Monday, December 17, 2007

Mental Centering

I'm feeling like my mental center of gravity has been shifting more towards Diffle over the past 2-3 weeks. I remember back in October I felt like I hadn't really "jumped" yet, that something was missing. It wasn't really a matter of jumping, more a gradual acclimatization as I "detoxed" from my previous day job.

I kinda want to do a tool that'd graph Subversion commits over time, just to see if this is reflected in actual productivity. It feels like it is; I think I've done something like 50 check-ins in the past week. And I'm actually moving fairly quickly on the rewrite. In the week and 2 days since the last update, I've got a blank archetype all compiling, including expression compiler and all, and the code is much cleaner than the not-incrementally-tested version. This time around, it's got full unit tests and documentation and I've figured out how to use setuptools and paster to automate the whole build process.

Some notes on the issues in the last blog posting, so I know why I made certain decisions:
  1. scheme2js was rejected because:
    1. It can't call out to arbitrary JavaScript functions; they have to be declared, in a way I couldn't figure out
    2. It doesn't generate readable code at all - everything is temps, and it's like it's machine code.
    3. I don't think there's any way I can get it working to generate MTASC code.
  2. haXe was rejected because external libraries need to be declared, which is a huge extra burden when we use as much 3rd-party JavaScript as we do. Also didn't seem particularly JQuery-friendly, and the mailing list posts indicated that they had no plans to support it because it was too functional and not OO-enough.
  3. I'm keeping the _root.fn nonsense. I still hate it, but we don't have a better alternative at this point, and we can always get rid of it via global find & replace.
  4. Leaning towards invoking the compiler via AJAX for the editor issue, though I still need to see how it works in practice.
  5. Canvas tag prototypes went very well - it was quite easy to use, generally cross-browser, and we got some neat effects like lasers and rotation working.
  6. Didn't get around to prototyping the expression language, but I did think more about its design. There will be an actual parser for it. However, I'm going to limit to arithmetic/boolean expressions and function calls. Thinking about making it strongly-typed, with typechecking running via AJAX to tell you if you've made an error as you type. As for variable scoping, it's pretty simple: I'm introducing keywords "this" and "that", and the name of each sprite type (subscriptable) will also be a variable introduced into the current scope. Until we have user-defined variables, I don't think we need more.
  7. Didn't prototype worlds larger than the stage; really should, I guess. I figure that we'll just make sprites children of a 'world' movie, and then move that around to scroll the world.
  8. I got Mike's new layout up and running under Mako. It looks pretty cool, with all the drop shadows and rounded corners. Was pretty simple to write too; the HTML really is dead-simple.
Next steps are importing games into Mogile and building the editor. I expect some fun surprises with the editor.

Oh, and I wanted to outline the sequence of events that led up to the rewrite, in brief form, because it's instructive of the kind of design pitfalls that hit startups:
  1. Working on the editor, found that I couldn't edit trajectories and have them immediately applied to the game.
  2. Fix would require that the editor have knowledge of individual game archetypes, which would introduce too much complexity.
  3. Dropped the concept of game archetypes with special-cased code.
  4. Because of this, the base game structure needs to have many more options.
  5. This changes the primary data structure we're storing games as
  6. Which touches nearly every aspect of the system, from how games are stored in Mogile, to how archetypes are specified in the codebase, to the type of UI required, to the compilation mechanism.
  7. Which means we might as well rewrite everything.
I'm generally much more satisfied with the new architecture though - it's much more flexible and elegant, and since I've eliminated the whole archetype degree of freedom, I can make the editor much more user-friendly and robust.

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