When someone reviews our product

November 10th, 2009

It’s great when someone that we don’t know reviews our project and makes a great review of it. The article really shows that the author took the time to properly play and learn the game, and he made a great analysis of it, concluding on the pros and cons of the game, which I agree:

Pros:

- Graphics-centered interface
- Simple yet very addictive battle system
- Very accommodating community.

Cons:

- Not joining the competitive battles takes out most of the fun
- Some game systems are too familiar and is better done by other browser games
- Moving and exploring takes a lot of time.

Running Mono - an Overview

October 29th, 2009

We’ve been using Mono for the production server of Orion’s Belt for a couple of months now. On this article I’d like to share our experiences using Mono. We developed our project fully on Windows with Visual Studio 2005, and at a time we started to consider Mono for a production server. Do note that the Orion’s Belt team has a Windows background, and little experience administrating Linux machines.

Here are the web applications that we are serving with Mono:

Step 1 - Preparing the Server

The game is running on an Ubuntu server. We downloaded the source code and installed it manually. We could have used the packages, but that isn’t versatile enough. Packages aren’t always up to date and we find them hard to manage. For example, how could we have two versions of Mono installed and choose which  to run? How could we always have an up to date version? To fix this problem we chose to install by source, having as a guideline the Parallel Mono Environments article. This was great because we could change to use Mono from SVN or a specific version, just by changing some variables. We wouldn’t want to install a new version, getting problems, and having a bad time to rollback.

We use FastCGI with Nginx to serve the game. Nginx’s really cool, and very easy to configure and manage. We also installed MySQL. Not considering Mono, all the other necessary software was very easy to install and configure, with the help of Google of course. We managed to get the server displaying ASPX pages easily.

Step 2 - Running the Application

The Orion’s Belt project is fairly big, and after some months coding fully on Windows, the move to Linux was peaceful. We had some file case issues, but that was it. We have a NAnt script that creates a deploy package, and we were able to upload it to the mono server and run it. There were some problems at that time, sometimes Mono’s web server would throw compile errors while compiling ASPX pages. But fortunately, at that time, Mono implemented Precompiled ASP.NET web sites in Mono. We incorporated a step on NAnt to precompile the deploy package and everything was faster and we didn’t get those errors anymore.

Other problem we had was the mono web process and the resources it used. Going to 600-900Mb RAM and wasting a lot of CPU, even at idle time. So we started to kill the process from time to time. Sometimes the process would die unexpectedly, so we also started to use supervise, to supervise mono’s process.

There are also some other issues we got along the way: touching Web.config isn’t as stable as it should be. And also when we deployed new versions, mono would not behave properly, it would shutdown or just stop responding. So, we got used to just kill mono when we deployed or needed a reset. It’s very easy, you just kill mono’s process, and supervise will bring it up.

Supporting multi OS makes your code better

It may sound weird, but it’s true. We had a lot of bugs showing up only on mono. For example, we use NHibernate and everything worked fine on Windows, but on Linux sometimes it didn’t. We found out that we needed a flush here and there. On Windows it worked, but on Linux it wasn’t that permissive.

Using Mono brought an interesting mindset to the team. Every time there was a problem, we’d blame it on Mono. But the majority of times, it was our code that wasn’t up to it.

The Linux issues also made us create specific guidelines for file case, forced the use of Path.Combine and related methods. We also tried MoMa, the mono’s problem reporting tool, but we didn’t find it to be that useful on our situation.

Running the Tick

The game’s tick runs every ten minutes. It’s a very heavy process that loads a lot of data from the database, operates on it, and then persists it. This process needs a lot of RAM and CPU to run, and it’s a good performance test. On this specific process we find Mono to be very lacking. If running the process on Mono would take 60 seconds, running the same process on the windows development machine, connecting to the production database, would take 30 seconds. And the development machine is worst than the production server.

However, for the cost of a Windows license, we could buy a great machine just for tick processing. Would it be worth it? We don’t know at the moment.

Conclusion

Preparing the Mono environment was fun and interesting, and the issues we got from porting the code were minimal. We did need some help, and I find the mono list not that friendly to newcomers, but Google provided the help we needed. Even so, it’s not easy for developers without experience administrating Linux machines to prepare mono. There are always some issues here and there, that we’d know how to fix on Windows, but that we loose a lot of time figuring it out on Linux.

Although mono’s behaving nicely most of the times, we don’t find it as stable as a Windows machine. Even so, it’s a great option, that’s for sure. I already have a slicehost account with an ubuntu+mono running all my private ASP.NET sites. It’s cheaper and runs really well.

But for the production server for the game, we aren’t convinced yet if we should continue using mono or not. Maybe we’ll release another server using Windows and then we’ll have a good performance comparison showcase.




Where am I?

August 3rd, 2009

Sometimes someone comes to gtalk and rants about me not making any posts. In fact, this blog is being updated from time to time. I don’t know why, but after a hard day of work doing computer stuff, I can’t really find the proper motivation to blog about it. However, according to my friendfeed page, I do about 1 post per day. But not on this blog. :)

I write on a lot of blogs, mainly about my browser game. If you’re interested, you can subscribe to my friendfeed page. If you already did that, you’d know some interesting things:

I’ll be on vacations shortly… can’t wait for some time off.

It’s is interesting to see how the community use the tools and apis we provide. I’d say that sites today without APIs are loosing a lot. Making the users contribute with content and tools makes them more loyal to our product, because they feel that they are contributing to something. Also, they’ll want to show the work to their friends, and that will also increase exposure.

On our browser game, we provide an API for players. It is still very simple, we’re planning on providing many more funcionalities. Even so, we already have a lot of community applications out there:

The other level of participation is on translations. Launching the Orion’s Belt Translation Project is proving to be a great idea. Players already translated the institutional website to Croatian, Italian and French, and we have the game UI also in Croatian.

For all the tools and translations, we try to reward the players kindly.

MySQL on full UTF8

May 11th, 2009

On the Orion’s Belt Translation Project we had no problems with encoding, until a player from Croatia told us that Croatian’s characters weren’t being properly persisted. I tried a direct update:

update Lang set Text = 'č,ć,ž,đ,š'

And MySQL complained with an invalid characters error. To fix this I had to change the column encoding to UTF8 (was latin1). But the application still wasn’t  behaving properly. The application was sending to MySQL the following query:

update Lang set Text = 'c,c,z,d,s'

I don’t know who was transforming this (maybe the MySQL connector). To fix this I had to edit the connection string, and add the utf8 charset:

Server=s;User ID=u;Password=p;Database=d;CharSet=utf8

After these steps, everything worked fine.

Filipa Brazona and the Insert Coin’s crew came to our facilities to make a story about Orion’s Belt. The show aired yesterday and you can see our part in here.

Unfortunately they forgot to include Tiago:( And a link to the game. :( Even so, we think that this was a great promotion and we’re already getting new players that saw the show.

We’re going to try to get the show on video and upload it to youtube, maybe with english subtitles. 

Crossposted from the Orion’s Belt official blog!

For the record, I’ve written the following guests posts on buildingbrowsergames.com:

Big Party!

January 22nd, 2009

A picture is worth a thousand words. :)

(Click to enlarge)

Orion’s Belt - RIP

December 19th, 2008

You can read the long story here or take a look at the first version of the new institutional website.

Orion’s Belt Videos

April 26th, 2008

For those that really never tried the game, here’re a couple of videos showing what Orion’s Belt’s all about:

From now on, Orion’s Belt related videos will be registered at Veoh :: Orion’s Belt Video Channel.