Monday, 31 January 2011

Bare bones...

This came in from Chris this morning.

"I have stripped the Male and Female base files to a minimum state and put them on [the server]."

They need a quick check over from Ben & Amos before we sign them off, and then we'll be able to release the Moviestorm skeletons to the modding community. With luck, that'll be some time this week, but no absolutely guarantees.

They'll be unsupported and undocumented, but we're sure that some of the more enterprising modders will find ways to make them work and do some weird and wonderful stuff with them.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Bad code go away now

Some days, I get so wrapped up in Moviestorm as a movie-making tool that I forget it's a piece of software made out of hundreds of thousands of lines of hand-written code. And even once we've got those lines of code to actually do what we want them to do, that's not the same thing as making them do it efficiently. This cartoon from xkcd explains why.

So every often, we go through the code and see if we can figure out what it's actually doing. We find loads of places where it's taking two steps forward and one step back, and try to see if we can make it just take one step forward instead of doing the hokey-cokey all over the place. Here's an email Julian sent me at the end of last week which will give you an insight into what this actually entails.
Well, I've had fun this week. I did some profiling and found that there were some very odd things going on. Why, for example, were there over 160,000 bounding boxes in a particular - fairly simply - scene? Why did the performance problems and crashes only happen when I switched views? And the like...

You will be glad to know that I have answers to both of these and more. A few accidents, going back to last summer, resulted in some innocuous code being checked in. Innocent it looked. But it had the side-effect of adding multiple copies of objects to the scene when it was loaded or changed view. If you stayed in the set workshop though, you'd never see it. And in fact, I found two completely different areas of code where this was happening, leading to a seriously exponential over-allocation, gobbling of RAM, and also CPU cycles. I have removed the first offending item as it was an accident; and I have added extra bullet-proofing to stop the second happening.

Thirdly, those 160,000 boxes came about as a result of some debug code that was used to test our snapping sockets. When you stacked objects, the collision detection system got a bit confused trying to partition things and got stuck in recursive hell. The code was unused anyway, and I have removed it.

Lastly, I have made further modifications - I have speeded up some of the critical loops in the code, and also cut out a bunch of redundant work. The result is that movies load a bit faster, take significantly less memory, and render faster. We think that the performance reduction happened in the summer for release 1.4.1 - we had a few reports of sluggishness. If so, we should be nimbler now than we were then. You should see the results for the next release of the product.

Toodle pip!
If that made no sense, here's a translation for non-programmers. "Unused code made it go slow when you did stuff. Took out kludges & spaghetti and made it better."

Go Jules!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Changes to Moviestorm payment systems

Some time next week, we're planning to roll out some changes to the way our payment systems work. PayPal have changed their APIs, and so we're taking the opportunity to address some of the things that have been irritating us throughout most of 2010. We're ripping out the third party billing system we've been using, and will now be dealing directly with PayPal. You don't need a PayPal account - you can still use a credit card.

With luck, you won't notice anything particularly different, as the changes are all behind the scenes. This will give us a more secure and more reliable system that's easier for us to use and administer. This should also fix most of the billing errors you reported to us. The sequence in which you enter data will change a bit, but otherwise it's mostly the same. The screen layout will be a bit different too, but not in any significant way.

One thing that will change is since recurring payments will now be handled directly from PayPal, you'll have more options if you want to cancel your sub. You can choose to do it by going to your account on the Moviestorm site or you can go to PayPal and cancelling it there.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

We do wear suits. Sometimes.

We sent the A-team (Andrew, Amos and Alex) to London last week for BETT, the largest educational technology show in Europe. It was a huge venue, and our little stand felt a bit lost in the middle of it all.

However, as you can see, people did manage to find us. Here's Andrew being interviewed by Martin Stanford of Sky News. So it was worth wearing the suit after all.

It was a tiring week, as these things usually are, but it was good to meet with so many people working in all parts of the educational system, particularly longtime Moviestormer Iain "Iceaxe" Friar.

We were actually taken aback by how much attention we got amidst everything else that was going on. Alex and Amos gave back to back demos from start to finish, and ended up hoarse partway through the second day. All the software trials were taken, and we had to rush out half-way through the show and print more fliers. Alex summed up the event perfectly in his message back to the team afterwards: "I was astonished about the response almost as much as the potential clients were about the software." Andrew, meanwhile, excitedly texted back that he'd just been told we were the "best solution at the show".

We're looking forward to BETT 2012.

Saturday, 15 January 2011


Ben found himself alone in the office yesterday. We'll let him take the story from here...

"Only one in the office on a Friday, so went to country instead. Found a video in a broken video recorder abandoned in a country garden. Has some strange footage. Warning: apparently female faeries have yet to discover clothing."

Friday, 14 January 2011

Deflecting lasers

Ben's been playing around with some of the new swordfighting animations and some lasers (with hide). Add in some of the Earcom scifi sounds, and this is what you can do.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Back to school

Here's a first look at some of the school-themed content we'll be showing at BETT in London this week. If you're involved in education, come along and see us at stand W23.

New items include school uniforms, the interactive whiteboard, the overhead projector, the chest of drawers, and textbooks.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Prima the magical unicorn

Look what Chris did over Christmas after one too many glasses of Bailey's...