Tuesday, May 30, 2006

And now for something completely nostalgic

Remember when video games like Super Mario Bros. were made? I occasionally visit www.CartoonNetwork.com because they usually have decent games made in honor of their television shows. Some of their older games aren't very good but most "my first game ever" games aren't.

That said, I ran across a somewhat Zelda-like nostalgic game (albeit MUCH easier than Zelda) sometime last year and couldn't beat it. The game is called Puffy Treasure Island (in honor of the Puffy Ami Yumi cartoon show):

Puffy Treasure Island Game

Somewhere during the process, I started taking screenshots and started building a map in Photoshop. I eventually ran out of time to work on it and had to get back to doing real work. This weekend I started clearing out my hard drive and doing a bunch of "odds-and-ends" tasks that have accumulated over the past 6 months and ran across the partial map. Last night I set out with determination to finish the game and create a visual map:

Click the following link for a larger version of the above image:

If you were around during the time of Super Mario Bros., you probably remember the old gaming magazines that created entire visual walkthroughs of the game. That is, someone sat there chopping away at images and writing walkthrough documentation complete with a rolling display of images. If you ever wanted the definition of a "cool job", that is a cool job. A lot of people call such walkthroughs "cheating", but after experiencing the process myself, I consider it a lost artform.

Everyone these days seems to be in such a hurry to make 3-D games. A lot can be said for a really good 2-D game. In fact, some of the best games were and still are 2-D. I ran across an interesting game called "D.U.O." a couple weeks ago and a game called "Warning Forever" a few months before that. Both are now in my "permanent games" collection. To get there, a game has to be original (i.e. demonstrate major creativity), addicting, easy to play, and be relatively challenging but not impossible or be really fun. And, BTW, both of those games, while 2-D in nature, utilize DirectX heavily. It isn't hard to create a 2-D'ish engine using Direct3D. Microsoft is doing precisely that for Windows Vista.

I really enjoyed making the Puffy Treasure Island map and walkthrough. I actually found about a half-dozen annoyances in Photoshop. Despite the press saying the opposite, Photoshop is actually a very weak application. I'm a power user and I constantly run into limitations with the application (and, yes, I've tried the GIMP). However, while I'm always on the lookout for new tools, I am always leery about installing a new graphics editor. Almost every graphics editor out there steals file extension associations and then doesn't bother returning them if the application is uninstalled. This breaks Windows and I generally get annoyed when I have to re-associate my files to applications - mostly because the application selection dialog is very slow.

This brings up an interesting point. While Microsoft seems fairly focused on making Windows look prettier over the past few years, a number of important dialogs have suffered from performance issues as a direct result. Selecting an application when using the "Open with..." dialog is very slow on many PCs. Faster hardware has helped alleviate the situation, but the list should be precached with a "Refresh List" button and a warning dialog that says "This will take a while. Are you sure you want to refresh the list? Yes, No." The other dialog that is painfully slow is the Add/Remove Programs dialog. It can take upwards of 2 minutes on my computer. I know most of that time is spent grabbing icons from the programs and useless information from the registry to make it look "pretty". If you develop software and "pretty" hurts performance, then don't do pretty.

For those visiting my blog because you searched for "Puffy Treasure Island walkthrough" on Google, this is a blog geared for software developers/computer geeks. It is also my angst outlet. In this case, it also includes a really nifty nostalgic-style map and walkthrough of the game "Puffy Treasure Island". Some might call it cheating, I call it art. It was a fun map to make and art should be fun and enjoyable. I really like how the purple and pink came out. The cartoon show is too blocky for my artistic tastes (no offense), but I wanted to capture the "sweet-and-sour" of Puffy AmiYumi in the background by using the show's color scheme. I like how it turned out. Even if you disagree with walkthroughs, you can enjoy the background of the image. Oh, BTW, if you like my style of artwork and have plenty of cash to spare, I am always open to doing business (you will need to have a beastly PC to handle any Photoshop files I send your way, this one was 162MB).

And now I return to the real world of work.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Is it me?

Is it me or are Microsoft Knowledge Base (KB/Q/whatever letters they choose to use) articles just vanishing from existence? I'm looking for a specific article and it no longer exists - anywhere. It is referenced from about 50 or so places on Google and several times in MSDN itself but Microsoft has apparently deleted it and no one bothered to quote the code contained within anywhere.

I'm wondering if this is an intentional move in preparation for Vista's release. Silently destroy old KB articles forcing companies to spend lots of money in support calls to get the information again only offered through, say, private channels so repeated cash flow comes in through their technical support call centers.

Anyone else having problems or is it just me?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Symantec injunction against Windows Vista

Symantec Corp. (owner of recently acquired Veritas Corp.) is suing Microsoft Corp. and is attempting to gain an injunction to stop the release of Windows Vista. Or something like that. You can read the details here:


In my opinion, Symantec is making a fatal mistake here by suing Microsoft. I have yet to see a company sue Microsoft that actually gets Microsoft's attention and then survives the squishing that follows. Frankly, Symantec, owner of Norton Antivirus, should leave Microsoft well alone. (And if you own a copy of Norton AV, you might want to consider finding another company for your AV needs before you hear a giant squishing sound coming from the Symantec corner). Compared to Microsoft, Symantec is a little tiny bug to be eventually stepped on. Symantec is only rushing to their fate by suing Microsoft.

Historically, companies that sue other companies are usually in the final throes of life as a company. The lawsuits a software company initiates is usually a last ditch effort before throwing in the towel and filing for Chapter 11 (bankruptcy). A truly innovative company would see the fact that Microsoft stole their technology as an opportunity.

There are four options besides suing Microsoft that Symantec has available to them. The first is to let Vista continue to integrate Veritas software into the product. Microsoft has an amazing track record for poorly executing product integrations into Windows and thus introduce hundreds to thousands of exploitable bugs. The only thing a lawsuit will do is give Microsoft extra time to fix a bunch of those bugs.

Another option is to integrate the same Veritas product into ReactOS and put a small team of paid developers onto the ReactOS project. For about $500,000 (US) (10-12 developers), Symantec can hurt Microsoft for at least $500 billion (US) by updating ReactOS to include core Vista functionality. It is called "payback" and, according to 'Russell' from the movie Independence Day (1996), "payback's a ***ch". A lawsuit won't do anything when it comes to Microsoft. Microsoft will simply ignore whatever they are told to do and go ahead with their plans.

The third option is to re-engineer the Veritas product to be better, smarter, and more stable than ever before. Teach it tricks Microsoft won't ever think of. Perhaps re-write it from the ground up to do something totally different but accomplish the same goals. The possibilities are endless.

The last option is to let Microsoft continue along its merry way and drop the product from existence (i.e. make it obsolete and non-updated technology). This is a good option if Microsoft depends on binaries being delivered - that is, no source code. An innovative company will simply drop whatever technology is in question if they don't plan on improving it and then move onto something else. People have the tendency to get comfortable and thus don't like being forced to change. Microsoft is continually successful because of that tendency. Companies that can shrug their shoulders and say "oh well...on to the next product" when Microsoft steals or obsoletes one of their products are those that will continually survive.

Lawsuits are knee-jerk reflex reactions when compared to the endless options available.

That said, I hope the lawsuit succeeds and forces Vista to delay significantly. Not for the sake of Veritas or Symantec, but to give those working with DirectX a chance to stabilize that section of the product. Nothing else matters for the next release of Windows but the stability of DirectX. See my other blog posts on Vista for why the next version of Windows is going to be incredibly unstable. People like me who have to support users don't want an unstable version of Windows being the cause of 95% of all support requests.