PSPad – Free Editor

I saw PSPad some days ago, a free editor that’s available for download at their website. I downloaded and tested the editor and my first impressions were:
- It’s fast
- It has spell checking
- It supports several languages
- It’s clean and easy to use

They state on their website that the program is useful for people who:
- Work with various programming environments
- Like highlighted syntax in code
- Need a small tool with simple controls and the capabilities of a mighty code editor
- Are looking for a tool to work with plain text
- Want to save money and still have the functionality of professional products

Sounds like indie game producer to me…

If you are looking for a small, and quick-to-use tool, download the program and try it yourself.

Interview with Jesse Smith, Firaxis Games

GameProducer.NET had the chance to talk with Jesse Smith, game producer at Firaxis Games, who have recently finished Civilization IV: Warlords – the newest game in the legendary Civilization game series.

GameProducer.NET: First of all, tell us little bit about yourself. Who are you, what games have you done and how did you ended up working at Firaxis?

Jesse Smith: My name is Jesse Smith and I am a Producer at Firaxis Games. In 1997 I decided that I wanted to get into video games, so I went to Firaxis and asked for a job. Firaxis told me that I needed some experience before I could work here; they helpfully suggested that I check out a Hunt Valley, Maryland based outsource QA facility called “Absolute Quality.” AQ hired me, and after three years I moved to San Francisco to help run AQ’s West Coast office. From there I was hired by the publishing company Activision, where I worked in production on a number of O2 sports games, including the Tony Hawk, Mat Hoffman, and Kelly Slater series. With this experience under my belt I reapplied at Firaxis, and this time I was hired. This was a great opportunity: not only did I get to work with some of the best in the industry, but I also got to move back to my home town. At Firaxis I’ve worked on Sid Meier’s Civilization III, Civ III: Conquests, and Civ IV; and I have just finished producing Civ IV: Warlords.

GameProducer.NET: Your merit list is impressive: you’ve been working on many AAA games. How did you find the time to involve in production of all those games?

Jesse Smith: The first half of my gaming career was in QA (quality assurance, a.k.a., playtesting). At Absolute Quality we saw a wide spectrum of titles come in for full testing or just safety-net testing at the end of the cycle. This exposed me to a lot of different types of games and a variety of testing roles, including management. The sheer number of titles we worked on during that period is almost unbelievable. Of course, once I started at Activision in 2001, I had more time to work on each product, and I was able to begin honing my production skills.

One of the amazing things about this business is how different the creation of each game is. The production cycles may be similar but because of rapidly developing technology the challenges you face change with each game you work on.

GameProducer.NET: You now work at Firaxis. Is Sid (Meier) nice guy to work with – in case you get to see him once in a while…

Jesse Smith: I can see Sid’s office from mine so I bump into him quite frequently. Sid is a genius and truly inspires those he works with. He is very hands-on with the projects and focuses a tremendous amount of effort on making sure the game is fun and exciting. When he is involved on a project you can feel the entire company humming with excitement. It isn’t often you get to work with a legend so it is an experience just to be a part of the team. And he’s also one of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with.

GameProducer.NET: You were finishing Civilization 4: Warlords. How are things going?

Jesse Smith: We just finished with Warlords last month and things went extremely well. The Civ IV team did a great job when designing and coding the main title to ensure that it could easily be expanded. This allowed us to come up with a solid vision for Warlords and execute it on time – even when our release date was moved up a few months.

GameProducer.NET: Can you tell us more about Civ4 production and schedules. How do you use timetables and deadlines? How do you schedule game production?

Jesse Smith: There really isn’t a specific science to the way we generate the schedules; they are mostly based on our previous experiences and knowledge of the product we are creating. There is one hard and fast rule, however: at Firaxis we do extensive prototyping before we begin production.

Due to the sheer scope of Civ IV we divided the prototyping into two phases. The first phase was Ancient to Medieval. The second phase was Renaissance to Modern. By the time we finished the first phase we were able to begin production on all of the early game’s assets while we continued to prototype the second half of the game. Once we finished prototyping the second half of the game we were then able to begin full production on the whole project.

During the prototype and production portions of the development cycle we typically set monthly milestones. They measure chunks of the total job and usually include tasks which demonstrate progress towards solving all of the challenges. Each milestone also includes a set number of assets which need to be completed. This allows us to make sure we remain on schedule. During late production and the polish phases our milestones are mostly driven by marketing requirements. Getting the product in the best shape possible for GDC, E3, press events, demos, previews, and reviews determine the final milestone dates.

GameProducer.NET: That sounds great. In busy times – perhaps before deadlines for events such as GDC or E3 – the workload might cause stress. How do you deal with stress in challenging times?

Jesse Smith: During the development of Civ IV I dealt with stress by working more hours. This wasn’t the optimal solution since it typically just generated more stress! I have since learned to deal with the stress of the project by going to the gym. We are fortunate enough to have one in our building so I can go down there for an hour any time I begin to overload. If I enter the gym with a problem I need to solve I usually have a solution by the time I finish working out. As a general rule, exercise helps tremendously when dealing with the pressures of a project.

GameProducer.NET: From stress to challenges: what have been the most challenging moments in Civ4 development?

Jesse Smith: One of the most challenging parts of Civ IV development was getting the community involved in the project 18 months prior to release! This required a lot of work on our part to ensure that we always had versions which were in good enough shape to be played by outsiders. We spent a lot of time testing versions, posting them, reviewing feedback, implementing changes, and retesting/posting versions. In the long run the effort was worth it because the feedback we received helped us make the game what it eventually became.

GameProducer.NET: How about the best moments? What have been best times in Civ4 production so far?

Jesse Smith: I would have to say one of the best moments for me was when we went gold. Almost the entire company was involved with Civ IV, and everyone was committed to seeing it succeed. We had pulled the schedule in a couple of weeks so everyone was crunching to make sure we hit the deadline. I remember burning the gold master discs and leaving the building to fly them to the duplicators when I heard over the intercom, “Elvis has left the building!” to a loud cheer from all of the employees.

GameProducer.NET: How would you describe the Civ4 production in one word?

Jesse Smith: Educational! Civ IV was the largest coordinated project Firaxis had developed at the time and involved a lot of people, many of whom were recent hires. We all learned a great deal from this project. I personally found the entire experience to be enlightening and enjoyed every stressful second of it!

GameProducer.NET: How’s game production job at Firaxis. Is it fun? And the pay is good?

Jesse Smith: Being a Producer at Firaxis is awesome! The job is extremely rewarding because of the incredible people you get to work with, the fun games you work on, and the responsibility the company gives you. Each producer is handed a project and a goal but given the freedom to lead the team in whatever way suits their style. Management is always there to provide insight and help if needed but otherwise they allow you to focus on the task at hand. I find it to be extremely rewarding and fun. The pay and benefits at Firaxis are outstanding.

GameProducer.NET: Responsibility comes hand to hand with leadership – one of the skills or qualities that game producers need to have. What leadership means to you, and what have you learned about leadership in Civ4 production?

Jesse Smith: The importance of leadership ability in a game producer cannot be overstated. Once you have a huge team working on a project everyone must understand the direction the project is heading and the role they play in getting the project there. A good leader listens to the team and watches the flow of the project and makes decisive decisions which keep everyone moving toward the final goal. Without good leadership the quality and timeliness of the product is at great risk.

While working at Activision as an Associate Producer I was managing managers. This was very different from what I am doing now as a Producer at Firaxis, which involves direct interaction with the actual content creators. Managing and motivating creative individuals requires a vastly different approach!

During the final six months of Civ IV I was the only Producer on the project and this was pretty overwhelming: it was my first triple-A title as a development producer, and I was working with the largest team the company had ever assembled! Finding myself becoming overwhelmed, I went to my bosses to ask for assistance, and they brought Barry Caudill, producer of Sid Meier’s Pirates!, onto the project as Senior Producer. This turned out to be an excellent decision for everybody. With Barry as my mentor I honed my game production skills, and I really came to understand what it means to produce games at a cutting-edge studio like Firaxis. In the end the project came out on time, under budget, and to rave reviews from the critics and audience alike!

Asking for help is never easy but it is an important part of being a leader. You always need to be willing to do whatever is necessary to ensure the success of the game you are working on.

GameProducer.NET: Besides leadership, there are several elements that make a good game producer. How would you describe a professional game producer? What skills and knowledge he has? What kind of person he is?

Jesse Smith: Though the roles of development producer and publishing producer are very different from one another they both require someone who is a strong communicator. The Producer needs to be able to listen, manage, motivate, direct, and coordinate the efforts of a lot of different people simultaneously. They must be organized, analytical, and above all, solution-oriented. They need to be able to motivate people to do the best work possible. They must be able to clearly define a vision for the project, develop a plan to create it, and then execute it with decisiveness. It is also useful for a Producer to interact closely with marketing to make sure that everyone in that department understands what is cool about the game and what elements should be emphasized when selling the product.

In summary, a Producer must be able to manage and lead a project to successful completion.

GameProducer.NET: I often hear people saying they want to become game producers, but they just don’t know what to do. What would you suggest an aspiring game producer to do in order to get his dream job?

Jesse Smith: For someone who is just starting out I would suggest you get a job where you are in some level of project management. As you improve your skills with organizing projects, managing teams, and creating success you will develop the skills to be a producer. The first and perhaps hardest step is to get a job in the gaming industry.

In my case I started out as a tester – I loved breaking games! This position evolved into managing testers and eventually to leading entire projects. As I gained experience it became easier for me to lead projects more effectively. My experiences as a project leader honed my skills to allow me to be able to produce games.

I believe that the path from QA to production is a natural progression. If you really want to be in video games I recommend that you get a job as a tester and put your heart and soul into your work. Learn everything you can, ask for responsibility, demonstrate your willingness to take on new challenges and you may very well work your way up to production.

GameProducer.NET: Do you have any good book recommendations for game producers?

Jesse Smith: Recently I have read Game Production Handbook by Heather Chandler which I found to be very good. Game Design Theory and Practice 2nd Edition by Richard Rouse III is also an excellent read with a lot of useful information.

GameProducer.NET: Anything else you’d like to add? About production? Jobs? Games in general? Anything you’d like to share with other game producers?

Jesse Smith: Not that I can think of!

GameProducer.NET: In the end: what are your TOP 5 tips and hints that every game producer in the world should know?

Jesse Smith:

1. Know your team. Be aware of everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, utilize their strengths and use training to reduce or eliminate a person’s weaknesses.
2. Triple Time. Always assume any complex task is going to take about three times as long as everyone believes it will take. You must plan for iteration!
3. Prototype! Make sure the designers have a clear idea what they want. Anytime you hear the words “I think” from a designer ask them to turn it into an “I know” by writing out or demonstrating exactly what they need and how it will fit into the game.
4. Do everything you can to make sure the game is the best it can be. From strict attention to details to asking for help; be sure to do whatever is necessary to accomplish your goals.
5. PLAY YOUR GAME! As a producer you have limited time so you can’t spend as much time playing the game as you might wish, but you must have a solid working knowledge of the game and how fun it is. This will become especially useful for demos and press events.

GameProducer.NET: Thanks for the interview!

Jesse Smith: Thank you for the opportunity!

The 5 Rules of Choosing The Right Webhosting Service

In the past years I’ve tried several webhosting services, and here are some rules for picking the right webhost for you.

Rule number one: You get what you pay for

There are plenty of webhosts that offer ‘great hosting’ with small price. Cheap and quality don’t come together in webhosting business. If you pay $20 per year for a webhosting service, don’t count on your site being online every day. Don’t even imagine it to be fast. Some people go for the lowest price, get disappointed and try other service with cheap price. Over and over, getting nowhere.

Buying cheap hosting, gets you poor quality. Spending few bucks more per month will help you to get better service.

Rule number two: There is no unlimited bandwidth

Some web hosts offer unlimited bandwidth for a low price. These providers are overselling. They fill their servers with hundreds (or thousands) of accounts without giving anybody any limits. It’s quite similar to what would happen if there would be no rules in driving cars. What would happen if there were no rules in car traffic? Crashes. Lots of crashes, and nobody couldn’t get anywhere. Don’t pick a webhost that offers you unlimited bandwidth.

Rule number three: Avoid companies with ‘the best’ or ‘the most reliable’ servers

Some companies say that their offer the fastest or the most reliable servers in the world. There are millions of servers in the world, and more coming online every minute you spend reading this text. How could these companies measure that they really are the fastest? In no way quite likely. These companies are propably telling lies, avoid them.

Rule number four: Get what you need today

Some people buy a really fast (and expensive) dedicated server “in case they need it some day in the future”. It’s different to prepare for week or month in advance, but don’t make the mistake to purchase an expensive upgrade because your product is almost finished and you need to “prepare for the launch”.

Upgrading is easy. Think what you need now (or within one month). Start with a smaller package and upgrade it to faster if you need one. Reliable web hosting providers are glad to help you to upgrade.

Rule number five: check before you buy

Webhostingtalk.com is an excellent resource to learn about webhosting and read reviews. Make a search with “review” and you’ll find plenty of articles and user experiences with different web hosts.

Admit When You’ve Made a Mistake

This one change in my attitude has caused a tremendous number of positive things to happen in my past work, school, in game development, and in life in general. Some years ago I had a need to be right almost all the time, with not much room for failure or being wrong. I needed to “win” the negotiations and prove myself right. The biggest personal growth happened when I noticed that I’m allowed to make mistakes, and there’s no need to be right all the time. You can be right, and if you are wrong, you have the chance to correct your view. This opened a whole new world to me: now I’m free to experiment and if something doesn’t work I haven’t failed, I’ve simply find another way that doesn’t work – and I’m free to try something else.

Some days ago I wrote several money making posts and while some people liked them, and started using the advice, some people got irritated and expressed their concern about the future and quality of GameProducer.NET.

I admit and see now that I made a mistake by publishing similar money posts in a row. I personally think that the posts can be helpful, but the the timing was definitely wrong. In the future I’m sure I will tell about my experiences with different income generating opportunities, but I’m going to write them in a better way and publish them with better timing. I believe it’s much better to experiment things and make mistakes – that’s life what it is much about. A person who doesn’t make mistakes is unlikely doing anything.

What has happened to GameProducer.net after this mistake? Did the site lose its loyal readers? Did I receive bad feedback? Did the site income decreased? Did the traffic went down with website rankings following? Did all kinds of bad things happened?

No.

I received negative feedback, but as you might recall bad feedback is good feedback. Thanks to the bit… “angry” feedback I have a much clearer vision about where to go with GameProducer.NET. Thanks to the bad words I now have a better idea on how to write, publish, and help others.

The site traffic was not decreased, quite the contrary – I saw more visitors checking the site even when the site wasn’t updated yesterday. The site traffic ranking has not gone worse, no – it got better. The site income also made a small increase.

I might have lost some readers who think ‘the site quality has gone so low’. I hope all the best for every person who has published their statement – whether it was angry or insulting. All those have helped me to do better work in the future. The good thing about Internet is that you don’t have to read anything you don’t want. You can stop reading this site with one mouse click, and get rid of anything that bothers you. This website is no exception.

I’m thankful to have all you readers visit this site and find it some way useful: those of you who like the pieces of advice, I hope my tips can help you somehow. I would still to remind that don’t accept my words without criticism. As I’ve mentioned earlier: question authority. I want to have readers who think using their own brain: listen openly what I say, think about it, and test it to see if my hints work for you. Also those of you who disagree with me (and even if you disagree everything I say) it’s good to see my site is working for you as well: as a bad example how not to do games, business, or whatever you see me doing wrongly. I would still like to make a gentle wish for you: experimenting new things and being open to new ideas won’t hurt you. I don’t think there’s failure – there’s only things that work and things that help you to know what doesn’t work.

Admit if you made a mistake, and think ‘what’s good in this situation and how can I make things better’, and grow. That will help in all areas of your life: whether it’s game production, relationships or anything.

GameProducer.NET Website Version 4.0 is Online

GameProducer.net is updated to 4th revision. This time with brand new visuals, new layout, new header, new… lots of things. Check out the site, and find out by yourself. All the changes have been done to make the site look cleaner, to have better navigation, to help new visitors to get better idea about what this site is all about. Also returning visitors are noticed by making the navigation and menu links cleaner. I think I’ve found a nice balance with this – although I accept criticism and comments regarding the new site.

Visuals
I’ve got brand new visuals, and I’d like to give thanks to Olive Derouetteau. He’s great artist, and the stuff I’ve have had chance to use is simply great. Check out this guy’s website as well.

Layout
I’ve made several changes to the layout. First I’ve removed the ugly links from the header, and put four nice images with descriptions on top of the page. Now you can read the introduction, look at the sales stats and interviews, and finally check out the money aspects. I think this sums up pretty well what game production is all about: from game development to making money. Check them out: introduction, sales stats, interviews and money.

I’ve made a conscious decision to put ‘recent posts’ links on the top of the page – so that when you come to site, you can see easily what’s been written last. There’s also ‘back to top’ in the end of each post: After you’ve read one post you can easily get back to top, and read another new post.

The sidebar has received major changes: I’ve taken ads away from it, and replaced them with other options (such as categories and archives). I’ve also put recommended money making programs in the bar, in case somebody is interested in additional ways to earn some money. Besides recommended money making tools, I’ve recommend some efficient promotion tools and proper webhosting solutions for game developers.

Sponsors
GameProducer.NET sponsors are located in a more visible place now. I’ve also made a media kit for sponsors and advertisers. There you can find information about who reads gameproducer.net, how much visitors the site receives and other related information.

New game producer forums
Another major change is the GameProducer.NET forums. I’ve set up private forums for serious game developers. To keep away spammers, and maintain quality discussion there’s one-time membership fee. Besides getting access to forums, members will receive sales guide, news announcement priviledges and get publicly listed (if they want) in the near future. For detailed information, read the info page about this.

And more
The search feature (on top of the site) is updated: now you can search anything in gameproducer.net and you’ll receive the search results in better format. The search is proudly powered by Google. Besides search, I’ve managed to put newsletter in bit better place.

Past & Coming up
This is the second article today, so in case you missed the last one, check out: Dealing With Deadlines. In the final end of this post I’d like to mention that interview with Jesse Smith (Firaxis – the place where Sid Meier works today…) will be put online very, very soon.

Watch this space.

Dealing With Deadlines

Before my summer vacation, I had a plan to get the first version of Edoiki online, but we missed the deadline. Basically we didn’t have the necessary art, user interface, code and music to put the first version online. What we have is some art, some music and some code. Not enough to put the first version out.

When I look back I can see some reasons for why we missed the deadline: first reason being the fact that our artist is overbooked. The second reason is that I had been terribly busy doing marketing, promoting and negotiations with 3rd parties – to prepare the launch. As I have been the only programmer – after Arex left – I haven’t got enough time to do the necessary programming. What I have managed to do is to make the core of networking system done: two players can now move the cursor (read: 3D hand) over the board and move units. The online multiplayer system is pretty much done to make player finding fast & easy. Several other things – such as level system, and design for moddability – have been done or prepared.

Third reason is that it has took more time than I realized to put things together. As we have several members in the team, it requires more work to get parts from everybody, and assemble everything together. The project management has taken more time than I thought. I was thinking that the myth of ‘simple game would be simple to code’. I realize there is no such thing as ‘simple game’ or at least no ‘simple game project’. There’s way too many moving parts to even think that simple game would be fast to do: number of team members, design considerations, online networking, user interface – everything takes time. I had planned time for them in the project plan, but I didn’t realize that after our programmer left, I should have find another one to program the game.

The next moves will be:
- I’m going to search for a Blitz3D programmer to work on royalty basis. I’m not looking for expert coder, or guy that would need to be top notch coder. I’m also not looking for unexperienced coders. I’m looking something in the between: somebody who can work in a team, understands what objects and modules are, has finished at least some modules (or mini games) that are available, and has time to put several hours per week for coding.
- I’m currently trying to put together the first working demo… although there’s quite many missing pieces (besides code, I need art and music) so it will take some time.
- I’m also proceeding with contacting couple of corporations regarding distributing deal of online games.
- I will simply move the deadline for Edoiki. I won’t rush the launch until the quality level is what I want it to be. The game will be published when it’s done.

Blogs Roundup #1 – How to Get Your Site Appear on GameProducer.NET

If you want your site appear on GameProducer.NET, read this post and follow the instructions.
Now and then I get asked whether I could mention someone’s blog or website here. Unfortunately my time is limited, but I think I found a solution that provides a win-win-win solution for me, you and to the other readers.

Only quality blogs with interesting content will be accepted.
I shall start presenting interesting blogs that link to GameProducer.NET. I will check the Technorati ‘who is linking here’ list now and then, I shall pick the latest blogs, and mention them here – in case they prove to be good. This system has 3 advantages: readers get information that might be interesting to them (I will hand pick each site, and as the Technorati provides the latest updated blogs it will keep away sites that never get updated), linkers get a high PageRank link and publicity from GameProducer.net with over thousands of regular reader each month. And of course I benefit by getting more links to gameproducer.net.

If you want to get your site displayed here, you need to do the following:
[1] Very important: I will only mention the links on top of Technorati list.
[2] You must have a blog at least partially related to gaming or game development – something that GameProducer.NET readers would be interested in.
[3] You must place a link to gameproducer.net (here’s direct HTML code for you: <a rel="nofollow" href=”http://www.gameproducer.net”>GameProducer.NET</a>). It doesn’t matter where you put it, or how many times you mention it. You can put a permanent link, or mention GameProducer.NET in your blog post – whatever suits you.
[4] I suggest you to claim your blog to technorati and ping them when you post new entries. This is to ensure that Technorati picks your blog, thus increasing your chances to get linked from GameProducer.NET.
[5] Notice: I won’t mention sites that don’t provide useful information – spammers, don’t bother.

Tips on increasing your chances to get mentioned
The more you update your blog the better chances you have to get displayed on top of Technorati list – and this will give you better chances to get mentioned in my blog. Make sure your blog meets a certain quality – that’s what we want.

Fine way to increase your visibility (and increase your chances about getting mentioned) would be to mention this blog roundup in your blog, and trackback to this post. (Read a Trackback tutorial if you are unfamiliar with them. Here’s a handy trackback tool in case you need one.)

Now – the first roundup of blogs that link to GameProducer.NET.

Enjoy.

Experimenting Offline Promotion (Part 1/2)

I’ve made plans to promote gameproducer.net using offline promotion methods: grayscale print material. This has been on my to do list for a while, when suddenly I realized that I need to start this campaign today.

Why?

This why:

Neste Oil Rally Finland will take place here, starting today.

My plan is this:
- I’m not going to afford colored print ads, so I’m going to stick with gray scale prints.
- I’m going to beat competing ads by using big font displaying GAMEPRODUCER.NET. I plan to use half of the space just to show the site name. The idea is to make sure people can see the web address even from far away, and big size might be able to compete even with color ads.
- I will put light grayscale background, to make the look bit better
- There will be short description about the site for those who are interested enough to read it closer.
- Language will be English, not Finnish.
- I haven’t thought about the exact number of prints, but I will stick them to local bulletin boards (where ‘organisations announce’), big car markets (where lots of people buy stuff) and local shops (where hungry rally people will visit). If I find other proper places (like libraries), I’ll probably stick some prints there as well (with permission of course).
- I’m going to finish the prints today, and start delivering them today.

If you have ideas for places that might be good to show the prints, I’m open to ideas.

This is the first part of this experiment. In the next part of this experiment I’ll inform how the promotion went (whether I got permission, how much time it took, how many new visitors arrived).