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The Icon Bar: News and features: Column: The Lone Programmer

Column: The Lone Programmer

Posted by Nathan on 01:00, 2/4/2001 | , , ,
Are the days of the lone games programmer numbered?

Lone CoderThis article was spurred on from a thread in the Acorn Arcade forums, are the days of the lone programmer over? In this article I attempt to answer this from the RISC OS market, I may cross over points I have raised in the other article.
All the way through the RISC OS world from 1990 to present day, most programs were written by individuals rather than groups, as the market grinds down can this hamper our community? Will it reduce the number of programs released? What are the problems?
There are two sides to this problem, first is the lack of resources and the second is backing. Let's deal with the first point. The lack of resources has hit home more now then ever before as the PC market has taken speed and gone way beyond our slow world. More formats have been created, more hardware and for us to release anything close such as movies on RISC OS we have to resort to age old programs and faffing around with finding a decent player. If this was Windows we could download numerous players and off we go. Quite a few RISC OS companies aren't particularly forthcoming with much needed information either.
There is also the problem of example code that could be examined. A lot of coders have grey areas that they know little about and it would be extremely helpful for some sort of resource to be available with examples but it doesn't exist. Thankfully the community tends to be forthcoming with information but it can frequently end in, "No, we can't do that."
If resources were made available then they should be on one central site, possibly Coder's Cauldron so coders can go to one site and find everything they need. Problem is that many people don't want their source code released as they don't want to be ripped off and, sadly, don't want to be ridiculed by their methods. This is where the second point comes in.
Lee Johnston mentions the main problem in the forums:
"Usually the moment a game like this is released you immediately hear comments of derision such as "oh it's only 2D" or "the graphics don't match those done by professional artists". In such an environment it's difficult to maintain enthusiasm and commitment. Note that I don't condone naff games being sold for high prices but some of the games that fall foul of these remarks are free. How demoralising is that?"
Unfortunately it seems like you can't release a game without bad criticism by a stupid few. You seem to always get someone saying just ignore them but you can't as few people are that thick-skinned. These comments are hurtful. You always get the "If this was a PC game then it'd be free", which, quite frankly, sucks. If you were comparing RO to the PC world then it'd be dead as there isn't any killer application left on it.
These doom spreaders seem to get a kick out of kicking coders mentally. I can name a few doom-sayers, thankfully most of them have gone to other platforms (Linux), sadly most people I know have gone. Picture it, you have spent years on writing a piece of software (not necessarily a game), released it and what do you see? Newsgroup postings and reviews with severe negative comments in. Nothing constructive. Why would they want to carry on? SunBurst took years to write and when it came out it was criticised heavily for stupid points like:-

"It's trying to be Elite and it is not by any means."
"It's 2D, the way forward is 3D."
"SunBurst uses 2D graphics."
Why should we bother to continue? Please advise.
It seems the only way to fend off this abuse is to either become part of an existing team or create a new one. Lee Johnston was pulled into the VOTI fray, I quote:
"For me, being invited into the VOTI fold has proven to be something of a lifeline. Nathan's almost relentless encouragement has kept me going at times when giving up on something has seemed the more worthwhile option. I've also had the opportunity to bounce ideas off of people like Andrew and Owain - it makes me feel that what I'm doing is worthwhile."
The confidence boost is amazing and with a constant contact with a team hub (as I perform in VOTI) then nothing can go sour. My experiences of another group (that have largely disbanded) also highlight the need for some sort of team hub much like I operate within VOTI. This other group just didn't have a central person to do all the routine stuff that needs doing and it fell to bits. The job I do is immensely easy as far as I see it and don't see why there aren't more people like me in RO land. I quote from Andrew Weston:
"being in a group with a definite core is reassuring...."
Creating a team of people can be quite difficult. You need to get to know any possible team members first so that you can be sure they won't quit easily or do nothing or even worse, rely on another coder to do everything. Probably the main element is at least one coder, then the graphics artist(s). As shown above you need someone to act as a team hub who can find information, recruit new people and give news and encouragement to team players. Many teams have never seen the light of day, many have died in the later stages but if you are optimistic you will succeed, you will.
The BIG problem that we now have is that time it critical and everyone is doing things in their spare time but sometimes the graphics artists are too busy or the coder is and one holds the other back, it is frustrating but there is nothing that can be done. It has also come to light that RO has many shortcomings while trying to knock out a half decent game.
The number of people involved in a project is large now due to the small amount of time people have. Artex have it better as their games are destined for other markets where more monies can be gained but VOTI's aren't so hence the amount of cash people get will be small, the more people, the smaller the amount and the less interest people have in it.
I hope that any lone coders, artists, musicians, teams or whatever step forward and ask for help. VOTI and Acorn Arcade will help where we can - we are here for the market!
  Column: The Lone Programmer
  (00:47 1/4/2001)
  Graham Crockford (21:45 1/4/2001)
    Mark Quint (16:06 2/4/2001)
      Nathan (18:21 2/4/2001)
        Andrew Weston (19:36 2/4/2001)
          Bayley Faker (19:01 3/4/2001)
            Rich Goodwin (09:55 5/4/2001)
              Bayler Faker (17:27 10/4/2001)
                Andrew Wesron (22:33 12/4/2001)
                  Andrew Wesron (22:34 12/4/2001)
                    Owen Griffin (20:12 14/4/2001)
                      Owain Cole (13:13 17/4/2001)
Alasdair Bailey Message #87818, posted at 00:47, 1/4/2001
Unregistered user I liked the article and you make some good points but I have no sympathy for your complaints about the reviews which RISC OS games sometimes receive.

You cite the quote "SunBurst uses 2D graphics", I don't know where this was taken from but it is a plain statement of fact. How can you complain when a reviewer is simply telling the reader what the product is and how it works?

That aside, you state your dislike of "Newsgroup postings and reviews with severe negative comments in". You're fighting a losing battle on this one I'm afraid. Though I see your point, it is the job of the reviewer to state his opinion of a game. If that happens to be a negative opinion then he has every right to cite it. Likewise, those who post to news groups have the same rights but are not placed in a position where they have an editor above them who will make sure that they can't be too damning without adequate justification.

Okay, the newsgroup posters can be needlessly offensive at times but please lay off the reviewers. Review writers are only expressing an opinion and hopefully, that's been formed after a reasonable amount of time spent playing the game.

I speak from personal experience when I say that it's not easy to slate a game. Especially in the RISC OS market where there is a certain pressure on the press to paint a positive picture of things.

Keep up the good work anyway, Nathan, and don't be put off by the might of the PC developers. I have yet to actually meet a programmer in the PC market, they all hide behind PR companies and marketing goons!

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Graham Crockford Message #87819, posted at 21:45, 1/4/2001, in reply to message #87818
Unregistered user The games market is now a niche market on RO - anyone that plays games extensively will by now have invested in a PC or PS as well as their RO machine.

RO games can now be reviewed as what they are - small diversions for those that either don't play games much or can't be bothered to move in the middle of working.

In that sense, it seems reasonable to review games on this premise - and to write them in this way (that is, don't take on what you're not capable of and stick to the little classics).
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Mark Quint Message #87820, posted at 16:06, 2/4/2001, in reply to message #87819
Unregistered user nice article nathan,
you've got all the major points and problems out into the open now, so *hopefully* we could see some progress coming forward, and perhaps even some more games :)
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Nathan Message #87821, posted at 18:21, 2/4/2001, in reply to message #87820
Unregistered user Re: Alisdair
You seem to have taken the article to heart. I am saying what is the fact with all reviews from AA to AU to Archive etc.
I also stated the problems with reviews and newsgroup postings on programmers, this is fact, I know because I've helped many of them out of a depressive hole.
I also "have a go" at reviewers because I know some dumb reviewers, believe me.

The article is to highlight the need for teams who are thick-skinned when it comes to negative responses. The article provides the information on why lone programmers can fail and puts one of the many reasons why projects die.
Obviously it is biased towards me but I have consulted with various people as I wrote the article.

To conclude, the article is to serve what the problem is, to show what one nasty comment can do. It shows the need for people to stick together and for constructive criticism as well as positive comments.

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Andrew Weston Message #87822, posted at 19:36, 2/4/2001, in reply to message #87821
Unregistered user Re: Graham's post
While I can see your point about the market being a niche one for games, I think there is a danger with a games programmers treating it a such. You see if we don't try top compete with the best of what the PC has to offer and to push ourselves and if good enough, our machines, then the games will stagnate and probably not sell or be able to be sold. In my opinion, somebody with an idea for a commercial game should consider any ideas for it and only be constrained by the technical reality and not from the outset of game conception. That is, at least for games which are intended to be sold which is arguably a good incentive for most coders.

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Bayley Faker Message #87823, posted at 19:01, 3/4/2001, in reply to message #87822
Unregistered user Who's is the enigmatic crown in the picture? ;-)
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Rich Goodwin Message #87824, posted at 09:55, 5/4/2001, in reply to message #87823
Unregistered user It's mostly Paul Vigay, but if you've seen him you'll know the haircut is courtesy of Photodesk ;)
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Bayler Faker Message #87825, posted at 17:27, 10/4/2001, in reply to message #87824
Unregistered user I've heard it does wonders
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Andrew Wesron Message #87826, posted at 22:33, 12/4/2001, in reply to message #87825
Unregistered user If anybody is still reading these comments then with regards to Nathan's remark about a resource containing example code being available, there are resources like flipcode.com but I think a resource of ARM code and BBC BASIC would be equally important to RISC OS games programmers. I'll follow this up on the forum's and see if it can generate any interest in pooling resources in a special Acorn Arcade area.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Andrew Wesron Message #87827, posted at 22:34, 12/4/2001, in reply to message #87826
Unregistered user If anybody is still reading these comments then with regards to Nathan's remark about a resource containing example code being available, there are resources like flipcode.com but I think a resource of ARM code and BBC BASIC would be equally important to RISC OS games programmers. I'll follow this up on the forum's and see if it can generate any interest in pooling resources in a special Acorn Arcade area.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Owen Griffin Message #87828, posted at 20:12, 14/4/2001, in reply to message #87827
Unregistered user Nice article. Games programming for RISC OS should definatley be encouraged.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Owain Cole Message #87829, posted at 13:13, 17/4/2001, in reply to message #87828
Unregistered user Just got round to reading this. I really don't know what to add ;) Perhaps a bit more encouraging and less discouraging would be much appreciated.
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The Icon Bar: News and features: Column: The Lone Programmer