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Site Journal

By Samuel Stoddard

November 1998

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Monday, November 30, 1998

I hope everyone had a pleasant Thanksgiving. Now that the weekend is over, things are happening here. Movie-A-Minute opened this morning. A new Site Market Game starts tomorrow -- the twist on this game is that you have to try to lose money rather than gain it (uncomfortably appropriate for the holiday season). And answers to the most recent reader question will be posted tomorrow. So if you haven't already, tell me what your favorite and least favorite words are.

Thursday, November 26, 1998

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Because several readers will be away for the long weekend, yesterday's reader question will stand until after it's over. In the meantime, send me your answers (and eat a lot).

Wednesday, November 25, 1998

Answers to the reader question, "What's your favorite word?" follow:

I was pleasantly surprised with the results of this question. There were a lot of excellent answers given. Every last one impressed me. And I have to single out Patrick for an answer that struck me as unusually insightful. Anyway, good job, everyone. And if you didn't answer this question and would like to, feel free to send in more answers. (Just be sure to distinguish them from the answers to the next reader question below.)

The new reader question for today: "What is your least favorite word?"

Monday, November 23, 1998

Today's reader question: "What's your favorite word?"

Saturday, November 21, 1998

There has been a large number of new RinkWorks readers in the past two months or so, and I would like to use today's journal entry to welcome the new readers and explain a little bit about the philosophy I follow when developing and maintaining content for the site.

Simply put, I try my best to entertain you, the reader, by exploiting my own personal interests. I try to appeal to as many people as possible, but I don't -- and this is the important part -- do it by developing content for the lowest common denominator. If I did, what would it mean? It would mean that I would be dumbing down the content in order to relate not only with intelligent people but with stupid people as well. Clearly, I would not want RinkWorks to have the reputation of being a stupid person's site. Instead, I strive to cater to the greatest common factor. What that means is that I try to develop the best possible entertainment that still makes sense to everybody. Having explained this in precise, definitive terms, I realize that I don't cater to the greatest common factor at all, because sometimes I don't even get my jokes. A better mathematical approximation for my web site philosophy might be this: I strive to develop content in the area under the curve of eccentricity. In layman's terms, the weirder you are, the more content I have for you. Yes, RinkWorks is proud to offer original, offbeat, eccentric, experimental content that is nevertheless mainstream and universal.

I hope that clears things up. Welcome to RinkWorks.

Friday, November 20, 1998

Third and (probably) final in my series on the new RinkWorks feature, Adventure Games Live, this journal entry will answer a question you may have had (but probably haven't) on your mind, namely, "Why 'Adventure Games Live'?" I decided upon the title because I like its ambiguity. The way I tend to pronounce it, "Live" has a long 'i,' so it's like, "Live, In Concert." These adventure games are "live," because they happen on the web as you visit and play. I'm not sure why this is more "live" than if you played an adventure game at home, but I like the sound of it.

The other pronunciation makes more sense. With a short 'i,' it means that adventure games live on in spite of the advent of flashier technologies. So take your pick.

Thursday, November 19, 1998

Continuing with yesterday's dissertation on Adventure Games Live, I want to talk today about the menu-driven interface to the game. Almost all of the adventure games I used to write in my early programming days were menu-driven, rather than utilizing the more conventional command line. Originally this was because it was easier to program a menu interface -- the few command line projects I tried turned out to be difficult to write and debug. Since then, I'd be able to write a command line interface, but I've grown accustomed to the menu driven interface and find that it works out fairly well. Originally, Fantasy Quest was a hybrid. It was menu driven, but often some of the options would be "give something" or "say something" that you had to type in what you wanted to give or say (or whatever). In addition, one location in the game (the spot at the top of the chasm where the ogre is) was completely command line driven.

For Adventure Games Live, I didn't implement any method of players entering text as part of the game. The engine for AGL is 100% menu-driven, and so, when porting Fantasy Quest to it, I had to workaround the parts of the game where a command line or other text prompt was required. Usually I did this by providing all the reasonable options and then some. I'm not entirely satisfied with the results, but it works.

The AGL engine is actually something unlike what I've ever programmed before. I wrote the engine independently of the games and invented a language for the games to be written in. The engine parses the game files written in this language and acts accordingly based on user input. It's not a "programmer-friendly" language to write in, because there is next to no error checking in the parser (it being designed for speed of execution as the top priority), but as long as there are no bugs in the language code, the engine runs fine. I was concerned about whether or not the engine (and the web in general) would be fast enough for players to want to wait for the new page to load between every turn, but thankfully it looked all right to me turning the testing stages, and, from the number of people who played yesterday, it seems you agree.

So now that the engine has been written, making new games for it is a comparatively simple matter of writing the game logic itself in the AGL language. For The Game of the Ages, I've mapped out the bulk of the game and started on its implementation, but I'm going to take a little break and do a couple different things for RinkWorks before I really plunge into it. Oddly, though based on a parody, this game will have a more serious tone than Fantasy Quest. You'll recognize plenty from the parody, but the incarnations of the elements from Dave's and my worlds will be more faithful to our serious novels rather than the corrupted comic interpretation. But, as it need be, it is being written with an audience unfamiliar with our writing in mind. I'm excited about it. It will be fun to see worlds and characters Dave and I created brought to life in a new medium.

Wednesday, November 18, 1998

Today marks the debut of Adventure Games Live, a feature I've been secretly working on pretty much throughout the month of October. It was done by the month's end, but I held it back to allow time for testing. (Dave Parker didn't even know about it until it was essentially done.) I took a special amount of pride in it, as it not only allowed me to get heavy into the programming side of things, but because adventure games and I go back a long way. I used to churn out adventure games fast and furious when I was young, soon after I learned how to program in BASIC on my family's Apple ][e. Most of the earlier ones weren't very good, as both my programming skills and sense of gameplay were just developing. (My first game ever wasn't actually all that bad, but I remember with a certain fondness my second, which let you do some ineffectual things at a few places but ultimately only required you to walk to a certain place to win.) Shortly after I switched over to PC's, I stopped making adventure games in favor of other types of projects, but I made my best ones during that time. Fantasy Quest, a game on Adventure Games Live, is a port of my last and biggest adventure game, which I completed in 1991. It has a more obvious sense of humor about it than I have now, but I kept the AGL version faithful to its original incarnation and only changed and added a few minor things. The Game of the Ages, which is what I'm working on now, will be the first adventure game I've written since. I'll talk more about Adventure Games Live later.

Sunday, November 15, 1998

I reorganized the main page yesterday. The line between features and featurettes was becoming increasingly blurred, so I thought it fitting to remove it and instead sort the sites by category, which is what surfers would probably want anyway. The sole remaining size division is only within the humor category, and a few of the humor "featurettes" were promoted. I hope you like the new front page. It's a little weird for me to get used to, having worked so long with the old one, but I think I like it better already.

Thursday, November 12, 1998

Business first: the latest Site Market Game is over, and the official results have been posted. Thanks to all who played, and I hope you'll return for the next game, in which we'll try something a little different.

Last summer, I had upwards of ten or so features under production at any given time, the latest of which had an estimated release date of January 1999. I found it interesting to compare what I was doing with RinkWorks then and what I'm doing with it now. It's nice for me to see where I've come and how far I've gone. In case that's interesting to you too, here's a brief rundown of what's happened.

Of the sites I had in production, six were brought to completion more or less how they were originally envisioned. Some were ahead of schedule, some were behind schedule, but they made it. These were Book-A-Minute Classics, The Everett Kaser Software FAQ, EquiWorks, Brain Food, I Think, and Slapdash City.

One of the ten or so was completed but not in the same way that it was originally envisioned. This was Things People Said. Originally this was to be called The Language Barrier and only feature the types of quotes in that particular section of the site. I soon realized that I wouldn't get enough of that type of material to sustain a full feature, so I broadened the scope.

Two of these sites aren't done yet but will soon see the light of day as they were originally envisioned. These are Movie-A-Minute and another feature I haven't announced yet.

Two of these sites were deferred until a later unspecified date. I haven't announced anything about either of these yet.

Four sites came (or will come) into being rather quickly after almost no advance planning at all. These are not counted in the "ten or so" -- they were ideas that occurred to me (or Dave) rather abruptly and were pursued in a gung-ho fashion, preempting development on the ones I'd been planning for longer. These were Crazy Tales, The Duel of the Ages, and two sites I haven't announced yet. One is finished already, and the other, Dave's next solo project, is getting there.

So if you add it all up, right now I'm "only" working on five new features, two of which are deferred until a later date anyway. I like it better with fewer projects on my plate at a time.

Wednesday, November 11, 1998

EquiWorks has been released, at long last. Like a few of the other recently released sites, the update rate on it will be irregular and very likely seasonal. (Model horse shows are typically in the spring and early summer, although there are a couple in the fall as well.)

I have a few answers to the latest reader question. I think this is an interesting question, so I'm keeping the doors open on it. If you can think of any more, mail them to me. The question is, "What's the job you'd least like to have?"

I can think of two jobs I'd really hate to have. One, I'd hate to be a toll booth attendant, especially at night. (I don't envy Snook Draddots.) Two, the guy that stands at the top of water slides and says when the next person can go.

Another profession I can't see anyone being fulfilled in is that of Charlie's father (from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). He worked at a factory, and his job was to screw on toothpaste caps as the tubes came down the assembly line.

Tuesday, November 10, 1998

Last call on the reader question, "Of all the jobs in the world, what's the one that you'd least like to have?" I know there are more good answers out there than what I've received so far. Now's your chance. Send email.

Monday, November 9, 1998

Due to technical difficulties, the Site Market Game is not going to get the promised price change today. Instead, the prices will change tomorrow, but the change will only reflect the traffic from Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. On Wednesday, the price change will reflect only Tuesday's traffic, and the game will be extended by one day, to Thursday.

Third call on the reader question, "Of all the jobs in the world, what's the one that you'd least like to have?" Mail me answers.

Now that the business is out of the way, I thought you'd be interested in the following Haiku error messages, author unknown:

A file that big?
It might be very useful.
But now it is gone.

The web site you seek
cannot be located, but
endless others exist.

Chaos reigns within.
Reflect, repent, and reboot.
Order shall return.

Aborted effort:
Close all that you have.
You ask way too much.

First snow,
then silence.
This thousand dollar screen dies.

With searching comes loss
and the presence of absence:
"My Novel" not found.

The Tao that is seen
Is not the true Tao, until
You bring fresh toner.

Stay the patient course.
Of little worth is your ire.
The network is down.

A crash reduces
your expensive computer
to a simple stone.

Yesterday it worked.
Today it is not working.
Windows is like that.

Three things are certain:
Death, taxes, and lost data.
Guess which has occurred.

You step in the stream,
but the water has moved on.
This page is not here.

Out of memory.
We wish to hold the whole sky,
But we never will.

Having been erased,
The document you're seeking
Must now be retyped.

Rather than a beep
Or a rude error message,
These words: "File not found."

Serious error.
All shortcuts have disappeared.
Screen. Mind. Both are blank.

Everything is gone;
Your life's work has been destroyed.
Squeeze trigger (yes/no)?

Windows NT crashed.
I am the Blue Screen of Death.
No one hears your screams.

Seeing my great fault,
through darkening blue windows,
I begin again.

The code was willing.
It considered your request.
But the chips were weak.

Printer not ready.
Could be a fatal error.
Have a pen handy?

Server's poor response
Not quick enough for browser.
Timed out, plum blossom.

Login incorrect.
Only perfect spellers may
enter this system.

This site has been moved.
We'd tell you where, but then we'd
have to delete you.

Wind catches lily,
Scatt'ring petals to the wind:
Segmentation fault.

Friday, November 6, 1998

A few days ago, Book-A-Minute co-author Dave Parker posted a message in the RinkWorks Message Forum saying that he'd let readers vote on the book he'd read and condense next. (The voting ends today, so now is your last chance to cast your vote.) I liked this idea. I discussed it with Dave, and we'll both be doing this again from time to time. In fact, I'm starting an election for myself today, since I just finished a book and will need something to read when I come back from the weekend.

I have instituted an automated voting system on the Book-A-Minute site which will be used for all future elections. Visit it, if you like, and vote on my next book.

Second call on the reader question, "Of all the jobs in the world, what's the one that you'd least like to have?" Mail me answers.

Thursday, November 5, 1998

Last night I got a lot of work done on EquiWorks, bringing it almost all the way to completion. However, Darleen is going to a weekend-long horse show (a real horse show) in Springfield, Mass., today, which means I won't be able to finish it off until next week. This is the last time I advertise a feature that isn't almost done. (When the "coming soon" announcement was posted last April or May, it wasn't even started. Oops. Bad me.)

In the RinkWorks Message Forum, there is a thread called "Call For Discussion on Registration Issues." The first message is here. It discusses how the RinkWorks site will handle registration for various features (like the Site Market Game and some upcoming sites). There are a few alternatives, and the decision will impact you, so please stop by and offer your feedback.

Today's reader question: "Of all the jobs in the world, what's the one that you'd least like to have?" Send me your answers.

Wednesday, November 4, 1998

In the October 24 journal entry, I condensed common song themes and claimed that most song lyrics could be expressed with one of the lines I presented. Then I asked for readers to submit their own Song-A-Second condensations. Most of what I receive were condensations of specific songs rather than common song themes, but that's ok. Here are some:

Song themes:



And a condensation of opera:

So there you have it. Further Song-A-Second condensations are welcome.

Tuesday, November 3, 1998

Dave Parker, co-author of Book-A-Minute is letting readers vote for the book he reads next (and, consequently, the next Book-A-Minute condensation he writes). If you'd like to cast a vote, read the details here.

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