Category Archives: Random Musings

On MSVC 2010 and Sales Text

I upgraded to MSVC 2010 yesterday. Primarily for compatibility reasons — MSVC 2005 is not as common anymore and it is getting harder for people to write plugins, etc with it.

The back of the box had this beautiful feature list:

This is interesting to me as one of the things I’ve been slowly working on over the last year is doing a better job on the marketing and sales side of World Machine. There’s a common “golden rule” for writing convincing text: Tell how your product enables the user, do not just list a feature.

This is a great idea actually, as unless you know exactly what kinds of features you’re looking for, a feature list is pointless. However, the above makes me realize something:

When selling to technical people, throw out your normal rules.

I’m going to pick out a couple particularily glaring examples from above:

 

  1. Accelerate the coding process using your existing skills.
  2. Now practically anything is possible, virtually anywhere.
  3. Be more creative to build richer experiences for Windows
  4. Spend more time imagining the possibilities with [powerful editing tools]

 

None of these tell me anything at all about the product! I have no idea off the top of my head if MSVC 2010 actually has dramatically improved the coding process with an innovative new IDE, better design tools, etc…. or if they’re simply havingย  a creative writing session on the back of the box. And I’m inclined to naturally think the latter.

To me, this is a good example of terribly misapplied marketing. They could have sold me with C++0X standards support.. or multimonitor support, or any of the other new things. Instead I got a list of fluff.

The Lesson

If I were to try and distill down the self inflicted marketing wounds above into guidelines for myself as I pursue better marketing techniques, it would look something like this:

  1. Explain how you’ve made your users’ life easier by enabling them to do [blank] but…
  2. Also show them how/why they can achieve this result

You must satisfy both of the above at the same time to convince a technical user. Failure to follow this advice will make your carefully tweaked and sweated over sales text be simply bypassed and ignored as a “content-free zone”.

With that food for thought, I know I can certainly improve the presentation of World Machine on the website when I next have some time to devote to wearing that hat!

Support your indie developer; phpDesigner

Just some ponderings on something I’ve been thinking of more and more lately.

I like trying to help fellow independent software developers out. It’s a tough way of life to be a lone wolf or small-team developer with no big budget behind you. A few lean sales months and poverty can be knocking on your door. I believe though, that by helping each other we can make things better. So I will continue to give shout-outs to indie-developed products, games, and tools that I find to provide superior solutions.

Today, I’m going to give a plug to phpDesigner (http://www.mpsoftware.dk/). It’s probably the best IDE I’ve encountered for modern web development with PHP. When I started improving the WM website last year, I went looking for a good webdev IDE, and was dissatisfied with all of them until I stumbled across Michael’s product. And he seems to be a nice guy as well, with good software business ethics.

So, if you’re in the market as I was, check it out! Maybe if all of us indie developers help promote each others products, we can all profit from it.

Back from the Southwest…

Hey folks,

I’m back from my trip to the Southwestern US. Talk about inspiring! I visited the Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion National Parks. Between those three is a great deal of stunning ( and varied) scenic beauty, and when combined with whats available to see here in the Pacific Northwest where I live, there’s a whole lot of inspiration available..

I’m including a few of the photos I took while I was there — so no, these are not renderings ๐Ÿ˜›

I’m spending the next couple of days catching up with everything I can, so if you’ve sent me an email that hasn’t been answered yet, you should be getting a reply soon!

More to come in a bit. I also want to provide some feedback to the ideas I’ve recieved about future WM direction — soon.

Musings on future terrain directions…

Just a brief aside before I get to my main focus here — the bugfixing is still on track and will be rolled out before next wednesday. Most all of what needs to be fixed has been fixed, now it just needs to be tested and packaged.

After the urgency of the bug hunt, the main question turns to future improvements to WM. There are endless features large and small that could be useful, and after the bugs have been released I plan on trying to get as much community feedback as possible on what people would like to see, what would make WM yet more useful for their (your) needs.

As far as the internals go, there are a number of changes that I want to make that will improve the core functioning of WM; they aren’t flashy, but they will help remove a number of somewhat irritating limitations that are here now because of early design decisions made back when WM’s scope was not nearly so expansive as it is now.

Perhaps the biggest one is eliminating the artificial vertical scale issues that WM has. Keeping all data internally between 0 and 1 made sense when everything was created in a sandbox-style creation, but it has no place now that WM has huge terrains spread across many virtual kilometers, and is especially problematic when the “0..1” system produces results different from a “natural height” system that simply tracks meters alone. The change isn’t sexy, but it will result in a more cohesive product and eventually allow for some interesting changes to the erosion algorithm and other things.

There are many things that COULD appear in future WM editions; many are nearly production-ready already but didn’t make the cut for WM 2, others would be ground-up development. But before bringing the question to the general populace of WM users, I’ll ask the blog readers — What do YOU want to see next in WM?

Mother Nature

Mother nature has a way of throwing a kink into plans. If any of you reading this also live in the greater Seattle area, then you know about the Storm. 60-70mph winds, 1mil homes without power, all that good stuff.

Just got power back, with any luck things won’t be too delayed from it.

Spam Me Not

After spending the weekend up camping, upon return I’ve converted the community forums over to SMF rather than phpBB. Although I like the look of phpBB better, it’s just too damn targeted by bot spammers. Over the two days I was gone, more than a dozen and a half bots registered accounts, all of which had to be manually deleted. It’s just not worth the trouble, especially since SMF is much less targeted and very full-featured.

I’m extremely excited about the beta, but there’s a good bit of work before it’s ready! I’m going to try to keep myself to bugfixes and needed enhancements only rather than new features until the Beta-1. We’ll see how well I do ๐Ÿ˜‰

Terrain Types and Macros

There’s been some talk lately on the forums about creating a library of terrain types in the form of macros.

This is something that I’ve wanted for a long time; I think it would be immensely useful to have a standard set of macros that can help move things upwards one large level of abstraction when putting together a terrain. There are really three things you need to be able to do:

  • Specify the distribution of the terrain types where you want them
  • Transition from one type of terrain to another in a manner that looks proper; this is a much more difficult problem than you might expect.
  • Have each terrain type macro produce a realistic non-geographically-specific output for its type ie that macro alone will produce endless mountains or dunes or what have you with no large scale variations.

How do these pieces fit together?

The first point is something that will probably be much easier in WM Pro. Right now, you can procedurally control the large-scale location of things, or import a bitmap that has your own placement map in it. But there’s no easy way to go from the single greyscale map to a terrain type mapping. Some modifications to the Height Splitter device would provide an easy way to dice up a single placement map into individual bands of coverage strength that seamlessly mesh.

The second point is really quite difficult. A naive blending scheme between terrain types just doesn’t look very good. There are various degrees of hacks possible on this subject though; more musings on that later.

The third point is not that hard: It’s just the magnitude of the task of creating good macros for each geological terrain type.
Is there any interest in forming a “task force” for the creation of this type of terrain macro package? If so, I would be willing to open up a new subforum on the WM forums for discussion of all of all things related to this task. The goal woul d be the eventual creation of a WM Terrain Type library that could be “bolted together” with some possibly new devices to produce realistic terrain without having to do extreme amounts of network wizardry; this could even tie into the Wizard system that was mentioned as a possibility earlier.

What do you guys think? Any interest in participating in such a thing?