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Hypnos' Blog

Reindeer Games : unaffleckted by snow

Yarr!  Well, maybe we were a little bit misleading about our holiday release. The competition that started up yesterday, the snow, and the additional holiday hats and snow furniture seem to have been a welcome surprise to most of you.

By now, I hope that most of you that were interested and signed up have received our monthly newsletter.  If you have not and want to, there's a set of steps that I recommend:

1) Make sure you have registered an e-mail address with us and authenticated it! One would register an e-mail address with us by going to the puzzlepirates.com page and clicking on the 'Account' link at the top.
2) A lot of e-mail services think our mailings are junk.  Please check your junk/spam folders, and add the address that these mass mailings are sent from, PuzzlePirates@mail90.subscribermail.com, to your address book.
3) Petition an oceanmaster explaining that you have not received the monthly newsletter, and that you have already followed steps 1 and 2. (Our newsletter manager will try to add/resend the newsletter to you.)
and lastly,
4) Ask friends if they can forward you our newsletter. The links should still work fine.

I hope that helps!  Unfortunately for those that want to receive our newsletter and do not, we are flagged as spam by a number of services and there's little we can do about it.  According to certain rules of the service we use, we must automatically unsubscribe those folks who did not open the last newsletters, which is completely fair, except a number of e-mail programs do not properly report the newsletters as opened, and every month we get e-mails from people who regularly open and enjoy our newsletters who are suddenly off the list.

All of the difficulty associated with people not getting e-mails that they actually want to receive gets me angrier with spam programs and companies every time it comes up.  It is very difficult to do a mass mailing for (what I consider) legitimate reasons and have it be effective, while mass spam mailings, so far as I can tell, aren't nearly as affected by filters keeping them out of some areas, since they spam such a volume of addresses, compared to our comparatively small playerbase.  Furthermore, those companies probably have programmers that work constantly on coming up with more and more ways to evade the filters or trick them, while we do not have time to devote to that- we're developing games!

I admit I'm pretty ignorant of the way that spam programs and bots work, so feel free to correct any of the myriad mistaken assumptions I made in that above rant, but it doesn't change the fact that I wish that we had a more efficient way of getting e-mails to people that want to get them, and the annoying spam and trash e-mail that has been plaguing e-mail addresses since before the day I got online over a decade ago seem to ruin a number of things in a variety of far-reaching ways, in addition to being massively annoying every day.  Gah.

On a cheerier, less rant-driven note, Captain Cleaver recently was asked to contribute to a Virtual Worlds paper, which is now up and can be e-mailed to you if you request it for free here: http://www.virtualworldsmanagement.com/forecast2008/

The paper asked 45 people who worked in the business of virtual worlds (or Whirleds) the following, and gives you their essentially unedited answers:

1. What are your top 3 trend predictions for 2008?
2. What business goals have you set for 2008?
3. What challenges do you expect 2008 to bring for the virtual worlds industry?
4. A number of new platforms are launching in 2008. What are the biggest impacts this will have on the industry?
5. How will the above changes affect your specific segment of the industry in 2008?

I have not yet finished it, but so far it's an interesting read with a pretty wide range of answers.

As far as this blog goes, we added a link to a new YouTube account, where I have posted the videos that were uploaded to this blog from time to time, in a new time saving and compacted format.  Enjoy!

Party like it's 1699

Life may be good, but as the zombie-themed party at Three Rings showed us, coming back from the dead to shamble around in out of season costumes may be even better.

As Hermes, Bia, Lejerque, and I boarded the bus in the rain in costume in mid-November to transport ourselves to the party, we noticed a fellow on the same bus dressed in black and dog-style facepaint.  This being San Francisco, nobody gave the five of us a second look.  As it turned out, he was headed to the same place, and was our bartender for the night.  Har!

Pictures from the conference and party are posted up on the Puzzle Pirates flickr account.

It was bustling, it had delicious food, and it was covered by very large intimidating Samoan security guys.  Again I got to experience the oddness that is dancing to very loud music on the spot where my desk normally stands.

This year, I got to meet even more oceanmasters in person, which is always great.  As Shannal pointed out in an earlier post comment, working with people you both like and respect is really valuable.

As Puzzle Pirates grows and adds more features, more players, and obviously, more oceanmasters, it's good to have a conference every year to work on both cohesion and consistency.  The way Puzzle Pirates has grown as a game and as a support team is very organic, which is solidly how Three Rings likes it. (Cleaver mentioned getting e-mail offers for $3/hour outsourced support from other countries, which he thankfully discarded without a thought.)

Having former players from around the world doing support is not a perfect system though, so we always have to work on trying to keep things as fair as possible, especially in that nebulous grey area in which one's nationality, upbringing, and social surroundings can often make quite a difference, such as in language and what's considered derogatory and unacceptable vs. what is merely rude.

The more I see in the game industry the more I notice how differently Three Rings does a lot of things than the vast majority of companies that I've come across.  For example, we merge support roles with community management, meaning that the OMs that take care of bans and problems are the same people that moderate the forums that are also the nice folks running events and chatting with people socially.

I think a large part of that is because we also have a cool and organic group of very social players, who realize the difference between suspension policy and personal irritation.  What surprises me is that since I was hired over two years ago, people have been consistently supportive of having OMs in a social role, despite the fact that we're also the people that hand out suspensions and bans.  I like that, since I take it as a sign of trust and community that we can handle interaction with people without getting superbly biased.

In short, it was a great party, and I'd like to thank the OMs for coming, Three Rings for being a great company, and all of you for being such a great community to work for.  I'm looking forward to another year.

OOO, Halloween!

Yarr. As we wrap up our yearly Halloween festivities in Puzzle Pirates, we at Three Rings also commemorated everybody's favorite holiday of the dead with costume, revelry, and gourd carving.  All photos seen in this entry and more can be viewed on the Puzzle Pirates Flickr page.

Here Cephalopod and Mrs. Ceph arrive as Black and White Mage- possibly less confusing if Black Mage's hat hadn't kept trying to poke people throughout the evening.  Not to be outdone on the video game characters front, Blackhat and his lady Jess attended as the Weighted Companion Cube and Chell from Portal.

The elusive Bungleton put in an appearance as a nefarious scheming banana.  The lovely Mrs. Bungleton was a peacock, not a can of peanut butter and jelly, to the eternal disappointment of Cephalopod and Hermes.  Also, banana stuffing?  Surprisingly soft and velvety to the touch.

Speaking of Hermes and his disappointment, our speedy oceanmaster came dressed as Phoenix Wright, rounding out the game character contingent.  Unfortunately, the one shot of Bia as Interstate 5 was in this group shot of Hermes, Bia, and Peghead that came out blurred.

The office looked fantastic.  I'd like to salute our new office manager Natalie for setting up the themed lights, webs, and other holiday decoration.  Games, drinks, candy bags, music, and an amazing number of pizzas were provided, then out came the pumpkins!

As it turns out, Cap'n Cleaver and I were both pumpkin greenies, and carved our very first ones.  Trust the cap'n to look at a pumpkin and see a woman inside, eh?

Through the course of the evening, a large number of entries into our own pumpkin carving contest were displayed on two long tables in the back.  Here you can see table 1, the other half of table 1, spider pumpkin (taken separately with flash since it had no candle, yarr), the first half of table 2, and the second half of table 2.

While pictures of the cap'n dressed as a lacy ninja or a Muslim widow unfortunately escaped this camera, I will be on the prowl. Future photos, if found, will be posted here.  Happy Hallowe'en, all!

Hollow's Eve

As Bungleton cleans up in poker night, I sit here listening to the shouting of Roparzh, Hermes, and Bluebeard playing Team Fortress 2.  It's a good thing I love my job, because sometimes we spend a lot of time in the office. :)

The release yesterday went very smoothly, so far as releases go.  Nothing exploded, no servers needed to be taken down for emergency fixin's, no one had to have a stiff drink when it was all over.  So far almost all of the features and fixes have gotten positive reactions, though there's some contention over the skelly fight changes.

The most petitions I seemed to get yesterday actually had to do with the pumpkin furniture, and people wondering if that was all we were doing for Hallowe'en this year.

For those of you that are relatively new to Puzzle Pirates, Hallowe'en is the holiday of the year where we usually come out with some special features, such as blood red seas and people turning into transparent ghosts, people turning into skellies, masks, and other fun surprises.  This year as we released a rather large bugfix and tweak release close to the holiday, some people were concerned that all we were doing so far as festivities went was adding a piece of fall furniture.

Many of these petitions were polite.  Many of them were not.  One in particular stands out to me as the petitioner was deriding Three Rings for ignoring its playerbase and repaying its customer loyalty with a cop-out.

This brings up a larger issue for me to discuss, which is happiness with the game in general.  While we naturally have more planned for this year's All Hallows Eve than pumpkin patches, whether the festivities of a holiday live up to your expectations and exceed last year's Arrmageddon or fall short, you should hopefully not measure your satisfaction with Puzzle Pirates (or with most things) with the latest update, especially a largely cosmetic one.

Ideally, you should look over your entire time in the game, what has been added, and what you've liked and what you've disliked.  If you find that the game is lacking, not worth your time, or if you have not liked the changes made to the game over time, it may be time for you to find another pastime that you would be happier with. (Giving us feedback about why you dislike the changes and leaving is helpful! Posting angrily that we're ruining everything without explaining your reasoning is not.) Over time most people will likely have updates that they like and updates that they don't.  The feedback from releases contributes to tweaks that ideally suit the largest number of people possible.

While we do our best to keep our existing players happy and not alienated, there are, as always, new and potential players to consider, as well.  The Puzzle Pirates playerbase is still growing and we're always interested in adding to our number.  Looking over what's been added to this game this year, whether you like the features or not, I think it's apparent that we haven't been slacking at the code or art boards.  This Hallowe'en is no different than the years previous or this year-to-date.  I am looking forward to unveiling the surprise and I hope that we all have a fantastic Hallowe'en in Puzzle Pirates this year.

Late Blooming

October is settled in, and with it the cooler temperatures of fall in San Francisco.  In stark contrast to the browning flora and the shorter days however, is the nonstop construction going on downtown.

In short order, we in CephaloPod have seen two buildings being constructed from our window.  In the spirit of autumn growth, Three Rings also hired two new employees, web engineer Sarah Collins and new office manager Natalie Larsen.  (We should update the About page.)

Recent office workings have mostly involved bugfixes of various types as they crop up.  We found a fascinating one having to do with old versions of java on Mac that we can't believe was never reported: run java 1.4 or older and every graphic with a transparency turns into shifting rainbows.  Disco Puzzle Pirates! (3 MB)  Treasure Haul was especially fabulous awesome. (also 3 MB)  We wondered about the unlikely possibility that this had anything to do with the reports we got of Treasure Haul causing migraines, twitchiness, leprosy, etc. when it was first released, but could not confirm anything.

Lastly, there've been a lot of flash games making the rounds.  I find myself playing a lot of GCPP's Platy and Jayisgames.com's contest finalist Gimme Friction Baby.  I've been plotting on how to put these in Whirled or make the latter some sort of weird feature in Puzzle Pirates.  Also, I am very proud of my extremely low-sounding score of 14 in it.

Lost Labours and Loves

First, some things that I didn't get the chance to post earlier:

We've been highlighted in the Worlds in Motion blog first in an overview, then again for a Pt. 2 closer look, and then yet another article for a conclusion.  Flattering!

Puzzle Pirates also warranted a first page in an article on various nautical themed games in the IGN Vault Network.

GameDaily.biz posted an article that believes a study shows more gamers are social types who form real life ties with one another than loners sitting in basements.  No surprise there, at least so far as my experience in Puzzle Pirates is concerned!

We'll be putting those ties to the test, as we recently bid a bon voyage to beloved artist Nemo and the equally beloved Mrs. Nemo and Baby Nemo (who has recently upgraded his status to Toddler Nemo.)  The family has moved back to the East Coast to join their clans and to facilitate plans for OOO to take over all of the middle states in between.  Yarr.

It was a lovely party, highlighted by Master Sophocles' signature game 'That's Enormous!'  Large group photos of the sort that Three Rings folks usually run shrieking from can be viewed here and here.

In the midst of all of this, we have been preparing for the new Sea Monster release, the Cap'n and company went off to their annual devil worshiping in the desert, and a round of hiring interviews have been started in response to our postings on the Three Rings jobs page.  Exciting things are a-coming!  Watch this space.

Crewel Fate

For those of you that have been wanting to get more information about the tailor of the office's tentacle couches and new velvet octo buddies, her name is Joy, she stopped by the office last Friday, and I'm going to rave a bit about her work in the blog today.  (You can also find more about Joy on her site, SpikedFashions.com)

In addition to bringing Three Rings great cephalopodic glee, Joy makes a number of very cool things, including hats.  Lots and lots of hats.  There are cone hats (i put on my robe and wizard hat), fuzzy ball hats, tricorne hats, spiked hats, anemone-type hats, and nautilus inspired hats.  There are little worm tower hats to star hats and fuzzy hats to crochet thread hats.  If you can come up with an idea, Joy can probably knit it.

For example, the thing she's holding in the first picture of her?  It's a cow udder hat, commissioned and designed off of this picture.  She's also made bags (finally! A use for all of those AOL 1000 hours CDs from the late 90s), and things like these bracers.

Her prices are very reasonable and her creativity and enthusiasm are boundless, so for those of you interested in getting something unique or who would like your very own tentacle attack, I highly recommend checking out her website and getting in touch with her.  Cleaver purchased a pagoda shaped hat last week, and I got one that makes me look like a Tibetan goatherd.

I don't know where Three Rings finds all of these amazingly creative people, though I suspect it has something to do with Cleaver, Jack, and Peghead's connections at that devil-worshipping yearly festival Burning Man, which I believe is just about due to start.  We all wish them good fun and good health, especially as Cleaver's going to be packing up the beloved nap chest and taking it to the desert for its yearly finish of playa dust.

I can't wait to see what sorts of ideas they'll have come up with when they return.

Picture Imperfect

It's been over a month since updating you folks about the progress of the Nautilus theme construction here in the office.  Since the large things like the desks and dividers are pretty much done (and boy, are they large. Luckily, Three Rings also commissioned this awesome footrest from Because We Can to go with my desk!), lately updates and features have been showing up in the form of subtle details.  It's not uncommon to look up and go, "Oh neat, when did they put that in?"

For example, now there are diving helmet hooks that we can hang our various apparatus from when we come in the more appropriately labeled airlock.  In addition to the artist pod seal which was put up in May, we of the CephaloPod now have a seal of our very own.

The tentacle couches are now presided over by a gentle homage to our Cap'n Cleaver, which has not stopped the invasion of octopus beanbag pillows!  (They're so cute with their mismatched button eyes that I have the hardest time trying not to take one home with me.)

Maybe next we can commission something clever to attach to the restroom key because um... no words.

We've been getting more use out of the picture frame wall, since Labatt sent us a metal sign commemorating the Pittsburgh 2007 meet up.  It goes with the HUGE mugs that he sent us, which are great, because now I only have to refill my water glass once a day.

I know some folks have expressed a lot of interest in the creator of the tentacle couches, and she'll be stopping by the office Friday, and bringing her custom knitted hats.  I'll try to grab her contact information and, barring her objection, post it here for you.

On the business end of things, August looks to be one of our best months ever for Three Rings, with revenues from both Puzzle Pirates and Bang! Howdy.  We're even looking to beat the activity from last year, when we released pets.

We are also expanding the company again, so please, if you are interested or know of somebody that is, check out our jobs page, as we're hiring for a number of positions, including artists, programmers, web gurus, and an office manager!

I remain your sleepy and conch'd out photographer,

Hypnos

Getting to know your ABCs - The Letter C

Last of this interview series, we present the well-known and well-legged Cephalopod!

Q: How did you first find out about Three Rings/Y!PP?

A: Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, on a cold 2002 night, I heard through the grapevine about this little company that was making this online cooperative puzzle game, with people working together as pirates. It tickled my fancy, I punched my name and system specs into a little box on a web site. Back in the alpha days, I put up with as much pain as I could dealing with java under linux in those dark ages, and moved on.

Several months later, during a bout of insomnia and a drought of games for my consoles, I went looking for something I could play under linux, and gave Puzzle Pirates another whirl. Things were a bit smoother that time around, I was hooked, and here we are today.

Q: What made you want to work there?

A: I've wanted to make games for a long time (for the longest time, adventure games specifically. How I miss the fall of once-great Sierra), so when I was burnt out on my life writing boring software, I figured it was worth a shot to apply. I'd enjoyed puzzle pirates, and from everything I'd seen, it looked like a good place to work, and probably one of the only places I could do something like this while sticking to my linux habits.

To be honest, it was a bit of a lark; I figured it would be a good way to work on my resume, get some practice interviewing, and be better prepared to interview someplace else when it inevitably didn't work out. It's not that I didn't WANT to work here, it's just that I was certain that for one reason or another, it simply wouldn't happen.

Q: How did the application process go?  What was the interview like, and what was your first impression of the company?

A: Sadly, despite what lots of people apparently think (or perhaps, hope?), I didn't just show up, show my passport to show I was 18 years old, and get the job. All told, the courtship process took about a month; I sent my resume in, and there was some back and forth over email. As the jobs page says, candidates are then given a challenge to program a game within the game gardens framework.

At that point, I'd written very little java in my life, so the challenge was a bit of a white knuckle ride. I'd originally been writing a scorched earth type game, but on Sunday afternoon before it was due, finally realized that between getting up to speed on an unfamiliar language, getting up to speed on an unfamiliar network framework, getting up to speed on an unfamiliar graphics framework, and trying to do some bizarre hybrid of sprite graphics fancy vector terrain, I was biting off way more than I could chew. In a frenzy, I went back to the drawing board and went with a very simple simple two player tile game.

Looking back at it, I'm not sure quite how that terrible mass of code landed me an interview, but I wasn't going to argue. I wish I hadn't been quite as panicked, so I could remember the exact quote, but fairly early on, talking to Jack, he brought up my game, but the general gist:
"[Peghead] is a bit upset about some of the things you did in there, so he'll be ripping that apart a little later." A great boost to my confidence.

All in all, it went well, though, culminating in the final talk with Cleaver; in he walked, in full pirate regalia. It was opening day for the second PotC movie, so he was in costume for that. Knowing what I do about him, though, I wasn't entirely certain this was an abnormal look for him. If only I knew then what I know now.

I remember him asking the same question about my impression of the company. At the time, none of the back room work had begun, so the company was just a big empty room with people starting at lcds in small clusters of desks. There wasn't the big company oppression I'd long since had my fill of. It was just a room full of bright people, working on something they loved. If you can every find something like that, it's a fabulous feeling.

Q: What is your educational/professional background?

A: Christmas morning, I was five, there was a computer setup in my mother's sewing room. It's all been a dark, downward spiral since then. My father has been writing code since the days of punch cards made out of stegosaurus hide. He brought me up doing all kinds of crazy things with that beast. Somewhere along the lines, I was sucked into MUDs, and took my first steps into programming for online games.

Eventually, fresh out of high school, I was drafted into the real world of boring software. After a while at that, I headed back to school to finish up an actual degree in computer science, though my math minor was by far the most enjoyable part of that. On the heels of that, I went back to boring software, until I was burned out on that, and turned to a life of piracy.

Q: What have you enjoyed working on most in Y!PP?

A: Overall, it's all been pretty fun. There are certainly times when you start to question it, after you've sacrificed countless chickens to the html renderer in java, or are being pulled from bed in the middle of the night because some ocean has decided to go belly up, but as with anything, there's a certain amount of mundane work that needs to go along with everything awesome.

Looking back, I can't think of any particular shining thing that leaps out in particular as something I've enjoyed far above and beyond other things, though I will say that my current endeavors are certainly nothing to sneeze at. But that's all hush hush work that isn't released yet. ZOMG! Secrets!

Q: How did you choose your pirate handle?

A: It was a bit difficult; my standard name that I would've normally gone with was already taken on all oceans...by me. I wasn't ready to turn my yellow name blue (and heck, at the time, I was still terrified that I was in way over my head, so things might not last), so I had to think of a new name for my new identity.

I wrote a little script to hit yoweb and check for the name on all oceans, and set to work. I can't for the life of me remember anything else I'd tried, but Cephalopod suited me well; like apparently half of the internet, I've got the strange fascination with various cephalopods, Cthulhu, and the like. It's seemed to fit well, and I've built up a decent collection of octopi given to me by players, so I certainly can't complain.

I'm also still shocked that it was available on all oceans. Sometimes fate smiles on you, it seems.

Q: Is there a pet project or something that bugs you that you'd   really like to get a chance to work on?

A: In stark contrast from what you'd guess by looking at my desk (Honest! I'm going to wash that plate with the month-old petrified cake remains! I'll get to it!), I get obsessive over little nits that are in need of picking, and Puzzle Pirates has quite a few.

A while back, we made some changes to our formatting guidelines, so I obsessively clean things up to match that as I work on random things. Lots of our code was written before a bunch of handy features were added to java, so I'll go off on tangents modernizing that. The details of what background images get used by the installer versus the web start version of the game versus updating from Getdown are wacky. That could keep me busy cleaning things up for a long time without making any drastically player-visible changes. Bring in any of the little tweaks to game verbage, graphics, user interface, or whatever else, and I could keep myself busy with tiny fiddly polishing for a long while.

We get to this stuff more quickly in general than I get to my dishes, but really, it's very satisfying to just spend some time knocking little things off the big list.

Q: If you could have one thing fixed instantly about the game, what would it be?

A: The fact that the chat mogrification system doesn't know gender, so it says that "Cephalopod sticks out a tongue."

That is the single most pressing bug in the entire game.

Well, that and the lucky seat in poker. I hate that guy who sits there, getting the game to stack the deck for him. Oh, and there's a screenshot of a smiling Cephalopod in the Treasure Haul documentation; Cephalopod doesn't smile.

Q: What are some of the features you've done in the game that we'd recognize?

A: You know that little house icon on the "To home" button? Yeah. That was all me, baby. And not just that; there's a little pirate on the "Refer a friend!" button, and some coins on the "Buy doubloons!" buttons. I'm multi-talented!

Moving my first week on the job, though, I did the coding side of bringing Nemo's fancy new vision of the info pages to fruition. (Upgrade your Java installs, folks! Things look so much nicer once you move past a 1.4 jvm)

And of course, those new pages went with the Pokemon of Puzzle Pirates: trophies. All in all, a fun experience, and a good starter project, since I had the dubious honor of crawling through the darkest recesses of the code base looking for interesting places to hang counters. Honestly, I'm just shocked that I wasn't eaten by a grue.

Beyond that, I've had my fingers in quite a few of the pies over the past year. In particular, I've been known to make a lot of the little tweaks here and there that have crept in over the past year. It still plagues me to this day, though, that I didn't fix the rum sickness message (it used to say that it would be hard to swordfight, even if you were rumbling); I came to work with that in mind as something to take the initiative to find and fix on my own...and then Arcturus went and fixed it. I will curse him with my dying breath for that.

Q: What is it like working with the other two programmers on the team?

A: There are no other programmers. Only Zuul.

Q: Can you explain the nickname 'Sexylopod' for us?

A: That's Hypnos, ladies and gentlemen. She sits 6 feet away from me every damned day, and still has the gall to ask.

Getting to know your ABCs - The Letter A

This week, we have the interview with our lead of the Puzzle Pirates development team, Arcturus :

Q: How did you first find out about Three Rings/Y!PP?

A: A friend mentioned Puzzle Pirates over dinner as something she had been playing recently.  I checked it out and got sucked in pretty quickly.  Later, when I was looking for a change in employment, Three Rings came to mind as someplace to check out.

Q: What made you want to work there?

A: I really like the fact that Three Rings works on games that are significantly different from the norm.  We're doing quirky games that aren't your standard First Person Shooter or Fantasy whack-a-goblin fare.

Q: How did the application process go?  What was the interview like, and what was your first impression of the company?

A: I sent in my application, Mike Bayne (our CTO) got back to me, and we talked a bit.  The next step for all engineers is a coding challenge on game gardens.  Theoretically that was supposed to be a 10 hour programming project to create a game, but I was having too much fun and probably spent about twice that.

I have to admit I was a bit scared by the environment at the old office when I first showed up to interview.  Coming from 5+ years in a cubicle, it was a bit of a shock to walk into an office with no walls between desks.  I went to lunch with a bunch of folks and a fairly heated debate on gun control broke out.  Thankfully, no one was killed.  Then we went back to the office and I talked with several of the folks already on the team.  I don't particularly recall what all we talked about though, so it was either traumatic and I'm repressing it or it was mainly just fairly casual conversations about games, programming, and puzzle pirates.

Q: What is your educational/professional background?

A: I have a BS in Computer Science from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, IN, which I happen to feel is probably the best kept secret in engineering and science education.  I also have a MS in Computer Science, specialized in Artificial Intelligence, from Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA.

Before working at Three Rings, I worked for Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Labs.  We did a lot of work on prototype, demonstration, and proof of concept systems for the military and government, with much of our work for DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) - the same guys who brought us the Internet.

Q: What have you enjoyed working on most in Y!PP?

A: It's always the most fun to work on a (ideally new) puzzle/game.  It's a lot easier to translate exciting game play concepts into reality when you're working on puzzles because they're a lot more self-contained.  Puzzle Pirates has gotten large enough that many times we go to add a new feature and it has "exciting " ramifications we don't initially intend and we then end up spending more time correcting those than were actually involved in the original feature itself.

Q: How did you choose your pirate handle?

A: Arcturus is the name of a star.  It also appears as "Project Arcturus" in the Simpsons episode "You only Move Twice".  It has further come to my attention that it was the name of at least one British Navy vessel, a Norwegian rock band, and a relative of Sirius Black in Harry Potter (at least if you believe the names on the walls of Sirius's house in the 5th movie as canonical).

Q: Is there a pet project or something that bugs you that you'd really like to get a chance to work on?

A: I would love for us to find time to get more of the crafting puzzles in place.  I'm really glad we finally got to do Blacksmithing and I'm hopeful that with the great of efforts of the GCPP participants we'll be able to keep doing more.  That's always felt like a gaping hole longing to be filled with fun stuff since I started playing the game, and it's good to see it starting to be filled in.

Q: If you could have one thing fixed instantly about the game, what would it be?

A: I'd prefer to point in several directions at once here, but I suppose I'll say the bug where scenes sometimes appear on screen with large black diamonds in place of the floor.  We've spent insane amounts of time trying to track that down and never made progress.  Someday...

Q: What are some of the features you've done in the game that we'd recognize?

A: Poker, Brigand Kings, Pets, Maneuvers, Flotillas, and large parts of Brigand Blockades come to mind.  I figure I've personally ruined the game at least 2 times in there (at least if one believes the forums).

Q: What is it like working with the other two programmers on the team?

A: It's awesome to have people on the team that you can point at a feature and rely upon to get it done without having to feed them all the details of how to do it.

Server economy

As you mates have probably heard, a power outage hit San Francisco yesterday, knocking out power at the Three Rings office and at our server colocation facility.

The power blinked off and on here for about an hour, which wasn't bad, though both the programmers and artists lost their unsaved work when the power first went down.  After the power cut out twice more to our computers, we gave up and played some games of pool and telephone pictionary.  Theories on what was going on varied, but the most popular seemed to be that there was a giant lizard demolishing the Bay Bridge, and heading our way.

Unfortunately, the outage of our servers was a bigger problem, and while power was restored pretty quickly, and Calrissian got the office connected to the outside world through DSL as soon as power was up, I quickly realized just how much of my job is tied to the 'net and access to the Three Rings databases: everything.

Obviously, I couldn't go on duty as the game servers were down.  I couldn't process mail payments in the office because I couldn't access people's accounts to subscribe them or credit doubloons.  I couldn't read the forums or docktart about the latest release because the game was offline.  I couldn't even update the iPod mail in entries list because I couldn't confirm the existence of the accounts to make sure they were spelled correctly!

As I checked through my list of things to do and crossed off each one as impossible to do at that juncture, I became aware of a deep and resounding quiet.  It was the quiet of not being connected to Puzzle Pirates in any way.

I couldn't be petitioned.  I couldn't be e-mailed.  I couldn't be PMed, or sent tells, or /complained.  I suppose I could have been called, but no one did.

Coincidentally, I've recently been reading Radical Evolution, a book about the rapid change in the daily life of human beings and the accelerating growth curve of technology.  Some of you may be familiar with it as Moore's Law.  In the third chapter, the author Garreau talks about the heretofore unseen emotional connection between humans and their machines.  People who are disconnected from their portable game players or who lose hard drives experience panic attacks and intense feelings of loss.

"The next time you feel like throwing up when your connection to the cosmos is ruptured, the next time the innermost recesses of your brain recognize a machine as part of you when it does, remember this [...] The machines have not only changed you, they have become you." (64-65)

While I didn't experience panic or disorientation when disconnected from the servers, I did stop and think about how much my entire life hinges on technology that came into common use well after I was born.  My livelihood and many of my work-related interactions with people day to day is based around virtual items and machines.  The people I talk to and interact with are obviously real, but the subjects we speak of and the means by which we  have the discussion are all completely reliant on the connections between machines.

When I'm walking from the bus and I think of questions I cannot answer, I jot them down to look them up when I get home.  I have e-mail and IM clients open constantly, so that my brother can let me know what he's doing in dance class or my friends hundreds of miles away can send me links to interesting news articles.  And in my job, I am most recognized as a perpetually sleepy cartoon god in a shower cap and bathrobe.

Are we, as the book seems to be implying (though I haven't finished it yet) becoming cyborgs, making our machines physical, mental, and emotional extensions of ourselves?  I certainly find that I answer to Hypnos as readily as I answer to my given name.  If Puzzle Pirates were suddenly wiped out of existence, I'd miss my cute little pirate characters.

On the other hand, people have been forming emotional attachments to material things since long before computers.  Children (and adults!) cuddle stuffed animals, craftsmen have their favorite tools, martial artists take special care of their weapons.  I like my old tea mug that I drink from each morning, even if it has a crack in the handle.  I carry the same bag to work every day because I feel assured it has all of the things I need for my daily work- my key pass, my notebook, my scheduler, my wallet, my cell phone.

We often value what represents our everyday lives because it represents stability to us.  An appreciation of stability is a human trait that has likely been with us a very long time.

So as I sat here, silently rooting for little blinky lights to start blinking, and servers to warm up and come back online, I think the heart of it was wanting to get back to my planned day and get the work done that I like doing each day.  Having the servers back was comforting. Resistance was futile.

Getting to know your ABCs

As part of the ongoing process of familiarizing ourselves with the fine folks producing this game, I pelted the Puzzle Pirates team with questions about how they came to work here.

Our first interview is with the person both the last to join the team and the first to find the time to sit down with me.  I would like to introduce the newest member of the Puzzle Pirates development team, Charlie Groves, known to you as Bungleton:

How did you first find out about Three Rings/Y!PP?

- A friend of mine pointed me to Bang! Howdy due to our shared love of turn based strategy games.

What made you want to work there?

- Roughly 83 things.  Three Rings was small enough that I could see the results of my contributions, yet big enough to accomplish cool things.  The projects were things I'd be interested in even if I weren't working here.  The culture was laid back, but focused on getting things done.    It didn't seem like they were interested in obsessively managing my work.  The job was in San Francisco.  I got to work with their code as part of the application process, and I liked it.  I'll leave out the other 75.

What is your educational/professional background?

- I have a Computer Science degree from the Univ. of South Carolina, and while I was in the process of getting that, I started writing software with a couple seismologists there.  I kept working for them for a couple years after I graduated.  We wrote several different programs to look at and manipulate seismograms that ran the gamut from viewers to teach high school students about the earth to research tools for seismologists.

How did you choose your pirate handle?

- By the time I tried Puzzle Pirates, I was pretty sure I was going to apply for a job with Three Rings since I already liked Bang.  My usual handle, AsexualTrousers, didn't really sound like the name of a dashing corsair.  I actually thought about a new name for a bit to ensure my chances of getting a job.  Eventually, Bungleton popped into my head fully formed.  It had the air of doddering incompetence that I like to project, so I went for it.

Is there a pet project or something that bugs you that you'd really like to get a chance to work on?

- This will be extremely uninteresting to the rest of the world, but I'd love to make the code more testable.  Puzzle Pirates is a fairly large beast, and almost all of it was written without automated testing in mind.  I'd love to be able to make a change, run a bevy of tests and be confident that I haven't broken something else.  I apologize for the answer, but these are the lame sorts of things I care about.

What are some of the features you've done in the game that we'd recognize?

- Since I've only been here for three months, there's not much to my credit.  I did most of the work to add the new types of tournaments, and I did a fair share of the brigand king blockades and flotillas.

What is it like working with the other two programmers on the team?

- Harrowing beyond belief.

Tentacle Couch Love

For those of you following the saga of the squishy tentacle couches, they now come in pillow size!  I like it.  It even has cute red and white velvet to show you that it was severed.  Whilst asking Cleaver about something the other day, I spotted the original tentacle couches prototype on his desk.  It is so cute!  I think Cleaver picks it up and hugs it when no one is looking.

We've recently taken to doing a delicious poker night every two weeks when we're not busy putting things like blacksmithing into the game. (By the way, "blacksmithing"?  Why "blacksmithing"?  You had to know people were going to shorten it to "BS".)

I've been keeping my days lively by receiving exciting new things in the mail, like $2.95 Canadian in the post and plastic bags full of incorrect change.

Truly though, mail continues to be a pleasure to open.  We've gotten so many sweet letters and pictures that we've now outgrown the wall o' letters and I've moved on to taking over the doorway.  Don't worry, once we fill that up, we have an entire set of blank space over the couch, and there's always the hallway leading to the back door. :D

And then there are unexpected gifts like these.  Rom, creator of the watermelon egg furniture item, sent us a friendly salute from Taiwan.  I am humbled and honored.  And the rubber band gun is going right to use in the projectile war against Cephalopod.

Plus ca change, plus more change

Thank you, mates. I really enjoyed reading your well-worded responses and thoughts about the article that Bia and I posted last week.  The reactions and opinions were all over the board, and as Puzzle Pirates is considered a "casual" game, upholds my belief that there's a ton of variety even in the simple labels we slap on games. I'm rooting for companies to make innovative and good games that appeal to that variety, and turning on the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack.

On a similarly casual note, we spent a lunch period at the office recently trying out a game that Bill -one of our artists- taught us called Telephone Pictionary.

Everybody in the group starts with a piece of paper and writes a sentence. Each person then passes the paper to the next person, who draws a picture of the sentence.  The original sentence is folded over, the paper passed again, and the third person tries to caption the picture.  Rinse and repeat, hilarity ensues.

Since we had a mixed bunch, you can see from the pictures here an ungodly combination of artistic drawings, programmer art, and the the scrawls of customer service. (Filter warning on one of the pictures.)  Enjoy!  Maybe we can play this at the upcoming Vegas party...

The Pittsburgh party will be going on this weekend, which looks like it'll be a blast. I can't wait to see pictures. :D  I'm also looking forward to packing up a van with Mr. and Mrs. Opod and trundling down to Vegas in a week!  Not only are there names on the attendees list that I haven't met yet, but my spouse and best friend (who I shamelessly egged on to try Puzzle Pirates in 2003) will be in attendance.

Other than getting linked up in Wired and the sudden storm of linkiness and blogging and attention that makes me feel underappreciative of our office (I suppose when you've been sitting around working while it goes up around you, you're more likely to say, 'Huh, that's new.' or 'Guess it's time to paint!' than 'OMG most creative space ever!') things continue in the development of the next release and the study and tweaking of the Brigand King blockades.

We have started to get more Bang! Howdy mail in payments (and envelopes!) in the office, and San Francisco, being San Francisco, continues to be home to the protests (4MB video) that converge outside of our building what seems to be each week, but never pass the window so we can see what they are protesting.   And of course, some things never changeLike, apparently, change.  (Oh god, make them stop.)

Secret room not so Secret any more...

Arr, we have been Wired! Wired magazine did a photo essay on our Nautilus themed back office space here at Three Rings.  It has twenty five little blurbs to go with its twenty five photos (including the modely one of our Cap'n in his dress uniform) and definitely worth a look. :)

It was also picked up by Boing Boing.  Yarr.

My apologies for the short blurb this week; it appears that I saved the wrong file of the article I was writing all yesterday afternoon, and I may be starting from scratch.  ARGH.  I suppose that's my excuse if it's poorly written, though.

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