Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Unwelcome Compromise

Alright, now on to Allacrost. If you keep up with the site news at all, you'll see that we've been rather sluggish this year. So sluggish, in fact, that at least once we've been accused of being a dead project (we are not though, not by a long shot). A lot of the people on our team have been not outputting nearly as much as they usually do. Especially myself. This year has been the first real break that I have had from Allacrost since I started this project over four years ago, and for a while it felt really good. Now I feel guilty when I ignore Allacrost and instead choose to spend my time watching Netflix movies or playing games with my little free time. I can't speak for everyone else, but I know there are three reasons why my time to spend on Allacrost has diminished by so much.

First, my training takes up a lot of my time. I'll spend anywhere from 1.5 to 3 hours a day exercising (not including travel time, socializing, etc.) and I usually workout 6 days a week. Many times I'll workout in both before and after work, so those days are even tougher. Allacrost used to be my primary hobby for many years but I've just replaced it with something else (for better and for worse). The second reason is work. In my past job I used to write code all day so when I came home, often I was sick of programming and it was the last thing that I wanted to do. So since I hardly do any programming at my job lately, I thought to myself "hey, I'll come home and won't be burnt out on programming!". Wrong. My work is so demotivating and my days at work are so long and boring that when I come home I just feel lazy and lethargic. I think work is actually making me a little depressed as well. The third reason is I've been having trouble maintaining my Debian system. I run Debian unstable, so I guess I can't complain too much. I didn't update my system software for a long time but finally did it a few months ago and decided to install a new kernel. Well, I couldn't get the ndiswrapper to work for my USB wireless device (even though it worked and continues to work fine in the old kernel) and I had problems with nvidia's graphics drivers as well. I spent nearly half of my Saturday trying to get those two to work once and made almost no progress, it was very frustrating. To make matters worse, the upgrade broke the graphics drivers in my older kernel, and I can't get them working again because that software isn't available anymore in the Debian packaging system (AFAIK). I've also had headaches with hardware, including a dying (in a very loud and annoying fashion) north bus fan on my motherboard, which I replaced with a passive heat sink (that I had to modify with a hacksaw to get it to fit with my graphics card) and I think its not quite enough, because now occasionally my system will randomly freeze up in a very bad way and I have to restart my system. I've been considering extreme solutions such as buying new hardware or installing Ubuntu over Debian, but I haven't made up my mind yet. I really want my system to be more quiet though...when I built it years ago I tried to choose components to make it as silent as possible but it is still definitely loud. I can still work on Allacrost on my laptop of course (running Ubuntu), but I hate working on my laptop (ergonomic issues with it).

Anyway enough of those issues. So we've been on the cusp of our next release for Allacrost for like two months now. There's just not a lot of motivation on the team right now and we have been really taking our sweet time with this one. Its kind of annoying actually. I'm not sure if I'm correct here, but I've been thinking that maybe I'm the reason that the rest of the team has been slow and unproductive. I am the leader of the team, and I've been so detached from Allacrost for a good part of this year that I don't know what people are working on, or who some of the new people are, or things like that. So I think that my actions (or rather the lack of them) has led everyone else to feel decreasingly motivated about Allacrost and things just kind of gradually slipped away. Even though I'd like to resume the commanding leadership role that I used to have, I don't know if I have the capacity to do that if I'm also working and training my butt off. I've been trying to encourage some other people to step up into being leaders so that our team can continue to function well even when I'm gone, but its difficult.

One thing that I think would really help our team out in a phenomenal way is to have a team manager. We've had three team managers in the past (all of which have left the team). They've all been a great help in their own way, but none of them have really stepped up the way I hoped they would. I really want a manager who lives up to that title. Our previous managers have been more like "support personnel", helping with the website and other miscellaneous stuff. I want a manager who organizes people, sets priorities, organizes content, leads design discussions, etc. I know its hard for someone completely new to the project to step up to such a role, but I still hope that we can find such a person someday. I know the manager of the FIFE project, barracuda (who also visits our IRC channel quite often), and he is exactly for FIFE what I want our manager to be for Allacrost. We are currently without a manager, so after we get our next release out I think we'll probably solicit for such a position. If we can get an outstanding manager (or managers) and have other leaders on the team live up to their roles, I think our team will be in awesome shape.

Content production has been slow lately too although our main composer, Ryan, has been producing a lot of new music lately. I almost feel bad sometimes because he has produced so much music for this game over the past four years, and yet so far we have very little game in which to present his works. The programming team made a decision a while back to stop messing around with our engine so much. Our engine is still incomplete, but its in good enough shape that it can do most of what we need. Much of our time last year was spent working on the engine, which is great and all but it doesn't really do much to help progress of the game in the short term. We've decided that instead we're going to be more focused on our short-term objectives. We know what features we need implemented for our next release, and we're going to do exactly what is needed to implement that feature. That may require us to go into the engine sometime to add support for something, but for the most part we'll be working on code for the actual game.

For the past couple of days I've been working on Allacrost a lot while I'm on my vacation. And let me tell you it feels really good to be working so hard on this project again. I've been working on the map mode code and fixing some issues in there and preparing it for additional features that we'll need in the near future. Its exciting to work on challenging design problems again (something that has been mostly absent from my job). My motivation to work on Allacrost has increased nearly ten fold in less than two days, its amazing. I wake up each morning and get right to work on it without even thinking. I'm hoping that this feeling will last past my vacation and that I can make a full comeback into Allacrost. If that happens, I hope that other people on the team will follow my return.

Well that's about all I have to say about Allacrost. Now back to writing code. :)

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