Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Meeting Smiley Behind the Scenes of Sanity Falls

We caught up with Smiley in his sky pad, perhaps this is the site of operations for supervising the progress of hunts and players. For those wondering, Smiley clarified that he is more cat than fox, we have made that mistake before but now we ask to be certain we identify the right species. In second life its very important to each avatar to be identified correctly and respectfully. All avatars are equal, afterall. For the purposes of this blog we will be using artistic licence and imagination to show you the inner workings of Smileys contributions to hunting. Statistical analysis can be dry, and we want to take you beyond this.
Smiley has been working with the peas since the inception of Madpea Game production, which is about four years old, he arrived with the rest of the team bringing his interests about games like Madpea Game hunts into second life. How have things changed for him in four years? Well apart from the advancement in media features and the introduction of mesh, nothing much has changed. Same old, Same old Lag will Lag every get the message its an unwelcome guest, or will Second Lifers learn "less is more" on sims filled with lots of avatars. We can only hope.
Smiley pointed out something that we thought gamers should be made aware of. Its a consequence of Firestorm creators protecting the viewers privacy. Smiley gave us an example of how it can affect the outcome of the gamers experience. Smiley said "at the end of the Kaaos Effect, there was a bonus video that would activate if you'd found all the clocks in the game... but that function is disabled in Firestorm as "allow resident scripts to control media"...they see it as a 'possible' way for someone's IP address to be collected, so have it disabled by default and not even a popup to let the user know something wants to play a video. Gamers take note on firestorm.
Madpea Games/Hunts rely heavily on the formulation and use of a HUD which the player wears during the game and we are curious to know who creates these. We asked Smiley if he was the creator of them, he told us he doesn't build them but he does collate the data they produce on the website. This is probably one of Smileys most important jobs, collecting and collating information about the game, the player and the process of the game its self. This is all the statistical data that has students running for the hills in terror. With the correct program its not so bad honest. Is it collected by hand we wondered, Smiley laughed "not by hand, thankfully... but yeah, I try to manage the databases that track the hunts,"
Overviewing the Data collated
Thank goodness for databases. Imagine collating all the data by hand. We remember doing statistics by hand in exams and it wasn't just basic averages it was mind boggling. At the moment there are different systems for different hunts but Smiley is trying to consolidate all the the data and programming into one system so they don't have to customize each program for each hunt. It can just be adapted from the main program to fit each hunt. Which seems like a good plan the to keep things organised in the "office".
Visualising the "Office"
Does all this involve spreadsheet data programs, Smiley agreed that sometimes he will export things from thewebsite's database and use spread sheet programs for some analysis, but typically  he will just allow the server to store the data and ask it for specific information that he needs for example "number of hunters in XXX hunt") Do the huds have to be monitored on line, when the hunt goes lives we asked, imagine having to sit there 24/7 to monitor huds. Smiley assured us that "typically the scripts are self-maintaining, but there are times where I'll have to tap into the website and adjust things manually... thankfully most of the scripts have been made with at least a basic failsafe of "please try again later" for any non-critical issues."
First Days of the Hunt
Given server issues and problems we wanted to know if its "ever crashed" Smiley admitted that due to coding there have been times when the web site went off line for a few minutes, other times "pure in-world traffic was enough to cause delays and mis-communications.
The Office Monitoring Launch Day
We guessed that glitches, and errors in the program and influx of traffic was more likely to hit in the first few days of the hunt. Smiley explained that some of the older HUDs have been "overly chatty... in testing, it didn't get noticed, but once you have 100+ people wearing a device that tries calling our website every 10 seconds, yeah... we've had a fun launch day or two.
Launch Day Fun.
So is the website constantly monitored in the first few days. Smiley was happy to explain how things work. "not usually... for the first day or two we'll typically check it every so often just out of curiosity to see how the first batch of players are progressing, but normally we're more worried about the in-world aspects of zero-day fixes (broken vendors, misplaced items, etc). We were relieved to hear some poor Pea does not have to sit there 24/7 and monitor "screens" as is indicated in our picture.
Peas on 24/7 Duty napping
It must be a worry when people don't finish a hunt we asked. Again Smiley answered "not 'worry', per say, but yeah... looking at the stats after a hunt ends, it is pretty sad that we consider a 50% completion rate to be a good thing.. but it's an unfortunate reality of SL... a lot of people don't have the patience to play through the whole thing, they just join the hunts for a few places in particular, or give up if there's an area or two that are too challenging.
Pea Frustration
We wanted to know if someone surveyed why people don't finish, so far its only the beta testers that are surveyed, to find difficulties before the game is launches, people will comment or ask for help in chat or facebook, we have done this ourselves in Peatonville looking for keys that didn't exist! Well when a room is locked you assume you need keys, never assume anything in Madpea Games. Smiley doesn't usually hear from players unless its script-related. We are the type of people who mean to come back and finish we are not ones for rushing through to finish first, we like to enjoy and savour the atmosphere. It would be interesting to see how many people play for fun and who play to win and or get the prizes from the shops that are involved in the vendoring process.

 Being amateur programmers ourselves, we were curious to know what code is used. We discovered that the code that connects the website/database to the HUDs and hunt items is based on PHP, although like most of us Smiley writes it all down on notepad first, highlighting keywords/functions in the code. For the website itself they are looking at a few options for content management. Not much XML at the moment but if things change in the future of how the games availability in and out of second life that could very well change. This is exciting for second lifers and none second lifers, would it mean the game will be available to download, could we one day play our beloved Dead Man's Hunt and Peatonville Asylum on our own computers, rather than through second life. Who knows, only time will tell.

Back to Sanity Falls, what sort of effects can the player expect. We have seen the builds, we have spoken to the artists, we have talked to scriptors and we were excited to hear that Smiley had met Madpea Games very own Wizard, Zachh and mechanic, Fuzz so what are they up to.  Smiley wasn't giving much away about what the guys were up to, Fuzz is behind the mechanics of the games, and Zachh is a master of interaction and special effects. He mentioned the Wishmaster system, and some of the magic-related ideas he's brought up with the creators of Sanity Falls.
Must have for any Witch*
We were curious to discover more about Wishfire having promised ourselves a copy of Zachh's interactive book based on the Charmed series which we were and still are crazy about such great series, the book is a Book of Shadows and we are more than ever eager give it a whirl now that we know its based on Zachh's wizardry the Wishmaster system. We mentioned about the creators requiring a victim/volunteer to try out these effects, Smiley laughed and warned us not to volunteer as we might just be chosen, but we were serious when we volunteered. Are we really that mad!
The Peas at Work.
We digressed for a short spell to help some player out with theVirtual Medical Doctor game. Neither of us could remember how to operate the cherion and then Smiley mentioned using the hud, or the cheirons own console. We hadn't played VMD for ages and Smiley admitted that it had been developed when he was on vaction from the Peas. We told him we killed more patients than we saved, but then we couldn't even operate a second life car! Smiley agreed he had smashed into more trees than he cared to remember thank goodness we cannot die in those car wrecks.
Typical end of Our Second Life Driving
Thats the one thing the player has to remember about Sanity Falls, its not always safe to crash your car whilst playing, not that we have any idea what is involved with Sanity Falls we do know that the Peas are up to something. You don't need a Wizard, an alchemist and a necromancing pea to program a game in second life do you? But we do have a wizard, we could call the writers our alchemist weaving words together and creating the story behind Sanity Falls and would that make scriptors necromancers? Who knows all we can do is use our imagination to show you what we think those peas are up to.
Alchemist, Wizard, Necromancer
 We said good bye to Smiley a stealth like cat of the nekko breed in secondlife. Stealth and sleek in second life and believed to have the ability to sneak up an colleagues in real life without being heard, a talent of the cat indeed. We will leave you with his own words on what makes a good game hunt work well. Smiley Dyrssen "making our games work is definitely a team effort... the story and graphics need action to really shine, but no amount of scripting can stand on its own without a world to affect or a story to plan it. Smiley and all the team are definitely well oiled cogs in the machine of MadPea Game productions beware the ides of March, Sanity Falls will be upon us all before you can blink. Thank goodness for peas and Smiley at the helm of the ship that steers the player through the muddy churning water of their mind as they enter Sanity Falls.
notes ides of March was something that Caeser was warned about and we all know what happened to Caeser don't we? *technically there are no good Wizards in Charmed but we all know Harry Potter is a Wizard but that is another story. As is the great Wizard Merlin, who is briefly mentioned in Charmed as an old Hack! By Rowanessque Whitewood

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