Got ChipWits working on the Mac

May 19, 2007

Running under Adobe Apollo. Apollo is slick. It was a cinch to convert my Flex project to an Apollo project.

I gave one last shot at getting ChipWits running under MDM Zinc and it went off into a loop that was impossible for me to debug on the Mac. So I bit the bullet and converted it to an Apollo app.

Apollo isn’t ideal because it’s in alpha right now. The installation will be a hassle because a user will need to install Apollo first and then the ChipWits.air Apollo file. When Adobe rolls out the release of Apollo installation will be a one-step deal, but for now if a player doesn’t already run Apollo they’ll need to install it manually.

I got a Mac Powerbook off eBay a few weeks ago – a 1.5 ghz G4, which will be the low-end Mac we support. I picked this Mac as the target at the suggestion of Jay Bibby of . ChipWits runs a tad slower on the Mac than my PC of the same speed, which concerns me. I may hire a Flax/Flex animation guru to review my code to help me pump up the performance of the game. Flash isn’t the speediest game platform, for sure.

It felt good to see ChipWits running stably on a Mac again after 23 years.


I’m going to finish Channel Zilch

May 18, 2007

I’ve just joined the Clarion West 2007 write-a-thon. It’s a fundraiser for the great speculative writing workshop I attended in 2002. The write-a-thon will run June 17 – July 27th during the course of this year’s workshop.

They ask you to set a goal and I decided to finish my novel Channel Zilch .  I’ve written just over 100,000 words of the book and feel that I’ve got about 25k to go, so it’s doable. I’ve already started working on it daily.

The first thing I did was to read through and write a summary of the final 20 chapters 40-58. The book is pretty much finished up to chapter 40 and there is a bunch of good stuff that I’ll be able to keep in those final chapters.

I ‘ve got a bit of re-plotting to do as some of the motivation for the plot has changed. Not going to go into detail about that until I’ve re-outlined the final chapters.

The past couple days I have been listening to voice notes I’ve made about the book over the past few years while I’ve been too ill to write. I was damned pleased with some of the ideas in the notes. Looks like I already have more than enough ideas to flesh out the end of the book.

The write-a-thon organizers have lined up some really sweet mentors for the program. Paul Park  was an inspiring instructor for my 2002 CW class. He is a kickass artist and I love his books. And Michael Swanwick will be onboard. I have loved his books for decades – In the Drift, The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, Vacuum Flowers – great stuff. I will get to meet some new authors:  Hugo-winning Eileen Gunn, Vylar Kaftan, Louise Marley, and Cat Rambo.

The write-a-thon will be a real kick in the butt to me to get Channel Zilch out the door.

I have always been most productive when I am working on a few very different projects at the same time. I plan to get ChipWits out the door in June and Channel Zilch finished in July.


Leaving The Pad

May 18, 2007

I will be selling my beloved cabin this Summer. My best friend has had a change in her medical condition and that focused my mind on 3 goals – To spend as much time as possible with her. To enjoy life as much as possible. To do the best art I can do.

So if you want to own a piece of heaven, let me know. Own your own island on a beautiful lake, a simple cabin, 11 acres of remote woods.

I’ll cry the day I leave it behind, but it’s time for the next chapter in my life.

Major New Build of ChipWits

May 18, 2007

The latest build of ChipWits is filled with LOTs o’ new features. I really pumped up the IBOL editor. The most important features are undo/redo and multi-chip drag and drop. Both features were requested in ’84 and are finally ready for your enjoyment. Since a lot of the player’s time is spent in the IBOL editor, making it slicker is a big win for the game.

I also changed the Subpanel system, letting players create as many named Subpanels as they need rather than just A-G.

I added the new Register operators to let ‘Wits do math and have addressable variables. The ChipWit can now drop a Counter object, which has a numeric value. I am going to create Register-based missions with a CounterLock – a door that opens when a Counter with the correct value is dropped onto it.

I also added the ability to add comments to chips. This will help a lot in making IBOL programs understandable.

I am going to wait a week to get some feedback before I hold a contest.

Until then I am going to work on the Mac version and start working on a full suite of tutorial missions.

Feels great!

Flex, my ChipWits dev platform, goes Open Source

April 26, 2007

When I looked for a cross-platform game development environment over a year ago Adobe Flex was just coming out the door. Margaret was comfortable doing animation in Flash, but I was sceptical of ActionScript. When I got a look at ActionScript 3.0 I felt comfortable taking the plunge.

I’ve really enjoyed working with Flex. Today’s announcement that Adobe is open-sourcing Flex gives me even more confidence I made a good choice of platforms. Scoble has some nice vids up of interviews with core Flex devs about Adobe’s open source move.

I’ve spent the past week working on IBOL editing in ChipWits. I’ve got undo/redo working well. Got copy/paste working last night along with the start of multiple-select. Tomorrow multiple-select drag & drop. Since ChipWits players will spend the bulk of their time editing IBOL code anything I do to ease editing will pay off bigtime.

Today I also got a Mac Powerbook which I bought off eBay. It’s a G4 1.5 ghz – which is going to be our base Mac target machine at the recommendation of Jay Bibby of Jayisgames . Having a Mac version of ChipWits ready when we launch is important to me because ChipWits came out first on the Mac in ’84. Apollo is still not ready for me to use to deliver Mac ChipWits ( and Mike Chambers suggests that Apollo will be following Flex’s example ) so I will be wrestling with the killer Zinc Mac bug.

New Build and ChipWits Contest

April 3, 2007

Feels great to post a new build and kickoff a new ChipWits contest. I haven’t been very productive the past few weeks, so I can sleep well tonight knowing I’ve hit another goal.

The next few weeks are mainly about building ChipWits missions, and I had some fun with ChipWits Caves tonight. The maze is 8 rooms in a row that spell out “ChipWits” with their walls. There are 2 CDs worth 2,000 points in 6 of the 8 rooms, and those CDs don’t respawn. They are each adjacent to “islands” of walls in the center of rooms. I’ll be interested to see if any playtester codes for that condition or if blind fumbling is the most efficient strategy.

It snowed today – wet and sticking to the trunks of trees. The whole world got whiter again. With the grey sky it’s like the contrast got turned way down.

I decided to do some fish watching this evening so I took my dogs and flashlights down to the lake. It was way too wavy and snowy to see a thing in the water. But it was fun walking with a flashlight through the snow.

So I still haven’t seen a single fish after a week of open water. I wonder when I’ll see the first Central Mudminnow swimming up Mudminnow Creek? I’ve got 4 of them in my aquariums and they are cool fish with a very commanding attitude. Their spawning run is like a miniature version of a salmon run. I spent hours last Spring watching these cool little fish fight their way upstream over dams made of twigs and leaves. The water is running in the creeks but the isn’t warm enough to trigger their spawning yet.

Lost in the Woods

April 2, 2007

I spent about 2 hours lost in the woods and wetlands yesterday. I was out for my afternoon walk with the dogs when I decided to tack on a loop around the tamarack swamp. The tamarack swamp is a beautiful little ecosystem nestled in a 1/4 mile diameter bowl perched on the heights across the valley to the South of the cabin. It’s got pitcher plants and in the Fall the needles of the tamarack form a glowing turmeric-colored cloud.

The land around The Pad has some of the youngest natural landscaping on Earth – 10,000 years since the Wisconsin glacier scraped the surface raw and melted down tons of gravel and rocks in hummocks and scoured out mini-valleys and bowls. It’s got a cool, complex, small-scale topography.

Walk 100 yards in a straight line around here and you might on average cross 2 small valleys, a pocket wetland, a ridge, a stream, and a mini-mesa like The Pad sits on. My lake of 40 acres has 5 islands. With my handicap the landscape is perfect for walking – nothing is too steep or too big. It’s all forested so there are few vistas except across lakes.

Last year I laid out a 2/3 mile trail that takes a meandering line along the heights around the perimeter of my 11 acres. I walk it as often as I can – it’s my main exercise. My favorite part of the trail is a ridge that runs along the tamarack swamp for about 100 feet. Yesterday I decided to add some distance to my afternoon constitutional by walking around the swamp.

The woods are wide open this time of year; you can bushwhack in any direction. It’s easy to pick up a deer trail or just cut through the brush. The tamarack swamp is in a bowl so there is a deer trail along the ridge surrounding it.

On the south side of the swamp the ridge becomes a series of hills and at that point I chose a deer trail that swung wide, rather than hugged the swamp. Twenty minutes later I knew I was lost, but wasn’t worried since I was sure I had my bearings. I “corrected” my path and got a little worried when I started seeing hills and valleys I’d never hiked.

The sky was very grey so I couldn’t even get a general North bearing. When I finally hit a recognizable landmark I was baffled. I hiked up a little hill and there was the Maple Sugar Shack – whoa, how’d that get here? About 1.5 miles from the cabin across Lake Almira it’s a place I’ve only walked to in Winter when the lakes are hikable.

I should have spent a few more minutes at the shack getting my bearings but thought I had my route nailed. Half hour later I wound up on the edge of a farm field with a pair of Sand Hill cranes racketing at me. I guessed that the field was one near me but when I got to a high point I saw I was lost, but near civilization. As I hiked to a farm house I figured out I was still about 1.5 miles away from the cabin, much farther east than I thought I should be.

At the farmhouse they confirmed my location. I told them I was going to stick to county roads on the way home but the farmer said “That’s foolish. That’s over 3 miles and your only 1.5 miles away. Just take the road along my field, you’ll come to a deer stand, and there you’ll see Miller Camp Lake.” I’d know my way home from there – that lake is just uphill from mine.

I studied the clouds and learned that clouds to the south has a lot of contrasting light and dark greys while clouds to the north were more middle-toned greys – gave me enough confidence to take his advice and hike back toward the woods. Where I proceeded to walk in curlicues as I blundered my way back home, getting stuck on the wrong side of wetlands until at the last one I decided to hike straight through the bog.

The dogs were beat by the end of the hike. Mika, the horrible husky, usually pulls with all her 35 pounds against the leash, but was walking at my side the last mile. Travis, who usually ranges far afield in his quest for squirrels and deer, kept right with us.

We all slept well last night and the dogs are still out of it. My legs are sore, but I am really upbeat. The exercise has made me really chipper. I am going to put in a good day of programming ChipWits and get a build done for tomorrow.

Good day of programming

March 31, 2007

I’ve had some problems programming recently, so I haven’t pushed ChipWits forward much. So it felt good tonight to have a productive session. It looks like I will meet my goal of having a new build of ChipWits tomorrow. And I will kick off a new contest.

I added high score keeping for each mission. So players can keep tweaking their ‘wits to break the high score and high series records.

The lake has been open for days – way too early in Spring for the thaw. The past 2 years ice went out on April 9th – this is almost 2 weeks earlier. A definite result of global warming, which scares me.

The next few decades will be stressful for the plants and animals in my woods and lake. It’ll be sad to see marginal species die off. I wonder if the pitcher plants will survive? Or the flying squirrels?

It’s been too blustery to take advantage of the extra week of canoing. Maybe tomorrow.

Some Pix of The Pad

March 28, 2007

A few days ago it got to 80 here and Margaret and I had a picnic by the lake. I got back into my fish-watching relaxation groove. Margaret took some pix of ice andour wild little world.

Today it was cold but there was a huge crack in the ice so I was able to CANOE!!! All the way out to our island (which you can see in M’s pix ice8 and ice9). Believe you me I wore a life jacket. That water is near-ice.

Margaret is heading off on the train tonight to Seattle to spend time with her Ian and other friends. She’s working hard to get one last piece of ChipWits are done.

I have been rather burnt-out, so it was fun to wake up today feeling like working hard. Got a good start on a new tutorial mission designed by Margaret. It turned up a bug that I was able to track down quickly.

I am going to miss the girl. She’ll be gone on her adventure for 2 weeks. ChipWits should be released by the time she returns!

ChipWits marches on

March 21, 2007

I got some extremely useful feedback from the geek gamer forums. As a result of the feedback we are going to spend another month on ChipWits before releasing it.

The biggest request is for LOTs more tutorial missions. So we will ship with >30 of them.

I’ve spent some time twiddling with low-level and performance issues. A couple people commented that dragging-and-dropping chips was awkward. I spent a day making that work a lot more smoothly. Since the heart of ChipWits is the chips this one is big. The feedback on this issue shows why beta playtesting is crucial – I had just got used to the clunkiness of the drag-and-drop and ignored it.

I also identified a big Flash-related animation slowdown and fixed that.

I’ve been struggling a bit with my neural problems, not being very productive. Next week I go to a new pain clinic – fingers crossed.

In designing a lot of new missions Margaret and I are coming up with some new baddies. Those will be fun to implement. I’ll write about them later this week.

It looks like Margaret’s ermine roommate – Herman – has decamped to the great outdoors. No recent signs of our flying squirrel neighbors, either. Life is a bit less interesting at The Pad.