Yesterday Nick Case and I traveled down to Modern Jago in London for an event set up for members of the Windows 8 | Elite program. The Event was particularly exciting as the CEO of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer, was presenting. I’ve been a fan of Ballmers since seeing the world famous “Developers” video on YouTube. Whilst a lot of people, myself included, find it funny I think its refreshing to see someone so genuinely passionate about what they do.
Nick and I caught our train from the Hull Paragon Interchange at 10:30 and were enjoying our journey until an announcement played on the train — “Please have all tickets and railcards ready for inspection”. At this point my heart sunk, I’d forgotten my Student Railcard in the rush to get out. Fortunately when the train guard came to me she was merciful and told me not to forget it again but that she would let me off this one time.
We arrived in the capital around 1pm and set off on our way to Modern Jago following the Circle line — enthusiastically referred to as the “Bright Yellow Line” by the woman opposite me on the train — round to Liverpool Street Station from Kings Cross, from there it was only a few minutes walk to Club Row, the street on which Modern Jago is situated.
We were welcomed into the garden of Jago as there was an event which hadn’t yet finished still taking place in the hall. The building itself was formally a school and a lovely contemporary mix of old on the outside and modern on the inside.
Whilst in the network I had a look round for any familiar faces and spotted one of my fellow MSPs, Abhilaksh Lalwani as well as a few people from Black Marble Studios.
After around 20 minutes or so we were invited inside to be seated for the event. The chairs were in straight lines across the hall floor and I quipped “It’s just like a lecture apart from we don’t have anyone we’re friends with to look for”, with that we tried to find 2 seats next to each other in a decent position. The ones we found were 1 row from the front right in front of the speakers podium, fantastic.
First up was a short presentation about some of the applications that had been developed by people in audience, some were quite impressive. Of particular note were the ever impressive Cocktail Flow, The British Airways Inspiration app and UK Bus Checker.
The Best of British app showcase finished with a look at the latest Windows Phone 8 advert, showing off the personalized start screen of a certain CEO. You can see it here:
At the end Mr. Ballmer was welcomed on stage with the introduction “heres the person who owns that phone”. He entered with his usual enthusiasm and thanked everyone for being at the event and for supporting Microsoft through the biggest change in the companies history. The event was very much about how much Microsoft values its partners and the people who develop for its platforms — underlined by the fact the final slide on Mr Ballmer’s slide deck simply said:
Succeed With Us.
The Microsoft CEO explained Microsoft ideas and ideals behind the Windows and Windows Phone platforms and explained how every department within the company had some involvement with the finished products, in other words Microsoft are all in.. Steve felt as if he had “bet the farm on Windows 8” saying
When you change so dramatically your main product, which is used by over 600 million people worldwide of course you’ve taken a huge gamble
Steve went on to explain how Microsoft didn’t see Windows 8 as merely an update to an operating system but as a complete change on the idea of what a device is an can be, he highlighted this by an incredible series of weird hand motions explaining how some of the new laptop form factors are tablets that dock, some have hinges and how some are just like normal laptops but with touch screens.
This moment has remained in my mind partly because it was quite funny, but mainly because it symbolized to me how great a speaker Steve Ballmer is. He was so animated and genuinely excited about everything he spoke about — it was infusing and made you inspired to work on his platform. And guess what? That’s exactly what he wanted. I’d love to be able to speak to crowds of people in a similar style.
After Steve had finished he didn’t take any questions, which was a shame. I really really wanted to ask him the rumours of a XBOX Surface Slate 😛 But we did get to have a look at some of the new Microsoft Surface’s and some Lumia 820’s — both of which really impressed both Nick and I.
I even took the time to put my website up on one of the Microsoft Surface Devices. I was surprised to find whilst doing this that the Type Cover (the physical keyboard dock) was actually perfect for my fingers and provided a better typing experience than my 15 inch dell laptop keyboard. The tap cover was still good but I imagine it would take a bit of time to get used to. I’ve heard some bad things about the screen resolution of the surface, but frankly I couldn’t see any issue and I was impressed by the field of view.
Shortly after I played with all these lovely devices it was time to go. Thanks to Phil Cross and Co for setting up the event, Steve Ballmer for making the time to talk to us all and for a fantastic presentation and Nick for coming with me! 🙂
Yesterday John, Nick and I were on the BBC Radio Humberside Breakfast Show to talk about the advent of the game development industry in Hull and Humberside. This was particularly relevant yesterday because there was a huge release party for Assassins Creed 3 at the Prospect Shopping Center in the City Center, including a guest apperence from one of the lead programmers on the hit game.
We were asked questions about the game itself, the game development and computer science industry and general and what it might do for the local area. 🙂 I think we were professional, sounded like we knew what we were on about and answered the questions well. I should hope so anyway as there was between 200,000 and 300,000 people listening!
The three of us were particularly pleased because at the end of the show one of the producers said that if we ever had any games that we had made we could go back and plug them on the show! Maybe you’ll be hearing about TOAST live on air in the near future 😉 For now you can listen to us by clicking here.
Thanks to everyone at BBC Radio Humberside for having us on and Rob Miles for setting up the opportunity for us.
This weekend was host to the Three Thing Game final 24 hour sprint, and boy was it good fun! What more could a computer scientist want that 24 hour access to a computer lab, free dominos pizza and a shed load of soft drinks? 😛
Using the words “Toast”, “Fighting” and “Party” my team “Uncle Mike’s Recursive Prolog Party” developed a game called “TOAST: Total Obliteration and Space Travel”, a space shooter in which you play as the Toastorians, an ancient race of toast people who want to take back their home planet of Toaster from the evil breakfast food empire — comprised of Eggmen, Baconites, Porrigians and Cerealians.
Flying the only ship the Toast Confederacy has left you have to take out swarms of enemies patrolling the skies of outer space whilst trying to search for — and then destroy — their strongholds. The Baconite people vigorously defend planet bacon using a defensive formation of dozens of space craft, and once you’ve finished destroying their home planet you have 3 other food planets to conquer who are defended to the death by their space air forces.
Development started almost as soon as we had got our words. The team came back to my house where we thought of all the possible ways we could use our words. Below you can see my initial concept “drawings” of a space shooter in which your main aim is to destroy planets — the game we now know as TOAST.
For the first 2 days of development TOAST was a Windows Phone game which used the accelerometer to control the direction and speed of the toast crafts movement, but we found that these controls just didn’t feel as good as those of the XBOX 360 controller, and besides, we hadn’t developed for a controller before and we were eager to. So, just a few days into development we changed scope slightly and made the game a Windows Desktop game with Controller and Keyboard inputs — because we were using the XNA API to develop the game this was a really easy swap to make and took very little development time away from the functional areas of the game.
Over the week we developed an almost finished game, so by the time the 24 hour sprint rolled around we were in a much better position than we had been in previous years. You could control the spaceship using the left analogue stick and control the direction of lazer fire using the right analogue stick. You could also zoom in and out to aid with navigation using the left and right triggers.
24 hours and several take-away’s later we had finished the game and judging began. After a judge had looked over our work we were told we got into the final 8. In a competition of over 40 teams I think that’s pretty good going!
Each team in the final had to present their game to the entire panel of judges, which included people from Microsoft and Monogame. In the image at the top of this post and the following image you can see me presenting, whilst nick played the game being displayed on the projecter.
When the final judges decisions came back unfortunately we didn’t come in the top 3, so unfortunately we didn’t win any Windows Phones, XBOX Kinects or Lego. In fact, in the end we were never told exactly where we finished — so we could have been anything from 4th to 8th — I like to think fourth 😉
I want to say a huge well done to the three winning teams — particularly our “friendly” rivals Sheerware Games who came in first place with a fantastic r-type clone called Hypermorth, which you can read about here. I also want to say a massive thank you to Shane Gravestock for producing the music for our game, which you can listen to here. And last by certainly by no means least I want to say a huge thank-you to Rob Miles and the Department of Computer Science at The University of Hull for hosting yet another amazing Three Thing Game.
You will be able to download Toast from this website as soon as its ready for release, so keep checking back. 🙂
Well, it’s safe to say that I’m pretty excited for Monday morning — and anyone who knows me will be shocked that those words just appeared on my blog. The reason is that on Monday Rob Miles will be the auctioneer in the most important auction of the year, The Thing Auction, in which all the teams involved in Three Thing Game will be able to purchase the rights to use three things in their game.
Said teams will then spend the next 5 days writing their game before a 24 hour programming marathon to finish it off — starting Saturday at midday. On Sunday the games will all be judged by Rob & Co. and some winners will be chosen.
Having learnt a lot from our last Three Thing Game we’ve reformed “Uncle Mikes Recursive Prolog Party” under the slightly altered name “Did you mean Uncle Mikes Recursive Prolog Party?” This a play on the word recursion, which means the process of repeating items in a self-similar way. It also takes inspiration from googles ‘did you mean recursion?‘ joke.
Unfortunately Sean wasn’t up for the competition this year but Rob Crocombe, Nick Case and I are fairly confident of our chances after another few months of programming experiance, and more importantly project management experience. We were also the first team to sign up this year, which for some reason I have convinced myself means that we’ll win 😉
I’ll keep the blog updated when we have our three things and start development. We’re also thinking about live streaming the entire 24 hours, so keep your eyes open for that 🙂
Finally, good luck to everyone involved. I wish you all the best of luck!
You can see my C# education has rubbed off a bit on my PHP programming, for example the use of Libraries and more comments than I would have previously used
My first experiance of programming was making dynamic web pages for Worldwide Lighthouses Version 2. Essentially all my project did was provide an uploader for images and data, which was then input to a database, and several different types of pages used to display information about different types of aids to navigation by pulling information from the database and formatting it in a specific way.
At the time I thought the language I was using to do this — PHP — was great, the syntax was simple and there was plenty of documentation avaliable online for free. I hadn’t had any formal tutoring, nor did I need it in order to get on with what I was doing, I taught myself and things worked… most of the time. Of course having no formal tuition I didn’t work under best practices and everything was absolutely linear, I had no concept of Object Orientation. These were the days when I loved PHP.
In fact, when I first started learning C# I thought it was downright stupid that you had to declare what type a variable contained, “Why can’t the stupid thing work out that ‘2’ is a number?” is a choice quote from myself.
Recently I’ve had to go back to PHP for a few projects, including 5Hives. I cannot stand it. Compared to C#, PHP is massively inconsistant — heres some examples:
- Built in Methods – Some use Under_Score() naming, some use camelCase, some use number2syntax, some use numberToSyntax. This means you can never guess what a method you need might be called, especially annoying when dreamweaver and expression web don’t have very good intellisense.
- Sometimes it prints errors to the browser, sometimes it puts them in an error log. Oh, and it doesn’t tell you where said error log is.
- Some functions return null if they failed, some throw an exception causing the program to stop, some print errors… etc etc
- If you forget the $ sign before a variable, rather than telling you it uses the name of the variable as if it was a string
- Don’t even get me started on sessions…
There are so many reasons that PHP isnt the nice “work place” that C# is that I cannot sum them all up — I’ll leave that to this much more in depth post, which I enjoyed reading and agreed with on the whole.
Just the other day Nick was saying how everyone loves the first language they learn, be that prolog, python or VB (ok, maybe not VB ;)) but I cannot count myself among this group. I can program in PHP quite well, I can tolerate it and I know there are some situations where it is one of the best tools to use (simple upload forms are still a joy to make in PHP) but I cannot say I’m its biggest fan.
So, I’ve been back in Hull for a few days now, only to discover my friend Nick has betrayed the good ship Windows Phone and moved to the dark side of Android. 😛 Whilst we were discussing his new phone, a Samsung Galaxy Nexus, we got talking about HTC’s latest Android offering — the One X.
What sets the One X apart from the rest of the crowd is the fact that it has a quad core processor. Quad core processors aren’t actually the norm in desktop PC’s yet, most people still have dual core chips, so to have one in a phone is an interesting development. Interesting, I would say, but not entirely useful — in fact, quite the opposite.
In my day-to-day life, my one concern about my phone is how long it will last. It’s always a pain when your phone runs out of juice just as you’re expecting a text, call or email. Smartphones at the moment typically have a battery life of around 20 hours, with light to moderate use of more advanced features like Wi-Fi and high screen brightness. This will last you a day at University or work, but god help you if you forget to charge it up at night and want to make a phone call the next day.
An issue I don’t encounter on a day-to-day basis is lack of computing power on my phone. Whilst I frequently think “I wish this had a bit more oomph sometimes” on my i3 powered Dell Inspiron 15R Laptop I can honestly say the thought has never occurred to me about my Samsung Focus Flash Windows Phone, everything seems seamless and frankly im not doing anything taxing like editing and converting video on my phone… I make phone calls, text people, read my emails, browse the web, listen to music and play the occasional game — none of this requires the power of a quad core.
Quad core processors sip more battery than a single core would. Simple fact, so for my experience at least it would actually enhance an issue I have and ‘solve’ an issue I don’t. Of course, everyone uses their devices differently, so your experience may indeed be improved by a bit more power but I think most people want to get the essentials done, with a tad of gaming but be able to do all that for a longer period of time.
Going back to the seamlessness of my phone experience, during our conversation about processing power in phones I coined the term “UX not specs”, which is now the title of this blog post. UX stands for User Experience, the way in which users experience your hardware and software, this includes the “person’s perceptions of the practical aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency of the system” according to Wikipedia. What is important here is the word perception, a quad core is usually going to be quicker than a single core clocked at the same speed, but this increase in speed might be so small that it not be noticeable by the user, in which case its almost a waste.
Specs stands for Specifications and rhymes nicely with UX. 😉 Specifications are the list of details about a piece of hardware’s innards, including its CPU Core count, amount of RAM, measurement of storage space etc.
Windows Phone is very cleverly designed so that smooth animations cover the loading time, so even if something takes a while because everything is moving you deem it to be efficient, fast, and working instantly on command. The user experience is good, I’ve never been irritated by a slowdown in Windows Phone so I personally wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice any battery life for more cores. The user experience is great, even without the specs which you think it would demand, so windows Phone has got the UX, but not the (battery draining) specs of some high-end Android phones.
Until we invent a technology capable of holding many days’ worth of battery life on a smartphone device I for one will yearn for more battery life over computational power.
Nick stayed for the judging Saturday night for three thing game. Here is a video of him explaining the game to the judges. As he explains this is a mere husk of what was a much better game due to an issue with a file loss just an hour previous, which took all of the good parts of the game with it.