Shock Totem 2 is a go

Hey everyone,

Its been a while since my last posts as things have been obscenely busy at work and I really haven’t had much time to write anything at all.  One thing that has happened over this time though is the publication (at last!) of issue 2 of Shock Totem magazine, which features, amongst other great works, a short story I wrote last year.

This is my first professional fiction publication and I’m quite excited.  The issue has been out a little while now but I was waiting to see my copy before I announced it and I must say – it’s an impressive looking little magazine.  They’ve really done a good job with the production values.

I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Ken and the other Shock Totem staff who work hard and do such a great job putting the magazine together.  It was a pleasure working with them and I hope to do so again some time in the future.

In the meantime, go out at buy it!  Links to buy are at:

It’s available directly from the publisher and also from Amazon and Barnes & Noble online bookstores.

Edit: If you want to know more, the Journal of Always has the first review up!

Read it?  Let me know what you think in the comments.


Birth of the new

It has been some time since I’ve updated and I guess some sort of explanation is in order – I’d like to take this opportunity to announce the birth of my daughter, Beatrix, who is four weeks old today.  The last few months have been quite busy with my work, preparing for the birth and then the first weeks of learning to look after our little princess.

Much of the things I have been doing have slipped somewhat in the past months and even moreso in the past weeks, please bear with me as I get back on top of things – and thanks to all those who left comments in my absence, I apologise if I haven’t always been able to reply.

In anycase.  Onwards, and onwards!

Interactive Fiction Competition 2008!

Well, it’s that time again, and once more I’m planning on reviewing as many of the IFComp games this year as I possibly can.  Experience has shown I’ve got very little chance of making it through all of them, free time being something of a luxury at the moment, still – the few reviews I managed last year proved to be reasonably popular so I definitely have to give it my best shot.

We’ll start by taking a quick look over the field competitors and note the stand outs in this year’s competition.  I must admit, given that i’m likely not to get through them all i’m not going for a random approach – rather, i’m going to pick the ones that sound like i’ll enjoy them more.  This will work out well, because they’re also the ones i’ll undoubtedly be the most disappointed in if they don’t live up to their blurb – which will make the reviews far more entertaining.

As I go through them, i’ll link to the reviews from this post so you can simply watch this space if you want to follow along.  I’ll also post links to RGIF, to keep things simple.

So, state of the field:

The Absolute Worst IF Game in History

Well… no blurb at all.  Appears to be written in Z-code, and I can’t say i’m familiar with Dean Menezes, the author.  Still, you can’t go past a challenge like that.  The question is, will it be a funny poke at the genre’s foibles, or absolutely mind-numbingly painful that will be a struggle to play through.

Really, either option would be a win given the title, so the only way this title can fail would be with a mediocre, rather than a bad effort.  Way to set the bar low!

A science fiction time travel setting and a name I can’t pronounce. Sounds like win.  I’ve always had an interest in the philosophical theories of time travel and studied them at university, so this is one i’m looking forward to playing.

Cry Wolf
A wolf at the door after midnight.  Reading this I felt shades of Lovecraft and I must heed the call.  Ftaghn.

A Date With Death
It has a king, the grim reaper and the blurb suggests a fantasy setting.  I’ll be giving this one a look and hoping that it has the grim reaper as a literal character and doesn’t just mean “You’re dying.”.  It perked my interested, which is all a blurb has to do.

Dracula’s Underground Crypt
I like comedy and I like vampires.  I also like the turnabout Alex has tried to use, albeit somewhat unsucessfully, in his blurb.  “He’s note who you’re playing as” is full of contractions and just feels awkward as a sentance, though the intention is quite good and funny.  Perhaps better would be something like “This is not his story”, make it simpler and shorter.  I’m not expecting great things from this one, but I hope to be pleasantly surprised.

Escape From The Underworld
A demon with a change of heart… someone kitschy, but I like the idea of outsourced torturing so the setting sounds somewhat original.  Could be good!

LAIR of the CyberCow
Farm Noir… chilling, ambivalently moral look at social thems of our times… cyber cow?  How could you pass this one by without stopping in for a look?  With such an intriguing blurb, it has a lot to live up to.

A Martian Odyssey
The blurb is flat and sounds like generic space adventure A.  However, I do like space adventures, I havn’t seen Mars as a setting for a game in quite a while, and “chemist” is an interesting choice of hero.  I wonder if it’s just colour, or if it’ll matter.  Anything that makes you wonder in a blurb is likely to draw people in.

Piracy 2.0
As I said, I like science fiction, however given the way the blurb is written i’m not expecting a great deal from this one.  The story sounds somewhat cliche and giving the whole story in capsule like that doesn’t leave me wondering anything – not even if the main character will succeed.  The blurb gives me no reason to care, so this will be another one I will be hoping will surprise me.

Well, thats my pick of some of the most interesting sounding blurb, please note this is no indictment of the other games.  If I have time i’ll go beyond these, but lets face it – i’ll be impressed if I manage this many.

Many of the ones I havn’t noted here had no blurb at all, so no real way to gauge how interesting it sounds.  Also, I have particular tastes in style and genre, and I generally play for the story and not the puzzles – so i’ll go science fiction before say, Everybody Dies which sounds, from the blurb, like a deep, thoughtful literary excursion into fathomless depression.  I’d rather play a nice sci-fi, even one that isn’t very good – at least it’ll make a fun review.

I should also point at that some of my favorite interactive fiction of all time are A Mind Forever Voyaging, Babel, Anchorhead, Vespers and The Lurking Horror.  Take from that what you will, but I like stories.  Puzzles, unless they are particularly clever, are never enough for me.  (Lock and Key springs to mind, that was quite fun.)

Well, thats that, hopefully i’ll be back before too long with the first review.  Feel free to comment and join in the litany. 

A final note, I have never completed writing a piece of interactive fiction, though I’ve tooled around in the languages a bit, and i’ve no patience for teaching.  Obviously I am a natural choice as a critic.

System.NotSupportedException : Cannot dynamically create an instance of System.Void

I came across an interesting bug during a major .Net 1.1 – .Net 2.0 upgrade the other day which took a bit of searching and showed what appears to be a fairly obscure bug in the .Net 1.1 libraries.

Our .Net project made use of the EasyMock .Net libraries in order to perfrom mock-tests using NUnit both to check our own work, and on the continuous build server to ensure that builds we release for testing are all they can be.

Updating to .Net 2.0 I noticed that EasyMock .Net itself didn’t have a later version designed for the new system, and running the old one was coming up with some obscure errors in the tests – the NotSupportedException shown on the title of this post.

A bit of investigation showed that EasyMock, when acting as a proxy for a method call, creats an instance of the return type of that method call. In the case of Void methods it attempts to create an instance of System.Void using Activator.CreateInstance().

According to the MSDN libraries for .Net 1.1, it is -never- possible to create a dynamic instance of a System.Void type. This line should never have worked for values of void, but no matter where I looked I couldn’t see why we got to that position in .Net 2.0 and not in .Net 1.1 – there was no conditional for Voids that should have shunted us on to a different track, nor any special handling for same.

Finally I booted up an old copy of the source in Visual Studio 2003 and traced through in there and lo-and-behold! It successfully created a dynamic instance of a System.Void type. For some reason, despite documentation to the contrary, it was able to do this in .Net 1.1.

It can’t in 2.0 or later, so if your code tries to do this I would suggest finding a different way to accomplish your goals, otherwise remain version-stuck and unable to update.

Also, Easymock .Net appears to be defunct, and in any later environment completely useless without an overhaul and careful examination of the source for other such unsupported ‘tricks’ that the developers may have used, either knowingly or without realising. I ripped it out of our system and replaced it was nmock2. It also hasn’t been updated past .Net 2.0, but it’s a step up.

Did require a complete test rewrite however. It was a pain.

iPhone 3g Appstore apps constantly crashing

And now for something completely different…

It’s been a while since my last post and I thought i’d get away from C# and Java goodness for a while, and talk about something new.  The iPhone.  I just signed up for one a few days ago and have been playing around with it all weekend.

As many people will, i’m sure, I immediately hit the app center and grabbed a bunch of free apps, toys and even bought an app (Bookshelf, an excellent, though slightly buggy in a few points, eReader program).
Well, about twenty minutes ago I discovered that one of my apps, Easy Task Manager, would no longer open, instead it crashed straight back to the home screen.  It didn’t take long to discover that suddenly -all- of my app-store apps were now doing exactly this.  I searched for some sanity and found the link above.
There are an awful lot of possible solutions presented in the above link, from full restoring to jailbreaking and resetting components, to sending your iPhone back to apple.  One that you might miss whilst looking through the comments however is the one that fixed the problem for me.  Simply go into iTunes, choose “Authorize Computer” from the Store menu, and enter your iTunes password.  That will go through some sort of authorisation process, and after that run the sync command.  (Do all this with the iPhone attached).

Don’t ask me why that worked, it really does stretch the imagination – but then, so do a lot of things about Apple and the iPhone.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice little toy, but there are a lot of irritating little things about it.  Expect to hear more in the coming days, it’s a nice new little subject to rant on before I try to get back into our previously regular scheduled programming 🙂

Thanks for tuning in once more, come again and good coding.

Still Alive (or: A Sheep! A Sheep! My kingdom for a Sheep!)

Hey everyone, sorry it’s been a while (a long while) between updates, but I have had a busy time indeed.  I finally tied to knot with my beautiful wife Bronwyn in December.  We had a short signing ceremony on the 21st to get the legalities out of the way and a proper ceremony and reception on the 22nd.

I wrote the ceremony we had myself, cannibalising a wiccan handtying ceremony to be somewhat more personal to us. Everything went far better than we could have hoped.  We were married at her parent’s farm, in a field of wheat grown for us.  It was overcast and had threatened to rain with spits a few times throughout the day.  I walked the loooong mile, flanked by my groomsmen and parents, and waited at the front with my heart in my throat when Bron stepped into the field and started walking down the aisle.

Just as she did, the sun broke from behind the clouds and shone straight down on her.  It looked magical, and more than one of my guests broke out in tears.

For me, that sums up the entire wedding.  I couldn’t have any doubt or worry after that.

The next day we were up early (with pounding heads) and on a plane for Sydney where we spent two decadent weeks on board an American cruise ship, the Celebrity Mercury, cruise back past Melbourne, Hobart and over to New Zealand.  For both of us, the first time out of the country, and an incredible experience.  It was breathtakingly beautiful over there.

They are awfully fond of sheep though.  You might not know, unless you’ve spent time over here, that Australians tend to make jokes about our erstwhile New Zealand cousin’s fondeness for woolen animals, and in return they cast the same aspersions on our good name.  I always thought they were just good-spirited ribbing of the sort both our country’s people are fairly renowned for.

But really, they have a lot of sheep.  Really a lot.  We saw sheep when we first got off the boat in Dunedin.  There were sheep just outside wellington, in all the tourist information centeres there were pictures and postcards of sheep and little stuffed sheep.  There was a chain of shops called “I love Marino” which makes you wonder.

In Port Tauranga, we even saw sheep at the beach!

Death of a Giant

For all who have yet to hear, Robert Jordan died yesterday after a long struggle, surrounded by his loved ones. I had the dubious pleasure of being the first bearer of this news to the local speculative fiction bookshop, and the looks on their faces reflected the one on mine when I first heard.

Without a doubt, he will be sadly missed.

Dragonmount will soon be posting details on where to send condolences. If you do, refrain from asking any questions about the future, just wish them the best in this trying time.

Rest in peace.