucket down THEN fold the handle back flush.
STOP AND WAIT to ensure you hear coffee falling into the jug – that “tinkle tinkle” noise is the guarantee of successful coffee brewing and dry work tops.

Thanks for your attention, happy brewing!

Sunday 17 February 2008

Thursday 14 February 2008

From the QA cave:

After the release of Moviestorm 1.0.3 on Monday, a number of changes were checked in which broke a large variety of things. Here is the first Bug of the Day, direct from ShortFuze QA:

[edit: twak]
here's another -

And while we're at lowering the tone here's the original moviestorm logo (that we only just took out of the distro...)

When your logo is wordart, the only direction is up ;)

X - part 1

As we've said before - and will no doubt say again - one of the best bits about working on Moviestorm is arriving in the morning and seeing what our users have uploaded while we slept. This is what we found waiting for us this morning.

X is the debut Moviestorm piece from JTMR Films. Director James Twyman, from Manchester, is used to making live action flms in a variety of genres, and it shows. This is a taut little British gangster thriller that's reminiscent of Guy Ritchie, Jason Choi, Doc Nemesis, The Professionals and so on. The script is razor sharp, the characters are strong, the camerawork is bang on, and the music and sound are top-notch. The bad news is that it's only episode one, and we're going to have to wait for the rest of the story. Damn.

Tuesday 12 February 2008

forget the Baftas

You heard me, we made the Cambridge Evening News - spread the word! We've been nominated for a business award...

... and our fearless (and hairless) leader has been given a shot at "all time greatest guy, ever". It's worth reading for the quote "It was Cambridge super brains, David Lloyd and Matt Kelland..."

Incidentally Edge have also done a lovely article about us -

With the wonderful quote from Our Fearless Leader:

It's fantastic to see our work out in the world starting to make an impression. Thanks Edge and CEN!

Monday 11 February 2008

Mike Jones makes us think

Over at Mike Jones's Digital Basin (one of my favourite blogs, definitely one to put on your reading list) is a lengthy post comparing our user interface with that of Antics. There's some really insightful stuff in there, and while we don't agree with all of it, it's set us - and our forum users - thinking and asking ourselves some tough questions.

The Moviestorm Gr00ve

It's amazing to see what some of our users are doing with Moviestorm. Here's a great little music video by Spong3y, using Creative Commons music (we love CC!) available in lots of resolutions to suit all devices and connection speeds.

Grandaddy of 'em all, say hello to Mr. HD 720p. Available on Spong3y's Vimeo Profile

Can't go for HD? A 800x450 will still be good. Available at his Hosting Server.

Need something on the middle class? A 640x360 could be enough for standard viewing. Get it directly on its Moviestorm page.

Too impatient to watch it or just plain too slow? Youtube might offer the quick but dirty video, with the page here.

Need something on the go or are you rocking the 56K? You can access it either on your desktop or phone here.
And thanks for the dedication: "Dedicated to Moviestorm, its creators and its community for teaching me the ways of professionalism from when I left The Sims 2 up to this point." Awwww, we've gone all blushy now...

Thursday 7 February 2008

Ultra ultra ultra high priority

One of the problems inherent in a small team like the Moviestorm crew is that everybody has two or three things that only they can do, and on which entire production schedules can sometimes hinge. New tasks arrive in my in-tray every morning, and I rarely get anything that isn't absolutely essential drop-what-you're-doing top priority. I've started classifying them privately as "ultra high priority", "ultra ultra high priority", "ultra ultra ultra high priority", etc. At the moment I'm working on my Ultra-8 task list, although I can sense Andrew, our COO, brewing up an Ultra-9 as I type this.

So. Busy, busy, busy. I thought it might be interesting to give you a sort-of snapshot of what everyone in the team is working on right now. To that end, I sent out a polite but insistent email this morning asking everyone to give me a short summary of their task list for the day. Here are the results, broken down by department as best I could:

bengarrett1971: Rolling out an update to the website, including a new featured director. I'm also investigating a number of potential flash movie players to incorporate into the site in the near future.

Ben_S: Working on the testing for the 1.0.3 release which hopefully happens today unless testing shows up glaring faults.
(Ben emailed me an update a few hours later: "You remember I said '... unless testing shows up glaring faults'? Well, it has.")

Synnah: As you might have guessed, my focus at the moment is on testing the new build that's going out. As usual, there are a number of last-minute issues that crop up before we release, and those need testing and re-testing to make sure they're ironed out.

Dick Swayze: I've been supervising my team of minion(s) in an attempt to get patch 1.0.3 ready for release. It hasn't been going too well so far, but I do have a new can of compressed air, so it's not all bad.

Chris Ollis: I'm currently constructing a large <censored>/<censored>/<censored> multi-use building. Actually, all of that should probably be censored to "building future release assets".

Mitch: Co-ordinating the creation of art assets and visuals for Moviestorm, from design concept to finished article.

layla: Erm ... encoding! We're trying to get a streaming version online for every single movie our users have ever uploaded, and I'm the lucky person who's been assigned the task of converting them all. Also, I'm building stock sets and doing the odd bit of prop modelling if/when I'm lucky.

twak: I've been trying to work up the bravery to record a screencast of our dev environment as a follow-up to this post. Until then, I've been occupying my time by trying to get to the bottom of WMV encoding with's DSJ library - been a bit of bashing-my-head-against-a-hard-surface excercise. I've also been fixing tinting bugs, and getting to the bottom of Moviestorm's memory usage (QA have been shown how to use Netbean's memory analyser, and have produced some rather worrying graphs)
A blog with a graph is better than a blog without

: (Mark didn't respond to my initial email, so I wandered over to his desk, and asked: What have you been working on today, Mark?" The following is his response, almost verbatim) Fixing the <expletive> <expletive> walk cycles, after <a colleague from the engineering team> butchered my beautiful code. This morning, they were all walking backwards. Now they're not walking at all. <expletive> this <expletive>ing thing.

julian_gold: Most of my time today has been spent working on the problems that Moviestorm's been having with ATI graphics cards and drivers. I've contacted ATI directly about this, but I'm still waiting for a response.

Dave: I've spent the day trying to get 1.0.3 out the door. Sorry - can't really talk now. Too busy. QA have just found a whole bundle of new bugs. (If Dave doesn't give me more material next time, I'll post the image of him that's stuck up next to the whiteboard).


matt: Confidential company stuff, mostly, but also ...

Talking to movie-makers of all persuasions all round the world, from first-timers to experienced machinimators and film students, all the way up to seasoned television and Hollywood directors, and finding out what they want from a machinima tool and what films they want to make; then using that information to think of ways to improve Moviestorm. Watching a lot of machinima so I can see what other people are doing and how they're doing it. Promoting Moviestorm via the press and at conferences, shows and other events. And, as a side project, writing my own movie scripts to work out what Moviestorm would have to provide in order to film them in the way I want to see them.

: I am at SIME 2008.

I spent most of this month working out how to make Moviestorm really huge in 2008. I'm still glowing with pride about the article in this month's EDGE magazine that Matt arranged. When we have leaky toilets I fix those too. And I am the only person who knows how a dishwasher works. When I stop crying with laughter I will tell johnnie, layla and Ben_S how good their last video was ...

Giles: Trying to find out where Johnnie bought his new keyboard so that I can get one myself. Far too much 'confidential company stuff'. A lot of it should come about in six to nine months time but in the interim I need to ensure the salaries are paid on time! Fixing the garage and front doors (okay actually I got someone in to fix them). Changing our bank to RBS so that we can play with the big boys and get ready for international business etc. Being amazed at the quality of films that Moviestorm users as young as 13 can produce. This can also be a little scary at times! Generally feeling completely inept when surrounded by the 'techies' profound skills and production capabilities. Keeping an eye on the purse strings so that petty cash can always buy the milk and biscuits for the office.

Sunday 3 February 2008

Why Java?

For a long time we've been harranged as to why we're using Java to develop Moviestorm. Java is a programming language that our dev team writes in all day long. So twak spends all his day looking at something like this (highlighted stuff is Java itself):

The games industry standard is to code in C++. Most people in the team know C++, but Moviestorm doesn't use it. The main reason is speed of development. Java has a lot of features, libraries and tools that helped get us started as a startup very quickly, and we like it that way. There are a huge range of BSD-licensed libraries available, many great free tools, the build times are low (a clean build takes 30sec, compared to 30min for comparable projects in C++). It is also portable, Dave gave us a working Mac port in ~6 days.

The rest of this post turned into a myth-busting exercise so it probably best done as a Q&A.

Q) Isn't java slow?
A) No, it's now accepted that it is as fast as C++. Because it compiles to bytecode rather than native binaries it adapts itself to whatever processor you happen to have on your computer. There are faster ways to code, such as optimized C or assembler, but those eat up so much developer time (writing, maintaining and porting to other platforms) that we only resort to them when we need real speed. And yes, sad tho it is, companies sacrifice developer time their end for performance on your end every day. There are also a bunch of high level tricks, such as run time code generation that help us crank up the speed.

Q) Doesn't Java need to be installed before it can be used?
A) Yes, but Moviestorm installs it for you. In the old days you had to install it yourself, but that's all changed. Any version of the Java runtime that Moviestorm adds, is removed when you uninstall. This is no different to the way you need to install Microsoft the .NET runtime for some applications (except it doesn't uninstall unless you tell it to).

Q) I don't like Java because I keep getting javascript errors on webpages.
A) Java isn't javascript (ECMA) . And Javascript isn't even that bad, it's just that it's one of the more complicated parts of web pages and so the most likely to go wrong.

Q) I read somewhere that the Java language sucks, and is harmful to students to learn it.
A) Yes, I agree, it's a balls up of a language. It is a system designed by geniuses to be used by monkeys; a collection of constructs to make people right "correct" code according to someone else's definition of correct. When you're a programmer you want maximum expressiveness, rather than someone else's definition of correctness. But its better than C++ (which started out as a mere pre-processor to C). We use Java because of the ecosystem around it rather than the language itself. I'd would like to go functional, but those languages don't have the tools and libraries yet.

Q) I hate Java because of the NullPointerExceptions.
A) Moviestorm users sometimes see these when they don't have the correct addon pack or similar. It means that the programmers have forgotten to initialize something, somewhere, sometime. If it was a C++ the program would (with the same absence of defensive coding) have probably been stopped by the operating system. Because this isn't the case these errors are less serious and we get to spend more of our time fixing more show-stopping bugs (such as getting Storm to run on bizzare ATI hardware)

While we'll admit that Java has it's share of flaws, but for now it is the sweet spot of game development for a startup!