programming in the
twenty-first century

It's not about technology for its own sake. It's about being able to implement your ideas.

Adventures in Unfiltered Global Publishing

I remember sitting in my parents' backyard in Texas, in the mid 1980s, reading a computer magazine that contained a game and accompanying article I had written. I don't know what the circulation of the magazine--Antic--was, but it was popular enough that I could walk into any mall bookstore and flip through a copy.

The amazing part, of course, was that my game was in there. Not that it was a great game, but it had gone from initial design to final implementation in under two weeks. I didn't talk to anyone about the concept. I didn't have any help with the development. I don't think I even asked anyone to playtest it. Yet there it was in print, the name of the game right on the cover, and available in dozens of bookstores in the Dallas area alone.

In early 1998, Gordon Cameron asked if I'd be the guest editor for SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics Quarterly. The issue was focused on gaming and graphics, and the invitation was largely based on Halcyon Days which I had put together the previous year. I wasn't even a SIGGRAPH member.

I talked to some people I had been in contact with, like Steven Collins (who co-founded Havok that same year) and Owen Rubin (who wrote games for those old "glowing vector" arcade machines). I still like this bit from Noah Falstein's "Portrait of the Artists in a Young Industry":

Incidentally, Sinistar was probably the first videogame to employ motion capture for graphics--of a sort. Jack provided us with three mouth positions, closed, half-open and open. It was up to Sam Dicker, the lead programmer, and myself to figure out which positions to use for which phrases. After a few unsuccessful attempts to synchronize it by hand we hit on a scheme. We wrote each of the short phrases Sinistar spoke on a whiteboard. Then Sam held a marker to his chin with its tip touching the board and moved his head along the phrase, reading it aloud. This gave us a sort of graph showing how his chin dropped as he spoke. Then we "digitized" it, eyeballing the curve, reducing it to three different states and noting duration.

I think one of the seven contributors was recommended by Gordon; the other six were my choice. I suggested topics, edited the articles (and over-edited at least one), wrote the "From the Guest Editor" column, and the completed issue was mailed out to SIGGRAPH members in May.

In both of these cases, I failed to realize how unusual it is to go from idea to print without any interference whatsoever. Somehow my own words and thoughts were getting put into professionally produced, respectable periodicals, without going through any committees, without anyone stopping to ask "Hey, does this guy even know what he's talking about?"

On October 30th of this year, I sat down on a couch in my basement to write a short article I had in my head. The total time from first word to finished piece was one hour, and most of that was spent researching some numbers. I've had unintentionally popular blog entries before, most notably Advice to Aimless, Excited Programmers and Write Code Like You Just Learned How to Program, but that start to finish in one hour entry, Things That Turbo Pascal is Smaller Than, took off faster than anything I've written. It was all over the place that same evening and inexplicably ended up on Slashdot within forty-eight hours.

If you read or linked to that article, thank you.

(If you just started reading this site, you might enjoy A Three-Year Retrospective.)

permalink November 9, 2011



twitter / mail

I'm James Hague, a recovering programmer who has been designing video games since the 1980s. Programming Without Being Obsessed With Programming and Organizational Skills Beat Algorithmic Wizardry are good starting points. For the older stuff, try the 2012 Retrospective.

Where are the comments?