Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas time is here!

Ever since I saw someone post a video of Christmas lights animated to music, I thought "I want to do that!" That was probably 5 years ago and every Christmas I think about it but never take the plunge. My friends know that I'm the type of person to go overboard in just about everything I set my mind to doing. So having an excuse to load up my house with as many Christmas lights as I can, and sequence them all to popular holiday songs is right up my alley.

This summer I decided to order the hardware to start off with a modest 32 channel light display. I also put in a large order of bulk wire and Christmas lights. My first order of lights looked something like this:

50 strands of white lights
50 strands of green lights
50 strands of red lights
250ft bulk spool of C7 wire with empty sockets
300 roof clips
150 white C7 bulbs
100 green C7 bulbs
100 red C7 bulbs
1000 ft bulk SPT-2 lamp cord
36 male/female ZIP plugs

I came to find out pretty quickly that this would be nowhere near the number of lights that I would need so I started hitting Home Depot, Lowes and Wal-Mart as soon as their lights were out. In the case of some stores, this was weeks before Thanksgiving and I got some really strange looks and odd comments as I checked out with Christmas lights so early in the year. I could only think to myself, "hey, if you're going to put them out for sale, don't you expect people to buy them?"

Over the next few weeks I purchased 10's of thousands of more lights. The bulk of the lights make up the four large trees in my front yard. I also created 8 mini-trees that each have about 300 lights on them. The roof is lined with 3 channels of C7 lights as well as about 2000 icicle lights. The star of the display (literally) is a 4' x 8' star that I created out of plywood and 2x4's. It holds about 200 C9 lights split up into 3 different channels. The design of this star was inspired by someone else on the internet and it was so amazing that I decided to create one just like it. The star now sits on the roof of my house weighted down by 150 lbs of sandbags.

I really procrastinated on sequencing the music and didn't start on it till a few days before my display was set to go live. Fortunately I had some practice sequencing lights for a friend's Halloween party so I was already familiar with the software. I was able to get two songs done before Thanksgiving; Christmas Canon Rock and Wizards in Winter, both by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Friday night, the day after Thanksgiving, I powered up the light show and everything worked flawlessly. It was really cool seeing all that hard work pay off and the comments I've gotten from friends and neighbors have been really positive.

I've been working on more songs a little each night and now have two more added to the show; Let It Snow by Michael Buble and the theme from Christmas Vacation. I hope to add 2-4 more songs in the next couple of weeks.

So, if you find yourself in the San Diego area, drive by 452 Highland Place in Escondido and check out the show! You can tune your car radio to 93.5 to hear the music or step outside and hear it from the sidewalk. If you can't make it by, pull up my channel on YouTube and take a look at some of the videos I've posted. More videos will come as I add new songs.

My YouTube Channel
(Be sure to subscribe if you want notifications when more songs are posted)

Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Good stuff coming in GU58.

Game Update 58 for EQII will bring a lot of nice additions to the game. When the update notes are posted, you'll see just how many things we've fixed and added over the past few months.

In the meantime I'll give you a little preview of the things I've been working on.

NPC Casting Bars

Casting bars have now been added to the target and implied target windows that will allow you to see exactly what spells that NPC's are casting. You've always had this information in one way or another normally by viewing particle effects or reading the spell text that appears in your chat window. This would allow tools like ACT to parse the data and give you the information, but for most people that don't use these tools, it was more difficult to understand what the mobs were doing. Hopefully with this new feature you'll be able to better time your stuns, stifles and interrupts.

Mount Appearance and Inventory

We've added a Mount tab to your character window, right behind the Appearance Tab. You can now store up to 50 mounts in this special inventory window and get them out of your normal inventory. In addition, you'll be able to define which mount is your "Equipped" mount and which mount is your "Appearance" mount. Following in the footsteps of appearance gear, the Equipped mount will provide the buff and stats, but the appearance will be overridden by the Appearance mount. We've also create a new "Summon Mount" ability that appears in your knowledge window as well as the bottom of the mount tab. Clicking this button will automatically summon/unsummon the equipped mount combination.

Currency Window

Behind the mount tab on the character window, we've also added a new Currency tab. Currency tokens and items will now be stored in this window freeing up even more inventory space. You can drag tokens to and from this area, so tokens can still be tradable or placed in your bank. When purchasing items from vendors that require tokens, the vendor will consume them directly from the currency window. Also, when acquiring new tokens, they will be deposited automatically into this window.

We also have a huge list of fixes and features that came from Fan Faire so I hope everyone really likes this update. We have a bit longer cycle between GU58 and GU59 since 59 is the launch of Velious but we are planning for a few things to be released in hotfixes between now and then. We also have 3 holiday events happening between 58 and Velious so hopefully there will be plenty to keep you busy!

We've also just announced that character slots will be going on sale through the in-game marketplace at a price of 10 dollars (1000sc) per slot. When you buy this slot, it'll be permanently added to that account and won't increase your monthly fee.

Thanks for reading and thanks again for being a Norrathian citizen! :)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Mighty Mugg

This year our community department came up with a really cool idea to have SOE employees create custom Mighty Muggs to be auctioned off at Fan Faire. I've always loved painting miniatures and creating custom terrain for tabletop wargames so this sounded like something I'd really enjoy doing. I can't wait to see what some of the other employees have done. Domino also posted a blog of her excellent Mugg painting.

I decided the theme for my Mugg would be my GM character, Rothgar, who is always parading about as a Guardian in full plate. I started with a blank, white, Mugg as seen below. (Ok, i cheated and turned his head around because I forgot to take a pic before I started).

The next step was to use some Sculpey to form the platemail helm. I don't really have a lot of experience sculpting, so I had to experiment with creating shapes and carving out grooves. With a little practice, the Sculpey wasn't too hard to work with. You just have to soften it up first. After forming the front part of the helm, I cut out the eye slit, carved grooves for the plates and bent out the chin piece.

Next I rolled out a really thin tube of Sculpey to use as the edging around the helm plates. It was hard to make this part stick, but with a lot of smearing and scraping I was able to get it to adhere to the main piece. I really hoped that everything would stick better after baking.

Next I created another long flat piece to form up the back of the helm. This had to have a slight bend at the bottom and form as seamless of a line as possible at the top. After attaching the back piece, I created two circles to represent the hinge piece and then added the spikey bits above them. In the actual picture of the helm, the spike bits stuck out from the head but they would have been too brittle so I sculpted them as part of the helm.

Next was to create the top of the helm. I rolled a piece of clay, attached to the head and then squared it off. Making the top detail was kind of a pain. I rolled out a flat piece and tried to taper it as much as possible. I traced the curve of the head and cut out the design as close as I could with a knife. Once I got it placed I did some more carving to taper the tops and then carved the indents to separate the pieces more.

At some point after this I got lazy and stopped taking pictures. I continued sculpting a belt and the flaps (not sure what they are called) for the front and back of the plate greaves. Since the body of the Mugg was already pretty stocky, I decided to paint the detail on the chest and arms rather than build it up any thicker with clay.

I sculpted a sword by starting with the hilt. I rolled out another tube and tapered it towards one end. I kept checking the fit and tapering more until I got it to slide easily into his hand. I cut the guard and blade from more sheets of Sculpey. I used an edging tool to press grooves into the hilt and then carves the blade to the proper shape and put an edge on it. The guard is kind of simple. If I had more time I probably would have done something fancier.

The last bit of sculpting was to create a shield. I looked at a few different designs in the game and went with a shape that I have always liked. Making these shapes uniform on both sides is always a pain so the first thing I did was to draw half of the shield on a piece of paper. I then cut it out and used it as a template to make sure that both sides of the shield were identical when I cut them out of the clay. I carved a few grooves and the shield was done.

Now that everything was carved, I had to figure out how I was going to bake the clay so that it would harden. The instruction said to bake it at 275 but I was sure I'd melt the mug. Since there was no way I was taking the clay off, I had to determine a safe temperature to bake it at. Searching around on the web only found me a link where someone baked their Mugg too hot and melted the head. So I decided to try 240F and checked it often. The Mugg got soft but held its shape. I baked it for about 20 minutes, let it cool and then repeated the process several times. The clay ended up hardening nicely and my Mugg never lost it's shape.

Now for paint. I primed the white Mugg with Games Workship black primer. I prefer black for most things I paint because its easier to build up and leave cracks and crevices dark. Its just harder to make bright colors on a dark primer, but its works pretty well for metals. I dry-brushed the entire model with silver giving it a nice finish. Using black I darkened up the recesses. Using pure silver I painted the highlights.

The next task was to paint the detailed lines on the armor. I decided to start with the light blue and then outline the blue lines on both sides with black lines. Wow, such a pain. Again, I had to try to make sure that everything looked equal on the left and right sides of the Mugg. Thinking back, I probably should have drawn the lines first with a pencil but I love doing things the hard way.

After finishing all the paint, I went out to the garage to spray him with a clear-coat. I was hoping I had a clear gloss but all I could find was a matte finish. With the Mugg balanced on a piece of wood, being held like a waiter carrying a tray of food by my left hand, I sprayed the model with my right hand. Unfortunately I never held a job as a waiter and at some point my hand got too shakey and the Mugg took a dive. I stuck my foot out to break the fall but he still landed head-first on the concrete floor. I could have cried. Fortunately there wasn't much damage. A piece of his head-spike broke off but I was able to find it and glue it back on. A little touch-up paint and he was almost as good as new.

My next attempt to clear-coat him was done with him laying securely on his back. After some dry time I flipped him over and did the other side.

Whew... what a long project! I had a blast doing it though and I hope whoever wins him will be happy with the work.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

SOE Fan Faire 2010 & iPhone App

Fan Faire is just around the corner. Last year I created an iPhone web app to assist people in finding panels and other Fan Faire related information. The web app used Safari extensions to give the look and feel of an actual iPhone app, but since it was served from the web, it required an internet connection.

This year since I had more time to think about it I decided to create an actual iPhone app this time. The app was submitted last week and is now available for download from the app store, just search for "SOE Fan Faire".

A new version will be going up soon with updated maps and hi-res graphics for the iPhone 4's retina display. I'd be interested to hear your feedback so let me know what you think. However, I'm not interested in getting into a debate of iPhone vs Android vs Some-Other-Smartphone.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Speaking at the 3D Gaming Summit on April 21st

I have the pleasure of speaking at the 3D Gaming Summit in Universal City this week. I'll be on a panel Wednesday afternoon entitled "Creating State of the Art 3D Games: Lessons from the Field".

They've asked me to give a demo of EverQuest II which now supports NVIDIA's 3D Vision technology. EQII looks truly amazing in 3D. I'll also be talking about our experiences working with their API and covering some of the typical issues other game teams might encounter when working with this technology.

I'm excited to be speaking in front of a big crowd but I'm also a little nervous as well. I'll be demoing the game on live servers using a machine that I won't get to check out until Tuesday night. So, there's always the possibility of that random client crash in the middle of the demo, and that would be quite embarrassing. So cross your fingers for me and hope that everything goes smoothly. :)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sentinel's Fate is Live!

Our QA department passed the servers and everything has been unlocked. Servers are up and people are online. So far everything looks great. I'm sure there will be minor issues throughout the day, so I'll be keeping my eyes and ears open for them.

Enjoy the expansion and let me know what you think!

Launch Update

It's almost 5am on the morning of launch. A few others from the game team have arrived.

The DBA's have completed the database schema changes and our Operations department should have published the expansion code to all of the servers by now. As soon as our QA department arrives the servers will be brought up for a smoke-test.

We just finished making some last-minute optimizations to our world server. This server is responsible for handling communication between all the zones as well as caching worldwide data such as vendors, guild bank items, etc. The issue on Nagafen yesterday seemed to stem from the worldserver hitting the process memory limit while loading all of this data.

So tonight we went over the code and found some places where we could drastically reduce memory during loading. We've made those changes, built the new server and copied it manually to Nagafen's host machine. Our initial test of bringing Nagafen up looks good and it didn't crash this time so everything appears to be working. We still need to have QA confirm that everything is working as expect.

In general, we would never make changes in this situation without ample time to test, but the three of us are pretty confident that the changes are low-impact and will allow us to get Nagafen back online. Worst-case scenario we just use the old version and keep the broker offline a little longer.

We don't plan to roll this version out to other servers though until it has been properly tested by QA.

3, 2, 1, Launch!

It's 2am and I'm now at work. Curretly there are only a few of us from the game team here; myself, Nandy Szots, John Rohrssen, Nick Parkinson and Paul Molina.

However, our operations department and database admins are also here and have already started preparing the servers for the expansion.

There isn't as much to do until the servers have been updated other than to start looking into a problem that Nagafen had last night.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Eve of Sentinel's Fate

It's about 8:30pm on the night before we launch Sentinel's Fate, the 6th expansion for EverQuest II. This is also my first launch as Lead Programmer so I'm pretty excited albeit a little nervous.

This expansion hasn't been without it's challenges. Most of the team has been on a crunch schedule for several months and it still feels pretty frantic. It's kind of like when you're leaving the house to go on vacation and you just know you're forgetting something.

That's enough for now though. I'm going to try to get a few hours of sleep before heading into the office. Check back later for more blog posts throughout this launch event!

See you in a few hours.