A Tale Of Lessons Not Learned

James Tatum: Pizza inhaling code monkey.

A few weeks ago, the TableFlip team were out in force at GameCity, an indie games festival held in Nottingham. The reason: Sure Footing’s pre-alpha build, of course! Now I know we’ve been silent for a while, and there’s a reason for that. Our team is mostly students, and University has resumed. We’ve been busy, and we apologise. That does not mean we haven’t been working on Sure Footing though, quite the opposite.

While Sure Footing is a game (although we may be caught calling it our baby from time to time), it is also a test-bed for a research project acting as Rob’s dissertation. As part of the research, we needed humans to play the game and complete questionnaires about their experiences. Where better to find people to play a game than a games festival, right!? Right. So, we used the gathering of gamers to fuel our research, but that’s not all! The feedback for the research also helps us identify what needs tweaking, adding and removing from the game. That’s right; two birds, one stone.

That’s all very interesting, but what I really want to talk to you about today is the age old lesson ‘Don’t mess with the build’. We all know this. We should not make changes the night before showcasing any kind of work. We definitely shouldn’t do it on the day of show casing the work, and I don’t think anyone has even thought about doing it WHILE show casing work. That would just be crazy!

Guess what: we’re all nuts!

I say all, probably just me. That’s right, I not only messed with the build the night before, or on the morning. I was making bug fixes and gameplay changes while GameCity goers were playing Sure Footing, blissfully unaware. And, while we’re calling me crazy for doing this; I didn’t just do this once. We went to GameCity with build #0. We ended GameCity on build #22. While we’re at it, not one of those broke the build. We did have one that made a change that we didn’t like when we saw it played, so we removed it in a subsequent version. This didn’t break anything though.

So here’s the key: keep every version as you go. Every time I built a new version, it was saved into it’s own folder. If anything went wrong (although this didn’t happen), we were ready to revert to the previous version in a matter of seconds. It helps to be able to quickly analyse and devise a solution to any problems you see, and it helps to be able to quickly implement that solution. The Sure Footing code has more than a few ‘GAMECITY HACK’ comments in it now so we know where we need to improve the code. There is also a few written to myself about my poor variable names that are simply too obscene to be shared.

So that’s that. The point of all this, the ‘tl;dr’ if you will: It’s okay to mess with the build, even when showing the game. Just make sure you keep backups of every change and are ready to revert.

We’ll be talking more about our recent GameCity visit soon! So keep an eye on this space!

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